The Pokémon series gets away with it, so this guide will do it, too! Formerly focused on Blood Magic, this "Blue" version of the Dual Flame Totems guide now takes the mana route due to the changes introduced by the Forsaken Masters expansion in August 2014.
Dual Flame Totems Guide for Scion -- Updated for Path of Exile v1.2.x.
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 character starting out with an empty stash, a great pick for players not wishing to trade items, 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 some uniques, so there is always room for more potential) 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).
An important note on patch 1.2 and the Forsaken Masters expansion in August 2014
Originally, this Flame Totem guide for Scion was centered around the Blood Magic keystone. However, when the Forsaken Masters expansion was released (patch 1.2), the life nodes were severely reduced. A side effect of this was that the HP regeneration also took a hit. This removed a key advantage of the previous build. Simultaneously, skill costs were lowered, and various skill tree changes also removed the downside of going for a mana build. Overall, the new build does more damage and is, in spite of having less life a bit tougher. More information on these up- and downsides are provided in the "Mana, the blue juice" section below.
Since I still love the Flame Totem skill and there is currently no other such guide for the Scion class, I've adjusted the build to the new conditions. If you had previously followed this guide, you also received a free respec, so you can change the character to my new build. You probably will need to change some gear pieces, since the build is now mana-based, but it shouldn't be a major issue. You may find that you lack about 30 DEX which you need to compensate with gear (there are also some 10 DEX nodes around the fringes of the core build).
On the upside, the build is still extremely well suited for beginners and veteran players alike, and it works in both the softcore and hardware leagues. The build also still features good HP regeneration, and we can now run auras. I'll cover auras and how they work with this build further below. The build is also great for starting in a new league as you do not need any particular items. You can finish the whole game with just four links.
I've re-written many parts of the guide, which is still an on-going process. If you notice any errors or omissions, please let me know. Also, when reading the discussion below, keep in mind that all of the older posts refer to the Blood Magic based version of the guide are no longer valid. Just hop to the posts made in and after September 2014 (around page 18), as they will be current for this version of the build. :)
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, back in early spring '14, 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. This worked well until the Forsaken Masters expansion in late summer when life nodes were severely nerfed, and mana nodes buffed. The situation got reversed and now the Blue approach, mana, was the key to success. The build has changed over time, as a result of experiments, theorycrafting, and the discussion with others, as well as with the changes made to the game.
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.
- Fairly good pool of health points.
- Arctic Armor for extra survivability.
- Above-average life regeneration.
- Works very well on act bosses, (most) map bosses, champions.
- Totems can be used for scouting, so chargers and leapers attack them.
- Clears maps and areas quickly and efficiently.
- 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, so no stress with bouncing back into rooms.
- Can handle all map mods except two.
- Reflect maps are no problem.
- Playstyle may be boring to some, but it can actually be intense.
- In the first 31 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).
- Totem survivability vs. some map bosses can be troublesome (i.e. you have to spam them).
- No Life Leech, so you must relay on flasks (which were buffed in the Forsaken Masters expansion).
- May not have an easy time with Atziri (strategy section on this will be added later).
The build works with the Templar and the Witch, too, with only the very first points being different. 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. I also prefer her central position in the skill tree, making it easy to make adjustments later.
Mana, the blue juice
Previously, this build used Blood Magic to bypass the problem of Flame Totem being rather costly in terms of resources. By using Blood Magic, and thus life instead of mana for casting spells, we could go with very high HP regeneration and trivialize the gearing process. However, after the changes to the life nodes, which also had devastating effects on the percentage-based HP regeneration, this was no longer an optimal choice. Especially in light of mana nodes having been buffed and the changes to the skill tree now favoring the mana playstyle for this build, going with mana is now the better option.
This comes with some upsides as well as downsides. The main downside is that you also need mana and mana regeneration mods on your gear. Additionally, the build now uses Eldritch Battery (a passive skill that you'll take later), which turns your Energy Shield into mana. The latter isn't a downside per se, it's just another trip across half the skill tree, though we use that opportunity to grab some awesome nodes in the Witch area.
The major advantages are that you can also run auras, which makes you a welcome member to any party, and that you can run Arctic Armor. In previous versions of the build, we relayed chiefly on monstrous mana regeneration, but we still did take damage upfront when things went south. Since we now have monstrous mana regeneration instead, we can use Arctic Armor, which makes you nearly immune against small hits, like the "machine gun" fire of miscreations ("titty bitches", as they are affectionately called) and the paradise bird type of monsters. Life regeneration of this build is still better than with most builds, so overall you are fairly sturdy.
This new build also does more damage than the previous version, since we take more spell damage nodes instead of dipping into the Marauder and Duelist areas. Luckily, the Totemic Zeal cluster was moved close to the Scion area, so we can grab it still. If you recall the previous discussion, the "30% Casting Speed for Summoning Totems" isn't just the speed with which you put down totems, but seems to increase the speed at which the totems cast. Both the tooltip dps and the "felt" dps confirm this.
Another advantage is that previous issues with getting enough INT are now out of the picture. This enables access to high energy shield armor and wands, so your gear selection increased quite a bit. You can now also use the Cloak of Defiance, a unique chest piece, which provides the passive skill "Mind over Matter" (MoM, not to be confused with Master of Magic, for you fellow oldies out there!) that removes 10% of the damage you take from your mana bubble instead of your HP pool. This is not essential by any means, but works very well with this build. Don't feel that you have to have it, though. It's really very optional.
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 one of two unique item that you may not have initially: Windscream boots or the Doedre's Damning ring. 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 or the ring. Which you pick, if you have the choice, is up to you. Either one is fine and the build supports it. I'd probably opt for the ring, but it all depends on what you have. The boots also give you a damage bonus, but you'll move somewhat slowly. (Even doing 76-78 maps, I usually only use Elemental Weakness, if I curse at all. Things melt quickly.)
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, the ring, or a corrupted item with +1 curses. While leveling, you'll probably use Flammability.
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 (the skill tree follows in the next post) 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 IF you decide to go for this. More testing is needed due to the changes after the 1.2 patch. (pre-1.2: 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 recommended.) Three Dragons and the usefulness/efficiency of the Static Blows passive is debatable due to the 1.2 changes. More on this after more testing.
Reduced Mana + Discipline + Clarity, and Arctic Armor
It is important not to click "level up" whenever Clarity and Arctic Armor area ready. Increase their level depending on your gear. It won't do you any good to have Arctic Armor at a high level when you run out of mana whenever you run for a few seconds (teleporting helps). Likewise, a level 20+ Clarity is useless if you can't mildly spam Flame Totem.
You may not be able to run Arctic Armor consistently until a higher level or better gear. That's fine. This build worked perfectly well long before I included Arctic Armor. Discipline may also not be usable for you right away (while Reduced Mana is low or unavailable). Level it anyway, and keep it turned off until you can support it. My experience is that you don't really need anything except Clarity until the mapping stage of the game.
As for Herald of Ice: The totems only gain the flat damage, but not the explosions. The damage increase is definitely not worth the mana reserve, for this build.
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 (really great when high level)
Conversion Trap, needs no supports, leave it at level 1.
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!).
(1.2 note: Some quest rewards may have changed, so I need to verify this section still, but it should be mostly accurate.)
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 hunt 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.
Clarity: Scion, Act 1 Normal, Caged Brute (level it slowly)
Enduring Cry for CwDT: Scion, Act 1 Normal, Intruders in Black (new reward in 1.2)
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 or hunt for Added Chaos when you get a 5th link.) For the defensive, optional, though highly recommended, setup: 1 Cast When Damage Taken (can't take it as a reward because we need Greater Multiple Projectiles more, but if you have, or have found, GWP, take CwDT in act 3, library quest in merciless.
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. If you have or find it, and you have room for it, it will not bite you.
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, and increased fire damage, or a wand and a shield. You can also use a scepter, or even two scepters, but they can't have the faster projectiles mod.
The Searing Totem staff is not as good an option as it may seem. 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, mana/mana regeneration, and resist stats. Later on, it's a good idea to go for hybrid STR/INT armor. Why STR/INT? Because you do benefit from the energy shield they provide (gets converted to mana with Eldritch Battery), but above all it makes it easier to get blue and red sockets. Pure STR armor will be very hard to color properly, and the same is true for pure INT armor. (And the higher the STR or INT requirement is, the harder it is to get off colors.) Vorici, the new Master, can help with color changing now, though. Pure INT armor would be the second choice, if INT/STR armor isn't available to you with equal stats. Some armor also helps with mitigating damage, but don't expect wonders. You won't be a tank.
Resists, mana, 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, mana, mana reg. 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 three uniques that will have a major impact (but are nevertheless optional):
The boots or ring 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.
1.2 note: 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. Before 1.2, this was a real game changer, but after the modifications to the shock mechanics and the skill tree, this is no longer a particularly outstanding choice.
The downside of these uniques is that they do not have +life (but they at least have resists!). This is a sacrifice, and neither unique is required for this build to work, so not having either of them will not break it.
I'd been 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!). 1.2 and after note: Which maps being slightly harder and our life regeneration lower, I tend to favor shields for more difficult maps now. Both are situational shields, and you can of course use a rare shield with good stats now. Caster shields are a very viable option with this build now.
The next post shows the passive tree.