Path of Exile 3.12 Top Starter Builds

Path of Exile 3.12 Heist Top Starter Builds

I first want to preface by saying we will not know the exact details of 3.12 until the official patch notes are released, but there are plenty of builds that will probably not be affected by any nerfs, and players have been posting requests for build recommendations in the most active POE-related community sites. My goal was to put together a compendium the community could reference as they plan for the 3.12 release, including builds they can “test” right now.

Important Note!
The old Path of Building isn’t compatible with the new 3.12 builds. Remember to update to the Community version of Path of Building!

This overview is based on the stats of the most popular, played, delve, mapping, bossing and SSF/HC friendly builds. We can learn a lot from these builds and how the most skilled players utilized them, but also need to keep in mind we will not have access to the crafting benefits of Harvest with 3.12.

While there will be new skills introduced with 3.12 that could potentially end up being fantastic league starters, most players seem more interested in starting a league with something they’re familiar with.


Here’s a quick review of the 3.12 changes as it relates to these builds: Necromancer (Mistress of Sacrifice Offering Effect lowered 50%), Assassin (lower crit chance/multiplier), Glancing Blows (65% damage now instead of 50%, node moved), Enduring Cry (enemies must be in range to get charge), Ball Lightning (radius lowered 18%, top damage lowered 20%), Spellslinger (longer cooldown added, higher mana reservation).

Don’t worry! Juggernaut’s Unbreakable was not nerfed at all; it was a data error in PoB. It’s unchanged.

You can read the patch notes here:

The biggest impact to a league starter will probably be with the SpellSlinger changes, directly affecting Volatile Dead and the SS version of Essence Drain.
Other than the above, the changes don’t destroy or harm any of the below builds enough to reconsider them as a league starter. Both Ball Lightning and Assassin Crit Multi were OP; they needed adjustment, and should be fine.

I also want to share this great website which has numerous top tier starter builds with links to complete build guides on the GGG POE Forums:

Before we begin,Β Path of Building (Community) is a very important tool to have when following a build guide since many of them share PoB links. Additionally, make sure you have a good loot filter. I personally recommendΒ NeverSink’s Loot Filter.

Qualifying the Builds

Here are the key requirements I use for qualifying these builds:

  1. SSF/Starter (no equipment) viable to end-game.
  2. Ease of leveling.
  3. Hardcore-level survival (even for SC play).
  4. Balance of map clear & bossing.
  5. All content capable with self-found gear (A8 Sirus).
  6. Delve capability in Hardcore (even for SC play).

I want to mention how important I believe a builds Delve capabilities are; Delve is one of the best tests for a build’s survival, especially in Hardcore. I use delve depth of 200 in HC as the lowest qualifier for a build to be viable.

The Builds

Here are my recommend top starter builds for the upcoming Path of Exile 3.12 Heist League, based on the performance of the builds in 3.11 mixed with the nerf potentials in 3.12.

Note the Delve Depths are based on HCSSF (showing Hardcore and self-found gear viability).

#1 Creeping Frost / Vortex / Cold Snap Trickster

Delve Depth: 685
Nerf Affect: Minor Only Glancing Blows

This is my top pick for a 3.12 league starter. It’s fun, diverse, melts mobs as well as bosses, and is a great delver. The cold freezes and shatters enemies, it levels smooth as butter (in SC, HC and SSF), and performs great as Life while easily transitions into ES for late maps and end-game bossing. Can also transition into Vortex for even deeper delving.

Build Link: My personal PoB (Complete with Leveling Trees and Notes)

#2 Ball Lightning Hierophant (Ascendant)

Delve Depth: 270 (Ascendant 833)
Nerf Affect: Medium – 18% loss of Radius and 20% loss of damage

This bad boy melts all mobs including bosses. It’s ultra easy to level, and once you get The Agnostic, you can basically stand in Labyrinth traps and laugh. The Ascendant version of this build is crazy powerful, but it’s not good as a SSF/League starter. For those who love Ball Lightning, I recommend first leveling the Hierophant version (which can do all content), and when you get solid leveling gear, if you want to try it out, make the Ascendant Variation and completely obliterate all game content.

Note on Nerf: This build was doing tens of millions in damage with end-game gear. The 20% damage nerf won’t kill the build at all; it will just take a few more casts to clear the whole screen with the 18% radius loss.

Build Links: My personal PoB (complete with leveling trees and notes), BigDucks Video Guide for Ascendant.

#3 Bleed Gladiator (Split Arrow or Lacerate)

Delve Depth: 400 (Lacerate) & 305 (Split Arrow)
Nerf Affect: Minor – Glancing Blows Adjustment (None for Split Arrow)

Bleed Max Block Lacerate and Split Arrow are tried and true builds capable of all content. The great thing about a bleed gladiator is both Split Arrow and Lacerate level the same way, so a player can decide to switch to lacerate later on, or stick with Split Arrow. Max Block Lacerate is better for Hardcore and bossing, whereas Split Arrow is better for farming. If Glancing Blows is nerfed, then Max Block Lacerate Gladiator will lose some survival. Both builds are fun and solid; players just need to choose if they want ranged or melee.

Build Links: Lacerate PoB (starting as SA, based on SteelMage’s gauntlet build), Split Arrow PoB

#4 Cremation Necromancer

Delve Depth: 900
Nerf Affect: Minor – Spirit Offering Adjustment

Another crowd pleaser that can make it to Delve Depth 900 in HCSSF, and was a top build during the gauntlet race. While it’s not the fastest mapper, it melts bosses; and when I say melts, I mean 50 Million DPS against some bosses, deleting them immediately. The reason this is #3 on the list even with the nerf potential is because of the performance of this build. Even with the anticipated Necromancer adjustments, Cremation should still be solid as a 3.12 league starter.

Build Link: Cremation Necromancer PoB (Complete with Leveling Trees and Notes)

#5 Caustic Arrow (Trickster or Raider)

Delve Depth: 220
Nerf Affect: NONE

CA is one of the best generic starters in the game. Damage scales well with self-found gear, projectile bubbles have no effect on it (which can be annoying with Bleed Split Arrow), and it can do all content. What’s interesting is the stats show that CA, or CA+Toxic Rain or CA+Essence Drain each seem to perform about the same; this means the player can adopt the play style they prefer. Trickster is more single-target focused while Raider is better for speed farming. Both perform similar in Delve.

Build Links: CA Raider PoB, CA/ED Trickster PoB, CA/TR Raider PoB

#6 Ball Lightning Saboteur (Mines)

Delve Depth: 370
Nerf Affect: Medium – Ball Lightning Adjustments

If you’re going mines, Ball Lightning is a sure winner. This is a great league starter, requires little investment, and has fantastic damage. The only downside is the “clunky” play style of Mines, which puts off many people – but it’s been refined over the past few leagues to the point it’s quite smooth and enjoyable to play. For those who haven’t played a mine build before and are interested, definitely try this one out!

Build Link: BL Saboteur Mines PoB

#7 Zombie Necromancer or Spectre Summoner

Delve Depth: 405
Nerf Affect: Mild – Glancing Blows and Mistress of Sacrifice (Redemption Sentries also nerfed)

While most people run Spectres, the strongest minion build in HCSSF this league was a Zombie build (with The Baron). There’s just something more fun with Zombies when compared to Spectres, Herald of Agony or Skeletons (at least in my opinion). Spectres map faster, but Zombies melt bosses better. The Zombie build is still very strong without The Baron and performs quite well even without Harvest crafting. All content is possible without The Baron, but finding that unique helmet helps a lot. Most people farm and use Chance orbs to acquire it. And for those of you who want to play Spectres, which is the most popular minion build in the game (and a fantastic league starter), I’m including a link to Kay’s Spectre Summoner Build guide (which is awesome) below.

Build Links: Zombie Necromancer PoB, Kay’s Spectre Summoner Build Guide

#8 Earthquake Juggernaut

Delve Depth: 350
Nerf Affect: NONE

The most popular melee skill in Harvest, the Earthquake Juggernaut is slow, steady, and all content viable. It’s very powerful with 2H axes, maps at a “reasonable” speed and is great at slamming bosses to their death. For those who want to play a tank that can do all content, this is a great league starter and overall build.

Build Link: EQ Jugg PoB

#9 Bladefall / Blade Blast Assassin

Delve Depth: 380
Nerf Affect: Medium – Crit adjustments to Assassin

Another top build in Harvest, the Bladefall / Bladeblast Assassin is all content viable and good at delving. While there is reasonable chance the Assassin ascendancy will be hit with the nerf hammer for 3.12, this build should still be a viable starter and all content capable. Plus, it’s a lot of fun to play. Note I played both the Chieftain and Assassin versions of BF/BB and found the Assassin to be a much better league starter, and ultimately performs just as good as the Chieftain version at end-game.

Notes on Nerf: While the crit chance and crit multiplier nodes and ascendancy were adjusted, this build will still rock. It was really a bit OP with 3.11. It should be “solid” in 3.12.

Build Link: Bladefall/Blade Blast Assassin PoB

#10 Essence Drain Trickster

Delve Depth: 485
Nerf Affect: None for ED/C build, but SpellSlinger nerf for Leveling

One of the best overall performers this league, I can’t remember the last time ED was nerfed, but I think ED may be on the nerfing block for 3.12. Even if it is, GGG won’t destroy the most loved DoT build in the game. There is also a spellslinger variation that’s a ton of fun to play and one of the best mappers in the game. The below PoB is the spellslinger version that transforms into the final end-game Blight/ED version. It can do all content, and for those who like the play style, it should still be solid for 3.12.

Note on Nerf: Just level with ED/C now. It’ll be fine!

Build Links: Hasunic’s ED/C Trickster PoB

#11 Volatile Dead Necromancer

Delve Depth: 415
Nerf Affect: Heavy – Spellslinger nerf (Mana Reservation)

This was the most played build this league, dominating both Softcore and Hardcore (2nd to ED in HC). Everyone agrees VD Necro is probably going to be nerfed, we just don’t know how much. But even with a nerf, it could still be quite viable as a league starter; we’ll have to see.

Note on Nerf: Hard to say how viable this will be in 3.12. No question most people probably won’t be running it as a league starter with the nerfs to Spellslinger.

Build Links: VD Necro PoB (Based on Darkee’s Gauntlet Race Winner)


There are TONS of other builds that are great starters, but I wanted to present a list based on personal experience, performance stats, and the potential 3.12 adjustments/nerfs that will impact some of the top builds in the game.

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

  1. This is great content and I always read these before leaguestart.
    Only problem I have, is that in your own POB’s, in the leveling sections, you do not type out
    the full name of the gem skills. If we are new enough to need leveling guides, we are also new
    enough to not know all FP, CS, SD etc. etc. abbreviations by heart.

  2. Great timing, I was just trying to decide my new build. I think I’ll go #8 (Jugg). Also, I think it’s the first of your posts that features an Ascendant build πŸ˜‰ Thanks for the great work and I’m already looking forward your next post at the start of Heist!

  3. Can’t go wrong with EQ Jugg! Yes, I think this is the first Ascendant recommendation; but it really is a specialized build – I just threw in the Ascendant BL variation in case those who played the Hierophant in 3.11 wanted to try a different variation.

  4. Hey Tony – all of them have been updated with an acronym legend at the top. Let me know if this works! Note I kept the acronyms in the actual layout because I think they read better.

  5. Personally I will be starting as a Ball Lightning Sab however with the changes to Glacial Cascade this may be quite a competitive alternative, obviously won’t know till we get number’s on Tuesday.

  6. Just to let you know your Thread of Hope jewels don’t show up properly in the latest Community Fork so you’re missing skills in some PoBs? Given the lack of easy crafting once Harvest goes away are you worried about gearing for the Cold Dot Trickster at all? I built it and got to level 92 this league but the damage just wasn’t there for the end fights but that may have just been gear..

  7. Which PoBs are you specifically relating to? Regarding the CF/CS/Vortex build, not at all. It performs great – just takes longer to get the gear to push T12+ without Harvest.

  8. The CF/CS/Vortex PoB has a weird Thread of Hope (at least for me). I just probably didn’t gear correctly then, will take a closer look at the PoB again πŸ™‚ Also the CF/CS/Vortex PoB is missing CF in the skills section for me (there is a 5-link socket group missing an active skill which I’m guessing is where it was meant to be).

    Thank you for these posts btw, really love your analytical approach to the builds mixed in with personal experience .. they are awesome!

  9. Creeping Frost > Arctic Breath, it should have the same description of what Creeping Frost has it’s name was just changed.

  10. I’m disappointed that their nerfing Ball Lightning but I’ll still give it a try and see how it is, if that fails then I will try GC mines as well.

  11. Honestly, BL was far too powerful when maxed out; it melted all content with 50M+ DPS. A slight nerf is perfectly fine. I’m guessing it’ll be around 15-20%. Even with that, it’ll still perform excellently.

  12. so what you think now as the notes are out about the ball lightning nerf? i was looking to go that route, but now im thinking about vortex/coldsnap

  13. Hi David,
    Thanks for this. I really want to start this league with CF. Your PoB build endgame option is a LL trickster. What are the differences between trickster and occultist for CF and why do you prefer LL trickster? The other CF guides I found are mostly occultist, and I can’t decide. Thanks!

  14. Dear David,

    thank you once again for your wonderful work and review !
    You are always a big inspiration for me to design my next SSF build, so thanks a lot !

    One quite big thing of note : it seems there has been another nerf, not mentionned in the patch notes, but present in the passive tree provided by GGG => The Juggernaut Ascendancy Notable “Unbreakable” went from “1.5%” (of Total Physical Damage prevented from Hits in the past 10 seconds is Regenerated as Life per second) to “0.2%” !!!! That’s quite a big nerf for a Tanky Armour Ascendancy ! It therefore impacts a bit your number 8 recommandation : Earthquake Juggernaut.

    For me, I think I will go for a Cold DoT Occultist. I planned earlier to do a Vortex/Spellslinger Frostbolt/Spellslinger Cold Snap, but with the big nerf to Spellslinger Mana reservation, this concept is unfortunately dead. I’ll guess I will stick with a selfcast Vortex/Cold Snap. Any PoB/Build you would recommend ? (yours is a Trickster, but I would prefer Occultist)

    Thank you very much for everything and I wish you a nice day and happy Heist League πŸ™‚

  15. I always look forward to your PoE articles, and I have picked most of my characters based on your writings. I am still a PoB newb, though. I would like to try the creeping frost trickster, but when I look at the PoB, I do not see creeping frost in any of the gem setups, plus there are way more gems than you can have. What am I missing?

  16. It will impact the build, but not by that much. Given a maxed version of BL could do 50M+ DPS, losing 10M DPS really isn’t a big deal. I don’t think the AoE impact will be that big of a deal either. Ultimately, it should still be fine.

  17. I admit I haven’t run the occultist version, but given all of the end-game top CF builds in HCSSF are Trickster and not occultist, I believe it has better survival; however in non-HC, it appears the Occultist performs very well. I believe BigDucks did a build guide for his recommended version. Have you tried it?

  18. Wow – you’re right – and it’s not in the patch notes! That’s a MAJOR change and GGG should have informed the community about! I’ll update the guide. Thanks for pointing this out!

  19. Thanks because Creeping Frost isn’t listed as an available skill gem in PoB; I have no idea why they haven’t fixed that. Here’s hoping today’s 3.12 PoB update fixes that issue. I recommend going by what’s listed in the Notes – I think it’s easier to read and follow. I hope this helps!

  20. ive read on some other sites that the ball lightning aoe nerf was actually about 70%? im not sure about where the numbers coem from, maybe some nerfed aoe in the skill tree too? can you say anything about it?

  21. Thanks! BigDucks’ CF Occultist is the other build I was looking at. I tried to compare both POBs by importing skill trees and keeping the same gear sets. As you’ve said, it seems your Trickster version has better survivability (more eHP when LL), but slightly lower damage if Vortex is not taken into account. BigDucks’ version does not have Vortex at all. From your PoB and if I understand correctly, Vortex and CF will be used at the same time (unless you fully transition to Vortex), so there will be extra damage coming from them. I am planning to follow your PoB and it will be my first try to do LL. I am hoping it is not too expensive to transition, this is my second league after Harvest

  22. im struggling between ball lightning hyrophant and cf/vortex trickster , which one you think is more convinient for someone who didn played for some time? not knowing all the mechanics of the bosses ect. 100% (last time i played the labyrinth was introduced πŸ™‚ )

  23. That’s a tough one. CF Trickster has 3 DoT damage sources, and even though BL does better with bossing, the balance of mapping and bossing paired with the cold is just too great of a combination (which is why I’ve listed it as #1). On the other hand, BL is one click cast and delete… and the Ascendant version (even with nerfs) can easily get over 35M DPS. It clears more slowly, but is a lot more steady (and higher boss DPS). Go with your gut! Either will work just fine as a league starter πŸ™‚

  24. I really appreciate your effort in posting this every league – I can never decide on a league starter and get bored of ed/cont every time, just a post to say thanks! πŸ™‚

  25. Thanks for the answer, i guesw its going to be the cf trickster as starter then. As bl would need the scion for full potential anyway, it could be a good thing to get into poe again the safer way πŸ™‚

  26. Will the PoB’s be updated for league start, I know the new gem’s aren’t on PoB yet but should be shortly

  27. Thankyou, as always ur content is the best, very detailed and easy to understand. Thank for ur effort and hard work to put this on for us!!
    although i will not gonna be starting with one of ur suggested builds i will surelly gonna try some of those later in the league!!

  28. Id love to start the league with the CF build, the passive skill tree doesn’t pop up in my POB. It says the build I’m trying to load uses an unrecognized passive skill tree, my POB is up to date though.

  29. Thanks man I appreciate that, this is my first time starting a league, I started the last month of Harvest. πŸ˜€

  30. I will be starting as poison BV assassin, played a bit on the end of harvest and really liked. I was able to do a lot of things with cheap gear, so I think it will be a good start, and since I already played and know it I think it will be easier then learn and test a new build.

  31. Hey,

    So none of these POB links work? I can’t get any of them to load, keep getting errors when importing them to POB. Any ideas why this may be? Running version 1.4.170

  32. Hi David – it’s been years since I’ve contacted you (was during the Demise beta). Wanted to say thanks for putting up these build lists. Being a perpetual beginner these days, might you have a suggestion/pointer for a play guide for the creeping frost build? (I’ve gotten so lazy, my level of effort in Harvest was enter map, turn on Righteous Fire, run around.)

  33. Hello again David,

    Sorry to have misled you for the temporary nerf of the Juggernaut. I may have reacted too soon. But I still have nightmares of when GGG took away almost all the sources of physical damage reduction in the tree without telling…

    Anyway, thank you very much for all the work you are doing each league, it is very much appreciated.
    Finally, I will league start with the Scion Ascendant Ball Lightning, as I expect Sigil of Power and Pinpoint support to be wonderful additions to this already awesome build.

    Happy New League everyone, may your Heists be successful !

  34. Builds sound interesting, sadly the PB for the 1st one wont load in my updated PoB, anyone else have the same issue? Says it is for an unrecognised version of the passive skill tree.

  35. Hey David, good work on putting all this together as always. Highly appreciated to come check out what you’ve tried out.

    For some reason I keep getting an error when trying to load your pastebin for aka #1

    Have you tried using it recently?


  36. No problem! You were just representing what was defined in PoB, etc. I’m glad it wasn’t nerfed πŸ™‚ Thanks a ton for the support, and Happy Hunting this weekend!

  37. Nice website! Although, im having some problem with importing the coldsnap/blade vortex trickster into my PoB.
    Whenever I want to import the build into my PoB through link that u shared, it shows me this error and wants me to restart PoB.
    Whenever I try it again, i get the same error. is there something I can do about it to make it work?

    here is the picture with the problem.:
    Thanks for your answer <3

  38. I did read the notes in the PoB – I guess I didn’t ask the question very well.
    Is the skill rotation, bind vortex to left mouse so it auto-casts, cast creeping frost all over, and use vaal cold snap when it’s available?
    Any other buttons I need to push?

  39. Hi David,

    I’m really excited to try your CF Trickster build, thanks for posting your amazing articles, they are really unparalleled in quality compared to everywhere else.

  40. Thanks for this great content! I’ve been following you since last few leagues and your build suggestions never let me down.

    Starting Heist it was BL vs Creeping Frost for me. I’m going with BL and have couple of questions. Why you took Alira instead of 2 passives when playing with Elemental Overload? Any specific gear suggestion? Why trigger spell on wand? Is it necessary as it works as echo or you just have it?

    In PoB BL shows only 82k dps. I believe real dps is much higher?

  41. Yes real DPS is MUCH higher. Alira is for SSFHC – you can swap her out later on. Trigger is best because you’re self casting and you’ll constantly be casting those spells (debuff, and defense). I hope this helps!

  42. Hi David, love the builds! Quick question, why do you take Elemental Focus on the CF build? It completely negates the benefits of chill. What should we take in its place if we want to utilize chilling as best we can?

  43. Hey may I ask how do I activate both curses on that Orb of storms on Creeping frost / vortex / cold snap trickster? Ive been trying to browse through your pob but i dont see anything that allows more than one curse to be used. Thanks for info!

  44. Why did you not opt for multiple projectiles for the CF build? I am at maps and when I find legion encounters and breaches I have trouble clearing them. Is it a thing that will be solved with items?

  45. Hey Sanko! I actually… cannot remember! LOL – I think it was per an anointment. Great question though – I’ll have to play through 3.12 to figure out the best way to get the double curse in SSF.

  46. That would lower the DPS way too much. This build isn’t the best for legion (honestly few are), but should eat breaches and blight no problem. Perhaps a DPS upgrade with new wands might help?

  47. Maybe I’m blind, but it looks like in your CF build, you have Tempest Shield listed as a trigger for the Weapon for two of the skills. It doesn’t seem to trigger any other abilities though? Am I missing something or are they supposed to be manually triggered?

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