[ –] Build Overview - Aether PRM Mage Hunter (SR75-80+)


(this section will repeat between my build overviews; you can skip to Build Concept and Setup if you've read one of my overviews before and are familiar with my rating system and test criteria)

Patch 9.8 brought, among other things, major changes to the Shattered Realm. Given that SR is where I do my endgame build testing, with the release of the patch I decided to redo all the testing for all my builds. And since I’d be putting in the time and noting down all my results anyway, I thought I might as well post the builds and their scores publicly for others. Who knows, maybe you’ve been trying to make something similar. Or maybe you’re just morbidly curious and like that tickly feeling in your brainhole when you see someone play something utterly stupid.

Now, what exactly does this testing entail? Each character has to do 10 SR75-80 runs (I used to do 5 runs but I’m expanding it to 10 for this second wave). Every run completed within timer counts as a success. It takes 6 successes (over 50 % success rate) for me to consider a build complete. If a build keeps failing to meet that quota, I keep improving it till it works. Ergo, no build I post here will have a lower score than 6/10, because if it doesn’t have over 50 % success rate, I’m not done improving it and it doesn’t get posted.

Three rules were followed to make the results more representative: 1) no consumables other than healing and energy elixirs can be used; 2) no shrines can be taken; if a build has bad resists, it’ll have to make do with bad resists, Rattosh isn’t gonna be saving its ass; 3) no mutator hunting; if I get shitty mutators, I’ll have to succeed with shitty mutators. Other than that, it doesn’t matter in what manner the runs are completed. If a build takes twice as long to finish a run than others do, that’s perfectly fine as long as it successfully finishes. Doesn’t matter whether the build has to dodge Nemeses in shards like the plague or whether it hunts them for sport, doesn’t matter if it has to kite like crazy or stands its ground with ease, doesn’t matter if it completes the runs deathless or not. Only thing that affects the score is completion within timer. Generally, a weaker build that is slow, fragile, hard to play etc. will end up with a lower score regardless because its shortcomings will affect its reliability across the 10 runs.

Now, one final thing before we get to the build itself. As mentioned in the title, this is a build overview, not a build guide. What’s the difference? Well, a build guide says “this is the way you should build this type of character”. What I’m saying is rather “this is what I did, here’s why I did it this way, here’s how it turned out”. It’s more of a documentary, a post-mortem, rather than an example to be followed. “Wait, that’s just a fancy way of saying you make shit builds,” you might say. No, not exactly. I try to make the build I set out to create as good as I can without deviating from the concept of the build. But the concept of the build might not necessarily be something one should even be doing in the first place :smiley: While my build concept and the in-game support will often align to create a reasonably predictable, almost cookie cutter build, just as often I’ll just be doing something abundantly demented for my own reasons. I’ll always endeavour to explain in the Build Concept section why I chose to do a thing a certain way, but I don’t want you to get the impression that what I’m presenting is a thing you should necessarily be doing in the first place. With that out of the way, let’s get to the build itself.

Build Concept and Setup

1.2 UPDATE: Build gained +4 to PRM and +1 to Proliferation, The PRM points are overcap, so they can be used to put +2 to Inner Focus and +2 to Fabric of Reality. Or +4 to Fabric, if you’re so inclined. No other changes. Global leech nerf thankfully hasn’t impacted the build much as it had a good leech reserve already thanks to the weapon and headpiece. Like other Aether and Chaos builds, benefits from Reaper of the Lost being less of a nightmare. Sunder does make things a little more iffy because it forces the build out of Seal (and Runic Seal is unusable here), but the build has Nulli and Mirror to just tank the Sunder if needed. Can do SR80-81, though the low health pool already makes that a bit perilous despite the other defensive positives. 85+ would probably be too dangerous, and would expose the weak single target even more. Higher enemy health pools would be one thing, but the growing DA will mean the build will be critting less and less, and high crit damage is one of the build’s saving graces on single target.

Updated 1.2 link

As I mentioned in my previous build overviews, when I first set out on the GD journey back in vanilla, I set myself the goal to create at least one character of each major ARPG archetype. I’ve covered the 2h Barb, the sword 'n board fighter (sorta), the dual-wielder, the shooter and the summoner. Concluding this series of archetypical builds is the wizard.

With GD being such a unique beast in terms of its setting I immediately ran into the first “hurdle” when approaching this concept. A well-behaved, medieval fantasy/gothic ARPG would naturally come with your standard sorcerer with a Fireball-type skill prepped and ready to go. Well, not GD. There are Fireball-type skills, but not on the tree. They come from procs or components. On the tree there were basically two spammable spell options: Dreeg’s Evil Eye and Panetti’s Replicating Missle. Now, DEE actually fits that Fireball style fairly nicely, as it detonates on impact and has some explosion radius to it. However, in vanilla GD the best native support for acid as a second class to Occultist could be found on Nightblade through Night’s Chill. And that’s mostly it. A close range aura to couple with our long-range DEE spam. While I’m certain it would have worked, at this early conceptual stage it didn’t look that enticing of a combination. And then there’s PRM. Doesn’t really behave like a Fireball at all but it is a spammable long range spell and a fairly unique one at that. I’ve always loved skills that have a “mind of their own” if you will, where you let it loose and watch it go nuts. Chain Lightning, Lightning Fury (from D2), that sort of stuff. Having a missile that proliferates through enemies seemed like a much more attractive option than DEE, at least for my first spellcaster character.

Now you might immediately be calling bullshit. I claim to have started this character back in vanilla GD and yet it’s a Mage Hunter. You’re right. Originally, it was a Sorcerer. The idea was, PRM deals Aether and Elemental damage, Demolitionist supports both through RR on Thermite Mines. I could decide on which direction to lean towards later. Demo left that door open. But once again it was a case where I was really reaching to find an on-tree synergy for my chosen playstyle. Outside of Mines Demolitionist wasn’t really offering that much, not for Aether and not for tri-ele. And since I like to level my characters one difficulty at a time (as in, do Veteran with everything I theorycrafted first, only then move on the Elite), by the time I was getting back around to this character to do Elite, AoM was out and I already had a good bunch of extra characters beyond the representatives of these core ARPG archetypes. And a good bunch of them had to do with Elemental damage of some sort. None of them were really using Aether much. And since I love exploring new playstyles, I decided that that’s gonna be the direction I’ll head in. However, in that case the only support Demo would be providing would be Hellfire Mine. One node. At the very end of the mastery tree. Not cool. And so I decided to switch the character from Demo to the newly introduced Inquisitor, which had a much more accessible RR source, plus a lot more defensive options (Horn, Inqui Seal) which the build could make good use of. And so this became the only character I’ve levelled twice.

The core idea of the build was simple in both cases. If I’m gonna go for PRM, I’m gonna try to get as much out of it as I can and just fully focus on it. Right when I started putting the character together, theorycrafted the devo route and assigned the ideal skill points and gear to maximise the power of PRM, one thing was clear for both the Sorcerer and the Mage Hunter version. They had like no health. I believe when I put the Mage Hunter together, if I left the greens blank (as in, no affixes) the build didn’t even crest 9k health. That was mortifying. The second issue became apparent once I put the character together for real in the game. The damage. It wasn’t even reaching over 90k DPS. On a fully juiced PRM. Now that might not sound all that bad. I have plenty of builds where the sheet DPS is ass but the real damage is great. But these are, almost universally, builds with filler. They rely on powerful cooldown skills, where the DPS seems low because of the downtime, and then they just slot in a spammable skill to give them something to do in between the CDs, and that damage doesn’t seem that great either. But when put together, it blows stuff up. But here, there’s no damaging cooldowns, barely any damage procs, and we’re working off of a single RR mastery because of Arcanist. PRM’s core mechanic is also exclusively used for AoE. Where DEE’s fragments might be hitting the main target as well, our extra missiles just sail off gently into the night unless there are enemies around to bounce fragments back onto the main target. So in tight clusters of enemies we output both great AoE and great single target damage. But one on one, what we see on paper is pretty much what we get. Cool. So just, two minor issues to solve then. Enemies will destroy our meagre health pool in a few blows and we’re unable to kill anything chonky at any point ever. No biggie!

Now, like I said in the introduction, this isn’t the first time I tested the builds I’m presenting here. I finished this build for endgame sometime during 9.7, so, just a patch ago at the time of writing. And surprisingly, given the issues above, it was solid. At the time I was only doing 5 SR75-80 runs to test a build and this guy went 5/5. It wasn’t fast. Its strong suit was blowing up big groups of enemies thanks to the way PRM just spreads like wildfire between them. If a map was sparse, however, with small clusters of mobs widely spread out, it took its time to do the job. And it was very slow in boss rooms because of PRM’s poor DPS on single target. But the most crucial thing for a build’s success at SR75-80 isn’t really how fast or damaging it is. It’s whether or not it can stay alive. Because even if your damage is bad, it’s not gonna tax your timer nearly as much as if you get killed. And this build just didn’t.

So you can imagine my surprise when I took it for a spin for this overview, and 5 runs in I had 1 success under my belt. And just barely too. I didn’t get it. I’ve changed nothing about the build. In fact, the build got buffed on both of its weaknesses. The “of Vitality” suffix which I had on my chest gave more health as of 9.8 and PRM got more raw aether damage scaling on Distortion and more crit on Supercharged. And I was getting bodied. Korvaak’s phase 2 was basically game over. Fabius or Iron Maiden could one shot me with a big crit at SR76. I didn’t get it. How could the performance have possibly changed this drastically into the negative when the build got buffed? Admittedly, I was getting some really bad mutators (Cruel and Brutal on 3 runs, 2 of them with Afflicted as well), but that could hardly explain why the build consistently felt so much worse even outside the boss room. When I played it in 9.7 I expected disaster and got excellence. This time around just good performance would have been enough and it was a trainwreck.

And so I started tinkering trying to figure out what the fuck was going wrong. The gear stayed pretty much fixed however. There was no better offhand for Aether PRM and even though, perhaps, the affixes could have been better on mine, the one I had was the best I had found over the years of me playing GD. The weapon was irreplaceable (Panetti’s Replicating Wand is worse on both sustain and damage despite the modifier), as was the helmet. The medal was core to the build unless I wanted to convert all of the elemental damage manually, which would cost me both ring slots for Magelord and I could not afford to lose what little RR I could get on the Eternal Haunt ring. Amulet and gloves were BiS for multiple reasons. There was some tinkering that could be done on the belt, the pants, the chest, the shoulders and the boots. But all the options I had seemed to improve one aspect while utterly destroying another. I could get more health or OA on pants through Wraithbornes but then my acid, phys and freeze res went to shit. I could take Arcanoweave on the belt but then the acid again disappeared and my OA would go down, which is extremely important given how much crit damage we happen to be incidentally stacking on PRM (not something I set out to do, that’s just what BiS gear left me with). Fateweaver chest or shoulders were a similar situation, either dramatically tanking what little health we had, or ripping a hole through one of our weaker resists or our disrupt res, which is extremely important as the build wants to sit in its Inquisitor Seal and does not want to be forced out by Diseased enemies.

That limited my tinkering mostly to components, augments, skills and the devo route. And the devo route in particular is where I went nuts. Originally my devo path included partial Behemoth for the health, Spear of the Heavens as the T3, Widow and Reventant for RR, Ghoul and Turtle for survivability, and Phoenix for its myriad of bonuses, from damage to survivability on the proc and nodes. Over the course of my tinkering, these are the devos that have gone in and out of the lineup:

Ghoul - not by choice, was forced to sac it to try other stuff on the tree
Hydra - since we’ve got a pistol, this applies to us and it made a tremendous difference on our OA, which went from just under 3k at rest to over 3.3k and majorly boosted our damage thanks to our massive crits; the constellation also improved our leech which never hurts
Behemoth - again, forced to sac it for other stuff
Spear of the Heavens - tried to drop it in favour of going for Attak Seru as the T3 of choice. It did not go well on almost any front, from damage to defense and res. We’re also pretty short on ways to even proc all the on attack devos we could get on the Attak Seru route, so the yield we get out of it isn’t stellar.
Toad - to improve the kill time on the Reaper of the Lost fight, which was by far the most demanding nemesis encounter for the build. Could slot it in smoothly on the Attak Seru route, could not otherwise.
Phoenix - forced to drop it due to devo point inefficiency if I wanted to experiment with other pathing
Imp - lost when going for the Attak Seru route

During the process of this tinkering, I landed on a build that had slightly more raw damage than the original setup, 150 more DA and about 300 more OA, which was massive for the crit, and had about 40 % more leech. All it lost was about 200 health, 100 armor and the Giant and Ghoul defensive proc. Surely, such a massive improvement fixes the inexplicable issues, right? Wrong, it got destroyed before SR79 in all 3 runs I tried with it.

In the end, hilariously, after days of testing and tweaking, what I ended up with was almost the same as what I started with on the devo route. The differences were: I had to drop Phoenix for the points, took the entirety of Behemoth for devo point efficiency (normally I was skipping the two regen nodes), took Staff of Rattosh for the extra health and OA and swapped out Jackal for Lion, since I could now afford to do so and Lion yields more HP.

On the components I dropped Corpse Dust on rings for Topazes (not for stun res but for the massive DA to avoid crits), dropped Hallowed Ground on the chest, which was painful, to slot in Spellscorched Plating to improve the pierce overcap against Fabius and I replaced ring augments from the flat Aether damage focused ones to Forgefire, since it provides 3 more flat damage per slot and we fully convert the elemental to Aether on PRM.

On the skillpoint front, I dropped Null Field from Seal, which allowed me to safely drop some points from Mental Alacrity as well. I freed up 5 points from Fabric of Reality (I was maxing it previously, now I stayed at softcap) and I invested the points in Vigor to get more health.

Compared to what I had been failing with at the start, I now had about 1000+ more health, 150-ish more DA, 150-ish more OA, but lost the Phoenix proc, some racial and raw damage on Fabric of Reality and my energy sustain got a little bit worse. I was also taking a bunch more ranged damage due to the loss of Null Field. If that doesn’t do it I’m at my wits’ end.



(DPS is with WoR and Inquisitor Seal up)

That’s more like it! Fucking progress!

This was extremely satisfying. It would be even more satisfying if I knew what was suddenly going wrong in the first place, though. I could understand if the build were failing me already in 9.7. It had low damage and low health, made sense if it would struggle. But it was doing very well. Until it wasn’t.

The improved performance was caused, as far as I can tell, by the following:

Firstly, I never ran into Korvaak again after that initial batch of runs. I don’t know how much that encounter has improved. The issue was if his 3 hit combo rolled a crit or a high damage roll, it could kill the character from full before. The extra health might prevent that from happening now and there’s more DA so fewer crits.

Secondly, the improved health and pierce overcap now makes Fabius a comfortable fight. His RR doesn’t tank our Pierce res nearly as badly as it did before, so we have time to Nullify it off before he blows us up. His occasional crits even at SR80 now don’t do enough damage without Cruel to one-shot us, and our improved DA makes those crits less likely. Because we don’t get one-shot, Ghoul and Turtle get to proc and save our ass reliably every time.

We have just enough health to crest over a crit on Iron Maiden’s Forcewave and that’s the best chance she had of ever killing us, so it’s the same story as with Fabius.

Reaper is a slog because we can’t take Toad, but while it is a demanding fight, it’s a fight I’ve gone through many, many times over the course of this testing and Reaper has yet to kill me. He just takes a while and demands a timely use of Nullification and Mirror.

Beyond that, nothing really messes us up. With its assortment of solid cc resistances, particularly on the skill disruption front, the build can comfortably sit in Seal and just spam PRM until everything is dead. Because of the way Seal works, despite being a seemingly fragile build we’re actually more than happy to sit in ground effects and get wailed on by a bunch of enemies. We’re considerably more worried about 1 blow that hits us for 10k damage than a 100 blows that hit us for 100 dmg each (no I did not have to use a calculator to check those numbers add up correctly!). The build’s actually kinda an inverse of a usual build in that way. It revels in maps that other builds are scared of. When you see a small, tight SR chunk brimming with enemies, on most builds you need to start pulling carefully not to get overwhelmed. All this build sees is all the extra time it’s gonna put on the SR clock with the carnage it’s about to unleash in such a target-rich environment. It’s in the mano a mano encounters, where most builds get to showcase their glorious deeps where this build falls short. But while the build’s single target damage is indisputably low, it’s one of those rare cases where being a racist is somehow a good thing. And Mage Hunters are damn racists. We might not have good damage on paper, hell we don’t have good damage in practice either, but we make the most of it in other ways. The enemies you’d expect to give us the most trouble would be Aetherials, since those will lean the most towards Aether res. Well, we deal 37 % more damage to them. We also have 20 % more damage to Chthonics which weren’t really a worry at all and now they’re even less so. We have 8 % against Eldritch. We take 10 % less damage from Eldritch, Chthonics and Undead.

The one crucial omission from the list of our abhorrent racism is Beasts. That does pose an issue, but really mostly from a time perspective rather than survival. The one thing this build really, really doesn’t like is enemies capable of healing themselves. If we’re doing bad single target damage, the last thing we want is enemies undoing what damage we managed to put out. That makes enemies like Kubacabra and Reaper quite the slog indeed. Even though Kuba has basically no Aether res, killing it is a lengthy endeavour. If you land on a Mutator that interferes with your damage, by giving enemies Aether res or tanking your total damage, you’ll really feel it. You’ll see what the Time-Warped mutator did to my SR80 time in the video below. Let me tell you, Seeker of the Damned with Time-Warped is no fun at the best of times. Even less so when your single target is as poor as this. Kubacabra or Reaper with Time-Warped reducing their heal proc cooldowns isn’t a delight either.

But slow as it may be on single target, as laser focused as it may be on just blowing up hordes fast so that it has the time it needs to kill the bosses, the build is stable enough in its defenses that it works, and works reliably, once you get it right. However, the cost of getting it right is really its main downside. The gear support for Aether PRM is considerably more limited than for Elemental. The amulet and the offhand both slap a chunk of crit on the build while the build sadly doesn’t have the luxury of fully capitalising on that by getting enough OA. The defenses are solid but it all relies on you having enough health to not get one shot before the defensive procs get to kick in. And in that, and in your access to OA, DA and disruption res in particular, you are very much left to the mercy of your MI affixes. For that reason, putting this build together from scratch requires either knowing you’ll be going for this build eventually and hoarding the MIs ahead of time, or doing A LOT of farming to get the right affixes. Or taking the easy way out and GDStashing them, if you’re so inclined. And while the end result may be a 9/10 build (very possibly could have been 10/10 too if I made better gameplay decisions), given the effort it takes to gear it up to that level of performance, and then the time and attention it demands from you during the execution of that performance, it’s a solid build I would still hesitate to recommend. You can definitely get faster and sturdier builds for less effort than if you go for Aether PRM. There is no doubt that it is very satisfying to be rewarded for hard work with a solid build. But if what you’re after is cutting through the content like butter at breakneck pace, this isn’t the build for the job.

I’ll leave you now with the promised snippets of one of my 75-80 runs, with the Time-Warped mutator. Oh joy! Compare the time it took the build to do chunk 1 and 2 of SR80 with how long it took on Seeker and the boss room. Ooof! :joy: The laughter is fake. Only the tears are real.