Introduction: Counting might in fives
The lockdown mesmer is a mesmer that relies on phantasm damage (or more rarely, shatter damage) and interrupts from Mantra of Distraction to defeat a foe. The core build uses two traits that improve interrupts, Bountiful Interruption and Halting Strike (which were heavily buffed a long time ago). From these traits, the mesmer derives significant benefits from performing an interrupt, beyond those inherent to the interruption of an enemy skill.
Because lockdown centers on interrupting enemy skills, strong lockdown play requires an understanding of all other professions and builds, or at least their core skills. As such, lockdown is recommended for players with a broad knowledge of Guild Wars 2 professions and skills.
The mantra mesmer uses Mantra of Recovery, Centaur Runes, and the trait Mender's Purity to eliminate two key mesmer weaknesses: lack of swiftness and lack of condition cleanse. This particular build goes further by taking the trait Harmonious Mantras to mitigate a serious problem inherent to mantra skills: the inability to sustain mantra use over the long term due because of the need to rechannel before the active skill is available again.
This particular variant is optimized for WvW roaming and havoc. It solos camps just fine (especially now that the daze mantra is AoE), it gives group swiftness, it has a skill slot for portal/veil/feedback when those are needed, and it can fight it out against any other build you encounter. No need to run from condi necros, no need to run from d/p thieves. You can even go toe-to-toe with your local twice-told legend of a d/d ele, though at a disadvantage (as should be expected when using a non-PvP build against an sPvP meta build).
About me: I have played more than 500 hours of WvW using a lockdown/mantra mesmer, about 300 of which are using this exact mantra build in a roaming or havoc setting. I play on the character Beatrice Vita Nuova on the Dragonbrand server. Possibly you know me because I routinely attempt to solo towers with an alpha golem. I wrote this short guide because after playing several builds for each profession, I keep coming back to play this particular build. It is a unique style of play that is very, very fun, comparing favorably with such awesomeness as d/d ele and SD engi. I am sharing this build because there has been a constant clamor for non-shatter mesmer builds, and because I want you guys to experience the fun, too.
The Build, the Traits, and the Reasons
2/6/4/2/0 Weapons are zerk. Armor and jewelry is 70-30 zerk-soldier. You can tweak this to your tastes; the goal is to be deadly without insta-dying to glass builds.
While weapon choices are more flexible for a lockdown mesmer than for arguably any other build, my personal choice is greatsword and sword/pistol ("gs", "s/p") by a large margin. Feel free to swap the off-hand to focus, especially if you are addicted to pulling people off walls and cliffs. Swap out sword or gs at your peril.
Ok yeah, I know 2/6/4/2/0 sounds like weird, off-brand crap. But please read at least the next part on traits before you start screaming about my commoner status (or whatever the insult du jour is).
• No Shattered Concentration: Shatter mesmers shatter. Lockdown mesmers keep phantasms up, and thus do not shatter. Plus, you're running mainhand sword and greatsword, probably the two best boon-stripping weapons in the game, so pushing for a boon-strip trait is a weak choice. An easy no, but one that needed to be said.
• Duelist's Discipline over Deceptive Evasion: probably the most controversial choice at first glance, but I stand absolutely firm here. pistol at 1200 range (up from 900 untraited) gives you incredible initiative when starting a fight, and the 1200 range stun acts as a ranged snare, a fast interrupt (focus 4 is beyond slow now that the chain skill has a short buffer cooldown), and one of the hardest CCs in the game (so your phantasms actually hit). The recharge reduction on top of this makes for an impossibly good trait, and it edges out deceptive evasion because lockdown doesn't shatter, so we could care less for clone generation.
• Harmonious Mantras over Furious Interruption: 3 seconds of quickness every 15 seconds can be crazy good, I admit. Quickstomp, quick mantra channel, phantasms that come out too quickly to dodge, a quick sword autoattack chain to strip a boon, it's all wonderful. However, Harmonious Mantras not only increases your mantra active skill count by 50% per channel, but it also front-loads that benefit. Furious often activates at inopportune moments--in the middle of an enemy distortion or endure pain, for instance. The unpredictability of the quickness proc makes it worth much less than the potential 20% uptime would otherwise suggest. If you play around the quickness, then it might be worth it. But rarely does the cooldown AND enemy skill use AND quickness benefit line up so well in fights.
Finally, in my experience, the third mantra uses (heal and daze alike) often make the critical difference in a fight, while the quickness rarely does.
• Phantasmal Fury over Desperate Decoy, Far-Reaching Manipulations, or Blade Training: your phantasms are almost half your damage output, and this an important way to increase your offensive pressure, especially with air/fire sigils and the Sharper Images minor trait. All three other traits are decent, but my experience suggests that PFury is difficult to pass up.
• No Chaotic Interruption: A great skill at first glance, immobilize is awesome. then you realize that ALL the random effects have an overlap with the immobilize. The blind is quite short and immobilize often stops them from hitting you anyway. The chill only lasts the length of the immob, making the snare component worthless. And the cripple only lasts 1 second longer, do you really want an extra second of cripple? And this is a grandmaster trait!
So all things considered, I would not trade out Harmonious Mantras or Mender's Purity for it. Also note that the associated minor traits (Confusing Combatants and Vengeful Images) are better than Chaotic Transferance (you don't have the toughness to benefit much, and you don't really want condition damage).
• Illusionary Defense over Debilitating Dissipation: We keep illusions up all the time. Debilitating is only ok for a power build (vuln and weakness are nice, bleed not so much), only helps when you're losing illusions, and is less useful because phantasms have retaliation from the Vengeful Images minor trait anyway. And the first time you have two phantasms idling while you wait for a thief to backstab you, you will remember this trait and you will be very, very happy. Leave Debilitating Dissipation to the PU clonespam guys, we are busy actually killing things.
• Mender's Purity: with Mantra of Recovery, this trait gives you two (or three) instant condition clears that remove two conditions each (note that the channel part doesn't cure conditions, despite what the tooltip says). You can eat a necro's signet of spite and come out fine. You can clear a shatter mesmer's immobilize without blinking (literally or figuratively). Fear means little to you; likewise chill. Make no mistake, this trait turns the mesmer into one of the best condi-cleansing professions out of the box, no poultry-based food necessary. In this build, this adept-level trait becomes one of the best in the game.
• No mantra recharge reduction, no toughness during mantra channel, no heal at end of mantra channel: No room for mild benefits that only help after you've used up all charges. There is more to say on the subject, sure, but it really comes down to the fact that these are a bit lackluster, and we have no room left.
First, a quick word on mantras. Mantras suck because they don't recharge normally, they also require rechanneling to become anything more than a dead skill slot. Mantras rule because they are instant activation. That is, the active skill can be used at any time, and cannot be interrupted or prevented via stun.
More succinctly: they are amazing until the active skill runs out.
Heal: mantra of recovery First utility: blink Second utility: mantra of distracction
The heal mantra and daze mantra are core components of the build, and blink is an integral part of all mesmer play. Don't touch those unless you know what you're doing.
Third utility: Signet of Midnight is my personal default choice--short cooldown stunbreak and blind means you often nullify a big CC and a big followup melee attack with one skill use. In addition, the +10% boon duration is nice for Bountiful Disillusionment procs, and to a much lesser extent for the swiftness from Centaur runes. Don't forget the insta-blind for stomps. Also don't forget that it applies a 360 radius PBAoE blind--that downed guardian's buddy might catch a blind, too, if he's not careful while running up to CC you. Also the blind is unblockable, and the skill is instant like all stunbreaks. What a great skill, despite the fact that it seriously looks like every low-tier benefit was shoved together in a box and someone put a stunbreak bow put on top to try to make it look respectable.
Other viable fight-oriented choices include Mantra of Concentration (many stunbreaks and short stability, but beware the triple mantra recharge situation!) and signet of domination (ridiculously offensive, and makes for a great 3.9s stun).
Decoy is a bit worse than signet of midnight for this build because it lacks the damage mitigation of the blind and has a longer cooldown. Run if it you want, but I can't say I recommend it.
Viable WvW support skills should be put in this slot. Strong choices include portal, veil, feedback, and null field, taken as appropriate.
Elite skill: Mass Invisibility ("MI") is the most flexible elite skill, and my default choice. Hide whole groups of friendlies for an ambush, secure stomps, deny stomps, escape foes, save dolyaks, sneak up to the enemy for a supply trap or disabler. Hard to argue with it, especially on a 90sec cooldown.
Time Warp ("TW") admittedly does the stomp stuff of MI (differently), AND it has direct combat benefit. Plus, TW makes golems attack faster. It's a solid choice if you like it.
Polymorph Moa ("moa") is great way to secure a kill. But ineffectiveness of its transform (doesn't really help with killing, the best use is simply to stop another elite, e.g., lich form), coupled with the fact that lockdown mesmer shuts down a lot of stuff anyway, means I never use it.
Runes and Sigils
Centaur runes are a core component of a mantra mesmer in WvW. Effective roaming is about moving fast. Centaur runes are the difference between perma-swiftness and zero swiftness.
Non-roaming or sPvP players could consider other runes (i.e., probably Strength or Hoelbrak). I can't say that I would recommend a non-power rune, and I can't say I'd pick anything but Strength, even after the recent nerf to might.
Air/fire on gs is hard to argue with, because the autoattack's triple hit makes both sigils proc rather consistently. I have never replaced them, nor have I felt the desire to.
Air/paralyzation on s/p is very flexible; you could swap them both out if you like. Paralyzation makes pistol 5 stun for 2.6 seconds (tooltip displays 2.5s), up from 2.0s, which can be an extra 4k or more of phantasm damage. While it's apples to oranges, my experience suggests that fire isn't objectively better, just different (more offensive and bursty, to be precise). I can definitely see some people wanting fire instead. And I can also see arguments for energy, and for renewal. Pick your favorites and enjoy.
How to Play
Always prep both mantras when you zone in. When your swiftness has less than 4 seconds left, activating your heal will refresh swiftness (rechanneling the mantra will always refresh it due to the mantra and rune bonus both having a 10s cooldown). Your swiftness is applied in 600 range PBAoE, so make sure to give friendly stragglers some swiftness, and whip any nearby yaks into a run.
To get back to full charge on mantras without triggering full cooldown: swap to another skill, then swap back to the mantra. wait out the 5 second cooldown that might have been triggered. channel mantra.
Make sure you also go underwater somewhere and set your water skills to the correct mantras, in the same slots. This way, you will maintain the active skills when you go in and out of the water. Otherwise fighting in bay becomes a nightmare.
Start fights in s/p, and start off by using your duelist--1200 range makes this easy enough. Immediately follow up with pistol 5, then swap to gs and get berserker in there, too.
The rest of the fight varies wildly depending on the matchup, but as you might expect, it revolves around landing interrupts on key skills and getting phantasm attacks to hit. Every interrupt you hit with is like a third-chain autoattack hit, plus a huge boost of might. But those benefits aren't worth it by themselves, so you must still aim to interrupt key skills.
Balance your weapon swaps between constant swapping to get as many phantasms as possible, and having the defensiveness of sword ready when you need it. Sword 2 beats most other 2 skills (guardian whirl, warrior 100 blades); sword 3 is your fastest access to a clone, for that emergency distortion or daze, and the sword 3 chain skill is a stunbreak. Yes, that's right, an extra stunbreak.
Remember that you have three mantra uses before you need to rechannel. That is the window in which you gain all of the benefits of mantra activations without any of the drawbacks of rechanneling. Mete out your uses intelligently. Do note that a three-illusion Distortion (F4) is three seconds long, and mantra channels take 2.75 seconds. In addition, traited and sigil'd pistol 5 stuns for 2.6 seconds. You can use those to reset your mantras if necessary.
That pretty much covers it. I will add a few more sections on fighting specific builds in the comments. Thanks for reading, and I'll see you in the Mists.