I hope that, with this, you are able to pull off some of the basic thief tricks and make/modify your own build. I do recommend that you try a few things out yourself before you start reading through the entire guide (
- The General Idea
In terms of profession mechanics, thief is a very unique profession. Your weapon skills have no cooldowns at all. Instead, you use a constantly regenerating pool of 'points'; initiative. Initiative works similar to a revenant's energy mechanic. A thief's profession skill (F1), Steal, also has a distinctive mechanic. Depending on which target you use it on, you will get another skill in your F2 slot. Some of those skills are more useful than others.
Another unique mechanic to thieves is dual wielding. If you use one-handed weapons, your 3rd weapon skill changes, depending on what weapons you currently have equipped. For example, the dual wielding skill for dagger/pistol is different from dagger/dagger. Each mainhand weapon also has a separate ability that will replace your autoattack while you are in stealth.
Generally speaking, thief is highly mobile, because of the many teleports available. It also relies heavily on stealth in most cases. It has very high burst damage, but very little sustain. Hence, the skillcap is pretty high, and it's generally a bit harder to learn than other classes.
This section will be a bit more detailed than the ones following, because knowing what everything does in your build is very important, especially considering you will die very easily.
There are several different viable builds in PvP, depending on your skill level. On top of that, it's fairly difficult to play in the current meta. The most commonly played builds at the moment is Marauder's pistol/dagger and Marauder's Staff, both of which can be found on Metabattle.
Your role in the match differs depending on what build you play. The role the thief takes most of the time, is to cap/decap points across the map, and turn teamfights around in your team's favor. This is due to the high mobility, stealth plays, and high burst damage.
- Deadly Arts This traitline provides one of the best damage modifiers for thieves in the game, regardless of gametype. Available are boosts for condition builds, power builds, and builds that utilize traps. It contains an important trait for power builds in PvP, Panic Strike. A lot of the traits are viable in this line, since it is good for all offensive options. However, one of the grandmaster traits, Improvisation, provides a more defensive option.
- Critical Strikes One of the most rarely used traitlines in PvP, since it provides very little utility and defensive options. It provides several damage modifiers, which are more relevant in PvE than anything else. One particular trait, Invigorating Precision, does provide passive healing, but it isn't very viable in PvP. One instance where you could use this traitline, is on a pistol/pistol build. But generally speaking, don't do that.
- Shadow Arts The defensive traitline on thieves, and a staple of the profession. There are a lot of options regarding stealth, such as condi removal while in stealth, initiative and health regeneration, and a revive speed increase (as well as granting stealth to the ally you are reviving). It also provides boosts to venom builds, such as sharing your venoms to your teammates. In the current meta, you usually don't run this traitline. If you run a power build, and don't own HoT, or don't want to use Daredevil, you would use Shadow Arts instead.
- Acrobatics A high utility traitline. It focuses heavily on dodges, condi removal, and the usage of a sword. It has some regeneration and a built-in stunbreak with a 30s internal cooldown. However, very few people run this traitline in the current meta, due to the fact that the Daredevil line is more reliable. If you were to run a sword/dagger build without the Daredevil traitline, you would use this.
- Trickery Definitely one of the most important traitlines in PvP. It increases your total initiative, and focuses around your F1 skill, Steal, and tricks (a utility skilltype). Pretty much every build that uses this traitline uses the same 3 traits; Thrill of the Crime, Bountiful Theft, and Sleight of Hand. With this setup, you can provide swiftness to your party members, interrupt and strip boons off of enemies. A notable feat of this setup is the fact that you can interrupt enemies that have stability, as stability is one of the first boons that you will strip. Another way to go, is by using the trick-related traits, which provide a built-in stunbreak and dps increase, as well as some condi removal. If you were to run a type of solo condition burst build, you could run Bewildering Ambush instead of Slight of Hand, due to the added stacks of confusion. Never use Uncatchable. Ever.
- Daredevil The elite specialization of the class. It features a lot of damage modifiers and dodge-related traits, such as allowing you to dodge 3 times. It also enables you to use physical skills. It provides a passive healing on dodge, condi removal on dodge, an unblockable damaging effect on interrupt, and -most notable- improved dodges. Note that, if you run Lotus Training or Bounding Dodger, your dodges will deal damage, and as a result, could reveal you if you were in stealth. Bounding Dodger is a useful damage boost, as well as a good utility option for stacking stealth for yourself. Although more often than not, thieves will use Unhindered Combatant as their dodge.
- Shortbow A must-have weapon regardless of the build you run. It has great mobility, due to the teleport on the 5th skill (which is pretty much the only reason you would use it in this gametype). Another notable skill is the 4th skill, Choking Gas, which is a ground-targeted poison field, which causes a reduction in healing effectiveness and revive speed. It is also one of your only ranged weapons.
- Dagger/pistol This set has been the meta for god knows how long. It provides good damage, as well as stealth options, as you can stack stealth for yourself by using your 5th skill, which is a smoke field, and comboing your 2nd skill into it, as it is a leap finisher. Since the 5th skill also pulses blind, you can use it on top of a downed body to safely stomp it. The 3rd skill is an unblockable projectile that blinds your enemy and immediately teleports you to that enemy. The 2nd skill deals more damage the lower your enemy's health. You should never use that skill more than twice in a row. The 4th skill is a very quick projectile which dazes your target. It's only really used to interrupt skills.
- Dagger/dagger A fairly all-in option, usually only used by power builds played by experienced thieves, and specific condition builds. The 3rd skill is an evasive skill which stacks a fair amount of bleeding. The burst that power builds use involves the 5th skill, which brings you into stealth when you hit an enemy with it, and then using the autoattack behind your enemy (while in stealth). However, dagger/pistol is more reliable for stealth, since it doesn't require a target to enter stealth. The 4th skill is a ranged skill which briefly bounces between enemies, which you wouldn't necessarily use.
- Sword/dagger A highly evase setup. It's usually played by more experienced people, since it relies on the same skill as dagger/dagger does to get into stealth. The 2nd skill allows you to teleport to your enemy and immobilize them, after which you can choose to teleport back to your original location. The 3rd skill has an unusual evade. If it hits, it allows you to strip boons off your enemy. If you autoattack an enemy with this weaponset while in stealth, you will daze them. Never spam your 3rd skill.
- Sword/pistol Since I already discussed mainhand sword and offhand pistol, the only relevant skill here is the 3rd skill, Pistol Whip. It stuns your enemy, and proceeds to hit them multiple times. It is important to note that you can't move while using that skill without interrupting it. Also, most of your hits will most likely be dodged or mitigated, regardless of whether your target uses a stunbreak or not. If you were to run this, you would usually combo your Pistol Whip with a teleport, such as Steal.
- Pistol/dagger If you were to run a condition build without dagger/dagger, you would use this. The autoattack is a ranged projectile that applies bleeding. If you use it in stealth, you would stack bleeding really fast on your enemy. The 2nd skill is a ranged immobilize. The 3rd skill applies torment and proceeds to teleport you away from your enemy. It was more commonly used before HoT than it is now.
- Pistol/pistol The only thing I need to mention here is the 3rd skill, Unload. It has ridiculously high burst damage, since you shoot a lot of projectiles at your enemy in a short amount of time. On top of that, you stack might each time you hit your enemy with it. This is the most dangerous setup to use, as you will probably kill yourself if your Unload gets reflected, but it has really high burst damage.
- Staff This is only available to use if you have the Daredevil traitline qquipped. The autoattack has really high damage, at the end of which, you have a very brief moment where you reflect projectiles. The stealth skill is a knockdown. The 2nd skill moves you forward a little bit while dealing damage and applying weakness. The 3rd skill is a brief evade and removes immobilize. The 4th skill is a ranged skill that applies blind and vulnerability. The 5th skill has really high damage, is a leap finisher, and an evade. It is your go-to damage skill, but as with the 2nd skill on mainhand dagger, never spam this more than 2 times.
Generally speaking, you will always use teleports and stunbreaks, and usually also some form of condi removal. Important skills include:
- Shadowstep A long-range teleport that also allows you to teleport back to your original positions while curing 3 conditions. It is a useful stunbreak, as well as mobility and condition removal. Returning to your original position also breaks stun. Usually you want to keep this skill off cooldown, but if you want to stomp an enemy while avoiding some cc skills and/or cleave damage, you can start stomping your enemy, teleport away, and teleport back right before the stomping animation finishes.
- Blinding Powder An instant-cast stealth skill for yourself and allies in close proximity, which is also a blast finisher and applies blind to enemies. If you run offhand pistol, you can use it while standing inside the smoke field of your 5th skill. That way, you and allies close to you gain longer stealth. You could also use it while reviving an ally to keep them safe from being stomped for a few seconds.
- Signet of Agility Provides a passive boost to precision. If you use the active skill, it removes one condition from you and your allies. On top of that, it also restores 2 of your dodges.
- Bandit's Defense A short-cooldown stunbreak and also a 1.5s block. If you block a skill with it, you get the option to knock your opponent down.
- Infiltrator's Signet A passive increase to your initiative regeneration. The active skill is a targeted teleport and a stunbreak. Important to note, is that whereas Steal only works as a teleport if you are in range of your target, Infiltrator's Signet does not. You can target an enemy far away and teleport towards them while being out of range.
- Shadow Refuge Not used a whole lot in the current meta. It is a ground-targeted stealth field, which stacks stealth and heals allies inside of it. Important to note is that if you move out of the field before it expires, you will get revealed. It can be useful for reviving allies, but using this skill basically tells enemies where to put AoEs down. If you don't run the Daredevil traitline, this is a very viable option.
- Shadow Trap If you put this trap down, it allows you to teleport back to it at any time. It has an extremely long range; twice as long as a mesmer's portal. Teleporting back to the initial location breaks stun. If an enemy walks into the trap, you get the option to teleport to that enemy in stealth.
- Venoms A set of skills focused on applying conditions. The most commonly used venoms are Skale Venom, which applies torment and vulnerability, and Spider Venom, which applies poison. Devourer Venom and Ice Drake Venom aren't used as much, since they only apply immobilize and chill, respectively. You instantly activate a venom, which causes your next few attacks to apply the conditions mentioned above. Combined with the Venomous Aura trait in the Shadow Arts specialization, you can share your venoms to allies in range, including allied NPCs.
As for your healing skill, you usually use one of these: Withdraw, which is an evade and removes movement impairing conditions and torment; Channeled Vigor, which has a longer casting time, a better heal, and restores endurance; or Hide in Shadows, which applies stealth to you, removes several damaging conditions, and applies regeneration.
The elite skill is mostly a preference. Most commonly used are Basilisk Venom, which stuns your enemy upon hitting them, and causes your next few attacks to be unblockable, and Impact Strike, which is a chain skill. The cc on the chain also allows you to interrupt downed bodies (useful for preventing downed cc skills or an elementalist's Mist Form), without putting them out of melee range. If you hit a downed body with the third skill in the chain, they are finished. Important to note, is that if you hit an enemy with the final strike of Impact Strike, and the damage of that hit is higher than the health they had left, they will skip downed state and die instantly. This is extremely hard to time though.
If you run a venomshare build, you could consider running Thieves Guild, but generally stick to the two elite skills mentioned above.
When picking your amulet, rune, and sigils- keep in mind that, regardless of what build you run, you will always be squishy compared to most other classes. This is why people generally run a marauder's or berserker's amulet for power builds, and a viper's or carrion amulet for condition builds. The runes are usually just for a boost in damage.
In open world PvE, you can run whatever you like to run, as with all the other professions. This is why I'll be talking about instanced PvE, specifically dungeons, fractals,
Regardless of what build you play, you will probably swap around your traits, weapons, and utility skills a lot, due to your role. Your role as a thief in dungeons and fractals most of the time, is to help your party move smoothly through the instance and skip unnecessary mobs, and to break the break bar on enemies. Regardless of the build you choose to play, I recommend having all the possible weapon sets available to use in your inventory.
As for builds, I recommend taking a look at Berserker Staff, D/D S/P Shortbow, Raid DPS, and Venomshare on Metabattle. The damage rotations for the builds are explained there. I'll give you a brief overview of the uses of different build options, as I did in the PvP section, in case you want to craft your own build or modify a metabuild to fit your playstyle better.
- Deadly Arts A must-have for pretty much all builds. It provides a very good damage boost with Executioner, as well as a boost to condition builds.
- Critical Strikes Like Deadly Arts, this line has several great damage modifiers. It also has a great passive heal, Invigorating Precision, which you should consider if you're still learning how to play thief, or if you want to take it easy. If your party lacks vulnerability, you could also consider taking Sundering Strikes.
- Shadow Arts You will likely have to swap to this traitline if you want to run instanced PvE as efficiently as possible, since it increases the duration of stealth you apply (which saves you some cooldowns). If you don't run a venomshare build, be sure to swap back after you're done with stealthing!
- Acrobatics Generally not used for this gametype. Most of the other things aren't worth replacing with this line if you want to play efficiently. It can be fun to use in open world PvE, but it's not optimal.
- Trickery A good option, regardless of your build, as it has a pretty good damage boost for both power and condition builds: Lead Attacks. It provides some extra cc, swiftness and fury for your party, and a boonstrip. If you run a condition build, consider taking Bewildering Ambush. If you want to run efficiently, you should only use it to replace the Daredevil line, or if you need the extra initiative to give stealth to your party. If you use it for the latter, don't forget to swap back afterwards.
- Daredevil An overall great damage boost. If you were to run the Marauder Staff build, you get a 27% damage increase, provided you don't mess up your rotation. Unhindered Combatant is great for running large distances and skipping past mobs. Lotus Training is a great boost for condition builds.
- Shortbow You should always have this as a second weapon, just like in PvP. Your 2nd skill is a great reusable blast finisher, which you can use to help your party stack might before a fight, and to stack stealth. The 5th skill is also great for mobility, as I mentioned before. Because you will never unequip it, it's recommended to run a Sigil of Bloodlust on your shortbow, so you get the extra stacks for increased damage.
- Dagger/pistol Generally not used for fighting in PvE. You would swap to offhand pistol to get quick-access to a smoke field, so you can grant stealth to your party. Use the 5th skill, swap to shortbow, and use the 2nd skill inside the field a few times.
- Dagger/dagger Normally you would only use this set while not running Daredevil. The damage rotation can be found on Metabattle. You should try to land your Backstab while flanking your enemy. The 3rd skill is also great for stacking conditions when running a venomshare build.
- Sword/dagger For instanced PvE,
- Sword/pistol Rarely used since the launch of HoT. It's a good option if you don't run Daredevil, and/or if you need to kill a bunch of trash mobs, because of the access to blind fields. Since the base damage on Pistol Whip and the sword autoattack is decent, you could consider running this when fighting against structures, since you can't critically hit those or flank them.
- Pistol/dagger Not really that useful in dungeons and fractals. If you want to run a condition build, dagger/dagger is generally a better option.
- Pistol/pistol It's not really worth it to run. The sustain is low, and Unload, while a high-damage single target skill, doesn't have high enough dps to kill bosses off efficiently. All the other skills aren't that relevant, regardless of the build you run.
- Staff The best dps option. If you have quickness, you just need to autoattack. If you don't have quickness, you could consider using your 2nd skill, but only if you can reliably hit all strikes of it. Otherwise, use your 5th skill. Regardless of the rotation you use, never interrupt your autoattack chain.
As the provider of stealth for your party, you will likely have to swap some of your damage skills for stealth skills. Here's a rundown of the most used utility skills, and their benefits:
- Signet of Agility You should have this on you during all fights. It's a constant passive precision buff, and should generally always be on your skillbar if you want to go for optimal dps.
- Assassin's Signet As with Signet of Agility, you should always have this on your skillbar, because of the power buff.
- Fist Flurry A high-dps skill with a bit of cc in it. A great option in general, because it's the highest dps utility skill in the game at the moment.
- Smoke Screen A smoke field that blocks projectiles. Useful if you don't have a guardian or mesmer on your team. Generally, you shouldn't use this to blast stealth for your team. It's more efficient to use Black Powder.
- Shadow Refuge If you need stealth in an area where you are unable to blast (because of surrounding mobs), you could use this. Otherwise, just use Black Powder.
- Blinding Powder An extra blast with some extra stealth. It's an instant cast skill. Only use it if your party lacks blast finishers.
- Inflitrator's Signet If you don't use Daredevil, you could use this as your third utility skill. It provides a small passive boost to intiative regeneration and is a targeted teleport and stunbreak.
- Imparing Daggers If you run a condition build with Daredevil, consider using this. It has decent damage, and helps with breaking break bars. If you don't run Daredevil, consider using Caltrops instead.
- Venoms If you use a condition build, especially venomshare, you should use Spider Venom and Skale Venom, because they provide damaging conditions. You just press it and people die.
Generally, you would use Signet of Malice as your healing skill, as it is a great passive heal. Note that if you use that one, don't activate the skill. Other heals include: Hide in Shadows, if you need extra solo stealth; and Channeled Vigor, if you need more endurance and a burst heal.
Your elite skill depends on the situation and your personal preference. Impact Strike and Basilisk Venom are used often, since they are very useful against enemies with break bars. Thieves Guild is useful if you want a minor dps increase, and if you really don't need the cc. If you need reflects, and you don't have anyone in your party providing them, and/or Smoke Screen wasn't enough, you could consider taking Dagger Storm.
Generally, you'd want a set of berserker gear for power builds, and a set of sinister, or viper's for condition builds. A cheap option if you are unable to craft sinister or viper's, is carrion, but it's not optimal.
Most of the build-related things in PvP also apply in WvW, except WvW builds are generally a bit tankier. This is because you will have to sustain yourself in a 1v1, rather than turning fights in your team's favor. Another thing thieves do in WvW, is going around the enemy zerg during zerg fights to burst down their backliners. That way, the enemy zerg won't have their ranged damage and healing fields.
If you are in a roaming party, you also provide stealth to your party if necessary, just like you do in PvE. In larger squads, a mesmer is generally better for that. Aside from that, thieves are also great scouts for your server, because of the high mobility.
Look at the PvP section or the D/P Roamer build on Metabattle to get a build. It is also notable that the sword/dagger setup is more viable in WvW, since it is better in 1v1s and open-field fights.
- Another thief mechanic, which is useful for some builds, is flanking. flanking provides a damage increase. Such as with the Backstab skill. Your text to link here... This links to a diagram that shows how flanking works. Originally from Dulfy.
- You can teleport up to some ledges and platforms. Go out and experiment!
- If you're pulling mobs (in WvW or PvE), you can attack them with the 2nd shortbow skill, and swap back to your other weapon set before the shortbow attack hits. That way, your weapon swap doesn't go on cooldown.
- Different professions give you different F2 skills if you steal from them. This is only really relevant for PvP and WvW.
Elementalist = A stab that chills your opponent. Not a great skill.
Engineer = A ground targeted ethereal field (you can apply confusion with several finishers), and it applies random conditions. Good to use on downed bodies.
Mesmer = A skill that gives you every boon in the game, except for quickness. The more powerful the boon, the shorter the duration. For example, 2 seconds of resistance, and 10.5 seconds of fury.
Necromancer = A short-range skill that applies fear to up to 5 enemies. The fear lasts longer if you are closer to your target.
Thief = A solo-stealth ability that also blinds enemies in melee range.
Revenant = A projectile that applies slow and deals a bit of damage.
Ranger = An on-demand water field (that looks like a tree), that pulses healing, applies regeneration, and removes conditions. You can leap through it for a personal heal, or blast it for a group heal.
Guardian = A melee stun ability. Minor damage, and 3s of daze. A pretty great cc ability if you can end it.
"Thief isn't a profession, it's a lifestyle" ~definitely not me, 2016