10/10/16 - Added parse images.
The goal of this build is to absolutely max out the damage of a lightning staff heavy attack. Since it's difficult to compete with stamina builds on single target damage, this build instead focuses on insane AOE damage, with side effects of amazing durability, infinite sustain, and significant group dps buffs.
To run this build effectively you have to be a Dragonknight, that 40% damage increase from Molten Armaments is impossible to replace.
Ideal would likely be an Altmer with an honorable mention for Dunmer, looking primarily for the Max Magicka and Shock Damage boosts. On the other hand, it’s effective with any race. I run it on an Imperial and it works great.
All in Max Magicka
Vampire / Werewolf
I like being a vampire for this build. The extra regen is great and the sneak speed can be helpful in some circumstances, but the big advantage is the up to 33% damage reduction from Undeath. This reduction applies to damage shields, so if your health gets low and you get a shield up, that shield is effectively up to 33% stronger. This is offset a bit by the extra vulnerability to fire, but in most cases gives added resilience.
5x Infallible Aether
5x Sergeant’s Mail
1x Charged destruction staff with lightning enchant
1x Sharpened Maelstrom Lightning Staff
Infallible Aether drops in Aetherian Archive, Hel Ra Citadel, and Sanctum Ophidia, with an increased chance on veteran difficulty.
Sergeant’s Mail drops in Wayrest Sewers or can be purchased in Vlastarus for Alliance Points
For best outcomes, run Sergeant’s Mail in jewelry, chest, and one more big piece (head, shoulders, legs, or feet). That way, you’ll get the most armor and still have 5L2H. That means you need 5x Infallible Aether all in armor pieces, no jewelry allowed.
All armor should be divines with Max Magicka enchants, Spell Power enchants on the jewelry.
If you don’t have a Sharpened Maelstrom lightning staff, run either a different Maelstrom lightning staff or any Sharpened lightning staff. Damage will be a bit less, but still amazing.
Second staff can be any element and any set, but must be a destruction staff, must be Charged, and must have a Lightning Glyph.
Stalwart Guard - many Magicka dps builds run Rearming or Lightweight Trap to get that critical Minor Force buff. In this case, the extra durability from Sergeant’s Mail makes it practical to guard another Magicka dps, giving both perpetual Minor Force.
Dampen Magicka - since we don’t really need to worry about sustain, choose the morph with more damage. With 100 points in Bastion, this should give you a 17-18k shield. Pop it after every lightning channel when things get dangerous.
Molten Armaments - the 40% buff to heavy attacks here is critical, as well as the 20% increase to Spell Power. Keep this up 100% of the time.
Elemental Blockade - with a Maelstrom staff, this adds damage to every heavy tick and also sets concussed enemies off-balance, which is critically important (see Concussed / Off-Balance section below).
Inner Light - standard Magicka fare, increase your Max Magicka, increase your damage
Shooting Star - I like this morph better than Ice Comet since you’ll often have a DK running Engulfing Flames, so the extra fire damage and Ultimate return is nice. However, this is not a flame build, so either morph works great.
Stalwart Guard - keep this on both bars so it doesn’t drop when you swap
4x Flex Spots - I’ll often run chains,burning embers (for self heals), deep breath / crushing shock (for interrupts), eruption / flames of oblivion (for extra damage). Can also run Inner Light on this bar if you have the space.
Standard of Might - extra 20% damage done, reduced 20% dave taken. Hard to beat.
Magicka Cost - 100 points
Magicka Regen - 70 points
Heavy Attack Return - 17 points
Elemental Expert - 100
Thaumaturge - 75
Staff Expert - 10
Elfborn - 1
Spell Penetration - 1
Bastion - 100
Hardy - 43
Elemental Defender - 43
Think Skinned - 1
The mage points are the most optimized though there is likely room for improvement. Elemental Expert is the most important since it increasing both the base damage of a lightning attack and the splash damage from the Tri-Focus passive. The 75 points in Thaumaturge are to get the Exploiter passive for 10% extra damage against enemies that are Off-Balance.
Haven't calculated an exact balance between heavy attack return and Magicka regen, but i’m guessing that for this build having at least a few points in heavy return is worthwhile.
Standard Max Health and Max Magicka is still best. With the health and armor boosts from Sergeant's Mail, you could actually get away with green Max Magicka food for absolutely maximum dps, but in most cases the extra durability is still worth the slight decrease in Max Magicka.
Since the main filler for this build restores Magicka, you can do most content just fine with no potions or with simple dropped Magicka potions. For serious end-game content, nothing works better than tri-pots.
The rotation with this build is pretty simple. First, find someone to Guard and Guard them. Second, keep Molten Armaments up. Third, cast Elemental Blockade on the Maelstrom staff, swap to the Charged staff, hit the enemy with a weapon attack (Light attack, medium attack, or weapon ability) to proc the lightning enchant, swap back to the Maelstrom staff and do two full heavy channels, then start back with another Elemental Blockade. That's the full rotation, works for both single target and AOE.
Concussed / Off-Balance
To get the absolute highest DPS from this build, you have to understand the Concussed and Off-Balance status effects. Most lightning damage attacks have a chance to make an enemy Concussed, but a lightning damage glyph has the highest chance at 20%. The destruction staff passives increase this to 40%, and a gold charged trait in a destruction staff increases the chance to 84%, which means it will proc most of the time.
One an enemy is Concussed, Lightning Wall of Elements will set the Off-Balance. Your goal is to keep enemies Off-Balance as much as possible. While an enemy is Off-Balance, they take something like 40% extra damage from heavy attack, 15% extra damage from bow and dual wield attacks, and 10% extra damage from anyone with the Exploiter passive. For a typical trials group, this comes together as 5-15% extra damage while the enemy is Off-Balance. If your group typically does 200k, that’s an extra 10-30k groups DPS, just by setting the opponent Off-Balance.
In an AOE setting, if you can set one target Off-Balance and then channel heavy attacks on that target, all of the other nearby enemies will also take increased damage. Under ideal circumstances, direct damage can get as high as 30k per tick and secondary damage can get to 40k per tick per target, which is how total AOE damage can spike over 100-200k DPS. Secondary damage does depend on proximity, so more damage the closer hey are to the primary target. The highest I’ve seen sustained is about 66k over a long fight (the gauntlet in vMoL).
I don't have fully optimized gear yet, this was with one infused piece instead of divines, and with a precise maelstrom staff instead of sharpened. Also this run was before One Tamriel, so 531 CP instead of 561.
None of these were ideal fights, under better circumstances and with more practice I expect to get up to 35-40k on the single-target fights and 65-70k on the long AOE fights.
For Maelstrom, I use the same build as general PVE, with a few changes to the skills. My highest score so far is 515k, which is top 70 or so on PC NA.
Replace Stalwart Guard with Dragonscale Wings, since Maelstrom is solo, there’s no one to guard.
Eruption, Burning Embers, Crushing Shock, Rearming Trap, Flames of Oblivion, Standard of Might
Put down trap, eruption, and flames when you have a chance for extra damage, use burning embers when you need a heal, crushing shock for interrupts, and normal rotation in between. For the ninth Arena, swap both ultimates for Magma Armor.
In a PVP setting, this build excels in group play, the larger the better. When I go into PVP, I typically use the same gear, champion points, and skills as in Maelstrom Arena.
Most players in PVP run impenetrable, but for this build, I depend mostly on shields (can’t be crit), and on staying at maximum range. As a result you hit hard and have decent durability, but you’re not a tank, so don’t try to play like one.
Thanks to @Asayre for help with the formulas for heavy attack damage. Thanks to @pretzl and @Nosferatuzod for inspiration from their great magdk builds. Thanks to @Toast_STS for the tip to try Sergeant's Mail. And finally thanks to the wonderful folks in STD that let me try out crazy builds in competitive trials runs.