Hardcore Frost Witch Guide (Last Updated May 8th)
Hello. This is my guide / request for feedback for playing a hardcore frost witch.
The build I'm using focuses primarily on staying alive, like any hardcore build should. Some people find thrill in dying or having close calls on hardcore, but I prefer the thrill of being safe, staying alive, and not wasting time. So this build sets out to do that. The build does so by stacking very high energy shield, picking up Chaos Inoculation, staying at range from tough enemies, freeze-locking foes into submission, and leeching energy shield using Ghost Reaver. But before getting the "how", let me go into the "why" (scroll down if you don't care why).
Why are you writing this?
One of two things is going to happen when I post this:
a.) Someone will find it useful. - Great! This is what I'm hoping for.
b.) Someone will tell me it sucks (and why it sucks). - Great! I can take that into consideration and change course if necessary.
Why a witch?
I like ranged, mage-type characters. Personally, I think they're more fun to play but they also have serious advantages in the realm of survivability: Most importantly, mage classes tend to be good at staying and getting out of harm's way. Being a ranged class, there's no reason to ever get surrounded. It's also easy for us to get away from enemies via tricks like freezing them or blocking their path with a frost wall.
Why a frost witch?
Freezing! Duh. Elites are trivial when we can just freeze-lock them into submission. If you start attacking a single target at range using Ice Spear, it's pretty unlikely that they'll be able to do anything in the least bit threatening before dying. Chilling enemies is useful for survivability too. Our other choices would be fire, lightning, summoner, and physical. The only one of these that I personally might consider using for hardcore would be physical, but I haven't tried it yet and I'm not going to go into that right now (It's largely a matter of preference anyways.).
Our bread-and-butter skills will be Freezing Pulse and Ice Spear. We'll be gearing for straight energy shield. In most cases, if a piece has more energy shield than what you're using, you should equip it. There are exceptions when you get to the point where you really have to optimize your sockets / resistances, but until at least level 31, you should have more than enough sockets to use everything you get. We'll be passive-skilling for straight energy shield (surprise!). Somewhere around level 50 or so we'll be picking up the game-changing Chaos Inoculation skill. I'm gonna write the next few sections of this guide in a sort of walk-through format since many aspects of the frost witch's strategy change from difficulty to difficulty.
I haven't had to level a new frost witch since the energy shield passives that neighbor Chaos Inoculation were added. Thus I haven't updated all of the skill trees accordingly. You'll probably want to pick up all of these passives immediately after getting Chaos Inoculation.
Of course, when you're first washed ashore you'll want to equip any gear you can find. When you get to the point where you have to make choices in gear, gear for the highest energy shield. Keep an eye out for a good wand. The wand damage doesn't affect your dps, so a good wand has multiple high increased spell damage modifiers. Since these are percentage based, you don't ever really outgrow them. Find a wand with high spell damage modifiers and three linked sockets, and you'll probably be using that for a very long time. For your offhand, use a spirit shield. Look out for good amulets and rings: Like wands, you can find amulets at early levels that you'll use for a very long time. Use either amulets with high mana regeneration or an well-rolled dexterity or all stats amulet (so you can meet the requirements for the support gems you'll get). You can find increased energy shield percentage stats on amulets too which is a big plus. For rings, you'll want to pocket the best resistance rings of each type that you can find, as well as the biggest life ring(s) you can find. You'll likely want to swap these in and out depending on the upcoming battles / areas. For areas with high chaos damage, I like to use life rings, but for other areas I typically use two resistance rings to keep everything capped at 75%.
You'll need to find something with 3 links: 2 green, 1 blue for Freezing Pulse by the time you get Faster Projectiles and Lesser Multiple Projectiles.
I don't really recommend using any currency items other than armourer's scraps and transmutation orbs on gear at this level unless it's on an amulet, ring, or wand.
Transmute any plain quicksilver flasks you find. If they're good you'll never replace them. If you have glassblower's baubles, this is a good place to use them before transmuting them.
As far as prefixes go, "surgeon's" and "ample" are awesome since they improve the odds that your charges will be there when you need them. For suffixes, I consider an "adrenaline" flask to be a must-have, and "heat" flasks can be lifesavers when you get frozen at a bad time (At least take one to Tidal Island.). Note that it's not possible to get some affixes such as "adrenaline" from the Mercy Mission quest reward flask.
Pick up Raise Zombie for your first skill. Whenever you're feeling uncomfortable or lonely just whip them out. It's the next best thing to playing with friends.
Use Fireball or your default attack until you get your second skill: Freezing Pulse. It's a close-range conal attack. Be careful. Hover over everything so you know what you're getting in melee range of. Be especially wary of mobs with multiple projectiles. When you're in melee range of them you'll get hit three times per volley and drop fast.
The third skill you'll get is Ice Spear. It's a ranged ability with two forms: The first form pierces enemies. After about 10 yards or so, it'll turn into the second form. The second form doesn't pierce enemies but has 600% increased critical strike chance. That means before taking anything else into account, it'll have a 49% chance to crit, which means it'll freeze enemies very often.
For your fourth skill, pick up Clarity. With Clarity up, you should find your need for mana flasks dramatically decreases (or disappears entirely).
For your support gem, Adding Lightning Damage and Fork are both kinda useless for you. Minion Life is somewhat useful, but what you really want to do here if possible is trade Fork for someone else's Faster Projectiles. If you can't trade for Faster Projectiles, you should buy one and use it with Freezing Pulse. It'll increase your range and damage significantly.
For your next skill, pick up Raise Spectre. Keep him around in the tougher areas. Raising ranged enemies tends to work better, and enemies with energy shield can survive forever.
For your second support gem, you want to trade someone for Lesser Multiple Projectiles if possible. Otherwise get Increased Critical Damage for Ice Spear. If you didn't trade for it, buy Lesser Multiple Projectiles, and put it on Freezing Pulse (I bought one for 2 alchs, but you can probably find cheaper.). Note that you'll need something with 3 links: 2 green, 1 blue.
Pick up Frostbite when you're offered it and keep it up on anything that doesn't already die in 1-2 hits.
For the last reward of the difficulty, go with either Minion Damage or Cold Penetration. Minion Damage is kind of all-around marginally good, but Cold Penetration can be really helpful for things like Merveil.
The first thing we want to do is pick up our energy shield buffs on the right side. Then we're gonna make our way to the energy shield nodes in the middle, on the templar side. Before we get to the chaos damage mobs we'll also want to pick up that Chaos Resistance node. We're aiming for something like this:
Pick up and drop those resistance nodes as needed using your quest reward respec points.
Once you cross the river in act 3, you can drop the Chaos Resistance node to get more energy shield.
Grab a +30 dexterity node if you need it for your support gems.
Around level 13 or so, there's a cave in the ship graveyard that's full of mobs that use flicker strike (we call this "Flicker Strike Cave"). Pull them slowly and carefully. If you accidentally bite off more than you can chew, there's no hope of escaping them.
The spread of your multiple projectiles is determined by the distance from your mouse cursor to your character. So if there's a single enemy in front of you, try to keep your spread tight by clicking past him. That way your projectiles can overlap and do much more damage.
Take the extra skill point from the bandit tribes. In the end-game content, you should be able to get all your resistance from gear so you can use the extra point here for something else.
The most challenging part of normal difficulty comes when you get to the areas with mobs that deal chaos damage. When you get to the forest encampment be sure to do all of the quests on the right side first, so that when you first contact the chaos mobs (which are in the areas to the left side of the encampment), you'll out-gear them a bit. At that point (or at least before the waterfall cave), equip some life gear (e.g. coral rings), and proceed with extreme caution.
I recommend doing Vaal Oversoul with another player. The constructs can be dangerous and it's much easier to let a life-based class take care of them since we don't have Chaos Inoculation yet.
Most of this difficulty is going to be cake compared to the normal difficulty.
The hardest thing about gearing at this point is probably going to be keeping your green-green-blue sockets without giving up too many stats. You'll probably want to start using more currency items to keep your sockets the right colors and keep your gear in tip-top shape. If you have or find a good wand, I highly recommend jeweling / fusing / chroming it into G-G-B sockets and using that for Freezing Pulse.
Get a granite flask and transmute it. Granite flasks are especially awesome for us since we picked up 60% increased armor in our passive skill tree. Try to get a granite flask of iron skin.
Get Discipline. Using Discipline and Clarity might put a strain on your mana for a while, but it's worth it and will get easier. Of course, this depends on your gear though. If you use a mana amulet, it might not be a problem. I on the other hand prefer to use all stat amulets so I picked up the 20% mana regeneration node at the beginning of the tree and pressed on. Fortunately everything should be dying in 1-2 hits throughout at least the entirety of act 1. Somewhere along the way you may want to buy a Reduced Mana gem and link it to both Discipline and Clarity.
Your second skill reward kinda sucks. Minion Damage and Iron Will are probably your best bets.
For your third reward, pick up Purity. You won't be able to use it yet, but you can begin leveling it.
Next, get Spell Totem. We'll be using it heavily with Summon Skeletons later.
Get Faster Casting when you're offered it. It'll do wonders for both your dps and ability to freeze enemies when you can afford the mana. I just threw mine in the stash though since it's really not typically affordable until merciless.
Next, it's not a necessity, but I recommend Lightning Warp. Lightning Warp is really fun and can be used to do things like pass through doors without opening them or taking shortcuts.
Lastly... get another Spell Totem and sell it? Nothing particularly useful here.
This is what we're doing with our passive tree now:
As you can see, we pick up Chaos Inoculation. We do this in act 2, just before going into the areas with a lot of chaos damage (the dark forest, the waterfall cave, the pyramid, etc.), after getting the Energy Shield Delay nodes. For me, this was at level 46 when I had 1700 energy shield and 350 health. Have fun laughing at how much the cobras and ancient constructs tickle. :)
Like I said in the note above, I haven't updated the passive trees to include the new energy shield nodes yet, but you probably want to get them as soon as you get Chaos Inoculation.
Pick up and drop the resistance nodes as needed to stay capped. Do the same with the mana regen nodes.
Staying near your minions with Determination up gives them an energy shield and greatly increases their survivability.
Kill all the bandits for the extra skill point. There are so many more useful things in the passive tree than +4% cast speed. More importantly, I think the average value of our skill points is greater than +4% cast speed (in hardcore anyways).
Spend a few levels farming the Fellshrine Ruins. There are always groups doing it. Join one!
Grats on making it this far. This is where things get real. By now you've probably invested at least a full 24 hours of play time into your character and if you die, you're gonna feel it. So I'm going to do my best to get you through this with minimal risk.
First, a self-check: By the time you finish off cruel Piety, you should be level 50-54ish. Maybe higher if you're an especially cautious person. You should have your resists at 75/75/75 on Cruel. You should have around 2500 or more energy shield. If you're slacking, go farm The Docks for a while.
When you get to Merciless, your resistances are gonna drop. Don't go rearranging passives or re-rolling gear yet though. Find a group and quest straight to The Ledge (If you're brave it's not too bad alone.). Skip Tidal Island and the Fetid Pool.
Get in a ledge farm group until you hit level 59. In our passive tree, we're venturing out to get the Shadow side's far energy shield cluster, passing by Ghost Reaver on the way:
As always, keep in mind that the dex / str / resist / mana nodes should be picked up and dropped as needed.
If at all possible, you're going to want to put Life Leech on Freezing pulse and Ice Spear to use with Ghost Reaver. If you can do this, you'll find that your energy shield stays very stable (usually topped off), and you never need to duck out of battle for a few seconds just because you've been constantly taking tiny hits. It also completely counteracts reflect affixes on mobs. This is a very big deal. With Ice Spear, you can just use a 4-link (or 3-link), but to use Life Leech with Freezing Pulse, you're going to want to get your hands on a 5-link (and probably a lot of chromatics) so you can attach a Reduced Mana gem to it too. You can buy a white 5-link for about an exalt. You can also find a lot of people willing to trade 5-links if you've been lucky enough to find one. Once you get it, roll it into something with decent energy shield and begin chromatic'ing it. You really want GGRRB for Lesser Multiple Projectiles - Faster Projectiles - Reduced Mana - Life Leech - Freezing Pulse. It's very unlikely due to the (imo brainless and endlessly frustrating) weighting of the socket colors, but well worth it. It typically takes 100-150 chromatics. All in all it'll probably come out to a cost of about 2 exalt, but will do wonders for you and when you're done with it you can stash it for another toon or sell it to recoup the cost (and maybe make a nice profit depending on your luck). Alternatively, you could try substituting Mana Leech for Reduced Mana if you get a GGGRB link first while chromatic'ing.
If this is your first toon to reach merciless, it's completely understandable if you want to cheap out on the chest. I've gone through merciless without any life leech, but it's very difficult. I at least recommend putting it on Ice Spear.
It also may be possible to link Life Leech with Faster Projectiles, Lesser Multiple Projectiles, and Freezing Pulse without needing Reduced Mana (and thus without needing a 5-link), but so far none of my characters have had the regen to be able to do that.
Make sure you have Summon Skeletons linked to a Spell Totem. You may need to buy a Summon Skeletons gem, but they're cheap and easy to get (cost should be 1 alch). Drop the totem any time you see a rare. When you drop it, make sure you put it in a safe place. Don't just drop it right on top of the enemy, otherwise it'll be easily destroyed.
Buy gear, use currency. Trade in sets of rares for chaos orbs when you can, and trade in your +20% quality junk for alchs. Trading and rolling gear is going to become a huge part of the game. When you roll new gear, try to roll 4-link pieces if possible. Four-link whites go for 1 alch each and we'll want the sockets.
Don't forget to optimize your flasks. There are 3 flasks that I consider necessity: a quicksilver flask of adrenaline, a granite flask of iron skin, and some sort of flask of heat (dispels chill / freezing). Personally, I like using two quicksilver flasks, one being the flask of heat. That way when I press it, I know for sure that I'm going to move. Use glassblower's baubles on these. If you've been collecting whetstones you can trade these in for baubles since whetstones are useless to us. You should usually also have an appropriate resistance flask, and maybe a dispels burning or curses flask.
Around this point I add Enfeeble and Bear Trap to my arsenal. They're both incredibly useful. I stopped using Raise Spectre entirely and only carried around Raise Zombie to combat necromancers.
Before going on to finish act 1, here's another self-check for you: You're at least level 59. You have about 3800 or more energy shield and your resists are capped or close. It's okay if you don't have them all capped all the time yet, but keep the relevant ones capped by switching out rings if you need to (and keep the other ones fairly high, e.g. 65%ish). You have a 50%+ spell damage wand and feel awesome about yourself. If any of these things don't apply to you, keep farming or buy more gear. Otherwise, go kill Brutus and Merveil.
Again, with Chaos Inoculation, act 2 is a walk in the park. You could probably fly through it without stopping, but because I'm a cautious person in hardcore, here's what I recommend: When you get into act 2, immediately get into a Fellshrine farm group. Farm up to level 63-64, then do the quests. Kill all the bandits for the extra skill point, complete the energy shield cluster we started, and pick up the energy shield on shield nodes like so:
By now you should be using 3 auras. I used a 4-link to link Reduced Mana with Clarity, Discipline, and Purity. I like using Purity at this stage because with it, it becomes very hard to not stay resistance capped. Thanks to the 30% increased buff effect, you should get ~30% or more elemental resistance from it. That means we don't have to concern ourselves with balancing resistance on gear, and we can narrow our focus down to one thing for now: energy shield. Later, when we can use the top-tier armors and we're looking for perfectly itemized pieces, our need for Purity will diminish.
By the time you get to the pyramid you should be about level 65 and have around 4800 or so energy shield.
When you get to act 3, get in a docks farm group immediately and farm your way up to level 69.
Once you're level 69, go over your gear and make sure you're the best you can be before doing the quests. You should be at about 6000 energy shield (more if you're on top of things) and your resists should all be capped.
Finish the quests. Don't die. Personally, I skip everything I can and just do the essentials. For example, I don't do Solaris Temple or the Sewers Aqueduct and instead just get the waypoints from others. Not that either is particularly hard or anything, but the game is all about minimizing risks.
From here with your skill points, considering improving your offense (the nearby cold damage nodes are good) and pick up Zealot's Oath as soon as you can drop Purity. Making your way down to Elemental Adaptation is also a good choice.
Getting an Eye of Chayula is a good buy (If you get one that isn't a +20, use those Blessed Orbs that have been rotting in your stash.). We have a very, very high change to be stunned. For anything that deals over ~250 damage to us, we have a 50% chance to be stunned.
Make sure you're not neglecting your flasks. We're more susceptible to status ailments so I make sure I carry flasks that dispel those.
Arctic Armour isn't a bad skill to pick up and start using if you can support the mana. You won't be able to level it up very far, but using a level 8 gem is very reasonable and provides a noticeable boost in defense against some mobs.
Once you're done with act 3, it's time to venture into the final frontier: maps. Finding maps outside of maps is pretty rare so there's a decent chance you don't have any yet. If you don't have any level 66 maps, buy two or three from someone. You can get them for about 1 chaos each.
Transmute, alter, and augment your maps until you get two good affixes. Good affixes for us include these prefixes:
* 30% monster physical resistance.
* 75% monster fire resistance.
* Area is a maze.
* Area has increased monster variety.
* Monsters reflect 20% physical damage.
* Area contains two unique bosses.
* Area is inhabited by the undead.
* Monsters cannot be stunned.
* Area is 35% larger.
And these suffixes:
* Area has patches of burning ground.
* Players take 30.0 chaos damage per second.
* Players are cursed with Warlord's Mark.
Clearly the suffixes are a bit more dangerous, while many of the prefixes don't have any effect on us at all. Some of the others may also be good depending on the map and your particular stats. If your goal is progression, you'll really want increased magic / rare monsters or double bosses.
Important! There is one affix that you can never, ever do: Hemomancy. The Hemomancy affix grants you Blood Magic. Blood Magic makes you spend life instead of mana for skills. You will kill yourself. Do not enter any maps without knowing what they are.
Good luck, have fun!
MY GEAR / SKILL TREE
Here's my gear / skill tree.
My current witch is level 81. I have 12000 energy shield, and use Clarity, Discipline, and Vitality. For Elemental Weakness maps, I put up Purity instead of Vitality. Vitality gives me about 300 passive energy shield per second. I do enough dps to stand right in the middle of most dangers and keep myself topped off via Life Leech (Just gotta make sure I don't get frozen or stunned for too long which is why I use an Eye of Chayula.).
My gear is by no means exceptional and is constantly in flux, so some things may look a bit weird. Some gems are also only there so I can level them. Approximate cost of getting everything so far: 2 exalt, some chaos, and a ton of chromatics for the chest, 1 exalt for the head, 2 chaos for the hands, feet, shield, and each Reduced Mana gem, 2 gcp for the amulet (apparently these are much more expensive now though), 1 alch for each ring, 13 gcp to buy and cut the 20% Freezing Pulse, 4 gcp for the Greater Multiple Projectiles, found the weapon and rolled the belt myself.
My bound abilities are usually Ice Spear / Move / Freezing Pulse on mouse, then Bear Trap, Bear Trap, Frostbite or Enfeeble, Lightning Warp, and Skeleton Totem on keys. Don't underestimate the Bear Traps. I usually two-man maps with a friend, so when we come across a rare, we quickly throw 12 Bear Traps under it and it dies immediately. They're also great for pesky necromancers. Sometimes I pop in the Raise Zombies to combat necromancers as well.
My skill tree:
I made a spreadsheet to back all of my decision-making (though it may not be totally up-to-date):
Using that, I can preview the effects of my choices and make good decisions. For example, I can see how much mana per second a skill will use once I level it up or add a support gem to it.
Ask questions or critique me. I like helping people and I like improving my build.
Stay up-to-date: gggtracker.com
Last edited by rz2yoj on May 8, 2013 9:02 PM
on January 14, 2013 11:44 PM
Actually started a witch with the intent of trying to maximize energy shield with chaos inoculation today. The only question for me was what kind of skills I was going to use. Definitely going to try out your recommendations. Already decided I can't be bothered messing about with minions and totems.
Mostly an experimental process before open beta for me, I admit I'll probably be deviating from your build; but it was an enjoyable read and gave me some ideas/pointers. Thanks.
Last edited by Jillian on January 15, 2013 7:54 AM
on January 15, 2013 7:49 AM
i just have one question... why start designing a build you know is going to be nerfed in 8 days?
Chaos innoculation will no longer have the 50% bonus to energy shield or have the chaos damage immunity so in effect you're planning for a build that will not be viable on open beta.
You may still be able to make an es build over life since the life passives are distanced away from the witch, but the chaos damage will now apply to your energy shield instead of your life
on January 15, 2013 8:11 AM
Good question! I tacked on an "Open Beta Changes" section to the post above. I'm confident that the build will still be perfectly viable (and more) with some adjustments.
Stay up-to-date: gggtracker.com
on January 15, 2013 4:32 PM
Thanks! Was looking for a witch build to base mine off of (level 18 at the moment, no major issues yet), also thanks for explaining what changes will occur in OB.
on January 16, 2013 3:38 PM
Once you decide what changes to the passive tree might be a good idea for OB, feel free to share:)
on January 23, 2013 3:18 PM
So CI still gives you Chaos Immunity, right? So they were going to nerf it then didn't? Hope OP comes back, I want to do this build on my new witch.
on January 28, 2013 6:15 PM
Started updating this for open beta.
Stay up-to-date: gggtracker.com
on January 29, 2013 11:20 PM
Looks pretty good. Hope updates come soon and frequent.
Last edited by tree0flife on January 30, 2013 12:39 AM
on January 30, 2013 12:38 AM
Thanks for a well written guide. I was particularly glad to see the actual words used and not the countless abbrevations used that mean nothing to new players. Hope to see see you update your post as you progress further! :)
Seriously, people using abbrevations on all skill names is just alienating new players and should be avoided in guides.
on January 30, 2013 2:15 AM