Part Two - Specialisations
Following on from my post earlier, this blog will go through each of the Mesmer's specialisations, and look at the obvious condition damage traits. I'll try to point out what build type (shatter/phantasm) and what weapon combination the traits suit best, and then in Part Three I'm planning to put everything together in a build.
It is clear that Domination is designed as a specialisation to enhance direct damage builds; there aren’t any major or minor traits in the Domination line that directly aid a condition damage build, so any synergies will be indirect.
There are a handful of really interesting condition damage related traits in the Dueling line. The minor trait “Sharper Images” will likely form the basis of most condition damage builds, as it causes your illusions (clones and phantasms) to apply bleeding on crit. Before going further I should quickly address the relationship between the mesmer’s and their illusions’ combat stats. Here is the explanation that you can find on the wiki:
Most of an illusion's base stats are inherited from the caster:
Same as mesmer: power, precision, condition damage & duration, boon duration, critical damage, armor, and healing power. Illusions will benefit from the mesmer's might stacks, as well as any effects that increase the above stats, such as Banner of Discipline or Spotter.
Not inherited: vitality, i.e. unaffected by weapon strength, sigils, runes, or other mechanics that boost health.
It can seem unclear how illusions are affected when buffs like might and fury are applied to the you. Fury increases your crit chance by 20% so if you now have a crit chance of 80%, surely your illusions do too. However, fury does not directly increase your precision stat, and therefore does not increase your illusion’s precision stat. So in this case you may have an 80% crit chance with might, but your illusion only has the base 60%. The same applies to effects like Sigil of Accuracy. Might on the other hand directly affects your power and condition damage stats. Therefore, might applied to you increases the stats of your illusions, regardless of whether the illusion has any might applied to it.
This leads to the first big decision you are faced with in the Dueling line, choosing between “Phantasmal Fury” or “Duelist’s Discipline”. The first option gives your phantasms fury, boosting your illusions’ crit chance by 20%, triggering “Sharper Images” more often. The second option applies only to the pistol’s phantasm, making it apply bleeding on 50% of its attacks irrespective of whether it crits or not. In the end it’s a straightforward decision to make because “Duelist’s Discipline” is only beneficial if you are using a pistol, so if you’re using any other offhand always take “Phantasmal Fury”.
The Master and Grandmaster tiers of the major traits only have one trait each that could be used to directly apply conditions, so your choices are fairly limited from here on:
- “Blinding Dissipation” won’t add anything unless you combine it with “Ineptitude” from the Illusions specialisation, at which point it becomes extremely potent as part of a shatter build. This is a great example of cross specialisation synergy which makes build design so much fun.
- “Mistrust” will apply confusion on interrupts, both of which have inherent downsides for a PvE based build. Defiance bars completely negate any interrupt-based traits and effects, as they make the enemy immune to crowd control during all states of the defiance bar. Confusion, while theoretically effective in PvP is lackluster against PvE mobs due to their slow attack rates and immunity to PvP “mind games”. A boss won’t freeze up in fear when you hit them with 15 stacks of confusion like a player might. Confusion does seem to be more effective in raids, given the consistent attack rate of the bosses, but at the moment you can probably only expect 2-3 attacks every 10 seconds. This would put its average damage on par with bleeding or even poison damage, however there are often periods of time where the boss is inactive (stunned, channeling, brain-freeze) so you are only left with the passively ticking damage which does 80% less damage than bleeding. This is a wonderful cause and effect trait, but is sadly made ineffective by the design decisions of PvE encounters.
- “Deceptive Evasion” would only see use in a shatter-based build where you may be facing difficulty in generating clones quickly enough, which is rare - especially with the help of the Chronomancer trait “Illusionary Reversion”. But you really shouldn’t need to take this trait in order to generate enough clones anymore.
So where does this leave us in terms of key trait choices in the Dueling line?
- Shatter Builds have one option: “Blinding Dissipation”
- Phantasm Builds have three: “Sharper Images”, and “Phantasmal Fury” or “Duelist’s Discipline”
The remaining traits don’t provide any direct synergy, but could provide some situational utility.
Like Dueling, the Chaos specialisation has some very obvious condition damage traits. The whole line feels like it caters towards a playstyle of attrition, whereby you slowly ramp up in power through boons and survivability, and you wear your opponent down with consistent pressure. The minor trait “Choatic Persistence” is amazing - this could easily give you an additional 15% condition duration in an optimal raid scenario making the Chaos line hard to pass up, add in Signet of Midnight and you’re already hitting 35% condition duration without food or gear! The master level trait “Chaotic Transference” will boost your condition damage, but it scales off toughness, so unless you’re running something like Rabid gear - which in raids you won’t be - it doesn’t give you more than 100 extra condition damage. Sadly, given the other trait options at the master level, you’re going to be choosing this one every time regardless.
Unfortunately, that’s about it for traits directly boosting your condition damage. “Illusionary Defense” is a solid adept level trait to give some survivability to phantasm builds, and “Bountiful Disillusionment” can give shatter builds some great party buffing capabilities.
Nothing much to see here with regards to offensive capabilities, but a couple of support and utility options. For phantasm builds, “Persisting Images” used to be almost compulsory until they reduced the damage that illusions take in PvE. Now you would only really take it for the retaliation, which scales off your power - so not great in a condition damage build - and only lasts 6 seconds. “Restorative Illusions” is seeing use in meta Chronotank builds to improve the tank and group’s survivability because it synergises with the minor trait “Healing Prism” - so if you’re looking to add a little support into your condi-shatter build this would be a good option. Note the 10s internal cool down on “Healing Prism”, will synchronise almost perfectly with the cooldown of Mind Wrack so long as you don’t have alacrity. Too bad that rules out a perma-quickness-mesmer-shatter-heal meta, amirite?!
Here we have the bread-and-butter of a shatter-based condition damage build, with some phantasm love sprinkled on top. This specialisation has fantastic traits at every tier, starting with the minor trait “Illusionary Retribution” giving your shatters confusion on hit. Next up is the adept trait “Compounding Power”, which looks great for a phantasm build - where you will be able to easily maintain the 150 condition damage and 15% damage increase - but will also be of some use to shatter builds. The next minor trait, “Illusionist’s Celerity” gives you a flat cooldown reduction on illusion summoning skills so it’ll speed up a phantasm build’s setup time. It will also help shatter builds to keep their clone factory running. This trait is like getting Alacrity baked into half your skills….mmmmm a-crack-rity.
The master level traits are probably the best grouping of traits in the whole line, which is sad because you can only choose one:
- “Shattered Strength” is going to help power up a shatter build by providing might on shatter, but you shouldn’t need to worry about might in a group situation - so unless you’re going solo or somehow the primary might generator give this one a miss.
- The tooltip on “Phantasmal Haste” shows a 20% cooldown reduction on your phantasm’s skills - so in theory this means they attack 20% more often. As the wiki shows, the cooldown reduction varies, with some phantasms being shafted (Phantasmal Warden only gets 7% CDR)
- “Maim the Disillusioned” - adds torment on shatter. Yes please!
At the grandmaster level there are two more traits that are great for condition damage builds, and this is where we face another dilemma. As I mentioned earlier, “Ineptitude” synergises amazingly with “Blinding Dissipation” causing your shatter skills to blind, and therefore apply confusion too. This would be cooler if it weren’t for the 10s internal cooldown which limits its burstiness. The dilemma here is that the other grandmaster trait, “Malicious Sorcery” increases the attack speed of the scepter auto-attack by 20% - which you will most likely want to use in your shatter build to fuel your clone factory - but you have to sacrifice the extra confusion on shatter to gain its benefit. Phantasm builds don’t face this dilemma because “Ineptitude” isn’t of use to them and they will still benefit greatly from the cooldown reduction and increased torment stacks from “Malicious Sorcery”.
At first glance there aren’t any major or minor traits that directly apply to a condition damage build. Everything in this line is designed to enhance the things that a Mesmer already does. If you’ve chosen to go for a phantasm build, “Chronophantasma” is going to be hard to pass up. Similarly “Illusionary Reversion” is a great help in generating clones for a shatter build.
Finally, access to Continuum Split is just godly. Aside from being able to cast skills multiple times it can be combined with Signet of the Ether to set you up with 3 phantasms almost immediately after starting a fight, and although I want to try and stay away from discussing anything but a purely DPS-focused build, it is the backbone of the perma-quickness/alacrity support builds in the current meta.
Part Two - Summary
The current design of the Mesmer’s specialisation lines are kind of prohibitive to creating a pure condition damage DPS build for high-end PvE encounters. Many of the keystone traits are scattered across different specialisations, or are in a binary situation where you only get to choose one. This probably makes it easier to balance, whilst also making it more challenging to create builds - which is a fun form of gameplay in itself (these blogs being a case in point). Take the shatter builds as an example, due to the access to some impressive support capabilities with boons and healing on shatter it is probably important to limit its offensive capabilities. But rather than letting you build into one or the other, you have to craft a mix of the two - say 70% of one and 30% of the other - leaving you as a master of neither.
The recent changes in the January 26th patch did attempt to increase the viability of these builds, and it may be that the right phantasm build is on the cusp of viability, but it seems like shatter builds still need more work - either from the community or from ArenaNet.