[3.5][HCSSF] Storm Brand Hierophant | Tanky, mobile, beginner friendly, and fun

Welcome to my first ever guide! I'm writing this after just a day of playing with brands, so anything in the guide is subject to change as things settle down. I'll be updating it as I progress with it.

RIP level 80
RIP level 85
RIP level 88
RIP level 83
RIP level 88 #2

Please note that this guide is meant for HCSSF play. It assumes that you have no unique items, that you will not get any particular unique items, and that you intend to never die. That said, many uniques are perfectly viable or even good for the build, evaluate them on a case by case basis as they drop for you.

But Lily, I don't want to play HC or SSF, why don't you make a guide for me? - I'm glad you asked Timmy! As it turns out, I have very little experience in softcore! I have about 900 hours in the game thus far, and 95% of that at least has been spent in HCSSF. I'm writing about what I know. Most of this should be applicable for SC though.

How are brands?
Thus far I have tested Storm Brand. As of writing this, I'm nearing the end of A8. I freaking love this spell. Brands are to totems what consecrated path was to flicker strikes.

It provides more granular targeting, allows you to reposition them instantly, and is just awesome. Single target damage is great thus far, at least with the Runebinder passive. Cleaving between two targets is ridiculous, and lots of Betrayal content has two exiles/bosses to kill.

In terms of survival, you can just run straight away from a large pack of enemies after aggroing them, constantly recalling your brands to reposition any that were left behind. I LOVE BRANDS


What about Armageddon Brand?
I prefer Storm Brand. If you like to fill your screen with flashy explosions, feel free to switch to Armageddon Brand. Should work just as well, you'd just need to switch Lightning Pen for Fire Pen and swap some lightning related passives around.


Who am I?
I'm Lily, a masochist at heart, thus my love for HCSSF. My proficiency over the past 900 hours have been mixed, but I have evolved from barely getting past A5 Kitava to reliably hitting maps with about half the characters I give it a solid attempt with (rough estimation). I reached 90 in Delve, and intend to push even higher in Betrayal.


Do you stream?
Yes! Sort of. I'm not a professional streamer. I'm not even a hobbyist streamer. The main reason that I even set up streaming software was so that I could easily share with one or two friends what I was doing, I didn't intend to build a community.

I don't generally talk on stream. I don't have a cam. It's basically just a window into my current gameplay session, with the added benefit of me interacting in chat about what I'm doing. In this case, it'll let you see how my build is performing, because I'll be playing it nonstop for a while.

Link to my shitty stream


Videos
I'm still progressing with the build, I'll add more videos as I go along.

Abyssal Lich
Uber Izaro




General info

Pros and Cons

+ Tanky
+ Built with SSF in mind
+ Very mobile for a spell build
+ Very pleasant to play
+ Speedy drive by killing with Brand Recall
+ Decimates syndicate members
+ Damage is great with 2+ nearby targets
+ Good league starter
+ Cheap
+ Isn't too flashy

- Damage may not scale into end game
- Single target damage is lacking, two or more targets is fine
- Can't do elemental reflect easily
- Isn't too flashy


Playstyle
Brands are by their very nature a very mobile type of skill. Brand Recall is basically the build enabler! Kite as much as you can.

Brand Recall has a three second cooldown. Cooldown recover speed decreases the cooldown. Each time we recall, we extend the duration of our brands by 1.2 seconds. If we have 1.2 seconds cooldown, we can have infinite brands. We need 150% cooldown recovery speed to reach that cooldown, which isn't feasible. That said, the more we have the longer our brands last, so the 80% we get from the gem and from the Hierophant ascendancy will make them last for quite a while.

When the brands start to fall off, we recast all our brands and then start moving/recalling again.

Because recalling the brands is instant, we don't need to stop in order to refresh the duration. This means we can spend 100% of our attention on moving and avoiding damage, while the brands do their work. Attachment range helps make this even smoother!

There is a slight damage benefit from activating brand recall near an enemy, but it's not worth the risk if you fear dying.

It's worth noting that having two targets with similar health will let you kill them faster than each of those targets separately. Through the native storm brand damage boost to the target it's attached to, as well as the bonus from our ascendancy, we have 80% more damage to the target we've attached our brands to (1.2 * 1.5). The base damage is still spread though, which means that if we have two targets with two brands each, we're doing 560% base damage (180*2 + 100*2) to each target, where having a single target would mean 360% base damage, a 55% increase.


Content specific advice

Immortal Syndicate: Build up trust! The more bosses you fight, the faster they die. That said, early in the game, I'd advise keeping them at low ranks and not building trust too much, until you've gotten geared properly.

Immortal Syndicate Fort: Avoid hanging out inside the fort once you beat down the door. Instead, run around the fort while keeping brands on your targets. Kiting galore!

Abysses: Follow the thing, brand recall, done.

Breaches: Brands appear to do damage and keep chaining when off screen. Run along the edge and place your brands, killing everything as you run.

Delve: Delving into the mine is a breeze. Run, brand recall, and profit. At the node fights, just stand in the center and recall until it's done. Move around if needed to dodge stuff.

Temporal Incursions: Fairly similar to any other content. Placing 1-2 brands in a pack allows you to move to the next while they die, which boosts your clear speed significantly.


Path of Building




Main Mechanics

Offensive


Storm Brand: You place them near a target, and they attack. They can then bounce around groups in a sort of pseudo-chain, bouncing whenever their target dies. On top of this, they do good AoE damage, easily killing packs on their own.

Brand Recall is most definitely an offensive ability, being used to reposition our brands into better positions. Being instant cast, this means you spend more time moving and less time casting brands. We also use this to acquire Arcane Surge before doing our final lab.

Elemental Overload is a passive that grants a large More multiplier to elemental damage, if you've crit in the past 8 seconds. This is vastly superior to stacking crit chance and multiplier for builds that can't invest heavily into crits. We're putting a lot of points into defense, so we're opting for the cheaper option in terms of points.



Defensive

This guide is written for HCSSF. What this means is that the goal is to have no deaths whatsoever. As such, rather than aim for "good enough" defenses, we kind of go a bit crazy.

Mind over Matter: This makes you take some damage from mana before life. We get 30% from the passive tree node and 10% from our ascendancy, resulting in 40%. Thus, you want a Life/Mana split of roughly 60/40.

Fortify: Linked to shield charge, this helps keep us safe as we charge around maps and into packs of monsters.

Enfeeble: Linked to a counterattack with Curse on Hit, this reduces the amount of damage enemies inflict.

Block: This build uses shields for added defense. It doesn't go full-in on it like you'd expect from a Gladiator, but any damage reduced lessens your chance of death. We achieve some spell block from our passive tree, while our attack block comes from our equipped shield. The higher you can get this the better, but there's limits to how much we can achieve without uniques and without pathing towards Gladiator in our passives, which I would not recommend due to missing out on damage nodes by witch and shadow. Remember: The faster they die, the less damage they have time to do.

Armour: While we don't aim to reach ridiculous numbers here, the more armour you can get the better. The passive tree only has a few points for this.

Energy Shield: There's even less focus on ES in this build, but it won't be none. Look at it as a minor buffer before you take actual damage. This will mainly come from Armour/ES gear that we use to simplify socket situations.





Gems

Gems

Main Offense spell

4L: Storm Brand - Controlled Destruction - Elemental Focus - Lightning Penetration

5L: Added Lightning Damage

6L: Efficacy would be my first choice. I prefer to not switch gems for bossfights. If you don't mind switching gems Concentrated Effect and Increased AoE should do nicely. Lastly, Empower would probably be the best gem here, but since it's drop only I won't be recommending it unless you get lucky enough to get it.



Gap crosser and Brand Recall

3L: Brand Recall - Flame Dash - Arcane Surge

I use this during leveling before third lab. Brand Recall reliably procs Arcane Surge, and Flame Dash helps a lot with crossing gaps.

Once you have the node that gives you Arcane Surge on hit, you can drop this entirely.



Defensive curse

2L: Blasphemy-Enfeeble

1L: Brand Recall

Brand Recall is moved to this 2+1 link after we get the ascendancy node Arcane Blessing.



Speedy movement skill

3L: Shield Charge - Fortify - Faster Attacks



Survivability - Please note that these gems are not all leveled to 20. The number next to the gem tells you what level I leave it at.

3L: Cast when damage taken(1) - Immortal Call(3) - Increased Duration(20)

This link originally had Orb of Storms to help proc Elemental Overload, but it really isn't needed with Storm Brand. Currently unsure what to put in the fourth slot.



Utility - Please note that these gems are not all leveled to 20. The number next to the gem tells you what level I leave it at.

If you get the crafted mod "Trigger a Socketed Spell when you use a Skill" on your weapon, you can drop the CWDT and level the other three spells to 20, putting them in your weapon. If you do this, move the Blasphemy setup and Brand Recall to another item.

4L: Cast when damage taken(10) - Summon Lightning Golem(12) - Tempest Shield(13) - Molten Shell(15)



Single Target Damage

4L: Lightning Spire Trap-Controlled Destruction-Elemental Focus-Concentrated Effect

I'd start using this after third lab, when you move Brand Recall to the Blasphemy-Enfeeble setup.






Passive Tree

Passive trees

It is very important to note that these passive trees are very much guidelines. If you don't want to use certain passives, that's fine. You do you. This is the build that I personally use.

Level 20
Level 40
Level 60
Level 80
Level 100



Ascendancy


Sign of Purpose - Normal Lab - I'd do this around level 33-35. Right after you get the crystal veins waypoint in A4 is when I tend to go for it. This provides nice damage and loads of quality of life.

Illuminated Devotion - Cruel Lab - Improved damage, AoE, and life leech when you have arcane surge. You're practically spamming Brand Recall, which will give you arcane surge.

Divine Guidance - Merciless Lab - Better MoM.

Arcane Blessing - Endless Lab - Grants you Arcane Surge, allowing you to remove it from the Brand Recall link. Immunity to elemental ailments when you have arcane surge is a nice survivability bonus.

The last two options are interchangeable really, it's up to you whether ailment immunity or improved MoM is what you're after at that stage.



Why Hierophant?
There are other ascendancies, such as Elementalist and Inquisitor, that are viable choices for brands. That said, here's my reasoning behind choosing Hierophant:

Sign of Purpose
Let's start with looking at Sign of Purpose, the Brand specific node. You can cast an additional Brand isn't bad, though isn't major either. It gives us our fifth brand, which only helps with 3+ targets. The weakness of the build lies in singletarget, which it does not help with.

Enemies take 10% increased damage for each of your brands attached to them: This is pretty major. Enemies take % increased damage effectively acts as a more multiplier. It's separate from skill deals increased damage, and there aren't more sources of it. This means we get 20% more damage to the target we attach to, more if we in the future get more than 2 brands attached.

Brand attachment range is awesome, it lets you stay further away from your enemies while still attaching with brand recall.

The cooldown recovery speed is similarly awesome. The more often you cast brand recall, the less time you spend standing still.


Illuminated devotion gives you increased AoE, leech, and 40% inc spell damage. We're linking Arcane Surge to Brand Recall, so it has permanent uptime without any additional thought. Once we get Arcane Blessing, we get immune to ailments and can drop Arcane Surge from Brand Recall.

Divine Guidance gives us more mana and boosts our MoM percentage. All in all, good for survivability.


General strategy

When levelling, it's very important to pick passives that will benefit you in the short term, while working towards the long term. If you're worried about dying, picking up a few health or block nodes will do you good. That said, the faster an enemy dies the less damage it has time to do to you, it's important to find a nice balance.

When playing SSF, I find that it's often valuable to take temporary nodes. If you're struggling with resistances, picking up some resists in the tree will help you survive levelling. You get respec points from side quests, use them to help you survive to the end game. Even if you have to use some regret orbs, it is worth it to survive.





Pantheon

Pantheon


Major: Soul of Lunaris. All effects are lovely for survivability.

Minor: Soul of Ralakesh. More survivability!





Gear

Gear
As this build is made with a pure SSF playstyle in mind, this section will be pretty simple.

Base type: Whatever makes it easier to get the right sockets, with good stats. Stats > Ease of socket colours.

In terms of weapons, you want a sceptre of some kind for the elemental damage, to allow you to shield charge. General damage stats are the goal here. Elemental damage, spell damage, inc lightning damage, flat lightning damage to spells, etc. Ignore crit stats.

Stat priorities: Always prioritize life, mana, and resists. Potential damage pales in comparison. Aim to overcap your resists by 34% to be safe from elemental weakness curses. This means you want each resist to be at 109% or more. Also aim for a 60/40 split between health and mana. For example, 5000 life, 3333 mana.

Example Gear
The gear is not optimal. That said, it's at least somewhat good.




For flasks, I use two divine life flasks with either seething or bubbling prefixes, for emergency life situations. I then tend to run any survivability flask with bleed removal, a quicksilver, and a silver flask for onslaught. While leveling, a mana flask will help.

Unique options
It's important to note that none of these are mandatory or required. They are simply decent options to use if you find them, or to buy if you're in softcore.

Tabula Rasa - Easy enough to farm up with Humility cards in either Blood Aqueducts in act 9, or in the T1 map Channel.

Carcass Jack - Chestpiece with life and good damage. A 5L carcass jack will be better than a tabula.[

Loreweave - Probably the goal chestpiece for the build. All around really solid! You can get it from a vendor by selling 60 unique rings to them, or through normal means.






Bandits

Alira if you feel the urgent need for resists, kill all if not. You can respec this at a later point.



Leveling

Leveling
This build has been the smoothest start I've ever had in any build. I picked it up right on launch and made it to 80 on my first char.

General early leveling passive pathing: Runebinder -> Elemental Overload -> General stuff along the path of those -> Mind over Matter.

Note that Onslaught in these links are purely a convenience for speed and is not something you'd want to spend any currency to achieve.

Also note that these gem selections are geared towards not requiring any other characters or trading to get. The exception is Volley, due to being able to get that in SSF with a single character in about 10 minutes. It's also not the only option at that level bracket, it's only an option.

| indicates a link
+ indicates an addition
- indicates a removal

Level 2
+ Smite | Ancestral Call | Onslaught
Smite from initial quest reward, Ancestral Call and Onslaught from the Mercy Mission quest (Tidal Island)

Alternative:
+ Frozen Pulse | Volley | Onslaught
Volley is not available for Templar. I'd create any other class and do the Mercy Mission quest, enabling you to get Volley and an extra Quicksilver Flask. Note: I'd wait until level 4 to turn in the quest, to enable rolling the Freeze immunity modifier on the flask.

Level 10 (Killing Brutus)
+Flame Dash

Level 12 (Reaching Merveil's Caverns)
- Previous setup
+ Arc | Added Lightning Damage | Onslaught
+ Storm Brand | Added Lightning Damage | Onslaught
Prioritize Arc over Storm Brand. As a general rule, you want to switch priority when you've gotten the Runebinder Keystone. I prefer waiting until after normal lab too, but that's personal preference. Keep Arc around as long as you feel like it's useful, but I tend to ditch it somewhere in A4-A5.

Level 16 (Chamber of Sins)
+ Herald of Thunder
+ Brand Recall | Arcane Surge
Herald of Thunder is a good choice until you reserve mana from another source, like Blasphemy later on. Keep Arcane Surge at a low level so each Brand Recall procs it.

Level 18 (The Weaver's Chambers)
Arc | +Controlled Destruction | +Elemental Focus | Added Lightning Damage | +Faster Casting
Storm Brand | +Controlled Destruction | +Elemental Focus | Added Lightning Damage | +Faster Casting
Flame Dash | +Faster Casting
If you have a leveling unique that gives you enough sockets, you can combine these two.

Level 31 (The Library)
Storm Brand | Controlled Destruction | Elemental Focus | Added Lightning Damage | +Lightning Penetration | Faster Casting
+ Blasphemy | Enfeeble
+ Shield Charge | Fortify | Faster Attacks
- Herald of Thunder
-? Arc
This is around the time I tend to ditch Arc. It's not mandatory, if you like it then keep it.

General rule of thumb is to do Normal Lab around now. I tend to get to the waypoint in Crystal Veins, and then do it.




FAQ

Crit or elemental overload?
This build uses elemental overload. This means that our crits do no extra damage, but give us 40% more elemental damage for 8 seconds.

Going crit instead is feasible, and would probably get you more damage in the late game, but this build does not do that as written. The reasoning is pretty simple: Cost vs Benefit.

With the right gear, and with adjusted passives, you'll get more damage from crit than from elemental overload. The key thing is that elemental overload gets you a lot of damage for very little investment. It means that we don't have to get crit on our gear, allowing us to instead focus on life/mana/resists. Similarly, elemental overload costs us three passive points, where crit will cost us much more. We'd have to sacrifice something for those points, either survivability or damage from other sources.

TL;DR: Elemental Overload is cheap and easy, but with a lower damage ceiling. You can go crit if you want to, but I would not recommend it for HCSSF.


Does Storm Brand proc elemental overload, even with controlled destruction?
Yes! Controlled destruction cannot reduce crit chance below 5%. Assuming that we have no buffs to activation speed or cast speed(which we do), and assuming single target, two storm brands activates four times a second. In 8 seconds, that means 32 hits. The chance of critting at least once every 8 seconds is around 80%.

If we have two targets close to each other, each activation hits twice. We also have four brands active. That means that we hit 32*4 times, which is 128. This means we have a 99.8% chance of critting at least once every 8 seconds.

Elemental Overload is always active, essentially.


What about shock?
Storm Brand breezes through map clearing. The issue lies in single target damage. Shock relies on hitting something really hard in one hit in order to cause shock. Storm Brand hits for fairly small amounts, but very rapidly. As such, we aren't going to be shocking bosses, even if we drop elemental focus. The 49% more multiplier from that gem is going to do much more for us than shock would.
Last edited by Lilyliciously on Jan 1, 2019, 2:55:07 PM
Last bumped on Jan 20, 2019, 3:42:58 AM
Thanks for the small guide, I was looking into playing brand today after watching some streams but I'm a complete noob at skill trees.

This definitely helps in that regard, so thanks!
You should link passive tree from classic site. Your topic does not make sense without working tree.
Thinking of doing this build myself, but contemplating on a hybrid of arc totems and brand and not getting either Ancestral Bond or Runebinder. Hierophant and can have 2 totems up and 4 brands up at once before gear (Veiled Shields that can add +1 to totem). But it's just something to work with and see how it fares as I level up. Main reason why I am thinking this is even with a Hierophant and MoM, having just a couple of totems to attract an enemy's attention is useful for survivability.
Last edited by reciprocate on Dec 8, 2018, 8:03:56 AM
There's definitely room for lots of experimentation regarding hybridization with totems. I wouldn't even necessarily rule out Runebinder, instead making use of Multiple Totem Support to combine several totems with a double application of a brand.
Added passive trees that don't require Path of Building.
hm, interesting...did have brand reflect damage or not?
30k for endgeme is kinda low not ?
I wish Brands passives weren't exclusive of Totems nodes.

An Inquisitor with a Brand/Strike build would be extremely fun and a rather new take on a hybrid build.

Btw, nice guide, glad you took time to focus on Brands.
Is elemental overload still triggering when you have Controlled Destruction on storm brand ?

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