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State of the Game—October 23, 2006

Elementary, My Dear Reader

by Adam Sunstrom

Special note: Each State of the Game article presents the opinions and insights of one game observer. These observations are personal in nature and do not reflect the opinions of ArenaNet. While ArenaNet does review each State of the Game article to assure that it offers content that is respectful of all players, we intend to allow our reporters the freedom to inject some personal opinion into descriptions of the current atmosphere of competitive play in Guild Wars, and to express views based on their experience and observation.


At a casual glance, Elementalists seem to be the most straightforward casters in the game. The overwhelming majority of their skills are geared for one thing and one thing only: damage. Interestingly, this is their least common usage in high level GvG. True, Elementalists can pump out massive damage in both the short and long run, which makes them desirable in PvE. However, they are easier to shut down and less durable than Warriors, who also have the advantage of a strong basic attack when not using skills. A Warrior can constantly output damage, while an Elementalist must rely on Energy and stop for periods of time and cast spells to do damage.

Luckily, Elementalists have found their niche in top play despite being second-best at what seems to have been their intended primary function. Thanks mostly to Windborne Speed and Blinding Flash combined with long-range supportive Monk skills, Elementalists are the best flag runners for team synergy, though they can't always go solo against other runners. Earlier in the metagame, the most commonplace flag runner was the Crippling Shot Ranger build, but it was soon discovered that an Elementalist is more versatile.

Windborne Speed
Windborne Speed
Windborne SpeedWindborne Speed
Elementalist - Air Magic - Enchantment Spell
Energy: 10
Activation: 1
Duration: 5..11
Recharge: 5
Enchantment Spell. For 5..11 seconds, target ally moves 33% faster.

The keys to making a good Elementalist runner are Windborne Speed, Ether Prodigy, and Heal Party. This combination allows the Elementalist to help his team from afar more than any other profession could, largely because other types of runners must get into normal casting range to be useful. For example, another very popular long-range skill on such a runner is Extinguish. If the runner is skilled, he keeps track of the precise time of each flag stand capture, ensuring that if his enemy slacks off, he can spend the maximum amount of time somewhere within this long-distance range to help out his party. Many runners like to hover near the front gate of their base, often about halfway between the flag respawn location and the flag stand.

The most popular skills for the rest of the Skill Bar are Water Magic Hexes like Deep Freeze and Ice Spikes. Besides dealing a bit of damage, these facilitate escape from gank teams, hinder the enemy flag runner from capturing the flag stand in time to prevent a morale boost, and maximize kills by snaring an enemy team that has begun to crumble and flee.

Apart from flag running, Elementalists have been used in many spike builds in the past. One of the most ubiquitous ones was Fast Cast Air. This involved choosing Mesmer as primary profession for the Fast Casting attribute to rapidly deliver a Lightning Orb spike. The spike build took advantage of the Orb's short recharge and relied on the then-unattributed Elemental Attunement to continue spiking for little Energy cost.

Elemental Attunement
Elemental Attunement
Elemental AttunementElemental Attunement [Elite]
Elementalist - Energy Storage - Enchantment Spell
Energy: 10
Activation: 2
Duration: 30..55
Recharge: 45
Enchantment Spell. For 30..55 seconds, you are attuned to Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. You gain 50% of the base Energy cost of the skill each time you use magic associated with any of these elements.

When Elemental Attunement was moved to Energy Storage, it completely nerfed this build. Now the most common Elementalist spike build is the ever-popular Obsidian Flame spike. This skill offers an armor-ignoring and quickly recharging high-damage spike at the cost of Exhaustion. One primary attraction is that it comes from the Earth Magic line, which offers plenty of defensive options such as Ward Against Melee, Ward Against Elements, Ward Against Foes, and Armor of Earth to keep spikers alive. It also leaves the elite skill slot free for whatever the team feels best complements the spike build. Glyph of Energy, for example, negates Exhaustion and comes in handy for longer battles.

The Fire Magic line remains unloved in today's GvG environment due to its lack of good spike skills and because its main appeal, the area effect damage, can be achieved more effectively with Smiting spells like Balthazar's Aura and Zealot's Fire. However, the line sees a decent amount of use in Random Arena and Heroes' Ascent, especially in combination with Assassin teleport skills such as Death's Charge. And, as always, Meteor Shower is an appealing skill to beginner players because of its high damage potential.

The remaining line, Air Magic, is used mostly for Windborne Speed and Blinding Flash as mentioned, but also for Gale and Shock on Warrior/Elementalists and other damage dealers who want a guaranteed knockdown skill. Air is also the most popular line when an Elementalist is used neither as part of an Elementalist spike nor as flag runner, but as part of a combined spike team along with Warriors or others. These types of Elementalists, though less common than they used to be, usually spec high in Air Magic and medium in Earth, and use Wards and Blinding Flash to help the defense as well as Lightning Orb, Lightning Strike, and/or Lightning Hammer to assist in the team's damage spike.


Nightfall

The most obvious improvement to the class in the upcoming Nightfall expansion is Storm Djinn's Haste. This skill will likely replace Windborne Speed on the Skill Bars of flag runners, as it has a much better duration and cast time. Its obvious drawback is a loss of 1 Energy per second while moving, which isn't a problem for an Elementalist. The less obvious drawback is that it only targets the caster. Therefore, teams cannot use it on the Guild Thief to quickly maneuver it around the battlefield, or help teammates who might need to escape from sticky situations. Also unlike Windborne, teams that have established NPC control of the flag stand after Victory or Death cannot use Storm Dijinn's Haste to speed up the Guild Lord at the 25-minute mark.

Storm Djinn's Haste
Storm Djinn's Haste
Storm Djinn's HasteStorm Djinn's Haste
Elementalist - Air Magic - Enchantment Spell
Energy: 5
Activation: 0.25
Duration: 10..25
Recharge: 10
Enchantment Spell. For 10..25 seconds, you move 33% faster. Each second that you are moving, you lose 1 Energy.

In Glowstone and Glowing Gaze, the Elementalist gains some non-elite Energy management besides Glyphs and attunements. It remains to be seen whether this will be enough to persuade players to bring Elementalists in pressure damage roles, but it seems unlikely. Fire Magic will always have the drawback of being easy to counter by simply spreading out. There is more hope for Earth Magic though, as it gains another decent utility damage spell in Ebon Hawk, which might make players bring a combo of Ebon Hawk, Stoning, and Glowstone for the Weakness, knockdown, and Energy management between their Obsidian Flame spikes.

There are also several new defensive additions to the Earth line. The most notable one is Stoneflesh Aura, which significantly reduces all damage dealt to the caster as well as rendering him immune to critical hits. Best of all, it can be maintained indefinitely.

Water Magic seems to be getting the shortest end of the stick, which may be logical since it sees so much use in the current metagame. There is only one skill that piques my interest here: Steam. Provided the target is Burning, it deals good damage for its Energy cost and causes Blindness. If the target is not on fire, Steam's only effect is mediocre damage.

Steam
Steam
SteamSteam
Elementalist - Water Magic - Spell
Energy: 5
Activation: 1
Duration: 5..10
Recharge: 8
Spell. If target foe is on fire, Steam Blinds that foe for 5..10 seconds and strikes for 20..80 cold damage. Otherwise, that foe is struck for 5..50 cold damage.

The Air Magic line's best prospective skill is Blinding Surge, which seems to be the spell that Glimmering Mark should have been. Easily affordable and with a great recast time, it offers both Blindness and a little bit of damage as a credible alternative to the ever-so-common Ether Prodigy/Blinding Flash combination for non-flag runner Elementalists.

The main reason I believe Elementalists may start to see more use as part of a damage group, however, is the same reason they are used as runners today: their ability to use costly skills that aren't highly attribute-bound from other professions. One good example of this is the Mesmer spell Mirror of Disenchantment. At 25 Energy, it would be very costly for a Mesmer, but easily manageable for an Elementalist/Mesmer with elite Energy management. This spell is an Aegis-killer, so it may become very popular in Warrior-heavy team builds.


Adam has been playing Guild Wars since February 2004 when he joined the Alpha test and has been interested in the competitive aspects of the game from the beginning. In the early Beta Weekend Events, he led his former clan, The Fianna, with success. He is currently a member of Black Widow [Wi].