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State of the Game—October 2, 2006

Reviving Necromancers for GvG

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.


Necromancers are one of the most popular PvE classes in Guild Wars, and a minion master is a given part of any serious PvE group. Yet, up until this point, Necromancer builds have been the least common in top level GvG play by a longshot. So why is it that the Necromancer has been the least popular class in PvP to this point? In this article I'll explain my theory, and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the class.


History

So far in the metagame, there have been a couple of successful GvG builds centered on Necromancers.

In the second season of the Guild Wars Factions Championship, Esoteric Warriors reanimated an old Necromancer spike build, using Feast of Corruption in tandem with Hexes like Suffering and following up with Desecrate Enchantments. To prevent a counter-spike, they completely jettisoned Monk support in favor of two Ritualists with Shelter. Additionally, the Ritualist Spirits ensured a reliable Energy flow for any Necromancers with Soul Reaping. Since then, Soul Reaping was nerfed to return half Energy on the death of a Spirit, so this spike combo became less effective with Necros not getting as much Energy. This change to Soul Reaping also had a large impact in Heroes' Ascent, where Rangers and Ritualists brought lots of Spirits with the side-effect of fueling Necro primaries with constant Energy.

Feast of Corruption
Feast of Corruption
Feast of CorruptionFeast of Corruption [Elite]
Necromancer - Curses - Spell
Energy: 15
Activation: 2
Recharge: 20
Spell. Target foe and all adjacent foes are struck for 16..80 shadow damage. You steal up to 8..40 Health from each struck foe who is suffering from a Hex.

Another popular combination that enjoyed brief popularity and relied heavily on Necromancers was the Soul Barbs/Recurring Insecurity (SB/RI) spike. This one depended on a mechanic that caused Soul Barbs to trigger twice when a target Hexed with Recurring Insecurity was Hexed again. It eventually got nerfed. Recurring Insecurity had its duration reduced, giving a smaller available window in which to kill a target. The spike still worked, but the lower frequency meant that teams had to find other ways to kill their targets while Recurring Insecurity recharged. This proved too difficult for most of the SB/RI spikers, although some successfully brought more than one copy of RI.

A type of Necromancer still common today in both GvG and Heroes' Ascent is the Tainted Flesh Necro. Usually run in conjunction with a Warrior train, this Necro specs high in Death Magic and keeps the entire team covered with Tainted Flesh. Other popular skills to run on this build are Putrid Explosion, Rotting Flesh, and various wells. This started out as a component of the infamous IWAY build, but has since been used with success in many other builds.

Tainted Flesh
Tainted Flesh
Tainted Flesh Tainted Flesh [Elite]
Necromancer - Death Magic - Enchantment Spell
Energy: 5
Activation: 1
Duration: 20..44
Recharge: 0
Enchantment Spell. For 20..44 seconds, target ally is immune to disease, and anyone striking that ally in melee becomes Diseased for 3..15 seconds.

In the Ranger spike builds that dominated before the release of Factions, Necromancers were a given component as a damage enhancing support character, spamming Order of Pain and Order of the Vampire during spikes. When Order of the Vampire got a change to no longer stack its effect with other Necromancer Enchantments, including Order of Pain, Ranger spike builds suddenly lost a substantial amount of damage. It became much harder to spike effectively without the stacking Necro damage, and while a few teams managed to attain the level of coordinated precision and control necessary to get kills and win matches, Ranger spike fell by the wayside for most people.


How come there are so few examples of successful Necromancer GvG builds?

I believe the reason Necromancers are as unpopular as they are is because of how their skills are set up. They can do a lot of things that other classes do, but the other classes do them better. The few roles unique to Necromancers are either too narrow a niche or too easily countered to be relevant. In a game with eight professions to pick from—soon to be ten—specialization, not versatility, determines success.

Necromancers can spike with Blood or with Curses, but Warriors and Elementalists do it better. Necromancers can shut down classes that attack with weapons, using such skills as Faintheartedness, Reckless Haste, or Price of Failure, but a Mesmer will do a better job with Ineptitude and other Illusion Magic. Necromancers can try to shut down casters with such skills as Mark of Subversion, Soul Leech, Malaise, and Wither, but a Mesmer has the advantage here as well, with skills like Migraine, Power Block, Power Leak, Energy Surge, and Energy Burn.

What remains is the role of support caster, which is where the Necromancer has gained some popularity, mostly with the Tainted Flesh build. Even so, a huge amount of support skills that increase damage dealt by allies remain unused because they work over the long run rather than in spikes. Hexes like Weaken Armor, Barbs, and Rigor Mortis were popular as far back as the Alpha test metagame, but have lost all relevance since teams became so good at healing that even pressure teams had to spike their damage to get kills. There simply isn't room for a 3-second cast Weaken Armor on a spike build, as it announces a spike is on the way and "telegraphs" (gives away) the intended target.

Weaken Armor
Weaken Armor
Weaken ArmorWeaken Armor
Necromancer - Curses - Hex Spell
Energy: 10
Activation: 3
Duration: 10..40
Recharge: 20
Hex Spell. For 10..40 seconds, target foe has an armor penalty of -20 against physical damage.

The remaining unique talents of the Necromancer, which no other class can reproduce as effectively, are minion mastery and Hex overloading with skills like Suffering and Life Siphon. Minions, while potentially extremely powerful against an unprepared opponent, have remained unused in high level GvG play because their natural counter, Smiting, devastates them and is commonplace among top teams. Smiting skills like Balthazar's Aura and Zealot's Fire quite literally tear down minions in droves, and essentially make your minion master a liability to the team.

As for Hex overload builds, they haven't been popular since the birth of the Boon Prot. A Monk who constantly supports Enchantments on himself need not fear Backfire, Mark of Subversion, etc., because he can use Contemplation of Purity to tear off Hexes and heal at the same time. Since this became common knowledge, spike builds have reigned supreme over the overload strategies. While Necros do not have as much Monk shutdown as their Mesmer counterparts, overload builds relied on using mass Hexing to overwhelm the ability of the opposing team to remove them all.

Also, widespread Hexing tends to rely on gradual Health degeneration. The ubiquitous E/Mo (and even some N/Mo) with Heal Party spam goes a long way to countering this type of party-wide Health loss. Rather than removing degeneration Hexes, teams in GvG rely on their Heal Party spammer to alleviate the pressure.

Contemplation of Purity
Contemplation of Purity
Contemplation of PurityContemplation of Purity
Monk - Divine Favor - Skill
Energy: 5
Activation: 0.25
Recharge: 10
Skill. Lose all Enchantments. For each one lost, you gain 0..80 Health, lose one Hex, and lose one Condition (maximum 1..8 Hex[pl:"Hexes"] and Conditions).

Another factor that holds the Necromancer back is the design of its primary attribute. In top GvG matches, battles are often stalemates with long periods between kills, or divided combat with half the fighting in one place of the map and half of it somewhere else. In such situations, every other class benefits from the inherent effect of its primary attribute, while the Necromancer only shines when the action is rapid.

In other forms of PvP, Necromancers have fared better. In faster-paced game types such as Heroes' Ascent and Alliance Battles, Necros can pump up their Soul Reaping and yield massive Energy from it, allowing them to support their team in a variety of ways.

The much-hated Touch Ranger build continues to frustrate players in the Random Arenas. A brief respite was granted during the preview event weekend, where players had access to the aptly named Paragon skill "Can't Touch This!" Touch Rangers utilize Expertise to decrease the energy cost of Vampiric Touch, Vampiric Bite, Plague Touch, and similar skills, providing a steady stream of damage as well as strong self-healing abilities. Furthermore, typical attack-shutdown such as Blind, evasion, blocking, does not affect Touchers, even though they lose out when snared.

Also in the Arenas, where teams are unlikely to bring lots of Hex removal, many Necromancers are making good use of skill combinations like Spiteful Spirit, Price of Failure, and Reckless Haste. This punishes attackers and will quickly take down someone or even a group of people not paying attention.

So though Necromancers have not fully come into their own with the diverse skills at their disposal on the big stage of GvG, they still thrive in other competitive environments.

The Future of Necromancy

In the Nightfall expansion, there are several skills which may help the Necromancer find a role as a staple in GvG battles. One of the most important ones is "Vocal Minority," a large area effect Hex which counters Shouts and Chants. This will not only make the Necromancer an obvious choice when facing Paragons but, if overload builds ever come back into style, it also serves as a great cover Hex (meaning a Hex that goes on top of a stack, so that removal efforts take off the cover first rather than the important Hex or Hexes). Two elite skills that may also become popular if the metagame takes a turn in that direction are Corrupt Enchantment and Depravity. Corrupt Enchantment is a quick-casting Enchantment removal that doubles as a strong cover Hex. Depravity is an Energy-sapping skill that would do a number on any caster if covered with enough Hexes to hinder its removal.

As for minion mastery, there seems to be no good news on the PvP side. While there are some new skills here, none of them prevent Smiting from destroying any hope of minions being used in top level GvG ladder play. However, the new skills make minions more efficient, which means they may show up even more in Heroes' Ascent and Alliance Battles.

Signet of Lost Souls may help alleviate the problem I brought up earlier concerning Soul Reaping. Boasting a quarter-second cast time and a short recharge, it gives the Necromancer a steady way to eke some Energy out of his primary attribute—even when nothing is dying. If they get enough Energy this way, it could bring about the comeback of primary Necromancers as viable builds in GvG.

Signet of Lost Souls
Signet of Lost Souls
Signet of Lost SoulsSignet of Lost Souls
Necromancer - Soul Reaping - Signet
Activation: 0.25
Recharge: 8
Signet. If target foe is below 50% Health, you gain 10..100 Health and 1..10 Energy.

Another thing to note is that there are many Enchantment removals in the new skill lineup, possibly making the Necromancer a good choice in countering Dervish-heavy builds which rely on stacking Enchantments.

Let's hope that these talents will be unique enough to carve the Necromancer a niche in top level play, where it has been largely squeezed out.


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].