About the Author
Furty has been playing Path of Exile since the release of the Onslaught League in 2013, and has a deep and diverse well of experience within the game. Equally comfortable playing on Hardcore, Softcore, and Solo-Self Found Leagues, Furty finished the Betrayal League at Rank 186 on the ladder playing Elemental Hit. You can follow him on Twitter, or check out his occasional streams on Twitch.
Herald of Agony is a remarkable and unique Aura skill that was released in Patch 3.4: Delve, and quickly became one of the most powerful and dominant skills to build around in the metagame. Whenever you poison an enemy under the influence of this aura, you summon an Agony Crawler minion, and you gain stacks of Virulence. You can only have a single Agony Crawler active, but it gains significant amounts of damage and attack speed for every stack of Virulence you have active. If you run out of stacks, the Agony Crawler will despawn. Virulence cannot exceed 40 stacks.
In addition to the Agony Crawler, the exile also gains additional chance to poison as well as additional poison damage. As you might expect, the ability to inflict high amounts of poison per second to many targets is hugely advantageous for this build, which is why we will use Rain of Arrows as the trigger for our Herald of Agony. Not only can this spell hit the same target multiple times, but it has a good range, rate of fire, and does not require any special positioning or aim.
This build is intended to be a late-game monster, sporting tens of thousands of Energy Shield and millions of DPS, giving it the power and defenses to simply flatten whatever challenges lie ahead. Perhaps even more attractively, it functions perfectly fine as a league starter, and has a very smooth investment path into the late-game. This makes it an excellent choice for fresh leagues or late-league luxuries, and it is entirely viable in Solo Self-Found.
The best available gear for this build is very expensive, however, as this build can easily clear Uber Elder with self found magic/rare gear, we have elected not to list that under the “Cons” section.
+ Absurd Defenses (19-25k Energy Shield)
+ Top tier Shaper damage (4-8 Million DPS)
+ Viable on all Leagues; Hardcore, SSF, Softcore
+ Triple curse setup (buffed in Synthesis)
+ Can kill Uber Elder in literal blue/magic gear
+ All Map Mods without any effort
+ Excellent league starter, even better league finisher
+ Ranged/bow playstyle
+ Any content in the game is possible
- Proximity shields are difficult to deal with and can put you in awkward situations
- Playstyle may not suit everyone
This build will suit players who enjoy fast-paced ranged builds, and especially those who enjoy bow-based styles of play. Though Herald of Agony deals the vast majority of our damage, the main skill we will be casting to trigger the poison and Virulence stacks will be Rain of Arrows, which will constitute the major “feel” portion of this version of the build. In some respects, this makes the build similar to a Cast On Critical Strike Support build, with the main skill directing the playstyle. Similar to an iceberg, Rain of Arrows only comprises the “tip” of the damage, which is followed by a massive deluge of fury and damage once the Agony Crawler starts firing.
Part of the strength of this build is the lack of “trade-off” that it involves when it comes to the handshake between offense and defense. Bow-builds are speedy, maneuverable, and give the player a great degree of control of their positioning, which feels great on some of the spookier bosses. Many of the game’s most defensively capable builds are immobile, requiring the player to stand in place while casting their abilities, or forcing them to stand within melee range to deal damage. Our Herald of Agony Occultist takes the best parts of both archetypes, remaining light on its fight while still sporting thousands upon thousand of Energy Shield in case you get caught by a big spike of damage. Unlike the majority of minion and totem builds, the Agony Crawler is not affected by enemy damage, and cannot be randomly damaged or killed by difficult opponents. The result is a build that takes the best parts of several archetypes without carrying over any of the disadvantages.
The faster you move through the map, the faster you will clear with this build. This is due to your Virulence stacks, which fall off over time. Efficient movement around the area you are attempting to clear results in a higher average amount of stacks, which directly translates into more damage and faster clear. Playstyle itself is not terribly completed; simply run through the map casting Rain of Arrows on enemies. Your Agony Crawler will clean up everything in your wake, leave you free to focus on optimizing other parts of your gameplay, such as flask uptime, positioning, and map routing.
As with nearly all Chaos Innoculation builds, there is quite a lot of traversing across the tree in order to grab Life and Energy Shield nodes. If you are not completely clear on why there are so many Life nodes in this tree, it is because they are converted to Energy Shield using the Energy From Within Jewels. This also makes leveling up quite convenient, as no major deviations are necessary before Chaos Innoculation is acquired. Simply rely on the Life nodes until the end-game, and when you are ready to re-spec to Chaos Innoculation, convert them using the nearby Jewel sockets. For more details see the Leveling section at the end of the guide.
The tree pathing also leaves us in a good position to snatch up the aura nodes around the tree, as well as some Minion Damage in order to scale up the damage of Herald of Agony‘s Crawler as much as possible. Whispers of Doom is an important notable for Synthesis, as curses received a significant buff, particularly versus bosses and Unique enemies. As an Occultist, we will naturally be able to run three curses once this node is acquired, adding on a significant amount of extra defense.
In order for this build to function properly, two 6-links will be necessary in the late-game; one will support your Herald of Agony, while the other is a fully linked Rain of Arrows to trigger the poisons. Rain of Arrows will also be linked to Curse On Hit Support and two of our curses, one of which will be Projectile Weakness. The other curse can be adjusted based on your league and playstyle; hardcore and defensive minded players will want to use Enfeeble, while Poacher's Mark will deliver the best possible damage.
Our other links are mostly filled by auras, such as Dread Banner, Hatred, and Discipline. Convocation is also necessary, though it does not need to be linked to anything, and can fit in anywhere that you find spare sockets. Since a Cast when Damage Taken Support setup is not really necessary for this build, we can instead buff up our auras with extra supporting gems, such as Generosity Support and Empower Support. Blink Arrow is used as our mobility skill, and does not require a link of its own.
Herald of Agony Bow 6-Link
If you are using Quill Rain, putting this link in the bow is not essential. Once upgrading to a proper Rare, however, you will want to have your Herald of Agony in the bow to benefit from the +1 to Level of Socketed Gems and +2 to Level of Socketed Support Gems. See the Weapon section of the guide for more information.
|Herald of Agony||Empower Support (Level 4)|
|Damage on Full Life Support||Minion Damage Support|
|Vile Toxins Support||Maim Support|
Empower Support (Level 4) has the most influence over damage, however, since it is also likely to be the last gem you acquire due to rarity and cost, feel free to leave it out when you are on a 5-link.
Rain of Arrows Chest 6-Link
As explained in the Gear section below, you will eventually be using a Vaal Regalia with 5 off-colors, which is extraordinarily difficult to roll on its own. See the Chest section of the guide for more information on how to color the chest yourself. If you are using a 5-Link, simply drop Faster Attacks Support from the link setup.
|Rain of Arrows||Poison Support|
|Faster Attacks Support||Curse On Hit Support|
|Projectile Weakness||Player’s Preference*|
*The last gem should be a curse. Our default recommendation is Poacher's Mark, as Frenzy charges provide a very high amount of additional damage for the build in the late-game, however, it is not an essential curse. Players who prefer to further reduce any chance of death or are playing on a Hardcore league might prefer either Enfeeble or Temporal Chains. Between the two, we recommend Enfeeble, as your third curse will come from a glove corruption, which means it will be a Curse Enemies with Level 10-12 X on Hit. Since Enfeeble is typically the more well rounded curse of the two, we prefer having as the higher level curse.
Damage Auras 4-Link
This link bolsters the damage of our Agony Crawler immensely, however, it does require the Aura nodes, at least level 3 Enlighten Support, and either the Labyrinth enchantment and/or the Circle of Nostalgia ring in order for you to be able to activate Hatred. Until you meet these requirements, simply socket Hatred to level it up, and run your other two auras.
|Dread Banner||Generosity Support|
|Enlighten Support (Level 4)||Hatred|
*This gem can be anything. Feel free to fit in a Vaal Skill, a golem, or a Portal gem, based on your preference.
These gems do not necessarily have to be linked; it will depend on what you choose to socket, or what you put in your other links.
|Blink Arrow (Level 1)||Convocation (Level 1)|
The other two sockets can be used for whatever you prefer, and it will largely be dictated by your current gear. This is explained in more detail later in the guide; for example, if you are wealthy enough to have the recommended Watcher's Eye, you would be socketing a Level 1 Clarity aura. Most gems will need to be Level 1 once you are able to run Hatred, or very low level, in order for you to have enough available Mana to cast them while having all your Auras active.
Other good options are Faster Attacks Support, Portal, Vaal Haste, Flame Dash, and so on. A Cast when Damage Taken Support + Immortal Call link could also be used, though it is not as effective or necessary as it is in most builds.
Ascendancy, Bandits, and Pantheon
- Wicked Ward
- Vile Bastion
- Profane Bloom
Occultist is one of the only viable Ascendancies for builds that rely on Energy Shield as a means of health, mainly due to the significant amount of bonus Energy Shield that can be acquired from the Ascendancy. Not only does this fit perfectly into our build, but the extra curse from Malediction, alongside the additional curse effect, is the perfect complement for a tri-curse build. With that said, Occultist is more of a “late-game” Ascendancy, with many of the nodes being exceptionally potent in the mapping stages. While leveling, however, you will not notice a massive spike in power with each run of the Labyrinth. The reason for this is that most of the nodes are not fully effective until you have Chaos Innoculation or the multiple curses fully online.
- Wicked Ward is the only logical first choice, especially for league starters, though this is mainly due to a lack of attractive alternatives. That said, it does provide a nice extra buffer of Energy Shield, despite the fact that our character will lack any significant amount of Energy Shield increasing nodes at this point in the game. Later on, however, the +100 Energy Shield will be significantly increased, and the prevention from Energy Shield recharge is noticeable. Even while leveling you will appreciate the pseudo-tankiness that this provides, especially since Witch is typically a relatively fragile class during the leveling process.
- Vile Bastion is a very strong node, and one you will appreciate while leveling through the latter half of the game. Some of the Energy Shield regeneration you can achieve relatively early is on par with the best possible regeneration that late-game Life based characters can achieve. Though you will not yet have Chaos Innoculation, this will still significantly benefit your leveling experience, and become a truly monstrous passive in the end-game. Combined with the newly introduced Energy Shield leech in Patch 3.6: Synthesis, we can ensure our character will always have incoming defenses as long as there are enemies to mow down. The +150 Energy Shield is no small value either, and adds a lot of value even on its own merits.
- Profane Bloom is one of the most satisfying Ascendancy nodes in our opinion, from the fantastic sound effects as fallen enemies pop like balloons to the Hexproof penetration that is granted. While some players are tempted by this node early on, there is little point in taking it first, even if you have a Tabula Rasa, as Curse On Hit Support is not available until Level 38 regardless. The pack size during leveling is also so lackluster that any explosions that you do manage to trigger will have little impact regardless. Once you reach the end-game, however, this node really comes into its own, providing excellent damage and explosion chains and the ability to run your curses in Hexproof maps and areas without consequence.
- Malediction is a very potent acquisition, but does not have much use early in the game, hence our leaving it for last. Even if you can manage to run multiple curses early in the game, there is little need for this, and the curse effect will not be as noticeable as it is once you start to end Yellow and Red tier maps. Once you are entering the 80s, however, you will really feel the power of this final point, and by this point you will likely have a proper setup to run dual or tri-curse without any issue. Though the extra Chaos damage and Malediction damage increase are both great, the true brilliance of this final point is the massive defensive merit you gain.
Deal with the Bandits Reward
The best path for this build is to kill all the Bandits for the 2 Passive Points. The only alternative choice is to Help Alira for the Resistances — this is particularly helpful for league starters and Solo Self-Found players — but all players should eventually re-spec once this is no longer necessary.
As with many builds, Pantheon choices are rather flexible and can be adjusted to suit the situation and personal preference.
- Soul of Arakaali is a great all around choice, especially when fully upgraded.
- Soul of the Brine King is an alternative choice, favored by many Chaos Innoculation builds, and is even better when upgraded. Generally the best choice for Uber Elder (when upgraded) due to the reduced chill effect.
- Soul of Lunaris is the best overall choice for Delve.
- Soul of Abberath is an excellent choice, as it reduces duration of ignite and eliminates burning ground. Since these both prevent Energy Shield from recharging organically, this is actually a much larger benefit that it might seem on the surface. Upgrade as soon as possible for maximum effect.
- Soul of Shakari is alternative choice, when upgraded.
Gear, Jewels, and Flasks
You will find the recommended gear for this build detailed below. Please bear in mind that this build can easily defeat Uber Elder with minimal gear, and if you see recommendations for pieces that you can not yet afford, feel free to fill it in with a Rare of your choosing until you can make the upgrade. This is especially true for Solo Self-Found, as not all pieces will be as readily available.
A Rare Vaal Regalia will be by far the best option, as with most Chaos Innoculation builds. Since it is necessary to socket our Herald of Agony setup in our bow, it is necessary to create a 5 off-color Vaal Regalia (5 green sockets, 1 blue). This is easiest done using Vorici in the Immortal Syndicate (assigned to Research) as he can re-color random sockets to prismatic/white. You should have at least 3 Green/3 Blue sockets before attempting this. The more Energy Shield you can get, the better, however, aim for at least 500 Energy Shield when starting out. Mirror worthy options will have over 900 Energy Shield.
Until you can afford a decent Vaal Regalia, simply use any Rare Energy Shield chest with as much Energy Shield as you can get. Coloring the sockets is much easier if you use a hybrid Energy Shield and Evasion base, which can make a good placeholder while you build currency for a stronger acquisition.
The best base for Energy Shield is Hubris Circlet. When starting out, you should be looking for a helmet with 250+ Energy Shield, and upgrade later as your funds allow. This can even be crafted relatively easily using Orb of Alterations and a Regal Orb. The more Energy Shield you can squeeze out of your helmet, the better. The Labyrinth Enchant we are looking for is Herald of Agony has 30% Reduced Mana Reservation, allowing us to run Hatred without using Circle of Nostalgia. This enchant has risen enormously in cost in the last few weeks due to the advent of this build, however, so you may be forced to craft it yourself or settle for a lesser option.
Shaper's Touch is the best overall option, and readily available early in the league and on Solo Self-Found/Hardcore. You should be able to grab a set of these yourself in the first few days of the League, even without interacting with other players, as Shaper is a required kill for your Elder Orb anyway. If bossing is not really your thing, simply grab a pair for a few Chaos Orbs. The Energy Shield per 10 Strength is exceptional for defense, while the massive Accuracy boost from Intelligence eliminates any issues the Agony Crawler might have while attacking. The Mana gained is also not insignificant, especially if you are using a Watcher's Eye with the recommended mods.
Once you have a little currency behind you, consider upgrading to a Corrupted pair that have either Temporal Chains or Enfeeble on hit as the implicit affix. Temporal Chains is the preferable option, allowing you to run a higher level Enfeeble in your Rain of Arrows setup, but either will work just fine. One of the most valuable aspects of this upgrade is that you will now have tri-curse without having to manually apply any of them which is, defensively, quite the noticeable upgrade.
A Rare pair of boots with 30% Movement speed and a high amount of Energy Shield is your best bet. You should aim for at least 200+ Energy Shield for a decent pair, and look for further upgrades down the line. An Abyssal Socket is the icing on the cake, however, this can be a very expensive upgrade. This can be crafted using Hollow Fossils, which are quite rare.
Weapon and Quiver
A Rare bow with a high rate of attacks per second is the best bet for the late game. Prioritize the stats as follows:
- +1 to the Level of Socketed Gems
- +2 to the Level of Socketed Support Gems
- Increased Attack Speed
- Socketed Gems are Supported by Level # Vicious Projectiles (Elder)
- Minions Have Increased Attack/Cast Speed (Crafted)
Crafting such a bow is not difficult, though it can be expensive. Follow these steps:
- Acquire an Elder bow of any base, though faster Attacks per Second is better.
- Socket the bow using the Crafting Bench. Force the bow to have 2 Sockets, then 2 Red Sockets. Then alternate between 2 sockets and 3 sockets on the Crafting bench until the third socket is either red or blue. Then, do the same technique, alternating between 3 sockets and 4 sockets on the Crafting Bench until the fourth socket is the opposite of the last color you obtained (you need 3 red sockets and 1 blue socket total, across your 4 sockets). Once you have those colors, use the Crafting Bench to force 6 sockets. The likely outcome is a 3 Red, 1 Blue, 2 Green bow. If you do not get 2 Green sockets, revert the bow to 4 sockets, then try forcing 6 sockets again.
- Use Orb of Fusing on the bow until it is 6-Linked.
- Use Orb of Alteration and Orb of Augmentation on the bow until you hit the Supported by Level # Vicious Projectiles.
- Use a Regal Orb on the bow. If you get a Suffix (hover over the item using ALT to check) as the third affix, proceed to the next step. If you get a prefix, use an Orb of Scouring on the bow and repeat the last step.
- Apply the Cannot Roll Attack Modifiers affix to the bow using the Crafting Bench.
- Use an Exalted Orb on the bow (this forces +1 to the Level of Socketed Gems onto the bow).
- Craft Prefixes Cannot be Changed onto the bow.
- Use an Orb of Scouring on the bow.
- Craft Can Have Multiple Crafted Modifiers onto the bow.
- Craft Attack Speed onto the bow.
- Craft Minion Attack/Cast Speed onto the bow.
- Craft +2 to the Level of Socketed Support Gems onto the bow.
Many of these affixes cost at least 1 Exalted Orb to craft, and thus, this is a relatively expensive and late-game upgrade to make. One great advantage, however, is that once you reach Step 6, the results are guaranteed, which means there is not a whole lot of fiddling with random chance and luck. If you have not unlocked all the crafts, use a Master Crafting service on the forums rather than proceed with mediocre rolls.
You can use a bow with less affixes to start out, such as just the +# to gems affixes.
The best option for league starters or players who cannot yet afford to craft their own bow is to use Quill Rain, as it is extremely cheap and has a high rate of attack. Quill Rain is great while your Rain of Arrows setup is on a 5-Link, as the attack speed is so high that it makes the Faster Attacks Support gem unnecessary.
Soul Strike is the best option for virtually all situations due to the significant amount of Energy Shield that it provides. Perhaps even more attractively, it costs very little and can be obtained relatively early in the league. Even on Solo Self-Found leagues it is a relatively common drop, making it an attainable item for players of all sources. This quiver grants us everything we could ask for; a large amount of flat Energy Shield, Energy Shield recharge rate, and Increased Attack Speed. Due to our Wicked Ward Ascendancy node, the quicker re-charge has massive value, essentially allowing you to immune damage for a short period once your recharging begins.
Upgrade to a Corrupted version with Fire or Lightning damage to Attacks later on, and spec into Elemental Equilibrium. Do not get Cold damage, as if you are using Hatred this will cause you to deal reduced damage to enemies.
Use a Rare Amulet with high Energy shield. You will want to seek out the Delve Mod from Dense Fossils, which is % Increased Energy Shield from Body Armor, and adds a massive amount of Energy Shield to your character. Prioritize stats as follows:
- % Increased Energy Shield from Body Armor
- Flat Energy Shield
- % Increased Maximum Energy Shield
- [Uncapped] Elemental Resistances
For Rings, we want the same Delve Mod from Dense Fossils, which is % Increased Energy Shield from Body Armor, and adds a massive amount of Energy Shield to your character. Prioritize stats as follows:
- % Increased Energy Shield from Body Armor
- Flat Energy Shield
- [Uncapped] Elemental Resistances
- % Faster Start of Energy Shield Recharge
As with Amulet and Rings, we are chasing the same Delve Mod from Dense Fossils, which is % Increased Energy Shield from Body Armor, and adds a massive amount of Energy Shield to your character. Just like virtually all Chaos Innoculation builds, the Crystal Belt base is preferred. Prioritize stats as follows:
- % Increased Energy Shield from Body Armor
- [Uncapped] Elemental Resistances
- Flat Energy Shield
- % Increased Maximum Energy Shield (Shaped)
- % Increased Energy Shield Recovery Rate
This build uses 4 Energy From Within Jewels to convert Life into Energy Shield while still maintaining the pathing essential to reach other desirable nodes. Here is the placement for these Jewels:
The Golden Rule is used to help stack our Virulence even faster. We like to socket this near the Shadow starting wheel.
A Rare Jewel with % Maximum Energy Shield, Elemental Resistances, Minion Damage, Minion Attack Speed, Attributes, and so on. As long as it has Energy Shield, use the remaining slots to fill in whatever you need or can afford.
A Watcher's Eye with the Gain % of Maximum Mana as Extra Maximum Energy Shield is the best single affix. If you can also get a Discipline mod along with it, this is the best possible upgrade for Jewels.
- Experimenter’s Stibnite Flask of Staunching
- Chemist’s Silver Flask of Heat
- Experimenter’s Quartz Flask of Warding
- Experimenter’s Sulphur Flask of Dousing
- Alchemist’s Quicksilver Flask of Adrenaline
As a reminder, we have several guides to help you level up a character.
- 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.
We recommend starting with Freezing Pulse, which works well with Lifesprig if you have one. Once you are Level 12, and enter the Cavern of Wrath, pick up Storm Brand from Nessa and start using it as your main clearing skill.
In order of priority, the Storm Brand links are:
|Storm Brand||Elemental Focus Support|
|Added Lightning Damage Support||Controlled Destruction Support|
|Added Cold Damage Support||Hypothermia Support|
If you are using a Tabula Rasa, simply fill in the other gem sockets with whatever supports are available from the vendors until you reach Act II.
You can switch to Herald of Agony as early as level 18 (Act II). You will need a bow, and two 3-Links. Simply link Rain of Arrows to Poison Support and Faster Attacks Support, then link Herald of Agony to Minion Damage Support and Minion Speed Support. This should already be more than enough damage to clear Labyrinth straight away and deal with any bosses.
Start filling out your other links as you acquire more gear and items. Feel free to use the end-game recommended links as soon as possible if you have leveling gear to assist you.
Do not respec to Chaos Innoculation until after you are certain you have the gear and Resistances to support it. In most cases, we recommend waiting until the 70s or 80s before making the switch.
How Do I Get 20k+ Energy Shield?
Unfortunately, the answer is as simple as “get better gear”. These “GG” level pieces can be very expensive, and some may even require Mirror of Kalandra service to obtain. The good news, however, is that such items are entirely unnecessary for this build to roll over anything and everything, and reaching such high heights is more of an illustration of what is possible than a reasonable standard to aim for.
Are There Any Map Mods I Should Avoid?
This build can do every Map Mod with no issues, so there’s no need to concern yourself with anything other than Quantity bonus.