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SWTOR Vanguard PvP Guide

This information presented here is given with the intent to educate players in preparation for Warzones. I took the now-deceased guide Taugrim wrote (as he has since left SWTOR), rewrote vast tracts of it and updated it for 1.3, with some notes for my opinions on things given my experience. I will continue to update this in the future.

The primary focus of this will be for Shield Specialist specced Vanguards, with as much information towards other builds as I have garnered through experience and research. I will defer to Batty for most input on the DPS side of the fence. (As well as, honestly, the tank side!)

If you have any ideas, comments or arguments, please post it in this thread!

The topics will be:
Overview of the Vanguard
Vanguard Talent Trees
Stat Focuses
Specs Recommended
Gear Recommended
How Your Ammo Works
How Your Attacks Work
How Your Survival Works
How Your Utilities Work
How To Survive
DPS Priority System

1. Overview of the Vanguard
Vanguard is the Trooper advanced class that can either perform melee DPS or tank.

I am often asked by people which they should play, the Commando or the Vanguard, and often asked specifically with PvP in mind.

With that said, here is my official input:

Vanguard is the way to go for PvP if:
You prefer mobility in combat. There are very few channels (Mortar Volley, Pulse Cannon) that you will be utilizing.
You like to control/shutdown healers or casters with in-your-face interrupts, including...
You like to have maneuvering control for the enemy team. This pull is a beautiful thing, for all specs of Vanguards.
You prefer to mix it up in close quarters combat.
You want to tank.
You don't mind that, while on objectives, you get to play pin-cushion for all of the enemy casters.

Conversely, Commando is the way to go for PvP if:
You like healing.
You want to be a cannon of destruction from a distance, comfortable at 30m.
You would prefer a knockback to a pull.
You don't mind face-tanking for the win by letting people beat you while you stand still. A stationary cannon of destruction.

Personally, I think Vanguard is more my own style; I leap around, strafe enemies, run-and-gun, protect my friends, shut down healers, pull and leap and do AoE splashes to shut down an entire team of enemies from objectives for a second... it's just more my own thing. However, as in all things, Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV!)

2. Vanguard Talent Trees
The Vanguard AC has three trees; one for tanking, two for DPS.

Shield Specialist is the Tanking tree. It should be no surprise that this tree focuses less on damage and more on increasing mitigation and protection, giving you the ability to stay standing for longer. It also provides an enemy leap (Storm), an AoE stun, enemy debuffs and the ability to Guard allies effectively. Utilizes Ion Cell.
-Ion Cell: Required for tanking, utilizing guard, so on. Increases shield chance and provides a damage proc from all attacks.

Tactics is one of the two DPS trees. This tree is far more dependant on melee combat ranged compared to the last spec. It provides increased movement speed, very strong CC, multiple snares and faster ammo regen. This build focuses on elemental/internal damage and crit. It suffers in DPS compared to the Assault Specialist mostly due to the requirement of its High-Energy Cell, which seems to underperform, as well as the lack of ranged capability.
-High Energy Cell: DPS stance increases Elemental/Internal damage (unmitigated by armor!)

Assault Specialist is the last of the two DPS trees. The tree focuses on damage-over-time effects and High Impact Bolt. It has inferior energy regen compared to either two specs, so it requires tighter focus from the player. This spec allows you to be beyond 10m with some effect, giving great closing DPS to melee and the ability to even temporarily ignore being melee at all. Very versatile in these regards. It also possesses a spammable snare effect, high damage through its Plasma cell and its own benefits. It suffers for lack of increased run speed or a charge.
-Plasma Cell: DPS stance provides 6-second Elemental DoT on proc from all attacks (unmitigated by armor!)

Let's go over some of the more "must have" and "must not have" PvP talents in the trees.

Shield Specialist
Static Field: While the debuff is nice for PVP, this talent is subpar based on what other abilities it competes with.
Rebraced Armor is (at best) optional as it buffs Armor, which only works for 2 of the 4 damage types
Shield Cycler requires 1/2 at most, given the internal cooldown and because Shield is a weak mechanic in PVP. See the Defense Mechanics section for the limitations of Shield
Ceramic Plating should be skipped for PVP
Defensive Measures is must-have for PVP
Supercharged Ion Cell can be skipped for PVP
Ion Shield, given the weakness of the Shield mechanic in PVP, is a solid choice for PVP as well
Storm! is must-have for PVP
Counterattack and Power Screen will only be taken if you are trying to reach the 31-pt ability Energy Blast.

Containment Tactics is solid for PVP prior to getting the AOE stun, but take your pick of this talent or Power Armor in the next tier
Blaster Augs is an excellent talent when running High Energy Cell or Plasma Cell but is optional if you’re using Ion Cell.
Power Armor is a solid choice, as it provides 2% mitigation against all damage types
If you are running High Energy Cell: the Battlefield Training is must-have for PVP, and Cell Generator is must-have also.
Serrated Blades + Combat Tactics: this is a controversial choice for PVP. Serrated Blades only buffs the DoT portion of Gut by 15%, so that’s a poor return for 3 talent points. Combat Tactics is a good talent, but keep in mind that unless you spec 18 points into Assault Specialist, you’re only going to be able to use High Impact Bolt at most once every 15 seconds. For this reason for a heavy Tactics build (i.e. > 23 points) I recommend skipping these talents.
Pulse Generator is a must-have for PVP due to the 70% snare. As of patch 1.3, the snare effect is now working correctly for Vanguard
Hamstring is worth the point if you invested up through Combat Tactics.
Hold the Line is must-have for PVP.
Shock Absorbers is a decent talent for PVP.

Assault Specialist
Soldier’s Endurance is a good talent for PVE tanking, but for PVP, if you are investing 18 points in the tree to get Ionic Accelerator talent but are not using Plasma Cell, this talent makes sense to take so that you don’t waste talent points in Ionized Ignition. However, this isn't terribly optimal for most builds, and definitely is not for Tank specs.
Parallactic Combat Stims is a useful talent for managing Ammo.
Nightvision Scope provides not only better Stealth Scan capability but also increased avoidance against Melee and Ranged attacks (but not against Force or Tech attacks). Might be worth a point.
Degauss adds a root/snare-breaking effect to Reactive Shield which is situationally useful. That being said, my experience is that Nightvision Scope provides better utility in PVP, so I take that talent over Degauss to open up the 4th tier of the tree
Rapid Recharge is valuable in PVE for sustained DPS in long boss fights. It is also a very good choice for PVP
Reflexive Shield is useful for PVP. Given the internal cooldown, you get the most bang for your buck at 1 talent point. In a premade context with a pocket healer, you can pass on this talent.
You can skip Adrenaline Fueled.
Assault Plastique should be taken for full 31+ builds. Keep in mind that this ability replaces the base Sticky Grenade and they share the 15-sec cooldown

3. Stat Focuses:
Firstly, let's make something clear - there is such a thing as "Diminishing Returns". The stats below give general facts, but they vary depending on how close you are to a given DR. All “secondary” stats, with the exception of Power, have diminishing returns.

I can give you some fun charts off of MMO-Mechanics, but for people who hate math, these are the approximate “soft caps” for some of the secondary stats:
Crit Rating: ~400 (continues to be functional until 35% pre-buff)
Expertise: ~800 (continues to be amazing even in DRs until ~1500)
Power: N/A, scales linearly
Surge Rating: ~200 (chart for new scaling in 1.1.3, continues to be functional until 75% pre-buff)
Ignore Alacrity, it's not for you.
As my opinion, the Defensive secondary stats should not be particularly aimed for. Opinions do differ, I will eventually put those stats weights in here too.

Past these ratings, you approach increasingly reduced effects point for point. These are not hard caps - but you should try to balance things to these levels before pushing harder against a DR elsewhere for maximum effect.

Primary stats: Aim = Endurance, favor one over the other for damage vs time-to-live. I prefer Aim over Endurance.
Secondary stats:
DPS builds: Expertise > Power = Crit Rating > Surge Rating = Accuracy Rating
Tank: Expertise > Power > Crit Rating > Surge Rating > Accuracy Rating > Defense Rating = Shield Rating > Absorb Rating
For specs with 18+ points in Assault Spec, please note that Accuracy Rating is an important stat, and you should not replace what comes on PVP gear. You need that Accuracy to make sure your High Impact Bolt hits, as it is a white damage attack.

4. Gear Recommended
PVP Sets
There are 3 tiers of current PVP gear
Recruit: full set of purchasable blue gear for fresh 50 characters for ~320k credits. A token was provided to all current 50s; I do not know if this is true for all new 50s.
Battlemaster: purchasable via normal Warzone commendations. Easy enough to farm from regular, unranked Warzones.
War Hero: purchaseable via Ranked Warzone commendations. This is farmed from regular Warzone Commendations being converted to RWZ, or from weeklies/dailies for PvP, or from Ranked War Zones. The armor and weapon slots require that you trade-in the corresponding Battlemaster piece.

There are 3 sets to consider for the Vanguard (in alphabetical order) and their set bonuses:

Combat Tech
2-pc: +0.5 seconds to duration of PBAoE stun, reduces CC breaker cooldown by 15 sec
4-pc: +15% Crit Chance to Stockstrike

2-pc: N/A
4-pc: +15% Crit Chance to High Impact Bolt

2-pc: -1.5 second to cooldown for Energy Blast and Storm
4-pc: +5% damage while Guarding

Which 4-pc set bonus do you pursue? With Patch 1.3, the decision is simple and based on your primary tree:
Shield Specialist: Combat Tech or Supercommando. Combat Tech provides all DPS benefitting stats, which works 100% of the time in PvP, versus Supercommando's tank-benefitting stats, which works (at best) 50% of the time in PvP. The gains are clear and worthwhile.
Tactics: Combat Tech
Assault Specialist: Eliminator

Aside from the 4-pc set bonus, for a given slot take pieces based on the stat prioritization.

If you are running the tanking stance, you can not Shield unless you have a Shield offhand equipped, so use a Shield offhand.
If you are not using the tanking stance, use a Generator offhand.

If you are a Shield Specialist, do pick up both the Defense relics to make you dodge a decent amount. This and the off-hand should be your only tank pieces if you gear towards DPS (via Combat Tech gear). For those who gear tank-styled, well, you're going to already!

5. Recommended Specs:
Tank Specs for PvP ranked in order of helpfulness, from most to least.
31-pt Shield Specialist DPS Focus:
31-pt Shield Specialist Utility Focus:
31-pt Shield Specialist Defensive Focus:
21-pt Shield Specialist "Iron Fist" Build: (this does not do much more damage than the DPS Focus Tank Spec and for less utility).

Assault Specialist spec: - this spec is very versatile, and there are too many variations to name. Parallactic Combat Stims can be dropped for Nightvision Scope or Degauss, if Energy is doing well, you can also consider dropping Rapid Charge for 2 points in the other one of those two or Reflexive Shield. You can deprioritize Elemental Damage bonus and put points into Blaster Augs. You can deprioritize elemental crit percentage and gain some increase to your Aim stat. Et cetera.

Batty has some new hotness. I await that.

6. How Your Ammo Works
The energy system for the Troopers is very distinctive in its function. They and Smugglers share a system that can be considered "tiered energy regeneration". The energy regeneration rate is faster the more full you keep the energy bar. Each ability takes up some of your "ammo", and time (as well as some abilities) refill the bar.

So this non-linear energy depletion means that you want to manage it carefully. You can see on your bar a little icon, it shows one of these icons denoting the following energy regen:
> - this indicates you are at the lowest regeneration rate.
>> - the second lowest.
>>> - the third lowest. It is OK to dip here if you only dip a little into it; you will lose only one tick, often enough, of your highest regeneration rate, but if you are in this zone you need to prioritize low-cost and free-cast abilities for a moment unless you plan to hit a cooldown.
>>>> - this is the sweet spot, and if you are over 70% energy you're pretty much safe.

So, those cooldowns: we have an on-demand ability on a base 2 min cooldown called Recharge Cells that will increase your ammo over a few seconds.

We also get the ability Reserve Powercell that causes the next ability to not consume Ammo. For maximum efficiency, activate RP before a 3 Ammo ability.

There are talents that boost your ability to regen Ammo or reduce the cost of specific abilities:
Shield Specialist: Shield Cycler provides a chance to regen 1 Ammo when you shield an attack. The 31-pt ability is off the global cooldown and regens 1 Ammo
Tactics: Cell Generator regens 1 Ammo every 6 seconds and is awesome. Flame Barrage can make your next Stockstrike free
Assault Specialist: this tree has two excellent tools that revolve around High Impact Bolt. High Friction Bolts halves the cost of High Impact Bolt. Ionic Accelerator makes the next High Impact Bolt free. Parallactic Combat Stims regens 1 Ammo every time you are stunned, rooted, knocked down, or incapacitated.

A special note for Assault Specialist: before 1.2, as some guides tell you, it made sense to apply a burn effect on a target within 10 meters with Ion Pulse instead of Incendiary Round, because Ion Pulse delivered more damage in a shorter timeframe, cost less, applied a snare effect, and could trigger the Accelerator talent to make the subsequent High Impact Bolt free.

However, in Patch 1.2, an internal 6-sec cooldown was added to the Accelerator talent, so you want to trigger the proc only when your High Impact Bolt has been used and is on cooldown. Remember, even if your High Impact Bolt is not on cooldown, by using Ion Pulse or Stockstrike, you can trigger the Accelerator talent.

Therefore, in some cases you may want to open on a target with Incendiary Round on your target instead of Ion Pulse, despite the higher cost.

7. How Your Attacks Work
The Vanguard utilizes four kinds of damage: Elemental, Kinetic, Weapon (which comes as Energy) and Elemental damage.

Elemental damage tends to be superior because Armor does not mitigate it. Additionally, because our Elemental attacks are classifeid as Tech, they are un-Dodgeable and un-Shieldable.

The Shield Specialist AC is best at 10m, as is Tactics (and to a lesser degree AS) because of our core 10m ranged Elemental attack Ion Pulse. Especially for Shield and Tactic, many abilities revolve around this Ion Pulse ability. Other elemental attacks are Plasma Cell procs and Incendiary Rounds, both utilized by the Assault Specialist AC.

Then there's the two channeled AoE abilities we use (please don't use the third one; if I don't name it, pretend it doesn't exist) - Mortar Volley and Pulse Cannon. Pulse Cannon is a lot tougher to use, as a 10m conal AoE that deals very impressive single-target damage as well. You can roate while channeling it, but not move a direction. It's perfect for stationary targets such as on nodes. It's instant-cast channeled too, so effective immediately against clickers. MV is the tougher one to use, allowing set-up time and plenty of targets. Additionally, Tactics allows for a 5-stacked buff to Pulse Cannon that does a 70% snare. Perfect for many moments.

One of our key ranged abilities, we have the 30m ranged burst ability in High Impact Bolt. It has a 15 sec cooldown (that resets via Ionic Accelerator for Assault Specialists). The most important talents for buffing the damage on a HIB cast are the 60% armor penetration in the middle tree and the 30% armor penetration 12-pt talent in the right tree – and these armor penetration talents stack additively.

There is a delay before the damage from Sticky Grenade triggers, but in PVP this is awesome as you’ll generate spike damage from the damage trigger plus other abilities.

The cooldown Battle Focus boosts Ranged Crit Chance and Tech Crit Chance by 25% for 15 seconds. BF is off the GCD.

However, there are some damaging abilities you need to be careful with:
Explosive Surge: this PBAoE ability has high ammo requirement and very low damage output without the talents in the tanking tree. For AoE damage situations, without being specced for it (and even then), MV and PC are typically better options in terms of damage. The use cases for this ability are for tank-spec’d players to debuff the damage of multiple opponents, to damage opponents trying to cap a flag, or to build up to 5 stacks of Pulse Generator. Also note that the range of the PBAoE is 5m, so your targets need to be near-melee range. The best use of this (and should absolutely be done every time, barring CCed nearby opponents) is to use Storm as a tank-spec, then double-spam the free Explosive Surges available to you (assuming specced into it).
Explosive Round: this instant-cast ranged AoE ability deals low damage relative to the high energy cost so don’t spam it. It is an effective tool for preventing a node cap, especially when you are closing the distance to multiple opponents capping a node.
Full Auto: this is a channeled 3-sec ability. As discussed above, this is a highly-mobile spec that tends to be most effective when within 10m of your target. This ability is a long self-root and it can be interrupted. There is only 1 talent across all 3 trees that buffs this ability, and that’s in the Assault Specialist tree. The main use case where this ability makes sense is when you are at long-range from a target who will remain in your field-of-fire for 3 seconds and your Sticky Grenade and High Impact Bolt are on cooldown and you have no ability to gap-close via either a pull (must remain off CD, or on CD) or Storm (on cooldown, don't have Storm), and you can't cross the distance to them without losing a node. Which is to say: this is an ability you should not use.

8. How Your Survival Works
Vanguards, at least 1/3 of them, are the tanking Troopers. Even the other 2/3 have a surprising amount of survivability going on. So, herein we'll explain to you how that all works.

Here are the terms we're going to learn to love:
Avoidance is... Not being hit.
Mitigation is... Minimizing the damage you take from hits.

In SWTOR, we utilize a 2-roll system that determines the outcome of opponent's attacks. The first roll is To Hit, accuracy versus defense. If the attacker misses, damage does not occur. If he misses because he rolled badly, it says MISS. If he missed because of the defense being high enough, it usually says DODGE, PARRY, DEFLECT or RESIST.

On the other hand, if they hit, then there is an additional roll made with the crit chance versus the shield chance to determine if a crit occurs or a shield occurs. Both can not occur. If it is a crit, the damage is modified Up (based on Surge, then mitigated by Absorb), if it is a Shield, it is modified Down (based on Absorb as well as Shield Absorb). A critical can never be shielded. An attacker with high enough crit can make Shielding impossible. This is not possible long-term, but some buffs on some abilities can stack to maek this occur.

Avoidance has three categories, as listed in the Defense Chance tooltip:
Melee Dodge: base of 5%, boosted by Defense, talents, and buffs
Ranged Dodge: base of 5%, boosted by Defense, talents, and buffs
Resistance: base of 0%, boosted by talents and buffs. This is against specific kinds of attacks.

That is Avoidance. With that said, there are a good amount of Mitigation options as well:
Damage Reduction is provided by Armor to protect against Energy and Kinetic damage, utilizing flat talented damage reduction, Expertise rating, Ion Cell, as well as cooldowns like Reactive Shield.
Shield Chance and Shield Absorption are provided whenever you have a Shield equipped in your offhand and you successfully Shield an attack that hit you. The amount of damage that is mitigated (or absorbed) is based on your offhand (for example, 20%), gear and the talents provided in the tanking tree.
Unlike other games, you can block from any direction, not just when facing the mob/enemy.

In my opinion, the most important thing you have to know is which type of attacks can actually be Avoided/Mitigated and which just pound their way into you.

With that in mind, there are four types of attacks: Force, Melee, Ranged and Tech. The only two attacks that can be avoided, either in PvE or PvP (though far more relevant in PvP) are Melee and Ranged. Force and Tech attacks, however, can not be protected against. This is much like how in WoW, you can't protect against "spells". However... in TOR, all characters can do Force/Tech, so... it hurts a lot. You will not get much mileage out of any Avoidance/Shield-related talents and gear compared to your expectations.

Vanguards also have a clickable mitigation bubble in Reaction Shield, it is able to be activated even during the GCD, while providing the wonderful 25% mitigation against all damage for 12 seconds. As soon as you detect yourself being focus fired is when you need to hit it - DO NOT use this ability when you're already on death's door without an amazing pocket healer. It will just waste it.

You can protect your allies by way of two simple things: Guard and Taunt (as well as area taunt).

In PvP, taunts reduce damage to all allies except you by 30%. Your two taunts are Neural Jolt (Single-target Taunt) and Sonic Round (AoE taunt; focused on Enemy, not on you! Important to remember.) Taunts are off the GCD so use them liberally. These two abilities should be used regardless of Talent Tree; taunting is not just for tanks!

The cornerstone of Tanks, on the other hand, is Guard, which is a buff you can grant a friendly target whenever you’re utilizing Ion Cell. Guard reduces the friendly's damage incoming by 50% - and you gain that 50% damage. This tool is excellent for keeping the target (a healer, a flag carrier, a DPS that pissed off the other team) alive despite being focus fired.

Of course, to use Guard you have to be in Ion Cell, but also keep in mind:

Switching from Ion Cell to HE Cell or P Cell is not instant. On the other hand, it does not reduce our energy... but it does require a 1.5-sec cast. Stopping to switch may be tough for our class, since our thing is our mobility, but if you need to make the switch do. not. move.
Any benefits you have to other Cells will not be reflected in Ion Cell. Your DPS will therefore most likely drop.

Stealth Detecting:
Use the Stealth Scan ability, it's a great counter against any opponent who uses in-combat stealth. Lay it down, I suggest, when the stealth-capable enemy (Shadow/Assassin, Scoundrel/Operative, Sentinel/Marauder) is 30% life lower than yours or at 10-15% life. They will vanish. This will stun them - or at least reveal them.

Heal Thyself:
Adrenaline Rush isn't the most amazing regeneration ability ever, but it's amazing to use when you're first focus-fired - usually in concert with Reactive Shield. It is off the GCD and heals you for 15% of total health.

8. How Your Utilities Work:
First of all, most important: there is a fillable semi-circle around all portraits in PvP. It will fill with blue bars. When it is full, it will turn White and then slowly empty back out. If this semi-circle is white, do not use your CCs - they'll be wasted. If CCing them will benefit you in no way, do not CC them, as it will fill their resolve and deny your team the ability to CC them when it's available. Conversely, Roots/Snares (slow-downs, sticking them in place, so on so forth) do not fill resolve; use these whenever appropriate.

Vanguards have a very liberal amount of CCs available compared to many classes.
The most straightforward CC is our 30m range 4-sec stun, Cryo Grenade, which has a 60 sec cooldown, talented down to 50 by Containment Tactics.
There is also the 30m range pull of Harpoon. It has a 45 sec cooldown, talented down to 35 sec with Tactical Tools. You can also grant it a 3-sec root effect with the tanking talent Defensive Measures. Keep in mind, again, that root effects do not build Resolve. On theo ther hand, the pull builds 400 Resolve.
Then there is the 4m range interrupt in Riot Strike wotj an 8-sec cooldown, talented to 6 with Frontline Defense. The interrupt will lock the target out of using the interrupted spell for 4 sec. This interrupt is ideal to shut down healers and interrupting dangerous DPS channels. Also, it’s off the GCD.
Lastly, we have a PBAoE 2.5-sec stun named Neural Surge, which has a 45-sec cooldown.

Mobility is a game-changer in PVP, even more considering the 10m damage primary attacks and the warzone designs, which emphasize on traveling quickly. We'll discuss the unique increases in the specific class sections.

Beyond these, some trees have specific utilities:

Shield Specialists:
Storm: 3-sec root effect (talented) and a ranged interrupt... as well as the primary mobility-increasing gap-closer.
50% snare for 2 sec from Ion Cell procs from Neural Overload.
A PBAoE debuff in Smoke Grenade that reduces Ranged/Melee Accuracy by 20% for 18 seconds.
Ion Pulse and Explosive Surge debuffs target's damage for 15 seconds by 4%.

30% snare on Gut for 6 sec from the Hamstring talent in Tactics.
70% snare on targets during the channel Pulse Cannon with the buff stacked to 5.
Gains a passive 15% movement buff from Battlefield Training.
A 30% movement buff that lasts 8 seconds from Hold The Line, that also provides full immunity to CCs and knockbacks. 30 second cooldown makes this unbelievable.

Assault Specialists:
50% snare for 2 sec from the Sweltering Heat talent.

Lastly, CC breaking is pretty damned important - the opposite of the offense considerations! As everyone else, you have a CC breaker - Tenacity. It's got a long cooldown, it doesn't provide CC immunity after breaking (so needs to be used with caution when around people with multiple CC/Saps).

Aside from Tenacity, you can counter the following CC effects:
Roots / snares / knockbacks can be countered by HtL and Storm.
Roots / snares with the Degauss talent for Reactive Shield. The degree of which you can CC break with this depends on how many Reflexive Shield procs you get.

9. DPS Priority System.
Before we get to any 'rotation' discussion, let's iron out some basics of how to DPS as Vanguards:
Always weave in Hammer Shots as needed to keep your Ammo high. This is critical in any long-term DPS moment. Ignore it when you are target burning.
Whenever bursting DPS, make sure to pop Battle Focus for the huge buff to Ranged and Tech Crit Chance.
Always remember that Vanguards deliver the highest sustained single-target damage within 10m of the target. So be aware of your distance and close it appropriately.
AoE has to be kept in mind. Watch for good openings and use it for maximum effect. However, be even MORE aware of restraining your AoE given the fact that you CAN and WILL break CCs that might have otherwise won the game. Be a good player and keep saps and CCs up.

If you are a tank, your Explosive Surge is a great choice for PBAoE damage plus debuffing your targets’ damage. The changes in 1.3 for Static Surge talent now enable two free casts of ES after using Storm. Also, Supercharged Ion Cylinder grants AOE damage when using High Impact Bolt.

Now, on to the DPS "Rotations" (priority systems. No static rotation.)

Single-Target Rotation for 31-pt Shield Specialist:

Before anything else, let's look at tips again.
Aside from Stockstrike, you want to use High Impact Bolt ASAP to get the 15-sec cooldown ticking.
Make sure to use Energy Blast for managing your energy, and remember that as of 1.2 that ability is off the GCD so you can use it to provide some additional instant burst damage. Use it off of CD unless ammo capped.

Aside from those notes, here is the rotation:

From range, Sticky Grenade.
While closing to melee range, High Impact Bolt if possible, Hammer Shot if not.
As soon as you close to melee, use Stockstrike and when that’s on cooldown, Ion Pulse until you can Stockstrike again.
Rinse and repeat.

Single-Target Rotation for 18+ in Assault Specialist:

The absolute, remember-this-if-nothing-else tip for maximizing your sustained and burst damage is using High Impact Bolt all night and day. So when you are within 10m to your target and HIB is on cd, your priority is to make a reset of it happen with Ion Pulse and Stockstrike.

However, you only really need to do that once the rest is in place. To set up those cases, do the following:
Apply a ranged DoT on your target. Because of 1.2's changes to Ionic Accelerator, as stated above, you should use Ion Pulse to apply the DoT only if the Ionic Accelerator talent is on CD. Otherwise, apply the more expensive Incendiary Round.
High Impact Bolt – this will only cost a net of 1 Ammo when the target is burning.
If you are over 10m from the target, Sticky Grenade/Assault Plastique, otherwise use Ion Pulse.
Stockstrike and Ion Pulse to reset High Impact Bolt.
If you get a cooldown reset for High Impact Bolt, use it.
Rinse and repeat 3-5.

As a warning: Be extraordinarily careful about spamming yourself into poverty with Incendiary Round. It is expensive.

Now, I have played with and reviewed many 31-pt Assault Specialist specs, and while Assault Plastique is a good tool, after reviewing some extensive testing in PVP and duels, I have come to agree with the conclusion that AP should not be used in favor of IP or SS when HIB is on cooldown, because HIB is just so damn world-rockingly good. The exception is against tanks with a lot of resistance - HIB has a weakness of being white damage.

Single-Target Rotation for Tactics:

After having talked with Batty, who has seemed to find an awesome new spec for it, I bow to him for the consideration. I'll update this section with his recommendations on how to be awesome at Tactics, cuz I'm not thinking my preconceived notions are still accurate.

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