This is an outdated guide, kept for historical purposes and to allow people who started using it to continue to do so if they so choose.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 December 2018 (Patch 3.5, Betrayal league)
This build centers around Essence Drain, a powerful single-target Damage Over Time effect, and Contagion, an Area effect that spreads Essence Drain's effect around. Against packs of monsters, you apply Essence Drain to one target, then spread it to the others with Contagion to watch the whole group die. Against bosses, you keep Essence Drain ticking and stay alive long enough for them to fall. A popular starter build, even for experienced players.
Unlike a typical Occultist build, this build uses Life instead of Energy Shield in order to be more budget-friendly. You can make a variant of this build easily enough by swapping Life nodes on the Passive Tree for Energy Shield ones once you're more experienced, if you want.
This is a ranged Spell build that relies on Damage over Time.
Occultist is one of the Witch Ascendancy classes. When you create your character, you'll select a Witch; you'll choose to be an Occultist 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/4wirY5py
Main Skill Basics
Essence Drain fires a Projectile that travels in a straight line. When it hits an enemy, it deals minor (Spell, Chaos, Projectile) damage. It then applies an effect that deals further (Damage over Time, Chaos) damage to the target affected. Although this damage-over-time effect is not, strictly speaking, Spell damage, Essence Drain specifically overrides this and allows modifiers to Spell damage to affect its damage.
As a result, Essence Drain's damage over time effect is affected by modifiers to Spell damage, Damage over Time, and Chaos damage. As a Damage over Time effect, it is unable to Critically Strike, so Critical Strike bonuses do little for this build. Chaos damage does not count as Elemental damage, so bonuses to Elemental damage do nothing for this build. Note that not all debuffs are Ailments (see the mechanics reference), and in particular Essence Drain's effect is not an Ailment.
Essence Drain's damage over time effect also allows you to regain (mechanically speaking, Regenerate) Life based on the damage that it does. Although this is similar to the Leech employed by other builds, it is not Leech in game-mechanics terms, it is Regeneration. The base regenerated life is 0.5% of the outgoing damage dealt by the Damage over Time.
Essence Drain only fires a single projectile, and therefore only applies to one target. However, it can be spread to other nearby targets by:
Contagion applies a Chaos Damage over Time effect to all enemies near a targeted location. If a target dies while affected by Contagion, the remaining duration of Contagion's damage-over-time effect will jump to nearby enemies. In addition, if the dying target is affected by Essence Drain, the remaining Essence Drain also jumps to nearby enemies. This effect is specific to Essence Drain; Contagion will not spread other effects.
Contagion, like Essence Drain, has a modifier that specifically allows Spell damage to apply to it. As a result, Contagion's damage benefits from modifiers to Spell damage, Damage over Time, and Chaos damage. Although it is applied by an Area effect, the damage itself is not dealt in an area, so Contagion does not benefit from modifiers to Area damage (but it is affected by modifiers to Area of Effect). As a Damage over Time effect, it is unable to Critically Strike, so Critical Strike bonuses do little for this build. Chaos damage does not count as Elemental damage, so bonuses to Elemental damage do nothing for this build. Note that not all debuffs are Ailments (see the mechanics reference), and in particular Contagion's effect is not an Ailment.
This section is meant to accompany the main "Act 1" section of the guide.
Early Act 1
You won't start with your Essence Drain or Contagion skill gems. For the very first few quests, you'll have to make do with your starting Fireball gem, or one of the others offered by the first quest, Enemy at the Gate. It doesn't matter which you can choose, and you can pick your preference; any of the five spells you're offered by Enemy at the Gate is functional.
You can spend your first few Passive Skill Points on the path pictured below (you'll start in the area at the upper-left of this image, at the Witch starting point).
None of the gems from Mercy Mission are relevant to you.
After you complete the Breaking Some Eggs quest in the Mud Flats, at around Level 5, you'll be able to choose Contagion as one of the rewards. Contagion is a blue gem, so you'll need a piece of equipment with a blue socket (you'll start with a wand that has two linked blue sockets). If you have a link available, consider buying an Arcane Surge Support gem from Nessa in Lioneye's Watch and linking it to your Contagion for now.
Once you enter the Prison (The Caged Brute), you can talk to Nessa in town. She'll offer you Wither, which you can channel on bosses once your Damage over Time effects are applied to increase your damage. We'll cover Movement skills later, but if you want to pick one up now, you can also purchase Lightning Warp or Flame Dash from Nessa.
Brutus will probably be a somewhat difficult fight. If you die a few times to him, don't feel too bad, you just don't have access to the main skills of your build just yet.
Once you defeat Brutus (The Caged Brute), you'll have access to the Void Manipulation Support gem from Nessa as well. Void Manipulation is a green gem, so you'll want to keep an eye out for items with a blue-blue-green link chain (the order doesn't matter; only the colors and links).
Late Act 1
As you go, you'll want to look for a few specific sorts of item:
- 3- and 4-linked items with mostly blue sockets (and possibly with one green for Void Manipulation Support).
- A Wand, Staff, or Sceptre with a large bonus to Spell damage. "Adds X to Spells" bonuses, however, will do nothing for you, since such effects cannot modify Damage over Time. You can dual-wield wands, so you'll generally want one in each hand, although your off-hand could be filled by a Shield with a large bonus to Spell damage as well.
- 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).
Once you enter the Cavern of Wrath (The Siren's Cadence), you'll be able to get your Essence Drain gem. It does not need to be (and should not be) linked to your Contagion gem. Instead, you'll want to put your Essence Drain in a separate slot in your equipment, so that you'll be able to link the maximum number of Support gems to both Essence Drain and Contagion.
Against packs, your goal is to apply Essence Drain to one enemy, then hit the whole pack with Contagion. Essence Drain's high damage will kill its target quickly, and the Essence Drain will start jumping around the pack, killing the rest of it.
Against bosses, try to keep both Essence Drain and Contagion ticking, and otherwise just stay mobile and stay alive. Essence Drain will regenerate your Life quickly, so as long as you're not actively being hit, you should be okay. You can also apply extra Essence Drains to extra enemies summoned by bosses.
This section is meant to accompany the main "Act 2" section of the guide.
Early Act 2
If you haven't found a weapon with a huge amount of Spell Damage (remember, not Elemental Damage, and not Added Damage to Spells, which are not beneficial to this build), consider using the +1 Chaos Skills wand recipe listed in the 'Vendor Recipes' article. One such wand in each hand can hold your Contagion in one and your Essence Drain in the other, bringing a substantial damage boost over using rare-rarity (yellow) wands with mediocre affixes.
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.
None of the Skill Gems offered by Intruders In Black are particularly useful for this build, but you can take Desecrate if you want a third Damage over Time effect to apply to rare monsters.
Once you've completed Sharp and Cruel, you'll be rewarded with Controlled Destruction Support, which is an excellent Support Gem for this build and one you'll likely be using most of the game. If you have open links to both your main skills, you may want to pick up another copy of this gem from Yeena. From now on, you'll generally be maintaining your main Essence Drain link as Essence Drain + Controlled Destruction + Effiacy + Void Manipulation whenever possible.
Note: You may be tempted to use Concentrated Effect Support on your Contagion. Unfortunately, this not only doesn't boost your damage, but instead actively harms it: it successfully reduces the Area of Effect (because Contagion is an Area of Effect gem), but it does not increase damage because Contagion does not deal Area Damage - its Area effect only applies the Damage over Time effect, and does not actually deal damage in its own right. There are builds where this gem is useful, but this is not one of them.)
Late Act 2
There's nothing in particular of note for this build in the second half of Act 2. What, were you expecting another gigantic wall of text? Where would you ever have gotten that idea?
This section is meant to accompany the main "Act 3" section of the guide.
Early Act 3
At around 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 with Auras, and this build has few Auras it would want to bother with anyway.
Once you've completed Lost in Love, you'll be rewarded with a choice of a few Curses. You can probably figure this one out for yourself, but Despair - which benefits Chaos damage and Damage over Time - is the one you want. See the 'Curses' section of the Act 3 guide for more on Curses - we'll eventually be picking up the ability to use more Curses, but for now we're limited to one.
If your damage feels a little low at this point, that's intentional: since this build is designed with safe durability in mind, it picks up defensive nodes first on the tree. Your damage will catch up in the mid- to late-game.
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.
From A Fixture of Fate, pick up Swift Affliction. It's marginally more damage than Void Manipulation as long as your Essence Drain stays active, although it does reduce the duration of the drain (and thus its potential for hopping across large packs of monsters). Recommended for bosses but not for trash clearing, basically.
This section is meant to accompany the main "Act 4" section of the guide.
Early Act 4
If you haven't picked up a movement skill yet, grab Flame Dash and support it with Faster Casting.
None of the skills from Breaking the Seal especially benefit this build. The best would be Flame Golem, but depending on your gear it's rather unlikely you can use it (you probably don't have the Strength).
From The Eternal Nightmare, pick up Increased Area of Effect Support. It's a useful addition to Contagion for trash clearing, allowing you to apply its Damage over Time effect to a larger pack at once. (Again: even though Contagion does not deal Area damage, it does have an Area of Effect and benefits from modifiers to such.)
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 likely to be quite difficult, because your build offers mediocre damage against bosses and because Izaro hits your relatively armour-less character like a truck. Play hit and run, 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).
Once you've completed the Labyrinth, pick up Profane Bloom on your Ascendancy tree. Now that you have it, you'll want to make sure you apply Curses to enemies before you kill them, which will cause them to explode for massive damage to nearby enemies. You can cast curses yourself, but it's probably better to use one of the utility setups (like Cast When Damage Taken - see the Act 4 guide) to do so.
Late Act 4
The last few bosses in Act 4 can hit very, very hard. Play a safe hit and run and try to keep moving; some of these effects will close to one-shot you.
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. While none of this build's primary skills make use of these Jewels, one available option is to pick up Spreading Rot - which applies a short but hefty Chaos damage taken increase with the use of Blight, another Chaos Spell - to allow heavier burst damage windows. You can use two copies of this jewel if you want, and the tree as given here does pick up two jewel sockets for them.
Part II (Acts 6-10)
Once you complete your second Labyrinth, sometime around the end of Act 7 or the beginning of Act 8, you should pick up Void Beacon on your Ascendancy Passive tree. It prevents life regeneration on nearby enemies and reduces their resistances, which is a straight damage increase for you. We mostly get it as a prerequisite, though.
Epilogue & Maps
Once you complete your third Labyrinth, sometime early into Maps, you should pick up Withering Presence. This adds enough Chaos Resistance that chunks of Energy Shield become somewhat valuable even in this life-based build (since only Chaos Damage skips your ES), but the main reason we take it is for damage. It stacks a debuff called Wither on nearby enemies, which does a huge amount of damage.
This build is fairly agnostic about monster modifiers on maps. Higher chaos resistance will hurt it, of course, as will greater monster life, but this build can run most map modifiers without concern.
When you complete your final Labyrinth, late in the endgame, your last point can go into Malediction, which allows you to use a third curse and reduces enemy damage.
The Full Build
Main Skill Links
Essence Drain - Efficacy - Controlled Destruction - Void Manipulation/Swift Affliction is your primary damage skill. In a 5-link, add in whichever of Swift Affliction or Void Manipulation; in a 6-link, add a Level 3 Empower (a pricey drop-only gem you'll need to buy from players), an Increased Duration (the budget option, for sustained kiting), or a Pierce. Note that some of links require slightly more Dexterity and Strength than the build gets innately by Level 80, meaning you may have to pick up some minor bonuses to them (but that should not be hard at that stage of the game).
Contagion - Faster Casting - Increased Area of Effect - Arcane Surge helps spread Essence Drain around. The damage of Contagion is minimal in the late-game, so we don't bother scaling it. You likely won't have two 6-links, and Contagion would benefit little from being in one anyway.
(Beyond the standard ones listed as part of the Act 4 Guide)
Spell Totem - Wither - Faster Casting - Increased Duration is a useful damage utility - drop the totem near a boss and it will rapidly stack an extreme damage-taken increase on them, helping to cover this build's relative weakness on single-targets.
[Vaal] Blight - Faster Casting - Increased Duration - Efficacy is similar, if you picked up the Spreading Rot Jewel during Act 5. Wither is a better fit for a Spell Totem, so you'll end up self-casting this. Note that the Hinder effect (which is what provides the damage-taken boost from Spreading Rot) is only applied to enemies not already affected by Blight, so you'll need to let the Damage over Time effect wear off by using this skill only every 10 seconds or so. Vaal Blight gets such a bonus inherently, making it nice to have if you can get it.
Vaal Righteous Fire - Burning Damage - Elemental Focus - Swift Affliction is a huge damage boost if you can go in to a fight with the Souls to use it. It requires you to stay close to an enemy, but sometimes that's safely possible, and this will add a lot of damage (at the cost of some of your Life) if you can do so. This will require more Strength than the build has innately, but that can be made up by an Amber Amulet or similar.
(This build can apply 3 Curses because of its Passive build.)
Offensively, the choice is always Despair, which does by far the most damage of any curse for this build. With the beginner gear I've cooked up for this build, it nearly doubles your damage against normal mobs.
The build has no other offensive options for yourself. If playing with others, you can load up their offensive curse of choice. Otherwise, look to defensive options like Temporal Chains (which has the added bonus of extending your Damage over Time effects) and Enfeeble.
Curses should be applied through the standard utility setups. Since this build uses three of them, you'll probably want two separate links setups: one with CWDT-Despair-Immortal Call-Inc. Duration and the other with CWDT-Temporal Chains-Enfeeble-Inc Duration or the like. See the Utility Effects page in the Act 4 guide for more information.
For offense, you're looking for Chaos Damage or Damage over Time bonuses; not much else affects this build's damage. A Staff with +1 to Socketed Gems and +2 to Socketed Chaos Gems is also a good option if you can get 4, 5, or 6 links in it for your Essence Drain.
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 lends itself well to Energy Shield.
Optional unique items include:
- Cherrubim's Maleficence (a chestpiece with Life and a large Chaos Damage boost).
- Breath of the Council (a mace with high Chaos Damage and a boost to the duration of Chaos skills - it's a melee weapon, so Shield Charge becomes an option for your Movement skill).
- Allelopathy (gloves that grant a high-level Blight, allowing an effective 5-link and improving its damage further).