The Herald of Agony skill was introduced in Path of Exile’s 3.4 Delve League Expansion and immediately showcased it was very good at that expansion’s theme. It has been used to Delve to great success ever since, because it is able to get incredibly tanky while dishing out relatively reliable and high damage. In fact, the Herald of Agony (HoA) builds that rose up, and we’ve seen quite some variations of them (Dodge-focused Raiders, Super tanky Juggernauts, or Energy Shield-based Guardians), had to get nerfed in GGG’s eyes with the release of 3.10 Delirium League. Admitted, they might have seen the addition of Cluster Jewels and more particularly Calamitous Visions as a possible reason why the build could get out of control if it hadn’t been adjusted a little.
Calamitous Visions really was a really nice bump in the build’s damage potential and is the reason why we will be recommending a Cluster Jewel setup. Worry not though, even without this Cluster Jewel setup, the build will play perfectly fine, which is what makes it a very solid League Starter or Solo-Self Found candidate. It doesn’t look for any particular damage modifiers on gear whatsoever, so all of them are fairly easy to acquire. In this guide, however, we will be focusing on a Trade League environment and will be including some items that are more optimal if you can buy them off the market. Items like a Glorious Vanity or a Saffell's Frame are quite rare to find in Solo-Self Found but if you’re familiar with how to focus specific items or if you play a lot, getting them shouldn’t pose much of a problem.
This build achieves 180.000 Effective Health against Elemental damage, north of 110.000 versus Chaos or Physical Damage, while still getting around 6500 Life. Additionally it has over 500 Life Gained on Hit and a bit of Life Regeneration. While this obviously makes it very tanky, it still maintains a solid 3-5 million Pinnacle DPS, depending on the investment, on a skill that has 100% uptime! Don’t forget that while other builds might be reaching more DPS, their uptime definitely is a lot lower as they can’t deal damage while dodging incoming abilities or attacks.
Besides whirling around with Cyclone and pressing your flasks, there really isn’t anything you need to manually cast. We’ve harbored all the skills in automated setups through Cast when Damage Taken Support so you can focus on playing and enjoying the content while your character keeps all your buffs up for you.
Since you’re playing a Minion build, it is fairly important to know that you’re not going to be running around with an insane army of Summons. Besides your Herald of Agony, which appears automatically as soon as you attack something, you’re only running a couple of automated things focused at keeping virulence stacks as high as possible!
As Juggernauts are obviously associated with tankiness, we tried to not disappoint. This build uses a Glorious Vanity with Divine Flesh which converts 50% of all Elemental Damage taken to Chaos Damage, and gives you extra Maximum Chaos Resistance. Combined with Saffell's Frame and a few cluster notables, that brings you up to 90% maximum Chaos Resistance which greatly reduces the overall amount of Elemental Damage you take. Since Saffell’s Frame also increases your maximum Elemental Resistance, you’ll also have 80 or 81 maximum Elemental Resistances. Through the Juggernaut Ascendancy and sustaining Endurance Charges, Physical Damage also doesn’t scare us.
On top of that, with instant Warcries through Call to Arms, you can reliably put Enduring Cry on left mouse button and automatically cast it with no delay as you’re moving around. This, in addition to Vaal Molten Shell, makes the character deal with bursts of damage really well too.
This build is incredibly capable of dealing with all the most difficult content in the game. Through its almost stupid amounts of mitigation, it’ll be perfect as a character for you to try out bosses for the first time or farm them without feeling at risk at any point. We opted for this variation of the build as opposed to Guardian or Raider because of how straightforward it is to gear it and to understand its gearing process. Therefore, it’s perfectly suited for both new and veteran players alike. It uses no super-expensive gear anywhere and is very well executable for someone who takes his time getting expensive items.
Pros & Cons
+ Really solid build for Hardcore
+ Can potentially kill all content in the game at high investments
+ Very easy to play
+ Doesn’t rely on flasks too much
+ One of the best Delve builds
+ Very new player friendly.
+ Can feel a little slow
+ You don’t deal damage yourself
Playstyle, Mechanics & Strengths
The first thing we need to understand is how Herald of Agony actually works. Activating the Herald does not actually spawn the minion that attacks (the Agony Crawler), but instead just grants an inherent chance to Poison. The Agony Crawler will spawn as long as you have at least one Virulence stack, stacks which you gain by poisoning enemies. The Agony Crawler scales extremely well from Virulence stacks, so you really want to keep as many stacks up as possible. With Cluster Jewels, the maximum Virulence stacks becomes 50, 60 or even 70 instead of 40, so you need to hit relatively fast to inflict enough Poisons to be able to keep them up reliably. Because of the automated Balls of Lightning that pop out you’ll be easily maxing out your Virulence stacks.
An extra mechanic that comes into play here is The Golden Rule. Poisons you inflict on yourself count towards your Virulence stacks, so this jewel effectively doubles your Virulence stacks. Obviously, this means we do Poison ourselves but due to our really high tankiness and Chaos Resistance, this doesn’t really hurt us that much. After all, Poison scales off of your hit damage and you’re using a low level gem to keep your Poisons low.
While using Cyclone to inflict the Poisons on enemies, you also link it to a Cast While Channeling setup with Ball Lightning. This skill inherently has a lot of hits, leading it to be one of the premier ways to stack virulence. Additionally, you’re going to link it to Lifetap Support as we no longer want to deal with Mana issues and have enough life recovery for this not to matter. Whenever you have access to a source of Mana cost reduction (preferably on rings), you’ll swap the Lifetap for Life Gain on Hit which makes you infintely more tanky.
Otherwise, aside from having Enduring Cry being used automatically as it should be on your left mouse button, there isn’t too much to explain mechanic-wise or playstyle-wise. The strengths of this build lie in the damage uptime. While you are whirling around with Cyclone while still dodging everything, our Herald of Agony just shreds every boss / trash pack you encounter. This in itself is already a huge upside to almost any build and is a huge reason as to why Brands or Totems see so much popularity with newer players or boss killers.
If you can afford a suffix on your gear (we’ll talk about those choices in the gear section), we are able to run an extra Aspect. While there’s upsides to almost all of them, we recommend running Aspect of the Spider, as it provides as much offense as it does defense. This requires some very profound optimizing of your Resistance rolls though, or relying on Endurance Charges to get you capped.
Passive Skill Tree, PoB, and Gem Links
You can find an optimized Path of Building here. This is the place to be looking for your most endgame updates. Make sure to digest all the information that is in the path of buildings my guides have. 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 Tree for you. Do note that PoE’s Website 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||Ideally a Bone Helmet w/ “+2 to All Mininon Skills”, Life & Resistances|
|Amulet||Rare Turquoise Amulet with high Int & Dex, Life, Resistances, Channelling skills have -# to Total Mana Cost, Anointed w/ Ravenous Horde|
|Gloves||Titan Gauntlets with Poison & Faster Attack Supports, Life, Resistances & Minion Damage|
|Boots||Two-Toned Boots with Dexterity, high Life, Movement Speed & Resistances|
|Belt||Stygian Vise with high Life, Resistances, and Aspect of the Spider|
|Rings||2x Circle of Nostalgia with Crawler Damage & Mana Reservation|
|Weapon||Cold Iron Point|
Questions & Support
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Since we are very adamant about trying to give you a leveling experience that lies as close to your endgame playstyle as possible, we will be providing you a way to level up with Herald of Agony. If you are looking for the most optimal way to level a character to maps, 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.
In order to level this build as a Herald of Agony build you need to make your way to level 16 to be able to use the gem, and you’ll need a Quill Rain for the most optimized HoA leveling. If you’re not planning on getting a Quill Rain at level 16, you want to delay the transition until level 28 when you can get Cyclone.
Getting to Brutus & Merveil
For starters, create a Marauder in whichever league you want to start.
You will want to start out by buying two Axes from the vendor. On top of that, pick up a Molten Strike or a Perforate as a quest reward. After you’ve run the Mud Flats, you’ll proceed to kill Hailrake in the Tidal Island with Perforate or Molten Strike.
From there on, you’ll be able to pick up your first Quicksilver Flask and an Ancestral Call Support from your quest rewards and perhaps a Chance to Bleed Support and an Onslaught Support from the vendor. Your main Molten Strike link should look something like this:
- Molten Strike or Perforate
- Ancestral Call Support (only if you’re using Molten Strike)
- Chance to Bleed Support or Onslaught Support (Both if using Perforate)
Transition to Herald of Agony at 16-18 with Quill Rain
For starters, it’s important to know that Marauder doesn’t get a lot of the Skill Gems required for this leveling process. Therefore, in a Solo-Self Found environment, you’ll have to progress to Act 3 Library in order to buy them from a vendor. If you’re playing Trade League you can obviously ask someone in global, a friend, or worst case just go buy them on the official trade site.
The reason why the transitioning becomes so much easier when you have a Quill Rain is the base Attack Speed the bow offers. Because of its insanely high attacks per second, keeping up Virulence stacks will become really easy, even at low levels and low increments on Attack Speed. You’re going to use Rain of Arrows to maintain stacks, as it can hit a single enemy multiple times and thus generate multiple stacks per attack.
- Herald of Agony
- Vicious Projectiles Support (requires level 18)
- Damage on Full Life Support (requires level 18)
- Pierce Support / Faster Attacks Support (use Faster Attacks for bosses)
In the case of the HoA link, it will obviously only be possible to add the 4th gem when you obtain a 4-link. Do not worry too much if this is not yet the case for your character.
Transition to Herald of Agony at 28 without Quill Rain
Otherwise, you can start using Cyclone at level 28. Cyclone inherently feels good to use while gathering stacks for your Crawler and therefore is chosen. Your Cyclone links for now should be:
Whether you use Faster Attacks or Life Gain on Hit depends on your overall amount of Virulence. If you feel like the stacks / damage of your Crawler is doing fine, then Life Gain on Hit obviously provides a decent chunk of Defenses, otherwise Faster Attacks gets you more Virulence uptime.
Your Herald of Agony links are the same as they were in the Quill Rain setup. Should you be playing with a Tabula Rasa you can add Maim Support and Minion Damage Support. Otherwise, as you’re stuck on a 4-Link you can add a Hatred linked to Generosity Support in Act 3 / After Library Quest.
Crafting a +1 to Level of all Minion Skill Gems Helmet
Very few people actually realize this vendor recipe exists but it is a GREAT help for leveling Summoners! Now, to acquire this helmet you will need the following items:
- Any 4-Link (Normal) Helmet
- 2 or more quality gems with a combined total of 40% quality & the Minion tag
you’re gonna sell the helmet and the 40% quality of minion tagged gems together and it will return you the helmet with +1 to Level of all Minion Skill Gems
Level-ups are really strong for your Crawler though, so don’t skip this step!
The Holy Relic & Other Buffs
Whenever you get the possibility to get a Summon Holy Relic setup rolling, especially with the Feeding Frenzy Support, that’s a huge bonus to your Herald of Agony. Additionally, setting up a Cast when Damage Taken Support with all the buffs linked will provide a lot of help as well.
- Cast when Damage Taken Support (Level 2)
- Spirit Offering (Level 8)
- Desecrate (Level 8)
- Sniper's Mark (Level 6)
We created a leveling Passive Skill Tree you can use to get an idea of how your build should be looking at the transition point. From here on out, you’re really just gradually completing your Endgame Passive Skill Tree. Here’s what we think your leveling tree should look like.
Useful Leveling Unique Items
As you begin a new character, there are a couple of items that can make your leveling process a lot smoother. Tabula Rasa allows you to have a 6-Linked skill as early as you are able to use specific support gems. Wanderlust gives a decent amount of movement speed, which will make your leveling that much more efficient and a Goldrim provides a lot of Elemental Resistances which help a great deal during the leveling.
If you are a new player (or if this is your first character for the league), note that obtaining these items will be very difficult, if not impossible. They are rare drops, which you can otherwise only acquire if you have saved up currency, so do not focus on them too much, and instead simply look for items that match the affix priorities listed in the Gearing section.
I can’t sustain my Cyclone with your links
To sustain Cyclone with Life Gain on Hit, Cast While Channeling & Ball Lightning, you will need the Mana Cost Reduction implicit on the Circle of Anguish rings. If you don’t have this, we recommend swapping to Lifetap Support. Eventually, you could also find the mana cost reduction on an amulet but given the amount of throughput you could get from an amulet, it’s hardly advised to do so. Additionally, you will need one jewel with Mana Gained on Hit.
I can’t sustain 60 Virulence at all
Take a look at your Cyclone attack speed & compare it with the PoB. Do you have the Awakened version of Cast while Channeling? Spiritual Command notable? T1 Elder Mod on Gloves? Corrupted 7% Attack Speed Cold Iron Point or perhaps you’re missing the Divergent quality on a Ball Lightning? Plenty of reasons why but since we proved that 70 Virulence is possible, I surely do recommend you to check out the explanation by JosBosmans here.
You also need to make sure your chance to poison is 100% – This means you’re either running a Divergent Herald of Agony (Level 21/20, which will be expensive probably) or 1 Circle of Anguish with Buff Effect.
Is it worth to invest into the Rings when I could just be running Lifetap Support?
Life Gain on Hit support on the cyclone gives you a ridiculous amount of sustain. With Cyclone APS going over 10, you’re going to be getting hundreds upon hundreds of life per second. I would argue it is, but ofcourse it depends.
I don’t seem to have a source of Wither? Why is this?
Wither can be found on a correct Glorious Vanity. check the Gear section of the guide for seed numbers that have this mod. If you don’t have this notable on your Glorious Vanity, Withering Step support can replace the Lifetap or Life Gain on Hit in your gloves, depending on whether or not you have mana cost reduction.
Why do we take Resolute Technique in the tree?
Every hit you miss is a hit that doesn’t generate Virulence. Every Virulence lost is a big loss in terms of damage.
My curse doesn’t seem to be up all the time.
JosBosmans worded this absolutely brilliantly. The Vengeance setup seems to be “there when you need it”. Comparatively, the way of cursing we had before seemed to be “absent quite often when it was most important”. Sure, Vengeance wont be permanently proccing, but it will be up reliably on longer fights which is where it matters most.
My damage is a lot lower than what was mentioned in the comments
The further optimisations that are to be made were not included in the PoB because it will probably scare away most new players. For an optimized 60 Virulence PoB, check Jos’ here()
My Agony Crawler Seems to Die a Lot
Your Agony Crawler is actually immune to damage. However, for it to not disappear you need to be hitting enemies and keep your Virulence up. If you’re not seeing your Crawler, it is because you have most likely dropped your Virulence to 0 making, it go away. Make sure to aim for a lot of attack speed and have a The Golden Rule to get as many stacks as possible if you’re facing this issue.
Map modifiers to avoid
This build is fairly well-rounded and generally is able to clear most of the maps anyhow. Obviously, some are more tedious than others. No Regeneration for example is a modifier that hurts you quite a bit. Other than that, just be super careful about the most dangerous mods such as Minus Maximum Resistance& Crit Multiplier in combination with other damage mods. In some rare scenarios, you should also be afraid of Physical Reflect.
This Herald of Agony Juggernaut is a really well balanced build. While it’s impervious to most types of damage it still packs quite a punch in the offensive department. It’s extremely suited for the most challenging content in the game, such as decently deep delving or endgame bosses. It finds its place both in Solo-Self Found and League Starter environments while still being fun to get upgrades should you be in a Trade League.