Path of Exile is on its way to becoming the most successful ARPG in the industry, especially with success of the “Fall of Oriath” expansion paired with the Xbox console and China market releases. PoE is growing by leaps and bounds, and both veteran and new players alike are trying to decide which build to run as their new league starters for the upcoming “War for the Atlas” version 3.1 launch with the “Abyss” challenge league on December 8th, 2017. War for the Atlas features 10 new skill gems (Such as Volley, Volatile Dead, and Bodyswap), 32 new maps, numerous new uniques, a rework to damage reflection (yes!), and a number of yet unannounced changes and fixes.

Introduction

Each of the below 15 recommended builds should easily take both new and veteran players to end-game in the upcoming 3.1 release and the Abyss challenge league.

Before we begin, Path of Building is a very important tool to have when planning and testing builds before they’re played in-game. Additionally, make sure you have NeverSink’s Loot Filter installed.

The requirements for a solid starting Abyss league/3.1 release build are:

  1. The ability to grow with minimal gear requirements.
  2. Balanced leveling, clearing speed and boss killing with good survival.
  3. Entry to and good performance in end-game map farming for items and currency.

Even though some of the builds covered below are shaper capable, I do not qualify the need to do Uber Izaro, Atziri, or Guardians as a “requirement”. Getting to maps and farming while surviving is key.

For many players, play style is important. Some people hate totems while others only play totem builds. Some like Melee while others love bow builds. The diversity of PoE is one of its greatest features, but also one of the most complex aspects of the game. This guide keeps things fairly simple. There are other more powerful starting builds that are more complex (and sometimes powerful), but they generally require respecing, farming specific items/uniques/item rolls, and other factors — but the reality is most of these builds don’t provide enough of an advantage to the core requirements to outperform the below recommendations.

The Best Starter Builds

This guide takes into account the complete 3.1 patch notes. Each build listed below is completely viable and solid for the 3.1 release.

The recommended best starting builds have evolved since the 3.0 release; Dark Pact has become a very popular option, the changes to Spectres make it a lot more fun (and easy), and the balance changes made since the Fall of Oriath expansion have allowed other builds to enter the top ladder for not only general play, but SSF and Hardcore as well. The below list is compiled from personal experience (including SSF), statistical data (including recent race results), community (Reddit, etc.), and player feedback; not only from over the years, but with a focus on what has been working for players since the 3.0 release. Here we go!

  1. There’s a reason Sunder nearly almost always dominates league and race ladders. It’s the go-to skill for leveling quickly, is fairly easy to gear for, and does very well at end-game. It’s also fun for those who like to play a melee build vs. ranged/spell/totem. Once you get multistrike with a great weapon, Sunder is a blast. A Sunder build can also transition into other melee builds as well, which makes it easier to respec. While it did receive a nerf to single-target damage in 3.1, it should still be solid for melee players.
  2. Essence Drain is beginner and veteran friendly, and it’s even better in 3.0 and 3.1 due to the Contagion AoE buff. The starting version of ED can easily begin mapping with minimal equipment requirements (just a 4L works fine), it’s very good at boss killing, and has excellent survivability. It can also have top tier clear speed if played right. There are generally two variations, the Trickster MoM (Mind Over Matter) build (above), and the Occultist ED build. Trickster generally does more damage, but doesn’t have the survivability of Occultist. Both are great variations of the best DoT skill in the game. Dsfarblarwaggle posted a great ED Trickster 3.1 starter guide on YouTube.
  3. Raise Spectre builds have become very popular with the recent changes to the skill. Great survivability, high damage, and a playstyle that’s more relaxed than other builds because the monsters target your little buddies more often than you. It’s also a favorite among SSF players since it scales well and is good at farming, even with limited gear.
  4. Ancestral Warchief is another oldie but goodie top choice. It’s powerful, easy to scale (just craft 2H axes), has great survivability (swap out Concentrated Effect for AoE when doing Izaro, etc), is one of the best lab runners in the game, and is fun. When you find or craft a high DPS 2H axe, it’s simply magical. It is also Shaper viable. The downside? It doesn’t clear as quickly as other builds. The most powerful version of the build is the Facebreaker version, but that’s a choice to pursue after a “first build”.
  5. Dark Pact made its debut with the release of 3.0, and has become a very powerful map clearing build. With great AoE and damage, DP builds have become so common that they quickly make it to the top of the non-HC leaderboards; but because they can be squishy, self-cast DP is rarely seen in HC ladders. Yes, the damage has been dropped by 19% with the 3.1 release, but it really was OP and should still do just fine.
  6. Dark Pact Totems have also become one of the most powerful totem builds in the game. Great for clearing and bossing, they are very well-balanced and have great survivablity; numerous DP totem builds made it into the top HC ladders.
  7. You can’t go wrong with a 2H RT (Resolute Technique) Cyclone build, especially with the recent fix to the Cyclone skill (now ensuring players don’t get stuck on objects). Cyclone builds are tanky, fun to play, and awesome with the right items that enhance blood and gore. Plus it’s nice to not have to worry about getting stunned. For those of you who are interested in an alternative to the RT Cyclone “norm” you can also try the Electro Cyclone, which is also a great build that has more than 1M DPS with the proper gear.
  8. Freezing Pulse Totems are awesome; a crit-based cold build that has great survivability and can shatter every enemy on the entire screen in just a second or two. They also do a reasonable job against bosses (due to crit). This build is one of the best map farming builds out there and can take a character to level 100. If you want to see FP Totems in action, check out this video.
  9. Summon Raging Spirit (SRS) is one of the best starting builds that also scales well, and the rogue nature of your little skulls flying off screen like homing missiles and killing whatever they find is always enjoyable. Plus this skill can start to be used at the very beginning of the game. There are 3 core flavors: Baron, Elemental (in the initial link), and Combination (note this guide from 2.4 is viable for 3.0). Since a Baron helmet may be difficult to get early league (but can have the best damage), I recommend either Elemental or the Combination to start with. The advantage of the Elemental is the damage is higher, where the Combination build has better survival (it’s just not as quick at mapping and bossing). The downside to a SRS build is with bosses that attack and move so quickly that it’s hard to cast your SRS while running around. One solution is to swap in a Spell Totem for such circumstances (Izaro is a notorious PITA for SRS builds without top notch cast speed).
  10. Ethereal Knives (EK) with Ring of Blades is another build that, even after the threshold gem nerf from 10 projectiles to 5, does a great job of hammering through maps. While taking down bosses is a bit slower than before, progress to end-game is very quick, and gear upgrades have a substantial impact, making it a favorite among veteran players.
  11. Righteous Fire Totems paired with Searing Bond pretty much melts everything. It is Shaper viable, but doesn’t clear as fast as other builds. This build is incredibly easy to get up and running and it can do nearly all end-game content. Once you get Soul Mantle (which is a common unique), it’s pure melty magic. Clearing maps, Bosses and Zerg Breaches; this build does it all. I was quite surprised at how much I liked this build, and it performed exceptionally as a league starter for balanced clearing, boss killing and survival.
  12. Frostbolt Totems have amazing clear speed and can 1-shot the entire screen.  The only real disadvantage is the single-target damage can be quite lacking – but the build is fun, powerful, and can take the character to level 100 for those who want to farm shaped maps. If you want to see FB Totems in action, check out this video. Lifting also released a 4-totem Hierophant version of this build; the complete guide can be found here.
  13. Glacial Cascade Mines are extremely powerful. Numerous players who followed ZiggyD’s guide after the launch of 3.0 have reported it’s one of the best builds they have ever played. I personally found it quite clunky, but the damage is quite impressive. For those who don’t mind the play style, it’s rock-solid. Many players also transition from GC Mines into Kinetic Blast Mines later on.
  14. Flameblast Totems (also known as Pizzasticks or Pizzablast) are a great common league starter, annihilating enemies and burning them to a cinder. The build also works beautifully with just 4 links, and doesn’t require any custom crafted gear. The only downside is the “spin up” time of casting; if not synchronized properly with certain bosses and situations, the chance of dying raises substantially.
  15. The Frostblade Raider is also a very popular starting build. It scales well and performs great at end-game; especially now that one can purchase the Fight for Survival unique threshold jewel in Act 5. The major downside of Frostblades is single-target damage early on, but once you pass a threshold, it can melt bosses. But prior to that time, fighting bosses and some high hit rares can be tedious.

There are definitely other great starter builds that could have made it on this top 15, but I wanted to provide what I had personal experience with, as well as recommendations from the PoE community (through numerous threads and discussions).

Each one of the above mentioned builds work great as a starter; they are fun, powerful, and capable of taking both new and veteran players alike to end-game. Additionally, each build is solid for SSF (solo self found) play as well.

I hope this list helps the PoE community; here’s to the upcoming 3.1 launch and the fantastic job Grinding Gear Games has done with Path of Exile!

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About The Author

Mr. Allen has an extensive background in technology spanning 20 years including software architecture, design and development, project management and leadership. He specializes in corporate planning, productivity and collaboration, and is the creator of the games Mordor, Demise, Horizons, and Alganon.

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20 Responses

    • David Allen

      No real need; each of the builds is still viable even with the 3.1 patch notes. Unless there are builds you recommend to add to the list, or some major oversight impacting a recommended build listed?

      Reply
      • James

        The Electro Cyclone (Part of the 2H RT Cyclone section)that you linked is a Vaal Pact build, so won’t be viable (Or at least not as viable) for 3.1.

      • David Allen

        There’s no question the VP change will impact all builds that used it previously, but it won’t “kill” such builds; players will now have to be more vigilant with insta-heal flasks, and the damage output/input balance when jumping into big packs. Overall, I think it’s a good change and will work just fine.

  1. Ham

    Should note that Wickerman/TV is nerfed siginificantly, so Solar Guards is probably the way to go. (Bossing is now harder, but clear build is the same)

    Reply
    • David Allen

      Agreed; granted we’ll want to see how they perform with the new version, most players will probably use Solar Guards. Note the referenced build guides will reflect this.

      Reply
  2. sinizuh

    1. If any of these builds have Vaal Pact, are they still viable / recommended? (EK is only example of a build above that has VP)

    2. I haven’t seen any yet, but how about any Summon Skeleton builds? Since they seemed to get a huge damage increase.
    (Summoned Skeletons now have a 50% more added damage multiplier, up from 30% less added damage.)

    Reply
    • David Allen

      Yah VP still “works’ it’s just not instant-leech, and will IMO only impact hard end-game builds (T15+) where 1-2 shot hits are standard. We’ll have to see how it functions, but I don’t see any change or abandonment in builds that utilize VP that aren’t the hard end-game builds (and this guide is for starter builds that can take a player through to ~T15).

      Skeletons definitely received a buff, but I think people will need to play 3.1 before any official builds revolving around the new skeleton changes.

      Even with the 3.1 changes, all of the builds defined herein are rock solid for starting the Abyss league.

      Reply
  3. MATI

    Hey 🙂
    You think SUNDER is still good for High Tier maps ( i mean singel tatrget ) ?

    Reply
    • David Allen

      Well it appears to have lost around 50% single-target damage, but that means it’ll just take 2x longer to kill bosses. I think it’ll still be quite viable.

      Reply
  4. snakeoiler

    Hey David, thanks for the update.
    Do you think the MoM nerf will have a large impact on playing an ED Trickster?

    Reply
    • David Allen

      I don’t think so; they didn’t nerf MoM, instead only the Mana Bonuses behind it (namely Inspiration). While it does lower the mana buffer, I think the overall play style of ED won’t be impacted at all. As a matter of fact, I think ED will be stronger with the new Despair curse gem. Just need to dodge those heavy rapid hits more often now 🙂

      Reply
  5. Chris Roth

    Really like the guide, Glad the changes didn’t affect most of the builds or work you put in.

    Last season was my first real PoE season did my own builds can’t wait to try a real build this time and not waste as many weeks early on learning.

    Was really set on running my first sunder, but between similar builds last season and slight nerfs I have no idea what to roll tomorrow!

    Make my choice for me 😛

    Reply
  6. Fau Guswanto

    So which ancestral warchief do you prefer, sword or axe ? Pure physical on the guide that you have linked is the sword build, and the hybrid one is the axe build. I am not really understand the difference between hybrid and pure physical on the guide.

    Reply
      • Fau Guswanto

        Any Reason to pick axe ? Are Axe > Sword ? or it’s just cheaper ?

      • David Allen

        I honestly can’t remember, but I always picked Axe; I think part of it was due to access to Atziri’s Disfavor and other Unique Axes (with access to Culling, etc.).

        I think the only reason to pursue Sword is if you have a 6L Starforge waiting for you (or the currency to get it).

      • alexbeplanet

        Axe is pretty strong because of easy access to cheap uniques for leveling and Hezmana’s Bloodlust is a strong choice that is relatively cheap at the start of a league. Maces are also decent due to Geofri’s Baptism and Marohi Erqi, both of which are cheap. Ancestral Warchief allows a lot of room to choose your own flavor. I would push towards whatever you enjoy most.

  7. Loki Motion

    Why no Bow/ranged builds? Don;t know why but I always found them easier during leveling stage. I must be doing something fundamentally wrong in my leveling approach.

    Reply
    • David Allen

      I love bow builds in PoE; unfortunately they’re all quite squishy; I’ve done EA, LA, TS, Barrage, Shrapnel Shot, and Ice Shot. Without really good gear, they die a lot, so I consider other builds to be better league starters, and then going bow later on to be a good choice (after the first build has farmed some currency and good end-game gear).

      Reply

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