I think that this build has provided me with my first “really” successful D2x character. Although you could try to play this build a bit more defensively and take it into hardcore, it is most effective when played very aggressively and fits into softcore PvM the best. In all honesty, this build may not be the heaviest hitter or the fastest killer in the game, but I can confidently assure you that played properly, this Assassin build can take you through Hell and back, and provide you with many more hours of quality entertainment than a one-hit-wonder build.
I am writing this Assassin guide for the intermediate-level/moderately experienced player (because that is what I see myself as). I am going to assume that you, the reader, know how charge-up skills work and finishers work. I am also assuming that you are aware of how synergies work and why using them is a necessity in D2x. This is very basic information and I don’t feel that it is necessary to explain it in this guide.
Please keep in mind while you read this guide: I designed this build specifically for Natalya’s Odium – the Assassin set. I am not suggesting that Natalya’s is the best gear for this build, but I am merely offering a good build for people looking to make use of the set that they have collected.
This is a dual-claw build, and I do not believe that this can be effectively compromised. All the elemental charge-up skills have the potential to gain two charges with a single dual-claw attack (assuming that both claws successfully hit). This dramatically increases the rate at which you can deal out big doses of damage. While you could do this build with a shield, I highly recommend a dual-claw setup. While I recommend going dual claw to enhance speed and allow the use of the skill Weapon Block, a shield that offers good mods is not out of the question.
Using another claw also allows for a big boost to your skills (which is your main source of damage with this build).
The main focus of this build is the Martial Arts tree. Specifically, the elemental charge-ups along the left side of the tree, and the second finisher on the right called Dragon Claw. While this build is open to customization, every Phoenix Striker build should expect to put points into the following skills:
This leaves us with 71 skill points spent. Simple math and D2x knowledge leaves us with 39 skill points remaining to use (with all quests completed and your Assassin leveled to 99).
Below, I offer my explanation of why I chose each skill and why I have allocated the number of points that I have.
Skill Point Allocation – The Reasoning
Claws of Thunder – 20
Even though the build is named after Phoenix Strike, this skill will be your main attack until you max out Phoenix Strike; and even then, it will be a great compliment. Of the three elemental skills (Fists of Fire, Claws of Thunder, Blades of Ice), Claws of Thunder offers the greatest damage output and area of effect for your investment. In addition to great damage and area of effect, this skill receives a damage bonus from Phoenix Strike per each skill point invested (called synergy). Fully synergized, Claws of Thunder can easily deliver over 3000 lightning damage from a Nova and several Charged Bolts expanding out from your release point.
Keep in mind that the 2nd and 3rd charge of this skill are affected by Next Delay, a part of the game that prevents monsters from being repeatedly struck by the same dource of damage more than once in a specified period of time. The 2nd and 3rd charges are best saved for groups, while the 1st charge is best for single targets (like bosses).
Phoenix Strike – 20
I used this skill for three main purposes in addition to the synergy that it provides for Claws of Thunder. I will explain each of the three uses according to the charge.
Charge 1. This is a great boss killer. Claws of Thunder is a good damage dealer, but for a single target, nothing will beat repeated meteors and burning pyres below their feet. Getting one charge of Phoenix Strike and one charge of Claws of Thunder means certain doom for any boss. You can also use this charge to deal with lightning immunes.
Charge 2. This is your big damage dealer for lightning. However, Next Delay prevents this charge from truly shining. I would advise against using this charge in conjunction with Claws of Thunder, however combining it with a big Fists of Fire charge would be a great idea!
Charge 3. Crowd control is a necessity with any build. Assassins have a plethora of great crowd control skills, and this is one of them. This charge is also affected by Next Delay.
Fists of Fire – 20
I used this skill primarily to synergize with Phoenix Strike and increase the damage output of the meteor. It can be used as a way to deal with lightning immunes, but I rarely had to. Many people seem reluctant to want to max this skill. While it is possible to do a hybrid build and only invest in Claws of Thunder and Phoenix Strike (then spend the rest of your points in traps, other martial arts, etc), for a pure Phoenix Striker, this skill is far superior to Blades of Ice (and the 3rd Charge of Phoenix Strike that it synergizes. Blades of Ice and the 3rd charge of Phoenix Strike offer very poor damage, and are only useful for their freezing effects.
Dragon Claw – 1
This will be your main finisher with this build. I know what you’re thinking: “A main skill with only one point?” However, one point for this skill is more than sufficient. I used almost all of my points to boost my synergies and maximize my damage output. With any skill items, this skill will easily be raised to a level where you can consistently hit Ball in Hell mode with little to no difficulty. Also, this skill provides two opportunities to release your charges with each cast (which goes hand in hand with the dual-claw setup). In the end, Claw Mastery gives better bonuses than this skill.
Claw Mastery – 1+
As with most of the skills in this build that are not being used to synergize for damage, I don’t think that any more than one point is necessary here. However, at higher levels, if you are having troubles connecting, raise this skill rather than Dragon Claw. This will improve you overall attack rating for both your elemental charge-ups and your finisher.
Weapon Block – 1+
What a great skill! It’s like you have a shield, but you don’t. Not to mention, you can block elemental attacks. Will be raised by items with plusses to skills, but extra points will never hurt. If you plan to make a huge use of this skill, aim for level 26 with items (60%).
Burst of Speed – 1+
I used this skill 99% of the time. Boosting your attack speed and run walk speed are very important with this build, and this skill delivers. I only put one point into this skill, but if you wish, you can allocate points here to reach certain breakpoints for increased attack speed (listed below). I prefer this skill to Fade because Natalya’s set already offers a 30% damage reduction and pretty good resists. With other good items, hitting the 50% damage reduction cap and maxed resists in hell is easy.
Cloak of Shadows – 1
This skill is absolutely vital and amazing in every way. Think of dropping a smoke bomb on the floor, blinding your enemies, then sneaking up behind them to deal deadly damage before they even have a chance to react. This is the skill to do that with. However, investing more than one point into this skill is a waste The duration increases with skill levels, and you cannot cast another Cloak of Shadows until the previous “smoke has cleared.” I have found myself often having to wait for the Cloak of Shadows’ effect to end before pursuing another group of enemies. It would be nice if you could opt to have items not raise the skill points of certain skills; but alas, such is the way of the beast.
Mind Blast – 1
I used this skill to help group enemies into a smaller area so that my area of effect spells would hit more of them (Claws of Thunder). As you blast enemies, they will convert and begin fighting their allies. Most of the time, this means that they will engage in hand to hand combat with them; thus, making the group more tightly knit. The chance to convert enemies will be raised significantly by your items. One point is enough.
Fade – 1
I honestly didn’t use this skill much, but it helps against areas where elemental damage is frequent. Once again, items will raise the level enough to make this skill usable with only one point. (Note: You cannot have Burst of Speed and Fade active at the same time. Casting one will cancel the effect of the other). See the section on Burst of Speed above.
Shadow Master – 1+
I don’t think any good Assassin build is complete without at least one point into this skill. I actually got through Hell without a mercenary simply because of how well this minion can tank groups of enemies. You can recast her in front of a group to keep enemies away from you, drop a Cloak of Shadows, deliver death, rinse, and repeat. For this, I think this single point makes the Shadow Master an indispensable asset to this build.
However, additional points into this skill are points well spent. As you increase the skill levels at which you cast your Shadow Master, she is cast with randomly generated items (the last of which is a rare amulet at level 17). With your item skill bonuses, aim to cast your Shadow Master at level 17 if you wish to maximize her abilities by investing more than one point into her.
Skill Point Progression
I won’t go into too much detail here, but one thing to expect from this build is to be putting single points into prerequisite skills up until you hit level 18 when you can begin pumping Claws of Thunder. Max this skill first as it will be your main attack. When you hit level 30, you should have quite a few points saved. Invest at least one into Shadow Master, and drop one into Phoenix Strike as well. Here is the order in which I maxed my skills:
• Claws of Thunder
• Phoenix Strike
• Fists of Fire
• Extra points (Shadow Master, Claw Mastery, Burst of Speed, Weapon Block, etc)
This build is played like most typical melee-based Assassin builds. Your first goal will always be to drop a Cloak of Shadows as quickly as possible when you first encounter a group of monsters. Immediately follow up by picking off a monster on the side of the group by charging up Claws of Thunder. Quickly switch to Phoenix Strike and get another charge for a meteor (depending on the situation – remember the Next Delay). Follow this all up by Dragon Clawing a fresh enemy in the middle of the blinded pack and releasing elemental Hell on the whole group. Generally, this whole process should take no more than 4 seconds and very few monsters, if any, should be left alive after you release the Dragon Claw.
Bosses with big immunities may prevent a problem. However, remember that you have lots of types of damage at your disposal. If you run into a fire and lightning immune, spam Dragon Claw. It may not kill as quickly, but with good life steal, you will be able to tank the monster until its last breath. If you are really concerned about immunes, investing a few points into Venom and Blade Fury might be right up your alley. On a related note, I even invested one point into Death Sentry to help out with areas with large groups (like Diablo’s Sanctuary, for example).
Obviously every situation will differ. Immunes will require different tactics and different charges. Extremely large groups with unique monsters will require Mind Blasts, and maybe even recasting your Shadow Master. While each battle is different, you should always be using Cloak of Shadows, using charge-ups, and then releasing mayhem on the world.
The equipment that I have listed below is what I use, and why. I will also offer suggestions as to what could be better or what may also work well. On a related note, I began building this Assassin to use Natalya’s Odium – the Assassin set. While this set works exceptionally well for this build, it is by no means the only thing that will work. However, I really dig the 50 to all resistances, damaged reduced by 30%, huge life and mana steal, and additional three points to all skill levels. If you can find all of these modifications in other equipment, by all means, go for it.
Let’s start at the top:
I obviously used Natalya’s Totem as part of the set. This helm provides great boosts to strength and dexterity, and a healthy dose of resistances as well. Other good choices might include Tal Rasha’s Horadric Crest, Crown of Ages (duh), or Vampire Gaze.
Once again, I used Natalya’s Shadow to fulfill the set. The armor in and of itself isn’t God’s gift to Assassins, but it has a few good redeeming qualities. It provides a nice boost to your health (1 point per level), it dramatically reduces any poison damage that you might encounter, and last, but certainly not least, the sockets. With three open sockets, it is easy to make this armor into an Assassin’s dream. Use these sockets to fill in any holes that your Assassin may have (resistances, attack speed, etc). Other good choices for armor might include Chains of Honor runeword or an upgraded Shaftstop.
One weapon is obvious – Natalya’s Mark. Good consistent damage, huge attack speed, enhanced damage to demons and undead, and most importantly, ignore target’s defense. The other claw is also a pretty obvious choice for this build. Bartuc’s Cut-Throat is great for its good damage, huge bonuses to skill levels (2 to all and an additional 1 to Martial Arts), faster hit recovery, life steal, and huge bonuses to strength and dexterity. Combined with Natalya’s Totem, I only had to boost my strength to 109 to wear Natalya’s Shadow (strength requirement of 149). This allowed me to drop those 40 stat points into vitality. I also stuck an Amn rune into my Bartuc’s to boost my life steal up to 16% per hit. I think that you may be able to get by with other claws such as Firelizard’s or Jade Talon, but Bartuc’s is absolutely ideal for the strength boost and skills.
I used Laying of Hands from the Disciple set for their increased attack speed, damage to demons, and huge fire resist (50%). The fire resistance is important with this build as Natalya’s Odium offers little in that department. Other good choices for gloves might include Dracul’s Grasp or some rare gloves that add to Martial Arts and attack speed. Some people swear by these rare gloves, but I found Laying of Hands to be perfect for my needs.
Natalya’s Soul had to fill my slot. They work well for a big boost to run/walk speed, and additional cold and lightning resistance. Other good choices might include Gore Riders, Sandstorm Trek, or Walkerwalks.
For rings, I used the famous pair of Raven Frost and Dwarf Star for the elemental absorptions. Raven Frost adds some nice attack rating, dexterity (which helps with the requirement for Natalya’s Mark), and the ever-important cannot be frozen. Dwarf Star gives some nice life boost and a bit of gold find if you’re poor. Another good choice for this slot would be Bul-Kathos’ Wedding Band.
My amulet is a crafted Assassin amulet that adds one to all skill levels, run/walk, life steal, and 9/9/21/9 resistances. I couldn’t ask for much more out of an amulet. Other good choices would be Mara’s Kaleidoscope, The Cat’s Eye, or Highlord’s Wrath.
Poor Man’s Equipment
The equipment that I listed above is optimal, but it would be possible to do this build without some of it. I could list a few pieces, but there are entirely too many pieces of equipment that “could” work for this build. So, instead, here are some things that you should look for in your equipment:
+ to Martial Arts skills
Increased attack speed (very important to get charges as fast as possible)
Damage reduced by x
Stat Point Allocation
I will list the values that would be optimal using the equipment that I listed above, but your needs may change depending on what you choose to use. Always remember to plan ahead!
Strength – 109
With 20 strength from Bartuc’s and 20 from Natalya’s Totem, this was all I needed to wear my heaviest piece of equipment (Natalya’s Shadow). I could have left it lower as I used Nosferatu’s Coil, but I left my options open and invested slightly more into strenght.
Dexterity – 55
This may be scraping by, but with all of the dexterity bonuses from Natalya’s Totem, Raven Frost, and Bartuc’s, you won’t need any more than this to reach the 118 required for Natalya’s Mark.
Vitality – As much as possible
The logic here is uncanny. More life keeps you alive.
Energy – 25
You have no reason to ever need any energy. Natalya’s set gives a huge mana steal bonus of 14%. When you deal several hundred damage as a base hit, leeching mana back is not a problem.
I never even got around to using a mercenary with this build, but if I were to use one, I would use the Act 2 Holy Freeze ones. I think that the freezing effect that they add to a crowd combines amazingly with your Cloak of Shadows. Not only can enemies not see you, but they can’t move either! As usual, outfit your mercenary with good damage reduction and life steal equipment (Shaftstop, Vampire Gaze, etc).
If you are paranoid about immunes, you can try an Act 3 mercenary to add some elemental damage to your arsenal, but I don’t think it is really necessary. Your Shadow Master can always provide enough distraction for you to get some charge-ups and deliver the appropriate attack.
Normally, this section would be useful, but I play D2x on a laptop. In other words, I cannot bind skills to anything but the F# keys. In case you are curious, I went like this:
Left Click – Dragon Claw
F1 – Claws of Thunder
F2 – Phoenix Strike
F3 – Cloak of Shadows
F4 – Mind Blast
F5 – Death Sentry (my own personal touch to the build)
F6 – Burst of Speed
F7 – Fade
F8 – Shadow Master
It’s not really optimal, but it is all that I can do being on a laptop.
Here are the current stats for my build.
Strength – 109
Dexterity – 90 (would have had less – lesson learned)
Vitality – 271 (1172 life with equipment)
Energy – 25
With my Claws of Thunder fully charged and two charges of Phoenix Strike, I can deal 657 – 14,000+ lightning damage. Not bad considering how many enemies are going to get hit with all of that. Keep in mind that the Next Delay will prevent monsters from feeling the full effects of that, but it’s still nice to see 14k on your LCS. 🙂
If I could change a few things, I think I would aim to get more +skills items to maximize damage. Grand Charms can always fill that need as well.
Here are some helpful links that you may want to use during your building process.
There were quite a few people who helped me with the building idea. There was even more who wrote wonderful guides that explain things like break points, synergies, and skill-point allocation in better detail than I ever could.
Those of you who helped and/or have made major contributions to the Assassin forum and guides, you know who you are. On behalf of everyone, thank you very much for the help.
Special thanks to
Naliworld and BIGeyedBUG for help with the build idea and tactics involving Next Delay
Jrichard, Mathematician extraordinaire
Soepgroente for good ideas and laughs
Anyone else I forgot, I have a terrible memory – please don’t hate me!