[2.2] Varuni's Death Knight (Varunastra - Necromancer melee/block tank)


Death is the greatest power, the ultimate blessing - yet anyone experimenting with minion-based builds will be quite familiar with the fact that Death tends to take its own sweet time! (Perhaps due to all the free healthcare in Wraeclast courtesy of Piety.)

If this troubles you, but you can't resist playing the Ascendancy class with the coolest art, perhaps this build would appeal to you!

Death Knight is a Necromancer melee playstyle made possible with the release of Ascendancy that aims to use the various strengths of Necromancer to create a fast-paced and hard-hitting evasive tank build.

Video Demonstration

Lazy Izaro fights on Merciless Difficulty (No Flasks used)


Generic farming of maps

Build strategy

This build revolves around two very important things:

1) The Necromancer ability Mistress of Sacrifice, which makes the skill "Bone Offering" affect yourself.

This means at maximum level, you will be gaining 35% block chance and 34% spell block chance with the effect of healing just shy of 600 life every time you block anything.

2) You will absolutely need this weapon:

Starting as a Witch will leave you extremely starved for passive points when you go melee, Varunastra all of fixes these problems and enables you to just about any melee skill you want.

Passives and levelling:

Varunastra requires 113 Dexterity to use and is not usable until level 64. This means that until then, you will be levelling with Flame Totems, Firestorm/Incinerate, or the like.

This is not particularly difficult because the passives we will take give a lot of health to start out with - by level 64, however, you should have finished the skeleton of this build as follows:

Later on, you will want to respec out of the three mana nodes at the start and take Energy Shield instead. This is my current build at level 85 - I planned to respec into Life/Mana once I cover the Chaos Resistances with gear.

This drawn-out passive skeleton opens up many options to cover your current gearing weaknesses - Further points can be dumped into nearby Life, Energy Shield, Block rate, Jewel Sockets or Endurance Charges.

For Bandits, take Oak - Passive - Either Oak or Passive (I prefer the Passive).

Skill Gems

Now I wish to make it clear that there are generally two ways to play this Death Knight: The Active way and the Lazy way.

I am inherently a lazy player, but if you are willing to spend effort playing this way, you could quite possibly save a lot of slots by manually activating Tempest Shield, Desecrate and Bone Offering yourself.

3-Link (Weapon or Shield)

1) Whirling Blades-Leap Slam-Fortify

This is your "dodge" and movement set, which gives you fortify in case you mis-time your dodges. Whirling Blades makes it very easy to keep Fortify up.

4-Link Triggers(Helm/Gloves/Boots)

2)Riposte-Reckoning-Vengeance-Endurance Charge on Melee Stun

Our endurance charge builders of 3 retaliatory skills with no MP cost. To give us more effective health, this build takes the keystone Mind over Matter - this makes our mana substitute as HP if something gets past our Energy Shield.

For this reason, you will require a small amount of Mana Leech from either Jewels or your gear. If you cannot find a good piece, link the gem Mana Leech to this chain and drop Riposte - this should give you enough mana to do an emergency Whirling Blades and get out of danger.

3)Desecrate (Level 1-7)-Cast when Damage Taken (Level 1)-Tempest Shield (Level 7)-Enfeeble (Level 5)

This setup uses a low levelled "Cast when damage taken" to do three things:

1) Spam Desecrate because Bone Offering needs Corpses.
2) Keep Tempest Shield up. Active skilled players can just cast this themselves, but I'm lazy - if you do so, feel free to max level it for damage. You just want the 3% block and the bonus of offsetting map Elemental Equilibrium mods.
3) Spam Enfeeble. To cap spell block, the gem http://pathofexile.gamepedia.com/Reckless_Defence is very useful. A level 5 Enfeeble will counteract the drawbacks of up to 2 of these gems and then some.

4)Molten Shield-Cast when Damage Taken(max)-Increased Duration-Bone Offering

This will cast a strong Bone Offering when you need it. Energy Shield is useful in this build because damage it soaks coints towards the threshold for this trigger.

5+ Link Attack (Body)

This is generally up to you. As you are using Varunastra, you can use almost any melee skill you want, just remember that Varunastra does 100% Physical damage. I personally use the following:

5)Sunder-Multistrike-Melee Physical Damage-Concentrated Effect-Faster Attacks

If I used a six link, I would add Added Fire Damage, but the above 5 gems give me 20k tooltip DPS with my buffs up. Other good choices for a melee attack are Reave and Viper Strike. Dominating Blow has an interesting synergy with Beacon of Corruption, but does not kill quickly and costs a ridiculous amount of Mana when fully linked.

Other Gems
You have the space for 3 more gems on your weapon or shield, these are useful:

-Golem (Chaos or Fire recommended)
-Totem (Ancestral Protector or Flame Totem for reflect enemies)

Reserve skills (to be used on easy content or without Mind over Matter)
-Herald of Fire
-Hatred on Essence Worm
-Arctic Armour

Gearing to Grind the Game

There are a few things you will absolutely need from your gear or Jewels.

1) Mana Leech. Since we take Mind over Matter, every point of Mana is also Life, as long as it is under 43% of your maximum HP. One item of about 0.4 Physical Damage leeched to mana is generally quite enough to cap your leech. You will be leeching health from your passives, so you do not need to prioritise that on gear.

2) Block and Spell Block. You want to be able to cap both when Bone Offering pops up. With a good shield and these passives, you should have no problem capping block. However, Spell Block may not naturally cap itself without additional help.

A good amount of "Block counted as Spell block" to aim for is about 45-50%, because that will let you double-dip into the block provided by Bone Offering. To get this, I recommend using Rainbowstride:

And one of the following:

OR the Unique Jewel "Reckless Defense", which grants 4% block as well as 20% of block counted as spell block. Using the Jewel will let you easily upgrade to an Aegis Aurora,

which will spike your survivability.

CAVEAT - I currently use the Unique Geofri's Sanctuary.

This has the down-side of having Zealot's Oath on it, which kills your natural health regeneration. I have experimented with taking Eldritch Battery to do the MoM-Zealot's Oath-EB combo, but that turns you into into a considerably more fragile class with higher damage (because you can reserve all your mana to cast auras and heralds). If you do this, I highly recommend manually casting Bone Offering, because you do not have the luxury of an Energy Shield buffer.

As mentioned before, the largest buff to your DPS would probably be Essence Worm,

which lets you run Hatred free of charge while letting you gain the benefits of Mind over Matter.

Other general things to look for in gear:

Defensive Statistics:
-Armour (more important if you have Aegis, otherwise a low priority)
-Chaos Resistance (More important than on most builds!)
-Energy Shield
-Mana (If using Mind over Matter, mana can be treated as effective health, making the dual life/mana nodes very very strong)
-Staunching Flasks (Essential!)
-Rejuvenation Flasks (Especially if using Mind over Matter)

Offensive Statistics (in order of priority):
-Added Physical Damage
-Attack Speed
-Increased Physical damage


I haven't received any yet!

If it's a question about Mind over Matter making the build run out of mp, I have not noticed that being a problem because I do not reserve enough mana for it to be one. Leech, Mana regeneration and one Rejuvenation Flask is more than enough - additionally, Varunastra returns Mana with every target hit, and the retaliation attacks usually give enough mana to Whirling Blades to safety. At any rate, I'd rather be out of MP than dead.

Other questions I usually see being asked: Is it Hardcore Viable? Probably, IF you had the gear (In other words - probably not).

Can it kill Atziri? Probably (I haven't tried yet). Can it do Uber Atziri? I have no idea. Sorry!

Thanks for reading this far - unfortunately due to real-life committments I won't be able to play quite as often anymore, so this guide is a bit of a swan song. Still, feel free to contact me if you have any questions or suggestions for improvement!
Last edited by VicariousExp on Mar 15, 2016, 3:08:07 PM
Last bumped on Aug 3, 2016, 11:10:40 AM
This build seems pretty fascinating. I guess one question I would have is: would this work for Scion?
Well, I think the problem with Scion/non-Necromancer classes is that you have to spend a lot of passive points increasing block and spell block to cap and you don't get the massive heal on block. Scion doesn't get that crucial "Offering spells apply to yourself" mod in the Necromancer tree, so you'd be better off picking something to boost your block/spell block and see if you can pick up Vaal Pact.

A Scion can definitely put Varunastra to good use though, just aim for the "Super" nodes and you'll probably push even higher dps than this build - I have a friend that used an Assassin with a 5 Link and easily broke 35k tooltip dps.

I think it could work, but you would definitely not want to use Geofri's Sanctuary and stack at least 2-3 copies of Reckless Defense for the huge 4% block. If you're doing this, Aegis Aurora is pretty much mandatory - half the reason this build is so unreasonably safe in huge packs (I can tank 2 caches and a monster chest without breaking a sweat) is because you're blocking 75% of all attacks and healing 600 life every time, Aegis Aurora has a similar effect for Energy Shield, but it requires a lot of armour and it is by far the most expensive item in this build (Varunastra was very cheap when I started this build, Aegis Aurora cost me 2 Exalted Orbs)

I updated with a video running a map - you can often just AFK in the middle of large monster packs and kill them all with reckoning/reprisal/vengeance.
Ah, I wasn't aware about that fact of the Ascendant class (I'm a returning player, so I have no knowledge of Ascendancy at all)

I've gotten my Witch to level 33-ish, and have all the gems that I'll need for this build except for the main physical attack. What skill would you recommend for that, and why?

Edit: Also, if you're using Mind over Matter, wouldn't Clarity be a fairly useful Aura for this build?
Last edited by AielloA on Mar 17, 2016, 11:42:54 AM
Clarity is a tradeoff - I don't think you really need it at all and it would drastically lower your maximum effective HP, but you would gain the equivalent of 17.18 hp per second. The question is whether you actually need it or not. Do you want higher regeneration and a smaller pool or vice versa? As Clarity has a static mana reservation cost, this would really depend on your MP compared to HP - if my MP was ever above 43% of my maximum HP, I would definitely consider it, but that is quite difficult with the way this passive tree is set up.

The purpose of HP-like resources is to give yourself a buffer vs RNG spike damage (for those streaks when you are consistently unlucky or when you take huge amounts of spike damage). Every drop of mana you reserve is counting against your theoretical maximum HP pool.

Technically, the only point of HP that really matters is the last one, so the entire purpose of all these HP-like pools is to make it more difficult to get to that last drop of HP.

If I do easy content, I'm happy to reserve some portion of it on Herald of Ash. If I did something more difficult like maps above Tier 9, I occasionally prefer to turn it off to benefit from an additional 380+ hp.

One core idea behind this build with Mind over Matter is that the three retaliation skills actually cost no mp at all, yet they work with leech and "hit" mods like life and mana on hit. As long as you aren't out of range, when something hits you, there are 2 possibilities:

1) You block, striking back with riposte and reckoning, costing 0 mana and leeching back life and mana.

2) You get hit, losing some Energy Shield, Life and Mana, however, this will trigger Vengeance (every 1.2 seconds), costing no mana (so whether you are out of mana or not doesn't matter) hitting for about 4000 damage and leeching back enough mana and life that you are still capable of using skills. As your mana loss is actually only 30% of that of Health loss, you don't need very much leech to get it back.

Melee skills in general do not scale as the gem levels anymore, meaning they have the advantage over spells of being very cheap to cast. This means your natural mana regen and leech rate only have to covera total of 15-24 mp before you're able to do anything again. This actually works out to less than half a second.

Mind over Matter is simply a cost decision - due to being a Witch with a large amount of investment in Intelligence, we have a lot of Mana that isn't actually being used anymore, so we might as well use it as HP. Normally, most other classes will have far less Intelligence and mana, so they do not have the regen this build would and use gimmicks like Blood Magic links. For witch, this is actually rather unnecessary because our mana pool is larger and as melee, our MP costs are relatively low compared to what a spell would be. Furthermore, it makes gearing much cheaper - People don't really value Mana modifiers on gear and +mana nodes are more effective than +HP for raw strength.
Last edited by VicariousExp on Mar 18, 2016, 12:28:59 AM
Alright, everything you've said so far makes sense. One question I have, though: why use Enfeeble instead of Warlord's Mark? Both of them should do the same thing (grant additional survivability), but Warlord's Mark has the advantage of giving endurance charges in addition to its other effects.
Warlord's mark does 2 things:

1) Give 2% Life and Mana Leech. This would be nice, but leech caps at 20% of your hp and mp per second, and you already have way too much life healing from Bone Offering to the point that Warlord's Mark is quite overkill.

2) Give Endurance charges on kill. We already have a very good method of getting Endurance charges (Charge on Melee Stun linked to 3 different retaliation skills) and it is very very reliable on anything that is not a boss.

Enfeeble is a very strong curse because it reduces damage - the biggest problem any tank build has is taking RNG spike damage which makes it past your defenses and getting one-shot. Enfeeble makes this much less likely to happen.

Other than that, I listed in the build that it makes use of the Unique jewels "Reckless Defense". This jewel adds up to 4% block and converts 20% of your block to spell block, but the downside is that monsters will now have an additional 8% or so chance to crit you.

This is obviously bad from a spike damage perspective, but a level 5 enfeeble gives -21% reduced chance to crit on monsters, which is more than enough to counter 2 of those jewels and still penalise crit chance - additionally it reduces the amount of bonus damage that they would get IF they crit.

In my opinion, Warlord's Mark is a good substitute early on if you don't have sufficient mana leech, but once you start hitting more difficult content with bosses that do over 4-5k damage with a hit, you definitely want Enfeeble instead.
I've been playing only this build for the last few days and enjoying the sight of a Witch acting like a melee tank, leap-slamming and whirlwinding everywhere. The sight of Desecrate popping up automatically on ranged targets was a nice surprise the first time it happened.

I do have questions as to the best melee skill to use. I use Dominating Blow, which means I get a small army following me at any point in time that I'm actively murdering things, because I figured that since Necromancer is going to give me minion buffs, I might as well have minions, right?

It's terribly inefficient on bosses, however- fighting mobs I have enough breathing time between fights to recover my MP. On a boss I run out frighteningly quick, and do what feels like too little damage in return. Several times I've wondered if I should just switch to Viper Strike.

I should note that I'm (as of this writing) only level 53, and I acknowledge you mentioned it might be difficult before reaching some of the gear breakpoints.
HC viable? Looking at the tree, I can't help but feel like this build is too squishy.
Also, armour + ES VS Evasion + ES VS Armour + Evasion?

The build is obviously not lacking in damage, at least from the tree, but I think it could probably be optimised a little. It's nice to branch out and have options, but I feel like it's wasted due to the 100 points already invested in the tree.
PrivateRiem wrote:
HC viable? Looking at the tree, I can't help but feel like this build is too squishy.
Also, armour + ES VS Evasion + ES VS Armour + Evasion?

The build is obviously not lacking in damage, at least from the tree, but I think it could probably be optimised a little. It's nice to branch out and have options, but I feel like it's wasted due to the 100 points already invested in the tree.

I did say "Only if you already have the uniques, so probably not (emphasis)". I can say that it is a very lag resistant build though, because so much of your defense is off reactive triggers (Bone Offering/Aegis/Reckoning/Vengeance/Riposte) and the last 3 can kill monsters even if you're AFK. Prior to levelling my Necro, I played an Inquisitor with a huge amount of HP and the frequent lag from double Pendarus chest bullet hell spawns caused countless deaths (Something this build doesn't care about).

Just for a reference if you actually were seriously considering Hardcore, the only unique I transferred was Varunastra when starting this build and all the other gear was self-found or traded off found items. I remember dying all of two times, once when I fell asleep halfway through a labyrinth run and trying to do a tier 10 map with poison clouds at -68 Chaos Resistance. (Chaos ignores Mind over Matter and ES, which makes it extremely dangerous for the build, which is otherwise incredibly tanky)

As to your latter query, this build doesn't use evasion at all. It uses block. You can't evade, due to the keystone that prevents you from being stunned (taken so you don't experience blockstun animations). I have about 5.5k to 6k effective hp against non-chaos damage at level 85, I suppose that's pretty low compared to pure CI/ES builds, but there's no synergy between CI and Bone Offering (Even Aegis Aurora would suck due to low armour) - I think I can tank ridiculous numbers of smaller hits much more effectively than CI could.

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