[3.1] SC/HC Essence Drain Progression - Currently MoM ED/Blight/Contagion

3.1 update: This build was affected by the changes in 3.1. We will lose some mana due to the Mind over Matter changes, which will affect our survivability. The result should be around 150-200 lower effective health, but considering a well geared character had around 9k, this is not a big deal. Our boss damage will also be slightly lower, now that Wither only provides 90% increased damage taken instead of 140%. This results in us being able to drop a support gem from the Wither totem setup, and the new curse should be able to compensate for the changes as well. The build is still very strong and able to do all content, but it might require a bit more finesse against the guardians and Shaper, since the kills will now take a few more seconds.

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. In 3.0 the Allelopathy gloves were introduced, giving us a very strong 5L Blight for our glove slot as well. This gives ED the single target punch that I was afraid it would lack with double dipping changes. ED remains an extremely solid all round build and can deal with all content with ease if played well.

Two recordings of the build in earlier stages:
ED/Blight vs. Kitava act 10, Self found
Abyss Performance, T9 map early league

These videos shows off how the build plays when it is "done":
3.1 MoM ED/Blight versus Elder and his guardians
3.0 MoM ED/Blight Versus all four Guardians and Shaper
Uber Atziri
Uber Labyrinth

Why play my version 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.

The build is definitely a proven concept, and with the introduction of Allelopaty, you should be able to get some solid performance on minimal investment. The screenshot below shows the build on top of the HC Mayhem ladder in 3.0. In the race, I died on day 5 and still managed a 4th place with under 2 days played on my character.



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
PoB - Path of Building

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 leveling is usually a combination of Blight, Contagion and Essence Drain. ED starts off very weak, and I often find myself using my largest gem links for Contagion and Blight instead. This boils down to personal preference, and I would suggest that any new player focuses on a proper ED/Contagion setup as listed below the first time around. This could make it easier for you to get used to the positioning and playstyle for later on.

We can get Essence Drain as we enter the Caverns of Wrath at 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.

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) <-- Pick one, depends on gear/setup.

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

Stone Golem

Blaspemy > Temporal Chains | Flame Dash

Shield Charge > Fortify > Faster Attacks

Blight > Efficacy > Void Maipulation > Controlled Destruction

What curse you use is completely optional. Despair, Enfeeble and Temporal Chains are all very strong in their own way. The Blight setup should be replaced by Allelopathy as soon as possible. If you don't like incorporating Blight in the build, you can add a CWDT setup instead:

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

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:
Weave the Arcane > Swift Killer > Patient Reaper > Ghost Dance/Walk the Aether

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.

Lately, I have taken Walk the Aether as my last ascendancy for that zoomzoom clear speed. If you want to further add to the layered defense of the character instead, get Ghost Dance.

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 first labyrinth, and at least before Kitava in act 5. 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

The stats on jewels we fit into the passive tree can be prioritized by the same list as above. I generally get a bit greedy in the damage/utility department when it comes to jewels, but I would advice to try to get jewels with life rolls. Due to roll tiers being different on jewels, here is my personal priority list:

- maximum life (or mana if I have good flat rolls on my gear)
- spell damage while holding a shield
- spell damage, damage over time, chaos damage
- damage

Beyond these affixes, stuff like attack and cast speed, cast/attack speed while holding a shield, or resists are very nice to get.

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.

Along with "Eber's Unification", Despair is the only source of chaos resistance penetration we have. I would combine Impresence with dual curse in the passive tree to run both Temporal Chains and Despair on Blasphemy. If you really want to go all out on damage, Impresence allows you to reserve no mana at all for curses and also add Clear Mind to the build.

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. If you feel like you can't drop your mana flask, you might feel differently if you get this boot enchant.

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.

Example gear from a few iterations of the build in 3.0



+ A Sai with 70% spell damage and crafted attack speed and Allelopathy


Path of Building information

I named the spoiler Path of Building "information", as I will not include any pastebin for PoB. I recently read somewhere that the bare minimum for a build guide should be a PoB link, which I strongly oppose. In my mind, A build in this game should showcase an interesting playstyle as well as the build's potential in higher tier content within a reasonable budget. Path of Building is an extremely strong tool, and I use it all the time when I try to tweak my characters, but for new players who are not used to a build or playstyle, the numbers can be wildly misleading.
This is a screenshot of my current character in HHC in PoB. The collumn to the left shows realistic, sustained damage of ED and defense values for Shaper/Guardians, while the right side collumn shows some potential damage that you can in theory get to while clearing a map. The inflated damage is nearly tripple that of the realistic boss damage one, and is just an example of how easy it is to make a build look way better than it is.

My current character peaks at around 600k sustained DPS on Shaper/Guardians, assuming I can keep my Wither totem alive 2/3 of the time. That might not always be the case, so I'd go even lower and say that this build has around 400-500k sustained DPS on bosses where DPS is actually relevant. I could inflate the numbers and make a huge headline saying "ED/BLIGHT TRICKSTER - 1.5M DPS IN PoB", but it is just not true.

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 Jan 22, 2018 12:06:52 AM
Last bumped on Feb 16, 2018 3:15:07 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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