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I started playing Dungeon Defenders recently having a lot of fun with it, still trying to figure out what stats affect what. Does increasing my hero cast rate increase how fast I can summon/repair towers during the combat phase?

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Yes, it increases your summoning and repairing speed in combat, but you get an extra modifier when in build phase.

From the Dungeon defender wiki about hero casting rate:

The Hero Casting Rate stat determines how fast the hero will heal itself, cast, upgrade and repair defenses.

  • Having a Hero Casting Rate stat < 0 (negative) will be the same as if it was zero.
  • In the Build Phase of a wave, a hero's casting rate is always significantly faster than in the Combat Phase, while still determined by Hero Casting Rate stat.

Like most other stats it has diminishing return, graph from the Stat Progression Graph wiki page: enter image description here

While leveling it could be a good idea to place some points in hero casting speed, but once you get a good godly set or better gear you should get plenty of points in hero casting speed from items so you can place your points in other stats.

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+1 for a graph! –  Paralytic Apr 2 '12 at 7:48
    
To be honest, casting speed also affects healing (and Hero abilities), so it would be more useful than anything else for a character doing Assault runs (after they've already maxed H.Attack and H.Health, of course). –  Gwen Apr 2 '12 at 12:05
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