In a previous episode of Grenth’s Grog, Sardu discussed some of the major trends being seen with necros in structured PvP. In particular, minion masters seem to be a thing of myth, rarely seen in active play. This trend began with BWE2, but progressed even further during BWE3.
Have necromancers lost their taste for controlling the undead in modern day Tyria, or have they simply forsaken their corpsified companions in favor of survivability and support builds? This week we dive deeper into the mysteries of the minion master in
Sardu’s Theatre of Doom the latest spine-tingling episode of Grenth’s Grog!
The Mysteries of Minion Mastery
Mastery over the undead is the primary thing that sets necromancers apart from other magic users in pretty much any setting; fantasy or otherwise. In fact, they wouldn’t even be called necros if you completely removed control over the undead from their macabre repertoire. At that point they become little more than shaman, considering that archetype traditionally also uses a fair amount of poison, disease, and cold-based damaging attacks.
(WoW shamans don’t count – they’re basically just hippies that are more of an elemental mage than a true shaman. Not really ripping on WoW here; I’ve just always preferred the much better implementation of Shaman in the original EverQuest to the playstyle they offer in WoW.)
So why is there such a lack of enthusiasm about minion mastery in Guild Wars 2? What’s missing from the equation that makes one of the most trait-supported playstyles for the profession the underdog build amongst hardcore fans?
I decided it’s high time I cut through to the heart of the matter, thus will be dissecting the current minions in GW2 to determine how or why you would want to use them in your build. As always, what follows is based wholly on my own extensive experimentation and testing. But unlike pointlessly violent television programs that provide disclaimers about avoiding copycat behaviors, I strongly urge you to do some experimentation within the safety of your own home.
Minion Dissection 101
In this introductory course in minion mastery we’ll be taking a very quick look at the existing necromancer minions, including possible usage cases and their current pros and cons.
- Core Function: A mobile, external life steal over time that doubles as one of the necro’s healing abilities
- Pros: The only minion that steals health for the necro without needing to trait for it
- Cons: Easily killed, leaving the necro without a direct heal until another is summoned
As many have noted (myself included), relying on the blood fiend as your primary heal in PvP is a form of virtual suicide. But like all well designed skills, you also have to factor in risk vs. reward for using it in your heal slot. On the one hand, it dies too quickly, but on the other it will provide continual health via life steals while in combat so long as it remains alive.
- Core Function: A mobile DoT that can be used to immobilize foes for 2 seconds on a 50 second cooldown
- Pros: Adds another crowd control option (immobilize), and attacks at range so less likely to die due to AoE damage
- Cons: Nothing special about basic attacks, attacks at range so you rarely benefit from the Death Nova trait which causes a cloud of poison when minions die
I rarely use this minion without heavy consideration of traits, or if I’m going all-in with minions and want another occasional crowd control option. Since the bone fiend – like most minions - attacks at range, the grandmaster Death Nova trait is one that looks great on paper, but serves little purpose since you can’t control when the minions set off the poison cloud and are rarely near enemies when they die.
The bone fiend’s normal attacks notably don’t do any special types of damage. If they caused bleeding, or another short duration condition, the bone fined would be much more worthy of a utility slot.
- Core Function: Another generic, mobile DoT, but notably the only minions that can be exploded on demand to cause area damage without needing to trait for it.
- Pros: Summon two for the price of one, makes effective use of the Protection of the Horde trait that grants +20 Toughness for each minion under your control
- Cons: Die insanely fast in pretty much every situation due to being melee attackers, nothing special about basic attacks
The bone minions offer a small taste of a GW1 minion bomber, but consolidated into a single skill slot and without the need to target the minions. Sadly you’ll only ever have 2 of them, and they die so fast that you’ll typically want to explode them as soon as they reach their target. However, doing so negates the +40 Toughness you’d gain by keeping them alive instead.
Thus the bone minions represent one of the many tradeoffs that make for interesting decision making when it comes to necro builds in GW2.
- Core Function: Works somewhat as a fleshy turret, causing basic damage-over-time, but can also be used to enhance mobility due to the active ability, Necrotic Traversal, which allows you to teleport to its location
- Pros: Ground targeted, so you have more control over whether it stupidly stands in AoE damage or not. It also adds the huge benefit of a short range teleport into the mix that notably breaks stuns.
- Cons: If you’re using Necrotic Traversal to get away from an enemy or general mobility option, the AoE poison component is useless. Once again, there’s nothing special about the Flesh Wurm’s basic attacks.
The flesh wurm is an interesting specimen. Placing it out of melee / AoE range gives you an escape plan, allows you to benefit from traits such as Protection of the Horde and Vampiric Master, but then the AoE poison from Necrotic Traversal is wasted most of the time. Instead, you should consider using the flesh wurm as a minion master’s primary gap closer so long as you’re not relying on traits such as the ones mentioned here as part of your survivability.
- Core Function: Another generic damage dealing ranged pet, but arguably has the best active skill that can Blind foes
- Pros: The Blind gained from using Haunt is a solid active skill, and on a relatively short cooldown. Paired with the Pitch Black trait from the Curses line, you can also apply Confusion to make the Fiend an even better prospect.
- Cons: You guessed it – even more generic damage. You won’t directly be sacrificing your Fiend by using the Haunt skill, but the fact that it teleports to your target in the process is practically the same thing more often than not.
The Shadow Fiend can be looked at as representing one of the main issues with minions in general. On the one hand, its active skill is golden, yet you’re still better off slotting Well of Darkness instead. And because its normal attacks cause generic (and very low) damage, the only reason to really bother slotting it is if you’re going all-in with minions and heavily traiting for it.
- Core Function: As an elite skill, the Flesh Golem is far more resilient than other minions, and also cripples enemies with its basic attacks.
- Pros: Can tank common mobs in PvE, and can pair exceptionally well with melee weapons due to crippling with its basic attacks, and providing a knockdown (the only one for necros) with its active skill.
- Cons: The 60 second cooldown can be a bit rough if you’re relying too heavily on the Golem as a core aspect of your overall build. It’s also a melee attacker that’s too dumb to avoid AoE damage, so dies quickly unless you bring a staff for Mark of Blood to keep regen on it.
Necro elites are in an odd place currently, and have shifted in usefulness dramatically since first being introduced. The best argument I could think to make for using the Flesh Golem outside of general PvE at present is that it will provide you a decent, persistent DoT and very handy cripple so long as it doesn’t die too quickly. Still, like all minions, it pales in comparison to our other elites unless you’re running a full MM build with heavy use of minion traits.
One of the main reasons we’re not seeing a lot of minions being used currently is due to the fact that they really do represent an all-or-nothing proposition unlike most other utility skill lines. You either trait 100% focused on augmenting your minions, or else all you really have is some marginal DoT damage, and very basic crowd control or mobility options taking up your valuable utility skill slots.
But that’s just the thing – if you do trait for minions and factor that into your overall build, playing an MM is just as viable as any other playstyle the necro has to offer. The only thing that would make them better in that scenario is to allow Asuran necros the ability to ride around on the back of the Flesh Golem, Master Blaster style.
The active skills for minions also somewhat dictate that playing an MM effectively is quite possibly the most difficult build to master since they’ll all see very situational usage. Necros already offer some of the highest complexity in combat thanks to Death Shroud, so I can understand why many have opted to stick to more straight forward utility skill setups.
In that sense, minions are a bit like dagger / dagger builds. In other words, in the hands of a capable player they can be the basis of an incredibly powerful playstyle, but getting a feel for how to make it all work is simply going to take far longer than the instant gratification of a solid survivability build, or going all-in on condition damage.
Next week I’ll be diving even deeper down the minion master rabbit hole and taking a closer look at the necro traits you’ll want to consider using to get the most out of your undead army. Also, be on the lookout for a complete guide to minion mastery which will be hitting our main Guide and Profession portals in the near future.