Building a Diablo III Wizard to solo Inferno difficulty

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With patch 1.04's new paragon level system, there's been a definite increase in the number of people getting back to playing Diablo III. Every class was buffed in the patch, and only a small handful of skills and items were nerfed, leaving everyone to pore over the skill windows and come up with new builds. Barbarians definitely made it out of the patch in the best shape, with huge buffs to Bash and Rend, buffs to two-handed weapons, and a whole host of new legendary weapons to aim for. Wizards, on the other hand, weren't so lucky.

For all the buffs described in the 1.04 wizard preview devblog, not much has really changed. The Energy Twister nerf backfired hilariously, and all of the underpowered spells and runes that were buffed are still pretty useless. Energy Armor is still a mandatory skill, most Wizards are still running Critical Mass builds, and the new legendaries aimed at Wizards don't seem to make any sense from an itemisation standpoint. So how should you build a solo Wizard in 1.04?

In this guide, I detail three highly effective Wizard builds and give tips on gearing for each of them following patch 1.04.

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Before the patch, most Wizards were running Critical Mass tank builds that allowed them to stay safe in melee range and deal 10 times the DPS stated on their character sheets. 1.04 nerfed the proc coefficient on Energy Twister in an effort to discourage use of this build, but the nerf didn't turn out as planned. The Storm Chaser rune unexpectedly had its proc coefficient doubled instead of halved, making Energy Twister builds more powerful than they were before the patch.

The core of the build is the Critical Mass passive, which lowers all active cooldowns by one second every time you get a critical hit. If you combine that with a high critical chance, you can rapidly reset the cooldowns on Diamond Skin, Frost Nova, and Explosive Blast to provide damage reduction, keep enemies frozen, and deal insane area-effect damage. The proc chance of Critical Mass is based on each spell's proc coefficient; with its coefficient of 0.5, each tick of Energy Twister: Storm Chaser that crits has a 50% chance to lower your cooldowns for each enemy in its area.

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Gearing for a twister build

To run this build, you'll want to get as high a crit chance as possible and aim for about 15-20 Arcane Power on Crit. With enough of both stats, the twisters will be effectively free to cast as they'll generate more arcane power than they consume. That excess arcane power fuels Explosive Blast spam, which is where most of the build's damage comes from. In combat, just spam Energy Twister, Diamond Skin, Frost Nova and Explosive Blast. Use Teleport to move between groups of trash and reposition yourself to avoid arcane sentries, desecrate circles, frozen explosions and molten blasts.

You can get up to 10 Arcane Power on Crit on a wand, 10 more on a Wizard source, and 10 more on a Wizard helm. You can afford to drop one of these items and still get the 15-20 Arcane Power on Crit you need. Dropping the source for a shield will decrease your damage significantly in exchange for a lot more survivability, and a standard helm or dagger will usually be cheaper than a Wizard hat or wand. Both rare shields and helms can roll 1.5% higher crit chance than their Wizard-specialised counterparts. Aim for a weapon with high attack speed (a wand, sword, or dagger), a socket for an emerald, and at least 400 Life on Hit.

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Kiting builds have been popular since D3 launched but have proven less effective now that most players are progressing through Inferno. They work fine in act 1 where all the monsters are relatively slow, but further acts have a lot of monsters that leap, fire ranged attacks, phase until they get into melee range or are just plain faster than you. The main problem with kiting is that you lose a lot of DPS time to running away. That might be fine if we needed time to regenerate resources, but signature spells are free and Arcane Power on Crit can make arcane power an effectively limitless resource.

A standard kiting build uses Blizzard to slow enemies and deal area-effect damage and either Piercing Orb or Arcane Orb to finish monsters off. Most builds use Hydra for its massive damage that continues and applies slows to enemies while you move. The Frost Hydra snares enemies by default, and Arcane Hydra will apply a 30% slow if you have the Temporal Flux passive. Since 1.04, Arcane Hydra is by far the best option for a kiting build as it deals considerable area-effect damage and its slow stacks with Blizzard. Teleport and other defensive cooldowns won't always be available, so expect to die occasionally to snakes, phase beasts, ranged monsters, and elites with the Fast, Vortex, Teleporter, or Jailer affixes.

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Gearing for a kiting build

Unlike in Diablo II, gear in Diablo III isn't much of a customisation system as there's no major specialisation or tactical tradeoffs to make. There are only a few stats available on any item type that a given class will want, so your goal is to just stack all of them at the same time. Get as much int, critical chance, and critical damage as you can, and then try to stack as much armour, all resist, and vitality as possible. Getting 12% move speed on your boots is a must for kiting, and if you're made of money, there are a few legendaries with move speed.

Since the patch, you're best off using a two-hander with over 1,000 DPS, at least 300 int, over 150% crit damage, and a socket for the additional 50-100% crit damage from an emerald. You don't need a weapon that good, but it should be easily available as the maximum rolls are over 1,300 DPS, 595 int, and 200% crit damage. The two-hander is good because Blizzard's damage is based on your base damage and doesn't scale with attack speed. It also makes for silly big hits with Arcane Orb and Piercing Orb, often killing normal monsters in one hit. Since you have limited time to stand still and cast while kiting, every cast has to pack the biggest punch possible.

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Every Wizard knows the joys of instantly melting hordes of monsters with Archon Form, but the huge monster hitpoint pools and damage make it a lot less effective once you get to Inferno. To successfully pull off an Archon build in Inferno, you need a lot of DPS and a ton of defensive stats; this is a build exclusively for people with great gear. Archon lasts for 15 seconds but extends for one second for every monster killed, so your goal is to move quickly around the map while instantly vapourising everything you come across.

Evocation and Critical Mass help reduce the cooldown of Archon so that it'll be ready to recast as soon as it ends. If it isn't ready immediately, use Energy Twister to proc Critical Mass and reduce the remaining cooldown. Prismatic Armor and Archon together give you 105% bonus armour and 80% bonus resistances, so you can take a few hits if you have decent gear. Apply Prismatic Armor, Magic Weapon, and Familiar before casting Archon and remember to refresh them every time they wear off. Magic Weapon: Electrify will deal more damage to large groups, the Venom rune will deal more to single targets, and Force Weapon is a compromise that just adds another 5% damage to every hit.

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Gearing for an Archon build

As with any build, aim to get as high int, crit chance, and crit damage as you can and stack as much armour, all resist and vitality as you can find. You'll need a minimum of 50k DPS to efficiently farm beyond act 1 of Inferno, and aim for around 4,000 armour and 500 in every resist before buffs and Archon bonuses. Any health regeneration on your gear will be a significant bonus since it's multiplied in effectiveness by your high damage reduction. Since patch 1.04, some of the stats on two-handed weapons have been doubled. Grab a two hander with over 1,000 DPS, 5-6% lifesteal, a socket, and at least 150% crit damage.

The conventional wisdom is that Life on Hit will always vastly outperform lifesteal because all lifesteal is reduced by 80% in Inferno difficulty, but this isn't quite accurate. Each spell has a particular DPS breakpoint beyond which lifesteal will come out on top, and for Archon's beam spell, that's about 30-40k. Don't be tempted by the bonus 1.5% lifesteal from Magic Weapon: Blood Magic, as reports that it isn't subject to the 80% Inferno nerf are false. It also doesn't work with some spells that regular lifesteal does work with, and unfortunately, the Archon beam is one of them.

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These aren't the only builds that will work, but they're extensively battle-tested, and most successful solo Inferno Wizards are using some variation of them. Swapping Teleport in a twister build for Mirror Images: Mirror Mimics will keep monsters stunned and frozen almost 100% of the time. Kiting builds sometimes use Mirror Images to break out of Frozen and Jailer traps, and players often use different Hydra runes and signature spells. Archon builds can sometimes keep higher uptime by using Archon: Teleport, and some highly geared players even drop Energy Armor for Storm Armor: Scramble to get a bonus to movement speed.

Players often report success with bizarre alternative builds that aren't based on Archon, kiting, or critical mass, but it invariably turns out that they've got over 50k DPS. At that point, practically any build will work, and Archon becomes one of the most effective options. New Wizards are usually advised to use a kiting build to farm Inferno act 1 until they have the gear to use a critical mass build, and then use that to farm acts 1, 2 and 3 until they have enough DPS to go Archon. Alternatively, you could play with a few friends and go for a full glass cannon DPS build since you don't need to worry about tanking or kiting everything.