I've mused for a long time about the problems with tanking in Champions Online, since it's my preferred PvE role. Gold members can build freeform characters with everything one would need for a tank, leaving only skill as a requirement. On the other hand, Silver members have been left out in the cold. It's unfortunate, but there has simply been no decent archetype tank.

This all changed with the launch of the Master, a martial arts-themed melee fighter with everything needed to compete in the toughest lairs. Although he isn't a perfect tanking package, he is completely functional and does his job well. He's the Mind of tanking archetypes: He soaks damage, he owns face, and he isn't reliant on a healer for sustainability. I think I'm in love.

Although he is not a free archetype, unlocking the Master is a one-time purchase. If you're into the tank playstyle but you're not into a subscription, this archetype is for you.

The Master is a dodge tank. He works similarly to builds such as Invul/dodge, but in a more developer-intended way. His main survivability comes from the combination of Lightning Reflexes and Bountiful Chi Resurgence's Resurgent Reiki advantage. The Master is defensively fairly weak in the early game, but as soon as he hits level 27, he becomes incredibly strong. If you try the Master and find that he's kind of a poor fighter at first, it's for this reason: BCR is critical to his build.

Because Lightning Reflexes gives a ton of dodge and avoidance, many of the advantages for his other abilities are unnecessary. For instance, it is probably better to get Rank 3 in Shuriken Storm rather than its dodge advantage, and the Thundering Kicks and Parry advantages are sort of a waste. I'll talk more about those in a bit.

A martial arts master's striking arsenal

Vicious Strikes, the Master's energy builder, is nothing special. It's a generic melee energy builder and is really not that interesting. However, you may want to get the Drunken Master advantage for it; it helps with maintaining Focus stacks if you aren't getting attacked enough for Form of the Master to proc.

Thundering Kicks is his basic T0 attack, and it is pretty bad. It has an advantage that gives a stacking dodge buff; this advantage doesn't give a lot of dodge, and it removes the stacks when you actually dodge an attack. However, getting Floating Lotus Blossom isn't necessarily a bad thing because Thundering Kicks is also his fastest single-target taunt if you get Crippling Challenge for it. If you do, you probably should also pick up the dodge advantage because you'll be using the attack a lot to taunt. It doesn't make a lot of difference, but it can help.

Thundering Kicks is also the Master's best single target DPS until level 40. It is a reasonable choice to rank it up until you hit level 17. I'd respec to get the points back after that, though.

Thunderbolt Lunge is a pretty standard lunge attack with a root. You can use it as a single target taunt, but since it has a cooldown, it's a poor choice. It's a relatively normal lunge attack and is good for closing distance and removing travel powers (if you so desire).

At level 11, the Master gets either Inexorable Tides or Elbow Slam. Elbow Slam is a single target disorient that also can pick up Crippling Challenge. The disorient (10% damage debuff) is better than the dodge bonus from Thundering Kicks, but it animates more slowly. This slows down threat generation a bit but mitigates damage more. I think Thundering Kicks gives slightly better DPS, but neither one should be used for that. If you pick up Elbow Slam, I suggest giving it Crippling Challenge and ignoring Thundering Kicks altogether.

Inexorable Tides is a better attack overall, as it is an AoE that knocks enemies up. It can also apply Challenging Strikes; the Master gets a better AoE taunt later, so this is totally optional. Inexorable Tides is a generally decent attack; I recommend taking it and using it as your main attack until better attacks get unlocked.

Shuriken Storm is the money power for the Master. After reaching level 17, you probably won't use your other attacks at all while soloing, and you will probably only use your single target taunts on bosses or big threats. Shuriken Storm is that good. It was added in the patch that added the Master Archetype, and I feel that it is the best AoE taunt in the game. It has a huge AoE and does pretty sweet damage. Because it's the Master's best attack, you probably want to spend the full five advantage points to get it to R3 with Challenging Strikes. You may still want to occasionally use Inexorable Tides for the knockup, but other than that, grab those shurikens and spin to win.

Level 32 brings Dragon Kick, and while Shuriken Storm is the clear winner for general AoE utility (due to its huge range), Dragon Kick grants an AoE stun and grants Rush when combined with Form of the Master. I would still focus on Shuriken Storm, but Dragon Kick's damage is so good that you could use it as your main attack and have no problems.

The final choice is between Burning Chi Fist and Open Palm Strike. It's level 40, and it doesn't really matter a lot because the Master has everything he needs by then. However, either attack adds a lot of single target damage, making the Master a very real threat. I imagine that in level 40 Archetype PvP, either attack makes him rather scary.

Burning Chi Fist deals slightly less damage, although a full charge applies a dimensional DoT and the charge is very short, leading to better DPS. Open Palm Strike knocks back if charged, which can be both good and bad. It deals huge damage with a long charge, and its advantage deals dimensional damage in a line in front of you. Both powers are cool, and I recommend experimenting with both to find the one you like.

The secret arts of the Master

The Master's real tricks lie in the synergy between Lightning Reflexes, Bountiful Chi Resurgence, and Form of the Master. Lightning Reflexes, along with the other dodge-granting powers, grants the Master a hefty amount of dodge and avoidance, reducing damage by a decent amount. Unfortunately, the nature of dodge is that it is unreliable and fluky. One fight you may dodge everything and take almost no damage, while another you may get very few dodges and take almost full damage.

BCR changes that paradigm by granting the Master a heal. Its advantage, Resurgent Reiki, lets the Master heal every time he dodges an attack. This is especially valuable if the Master is blocking because dodged attacks can also be blocked for even more damage reduction, making the normally small heal pretty significant. It also synergizes well with the Mind; she can give the Master bonus defense to reduce damage more and shields to give him buffer health without creating any aggro for herself. The Impulse can also help the Master out with shields and IDF to reduce incoming damage.

Form of the Master is the final part of this trinity, giving the Master Focus stacks whenever he dodges. Focus gives him bonus damage and energy and converts into Rush (via Dragon Kick after level 32) to give even more energy for limitless wuxia action. The best part is the Storm's Eye Prana advantage, which makes BCR recharge faster every time the Master dodges. This means that every dodge means more heals, faster heals, more energy, and more facestomping. Is there anything the Master can't do?

As it happens, the Master does have a significant weakness compared to freeform tanks. While the lack of layered defenses just means he is a mortal and can be killed (unlike invul/dodge), the lack of an active defense is a pretty big deal. As my main PvE character is a dodge tank, I cannot tell you how many times Masterful Dodge has saved my tail in Therakiel's Temple. It would have been nice to see it as a choice for the Master, but sadly it was not to be.

Lastly, the Master's block Parry is pretty uneventful. It has a useless bonus effect, and the Elusive Monk advantage is only so-so on the Master. It gives bonus knockback resistance, but the Master has so much dodge rating that adding more gives almost no benefit.

Stats and advantages

The Master will want to spread his stats a bit. DEX and CON are superstats and should be invested in heavily as a matter of course.

A tank with no STR has a lot of trouble with knockback, and statting it is quite helpful, even if you get the Elusive Monk advantage.

PRE can be quite useful too, as it boosts threat generation (especially from Challenging Strikes) and increases the base heal from BCR. It does not boost the Reiki advantage's dodge healing.

EGO can be nice for boosted crit power. Because the Master is super DEX, he can dish out quite a bit of critical damage. INT is also a good choice for utility to reduce the cooldown of BCR and lower the cost of powers. The other stats (REC and END) are nice, but because the Master needs everything else, squeezing points into them is rather hard. On the plus side, because the Master benefits from pretty much every stat, almost any piece of gear is useful and maximizing overall stat points can lead to better gains.

For advantage points, I'd pick up:
  • Drunken Master for your energy builder to help maintaining Focus (after level 22)
  • Rank 3 Shuriken Storm with Challenging Strikes
  • Storm's Eye Prana for Form of the Master
  • Resurgent Reiki for Bountiful Chi Resurgence
  • Rank 3 Dragon Kick
  • Crippling Challenge on at least one spammable attack
Everything else is kind of optional, including R3 Lightning Reflexes. Because the Master gets so much dodge from everything, R3 doesn't do a whole lot for him. If you do decide to go that route, you may want to grab some of the dodge advantages and possibly the avoidance advantage for Dragon Kick.

The way of the martial artist is a long and arduous journey; the Master doesn't truly become a master until he can throw shurikens and heal himself. Once he can do these things, he really can do pretty much anything he wants. He does great damage, is hard to kill, and can tank even the toughest lairs. Many of the Gold archetypes are respectable, such as the Void, Tempest, and Inventor. However, the Master fills a gap that no other free archetype can. If that appeals to you, he's a great buy.

When he's not touring the streets of Millennium City or rolling mooks in Vibora Bay, Patrick Mackey goes Behind the Mask to bring you the nitty-gritty of the superhero world every Thursday. Whether it's expert analysis of Champions Online's game mechanics or his chronicled hatred of roleplaying vampires, Patrick holds nothing back.

This article was originally published on Massively.