[Something Clever about Rifles]: Valdun's Piercing Tactician (SR80 [barely], controller friendly)

Part nine of my controller friendly build series: Piercing Valdun’s Cadence Tactician

The first thing is that the description of Fragmentation Round is misleading, (particularly on Grimtools where it neglects to mention that there are EIGHT projectiles): It fires eight projectiles at random within a fairly tight cone, (although they appear to only penetrate once), as shown below. In short, it’s an extremely powerful spell, with 720% weapon damage + 2.5k piercing in total.

I was convinced that this build could clear SR80, and after several hours of frustration and tweaks, I managed to do it. I wouldn’t recommend this build for SR80, but it’s fairly smooth for farming SR75.

Grimtools link. The prefixes and suffixes on Iron Maiden’s Shoulderguard are the best I have, not necessarily optimal. Altered link thanks to Gnomish_Inquisition’s suggestion. I think it’s a little bit stronger, but it’s not what I cleared SR80 with.

Longer Introduction

Valdun’s + Tactician seemed so straightforward, I was surprised nobody had done it before. I wondered if that was because it was terrible, but I decided to try it out anyway. It turns out that it’s very strong, in part due to the power of Fragmentation Round. Another strength is the 50% WPS on the set. While they aren’t the strongest WPS, they free up skill points to flesh out the defense. On a Cadence build, where WPS aren’t the primary source of damage, these WPS are good enough, and the build doesn’t struggle for damage, even with all the defense I put into it to clear SR80. The one thing I was disappointed about was the similarities in play style to my 2H ranged Witchblade. More on that below.
The playstyle is: keep Word of Renewal up, cast Word of Pain, fire Fragmentation Round, throw down Inquisitor Seal, cast Cadence until Fragmentation Round is back up, immediately fire Fragmentation Round. You cast Horn of Gandarr when you’re worried and Murmur’s Kiss when you’re in trouble.

Screenshot with Deadly Momentum and Word of Renewal, and without Deadly Aim:

Comparison to Witchblade

Obviously, they have almost no skills in common. Murmur’s Kiss is their disengage rune, they both use Markovian’s Advantage and Zolhan’s Technique, and they both have Field Command and some Soldier passives. However, the main skills you cast have very similar roles: Touch of Chaos/Cadence, Blood of Dreeg/Word of Renewal, Curse of Frailty/Word of Pain, and – to my surprise – Doom Bolt/Fragmentation Round. The Tactician has Horn of Gandarr and Inquisitor Seal, but they aren’t super important. So here are the pros and cons of Valdun’s Tactician compared to Rah’Zin’s/Harbinger Witchblade. Overall, I think my Witchblade build is stronger.

Pros vs Witchblade:

  • Higher DA

  • OA reduction from Azrakaa is more reliable than Murmur’s Kiss

  • higher Armor

  • a bit tankier, sometimes

  • much better lifesteal

  • much better levelling

  • has a functional knockback

  • less set reliant (if you’re missing a piece of Valdun’s you can get by, if you’re missing a piece of Rah’Zin’s that build doesn’t work.)

  • more multi-target damage (although you have to line your enemies up)

Cons vs Witchblade:

  • only barely clears SR80 (ie with like 20 tries)

  • not much more than half the single target damage (sheet DPS is misleading because of the way Cadence interacts with WPS.) (Mad Queen took ~10s vs ~5s)

  • dies instantly when tankiness runs out

  • much less damage on the run and while kiting.

  • Inquisitor Seal is only useful when you’re strong enough to facetank.

  • the above factors make it inferior against Celestials. (I couldn’t even kill Ravager).

  • overall takes longer to do stuff

  • uses MI shoulders

  • less healing when not lifestealing

  • Word of Pain has clunky/inconsistent casting compared to Curse of Frailty

  • Word of Pain has a smaller radius (unless you put more points into Word of Agony)

  • less reliable DA reduction

  • needs plenty of energy tonics

  • is super weak against Fabius “The Unseen” Gazer; on SR80, he was almost impossible: I think Word of Pain triggers a big retaliation every time it ticks, which is once a second. So if you use Word of Pain, then when you run away to get your cooldowns back up you die from the retaliation, and if you don’t use Word of Pain he has too much pierce resist and takes forever to die, in which time he’ll get a lucky crit burst+WPS burst and kill you. Most of my deaths at SR80 were against Fabius.

  • Doom Bolt is cooler and more satisfying than Fragmentation Round (although they’re basically used identically)

  • Chariot of the Dead is possibly thematically inconsistent with Inquisitor

Video proof of clear

Fight tips

  • Offense: Cadence is your biggest damage dealer, and it will penetrate in a line, so try to line up your enemies for every third strike. If you’re holding down “A” (at least on controller) to cast Cadence, you need to release Cadence in order to cast Word of Pain.
    Fragmentation Round is great: against clusters of enemies it will do a bunch of damage, and against bosses you can get all 8 projectiles to hit for a huge damage spike.
    Make sure you drink energy tonics as necessary. You won’t need to drink them on cooldown, but you will need to pay attention to your energy.

  • Defense: with 720% weapon damage, Fragmentation Round will also give you a big spike of healing. If you’re struggling for healing, saving Fragmentation Round can be useful. Inquisitor Seal, with so few points in it, is a modest buff, but rarely a game-changer. Horn of Gandarr is similar in that respect. When your defense runs out you will die instantly, so you have to be very careful against hard content. Sometimes you just have to keep running away until your skills are off CD, and your enemies get bored and leave.


As usual, the resists are overcapped to deal with resist reduction on high SR.

Essential Gear:

  • Valdun’s Set: Fragmentation round on the weapon, strong passives on the chest and head, a decent WPS on the amulet, and a strong debuffing WPS on the 4 piece bonus. You can do campaign content while missing pieces, but I don’t think you’re clearing SR80. Or even SR70. Maybe even SR60. I haven’t checked.

Stuff I’m pretty sure is best in slot:

  • Bladetwister Signet: the conversion and attack speed are nice, but the passive pierce resist reduction is essential since soldier has no pierce RR.

  • Pack of Treacherous Means: flat piercing damage and an amazing passive plus 7 points in important skills make this a clear choice. And it has attack speed and max poison resist.

  • Arcane Harmony Leggings: I know I’m probably the biggest fan of these, but I believe a build is only as strong as its weakest link, and without disruption protection you will really struggle against certain enemies. +84/126 spirit goes towards the spirit requirements of your gear, and +84/126 DA is awesome as well. The resistances are good too. I don’t know why other people don’t use this as much as I do.

  • Direwolf Crest: while the passive is useless here, the piercing damage and skill boosts are excellent, and the offensive ability is huge on a crit heavy build like this. (You need crits to proc Assassin’s Blade, and they activate Deadly Aim, and you have crit damage bonuses.)

  • Belgothian’s Sigil: while it only gives +2 to Markovian’s advantage, it comes with flat piercing damage and a lot of attack speed, which I needed to hit maximum attack speed. There may be good defensive rings, but none come to mind, and Belgothian’s was clearly the best for DPS.

  • Serenity: there isn’t a strong piercing damage relic for this build, so it defaults to Serenity. With +1 to all skills and useful resists, it’s a solid option.

  • Shadow’s Grasp: it was a tough decision between these and Quickdraw Gloves. Shadow’s Grasp has less attack speed, but the rolls on my gear were good enough that I still hit the cap. Ranged Expertise is maxed anyway, so those points go to your worst skill, while Deadly Aim and Deadly Momentum can use the points. Shadow’s Grasp comes with more Piercing damage, but the kicker was the big cunning boost, which increases damage and OA. Quickdraw Gloves would let you replace Consecrated Wrappings with a better defensive option, and have more vit resist and a useful bleeding resist, so if you don’t want to farm Ugdenblooms etc for the best components, Quickdraw Gloves may be the easier option.

Other stuff:

  • Iron Maiden’s Shoulderguard: the +3 to Cadence is the main draw, although the health and armor percentage boosts are nice. The best one I have comes with Piercing damage and %DA, so it was clearly my best option. Since they drop from SR rewards chests, it’s not too hard to get a good one. You can also use Malmouth Vanguard Pauldrons, Amarastan Pauldrons, Warborn Pauldrons, or Goredrinker’s Mantle as solid options to finish your points in Cadence.

  • 2 Titan Plating components: I put these here to try to help me deal with SR80 Fabius. I’m unclear on how his retaliation works, or if it even is reflected damage or just bleeding or something. The Titan Platings may have helped a little, but he still killed me almost every time.

  • Windshear Greaves: give you big DA, piercing damage, and +2 to fighting form. These aren’t amazing, but I think they’re slightly better than alternatives. I’m far from convinced.


I’m not happy that I had to go with Chariot of the Dead on an inquisitor, but I needed the stats it provides. You could also do a thematically preferable version with more defense, getting the +40 +6% DA from Obelisk of Menhir, but I needed the OA from Chariot to have the necessary crits on SR80, and the other stuff was important too.


  • Assassin’s Blade: pierce RR, so it goes on the main skill.

Not core

  • Azrakaa, the Eternal Sands: good bonuses to your damage, and gives impaired aim. It’s 0.5s cd makes it a natural fit for Word of Pain.

  • Hydra: attack speed and lifesteal, OA and convertable physical damage.

  • Kraken: great source of attack speed. Other damage bonuses too.

  • Harpy and Mantis: flat piercing damage, and energy regen.

  • Hawk: crit damage and 3% OA

  • Panther: OA and energy regen

  • Chariot of the Dead: only necessary for high SR, where (I think) it’s the best way to get enough OA without sacrificing too much defense.

  • Everything else is just for defense.

Skill choices

  • Cadence: this is the primary source of damage. If you’re unfamiliar with how it works: you do two normal attacks, then a third Cadence strike, which does massive damage and, with Fighting Form >= 12, always penetrates (at least once, I’m not 100% certain about after that.) While the Cadence strike doesn’t apply WPS, the two attacks before it can. Since they don’t get (partially) multiplied as they do with other attack replacers (like Savagery or Righteous Fervor or Fire Strike), in this Cadence build WPS are more for applying debuffs than for increasing damage. Damage is nice, but choosing more damaging WPS doesn’t really increase the build’s damage.

  • Zolhan’s Technique: this is a great WPS, as it penetrates, does 170% damage, and massively slows the attack speed of enemies it hits for 10 seconds. This means the debuff should almost always be up. Initially I was using Bursting Round (which I generally love), but switching to Zolhan’s gave a big increase in defense.

  • Markovian’s Advantage: it only applies its debuff to the first enemy you hit, which isn’t ideal. Against bosses – where you need the DA reduction – it should proc enough to let you get the crits you need.

  • Field Command: gives you big OA and DA and a huge armor boost.

  • Scars of Battle: is great for high SR.

  • Word of Pain: Death Sentence is your second highest, and most reliable, source of Pierce resist reduction. The first point in Word of Agony is essential, while the next 3 are just because I got frustrated with how few enemies Word of Pain would afflict.

  • Ranged Expertise: huge offense buffs

  • Word of Renewal: essential for defense, and provides solid healing.

  • Aura of Conviction: I thought about Oleron’s Rage as the exclusive skill, but while Oleron’s will give about 200 more OA, Aura of Conviction gives more damage and defense.

  • Deadly Aim: should be up close to 50% of the time, so it’s great. I wanted to put more points into it, but I needed the defense for SR80.

  • Inquisitor Seal: I do not like this spell for ranged builds, but for 2 points it is somewhat useful.

  • Horn of Gandarr: I have mixed feelings about this skill, because the confusion doesn’t appear to work on strong enemies, but this build doesn’t have a good source of damage reduction so I went with Horn of Gandarr for that reason alone.

  • Rune of Murmur’s Kiss (the medal augment): a ranged build should usually have a disengage, and Murmur’s Kiss gives a big OA reduction and percent damage reduction. Since it’s your only mobility skill, and thus your only escape, you can’t spam it to keep up the debuffs, or else you may not have it when you need it. Plus, it moves you out of inquisitor seal.

Leveling tips

This was a really strong build for levelling. I think it was the power of Cadence and the defenses of Soldier that made it so smooth. I didn’t really have trouble with anything, but I also have a lot of gear in my stash. The level 75 Valdun’s set is good through level 94, when you can equip the full version.

Try to get Azrakaa as soon as possible because it takes so much experience to max out.


couple questions, “as usual” :sweat_smile:, if you don’t mind

don’t understand using these, when you have could use something else to either improve overcaps more, or other stats (119 pierce res vs 28/22 aether vit res overcap)
*reflected dmg reduct does nothing against retaliation, tho what usually hurts on fabius is his blade barrier reflect (would do something there), but it’s easier to just stop attacking when he barriers anyway

don’t quite understand why you decided to take this to 22? seems like fairly wasted skill points, aside from current patch reaching max effect at 4pts (will be fixed in 9.8), any further points doesn’t increase passthrough just small additive %dmg, which seems like could be used better elsewhere/for bigger gains, like more flat dmg in Steel Resolve (also more racism, and resist), squad tactics which also offers generic %dmg but speed at the same time too

with just 10% lifesteal seems like solael would be godtier here? - while disrupt obv can affect cadence too it’s not really as detrimental as ex EoR or AAR, but more so being a gunner makes it much easier to avoid disrupt pools i think. Unsure if it’s just habit at this point, or an "over"valuation of what disrupt res offers some builds maybe ? :thinking:

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Thanks for the feedback.

The Titan Plating was not about Blade Barrier. The damage from Blade Barrier wasn’t a problem, perhaps because I know to run away. It was the rest of the time, where I was taking huge chunks (~1-2k) of damage in sync with Word of Pain’s hits, even when I stopped attacking, that I hoped the reflected damage reduction would help. I noticed that with the +15% pierce resist mutator the chunks were less damaging (and I have around 80% elemental to pierce conversion), and so I tried not using Word of Pain on him, and those overwhelming chunks of damage disappeared, which led me to believe they were some form of reflection. Not sure though. I was able to survive that way until he got a consecutive WPS proc and deleted me. Titan Plating also gives %physique which is nice, and a big armor boost, which probably doesn’t hurt either. I pointed it out because I’m very unsure of whether it’s actually the best option.

Fighting Form has %pierce increase, and also some bleeding damage but I think I just maxed it without thinking. I just checked, and it brings the damage from 196k at level 12 to 205k at level 22, so it’s less than 5% damage, but not insignificant. I think Tactician, Level 100 (GD - Grim Dawn Build Calculator would be a little better overall, but a quick SR80 test showed it wasn’t actually that much tougher. It’s a good suggestion, but not one I’m going to spend 4 hours testing to see what its statistical value is compared to the build I was running. I’ll add the altered grimtools link though.

A few points about Arcane Harmony: Although it has useful resists and its passive knockback can be useful, it also has over 100DA on a good one, and it lets this cunning based build hit its spirit requirements without spending a single attribute point, so most of the +spirit turns into cunning. While this is a ranged build, it’s at its best when standing still and opening fire (especially since Fragmentation Round is a cone, and it uses Inquisitor Seal). With disruption protection, there’s not much danger. If your skills are disrupted for 1s or more, you may find yourself unable to disengage, or fire Fragmentation Round, or lifesteal off of Fragmentation Round. I think it’s worth it. And there aren’t any really compelling alternatives.
This build may only have 10% lifesteal, but it does a lot of weapon damage and doesn’t lack for healing while attacking. Its healing on the run isn’t great, but there aren’t pants that will significantly change that. The deaths I was having weren’t due to gradual damage overwhelming the lifesteal, but were instant bursts for which lifesteal isn’t particularly relevant. In the middle, for example against Valdaran in the example video, the constant lifesteal plus the 3 sources of burst healing (Word of Renewal, Healing Potion, and Fragmentation Round) meant that healing wasn’t a huge issue. In the scenarios where extra lifesteal could be useful, I could easily disengage with Murmur’s Kiss and use that space to get the healing shots off. In general, with this build, most of what could be achieved with more lifesteal can also be achieved by kiting a bit more actively, while getting a big burst of disruption can be fatal. Even though this is an auto attack build, if you’re disrupted you can’t disengage or blow Horn of Gandarr, and you lose the lifesteal offered by Cadence and Fragmentation round, so disruption would still be very dangerous. A build lacking disruption protection is going to be more inconsistent, and I keep coming back to the fact that Arcane Harmony legs also have some other great stats. I don’t think I’d use them very often if it weren’t for the disruption protection, but it’s something I value highly for the consistency it provides. You could try this build without disruption resist, but you would occasionally run into problems. You could use Arcane Sparks or something to get some disruption resist back, but I don’t see it being worth it.
As I say, I’m probably the biggest fan of Arcane Harmony Leggings.

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not really, not just saying that as most “regular” build don’t focus intensively in getting disrupt resist, but also my own playing ofc
aside from not being immune to disrupt even with arcane harmony legs (80 is not 100% remember), then there was the aforementioned note of avoiding disrupt attacks, which some builds handle easier, and some suffer less from disrupt in general; you still get disrupted if you do get disrupted (it’s just the duration that’s cut down)
as for the lifesteal, since cadence only heals “big” on every 3rd shot, it would increase your lifesteal 50% on on every non cadence shot, which could potentially be significant, hence mentioning it.
*as for Valde chunking your hp down, he does like a MadQueen “retalitory” buff effect, where if you attack him his aura triggers those multi projectile zappy shots at you, as gunner you can basically avoid that danger by just staying at range so it doesn’t shotgun hit/projectiles spread out

that shouldn’t be a thing :thinking: - reflect should be disabled in SR, except for Fabius blade barrier (3sec duration), and retal shouldn’t trigger on debuffs , so that’s a little curious, wonder if something unintended is happeing in SR

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It wasn’t the Mad Queen type thing, all I know is I kept dying even when I wasn’t attacking and he was far away. Could be a bug, could be I don’t know how to fight Fabius. I’ve never had problems with him like this on any other char. I normally consider him a “medium” boss, for which the mindset is something like “don’t worry, just pay attention and you should be fine.” Except I really wasn’t.

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the mad queen thing was in reference to Valderan, not Fabius, Valderan is easier to fight at range since his aura shotgun spreads out or gets avoided entirely, ie why it might felt safe/useful when using disengage to get distance when hp was dropping

Right, reading. I should try that. But the build is strong enough to sit there 90% of the time, which is a faster way of killing him than running around kiting. Nearly all bosses do less damage once you disengage.

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oh yea for sure, but in Valde’s case it can be quite the difference than usual

Fabius can one shot you at higher shards when you’re playing a glassier char. Also his pierce res is higher than most other enemies’, so for pierce builds without racial damage he feels longer to kill/will do more damage because he’s staying alive longer.

It’s a weird issue that you are describing though. Do you play on Xbox or pc?

I play on PC. I wouldn’t consider this a glass cannon, since it has decent health, 3k DA, 2.9k armor, and overcaps of over 20.
He was definitely slow to die, especially once I stopped applying Word of Pain. I know to expect longer kill times against stabby enemies on a pierce build, but that wasn’t the main problem. Although when it takes like 3 minutes to kill him he would eventually get lucky and kill me. And he did. It took so long because I died in about 10s when I used Word of Pain.

Human enemies can, if IIRC, spawn with different gear. So he could have rolled some extra pierce res that one time.

Looks good, but making a relic switch:

Azrakaa’s Epoch

+41% All dam
+83% Phys dam
+83% Pierce Dam
+80% Internal trauma
+63 OA
+71 DA
16% Vit Res
23% Reduced Petrify Dur
Comp. Bonus: 2% Crit dam

Calls Sand Devil on 1/3 crit hit

808 Phys Dam
803-1271 Pierce Dam
1816 Bleed/2 sec
18% Chance impaired target aim for 2 sec

Devil scales with player damage bonuses.

Your thoughts?

You’re losing +1 to all skills, and I don’t think that’s worth it for around a roughly 6% boost (since Gnomish_Inquisition said the Sand Devils don’t stack) to your damage. almost all of that boost is from the +all damage and +pierce damage. I like Serenity, and I use it on 4 of my 11 builds, so I’m not totally biased towards it. (Like I am for Arcane Harmony Leggings.) Math on the damage is in the compressed section.

Click to see (updated) math on damage

Since Sand Devils don’t stack their damage, they should do about 10k damage per second to each target.
That may look like a 5% boost, but it’s not so simple: DPS doesn’t take into account WPS, of which this build has a 100% proc rate. Cadence only procs WPS on the two charge up attacks, not the third empowered one, but WPS still substantially increase the damage. In short, the basic auto attacks do 25% of the sheet DPS, and the WPS have an average weapon damage of about 155%, plus their flat boosts, which I think average to around 5k flat damage per WPS. That accounts for a boost of 38% damage compared to the listed sheet DPS, which is around 80k DPS once you account their flat boosts, if my math is correct. More importantly, there are other substantial boosts in this build: Fragmentation round accounts for around 100k dps, and takes very little time to cast. The Azrakaa devotion gives about 16k dps, assuming an average of 1 active, but also has a 40% bonus to crit damage.

In total, that’s around a 200k dps boost, which means the bonus from Sand Devils goes down to around a 2.5% increase. If you multiply 102.5% by the 1.05 times increase from the pierce+all damage bonuses, you get around an 6% damage boost.

You already have a 20% chance of impaired aim from Word of Pain/Word of Agony, and a 25% chance from Azrakaa’s devotion, and I find impaired aim isn’t that useful anyway. Scary enemies are overwhelming melee, and impaired aim only affects ranged projectiles. The OA and DA on your relic will more than offset the loss of OA and DA from the -1 to all skills, but you will lose a ton of defense, damage, and utility elsewhere. You can keep Cadence and Ranged expertise maxed, and Fighting Form at 12/12, and Squad Tactics at whatever you need for 200% attack speed for the cost of 4 points elsewhere. You will straight up lose 1 point in everything else, which is around 20 more points lost.
If you’re doing post-game content, like high SR, you need the defense that those points buy you. If you’re not doing post-game content, you will have more than enough damage to blow everything up.
Azrakaa’s Epoch is not a terrible choice by any means, and if you don’t have Serenity it could be a decent alternative, but I think it’s far from optimal.

then you might aswell take vengeance

sand devils aren’t really that good in regular content, because their dmg doesn’t stack, so they get most utility, potentially, in crucible where they can run around in different directions hitting different enemies

Well, suck. Thought I had something there; those stats looked so damn good. Guess it’s time to dig out that Serenity relic. Hard to believe +1 could make that difference, but math isn’t one of my strong points.

Thanks for the info, Bagel.

Well, I haven’t tested it, but this build barely scrapes by SR80, so as desirable as more damage is, I think -1 to all skills would knock it down a few SRs. You could use Vengeance or Doom or Oleron’s Wrath, which offer +1 to all skills in Inquisitor or Soldier, however this build relies heavily on abilities from both; it has 12 skills in Soldier, and 12 skills in Inquisitor, so I think there would still be a significant drop in defense.