Iskandra as a set for spammable TSS (with test mod)

This thread proposes to turn Iskandra’s Unification into a set for 0-CD, spammable TSS, and includes a mod to test this concept in both campaign/SR and Crucible.

What’s wrong with Iskandra as it stands? Briefly, it doesn’t work well as a TSS set:

  • TSS modifiers are insufficient and there’s not enough item slots left to improve the skill.
  • The aether-to-elemental conversion provides too much damage relative to TSS.
  • There’s few viable setups and they play awkwardly.

The gist of the proposal, as implemented in the test mod, is to give Iskandra a makeover like this:

  • TSS modifier for set completion:
    • 75% Weapon Damage, up from 25%
    • +100% Cooldown Reduction
    • Total damage modified by -67%
    • Freeze Target for 0s, down from 2
  • Piece and set bonuses:
    • +30% casting speed (8% off-hand, 6% amulet, 16% for 4 pieces)

What does Iskandra stand to gain from turning TSS into a channelled spell?

  • A stronger identity with original, distinctive gameplay.
  • A better fit for a single-class, single-skill set. The revised Iskandra can work with TSS as the centerpiece, without relying so much on devotions, other skills or item procs – a tendency shared by all TSS sets.
  • Fun. A good deal of it! The revised Iskandra is a delight to play compared to the current Iskandra; imagine a petite channelled devastation or mortar traps you can aim, leading the shot against moving targets. There’s nothing else quite like it.
  • It’s a non-destructive update to which existing builds can adapt without major reworks.

Fancy the idea of turning the sky purple with a constant shower of elemental meteors? Try the mod directly. Interested in a breakdown of Iskandra’s perceived shortcomings and why I make so bold as to suggest to rework it again not one month after release? Read the follow-up post.

Iskandra Test Mod

Main campaign: Iskandra’s Purple Power
Crucible: Purple Power Crucible

Installation and usage

In a modded game, all blacksmiths can craft Iskandra’s Purple Power, the modified version of Iskandra’s Unification, for 1 scrap and 1 iron a piece.

To test the set in campaign, extract to the mods folder in the Grim Dawn installation directory; the mod will then be available as a custom game. To use an existing character in custom games, copy its folder from save/main to save/user and mark the clone as “In Mod” with GD stash.

To test the set in Crucible, go to the Grim Dawn installation directory and backup the survivalmode2 folder. Extract PurplePowerCrucible in the folder, replacing database/survivalmode2.arz and resources/text_en.arzwith the modded versions. Existing characters can play the modded Crucible normally; note, however, that they can’t bring the modded items back into the main, unmodded campaign. I recommend cloning a character and using it in Crucible only. (Addendum: this archive also includes a revised Allagast set I’ve been working on, to spare me the effort of maintaining two separate Crucible mods. Feel free to ignore it.)

Tested content and preliminary results

The build used in most of my testing can be found here (189% casting speed in-game). It’s an aggressive setup, and definitely more fragile than, say, a PRM Mage Hunter or Mortar Trap Purifier; it can be adjusted for defense with Ghoul, or by dropping one of Seru and Blind Sage. For testing purposes, however, I wanted to push the experimental Iskandra as hard as possible, so as to find a lower bound on kill times. (For this purpose, IEE is not a very sensible investment, but I took a stab at it since using those points elsewhere didn’t seem to have much of an impact on clearing times.)

The following numbers are average unless otherwise specified. Slow outliers that were caused by serious mistakes were excluded.

  • Lokarr: 45 seconds; 30 seconds theoretical time.
    The lower time is theoretically achievable by fully facetanking (possible by blocking his shotgun with high ground and chaining WoR/Mirror/devotions/pots just right when he repositions) while casting uninterrupted (not possible with current energy cost/regen parameters against boss-level leech resistance).
  • Crucible, 4b/1vb: 7:20 in Crucible of the Dead; 7 in the Deep, going as low as 6:30 if the stars align.
    Brief testing suggests that fully-converted Arcane Currents account for around 30 seconds of clearing time. For the best times, beyond the usual tricks of the trade, use MoE aggressively to maximize damage from the amulet and take special care to nullify shielded heroes, avoid heavy damage reduction debuffs, and force nemeses to cluster up and stumble on each other.

Lifesteal from TSS is acceptable against bosses and extremely good against mobs; in hard fights it definitely heals less than many (most?) auto-attackers. Regardless, it’s easy to be bursted down when Giant’s Blood is offline, and in this sense the revised Iskandra remains a typical caster setup, oscillating between resilience and fragility as skills and procs come and go.

Perhaps more importantly, playing channelled TSS is a blast. I can’t stress how much more fun it is than the current Iskandra, regardless of clearing times. Damage output can be adjusted, but overall, I suspect that most players will agree that Purple Power is rather more satisfying to play.

Tastes vary, of course. Have at it!


Why revisit Iskandra?

State of Iskandra

Although Iskandra has only recently been reworked, I feel that the set doesn’t leave much to explore: too many slots taken for too little given, leaving only a slim selection of procs and devotions for both damage and sustenance, none of which make for satisfying gameplay.

As a single-mastery, five-piece set, Iskandra augments TSS and TSS only, but doesn’t give it the tools to stand on its own. The %WD component is too low to yield meaningful damage or sustenance from caster weapons and achievable values of lifesteal. Other modifiers are comparable to those of Skybreach and similarly insufficient; beyond additional damage and DoTs, we trade 0.4s CDR for a 15% chance to recast on hit which, while statistically equivalent, feels rather clunky due to the shards’ travel time. (I generally find low chances of double cast to be a bit too unreliable when combined with busy spell queues, but that’s another matter.)

The comparison with Skybreach is particularly damning: although the two sets achieve comparable damage per shard, Iskandra forces you two choose between 1 additional shard and 0.5s of CDR, whereas Skybreach setups can find 2 additional shards and 0.4s of CDR, while also supporting Wind Devils.

What makes Iskandra tick is the global 75% aether to elemental conversion. However, there aren’t enough item slots left to bring other skills to effective levels (I’ve tested CT and Devastation, Storm Box, and Mortar Trap), which leads to devotions such as Imp, Seekers and Arcane Currents; the latter two are especially important, and their high requirements will nearly lock down your devotion routes.

You can make it work like that, and what you obtain is a more fragile, less effective Invoker or elemental Bonemonger without lifesteal. Having obtained very similar setups during my own experiments with Iskandra, I suspect that there’s few viable takes on this set, and I worry that none of them can distinguish themselves from the gameplay of Trozan’s Skybreach: TSS isn’t enough, and we are simply trading things to lean on, from wind devils to devotions.

Elemental TSS is different, of course, but that’s a simple thematic variation which could fit in a conduit. I feel a set that takes 3 of the 4 most important modifier slots should have more to offer.

Now, I admit: this entire section might just be an empty rationalization for the simple desire to play with channelled meteors. But that’s not entirely unreasonable, is it? Turning TSS into a channelled skill would provide a more effective and intriguing design, one that also happens to fill a clear gap in the current lineup of TSS builds.

State of TSS

There are, to my knowledge, few builds where TSS works all that well on its own. Many (most?) offensive 3-node or more “main line” skills can carry a build in terms of either damage or sustenance; not so TSS, which offers no sustenance and often leans heavily on other sources of damage. For example, consider:

  • Wind devils and totems, to the point of Skybreach Vindicator working better than Skybreach Druid. (Although wind devils have been adjusted since, I think this still holds.)
  • Item procs, as noted by Dmt with regard to her Skybreach/Cataclysm build (if a bit uncharitably).
  • Storm box, to the point of Allagast working better as Apostate, Vindicator or Purifier. (Quite the motley, isn’t it? If you fancy, here are my thoughts on how to fix Allagast, with their own test mod.)
  • Item skills and devotions, as with current Iskandra, where Imp/seekers/currents are pretty much a must; even so, such devotion setups remain starkly more effective with PRM, double Spelldrinker, or two-piece Iskandra with Mortar Traps (6:45 crucible with 3b+vb).

This suggests that there might be a general issue with TSS damage scaling and item support, which should be addressed separately. Meanwhile, we can take this opportunity to explore a more original take on the skill by turning Iskandra into the first set that allows players to fully focus on TSS as their primary attack, with a different playstyle to boot.

Channelled TSS

For channelled TSS to be effective, it needs to provide enough damage on its own, and enough lifesteal to partially sustain the caster through combat. (Albeit not strictly necessary, lifesteal is hard to match for channelled skills.)


For lifesteal, using the mod as a starting point, we have the usual two options:

  1. Increase %WD to 75-100%.
    This is mostly a means to find the desired values of life and energy leech: the actual damage component is very low due to caster weapons and, of course, the TSS-specific damage penalty. Of course, higher damage can offer comparable healing with lower values of %WD.
  2. Remove %WD, add 4-6% ADCtH, and decrease energy cost.
    Although this long been Grim Dawn’s approach to channelled spells, I believe it would compromise flexibility and reduce the design space for Iskandra: a high WD allows a player to find their own preferred balance of leech and other forms of sustenance. The possibility of delivering a tiny bit of extra RR through Viper is also desirable, considering that the set itself only grants moderate single-target RR.

My experience with option 1 during testing suggests that, under a 65-70% damage reduction, any value of %WD between 75% and 100% feels pretty good. The difference, as always, is most noticeable against bosses; any value of lifesteal that works against them will prove pathologically effective against mobs, much as it happens with, say, Phantasmal Blades, Forcewave, or any dual-wielder. (This is a universal issue that’s exacerbated by AoE lifesteal, but as long as mobs remain immaterial in the endgame, I wouldn’t stress over it.)

%WD also allows to sustain the energy cost of TSS through leech. Bosses are completely immune to it, but in Campaign and Crucible most fights don’t last long enough for this to be a problem, at least if you allow yourself the odd potion. SR might be different.


Total reduction is the main knob to regulate the damage output of 0-CD TSS. So:

  • Reduce total TSS damage by 60-70%.
  • Optionally, update the values of existing modifiers. (I’m under the impression the current values were fashioned strictly after those of Skybreach, which needs more than TSS to work, as previously pointed out. Cooldown and damage reductions further complicate the picture.)

In testing, a damage reduction between 60% and 70% seemed to work best. Any value below 60% is probably too generous: the 50-55% range produced Crucible clearing times around 6:20 minutes (with banner). Conversely, going beyond 70% once again sidelines TSS in favor of converted devotions, which is one of Iskandra’s current problems.

On the subject of devotions, it should be noted that the aether-to-elemental conversion puts a barrier on how effective TSS can be before the set as a whole becomes too strong, because fully-converted Imp and Arcane Currents can be extraordinarily effective on small battlefields like Crucible. Iskandra can currently reach 90% conversion from set pieces alone, but lower values would make it easier to balance the set around TSS:

  • Decrease aether-to-elemental conversion to 50-65%.
  • Slightly improve TSS damage.

Tweaking reduction and conversion is enough to cover the basics of channelled TSS and make it work. More interesting is the question of weapon damage.

Addendum: damage and IEE

(Nothing written here has been tested or even thought through, I’m just tossing ideas around.)

It might be a lost cause, but I’d like Iskandra’s set to benefit from, y’know, Iskandra’s Elemental Exchange. It’s a thematically relevant skill that has struggled to see much use. However, stacking flat damage is ineffective with fractional %WD, and all the more so with damage reduction; a further complication is that elemental damage added to TSS ends up as 55% fire due to the double conversion.

There’s no easy solution, and available workarounds (such as granting TSS a %WD well above 100%) would probably prove outlandish or too contrived for players to build around. The straightforward option would be introduce IEE modifiers, perhaps ones that mimick Iskandra’s relic:

  • IEE: grant a chance of high flat damage or DoTs. (It’s hardly as if one-handed melee Iskandra is going to suddenly become overpowered.)

IEE modifiers would provide no incentive to invest in the skill beyond the usual one-pointer, but they’d save face thematically.

This is awesome. I love the style and objectivity of this post. And it’s not just your own personal desire to play TSS spam. Other players had that idea, too, and it would’ve been a great idea. I mentioned not once that unless they make Iskandra a set for TSS spam they better not bother even changing it. They did bother and what followed was a short-lived litany of complaints followed by relative disinterest.

This? This would’ve been FRESH. If this had been done instead of just changing the color and adding a few scraps of wd (totally agree - this could’ve been done with a conduit) we’d have had more Iskandra builds posted than EoRs or AARs. And afaik the number of guides to the new Iskandra posted on these forums is zero.

I’m not saying that fire TSS is a bad idea. Trozan doesn’t support fire. So that’s also new. But Trozan is 4pc and its main course is Devils. Everybody knows TSS is a supplementary dmg skill. To make a 5pc focus only on it? Like I surmised long ago and Pareto now proved, it only could only work by a radical change which is spam.


I would not, however, focus on wd or adcth.

+1 from me as well.

Extremely detailed post, honestly never until this point did I want to play spam TSS.
It might be a challenge to balance it but imo what isn’t challenging when it comes to balance? So I hope this is considered it adds more flavor to the skill and adds a new playstyle. Also adds more value to the set itself.

Elemental TSS Spam sounds awesome imo. I am not too keen on IEE mods to be frank. Elemental TSS would satiate me personally.

This would indeed differentiate it from the other TSS sets. Though Allagast gets pretty quick with its cdr, it’s still night and day from 0 cd, cast speed TSS.

I’m impressed by the effort put into this. I’m feeling a bit ashamed to post inferior feedback now :smiley:

Fantastic feedback posts Pareto! This is an amazing idea and one that I wholeheartedly agree should be done. It would provide a very distinct theme to Iskandra’s Set and spam casting TSS (at a much reduced damage) would be very welcome.

+1 for the idea and +1 for a great, informative post!

I once requested spam-able TSS as a transmutor. Great to see someone else has been inspired to get it into the game.

+1 for spammable TSS as well, definitely sounds fun. I’m not sure how fast casts get but have you considered trying -2 projectiles with less of a damage penalty (or no penalty at all)? Or is keeping the 3 projectiles necessary?

It’s not necessary per se, but I think most players will agree that “meteors”, plural, is part of the charm of meteor spam. Fortunately, precedent is on our side: when transmuted, Phantasmal Blades don’t lose projectiles, and neither do Stun Jacks.

Charm aside, the foremost consideration is the loss of AoE, which would need to be addressed by radius modifiers. Also note that the fewer projectiles Iskandra offers, the more valuable Trozan’s scepter becomes. It’s already a near-unquestionable pick, and if we got down to a single shard, players really would have no reason to consider anything else: the scepter would be the one item that doubles the damage of your primary attack.

Well, %WD is mostly a matter of ambition. If by “focus” you mean %WD beyond 100% for effective damage stacking, I agree that it’s wishful thinking; however, I do like values in the 75-100% range for the flexibility they provide when it comes to adcth.

Speaking of which, adcth is somewhat emphasized in the OP because, to my knowledge, there’s not one channelled spell that is competitive in the endgame without it, and that’s been the lay of the land for a long while. Do you feel spammable TSS would be different?

How about Drain Essence? From me perspective, it’s very endgame-competive, but has no %WD.

I mean, for the sake of diversity and balance, I’d rather see potential TSS spam as a powerful offensive solution that’s not offering any sustain. So that sustain would have to be achieved by other means. I don’t like the idea of every single dmg skill having access to wd or adcth. It makes the game less diverse.

But if it’s possible in practice, I don’t know

Thematically, Iskandra having weapon damage on one of the skills it supports makes sense as she lorewise is a Mage who draws out power from her weapon, hence IEE.

So, I could see Iskandra TSS keeping a bit, just not much - similar amounts to Elemental PRM with M. Arcanum Sigillis/Spellgaze after the total damage modifier is taken into account I suppose. Taking the 3 projectiles into account is worth noting as well as modifiers will apply to just one.

Love the detailed post. TSS is one of those skills I really have not used much. I typically get bored during the levelling phase because the damage and AoE is underwhelming.

I’m not surprised that TSS is behind later on as it is usually the flat damage skills that are most at risk of being underwhelming, especially skills with cooldowns. I find that item mods for flat damage or cooldown skills tend to be weak relative to WD% skills.

I don’t like the idea of every skill needing adcth either, but the lack of decent sustain alternatives to adcth is a problem that many non-WD casters face. It does seem adcth is gradually creeping into more caster skills like AAR, I guess it is the easiest option for Crate though.

Hmm. IEE is one of those skills I had forgotten about beyond one point investment; I am genuinely interested if there is a single build which maxes it? Even if there was, it is clearly weak, so why not buff it?

Great suggestion, it definitely will make Iskandra unique among TSS set.

Devils/Totems/Box builds seem to be doing just fine without adcth on their mains. They scrap from procs and health regen. It’s working quite well provided your offense is good enough.

However, spam builds have a problem because they can’t kite so it’s probably better to listen to Pareto who tested it on mods.

Oh, I agree in principle. But in practice, I just end up taking Bat. So much for diversity. :stuck_out_tongue:

Jokes aside, lifesteal almighty is a real issue (there was a long thread about it recently), but rooted pretty deep. I’m not sure how much one set can dare here: prior updates to PRM and AAR suggest that Crate prefers toeing the line on damage and adding lifesteal rather than attempting to recover the glass cannon archetype for mages. And that would be tough going for balance, because mages would need to stand apart as actual glass cannons in a game where there’s no end to builds with high damage and high lifesteal and cozy gameplay.

Anyhow, I’m not particularly attached to the notion of lifesteal from TSS; I included it in the proposal because it’s what other channelled spells ended up with, and because it’s one turn of a knob away from working – deceptively minimal changesets make for good prototypes. What I do think remains warranted, especially for a channelled spell, is some form of sustained healing with good QoL. Devotions and item procs aren’t quite there yet. Lifesteal is a tried and true solution, but if we want to consider more radical departures from the current set bonuses, by all means.

Wow, you did a very good job with this mod as well as good presentation:cool: