Welcome to the (very rough draft) of my Summoner guide! This is more than a bit messy, so any advice or tips for improvement would be welcome!
Now, I feel I need to emphasize something here: This is not a post about maximizing SMN’s potential damage. There’s this guide for that. This is not about being the best SMN. That will come later. This about simply being *good enough.* Pulling enough numbers to meet those non Alex Savage DPS checks, or simply making sure your group completes dungeons in a timely manner.
Why this guide?
Because most guides to DPS classes are geared towards those who are looking to maximize. While its fantastic for those on the bleeding edge, for beginners or mid-level players simply looking for how to play their class, its…less then ideal. Seeing all that stuff about breakpoints, when to use Dreadwym Trance, stat weights, etc…It can be kinda overwhelming. Doesn’t help SMN is a rather complex class to begin with.
This guide has the goal of keeping things (relatively) simple, and helping players just learn their class. It’s geared towards more ‘casual’ players. While they may not top DPS charts following this guide, at least they won’t be out DPSed by the Bard or Machinist (who both have lower DPS as a rule), or worse the tank or healer.
Later, once they have the basics down, they can focus on improving and optimizing. But even if they don’t, at least they won’t make dungeons take an eternity using this guide. 😛
P.S. Chotbar=(Cross) Hotbar. I’m going to add stuff concerning controller play later.
**Summoner Pros and Cons**
-Played right, we’re more mobile then Bards, much to their chagrin unfortunately.
-We are the masters of AoE. Dungeon mobs die fast when a SMN is in the party.
-We bring some valuable utility to the group, especially if said group lacks a SCH. We hold the distinction of being the only DPS class able to revive KO’ed players.
-We, along with SCH, are one of the best classes for soloing.
-Akh Morn. ‘Nuff said.
-Our burst is lackluster at best. If you need an add dead now, that responsibility is often going to fall to the other DPS. That’s not to say we aren’t useless during add phases, but it will be very rare that you will finish off an add by yourself.
-While we are currently the AoE kings, we aren’t topping single-target charts anytime soon. I view this as a very fair trade-off.
-SMN is considered one of the hardest classes to play for a reason. However, its less that its hard, and more there’s a lot to keep track of compared to other classes.
Summoner has three main sources of damage: Damage over Time (DoT) attacks, the pet, and oGCDs. The former two, put together, make up the vast majority of our DPS. The last one is the source of much of SMN’s ‘complexity’. A SMN’s basic playstyle is, at its core, an extension of Acanists’ playstyle. Meaning if you learn how to play ACN well early, you’ll have a relatively smooth transition into SMN.
Summoner, and by extension Arcanist, is first and foremost a DoT class. The #1 way players identify a SMN who has no clue what they are doing is their failure to use DoTs. Don’t be that SMN!
We have three main DoTs: Bio (Level 2), Miasma (Level 10), and Bio II (Level 26). If you are just leveling up ACN, do yourself a favor and learn to apply each of these at the start of the battle. Literally, your first set of actions in *any* battle should be casting Bio II->Miasma->Bio (give or take depending on level, naturally). Then, once they are up, *keep them up.* Most say you should reapply them when there are 2 or 3 seconds left, but don’t worry too much about that right now. Just focus on keeping them up on the enemy. (That said, its not the end of the world if they fall off. Its just a minor DPS loss provided you get them back up ASAP.)
When leveling ACN in dungeons pre-level 30, you’ll want to apply DoTs to each enemy in a mob pull individually. Yes, this is time-consuming, and yes this is a pain in the ass. But as our burst sucks this is actually the most productive thing for us to do (alongside Ruin filler once all enemies are DoTed) until we pick up Bane at level 30. Bane is an ability that consumes an Aetherflow stack to spread all your applied DoTs from one enemy, to up to eight other surrounding enemies, effectively allowing you to apply your DoTs to an entire mob at once.
Yes, its as awesome as it sounds. Casting Bane as part of your AoE mob rotation is one of the more satisfying moments playing this class.
Rule #1: NEVER EVER use Topaz Carbuncle/Titan in dungeons. Ever. Just…don’t. As tank pets, not only do they have lesser DPS, their enmity generating abilities screw with the party’s tank, making their life that much more difficult. Tanks have enough to deal with. Don’t add to it.
With that out of the way, while many people talk about ‘micromanaging’ the pet, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. While cutting-edge content will require things like placing the pet right, for the vast majority of content your pet is just fine following you. As ACN, you’ll also do just fine leaving Carbuncle on Sic. Literally the only pet you’ll have on Obey is Garuda-Egi, and that’s to manage her Contagion ability.
Contagion, a level 40 pet ability, adds 15 seconds to the remaining duration of your currently applied DoTs. Yeah, you can see how that’s useful…And to some extent, can see why you would want to control when its used. Put it somewhere on your chotbar once you pick it up at level 40.
Contagion aside, in most content you can safely leave your pet on autopilot. Key word here being ‘most.’ On your chotbar, you are going to want to fit Obey, Sic, and Steady. If you target something and hit Obey/Sic, your pet will attack it (obviously). Use this to Sic the pet on adds during add phases, a useful trick (the butterflies in Ravanna is a prime situation, for example). Or even just make sure its attacking the same thing as the other DPS while you work through your AoE rotation. You don’t *have* to do this if you’re struggling with everything else, but its a good habit to form so you aren’t dead weight during add phases, and helping down singular enemies in a mob quicker. (For instance, if your tank marks an enemy as ‘1’ in a mob, its good practice to Sic/Obey the pet on it.)
Steady is for those occasions where DPS needs to cease. The ‘Heroes in the Halfshell’ guildhest is a prime example. Remember, once you attack on enemy, your pet will keep attacking it until it is dead, or you command it to Steady. A good way to piss off a group is if you don’t Steady your pet on the (admittedly rare) occasions where no one should be DPSing. (Just remember to Obey/Sic it again when/if DPS needs to resume).
*Aetherflow and oGCDs*
oGCD means ‘off Global Cooldown.’ They are instant-cast skills that can be used regardless of the 2.5 GCD in other words. Learning how to weave these in with other skills, especially Ruin II, is a key part of higher level play. I’ll address ‘weaving’ in the upcoming ‘advanced’ section, but don’t worry about it for now. It’s not the priority. Nearly all of SMN’s oGCD’s consume an Aetherflow stack, so AF management is a vital part of the job.
Aetherflow is a 1-minute CD ability you get at ACN level 6. It restores 20% of your MP, and grants you Aetherflow stacks (one at first, two at level 20, and three at level 40). I’ll be frank: When you’re first starting out as ACN, Aetherflow won’t be that big of a deal. You only have one stack, and you only have Energy Drain to use it on. That will change when you hit level 30, but until then, no one will really side-eye you for not spending your stacks as long as you’re keeping up your DoTs. That said, using Energy Drain on bosses or single-targets whenever possible is good practice.
At level 20, we get our first Aetherdam Trait, allowing us to have two stacks of Aetherflow. At level 30, we get one of our defining AoE skills: Bane. I’ve discussed Bane in the DoT section, but it deserves more discussion here. After obtaining Bane, your starting AoE rotation consists of Bio II->Miasma->Bio->Bane. At this point, AF management becomes critical, because you *always* want an AF stack available for Bane. Being without AF stacks and AF still on CD at the start of a pull is one of the worst possible situations for us to be in. Avoid it all costs.
This is the point where you have to start watching your Aetherflow stacks, and your Aetherflow CD. Make sure AF is somewhere on your chotbar, along with Bane. A couple basic tips: 1) Don’t mash Aetherflow if its off CD and you still have Aetherflow stacks left. Especially later when you have more AF abilities, this is a DPS loss in the long run. 2) On the flipside, if you are out of stacks and AF is on CD, mash it the second it comes off.
This is the first real layer of ‘complexity’ in the class comes in, but with enough practice you’ll get the hang of it just fine. (Incidentally, level 30 is also where you gain the SMN job and Ifrit-Egi. However, Ifrit can just be left on Sic/autopilot, so aside from the Sic tip addressed in the Pet section, don’t worry too much about him.)
The 35 SMN quest grants us another AF oGCD ability: Fester. Fester is a single-target attack that does more damage based on how many DoTs you have up, more specifically how many out of Bio II, Miasma, and Bio. Long story short, this is the closest thing we get to single-target burst, especially when paired with Tri-Disaster (more on that a little later). Once you have Fester, your single-target rotation should consist of Bio II->Miasma->Bio->Fester. Key word here being ‘single-target’. For trash pulls in dungeons and other AoE situations, you want to save your Aetherflow stacks for Bane.
At this point, you’ll also want to remove Energy Drain from your chotbar. You aren’t going to be using it unless you are royally shitty at managing your mana, which shouldn’t happen if you’re following this guide.
MUCH later, at level 52, you’ll get Painflare, another AF oGCD ability. While Painflare has uses in ‘optimal’ rotations, since this guide is about keeping relatively simple, all you need to know right now is that it becomes part of your AoE rotation.
*Ruin and Ruin II*
I’m going to keep this short and sweet: Once you pick up Ruin II at level 38, have it replace Ruin on your chotbar. It’s one of *the* main reasons SMN’s are considered ‘mobile’, and after 3.0 it pretty much never causes mana problems in casual play.
I’m going to be brutally honest: I actually neglected Shadowflare for the longest time. I didn’t even realize what it actually was or did until I was into Heavensward content. Don’t copy my example in this instance, ‘kay?
Shadowflare is a level 50 ability that has use in both single-target and AoE situations. Which is to say, it’s part of rotations for both. When you cast Shadowflare, you’ll see a targeting reticule. Position this over the enemy and cast. SF has a long cast time, so in many cases you’ll want to bypass that with Swiftcast (a little more on that in the next section). Just as long as you make sure you use it.
Every DPS class has CDs with which to up their damage, and SMN is no exception. Rule of thumb is: Keep these on CD at ALL TIMES. With the expectation that you are using them properly, of course.
Now, before I continue, there’s something important you should know about DPS CDs in regards to DoTs. To quote the writer of the (other) SMN guide: “DoTs also snapshot all DPS buffs/debuffs currently in play when first applied and run their full duration at the higher number.” Which basically means when played right, DoTs casted while buffed will remain buffed, even once the buff itself falls off your char. This buff remains even if their duration is extended using Contagion.
Now, most of a SMN’s main CDs are pet-related. Which means its as simple as making sure these remain on CD. These abilities are Rouse, Spur, and Enkindle.
SMN itself has one major DPS CD: Raging Strikes. This is a cross-class ability gained by Archer at level 6. Pick this up ASAP if you intend to play SMN seriously.
There’s another crossclass ability that’s mandatory to pick up: Swiftcast. This is obtained by leveling THM to 26. I cannot emphasize this enough: Pick up Swiftcast as soon as possible. You’ll see why soon enough.
SMN shares its base class, Arcanist, with Scholar, a healing class. This had two notable side effects. One was giving SCH ridiculous DPS capabilities for a healer thanks to cross-class Cleric Stance. The other was giving Summoner access to a few support abilities. The most notable of these is Resurrection. I’ll address that last.
The first two support abilities, Virus and Eye for an Eye, are primarily used by healers, either the party SCH or a White Mage that’s cross-classed them. Even if it’s the WHM using them, the SMN has access to the Supervirus and Enhanced Eye for an Eye Traits. Which basically means they have an enhanced Virus and can cast E4E more frequently. In practice, both of these see very little use in casual content, so don’t worry too much about them. You can even get away with not having them on your chotbar. They get a bit more mileage in bleeding edge content, though.
Resurrection, on the other hand, is the opposite story.
We are the only DPS capable of performing a Combat Raise. Unlike with Virus and E4E, having a Swiftcast+Resurrection macro somewhere on your chotbar is mandatory. As someone once said, a Swiftcast Rez can mean the difference between a wipe and a clear. This was in reference to healers, but it applies to Summoners too.
In a four man group, a SMN is a welcome safety net if the healer goes down. Even if it’s not the healer, SMN can easily afford to spend a GCD to Rez someone, especially if said healer is experiencing a crunch, or has recently expanded Swiftcast. In raids and other eight-man content, if things are going south a SMN Rez can make all the difference. If more than two people die in a short span of time, a good SMN will have the decency to Resurrect the third (or gods forbid fourth) once the healers have expended Swiftcast Raising the first two.
Being a career healer, I find it easy to identify opportunities, but it pays to periodically look at the party list. If someone is either A) Not rezzed within a couple minutes or B) You see one of the healers hard-casting Resurrection/Raise/Ascend, you’ll be doing a *huge* service by jumping in with the Rez. As a perk, it will often earn you a commendation too!
The occasions you use Resurrection may be relatively rare, but when you do it will almost always be a literal matter of life or death for the entire party.
**Rotations (Plus Deadwyrm Trance and Deathflare)**
Rotation time! Again, I emphasize, these are not ‘optimal’. These are simply ‘good enough.’ Focus on being good enough, then you can go for ‘optimal’ once you’re comfortable. Or not. You’ll meet non-Alex Savage DPS checks using these, at least (Tell me if you don’t, and I’ll adjust accordingly).
Rouse+Spur+Enkindle->Raging Strikes->(Bio II->Miasma->Bio)/(Tri-Disaster)->Contagion->Fester->Swiftcast+Shadowflare->Ruin II filler. From here, refresh DoTs as needed, use Fester everytime it comes off CD, and try your best to keep up Shadowflare.
The SMN quest at level 56 will grant you Tri-Disaster, a 1-minute CD that instantly applies all three of your main DoTs (Bio, Miasma, and Bio II). This should replace hardcasting of your DoTs at the start of your rotation. Hard-casting should be reserved for refreshing your DoTs. You should *always* make sure to use Raging Strike with Tri-Disaster+Contagion.
At level 58, you’ll pick up Dreadwyrm Trance. How DWT works is simple: Every time you use an Aetherflow Stack (through Fester, Bane, Painflare, or Energy Drain) you gain a stack of Aethertrail Attunement. This last for 30 seconds until you ‘refresh’ it by spending another AF, gaining another AA stack in the process (up to three).
Once you have three Aethertrail Attunement stacks, you can enter Dreadwyrm Trance. DWT lasts for 15 seconds and can be summed up in two words: Ruin III spam. Mind you, this is incredibly potent single-target damage and feels incredibly satisfying.
Ideally, you should also be keeping up your DoTs while in DWT. But in practice I myself am horrible at this, and last I heard theorycrafters say casting anything other then Ruin III or Bio II within DWT is actually a potency/DPS loss. I’m no theorycrafter, but my point is, don’t feel guilty about letting your DoTs fall off while in DWT. Just so long as you refresh them once DWT ends.
And at level 60, you pick up Deathflare, a.k.a Akh Morn. Akh Morn, FYI, was the name of the ‘tank buster’ (read: unprepared group killer) used by Bahamut Prime, the final boss of the Final Coil of Bahamut. Deathflare looks awesome, feels awesome, and *never* gets old.
You can only use Deathflare in DWT, and doing so immediately ends DWT. The key to DWT, in other words, is to cast Ruin III as many times as possible, then let off Deathflare before the Trance ends. Ideally, this is done with 2 or 3 seconds left, but between Ruin III cast time, dodging, and my own subpar reflexes, I tend to do it with 4 or 6 seconds left more often than not. If you feel like you can’t get off another Ruin III before DWT ends, just go ahead and use Deathflare.
(Bio II->Miasma->Bio)/(Tri-Disaster)->Contagion->Bane->Swiftcast+Shadowflare->Painflare->Miasma II->Blizzard II filler
You’ll pick up Blizzard II as part of getting Swiftcast, and you’ll want to cross-class it. Both Blizzard II and Miasma II are ‘melee’ range, so you need to get up by the mobs to use them. Just make sure to watch your feet for AoEs.
Many of the same things concerning DWT in single-target apply here but I’ll be brutally honest: I’ve found it awkward at best to fit into my AoE rotation. It’s mostly because you’re abruptly shifting from Painflare/Blizzard II AoE to intense Ruin III single target. Tips about this would be greatly appreciated.
Make sure you’re focusing on the same enemy as the other DPS, and you’ll be fine. And naturally, the things said about Deathflare above apply here too.
-Making an editing pass and likely adding stuff like useful macros. I also need to add an explanation about Ruin III.
-Eventually making an ‘advanced’ section for those who’ve mastered the basics and are now looking to improve their numbers and game in general. This will be an ‘extension’ of what’s already here.