Guild Wars 2: Are Thieves And Mesmer's The Cause Of The Meta?

Two of Guild Wars 2's classes are designed to kill players quickly. As a result, players have resorted to "tanky" builds to survive. Are the Thief and Mesmer to blame?

It isn’t often that I’ll feel inclined to point the finger at a class or two  in a massively multiplayer game and blame it for the woes of an entire game mode. While I certainly wouldn’t go that far here, I do believe the Thief and Mesmer and some of their mechanics are the cause of many problems in Guild Wars 2’s PvP. For full disclosure and before anyone reading this points a finger at me having an agenda against either class, I’ll state the following:

  • I’ve played Guild Wars 2 since its closed Beta
  • I’ve one of each class at level 80
  • I’m Rank 80 in sPvP
  • My “main” is a Ranger (Longbow/Greatsword in PvE and Conditions in PvP)
  • My class preference in order, is: Ranger > Mesmer > Engineer > Thief > Guardian > Necromancer >Elementalist > Warrior 

Having recently been playing a great deal of structured PvP, whilst also writing about Guild Wars 2’s current Meta, I’ve been thinking of the Celestial Meta and how it’s evolved from people purposefully seeking out bunker Guardians, Rangers or Elementalists to what we have now: an abundance of Celestial Warriors, Engineers and Elementalists. These three classes are capable of Might stacking and although their damage attributes are lower as a result of the Celestial Amulet (Power, Precision, Ferocity) Might stacking offsets this considerably. So much so, there’s very little value in playing anything other than Celestial as one of these three classes because it’s so powerful. Where a Rifle Engineer or Warrior may have once used Berserker Amulet, the Amulet use has been abandoned because it’s fundamentally pointless for these classes.

In contrast and as it currently stands, Berzerker builds are still almost exclusively used by two specific classes: Mesmer and Thief. With the odd exception of a DPS Guardian or Longbow Ranger, Mesmer’s and Thieves remain the most common user of the highest damage Amulet. It’s primarily because their other specialisations are poor (unlike Condition Ranger, which is still excellent - if not limited), but also because their class design revolves around spike damage. Though the Thief and Mesmer play very differently, they’re both capable of dealing enormous damage in only a few seconds. A Mesmer’s burst comes from Shattering Clones and Illusions and a Thief’s comes from a combination of skills, but predominantly Backstab and Mug if using Dagger/Pistol and attrition over raw burst power when using Sword/Dagger. The latter build still relies heavily on Mug, but offers more mobility and marginally lower spike damage over its Backstab counterpart.

Although both classes are glass cannons, it’s the combination of readily available stealth and evasion that makes the Thief particularly formidable. The Mesmer might have clones to hide behind and access to stealth, but the majority of Meta builds only utilise Decoy and Blink. Once these are used, you rely solely on confusing your opponent through clone generation or Phase Retreat in order to survive. The Thief doesn’t suffer such issues and with either build, has access to significant quantities of stealth or evasion. Unsurprisingly and due to their reliance on pure burst, it’s relatively easy to kill a Berzerker wearing class in several seconds as a Thief. The inevitable death of your opponent is prolonged only slightly if they happen to have their utility skills but it’s only a matter of time before they’re forced use them, allowing you to burst once again. This “instant gib” that’s near indefensible against a skilled Thief, I believe, is the reason primary why players gravitated away from using squishy builds and towards Bunker or Celestial alternatives. It might be fun as a DPS class dealing eye watering damage in a few seconds, but if there’s a Thief on the opposing team and they know you’re running such a specialisation, you can guarantee they’ll lock you down for the entire match.

As an individual who plays both a Mesmer and a Thief, I’m well aware of each classes limitations. I’m also well aware of the sheer frustration at being hounded for an entire match by a class that has near permanent evasion, unparalleled mobility and almost free access to stealth. At times, it’s physically impossible to avoid the burst of a Thief because they’re relentless in their ability to pursue and deal damage to you. I’ve always believed that it’s inherently unfair that any class can stealth when there are no or few skills to physically break those using it, out of it. To then provide a class with stealth the ability to deal massive burst damage is a recipe for frustration and unsurprisingly, players sought to find a solution. I appreciate that the Mesmer is capable of stealthing and dealing enormous damage from it, but the key difference is that for the majority of the time, the Mesmer is fully visible. Its highest burst doesn’t come from stealth and its current stealths have lengthy cooldowns and short durations. In contrast, a Thief revolves around remaining immune to damage through evasions and bursting directly from the shadows.

Irrespective of whether we’re finger pointing towards Thief or Mesmer as the cause of people pursuing more defensive builds, it’s fair to say that burst damage against anything other than a Celestial or Cleric is too high especially when both classes are playing together. Here’s a recent combat log of me fighting a friend who plays Mesmer, on my Thief.

Steal 1408


Backstab 4647 (Critical Hit)


Lightning Strike 1098


Fire Strike 1307


Shadow Refuge


Consume Plasma


Backstab 5017 (Critical Hit)


Shadow Shot 3197 (Critical Hit)


Heartseeker 4668 (Critical Hit)

Considering this fight occurred only over the space of several seconds and the fact the Mesmer had no opportunity to ever target me (I stealthed after my first Backstab) it’s not unsurprising that players want tanky builds. The fact that I only used 5 skills and critically hit 4 of them for almost double tooltip typical damage, further exacerbates the problem. Even on a Mesmer I’m capable of dealing similar numbers, but at least it’s a much more drawn out process: Clone and Illusion summoning, followed by Shatter’s and plenty of repositioning takes time. These gaps in the burst, outside your initial 3 clone Shatter, provide some respite.

So what’s the solution for dealing with Burst classes if ArenaNet choose to nerf the Celestial Amulet? It’s a difficult question. If Celestial is nerfed, many of the current classes will simply go back to Soldier’s Amulet. That sadly doesn’t address the sheer burst potential of the Thief and the Mesmer and the fact that if you play any other class as a Berzerker, you’re going to be free food. I think we need to lower chances to critically hit and the damage that players deal when they critically hit. I also think it’s getting to the point where the number of dodges and evades needs to be looked at while also implementing more methods of discovering those in stealth.

Having almost 8 seconds of stealth on a Thief, or a comfortable 6 seconds on a Mesmer without using an Elite is a long time. It provides a perfect opportunity to reposition for a spike when the opponent you’re facing simply has to stand there and predict when you’ll attack. There’s no reliable defence against stealth besides cleaving blindly. If there’s ever going to be build variety outside of the extremes of pure damage or pure defence, there has to be some sort of balance pass across Critical Hit Chance, Critical Hit Damage, Evasion and Stealth. Without this, I suspect Guild Wars 2’s PvP will always be one of extremes.


Do you think Thieves and Mesmer burst is the cause for people pursuing tankier builds? What could ArenaNet do to stop this from happening? Let us know!

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About The Author

The only game to have distracted Lewis away from MMOG's over the last 15 years was Pokemon Red. Despite that blip, Lewis has worked his way through countless games in the genre in search of something that comes close to his much loved (and long time dead) Neocron. Having written for several gaming networks before Ten Ton Hammer, Lewis likes to think he knows a thing or two about what makes an MMOG and its player-base tick.

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