Build Guide Guide

This is a guide to reading build guides for PVE damage dealers. It should help you better understand and judge any build guide you are considering using.

Part 1: Is the build guide I’m looking at right for me?

The first step to judging and understanding a build guide is to know what content you want to do and determine what content the build guide was written for. A lot of build guides are specifically for Veteran Trials and are not suitable for other content.

Some things to consider:

How much Penetration does the build have?

Penetration is possibly the most important damage stat in the game.

At a glance, you’ll want to provide for yourself:

  • 0-2k Penetration in organized trials.
  • 1-4k Penetration in organized dungeons (Tank has Crimson Oath and maybe Tremorscale).
  • 6-7k Penetration in random dungeons with a real tank.
  • 0-9k Penetration in overland content.
  • 12k Penetration in solo arenas or solo dungeons (or random dungeons with a fake tank).

If the build guide you’re reading doesn’t provide the amount of Penetration listed above for the content you want to do, it is probably not intended for that content.

Organized group content means that support roles are providing specific buffs and debuffs to ensure the group is at both the penetration and critical damage cap, as well as near-100% uptimes of buffs impossible to maintain without intense coordination, both before the run begins and during it.

Here’s how Penetration works:

Every 500 armor an enemy has reduces damage done to that enemy by 1%. Your Penetration numbers are equal to how much of an enemy’s armor you ignore. Ideally, you want enemies to have 0% damage resistance by ignoring all of their armor.

-Overland enemies have 9,100 armor (or 18.2% damage resistance). -Some arena enemies have 12,100 armor (or 24.2% damage resistance). -Dungeons, trials, world bosses, and some arena bosses have 18,200 armor (or 36.4% damage resistance).

You want your Penetration number (after debuffs and buffs available to you) to be as close to, but not too much over, the armor value above that makes the most sense for the content you want to do. (Overpenning a little is fine; you just don’t want to be way over. Any build hitting the cap is probably overpenning slightly, and that’s fine.)

To put into perspective how important the Penetration stat is, consider a build with 0 Penetration that is otherwise capable of 100k DPS. When facing a dungeon or trial enemy, this build would only deal 63.6k DPS.

Sources of single-target Penetration available to a random normal dungeon group with a real tank should add up to the equivalent of 11,030 single-target Penetration (Major Breach, Minor Breach, Infused Crusher). This means for a non-organized dungeon content, you would need a build with 7,170 Penetration (not including the sources already present: Breaches & Crusher).

Sources of single-target Penetration available to an organized trial group are much higher and can even hit the Penetration cap without any investment into Penetration by the damage dealer.

A solo build will usually have access to Major Breach and incomplete uptime of Minor Breach. Therefore, the build will need to provide other sources of Penetration, such as set bonuses, weapon passives, the Sharpened weapon trait, the Lover mundus boon, and/or the light armor Concentration passive.

For more information on how to judge a build’s Penetration at a glance, see section 2: Armor Weight.

What Major and Minor buffs does the build provide itself?

All damage dealer builds should ideally provide the following buffs at 100% uptime:

  • Major Brutality/Sorcery
  • Major Savagery/Prophecy
  • Minor Berserk
  • Minor Force
  • Most builds should also include Minor Slayer (see Section 2).

If you are doing organized group content (dungeons or trials), you don’t have to provide Major Brutality/Sorcery because one Dragon Knight will be casting Igneous Weapons on cooldown. However, on a solo build or in random dungeons, you will need to provide this buff for yourself.

Solo builds will also probably want defensive Major/Minor buffs in addition to these. All classes have a class skills that provides Major Resolve. You can also get Minor Resolve from the Assault skill Resolving Vigor, an already great self-heal for solo builds.

Scribing is another source of Major/Minor buffs for a solo build.

Does the build have the right amount of sustain?

Do a full parse on the correct dummy to find out (trial dummy for a trial build only).

Builds intended for ideal group compositions often have food recommendations that assume you are getting all of the Iron Atronach trial dummy buffs, including:

  • Hircine’s Veneer: 145 Stamina Recovery
  • Minor Magickasteal: 168 Magicka per second
  • Worm’s Raiment: 145 Magicka Recovery

They may also assume you are getting buffs from an organized group, including:

  • Minor Endurance/Intellect: +15% resource recovery

It is important to test a non-trial build for resource sustain on a non-trial dummy to see if it will need extra sustain (usually from changing the food). This will not test your stamina sustain from engaging in mechanics (dodge rolling / blocking), but it is a decent ballpark estimate of a build’s overall sustain.

Another thing to consider: if a magicka build has a decent number of stamina DOTs or a stamina build has a decent number of magicka DOTs, then it is likely that the build author has wisely taken the self-sustain of the build into consideration.

Is the build able to survive the content you want to do?

You don’t want to die.

In dungeon and trial content, the build itself is usually not why you die. For this content, even on veteran difficulty, survivability is mostly about positioning and mechanics. If needed, the most effective way to increase survivability on a dungeon or trial build is to increase health, usually through food. Another simple and effective way to ensure survivability is to slot one self-healing skill. This is particularly important when you need to do mechanics that take you away from your healer(s).

In solo content, survivability becomes a lot more build-based. Does the build guide include any self-heals or shields? How strong are they? What is the physical/spell resistance of the build? How much health does it have?

For example, in the Infinite Archive, anything after Arc 3 practically requires you to be at the physical/spell resistance cap of 33,000 (50% mitigation). Even damage dealers will be in heavy armor with a very high health pool. Such a build would not be suitable for damage dealing in a trial group, because it sacrifices a lot of damage potential to reach that amount of survivability.

Part 2: Sets

Once you have determined that the build is appropriate for the content you want to use it for, you should try to determine the reason for the specific sets used. Below are some conventional build staples.


You will probably see sets with 2-5 piece bonuses that refer to Critical Chance or Critical Damage.

A good rule of thumb for overall critical chance for a damage dealer build is 50-65%.

Everyone starts with 10% crit chance and bonuses are additive. 1% of crit chance is equal to 219 Critical Rating (which is also called Critical Chance). So the standard set piece bonus of 657 Critical Rating is the same as adding 3% crit chance.

A good rule of thumb for Critical Damage is as close to +125% as you can reasonably get without going over and without sacrificing other, more important stats (such as Penetration if you are still under the cap). Critical strikes deal extra damage. Everyone starts with +50% Critical Damage (1.5x normal damage). The Critical Damage cap is 125% (or 2.25x normal damage). (Note that in the Advanced Stats section of the character page, the base rate of 50% is not included. If you are looking there, the maximum Critical Damage you should reach in that menu is actually 75%.)

In general, Critical Rating is a more important stat than Weapon/Spell Damage. These two stats often compete with each other in 2-4 piece set bonuses. Critical Rating is even more important than Maximum Stam/Mag. Thus, most damage dealer builds will focus on Critical Rating before Weapon/Spell Damage and focus on Weapon/Spell Damage before Maximum Stam/Mag.

Proc sets

These are sets that deal damage behave based on a condition. (There are sets that buff you based on a condition, but for the purposes of this guide, they will not be referred to as proc sets.)

The tool tip for proc sets usually say that the damage is based on Weapon/Spell Damage. However, almost all proc sets can critically strike, so when using proc sets it is still best to focus on Critical Rating first.

You should judge a proc set not only on the damage it provides but also on the proc condition. Some proc sets are very difficult to use correctly, especially if your light attack weaving is not consistent. Sets that require you to maintain “stacks” of an effect are often particularly tricky. You should judge these sets based on how easy it is to remain at full stacks (and also how often you might lose stacks in content).

Some commonly recommended 5-piece proc sets are:

  • Aegis Caller
  • Arms of Relequen (difficult to use)
  • Pillar of Nirn
  • Whorl of the Depths

Some commonly recommended monster set proc sets are:

  • Kjalnar’s Nightmare (only one group member should use this)
  • Maw of the Infernal (best for pet Sorcerers)
  • Nerien’eth
  • Selene
  • Stormfist (bad 1-piece bonus)
  • Zaan (can’t crit; difficult to use)

Damage percentage sets.

Some sets increase your “damage done” by a certain percentage. They will give you more damage the higher your DPS is.

For example, if you usually hit 100k DPS, Ansuul will give you about 7k extra DPS. If you usually hit 50k DPS, Ansuul will only give you about 3.5k extra DPS. (That is not to say these sets are only good if you can do endgame level damage. They are still quite strong on intermediate damage dealers.)

Some commonly recommended damage percentage sets are:

  • Ansuul’s Torment (7% all damage done)
  • Deadly Strike (15% for DOTs and channels)

And one mythic item that gives a damage percentage bonus:

  • Velothi’s Ur-Mage Amulet (15% all damage done)

Ansuul and Velothi are good on any class. Deadly is particularly good on Arcanist and Templar due to their damage being primarily from channeled abilities.

Another thing to note is that this adds to all damage, so it is very strong in AOE scenarios where certain other, single-target sets would fall behind.

Trial sets

Damage dealer sets from trials are very important. Almost all of them have very good 5-piece bonuses.

(Note: If the guide mentions “Perfected,” you can ignore that.)

Another great reason to include a trial set is that it will have a 3-piece bonus of Minor Slayer (increase your damage done to Dungeon, Trial, and Arena Monsters by 5%). Note that all non-player enemies are Monsters. This bonus is extremely good in almost all content, including solo content. (The only difficult content it does not apply to is soloing world bosses and incursion events.)

Usually, you don’t want more than one source of Minor Slayer, since Minor Slayer doesn’t stack with Minor Slayer. However, some builds use two trial sets and the bonuses are so good together that it overcomes the “lost” 3-piece bonus.

Another thing to remember is that Oakensoul has Minor Slayer. Any builds using this mythic do not need to use a trial set for this buff. This is why Oakensoul heavy attack builds almost never use a trial set.

If a build guide mentions “Perfected” trial sets, you can substitute the non-perfected version with functionally no DPS loss. The perfected bonus is ONLY a single stat bonus (such as 1k max stamina) and does not affect the 5-piece bonus (the main source of damage of the set) in any way.

(Rant: A build guide mentioning “Perfected” is doing the reader a disservice by implying the non-perfected version isn’t viable, which is just not true. Furthermore, anyone who can get perfected trial sets consistently enough to equip 5 pieces of it probably doesn’t need a build guide anymore. So who is your audience, guide writer? At the very least, a person doing veteran trials knows that they can substitute non-perfected until they get the full set, whereas a person who is just looking for a viable guide to get started will think to themselves that this build is out of reach until they can complete veteran trials, which is just blatantly untrue.) (Friendly Note: If you need to farm a trial set and don’t want to join a PUG, Walks-The-Uncharted would be happy to set up some farming runs for you, assuming we can find a suitable time for the trial lead and you both. Say something in chat or Discord!)

Armor weight: mostly medium or light pieces on the body.

Rule of thumb: Medium on body for trials. Light on body for dungeons/solo.

Caveat: You might run into sustain issues using medium armor with a mag spammable or using light with a stam spammable. If you need to use a certain armor weight to sustain your rotation, it is perfectly fine to use that armor.

Looking at armor weights is one of the fastest ways to judge a build guide. Any damage dealer build (except for Infinite Archive) should include medium and light armor only. One exception is Oakensoul heavy attack builds that require slotting one heavy piece of Sergeant’s Mail on the body. The decision between light and medium armor is also very important.

For trials, you generally want 6-7 pieces of medium armor. For dungeons or solo content, you want 6-7 pieces of light armor. The reason for this is primarily the armor passives related to Penetration and Critical Damage.

Each piece of light armor increases Penetration by 939. It also increases Critical Rating by 219 (1%). Each piece of medium armor increases Critical Damage by 2%. It also increases Weapon/Spell Damage by 2%.

Crafted sets can be amazingly flexible for builds, allowing you to mix light and medium armor however you like. If a build guide includes a crafted set, consider changing the weight of certain armor pieces to fit the content you plan to do.

Nirnhoned, Precise, or Charged traits on the frontbar.

Unless you’re specifically going for high single-target damage in trials, precise or sharpened would be fine. Nirnhoned is also good for AOE but more expensive to research/craft.

Charged increases the chance of status effects, which is applied most often by weapon enchants (single target source – 20% base chance to apply) and single target direct damage (10% base chance to apply). So charged has the biggest effect on single-target sources of damage, making it not as good in AOE situations.

Build guides will often suggest dual wield nirnhoned/precise daggers for the frontbar. The reason for dual wield daggers is because the passive skills for dual wield daggers are the most stat-dense for damage dealers. That said, any weapon (except for restoration staff or 1-hand & shield) can work reasonably well as a frontbar weapon.

Let’s look at what dual wield daggers provide:

  • An excellent spammable, Rapid Strikes (see section 3: spammable)
  • An excellent DOT, Blade Cloak (see section 3: DOTs)
  • 1374 Critical Rating (6%)

Nirnhoned is only ever run on the main hand of a dual wield weapon, not the off-hand. This is because the Nirnhoned trait increases the stats of the weapon being used. (The main hand adds the normal amount of weapon damage, but the off-hand gets a severe damage penalty applied (about 1/3 of the main hand’s value), so Nirnhoned on an off-hand weapon would provide a vastly reduced bonus.)

Traits like Charged, Precise, and Sharpened increase the stats of the player, so they provide the same bonus regardless of which hand they’re on. This is why they can go on the off-hand and remain strong.

Now let’s see what ranged options provide, starting with bows:

  • +5% extra damage done to enemies close to you OR
  • 1374 Critical Rating (6%) to enemies far away
  • easy access to Poison damage and the Poisoned status effect

And destruction staffs:

  • +100% chance to apply status effects
  • 12% extra damage from DOTs and status effects (Flame Staff) OR
  • 12% extra damage from direct damage and channeled effects (Lightning Staff)
  • 2974 Penetration for destruction staff abilities
  • easy access to Major Breach as well as the Burning, Chilled, and Concussion status effects from the skill Elemental Susceptibility
  • as a Warden, 12% extra damage when wielding an Ice Staff

Flame or Poison enchantments on the frontbar.

Most build guides will recommend the two hardest-hitting damage enchantments for the frontbar: Flame and Poison. However, these are only good options if your build does not already provide high Burning and Poisoned uptime (the status effects that Flame and Poison damage can proc).

The higher your uptime of a status effect, the less benefit you get from further sources of that status effect. If your build already has high uptimes on Burning or Poisoned before enchanting your weapons, you should consider other options, such as:

  • Absorb Stamina for the Sundered status effect (instant damage and 100 Weapon/Spell damage for 4 seconds)
  • Disease damage for the Diseased status effect (AOE instant damage)
  • Shock damage for the Concussion status effect (Minor Vulnerability)

If you are playing as a frost Warden, you should definitely consider:

  • Frost damage for Chilled (Minor Brittle if you’re using a frost staff)

On a solo build running Elemental Susceptibility, you will already have high uptimes of Burning, Chilled, and Concussion. So you should consider avoiding Flame, Frost, and Shock damage enchantments.

An Infused “Weapon Damage” arena weapon on the backbar.

Maelstrom destruction staff, greatsword, or bow are the best options.

(Note: If the guide mentions “Perfected,” you can ignore that.)

If your build uses a backbar, it will most likely have a weapon ground DOT slotted. These weapons also have an Infused “Weapon Damage” glyph on them. This glyph increases your weapon and spell damage while the enchantment is active. Because the weapon is Infused, it can re-activate on cooldown as long as the enchantment is being procced. Weapon skill ground DOTs can proc enchantments even when you are not on their active bar. So as long as the ground AOE that they create is active, you should get the bonus Weapon/Spell damage from the glyph practically on cooldown.

Popular weapon ground DOTs include:

  • Bow – Endless Hail
  • Destruction Staff – Wall of Elements (either morph)
  • Two-Hander – Stampede

Maelstrom weapons affect these skills and are always a solid option for using on your backbar because of this. For example, the Maelstrom Inferno Staff increases the damage of Wall of Elements by 1250. This applies to any enemy in the AOE and is a very strong bonus.

If your build guide does not fit this template, don’t worry (yet). There are other options for backbars. Some builds only have one bar. Some builds use Blackrose Dual Wield weapons with Blade Cloak. Some builds put their second 5-piece set on the backbar and use both a monster set and a mythic item. An Infused “Weapon Damage” arena weapon backbar is the most popular DPS loadout but by no means the only option.

A mythic item or a monster set.

Most builds will get more benefit from a mythic, but monster sets are still very good.

Mythic items are 1 equipment slot and full monster sets are 2 equipment slots. Because you only get 12 active equipment slots, and 10 of those slots are usually taken up by two 5-piece sets, most builds have to choose between a mythic or a monster set. When using a mythic, most guides will recommend also adding one piece of the Slimecraw monster set (highest 1-piece source of Critical Rating possible).

Some good mythics for damage dealers are:

  • Harpooner’s Wading Kilt (for parsing or for specific boss encounters)
  • Oakensoul Ring (for 1-bar builds)
  • Ring of the Pale Order (for solo content)
  • Velothi Ur-Mage Amulet

(If a build guide recommends the Harpooner’s Wading Kilt without specifying when it should be used, that is a big warning sign that the guide’s author assumes you know exactly when to use this mythic and when not to. If you don’t know exactly where to use the Kilt, do not follow that guide.)

Of these mythics, the most universal one is Velothi. It provides Minor Force and it reduces the need for perfect light attack weaving. It works well in all PVE content.

Some good monster sets for damage dealers are:

  • Iceheart (for survivability and damage)
  • Kjalnar’s Nightmare (only one person in group should use this)
  • Maw of the Infernal (best for pet Sorcerers)
  • Nerien’eth
  • Selene
  • Stormfist (bad 1-piece bonus)
  • Zaan (can’t crit; difficult to use)

And many more. However, most builds these days use a mythic and either an arena weapon backbar or no backbar. So the most-used monster set is actually: Slimecraw (for crit)

You can also use any monster set with a 1-piece Penetration bonus if you need that stat (see Section 1).

Part 3: Skills

After you have determined your sets and why you’re using them, you’ll need to determine why certain skills were chosen and when to use them. Below are some basic tips for using skills.


Your frontbar is where you’ll spend most of your time.

Your frontbar will probably have your spammable, semi-spammable, short-duration DOTs, and possibly one or two skills slotted for their passive benefit. This is where you will spend most of your time and do most of your damage. Anything that needs to be cast more often than every 10 seconds will probably go on your frontbar.

You will probably only have one spammable. You may have a semi-spammable.

Spammables are skills that you cast the most often and usually make up the biggest source of your damage. They should have a direct damage component and be cheap enough to cast on cooldown for a large portion of a fight.

Some popular class spammables include:

  • Arcanist – Cephaliarch’s Flail
  • Dragon Knight – Molten Whip
  • Necromancer – Flame Skull (both morphs)
  • Templar – Puncturing Strikes (both morphs)

Some popular non-class spammables include:

  • Destruction Staff – Force Pulse (or Crushing Shock for solo/specific situations)
  • Dual Wield – Flurry (both morphs)
  • Frost Staff – Frost Reach (for Wardens)

You might notice some classes and weapons missing from these two lists. Don’t worry! All classes come with a skill that is designed to be their spammable. Some of them are just not as powerful or easy to use as others.

That said, almost any skill that you can sustain that has a direct damage component can be a spammable. If you want to focus on AOE damage, Arrow Spray or Cleave can work very well, for example.

Semi-spammables are skills that you cast almost as often as spammables but not repeatedly. They have a condition you want to meet before you cast them.

Some popular semi-spammables include:

  • Arcanist: Fatecarver (both morphs, when at 3 crux)
  • Necromancer: Blighted Blastbones (about every 3 global cooldowns)
  • Sorcerer: Crystal Fragments (when purple)

Crystal Fragments can actually be used as a main spammable. It is just a little awkward to use. The purple (proc’d) instant cast is very strong, however, so it works very well as a dynamic semi-spammable.


Your backbar is where you’ll slot most of your DOTs and buffs. In general, you will switch to this bar only when your skills with a long duration are about to fall off or have fallen off.

DOTs and buffs tend to last a long time and only need to be refreshed occasionally. They are only to be used in fights that last at least as long as their duration, if not longer. The shorter the fight, the less you’ll need DOTs. You can pre-buff before the fight starts with no DPS loss, however.

(Note that you can slot any of these skills on your frontbar if you want.)

Some popular class DOTs include:

  • Arcanist – Fulminating Rune
  • Dragon Knight: Fiery Breath (both morphs), Flames of Oblivion, Eruption, Searing Strike (either morph)
  • Necromancer – Unnerving Boneyard, Skeletal Archer (either morph)
  • Nightblade – Dark Shade, Debilitate, Twisting Path
  • Sorcerer – Lightning Form (either morph)
  • Templar – Ritual of Retribution, Solar Barrage, Vampire’s Bane
  • Warden – Winter’s Revenge, Swarm (either morph), Arctic Blast

Some very important weapon ground DOTs include:

  • Bow – Endless Hail
  • Destruction Staff – Wall of Elements (either morph)
  • Two-Hander – Stampede

Some more popular non-class DOTs include:

  • Bow – Poison Injection
  • Destruction Staff – Elemental Susceptibility
  • Dual Wield – Blade Cloak (either morph)
  • Two-Hander – Carve
  • Assault – Caltrops (either morph)
  • Fighter’s Guild – Trap Beast (either morph)
  • Mage’s Guild – Scalding Rune, Degeneration

In general, anything that does damage over time for 10 seconds or longer is a decent backbar option. However, some passives encourage front-barring a skill that you would otherwise put on the backbar. For example, Trap Beast also increases your Weapon/Spell Damage by 3% due to the Fighter’s Guild passive Slayer. This is a good passive, and thus a good DOT to slot, for the frontbar, where you will be doing most of your damage.

Passive slottables

You can slot skills for their passive benefits.

Some skills provide a benefit even if you never cast them. Some skills even provide this benefit if they are not on your active bar.

Some popular non-class skills slotted primarily for their passive are:

  • Fighter’s Guild – Camouflaged Hunter (Major Savagery/Prophecy and Minor Berserk)
  • Mage’s Guild – Inner Light (Major Savagery/Prophecy and 5% Max Magicka)
  • Some popular class skills slotted for their passive are:
  • Dragon Knight – Flames of Oblivion (Major Savagery/Prophecy; works on either bar)
  • Nightblade – Grim Focus (either morph; Weapon/Spell damage; works on either bar)
  • Nightblade – Shadowy Disguise (Major Savagery/Prophecy; works on either bar)
  • Sorcerer – Bound Aegis (8% Max Magicka, Minor Aegis; works on either bar)
  • Sorcerer – Bound Armaments (8% Max Stamina; works on either bar)

Persistent pets are a passive source of damage:

  • Sorcerer – Summon Volatile Familiar (must be slotted on both bars)
  • Sorcerer – Summon Winged Twilight (both morphs; must be slotted on both bars)
  • Warden – Feral Guardian (both morphs; must be slotted on both bars)

Some passives encourage slotting certain skills on the frontbar:

  • Arcanist – Splintered Secrets (991 Penetration for each Herald of the Tome ability slotted)
  • Necromancer – Death Knell (10% critical chance against enemies under 25% health for each Grave Lord ability slotted)
  • Nightblade – Pressure Points (438 Critical Rating for each Assassination ability slotted)
  • Nightblade – Magicka Flood (8% Max Magicka if a Siphoning ability is slotted)
  • Sorcerer – Expert Mage (2% Weapon/Spell Damage for each Socerer ability slotted)
  • Warden – Advanced Species (4% Crit Damage for each Animal Companion ability slotted)
  • Fighter’s Guild – Slayer (3% Weapon/Spell Damage for each Fighter’s Guild ability slotted)

Dynamic rotations

Dynamic rotations are better than static rotations.

Any build guide recommending a static rotation is probably out of date by several patches. These days, it is best to focus on refreshing long DOTs and doing the spammable/semi-spammable work on the frontbar while all DOTs and buffs are up, changing things up once the boss hits a certain health percentage (execute).

In shorter fights, such as add waves during bosses or trash packs between bosses, you will not be using the same rotation. For DOTs to add DPS instead of wasting a global cooldown (skill cast), they will need to run for most of their duration. If things are dying before then, it’s best to just stick to your direct damage skills.

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