This is an outdated guide, kept for historical purposes and to allow people who started using it to continue to do so if they so choose. If you're new, do not use this guide!
Guide Last Updated September 2018 (Patch 3.5, Betrayal league)
This build centers around Fireball, a Spell that fires an exploding Fireball projectile in a straight line. However, instead of scaling the direct Hit damage of your Fireball alone, this build scales the damage of its Ignite, an Ailment you can apply with Fire damage. It deals damage over time, and even burns nearby enemies. Later on, it also incorporates Armageddon Brand to call meteors down on bosses, and casts Fireball for free while you channel a Scorching Ray. Capable of very rapid pack clearing and respectable boss damage, but doesn't move very quickly (and in fact has to stand still for full damage output) and is relatively fragile.
This build is a ranged Spell caster that relies on a mix of direct Hits and Damage over Time.
Elementalist is one of the Witch Ascendancy classes. When you create your character, you'll select a Witch; you'll choose to be an Elementalist later in the game.
If you want to explore this build's stats, links, and Passive Tree interactively, head over to the Links page and download Path of Building. Then, in Path of Building, select Import/Export Build -> Import from Pastebin, and enter this link: https://pastebin.com/xvgEXVnW
Main Skill Basics
Fireball fires a single projectile that travels in a straight line towards the targeted location. On impact with a monster or terrain obstacles, it will explode, dealing damage to nearby enemies. In addition, Fireball has an innate chance to inflict the Ignite Ailment (even on a non-critical-strike) and Ignites caused by Fireball deal more damage.
Fireball's projectile is a Spell Projectile, and benefits natively from modifiers to Spell, Fire, Elemental, and Projectile Damage. The explosion benefits these modifiers as well, and also benefits from modifiers to Area Damage in addition to the previous list. Modifiers to Area of Effect will change the size of the explosion, and modifiers to cast speed will allow it to be cast more quickly.
If a Fireball projectile is modified to hit more than once (by, say, adding a Chain effect), it will only explode on the last hit. As is the case with almost all other Projectile skills, an enemy can only be hit once by projectiles created in a single cast. However, multiple Fireballs can overlap their explosion effects, each dealing damage to a single target. This build does not usually take advantage of this.
Later in the game, you'll access an upgraded version:
A Vaal Fireball gem, like other Vaal gems, gives the original version of the skill (with mechanics exactly as described above) in addition to a new skill: Vaal Fireball.
Vaal Fireball's effects are fundamentally the same as Fireball's, except Vaal Fireball fires Fireballs in all directions, staggering the shots so that they spiral around your character. It fires 32 shots in total. Each of these can hit and deal damage independently of the others. Any modifier that affects Fireball also affects Vaal Fireball.
Vaal Fireball, unlike regular Fireball, is not usable at will: it must be charged with Souls obtained by killing enemies or hitting bosses. Once used, you will not be able to gain souls for a brief time, so Vaal Fireball generally cannot recharge itself when it kills enemies.
For more on the mechanics of Vaal Skills in general, see the dedicated section on them in the Act 2 section of the main guide.
Ignite is not, strictly speaking, a Skill, but it's covered here since it's central to the build. Instead, it is an effect - or more technically, an Ailment - applied by hits of eligible Fire damage. By default, only Critical Strikes with Fire damage can Ignite, but adding Chance to Ignite to your passives or equipment will allow non-Critical Strikes to inflict Ignites as well.
Ignite deals Fire damage based on the base damage of the inflicting hit. It is not directly affected by modifiers that benefit the primary skill's damage. Instead, it is affected by its own set of modifiers, meaning that it is increased by Fire Damage, Elemental Damage, Ignite Damage, Ailment Damage, Damage over Time, and Burning Damage. By default, only one Ignite can deal damage at a time on any given target. This build uses Proliferation effects, which cause the Ignites you inflict to burn nearby targets as well as the primary one (though each target can still only be burned by one Ignite at a time).
Note that 'Burn' and 'Ignite' are not the same thing. 'Burn' simply means 'any fire damage over time'. Since Ignite deals fire damage over time, it is a Burn by definition, and thus benefits from Burning Damage, but there are other sources of Burn that are not Ignites. In short, Ignite is a subset of Burn: all Ignites are Burns, but not all Burns are Ignites.
For additional details on Ignite, see the Ailments page in the Mechanics Reference.
Armageddon Brand places a marker on the ground that will attach to an enemy when they approach. Once attached, it will call down meteors that deal damage in an area around the attached enemy. Like Fireball, it also deals bonus Ignite damage and has an innate Chance to Ignite.
By default, you're limited to 3 Brands placed and 1 attached to any particular enemy (although more than 1 can attach if multiple enemies are present). This build picks up the Runebinder Keystone Passive, which allows you to attach a second Brand to a single enemy. Each Brand has two duration counters, one for attached time and one for unattached time, and will expire if either runs out.
Armageddon Brand deals (Area, Fire, Spell, Brand) Damage, and thus benefits from modifiers to those types of damage. It is not a Projectile and does not benefit from Projectile Damage modifiers. Cast Speed modifiers affect both how quickly you can place the Brand marker and how often it calls down a meteor on your target. Modifiers to Skill Effect Duration or to Brand Duration affect how long the marker will last both attached and unattached.
(It's irrelevant to this build for the most part, but there is also a skill called Brand Recall that pulls your Brands to you and triggers their effects at your location. We use Fireball as our main damage source and our Brand just for auxiliary damage, so we don't worry about this.)
(Scorching Ray is not used until later in the game. You'll pick it up early on, but we won't integrate it with our Fireball until Act 4. Unless you want to use it before then, which is a perfectly viable choice, you can skip this section for now.)
Scorching Ray channels a beam of fire from your character to your cursor. The beam applies a stacking Fire Damage Over Time effect (that is, a Burn, but keep in mind that Burns and Ignites mean different things in Path of Exile's language) to targets that stand in it. This effect stacks up to 8 times, increasing the damage it deals and progressively reducing the Fire Resistance of targets.
Scorching Ray deals Fire Damage Over Time. Although Damage Over Time is not normally eligible to be affected by Spell Damage, Scorching Ray specifically overrides this normal behavior, and it does benefit from modifiers to Spell Damage. As a result, Scorching Ray scales with increases to Fire Damage, Damage Over Time, Burning Damage, and Spell Damage. Cast Speed modifiers affect how quickly the ray's debuff stacks and how quickly you can turn the beam while channelling.
Scorching Ray does not Hit and is therefore ineligible for any effects that depend on Hitting (for example, it cannot Critically Strike or apply an Ignite). It is also neither an Area effect nor a Projectile, and is not affected in any way by modifiers that affect Area or Projectile skills.
This section is meant to accompany the main "Act 1" section of the guide.
Early Act 1
This build has the useful feature of actually starting with your main skill: you'll get your Fireball gem off of literally the first enemy that you kill. You can link it with Arcane Surge Support, which you'll find halfway through the first area (or you can buy it from Nessa in town).
Since you already have your primary Fireball skill, it doesn't matter what skill you choose from Enemy at the Gate, although if you want to fool around with other skills early on it won't hurt you. Just make sure you keep your Fireball gem socketed somewhere in your gear while you experiment, so that it can continue to level up.
You can spend your first few Passive Skill Points on the path pictured below (you'll start in the area at the lower-right of this image, at the Witch starting point).
Once you finish Mercy Mission, you can pick up either Elemental Proliferation Support (to get started with your later playstyle of spreading Ignites around) or Volley Support (to add some extra Fireballs for early clear). Even if you don't use Elemental Proliferation yet, you may want to purchase a copy of it from Nessa to start levelling it now. We'll eventually replace it, but it'll see use for the first few Acts.
None of the skills from Breaking Some Eggs are relevant to this build.
Once you've entered the Prison, you can talk to Nessa in town for a Support gem. Pick up Combustion Support, which we'll use throughout the game.
Brutus will likely be a fairly difficult fight, as your build offers little early durability or damage. If you die a few times here, don't fret - some builds take a little while to come in to their own.
We'll cover movement skills later in the guide, but you can pick one of them up now as a reward for The Caged Brute, since we won't have any use for the other gems offered. Flame Dash is the recommended choice.
Late Act 1
As you go, you'll want to look for a few specific sorts of item:
- 3- and 4-linked items with blue sockets (or, optionally, with one green for Volley)
- A Wand, Staff, or Sceptre with large Increased Fire Damage or Increased Elemental Damage modifiers. For now, Increased Spell Damage will also work, though you'll want to avoid it later in the guide (because it does not affect your Ignites). Ultimately, we'll favor Sceptres for their large elemental-damage bonuses.
- Gear with Life and Resistances. Energy Shield gear is most likely to have your required sockets.
As you continue to gain more Passive Skill Points, work your way towards the following tree. You'll have enough points for all the Passives shown here sometime around Act 3 or 4, at which point you can move on to the full Passive Tree (listed in the "Full Build" section of this guide below).
Around this point you've probably picked up Elemental Overload, the Keystone Passive located "northwest" of your starting area. This causes any Critical Strike to give you a large bonus (40% More) to your Elemental damage for 8 seconds, at the cost of causing your crits to not deal more damage themselves. This is a long enough duration that the buff requires no special maintenance, and you won't need (or want) to gear for Critical Strike since the buff is up most of the time to begin with.
From The Siren's Cadence, pick up Scorching Ray. You can use this as your primary attack for now if you find you like it, or you can just slap it in a backup item. We'll set it up to auto-cast your Fireballs later in the build.
Fireball should be clearing weak enemies just fine for now, particularly if you've supported it with Elemental Proliferation. At this stage of the game, Fireball - Elemental Proliferation - Combustion will clear weak enemies reasonably efficiently.
Bosses, however, are best handled using some temporary secondary skills - Firestorm, in particular, will do a good job of killing them if you can keep them still for a little while.
As a temporary measure, consider setting up a Scorching Ray - Spell Totem Support link in your gear for use against bosses. This will let you place a totem that'll both do fairly considerable damage on its own and shred enemy Fire Resistance to help you deal more damage to them.
This section is meant to accompany the main "Act 2" section of the guide.
Early Act 2
If you haven't found a good weapon with a large amount of Increased Fire Damage yet, consider using the +1 Fire Skills weapon recipe listed in the 'Vendor Recipes' article with a Sceptre. Putting your Fireball in such a Sceptre can be a substantial increase to its damage and will generally outperform rare-rarity drops for now. You can craft two, if you so choose, and put secondary temporary skills like Firestorm in one of them as well.
For the Deal with the Bandits quest, this build will kill all three Bandits. It doesn't really benefit from the bonuses offered by any of them, so we just take the free skill points.
From Intruders in Black, pick up Herald of Ash. You'll want to keep this active: it provides a direct bonus to your Spells' Fire damage, but more importantly it takes any overkill damage you deal and applies it as a Burn to nearby enemies. Since this build heavily scales Burn, HoA's effect is quite powerful (and because it's not an Ignite, it can stack with your existing Ignite damage). You can link supports to this to increase its effect, but I wouldn't recommend it, since it increases the amount of Mana reserved by Herald of Ash.
Note: At around this point you'll gain access to the Elemental Focus support. Because this support prevents supported skills from applying Elemental Ailments - which are our primary source of damage from the midgame on - this is a terrible choice of support for your Fireball and should never be used in this build.
From Sharp and Cruel, pick up Controlled Destruction for now. This won't be a permanent support, but it's better than nothing if your Fireball needs an additional link on top of Combustion and Elemental Proliferation. Note that this support does not prevent you from dealing a Critical Strike, which may be a bit counter-intuitive since it reads "100% Reduced Critical Strike Chance". You will still be able to trigger your Elemental Overload. For the details, see the Critical Strikes page in the Mechanics Reference.
Late Act 2
By this point, you've probably picked up the Mind over Matter Keystone Passive to the left of your starting point. This provides extra defenses for the build, using your Mana to provide extra effective Life. Since we're taking Mind over Matter, mana bonuses on armour are moderately valuable, although they're still secondary to Life. You'll also want to avoid Reserving mana when possible aside from your Herald of Ash.
If you haven't found one yet, consider asking chat if anyone has a spare Vaal Fireball gem for some minor amount of currency (a couple Chromatic Orbs or an Orb of Alchemy might be a reasonable tip for someone's trouble). If you can get one, level it up until it's caught mostly up to your main Fireball, then swap your main Fireball out for it for the remainder of the guide.
This section is meant to accompany the main "Act 3" section of the guide.
Early Act 3
Once you've completed Lost in Love, you'll be rewarded with a choice of a few Curses. For now, pick up Flammability, but we'll consider other curses later. See the 'Curses' section of the Act 3 guide for more on Curses.
Late Act 3
None of the Skill Gem choices from Sever the Right Hand is relevant to this build. Fool around with Raise Spectre or something if you want; it's a pretty fun little skill. However, once you've completed Sever the Right Hand, you'll be able to buy Armageddon Brand from Clarissa. You should do so, and hook it up to Controlled Destruction and Concentrated Effect (both of which you should have access to by now from the skill gem vendors you've unlocked so far in acts 1-3).
For this build, we'll use Armageddon Brand mostly on bosses. Just set them up at a boss' feet before they attack or as soon as you engage them, and it'll rain free meteors down on them for a little while before expiring. Most bosses will be dead before it expires, but if you see the meteors stop, just pause your Fireball-ing and recast the Brand. Before you pick up the Runebinder Keystone Passive on the left-hand side of your tree you can only attach one Brand to a particular enemy; once you have it you can attach a second.
A Fixture of Fate will reward you with Burning Damage Support, which we'll link to Fireball for now. Your primary Fireball links, at this point, should go Fireball - Elemental Proliferation - Burning Damage - Combustion. In addition, you'll now be able to purchase any vendor-available gem from Siosa in the Library.
Note: Fire Penetration Support may seem tempting at this point. However, the mechanics of resistance Penetration only allow it to apply on Hits. Our Ignites do not Hit, so unfortunately penetration is a relatively weak (though not useless) stat for this build.
This section is meant to accompany the main "Act 4" section of the guide.
Early Act 4
You have some options for Movement skills, but your best bet is probably Flame Dash. Link it to Faster Casting to make it cast a little faster to get you out of harm's way in time.
None of the skills from Breaking the Seal especially benefit this build. The best would be Flame Golem, but even that is barely worth sustaining.
From The Eternal Nightmare, we'll pick up a few new supports: Cast While Channelling Support, Immolate Support, and Ignite Proliferation Support. You'll need to buy some of these from Petarus and Vanja (not all of them are offered to you directly).
Cast While Channelling lets you hook your Fireball up to your Scorching Ray so that you'll fire Fireballs automatically while channelling the beam, which is faster than just casting Fireball yourself. At this point, you'll want to change your Fireball link to Scorching Ray - Cast While Channelling - Fireball - Ignite Proliferation (and if you somehow have a 5- or 6-link at this point, Burning Damage and Effiacy in the last two slots). Your Armageddon Brand, on the other hand, should change to Armageddon Brand - Combustion - Immolate - Concentrated Effect.
Your strategy on bosses now depends a bit on how scary the boss is and how easy they are to kite. The most defensive strategy is to just run away and keep your Brands active; the most aggressive one is to apply your Brands and then sit there channelling your Scorching Ray into their face.
By this point you've probably completed the Passive Tree shown above. Here's the full tree, which you should work towards from here on out, adjusting how much damage or life you pursue as you feel your damage or survivability is in need of more help.
The Labyrinth is your first fight with a boss with some real Life. Play hit and run, keep him Ignited, keep your Brands raining meteors down on his head, and don't worry about killing him fast unless he has Charges (see the Labyrinth page for more on his mechanics and what this means). Standing still to Channel here is a bad idea.
Once you've completed the Labyrinth, you have two options. We'll eventually get both paths, so this is not a permanent choice, just one for the rest of the story campaign.
- Pick up Paragon of Calamity to Leech Life from your Fireballs and Brand impacts. This can keep you alive on long fights, and is a good choice for bosses.
- Pick up Shaper of Desolation to add Freeze and Shock to your hits via a rotating buff that allows your Fireballs and Brands to inflict more than just their basic Ignites. (This also gets you closer to Beacon of Ruin, the passive behind Shaper of Desolation, which bakes your Elemental Proliferation in to your skills for free and frees up a gem slot on top of applying other Ailments essentially for free.)
Paragon of Calamity is the safe choice, but Shaper of Desolation - or rather, Beacon of Ruin, which you'll get sooner if you go that way - is definitely the fun one.
Assuming you pick Shaper of Desolation, you should do two things. One, swap your Ignite Proliferation back to Elemental Proliferation, which will help spread your new Shocks and Freezes around (alternately, you can use Controlled Destruction for some free damage). Two, you may want to refer to the Ailments section in the Mechanics Reference to review the effects of Shock and Freeze (in addition to Ignite, with which you should be familiar by now).
Late Act 4
There's nothing particularly notable for this build in late Act 4.
This section is meant to accompany the main "Act 5" section of the guide.
The only major build-specific note for Act 5 is the choice of Unique Jewel from Death to Purity. Unfortunately, Rolling Flames, the Fireball-buffing Jewel, is not offered by this quest. If you're not playing solo, consider buying one and placing it in one of the Jewel sockets on your tree (all of which have more than the 40 Intelligence required nearby to activate the Jewel). This will add a fair amount of extra Area of Effect to your Fireballs at max range.
Part II (Acts 6-10)
This section is meant to accompany the main "Acts 6-10" section of the guide.
Once you complete the second Labyrinth, sometime around late Act 7 to early Act 8, your pick depends on what you chose for your first one:
- If you chose Paragon of Calamity, you should now take Shaper of Desolation. Once you do so, swap your Ignite Proliferation back to Elemental Proliferation, which will help spread your new Shocks and Freezes around. You may also want to refer to the Ailments section in the Mechanics Reference to review the effects of Shock and Freeze (in addition to Ignite, with which you should be familiar by now).
- If you chose Shaper of Desolation, you should now take Beacon of Ruin. Because your effects now Proliferate on their own, you no longer need to use Ignite Proliferation or Elemental Proliferation, meaning you can swap Elemental Proliferation out for Controlled Destruction.
Epilogue & Maps
Once you complete your third Labyrinth, sometime early in the epilogue, you'll want to pick up the last of the passives that you haven't yet from Paragon of Calamity, Shaper of Desolation, or Beacon of Ruin. If your last one was Beacon of Ruin, and you were previously using Ignite Proliferation or Elemental Proliferation, you no longer need to, meaning you can swap Elemental Proliferation out for Controlled Destruction on your Fireball links. If your last one was not Beacon of Ruin, you've probably already made this swap.
This build has immunity to reflected Elemental Damage, and can therefore run maps with the "Monsters Reflect X% of Elemental Damage" mods safely. You should, however, beware of maps where monsters have resistance to Elemental Ailments - you can clear these maps, but you will do so more slowly, and the slower kills mean more incoming damage.
Once you complete your fourth and final Labyrinth very late in the game, your final Ascendancy Point should go in to Pendulum of Destruction.
The Full Build
Main Skill Links
Scorching Ray - Cast While Channelling - Fireball/Vaal Fireball - Efficacy is your primary damage skill. In a 5-link, add Burning Damage, and in a 6-link, add Controlled Destruction.
Note that during the leveling process, you will want to use Ignite Proliferation (before getting Shaper of Desolation) or Elemental Proliferation (between getting Shaper of Desolation and getting Beacon of Ruin) to spread your Ignites (and other ailments) around. Beacon of Ruin spreads them for you once you have it, so you won't need either of these supports in your endgame build.
Armageddon Brand - Immolate - Concentrated Effect - Combustion is your support damage skill against bosses. In a 5- and 6-link, add Controlled Destruction and then Faster Casting.
While they are not properly speaking skills in their own right, you will be applying all three types of Elemental Ailment. You may wish to review the mechanics of these effects in the Mechanics Reference.
(Beyond the standard ones listed as part of the Act 4 Guide)
Flame Charge - Faster Casting is your basic mobility setup.
Herald of Ash (unlinked) adds damage and clear at the cost of a quarter of your mana, which is almost always worth it. Don't link much in the way of Support Gems to it, though; they'll increase its mana reservation and won't do much for your clear speed.
Offensively, use Flammability. Defensively, use Enfeeble or Temporal Chains: Enfeeble provides more direct damage reduction, but Temporal Chains makes kiting enemies easier and allows your utility debuffs to apply for longer periods of time. This build picks up the ability to apply a second Curse, so you can use two of these if you so choose. Warlord's Mark is also an option for Life and Mana sustain.
Curses should be applied through one of the standard utility setups. See the Utility Effects guide under Act 4 for more.
For offense, look for bonuses to Fire Damage first, then for Spell or Burning Damage bonuses. A Staff with +1 to Socketed Gems and +2 to Socketed Fire Gems (a "+3 Fire staff") is a good choice, as are a pair of Sceptres with very high Increased Fire Damage modifiers on them. Wands, which give Spell Damage as an Implicit, are not as good for this build as Sceptres. Added Fire Damage to Spells is also a valuable stat, since it can scale both base hits and Ignites (though it won't scale your Scorching Ray).
For defense, this build seeks the standard Life/Resists combination typical of a generic Life-based build. Resist cap is the first priority, then as much Life as you can get. Base defenses matter little, although the hit-and-run style play of this build means Energy Shield will sometimes get the chance to recharge.
One of the best pickups you can make on the cheap is a pair of Rolling Flames jewels. These shouldn't cost you much (maybe an Orb of Alchemy) and will substantially improve your clear speed.
Optional unique items include:
- Searing Touch (a staff with huge bonuses to Fire and Burning damage)
- Pyre (a ring with large Burning damage bonuses, useful in the early game especially)
- Emberwake (a ring that allows you to apply a second Ignite)