Since we don’t have a dedicated dungeon guide on the forums yet, I thought I would write up the community consensus on builds and playstyle for dungeons/fractals. I am deeply indebted to many, many members of the mesmer and dungeon forums, but especially colesey, frifox, Jerem, Sandy, and Slurpee. I have come up with very little that is original and mostly just parrot things that they have suggested.
This guide will be covering the phantasm + sword set of meta builds. This has been established, for many reasons, as the optimal setup for dungeons, providing the greatest amount of utility and DPS to your parties. Greatsword/staff/scepter are generally out of the question— I’m fully aware they are useful in some situations, but the debate is done to death and the consensus is that they should not be used in general dungeon running.
PS: Thanks also to Fay, whose html I stole to make organization clearer.
Table of Contents:
0. Your Job as Mesmer
1. A Few Words on Damage Bonuses, and Reflections
6. Playstyle + ‘Rotations’
7. Final thoughts
Before we get started, we should make clear what your job as a mesmer is in dungeons. In particular, you can ask yourself “why would my party want my mesmer, instead of someone else’s class X?” The answer to this will help you to understand what you bring to the table, and what you should be providing to your group. In no particular order, the unique qualities of the mesmer are:
1. Solid DPS in long fights (where the phantasm ramp-up is more negligible)
2. Full reflection uptime
3. Super high reflect damage with Feedback
4. Very good boon-stripping
5. Very good condition-cleanse
6. Easy access to many stuns/pulls/etc.
These are your responsibilities as the mesmer in your party. If the group needs reflects, you better be ready to provide them. If there’s lots of conditions flying around, you’ll be expected to help clear them. If the enemies (like Dredge) have tons of annoying boons like protection, you have to remove them. The builds I’ll outline below each excel at various combinations of the above points.
There are some more, very well organized, thoughts on these points from Chaos here .
A Small Aside
Mesmer DPS is split between two sources: phantasm and personal. In most situations, the split is about 50/50 (assuming you have 3 phantasms out). Depending on the traits you take, this splits towards more personal or more phantasm DPS.
Note that anything that says “+X% Damage” does not apply to phantasms— only your personal DPS. Conversely, things which say “+Y% Phantasm Damage” obviously only apply to phantasms.
Which is better? Like everything else, it depends. Personally, I prefer personal DPS— it doesn’t go down if my phantasms die, or if I don’t have time to summon them. There is one situation in particular where the personal modifiers are very important, and this is your Feedback damage.
The mesmer utility Feedback creates a big bubble which reflects everything it touches (any projectiles inside going out, outside coming in, or just moving inside). Reflect damage does not scale with power, but it does scale with critical chance and critical damage and personal modifiers. This damage can be truly, truly insane, and far out-strip your phantasms and personal damage from weapons. With a full set of damage modifiers from gear + traits, a mesmer can, for example, deal about 3/4 of Lupicus’s health in one hit (skipping phase 2 and phase 3 entirely). Given that this damage far outshines everything else, and can only be improved only with personal DPS modifiers, people often favor those.
Reflections are great— they provide excellent defense for your group, and offense at the same time. However, some projectiles in the game are marked as unreflectable: these end up going right through reflections, so you and your team take damage and you deal no damage yourself. However, these same attacks are more often than not still blockable: projectile blocking skills will eat them up. You don’t get any additional damage from this, but your team gets protected from the damage entirely. It turns out the Illusionary Warden, without the VIII in Inspiration, does exactly this.
The classic example of this is Old Tom in the Uncategorized Fractal. His projectiles are all unreflectable, so you can’t actually kill him with a well-placed feedback. However, the projectiles are all blockable. The job of a mesmer in this encounter is to 1) Summon Warden 2) Use signet heal 3) Summon Warden 4) Win. With two Wardens and the Illusion X trait (Phantasmal Haste) you can apply 100% projectile blocking uptime (and you can always summon a third if the timing of the spins is off). The Old Tom encounter becomes much easier with this strategy, since you are able to completely block his main attacks for your entire party— it’s like a 100% uptime Aegis, and only Mesmers can apply it.
Where is this useful? Basically, anywhere you want to reflect, but notice that projectiles are still damaging you. Here’s a partial list from Sandy:
Rabso, shogoroth arah, ta worms or w/e, Mai trin unblockable projectiles, Hunter crushed arah, subject alpha, alphard, deadeyes in arah, subject 6 fractals, belka ofc, probably ice elemental source in snowblind, some other dudes anywhere you’d like to reflect but can’t.
For everything I’m discussing, I’ll assume you have a mainhand sword, offhand sword, focus, and a pistol. Keep a scepter/greatsword/staff for ranging if you absolutely need to.
You’ll always have the mainhand sword slotted— this is your best personal DPS weapon, so it’s really the only option. The auto-attack applies a bit of vuln and does boon-stripping, so it also has very nice utility. Blurred Frenzy, your 2 skill, is a 2.5 second evade that applies good damage. This is a huge deal, since it means you can avoid wasting time dodging. All the builds I describe below have Blade Training (4 in Dueling) so the cool down on it is super fast.
Offhand sword is your main offhand weapon. The Phantasmal Swordsman, sword 5, is far and away the best phantasm we have— the DPS is much higher than any other. The block on sword 4 (Illusionary Riposte) is also super useful— it does large damage and summons a clone (but this can overwrite a phantasm, so be careful!).
Offhand focus is the other offhand weapon for most situations. The Phantasmal Warden, focus 5, is your main AoE phantasm, and does respectable damage. When traited with Inspiration VIII, both the focus 4 (Temporal Curtain) and Warden skills provide reflection. They are both sometimes inconsistent because of bugs (Curtain reflects only low-flying projectiles and Warden can sometimes forget to spin). The Temporal Curtain can also be used as a pull, and in fact is one of the nicer and more reliable pulls in the game. In many situations, even if you don’t really need the Warden, you’ll want focus for this pull.
Offhand pistol is your other offhand weapon. The Phantasmal Duelist, pistol 4, is higher DPS than the Warden, but lower than Swordsman. If you don’t need the pull or Warden AoE from the focus, you can swap in the pistol for higher single-target DPS. In addition, you can drop Duelists at 1200 range, which is often far enough that they are never in danger from AoEs in battles and can therefore live longer. The stun on pistol 5 is moderately useful, especially if you need to burn off Defiant stacks from bosses.
The April 15 patch eliminated the two previous general purpose builds (0/30/0/25/15 and 10/30/0/20/10). However, the April 15 patch also introduced on-the-fly re-traiting. What this means for mesmers is that we no longer have one build which is good at everything, but instead many builds which are good depending on the situation. I’ll outline the most popular options here, and describe what situations each one is most useful in. The key to the most effective runs will be to ask yourself what the situation coming up requires, and to move things around to adapt to it.
Generally, people run the Mantra builds as the baseline. This relies on the Domination XI trait, Empowering Mantras, which gives +4% damage per readied mantra. Most people will use Mantra of Resolve (condition cleanse) and Mantra of Concentration (stun break + group stability), and some also Mantra of Recovery (heal).
1) 6/4/0/0/4 — General Purpose DPS: S/S + (S/F or S/P) — This is the primary build
What it brings: Super high personal DPS, very high phantasm DPS, super high reflect damage, and fast phantasm cool downs (especially on swordsman).
When to use: Warden reflects are not needed. You are able to use 2+ mantras at all times. This is your general purpose build for most situations.
What you lose: Wardens/ Temporal Curtain don’t reflect in this build. Warden cool down is somewhat long because it is not traited.
2) 6/4/0/4/0 — Full Reflection Uptime: S/S + S/F — This is the secondary build
What it brings: High personal DPS, moderately high phantasm DPS, high reflect damage, full reflection uptime.
When to use: Warden reflects are needed. Between Warden + Signet of Ether + Feedback + Temporal Curtain, you are easily able to maintain 100% reflect uptime on your party.
What you lose: Personal damage and phantasm damage suffers compared to build 1.
3) 6/6/0/0/2 — Full DPS, S/S + (S/F or S/P)
What it brings: Maximum personal DPS, high phantasm DPS, super high reflect damage
When to use: When you absolutely need full DPS. This is the build many people would use to maximize reflect damage on Lupicus. In situations where bosses die so quickly that you have no time to summon phantasms, this build offers the highest personal damage, so you don’t feel bad for not summoning phantasms.
What you lose: Phantasms deal less damage (no Illusion X) and are much slower to recharge (no Illusions Master minor).
4) Others, like 6/5/0/0/3, are a compromise between build 3 and 1.
(Note on these builds: I take Signet Mastery as the Master level major trait. There’s nothing good for this position, and Signet Mastery helps a lot in the cases when you take Signet of Ether).
Sometimes, you have to get rid of mantras. You might be fighting Dredge and need to bring boon stripping (Arcane Thievery + Null Field are great at this). You might be fighting Mai Trin and decide you want more mobility and condition cleanse. In these cases, and others, you’ll want to use one of these builds. Note that the utilities here are just an example, and you should swap them according to the situation, as will be described in one of the following sections.
What it brings: Very high phantasm DPS, full reflect uptime, very flexible utilities
When to use: When you can’t, or don’t want to, bring mantras.
What you lose: +12% personal damage from Empowering Mantras. Significant personal damage loss from lack of power (Domination line).
6) Others, like 2/3/0/5/4 (similar to above, focusing more on phantasm DPS) or 5/4/0/5/0 (similar to above, focusing more on personal DPS).
This is again not 100% straightforward, and there are a few nice options. As a mesmer, we want to maximize our crit-chance so that our reflects do the most damage, but we obviously don’t want to go about 100% crit. Everything else should be going to power. (Note that in most situations we assume Banner of Disciple, which provides 8% crit, and Fury, which provides 20%, will be around. Depending on how good your groups are, you may also have Spotter, which provides 7%.)
The easiest way to do this is probably the one suggested by Frifox and Jerem (see this thread ). This involves full Berserker trinkets and full Assassins armor + weapons, with Runes of the Ranger.
Other options include full Berserker everything, with Runes of the Ranger, and with Perception stacking. This relies on the perception stacking to get to 100% crit chance— with the May 20 nerf to stacking sigils, stacking perception is even harder than before and therefore no longer very viable (as you have to give up a sigil to keep it).
Note that Runes of the Ranger trigger their 7% bonus with Illusions, or with a mini-pet. They are also super, super cheap, which is worth noting.
You can also use Scholar Runes instead of the Ranger Runes. This lowers crit chance a bit, so it makes you more reliant on the presence of spotter, or using Assassin’s gear, or perception stacking. It does raise power a little, and the 10% damage bonus can be great if you can keep your health up.
For weapons, you generally want Night + Force (main hand + offhand respectively). I keep a stacking weapon for my main hand as well. I also keep an Undead Slaying version around for Arah, and Accuracy for daytime dungeons. Daytime dungeons and fractals are a little bit more awkward— in principle you would use the appropriate slaying weapon, but it can be annoying to carry around a weapon for just CM, for example. I use Accuracy in those cases, which allows slightly less dependence on Banner and Spotter, but this is not completely optimal, of course.
In unorganized groups that are not stacking might, one interesting option is to run Strength runes and Sigil of Strength + Sigil of Battle. You can keep 12 might stacks on yourself solo with this combination, which is a non-trivial DPS increase. Considering how stupidly expensive Strength Runes are, I’d avoid this personally.
If you are still learning, you can slot in Knight’s or Soldier’s in place of your armor. It’s best to move as quickly as you can to full zerker though, as you will deal significantly more damage that way.
The May 20 patch removed the “underwater stacking sigils” trick, which is quite unfortunate. You can still stack if you really want— for example, in some solo environments where you use mostly one weapon set, you can keep a stacking sigil on your second set to keep your stacks up. For assassin’s gears builds, you would stack bloodlust, and for berserker’s gear would be perception. In general, however,this is no longer recommended.
For food choices: usually your gear will allow you to maximize your crit chance without too much investment in food, so you have lots of options. I personally always take Candied Dragon Rolls, because 66% life steal on crit is amazing and allows me to use my heals offensively. Other options like Sweet and Spicy Butternut Squash are great, as is Seaweed Salad. But I’m cheap, so I won’t use those.
For utility consumables: obviously the appropriate dungeon potions when available. Skale Venom is a good choice in Fractals. Sharpening Stones are a good default otherwise.
Your choice of utilities should be as dynamic (or even more dynamic) than your choice of builds.
Feedback should almost always be available. There’s usually at least a little bit that you can reflect in a fight, and the combination of active damage mitigation + high damage means that this is very useful for your team both defensively and offensively.
If you’re using Mantras, you should almost always have 2 or 3 Mantras on your bar— Recovery, Resolve, and Concentration. Resolve/Concentration can be swapped to others, like Pain or Distraction, depending on the situation. Note that if you don’t need stability/stun breaks/ condition cleanse, you should strongly consider Distraction. Your Master level minor gives 5 vuln on daze, which can help with your party vuln stacking.
If you need more condition cleanse than just Mantra of Resolve, Null Field can be very helpful. Null Field also boon strips, which can be useful (I keep bringing up Dredge, but that’s really important).
Portal is very situational, but hugely useful. A popular example is its use in CoF p1, where the boulder puzzle can be trivialized with a mesmer portal. Other locations commonly using portal are in Dredge Fractal (portaling your full group into the console chamber, running around for bombs, etc.) or Uncategorized Fractal (skipping the harpy jump-runs invisibly with a thief, and dropping a portal to move the rest of the group). The nice thing about portal is that it promotes creative thinking and movement in dungeons, so it can be a lot of fun to use.
Blink can be useful in fights where you need extra mobility (like Mai Trin’s cannon phase).
Decoy/Veil can be useful on skips in Arah.
Phantasmal Defender can help tank for your party if people are dying a lot. This comes at a large DPS loss, because the Defender DPS is very low.
Phantasmal Disenchanter can provide excellent boon-strip and party condition cleanse. This can be useful on bosses like the turret-golem in CoE (where sometimes I even summon two Disenchanters by using Signet of Ether).
Signet of Inspiration can be useful in doubling might stacks on your party members. This won’t help if they can get to 25 on their own, but if your party is only stacking 10-12 might, this can be a huge bonus.
Signet of Midnight can provide AoE blinds— useful when you don’t have a thief or guardian to do this.
Arcane Thievery can strip a lot of boons very quickly. You can also use it to play fun tricks like burning Shog in Arah p1 for many minutes at a time.
Time Warp is your default. A large amount of extra DPS to everyone is very helpful to your party. Use this when the boss is at < 50% HP, or preferably < 33%, in order to maximize the damage that come from Thief and Ele traits which trigger at low mob health.
Mass Invis is good on skips in Arah or some Fractals.
Mantra of Resolve is a 4% DPS boost when using Empowering Mantras. The healing power is not particularly large, but it heals immediately and cannot be interrupted, which makes it very reliable. This is my personal choice in most situations.
Signet of Ether is a rather good heal if you use the passive, but it recharges your phantasm cool downs when you use the active. This can mean a rather large DPS boost at the start of your fight.
Generally, once you get comfortable in the game, heals are used offensively and not defensively. This means you use the Mantra of Resolve for the DPS boost, and Signet of Ether for the phantasm cool downs. If you need an easier to use heal skill (with a shorter channel than MoR), consider Ether Feast.
To maximize your DPS, you basically want to always keep 3 phantasms out and keep your sword auto-attack going. This means that typically, you start fights with something like:
Focus pull to bunch up enemies. Phantasmal Warden. Swap to sword. Phantasmal Swordsman. Signet of Ether. Phantasmal Swordsman. Auto-attack.
If you don’t have signet, obviously just skip that bit and wait for the cool down, and summon again.
Once your three phantasms are up, keep your DPS going with auto-attacks (which are slightly back-loaded, so it pays to keep a full chain going). If you need a dodge, use Blurred Frenzy first, since you’ll get just as many evade frames, but you’ll still do DPS. Sword 4’s block is also good DPS— but be careful if you have 3 phantasms out, since the clone it summons will override one of them!
In most situations this is how you’ll start fights, but depending on the situation, you’ll have to be dynamic and react accordingly. Cleanse your party of conditions— watch your allies conditions as well! Put up reflects with Feedback or Curtain if necessary. Re-summon phantasms when they die. “Rotations” is in quotes here because there really isn’t one— we have a pattern for starting fights, but after that you have to pay attention to the situation and respond accordingly.
Note that if you have Compounding Power (III in Illusions), you want 3 illusions up at all time, so summon clones if you can’t get phantasms out fast enough (sword 3 is good for this).
Also note the crazy defensive options that we have. We have 50% vigor uptime from the Adept minor trait in Dueling, an extra dodge in sword 2 on very low cool down, and a nice block with sword 4. This means that while you have light armor and medium health, you are super tanky, even in full DPS gear, compared to other classes like elementalist.
While mesmers are not necessarily a top-tier class for dungeon running, they provide good damage and support and can be very effective additions to almost any dungeon (but especially anyone that requires reflects). The class has a huge amount of defensive options, and their unique ability to provide 100% reflect uptime with minimal DPS loss is quite useful. In long fights, where phantasm summon time is negligible, the class can provide very respectable DPS (and in ideal situations, even top-tier DPS). This can make them quite well suited for Fractals.
If you want more information, I highly recommend watching Sandy’s videos and Jerem’svideos. Brazil and Nike also have some nice videos. Frifox’s build calculator is here . Chaos’s excellent guide to reflections is here .
I hope you enjoyed this! Please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions below. Special thanks to Pyro for poking me to make the thread.