[3.12] Peak Guardian: The #1 HC Delve build <== Still works in 3.13

This is a build summary for my Transcendent Guardian Aura Stacker from Heist HC. This is based on a build my friend MasterScooby invented in Delirium League, with lots of adaptations for the various changes GGG have made since, as well as for Hardcore.


Depth 2021
A rough Smugglers Stash fight
Monster Damage, Crit, AOE Aul @ 978
A8 Sirus with Farm Spec


Deep Delve
Farm Spec

Why Guardian

When it comes to aura stacking builds, there are only two viable choices in the end; Ascendant or Guardian. Nothing else comes close.

The advantage the Ascendent has is +8 extra skill tree points (after accounting for starting nodes), and multiplicatively scaling attack/cast speed from the Necromancer sub-ascendancy.

The advantage the Guardian has is higher regen, +20% es, +10% aura effect, +56% armour, substantial block, and most significantly IMHO, Harmony of Purpose. Whether you can make up for all of that with +8 extra skill points is extremely build and gear dependent, and left as an exercise for the reader.

What this means is that skills that have an attack/cast rate cap are a better fit for the Guardian. Awakened COC is the most powerful of these in the game, and Cyclone as a proc attack has superior mobility and hit rate to any other attack at the expense of needing to be in melee range.


When I look at skill usage on poe.ninja, it still feels like COC BF/BB is a sleeper. I don't believe the power of combining these two skills is widely understood, in spite of it becoming more popular in short form racing events. When you couple them together with COC and Awakened Spell Cascade, something incredible happens.

Bladefall leaves a lingering blade in the ground for each volley, of which there are 5 by default. When triggered, this value is halved. In practice this means the blades linger every other volley, so 3,2,3,2,3... in sequence when triggered.

Awakened Spell Cascade (ASC) produces 5x casts of Bladefall which in turn quintuples the number of blades left in the ground (not to mention the number of volleys themselves to 25). This leaves a total of 13 blades per COC cycle, up to a maximum of 40 lingering at any moment.

Blade blast similarly receives the 5x treatment from ASC for it's triggered use, however it has a special mechanic with respect to lingering blades; if it deals damage it then detonates them (with more blade blast explosions). In practice this will cause BB explosions for all 13 lingering blades + the 5 originally cascaded, i.e., 18 BB explosions per COC cycle.

With Awakened COC you're looking at a full 7.07 triggers of each skill per second, or 'cycles'. This is a very large number of hits in an area of effect and it produces a satisfying blast of sound.

The way to think about this combo is that it outputs a given total DPS over it's area, and the scale of that area vs the hit box of the mob in question dictates how much damage that mob takes. This is extremely noticeable for large targets like Elder and Argus/Gehennix. Conversely, you can use Conc Effect and the new Divergent Precision to really crank up the single target.


Due to the nature of Delve vs other parts of the game, and aura stacking in general, there are different combinations of gear and jewels that are more suitable to different situations. Because of this I ended up with a fairly specific configuration for the deepest delving, and a higher damage/faster/more fun configuration for general mapping, heisting, and fossil farming.

The power of auras have probably been explained elsewhere so I'm not going to cover that here.

"RMR" = Reduced Mana Reserved, it's mandatory to stack this to jam in a large number of auras and can be had on a variety of gear notably including the corrupt implicit of Jewels that have been Vaal orbed.

The bottom line is you are going to need roughly 9% RMR from Jewels, 17% RMR from gear, a single-aura RMR helm enchant, a 15% RMR shield for 3x auras, and literally every RMR node on the tree.

On top of this, there are a few Medium (aura) Cluster Jewel notables that help with RMR. Some of these in my opinion are very poor value (such as Pure Might), whereas others provide extremely powerful additional benefits (such as Pure Guile).

When it comes to weapon, it's very hard to look past Ichimonji. A harvest-level rare can offer much better damage, but at significant RMR expense. It is possible to drop Ichimonji if you were somehow able to acquire 5% additional RMR from jewels, however this is an extreme expense and considering the power of i84 6p Aura mediums alongside the fact that *nobody* is mass corrupting these (not even in Standard), AND the potential loss of automatic Fortify, AND the fact that Ichimonji buffs your Fortify and your Guardian notables, you're going to be better off with Ichimonji in the end.

Other items:

Explode is mandatory in HC deep delve, but you can get away without it elsewhere in the game.

Shapers Touch is nearly impossible to look past considering its massive es% and evasion% buffs, not to mention easy 100% hit chance and high availability for a useful corruption. +2 aura or AOE will allow level 21 purity gems to reach +5% base res without an empower.

Maligaro's is good for damage, but nothing else.

This is a debatable choice, you could also go with a rare ring, but it requires an extremely well rolled ring to compete with +5 to Discipline and the massive stats that Vivinsect provides. Free cyclone is more than a cherry on top, it is mandatory if you want to use Headhunter for general farming.

I prefer the Flasks on Crit mod, which allows permanent uptime on 2 flasks with a high hit rate skill (BB/BF having an extreme hit rate). This is just a good fit for super long deep delve fights like Gehennix or Aul. Paired with Crusader es% again.

Assassin's Mark has been buffed by no longer being mitigated by rares or bosses, and hexproof no longer prevents it. You don't need it for white/blue mobs anyway. Crusader es% is the obvious pairing here.

Tree & Jewels

The power curve with aura stacking is extreme, it probably looks like something exponential if you were to develop a function that describes it. Because of this there is effectively a threshold of +% aura effect, below which feels pretty crap and not much better (if at all) than other very strong builds, and above which feels phenomenally powerful.

Because of this scaling, you naturally want to maximize the points on your tree devoted to aura effect and RMR. As a result, each additional point you have at your disposal becomes of ever greater value, and so you will find yourself chasing character levels before you worry too much about little refinements here and there.

Getting to level 100 is the #1 priority of an aura stacker.

For this build I additionally used:

* 1x Self Control (Discipline RMR, due to my choice of ring)
* 1x Sublime Form (Grace RMR)
* 1x Uncompromising (Determination RMR)
* 1x Pure Guile (Purity of Ice RMR + global blind)

It's very important to get attributes on your cluster jewels, because you are going to need at least 155+ str and 159+ dex, while of course the more int the better.

For Large cluster jewels, you simply want a Spell Damage cluster with Arcade Adept and Thaumophage for free Arcane Surge and Leech, a cold or elemental cluster with Vengeful Commander and your choice of a second notable (Blast-Freeze, Blanketed Snow, Deep Chill if using Secrets of Suffering, Widespread Destruction are all great).

In the end, there's no looking past Voices however; I consider these to be bonus levels. If a 7p voices is your baseline, a 5p is as if you had 101 levels, a 3p 103 levels, and a 1p 104 levels. It is not generally viable to run more than 1x Voices on a Guardian (unless you have two 1ps, so, not in HC).


This new keystone from the Militant Faith timeless jewel is probably the best thing GGG have done for end game HC builds since Guard skills. The real game breaker here is how powerful it is with the new Divergent Determination gem while stacking aura power. There's really nothing like it in the game, and it has made rare fossil farming in HC a viable sub game for the first time.

There are two significant downsides to the keystone that need to be overcome, one is the -5% max resistance, and the second is the loss of Armour to mitigate physical hits.

Because of this, you want to obtain % physical damage reduction (PDR) anywhere you can. The Guardian makes this much easier via aura effect thanks to the Unwavering Faith notable providing 55% PDR. Other good sources of PDR include:

* Harmony of Purpose -> Endurance Charges
* Crabbies
* Gear such as:

The goal in deep HC delve is to have 90% PDR at all times, I use all of the above when delving so that there is some redundancy if I miss flasks (basalt) or get hit (crabs).

Regarding resists, if you have >= 400% aura effect total (i.e., +300% effect from all sources, or better) you can make use of level 21 purities inside a +2 aura/aoe corrupted glove or with an Empower to reach +5% base max res per purity which will scale your resists to 95%-5% = 90% which is the cap for resists.

With both downsides of Transcendence fully negated, it's all about armour stacking and the more the better. See POB for details.

How to properly use POB EHP calculations

The way I like to use this part of POB is as follows:

* Set EHP mode to Minimum
* Enter 100,000 for Enemy Hit Damage

MVP Skill Gems

Aside from the main link for damage, there are three gems I feel are indispensable in HC and one of them is new this league:

Should require no explanation; when you have over 400k armour this quite literally doubles your EHP and the change to VMS in my opinion makes it even stronger than before. I also frankly believe it is a mistake to not use this with CWDT; it might feel like you're safer proccing MS regularly with left click, or that you have the reflexes necessary to push a key when you're in trouble, but if it's down when you need it you're outa luck and I promise you that you cannot react fast enough for the kind of shit deep delve can spike you with.

You need this to break Nemesis vines, and move while pinned by Orra. It also keeps your 10% attack+spell block (11% with Ichimonji) up if you use it regularly.

My favourite new skill in a long time. Giving yourself a 4k 'hp' buffer every 4.5 seconds is just awesome, it is best to use as a refuge for when your Molten Shell is on cooldown.

Other odds and ends

Lots of good options for watchers, but es/hit is extremely powerful so I went with that. Pen and crit are other good options.

Secrets of Suffering is something that I learned about far too late, and unfortunately it is a real bitch to fit into the build due to requiring a jewel socket and an extra point on your tree. I never ended up using this for my deepest delve, but I do use it everywhere else. It's probably worth treatment in a separate topic, but Brittle, Scorch, and Sap are imho THE most underrated mechanics in the game right now. Suffice to say I have been able to Brittle all of the end game bosses, in fact the only thing I haven't been able to clearly Brittle so far has been a depth 1609 Gehennix which made A8 Sirus look as tanky as a white skeleton by comparison.


That's about all I can think of for now. Feel free to ask questions.
Last edited by muir on Jan 18, 2021, 10:58:33 PM
Last bumped on Jan 30, 2021, 11:46:00 AM
Great guide - thanks for making.

I had to look up several things that are not explained since I do not know everything about this game.

How does transcendence work with resists - is it just added dmg reduction on top ?
Milk103 wrote:
Great guide - thanks for making.

I had to look up several things that are not explained since I do not know everything about this game.

How does transcendence work with resists - is it just added dmg reduction on top ?

It's the same function as armour, but applied to the elemental damage you take after mitigations. As such it's the ultimate incarnation of the armour mechanic... if you have 90% all res, and you have 400k armour, if you are hit with 100k raw dmg, you mitigate it down to 10k, then your armour further mitigates that.
Thanks for the post, couple of questions. How did you level up / farm currency? What's the plan if GGG nerfs divergent gems(or aura stacking build)?
provend wrote:
Thanks for the post, couple of questions. How did you level up / farm currency? What's the plan if GGG nerfs divergent gems(or aura stacking build)?

I leveled to 99 as a skelemancer guardian. Then I leveled a Glad to 99 before I returned to the Guardian to make this build. I did the last full level in Delve. You can start aura stacking in the mid 90's though.

I expect GGG will delete this build archetype soon. I kinda hope they dont, it's a tinkerer's dream, but I think they will.
Hi, should GGG do the expected banhammer on aura stacking, what would be your go-to build? Would it be the skelemancer you mentionned, or another?
Hi, should GGG do the expected banhammer on aura stacking, what would be your go-to build? Would it be the skelemancer you mentionned, or another?

Skeleton guardian is just a nice early league starter build, good for farming the main end game in HC.

I think you want something much more powerful though. Assuming they don't trash Transcendence, it's going to be something with lots of armour, transcendence, and some native way of stacking PDR.

Maybe archmage/arcane cloak as well for duration skill damage. Cremation does decent dmg, but it sucks in delve. Blade vortex might be a good option.

I really liked Rudy's build from this league.
I guess this build is completely gutted now. I'm not sure anything next league will come even close. :(
Still kinda depends on how hard they hit the alt quality auras.
How so? You will still get like 200 % less aura effect than before. Seems it will be hard even getting 90 % resists and phys damage reduction, and your damage will be much, much lower - not to mention your regeneration?

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