- 13/03/2013: Re-evaluated pistol whip (credit to Dahk) and added both shortbow and pistol
This guide is for thieves that want to make the best of every situation by adapting loadout and playstyle to match each encounter. As such, it is vital to carry at minimum two daggers, a sword, a pistol and a shortbow of exotic quality (or fine quality within 5 levels of you if you’re still levelling). The exact situation that each weapon should be used will change with play style and player skill, so I encourage players to use this as a baseline to find what works for them.
Before I start I’d like to provide some ground rules that should apply to any build.
Rule #1: A dead thief deals no damage.
If you’re in danger of dying do not try and squeeze in one more backstab before healing. Disengage and use your ranged weapon instead. You will do significantly less damage until you can swap to your main weapon again but it’s still a significant boost over being downed and forcing your team to rez you.
Rule #2: A turtle deals (almost) no damage.
While not dying is important, if you load up on defensive stats and/or purely use ranged weapons you will put more pressure on your team since everything takes longer to kill. Also, the nature of the three power based offensive stats means that the more you have of one stat, the more valuable the others become. For example, the more power you have the more extra damage each crit does, increasing the value of precision. This means that you get more out of your offensive stats if you stack them.
Rule #3: This is a game. Remember to have fun.
While some harder content requires you to be careful about your setup, if you’re hating the ‘optimal’ build then there’s no point playing it, quicker clear times or not.
There are three mechanics that set the thief apart from other classes. The first is the dual skill, which changes the third weapon skill we have depending on the offhand used. This gives us more variety in our weapon sets and makes our choice of offhand more important but it doesn’t impact our general gameplay much.
The second is initiative, which is by far the most drastic and unique difference between us and other classes. While other classes have cooldowns on most weapon skills, we instead have a quickly replenishing resource that is consumed with each skill use beyond our 1 skill. Naturally we have 12 initiative (15 with the appropriate traits) and we generate one point every 1.33 seconds.
As our weapon skills have no cooldowns, there is a temptation to spam skills as often as possible. This is not advisable since bursting away all of your initiative for extra damage means that you won’t have any left for key evades, interrupts or blinds. Most power based thieves will also have at least one trait which improves damage when at high initiative.
Hence it is best to only use initiative consuming skills when you are one initiative away from being full. That way you nether waste ticks of initiative generation and you always have enough for emergency skills.
However, always remember Rule #1. If you are in a situation when you need to spam skills to survive don’t be afraid to do so. The damage you lose from not having your traits working is nothing compared to the damage you lose by going down.
The final and most underappreciated thief mechanic is steal. This teleports you this teleports you to your target and gives you a random ‘stolen’ skill. These skills are not the ones used by your target, but are unique skills that the thief activates by stealing. They range from applying a small bleed (pretty bad), to stealthing you (fairly good), to giving you invulnerability, all boons or dealing massive AoE damage (fantastic). It is entirely possible to play a thief fairly well without ever touching steal, but it is a great ‘bonus’ on top of everything else that everyone should make use of. When traited it also becomes one of our best forms of team support.
I’m grouping both sword setups together because they play in largely the same way. Since the auto attack can hit three targets for full damage instead of the daggers one, it wins hands down for DPS when there are two or three targets. This makes it an ideal weapon for trash in dungeons.
Unlike the dagger sets, you will always do the most damage with your auto attack. The dual skills come close but don’t quite match it. This means that you’ll be spending your initiative mostly on avoidance and utility.
Avoidance is one of the swords strengths due to the amazingly useful infiltrators strike. The first use of this skill is essentially a low damage but instantaneous gap closer. The beauty of it comes with the buff that using the skill gives you. This turns infiltrators strike into shadow return, which teleports you back to the point you originally teleported from and removes a condition. If you’re careful about your placement of the return point this essentially lets you instantaneously escape any danger and return to combat just as quickly when it’s safe. Proper usage of the sword is mostly intelligent placement and usage of infiltrators strike. I also can’t emphasise the power of the spamable condition cleanse enough for the thief, as we will almost never have a way to remove all types of conditions.
The choice of offhand changes the utility of the set somewhat but doesn’t alter the core of how it plays.
With a dagger offhand you get access to the dual skill Flanking Strike, which moves you behind the enemy while evading, before becoming Larcenous Strike which steals two boons. This is very powerful when you enemy has boons since it both denies them for your enemy and grants them to you. However, it doesn’t do more damage than the auto attack and you need to wait for your current animation to finish before the evade starts, making it tricky to use as a dodge. In other words the auto attack is better at dealing damage and Infiltrators Strike and regular dodges are better for evasion. Flanking Strike will do more damage while evading but you need to be careful in your timing when using it.
Dancing dagger is situational but is nice when you need a cripple fast.
Cloak and Dagger is unfortunately not as strong as it was on dagger/dagger since since the stealth skill on the sword doesn’t hit nearly as hard and the long animation time of Cloak and Dagger makes it very difficult to use the daze as an interrupt.
Your dual skill here becomes pistol whip. This skill first stuns the enemy briefly with your pistol before you beat on them with your sword while evading. Unlike Flanking Strike, this does do more damage than the auto attack so it is worthwhile using when you have nothing better to do with your initiative. The increase is very minor though, so it should never be prioritised over maintaining Infiltrators Strike (or Black Powder if needed). As the evade only happens on the second part of the skill, it is even harder to use effectively then Flanking Strike. Headshot is also better at interrupting since it fires faster and is cheaper. It’s so fast and cheap that it is actually very useful at removing stacks of defiant from bosses so key abilities can be interrupted or other classes can use their longer stuns.
The main reason to take a pistol offhand however, is Black Powder. As long as enemies stand in the field created by it, they are constantly blinded. This trivialises many trash fights, making Black Powder one of the strongest skills the thief has access to.
Be aware that blind is only 10% effective against bosses with defiant so Black Powder is not that useful against them.
Ultimately I prefer sword/pistol to sword/dagger, mainly due to the sheer usefulness of black powder, unless I know I’ll be fighting blind immune mobs like dredge or enemies with lots of boons to steal. Many people disagree with this though, so use whatever you find more useful yourself.
This is arguably the most iconic thief weapon and is also our highest single target damage set. It does loose out to the sword for more than two targets though Hence it should be equipped whenever you know that you’ll be attacking one enemy for most of the fight or if there is one enemy that needs to die as soon as possible. It does suffer from low utility and avoidance when compared to our other close combat weapons.
To use this effectively you simply need to use Cloak and Dagger to gain stealth for Backstab as often as reviled allows, switching to Heatrseeker when the enemy is below 25% health. Be warned that when you need to evade often or when enemy movements make landing backstab in their backs difficult the damage of this set drops significantly.
One of my favourite weapon sets. Shadowshot is a spamable blind and a fast, long range, and reliable gap closer. It is also a DPS increase over the auto attack. Headshot is a fast, spammable defiant remover which can help you group interrupt key attacks if you coordinate well and black powder is an AoE blind field that makes many trash fights trivial, although it is probably stronger on sword/pistol.
This is a more subtle set then dagger/dagger and hence requires more finesse to use effectively. Shadowshot is the real star of this set. It allows instantaneous reengagement after dodging, making your damage much more consistent on the more chaotic fights where backstab becomes problematic. It also provides a DPS increase over the auto attack and hence should be used whenever your initiative is full and you don’t need headshot or black powder. As with dagger/dagger, heartseeker will provide the best DPS when your enemy is below 25% health.
Another thing to be aware of is that using a leap finisher like heartseeker (or a blast finisher like cluster bombs) through smoke fields like black powder will stealth you. This is not fantastic for sustained DPS when solo as it requires a lot of initiative but if another thief is laying down smoke fields then it’s by far the most DPS dagger/pistol can do.
Shortbow is one of our best weapon sets. It loses out in terms of raw damage to daggers on one target and swords on two or three but it has fantastic utility due to a spamable blast finisher in Cluster Bombs and great survivability from its evasive skills and by merit of being ranged.
It’s auto attack may seem weak but it’s actually one of the strongest range AoE autos in the game. Make sure that you spam it between other skills to maximise DPS.
The meat of the DPS for this weapon comes from Cluster Bombs. This skill is one of the most complex available to us. Normaly it fires a slow (read: very) arcing projectile that explodes on impact damaging and bleeding up to 5 targets and creating a blast finisher. Many of the blast finisher effects are incredibly powerful so make sure you’re familiar with them (they can be found here: http://wiki.guildwar.../Blast_finisher). The speed at which the projectile moves does hinder the weapons ability to fight at maximum range so you should always be as close as it’s safe to be when using a shortbow while staying just out of melee to avoid cleaves.
The intricacy of the skill comes with the ability to detonate the bomb in mid-air, sending our three smaller projectiles in a fan towards the ground. These do less damage then the large projectile and can only hit at most three targets each but if the bomb is detonated close enough to the ground then all three can hit the same target. This means that for three or less targets you do more damage with detonated cluster bombs. Be aware that the detonated cluster bombs are not blast finishers so it is often best to leave them undetonated if your group has good fields down.
One thing that gets special mention is ‘shotgunning’. This is a technique where you run up to the enemy and mash the Cluster Bomb button, detonating them as soon as they leave the bow. This will drain your initiative in second but does more burst then the sword. I would not recommend doing this for any fight that lasts more than a few seconds but it is arguably the single best strategy for tagging mobs in zerg dynamic events in the game. This is in part due to the fact that each small bomb can hit a different three targets, allowing you to potentially tag 9 (!) targets with each attack, and partially due to the high firing rate.
Disabling Shot is where the shorbow gets most of its built-in evasion from. It both cripples the enemy and causes you to do an evasive leap. The usage of the evasion is very similar to that of Sword/Dagger’s Flanking Strike (see above) and the cripple can be quite useful. Be aware that this can be fired backwards while running at full speed so it’s great for escaping enemies.
The next two skills are unfortunately not horribly useful.
Choking Gas used to be great since it could be traited so that each tick added weakness to the enemy, allowing easy perma weakness to be maintained. Unfortunately this now has a cooldown. The skill can still be comboed with the blast finisher from Cluster Bombs to cause weakness but this is too initiative hungry to be very worthwhile unless you’re already using Choking Gas for the poison’s healing reduction.
Infiltrators Arrow however, looks great on paper. It quickly teleports you any location within 600 units which can potentially lead to some nice jukes but it costs 6 initiative (that’s roughly 8 seconds worth). The teleport also only happens when the arrow lands, meaning that it’s both slower and more expensive then Disabling Shot as an evasive tool. It does also blind but we have much better and cheaper ones available to us.
Unfortunately pistol has a very niche role at the moment. It deals marginaly higher damage then the shortbow but much less then both the sword and dagger while providing very little evasion. It is also too initiative heavy to maintain black powder and still do decent damage. It does, however, get much better when you trait for it. If using a build with 30 in Critical Strikes and 25 in Trickery it is easy to swap out traits (Pistol Mastery, Combo Critical Chance and Ricochet) whenever you need it, making it much more viable. If not it’s useful only for strictly ranged only fights against one target (some fractal bosses are like this).
It’s also a fairly straightforward weapon to use. Simply use Unload whenever you’re about to be initiative capped and know you won’t need to dodge soon.
This is a strictly condition damage weapon and hence doesn't play nice with most other weapons we have. Only use this if you are a dedicated condition spec.