There’s a lot of different ways to build an effective Arcane Blade, so this is rather general and gives a lot of advice on different paths to victory.
Choice of Weapons
There’s several different options for how to kit out an arcane blade, and which on you take will influence all other decisions.
A two handed staff seems to be the most popular option among winners right now. Its got poor damage in and of itself, but all sorts of great bonuses. Most notably each point of extra accuracy gives you 2% extra proc damage, so if going this route run lighting main and grab all the accuracy you can.
A two handed weapon on the other hand can reach absurd heights of damage in the hands of an Arcane Blade. There are multiple ways to add your magic stat to the weapon or to physical power in general.
Dual weapons are also an option. You won’t actually get more free spellcasts (except from Flurry), but you won’t get less either. Usable with either a shortstaff or normal weapon, but the shortstaff has half the accuracy bonus of two handed staffs (important exceptions, the two halves of Telos’s staff both have the full acc bonus, and at least one of them is a guaranteed find so you could build around that in the late game if at no small opportunity cost).
Weapon and shield just doesn’t work well with this class, you take the same 50% penalty to free spellcasts as dual weapons and don’t get enough extra attacks to make up for it. Currently no winners carrying shields on 1.7.
Skeleton: Far and away the most popular choice among winners. And it’s what I used in my nightmare win. The bonus str and dex are what really attracted me given the classes stat reqs, but were ultimately unnecessary. The big thing I got out of it the very long lasting damage shield and reduced debuff timers. And of course the extra life, always a winner if you play roguelike.
Shalore: Global speed boost, extra crit, timeless, whats not to love? Well the low HP might make it rough in the early game.
Cornac: There are several different escorts that will give you a replacement for a racial tree (chants, stone alchemy, and tinkers are all great options).
Higher: This class already one shots a lot of bosses but if you really want it to be *all* the bosses this is probably the race for you. Blindness resistance is also nice and highborn’s bloom will help prevent running out of stamina or mana which is very useful on this class.
Halfling: Luck of the little folk will help get more crits in the early/mid game, but isn’t useful late game. Indomitable is nice if you don’t get 100% stun resist, but that’s pretty easy to do on this class.
Yeek: Silence and confusion immunity and a small global speed boost are both very nice. Not sure about the other two talents.
Thalore: Mostly weak since this class doesn’t cap willpower or constitution but one talent has a small amount of resist all and can singlehandedly cap blight resist, which covers a few very dangerous dungeons full of blight mages.
I only took a look at the races I found among recent winners to narrow down the list but will add reviews on request.
Rush: One of your most heavily used techniques in any melee class. One point is enough, but more are good if you want more range.
Precise strikes: reduced attack speed and a crappy bonus, ignore
Perfect Strikes: massive temporary boost to accuracy, 1 point here for weapon and shortstaff users in case you need a bit more acc or to attack invisible foes, 5 for two handed staff users to really make that proc damage sing.
Blinding speed: it’s global speed and this is a bump class.
Arcane Combat: The core ability of this class. 5/5 this ASAP or play a different class.
Arcane Cunning: a nice little bonus to spellpower, but scales poorly, 1/5 early but any other points go in at the very end.
Arcane Feed: Your source of both mana regen and crit chance. get 1 point ASAP, 5/5 it to move toward 100% crit chance.
Arcane destruction: Proc damage on crit and physical power. Staff users will want one point for the free procs, but the proc damage scales poorly. The physical power scale well however, and weapon users will want to max it eventually.
The entire dirty fighting tree: this is all about weakening an enemy for a long combat, but no single enemy is going to spend that much time in direct contact with an arcane blade. I did find one winner who used it but I recommend against it.
Spell/Fire: Fire is DOT instead of offing enemies quickly, making it rather inferior to lightning on this class. Some people do get good use out of Burning Shock, and one point in flame gives you a backup option for lightning mains.
Spell / Earth
Pulverizing Auger: digs holes, you can use this in conjunction with Stone Wall to escape.
Stone Skin: a cheap little bonus to armor but scales poorly, 1 point. Also reduces cooldowns on spells from the element, but not terribly useful to this class.
Mudslide: possibly useful in order to escape
Stone Wall: the ultimate in defensive spells, anything that can’t bust down walls has to wait for it to go away, an excellent way to buy time or block pursuers when running if you get in trouble.
Spell / Air
Lightning: The core spell for two handed staff users, because unlike Earthen Missiles it counts as a Proc, and benefits from excessive accuracy. For other characters its a nice to have alternate since its a beam at 1 point.
Chain Lightning:A lightning bolt that bounces all over the place. Nice to have, but I wouldn’t invest extra points.
Feather wind: A great sustain for any arcane blade, pin and stun resistance, defense, and with enough points fatigue reduction. Definitely put enough points in this (4 assuming no other modifiers) to get the fatigue reduction if you’re going heavy armor.
Thunderstorm: All around trash cleaner, really nice if you have equipment with effects that trigger on spell hits/crits. Excellent scaling so worth all 5 points once you don’t have anything more important. For a lightning mage who manages to get the Lightning Catcher artifact this is a must at 5/5 because it’ll keep the thing charged the whole fight.
Arcane Strike: double attack means double the chances for Arcane Combat to trigger, and can get you a bit of mana if you’re dry. Only really needs the one point though.
Fiery Hands: The proc damage and stamina gain are really too small to be worth much investment (I didn’t even use it after I had it for a while to save mana), but if fire is your main element the bonus fire damage makes this worthwhile.
Shock Hands: The proc damage and mana gain are really too small to be worth much investment, but if lightning is your main element the bonus fire damage makes this worthwhile.
Inner Power: The fact there’s no dump stat makes free stat points in 4 of them critical. Once you start taking this skill max it quickly, the autoshield is nice at 5/5 but at lower talent levels it just kinda gets in the way of your shielding runes.
Spell / Stone
Earthen Missiles: Does not gain benefits from the staff accuracy bonus, so its a poor fit for two handed staff users. But for everybody else its got the highest base damage. Disadvantage that its not a beam.
Body of Stone: there might some niche fight where you actually want to use this but most of the time you’re moving so frequently that rooting is not a great fit, and the cooldown reduction isn’t worth much to this class.
Earthquake: A tax on the skill you actually want
Crystalline focus: Bonus damage and physical resistance penetration. This is what really makes the Stone tree worth the cat point.
Shield Offence: This tree is just not good on this class, and why I recommend against sword and shield. Reason being you twice as many hits in order for the shield penalty on Arcane Combat to be nullified, and this tree doesn’t give that.
Two Handed Assault
Stunning blow: Two hits and a stun. The damage scales poorly, and nothing is going to stay alive in melee with an Arcane Blade long enough for the stun to wear off, so you only need one point.
Fearless Cleave: The standout skill for two handed weapon users, this is the skill that makes two handed weapon use shine. Small mobility+hit everything in melee range. And NO COOLDOWN. Use it to reach an enemy and hit first, to reposition without losing the attack opportunity, or just to drive forward relentlessly killing everything in your path. I used this excessively, and constantly ran out of stamina in the midgame doing so.
Death Dance: Hit everything in range 2. This is basically a get out of being surrounded free button. Like everything in this tree you only need one point.
Execution: free crit with extra damage, not very useful to two handed staff using but should be nice with regular weapons.
Dual strike: Stuns, more points makes a longer stun but things just don’t live that long at melee range. 1 point, mainly because it gates better things.
Flurry: The standout skill for dual weapon use, you get 6 attacks, making this the single most damaging technique on an arcane blade. Still really only needs the one point.
Heartseeker: Mobility attack, needs extra points to get the range up to something decent.
Whirlwind: Mobility plus attack everything in a line, can go through enemies for an escape or to get to the boss/spellcaster. Pretty much needs 2 points to be useful in 1.7, more extends the range.
Combat veteran: This tree doesn’t really offer anything except stamina, and by the time I had the cat point to spare I’d stopped having stamina issues.
Superiority: Juggernaut protects against crits and you need protection against crits. Not sure if the rest of the tree has anything to offer, and you might be able to get Juggernaut from equipment instead. Definite option for the final cat point though.
I’m gonna let you figure out racials for the most part because there are so many different ones and I’m not super familiar with all of them, except to say that you don’t actually need points in the first Skeleton talent. You can take it if you want the extra strength/dex, but don’t feel like its a must to get past gates, you already have inner power and +str/dex equipment will pile on.
Thick Skin: It’s resist all, whats not to love.
Heavy Armor/light armor. At least one point in heavy armor no matter what for glove/boot/helmet options. At least one point in light armor if wearing light armor. I went the heavy armor route, but if I did it again I’d go light. Definitely go light if you intend to take the ethereal body prodigy at some point, since avoiding getting hit at all is important with that.
Combat accuracy: 5/5 this early if you’re going the two handed staff route. Otherwise just take what you need to avoid missing squirrely enemies, maybe float points early and get them back later when you have more dex/equipment/perfect strike.
Weapon and dagger mastery: Take as needed for your weapon choices.
Staff combat: This is available for cash from Angolwen, but it isn’t great. The base damage from the staff just doesn’t contribute much and those are all about their other benefits. Defensive posture might be a useful defensive sustain, but you’d have to spend 3 generics to get the first point.
Heightened Senses: see invisible enemies and traps, you’ll have loads of cunning so 1 point is more than enough.
Device Mastery: Some people really love this ability and 5/5 it, I’ve never used that many item abilities myself.
Track is extremely useful for not getting blindsided going around dodgy corners or rushing out to meet an enemy. 1 point is a must (you can get this from thief escorts if you want to save the first two points).
Danger sense: some fairly weak defensive abilities and an unnecessary boost to trap detection.
Phase door: An absolute must 5/5 for the class. Use it to escape, to reposition, or to grab a ranged attacked and pull them into melee range without exposing yourself to a crossfire.
Teleport: 1 point for a desperate escape from a bad situation, 5 points for a controlled retreat to a known safe location.
Displacement shield: I don’t like this, it’s not reliable, takes a turn to cast, and frankly won’t last that long. It does however stack with other shields, so you can take it if you need a truly massive shield more than you need the turn and points.
Probability travel: I honestly don’t understand how to use this ability effectively. This class doesn’t really have 200 mana to spare anyway.
Arcane reconstruction: Heal for mana. Unlike most other heals this can crit, so in combination with shielding an arcane shield its not only a guaranteed max out of your health bar its also the strongest single shield in the late game at 5/5, if sadly short lived. Fortunately this class has crazy high DPS, so you can probably take down whatever justifies your 6k hitpoint shield before it wears out.
Shielding: More powerful shields. Get at least one point in this as soon as you have the mana to spare. Good place to put spare generic points in the late game too.
Arcane shield: You need one point in order to have the supershield from arcane reconstruction. Scales poorly past that.
Aegis: instant boost to shield power, scales poorly but put in 1 point as soon as you can cast it without your mana bar shrinking painfully.
As a general bit of advice, pick your first prodigy well ahead of time. If the stat requirement isn’t a priority in the first 25 levels you can then save spare gear that improves that stat and aren’t left hanging wanting to take something but not having the stats for it.
Most builds will take Flexible Combat as the first prodigy. More attacks means more arcane combat triggers. I do see winners without it so there are other options.
The second prodigy doesn’t have any single must take prodigy. All the options worth considering:
Steamroller: since you can pretty reliably kill most enemies in 2 turns this will let you rush from target to target without ever stopping.
Pain Enhancement System: massive boost to everything for the first 6 turns of combat, probably better on a straight weapon character as you’ll put more points into strength.
Crafty hands: this would be great on a Cornac with the stone alchemy tree, but is otherwise useless
Corrupted Shell: and excellent option for a more defensively oriented prodigy.
Arcane Might: A huge boost to your weapon damage. Less ideal on staffs where weapon damage matters less.
Cauterize: Ideally this will never trigger, but if it does you’ll be glad you took it.
Ethereal Form: Bonus damage AND defense. This is a really good option on a lightning or fire main (I struggled with lightning resistance penetration all through the late game). Take light armor if you plan on this as its important to avoid weapon hits to keep the bonuses up.
Adept: Bonus everything. I hear this was pretty bad in 1.6 but its good on almost any class in 1.7, my winner ran with it
Elemental surge: Free movement run every 10 turns if you main lightning. If you’re fire main or just have some points in burning shock and can trigger it on a group there’s also bonus across the board damage available.
Master of disasters: The main ability is meh but its a huge boost to physical and spell power based on cunning.