Guild Wars: Necromancer Profession

This time, I want to discuss the necromancer profession.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a pithy remark like I did for the mesmers, so I’ll just get straight to the basic information.

The necromancer has a max base armor of 60 and four attributes: Blood Magic, Curses, Death Magic, and Soul Reaping.  Blood Magic and Curses do nothing but power their associated skills.  Death Magic has the secondary effect of increasing the maximum number of summoned minions you can have at any one time.  By default, a necromancer has a maximum of two, but for every two ranks in death magic, this cap increases by one.

Soul Reaping is the primary attribute and is, under the right circumstances, incredibly powerful.  You could make an excellent argument for it being the most powerful primary attribute, in fact.  Each time a non-spirit dies within range of the necromancer (about 2.5 Danger Zone radii), they gain energy equal to their rank in Soul Reaping, with a limit of 3 occurrences per 15 seconds.  If they are at full energy, then a death that would have given energy does not count toward that limit.  As long as things are dying, I rarely have to worry about energy.  Spirit-filled areas are a bummer, though.

I've been told I should make new friends, but they never seem to stick around for long...

I’ve been told I’m good at making friends, but for some reason they never seem to stick around for long…

Side note: Necromancers have most (but not all) of the skills that require “sacrifice” to cast, often in combination with energy.  What’s “sacrifice” you ask?  You take damage equal to a percentage of your maximum HP as a price for using the skill.  Order of Pain, for example, costs 10 energy and does 17% of your max HP as damage to you.  This damage cannot be mitigated in any way and you can indeed kill yourself if you’re not careful…not that I’ve ever done that.  Nope.

The following are some typical builds that necromancers use.  There are others outside of these archetypes, of course.  Death Magic in particular can be used to inflict a decent amount of cold damage as an alternative to being a minion master and some bosses become a joke if you make a build entirely of life-stealing skills from Blood Magic, just to name a couple.  They are less common however.

Minion Master (MM)

This build is exactly what it says on the tin.  You raise Death Magic as high as you can so you can summon as many undead minions as possible.  With the right gear, you can reach 10 minions.  Undead minions start with -1 HP regeneration and accrue another -1 every 20 seconds, meaning it is very hard to keep them “alive” beyond a certain point.  In addition, they are uncontrollable.  They follow the summoner, attack anything that enters their danger zone, and they ignore called targets.  The only thing you can usually count on is that they try to attack whatever their master is auto-attacking (skill use doesn’t count).

A popular variant is the “minion bomber” (MB), where the necromancer casts Death Nova on minions.  If the target ally dies with that enchantment in effect, it does AoE damage and poisons nearby foes.  The idea then is to summon many weaker minions and Death Nova as many as you can so when they die, they BOOM.  The difference between a MB build and a MM build is that the latter generally wants to use stronger minions and keep them alive as long as possible.

Pros: Minions add extra, free damage and can serve as effective meat shields.  When a foe is surrounded, they have no choice but to attack minions first.  Most minions don’t stand up to a lot of punishment, but that is still punishment your party is not taking.  Your heroes/henchmen also won’t be kiting (since they’re not being hit), meaning they can do more damage.  If you do end up being attacked, Dark Bond transfers 75% of damage taken to your nearest minion (useful even with no Blood Magic investment).  Minion Bombers can destroy grouped up enemies in no time, especially if a powerful enemy kills many of them at once.

Cons: You require corpses.  No corpses, no minions.  Areas with few enemies or enemies that don’t leave “fleshy” corpses (living armor, elementals, spirits, etc.) will leave you twiddling your thumbs.  Minion spells are expensive and have long cast times, leaving you vulnerable to interrupts.  Other necromancers with faster casting spells that exploit corpses (like Wells) can leave you without ammo, so to speak.  Minions can and often will aggro more than you’d like to aggro since they attack anything in range.  You can usually leave them to die in that case and save yourself, but then you have to start building your army again.  Lastly, if the MM/MB dies, all summoned minions become hostile and attack whoever is closest.  Even if the MM/MB is revived, control will not be restored.

Curses

Here, you spend your time hexing foes.  This is mostly a support build, since it is short on direct damage and instead relies upon punishment, HP degeneration, conditions, and boosting party damage through hexes.  It is very similar to how mesmers play, but isn’t quite as technical.  There is a lot of variety in how you build here and you will want to change out skills depending on the types of foes you will be fighting and who is in your party.  It might sound like I’m being vague, but that’s because there are a handful of builds here, depending on which elite you want to use.

You probably expect me to say the necromancer's /dance emote is thrilling, but I refuse to be that predictable.

You probably expect me to say the necromancer’s /dance emote is thrilling, but I refuse to be that predictable.

The most popular one is probably Spiteful Spirit, which deals AoE damage each time the target attacks or uses a skill.  Pair that with Arcane Echo (from mesmer secondary) to cast it on multiple foes and you rack up the AoE damage quickly.  Fast attacking foes like assassins wipe out their own group for you.

Pros: Although there are a few skills that exploit corpses, most skills here do not, so it’s useful for areas where MM/MB builds are not viable.  These builds tend to be especially brutal to physical attackers, who can find themselves blind, weakened, and taking damage each time they try to attack.  Plenty of options for enchantment removal and transferring conditions from yourself to opponents.  You can dip into a mesmer secondary for some hex synergy.

Cons: If you’re looking for a direct damage build, this is not it.  Enemies with heavy hex or condition removal will ruin your day, especially mesmers spamming Hex Breaker.  Many skills revolve around doing physical damage or work more effectively (or only) on physically attacking foes, so knowing what you’re facing and who you’re bringing with you is paramount.

Orders

This is a mix of Curses and Blood Magic that focuses on boosting the physical attackers in your party.  Where Curses focuses a lot on hexing enemies to get the desired effects, Orders relies mostly on enchanting party members.  The name comes from the most popular skills containing the word “order.”

The key skill here is Order of Pain, which enchants all party members to do more damage with each physical hit they do.  Other popular skills include Dark Fury (boosts adrenaline gain), Blood Bond (heals party members when they hit the target), and Order of Apostasy (party removes enchantments with physical hits).

Pros: This build turns your physical attackers into even better killing machines.  More damage and adrenaline?  Yes, please.  This is especially deadly with anyone in your party using scythes since they can hit up to 3 targets with each attack.  Blood Magic is where the necromancer’s healing abilities reside, giving you some beefed up self heals (mostly regen and life steal) to help with HP management.

Cons: This build is very dangerous to you.  Dark Fury and Order of Pain are sacrifice skills and not cheap (17% each).  Order of Apostasy damages you for around 15% each time someone removes a monk enchantment.  In order to use this well, you have to have excellent management of both energy and HP.  This build is useless if you’re only around spellcasters using wands and staves.  Orders would synergize really well with a MM in the party, except for the unfortunate reality that these skills don’t affect minions.  These skills specifically state they affect the “party” and minions are considered “allies” instead.

Hello, my name is Olias and I will be your healer this evening.

Hello, my name is Olias and I will be your healer this evening.

Profession Weaknesses

This should be obvious, but if things are not dying, the necromancer is not getting energy back and not getting corpses to fuel certain skills.  When fighting other necromancers, corpses can be a resource everyone is fighting over and if you’re not quick enough, too bad for you.

Necromancers lack on-demand burst damage.  They can do a lot of AoE damage through Putrid Bile, Icy Veins, and Death Nova, but those require targets to die.  This can be somewhat fixed by taking certain PVE-only skills, but you won’t have those for a while and are limited to three.

Minion skills are expensive (15-25 energy) and early on, it will be difficult to summon multiple minions.  You’ll often be waiting for your whole energy bar to refill between casts, which allows HP degen to stack up on your first minion(s).  It will be quite some time before you get skills that summon multiple minions at once.  This is very unfortunate since you are often limited to 4-character parties early in campaigns and minions can be a huge help in getting you a numbers advantage.

Heroes

Necromancer heroes are often healers, believe it or not.  Since heroes are bad at energy management, Soul Reaping provides a huge passive bonus, so long as things are dying.  Signet of Lost Souls (Soul Reaping) provides fairly spammable energy recovery on top of this, once a target is under 50% HP.  What they lack from not having the ritualist or monk primary attribute they make up for in Soul Reaping making them energy-efficient.  Without energy, monks and ritualists can’t cast heals, after all.  You could do this too, if you really wanted to heal, but I don’t, so I leave it to heroes.

As far as non-healing necromancer builds go, they make great minion bombers since they know HP levels and cast Death Nova on those who are about to die.  They are pretty good with Curses and Orders, too, but not as good as a human player could be.  A minion bomber is great for supporting N/any healers, since they get a steady stream of death to refuel their energy.

Necromancer as a secondary specifically is not that common, but it has its place in some niche builds like a touch skill-based ranger.

As Opponents

Necromancers tend to be just annoying, rather than major threats.  That’s not to say the profession is weak, but instead that the AI doesn’t use them well.  Rarely does a necromancer foe have both a good build and use it well enough to constitute a problem, but it does happen.  For example, an enemy MM would be a pain to deal with, but since they aren’t clearing the map and starting up an army like you are, they usually just have one minion at a time (if they beat you to a corpse).  They are pretty dangerous in groups though, as they can then overwhelm your condition/hex removal and healing.

They can spread conditions and hexes, summon minions, cause HP degeneration, and keep themselves alive for a long time through life stealing, but they cannot nuke you like an elementalist can or produce the same kind of shut down that a mesmer can.  Any sort of anti-caster set up, hex removal, or corpse denial will handle them well enough.

In summary, as long as things are dying, necromancers can raise armies to fight for them or litter the battlefield with AoE hazards.  If things aren’t dying, they can fix that, too through hexes, conditions, or enchanting their party.  But let’s be honest, who can pass up the cute wittle minions?

Feel free to leave comments, questions, compliments, or wails of doom below.

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