Ritual League Update
The 3.13 Patch Notes initially spelled doom for both Trickster and ED Contagion builds but when one goes in and digs a little bit deeper, you can only admit that everything they did was just perfectly fine. While people generally struggled to get items that had, for example 100 Life, 100% Increased Evasion Rating, and some open affixes to finish it up with multi-modding, nowadays this becomes a somewhat of a joke through the re-introduction of Harvest League. If you look at this objectively, Harvest is going to give much more for the average player than the nerfs took away from them!
Effectively though, Trickster lost about 5-10% of its survivability with the 3.13 changes to the Ascendancy, but when I look at builds like this one I can only admit that they were necessary. Seeing as to how this build remains incredibly tanky even after those changes, it actually means the build got stronger because you’ll either find yourself in a spot where you’re getting to the items you want for the first time (or second time if you’ve played Harvest), or you’re going to be able to squeeze out a tad more out of your gear because of it. Damage-wise we lost a 50% increased damage in the Ascendancy, but that only equates to about 50K DoT DPS so that hardly matters at all.
Gem-wise, there was a little change to Efficacy Support which only affects it while leveling (at which it’ll still be the best) and a little bigger change to Contagion’s Radius. ED / Contagion was considered an S-tier clearspeed skill before Awakened Increased Area of Effect and/or Intensify were a thing, so overall the build still will pack an insane amount of screen clear whilst being a tank versus bosses! Overall, I think it’ll be easier to get the build to its endgame status and it’ll still shine at that!
Essence Drain is a widely-recognized and appreciated build by a large chunk of the community. It is generally perceived well because of its potential in all areas of the game. When built correctly, it excels in clear speed, killing bosses, and staying alive. While there is a ton of Essence Drain content out there, I feel like a lot of it focuses on non-optimal things. I feel like scaling Essence Drain out of control through investing in the most nutty perfect items to do what is, in a best case scenario, about 10-15% more damage while giving up survivability will just result in you playing a build that still doesn’t do top tier damage but feels more squishy than it should. The skill / build archetype was not made to be a top tier damaging build, but focuses on doing its damage rather safe and maintaining its top tier clear speed perk. So, rather than grabbing that 10% or so extra damage, I went all out and stacked as many defenses as possible. The most optimal defensive setup requires you to go for Atziri's Step and a Thread of Hope to allocate Phase Acrobatics, but that most likely was a little bit too far-fetched so I ended up being happy with running capped Block & Spell Block, Energy Shield on Block, 31/47 Dodge, over 50% Chance to Evade and a total Health Pool of almost 9,000. All of these defenses, layered on top of each other, will make it borderline impossible for you to die.
The best part about tackling the build in this way is that almost all your gear is self farmable or craftable and can easily be purchased for relatively cheap as well. The build runs a single Unique item which is easily obtainable from killing normal Atziri, and most of its Rare items are literally just some resistances, Life and a benchcraft. If you’re looking for something that is fairly durable, excels at clearing maps and kills bosses at a decent pace while being nearly impossible to kill, this Essence Drain variation is definitely what you’re looking for!
Pros and Cons
+ Exceptional map clear
+ Functions on very cheap/accessible gear
+ Does very potent DPS on bosses while being durable
+ Ridiculous single target & clear on relatively limited gear
+ Really solid at pushing clear-speed on league starts
– 2-Button build – you need to spam both to clear maps
– Some multimod pieces can be a tad annoying to acquire
Map Modifiers to be Avoided
No Regeneration is incredibly annoying to run as you’ll have to drop a Flask for a Mana Flask. Other than that, this build excels at dealing with most map mechanics!
Playstyle, Mechanics & Strengths
Essence Drain’s playstyle is highly dependent on Contagion. When you cast an Essence Drain, it’s going to just fire a single projectile into a massive amount of mobs. As you expected, that’s not going to go well. However, as you cast a Contagion into a pack and then Essence Drain into it, you’re going to proliferate your damage making it so you can clear multiple screens at once. Contagion will expand as monsters die while being influenced by it. That is why this build requires you to press two buttons almost all the time.
On bosses, however, you’re just using one Essence Drain every couple of seconds while casting Blight on the boss as much as possible. This not only activates your Cluster Jewel by Hindering the enemies, but also just deals a decent amount of damage once you give it time to ramp up. As casting multiple Essence Drains on a boss doesn’t really help your cause, you might as well channel some Blight damage into them. Outside of the extra DPS you’re getting from Blight, you mainly get to just dodge mechanics while Essence Drain deals damage over time to the boss(es). This allows you to play fairly safely when you need to, and aggressively when you can!
As you’re playing a Trickster, you’re already innately fairly tanky through Ghost Shrouds and Energy Shield recovery every 2 seconds (provided you’re actually taking damage). Since Trickster also scales very well with Damage over Time, they’re a match made in heaven. Because of the Evasion you naturally stack on Trickster, it usually is more of an archetype that wants to avoid as much damage as possible and stack just about enough health pool to survive the content you’re tackling to never get one-shot. However, since Essence Drain doesn’t require any Unique items and has a decent amount of leeway to stack health passives in the skill tree.
That all leads to a character that already has a reasonably amount of effective health before all of the mitigation layers that you’re stacking. Since you also automatically recover your Energy Shield, you’ll stay topped up throughout most of your playthrough. Obviously, like any build, you shouldn’t be tanking the most dangerous, most telegraphed boss mechanics out there!
Passive Skill Tree, PoB, and Gem Links
You can find an optimized Path of Building here. Every build I release will use the community fork of Path of Building, which is maintained and updated in a much more regular fashion than the original one. You can find PoB’s Fork, by LocalIdentity, here.
If you are not comfortable with Path of Building, we also have a PoePlanner for you. Do note that PoE Planner does not support Cluster Jewels and some specific unique jewels and it is highly recommended you install Path of Building to follow builds most optimally.
More information about the Passive Skill Tree, as well as all the Gem Links can be found on our dedicated page.
Ascendancy, Bandits, and Pantheons
Our Ascendancy, Bandit, and Pantheon Power page goes into detail about all the choices you need to make in these regards.
Gear Summary / TL;DR
A lot of this is explained more in depth in the Gear Page, however we will provide you with a basic idea of what gear you’re looking for in this short summary.
|Item Slot||Item Name|
|Head||Hubris Circlet with Life – Chaos Res & Ailment Avoidance|
|Amulet||Turquoise Amulet with Life – +1 Chaos Skills & Maximum Energy Shield|
|Chest||Sadist Garb with Evasion/ES – Ailment Avoidance & Life/Life as Extra Maximum Energy Shield|
|Gloves||Fingerless Silk Gloves with Dexterity, Life, Chaos Res & Ailment Avoidance|
|Belt||Leather Belt with Life & a lot of Resistances|
|Rings||Rare Rings with Life – Resistances & Mana Regeneration|
|Weapon||Rare Wand with Chaos DoT Multi – +1 Spell Skills – Spell Damage – Damage over Time Multi|
|Shield||Rare Titanium Spirit Shield with Life – Spell Block & ES Recovery when you Block|
Questions & Support
I made it a habit to check all comments in my guides on a daily basis. Obviously, there might be occurrences where getting a reply might take longer but I really do try to get back to you as soon as possible. I prefer you making remarks, suggestions or asking questions that way as it allows others to read through the comments, providing them with a potential answer to their question, without having to wait for me again. If I have somehow missed your question, you can try reaching me on our Discord.
If you enjoy my content to such an extent that you’d like to support me and my work, I have a Patreon you can check out. At no point should you feel pressured to contribute, but if you do, your support means more to me than you will ever imagine.
Since we are very adamant about trying to give you a leveling experience that lies as close to your endgame playstyle as possible, we recommend the following setups to blast through the game with Essence Drain. The skill is particularly potent at the later parts of the story but at no point should you have any issues. For more information about leveling, we refer you to the following guides:
- Our step-by-step leveling walkthrough, which allows even more experienced players to save time and speed through the leveling process.
- Our guide to Unique Items for leveling, which helps you gear up your characters for the leveling process.
- Our beginner leveling guide, which answers many of the questions new players might have and will set you on the right path.
Getting to Brutus & Merveil
For starters, create a Shadow in whichever league you want to start.
Pick up an Explosive Trap from the vendor to start your journey and go to kill Hailrake and clear Mud Flats. Set up the following links after Mud Flats:
After killing Brutus, you will be adding some Void Manipulation Supports gems to your links.
Level 12 and Onwards Setup
From level 12, after killing Merveil, you’ll be setting up for your road to greatness. What’s important here is that you’re going to use Contagion as your clear skill without having to use Essence Drain as long as you can. Eventually, Contagion wont be able to one-shot white monsters anymore at which point you’ll move your Essence Drain up to have the damage supports and link supports such as Increased Area of Effect, Arcane Surge, Item Rarity on Contagion to help out. Before that though, use the following links: