[3.21] [Leaguestarter] Exsanguinate Ascendant - a great all-rounder

Still sane, Exiles? I wanted to share with you my Exsanguinate Ascendant, which I’ve league-started with in 3.19 Softcore Trade Kalandra League and managed to complete all 40 challenges. The build was even better in Sanctum thanks to Archnemesis changes.

If you want to cover all of the Wraeclast in blood with ease, this is the one!

The build is capable of reaching up to 6-7M DoT DPS, really solid survivability and life recovery (10k evasion, 40k armour, capped spell suppression, up to 1600 life regen/s, small amount of block, phasing, max resistances), decent clear.
In a league-start scenario, with trash gear, you can easily achieve 2-3M DoT DPS and most of the aforementioned survivability.

It is able to clear most of the content this game has to offer (excluding only some Uber fights and Simulacrum when the mods line up badly) with comfy playstyle and budget gearing.

IMPORTANT: It seems that in the current (at the time of me writing this, April 9th) version of PoB (Community Fork 2.27.1) there is a bug regarding "+ to level of all skill gems" mods, resulting in the +3 from Cold Iron Points not applying, lowering DPS calculation substantially. You can simulate this by adding levels to Exsanguinate itself in the "Gems" section. The bug is known, will be fixed in a near future.
UPDATE: It has been fixed in 2.27.2 version.

3.21 Notes

If you wish to check my current character, here it is: https://www.pathofexile.com/account/view-profile/pawelos13/characters
with a name pawelos_WeGoAgane

The build is updated to 3.21. The changes are:
We're ditching Corrupting Fever and Storm Brand setups entirely. The curse is now applied via Arcanist Brand (or Mark of Submission if you'll want to sacrifice your ring slot).

We are losing some mana reservation efficiency and gaining some thanks to Mastery changes. We're also gaining +2% to all Maximum Elemental Resistances thanks to Armour and Mana Reservation Efficiency Masteries. Vitality now stays permanently on Life.

We're also ditching Arcane Surge - the change from More Spell Damage to Cast Speed doesn't justify using it in this build anymore, and it simplifies mana costs, as we're going full Lifetap.

We're losing some of the defences due to Molten Shell buff - it is important to note that you need around 20k Armour now for Molten Shell to be better than Steelskin. You may want to stick to Steelskin for a while longer now.

I have tested the Vaal Reap, and it feels stronger on bosses and weaker on maps. If you want to optimize, you can swap to Vaal Reap on bosses.

1. Build Showcase

Here are the links to the gameplay with an endgame – survivability gear:
T16 Atoll w/ (old) Wrath of the Cosmos
Maven-Witnessed T16 Mesa w/ Al-Hezmin
Maze of the Minotaur
Maven Kill
Delve Depth 225

2. Core ideas behind the build

2.1. Why Ascendant?

We are using an Ascendant for two reasons:
1. There's actually not that much of a choice when you want to scale Spell Physical DoTs (Spells cannot inflict Bleeding). Gladiator has only some good offensive points, you could also go Champion for defences or maybe Juggernaut for tankiness and regen. I've chose Ascendant to combine the damage of Gladiator part and QoL of Raider part.
2. We have 5 additional Passive Points because we are an Ascendant. We can also start in two places in a tree (which we don't even use because it isn't optimal lmao). Starting from the middle lets us take great Physical Damage and Life/Life regen nodes from the Templar/Marauder side and Spell Suppression/Evasion nodes from the Ranger side.

2.2. Why Exsanguinate?

The build is based on Exsanguinate skill gem, which has two damage properties - one is physical hit damage, the other is physical DoT damage.
What you may not know, is that the DoT portion is stackable up to three times, and its base damage is pretty solid (1121 physical DoT damage on level 20). This means we have the base of almost 3400 Physical DoT DPS to work with - a decent starting point to be sure.
The downsides are: Exsanguinate has a short base duration of 1 second and it costs life. The former forces us to invest in Skill Effect Duration, the latter forces us to incorporate a solid life recovery.
Exsanguinate has a property to fire several tendrils (up to 9 on level 20) which are not projectiles, but are capable of chaining. This means we can use it as a clear skill thanks to Chain Support. Furthermore, the downside of the Chain Support (less damage from hits) doesn't hurt us, since we are scaling mostly our DoT damage.

2.3. Rest of the explaining

This build can benefit from a variety of auras, it is hard to choose just a few of them. I've settled on using Pride (BiS in terms of damage), Malevolence (both damage and skill duration), Determination (armour still busted), War Banner (excellent in terms of damage and amount of mana reserved) and Vitality (life recovery is essential). You can include either Herald of Purity or Flesh and Stone when all of the Reservation Efficiency nodes are allocated.
The combination of increased Skill Effect Duration points on the tree, Efficacy Support and using Malevolence makes our Exsanguinate last about 2.2 seconds - which is enough to make it feel DoT-like in terms of playstyle.
It is important to note that Exsanguinate will cost in the range of 150-170 life to cast, so it is mandatory to have at least 500 life recovery per second just to sustain the cost, but this build aims to set this number higher.
We are using Vulnerability linked to Arcanist Brand - it is a really easy solution to two things: applying a fully-powered curse and still not self-casting it.
It is possible to sustain both life cost of Exsanguinate and Righteous Fire's self-damage with this build. It requires some investment into maximum resistances and life regen, which both help with defensive layers.

3. PoB/Passive trees

Here is a link to my PoB.
It includes leveling trees, several endgame trees, gem and gear options and act I-IV full leveling guide in the "Notes" section.
I know you now have the PoB link, nevertheless I strongly suggest reading this guide, as there is still some explaining to do.

4. Pros and Cons

  • + it has solid base damage - therefore it requires small amount of scaling to beat endgame bosses early in the league
  • + Exsanguinate proves to be a good clear skill thanks to its ability to chain, and the build is quite fast and durable, making it a decent mapper
  • + scaling Skill Effect Duration comes with a few side qualities, e.g. Molten Shell buff lasting twice as long
  • + DoT playstyle makes boss fights comfy, you get to dodge more while the damage is still up
  • + the build is very easy to start, has low gear requirements and makes good use of some popular and potent uniques
  • + Exsanguinate debuff can actually be applied through proximity shields and Temporal Bubble shields, similarly to chaos DoTs. Not sure if this is a bug or not, it certainly is a lot of QoL
  • + It is an all-rounder, being therefore a good starter build...
  • - ... which means it will be outperformed by specialized builds - you won't boss as quickly as e.g. Traps or Mines or clear as well as e.g. CF Champ or bow builds. It is a balance of both worlds, so it is both an upside and a downside
  • - Exsanguinate has a really long cast time (0.8 seconds base), and scaling cast speed doesn't scale DPS very well, making cast speed a weird QoL anti-clunky modifier. Before you can get under 0.4 seconds cast time, playing can feel clunky, especially since you cannot interrupt casting spells yourself (pls change GGG)
  • - endgame min-maxing options are limited - there is only so much you can squeeze out of non-ailment DoT builds
  • - because of a few requirements that have to be met for this build to feel good, it is hard to incorporate some QoL features, such as Elemental Ailments immunity; although possible, not always worth the investment/opportunity cost

5. Gearing

The exampled gear for different pricepoints and for the league-start is in the PoB - check it out as well (point 3, but you have probably found it already).
5.1. League-start scenario

In terms of leaguestart gearing, you cannot ask for much (obviously). There are some principles to go with:

We would want to use a wand/sceptre/rune dagger/shield with "+1 to all physical spell skill gems" modifier. Wands are the best in terms of implicit, but are the hardest to fit in because of the INT requirement. That being said, +1 weapons/shield is not necessary to level. You can easily level with vendor-recipe'd wands with spell damage and crafted modifier as well.

Body armour

As always, we want as much links as possible, rendering Tabula Rasa an obvious choice. You can also search for a corrupted 6-link with desired colours (3R1G2B) and any useful mods (life, resists, armour/evasion, life regen rate/life regen; whatever you will find)


As stated above, we need standard modifiers like life, resists, life regen, armour/evasion. Keep in mind that most of our gems are either red or blue, whereas our desired bases are armour/evasion. You may start with armour/ES bases early on and switch to armour/evasion bases whenever you can colour them. Also keep in mind that evasion in these too slots enables Spell Suppression Mastery.


These will fix your remaining resists and attribute issues. If you can find some with cast speed, take them.

5.2. Day3 gearing

Disclaimer: this build profits from many prefixes and suffixes that are available in the standard mod pool. Mods like life, armour/evasion, resists, life regen, life regen rate, spell suppression are all great for us.
Therefore our standard approach is to use eldritch rares instead of influenced ones - we want more modifiers, not replacements for our generic affixes.
By day 3 we want to improve to some solid uniques and improve the quality of our rares:

We are playing with a physical spell and we want to use a pair of Cold Iron Points. Is anybody surprised?
You can also find useful corruption implicits later (check poedb.tw for possible outcomes)

Body armour

There are two options here:
1. We can use something like Skin of the Loyal or Skin of the Lords for a boost to damage and Armour/Evasion (remember to always buy these with desired sockets; in this case, 3R1G2B)
2. We can use a rare Armour/Evasion chest (best bases: Triumphant Lamellar, Full Dragonscale, General's Brigandine) with the philosophy mentioned in the disclaimer above.
Essentially, Skin of the Loyal/Lords will grant you more damage and similar amount of defences but you won't get life regen and resists, which puts more pressure on rest of your gear to fit those in, especially if you'd want enough max res and regen to fit Righteous Fire (more on that in the Gems section). The choice is yours.


We'd want Armour/Evasion bases, so Pig-Faced Bascinet or Nightmare Bascinet are our picks here. You can try to find one with a good enchant (Exsang damage, Exsang duration, Aura Reservation Efficiency or something along those lines).
We want the same sort of mods as mentioned in the disclaimer: life, resists, life regen, armour/evasion, spell suppression, eldritch implicits that are useful.
Note that having Helmet, Gloves and Boots with Evasion is essential for Spell Suppression Mastery to be active.


Essentially copy/paste from the Helmet section, minus the enchant part and the names are different (Dragonscale Gauntlets to be exact).


Essentially copy/paste from the Gloves section, plus the enchant part (although there aren't that many boot enchantments that are useful for us), we want Movement Speed and the name is different (Dragonscale Boots or Two-Toned Boots this time).
Base fact: did you know that Two-Toned boots are still better in terms of base Armour/Evasion than Dragonscale Boots, yet people are still using Dragonscale Boots with eldritch implicits? Weird.


There is only one winner here - The Eternal Struggle, an unique Onyx Amulet, which is a drop from Infinite Hunger and Black Star. We want the one that is dominated by Searing Exarch (so that we have 15% culling strike).
Increased Global Defences is great, attributes help a bit to fit, mostly the Intelligence part, and the implicit can be really good. I've bought one with +25% phys DoT Multi and 16% increased Spell Damage for 10 chaos at league-start in 3.19 - it is really hard to beat. As an anoint we'd want to take Cannibalistic Rite (Teal/Azure/Azure) - it is cheap, helps with damage, life cost and life recovery in maps.


Rings are the typical "let's fix our resistances" gearpiece - and there is no difference here. We want life and resistances - and that's basically it. There are maybe two or three useful prefixes for us.


There are two options here:
1. We can buy (or farm from Atziri) a Doryani's Invitation Heavy Belt, a Physical version of it. It grants us an easy access to Leech, has some damage and solid chunk of resists.
2. We can also use a rare Belt - Stygian Vise is an obvious choice, but it is also worth to check some synthesised belts as well.
As usual, we want life, resists, life regen, maybe armour in the prefix if you can find something like that.


These are the preferred flasks:
1. Life Flask - self-explanatory - we'll want to have bleed and CB immunity and instant recovery.
2. Granite Flask - a lot of extra armour - preferably automated with an enchant "Use when Charges reach Full" - choose mods to your liking, I prefer %inc armour.
3. Jade Flask - a lot of extra evasion - preferably automated with an enchant "Use when Charges reach Full" - choose mods to your liking, I prefer %inc evasion.
4. Quicksilver Flask goes brrrrrrr - preferably automated with an enchant "Use when Charges reach Full" - choose mods to your liking, I prefer either Cast Speed or Movement Speed.
The 5th slot is flexible. You can choose Sulphur Flask, for damage and Consecrated Ground (less effect of Curses and Life Regen); Silver Flask (Onslaught - useful only if you're struggling to sustain your charges); or Amethyst Flask (Chaos Resistance, helpful if you're not capped).


We want to get rare Jewels with mods like:
%inc Life, %inc Spell Damage, %inc Global Physical Damage, +#% to DoT Multi, +#% to Physical DoT Multi and so on - basically anything that increases our damage.
We'd want to also use Impossible Escape Viridian Jewel with Avatar of Fire - it lets us grab Vanquisher and Hearty and save a few points, and it is quite cheap.

We can also use Watcher's Eye Prismatic Jewel - in that case pick whatever mods you'll find useful for Determination, Pride, Malevolence or Vitality Auras, there's a lot of good stuff there.

5.3. Endgame.

In the endgame gearing the principle is the same - we want items with standard prefixes and suffixes and eldritch implicits. We just aim higher in terms of bases and mod tiers.
The difference between the DPS version and the Thicc version mostly comes down to body armour choice and Passive Tree changes.
Here are the gear examples that I've been using:

We are still using Cold Iron Points, we are just upgrading to a (double) corrupted ones with good implicits. We want to get either Spell Damage, Damage over Time or chance to get a Frenzy Charge on kill (more on that in the FAQ section).

You can also try to craft better rare Rune Daggers (such as +1 all/+1 phys/DoT Multi/Phys DoT Multi/Cast Speed) or switch to different caster weapon (you can use Wands, Staves, Sceptres) altoghether if you have the currency.


Noting changes here, as you'd need either Ashes of the Stars or a +1/+1 amulet with some Physical Damage on it to beat Eternal Struggle. I'd say it's pointless.

Rest of the gear

As mentioned before, we are just upgrading within the same principle.

6. Gems and links

Main 6-link

Our main 6-link is reserved to our main damage skill: Exsanguinate:

Exsanguinate - Efficacy Support - Brutality Support - Controlled Destruction Support - Cruelty Support/Empower Support - Chain Support(for mapping)/Swift Affliction Support(for bossing)

Note: Cruelty Support is a weird one - it can give you a buff that grants up to 40% more damage over time - thing is, the magnitude of the buff is dependent on the size of our hit, which will not be massive.
This means that - in practice - I had 40% buff on maps, 36-38% on map Bosses, 30-34% on Pinnacle Bosses and 24-26% on Ubers. Therefore you have an option - if you want more damage while mapping, stick to the Cruelty. If you want your damage to be constant, especially on bosses, take Empower, especially if you're using Skin of the Loyal/Lords.
Empower level 3 is an equvalent of ~28% Cruelty buff, Empower level 4 is an equivalent of ~41% Cruelty buff. The choice is yours.

Auras (Mana Reservation)

These are our Auras:

Pride - Malevolence - Determination - War Banner

Note that to reserve all of these you need to have Sovereignty, Leadership and Charisma allocated which should set your mana to 0. You then have to use Lifetap Support with all your active skills.

Movement 4-link

Here we have our second 4-link:
Flame Dash (lvl 15) - Whirling Blades - Faster Attacks Support - Lifetap

I am an advocate to have two movement skills - one is a cooldown-based Blink (here: Flame Dash), the other is an attack (here: Whirling Blades). As stated, these have to be linked to Lifetap Support to circumvent the potential mana issues.


We have a 3-link to our Curse:
Vulnerability - Arcanist Brand (lvl 11) - Lifetap Support

Arcanist Brand automates the process of applying the curse without sacrificing its power.

Guard Skill

We have a 3-link with our Guard Skill:
(Vaal) Molten Shell (lvl 10) - Cast when Damage Taken Support (lvl 1) - Lifetap Support

This is a further build automation - you will have your Guard up as soon as you take 500 damage hit. Vaal version can be your panic button.

Vitality and rest of the gems

Your last gem slots will be used by:

Vitality aura, reserved on life:
Vitality - Arrogance Support

Your last 25% Aura:
Option 1: Herald of Purity
Option 2: Flesh and Stone - Maim

(to be able to reserve it, you have to have Champion of the Cause allocated and additional 10%/17% increased Mana Reservation Efficiency - 10% for Herald of Purity, 17% for Flesh and Stone - Maim. In this case, I used Mana mastery (12%) and Eater of Worlds helmet implicit (7%).

Lastly, (Vaal) Righteous Fire.

Note that if you'll choose to use Flesh and Stone - Maim, you'll need an Unset Ring to fit everything.

7. FAQ and additional data

7.1. Bandits

We kill all the bandits for two Passive Points.

7.2. Pantheon

Since we don't have elemental ailment avoidance, we're fixing this here:
Major God: Soul of the Brine King - helps us with chills and freezes, the stun/block recovery can occasionally be useful to not stunlock ourselves because we have a bit of block.
Minor God: Soul of Garukhan/Soul of Abberath - switch between those two depending on the content you're doing

7.3. FAQ

I'll try to include further questions here.
How about an SSF version?

I'd say this build should be fine as an SSF version, just stick to the +1 weapons/shield, there is also a possibility to target farm Broken Truce cards from Jorgin in Betrayal to try to farm CIPs.

How about including cluster jewels?

According to my PoB testing, we have enough efficient %inc phys damage nodes at the Scion/Marauder/Templar side of the tree it makes going for clusters non-optimal, unless you go full glass cannon. I'd stick to the version without clusters, it's cheaper this way as well.

Unleash or Efficacy?

There are two options to approach Exsanguinate DoTs - one includes Unleash Support to store uses and apply three stacks at once; the other uses any viable support gem, in my version it is Efficacy Support. The choice between those is a choice between playstyles. Unleash lets you cast less often, but you sacrifice some damage for it, and you have even more pressure towards Skill Effect Duration. Efficacy gives you higher damage ceiling, but you have to be able to cast Exsanguinate more often, and it requires more cast speed to compensate the slowness of Exsanguinate.
I've chosen to stick to the Efficacy part, but it doesn't mean it is an only viable option. Try both and choose the one that fits your playstyle better.

Why Raider as a part of the Ascendancy?

In my opinion Raider is the most balanced choice. You can get a bit more damage with Trickster/Berserker, but Frenzy Charge generation in Raider compensates for that. You get permanent Phasing, 10% increased Movement Speed, 20% Spell Suppression chance and Onslaught. I think that's a lot for a half of an Ascendancy. You may experiment with other points - it is a flexible Ascendant after all - there's an argument to go with Pathfinder (perma flasks uptime) or Occultist (+1 curse). I've chosen to stick with Raider.

How about using Reap instead?

The issue with Reap is - you can't stack your DoTs. With Reap you can deal 1463 base physical DoT at level 20 - with Exsanguinate you can deal 1121 base physical DoT at level 20 - but it can stack three times, resulting in almost 3500 base physical DoT. This renders Reap inferior as a DoT skill when compared to Exsanguinate.

3.21 Note - With the introduction to Vaal Reap, the damage calculation might switch to Reap being superior. However, I'd still like to test it, and I am certain that Exsanguinate will still be better for clear.

I am dying too much, can you help me?

1. Don't overlook armour/evasion bases and prefix mods. They really make a difference. The preferred values are 20k armour (so that physical damage on T16s doesn't hurt) and 8k evasion (so that we have about 50% chance to evade) without flasks. Note that you can use Skin of the Loyal, it should scale armour/evasion even better thanks to 100% increased Global Defences mod - but it creates even more pressure to improve your armour/evasion stats on helmet/boots/gloves (see this helmet as an example:
2. I really like increasing my maximum elemental resistances. It helps a lot. You can get some from Searing Exarch implicits (all resistances on chest, lightning on helmet, cold on gloves, fire on boots).
3. When you improve your defences, further investment in recovery will only amplify the feel of being tougher. 500-550 life regen/s is a baseline to sustain casting Exsanguinate, 1000 starts feeling comfy, over 1500 you have enough to endure many DoTs.

My cast speed feels pretty low, how can I fix it?

1. The Precision and Dark Arts notables on the Passive Tree are your first sources. Take them asap if your Cast Speed feels slow (which it probably will, because it's Exsanguinate lol). Note that Dark Arts grants Cast Speed only if you are dual-wielding, you need to switch from wand/dagger+shield if you are still using that.
2. You should get a chance to get a frenzy charge on kill - it will sustain your frenzy charge generation while mapping. The ideal source is the Cold Iron Point's corrupted implicit:

You can also allocate Overcharged notable wheel if you can't afford the CIP.

IMPORTANT: Since Raider ascendancy part grants us Onslaught while on full Frenzy Charges, we want to get the generation asap. Also, Silver Flask is useless for us.
3. You can get Cast Speed as an Searing Exarch implicit on your helmet:

4. If all of that doesn't feel enough, you can get Action Speed as an Searing Exarch implicit on your boots or Cast Speed suffix on your utility flask. I found those not necessary, but your mileage may vary.

How much regen do I need to sustain Righteous Fire?

The short answer is: you have to have at least 1000-1200 life regen per second.
The long answer is: Righteous Fire deals 90% of your Life as Fire DoT per second. This is reduced by your Fire Resistance. We have 80% Fire Resistance thanks to tree, which makes us take 18% of our life per second as Fire DoT. Let's assume we have 5k Life. Our RF will deal 900 damage per second to us. You have to have more regen to mitigate it. You also want to have excess regen so you can cast Exsanguinate freely (it is 200 life pre cast, it is substantial) and to have some regen for the actual recovery purposes.

Last edited by pawelos13 on Apr 14, 2023, 2:50:04 AM
Last bumped on May 19, 2023, 12:29:44 AM
Would like to try it in an SSF scenario. Is it a good idea?

Planning to build this for 3.20, wondering if u had any cluster jewel plans atm?
Thank you for making this detailed build guide.

What do you mean with "using Storm Brand with Hextouch Support was also a way to proc CF stacks"? If I understand correctly, CF's stacks need costing life to refresh but storm brand does not, right?

edit: I understand the mechanic of CF now.
Last edited by Nullstellensatz on Dec 8, 2022, 6:53:19 PM
Storm Brand applies the CF stacks and using Exsanguinate costs life to keep refreshing CF.

It doesn't matter where the life cost comes from to refresh CF.
RealAmbush wrote:
Would like to try it in an SSF scenario. Is it a good idea?

Can be rough as the build uses 2x Cold Iron Point daggers for damage scaling. Infinite Heist or Logbook farming would be probably your best bet to drop the daggers in SSF.
RealAmbush wrote:
Would like to try it in an SSF scenario. Is it a good idea?

I'd say it is a good idea, because Exsanguinate damage is really solid while leveling. You can try to snipe those +1 phys gear in Act 1 and do something with it later. I believe you should be fine.

That said, I cannot say if the survivability will be good enough, because we are gaining a lot from armour and evasion from our gear, and this puts a lot of pressure on armour bases and prefixes.

I plan to start an SSF version of this character during 3.20 at some point, and I want to try the HC version with Shield. I will include my observations in the guide then.
Last edited by pawelos13 on Dec 9, 2022, 5:38:34 AM
Tobbeavenger wrote:

Planning to build this for 3.20, wondering if u had any cluster jewel plans atm?

Hi there!

I've tried many iterations of Passive Trees whem planning the build, including those with Cluster Jewels. I've noticed it is quite hard to fit them, because you have to allocate three points to the socket and them at least five to notables and medium sockets. I didn't reached better numbers with clusters, not even once. It is because there is a lot of efficient %inc physical damage in the Sciom/Marauder/Templar area. You can try to fit clusters in the DPS version, cutting some of the life/spell suppress/defensive nodes in the process, but I haven't tested it.
XenoPOE wrote:
Storm Brand applies the CF stacks and using Exsanguinate costs life to keep refreshing CF.

It doesn't matter where the life cost comes from to refresh CF.

Thank you for the explanation!

In the Curse topic, I'm thinking about ditching Hextouch Support and selfcasting Curse/triggering it with Arcanist Brand due to 3.20, but this makes the Storm Brand setup a bit underused (it will then proc CF only, Arcane Surge can be moved to the other spell). I'm thinking about the version that doesn't include CF at all, but I have no idea what to include instead. I prefer to stick to the original idea for now (Storm Brand w/ Hextouch Support, crunching the numbers of Hextouch, Vulnerability and removing the bosses Hex penalty says there will be a slight damage increase when we stick to this) but I'll be looking for the proper changes.

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