Nightmare Tanking Basics: Sword and Chaos

The Basic Nightmare Tank

Sword and Chaos

by Ryahl

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After putting it off for some time, I finally put together a basic nightmare tank sword/chaos tanking build.  If you look at the tank builds I have assembled, it’s easy to see that I have run hammer/chaos for a long, long time.  However, just about everyone recommends sword/chaos.  Well, in general, I think the hammer/chaos builds are fine.  This build, however, does some things (one in particular) better than the hammer/chaos tree.  This basic nightmare tank build (with some tweaks on a boss by boss basis) has successfully cleared the first three nightmares and done a good dent into the next two.

Active Abilities

  • Escalation
  • Karma/Four Horseman
  • Steel Palace/Binding Wounds
  • Chaotic Pull/Surging Blades
  • Art of War/Stoicism
  • Crimson Theater
  • Reality Fracture

Passive Abilities

  • Hardcase
  • Agitator
  • Shadow Play
  • Forged in Fire
  • Fever Pitch
  • Immovable Object
  • Blindside/Intensity

Key Features

This is a pretty bread and butter tanking build.  It picks up most of its mitigation from gear (see below).  The build uses Agitator, Reality Fracture and Crimson Theater for primary agro generation.  Most nightmare tanking builds need a pair of interrupts and this build has two fast recycling ones with Art of War and Chaotic Pull.  Fever Pitch helps solve your glancing problem.  With FP in my build, I can get away with only slotting hit on my weapons, saving all of my talisman for defensive stats.

The build picks up some important basic survival from Steel Palace (minor ward if the target is afflicted) and additional defense from Crimson Theater/Shadow Play.  If your party doesn’t have an affliction starter (get one?) swap out Blindside for Intensity.  If you are finding yourself a bit too squishy, simply do the Blindside/Intensity swap (or cycle Shadow play more often).

I put this build together for a single boss, Wayeb-Xul.  Art of War is a decisive ability with the way Concussion works prior to 1.1.3.  In its current form, Concussion is a knock around, blind and agro dump.  If you save AoW and use it right near the end of a Concussion cast, WX is still on mandatory agro to you, saving one of your DPS!  To do this, though, you need another teammate helping with the breath impairs for WX.

Alternate Builds

For single target fights, I tend to switch Karma for Four Horseman (Call for Eris would work too) and Steel Palace gets swapped for Binding Wounds.

For fights where interrupting is bad (Ur’Draug, I’m looking at you), I tend to move Art of War out and Stoicism in.  Additionally, I also move Chaotic Pull out and replace it with Sling Blade for UD.

For fights where mobility matters (Mayan Battle Mage), consider dropping Chaotic Pull and putting in Surging Blades.


Gear is critical to make this build work.  I run about 80/20 hp/atk gear.  I use two minor talisman for ATK and the rest HP.  Block is a very important stat in your first nightmares as the bosses tend to have very high penetrate.  I’m running well over 600 block these days, but when I started NM’s it was hard to break 500.  If your block is only about 500, drop Blindside and replace it with just about any other defensive passive.

Once you have enough block to push the boss penetrate off the table (600 is fine), it’s usually a good idea to focus on a second stat.  I tend to use physical protection or magical protection based on the damage output of the boss (see our Nightmare at a Glance for ideas).  This means you need a lot of gear bags, but such seems to be the nature of tanking in the Secret World.


If you are using AoW as an impair (and you should), you can’t really afford to open with it.  This means you have low agro at the start of the fight and your DPS needs to give you a rotation.  This is, perhaps, the single biggest frustration with this build (and its a minor one).  I’m quite spoiled with the huge spike agro of a Stoicism/Razor Shards opener from the Hammer/Chaos side.

Instead, you have to open mild.  Pop a Crimson Theater, Escalate and immediately get a Reality Fracture and Steel Palace up.  This should get your hate generation going well enough to stay ahead of your DPS.

My normal rotation runs 3-5 escalations, reality fracture and crimson theater.  3-5 escalations and steel palace, karma.  Make sure you use CT and RF on recycle in this build, lower your builder rotation to whatever number is comfortable at keeping both of your pulsing aoe’s and steel palace up (for minor ward).

I tend to use Chaotic Pull as my first impair and save AoW for the second.  They both recycle reasonably fast (35 and 30 seconds), so you will rarely have a problem keeping a major boss ability on lockdown with this build.

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13 Responses to Nightmare Tanking Basics: Sword and Chaos

  1. psychosiz says:

    Thanks, useful build and information. Great explanations!

  2. Daiyu says:

    Awesome thanks for the input. Been toying with my sword/chaos build before my deck is complete to try and find the perfect Active/Passive build as an alternate. I’ll definitely give this a try

  3. Simble says:

    Why don’t you use bladetorrent as your builder, it gets aggro, ok dmg and is a fast builder? I’m just wondering if there is a reason for it.

    • RyahlRyahl says:

      Blade Torrent is a perfectly good builder. However given the current state of the game, a tank pretty much has to run escalate as their builder.

      Escalate on its own generates hate, builds both resources and applies exposed to all adjacent targets. It’s basically just like Blade Torrent, except for the exposed debuff effect.

      Exposed is one of three weakened states (debilitated, exposed and corrupted). So, escalation helps your group by guaranteeing everything around you is weakened (also necessary if you want to rely on Fever Pitch for your +hit modifier).

      More importantly, though, exposed is a very unique debuff which comes only from the chaos line. A 10-stack of exposed gives your group 30% additional damage, effectively adding a free DPS member to your team. No other weapon style can apply exposed and no other chaos ability stacks exposed as quickly as escalation. It’s a completely unique ability, at this time.

      So, for now, tanking with any other builder puts your team at a disadvantage. Fights last longer, which is usually a bad thing.

      I would prefer that either (a) escalation didn’t apply exposed on its own and (b) there were other chaos abilities which could reliably get a 10-stack of exposed up. That, though, isn’t the case for now. So, for the time being, every tank build has chaos magic. And every chaos magic build starts with exposed.

      It’s one of the few weak spots in the TSW ability design system.

      • Palegod says:

        For people looking for a tank build now: Escalation shouldn’t be considered the only builder anymore, since Breakdown (The Value of X, 9AP) was buffed to apply Weakened/Exposed on all Chaos, Blade, and Hammer attacks.

        • AelaAela says:

          That’s true and this guide is dated in that respect. The primary distinction comes down to your builder. If you are going to use a Frenzy builder in a Blade/Chaos build, you might as well run Escalation/Intensity. On the other hand, if you want to drop Chaos and go Blade/Hammer or some other non-Chaos variant, you should replace Escalation with Breakdown.

  4. Eckzorzist says:

    VDM for default (no alternatives picked)

  5. chabo says:

    What about Shoot ‘Em Up instead of Intensity? You will got Affliction on targets that means Minor Ward from Steel Palace and additional hate, all in one by yourself.

  6. Dark-Priestess says:

    Can you perhaps link a Viper Deck Code for the build please?

  7. Soliarmus says:

    I’m not sure what patch it was, sometime after issue #5, but Art of War’s recharge was nerfed to 45s. However, the elite Stunning Swirl (Blade/Method) is still 30s.

    • RyahlRyahl says:

      I believe that was in 1.5. These days I primarily use Stunning Swirl and Chaotic Pull for 30-second recycle impairs. AoW retains some value as a forced taunt and for its defensive benefits, however, other than a new nightmare tank you generally don’t need defense. My NM tanking builds these days are organized around offense and impairs.

  8. Fendralor says:

    Hi there. I really love this site so far. And I’m kinda interested in this build here right now. Would it be possible to post a ‘My first 60′-version of this build? I’m quite new to the game but I love tanking and this build sounds very interesting to me. :)

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