1. What's the focus?
What are you building around? First understand the term "spender." Every class, including the wizard, has spenders. These are spells that consume your resources and are regarded as your primary damage dealers. Common spenders include Arcane Orb and Meteor. These are traditional spenders and they generally have no cooldown and can be cast in succession for big damage as long as you have the resources to sustain them.
Another type of spender is the channeled spell. These include Arcane Torrent, Ray of Frost and Disintegrate. The goal is to try and stand still without moving so you can continuously dish out heavy damage. The more you move around, the more you're not channeling, the less damage you'll be doing.
So we pick a spender to build on. Let's say we pick Arcane Orb - Frozen Orb. This skill will be our primary damage dealer. We will kill the majority of the content with this skill. If we're running multiple spenders (say, Frozen Orb along with Energy Twister - Mistral Breeze), chances are we're going to run out of resources very fast and we'll be sitting around wondering what went wrong. This also applies to combining a traditional spender with a channeling spell. If we're running Frozen Orb with Ray of Frost, we have an issue. If we're channeling Ray of Frost, we're not using Frozen Orb. If we're casting Frozen Orb, we cannot channel Ray of Frost. So a skill is wasted. So generally speaking, we focus on one spender. Now we have to figure out how to sustain this spender to keep it going constantly throughout a fight.
Build progress: http://us.battle.net/d3/en/calculator/wizard#c!!c
2. Supporting the spender
There are several ways to go about this. The most basic way is to run a signature spell that aids in recovering resources. Skills like Spectral Blade - Siphoning Blade, Electrocute - Surge of Power, and Shock Pulse - Power Affinity all have their uses. You can also use any signature spell with the Prodigy passive to aid in resource generation. There's also resource cost reduction and arcane power on critical hits (APoC) on gear. But to keep it simple, let's say we're going to support Frozen Orb with Spectral Blade - Siphoning Blade.
The situation is that we're running Frozen Orb, spamming it on enemies. At some point or another, we might run out of resources. Now's the time to recover the resources by hitting a few targets with Siphoning Blade. You'll recover a lot of resources in a short period of time, allowing you to start casting a series of Frozen Orbs again.
Now that we have this little combination going, we can focus on controlling scenarios. This means running spells that aid in defense, especially positioning, or supplementary damage. Spells like Teleport, Mirror Image and Slow Time are phenomenal for defense and setting ourselves up in a good spot. Blizzard, Hydra and Explosive Blast are samples of supplementary damage. These skills tend to be "cast and forget." Remember, our main damage dealer right now is Frozen Orb.
Let's say we're running Slow Time - Point of No Return as a defensive spell. We can use it to stun enemies, allowing us to reposition ourselves as necessary. We can also pick a spell to add supplementary damage, like Hydra. We have to think carefully now. Frozen Orb is a ranged AOE spell, so we'll likely be doing our best to cast the spell at a distance to maximize damage before enemies get too close. That means we can go with two different play styles. We can run Blizzard as supplementary damage (since we can't stack it), casting it before Frozen Orb to set up a snare. We can also run Explosive Blast, just to cast when enemies get too close.
Or, we can forgo the supplementary damage and pick a second defensive spell. Do we want more mobility in the form of Teleport? Or do we want Mirror Image for breaking crowd control effects? One thing about Mirror Image is that illusions are able to cast certain spells, which I will cover in the next part.
Build progress: http://us.battle.net/d3/en/calculator/wizard#cWg!!cZY
3. Managing synergies
Every build needs synergy. Take a look at the old CMWW build. That build was the epitome of synergy. Wicked Wind triggers Critical Mass, Critical Mass refreshes Frost Nova for repeated crowd control and refreshes Diamond Skin for pseudo-permanent invulnerability. It also refreshes Explosive Blast to turn a spell meant for supplementary damage into the primary damage dealer. Wicked Wind also triggers Storm Armor - Shocking Aspect for significant supplementary damage. Everything clicked together to form the build that functioned with different engines churning simultaneously.
So what kind of synergy can come from a build focusing on Frozen Orb? Frozen Orb slows enemies by default because it's cold-based. Keeping that in mind, remember we're also running Slow Time - Point of No Return as a way to position ourselves and to also stun enemies. A spell that works very well with Slow Time is Mirror Image. Illusions from Mirror Image can cast their own Slow Time (meaning more stuns in this build) and they can also cast Frozen Orb. They only deal 10% damage, though (with the exception of the Mirror Mimics rune, which allows illusions to deal 20% damage). So now what rune do we pick for Mirror Image? Do we pick Duplicates so we can get five extra Slow Time casts up? Or do we pick Mocking Demise for added stun a little more damage? Let's go with Duplicates so we can get more layers of Slow Time to stun enemies.
Now, if you're familiar with the wizard class, know that the Illusionist passive can reset Teleport, Mirror Image and Slow Time instantly if you take 15% or more of your max HP's worth of damage within 1 second. This means if we're in a situation where we cast Mirror Image, which then results in 5 extra Slow Time bubbles to stun enemies, we can instantly refresh all the bubbles and Mirror Image if we intentionally try to take some damage. In the scenario where we end up taking too much damage, we can repeatedly cast Mirror Image and Slow Time to escape. This is where running Teleport (instead of Mirror Image or Slow Time) can also help.
By slowing enemies with Frozen Orb, constantly stunning with Mirror Image + Slow Time, we have a build that's capable of maneuvering around the map to capitalize on attacking from a safe distance. In other words, it makes for a solid kiting build.
Build progress: http://us.battle.net/d3/en/calculator/wizard#cWgk!d!cZYZ
4. Rounding out the build
With a spender in place, a way to sustain it, along with basic synergies to keep a build running, all that's left for us to do is to start padding the build and rounding it out. Usually the options are buffs, in the likes of Magic Weapon, Familiar and/or an armor spell, or with one of the aforementioned spells in addition to a source of supplementary damage (like Blizzard). Magic Weapon is a common choice just because of the straight damage boost that costs nothing but an active skill slot. For the sake of simplicity, let's pick Force Weapon.
Now for the last slot most people pick an armor spell. Do we want Storm Armor - Scramble to help with mobility? Or do we want Pinpoint Barrier for added crit chance to aid with any APoC we have on gear? Or do we want Prismatic Armor for added survivability? I wouldn't recommend Storm Armor - Power of the Storm because there's really not that much of a difference between an Arcane Orb that costs 30 AP versus 27 AP. We're going to run out of resources by the time we cast ~4 Orbs unless we stack bonus max AP and plenty of resource reduction stats so it's more gear dependent. In addition, since we're already running Siphoning Blade to aid in managing resources, Power of the Storm is likely not needed at all. Let's run Scramble to aid in mobility.
Now we need to pick the last couple of passives. Blur is always nice for added survivability. Power Hungry could be worth looking at for resource management, but that involves moving around the map to pick up health globes, which costs us time in casting more spells to deal more damage. Perhaps Glass Cannon or Cold Blooded for more damage? Or Astral Presence to aid in more resource management (if necessary)? How about Dominance for more survivability? The thing about Dominance is that shielding wears off quite quickly on higher difficulty levels, where it's also less likely to ramp up the shielding effects in short periods of time due to higher HP levels on enemies. There are plenty of options, but we'll go with Blur for defense and Cold Blooded for offense.
Build progress: http://us.battle.net/d3/en/calculator/wizard#cWgkST!dZW!cZYZZY
5. Notes and variations
The way to play the build is very simple. We start off at a distance to cast Frozen Orbs while our enemies make their way to us (if they survive). At any point where resources become scarce, we cast Siphoning Blade a few times to recover AP, then repeat with more Frozen Orbs. At any point where enemy numbers start becoming a little overwhelming, we defend ourselves with Point of No Return. If necessary, we cast Mirror Image for additional Slow Time bubbles. If one cast of Slow Time is enough to stun enemies long enough for Frozen Orb to finish them off, that's good, we can save Mirror Image for other situations.
And that's really it. Here's an older video of a variation of the build running during RoS Beta:
*Build uses high resource reduction so spamming Frozen Orb is a lot easier and straightforward
The play style is similar in the build we put together, though ours might be a little slower in terms of performance (based on standard gear).
Now we can talk about variations. Instead of Frozen Orb, we can use Meteor instead or any other Arcane Orb rune outside of Arcane Orbit (which sort of serves the role as a spender/supplementary damage source).
Then the build looks like: http://us.battle.net/d3/en/calculator/wizard#PWgkST!dZW!bZYZZY
Still works, we just need to manage the resources a little more closely as Meteor costs 10 more AP than Arcane Orb.
We can also shift one of the defensive spells to Teleport so it looks like: http://us.battle.net/d3/en/calculator/wizard#PWgQST!dZW!bZYcZY
Note how I selected Calamity. If we take enough damage to trigger Illusionist, Calamity can be cast multiple times to chain stun enemies. This can be combined with Point of No Return for even more stuns.
Now what if I change Meteor to the Thunder Crash rune? And swap out Cold Blooded (since we're not using cold spells) to Paralysis? Now the build looks like: http://us.battle.net/d3/en/calculator/wizard#PWgQST!dZVc!aZYcZY
We can also sub Siphoning Blade for Electrocute - Surge of Power: http://us.battle.net/d3/en/calculator/wizard#PUgQST!dZVc!aYYcZY
Now we have a lightning wizard build. It focuses on chain stunning with Paralysis and pumping out some good damage with Thunder Crash. We can also add supplementary crowd control via Calamity and Point of No Return.
These builds all follow the same simple template:
1 spender (traditional or channeling)
1 support spell (e.g. signature spell)
Combination of supplementary damage source (Blizzard, Explosive Blast, Hydra), defensive spells (Diamond Skin, Frost Nova, Teleport, Mirror Image, etc.), and/or buffs (Magic Weapon, Familiar, armor spell) that can synergize with each other and/or with the spender.
A build like the following will likely not perform optimally:
Looks like a massive arcane-centered build, but there are issues. Two channeling spells mean one of them cannot be used while another is active. If you're Disintegrating, you cannot cast Arcane Torrent nor Meteor, meaning spells on the active bar are wasted. If you're dropping Meteor, especially Star Pact that consumes all your AP, then two channeling skills aren't being used. This is why we focus on one spender, traditional or channeling.
By moving a few skills around, we can get something much more focused:
The build has a spender in the form of the channeled Disintegrate. Thrown Blade, perhaps in combination with a healthy amount of APoC, can be enough to recover resources. Teleport serves as a repositioning and mobility tool. Arcane Attunement is a supplementary damage source that can buff up Disintegrate (the ability snapshots, too, so the entire channeling duration is buffed until you let go of the mouse button... or get interrupted). Familiar works very well with channeling spells, so there's the synergy. Cannoneer happens to deal very solid AOE damage so it's a great choice to serve as supplementary damage. Power of the Storm aids in sustaining channeling spells, so that's a good pick to round out the build. Temporal Flux allows all arcane damage (in this case, every damaging spell in the arsenal) to slow enemies. Blur for more survivability so you can stay in one spot longer to channel. Illusionist, as mentioned before, to allow multiple recasts of Teleport.
Let's use another example of a focused build: http://us.battle.net/d3/en/calculator/wizard#aZQjSO!WcdS!ZYacYc
This is one of the more recent renditions of the Sleet Storm build. Sleet Storm is the spender. Glacial Spike aids in recovering resources with Prodigy. You don't necessarily have to use Prodigy either. Safe Passage reduces damage, allowing you to stand your ground with Sleet Storm for a longer period of time. You can also run a different defensive spell, maybe Fracture/Reversal Teleport or Slow Time - Time Warp. Magic Weapon works well. Force Weapon may or may not be the ideal choice considering it knocks enemies around (it can potentially knock enemies outside Sleet Storm's AOE). Ignite makes for decent supplementary damage. You probably get the rest by now. There's not too much synergy in this build other than the good ol' Familiar + channeling spell combo.
Let's look at a more up-to-date example, a variant of the Firebird build: http://us.battle.net/d3/en/calculator/wizard#lQPNSO!Zbdh!YacYZc
In this build, Blizzard becomes the main spender while Molten Impact and Blazar, both cooldown-based skills, act as supplementary damage. In addition, the build revolves around the 6-piece Firebird set so most of the damage will be coming from the gear. The defensive spell is Safe Passage, which provides mobility and positioning, shining most when combined with Illusionist. Evocation supports Molten Impact, Blazar and Safe Passage.
Hopefully this helps some newer wizards out in constructing a functional build. Too many times have I seen builds centered only on supplementary damage sources (Blizzard) that cannot stack with each other or cannot be cast successively while maintaining reliable performance. Too many times have I seen builds running multiple spenders (e.g. two channeling spells), conflicting with each other for sustained use.
Diablo III MVP | Forever a Wizard
YouTube Channel: http://youtube.com/Jae7ch
Twitter: @Jaetch | Twitch: http://twitch.tv/jaetch