A Properly Thought Out Plan For Building a Guild Wars 2 Character
August 01, 2012 | ~16 mins read time.
Zojja, an Asura
Zojja, and Asuran Elementalist.

A guest post by Stefan Johnson.

As the launch date approaches for Guild Wars 2, I find myself doing what I often do: overanalyze things. I have a checklist of things I want to accomplish within the first 24 hour window after the three day head start kicks off. I know that I will have one of every profession, assuming the GEM store is open during the head start.

I know that the two characters I will focus on the most are my Human Ranger and my Asura Elementalist. I have looked at traits and skills, and I've planned a path for which weapon skills to focus on first, and which utility skills to purchase first for each. My excitement is building, and this provides me with a sense of progression while I wait to actually play.

Since I promised a good friend that I would write a guest post for her blog, I have started and scrapped several ideas. I may return to one or more of them later, but for now, I am offering my in depth look at how I planned my elementalist build for one of my two main characters. Let's begin, shall we?

The first thing I looked at was the trait line. I had a good idea what weapons and utilities I would use the most, so I looked for traits that would benefit my early play style. I fully expect the trait selection to change as my character matures, but I know that at least up to level 20, I'm pretty well restricted to "pick one trait line and max it to level 10" to get full benefits from it. I could possibly spend into a second one after that, but I didn't want to plan that far in advance. The early levels are the most critical for developing a rapport with the character and how it plays, so I chose to stop at 20 in my planning.

Let's look at the basics, first. Each trait line offers 3 types of benefit when points are spent into it. The first is a bonus to two attributes per point spent. Each trait line has its own pair of attributes, so you can't pick and choose any two you want. Each trait line also has a "minor trait" bonus at level 5, 15, and 25 points spent. This particular trait cannot be changed. If you've spent the minimum points required in the given trait line, you have that minor trait. If you haven't, you don't.

Finally, each trait offers a "major trait" bonus at level 10, 20, and 30 points spent. This trait can be selected from a pool of available traits within that given trait line. If you want to swap this around in the field, you can do so as long as you are out of combat. Got all that? Good. Let's look at each trait line available to the elementalist, and then I'll explain which route I chose to follow.

Fire Magic

+10 power (damage) and +1 expertise (condition duration) per point spent.

Adept Minor Trait: Flame Barrier - You have a 20% chance to cause burning whenever a foe attacks you in melee. Only triggers when attuned to fire.

Adept Major Traits:

  • Burning Fire - Cleansing Flame, Signet of Fire, Conjure Flame, and Conjure Fiery Greatsword inflict 3 seconds of burning.
  • Burning Precision - 20% chance to cause burning on a critical hit.
  • Ember's Might - Gain might for 30 seconds whenever you are set on fire.
  • Internal Fire - Deal 10% more damage while attuned to fire.
  • Lava Tomb - Create a lava font when downed (can trigger every 30 seconds.)
  • Spell Slinger - Cantrips grant you 3 stacks of might when used.

Air Magic

+10 precision (critical hit chance) and +1 prowess (critical hit multiplier) per point spent.

Adept Minor Trait: Zephyr's Speed - Move 10% faster while attuned to air.

Adept Major Traits:

  • Bolt to the Heart - Deal 20% more damage to foes with less than 25% health.
  • One with Air - You move faster the longer you are attuned to air.
  • Quick Glyphs - Glyphs recharge 20% faster.
  • Soothing Winds - 5% of your precision is converted to healing.
  • Zephyr's Boon - Auras grant fury and swiftness when applied.
  • Zephyr's Focus - Your endurance regenerates 100% faster while channeling skills.

Earth Magic

+10 toughness (armor) and +10 malice (condition damage) per point spent.

Adept Minor Trait: Stone Flesh - Gain 1 toughness per level while attuned to earth.

Adept Major Traits:

  • Earth's Embrace - Gain armor of earth when health reaches 50% (90-second cool down.)
  • Obsidian Flesh - Gain toughness while using a channeled skill.
  • Salt Stone - Deal 5% more damage to bleeding foes.
  • Serrated Stones - Bleeds you apply last 20% longer.
  • Signet Mastery - Signets recharge 20% faster.
  • Stone Splinters - Deal 5% more damage when within melee range of your target.

Water Magic

+10 vitality (max hp) and +10 compassion (healing) per point spent.
Adept Minor Trait: Soothing Mist - Regenerate health while attuned to water.

Adept Major Traits:

  • Cleansing Water - Remove a condition when granting regeneration to yourself or an ally.
  • Cleansing Wave - Remove a condition from you and your allies when attuning to water.
  • Piercing Shards - While attuned to water, your spells deal 20% more damage to vulnerable foes.
  • Shard of Ice - Arcane and signet skills cause vulnerability when activated.
  • Soothing Disruption - Cantrips grant you regeneration and vigor.
  • Vital Striking - Deal extra damage when health is above 90%.


+1 concentration (boon duration) and +2 intelligence (attunement recharge) per point spent.

Adept Minor Trait: Lingering Elements - Attunement bonuses linger for 5 seconds.

Adept Major Traits:

  • Arcane Mastery - Arcane skills recharge 20% faster.
  • Arcane Resurrection - When you revive and ally, you and the revived ally gain an aura based on your attunement.
  • Arcane Retribution - Gain arcane power at 75% health.
  • Elemental Attunement - When attuning to an element, you and all nearby allies gain:
    • Fire: Might
    • Water: Regeneration
    • Air: Swiftness
    • Earth: Protection
    • Final Shielding - Create an arcane shield when health reaches 25%
    • Renewing stamina - You have a 33% chance to gain vigor on critical hits.
Asura Gate

As you can see, each of the trait lines leans toward one play style or another. Fire is all about increased damage output. Air is focused on critical hits and mobility. Earth is very defensive, but offers some bonus damage. Water is heavily support based by way of removing conditions or granting regeneration and/or vigor. Arcana is fairly balanced. It offers some defense, some support, and encourages frequent attunement switching. My original intent was to focus on Water Magic with the following arrangement:

  • Water Magic (10 points)
  • +100 vitality and +100 compassion
  • Soothing Mist (minor)
  • Cleansing Wave (major)

This particular line up would pair very well with a staff elementalist with all water staff skills unlocked. This would provide some heavy support and healing capabilities to a group, but it is TOO focused in my opinion. I also do not intend to be "support" all the time. I know that staff and double dagger are the two weapon set ups I will switch between the most depending on situation and environment. This doesn't offer much to the dagger configuration, so I took another look at Arcana and made my decision. The finalized trait line selection looks like this:


  • +10 concentration and +20 intelligence
  • Lingering Elements (minor)
  • Elemental Attunement (major)

By reducing my attunement recharge via a higher intelligence score, I can switch between attunements more freely. And with Lingering Elements, the bonuses granted by Elemental Attunement should last 5 seconds longer than they might otherwise last. This allows for some support even when configured for high damage via dual daggers. This also allows for more survivability when configured for support with staff. I will probably re-focus on water at some point later, but for now we are stopping at level 20, for reasons already mentioned.

I know I already mentioned which weapons I wanted to use, but here's a quick break down of what they do.

Staff is a longer range weapon with slower casting area effect spells that does big damage IF the targets stay in the AoE field. During the last beta weekend event, I found that NPC AI was boosted a bit, and things tended to run away before my ice spike could land. The casting is just too low, and I tended to hug water attunement when playing on staff so that I would have the heals available for support purposes.

This left damage to the auto attack (which is very mediocre compared to other attunements on same weapon or other auto attacks on OTHER weapons.) Frozen Ground was an excellent control option, but it took a long time to recharge. This meant I was either not doing enough damage, or I was missing critical heals while waiting for water attunement to recharge so I could switch back to fire the heal off on the group. With proper attunement rotation, I could probably have enjoyed this more (and I intend to play with it until I'm more comfortable with it, because my elementalist will be support half the time.) Right. Let's get back to the "quick break down of what they do."

Staff offers healing support via water attunement by way of the auto attack (Water Blast) as well as by two skills that are solely focused on healing (no damage.) Geyser (staff skill 3) is a small area heal that has a 20 second recharge. It also creates a combo field: water, which combines well with a combo finisher: blast skill. It just so happens that one of the utilities is also a 20 second recharge and provide just such a combo finisher. We'll look at it when we get to utilities. Healing Rain is staff skill 5, and provides a much larger area effect, but the effect is only regeneration. It does not include a "heal" on its own. It does, however, grant the same combo field: water, that Geyser offers. If timed well with another blast finisher, it could be used to grant the heal.

Staff also offers control and movement support via the air attunement. Lightning Surge can blind foes near the target, Gust pushes foes away, and Static Field provides an area stun when foes try to cross it. Windborne Speed grants swiftness to nearby allies, as well as removing cripple, immobilize, and chill.

Staff with earth attunement grants some defensiveness with Magnetic Aura reflecting projectiles. Unsteady Ground cripples foes, and Shockwave bleeds and immobilizes foes, so both are good for rooting / snaring enemies in a pinch.

Staff with fire is all about damage. It does, however, provide a quick retreat skill with Burning Retreat. In a group, you can line it up just right to provide a "wall of fire" for allies to shoot through, as well.

The other weapon set I know I will focus on is dual daggers. Daggers are all about up close and personal in your face combat, mobility, and control. With fire attunement, you get mobility via Burning Speed and can provide a similar "wall of fire" in the process. You also get a Ring of Fire, both of which are on a fast 15 second recharge. With water, you can stack vulnerability on a foe faster than just about any other skill in the game.

Vapor Blade is sheer awesome in that regard. You also have a couple of small heal options with Cone of Cold and Cleansing Wave. Unfortunately, neither of these provides a combo field the way Geyser does. Frozen Burst chills foes, to keep them where you want them, and Frost Aura provides a bit of defense along with a renewed chill every time a foe hits you. Air attunement has Lightning Touch to cause vulnerability, Shocking Aura to stun, Updraft to knock foes back while providing swiftness, and my all-time favorite, Ride the Lightning, which is a means of entering combat quickly and with style.

You become a literal ball of lightning that flies at the target with that one. Finally, earth attunement offers several bleeds, an immobilize (Magnetic Grasp) that is also a combat entry skill, and a knockdown (Earthquake) and cripple (Churning Earth.) The last two are large area with long recharge, but the damage is oh so nice.

Now that I had my trait line selected, and a good feel for which weapons I want to use, I took a look at the utility skills again. I know the very first utility skill I will unlock will be Arcane Wave. This skill costs one skill point, does decent area damage around you, and has a combo finisher: blast effect. That makes it the perfect skill to pair with Geyser on the staff water attunement. That makes "one" but we want to plan for more.

Since I'm not sure how many skill challenges I will be able to do by level 20, I won't focus on that. I will, however, focus on picking five skills per skill point cost level. I will do this, because it is a requirement to unlock five of one tier before you can unlock any skills from the next tier up. We know the first one is Arcane Wave, but what are the rest? I have them laid out as follows:

The first number in parenthesis is the skill point cost, and the second number is the recharge rate in seconds. Any skills with an asterisk indicate that skill can be used under water. Not all slot skills can be, so it's good to know which ones can. Any skills with a plus next to them indicate the skills I am actually interested in for that tier of slot skills. The rest are just "more interesting fodder than the other available skills" in the end.

1 Skill Point Cost:

  • Arcane Wave (1sp 20s recharge)+
  • Armor of Earth (1sp 90s recharge)*+
  • Glyph of Storms (1sp 60s recharge)+
  • Arcane Blast (1sp 15s recharge)
  • Conjure Flame Axe (1sp 60s recharge)

3 Skill Point Cost:

  • Signet of Water (3sp 30s recharge)*+
  • Conjure Frost Bow (3sp 60s recharge)
  • Cleansing Fire (3sp 50s recharge)*
  • Signet of Air (3sp 20s recharge)*
  • Signet of Earth (3sp 30s recharge)*

6 Skill Point Cost:

  • Glyph of Renewal (6sp 165s recharge)*+
  • Mist Form (6sp 75s recharge)*+
  • Arcane Shield (6sp 75s recharge)
  • Lightning Flash (6sp 60s recharge)
  • Conjure Lightning Hammer (6sp 60s recharge)

Now, let's look at why I'm interested in the skills I selected with "+" above. Arcane Wave needs no explanation, since it pairs perfectly with Geyser. Armor of Earth is a cheap skill to add eight seconds of protection and stability, breaks stun, and works underwater. This could be useful in the early levels under certain conditions.

Glyph of Storms looks like a fun way to call down extra damage of any given attunement type. I wondered where Firestorm had disappeared to, since Meteor Shower is on Staff, where I would have expected this to be. Now I know, and it has three close cousins with it. All I have to do is select the appropriate attunement before casting to get the effect I want.

Signet of Water has a passive that removes a condition every ten seconds. This is a great way to improve survivability. It also offers a quick "chill" on a target, and thirty seconds isn't too bad for a signet recharge.

Glyph of Renewal allows me to revive an ally or allies with attunement based effects. Fire, Water, and Air all revive one target ally. Fire grants a passive buff that revives you the next time you are downed. Water revives the target at full health. Air revives the target and teleports them to your location. Earth revives up to three nearby allies. This would pair very nicely with the staff as a support specialist. Finally, Mist Form grants three seconds of invulnerability while breaking stun.

Some of the "fodder" skills I chose are the various conjure spells (summons a weapon that changes the weapon skill bar to various elemental damage spells) and a few signets for their own passive buffs (run speed, toughness, etc.) Lightning Flash is a targeted teleport, which may be handy under certain conditions.

Knowing that you get one skill point per level starting at level 5, you should get 16 skill points by level 20, and there are at least 2 "easy" skill points per racial starting area (for a total of 10.) this would make "26" total, which would mean you can definitely get at least ONE of the skills that costs six skill points by level 20. There should be at least one more per racial area that can be obtained, but there are probably a few. This means you should be able to obtain at least a couple of the expensive utility skills by this time.

Hopefully I didn't confuse anyone with my rambling. I'm not going to edit this, because if I do, I'll just throw it out like I did the other attempts at a guest post. I do however, grant permission for geannie to edit for spelling, grammar, and style as she sees fit. Thank you for taking the time to read.

Hope to see you in game!

*geannie's note: I only edited for spelling because I didn't want to ruin the tone of the whole thing. Other than that, I did a little formatting and added some images. I hope you enjoyed.
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