A Comprehensive Guide to Phoenix Strike


Guide Author
Aug 5, 2005
Phoenix Strike
A Comprehensive Guide to Phoenix Strike, by maxicek and jiansonz.
Version 1.0

1.1 Introduction
1.2 Phoenix Strike Overview
2. Skills
3. Equipment
4.1 Mercenaries
4.2 Gameplay
5.Sample Builds
- 5.1 Natalya's Set
- 5.2 Ghost Striker
- 5.3 Weapon / Shield Phoenix Striker
- 5.4 Hardcore Untwinked
6.1 Links
6.2 List of Abbreviations
6.3 Version History
6.4 Thanks

1.1 Introduction
Whilst not one of the most popular assassin skills, Phoenix Strike is one of the most versatile and most fun. Phoenix Strikers are not really characters that you will use for doing area or boss runs. You could run the Pits or Pindle with one, but it won't be very efficient - there are many other builds that are better choices for that. They are however great characters to play through the game solo with, and that is the main focus of the guide.

This mighty skill allows the Assassin trained in its arts to prepare an attack that gives off powerful elemental energies.

Actually this is a bit misleading. None of the attacks are remotely as powerful as other elemental heavy hitters like sorcs, javazons or even trappers. But Phoenix Strikers are perfectly Hell viable, even untwinked. Their greatest strength is their flexibility. You can use a variety of weapons, decent gear can all be shopped or gambled. The build also has a number of spare skill points for further customisation. Of course as an assassin you also have some of the best crowd control skills in the game and the option of a castable tank.

This guide is intended to cover all aspects of Phoenix Strike, from the popular Natalya's Set build to more eclectic equipment selections and even untwinked hardcore play.

How To Use This Guide
As this guide covers all aspects of PS, you are going to need to do a bit of work yourself. This isn't paint by numbers.
1. Read the whole guide to get a flavour of what is possible.
2. Choose an equipment setup
3. Decide if you are using Fade or Burst of Speed
4. Work out how much which attack breakpoints you want to hit and how much IAS you will need.
5. Plan how you will allocate your skill points.

Obviously if you are going untwinked, all this upfront planning isn't really possible, but you can get an idea of what targets are feasible to determine how you allocate skill or stat points.

Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own.

- Bruce Lee, The Tao of Jeet Kune Do

1.2 Phoenix Strike Overview
Phoenix Strike itself is a charge-up skill. When you make a successful hit, a small globe of light begins to orbit the assassin. You can charge up to three charges of PS, then you release them with a finishing move. You can make more than three hits when charging up, but the charge will remain at three. As of v1.13, charges will remain for 15 seconds if you do not hit anything (it was 9 seconds in earlier game versions). Note that you do actually need to hit something to charge, so attack rating is important for a Phoenix Striker.

Releasing the first charge drops a Meteor on your enemies, similar to the sorceress spell. The second charge is Chaos Lightning, surely one of the prettiest skills in the game. It releases swirling arcs of lightning damaging opponents in a circular pattern centered on the assassin. The final charge is Chaos Ice Bolts. This looks like the bolts released when a Frozen Orb explodes. Unlike all the other charge up attacks, successive hits do not increase the power of the skill. Instead they are selective, allowing you to add fire, lightning or cold damage depending on if you release the first, second or third charges.

High Level Synergised Damage
The table below shows the high level damage for each of the three charges when fully synergised.

Phoenix Strike receives synergy bonuses from:
Fists of Fire: +10% Fire Damage Per Level, +6% Average Fire Damage Per Second Per Level
Claws of Thunder: +13% Lightning Damage Per Level
Blades of Ice: +10% Cold Damage Per Level

Level                                 20         25         30         35         40         45         50
-----                                 --         --         --         --         --         --         --
Mana Cost                              4          4          4          4          4          4          4
Attack Rating +%:                    148        183        218        253        288        323        358
Charge 1: Meteor Damage           1074-1230  1590-1806  2208-2484  2898-3234  3588-3984  4278-4734  4968-5484
          Fire damage per second   317-330    486-513    702-746    961-1021  1219-1296  1478-1571  1734-1846
Charge 2: Chaos Lightning Damage     4-2664     4-3960     4-5544     4-7344     4-9144     4-10944    4-12744

Charge 3: Chaos Ice Bolt Damage    468-528    720-795   1068-1158  1488-1593  1908-2028  2328-2463  2748-2898

Charge 1: Meteor
The main difference from the Sorceress spell is that it has no timer between casts, although there is still that small delay before the first meteor arrives. So you can drop meteors as quickly as you can hit - every 14 frames (0.56 seconds) at the quickest. This is the most damaging of the charges. Whilst the average damage is slightly lower than the Chaos lightning, if you consider you only have to charge it once and the effect of the residual fire damage (the fires burns for far longer than the Sorceress variant), this works out higher. This will be one of your main killing attacks throughout the game and the charge you use to kill bosses. Like other skills that leave burning flames on the ground (Fire Wall, Blaze, etc.) this skill is more effective the bigger (wider) the monster is, because big monsters will be burned by several fire patches at the same time. So it will really shine against act bosses, Thrashers and similar monsters but will be less devastating against 'narrow' monsters like flayers, vampires and cows.

Charge 2: Chaos Lightning
The average damage is a bit higher than Meteor, but as with all lightning attacks there is a huge damage range. It also requires an extra charge up, so the delivery speed is about 50% longer than the first charge, including the finishing move. It does however have a big area of effect. If the lightning arcs don't hit a wall, they will nearly always come back and hit the monster you released it on a second time. Unless you are using PS as a backup attack it isn't really a question of "Do I use charge 1 or charge 2?" In practice you will need to use both as you will often encounter FI or LI enemies. Sometimes you will be fighting a mixed immunity pack and need to alternate the charges. It can also take a bit of practice to consistently release this one. You will often find yourself under- or overcharging and releasing meteors or ice bolts instead. The charge covers a large area, so can be used as you default PS charge. Plus of course the fact it looks so damn cool.

Charge 3: Chaos Ice Bolts
The damage for the third charge isn't that great compared to the other two, but it does freeze quite well, even in hell difficulty. When you consider the attack speed is approximately 100% more than that of the first charge and 33% more than the second, the damage is even worse. If you want to make a build around it, it could be viable with enough plus skills, but mostly the third charge is used to freeze enemies whilst you kill them with a meteor or lightning.

Next Delay
Both the second and third charges of PS are affected by a 4 frame next delay. What this means is that when you release the charge, no other missile damage will have any effect on the target for another 4 frames. In practical terms for this build it is simple. Just stick to Phoenix Strike. Don't think that by getting three charges of Claws of Thunder (also affected by next delay) and two charges of Phoenix Strike you will be doing more damage. You won't, you are much better off charging just PS twice and then releasing, then charging again. It is the same number of hits and will be much more damage.

Equipment Setups
Phoenix Strike is probably the most flexible of the martial arts as you do not need dual claws or elite boots to make it work. It will work with two claws, a claw and shield, weapon and shield or even a two handed setup. You should decide what setup you will use first, as equipment choice will have an influence on skill and stat point distribution.

Dual Claw
This is probably the default setting for most players as it allows you to get the most +skills on your assassin, and therefore the most Phoenix Strike damage. It also allows you to use Weapon Block, more on that later. Note that when charging, only the primary claw will hit, although the second claw will hit if you finish with Dragon Claw.

Claw + Shield
A C/S setup is one frame quicker than a W/S setup at 7FPA maximum, but if you really want to use a shield, you should also review the W/S options as the available weapons may make it a better choice. Of course if you have some godly rare +5 PS fools claw you may still want to go this route - but surely you would just go dual claw? Whatever you decide, this is still a perfectly viable setup.

Weapon + Shield
Not a PS setup you see that often, but it does have some nice advantages. Blocking, resists and damage reduction from a shield, ctc static field, crushing blow and other nice juicy mods from the weapon. W/S setups attack at a maximum of 8FPA and you can't get as many +skills as you do with a C/C setup, but there are some interesting possibilities here.

Two-Handed Weapon
At first using a two handed weapon seems like a ridiculous setup. You are limited to a 10 frame attack (13 frame with 2h Swords and Spears) and can't get as many +skills to increase your PS damage. But it does have some advantages. As you charge up, you only do physical damage. Depending on which charge you execute, charging up is 50% to 75% of your attack sequence. So a high damage weapon can help you leech back life and mana between delivering the PS damage. It is viable, but may be better suited to a backup attack on Tiger Strike builds rather than a pure Phoenix Striker.
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2. Skills
This guide is also designed to cover a huge range of playing styles and abilities. The essential skills are actually fairly minimal. For example, you do not need a Shadow Master or Weapon Block to complete the game. You almost certainly do need Cloak of Shadows though, maybe some people don't. If you view SM as essential, then put points there, The great thing about this build is that there are plenty to spare and with 1.13 you have three opportunities to re-spec if you feel you have got it wrong.

The Charge Up

Phoenix Strike - 20 points
It's the main skill, so naturally you will be putting 20 points here.

Claws of Thunder - 20 points
Fists of Fire - 20 points
These synergise the first and second charges, which will be your main killing skills. Most Phoenix strikers will max both.

Blades of Ice - 1 to 20 points
You don't need to put more than one point here as a pre-requisite. As it suffers from a lower base damage and takes longer to charge up, the damage is the lowest of the three charges, but you will still be using it to freeze enemies. It is therefore not a bad candidate for spare skill points, but max this synergy last.

The Finishing Move
Phoenix Strike won't do any damage on its own. You need to release the charges with something. There are five possible choices.

Normal Attack
If you are using any setup other than dual claw, this is almost certainly the finishing move you will be using. If a claw is equipped it is the quickest of the possible choices. The drawback is that it has no AR bonus, other than what you get from Claw Mastery, if you are using a claw.

Dragon Claw
You can only use this one with the dual claw setup. Despite what the in game skill description may say, you can only release the charges once, but it does have two hit checks and therefore two chances to release. It also comes with a big AR bonus. It is a few frames slower than finishing with Normal Attack, but when you consider the charge up time too, this doesn't really count. At its quickest, DC is a 10 frame interruptible attack - this can throw your rhythm off when charging up.

Dragon Talon
Works with any of the weapon setups, but the speed is the issue here. Your equipment will focus on +MA skills, so even with a single point investment, as can easily end up with 18 points in DT for a four kick sequence. At the fastest speed this is 7+3+3+3 = 16 frames The advantage over Normal Attack is the AR bonus.

Dragon Tail
The next delay on the second and third charges of PS makes this worthless. You can use it as a separate attack for a hybrid though.
The knockback on Dragon Tail affects the whole of the blast area. If you decide to skip Mind Blast, this can be very useful defensively.

Dragon Flight
As a 25 frame, highly interruptible attack, this is not really practical to use all the time, but it is great for occasional situational use. Most importantly it is a lot of fun, so all PvM assassins should get a point here.

The Must Have Shadow Skills

Cloak of Shadows - 1+ points
This is the major defensive skill of all assassins, and this build is no exception. It limits the radius of you enemies’ awareness and lowers their defence. A one point wonder, but don't be afraid to put in an extra point or two if you feel you need a bit more duration.

Psychic Hammer- 1 points
Pre-requisite for Cloak of Shadows and a possible candidate for the most useless skill in the game.

Burst of Speed - 1+ points
Phoenix Strikers can be regarded as a predominantly BoS based build, although Faded builds are possible. BoS give superior mobility and avoids the need to sacrifice valuable equipment slots to hit the IAS breakpoints. This build will not typically invest enough points in Fade or have enough +Shadow skills to make its damage reduction significant. Damage reduction and resistances and can be found elsewhere. In either case you either need this as a pre-req or to use as a main skill.

Claw Mastery - 1+ points
Pre-requisite for Burst of Speed, it also boosts your AR if you are using a claw. If you have decided to go C/S and finish with Normal Attack, you may want to boost this a bit more.

Sample Base Skill Allocation
[B]Skill          C/C    W/S     Notes[/B]

[B]Shadow Skills[/B]
Burst of Speed      1      1
Cloak of Shadows    1      1
Claw Mastery        1      1
Psychic Hammer      1      1     Pre-requisite

[B]Martial Arts Skills[/B]
Fists of Fire      20     20
Blades of Ice       1      1
Claws of Thunder   20     20
Phoenix Strike     20     20
Dragon Talon        1      0
Dragon Claw         1      0

Total              65     63
Finish level       60     58

Finish level assumes all NM quests completed.

Assuming you enter hell at level 75 with all NM quests done and assume to finish the game at about level 83 all quests done. This leaves:
15 spare points by the end of NM for a C/C build, two more if you don't use DC.
27 spare points by the end of Hell for a C/C build, two more if you don't use DC.

What to do with the Spare Skill Points

Weapon Block - 0 / 1+ points
Successfully getting PS charged to the correct level is about rhythm. Get it right and you can release the charge you want consistently. When you lose the rhythm or it gets broken, you can release the wrong charge. Weapon Block will break that rhythm. Now the question is, are you prepared to misfire a few times for the benefit of weapon block, or do you believe that the best defense is a good offense and think it is better to release the charge and kill the monsters, rather than have them alive and needing to block in the first place. In 1.13 you can always re-spec and try both and see which suits you best. Unless you play hardcore and get it badly wrong. Of course if you are using a shield, it doesn't matter if you put a point here or not.

The WB or not decision is also influenced by your mercenary or shadow choices. If you have an A2 mercenary or a strong Shadow to tank for you, WB is not as necessary. If you are going to have to tank yourself, it may be an absolute must.

Shadow Master
Shadow Warrior
Some people swear by Shadow Masters, others think they are a waste of skill points better spent elsewhere or even a dangerous liability that may MB and convert the target you are attacking, which may lead to unwanted movement of the assassin, with a worst case scenario that suddenly leaves you right next to a nasty boss. If you want one, put enough point to get it to level 17+ when cast with your +skills. If you decided to go the no weapon block route, then you won't be able to get a Shadow Master anyway.

Shadow Warriors are much more controllable, if you know what you are doing. They are also more predictable, which a good thing in HC. There are several guides in the forums and a section in the Assassin FAQ on them.

Dragon Flight
As already mentioned in the finishers section, all PvM assassins should get a point in DF, if only for no other reason than it is fun. It can be very useful if you are using Burst of Speed. As you sprint around the map with Burst of Speed, it is easy to outdistance the merc. A point in Dragon Flight allows you to gather them up again and re-focus their attention.

Mind Blast
With CoS it isn't really required, but some people swear by it. They are immune to the conversion, but the stun is extremely effective against The Minions of Destruction. It is worth a one point investment if only for that reason.
If you go with a ranged merc and therefore usually need to do more tanking yourself, you will want to put a point here. It may be the only thing preventing that fanatic, cursed frenzytaur pack from stomping you.

You could put points here, but the damage isn't that impressive unless you also have a decent amount of +Shadow skills, which is unlikely.

Blade Fury
If you are playing Hardcore, you are pretty much guaranteed to come up against a monster that you don't want to stand toe to toe with at some point in the game. A four skill point investment to get Blade Fury gives you a decent ranged attack, especially if you couple it with a crushing blow setup on switch (see equipment section).

Death Sentry
DS is the strongest choice if you are going for pure power, but it kind of defeats the point of a Martial Arts build. If you are Hardcore it is a different matter, dump as many points here as you think you can afford.

Blades of Ice
You will use this charge for freezing and whenever you over charge and miss the lightning charge. Which could be quite a lot. So it makes sense to boost its damage by sinking a few more points into it.

Boost Shadow Skills
If you have a lot of +Martial Arts skills from your equipment, your shadow skills may be lacking. Boosting them with a few hard points is a great idea. Be careful before putting too many points into CoS though, the duration can be too long and you find it still active after you have slaughtered all the monsters.5-7 points should be about right, depending on your kill speed. Similarly Fade, Burst of Speed or Weapon Block (if you went for it) may all benefit from more skill points.
3. Equipment

Some numbers to aim for:
Notice the use of the word aim not you must have or your build will fail. Depending on your play style you can get by with less.
48% Faster Hit Recovery = 5 Frames. That should be plenty for PvM, you can even get away with 27FHR = 6 Frames, depending on the rest of your setup.
75% Lightning Resist, about 50% Fire, Poison and Cold Resist >0%. 75% Resist All is nice, but not essential, especially for SC. If you are untwinked and therefore not wearing a Raven Frost, you will probably want to push cold resistance up to about 50% too.
6K+ Attack Rating. The more the better really. Missing really messes up your charging rhythm.
IAS to hit the fastest breakpoint with your choice of BoS or Fade active and your chosen weapon setup. You don't actually need to hit the fastest breakpoints, but quicker attacks mean quicker kills.

Equipment Strategy
- Phoenix Strike is skill level dependent - the higher the skill level, the higher the damage. You want to try and get as many +Martial Arts skills as possible, without compromising your ability to hit stuff or your defense.
- In order to charge up and release the charges you need to be able to hit stuff. A weapon with Ignores Target Defense can be a huge help here, but remember you still need a decent Attack Rating for boss fights.
- If you have Martial Arts skillers, you will be stuffing your inventory full of them. Annihilus & Torch too if you play on BNet. If you don't use the inventory to make up for what you lack in your equipment - Resists, AR, FHR etc.
- Life and Mana Leech are useful to keep those bulbs topped up when you are charging up. It is good to have a bit of damage on your weapon to help with this, but weapon damage itself is fairly inconsequential unless you go for a two handed setup. If you don't have decent weapon damage, look for Damage taken goes to mana, Mana per Kill and Life per Kill items instead.
- Cannot be Frozen is essential somewhere in your gear as you are playing an attack speed dependent build.
- What you don't need is deadly strike, open wounds or crushing blow. You are unlikely to be doing enough physical damage to make DS worthwhile. CB and OW are nice if you can get it, but don't specifically go looking for it in your equipment. A crushing blow setup in your stash or on switch is a good idea for act bosses and The Ancients.

The list below does not include every piece of equipment that could be used; instead it goes into a bit more detail on some of the more common or stand out items in each category.

+Damage and -Resistance
Note that the +X% to Fire/Lightning/Cold skill damage found on Facets and other equipment such as Ormus' Robes and Nightwing's Veil does not work with Phoenix Strike.
However any items with -X% to Enemy Fire/Lightning/Cold Resistance work as normal.

When choosing a weapon, focus on aspects that will increase your elemental damage and speed, not physical damage. A quicker weapon means less points in burst of speed or need to find IAS elsewhere in your equipment. Phase Blades, Greater Talons and Runic Talons all are great choices. Look for +skills and -enemy resistance.

Weapon range
One-handed weapons have a range from 1 to 3, and this will affect in what situations you can successfully hit. Note that monster size also has an effect on how close you need to be to hit, blurring the effect of weapon range somewhat, but consider the following to be true for 'most monsters'.
Range 1: All wands, daggers and throwing axes, Hand Axe, Scepter, Club, Mace, War Hammer, 5/8 of the one-handed sword types.
Range 2: All claws, Grand Scepter, War Scepter, Spiked Club, Morning Star, Crystal/Long/War Sword, 3/5 of the one-handed axe types.
Range 3, All javelins, Flail, War Axe.
(exceptional/elite versions are usually the same, but there are some differences. Check the Arreat Summit)

Range 1 weapons: avoid these if you can, because they will often require you to do some micro-adjustments to actually hit with Phoenix Strike. What often happens is that the game 'thinks' you are close enough to hit, you start swinging but you are actually too far away to score any charges. Very annoying, and can even be dangerous.

Range 2 weapons: much more consistent, and it's usually not hard to arrange situations where you hit 'over the shoulder' of a tanking merc or Shadow. At your maximum range, you can hit Unravelers from outside their melee range. Fast weapon types in this group are generally good choices for the build.

Range 3 weapons: even more user-friendly than the range 2 group. You can often hit monsters pretty well away from the action. Great for scoring and releasing charges on a Cloak of Shadowed mob without getting many hits back. (Note that assassins are quite slow at melee with javelins.)

Claws - Primary or for Claw/Shield
PS only hits with the claw in the primary position.

Rare - As usual, a nice rare is potentially the best claw for the build, but good luck finding one. Up to +5 Phoenix Strike, Fools mod, IAS, ITD and two sockets are all possible. Greater Talons or Runic Talons are preferred for speed, Greater Claws or Feral Claws can also be nice.

Magic - Shopped Magical (blue) claws can work too. Fools Runic Talons of Quickness with +3 PS and two sockets from Larzuk would be very useable.

Bartuc's Cut Throat - The default primary claw choice for most bespoke equipment C/C builds. It has a fast WSM, stats, AR bonus, FHR, +3 to Martial Arts. Best choice for a C/C build unless you are using a rare.

Fury - With IAS, damage, OW in a +3 PS base, this could be a nice primary claw. It isn't really worth spending a Jah on it just for this build, but if you have +3PS +3LS Runic Talons in your stash and a spare Jah, you may want to consider it.

Chaos - You could make it in a +3 Phoenix Strike claw, but the other mods aren't good enough to make it any better than Bartuc's for this build.

Natalya's Mark - Ignores Target Defense and the 40 IAS may make look attractive, but the complete lack of +skills mean it is useless unless you are using the rest of the set.

Jade Talon - It has up to +2 Martial Arts and Shadow Skills, FHR, mana leech and loads of resists. Which is just as well, with a -10 WSM you are almost certainly going to be using Burst of Speed if you use one.

Claws - Secondary
With Phoenix Strike, the claw in the secondary position doesn't actually hit. If you can find one or shop one, a magical claw with a fast base (Greater Talons or Runic Talons) would be the best choice, especially if it gets two sockets from Larzuk. Ideally you want +3 Martial Arts Skills and +3 to Phoenix Strike, but you will be very lucky to get one of those. Bartuc's is a good choice for a total of +3 MA skills if you don't use a magic claw. Jade Talon is also viable if you need the resists. Socket with resistance jewels if you need resists, or -resist facets if you don't.

Single Handed Weapons

'Crescent Moon' - Ignores Target Defense. Chance to cast Static Field. Open Wounds. 20 IAS. And the icing on the cake? -35% to Enemy Lightning Resistance. Make this in a Phase Blade and you have a very nice PS weapon. War Axe or Naga are good choices for a range 3 variant. Untwinked, any fast 3os base will do.

'Doom' - +2 Skills, 45% IAS, decent weapon damage and -40% to -60% Enemy Cold Resistance, and Holy Freeze to help with the crowd control. It's almost the cold equivalent of Crescent Moon, but at a much higher rune cost. It's not recommended that you make this specifically for this build, but if you already have one in a Berserker Axe or a nice fast base, you may want to consider it for releasing the cold charge.

Facet Phase Blade - Stuffing Facets and maybe IAS Jewels if required into a 6os Phase Blade could make a decent PS weapon. Potentially you have up to -30% Resistance to a single element. Remember to use +3/-5 facets as the +damage does nothing. If you go for Crescent Moon, you could have a -30% Fire resistance weapon on switch.

Stormlash - It's relatively fast, it has ctc Static Field, crushing blow, but it doesn't boost your PS damage. A possible option, but for this build it is beaten by its little brother, Crescent Moon.

Two Handed Weapons
Due to their slow speed and the reduced number potential sockets you get without a shield, two handers are pretty much BoS only. You may need to invest a few points to get to the 10FPA cap.

'Infinity' - If you have Infinity in a non-ethereal base, you may want to carry it yourself to benefit from that juicy - enemy lightning resistance. Generating the conviction aura yourself also means that you don't need to worry about the merc wondering off. The damage and crushing blow is all good when charging up too.

'Obedience' - Damage, resists, FHR and -25% enemy fire resistance. It also has ctc level 21 enchant to boost your AR. Shame it has no IAS though. It's a good cheap choice if you want to build a two hander.

Mang Song's Lesson - This could be a fantastic choice. +5 skills and - enemy resists to all three elements you attack with. It has almost no stat requirements either. The clvl requirement is a bit steep, but you can level to 82 fairly quickly at The Cave in the Cold Plains. If you are worried about the archers in The Cave, try the Mausoleum in The Burial Grounds.

Attack Speed
Before you go choosing the rest of your gear, you need to decide if you are going to use Fade or BoS, and therefore how much additional IAS you are going to need. Then you can work out where you can get the +skills and resists. So grab a pencil and paper, or a more hi-tech method, and check out the Assassin IAS Tables, specifically post 3 and
post 4 if you are finishing with Dragon Claw. Alternatively you can play with the German Weapon Speed Calculator.

If you are looking to focus on +skills, you should be making a claw/claw build. The reason to use a shield is for blocking, so we are only looking at shields with a high chance to block here.

Stormshield - With 35% Damage reduction, good blocking and some resists, this is the number one shield choice.
Whitstan's Guard - Relatively easy to find if you are playing un-twinked, this shield has the best blocking in the game. It offers little else though.
'Rhyme' - Great value, for just the cost of a Shael & Eth rune you get decent blocking, 25% resist all and the important Cannot be Frozen - a mod which is otherwise difficult to come by un-twinked. Bone/Grim/Tower Shield or Heater are good to make it in for the high base chance to block and reasonable requirements.

Call to Arms and Lidless Wall / Spirit Shield is the best choice.
+3 Shadow Disciplines claws - For pre-buffing Burst of Speed / Fade / Shadow Master
If you are playing HC, especially untwinked, you should consider a Blade Fury setup here with Knockback and Crushing Blow. 'Black' runeword or Crushflange with a decent shield (see above) are good options and easy to obtain.

Rare Circlet - A +2 Assassin circlet with nice secondary mods is probably the best all round choice. If you can, get one with good resists and two sockets.
Magical Circlet - A +3 Martial Arts circlet with a decent suffix and two sockets is a good offensive choice.
Griffon's Eye - The - Enemy Lightning Resistance will give a decent damage boost, but the + damage is useless. +1 skill is not bad. A decent rare is a more rounded choice though.
Kira's Guardian - With huge resists, 20 FHR and Cannot be Frozen, this may well fill a defensive hole if you are using BoS. Does nothing offensively though.

Chains of Honor - +2 Skills and huge resists. If you are using BoS, this is probably the best choice. It is also the best choice for Fade users, unless you need more IAS.
Treachery - The ctc Fade will overwrite BoS, so this is really for Faded builds only. If you are using Fade and need the IAS, this one packs 45%, making it surely the number one choice. Add in +2 skills, 20% FHR and free Venom and this is a great armour.
Skin of the Vipermagi - This one is kind of a half fat Chains of Honor +1 skill and up to 35% resist all makes it a very credible budget choice, the bonus is you can socket it for IAS or whatever else you need.
Arkaine's Valor - +2 Skills is attractive, as is the PDR, FHR and Vitality bonus. What isn't is the ridiculous clvl85 requirement. Most people have already finished the game by then, but if you haven't and want to make a build around PDR it is a good choice.
Enigma - If it isn't mentioned, someone will ask about it. +2 Skills is good, as are other mods like FRW, Strength, and MF. Sure it is a viable choice. But this build isn't about teleporting through the entire game. Enigma either leaves you short on resists or IAS, depending on if you use BoS or Fade.

You don't need high damage here, so investing strength for Shadow Dancer is not worth it. Rares with resists and FHR are a much better choice. If you don't have decent rares, go for Natalya's Soul or Aldur's Advance for 40%FRW and decent resists.

Hsarus' Iron Heel - This gets a special mention here as you get a very nice 10/clvl AR bonus when used with another item of the set. This is one of the best ways to get AR on the build without sacrificing valuable ring and amulet slots or inventory space.

There is only one belt where you can get +1 skills, as we all know that is Arachnid Mesh. The belt is really the slot where you should be looking for defense - FHR, resists, stats, life and damage reduction are all available here.
Verdungo's Hearty Coil - Up to 15% damage reduction and a nice life boost makes this the best pick if you don't want/need the life leech.
String of Ears - Up to 15% damage reduction and life leech. If you need the leech, this is the best choice.
Rare belt / crafted (Blood) Mesh Belt - If you don't need the damage reduction, a crafted blood belt can offer some very good mods. Look for FHR, resists, + life, stats etc.
Hsarus' Iron Stay - Mentioned here as, if you are using the boots for the AR bonus, you will be using this one too.

Martial Arts skills are available on gloves, so this is what you should be looking for. Either Magical +3MA or Rare +2MA, ideally with 20IAS. Crafted Blood Gloves could be used for the crushing blow, but it is unlikely to add up to much considering your other gear choices. +3 Martial Arts gloves can be shopped easily from Hell Anya, if you are looking for +3 MA and 20IAS that will take a bit more patience (for info, all 20IAS gloves are coloured dark gold).

Highlord's Wrath - If you have filled all the possible sockets with IAS jewels but still need more, the 20IAS on Highlord's may be invaluable. The +1 skill and Lightning resists are useful too, but the DS won't help much unless you have a high damage weapon (not a claw).
Mara's Kaleidoscope - +2 Skills, stats and resists. Probably the default choice for a Phoenix Striker.
Rare - Ideally you are looking for a Mara's beater here, with +2 skills, resists and stats. Leech is a possible bonus.
Magical - If you have the resists covered elsewhere, go for power, +3 MA skills with a decent suffix.

Ravenfrost - If you don't have CBF covered elsewhere in your gear, you must have this in one of the ring slots. You will need the base AR and the Cannot be Frozen.
Rare - A good place to get some mana leech and life leech, as well as AR and resists.
The Stone of Jordan / Bul Kathos' Wedding Band - If you have everything else covered, you can use one of these for the extra skill point.

If you have them, you will be wanting to fill your inventory with Martial Arts skillers for the damage boost. Annihilus and Torch too if you play on BNet. The remaining SC slots can be used for resists, FHR and AR depending on what you need.

If you don't have a full set of MA skillers, use the inventory to meet your resist, FHR and AR requirements, and then you can focus you equipment on offensive mods.

Before you go trying to stuff every available sockets with a -5 resist facet, first make sure you have enough IAS, then make sure you have your defense covered. Resists and FHR are easily boosted with a Jewel or Shael. Once you are happy with your defense, then you can go to town on the facets. To be clear, facets are not required for this build. Think of them the same way you would an extra point or two in a Sorc's Cold Mastery.
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4.1 Mercenaries

"One thing I think is cool with Phoenix Strikers is that they get along really well with 10 of the 12 possible merc types. Only the Act III Fire/Lightning mercs are redundant, since your Assassin will do so much more damage of these elemental types than they will." @jiansonz

A2 Desert Mercenary with Infinity
Now you probably don't need to be told that Infinity is absolutely awesome for this build. You benefit from both properties of the Conviction aura. Not only does it reduce the monster's resistances to the three elements that you have at your disposal, and thereby hugely increasing your damage, it also lowers their defense, so they are easier to hit. Gone are any AR problems that you might have had. Treachery and Tal's Mask / Andariel's Visage are favourites for the Armour and Helm. Aura choice is fairly open. Holy Freeze will help crowd control, but you have CoS for that. Might will help the Merc's damage, but not benefit you much. Blessed Aim will help you AR if you are outside the relatively short conviction range, but then you want to stay close to the merc to benefit from the -resists.

A2 Desert Mercenary - Other
Infinity may be awesome, but not everyone has one. It also isn't required, Phoenix Strikers are perfectly capable without it. Blessed Aim is the best choice as he will help your AR. Treachery and Tal's Mask / Andariel's Visage as above. Insight is a reasonable choice for his stick if you have mana worries, Reaper's for extra crowd control, even though the Decrepify will override CoS, its range is very small so this isn't a problem. Hone Sundan or Obedience for crushing blow to help with bosses.

A1 Rogue - Faith
If you are using Fade, the Fanaticism aura from Faith will help you attack speed and your chance to hit. This setup is not of value for BoS builds though, you will be better off with an A2 merc with/without infinity as above.

A3 Cold Mage
This may seem like an odd choice to some, but it's certainly a viable option, especially untwinked.
A cold mage provides some nice crowd control, and you practically never miss when you attack a frozen monster. Their main drawback is that they are next to useless in areas that are packed with cold immune monsters (hello Hell Claw Viper Temple...)
Recommended abilities to look for on gear (roughly in order of priority) are Faster Cast, Cannot Be Frozen, +All Skills, Faster Run, Resists, damage reduction, +Life.

4.2 Gameplay

Key Setup
One of the criticisms of charge up assassins is that the keys are too complicated, but with a bit of setup it is fairly easy. This is one possible key setup, but ultimately you need to find what works for you.

Left click - Dragon Flight.
Don't put Dragon Claw on left click and try to swap mouse buttons to release charges. The problem with this is that if you accidently left click on a monster on the far side of a pack, you will attempt to walk all the way around the pack to release the charges. Very slow and extremely annoying. Keep dragon flight here for situational use, but also have it hot keyed to right mouse button.

All of the following keys are assigned to right mouse button. If you press and hold it down, you can then just press the keys on the keyboard to swap attacks. The keys in brackets are the optional skills, if you don't use them, just leave them un-assigned.

Main Attacks - bottom row
Z - Phoenix Strike
X - Dragon Claw / Normal Attack depending on finisher
(C- Mind Blast)
(V - Death Sentry)

Utility Skills - middle row
A - Cloak of Shadows
F - Dragon Flight

Pre-buffs - top row
(Q- Battle Command)
(W - Shadow Master)
(E - Battle Orders)
R - Burst of Speed / Fade

Most of the time you run around with right click held down. On the keyboard you alternate between PS and DC (X and Z keys) to charge and release. The biggest problem with getting the charges released properly is either missing or getting interrupted, so you rhythm gets messed up. This is why ITD, AR and FHR are important.

Left Click Alternative
You can actually assign Attack, DC and PS to the left mouse button and use the keyboard to toggle between them too. This allows you to see the mods on the monster you attack, but if you kill it before you release the charge, you have to manually pick another target. It also allows you to have a strategic RMB skill like CoS, Mind Blast, Shadow or DS active during the whole fight, so you can have access to it without switching.

Basic Gameplay
1. Cast cloak of shadows
2. Charge up three times
3. Release Chaos Ice Bolts to freeze the enemies
4. Charge up once or twice depending on target immunities and your preference.
5. Release charges.
6. If targets are still alive, rinse & repeat.

Steps two and three are optional (and are not needed if you use an Act III Cold merc), depending on the danger level and immunity of your targets. Obviously there is no point releasing Ice Bolts if your target is cold immune.

Quite often you will find yourself fighting enemies with mixed immunities. It is important to find out what these are before you wade into the fray. If you have a mixed FI / LI group, it is probably more is efficient to alternate between charges one and two rather than persisting with multiple releases of the (relatively low damage) third charge.
5. Sample Builds

5.1 Natalya's Odium Phoenix Striker
Phoenix Striker is the best build for using full Nat's Set, although Nat's Set is not necessarily the best equipment for a Phoenix Striker. Due to the slow WSM of the claw, it is best suited to Burst of Speed. With a fast secondary claw you could probably use Fade, but the set already has 30% Damage Reduction and decent resists, so it isn't worth it. Let’s have a look at the set stats:

Nat's Set gives us:
30% Damage Reduction
+3 to All Skills
+2 to Shadow Disciplines
14% Life & Mana Leech
Dexterity, Strength & Life Bonuses
Up to +70% Resist all
Up to +25% Lightning & Cold Resist. 25% Poison resist.
Gloves, belt, jewelery and secondary claw / shield slot free.
Up to 6 empty sockets (including the secondary claw) with help from Larzuk.

It doesn't give us:
Fire Resist
Faster Hit Recovery
More +Martial Arts Skills

Weapon 1: Natalya's Mark. The Ignores Target Defense and the 40IAS mean this should always be in the primary position, above the gloves. The (unlikely) exception to this would be if you had a godly fool's rare to use as a primary instead.
One of the biggest drawbacks with using the set is the ridiculous clvl79 requirement for the claw. Level as far as you can stand with NM Baal runs and then run The Cave in The Cold Plains or The Mausoleum until you hit 79 and can equip it.

Weapon 2: As the Secondary Claw options in the equipment section above. Default choice is Bartuc's unless you have a decent magic / rare claw.
It is still a viable build with a shield, if you decide to go this route options are listed above.

Call to Arms and Lidless Wall / Spirit Shield is obviously the best choice (if you have it).
Pre-buff with shadow claws isn't really worth it as you will drop 3 skills from switching out the last part of the set. If you are not using CtA, Demon Limb on switch for enchant charges, or Obedience can also be used for ctc enchant, can help you AR. Obedience also has a handy 40% CB.
If you have a second Natalya's Mark, you could equip this in the off hand and put a 'Strength' runeword claw in the Primary position for 25% crushing blow, without loosing any of the set bonuses.

Helm: Natalya's Totem. It has variable stats for resistances, strength and dexterity, you obviously want the best you can get.
Armour: Natalya's Shadow. It has 1-3 sockets at random, you want one with three sockets.
Boots: Natalya's Soul. The cold and lightning resistance vary from 15-25%, get the best you can.
Socket the Armour and Helm for

Verdungo's Hearty Coil - Up to 15% damage reduction and a nice life boost is probably the best option. It will bring your total to damage reduction 45% with the set bonus.
String of Ears - Up to 15% damage reduction and more life leech.
Arachnid Mesh - For the skill point.
Thundergod's Vigor - If you are worried about Gloams.

As in the Equipment section above, you want +Martial Arts skills here, ideally with 20IAS.

Amulet, Rings and Inventory:
As the Equipment section above.

Attack Speed
In the first post of the Assassin IAS Tables there is a specific worked example of how much IAS is needed for a Nat's set Phoenix striker with Bartuc's (or any other Greater/Runic Talon). So the sums have already been done for you, but you are going to have to click the link and read it. If you have decided to use a different claw in the secondary slot, all you need to know can be found in the same thread.

5.2 Ghost Striker
Ghost striker is what this guide is calling a Phoenix strike that runs Fade. Hitting the fastest attack speed for Phoenix Strike is actually fairly easy with fast claws, but Dragon Claw takes a bit more work.

- Without BoS, Phoenix Strike needs only 60IAS to hit the fastest speed with a -30WSM weapon (i.e. Runic / Greater Talons).
- Finishing with Dragon claw is a bit trickier, you need 125IAS with dual GTs / RTs to hit 10FPA.
- You could drop down to 11FPA requiring 75IAS, but the equipment below is shown to hit the 10FPA finisher.

Weapon: Bartuc's Cut Throat socketed with a 'Shael' rune.
Shield: Magic +3 Martial Arts claw with two sockets filled with resistance jewels.

Switch: Call To Arms & Lidless Wall or 2x +3 Shadow Claws

Helm: +3 Martial Arts Circlet socketed with two Jewels of Fervor
Armour: 'Treachery'
Belt: Nosferatu's Coil for the 10IAS, leech and strength bonus.
Boots: Rare / Aldur's Advance
Gloves: Magical +3 Martial Arts 20IAS or Rare +2MA 20IAS.

Amulet: Mara's or a decent rare
Ring1: Ravenfrost
Ring2: Rare with Mana Leech, resists and AR

20IAS Bartuc's
45IAS Treachery
30IAS Circlet
10IAS Nosferatu's Coil
20IAS Gloves
=125IAS, hitting the 10 frame Dragon Claw.

You also hit 48FHR with this setup and have decent resists. You only get a bit of damage reduction from the level you cast Fade at, there isn't much room for it in your gear unless you use Highlord's Wrath for the Amulet and Verdungo's for the belt.

Fade is perfectly viable for the build but, given that you don't get much advantage in damage reduction, there seems to be little advantage in picking this route over Burst of Speed.

5.3 Weapon / Shield Phoenix Striker
This build outline shows a setup based around a Crescent Moon phase blade with Burst of Speed, but if you are looking for a setup for dual claws with BoS, just replace Crescent moon with Bartuc's and the Stormshield with a +3MA 2os Magical claw with resist Jewels.

Weapon: 'Crescent Moon' Phase Blade
Shield: Stormshield socketed with a perfect diamond or 'Eld' rune depending on your preference.

Switch: Call To Arms & Spirit / Demon Limb / 2x +3 Shadow Claws

Helm: Rare Circlet with +2 Assassin/MA skills and resists.
Armour: 'Chains of Honor' or Vipermagi socketed with an 'Um' rune.
Belt: Hsaurus’ Iron Stay
Boots: Hsaurus’ Iron Heel
Gloves: +3 Martial Arts

Amulet: Mara's or a decent rare
Ring1: Ravenfrost
Ring2: Rare with Mana Leech, resists and AR

If you are using an Infinity Merc you probably won't need Hsaurus' Belt & Boots. Pick from the other selections in the main equipment section above.

With a -30WSM Weapon and level 1 Burst of Speed, you only need 20IAS to hit the 8FPA cap for Phoenix Strike and Normal Attack with a phase blade. Crescent Moon already has that covered, so you don't need any IAS in the rest of your gear.

5.4 Hardcore Untwinked

Early game weapons
Unless you plan to start as a Trapper and respec to Phoenix Striker later, or ride behind a merc well into your thirties, you are advised to use claws so you can use Fists of Fire as you level up. Getting to about level 10 Fists of Fire in the first act or early in the second gives you a nice attack that can easily take you to a stage in the game where Phoenix Strike starts to pull its weight. That happens around PS level 5 (i.e. clvl 34, in late Act IV on a single-pass full clear on /players 8).
Fists of Fire with one claw is a rather slow-ish attack, so dual claws is not a bad choice at this stage, even if you plan to use a shield later. With just two uses of Fists of Fire (and that's fast with dual claws), you will usually have scored 3 charges and can unleash the fire damage on the next target, the AoE explosion and the flames that remain on the ground for a while.

The starter claw works well enough for the early game, but Claws and Blade Talons are better.
Claws require STR/DEX 46/46 and can be gambled from clvl 14.
Blade Talons require 50/50 and can be gambled from clvl 17 (but it's not practical that soon, because the vast majority you see in the gambling window will be Claws (same graphic) and annoy you).

Phoenix Strike weapon
There are only two things that are necessary to make a decent one-handed PS weapon:
1. Reasonably fast
2. Range >1
That's it. Everything else is a bonus. :) That's one of the really nice things about this build. A Phoenix Striker can be perfectly viable with something as crappy as a non-magical Long Sword. Of course, just because we're untwinked doesn't mean we shouldn't strive to get hold of a really good weapon. Improving gear along the journey is of course one of the best things about going untwinked.

Ignore Target's Defense is an excellent ability to have on a Phoenix Strike weapon. It can spawn on wands, daggers, scepters and claws, and can be found on a couple of unique weapons as well. ITD does not work on bosses, but you often do not actually need to hit the bosses because you can release charges on minions next to them, build up a large fire patch in advance and lead the boss there, or blow up a corpse pile with Death Sentry when the boss is on it.
If you can't get ITD, then + Attack Rating or -Target Defense are good as well (and they work on bosses).

Crushing Blow and Open Wounds are nice additions to weapons, and will deal some decent damage even during charge-ups.

Some examples of good Phoenix Strike weapons:

- 'Steel' Flail. Good for when you start out with Phoenix Strike (around Act IV Normal). Speedy, good range, Open Wounds.
- Rare fast claw or magical Kenshi's fast claw. Probably the main endgame choice for many untwinked Phoenix Strikers. Look for +skills, Fool's mod, ITD, nice staffmods, etc.
- 'Strength' Greater/Runic Talons or Greater/Feral Claws (preferably with some useful staffmods). If you can get some IAS elsewhere (actually, Burst of Speed alone is almost enough), this is end-game material for when you drop down the players setting for Hell. Even if you use another weapon for most of the game, consider this for act boss fights.
- 'Black' Flail/Knout. Fast, good range, big Crushing Blow. The Knockback is annoying for general play, but it's a great option for act boss fights or if you can prevent the Knockback somehow (make sure a wall, merc or shadow is behind the monster, or use an Act III Cold merc and hit frozen monsters). A special nod goes to the Corpse Explosion charges for the Nihlathak fight. It's much safer to blow up the corpses immediately - otherwise Nihlathak may do it faster than your Death Sentries...
- The General's Tan Do Li Ga is really good, with slowing, IAS and mana steal.
- Butcher's Pupil has lots of good mods.
- Rune Master does as well, and it's very customizable. It's an elite item, though, so it's only for the late game and you need plenty of luck to find it.
6.1 Links
Natalya's Odium Phoenix Striker - Xenja
Charge 1 as a backup attack for Tiger Strike - Ultima
Charge 2 as a backup attack for Dragon Tail - Gogo_Yubari
Hardcore, single pass, set only with Act III Cold merc - Dominika
Mang Song's Phoenix Striker - Serafina

6.2. List of Abbreviations

AR - Attack Rating
BoI - Blades of Ice
BoS- Burst of Speed
C/C - Claw Claw, i.e. holding a claw in each hand
CB - Crushing Blow
CBF - Cannot Be Frozen
CM - Claw Mastery
C/S - Claw + Shield
CoS- Cloak of Shadows
CoT - Claws of Thunder
ctc - Chance to Cast
DC - Dragon Claw
DF - Dragon Flight
%DR – % Physical Damage Reduction
DS - Death Sentry
FHR - Fast Hit Recovery
FCR- Faster Cast Rate
FRW - Faster Run / Walk
FoF - Fists of Fire
IAS - Increased Attack Speed
ITD - Ignore Target's Defense
LCS - Lying Character Screen. The screen that shows your stats, damage etc., with varying accuracy.
LS - Lightning Sentry
MA - Martial Arts
MB - Mind Blast
MP - Multi Player - Either on BNet or over TCPIP
OW - Open Wounds
PS - Phoenix Strike
Res - Resistance
SM - Shadow Master
WB – Weapon Block
W/S - Weapon + Shield
WSM - Weapon Speed Modifier
2h - Two Handed
3os - 3 Open Sockets

6.3 Version History
Version 1.0 - First Draft for comments

6.4 Thanks
Many thanks to jiansonz for co-authoring this guide with me and putting up with my PMs :)
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