Tuesday, May 29, 2012

How to Fight a Thief

Yes, this was taken from Kotaku.  Why?  Because this is the easiest way to describe the perception of our profession.
(Readers, please note that I am trying to hire writers to perform profession-based columns and increase the diversity of classes covered around here.  However for now, I will continue to write from the perspective where I have the most information and most experience in-game.)

I feel slightly guilty for betraying some of the secrets of our sacred, black-hooded brotherhood to all you god-fearing, tree-hugging guardians and rangers. However, it must be done for the mental sanity of my non-thief readers.

So, you see a thief.  Naturally, as in most games, these assassins are known as the ganker, the (insert vulgar profanity here), and we are almost always universally hated by everyone. This has been established for several reasons, most of which don't entirely hold true for Guild Wars 2.  We, the thieves of Tyria, do not have permanent stealth, we don't have as many hard and long duration CC's, and we have more viable builds than the repetitive, burst-filled, stealth-based assassin that is seen so commonly in other games.

From the start, there are several weaknesses that are held by almost all thieves. Unless traited and geared specifically to counter one of these points, most thieves will be particularly vulnerable to any item on this list.

-We have rather low amounts of armor and vitality, and will go down relatively quickly if CC'ed and focused simultaneously. (Unless the thief is built particularly defensively)  We are just pottery, one big hit can smash us.
-We are extremely limited in condition removal, and thus conditions can crush us.  Use this to your maximum advantage at keeping us away, or can be equally effective at  keeping us close. Damaging and control conditions obliterate thieves; they can limit our mobility or slowly bleed us away to nothing.
-We can still be hurt in stealth.  Aim your AOEs and (less commonly known by the community) aim your auto-attacks at the general direction we vanished, they can still hit us.
-If you see a thief spam a weapon-skill several times, they are essentially useless for the next five or so seconds.  While we have no cooldowns, our initiative resource requires time to be restored.  We can only auto-attack, use utilities, and dodge; in effect, our entire offensive power is gone.  Use this knowledge to coordinate your cooldowns.  Mitigate the burst, and counter.

So, what specific builds then could you encounter?  Here are some of the most-notable builds at the moment, and many of them rely solely on one move to maximize damage.  What will eventually set the wheat from the chaff, the skilled pro from the noob, is knowing when and how much to selectively maximize burst.  At this time though, many thieves do spam.  Use this to their detriment.   Note:  Many of these builds have been generalized for the sake of space and time.  Also please keep in mind, the weaknesses of each build could substantially change with each Beta.

1.  The glass-cannon, backstab build.  If you haven't seen the videos, you are a step behind.  Many professions can pull out huge crits, I'm talking 10-16k on targets, thieves are no exception.  The most dangerous, and least preventable is the backstab/stealth build.  Like many burst specs, they rely on using virtually almost every cooldown they have to maximize damage.  However, while this may sounds scary because you can prevent it with no talent of your own, but know this, it can be controlled by your build.  Have enough toughness and vitality to live through the one big burst, and/or carry some form of active damage mitigation, and/or have some form of break stun utility. This is especially true for thieves, elementalists, warriors, and rangers.  If you can live through the initial seconds, be merciless in your counter-assault.  They will have nothing, and can be killed fairly easily by repeated, controlled attacks, just keep them in your sights and you will win.

2.  Leaping Death Blossom spam build.  This build is capable of stacking large amounts of bleeds in a very short time on an opponent.  However, if you carry some form of condition removal this build is completely neutered.   Many thieves don't realize how vulnerable they are, they will run in and spam LDB 4x, only to see their HP dropping all the while.  While they are leaping, continue to hit them like normal.  Once they are done, you simply pop your condition removal, and have several seconds of an advantage as they slowly regain initiative.  Hit them back, hard.

3. The Unload Build.  Pistol/Pistol thieves are rather simple and yet effective in their success.  They have several ways to daze and blind their opponents, as well as being able to spam a large amount of successive, high-damaging shots.  Melee, don't be afraid to get in close here. They have no way to knock back without specific utilities, and they have no way to kite you.  You can go free-reign on them, just keep the daze and blinding abilities in mind.  Ranged, I'm not sure if there's anything unique you can do.  You could potentially use a reflecting projectile barrier, or rely on conditions as mentioned above.   Also, Pistol/Pistol, unless traited (which only then provides a chance for an AOE-like effect), is primarily single target, your clones and your minions will rarely be targeted and are free to wreck the poor thief and will be particularly effective against them.

4. The Pistol Whip Build. Pistol Whip right now, hits very hard.  The con's however is that the thief is immobilized during the long animation and the range is very short.   Thus, the thief requires a hard CC to pull this build off. The Pistol Whip skill does stun you, so carry a stun-breaker and gain distance on the pursuing thief.  As mentioned above, this weapon set of Sword/Pistol is also primarily single target, and your AI-controlled friends can definitely come in handy.

5.  Shotgunning.  My personal favorite.  'Shotgunning' will require an immobilized or chilled target to pull off repeatedly.  Carrying some form of condition removal can not only remove the CC required to use the technique, but it can also be used after the fact.  Shotgunning stacks bleeds similarly to Leaping Death Blossom.  While shotgunning has both significant innate damage as well as condition damage through bleeds, you can reduce this technique's maximum damage by carrying a condition removal.  Keep your distance if at all possible, the innate damage on a shortbow is very low without shotgunning. You will be able to substantially out-damage the thief, if you can keep them away from you.  Unless your pets, clones, minions are tanks, they will fall before the might of the AOE on this weapon.  You do not want to fight a shortbow thief if you are any of the above mentioned builds.

There are several other notable builds that could be talked about, including some very support-focused builds.  However, the 5 builds above is what has gotten the most attention and was seen commonly throughout the first Beta Weekend. As people gain more skill, the "spam" builds will become less viable, and you will start to see the thief community adapt new and more terrifying ways to kill you in the night.  However, for now, rest easy my little lambs, go run along and play with your toys.


  1. What are you thoughts for countering thieves with ranged builds that cripple/slow the thief for increased kiting?

  2. Occasionally, yes kiting will work. Thieves have very limited ways of removing conditions. However please know that every single thief will have at least one free teleport to you though the steal mechanic. Some thieves can counter these conditions by having several mobility-enhancing utilities, or through the trait lines such as Acrobatics. We also have access to a substantial amount of immobilizations and teleports through our utilities. So why yes theoretically it should work on some thieves, there are certain builds that kiting will not be effective against.

  3. Blast. Guess I'll have to just fight a bunch of thieves to learn a good way to get them away from me ;)