GW2: Scepter Guide for New Mesmers

When I first played the original Guild Wars beta, over 7 years ago, the mesmer came with a disclaimer on the character creator stating that the profession required advanced tactics and may not be suitable for new players. I was hooked on the mesmer from there on. In Guild Wars 2, this iconic class has undergone a substancial overhaul and is much more self-sufficient than in the original. However, the GW2 mesmer still has a somewhat steeper learning curve relative to some other professions. I posted a version of the following on the official forums during BWE3 to help new players more effectively use the mesmer's starting weapon: the scepter. My hope is that this guide will help make the first 10 levels of the game as painless as possible, at which point you can really start to customize the mesmer to your preferred playstyle.

Every new character in GW2 starts in a story mode instance based on the selected race. If this is your first time playing GW2, you should use this opportunity to check out the game options, display settings and key bindings before heading off towards the opening quest objective. Soon enough you'll encounter your first enemy or "mob". You only have one attack unlocked, Ether Bolt, so use it. The basic auto-attack on the scepter has a 3 step chain. On every third attack, it creates a clone that looks like you and attacks your mob but doesn't really do any damage. Now that you have a clone, let's use F1 or F2 to shatter him for some extra damage. If the mob is attacking your clone or not attacking at all, hit F1 for Mind Wrack which deals direct damage to the mob. If the mob is attacking you or an ally, use F2 for Cry of Frustration which causes a condition called confusion that causes damage when that mob uses a skill. Try both of them out and get a feel for how much damage they do with a single clone. When you unlock your second skill, Illusionary Counter, you can use it to block an attack and generate a clone or tap it twice to blind your foe instead. Test out both of your shatters with two clones and see how they've improved. If you find yourself taking too much damage, use skill #6 to heal yourself. You may even unlock your third weapon skill which is a hard hitting channelled attack that applies several stacks of confusion.

Eventually you'll get to an epic cinematic and huge boss mob. Look out for red circles or big attack animations and dodge out of the way. If you happen to get hit, don't panic -- you're not dead yet. Start to use the #1 attack in the downed state on one of the low level mobs in the area. You can also use the #2 skill to create a decoy, the #3 skill to summon a phantasm to lay some extra hurt your target, or the #4 skill to heal yourself if you're close to bleeding out. Keep it up until you score a kill and rally. Go back to working on the boss mob until you finish it off and save the day!

After killing the boss, you get another nice cut scene and a quest reward. This includes a bag, some XP, some coin, and your choice of two off-hand weapons. I’d highly recommend choosing the focus from the first quest reward. Not only is Temporal Curtain great for travelling, but it’s also great for snaring melee attackers so you avoid getting hit and acts as a light field. The Illusionary Warden gives you some AoE damage -- which the scepter is lacking, provides defense against projectiles and doubles as a whirl finisher. This means that once you've unlocked both of the focus skills you can do your own skill combos! Start with using Illusionary Warden on a mob then place a Temporal Curtain on top of him. The resulting combo shoots Cleansing Bolts in different directions and remove conditions from allies that they hit. While testing this out, you may observe that the Illusionary Warden is a stationary phantasm, and won’t move until you use a shatter skill. I’d also recommend that you have at least one clone up before summoning the Warden so he doesn’t get killed right away.

Against melee attackers, you want to open with the scepter auto attack and use Temporal Curtain to cripple them. Your goal is to get at least two clones up before the mob gets close to you. When the mob starts to get close, use Confusion Images. While channeling, use Cry of Frustration. Depending on how many clones you had up, the mob should have 8-9 stacks of confusion. and should be just about to swing at you. Use Illusionary Counter to block the attack, and watch the mob take massive confusion damage while you get away scratch free! If that didn’t kill it, go back to auto-attacking, use the dodge roll to avoid the next two attacks, then use Mind Wrack when you get enough clones.

In dynamic events with lots of people, don’t be stingy with your shatters. The odds of you getting 3 illusions up in such a situation are pretty slim unless you're fighting a champion, so don't hestitate to do a single illusion shatter if that's all you can get off before the mob dies. If possible, try to summon your Warden on a target in the middle of a group with high health, let him do his attack once, then shatter him. He’s going to die when your target dies anyways, so you may as well get the most out of it.

Once you've reached level 5, you'll unlock your first utility skill. There's a lot of really great skills to choose from here, but the one I would recommend picking up first is Blink. This is a ground targeted skill that teleports you to the selected location while breaking stuns. The reason I suggest this skill first is that it will help you get around the map a little bit faster when out of combat, while also helping you keep your distance from melee mobs. Look for skill challenges on the map, marked with the blue chevron, and complete them to unlock some other utility skills of your choice. My personal favorites on the 1st tier are Null Field and Signet of Domination. If you're unsure of how a particular skill works, you can always use the PvP menu to go to the Mists and test it out on the target dummies there.

Eventually you'll start to encounter some ranged attackers. Against these mobs you can open with Confusing Images and Illusionary Counter since they’ll generally start attacking right away. Since you get a clone on counter, this will give you a distraction to summon an Illusionary Warden on them and block their projectiles. Once you get a few more skill points, you can combine confusion with the Feedback utility skill to quickly take down ranged attackers.

I’d recommend sticking with scepter/focus until at least level 7 when you unlock weapon swapping. Weapon swapping really opens up a lot of play-style options for the mesmer. It’s much easier to survive as sword mesmer when you can weapon swap to a staff for Phase Retreat after blowing your defensive cool-downs. Likewise, the greatsword benefits from a weapon swap once enemies get close. You may want to keep the scepter/focus on a weapon swap until you unlock all the skills on your weapon of choice. These are just my opinions of course, so if there’s a weapon combination you really want to play with go right ahead! Regardless of what you choose, you should always keep a focus in your bag so that you can switch to it when you're not in combat for the swiftness buff.

I just hope that these tips help some newcomers who might be turned off by the scepter after hearing horror stories from the first two BWEs. The scepter was vastly improved in BWE3 and I expect it to be even more polished by release. Overall, I think that using the scepter/focus will help you learn how to effectively utilize the core mesmer mechanics. There’s a lot to learn about playing a mesmer, but the class has a nice rhythm once you get used to it. Stick it out for a while and you might be pleasantly surprised!

Guild Wars 2: Mesmer Sharper Images Analysis

This weekend marks the 3rd Beta World Event for Guild Wars 2. I wrote a little bit about my general experiences in the first BWE, but this time I'm focusing on a very specific area of the game. In the first BWE, I was just playing the game and having fun with it. In the second BWE, I started to do a lot more "testing". In particular, one of the things I was testing was the "Sharper Images" trait.

Sharper Images (SI) is a Dueling trait that causes critical hits from Illusions to inflict bleeding for 5 seconds. This trait was bugged in the first BW1 and didn't work at all. In the second BWE1, it worked as described but a second phantasm trait called "Phantasmal Haste" was bugged resulting in some crazy damage output. This means that I didn't get a very good perspective on how these two traits would work together, but that's okay because I can do the math! In addition to seeing how the phantasm related traits would interact together, I also wanted to find out which stats to gear for in order to maximize my damage. In order to do this, we first need some information about how damage is calculated in GW2. Assuming a level 80 character:

  • Pandara_RA! at Team Legacy worked out the following formula for the base damage of an attack:  Base Damage = \frac{(Power) \cdot (Weapon Damage) \cdot (Skill Coefficient)}{Target Armor}
  • The chance of getting a critical attack is determined by the Precision above the base:  CritRate= \frac{4 + (Precision - Base)/21}{100}
  • When an attack criticals, it hits for 50% more damage plus any bonus to critical damage (Prowess). With this, we can find out the average damage of an attack using:  Direct Damage = (Base Damage) \cdot (1+(Crit Rate) \cdot (0.5+\frac{Prowess}{100}))
  • The last piece of information we need is the bleeding damage, which is dependent on condition damage (Malice). According to the GW2 wiki this is determined by  \frac{damage}{second} = 40+0.05 \cdot (Malice) . The bleed duration of 5 seconds can be improved through stats, but only pulses once per second. This means that we can round the duration down to find the number of pulses and find the total bleed damage:  \frac{damage}{second} \cdot \lfloor duration \rfloor

To get a rough estimate of Phantasm DPS, I put these formulas together with some various equipment set-ups and trait choices. You can download this spreadsheet here. To make things simplier, I focused entirely on "Illusionary Duelist" with SI because I knew it hits 8 times every 10 seconds. I also had to make several assumptions about how certain traits would stack, and all of this is subject to change when the game is released anyway. Despite these shortcomings, I found several interesting results:

  • Without any bonus condition damage, SI can add about 10%-20% damage depending on the target's armor (best against higher armor foes) when used in conjunction with Phantasmal Fury. This puts it on par with most damage traits at the adept level.
  • With a skill coefficient of about 0.5 (a total guess BTW), the direct damage builds and condition damage builds I tried seem to even out in terms of potential damage. A lower skill coefficient tends to favor condition damage and a higher one favors direct damage.
  • Chaotic Transference bonus seems lack-luster relative to the heavy investment.
  • Phantasmal Strength and Empowered Illusions complement each other well in a power Build, but the investment for Phantasmal Strength doesn't seem worth it in a condition damage build.
  • Phantasmal Haste tends to work better with a condition damage build than a power build. You don't need to hit hard with SI, you just need to hit often.
  • Investing 20 points into Domination can have a big effect on condition damage builds because it extends bleeds for an extra tick. This makes Lyssa's Runes a potentially interesting choice with SI because of the +10% condition duration, allowing you to spend 10 of those points from Domination elsewhere with minimal DPS loss.
  • The Rampager jewelry seems to be a better choice than Rabid for a condition damage build with SI. There's no point to having strong bleeds if you aren't applying them frequently enough.

There's still a lot more analysis to be done here and some empirical data to collect in BWE3 to verify these findings, but the results look promising. As it stands, you can make SI work in either a direct damage phantasm build or condition damage build with the appropriate gear. Small tweaks to the skill coefficient can keep the two builds competitive if necessary. This fits with Arena.Net's philosophy of having multiple play-styles be equally viable.

I'd encourage you to try out the spreadsheet with other gear and build combinations that I didn't try. If you're feeling adventurous, you might even extend it to include skills other than iDuelist or other traits I may have overlooked. If you find out any more information about how phantasm damage is calculated I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

Happy theory-crafting!

Update: BWE3

I did a little testing during BWE3, regarding the attack rates and skill coefficients of the different phantasms. This information should help give an idea of how much each phantasm benefits from stacking Power vs stacking crit/condition damage for Sharper Images. Please note that my recharge times were approximated, and Sanek over at GW2Guru came up with somewhat different numbers. I'm including both my attack rates and his for comparison:

illusion Hits Recharge Attack Rate (hits/sec) Sanek's Recharge Sanek's Rate (Hit/sec) Approx. Skill Coef. DPS Coef. (Mine) DPS Coef. (Sanek)
iDuelist 8 10 0.8 7.5 1.066666667 0.228956229 0.183164983 0.244219978
iSwordsman 1 3 0.333333333 5.5 0.181818182 0.734006734 0.244668911 0.13345577
iWarlock 1 5 0.2 6 0.166666667 0.080808081 0.016161616 0.013468013
iBerserker 1 5 0.2 6 0.166666667 0.281144781 0.056228956 0.046857464
iMage 1 5 0.2 6.7 0.149253731 0.397306397 0.079461279 0.059299462
iDefender 1 3 0.333333333 4.5 0.222222222 0.131313131 0.043771044 0.029180696
iDisenchanter 1 3 0.333333333 4.5 0.222222222 0.131313131 0.043771044 0.029180696
iWarden 12 10 1.2 14 0.857142857 0.033670034 0.04040404 0.028860029
swordClone 3 3 1
staffClone 1 1 1
scepterClone 2 3 0.666666667
gsClone 3 2 1.5

Knowing that the skill coefficient for iDuelist is only 0.23, stacking for condition damage seems to be the best method to maximize damage over time with Sharper Images given a high enough crit rate to apply it consistently. As a general rule of thumb, if your crit rate is less than 50% then you should be gearing for power and if your crit rate is greater than 50% then you should be gearing for condition damage.

A few other interesting things to note:

  • iSwordsman has one of the best skill coefficients of any phantasm. If you're not using Sharper Images and have Power oriented spec, you may want to try out the off-hand sword.
  • iWarlock's DPS is pretty pitiful without conditions. I'm not sure what the bonus per condition is, but I'd recommend having two staff clones up with iWarlock since they have a much faster attack rate. Edit: 10% bonus per condition
  • iWarden has quick attack rate and is has an AoE attack, but remember that this Phantasm is stationary. You're very unlikely to get all 12 hits against a real player.
  • iBerserker has slow recharge AoE attack that moves down a line. It might be possible to hit an opponent twice with this if they're running in the same direction, but I can't be sure about it.
  • The Greatsword clones have the fastest attack rate of any illusion according to my tests. It seems kind of odd that the best clone for Sharper Images would be on a weapon with no innate condition damage.
  • iMage has a high skill coefficient but low attack rate. At first glance, this looks like it would be better for a power build than condition build, but you should remember that he also applies Confusion on attack.
  • iMage and iDisenchanter have bouncing attacks that hit three targets: 1 enemy and 2 allies. I couldn't seem to get it to hit the same enemy twice, but this is something to check for on release.
  • Keep in mind that my original spreadsheet assumes that you leave your Phantasms out all the time. As of BWE3, this is no longer the optimal play-style. If you decide to go with a Power build, you'll probably get the best burst damage by using Mind Wrack right after your phanstasm's first attack cylce. Likewise, Cry of Frustration can now dish out some major hurt if you're built for condition damage.