I’ve seen a lot of talk about Exsanguinous, with people thinking that it’s required for all lich builds. I just want to showcase this build that is definitely viable without Exsang. Exsanguinous will definitely improve the build, and is probably BiS armor, but it’s 100% playable without one. I’ve managed arena 265 in HC SSF (currently 1st) without an Exsanguinous. The build is slightly different from other sacrifice builds in that it uses soul feast for more survivability, allowing it to push arena well. Sacrifice is good because it gives a good baseline ward, I’m hitting ~3.5k ward without exsanguinous just from sacrifice spamming. Similar to my lightning blast guide, think of this as an outline, where I’ll explain my choices. There’s plenty of other options you can do with this build, so please feel free to tinker.
Skills (in order of specialization)
- Summon Skeletons - put 2-3 point in mana efficiency, then pick up 1 extra skeleton on cast. Max mana on death, and then the final point for additional skeletons on cast. 3 skeletons is mandatory for sacrifice, as it triples your DPS, as well as greatly increasing ward/mana gain. After that, you can either max ward on death (recommended for HC), or path to no archers. Ward on death on skeletons and passive tree is what lets this build function before you get Exsanguinous. No archers is nice, because warriors will always run to enemies, increasing effective DPS. Pick up whatever you didn’t grab first, and then put the final points into “Immortal” (resummons them after they die). Immortal is an effective DPS boost, as it increases the average number of minions you end up exploding at once. If/once you get Exsang, you can drop 3 points from ward on death, and put them in either spell damage, max skeletons, or resummon on death. With Exsang, you should have enough base ward, that the extra 30 on skeleton death isn’t fully needed. Personally, I’d probably move those 3 points into max skeleton and resummon on death. 40% chance to resummon is high enough, that 4 max skeletons won’t always work, so you’d need 5. Additionally, maxing mana efficiency is only needed if you don’t want mana regen on your weapon. With mana regen on there, you can consider dropping a point for something else mentioned above.
- Sacrifice - path to chain first. Chain is mandatory on all sacrifice builds to greatly increase DPS. After that, path to mana efficiency. While leveling, 3 points in mana efficiency is great to ensure you always have mana. After that, I put 3 points in hit damage and alternated points between the 35% hit damage and the 20% more dmg vs bleeding nodes. Acolyte has good bleed idols, and transplant can apply a guaranteed bleed. Minions should always have more current health than you, even before you go low life (100 base, 5 per int/char level means they have ~600 life already by level 40 even without minion HP). Finally, put your last points in stun chance/area. Personally, I like the stun chance/area hybrid, as the AoE on sacrifice feels quite good, and the base damage on sacrifice is quite good. Even at arena 200, I was getting stuns on rares. Late game, you should only need 2 points in mana efficiency to sustain well, so you can put it into any other stun chance/area node. Personally, I’d never put more than 3 points in the 15% hit damage node, as it’s greatly overshadowed by the 35% you can get (e.g. it’s effectively like 5% more damage per point, not very effective). Blood Wraiths can be used, but because this is a soul feast build as well, you’ll run into more mana problems and they aren’t that strong. Points in flat fire spell damage are okay while leveling, but late game they should only end up being about 6-8% more damage, not enough to justify over the utility of area. Bone Nova can’t seem to hit a target that’s already hit by sacrifice, so it increases the mana cost at basically no gain.
- Transplant - go to Transfusion first (casts sacrifice on minion). This node is great because it uses your sacrifice skill tree, giving you a 0 mana cost sacrifice. Combined with ward/mana on skeleton death, it automatically turns transplant into +45 mana on minion cast. After that, path to and max Drink Deep (mana recovery). With these two things combined, you should have 0 mana problems, even with soul feast spamming. Next, pick up the additional explosion + guaranteed bleed (should be getting this around the time you’re putting points into more dmg vs bleeding targets for sacrifice). This is just for a guaranteed bleed, with a single bleed idol it shouldn’t be a huge problem, but it’s still nice to have. Finally, go back and max the cast speed node. The description on this node is wrong, it gives a cast speed buff for 4 seconds, so maxing it is amazing on all casters. Last 7 points or so can be put into whatever, I like getting 1 explosion from departure point, because bone minions get rid of that explosion, just for more bleed. I just dumped the remainder of points into bone armor for a little more tankiness at times. Extra explosions also work as they can let transplant kill trash mobs in monolith/lower level arena. Maxing bone armor duration/effect is solid, but can be unreliable as maximum up time is only 70% anyway.
- Soul Feast - Max the % ward gained/-hit dmg node first, then max cast speed/mana efficiency. Ward gain on soul feast works somewhat counterintuitively. The % increase only applies to the base 5 ward, and not any flat ward from “soul seeker”. After that, I put a point in chill and 10% chance for double ward. Finally, I maxed the flat ward node, and then pathed thru to extra ward for bosses/rares and mana. Flat ward isn’t that great, the extra 3 points move it from 11 ward on cast to 14, so you could definitely get away with only putting 2 points in flat ward as a prereq, and move the other 2 to something else. Last 3 points are up to you, I put 2 total in chill for more safety, and then 2 in the fragment speed as it helps with fast attacking big packs (e.g. archers or axe throwers). Haste on hit is actually haste on cast (it doesn’t matter how many enemies are hit), so it’s not particularly useful, but the soul fragment speed is quite noticeable. I’d recommend NOT using the recast node. The build already has very good cast speed, so the recast isn’t as important. The recast offers slightly better ward per second possible, but drastically increases the mana cost of the ability. It’s definitely viable to put 1 point in hit damage to access the mana efficiency behind it, it’ll increase your damage by ~60% for soul feast, letting it clear trash more effectively, as well as spam it more. The -% ward is actually 15% less, on the base ward only, so it’ll only reduce your ward gain by 1.5 with a single point in there. Alternatively, you can put a couple points damned/poison on hit. The build has a lot of global damage, so both of these can also effectively clear trash mobs, which is generally more useful in monolith than arena.
- Mark of Death - Max the area node first, it’s extremely noticeable when using soul feast, as it’ll mean you only have to cast 1-2 times to cover the screen. I like a point in chill (but no chill duration), just to slow enemies down before I start spamming soul feast. Finally, always max the the % increased damage, it’s a sizeable DPS increase, and always worth the extra mana. Split the remaining points between mana efficiency and duration, depending on your preference. Note that while the tooltip mana costs are rounded to integer values, the game actually tracks decimal for mana, so don’t worry about hitting an integer value on the mana cost. Never put points in flat penetration nodes, they’re very useless late game, when tough enemies have 100k+ HP (500 prot shred is .5% dmg increase). Because this is a soul feast build, we can’t use bone prison. If you aren’t using soul feast, Bone Prison is spectacular, giving you 16 minions to explode with sacrifice, giving you a huge burst DPS tool.
- Acolyte - 5 points in intelligence, 5 points in cast/attack speed (always up because you’re spamming skeletons). You can put between 3 and 10 points in Mania of Mortality (take them out of ward retention or int). Keep in mind that the ward procs on minion as well as enemy death, so it’s quite strong. I’ll probably respec to put a 3 extra points in there. Cast/attack speed is very important on the build, your DPS combo takes 2 abilities, so reducing that time is very noticeable against fast enemies. Additionally, it increases the amount of ward you get with soul feast. Intelligence is great, as sacrifice has a global 4% per point, and it also gives you defense. I’m going to max every intelligence node I have access to.
- Lich - Start with 5 points in intelligence, then 3 points in putrid wraith on death, and 2 points in health/spell leech and 1 point in hollow lich (leech conversion)). Hollow lich turns a bunch of nodes into a huge DPS increase for lich, and is needed to allow yourself to stay low life. I’d always recommend it, although you can spec into it later if you’re having problems with ward generation. Put the final 3 points in intelligence after that. Finally, put 1-4 point in bleed chance on hit if you don’t have bleed idols (move those into the 5% dmg node once you get a good idol). The build does need at least 25% bleed chance IMO to get consistent bleed on enemies for the more damage proc. Once you have 15-20 points in Lich to unlock soul feast, starting leveling necro skills. Personally, I just made sure to have 15 points in Lich by level 34, so I could specialize soul feast on unlocking the slot.
- Necromancer - If you don’t have exsang, put 5 points in hunger, 5 points in Reclamation of Souls. Hunger gives so much life on hit that it will ruin exsang, I go to full health instantly on picking up an HP pot. Once you have exsang or you’re comfortable with low life, move the points to Grave Thorns for a small minion HP boost. Reclamation of Souls is a core part of this build in SSF. It gives 35 ward on minion death, which should be happening 6+ times a second while killing enemies. Additionally, it gives a huge 35% ward retention, much better than any other available nodes. I think it’s always worth maxing, even if you have exsang.
- Lich continued - Put points in bleed/%dmg while low life until you’re at 20. Global damage is the most important IMO, so you don’t have to worry about the physical/fire/necrotic damage split of sacrifice. Put 5 points in either ward retention/mana or int/spell dmg. Personally, I find the %ward retention node stronger, getting at least 150 max mana makes mana sustain feel much easier, as transplant mana recovery is based on max mana (not missing like it says on tooltip). Max crit chance/cast speed and ward on critical strike next. While sacrifice doesn’t have any crit scaling, it’s still pretty easy to get ~40% crit and 300% crit multi from the tree. Even at 40%, this is a solid ward generation tool, given sacrifice can hit a big pack 100+ times (4 minions on average, each one hitting 20+ enemies). Next, put 7 points in necrotic spell damage (critical strike multiplier isn’t worth it until you have ~40% crit chance at least, which generally needs lvl 62 unread scroll). Flat necrotic spell damage is almost always efficient for 1h+ cata, even late game. A fully optimized build will probably only have ~200 base damage, so each point is still a 2% damage increase, comparable with any % increase on the tree late game. Next put 5 points in Ageless Ascetic (15% dmg with the conversion from hollow lich) and then max Mind over Body. These nodes are both insane, Mind Over Body is needed to enable low life (extra 80% damage from the bottom of the tree), while also providing 20 intelligence. Ageless Ascetic gives 15% damage per point, as well as 1% movement speed and cast speed, making it the strongest damage node on the tree with Hollow Lich. Finally, go back and max crit multiplier, ward retention/mana and int/spell damage.
- Further passive points - I’m making this guide pretty early, only at level 78 right now. Final points can be used in lich on damage nodes or in necromaner to pick up putrid wraith on minion death. For putrid wraith, I’d put 5 points in Mortal Tether and 4 points in Wisp Weaver, so that you won’t need any minion HP on gear and you get 17 ward on average per skeleton cast. If you go for necromancer, grab Unbound Necromancy as well for an extra skeleton. if you go with lich, max out some combination of Ageless Ascetic, Dance with Death, Necrotic Energy, Clairvoyant Insight, Mental Cacophony, Apocrypha, Survival of the Cruel (exsang only) and Unclosing Wounds. At a minimum, I’d always recommend maxing out all of the intelligence on lich, even if you go for putrid wraiths on necromancer.
Rough stats to aim for
- Glancing Blow - 100% always, usually I can get to this mark ~lvl 55 on SSF chars.
- Critical strike avoidance - 100% always, usually I can get there ~lvl 65 on SSF chars (try to avoid crit modifiers on lvl 20+ monolith without 100%)
- HP - Once you get exsang, you need to start stacking HP. Lich doesn’t really have any HP on tree, so this is all from gear. I’d recommend at least 1.1k (3k ward with 400% ward retention).
- Ward Retention-400%- reduces ward drain to 8% of current ward, good starting point. More is always better though. You get 80% ward retention from tree, so this would need 80 int.
- Cast Speed - 200%+ buffed. You get 73% from the passive tree and skills. Brass Amulet + noble gloves would get you to 198% already with no other prefixes, just having T5 on weapon + catalyst gets you to 240%+.
- Mana - 150+ - 150 is enough so that you can spam soul feast 10+ times easily, while still maintaining enough mana to cast skeleton + transplant for an instant 100 or so mana.
- Char sheet spell critical strike chance- 30% - keep in mind this won’t include any %physical spell critical strike chance which idols can roll up to 65% for 2x2.
- Increased damage - none on gear, you should be getting ~300% from the tree alone, any increase on gear will be not be worth the affix.
- Chance to Bleed - 25%+ - you can get this from 2x1 idols or the passive tree while leveling. Late game, you’ll ideally want this on 4x1 idol (Serrated prefix or Slicing suffix)
- Dodge - 1000+ if you’re going dodge, should be ~50% dodge chance, which is pretty respectable.
- Transplant %CDR - 34%+ - up to 15% available on helm, and 72% from idols
- Weapon: Wand or Sceptre - With optimized gear, I’d always recommend using a sceptre. The -3 mana cost is extremely important for both soul feast and mark of death as they’re both low cost abilities. Because of that, the sceptre effectively gets an extra prefix over wand, letting you have both T5 cast speed and spell crit. For suffixes, I’d recommend slow on hit and stun chance. Sacrifice has very good damage, and a possible 80% stun chance on tree. With a stun chance suffix on your weapon and possible some on idols, you can consistently stun even Arena 200 rares. Alternatively, you may be able to get away with a wand with no -spell cost prefix if you have t5 mana regen suffix. Slow on hit is used in conjuction with the chill on soul feast to provide an insane defensively layer, keeping the dangerous melee enemies away from you (jumpers mainly).
- Other: Noble Gloves, Raiments, and Sashes and Jewelled Circlets are always good for caster inherent mods, as armor won’t matter much anyway. MS or Dodge Rings are generally best (Ruby usable with exsang). Highest tier crit catalyst is recommend, although ward regeneration can be used while leveling, before you have access to crit. Sunrise Emblem is going to be best unless you have >45% crit chance. Oracle Amulet is always viable late game for the insane defense, but Brass Amulet is very competitive with it.
- Affixes - gearing a ward character is easy, just go for 100% glancing blow and critical strike avoidance. T5 MS on boots is extremely helpful as well. Any other prefixes go for either intelligence, spell critical strike chance, or %dodge (e.g. body armour and sash can’t get any of the others). Personally, I’d aim for 80+ intelligence and 400%+ ward retention always. Passive + catalyst should already get ~65 late game, so that’s just 2 more prefixes. For your catalyst, just go for a cast speed prefix as it can’t roll anything else. For any spare suffixes, just go for HP/%HP if you have exsanguinous, or dodge if you don’t. %CDR on helm prefix and % mana efficiency on amulet suffix are both recommended. For any spare suffixes, you can use flat % glancing blow to hit 100% if you don’t have t5 set glancing glow prefixes. Try to pick up set health for jewelry prefixes for exsanguinous, it’s a huge boost (4x T5 is equal to about 7 t5 life suffixes). Potion health converted to ward is viable for both exsanguinous and non exsanguinous builds, I’d only consider if once I had 4x T5 set glancing blow prefixes. %Set dodge is also viable for dodge builds, but it also requires t17+ gear everywhere.
Generally, you’ll want a mix of 4x1 (Ornate), 2x2 (Adorned), or 1x1 (small) - unfortunately, you can’t use more than 1 1x4 (Huge) because you’ll almost always want Hemomancy (Transplant CDR) which is 3x1 or 4x1 only. I’ve been pretty lucky in SSF, so I have these: 1 2 3 4
- Serrated - bleed chance, needed for % more damage
- Insatiable - casts soul feast on transplant, great free ward generation, as you should be marking entire screen.
- Stunning - small idols only, stun helps a lot with survivability, especially in monolith where you can’t get as much ward from soul feast.
- Evasive - Dodge, always useful on dodge characters.
- Reactive - helps with archers, overall not great
- Assassin - % critical strike, always good
- Philosophers - potions converted to ward, helps with baseline ward
- Vigorous - % HP - great with exsanguinous
- Shrewd - 5% ward retention available on 1x1, usable to fill in any extra spots you have.
- Deflecting - use to cap out glancing blow, not worthwhile late game
- Warden’s - stun duration, viable option if you’re seeing consistent stuns on rares.
- Leeching - small global damage boost with hollow lich, definitely outperformed by other options.
- Hemomancy - I’d always recommend at least 18% transplant CDR from these - 3s CD transplant is amazing.
- Impact - 2x2 idols can roll up to 65% physical spell critical strike, very solid dmg and ward generation boost.
- Bloodwrath - %spell damage while at low health - it rolls up to 75%, so it’s a pretty respectable DPS increase.
- Rapacity - ward on kill, ward is always good.
- Resolute - %less damage over time taken - solid defensive option.
- Fire/Iron - %phys or %fire, possible suffix for 1x1, 1x2 and 2x1 idols, not much else is usable on their suffixes.
- Giant - flat HP - good with exsanguinous, you can get 1x2 with vigorous of the giant (% and flat HP).
- Preservation - ward retention - available on 2x2, 1x3, and 1x4. Late game, the only time I think this might be worthwhile is with exsanguinous, if you have a Vigorous Large Idol of Preservation (1x3 with % HP and % ward retention)
Here are some useful uniques, once again none are mandatory, I’ve already reached arena 230 in HC SSF without any of them.
- Exsanguinous - it gives a nice baseline ward, which can make monolith/arena less annoying at the start.
- Boneclamor - high intelligence and free ward generation, personally I’d prefer the extra CDR from a rare over this, given the dex is just equivalent to 65 dodge. I’d only consider this if I wasn’t using exsanguinous.
- Chains of Uleros - ward conversion belt, provides solid base line ward on the best base (noble sash). The reduced stun duration is also very nice.
- Ward Trail - great on dodge builds, 20 ward might not sound like a lot, but with 60% dodge, it can really help vs archer packs. Also has inherent movement speed on it, which is very very useful.
- Prism Wraps - gives a huge damage boost, as well as 30% less elemental damage, quite strong if you don’t want to use exsanguinous.
- Scavenger - with a high roll, this is surprisingly good if you have 100% potion converted to ward. The increased potion find chance on this belt appears to be much more effective than the item prefixes, and the belt even gives haste + % dodge.
- Riverbend Grasp - usable if you’re trying to go exsang + dodge, gives the highest % dodge for any single item, and can have up to 60 flat HP.
Spam skeleton, sacrifice, and transplant to get some baseline ward before you do anything. With exsanguinous, this is less important, but still worthwhile (3k+ ward achievable just from this). After that, start moving thru looking for enemies. Make sure to mark of death entire screen, for smaller packs, just skeleton + sacrifice to kill them. For anything larger, use soul feast a few times to build up some ward. For non-dangerous enemies, you can use skeleton + sacrifice to kill them while moving thru the zone. Be careful when transplanting, you have to target a minion to make sure it casts sacrifice. If you transplant to an enemy instead of sacrificing minions, you might get stunlocked and killed, so make sure to immediately sacrifice after. Make sure to cast skeletons in front of you to have them draw aggro. For enemies with the “Focus” mod (always targets players), make sure to spam soul feast to get 3 chilled stacks on them while you kite them, even if it’s only 1 enemy.