Necromancers have relatively fewer options in their arsenal compared to the other professions, save for Engineers and Elementalists. This is offset by the skills we have in our Death Shroud form, of which Life Blast was thoroughly examined by Syrii last week.
One of the most frequent questions from newly-indoctrinated Necros is: “Which weapon should I use?” The short answer to that is “it depends,” as suggested by the headline above.
So today, we will look at our four main-hand weapons in detail.
Axe: Low/mid-range direct damage, good for PvP and aggressive play
The axe is our low/mid-range solution, with all three weapon skills firing at the 600-unit mark. The axe’s auto-attack stacks Vulnerability, and Ghastly Claws is a quick way to gain Life Force to power up Death Shroud.
The third axe skill, Unholy Feast, is probably the reason why many Necros use the axe in PvP. Its area Cripple effect is important for control and tactical retreats, with Retaliation thrown in so that some of the incoming damage can be mitigated.
If you like playing aggressively in PvE, the axe is a good weapon to pack. Its short range limits its usefulness in large encounters, though.
Key trait lines for axe wielders include Curses and Soul Reaping for maximizing damage potential with critical hits, and Death Shroud shenanigans. You should also consider the Spite line for raw Power and Axe Training, which is unfortunately only available at the 30-point Grandmaster tier.
Scepter: Mid-range conditions damage, good for PvE and support
If you prefer more control, and more distance between yourself and your foes, the scepter may be your weapon of choice at the 900-unit range. The scepter dishes out its damage mainly in the form of Bleed, a damage-over-time condition.
“Burst” damage with the scepter comes in the form of Feast of Corruption, which practically makes your unlucky target go boom, dealing 8% more damage with every condition on him or her. Consider this skill in combo with Signet of Spite or Plague Signet, which can potentially stick multiple conditions on your target quickly. Diabolically delicious.
As a Life Force builder though, Feast of Corruption is not too reliable.
Scepter users would want to go heavy on condition damage with the Curses line, and consider picking up Hemophilia and Lingering Curse. The Spite line remains relevant, as you’d want a high crit chance to take advantage of Barbed Precision and the Sigil of Superior Earth.
Staff: Long-range support for PvP
The staff is the two-handed option for Necromancers who don’t want to get their hands dirty. At a max range of 1,200 units, the area control weapon is great for defending a keep in WvW and staying out of trouble to regain some Life Force with its auto-attack skill while your other tools are on cooldown.
The staff is all about laying down marks and controlling areas. These are trap-like effects unique to the Necromancer and they inflict a host of effects, including Fear, when triggered by foes. Interestingly, the fifth staff skill, Reaper’s Mark, is also the Necro’s only weapon-based way of inducing Fear, outside of Death Shroud or the Downed state. The third staff skill, Chilblains, is a great way to start engagements.
Traits that affect staff wielders and marks can mostly be found in the Death Magic line. Others like Spiteful Marks and Soul Marks are found in Spite and Soul Reaping respectively. The two-handed weapon works well off both Power and condition builds, and it’s also good for recharging Life Force.
If you’re soloing in PvE, you’d probably want to stow the staff because of its support nature and relatively long cooldowns.
Dagger: Melee direct damage, good for aggressive Death Shroud builds?
Let’s get this out of the way first: the dagger isn’t my favorite main hand. Besides the fact you’re wading into the melee red zone dressed in the equivalent of pajamas, the dagger skills have neither the punch nor protection needed for in-your-face combat. In other words, there’s little payoff for using the dagger over the axe, our other direct damage option.
The defining skill of the dagger main-hand is Life Siphon, but its healing component is simply too weak at the moment, for effective defense in melee. In addition, the Immobilize effect from Dark Pact is probably only good for team play. Its short range limits its usefulness as a gap-closer or escape mechanism, especially since we lack mobility skills to zip in and out of the melee danger zone.
Having said that, the dagger main-hand might work as a secondary weapon set to dip into for a quick dose of Life Force. For this reason, it should also work well with a Death Shroud build.
The weapon, with its high attack rate, generates Life Force quickly with every third chained strike. This means that the Necro can jump into shroud mode frequently for more options and access to Doom, an important PvP skill. The”shroud dancer” can pop back to normal mode when key skills like healing are back online.
Incidentally, using Death Shroud in a tactical manner (not just as a meat shield) isn’t restricted to dagger wielders; it’s something that should be built into every Necro’s playstyle.
To use the dagger as your main-hand weapon effectively, you should invest in the Curses and Soul Reaping trait lines to max out critical hits and damage. The Soul Reaping line is also great for improving Death Shroud.
This article is a guide, not a Necromancer instruction manual. Ultimately it’s your personal playstyle that will determine what your character will be loaded out with. Besides finding the right fit with how you play, using the right weapon for the right situation is also key to achieving pwnage.
In my next article, we’ll look at the three off-hand weapons available to Necromancers: the dagger, warhorn and focus, and how they compliment the main-hands.
I’ll leave you with Beliasta’s nifty range graph for the Necromancer.