[3.7] Zombies/SRS Occultist - HC SSF focused guide

This is the build I managed to get to level 100 in the Betrayal hc ssf league (3.5). It was also my first level 100 ever. I considered it rather generic, but as opposed to strength-stacking Necromancers, it didn't seem like this specific version got much attention. So, I thought maybe it's worth to share and discuss it.


A little background: I began getting into mapping back in Harbinger (3.0) / Abyss (3.1), and then I set my goal to obtaining level 90 in a hc ssf temporary league. I started to experiment with the Necromancer focused on zombies, and after a few failed attempts, I hit that goal in Bestiary (3.2). Later on, I tried to improve the idea in Delve (3.4) - but this time with the Occultist, which worked much better for me. My reasoning for this choice is as follows:

The Necromancer's minions can be efficient with enough investment - there's a variety of interesting unique items allowing to do this in different ways, but there isn't any reliable/quick access for most of them in ssf leagues.

On the other hand, the Occultist offers a ramp up of dispersed damage via Profane Boom, which is highly independent of our gear. Then, Vile Bastion makes it easier to pick Chaos Inoculation - I think it fits a summoner playstyle pretty well and constitues a form of defense that a life-based Necromancer might lack. Malediction further improves both our offensive and defensive aspects.

Changes in 3.7
The Occultist received a series of nerfs related mainly to Dense Fossils, the passive skill tree, and the Ascendancy skill tree. As a result, I was very sceptical about updating the guide. I think it got much closer to the Necromancer in terms of the defensive value under ssf conditions. Nevertheless, we're still able to get a decent amount of energy shield and curses are flexible and powerful tools.

It will be harder to make a transition to CI and the hybrid life/ES version, from which we start, will be seriously competing with it. In ssf it comes down to your gear, generally speaking - to preferred playstyle.

I decided to stick with the CI version for now, but I'll probably cover the life/ES version in more details in the future. I abandoned the Wicked Ward keystone and focused on what's left from energy shield regeneration. In Uber Lab we get a 6% ES node and Void Beacon, which is a purely damage boost, so it isn't as urgent to complete it as before.

After some testing, I think it isn't that bad as I thought it would be. While you'll definitely see your ES at low values for longer than before, the build is able to deal with the content at least up to the Shaper, including him (check Gems and Links for adjustments though). We benefit from the changes to movement skills, minions deal more damage, and zombies can utilize reworked Fortify Support.
The basics
Raging Spirits are temporary minions characterized by their mobility and aggressiveness. We can have 20 of them at the same time, so they can focus on a single target or disper when dealing with a pack of mobs.

Zombies are persistent minions which trade mobility for higher individual damage. Their AI also is different - usually they will follow the character unless we directly point the enemy to them. We can have 3 of them at the same time by default, but that number can by increased in various ways.

I've tried playing these skills separately, but in the end I enjoyed their complementarity the most.

If you're not familiar with Ascendancy classes in PoE, please follow this link.

A character employing SRS and zombies usually would be the Necromancer using a few unique items, probably The Baron as the cornerstone. My intention was to check if that build can be translated into a viable version under ssf conditions and the Occultist seemed suited to the job.
(3.5) Casual mapping

(3.5) Pit of the Chimera (map)

(3.7) Pit of the Chimera (boss)

The last one is a different character with not-so-good gear. This iteration basically has no offensive jewels. With some investment she could reach over 2.5M Shaper DPS with all minions out, here's about a half of that.
Highlights (for the beginners)
Energy Shield
I utilize Chaos Inoculation, energy shield recharge, and energy shield regeneration mechanics.

CI is a passive skill that sets our maximum life to 1, but makes us invulnerable to chaos damage, which is the only type of damage that normally bypasses ES. In other words, it allows us to focus entirely on getting more ES.

ES recharges constantly, unless we take damage. If so, it won't recharge for a delay of 2 seconds by default. By reducing this delay and increasing the chance of avoiding taking damage, we make sure it will re-start recharging as fast as possible. Discipline aura gives us additional ES and increases ES recharge rate. Its gem can be corrupted to grant also Vaal Discipline, which can take away the delay completely in an emergency.

Thanks to the Occultist's Vile Bastion passive skill, we get up to 10% ES regeneration as long as our minions kill enough enemies and we can't be stunned. The Zealoth's Oath keystone applies any source of life regeneration to energy shield instead of life.
My means for avoiding taking damage include:

- Combined evasion/block/dodge. In 3.7 it's a bit harder to avoid getting hit with the same value of evasion as before, but it's still a viable strategy. If you can, use at least one Ghastly Eye jewel giving your minions a chance to blind on hit.

- Cast When Damage Taken Support (lvl 1) + Temporal Chains (lvl 5). With this setup TC is triggered when we take 528 damage and slows enemies down, providing a safer environment.

- Curse on Hit Support + Enfeeble + Arc. Enfeeble is a general defensive curse that has a synergy with evasion. It’s linked with Arc for the purpose of applying another curse and effects of Elemental Equilibrium at the same time (look below).

- Correct positioning. A lot of people like using Shield Charge for the defensive bonus of Fortify Support linked with it. It would be nice to squeeze in Fortify, but I don’t rely on that, I don't recommend Shield Charging right into packs of mobs at all.

People often refer to zombies as "meat shields" and it may work that way if you have enough of them and use CWDT + Convocation.
I boost the minions in a few specific ways worth mentioning here. These include:

- Elemental Equilibrium. I focus my zombies and Raging Spirits on fire and cold damage. EE is a passive skill which in that case allows us to decrease enemies’ resistances to those types of damage by hitting them with lightning damage. My personal preference is to apply it with Arc, as it gives a lot of freedom for positioning.

- Carnage Chieftain Spectres. They grant us and our minions Frenzy Charges, which are even more powerful on them than on us. In order to get corpses to raise them in the first place, we can go to The Old Fields (Act 2). Then, we can raise them in a high level area using Desecrate – the Azurite Mine (accessible in Act 4) serves this purpose well. We allow them to grant Frenzy Charges more often by linking them with Blood Magic Support.

- Spirit Offering. A spell that consumes corpses (which helps with dealing with some on-death effects, like corpse explosion) and grants buffs making it easier to keep zombies and spectres undead and happy.

- Elemental Weakness. A curse reducing elemental resistances, that one is rather straightforward. I apply it together with Enfeeble by using Curse on Hit Support + Arc.

- Auras. Hatred provides bonus cold damage to our minions. Precision enhances their accuracy. In the Betrayal league I was able to add Aspect of the Avian as an additional source of movement speed/damage.

- Mon'Tregul's Grasp. A unique Void Sceptre that greatly improves survivability of zombies and makes enemies killed by them explode, dealing fire damage to other nearby enemies. It’s the only unique I consider necessary, but it’s easy to get one by farming its divination card, Death. You can find it in maps like Marshes (T5 in 3.7) or Mud Geyser (T6 in 3.7).

- Profane Bloom. The Occultist’s passive skill that has a similar effect to Mon'Tregul's Grasp, but requires enemies to be cursed first and grants only a 25% chance for the explosion. Also, it allows us to apply curses to enemies with hexproof mod. Remember that some enemies, like totems, can never be cursed anyway.
Passive Tree
This is the final tree for the CI version. CI is gated by gear. You're likely to have a bad experience if you try to level up aiming straightforwardly for this tree and ignore life nodes/gear. If you're not sure how to get there, please check the Leveling section.

www.pathofexile.com link (3.7): https://tinyurl.com/yy2lbd9w,

PoB link (3.7): https://pastebin.com/v8UvKXEw, last edited: July 22, 2019.

In 3.7 it's harder to make a transition to CI than before. You don't really need to do it though; if you skip CI, the tree won't change much. Just make any existing pathing go through life nodes when possible. For the most part you should be fine with ~3k life and ~40% chaos resistance. Watch out for chaos golems in the Azurite Mine and the Syndicate encounters though. If you stay with the hybrid version and have a problem with chaos resistance, you may consider picking Wicked Ward and Withering Presence instead of Vile Bastion.

The order of Ascendancy passive skills for the CI version:
Profane Bloom -> Malediction -> Vile Bastion -> Void Beacon.

If I wanted to stay with the life/ES version, I think I'd go
Profane Bloom -> Void Beacon -> Withering Presence -> Malediction.
Gems and Links
SRS + Unleash + Added Cold Dam. + Minion Dam. + Ruthless + Elem. Focus.

I used to use Spell Echo instead of Unleash, but I think the latter works better overall.

Elem. Dam. with Attacks tends to be replaceable with Ruthless. What's better dps-wise depends on the state of other skills and modifiers to minion stats from gear. Ruthless decreases the mana cost though.

Raise Zombie + Minion Dam. + Minion Speed + Fortify.

Apart from a few unique items, the minions' movement speed stat can be gained on Ghastly Eye jewels and amulets/rings crafted with Essences of Fear or Bound Fossils. If you stack up enough of it, you can try swapping the support gem, e.g. for Melee Physical Damage.

(Vaal) Arc + Curse on Hit + Enfeeble + Elem. Weakness,
CWDT + Temporal Chains.

The Vaal version of Arc is useful for particularly mob-density intense situations, like Legion encounters, where it can immediately apply curses and the EE debuff to a large portion of monsters.

Spectres (Carnage Chieftains):
Raise Spectre + Blood Magic.

We can't use skills supported by Blood Magic as a CI character (but it won't accidentally kill us either), so we need to remove the gem each time we raise the spectres.

(Vaal) Discipline,
Hatred + Precision + Generosity.

Optionally and if you can somehow deal with mana reservation:
Aspect of the Avian or Aspect of the Spider.

The auras setup obviously heavily influences your whole mana management, so make sure you adjust your mana-related nodes and gear if you follow my PoB link. If you have to choose, Generosity itself will likely be better damage-wise than Aspects.

Flame Dash,
Spirit Offering.

If your minions are safe enough without Spirit Offering, you can use Flesh Offering instead to speed them up. It's also more dps for SRS.

Adjustments for the Shaper
The fight is easier if you use Storm Brand instead of Arc to keep the high uptime of your curses and the EE debuff. Use Unleash instead of Minion Speed to quickly get all your zombies back. Enfeeble probably won't save you anyway, so you may use Frostbite or Vulnerability instead.

If you can afford a slot, Convocation may somewhat help with protecting your minions from the Shaper's beam and vortices casted by the mid-phases bosses, but I don't think it's necessary.

The most annoying thing is that your spectres are very likely to die and it's a pain in the neck to get them back in The Shaper's Realm, as it has a huge monster table. If you just want to complete that fight once and you can use Victario's Charity, I'd consider speccing out for Necromantic Aegis. That way your minions will keep the impactful buff from Frenzy Charges.

Mon'Tregul's Grasp is very easy to obtain by farming a divination card named Death in maps like Marshes (T5 in 3.7) or Mud Geyser (T6 in 3.7).

Farming Mon'Tregul's Grasp in 3.7
In 3.7 there are two adjacent maps in which we can find Death cards: Marshes and Mud Geyser. In ssf it's important to understand the Atlas mechanics in order to secure access to these maps. Check this link for some basics.

Instructions are quite simple though. If we assume a brand new, clear Atlas, then we may complete all T1 maps, as they always will be in the drop pool anyway.

Then, we simply need to complete the direct path leading to Mud Geyser; Glacier -> Mausoleum -> Excavation -> Marshes -> Mud Geyser. Just keep running your maps and building the pool.

This way, Marshes or Mud Geyser itself would be the only T5 or T6 map respectively that could drop when you run it and you should be getting a supply of maps that can lead to it by drops, using Vaal Orbs, or the "3 to 1" vendor recipe.

When you have some decent pool of Mausoleums or higher maps from the path, then you can complete other T2s for the completion bonus, and so on. It's harder and harder to sustain maps from the path as you unlock other maps though, so it can get messy if you do so and get a bad luck with drops.

[edit] This time I tried it, it took 18 Marshes with 87% increased quantity and +24% monster pack size on average to complete the set. I also ran 4 Mud Geysers, but I really didn't like how spooky the boss was with some mods and no card dropped there. I never had Shaper/Elder influence on them.

Roughly speaking, I ran a half of Marshes with 13 maps completed (I completed all T2s quite early) and the other half with 23 maps completed (all T3s + Mud Geyser). I ended up with 17 Excavations, 4 Marshes, and 6 Mud Geysers left.

This was my first and only character that I played in maps and I had lvl 86 when I got the set. Simultaneously I was exploring the Azurite Mine - I was rather going for early nodes than pushing; about 120 nodes done up to depth 75.

This Vaal Regalia here is a result of crafting gear with Dense Fossils, which can be found in Fungal Caverns in the Azurite Mine. They were changed in 3.7 and while they're still valuable, an armour with such amount of ES isn't obtainable in non-permanent leagues for now. You can get up to ~90% of it though.

I think a helmet with +2 to level of socketed minion gems starts becoming noticeably helpful in T12/13 maps (or rather you start noticing a lack of it if you don't use one). But it's also heplful early on, before you get Mon'Tregul's Grasp.

Keep an eye on Shaper belts, which drop in Shaper-influenced maps. They can have interesting modifiers, like:
- up to 10% increased maximum energy shield,
- up to 20% increased energy shield recovery rate.

Crystal Belts are distinguished by their implicit providing 60-80 to maximum ES. They can be found in the particular region of the Atlas.

Rumi's Concotion can be obtained by farming the Earth Drinker divination card, but a swap for a Quartz Flask works just fine too. I use such with suffixes 'of Dousing' or 'of Grounding' in maps with the high risk of getting ignited or shocked respectively.

Check this page about Ghastly Eye jewels if you're not familiar with them. Please note that ES values in the above examples are legacy (in 3.7 it's up to 40). There's no specific set of jewels I recommend, as you may need to adjust them depending on a situation. For example, you'll need a bunch of those increasing minions' damage in order to comfortably deal with the Shaper. Usually you'd probably prefer increased minions' movement speed though.
You can try going for the build directly, but zombies and spectres tend to die very often early on, and it may be hard to sustain enough Raging Spirits. I’d say it slowly starts rolling in Act 5.

My proposition is to start as a spellcaster and add minions step by step.

Here's the breakdown of my routine in PoB links with passive skill trees (3.7) and gem setups. It emerged from my ssf hc runs, so I didn't include setups with more than 4 links or any uniques. If you don't know when/how to get a specific skill gem, please check its page at the wiki.

PoB link: https://pastebin.com/d86Jmx5i - 30 points/lvl 27/The Battlefront (Act 3)
www.pathofexile.com link: https://tinyurl.com/y4oydpac

Basically, I pick Storm Brand and rush for Spiritual Aid, using SRS as the single target skill.

In Act 1, before getting Storm Brand, you can use Freezing Pulse + Elemental Proliferation and Frost Bomb + Onslaught. If you're starting a ssf league, you can get Onslaught as Scion's starting gem.

In Act 2, I help Alira for mana regeneration and elemental resistances.

PoB link: https://pastebin.com/UG1HiFcF - 46 points/lvl 41/The Slave Pens (Act 5)
www.pathofexile.com link: https://tinyurl.com/y3nln2kt

As I get Minion and Totem Elemental Resistance in Act 3, I add zombies to the build - for now, they mainly help with single targets and provide some protection. Desecrate allows to raise them back quickly, but you can just put it in a weapon swap yet.

The Occultist lost her bonus ES from the Ascendancy skill tree, so to make up for it, I tried using Mind over Matter for leveling. This mechanic can be tricky, so please make sure you understand how it works before you use it. If you don't have enough mana, you can run out of it when it absorbs damage and be left without any ability to move/react.

When you don't go below your ES for most of the time anyway, you may invest into Discipline instead, but remember that MoM also helps with dealing with chaos damage.

In Act 3 we also get the Precision aura. The great thing about it is that we don't need to level it all the way up to noticeably benefit from it, so do it only as far as your mana lets you, especially considering MoM. For that reason I left it at lvl 1 in setups from the links.

I was hesitating between Minion Speed and Minion Damage while leveling SRS. I feel like more mobility for bosses like Innocence is better, but they don't need that all the time. I suggest leveling both gems, trying them out, and using whatever you prefer at a given moment.

PoB link: https://pastebin.com/bWcj3MkT - 66 points/lvl 54/The Causeway (Act 7)
www.pathofexile.com link: https://tinyurl.com/y3gmrefo

This is the point when I switch from Storm Brand to minions only. If you like though, you can just keep the previous setup and continue with it until maps.

Using Desecrate and Spirit Offering is more desirable now, so you may need to cut off Arcane Surge from Flame Dash, depending on how good unset rings you can get.

PoB link: https://pastebin.com/6ZViz5Kc - 91 points/lvl 70/T3 maps
www.pathofexile.com link: https://tinyurl.com/yyzrbj49

This is how my tree may present itself a few levels before switching to CI.

Usually it looks like this at the time of the first maps:
- I finish Act 10 with about 2.5k life and ES each (less ES if I still use MoM, due to lack of Discipline) and I make sure I have at least some positive chaos resistance.
- I use my Vaal Orbs to get Vaal Discipline if I didn't get it from Vaal side areas.
- I use a Bubbling Divine Life Flask, a Jade Flask of Reflexes, a Quicksilver Flask, a Granite Flask, and a Stibnite Flask. They need to remove bleeding, freeze, curses, and for some maps, burning.
- I try to avoid maps with more than 2 mods resulting in more damage taken.
- I move. I assume I'm being targeted if I stay in the same place for longer than 3 seconds.
- I level up as a hybrid life/ES character until I get gear providing 6-7k ES, then I switch to CI.
Last edited by Aeui on Aug 21, 2019, 2:54:44 PM
Last bumped on Aug 20, 2019, 7:26:40 PM
end-game viable? (softcore)
Last edited by dollygm on Mar 7, 2019, 11:32:51 AM
dollygm wrote:
end-game viable? (softcore)

The Mastermind (red maps tiers) - yes.

The Elder and his Guardians (red maps tiers) - yes and protecting the Shaper shouldn't be a problem.

The Shaper's Guardians - yes. The Shaper - probably yes, but I haven't tried it yet.

[edit; June 13, 2019] I can confirm it's Shaper-viable in 3.7. On the other hand, I'm not sure about protecting the Shaper in fights against the Elder anymore. No Wicked Ward and less energy shield regeneration will make it harder, so you may need to help yourself with Frost Wall.

No idea about Uber Elder.

Delve - I got to depth 319, could go further. I'm a bit worried about rare monsters in the Azurite Mine regarding the nerfs to Temporal Chains and Enfeeble in 3.6, but we'll see.

[edit; June 13, 2019] That didn't turn out especially dangerous, but then again rares got more health in 3.7, so don't underestimate them.

[edit; March 8; 2019] I added a few videos, so hopefully it's not totally groundless.
Last edited by Aeui on Jun 13, 2019, 8:23:24 AM
Trying SSFHC for the first time in 3.6. Saw this guide and gonna give it a shot. One of the few, well written SSFHC guides. I'm sure I'll be messaging you to pick your brain at some point lol.

Could you maybe add some level progression passive trees? I'm sure I could wing it prioritizing life and whatnot, but that would be super helpful..

Also I assume you kill all bandits? And what pantheons do you utilize?
Last edited by ruth1ess on Mar 8, 2019, 10:21:09 AM
How viable would this build be without using Raise Specter? I don't really like having to hunt down specific mobs to raise myself.
ruth1ess wrote:
Trying SSFHC for the first time in 3.6. Saw this guide and gonna give it a shot. One of the few, well written SSFHC guides. I'm sure I'll be messaging you to pick your brain at some point lol.

That's cool, good luck!

ruth1ess wrote:
Could you maybe add some level progression passive trees? I'm sure I could wing it prioritizing life and whatnot, but that would be super helpful..

The plan is to add the details as I level up in Synthesis. Unfortunately, I won't have much time in the first days. For now, I just added a short description in the Leveling section, check it again please.

I'd like to emphasize on the fact that zombies and spectres are fragile early on.

You probably shouldn't even bother with spectres until Act 6. You can use some random offensive ones earlier, if you don't mind raising them now and then.

Before you get Mon'tregul's Grasp, your zombies need rather defensive support gems like Fortify, Minion Life, and Minion and Totem Elemental Resistance. Especially, burning damage just deletes them if you don't raise their resistances. Minion life leech on the tree or Ghastly Eye Jewels can help a bit.

If you happen to find some uniques, like Wraithlord or Skullhead, that can significantly change things though.

I haven't tested using Bone Offering instead of Spirit Offering early on, but I'm curious if that works better during leveling.

[edit; June 13, 2019] I tested it and it doesn't seem to be better.

ruth1ess wrote:
Also I assume you kill all bandits? And what pantheons do you utilize?

I help Alira for resistances and mana regeneration. You can change that decision later if your gear allows you.

From the minor gods, Tukohama. In the Labyrinth you can switch to Rakalesh.

From the major gods, Solaris, but I guess Lunaris isn't a bad choice either.

SimianChaos wrote:
How viable would this build be without using Raise Specter? I don't really like having to hunt down specific mobs to raise myself.

They're rather a significant support. You don't really need to hunt them: when you don't have them, using Desecrate in the right area will eventually spawn their corpses. When you have or just had them in your current area, it will do that too. And they aren't gone when you log out. So, you need to repeat the process from scratch only if they die and you loose the last area you had them in.

Using Spirit Offering helps a lot with keeping them alive in maps. It may be a good idea to not use Blood Magic during leveling though, at least not before you grab enough minion life nodes and level up the gems.
Last edited by Aeui on Jun 13, 2019, 8:27:45 AM
having fun with the build :D thx for the guide.

can you talk about the setups for srs? cyaa
dollygm wrote:
having fun with the build :D thx for the guide.

Great to hear!

dollygm wrote:
can you talk about the setups for srs? cyaa

Both setups have similar DPS on paper.

But first of all, the one with Immolate + Combustion is more aesthetically pleasing (single elemental damage type). Then, Combustion introduces a synergy with zombies - they will deal more fire damage to every enemy ignited by Raging Spirits.

The downside is that I think it requires a 6-link. You should also be worried if they can ignite smoothly enough in maps in which monsters have a 90% chance to avoid elemental ailments. That can be annoying to some degree, but if you give 5-6 those Spirits a second to ignite the target, it will burn in over 90% of trials anyway.

The other one is just more reliable in comparison. You can cut out the last socket or two, if you can't use them at the moment, and it still makes sense.

[edit; June 13, 2019] In 3.7 I decided to remove from the guide the first setup referred in this message, the one based on Immolate + Combustion.
Last edited by Aeui on Jun 13, 2019, 8:35:30 AM
What Order Do you Get your ascendancies in.
I can't imagine doing maps without Vile Bastion.
But the extra curse seems pretty important too.

I've never done a minion build before. this one looked cool. so i'm giving it a go.
DeathSabre wrote:
What Order Do you Get your ascendancies in.
I can't imagine doing maps without Vile Bastion.
But the extra curse seems pretty important too.

I've never done a minion build before. this one looked cool. so i'm giving it a go.

Wicked Ward -> Vile Bastion -> Profane Bloom -> Malediction

I think I'm always already CI in uber lab, so Vile Bastion first it is.

Of course, in softcore you have more freedom regarding curses. If you feel like you don't need that much defense, you can try using Vulnerability instead of Temporal Chains or Enfeeble.

Best of luck!

[edit; June 15, 2019] In 3.7, if you plan to go CI, I'd suggest

Profane Bloom -> Malediction -> Vile Bastion -> Void Beacon.

If I wanted to stay with the life/ES version, I think I'd go

Profane Bloom -> Void Beacon -> Withering Presence -> Malediction.
Last edited by Aeui on Jun 15, 2019, 9:59:17 AM

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