[2.4] The Master of Agony - CI / ZO + Tri-Curse Essence Drain / Contagion Trickster

***IMPORTANT: I am an Essence Drain lover.

I authored 2 ED builds on PoE forums: this one and the Ascendant version.

The Ascendant build is optimal for damage, and it's life based.
The Trickster build is optimal for survivability, and it's ES based (CI).



As you may know if you read the Scion sub-forum, I am about to present you the new possible meta for an Essence Drainer in 2.3: the CI/ZO Trickster.

When compared to the previous Scion build I created in Talisman, which gained an incredible boost in Ascendancy, the Trickster version offers an excellent survivability, a still good damage output and the feature of dealing quite easily with all map mods, exception made for Blood Magic.

In 2.4 this build is going to receive some small nerfs, which fortunately don't impact the playstyle, the clearspeed or the efficiency of the character in a noticeable way. The details:

- Pierce support gem is getting a 10% damage nerf and a 20% increase in mana multiplier
- Poison damage is being lowered by 2%
- Bosses' curse efficiency reduction is becoming a bit stronger

Table of Contents

1. Build mechanics
2. Pros / Cons
3. Passive Tree
4. Ascendancy Points
5. Gem Setup
6. Gear
7. Flasks, Jewels and Enchantments
8. Bandits
9. Leveling priorities

1. Build mechanics

First of all, this is an entirely chaos-based character who relies on the spreading of a damage over time single-target skill, Essence Drain. The spreading happens via Contagion, another damage over time skill, but with a good area of effect radius. Mechanics are simple: you contagion an area, then target the potentially weakest mob in that area and shoot an ED bullet in its direction. When it dies, the entire Contagion area will be affected by both Contagion and Essence Drain dot damage.

This character makes also use of some utility skills and curses to boost both the damage and the survivability. Wither, when applied to a spell totem, constantly debuffs an area, increasing the chaos damage taken by all the foes inside by a stacking percentage. This has proven to be very useful against high health mobs / bosses, especially if you can pre-cast the totem at no damage cost (think about Atziri's phase changes, for example). This Shadow also uses Vaal Lightning Trap, if needed, to apply shocking ground to an area, again increasing the damage taken by the mobs affected. His curses help with the damage, too; Vulnerability increases the damage over time suffered by mobs, and Temporal Chains increases the duration of dot effects, while making enemies' curses on him less effective. My current ED "base" tooltip is about 40k dps (we are talking about the dot component, of course), this does not take into account the effect of Vulnerability, Vaal LT, Wither and combat / flask gains. The real DPS you do in optimal conditions, when all of the debuffs are up, is way higher (over 100k). If you throw the stacking poison damage in the mix, which is a nice addition when using Consuming Dark, single target real damage is a lot higher.

By choosing the Trickster we have amazing defensive options too. We gain some evasion from gear, passive tree and ascendancy points. The flask setup, when optimized, pushes our defenses (avoidance, armor and block) to the stars. We go Chaos Inoculation, so we are immune to all chaos damage foes. And we path to Zealot's Oath to make the regen from Essence Drain, gear, golem, consecrated ground and passive tree useful. The Trickster, with Shade Form, has a flat +250 ES bonus; this allows us to play without using the discipline aura and still having a very good final ES pool (10-13k depending on gear and character level). We have two strong defensive curses (Enfeeble and Temporal Chains) and Fortify from Whirling Blades supporting, since we use a Dagger as main weapon.

We still have our "oh noes" button, too: Vaal Discipline, to help surviving when needed.

In optimal conditions of gearing / character level (90+), we should aim, in Merciless, at these values:

- Capped elemental resistances (ideally overcapped to deal with Elemental Weakness maps)
- 10k+ ES
- A good flask setup

2. Pros / Cons


+ Very funny and active gameplay
+ Very efficient in solo playing
+ Can do up to T11 maps with cheap gear, and normal Atziri on a 4 link
+ Safe playstyle, you are a dotter and not a spammer of a single skill so you have time to dodge whatever mobs throw at you
+ Insane defenses, espcially while under flask effect
+ Reflect proof, since chaos damage rocks
+ Can do almost all map mods, including no leech and no regen
+ High clear speed if you aren't a scroll of wisdom fan :D
+ Our golem is quite tanky and provides a decoy even in difficult situations (a leveled Stone Golem can easily tank, for example, Palace Dominus in phase 2 while you drain the crap out of him)
+ All content is doable, including Uber Atziri, Core Malachai or Colosseum Daresso, even the Vaal Temple Trio


- In parties this build lacks of burst damage, so it's a lot less efficient
- Blood Magic maps cannot be done, they are non compatible with CI
- Hall of the Grandmasters CI champions cannot be killed with pure chaos damage builds like this one
- Temporal Chains maps: they are perfectly doable, but I find them annoying for all the characters I play lol

3. Passive Tree

Level 100 Tree

Please note that this passive tree is fully optimized for level 100, with 123 talent points spent. To know what priorities to follow when leveling, please refer to the "leveling" section of this guide.

4. Ascendancy points

In 2.3 we will get 8 Ascendancy points.

I highly recommend following this priority:

- Normal Ascension: take Ghost Dance
- Cruel Ascension: take Shade Form
- Merciless Ascension: take Walk the Aether
- Endgame Lab Ascension: take Patient Reaper

5. Gem setup

Note: the gems are listed in order of importance.

6L (Body armour, RGGGBB or GGGGBB): Essence Drain | Controlled Destruction | Void Manipulation | Rapid Decay | Pierce | Empower lvl 4 (expensive) / Slower Projectiles (cheaper)

4L (Helmet, BBBG): Temporal Chains | Enfeeble | Vulnerability | Enlighten

4L (Boots, RBBB): Summon Stone Golem | Minion Life | Minion and Totem elemental resistance | Vaal Discipline

4L (Gloves, BBBB): Contagion | Increased Area of Effect | Faster Casting | Vaal Lightning Trap

3L (Spirit Shield, RBB): Wither | Spell Totem | Faster Casting

3L (Dagger, RGG): Whirling Blades | Fortify | Faster Attacks

Getting 4 off colors on a Vaal Regalia can be tricky, but still doable. About 600-700 chromatics should be enough considering the average cost of the operation.

20 quality is NOT required on the following gems.

- Vulnerability
- Empower

On all the remaining gems, it's at least useful if not mandatory.

The most important skill gems to get 20q on are by far Contagion, Whirling Blades, Faster attacks, Essence Drain (obviously!) and all its supports (except for Empower; quality here is a gem experience boost only).

If you are running a 4L on Essence Drain at the start, you should keep Pierce and Empower out. In 5L you add Pierce, in 6L you add Empower to the mix. Keep in mind that Empower will outperform Slower Projectiles (as last support) only if corrupted and level 4; this is a very expensive option. If you don't own a level 4 Empower go for Slower Projectiles, because it's still superior when compared to Empower 3.

6. Gear and damage / defense screenshots

As a general rule, you want gear which has:

- A ton of ES
- Some evasion
- Resistances to cap at 75% the elemental ones in merciless (and to ideally overcap for Elemental Weakness maps)
- Some strength, if needed, to make up with gem requirements (you should aim at 114 str to equip all the possibly useful gems)
- Mana regeneration
- Life regeneration
- Intelligence

Cast speed is your worst damage stat on gear, pick it if you find gear with it but don't search for upgrades which include it when trading.

At start, your gear will be mostly rare with useful stats. You can do the normal version of Atziri quite easily when you meet the above merciless requirements, and are above 8k dot damage on Essence Drain. You can do it with less dps, it's just a bit more difficult.

Best in slot gear:

Weapon: The Consuming dark. Good spell damage and poison on hit. This is the #1 choice in terms of clearspeed and single target output; as an alternative, you can use a Rare dagger with high spell damage, good mods and the Leo craft to increase dot damage.

Shield: a Rare Spirit Shield with Spell damage, high ES and resistances.

Body Armour: a Rare chest with high ES and resistances. Vaal Regalia is the best base.

Helmet: Heretic's Veil. You NEED this. With Mikelat's mana reservation calculator, you can see that Charisma alone is enough to run 3 curses and have a nice pool of unreserved mana to use our skills.

Boots: Brinerot Whalers. Decent ES, some evasion, 20% movement speed and a max of 40% projectile damage. Best boots by a large degree for our character. The immunity to shocked ground is quite good too.

Gloves: Rare gloves with high ES and resistances.

Amulet: Eye of Chayula. You need the stun immunity, that's it.

Ring 1: Doedre's Damning. Needed for the third curse, it provides also some resistances, mana on kill, int and mana.

Ring 2: a rare Moonstone ring with bonus ES, resistances and ideally a free prefix to craft bonus %ES on it.

Belt: Auxium. Tons of ES, and it alleviates the need for an Anti Freeze flask. An amazing QoL item overall.

This is my current gear (the character was created at the end of Perandus League, so it's in Standard now). It's still not fully optimized (especially enchantments!), but I'm working on it :)

As a fun note, all of the gear is self found, except for the body armour.

My current ED tooltip @ level 94:

Not that bad for a CI version, especially considering my support gems are still level 19 and I am still missing a jewel socket which should push me @ 41.5k tooltip. With some gear min-maxing (corruption on all ED supports, perfect rolls on items and a godlike spirit shield) I think 45k can be achieved. To go past 50k you'll need a +1 Regalia, which is insanely expensive.

Defensive stats (unbuffed, in hideout):

Defensive stats (buffed with my typical flask setup, in hideout):

Please note that these stats are in hideout. During combat, in maps, when you can benefit from Patient Reaper's huge "recently" bonus, I can achieve insane amounts of ES regen and recharge rate, it's like having Vaal Discipline always up and on steroids, especially in high density maps (so ED is simultaneously up on a lot of targets). And thanks to Primal Spirit, which is really helpful when mapping in high tiers, our flask uptime will be near to 100%.

7. Flasks, Jewels and Enchantments

For Flasks, I highly recommend getting:

- 1 Rumi's Concoction
- 1 Jade flask of Reflexes
- 1 Basalt flask of Iron Skin
- 1 Sulphur flask with an useful secondary mod (anti curse, anti freeze, anti bleed)
- 1 Mana flask with an useful secondary mod (anti curse, anti freeze, anti bleed)
- 1 Bismuth flask with an useful secondary mod (anti curse, anti freeze, anti bleed) if you can't overcap for ele weakness maps
- 1 Silver flask with an useful secondary mod (anti curse, anti freeze, anti bleed) if you don't need the mana flask and you are resistance capped

If you love to run special contents like Atziri, a Ruby flask with increased effect could also be useful.

My current always-used flasks:

The 5th flask slot depends on the map mods. It can be a Mana potion, a Stibnite, or a Bismuth.

Again, remember that this build includes the Primal Spirit notable passive skill, which is quite good to sustain flasks when mapping.

For Jewels, we have a lot of choices.

First of all, we need this one after the transition to CI:

this has to be put in the jewel socket under the Melding cluster.

Our Shadow scales with all of these damage stats you can find on jewels:

- Damage
- Chaos Damage
- Projectile damage
- Spell damage
- Spell damage when holding a shield
- Damage over time

The stats in bold are the best because they double-dip on the poison damage we get from The Consuming Dark. Other mentioned stats are good too, but slightly inferior.

And ideally, you should aim at jewels with % maximum energy shield on them. Keep in mind that good jewels with ES and damage stats are really expensive. Jewels are also a good way to fix resistance issues if you need them.

For Enchantments, the choices are quite restrictive!

- Helmet: 40% increased Essence Drain Damage
- Boots: 8% chance to Dodge Spell Damage if you've taken Spell Damage Recently
- Gloves: Commandment of Reflection is the best. Having a decoy rocks.

8. Bandits

Normal: kill all
Cruel: kill all
Merciless: kill all

In the end, we love Eramir.

This choice leaves us a total of 123 passive points to spend in an ideal world where we get to level 100.

9. Leveling priorities

This section is still a work in progress, I will update it in the future.

Essence Drain and Contagion are decent for leveling. They start to shine when the Increased Area of Effect support gem becomes available for Contagion, but until that the feeling will be a bit slow. If you feel more comfortable by leveling with some other skills, do it, it's not a problem, and go for ED / Cont at level 38.

Btw, to get it short, follow these rules when leveling:

1. Get life nodes as soon as you can. And get some more ones in the Shadow area that aren't even included in the build. You should take all the points in both Written in blood and Melding clusters, plus the 7 extra points to have some more life in the Blood Siphon zone. All the nodes that won't be needed in the future will be respecced later. The Heart and Soul and the Quick Recovery nodes are very good for this purpose too, since we don't need travel points to reach them and then respec them later.

2. Get a Lifesprig and a Doedre's Damning as soon as you can. You will use them for a long time (Doedre's is even BIS if you don't happen to get a corrupted +1 curse Chayula).

3. When you feel ready for the CI transition, start saving points 5 levels (or simply 5-n levels if you have n extra passive points to get from quests) before that. Example: if you feel you will switch at level 70, stop allocating points at level 65, so when you are 70 you can spec for CI + Infused Shield + Zealot's Oath at the same time.

4. The highest ES priority nodes to take are Foresight, Unnatural Calm and Arcane focus.

5. The whole Melding Cluster becomes a full ES cluster when you use an Energy from Within unique jewel in the socket under it. So this has to be done after the transition to CI.

6. The lowest priority "damage" clusters to take are the Corruption one and the Whispers of doom one (this one is technically a +1 curse cluster, but it allows to use Vulnerability which is a very good DPS boost for higher levels; btw you can't be comfortable using 3 curses without an Heretic's Veil or an Enlighten support, so this can be done later). Path of the Savant and Growth & Decay are also low priority.

7. The highest priority "damage" clusters/talents are the Piercing Shots, Sniper, Atrophy and Method to the Madness ones by FAR. Potency of Will, Primal Spirit and Shaper are nice to have as soon as possible, especially if your gear has poor mana regen on.

8. Jewel sockets are the LAST priority. They should be considered an endgame goal for higher levels, because good jewels are quite difficult to obtain in the very first days of a new league.

I think it's enough for a league start. When I get some more time, I will make this section a lot more accurate. :)

This concludes my build post. Feel free to ask for clarifications, if needed. I often read the forums and will try to answer as fast as possible.

Hope you liked it, have fun and enjoy PoE!

- Nat
Last edited by djnat on Jan 20, 2017, 9:00:47 AM
Last bumped on Mar 8, 2017, 2:29:35 PM
vaal pact?? hope u grabed it by mistake :)
skaye123 wrote:
vaal pact?? hope u grabed it by mistake :)

Lol, yes it was misclicked. Now the link to the passive tree has been corrected. Thanks for posting!
Last edited by djnat on May 26, 2016, 6:17:39 PM
How reliable is this for early on in a league? I'm interested in ED/Contagion for my initial character in Prophecy
There are four (or five) things that can be fairly difficult (in the sense of "quite expensive" or "rare to find even when trading") to obtain at the very start of a league.

1. Empower level 4. This is the 6th link btw and it can be replaced with slower projectiles in the meanwhile.

2. Heretic's veil.

3. A very good Vaal Regalia (750+ ES, multi resistance mod). A fairly decent one (550-600 ES range) shouldn't be so expensive btw. :)

4. 6-link.

5. Brinerot Whalers. They are exclusive to Warbands League, so you have to search for 'em in trade or using Zana's Map Device. They can be replaced with good rare ES / resistance boots.

The build works fine without any of these 5 things. Sure it will lose some offensive and defensive power, but it will still perform very well.

And still, half of the gear this build requires is a joke. Doedre's Damning, Eye of Chayula, Consuming Dark, Auxium are fairly cheap. :)
Last edited by djnat on May 28, 2016, 9:13:52 PM
what about the 2 ascendant points from the new end game labyrinth? swift killer would be the best option, right?
LightDevil wrote:
what about the 2 ascendant points from the new end game labyrinth? swift killer would be the best option, right?

I already suggested how to choose the 2 extra points in the dedicated section.

I don't play with frenzy charges, because the route this build goes through the passive tree is quite far from the extra frenzy charge nodes in the ranger and duelist areas. The only node you can take without too much effort is the frenzy charge one in the shadow area.

So you will have 5 max charges if you take that node (sacrificing 3 passive points) and Swift Killer. 6 if you sacrifice an additional passive point and help Kraityn in merciless. 7 if your boots are corrupted! :)

6-7 charges can be a decent survivability boost, especially if you choose to use The Blood Dance (good regen) or Darkray Vectors (good avoidance) instead of Brinerot Whalers. Damage boost should be nice too if you can mantain the charges up... sadly, it's not always possible in the majority of "hard" boss fights (think about Trio, Atziri, Core).

I've found that, with a good gear, I already kill trash monster packs in maps with a single combo (contagion / ED), so Frenzy charges aren't a big improvement for me, at least in terms of pure clear speed.

I guess it's a playstyle preference. I'm doing fine in all map tiers without using charges.
Last edited by djnat on May 30, 2016, 12:38:26 AM
Hey, love the guide format (everything is very clear and conclusive) as well as the guide itself. I will make this my first character for prophecy.

I have one question about the tree:
Instead of the 'melding' cluster with 'life and energie shield' (which gives a total of 25% inc energy shield (and ofc the life, but since CI renders that useless...)

I would suggest taking the energy nodes under deep wisdom (which gives 38 inc % energy shield AND 10% inc. energy regen.)

The only reason I can think of for the chose of 'life and energie', is before you take CI and need your life. But I think it's worth it to spec out of that later when you go CI.

Thanks for the guide and keep up the good work :)
Yours sincerely
You just made me notice I completely forgot to point out a thing: the jewel socket under the Melding Cluster has to be filled with the Energy from Within unique jewel.


So that whole cluster factors a total of 40% increased ES. Plus 12% from the jewel itself = 52% ES for 5 points spent. A good deal in my opinion. :)

I'll edit the gear section as soon as I can. :)

Thanks for posting!
Many thanks for the guide DjNat, I'm fully sure that i'll follow your guide, it's possible that we've level skill points guide before release?

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