At this point in Shadowlands Season 1, Vengeance Demon Hunters have clearly established themselves as the #1 tank in both Mythic+ and in Castle Nathria. Just a cursory glance at their toolkit reveals why they're in such a dominant spot, and it's a good metric for measuring other specs that don't measure up quite as well in particular categories.
Tank Popularity and Why
Checking the Timed Mythic+ Run Leaderboard on Raider.io for Shadowlands Season 1
, you'll find that Vengeance Demon Hunters make up for than 40% of on-time +15 runs, and more than 70% of on-time +20 runs. Looking beyond that, you'll see Brewmasters jump from a close 4th place in the 15-and-up range, to a not-very-close 2nd place in the 20-and-up range.
There are a couple of reasons for this. First, Druid and Paladin are ahead of Brewmaster in the +15 range. They are also the game's two most popular classes due to being able to fill every role, being historically pretty well-regarded as healers (unlike Mistweaver), and they don't bear the burden of being a relatively newer class like Monk.
In jumping from the +15 to +20 bracket, every class except Demon Hunter drops in popularity, but Brewmaster is easily the class that suffers the smallest dip. Paladin really
falls off due to its difficulty in surviving random large hits, which is something that Bear and Brewmaster are both much better at handling. Where Brewmaster rises ahead of Bear is in its group utility, and its ability to perform a reasonable facsimile of most of the things that Vengeance Demon Hunter does incredibly well.
Tank Class Utility and Power
In the interest of pointing out what Monk does well, it's important to consider why Demon Hunters are so popular so we can then consider what Monk does better, worse, or just differently. So what does Demon Hunter do so well?
- Burst Damage - Elysian Decree deals a huge amount of AoE damage, and there's no setup required. You press it once, your damage is huge.
- Defensive Cooldowns - Between talents, legendaries, and the base kit, Vengeance Demon Hunter has at least one major defensive cooldown available for every single pull in a normal Mythic+ dungeon. Often, you have more than one available for each pull. While Demon Spikes has relatively low uptime as an AM, when layered between the many defensive cooldowns they have available, it provides them a very, very high base level of tankiness at all times when not kiting.
- Kiting - Vengeance Demon Hunters are great at kiting. Sigil of Misery, Sigil of Chains, and Infernal Strike are all great at getting some quick breathing room so healers can catch up.
- Crowd Control - Vengeance Demon Hunters have a lot of it. There's not that much more to say. Sigil of Silence is one of the best skills in the game.
- Chaos Brand - The best DPS specs in the game right now are primarily magic damage-dealers. This makes them better, and it's by far the most valuable group buff any of the tank classes can provide for their group's DPS in a Mythic setting. With Havoc Demon Hunters in a bad place right now, this boosts Vengeance Demon Hunter's value even higher than the rest of its already-great toolkit.
This is a lot of Demon Hunter talk for an allegedly-Brewmaster Monk-themed analysis, so let's make that turn towards Brewmasters in terms of how they measure up.
- Burst Damage - Weapons of Order and Invoke Niuzao, the Black Ox are excellent burst damage cooldowns. Where they come up short when compared to Vengeance Demon Hunter is the actual length of the cooldowns. They're much longer, which means they add more damage over time, but take 25 to 35 seconds to realize their full value, instead of just being Press Button, Do Damage like Demon Hunter cooldowns. Additionally, the cooldowns are both around 2 minutes in practice, meaning they simply won't be up for every pull, so you have to pull more aggressively when they are available, then less aggressively while they are down. Demon Hunters don't need to watch their personal cooldowns quite as closely as Monks.
- Defensive Cooldowns - While Dampen Harm, Celestial Brew, and Weapons of Order are arguably competitive with Vengeance Demon Hunter's collection of defensive skills while active, they simply don't have the same degree of uptime. Once again, Brewmasters have to be much more aware of their cooldowns, and more careful when they are not available.
- Kiting - This is actually an area where Brewmasters have a significant advantage. Between Roll, Transcendence, and Tiger's Lust, Brewmaster Monks arguably have a stronger kiting toolkit than Vengeance Demon Hunters. Thanks to Keg Smash's 15-yard range, you also don't lose nearly as much damage while kiting on a Monk than you do on a Demon Hunter, either.
- Crowd Control - Brewmasters are right there with Vengeance Demon Hunters in terms of CC potential -- if not ahead. Clash in particular is a very versatile skill. It's useful for pulling in stragglers, it's useful for rooting a pack so you can kite, it's useful as an impromptu interrupt, it's even somewhat useful as a mobility skill. Beyond that, Monks also have Ring of Peace, Leg Sweep, and Paralysis, which can all be used to shut down casters, buffed mobs, or just to free up some space so you can kite.
- Mystic Touch - Monk's physical damage taken increase buff is good, but with Windwalker Monks being relatively popular, and with physical damage classes generally being less popular than magic users like Balance Druid and Fire Mage, it's not nearly as valuable as a Demon Hunter's Chaos Brand. This kind of value can shift subtly as DPS specs get retuned, but for the time being, Monk is just at a clear disadvantage compared to Demon Hunter here, with absolutely nothing to be done about it.
Ultimately, there's several good reasons that Vengeance Demon Hunter is the most popular tank, but it doesn't mean they're the only competitive option. When you consider Brewmaster Monks, they have an incredible degree of overlap with Vengeance Demon Hunters in terms of their strengths.
What separates Brewmasters -- and not in a good way -- is their lower defensive strength while tanking, which comes as a function of their cooldown uptime. Brewmaster Monk is tougher than a well-done steak when its cooldowns are active, but it's more delicate than fine China when they're not. As a result, you have to rely on kiting much more judiciously, you need higher awareness, and you have to do a better job of planning your pulls and your cooldowns in order to be competitive.
Being competitive on a Brewmaster is possible, and if Vengeance Demon Hunters find themselves on the receiving end of some serious nerfs (more than the modest nerfs they are scheduled to receive in Patch 9.0.5), Brewmasters could absolutely slide right in and take their spot as the #1 Mythic+ pushing tank.
Blood has enjoyed a relatively quiet time in the first season of Shadowlands, standing in the shade of our blindfolded self-healing tank alter ego. Due to a slightly easier playstyle when starting out, direct ways to have a real impact on the success of keys, and a relatively free choice of covenants, we're still very much a popular pick at almost every level of play.
Our strengths are still the same as before:
- We're very independent when played properly
- We bring tons of tools to help negate mechanics:
a ranged kick on a melee cooldown
- two ways to reset enemy casts without committing a CC (Death Grip and Gorefiend's Grasp)
- A ranged single-target stun
- a CC working on undeads - and there are plenty - that also gives us some DPS and allows us to do some pretty cool stuff (like giving 10% damage reduction to our entire party every 15s in Plaguefall). It also allows us to negate inspiring if it is on the mob (as it turns friendly - and therefore hostile to the enemies)
- Two taunts
- A magic debuff immunity on a short cooldown
- A magic AoE damage reduction zone
- A 90% snare - one of the strongest in the game!
We have no real healer preference. Contrary to, say, brewmaster monks, we're relatively healer-agnostic. The biggest advantage of this is relative meta immunity on that front.
Complementing this, we're also somewhat covenant-agnostic. Venthyr is
slightly better for Mythic+, but that gap is often smaller than people estimate, and is likely to get slightly shorter still next patch with the CRW rework and the ability for every covenant to have a throughput cooldown running on every pull.
The drawbacks are the same as usual. Expansion after expansion, our weaknesses are still the same:
- Tendency to get bursted down - particularly on high keys. It's... quite the experience to get properly slapped the moment Dancing Rune Weapon fades while pulling big. As the lowest armor, lowest DR tank and one with (Currently. 9.0.5 changes this!) a relatively slim cooldown impact, misplays when cooldowns end can cost dearly. On higher keys, it sometimes also happens on some pulls and some bosses, leading to top tanks playing EHP talents and the usual Splintered Heart of Al'ar to reduce the penalty - or avoid this altogether.
- Indirect feedback loop - Blood Death Knight looks easy at first. Keep Bone Shield up, do things, hit Death Strike. You know, the memes and the flowcharts you see around. The reality is a bit different:
Resource Economy is Everything. You'll often see us talk about "bad marrowrends", cooldown mismanagement and charge management for Blood Boil when reviewing key logs on Acherus. The reason is simple: in M+, a rune improperly spent on Marrowrend is worth up to 1/3 the amount of RP of a rune spent on Heart Strike. Misplays around rune economy progressively starves you, and you feel like you're gradually falling behind until you eventually drop. Played properly, we're self-sustaining monsters (until we get 100-0'd), but it does take some skill to get there.
- Cooldown knowledge matters. A lot of our tools allow us to cheese things - ranging from Anti-Magic Shell for magic debuff prevention to Dancing Rune Weapon for parryable on-hit effects, and a few of the covenant additions for this expansion, we're a cooldown and cheese powerhouse in the right situation and when you know what you can cheese. The flip side of that coin, however, is that misusing this array of cooldowns often hurts
- You most likely will need to explain to your healer that your runic power is a direct indication of what you can do in the near future. Most healers do not track this.
Much like other non-Vengeance tanks, due to the drain inflicted by the various meta effects, the top Blood Death Knights are a couple of key levels lower than top VDHs. However, for the overwhelming majority of key levels done by the greater community - be it just getting your feet wet, keystone master or your first +20 - there's plenty of room to grow, optimize and expand your horizon.
We try to support this even further by providing concrete (and entirely free!) log analysis/key reviews over on Acherus, along with having 6 of the current top 10 M+ BDKs as channel regulars; after all, there's always something to learn. And when playing a slightly off-meta tank in a meta as dominated as the one today, this kind of community approach is everything.
Guardian in M+ is secretly an insanely strong and viable tank as people have come to realize over the course of season 1 of Shadowlands, it has immense defensive capabilities which allows for massive pulls the likes other tanks can only dream of, which will impress any group you play with.
Still slightly in the shadow of vengeance demon hunter due to the multitude of their utility and the power to run away, bears can comfortably sit and tank a huge pack mobs with no fear, fueled by powerful legendaries like Ursoc's Fury Remembered and The Natural Order's Will.
The 4 covenants give you some nice choices, each viable and bringing their own strengths depending on the dungeon/week, however Night Fae is generally the most popular playstyle with massive convokes in moonkin form being an interesting and fun addition to the regular tanking role, you are able to amaze your groups with extremely high burst damage coming from their tank which is pretty rare.
Overall, Guardian is a very sturdy tank in M+ and can comfortably fit into any group composition and will have great success even in the highest level of keys.