Monday, December 3, 2007

Guild Wars: dR's Mind Blaster

Spying out builds is, I think, an overlooked skill. People get caught up in being creative, in finding their own way and their own ideas, and the satisfaction that brings. And there's something to be said for that approach, it's true. But not to finding it distasteful to studying builds obs mode. Good players do it all the time. The ability to analyze a build is a skill that, like toggle stances or focus swapping or other basic techniques, has been readily absorbed by the people who've climbed up the ladder. And faded into the background for them so that they don't feel the need to mention it anymore. Understanding what someone's running and why it's working for them is important. And it's crucial to be able to do so quickly and efficiently. If you're on a Ranger or a Mesmer then you need to know where to direct your shutdown, to rapidly prioritize where to focus your attention. If you're a caller then you need to understand your opponent's build and how that's going to affect your own strategy. Monks need to know where the damage is going to come from and how. The list goes on and on. A practiced, experienced player should be able to look at a character, to watch them, and, then, after a few seconds know exactly what they're going to do. And there's no better place to practice than observer mode.

To the novice player, then, there's a lot of valuable information to be drawn from observer mode. There are plenty of good teams there running good build. And even when they're not they're going to be making the most of their skills. Practicing with those skills, trying to run those builds themselves can be extremely illustrative. A lot more than just slapping together their own set of skills and running off to get clobbered. There's been wisdom, experience, build up over the years of playing that the diligent poorer player can benefit from. Knowledge about the game and how it works that's on full display in observer mode. So watching, copying, from observer mode needs to be encouraged not disparaged.

Anyhow, I mention this because I did a bunch of build spying over the weekend. It's the first thing I do, in fact, in any match I obs. Scan around the field, figuring out just which characters everyone is running. And I thought I'd point out one of my favorites.

Now, I caution that I haven't been watching much PvP lately and I have no idea whether this characer is something new or whether it's being run by everybody and, therefore, something that everyone already knows about. From what I saw, though, it wasn't very commonly run.

It's the fire Ele from [dR] that I was so taken with that I'm talking about. Granted, I have a soft spot in my heart for Dark Alley already since not only is it a PvP All-Star team, it happens to be one comprised of the sort of player that I really admire. The kind that, if I had any talent and about a hundred extra hours a week to play the game, I could see myself being. Because they're smart and efficient and every other virtue to which I'd aspire. Huge fanboi, in other words.

But although I noticed this build because the team I was rooting for was running it, I think I'd have been tickled by it even if it came from a group I'd never heard of, much less associated with. Because it's the sort of midline caster that I'd love to run myself. It's splittable, it's sustainable, and it looks like a ton of fun. Left alone, it's going to wreck the opponent's base in a hurry. In fact, the whole point seems to be a character that has just enough defenses to survive out on the gank while powering out the offense. Better yet, it's going to go nuts come VoD when damage and AoE work better. And best of all, it's the sort of build that gets better in the hands of a skilled player. I thought I'd take you through the steps as I figured out the thing out.

The first step in figuring out what someone's running is to get the skills, obviously. The first several are going to be readily apparent while the rest can be stubborn to find without some study. But you can generally logic them out - you know, for example, that most people are going to be bringing a rez skill. But, with a dedicated split character like this one you know they're likely not going to be slinging a sig.

Here, the first skill that's going to hit you is Mind Blast. It's the sort of skill that gives me an e-chub. It's just a wonderful skill and I want to mess around with it, get it accidentally pregnant, and be forced into a shotgun wedding because, that way, we can be together forever. A moderate amount of damage but on the sort of cooldown that Elementalists dream about. Better yet, it's a pressure skill that's an energy engine. Even at low attributes you get enough energy back to make it a null cost. Past that, you get enough back to let you pump out other skills, too.

Like, for example, Rodgort's Invocation. Which has come a long way from the 40energy, 30second recharge monstrosity I remember it being once upon a test. Now, it's also on a low cooldown but with a heavy casting cost that makes it hard to keep casting out - sort of a poor designer's version of exhaustion. But floated by the energy gain from Mind Blast, you can get away with throwing it around. A lot.

The next damage skill you're going to notice is Immolate. Which, here, works as a nice alternative to Rodgort's if you're hurting for the energy (Remember that Mind Blast will only work right if you've got more energy than your target.) or to throw after it to increase your pressure. It's also only a moderate amount of damage but the Burning helps and on a nice, fast recharge.

That's three offensive skills to help you cause a lot of damage quickly. I always love pressure casters.

But once you've noticed that, the rest of the bar might be a bit more opaque. And that's where some guesswork can help you out.

For example, the character is an E/D. A secondary Dervish and, on an Ele that means one, very likely thing: Mystic Regeneration. Absurdly powerful on someone who's got a lot of enchantments and that's exactly what Elementalists like to do. It makes sense here as a good, strong, self heal that's hard to keep this character from using while they're split off.

Since they're a split character you know they're going to have some kind of a run buff. Since we're dealing with a Fire Ele that means Flame Djinn's Haste. Which could, I suppose, be used to cause some damage in a pinch but, like it's cousin Storm Djinn, it's quickly cast and lasts forever with little drawback.

Helps fuel Mystic Regen, too. And that's why you can also correctly guess that this character's going to be packing Fire Attunement, too. Helps out with the energy, provides that third enchantment to send Mystic through the roof, and an attunement of some sort is pretty much a requirement on Ele bars.

That leaves two slots and thos are the ones that might surprise you, since the final slots in a build tend to be where players put their utility. Or the stash the skills they don't tend to use much except for when they really, really need them. Like a rezsig or that Meteor Shower you're going to hide until Victory or Death.

But, here, you'd know for just a few seconds of watching this character dash off the sidepath right out the gate or continually try to slip into the enemy base that it's a split character.

And that means the utility it needs is being able to overcome the base defenders. Since the NPCs are Archers and Knights or, in other words, physical characters, that means something that's going to shut them down, as well as any Warriors or Sins that come back to defend. And while there's nothing really good for that in Fire, the Elementalist has some of the best physical shutdown around in Blinding Flash. Which only needs a few points in Air to get to the perma-cast level.

The last skill is easy. If, of course, you know that [dR] is made up of [iQ]'s ruins. Those boys love their Gale, after all. And it makes sense, too, if you're splashing into Air. It can be used to snare someone, briefly, allowing the caster to kite away. Or it can be used as an interrupt, stopping a HealSig or a Troll's while a target's being battered into the ground. Can't afford to spam it around because of the conflict with Mind Blast's need for a large energy pool, but even in spot duty it's going to shine.

So, you have the bar.


  • Mind Blast {E}
  • Rodgort's Invocation
  • Immolate
  • Flame Djinn's Haste
  • Fire Attunement
  • Blinding Flash
  • Gale
  • Mytic Regeneration

But what you're missing now are the attributes. Which can be a bit tricky themselves. But while it might not seem like it there are only a few really optimal attribute setups because everyone wants to maximize their points and hit the breakpoints.

Here, you seem primed for either an 11/10/10 or a 12/10/8. With runes you can hit some nice breakpoints. Such as Air 8 which gives you 8 seconds of blinding from your Flash and lets keep two targets more of less nullified if you have to. And Fire 15 which is really important for Mind Blast because, that way, you're getting 9 energy back with every cast instead of 8. In fact, I know that [dR]'s Ele set their Fire to 15 because 9's the purple number that was floating above their head and you only get that with 15. You get +10 at Fire 16. And that's in line with the damage numbers I saw, too. And you could think it's a toss-up whether they went for the Superior Fire rune in order to get a few more seconds out of their Blinds (Or a few more points of energy to help Mind Blast meet its conditional requirement) or the Major to survive spikes a bit better.

Ah, but you'd be forgetting that this isn't a three attribute character. It's not a pure Ele at all. It's a four attribute character because it also packs Mystic Regeneration and that takes Earth Prayers. Since that's a secondary attribute it can't go above 12. Which would give the desired +3 regeneration per enchantment. You have three enchantments on this character and anything above +10 would be wasted. And while that stats could be set that high, it makes much more sense to just barely creep over the break point that turns the +2 regeneration into that magic +3 mark (Or one more than that to protect against Weakness.). That's Earth Prayers 8. So you know this character has that at least, and Fire Magic of 15.

That gives you 66 AP to play with (55 if you want Earth Prayers of 9. But I don't think you're going to get Weakened all that much now that YAA! is out of the picture.). And that works out to a very nice 12/8/8/7 layout. Or 12+1+2/8+1/8/7+1 after runes that should give you 7 seconds on your Blinding Flash, protect your Gale from being Weakened out, let your Regen hit +9 instead of +6 for your healing, and still give you plenty of extra energy to help buffer Mind Blast's requirement.

Can't be sure but that's what I'd run it with, at least. You'd have a bit more flexibility if you went with 11+3+1 for your Fire but that has a few problems. First, in PvP having as big a health pool as possible to help your healers when you get spiked is highly desirable. Second, you don't get much out of those extra points - Air doesn't hit your next breakpoint until 10 when you get 8 seconds of Blinding again and all you're doing by putting more points in Mystic Regen is making sure the odd Weakness doesn't take it out. You could throw them into Energy Storage, I suppose, but I wouldn't.

So, here's what we've wound up with through some dilligent observation, some intelligent guesswork, and matching our results with real world values.

  • Energy Storage {P} - 8+1
  • Air Magic - 7+1
  • Fire Magic - 12+2+1
  • Earth Prayers - 8
  • Mind Blast {E} (60dmg, +9en)
  • Rodgort's Invocation (120dmg, 3second Burning)
  • Immolate (60dmg, 3second Burning)
  • Flame Djinn's Haste (120dmg, 20second duration)
  • Fire Attunement (60 second duration)
  • Mystic Regeneration (+3 regeneration per enchant)
  • Blinding Flash (7second Blinding)
  • Gale

Throw in the required weapon swaps (What are those? Well, you want some shields with the various +AL mods. Depending on what you're up against you swap them out to get some decent mitigation. Then a +en weapon with a +enchanting mod, like a Totem Axe although I'd generally stick with a spear. That's your first set, that's your base, that's what you want to run around with most of the time since it gives you the most protection. Then you get a wand. Here, I'd just skip right to the +15/-1 version and pair that with my shield in my second slot. Next, I'd swap out the shield for a +15/-1 focus. A +energy set would be really crucial to have here so that you can always get off that emergency Mind Blast. And in the final spot, since this is me and I cut my teeth in a time when energy denial was vicious and brutal, I'd run a negative energy set. A pair of weapons with -en mods that would drop my energy a bit and let me hide it from denial or wipe off a Malaise or something. Doesn't work so well with an Ele but it's just ingrained on me. This isn't the final word in equipment, of course, and if you have better by all means, run with it. +fortidue weapons, staves for the casting/recharge, various wand and focus combinations, you can do a lot.) and you've got a character you can run.

It took a while for me to type out all nice and neat and, hopefully, interesting like. But it didn't take me nearly as long to get the idea when I was observing. And getting to that point, learning to recognize and discard the ideas you encounter is important to learn. But you can really only learn it yourself through hardwon practice.

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