[3.0] SC/HC Essence Drain Progression - MoM to LL

[Further updates inc]I have tried to maintain a guide for Essence Drain for a while now. I started playing ED at the end of 2.1. Since then, I have played ED characters as league starter for every single league. I played Witch before Ascendancy, then Ascendant, Trickster, Occultist and Necromancer ED in other leagues. I feel this makes me slightly qualified to spew some information and hopefully help someone who wants to try out Essence Drain.

The Essence Drain play style is a synergy between Essence Drain and Contagion. Essence Drain is a projectile spell that applies a strong damage over time effect to the target. Contagion is an area of effect spell that deals weaker damage over time to targets. When a target affected by Contagion dies, both Essence Drain and Contagion DoT effects on that target are applied to nearby enemies. This means you first apply Contagion, then fire an Essence Drain into the enemies. When the first enemy dies, Essence Drain is spread to everything and your job is done.

This video shows off how the build plays when it is "done":
Mind over Matter Essence Drain Versus all four Guardians and Shaper
Uber Atziri
Uber Labyrinth

3.0 changed my favorite part of the ED play style. We can no longer swap back and fourth between decay and poison play styles, which makes the progression of the character much more straight forward. With the recent changes to ES, I also feel that CI is much weaker than it used to be relative to the other parts of our progression, so personally I would skip going CI, and jump straight from a life based character to a low life character. There are a ton of Essence Drain guides, but everyone has different ideas. These days we all run pretty similar builds due to less variation in gearing. This shortens the guide considerably, so here are my thoughts on how to progress an ED character in 3.0:

Why play this kind of Essence Drain?

The MoM version of this build is a durable and all-round character. It can clear maps with all map mods relatively fast, it is an amazing Uber Lab farmer that is virtually immune to traps, and it can kill guardians and Shaper. If you opt to go Low Life, you will get more effective health and more damage, but it is very expensive. If you watch my video of the guardians and Shaper and think "omg, he doesn't kill everything in seconds, bad build", I suggest you find another build that suits your spesific needs.


AoE - Area of Effect
BotC - Breath of the Council
CI - Chaos Inoculation
CWDT - Cast When Damage Taken
DoT - Damage over Time
ED - Essence Drain
ES - Energy Shield
LL - Low Life
MoM - Mind over Matter

Choice of Ascendancy/Character

This guide is focuses on going MoM before transitioning to LL - Where the LL part is included for the adventurous players. This makes Trickster pretty much the only choice. Occultist is also a strong contender, but occultists focus much more on energy shield, and are better suited for hybrid life/ES than MoM. If that is your jam, I am sure the witch forums can help you out. Occultist remains the ED choice with technically best boss DPS as well, if that is what you want to achieve.

3.0 made Trickster a no-brainer for me. It is fast, it has some layered defense, and it has extremely strong regen mechanics (you can stand in fire traps in Uber lab and not take damage as long as you kill a font every now and then).

If you end up transitioning from MoM to LL, it will still be a strong character, but more on par with an Occultist. Occultist has raw DPS, Trickster has flexibility and speed.

Gem link progression

ED starts off very slow. This league I played Blade Vortex up to level 60 before starting to play ED. In this guide, we will go ED from level 12. If you don't like it at this point, that is understandable. If you like the concept, the actual performance will get way better as you level up. If you have room for it in your gear, you can also add Blight to the setup while leveling. This might be hard to pull off for new players at the start of a league, so it is not included in the following.

I will split this section into two parts:
- Baseline setup
- Mid-game+ (level 60-70+)

The trickiest part of leveling an ED character is fitting all the gems, so hopefully this makes things a bit easier for newer players.

Baseline setup

There are three core links in an ED build. We need Essence Drain, Contagion and Wither. You should try to get hold of a Spell Totem Support for your Wither as soon as possible. If you play SSF or are afraid of player interaction, you can get your Spell Totem from Siosa after doing the Library quest in Act 3. Included in parentheses is the level requirement for the gems. Keep arcane surge at level 1.

Essence Drain (12) > Void Manipulation (8) > Controlled Destruction (18)

Contagion (4) > Arcane Surge (1) > Faster Casting (18)

Wither (10) > Spell Totem (4) > Faster Casting (18)

With these gems, the build works. Your boss DPS will be terrible and your AoE on Contagion will feel pretty bad. At level 31 and 38 you get core gems that significantly increases performance.


As you start getting 6s drops at level 50, it gets easier to get the sockets and links we want. In this section gems are listed by priority. Keep Arcane surge at level 9 once your Contagion is level 20.

Essence Drain > Efficacy > Controlled Destruction > Void Manipuation > Swift Affliction > Empower

Contagion > Increased Area of Effect > Arcane Surge > Faster Casting

Wither > Spell Totem > Faster Casting = Increased Duration

This is what makes the character. We still have two 3 links and one 4 link to go. Here you can fit anything you want. My recommendation is as follows:

Blaspemy > Temporal Chains | Flame Dash

Shield Charge > Fortify > Faster Attacks

Cast When Damage Taken level 1 > Immortal Call level 1 > Increased Duration > Stone Golem

What curse you use is completely optional. Vulnerability, Enfeeble and Temporal Chains are all very strong in their own way. The CWDT link is also very optional. If you want Blight for instance, put it here.

The Allelopathy gloves are extremely strong for us when we need that extra punch towards ultra end-game. If you want to have more DPS, you can drop the CWDT and golem link and use this link in the gloves:

Efficacy > Controlled Destruction > Void Manipulation > Swift Affliction


I prioritize my ascendancy points like this:
Patient Reaper > Weave the Arcane > Swift Killer > Ghost Dance

This is mostly because I want to go MoM quite early and not care about the mana part. If you want to prioritize leveling speed, get Swift Killer earlier.

Passive tree progression:
To start off, we just care about damage and life:
Level 40ish


As we start doing the Labyrinth and ascend, we need to grab some mana as well. I like to go MoM after the second labyrinth, so around level 55-60. This is the core tree. Where you go from here depends on what you want to prioritize.

Level 60ish


After going MoM, you should try to balance your health and available mana. Due to how math works, you need 43% of your total life as available mana if you don't want to risk your mana running out before your life does. I usually don't have a mana pool that big, and at the time of writing, I have 6.3k life and 2.3k mana. Get whatever passives gives you the most effective health. If you have to choose between a point in mana and a point in life, get whatever gives you the highest number. With this way of thinking, my current passive tree looks something like this:




As MoM, the gearing of the character is very straight forward. You can play with a full set of rare items, no unique items are required. We prioritize stats as follows:

- Life
- Resists to cap (your choice if you want to go to 75% for normal cap, or 109% for curse cap.)
- Mana
- Spell Damage/Chaos Damage/Damage Over Time
- Mana Regeneration

Once your gear gives you enough life and resists, you can start considering if you want to fit some uniques into the build.


You start out with a rare dagger with some spell damage most of the time. When the time comes to invest in a different weapon, you have two solid choices:

Decay daggers used to be the go-to choice for any ED character, but Decay has been completely butchered. It scales very poorly at the moment, and a crafted Decay Sai like I have linked above is nearly the same in terms of DPS to a Breath of the Council for a pure ED/Cont character. If you choose to go with the Allelopathy gloves, Breath of the Council blows every other possible option out of the water.

Perks of the Sai:
6% Block
Attack speed

Perks of BotC:
10% Increased AoE
40% Increased duration of Chaos Abilities <--- Major

The 40% increased duration can really help keeping high Wither stacks on bosses where your Wither totem tends to die a lot, providing a ton more dps than the Sai.

A third option is a +3 to chaos gems staff. A staff like that will provide a ton of DPS, but you can't shield charge any more. I don't like to limit my build just for the extra DPS when the build can already do everything.

Body Armour

In my opinion we have 3 very powerful choices and one honorable mention.

We can start with the DPS king:

With a level 21 ED and 4 Empower, this thing gives me 33% more DPS, nuff said.

My choice of mapping body armour this league:

The Perfect Form is an extremely under rated item, especially for characters with heavy investment in evasion. This is great for us, since it makes it relatively cheap. We get quite a bit of evasion, free Arctic Armour and 30% spell dodge out of this thing. This gives the character excellent layered defence, and for mapping situations it just feels great.

The best choice for a lot of effective health would be Cloak of Defiance. This thing would shift our focus even further towards mana, but with a slight adjustment in the passive tree, it would provide a solid option for the build.

Lastly we have Cherrubim's Maleficence. It is currently the jack of all trades, master of none. A good option if you want a bit of everything.

Other options

There are probably a lot of cool uniques you could use on an ED character, but for now I will just mention a few:

If you use The Perfect Form, Atziri's Step is just amazing. It would give the character 50% spell dodge. They also have ok health, perfect movement speed and a lot of evasion that the Perfect Form scales really well.

Eber's Unification is our only possible source of chaos resistance penetration. This makes it a solid option to increase our DPS. It does not have much in terms of defence, so getting enough resists or life with it could get challenging.

Allelopathy can change the playstyle of the build significantly. If you drop your CWDT setup, you can have a 5L blight in your gloves. Combine this with 2x Spreading Rot jewels, and your boss DPS will skyrocket.


For gloves, there isn't much of interest for us. ... of reflection is pretty good as always, so is the Consecrated ground one. If you use Allelopathy, you could try to corrupt them for cast speed for optimal results. On boots you want mana and life regen after being hit, as it works really well with Patient Reaper.

The helmet enchant depends on what you are doing with the build. Blight damage will provide the most DPS in path of building, aka. boss killing. For general map clearing, ED damage, Contagion area of effect or Temporal Chains curse effect are all very strong options.

My current gear in Harbinger HC

I also use a few more items from time to time. The Allelopathy gloves comes really handy for massive DPS while farming guardians:

Low Life Transition

If you end up with a lot of money and want to take this character to the next level, you need two items:

In addition to this, you need a bit more strength and dexterity than the passive tree provides. Then stack Energy shield. You also need a few more links in the setup to force Low Life and add a few aurars. This makes prioritizing what to keep very difficult and an individual decision. Play around with the MoM version before you try out the LL version so you can figure out what you want to keep in the build.

The passive tree for a LL character can look something like this:


I use all four major gods and two minor gods depending on the content:

Brine King - Stun immunity is godlike. I used this while leveling and until I equipped Perfect Form.
Lunaris - My go to choice currently. The extra layered defense is amazing once you get most
of the upgrades.
Solaris - Afraid of one shots on Shaper? Use this to be slightly safer.
Arakaali - I swap to this for Uber lab farming. If I just run once or twice, I don't bother.

Ralakesh - A must for lab farm. handy while mapping
Tukohama - If you use Blight/Allelopathy, this enables you to facetank much better.

Remember to punish all the bandits for their crimes!
Last edited by Nedieth on Oct 10, 2017 7:41:08 AM
Last bumped on Oct 21, 2017 2:40:21 PM
What about bandits?
Bandits is kill all, kill all, Kraityn if you want to save currency.

Oak, kill, kraityn if you plan on sticking around on life for a while.

Cast speed from Alira (Cruel) is nice, but I generally choose go get cast speed on jewelry if I feel like I need it.
great guide! can you post the node order for ascendancy?

Added a section for bandit reasoning and ascendancy order
I don't understand why all CI/LL ED/C builds that plan on taking 3 curses don't take Skittering Runes. 20% increased curse effect is pretty powerful.
And perhaps even better is Hex Master for 20% (!!!) increased AoE on curses AND +10% curse effect.

I understand these builds are rather point started to begin with, but perhaps someone could explain why these two nodes are never taken?
Thanks :)
Last edited by sikker on Sep 2, 2016 3:27:13 AM
I guess you can totally them but you need to move 7 pts. And the curse got hit pretty hard with the new patch
"The exodus of humanity in search of a new home? It is like spreading a virus in the healthy space."
Btw Nedieth you re the only one i found not going for pierce pts on the tree(and im not agree when you say to cast first ed and then contagion, the mob will die too fast! ), actually i like it because you can save a lot of points, whats your pov about that? I never played ED so i tested your tree CI with trickster in std and seems ok but dunno if with 100% pierce is way better or what
"The exodus of humanity in search of a new home? It is like spreading a virus in the healthy space."
Am I missing something? Do you not Triple Curse Blasphemy when life-based? You get +1 curse from the tree and +1 from Cospri's, but no reduced reservation, it seems like. What gives?
Talisman: CausticDream

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