Over the past two days, Blizzard has given us a sneak peak of the new goodies that are coming for Brewmasters with the Shadowlands expansion. First, they showed off some of the new Covenant Abilities. Later, they followed that up with a preview of Class Changes and another look at the new zone of Bastion. I’m not gonna sugar-coat it: the new stuff looks great—and the class changes in particular have stirred up a healthy anticipation for the Alpha invites going out later this week.

Before diving into the changes, let’s briefly revisit the state of Brewmaster at the moment and what problems we want to see solved by changes to the spec.

The Wishlist

By and large, our wishlist breaks down into three key categories. First and foremost, we want Stagger de-emphasized. At the moment, Stagger is so incredibly strong that it is forcing Brewmasters into a niche: we are incredibly sturdy when it comes to heavy incoming Physical damage, but sadly ineffective against most anything else. Despite this, Stagger is so strong and Physical damage so prevalent that layering flexibility on top runs the risk of making the spec outright broken.

Second, we really do want that greater flexibility in our mitigation toolkit. At the moment, if there is anything that Stagger is ineffective against, we’re simply unable to interact with it outside of items like LPS. Re-introducing effects that are good against all damage types, like the original incarnation of Guard, would go a long way towards magic-heavy encounters like Shadow of Zul, Il’gynoth, or Queen’s Court feel less…unfair.

Third, we have been asking for improved DPS-oriented gameplay for a long, long time. While on the surface that may be an odd wishlist item for a tank, it is important to remember a couple things: not every encounter has relevant tank mechanics, and even those that do are often trivialized later in a tier when things have been on farm for a while. Having a more dynamic, interactive DPS rotation—whether due to added offensive cooldowns or proc effects—fills that gap and keeps fights from turning into a slog.

Monk Class Updates

With all that said, let’s dive into the previews. First up: changes to Monks as a whole. Babylonius touched on this in his Windwalker preview article, but we have our own things to be excited about here. At the moment, we know about two sets of class-wide changes:

Expel HarmFortifying BrewSpinning Crane Kick, and Touch of Death are now available for all Monks to use.

Each specialization is receiving its own baseline Invoke Celestial ability. For Brewmasters, this is Invoke Niuzao—perhaps better known as Angry Dave.

We’re barely into the changes and already have a lot to unpack! Before we do, please note that the notes are quite vague still, and that we still have a lot of tuning between Alpha launch and Shadowlands’ release. Our focus is on how these changes can address the problems we have on a mechanical level—tuning will come in time.

First up: Touch of Death and Invoke Niuzao. While we know little about the specifics of these abilities, we do know that Touch of Death will look more like it’s Mists of Pandaria self (which instantly killed a low-HP target) than the current incarnation. We also know that both are coming with new effects stapled to them: when Touch of Death kills a target, it will clear 100% of your Stagger. Similarly, Invoke Niuzao is gaining a Hot Trub-esque effect that converts purified damage into damage—whether this is direct damage or a scaling buff to Dave’s damage is still unclear.

While ToD was a niche ability back when Brewmasters last had access to it in Warlords of Draenor, I am hopeful that it will have greater utility in a world with Mythic+. We currently see many dungeon packs with low-HP mobs that are potential instagib targets, and grabbing a full purify is a great payoff—especially if they allow it to affect the reworked Niuzao. As dungeons are released onto the alpha, this is something that we’ll be paying close attention to. Even if it does remain a niche ability, it will always be fun to use.

Spinning Crane Kick, on the other hand, has a potential to fill a current gap in our kit: AoE threat outside of Keg Smash. Whether it is actually useful for this will depend heavily on tuning, but I, for one, am excited about being able to finally pick up those 3 adds that KS missed.

Brewmaster-Specific Updates

Building on this, Blizzard previewed a number of changes coming to Brewmasters in particular. Buckle up, because we’re going for a ride.

Brewmaster Monks can once again challenge their chosen target with Clash, a returning ability that causes both the Monk and their target bull-rush each other and—at the epicenter of the conflict—root their opponent for short duration.

Clash is back! While it no longer has that hefty stun attached, one of the most game-breaking-ist, buggiest ability ever implemented is back and ready to break the game all over again. If I sound sarcastic, it’s because I am—but only a little. Clash is an excellent gap closer, and gives us a bar-brawl flavored answer to that perennial must-have utility button: Death Grip.

How do they follow that up? Well, by re-introducing the ability that broke Kil’jaeden: Exploding Keg. While our artifact ability is perhaps not the most beloved, it was a great defensive button with solid utility in generating snap AoE threat. At this time, we don’t know what form its return will take: the amazing-but-buggy blind effect, or the 99% damage reduction it later became in order to fix Kil’jaeden? Time will tell. Unfortunately, Exploding Keg is making its comeback as a talent—though it is thankfully the only ability on this list that won’t be baseline.

Excited yet? We haven’t even peaked. Guard is back. Not the talent we have right now, the real Guard—though it comes with a new coat of paint. Now called Celestial Brew, this ability is equally effective against all types of damage. After the failed attempt to shift tanks into purely Physical damage mitigation, having an ability that addresses the problem of Magic damage is a breath of fresh air. As an added bonus, Celestial Brew should be noticeably stronger in lower-damage content—reducing Brewmasters’ reliance on external healing in leveling and open-world content.

Brewmaster Monks also have a returning passive, Shuffle, which increases the amount of physical damage that’s staggered when the Monk uses one of several abilities including Blackout Kick (previously called Blackout Strike), Keg Smash, and Spinning Crane KickCelestial Brew is a new ability that absorbs damage based on the imbiber’s attack power

Combined with the naming scheme and the return of Shuffle, we believe that Celestial Brew will be replacing Ironskin Brew in patch 9.0. Though, I will again stress that this is currently speculation—we will know more soon. Nonetheless, ISB is one ability we would be glad to see gone: it consumes so many of our brews that PB has become an afterthought instead of a meaningful decision, and is simply annoying to maintain.

Shuffle, on the other hand, neatly addresses both of these problems with ISB: it is applied automatically as a product of our core rotational buttons, and does so without cutting access to our more interesting active mitigation buttons. The value of this change will depend heavily on the actual tuning of Shuffle and the rotational abilities that grant it, so we’ll be keeping a close eye on things as the alpha progresses.

Brewmasters can imbue their brews with divine powers via a new Talent, Celestial Flames. Drinking brews has a moderate chance to grant Celestial Flames, which slightly increases Breath of Fire’s damage reduction and spreads its periodic damage effect to targets struck with Spinning Crane Kick.

On top of this, they teased a new Brewmaster talent: Celestial Flames. I’m a huge fan of how this talent already, and hoping I won’t be let down. It neatly combines an effect that is often damage-oriented (spreading DoTs) with a defensive benefit. This is all tied into a proc off our brews that may actually result in rotational changes: if the spread extends the duration, then the importance of pressing BoF on cooldown will change depending on procs.

To cap this all off, we have a nice little aesthetic change: Brewmasters will again be able to dual-wield. Not only will this let us share weapons between Brewmaster and Windwalker sets, but it will also allow you to once again run a weaponless transmog using the Handwraps.

Covenant Abilities

Whew, that’s a lot. We’re almost done covering the changes—but not quite. We have a new system coming in Shadowlands, Covenants, that introduces new class abilities depending on what faction you join. The preview post gives a good overview of how the system as a whole works, so I will skip that and focus just on the one (of, eventually, four) new ability they’ve shown for Monks: Weapons of Order.

For a short duration, your Mastery is increased by a percentage. In addition, Brewmasters’ Keg Smash cooldown is reset, and enemies hit by Keg Smash take increased damage from you (stacks up to a set amount).

There are still a lot of unknowns with this ability. Will we keep the same Mastery? How high will the increased damage stack? Will it be on the GCD? We don’t know. What we do know is that this introduces yet another minor offensive cooldown to the Brewmaster kit. As an added bonus, this also provides additional snap AoE threat akin to one of the most popular Legion legendaries, Stormstout Shoulders. With any luck, it will live up to that legacy.

Recap & Wind-Down

Alright, that was a lot of ground to cover. Before I roll out my first impressions, let’s have a quick recap of what we know (and/or hope) based on these previews:

That’s quite a list—especially compared to the minimal changes we received during Battle for Azeroth!

Overall, I’m pretty excited for the future. We still have a lot of details to get from the Shadowlands alpha, but these changes hit a lot of our mechanical pain-points without (as far as we can tell) rebuilding the spec. I don’t know what I’m most hyped for, to be honest. The return of Guard? The potential second coming of Hot Trub with Invoke Niuzao + ToD + Weapons of Order? The death of ISB? There’s a lot to look forward to here.

However, they haven’t given us enough details yet to determine whether these changes will be hamstrung by tuning or gameplay issues. We expect alpha to open later this week, which we hope will answer many of our remaining questions. We’ll be paying close attention to the progression of the Brewmaster spec throughout the development cycle, as well as giving and gathering feedback. If you want to keep up-to-date, be sure to watch the news page over the coming weeks, and if you want to get involved, hop into the Peak of Serenity Discord and join the discussion!