(this section will repeat between my build overviews; you can skip to Build Concept if you’ve read one of my overviews before and are familiar with my rating system and test criteria)
Patch 9.8 brought, among other things, major changes to the Shattered Realm. Given that SR is where I do my endgame build testing, with the release of the patch I decided to redo all the testing for all my builds. And since I’d be putting in the time and noting down all my results anyway, I thought I might as well post the builds and their scores publicly for others. Who knows, maybe you’ve been thinking of trying something similar and are curious if it even works. Or maybe you’re just morbidly curious and like that tickly feeling in your brainhole when you see someone play something utterly stupid.
Now, what exactly does this testing entail? Each character has to do 10 SR75-80 runs (I used to do 5 runs but I’m expanding it to 10 for this second wave). Every run completed within timer counts as a success. It takes 6 successes (over 50 % success rate) for me to consider a build complete. If a build keeps failing to meet that quota, I keep improving it till it works. Ergo, no build I post here will have a lower score than 6/10, because if it doesn’t have over 50 % success rate, I’m not done improving it and it doesn’t get posted.
Three rules were followed to make the results more representative:
- no consumables other than healing and energy elixirs can be used;
- no shrines can be taken; if a build has bad resists, it’ll have to make do with bad resists, Rattosh isn’t gonna be saving its ass;
- no mutator hunting; if I get shitty mutators, I’ll have to succeed with shitty mutators.
Other than that, it doesn’t matter in what manner the runs are completed. If a build takes twice as long to finish a run than others do, that’s perfectly fine as long as it successfully finishes. Doesn’t matter whether the build has to dodge Nemeses in shards like the plague or whether it hunts them for sport, doesn’t matter if it has to kite like crazy or stands its ground with ease, doesn’t matter if it completes the runs deathless or not. Only thing that affects the score is completion within timer. Generally, a weaker build that is slow, fragile, hard to play etc. will end up with a lower score regardless because its shortcomings will affect its reliability across the 10 runs.
Now, two final things before we get to the build itself:
As mentioned in the title, this is a build overview, not a build guide. What’s the difference? Well, a build guide says “this is the way you should build this type of character”. What I’m saying is rather “this is what I did, here’s why I did it this way, here’s how it turned out”. It’s more of a documentary, a post-mortem, rather than an example to be followed. “Wait, that’s just a fancy way of saying you make shit builds,” you might say. No, not exactly. I try to make a strong character without deviating from the concept of the build. But the concept of the build might not necessarily be something one should even be doing in the first place While my build concept and the in-game support will often align to create a reasonably predictable, almost cookie cutter build, just as often I’ll just be doing something abundantly demented for my own reasons. I’ll always endeavour to explain in the Build Concept section why I chose to do a thing a certain way, but I don’t want you to get the impression that what I’m presenting is a thing you should necessarily be doing.
I’m also by no means hyperfocused on optimising the crap out of a build once it’s in a workable state. There will almost always be things to optimise on my characters, but frankly, I prefer spending an hour theorycrafting a new character rather than shuffling an existing character’s devo tree, gear, component and augment setup just to squeeze 5 % more damage out of it. I don’t care that much.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the build itself.
The fantasy of this character has been something I’ve been interested in for a long time: melee magic. Usually a character will be either melee or a spellcaster. But a spellcaster that actively seeks out close quarters combat? That’s rare. And cool. Imagine how badass you have to be to be able to do magic, and willingly choose to charge into melee combat. No shield, no heavy armor, just a tome and the confidence that your magic will see you through. Now, I’ve made a few characters that technically are close quarters spellcasters, but all of these were out of necessity. You can’t exactly snipe enemies from the outskirts with Drain Essence or Flames of Ignaffar. But to actively seek out surrounds, that was something I haven’t done before on a mage.
And few abilities in the game scream close-quarters magic quite like Callidor’s Tempest (CT), which was another thing I had yet to explore. However, CT is a nova skill, not a melee skill. When used on a faraway target it’s not just going to walk the character to close range and then cast. Not unless you enable Classic Casting in the options. So, in order to facilitate getting our suicidal spellcaster into close range, I decided to pack on yet another thing I had yet to use: Vire’s Might (VM). VM into close range, spam CT until everything is dead, then VM away. Both skills were conveniently operating somewhat in a similar damage type. CT had Fire, Aether and Lightning, VM had Fire and Physical. With a bit of converting these skills wouldn’t be too hard to consolidate into a single damage type. My target was Fire, since at the time, Oathkeeper’s Celestial Presence didn’t affect all three elemental damage types, only Fire. There was a plethora of ways to get the Fire conversion going, including a full CT + VM set in The Vanquisher. It seemed like the ideal combination of skills to go for on this concept.
There was just one wrinkle. The Vanquisher may have supported the intended skills and the right damage type. But it flipped the skill use I was going for. It made the engagement tool the spammable skill and turned CT into a cooldown ability, the exact opposite of what I wanted. Well, time to improvise.
1.2 UPDATE: 1.2 has been a mixed blessing. The weapon has gained full phys to fire conversion for CT. But it has done way less than I anticipated. CT DPS for the build has increased by 9 %, however, since CT is only a part of the build’s DPS, it’s not the same as the build just doing 9 % more damage. The net damage gain is a mere 12k damage per second. That’s not gonna do much for the single target. Other than that, the build has gained some 500 health and that’s it. It’s the global changes that affected the build the most. The leech nerf hurts. Despite the %WD gains on CT in 9.8 and the conversion on the sword in 1.2, the build does not sustain too well. The Haunted Steel and timely use of Bloodthirster seems even more mandatory than before.
Worse yet is Sunder. The build’s inherently mobile playstyle does make Sunder evasion relatively seamless. However, some enemies apply a Sundering ground effect. Alkamos, Benn or Dravis spring to mind. For a build that needs to be dashing through enemies back and forth, this means some pretty nasty area denial. The build will be wasting a lot more time just luring these enemies away from the Sunder zone, which hurts the single target. The ability to farm at higher shards also doesn’t do this build any favours. Its OA was pretty bad already for 75-80, it’s worse now if you’re going to be farming 80+. The build doesn’t have anything resembling crit damage, so that isn’t a concern. The issue is the build will be missing a lot more. Fighting Iron Maiden at SR80+ is a bit of an ordeal. No crits, more misses, and given that we’re now fighting at higher shards, also a lot more health on the enemies. The weaker single target really starts showing in these higher shards when you’re trying to fight through 11 million health. The build can do 80-81, but there’s noticably more friction than at 75-80. So much so it’s probably not worth going that high.
There is actually an astounding amount of ways to go about putting this build togeter. If we set the issue with Vanquisher aside for a second, the main thing on this build is getting all the damage converted, and there’s a lot of ways to do so. Starting with Vire’s Might, we need to get the phys to fire to go together with Volcanic Stride’s built-in fire damage, which will stick around regardless of any local conversion. This can be achieved through Cinderscorn, Zarthuzellan’s Archive or Shard of the Eternal Flame. That’s three different ways to get the same conversion for a skill. Four if we include the fact VM has built-in Fire conversion on the transmuter, provided you use a shield or a 2h weapon. That’s kinda crazy. On CT, things are a bit more difficult since there are two damage types to convert, Lightning and Aether. But both can be solved in just a single slot through Kyzogg’s Skull. If that’s undesirable for whatever reason, each damage type can be converted individually through Soulblade and Vanquisher’s Gem respectively. Or, if the conversion issue is somehow solved globally, the offhand can be occupied by Consumption of Agrivix, which will give CT some pretty insane bonuses while also bringing in a thick slice of global Phys to Fire conversion to help with converting VM.
That’s a lot of different combinations of gear that can be used to achieve the same goal. So, with all that laid out, why did I make the choices that I made? My decision essentially boiled down to two things. Firstly, aside from the conversions, which items provide the best modifiers to improve the build’s damage? On the VM side, Zarthuzellan’s Archive and Shard of the Eternal Flame are the only ones to provide cooldown reduction. If I chose Shard, that would mean the only way to fully convert CT would be Kyzogg’s Skull, as I could no longer use the Vanquisher amulet to get the Aether over to Fire. And while the skull does get all the conversion neatly done in a single item, it doesn’t really do much of anything to improve CT’s damage. Now hold on, yes, I realise that it gives a whopping 50 % crit damage modifier to it.
But, this connects to the second thing that influenced my decision-making. On a normal Vanquisher build, cast speed doesn’t really matter cause CT can only be used every second or more (depending on if you took Wrath of Agrivix or not). But on a spam CT version, cast speed matters. A lot. It influences how many casts of CT we can get off before VM comes off cooldown, which between the VM animation and travel time to destination is very short. And because cast speed matters, the build therefore wants to pump Mental Alacrity and wants to take Reckless Power over Divine Mandate, both for the cast speed and the flat Aether damage which is flipped to Fire on CT (and partially also on VM thanks to Vanquisher shoulders). This means the build has to climb all the way to the top of the Oathkeeper and Arcanist tree, where normally the Oathkeeper tree would suffice, it has to invest in Mental Alacrity and it has to pump both VM and CT since CT is no longer a bit of an afterthought as it is on some Vanquisher builds. That’s a lot of skill points, which sadly leaves the build pretty starved. The build simply doesn’t have the points for things like Overload and Presence of Virtue for their OA, and without these it’s just not going to be critting all that much, meaning it won’t be able to make use of the crit damage on Kyzogg’s Skull. If instead the build uses the Zarthuzellan’s Archive to convert VM and get that CDR, plus Vanquisher’s Gem and Soulblade for conversion and flat, it gets to capitalise on all the sources of additional damage regardless of crit chance.
One notable downside when it comes to the two possible weapon choices is that both Cinderscorn and Soulblade are physical weapons, yet the build doesn’t really sport much in the way of Phys to Fire conversion. That doesn’t matter on VM since the Phys is converted locally, but it does mean that CT doesn’t get to make that much use of all the %WD it has gained in 9.8, and even the % WD on Soulblade gets kinda wasted. From that perspective, it’s a real shame the build can’t take Consumption of Agrivix with its global conversion, but given that it occupies a key slot that’s required to get all the conversions sorted and the fact that it lacks cast speed, the build simply has to make do with unconverted phys weapon damage on CT. At least CT can leech properly now from the WD as of 9.8, even if it didn’t gain much damage through it on this build. Previously I had to run Dryad just to keep the build topped off, now I can free up the devo points and simply supplement the sustain with a Haunted Steel .
With the above I’ve also pretty much covered the important parts of the skill allocation. There’s so much good stuff the build would love to take but simply doesn’t have the points for. The aforementioned Overload and Presence of Virtue, Ascension, Clarity of Purpose, Mirror. Plenty of stuff to sink points into if only there were any more points to be had. Moving on to the devos, this was another opportunity for me to tick off something I haven’t done before but wanted to for a long long time. I finally got to use Empyrion on something. At long last I not only had a phys/fire build that was in need of DR since it lacked it on the tree, but also one that was primarily in close range where Empyrion’s Light could actually hit what I was fighting. It was just such a perfect fit. Here is this holy woman, a Templar, bringing fiery justice to the heretics, and here comes Empyrion’s light shining down on her to bless her journey. And, you know, since we’re essentially playing a melee mage, well, we kinda need to make up that survivability somewhere. With no shield, no heavy armor, no high phys res to our name, we’re gonna need some divine intervention to keep us hale and hearty.
I do love it when a plan comes together. Not only is this build very effective and relatively unconventional (in the sense that it sticks to the original uses of the skills instead of reversing them through the “conventional” 4pc Vindicator) but I would even say I’m glad I chose this path rather than standard Vanquisher.
Now, full transparency, I need to preface what I’m about to get into by saying that I haven’t actually played the full Vanquisher version. I’ve put the set on just to see how the cooldowns line up and how the DPS values shift but I haven’t taken it for a spin in SR. I can’t speak on its effectiveness, speed or survivability at all. What I can speak on is how Vire’s Might feels to play with. And frankly, I would NOT want to use that as my spam skill. I didn’t want VM to be my spam skill even before I tried it out, both because of the concept of the build and because one of the builds I was planning to do after this (Krieg DK) was to revolve around a mobility skill as the main damage tool already and I didn’t want to play two similar builds back to back. But after I have played around with VM, boy do I feel vindicated in that decision. It’s so damn awkward to use.
On a Blitz build, all you need to do is just keep the cursor pointed at your target, beat on them with whatever spam skill you’re using and just pop Blitz on cooldown. If you could turn Blitz into a full spam skill, very little would change. Just hold the cursor on the target and slam away. Easy. But to get the most of Vire’s Might, it’s not enough to just slam into the target. You want to pass through the target so that you leave the ground effect of Volcanic Stride underneath them to stack more damage. And ideally you also want to pass through additional targets to get more hits going and get the ground under more enemies. Which means you’re not keeping your cursor on the target you want to kill. You want to aim past the target. And once you’ve passed through, you want to reaim your cursor to the other side of the target, and repeat. So both your character and your cursor are zipping back and forth and back and forth the whole time you’re playing. Yuck! Against larger hordes it’s actually easier cause you don’t have to be particularly precise, you just rush through from one end to the other, it’s not like you can aim your rush to get the most enemies possible when the horde is constantly repositioning to catch up with your zips. But 1v1? Ugh! You want to both aim your VM past the target so you leave the Volcanic Stride underneath them, but at the same time you want your VM to be as short as possible so that you waste the minimum amount of time in the animation (kinda like the old WW Barbarian in D2). The shorter the animation, the more VMs you get within the same time frame or, in my case, the more CTs you get to spam before VM comes off cooldown again. If your aim is off, you’re either wasting time charging across a distance you don’t need to cover to do your damage, or, if even just a pixel of the enemy is under your cursor, you just do a rush in place, ramming into the enemy but not leaving any ground effect behind, which is a big part of VM’s damage.
Beside the aspect of damage/time efficiency, there’s also the matter of safety which VM makes awkward. To maximise your damage you want to VM as soon as it comes off cooldown, and with both full Vanquisher and 3pc Vanquisher that cooldown is next to nothing. You don’t have much time to deliberate on your destination. Now, an example from one of my mulligan runs. Say you’re fighting Korvaak, last phase. He does his projectile spiral attack. You rush through him, both to deal your damage and to slip between the projectiles to the outside of the ring. Since you’ve now created distance and are out of range of Korvaak’s melee attacks, he turns around and walks towards you, away from where he cast his spiral. You point your cursor past him to do another rush after you’ve slammed out a few CTs. Except oops, that area behind him you’re pointing at, that’s the spot where the projectile spiral is converging. And you rushed right in the middle of it. D.E.D. Another example from experience. You’re fighting Aleksander. Zipping through, slamming CTs, his health is going down nicely, his crystals are gone in a flash. You don’t even have to worry about his meteor, cause you’re constantly on the move. Except oops, turns out while you were aiming behind him your cursor caught a pixel of his coat, and now instead of VM rushing through him, it just slams into him but leaves you in the place you were standing. And that meteor that you should have dodged now landed on your head. You’re not dead, but it’s a complication you’d rather not have happen.
This is a constant problem with VM. While the build is overendowed with mobility thanks to it, it can also screw you over cause of its unpredictability. Sometimes it just has you ram in place instead of moving, and the attack you hoped to dodge lands right on you. Sometimes you execute it at the wrong time and it rushes you through a target just as a wave of projectiles is coming out of them or back to them (Janaxia, Reaper or Aleks are good examples of converging projectiles) that you could get shotgunned by as you pass through their model. Sometimes the destination you’re rushing towards isn’t safe anymore, either cause an enemy cast something there or cause, as the enemies reposition, your target destination keeps changing and it just so happens to shift to a danger zone. Maybe Gargabol cast a Volcano there. Maybe there’s a fire trap there about to shotgun you that you can’t see through all the enemies. Maybe that ground is literally lava, like in one of the boss arenas in SR. Or maybe there’s a small obstacle there that your character will either stop at, or they’ll run around it, changing your trajectory in a way where you run right into a thing you wanted to avoid (a Diseased disrupt pool for instance). There’s also the matter of cc. If you get frozen, trapped, petrified or stunned mid-rush you just stop, sometimes in the worst of places. There’s also small obstacles all over the place, the boss arenas in SR are all sorts of jagged and broken and uneven and obstructed. If you point your cursor just a smidge outside the arena edge your character can either not execute VM at all, stop at the edge, ram in place, or actually run in the opposite direction of where you were pointing. Yes that happens. At times it feels like VM spamming is more a battle with the environment than with the enemies. Oh and lest we forget, Volcanic Stride counts as projectiles for whatever reason, so you better not be rushing through Rashalga the moment she activates her red aura, else it’s bye bye body parts. Even Valdaran can demand a bit of restraint while his buff is up.
All that is to say, VM is a fickle mistress and can land you in some hot water now and then. Which is why I’m glad that it’s not the primary damage source and spam skill of this build. The reliable, comfortable CT spam in between provides just a little bit of reprieve to both the hand, the eyes and the brain.
I realise I’ve just spent an inordinate amount of time bitching about VM, which might leave you with the impression that I’m unhappy with this build. That couln’t be further from the truth. I just wanted to make it clear that there are some downsides here to be aware of, and also to express how glad I am that I didn’t make a full Vanquisher build out of this.
Getting to the performance proper, it’s kinda glorious. While VM has its quirks it’s also undeniably effective and also a bit OP. With VM having this short of a cooldown, melee enemies will be spending most of their time just trying to catch up with you as you burn them to cinders. The amount of time someone like Fabius gets to actually just land autoattacks is pretty miniscule which serves as a massive damage mitigation source. VM also serves as the ideal complement to CT, even more than I originally envisioned. Initially VM was meant to just be a way to close the distance, but it was clear to me from the outset that CT might not be sufficient to perform the damage duties. Nova skills rarely are. These skills excel through their outstanding AoE coverage. They rarely also do the job on single target. VM does though. Between the hefty amount of up-front damage and the stacking ground effect, VM picks up perfectly where CT leaves off. CT, in the meantime, does an outstanding job on clear. The two put together ensure the build really doesn’t have a weak point, it does great on both. It’s not really the skills themselves that leave gaps, but the damage type + mastery combo. With Arcanist having no RR, we’re left with a Fire build that is stuck using a single on-tree RR source. While that doesn’t have a noticable effect on the damage output in general circumstances, some of the more resistant enemies do get to hang around a little longer than one might like. Surprisingly it’s not so much the likes of Gargabol, Shar’Zul or Grava that slow the build down, but Fabius and Iron Maiden. They’re not glacially slow by any means, but the slowdown is definitely noticable, particularly in the case of Iron Maiden. Her high DA combined with our low-ish OA means there won’t be much critting happening, in fact it’s more likely there’ll be some missing, even with diligent application of Crushing Verdict and Clarity of Purpose. Since the build isn’t going for Divine Mandate or Kyzogg’s Skull, the absence of crit isn’t that painful cause there’s next to no crit damage going around anyway. Still, every little bit helps, and occasional misses are definitely not particularly welcome. As a fun little side note, due to the low crit damage, if you get the Weakened mutator, crits just stop appearing on screen cause the character’s crit multiplier goes into the negative In fact, that makes me wonder whether the crits are happening but are actually reducing the character’s damage. That’d be something.
As I’ve already touched on, the survivability goes beyond what’s on paper thanks to the character’s extreme mobility. What is on paper is pretty great anyway though. While the phys res is kinda average and armor is not exceptional either, the character has a very comfortable amount of health, especially for an Arcanist. Combine that with 25 % absorb and 24 % DR, and Mirror, and Resilience and Nullification if need be, and you got one robust character. Might be a melee mage but we can take a hit. Or a meteor to the cranium. Or a treetrunk to the face. Or a Forcewave to the everything. There’s no threat of one-shots, ground effects don’t matter cause we don’t get to stand in them long enough (except for Diseased cause there’s no disrupt res; that could be addressed through Eternal Band but I didn’t want to sacrifice any more OA; Arcane Spark is not an option unless you roll stun res on the greens). Any stacked debuffs that cause trouble can just be Nullied or Mirror through. Be a bit careful with Nulli and Ascension though, better save those for situations that impair mobility, like entrapment, as that hampers both damage output and survivability.
Here’s the usual SR75-76 and SR80 parts of one of my runs to show the build in action. All in all, the build has died on me once in the 10 runs, in the very last run of the series, but I have died two additional times in some of my early mulligan runs before I got reaquainted with the playstyle after the many months (or was it years?) of not playing it. Overall an extremely reliable build, let down only slightly in speed by the lack of a second RR mastery. Note: this was one of my earlier runs so I wasn’t quite as diligent about applying Crushing Verdict as I should be. I did better by about run 5.