The Elementalist Assassin is a Martial Arts build that focuses on the specific Martial Arts skills that inflict elemental damage. This Assassin build is often called the Phoenix Strike Assassin as the majority of the skill points are used to build up its damage potential.
- Damage is weapon independent
- Wide range of elemental damage to battle immune monsters.
- Can do area effect damage against large groups, or focus damage to a stronger opponent.
- High Vitality means survivability.
- Weak in a PvP environment due to slow skill-charge collection.
- Low physical damage.
Strength: Sufficient to wear desired gear.
Dexterity: Sufficient to wear desired gear.
Vitality: Remaining points.
Energy: Should be left at base.
- Phoenix Strike
- Fists of Fire
- Claws of Thunder
- Blades of Ice: Can improve this skill for better Phoenix Strike ice damage if spare skill points available.
- Claw Mastery: If the player decides to stick with katars as weapons, then this should have a few points.
- Weapon Block: If the player decided on using dual katars, then this should also have between 5-10 points invested in it.
- Burst of Speed: This skill has diminishing returns, but a few points can make a big difference.
- Fade: Useful even as a one-point wonder and helpful later on if resistances aren't very high.
- Psychic Hammer/Mind Blast: Its stun effect makes it popular in PvP, even with a single point invested.
- Cloak of Shadows: This has use if a player decides that avoidance is a viable tactic.
- Vampire Gaze: Slows opponent, dual leech, physical damage reduction.
- Kira's Guardian: Cannot Be Frozen, massive Resistance bonus.
- Guillaume's Face: Crushing Blow, Deadly Strike.
- Tal Rasha's Horadric Crest: Dual Leech, Resistance bonus, fairly easy to find.
- Body Armor
- Duriel's Shell: Cannot Be Frozen, resistance bonus, Vitality bonus.
- Chains of Honor: +2 to all skills, +65 to all resistances. Damage bonuses vs undead and demons.
- Enigma: Teleport, Attribute bonuses, level dependent magic find.
- Treachery: +2 to Assassin skills, Increased Attack Speed, procs related to Assassin. If choosing this armor to wear "full time" Fade and Venom skills should only have one point in them.
- Skullder's Ire: +1 all skills and level dependent Magic Find.
- Lidless Wall: +1 to all skills and mana-related bonuses.
- Stormshield: 35% Physical Damage Reduction.
- Spirit: +2 to all skills and resistance bonuses.
- Rhyme: Cannot be frozen and faster hit recovery bonus.
- Phoenix: Enhanced Damage is the main perk of this rune word.
- Bartuc's Cut-Throat: Faster Hit Recovery, substantial attack rating bonus, life leech and skill bonus.
- Jade Talon: Resistance bonus, Faster Hit Recovery, mana leech and skill bonus.
- Strength: Crushing Blow and Life Leech.
- Chaos: Whirlwind Skill, Increased Attack Speed and significant magic damage.
- Wind: Increased Attack Speed, Faster Hit Recovery and attack rating bonus (in the form of opponent defense penalty).
- Verdungo's Hearty Cord: Physical Damage Reduction, vitality bonus, Faster Hit Recovery. String of Ears' big brother.
- Arachnid Mesh: Slows opponent, skill bonus.
- Nosferatu's Coil: Life leech, slows opponent, Increased Attack Speed.
- Gore Riders: Crushing Blow, Open Wounds and Deadly Strike.
- Dracul's Grasp: Life Tap proc.
- Soul Drainer: Dual Leech, lowers monster defense by 50 per hit.
- Untwinked, it's possible to shop for +3 Martial Arts 20% Increased Attack Speed gloves. All Increased Attack Speed gloves are colored dark gold.
- Mara's Kaleidoscope: +2 to all skills and a resistance bonus.
- The Cat's Eye: Increased Attack Speed.
- Highlord's Wrath: +1 to all skills, Increased Attack Speed.
- Metalgrid: Attack Rating and resistance bonus.
- Stone of Jordan: Skill bonus, Mana-related bonuses.
- Bul-Kathos' Wedding Band: Skill bonus, Vitality-related bonuses.
- Manald Heal: Mana-related bonuses.
Early on, invest any spare points (that aren't needed for prerequisite skills) into Fists of Fire. Pump up to 3 charges and use normal attack (or, at your option, Dragon Talon or Dragon Claw) to release. Until Phoenix Strike this is your main attack tactic.
When monster mobs become scarier, use Cloak of Shadows to reduce pressure. If you invest into Mind Blast, use it when each member of the mob is scary by itself.
Once you've reached level 30, start pumping Phoenix Strike. This changes the way your game is played, so pay attention!
Once Phoenix Strike is more than level 3 or so, change your command setup: use the right-click skill assignments to assign Phoenix strike and normal attack (or Dragon Talon/Dragon Claw) to adjacent skill keys. Your attack tactic is now: keep the right mouse button pressed, enable Phoenix Strike, approach monsters, hit using Phoenix Strike, switch to normal attack/Talon/Claw, release, switch to Phoenix Strike and hit, switch to normal attack and hit, and so on. Basically, you are alternating between Phoenix Strike and normal attack (releasing 1-charge Phoenix Strikes) to set up a stream of meteors on monsters. You will need to practice this to gain proficiency in quickly switching skills. Note that changing the speed of your attack (i.e. increases in Burst of Speed if you use it, or changing items with different Increased Attack Speed or Weapon Speed Modifiers) may throw your rhythm off, so practice this a little when changing equipment.
Against fast but cowardly easy-to-kill opponents such as demon imps and leapers, build up 2 charges of Phoenix Strike before releasing. This slight change in rhythm also requires practice, as you may have gotten used to triggering the meteors (which are of little help against quick-moving opponents due to the delay before they fall).
Against mixed mobs of fire immune and lightning immunes, use another rhythm that triggers meteors and lightning alternately. Again, you need to practice this new rhythm, but experience with the two earlier rhythms should be helpful.
Finally, when mobs become even scarier, use the time under Cloak of Shadows to build up 3 charges of Phoenix Strike, so that monsters are frozen while you are setting up meteors and lightning against them.
Thus, starting at Nightmare, your attack method is like this:
- When seeing some monsters, cast Cloak of Shadows. Switch to Phoenix Strike.
- If most monsters are not Cold Immune, build up 3 Phoenix Strike charges, then release with a finisher or normal attack.
- If monsters are not Fire immune and you are in a restricted space (corridor or doorway), or against non Fire immune bosses or act bosses, build up 1 Phoenix Strike charge and release. Do this repeatedly until most monsters (or the boss in question) are dead.
- If monsters are not Lightning immune and you are in an open area (big room or in the open), build up 2 Phoenix Strike charges and release. Do this repeatedly until most monsters are dead.
- If monsters are a mix of Fire and Lightning immunes, build up 1 Phoenix Strike charge and release, then build up 2 Phoenix charges and release. Do this repeatedly until most monsters are dead.
- In case of emergency, cast Mind Blast and/or Cloak of Shadows, then run away, Teleport away, or Town Portal away.
This guide recommends a hitting claw focused on improving your hit accuracy with +Attack Rating (based on character level) and similar. The main purpose of this is to achieve 95% chance to hit. High hit probability allows for more reliable and controllable selection of which charge you will end up releasing; in practice, anything below 90% will cause you to misfire the wrong charge quite often.
This generally means sacrificing additional damage modifiers and getting accuracy modifiers that improve your attack rating and/or reduce your opponent's defense rating (the Eth rune in particular). This is generally a good tradeoff since Phoenix Strike is quite powerful when fully levelled and synergized; dealing negligible damage while charging up is not an issue if a two or three triggerings of Phoenix Strike will kill entire groups of monsters anyway.
Note that using a 3-Eth Greater Talons is quite powerful, as this is almost equivalent to a +300% bonus to your Attack Rating. Such a claw would be very accurate but have very little damage, which we make up for by consistently releasing the desired Phoenix Strike charge. Phoenix Strikers are very tempo-based, and once you have the rhythm in muscle memory, it is very hard to break it in case a charge-up or release misses.
Phoenix Strike becomes even more powerful when +skills are involved. Thus, using a second claw with +3 Martial Arts (or at least giving +3 Phoenix Strike) gives a substantial boost to damage that is further improved by your synergies.
The main drawback of a dual-claw setup versus a claw and shield or a non-claw and shield is the lack of resistances and additional defense that are easily provided by the shield. This is partially mitigated by the excellent crowd control skills of the Assassin - Cloak of Shadows and Mind Blast - so you should generally use them to compensate for the relatively lower defenses of the Elementalist. That said, using a shield instead of a utility claw is certainly viable, and opens you to the possibility of using a powerful non-claw weapon, such as a Crescent Moon Rune Word Phase Blade.
Block may be something you need to avoid rather than encourage. Blocking means your rhythm may get thrown off; some builds may even completely forgo the use of Shadow Master or Shadow Warrior in order to keep Weapon Block at level 0.
Phoenix Strike vs. Fists of Fire/Claws of ThunderEdit
In order to maximize the crowd-killing potential of the individual-element skills, you need to fully charge up to 3 charges before releasing. In contrast, you do not want to fully charge up Phoenix Strike before releasing it. This means that against Fists of Fire, you can release two Phoenix Strike meteors in the same time that you charge up 3 charges of Fists of Fire and release it (assuming single-weapon setup and normal attack to release). A similar argument holds against using Claws of Thunder - you can release 4 Phoenix Strike lightning chaos in the same amount of time as 3 fully-charged Claws of Thunder. At high levels of Phoenix Strike, the fire and lightning tend to stick around longer than high levels of the individual-element skills.
Note that a dual-claw setup makes things worse for the individual-element skills. The elemental claw attacks will always swing both weapons at a slightly higher speed than normal attack, while Phoenix Strike will always just use your primary weapon (which is always the one above the gloves). Although swinging both weapons is slightly faster than two Phoenix Strikes with one weapon, to get the third charge of an elemental claw skill you need to perform both swings again, which makes you even slower compared to Phoenix Strike.
Phoenix Strike vs. Blades of IceEdit
Assuming a weapon and shield setup, the 3-charge Phoenix Strike takes just as long as the 3-charge Blades of Ice. This makes Blades of Ice a viable alternative to Phoenix Strike for the purpose of freezing opponents. In particular, Blades of Ice assures that non-cold-immunes within a small radius are frozen, whereas nearby monsters might occasionally be between the missiles released by the 3-charge Phoenix Strike.
However, note that if you are using a dual-claw setup, Blades of Ice is slightly slower to reach 3 charges than Phoenix Strike, again because the elemental claw attacks always swing both weapons. Dual claw setups let you get +3Martial Arts +3Phoenix Strike on both weapon slots, which makes for really high-level Phoenix Strike attacks. Also, using just Phoenix Strike reduces the number of skill keys you need to switch between.
Normal Attack vs. Dragon FinishersEdit
You will probably put one point in each Dragon finisher skill just for Dragon Flight, so you might as well use one of the Dragon finishers. However, note that speed can still be better with normal attack rather than a Dragon finisher.
Dragon Talon is relatively slow on the first kick - to reach 7 frames for the first kick, you need a significant Increased Attack Speed investment. In contrast, with Burst of Speed at a respectable level, Greater Talons or Runic Talons, and 20% Increased Attack Speed on gloves, 7 frames on a normal attack is easily achievable even untwinked. If you have dual +3Martial Arts claws, this makes a one-point Dragon Talon reach level 7 - meaning two kicks, which requires 10 frames to complete - this makes you even slower at throwing meteors around.
Dragon Claw is always two swings. Although both swings are slightly faster than two normal attacks, remember that a normal attack only needs one swing to complete. At its fastest, Dragon Claw requires 10 frames.
Dragon Tail knocks back, and is also a kick (which again is generally slower than max-speed normal attack). The knockback may or may not hinder you; against slow small opponents, it might kick them out of the way of the incoming meteor, but most opponents will re-engage you by the time it falls, maybe.
In contrast, normal attack has the same speed as Phoenix Strike (assuming a weapon and shield setup or dual claws where both claws have the same Weapon Speed Modifier and Increased Attack Speed), which can greatly help with the rhythm of attacks.
Normal attack also has the significant advantage of not requiring any mana, letting you throw more Phoenix Strike meteors before drinking a potion.
The only major disadvantage of normal attack is the lack of attack rating boost. Using Hsaru's Boots+Belt or Angelic Amulet+Ring can give you some nice additional attack rating, as would pumping points into Claw Mastery if you're using claws, and hiring a Blessed Aim mercenary (Normal Act 2 Offensive mercenary).
- Use normal attack if possible.
- If your accuracy with normal attack is too poor (no Ignore Target Defense, +Attack Rating (based on character level) or -% Enemy Defense Rating), preferentially use Dragon Claw, which gives good attack rating bonus and has two chances of releasing the charges.
- If you don't plan on a dual-claw setup, use Dragon Talon. If you have a large number of +Martial Arts or +skills and the Dragon Talon ends up kicking too many times, use Dragon Tail.
Phoenix Strike ChargesEdit
The guide recommends that, against mixed groups of fire and lightning immunes, you should alternate between the fire and lightning charges of Phoenix Strike. This is primarily because the lower charges have a faster attack sequence and higher damage compared to repeating the full ice attack.
In general, the third Phoenix Strike charge is almost always a "utility" trigger, useful for stopping opponents rather than damaging them.
Although many players solo with their characters, Hirelings can certainly increase the survivability of any character if maintained properly. Typically, most choose the Act 2 Defensive Mercenary in Nightmare Difficulty (the "Holy Freeze Merc") or the Offensive version (the "Might Merc"), but the others have plenty of potential if geared properly. The Helmet and Armor are standard choices, the only thing that would vary are the weapons. Act 3 Hirelings with cold attacks used to be popular, but are rare now due to many monsters being immune to their attacks. Although Barbarian Warriors are quite rugged, they can be overcome by large mobs. On the other hand, properly equipped, he can definitely play a major factor in increasing the character's survivability. And the Rogue Archer should not be counted out either, although without particular gear her ability to assist in later stages of the game diminishes by quite a bit. Although the weapons vary, the armor and helmet choices are mostly stock, with some variance in regards to armor.
- Guillaume's Face: Crushing Blow and Deadly Strike.
- Tal Rasha's Horadric Crest: Mostly for the 10 percent life leech and +15 to Resistances.
- Crown of Thieves and Stealskull are also popular choices for their ease of finding and life leech.
- Kira's Guardian or Darksight Helm: The reason for choosing either helmet is the Cannot Be Frozen attribute.
- Fortitude: 300% Enhanced damage against everything.
- Duress: Features 15% chance of Crushing Blow.
- The Gladiator's Bane: Cannot be Frozen and integer damage reduction at a level that actually makes a difference.
- Hwanin's Refuge: Static Field proc. Still useful even if lightning immunes aren't affected by it in Hell Difficulty.
- Treachery: may be of more benefit to a Rogue for the Increased Attack Speed.
- Skin of the Vipermagi: Iron Wolves can make better use of the Faster Cast Rate as they usually attack from range.
- Duriel's Shell: For Hirelings, this armor is prized much for being relatively easy to find, its Cannot be Frozen attribute and Vitality bonus.
- Rogue Archer
- Desert Mercenary
- Hone Sundan: Crushing Blow and three sockets.
- The Reaper's Toll: Decrepify Proc.
- Obedience: Crushing Blow and an Enchant Proc.
- Infinity: Boasts a Conviction aura. A very popular rune word for those specialized in elemental attacks as it will break many elemental immunities.
- Insight: Has a Meditation Aura that will help alleviate mana demands.
- Breath of the Dying, Last Wish, Death or Doom: These are very powerful. They are also equally difficult to create.
- Iron Wolf
- Barbarian Warrior
- Bloodletter: Fast, and has life leech. The sword will likely be obsolete by early Hell, however.
- Headstriker: Level dependent Deadly Strike as well as level dependent maximum damage.
- Azurewrath: The base damage is a bit low, but the added damage makes this blade frightening once it can be equipped.
- The Grandfather: Very high damage and Attack Rating bonus.
- Lawbringer: a relatively easy rune word to construct. Has a Decrepify proc.
- Breath of the Dying, Grief, Death are also options, albeit difficult ones, considering the runes required.