Note for 1.2 and beyond: I'll probably not update this guide for the Forsaken Masters expansion. With the nerf to life, and the heavy reliance of this build on a large life pool and the resulting high HP regeneration, I'm not convinced that the build will be as strong. I believe that with the 1.2 changes, a mana-based Flame Totem build would be the more attractive choice, which will also allow for defensive auras.
Blood Magic Flame Totems Guide for Scion and Marauder -- Updated for Path of Exile v1.1.4.
This guide's audience
This guide is aimed at both new and experienced player. I've tried to write it in a way so that it is suitable for everyone, including those of you who may not yet have in-depth knowledge of the game. The build is a good choice for a first character starting out with an empty stash, and it is very suitable for fresh leagues as well.
Since it is my goal to provide a usable guide for everyone, there is some material in here that may seem very obvious to veteran players. Still, many guides are targeted at advanced exiles who know the game inside and out, and when I was new, I felt confused because so many details were skipped or assumed to be known. I have attempted to be mindful of this when putting together the guide.
This build doesn't require any specific items (but benefits from two inexpensive unique in particular) and is suitable for solo players, league starters, self-found enthusiasts, softcore and hardcore players. It is well suited for a first or second character and isn't hard to play. It is easy and efficient, allows you to beat the entire game without bumping into roadblocks, can be used for farming, and offers a smooth entry into end game mapping even when all you have is a 4-linked item (you'll want 5L eventually).
(The build also works for the Marauder! Only the first five points are different. It can be used with the Templar as well, but since you'd have one useless mana regeneration node and a little less HP regeneration, the Templar is a less optimal choice. Best classes for this build are Scion and Marauder.)
What this build is about
Like many players, I cycled through a lot of different builds, trying to find that one build that "feels right". Something that "clicks" and really works for the person. It's highly subjective, of course. I wanted a build that "doesn't annoy me". Pretty vague, but it's really just that "feel" of a build. Some are very strong, but twitchy, or you teleport into walls, desync, have to kite endlessly, nudge stuck minions, need top gear, get reflected into oblivion, leveling is a chore, or bosses are tricky and you have to ask people to help you.
In the week between Domination and Ambush, I decided to just goof around and try out Flame Totem. I knew some people had played with it, but it seemed pretty niche. But there was nothing to lose, so I made a new HC character (nothing in the stash) and leveled him. He made it to 70s when my router balked, and that was it. Still, I had never leveled so smoothly, taking every boss that's usually difficult for me (Vaal in merciless, The Weaver, Kole) without the slightest issue.
My build wasn't ideal and I soon realized how expensive Flame Totems get in terms of mana, so I went back to the drafting board and came up with an entirely different build. One that uses Blood Magic. And no, not gems, but the keystone. Right here people probably go like "What the ...!", but bear with me, I'll explain it in a bit. The result was a build that sailed through all three difficulties and had no trouble starting maps. Let's look at the ups and downs. At the time of writing this, my Scion is level 87. The build has changed over time, as a result of experiments, theorycrafting, and the discussion with others.
Let's look about what's good and not so good about the build.
- Low gear requirements initially, but can make excellent use of expensive gear as well.
- Easy and straight-forward to play. It's not twitchy.
- Great damage while leveling with only 3 or 4 links.
- Large pool of healthpoints.
- Easy to max out resists and raise the cap.
- Amazing life regeneration.
- Works very well on act bosses, (most) map bosses, champions.
- Clears maps and areas quickly.
- Flexible gear: You can swap in what you want, including IIR.
- Suitable for HC. (Worked well for me in the 2-week charity race.)
- Very suitable for solo players, can be played self-found.
- You get all essential gems as quest rewards (Scion).
- Causes no desync (very rare).
- Can handle all map mods except one.
- Reflect maps are no problem.
- No auras (don't hit the "back" button, I'll explain why this doesn't matter for solo play).
- Playstyle may be boring to some, but it can actually be intense.
- In the first 24-40 levels you won't have Flame Totem.
- Dual totems mean you can't cast any direct damage spells (but you can use traps and mines)
- You'll come to loathe Lightning Thorns if you don't already hate them.
The build works with both the Scion and the Marauder and the skill tree differs only slightly. The Scion has the advantage that she gets all of the essential gems needed for the build as quest rewards. This mostly matters if this is your first serious character or you play self-found. A few gems need to be found or traded, but none of them are essential. As a Scion, you can start at level 1 and play right through.
Blood Magic and No Auras
This is the elephant in the room, so let's talk about it a bit. Blood Magic means that all your spells and skills will use life instead of mana. You won't have mana once you take the Blood Magic passive (we won't do this immediately). The advantage is that you can fully concentrate on life and life regeneration. You won't have to take nodes for mana, mana regeneration, reduced mana reservation. Since augmented Flame Totem end up costing hundreds of mana per cast, this is a ton of points that you can use to make your red ball big. Granted, you'll only have one ball, but at least it'll be big and full of juicy life stuff!
And since we don't run Arctic Armor (this would require even more nodes, and Eldritch Battery, which is far away from where we want to be), we need lots of life with high life generation (we're looking at at least 350 HP per second, and it scales with your gear). You can fully concentrate on gear with life (on every piece, ideally), resistances, amror and ES. You'll have maxed out resists with an increased cap. You are als free to play with 2H weapon or 1H or shield, depending on what you have or need.
The drawback is that need to watch your life and can't use auras. For many people this is bad news, but consider here that your totems don't benefit from auras. They would only benefit from Haste, but that simply isn't worth the heavy investment into mana- and aura-related nodes. This doesn't make the character very group-friendly, I guess, because you offer little in terms of synergies (except your curses), but this guide is written from a solo perspective. If you mostly play in a group, this build is probably not ideal for you.
Like with all totem builds, you run around and place your totems strategically and recast them when they go down. They can also be used for scouting (totems do not trigger Devourers) and for blocking passages. Flame Totems are no exception. The nice thing about them is that they are very predictable. They usually throw their flames in the direction of where the closest monster is, and they do more damage the closer the monster is to the totem. Two of them work extremely well together. They also can take a few hits with the passives that we take. Flame Totems are very good at drawing "aggro", that is, they grab the attention of monsters. If something still comes to you, you can run to your totems and they will pull the aggro off of you. It's very rare to get swarmed if you play correctly.
You can support your totems with a curse. Actually, we want to use two curses, but this requires a unique item that you may not have initially: Windscream boots. These are inexpensive and do allow you to use both Elemental Weakness and Flammability. But don't worry. I didn't get the boots before my character was 78 or 79, and you'll do fine with only one curse. Also, corrupted items (at least amulets) can get the +1 Curse inherit mod, so this would be another way to get the second curse without relaying on the boots.
Elemental Weakness is better because of two reasons: quality further lowers the resistance penalty for monsters, and second, we might be using Added Lightning Damage as our 5th gem, and that's damage that's amplified by the curse ("might", because it depends a bit on your gear). Flammability is the second curse for when and if you get the boots.
While you cannot use spells to damage monsters directly (this is the price for being able to cast two totems), you can still use mines and traps. You can also use Ice Nova to destroy containers like crates, vase, and urns. You are unlikely to need the extra damage, certainly not before maps, but you can use Fire Trap, as well. Originally I recommended a quality Shocknova, which is still an option, but a quality Added Lightning Damage gem and the Static Blows passive at high levels may be a workable alternative (this is debatable, see below). This is more end game stuff, though, and nothing you need to decide or even try out before the 80s.
I use Lightning Warp for mobility and to get out of stick spots, and this also destroys urns and crates. Teleporting to your totems can be a nifty trick, too. Again, remember you use life as your casting resource, so get a feel for how much wiggle room you have. Normally, you are always behind your totems anyway and they collect all the monsters in the area.
Something I added later to my arsenal is Conversion Trap. Leaving it at level 1, it allows you to turn up to three monsters into temporary tanks and decoys that fight for you (and above all: keep monsters off of you and your totems) for five seconds. This is extremely handy and the spell needs no support gems. For me, this gem is essential. (But it is not required.)
Gems and Links
The build works well with only 4-linked gear, and is even potent with only three links, but you can substantially boost the damage of your totems if you get a 5th or 6th link. 6L really isn't necessary, 5L is recommend past the low level mapping stage. By the time you want that you are at a point in the game where you have the means to farm. You also have some flexibility here. Let's look at our options.
Flame Totem + Lesser/Greater Multiple Projectles + Fire Penetration + Faster Casting + Added Chaos Damage + Faster Projectiles (OR Totem and Minion Resistances OR Iron Will)
GMP is essential, but you can use LMP until you get GMP. LMP is given to you in act2/normal as a quest reward, if you're a Scion. Fire Penetration is a direct damage boost even if monsters have no fire resists, and it makes fire resistant mobs very manageable. It stacks with the curses. Faster Casting is also a dps boost since your totems will blow fire at a higher rate. These are your four essential gems. When adding quality to your gems, GMP and Faster Casting are your priorities.
For the sixth gem, if you get a 6L chest or staff (chest is better, see below), you have various options. Possible choices are: Faster Projectiles for longer beams, Item Rarity for better drops, Iron Will for more damage from all your Strength nodes, or Totem and Minion Resistances if you feel your totems fold too quickly (not an issue, just recast them).
Note: For some time I considered Added Lightning Damage as an alternative to Added Chaos Damage, but the shocking effect you get from it (with Static Blows) is spotty and unreliable. It is far better to get the unique helmet Three Dragons, which allows your fire damage to shock. Note that Three Dragons isn't required, just very helpful (I did not obtain one until level 86). Three Dragons is (as of writing) an inexpensive unique. If you do get Three Dragons, grabbing the Static Blows and Chance to Shock passives is highly recommended.
Most of the other stuff is more or less optional and you can go with what you prefer (except for the curse). Personally, I use these:
Elemental Weakness + Flammability + Increased Area of Effect - Increased Duration (highly optional)
Cast When Damage is Taken (level 1) - Enduring Cry (5) - Molten Shell (7) - Immortal Call (3)
Lightning Warp - Faster Casting - Reduced Duration
You can also use the curses and the teleport without support gems, especially if they increase the casting costs too much during early leveling. It's certainly possible to also have a second Cast When Damage Taken setup (even with Lightning Warp for a quick way away from something that hits you, but that is risky because you may end up in a worse position!).
As a Scion, you get most of the gems you need simply by playing through the game. The only tricky part is that both GMP and Cast When Damage Taken come from the same quest. If you haven't found either of them, I'd suggest to take GMP and trade or unt for CWDT. Here's an almost complete list of relevant rewards:
Flame Totem: Scion, Act 1 Cruel, Enemy at the Gate
Lesser Multiple Projectiles for leveling: Scion, Act 2 Normal, Sharp and Cruel
Greater Multiple Projectiles: Scion, Act 3 Merciless, Library
Faster Casting: Scion, Act 2 Cruel, Sharp and Cruel
Fire Penetration: Scion, Act 3 Normal, Sever the Right Hand
Elemental Weakness: Scion, Act3 Cruel, Library (Added Chaos Damage is an alternative here)
Faster Projectiles: Scion, Act 3 Normal, Sever the Right Hand, but we need to take Fire Penetration here unless we found it before.
Flammability: Scion, Act 2 Normal, Intruders in Black (you get this earlier than Elemental Weakness)
Increased Aera of Effect: Scion, Act 3, Cruel, Severer the right Hand
Increased Duration: Scion, Act 1, Cruel, Mercy Mission
Lightning Warp: Scion, Act 1 Cruel, Caged brute
Reduced Duration: buy or find, not a reward
Faster Casting #2: buy or find, as we only get one.
Shopping list as you don't get these from quests: 1 Faster Casting, 1 Reduced Duration, either 1 Elemental Weakness or 1 Added Chaos Damage, whichever you do not have. If you have neither, I'd take Elemental Weakness and trade for Added Chaos when you get a 5th link.
I don't use any. The only one that I feel warrants a gem slot is Vaal Summon Skeletons, which is fun and can actually be useful once or twice on a map, but it's entirely optional.
This build works well with self-found gear, but it also scales well with currency you throw at it.
For the weapon, you can use a 2H caster staff or, better, two wands with spell damage, faster casting, increased projectile speed, fire and even lightning damage. You cannot use the high-INT requiring wands that expect you to have 179, 188 o 200+ INT, but you can use the lower INT ones. These drop in maps, too. Not as frequently as the high INT wands, but you can and will find them. What matters for the mods they can roll is the item level, not the base type of the wand. This frees up several points in your skill tree. If in a tight gear spot, you can also use a shield with a wand, or a scepter, or even two scepters, but they can't have the faster projectiles mod.
If you find the ultimate wand that requires a ton of INT, you do have the option of grabbing a few INT nodes (there's a +30 INT node just off the path to the tree's left side, and another nearby the route into the Duelist area), but I'd try to avoid having to do this.
The Searing Totem staff is not as good an option as originally believed. Two good wands give you better damage, and they are also much cheaper. This does mean you eventually want a chest with five or six links. You can start maps with a 4L chest (I used a 2H staff with 5L until 83 and had 4L for 66-68 maps) and then obtain something with more links. A Tabula Rasa would work, but you really want a nice chest with some stats. ~90 Life and resists help you more than a 6th link.
You can wear all kinds of armor types, and while leveling you should use whatever has the best life and resist stats. Later on, it's a good idea to go for hybrid STR/INT armor. Why STR/INT? Because you do benefit a bit from the energy shield they provide, but above all it makes it easier to get blue sockets. Pure STR armor will be very hard to color properly. (And the higher the STR requirement is, the harder it is to get off colors.)
Resists and life are the most useful, as are casting speed and spell/elemental/fire damage bonuses.
For the rings and amulet you want pretty much the same again: damage increases, resists, life. IIR is obviously fine. Cast speed is nice, as well, because your totems use YOUR casting speed, too. The suggest skill tree is pretty flexible and aims at making you somewhat independent of gear, so it may take more resists and dexterity passives than you need. You can take these out or move them around, depending on your needs.
For the other pieces you want the same. Movement speed on the boots is always nice, and your priority for all of these pieces is life.
There are two uniques that will have a major impact:
The boots allow you to put two curses on monsters simultaneously without having to invest passive points. In practice, you won't always drop two curses on monsters (they melt very quickly with one or none), but it is a significant damage boost nonetheless. The helmet allows your fire damage to shock monsters (you do not have to critically hit for this), which causes them to take more damage. It is a very nice damage increase, almost a game changer. Both uniques are inexpensive at the time of writing this guide (I paid 15 chaos for both together in Ambush).
The downside of both uniques is that they do not have +life (but they at least have resists!). This is a sacrifice, but the benefits outweigh this without a doubt. Neither unique is required for this build to work, so not having either or both of them will not break it. But I highly recommend that you eventually get them.
I'm mostly playing with dual wands, but if you eventually find yourself too squishy, or want to utilize shield stats, there are plenty rare shields that will work. As for unique shields, I've played a bit with these two:
Both actually dropped for the character in Ambush. Saffell's is neat for the resists boost (and higher cap), but I found Rathpith's Globe substantially nicer for this build (ignore the Vaal gem, it's just there to level!).
The next post shows the passive tree.