This spec probably takes more skill to pull off functionally (higher skill floor) than the last Scepter/Dagger spec I wrote about. If you’re new to elementalists and want a spec that’s a bit more approachable then I recommend you check out my last guide.
The staff elementalist focuses on area effect spells. Every attunement (except for Air) has multiple ground targeted area effect spells. The staff spells also come with a long starting range: 1200. What this means is that you might feel like you need to stay way in the back to be at all effective. This works out pretty well in WvW and a lot of open world PvE combat because you have plenty of room around you, but in structured PvP you’re generally forced into small areas (especially when you consider the control points you’re supposed to be fighting at). This can feel a bit claustrophobic at first, but the Staff Elementalist has the ability (with a lot of practice and skill) to control the movement of everyone in the area in order to land all those nasty area effect spells. Let’s take a look at how the staff elementalist works…
Signet buffing/control spec:
Alternate spec (third low cooldown signet for higher buff uptime/more offense; weaker survivability):
This spec focuses on the direct damage. As such, I geared primarily for increased power. In order to sustain a decent level of survivability given the Staff’s toolset, I went for a Power/Vitality/Toughness amulet to get my base survivability up. Since I have high uptime of the Fury buff (+20% critical chance) I also try to increase my critical strike damage using the “Runes of the Eagle” set. I also used the Sigil of Superior Accuracy for the increased critical strike chance.
- Fireball – Cast a fireball that explodes on impact and hit multiple foes.
- Your basic attack in fire attunement has a small area that it hits in (very small). Makes it pretty strong against necromancers with tons of minions around them but you usually won’t find too many enemies grouped close enough for the AoE to matter.
- Lava Font– Make lava erupt from the target area.
- Incredibly potent area effect damage. This has a decently large area (without the area effect trait it can probably cover a full doorway, with it it’ll cover maybe a large ramp). Since the cooldown is equal to the duration you can always have one of these down; they tick for almost as much damage as your auto attack deals out and it ticks fairly fast. This is actually probably your main DPS ability in Fire Attunement and the key to using it well is keeping your enemy in its area effect.
- Flame Burst – Burn foes at the target location.
- Fairly simple, it simply applies the burning condition to all enemies around your target. Definitely worth using since it is easy to land (compared to the other area effect) but not a huge source of damage unless you have much condition damage (or again can hit many opponents with it).
- Burning Retreat – Quickly roll backward, leaving behind a line of fire that Burns.
- I think this ability is amazing. It’s basically an extra super dodge on a 20 second cooldown. You go backward about the distance of 2 dodges (maybe a bit short of 2, but quite far). As long as you can turn yourself properly to aim yourself you can move pretty significant distances with it.
- More importantly you will “Evade” any incoming attack while you roll backward (much the same way that you do when you dodge) so you can use it to prevent damage and it actually becomes a compelling option when you’re on the defensive to shift to Fire attunement and then roll backward. It gets you away from your opponent (or towards I guess if that’s what you want to do), evades an attack, and leaves you in a very offensive attunement that you can use to counterattack.
- It also gives you a Fire field! I can’t imagine using it just to lay down the field though. More of a nice side-effect.
- Meteor Shower – Call down a meteor shower onto the target area.
- The only reason I don’t bold this ability is because it has a somewhat long cooldown so you can’t use it a lot. It can do huge damage… if multiple meteors hit your target. They’re randomly placed within a big area effect so you can’t rely on it to do consistent damage; sometimes it’ll completely decimate an opponent and other times they’re barely scratched. What it DOES do is provide huge area denial; the risk of being in there is enough that your opponent probably won’t want to go anywhere near that area til the meteor shower ends.
Water attunement (no bolding here because I get the feeling that every ability is equally useful):
- Water Blast – Spray a jet of water at foes that also heals allies in the blast radius.
- I actually think this is a pretty interesting ability. At first I thought it was bad to be using it because the damage is really, really low. That said, it wasn’t til I was reviewing some of the footage for the video (check the part where I’m in water attunement supporting the Mesmer against the Engineer in the Clock tower) that I noticed it’s actually healing for a decently large amount. I didn’t even have any +Compassion to increase the amount healed. Definitely will be interesting to see how to use this effectively.
- Ice Spike – Drop a giant ice spike on foes, causing Vulnerability.
- This can be difficult to land because of the long delay before it actually lands, but it’s actually pretty significant burst. This is basically your only real offense in Water Attunement. The vulnerability stacks are really significant too; it’ll buff your own damage for when you shift to an attunement where you actually can consistently land damage as well as help all of your teammates.
- Geyser – Create a geyser to heal nearby allies.
- Pretty basic; you make an area that will heal for a few seconds. The healing wasn’t really anything special without any compassion gear, but I have heard that it DOES scale quite well. It does have more potential for healing than the Scepter’s Water Trident, but getting multiple people to stand in it for an appreciable amount of time was difficult (and easily denied by an enemy dropping a damaging aoe on top).
- Frozen Ground – Coat the target area in ice, Chilling foes that enter it.
- The Chill debuff is really great for stopping your opponents from chasing you. Since it applies instantly and there isn’t a cast time (if much at all) it’s also wonderful for snaring enemy runners.
- If you can keep this under an area where people are fighting you can think of it as like an anti-quickness. Everything your opponent does is slowed; they move slower, they swing slower, it’s immensely powerful.
- Healing Rain – Call down a healing rain on the target area, granting Regeneration to allies and removing conditions.
- Note that this doesn’t actually apply direct healing; it applies the Regeneration boon which will then subsequently heal. This is mostly relevant because the regeneration boon stacks in duration and not intensity so you can’t stack these effects for a lot of potent healing.
- The condition removal is where this really shines for me. You can drop it down and every couple seconds every ally (well, up to 5) in there will have a condition removed. If you know that you have a condition damage-focused enemy around you can preemptively drop this to really throw a wrench in your enemy’s plans. Imagine seeing a full venom thief coming in towards you and you drop a healing rain. He unleashes on you and all those precious utility slots’ effects are just washed away.
- I think some of the most interesting potential in the Water Attunement is going to be effective use of those combo fields. You can really multiply the healing/condition removing potential of the spells by using the combo fields (shoot through the water field for healing for all your allies attacking the target).
- Chain Lightning – Hit multiple foes with arcs of chain lightning.
- The projectile for this spell will bounce to hit up to 3 targets. There’s the potential for a target to be hit twice by the bouncing so it can hit target A, bounce to target B, and then back to target A.
- I found this really potent against mesmers because it’d just bounce among the clones and wipe them out without having to think about it very much.
- Lightning Surge – Charge a lightning surge that blinds foes near your target when it discharges.
- This gives you a bit of burst damage since it hits harder than the chain lightning hits. It’ll also be easier to land since it’s not ground targeted and there’s no travel time for the spell once it does go off.
- It does have a decently long wind-up time (maybe 2 seconds?) so it’s very difficult to use the blinding portion reactively. Use the blind more to just reduce the damage of a clump of enemies or a specific enemy who has a buff up; you can’t really use it for a clutch blind.
- Gust – Blast foes backward with a burst of air.
- I thought this was going to be an awesome ability; it turned out to be a bit lacking compared to other knockbacks.
- It does have a long range (since it has 1200 range like everything else) but the projectile that launches the enemy is actually somewhat slow (for a gust of wind particularly!) That makes it pretty easy to dodge.
- It also doesn’t seem to consistently home in on your target; most projectiles in the game have some basic movement prediction when you have a target selected where it will predict where your opponent will be and fire over there. This doesn’t have any so simply strafing at medium-to-long range will prevent it.
- It also only hits 1 target so hope nothing else gets in your way if you really need to land a knockback.
- Windborne Speed – You and nearby allies gain Swiftness, while removing Cripple, Immobilize, and Chill.
- This is a really long duration swiftness buff so it’s amazing for getting a group of your allies moving. Also a decent response to get out of immobilizes which are really the ultimate bane of a staff elementalist since your mobility is your defense.
- Static Field – Create an electrical field that Stuns foes crossing it.
- This is a pretty interesting spell. It doesn’t stun everything in the area of effect; rather it stuns any enemies that are moving through the edge of the spell.
- I think very skilled players will get very good at dropping it such that the edge of the spell is right on top of a target they want to stun.
- Beyond that, it’s amazing for area denial. I loved using it to drop on top of a downed opponent I wanted to finish off. It was a great defense when my enemies would try to come to their downed friend’s aid.
- Stoning –Hurl a rock at your foe and cause Weakness.
- I’m bolding this ability because I think it’s going to be underestimated. Not only does it count as a projectile combo finisher, but it applies Weakness. Weakness is such a potent condition; you’re preventing your opponent from dodging as much (lowers their endurance regeneration) as well as just straight up reducing their damage (non-crits can becoming “glancing” so they hit for 50% damage).
- Eruption – Shake the ground until it erupts and damages foes.
- This does pretty high damage but it has a 5 second delay before it goes off and a very obvious animation on the ground to warn your opponents.
- The bleed from this debuff lasts a very long time (12 seconds) and it applies 6 stacks. Even without condition damage gear it’ll add a lot of damage if you can get your enemy in the area when it goes off.
- A suggestion is to consider dropping one of these before you shift to another attunement. It’ll go off after 5 seconds so you have plenty of time to drop a combo field on top of it (Eruption is a “Blast” combo finisher) so you can get some neat combo effects (extra healing or Frost Aura from Water Attunement).
- Particularly potent combo – Eruption-> Air Attunement -> Static Field. You keep your opponent from getting out of the eruption and then it applies weakness to your opponent!
- Magnetic Aura– Reflect projectiles with magnetic energy.
- Pretty straight forward but this is an amazing deterrent against ranged classes. The most satisfying thing I did more than once over the beta weekend (plenty of other stuff that was neat just the one time) was to magnetic aura a Kill Shot from a warrior that I noticed kneeling while aiming at me.
- Unsteady Ground – Create unsteady ground that Cripples foes moving through it.
- This was a surprisingly hard ability for me to use. The cripple applied by it is 2 seconds long per second they stay in the cripple so ideally you can keep them walking around in it. This seemed pretty easy in PvE but in PvP it was a bit harder.
- You could just use it for area denial or to just discourage someone from walking through it (but most people don’t mind just a 2 second cripple).
- It was annoying to apply accurately. You place the center of the line by clicking on the ground and the line’s orientation is at 90 degrees to the line formed between you and the point you clicked. That was fine but it has a short cast time and if you’re moving while you’re laying it down the orientation of that line will probably get changed since the line between you and the point you’re targeting will also shift unless you’re running directly at/away from that point.
- Shockwave – Create a shockwave that Bleeds and Immobilizes your target.
- This seems like an amazing ability but it was surprisingly less effective than I expected. It applies a long bleed and a short immobilize to a single target. Seems pretty useful, right? And it is…if you can land it. It has a slow-moving projectile that’s pretty easily dodged. I don’t know, maybe I just need more practice with it.
As usual, this is the freeform part of the build. Feel free to change to suit however YOU want to play your elementalist. That said, I really liked the control and power I got from the signets. Signet of Earth (Passive: Improves toughness; Active: Immobilize your foe for 3 seconds) in particular was amazingly potent – I used this so much to keep my enemies from getting out of my area effect damage. I thought it was some of the most useful utility I had. The other signets were mostly just for proccing the traits I used.
By using Fire’s Embrace (when you activate a Signet, you gain a fiery aura for 3 seconds) with Zephyr’s Boon (Auras grant Fury and Swiftness when applied) you can get amazing uptime on Fury (for a big boost to your crit rate) and Swiftness (for very good mobility). I took advantage of this to allow me to set my itemization around potent non-crit damage and survivability AND still have my crits. I felt like I was having my cake and eating it too (and it was delicious, delicious cake).
As far as non-Signet utilities go, this build can definitely use some powerful defensive cooldowns. I really liked Mist Form for this since you can still use your heal and other utility spells while you’re in mist form. Another interesting option is Magnetic Shield (Conjured weapon that has a number of defensive abilities). I didn’t get a ton of time to play with it, but I recognized the potential after playing my Engineer and using a single utility slot for the abilities on the utility. Consider that even though it’s a 60 second cooldown you can in essence have a 6 second invulnerability (where you can’t move) on that one minute cooldown and a melee range daze/short cooldown cripple to boot. The area effect pull/immobilize could chain into a Lava Font to grab a bunch of enemies too. I definitely need to play around with that more.
I still like the Glyph of Elemental Harmony due to its quick cooldown and useful boons. The Signet of Restoration isn’t as good as it was for the Scepter since you don’t have as many attacks hitting multiple times (Lava Font ticks and Chain Lightning bounces do heal per target hit though so that’s nice) but the synergy with the Signet traits is still there. Signet of Restoration definitely needs Written in Stone though to be any good and puts a lot of pressure to also take Signet Mastery. That said you probably still want those if you’re going with a lot of Signets for your other utility spells.
The Glyph of Elementals is amazing. Depending on your attunement you can get:
- Fire – Huge damage (albeit squishy so be careful around smarter enemies)
- Water – Significant damage, Knockdowns, Chills, and big heals (Best one definitely)
- Earth – Damage and toughness. Can be used to tank the Forest of Niflhel bosses.
- Air – Damage and random stuns. Not sure how useful this is. The most fragile of all of them (at least mine seemed to die a lot). The stuns can be handy when you have someone really going nuts that you just want to lockdown, but not that reliable.
On the other hand if you chose Tornado while you’d look awesome and have some potential to do a lot of damage you A) make yourself a huge target instead of making another target for the enemy and B) you’re a huge target so people will probably get out of your way and you’ll just waste time spinning round and around.
Gearing for this was very simple. There wasn’t any particular soft cap that I wanted to hit the way I did with the duration increases for bleeds in the condition damage build.
I tried to just do a very balanced build. I used a Power/Vitality/Toughness amulet to get my base survivability up (while increasing my direct damage potential). I also went with the “Rune of the Eagle” set and the Sigil of Superior Accuracy which gave me increased critical strike chance and increased critical damage as well as a 5% damage bonus to targets below 50% health since I knew I’d have Fury up a lot for a pretty common occurrence of crits.
You could easily get a more defensive build by using a runeset that gave you more vitality or toughness or try to add a bit to your condition damage or something along those lines. That said I wouldn’t really recommend going glass cannon with the staff. Going all out damage sounds great but you will be so easily punished for that since you don’t have outs like a Thief’s stealth to keep yourself protected and ensure your damage actually lands. That’s part of why the default elementalist structured PvP build was so poorly regarded. If it does work it’d take a LOT of skill behind it to stay alive.
Strengths/Weaknesses of the build (a bit of a recap):
- Incredible potential for teamwork
- Many, many combo fields
- Your area effects are highly damaging and mostly balanced by being difficult to keep your enemies in them. Some teamwork to control enemy movement will greatly enhance the effectiveness of your damage.
- Very Flexible
- Highly responsive; you have a number of abilities across your various attunements to deal with many different enemy builds.
- Amazing enemy control
- Even if you don’t use signets for your utilities the mere presence of your area effects will control your enemies. You can do a lot to deny space, forcing enemies to get out of places they would otherwise want to be (dropping a meteor storm on top of a capture point is an incredibly easy way to dissuade enemies from sticking around or taking a defensive posture at the point).
- Weak condition removal
- Healing rain is your main condition removal but it ticks slowly and has a long cooldown.
- You can use a cantrip like Cleansing Fire to help with this but it’ll take away from the control you may need to attack.
- Consider trying to put some trait points into the Water tree to get condition removing traits like Stop Drop and Roll and Cleansing Wave if you have a lot of trouble with conditions.
- Your best response is to simply not get hit by the conditions (perhaps easier said than done but that’s what it is).
- Susceptible to glass cannon builds
- Even with a balanced gearset, the elementalist has a very small base health pool so you can be blown up by a glass cannon.
- Just work on improving your situational awareness and trying to avoid the damage.
- You don’t have as many outs that a Dagger offhand elementalist has to control fights/stop an enemy’s flow of attacks/quickly enter and exit battle.
- Be aware of what your opponents are capable of. A warrior I fought had that glass cannon greatsword build where he would use Frenzy, Bull’s charge and then gib me with Hundred Swords. I looked back at some footage and I was literally defeated (as in he had finished me after I went down) within less than 2 seconds from when he first started charging towards me. After that whenever I saw him in any subsequent battles I tried to play incredibly defensively because I knew that if he ever caught me offguard I’d die immediately due to his build (you can see me fight him in the accompanying video. His name was Glory and he’s the one that I caught in the meteor storm near the clock tower.