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Thief Weapon Balance

A discussion on all of Thief's weapons, with a critical eye on the balance of our new Axe.
Published May 23, 2024
Balance Changes
Axe Deadeye, Take #7, And...Action!

Today we're diving deep into the balance of Thief's new Axe; the rather straightforward differences between DPS Deadeye, Daredevil and Specter; and the comfortable state of Thief's other weapons.

This article will also highlight a new Power Deadeye rotation using Axe & Pistol, developed by Sotym of MCA. This rotation became relevant after the May 21 patch nerfed Condition Axe Deadeye (~54,500 DPS down to 44,000 DPS). We are NOT planning to make a featured build page for this rotation, because if the designers want the weapon to be strong outside Deadeye's hands, then we're going to see more changes soon—and this Axe rotation is a lot less flexible than our currently featured Rifle & Daggers build. You can skip to the new rotation here.

It's no secret that Axe is much stronger on Deadeye than other Thief builds. The simplest reason why is that the weapon rewards Initiative spending far too much. Deadeye's strength is its wealth of Initiative, to compensate for its weaker damage modifiers when compared to Daredevil and Specter. A balance must be struck on AxeDeadeye actually is not the problem here, as the norm for Thief is that if a weapon is good on Deadeye, then it's also good on Daredevil or Specter.

Long Ago, Thief's Weapons Lived Together In Larceny

Deadeye is a big spender—between the famous trait and the Cantrip, this elite specialization has access to more Initiative than any other build.

If you've never tried , it's no cheap date. Striking your Marked target with an Initiative skill will generate Malice; generate 7 points of Malice and you'll regain 7 points of Initiative. To reset your Malice and repeat this process, please dial 1 for a Stealth Attack.

is strongest when Initiative skills and Stealth Attacks are strong and accessible. If any part of this system is too expensive, or not rewarding enough, then Deadeye's damage potential fades.

Daredevil and Specter are designed to do more with less: while they spend less Initiative than Deadeye, they do more damage with each skill.

Damage Source Daredevil Deadeye Specter
Strike Damage Applications Dodge, , , Malicious Stealth Attacks, Stolen Skills ,
Strike Damage Modifiers , , (~+45%) , (~21%); (mutually exclusive with , and still weaker than Daredevil's modifiers) None
Condition Applications Dodge, unique synergy with , Malicious Stealth Attacks, to reset to trigger Poison and Bleeding ,
Condition Damage Modifiers (15% Condition Damage) None (+90/+180 Condition Damage), (~10.7% Condition Duration, +20% Torment damage)

If we look at each weapon on Thief, the only weapons that are much stronger on Deadeye are Axe and Rifle—the latter is the long-ranged weapon the specialization was released with.

Daredevil is a melee-focused spec (when fighting at range, the build loses the impact damage of its Dodge and the melee utility skill ) so there's nothing lost from Rifle being a poor choice for sustained damage.

Specter has no focus on Strike Damage, and will end , forcing the player to spend 2 Initiative and a cast animation to kneel down again.

Let's assess other weapon options:

Dagger & Dagger

Strong on both Deadeye and Daredevil as Power and Condition weapons.

On the power side, both specializations can use a basic loop of .

Daredevil loves the Endurance restore on the Auto Attack (), enabling it to Dodge more for the damage tied to and .

Deadeye can leverage and use and to generate Malice for a stronger .

On the condition side, this weapon set is solid on every elite spec (we recently updated our Condition Alacrity Specter build to use Daggers!), but its held back on Condition Deadeye because applies no conditions.

Dagger & Pistol

A dark horse to most players in PvE, but a familiar sight in competitive modes. This power-damage weapon set shines when fighting targets below 50% HP and when demolishing Defiance Bars with Pistol's (exceptionally potent with Deadeye's !)

Daredevil can use the Leap Finisher on inside the Smoke Combo Field from to gain Stealth for .

Deadeye uses to cast inside that same Smoke Combo Field. This weapon set makes an excellent pairing with Rifle, giving the Deadeye a Defiance Break option in while leaving their slot skills dedicated to Stealth for the Rifle.

Staff

Daredevil's iconic Power weapon is less powerful on Deadeye at first glance, but it shines when taking advantage of Malice.

Our Power Quickness Deadeye build swaps between Staff and Daggers, rapidly building up Malice by repeating then swapping to spend the resource on an empowered . This same gameplay loop can be used with either (for a raw Power buff) or to spam more (but weaker!) Initiative skills.

The Defiance Break potential on this weapon is exceptional for any Thief build— is an infinitely spammable 2-second Daze, and the Stealth Attack is a 4-second Knockdown.

Short Bow

A utility weapon with mobility, group tagging, and Defiance Break.

Sword

In a similar spot, with mobility, Defiance Break, and Boon Strip. It's receiving damage buffs in the upcoming June 2024 patch, but it won't become a mainline DPS weapon competing with Staff or Daggers—and that's okay. This weapon has a lot of utility, and it doing more damage is great. Since Initiative is a shared resource between weapon swaps, retaining decent (but not amazing) damage when tapping into utility is a good way to get Thief to flex its versatility more.

Scepter

Strongest on Condition Specter, in part due to the specialization's trait which boosts Torment damage.

Scepter & Dagger is almost a great weapon set on Condition Deadeye, except that struggles to generate Malice consistently because the combined projectiles only have one chance to score a Critical Hit. In short? Deadeye's Initiative budget can't afford to gamble due to the lack of Critical Chance found in typical Condition Damage gear.

Scepter & Pistol sees only limited success as a straight-line cleave weapon set because its skills are weak and slow.

Let's talk about Auto Attacking now.

Deadeye rotations with zero Auto Attacks are not new, and they're not inherently overpowered—if the Initiative skills and Malicious Stealth Attack are not great, then the builds are weak.

Rifle

The Pylon Kiter role on Qadim the Peerless has used the trait for years to maintain an infinite rotation.

provides ample Stealth access, so we never have downtime to Auto. Because it's mutually exclusive with , this build doubles down on Deadeye's identity by spamming low-damage skills infinitely.

The build does good damage on that fight, but is lackluster vs most builds anywhere else, especially compared to modern ranged-damage menaces like Virtuoso, Scourge, and Specter. You can find that build on our Kite Deadeye page.

Pistol & Dagger

There is a modern Deadeye rotation with zero autoattacks that sees no play in endgame because it does not have competitive damage. It was nerfed in 2021 when it was too strong on Deadeye, and the weapon has been irrelevant for PvE endgame ever since.

This weapon set also has an incredibly disruptive backwards-teleport on , dooming the weapon in PvE group content.

Pistol & Pistol

Before 's Initiative cost was reduced to make it an infinite loop on every Thief build, there was a rotation with zero autoattacks. It didn't matter, because the damage was terrible.

Because is infinite, Power Daredevil can deal the most damage with it thanks to its stronger Strike Damage modifiers...But that includes being in melee range for Dodge and .

Deadeye will do less damage with each cast, but it can do so at 900 range.

While that's kind of balanced in its own way, this weapon is still nearly uninteractive...But having full Initiative to spam into a Defiance Bar is pretty great.

No-Auto rotations provide a very useful distinction between Thief's elite specializations: if Deadeye is not using Auto Attacks, then those skills can be buffed to improve Daredevil and Specter.

This even applies when an Initiative skill is a DPS loss vs the Auto Attack chain, as is forced to use Initiative to generate Malice. The most well-known example is Dagger Power Deadeye—when generating Malice against targets above 50% HP, every Initiative option is weaker than Auto Attacking, yet the empowered makes up for that loss!

Because Deadeye Axed Nicely

The difference between constantly recalling Axes vs Auto Attacking is too great.

  1. Axe's damage is centralized in the Dual Wield recall skills & . Using this skill will double the DPS of every skill used (except the Deadeye-exclusive which will not apply Poison when recalled). If that weren't enough, these skills also apply additional damage (Torment / Strike Damage boost).
  2. is the fastest way to generate Spinning Axes, but there has been no damage tradeoff before the latest patch. This skill's Poison damage was just stronger than the Auto Attack's Bleeding damage, and the higher Strike Damage on the Auto Attack doesn't matter when that skill is so slow—it needs to be even higher, or much faster!
  3. Axe's Initiative costs are comfortably low when tapping into the Stealth Attack, restoring 2 on cast and 2 more when the Spinning Axe is recalled. On the surface this is a good thing, as it levels the playing field—Deadeye's distinct advantage is its Initiative wealth, after all, and players in our community have created strong non-Deadeye rotations with the weapons:
    1. Left created an Axe & Pistol Daredevil rotation using Smoke Combo Fields and the Leap Finisher on to gain Stealth.
    2. Seisan created an Axe & Dagger Core Thief rotation, utilizing 's Stealth and the Shadow Arts Trait Line's . This rotation has suffered under the same nerfs that targeted the Condition Deadeye variations.
  4. When Deadeye's Initiative reserves are not strained, it can combine with . The latter trait gives the build additional sources of Stealth to continually profit from 's Initiative refill (spend Initiative to build up Malice, Stealth Attack, then repeat!) This leaves Condition Damage builds free to take high damage Venom skills.

If Axe's Auto Attack was stronger, Deadeye would be barely affected.

If Deadeye is obligated to generate Malice by spamming , then that skill could deal low damage and still be part of Deadeye's strategy—but that would make the skill probably too weak to use on the other elite specializations

If Spinning Axes recalled by & continue to re-apply the exact same effects as their parent skills (, , ), then Initiative spam will always win.

This is NOT to say that the recall mechanic is incompatible with Thief—maybe it just shouldn't double the DPS of the axe skills.

A punishing and very powerful build

Video benchmark with rotation in video description.

Gear and first two Traitlines are the same as our Power Deadeye build.

  • Replace the Rifle with Axe & Pistol.
  • In the Deadeye Trait Line, swap to .

Your slot skills are:

  • Your general skill sequence is x2 . will create 6 Spinning Axes (the maximum), which you recall with .
    • Except where a pause is mentioned on the video description, directly queue to leave 3 Spinning Axes for your next cast (in-flight axes can not be recalled). If you can't cast these skills directly back to back, you will overwrite your Spinning Axes and lose damage.
  • Like any other rotation, you'll spend Initiative to build up Malice, restore your Initiative, then use your Stealth Attack to reset your Malice to do it all over again.
  • At two points, this rotation queues Stealth . You are unable to reverse this skill order—in order to reach 7 Malice, the recalled Spinning Axes must strike your target before does. If the Axes strike your target while you are in Stealth, you will be Revealed ruining your rotation.
  • The timing for Spinning Axes striking your target depends on where you stood when throwing them, the current position of your target, and the size of their hitbox. You might need to simply go fast, or you might need to delay your Stealth usage. Any delay beyond the benchmark is a DPS loss.