Going to write this in my downtime since it seems so many people are having trouble with the class. I’ll start with staff and go into D/P after. Feel free to ask specific questions on match-ups or further opinions if what I provide doesn’t cover questions.
A little background. I no-lifed the game for a few years as I went to community college. I formed the team SYNC which took 2nd at the 2013 PAX invitational. I co-founded The Abjured with Noscoc and stepped off the team due to school and disagreements about roster changes.
Both builds can be found on my twitch page twitch.tv/narcarsis. Runes are largely up to choice. I prefer Daredevil runes on staff, and Scholar/Pack on D/P while swapping to Svanir against Necro heavy/centric teams. Air/Fire on melee sets (Fire over Blood because it’s affected by percentage modifiers such as Bound, Havoc, and Staff Master while Blood is not
I think staff is the strongest weapon set at the moment, it has a lot more staying power than both S/D and D/P with Staff Master. The auto attacks are on par with dagger and have a fluid/snappy response time in comparison with sword autos. Weakening Charge has good damage but leaves you vulnerable as you can’t evade during the cast time – it’s the ability I use the least. Debilitating Arc is extremely good for avoiding immobilize/burst combos and the main use for the skill – it’s good at baiting burst. Dust Strike is one of the best abilities; against running enemies it can hit twice, does good damage, can proc sigils, and is a fast blind. Vault is the main damage and utility skills. It’s a hard hitting skill, small evade, and extremely useful for navigating terrain to kite on side nodes (mine, henge, quarry, waterfall). It’s also extremely good cleave on downed bodies, asking with auto attacks and bound. Overall the weapon set flows well and rivals D/P in that aspect.
Havoc ties in nicely with Bound and all melee burst. You already have access to weakness and Impact Strike is on a low enough cool-down that you can avoid the cool-down reduction.
Staff Master makes staff what it is. The damage modifier is good by itself but the endurance regen boosts the weapon’s viability immensely. It increases both evade uptime and damage uptime (Bound). I do not think Absolutist’s Resolution is a good trait, as having condition clear dependant on an enemy will get you killed in high level play. Opponents will stop attacking you after a successful condition bomb, and you will end up falling over faster than you can clear damaging conditions against players who know how to cover their conditions (condition clear is last in, first out). Pulmonary Impact isn’t useful on staff as you won’t be focusing on interrupts.
Bound is, in my opinion, the best option for your dodge. Lotus is annoying for people to deal with and procs sigils, but not optimal and doesn’t make use of the percentage modifier. Dash, while good, is ironically easily kited by good players. The dodge will often over-shoot you past your opponent who can about-face as soon as you begin the dodge. Bound on the other hand not only boosts your damage but does a good bit itself. It’s good pressure in fights as you avoid the damage being thrown around.
Deadly Arts traits are fairly straightforward, and I’ll quickly explain Improvisation versus Executioner. Improvisation provides far more utility than any other trait for Thief (and possibly in the game). Double steal and the instant cool-down reset together make Improvisation more than enough take over the damage bonus from Executioner.
In trickery you have the choice between Thrill of the Crime and Flanking Strikes. I prefer the haste and you can often find fury from teammates (Revenant, auras from Tempests, etc). While Bountiful Theft is extremely good I prefer the cool-down reduction and condition clear from Trickster. I’d argue that it’s mandatory, as you need both the condition clear and increased healing to survive against several match-ups as well as team fights. Your cleave and Impact Strike also make up for the lack of stability rip to finish of players (as well as stealth to prevent stomps). Sleight of Hand gives more Mug, more Improvisation chances, and more utility from stolen abilities – as well as the daze.
Most utilities aren’t interchangeable. Withdraw is necessary for condition clear, especially with chill becoming a damaging condition. It’s also an instant cast ability. The new heal would be good, and possibly better otherwise.
Shadowstep is the best utility for Thief (double stun-break, condition clear, gap close/disengage). Signet of Agility compliments Daredevil too well to replace, and increases survivability as both a condition clear and endurance regen. It’s also an extremely good team utility (does the same for teammates).
The last slot is up to choice. I take Blinding Powder in most situations and Roll for Initiative when I need more condition clear. Refuge is obsolete with the amount of cleave and access to reveal floating around.
Impact Strike is extremely good (better than basilisk’s in almost all situations). It’s good CC, with a 2 second daze and a knock-up (sweet looking uppercut). It’s ability to instant kill those who you hit with the Finishing Blow (it bypasses downstate on opponents who you would have downed otherwise) and the knock-up interrupting downstate abilities (barring Thief and Ele) makes it one of the strongest skirmishing and team fight utilities in the game.
Classes to avoid one on one: Tempest and Dragonhunter. Tempest is largely a waste of time and not an easy match-up. Dragonhunter is basically impossible (there is only one Thief build that can reliably kill DH and it’s bad in every other situation).