[ –] Build Overview - Aether Vindictive Flame Defiler (SR75-80)


(this section will repeat between my build overviews; you can skip to Build Concept 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 thinking of trying something similar and are curious if it even works. 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, two final things before we get to the build itself:

  1. 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 a strong character 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.

  2. I’m also by no means hyperfocused on optimising the crap out of a build once it’s in a workable state. There will almost always be things to optimise on my characters, but frankly, I prefer spending an hour theorycrafting a new character rather than shuffling an existing character’s devo tree, gear, component and augment setup just to squeeze 5 % more damage out of it. I don’t care that much.

With that out of the way, let’s get to the build itself.

Build Concept


When I set out to complete my collection of all the mastery combinations, the Defiler was a combo I dreaded the most. Demo is natively all about Fire, Lightning, with a tinge of Chaos in there. Necro doesn’t do any of that. Necro supports Vitality, which Demo has none of, Physical, which Demo barely has, and Aether, for which about the only thing Demo has is RR on Hellfire Mine. It was obvious I was going to need a very specific gearing plan before I even start the character, and some big conversions were going to be necessary.

Thankfully, the devs were very aware that Defiler is not the most natural of combinations and so they gave it a nice range of options to choose from. There’s Aether Fire Strike with Dreadscorcher, Vit/Fire BWC+RE with Blightlord, Vit gunning with Gargabol, Fire Skeletons with Conduit and Korvaak weapons, and many more I’m sure, none of it naturally intuitive: until you got the gear together the build makes no sense. The option that caught my eye in particular was Aether Vindictive Flame with Agrivix. It was the farthest removed from anything I’ve done before (I’ve played 2h Fire Strike, just not in Aether, I’ve played Skeletons, just not in Fire, I already had plans for BWC for a different combo I was missing, etc.). While I’ve used Vindictive Flame on my Fire Retal Commando, it wasn’t really Vindictive Flame itself that I was after. The flat Fire retal on it was nice, but what I was really after was Ulzuin’s Wrath with its %RatA. Trying to actually build a character around Vindictive Flame sounded like a challenge worth my attention.


1.2 UPDATE: The build’s lot hasn’t changed much. Still pretty much immortal in chunks, still meh in boss rooms. Reap Spirit has gained about 500 flat Vitality damage, of which Agrivix converts around 50 % with average rolls, so there is technically more single target damage going out, but it doesn’t feel noticable. The build’s energy sustain issues have not improved despite the removal of energy cost on auras. The need to avoid Sunders or stay away from damage if you do get Sundered hurts the build’s playstyle in the boss room, as that means fewer Vindictive Flame procs. 75-80 will still go fine but even just 80-81 can be a bit hairy at times.

The core issue that needed to be addressed was that though Agrivix did a great job juicing up Vindictive Flame and getting all the necessary conversion on it, it left the question of the filler entirely open. With the conversions the way they are now, Agrivix does provide up to 60 % Vit to Aether convo which would leave the door open for Drain Essence in there provided you’re willing to play Drain Essence with pretty much no item modifiers. I wasn’t, not only because I’ve already played an Aether DE build, but also because half of the conversion wasn’t there when I made this build (the shoulders used to provide Lightning to Fire). Given that Vindictive Flame was going to be the core of the build, and its cooldown was getting massively reduced, I decided instead to double down. If I’m going to be messing around with VF, I’m going to use all parts of the buffalo. That means Ulzuin’s Wrath needs converting, and given that it deals both Fire and Lightning, I’m just going to go for Elemental to Aether conversion to save space. And if I’m converting Elemental to Aether, I might as well take the component skills from either Seal of Skies or Seal of Destruction, since those are fully elemental.

That brought in the Magelord set of rings, even though, skill-wise, they don’t do shit for this build. The remaining conversion could be acquired through the helmet slot (or, most of the conversion at least, I wouldn’t get all the way to 100 %). There were three possible options: Maw of Despair, which does pretty much nothing but the conversion and a bit of flat Aether damage, Soulare’s Helm, which, praise the sun, at least provides some relevant skill bonuses, and finally, Diviner’s Mask. You already know which one I chose. Diviner seemed like the best option for several reasons. The DA shred on Ill Omen seemed like a nice bonus, as I’d be using the skill one way or another. Unlike Soulare, it was covering a second resistance I desperately needed (Bleeding) though it was missing Phys res in return. But above all, the Reap Spirit bonuses seemed intriguing. The flat RR was 1 higher than what I would be getting from the Agrivix wisps, giving me just a tiny smidge of extra damage, but more importantly, Reap Spirit seemed like it would help address a major concern I had for the build. Vindictive Flame+Ulzuin’s Wrath might be all nice and blasty for AoE, but they’re not a single target solution by any means. Neither is Siphon Souls or either of the two component skills I was going to be using. Reap Spirit though can be quite a nice single target nuke, sort of a Doom Bolt Light, if you will, if only I can juice its damage a bit and shave off some of that cooldown. And what do you know, I can do the latter in Aether quite naturally with the slots I have available if I take Aethereach, which was already on my radar as an option alongside Soul’s Touch (which has dramatically worse cast speed and worse resistances). The damage of Reap Spirit won’t be as good as on a full Diviner, of course, but combined with our range of tools it might just do.

All put together the build did end up having the predictable issue of low % damage. Demolitionist might be bringing in the core of the build in Vindictive Flame, it might be bringing the RR on the mines but there’s no % Aether there to be found. On the gear, I sadly also ended up a bit short. The best MI Demo belt, Chains of Ordas has the exact opposite conversion that I want, so I ended up taking the aggressive Ulzuin’s Torment for the relevant skill points and crucial OA and DA that the build was starved for. There was no good Demo relic to use and the resist situation was bad enough that Serenity ended up being the choice over Impurity, which provided the one res I didn’t need. So that’s another slot with no % damage. The final piece was the weapon. I was originally using an Aether RR weapon, either Warpfire or Wrath of the Ascendant , but in the end I decided to commit to the bit and go full on Vindictive Flame with Ascendant Conduit. The unfortunate downside of that is that the Conduit is a Cold/Fire weapon, so getting an Aether roll with some actually relevant second affix is a full time job. Even though the item can be vendor-farmed from Hyram in Steelcap, the one I have linked in the build above is by far the best I got. It sports a good amount of flat damage, which is key for our spam damage and Reap Spirit, it makes me a bit tankier, and it helps fix sustain, which was an issue. But again, no % Aether roll, so the overall % is just not good. The build also doesn’t have enough natural DA to comfortably drop Physique to make that damage up on Spirit.

On the devos I was thankfully spared having to squeeze flat RR into the build, as Agrivix wisps + Reap Spirit were already addressing that. A good thing too cause there was a lot to do on this build. To begin with, the OA and DA were ass. OA in particular. Now things look worse than they actually are, as both numbers are helped massively by the debuffs the build applies. On DA, the build soars much higher than 2700 thanks to Siphon Souls and its -275 enemy OA, plus Chariot brings in an extra 130 DA intermittently, taking us over 3000. On OA, the build also does much better than it looks, as betweeen -70 DA from Ill Omen and 210 reduction from Flashbang it sits at over 2900. Still not great though. Worse yet was the survivability and defensive side. Even though over time, Agrivix has received some improvements on the phys res it provides through Vindictive Flame, the phys res on the build still wasn’t good, and neither was the leech despite the inclusion of Harvester of Souls. The health was also fairly low despite the build climbing to the top of both trees and running Spectral Binding. And all of that needed to be fixed while also getting some of that much needed % damage, RR etc.

As a result, the devo setup wound up being very defensive, with Turtle, Scythe, Ghoul, Quill, Chariot, Throne and Phoenix all largely intended to just keep this damn thing alive. Another major headache that emerged once I fully put the build together was that the energy sustain was the opposite of good. It was, in fact, bad. Despite Quill, Scythe and a good bit of regen just natively on some of the gear. There is a ton that I’d love to do on the devo side to fix that, if only there was room. I couldn’t risk dropping Ghoul, cause that cost the build not only another circuit breaker and a major health sustain source, it also tanked the health a good bit. Neither could I drop Turtle due to the need for phys res, DA and safety. Chariot seemed a bit out of the way, yet it was a good defensive source between the heal, armor, DA and slow res, while doing wonders for the OA side as well, so it seemed too valuable to drop. If I had like 5 extra devo points, oh the things I’d do with them. Viper for OA and energy sustain, Raven for much of the same, Lantern for energy sustain, capped cast speed, % damage. Imp for some more damage. All sound like wonderful options, none of which I managed to fit into the build because of the defensive demands. On the energy side, things got so bad I had to put Mark of Illusions on the rings just to make the build sustain all the way through a 1v1 fight while popping pots on cooldown.

It wasn’t looking pretty. But since I completed the build for endgame in 9.7, with 9.8 just around the corner, I didn’t end up doing much of any endgame testing for it until this overview (I literally only did one run in 9.7, which I failed). So now came the time to see how much of a train wreck this build would wind up being…



This is a build of two halves. One half comes out to play in Chunks. The other in boss rooms. One half is amusingly strong. The other is distinctly mediocre.

Reminiscent of the aforementioned Retal Commando, this build looooves fighting big hordes. The bigger the horde, the better. As a baseline skill Vindictive Flame ain’t much. But with Agrivix. Oh my god. As a basic 26/16 skill, Vindictive Flame deals a lowly total of 328 damage (split into physical so actually a lot less because of armor) at 1 s cooldown. With this Agrivix setup it’s 1248 damage. Every 0.3 s. The way this build just BLASTS hordes into smithereens is a thing to behold. And though this isn’t Ember’s Calling, where the build would sustain through these blasts, in Chunks that doesn’t matter. Cause Ulzuin’s Wrath has that covered. 8 zaps for some 600-ish base damage, every 0.3 s, with built-in leech and DR and knockdown. Like I said, the bigger the horde the better. The more enemies there are, the higher the chance that you’ll be able to get that blast every 0.3 s going, the better you’ll be able to maintain that pace of damage output as enemies inevitably crumble, get permastunned by VF or knocked down by Ulzuin’s Wrath. And the more targets there will be outside of melee range to leech from through Ulzuin’s Wrath. Not to mention that the more enemies there will be to get hit by the fragments from Stormfire (component skill of choice). Vindictive Flame+Ulzuin’s Wrath together work as both an outstanding damage source, sustain source, cc source and DR source in one skill line and it’s fucking glorious. To this build, large groups of enemies are like a collection of horcruxes. As long as they’re around, you’re essentially immortal. I’ve had Chunks where I enter, start pulling a horde, notice I’ve aggroed a Nemesis I have no intention of fighting, so I move forward, pull more, accidentally aggro another Nemesis, and this continues throughout the map. Within like 20 seconds I got 3 Nemeses on my ass, pretty much half the map has been pulled, and I’m about two Shattered Soul pickups from completing. This build just does not give a shit. Unless you get dispelled, the world is your oyster. It’s not unusual to enter boss rooms with 11 or 12 minutes on the clock at SR79-80.

The coin flips rather dramatically, however, once you get into the boss room. Cause unless the boss summons adds, suddenly there are no Ulzuin’s Wrath zaps sustaining you. There are no hordes reliably applying small pokes of damage to proc that Vindictive Flame every 0.3 s like clockwork. It’s just you, a boss that hits you like once every 1.2 s, hits like a truck, has millions of health and…what do you have. Most of the Vindictive Flame DPS is gone cause a lot of that cooldown goes wasted, a lot of those Stormfire fragments are hitting nothing, so no extra damage and sustain there, and there’s little fodder to leech energy from through Arcane Spark so the energy sustain is now a real bad time. Working down a 9 mil health boss with just Siphon Souls, Reap Spirit and 90 % converted Stormfire feels decidedly not great. It’s not an absolute disaster, as even though on paper the Stormfire DPS is much lower than even that of PRM, in practice because there are Arcane Currents focus-firing, Reap Spirits popping off, Vindictive Flames blasting away for decent damage and Siphon Souls+mostly converted Ill Omen ticking away, all of these middling damage sources do add up, which is not something I could say about my PRM Mage Hunter, for instance. It’s still not great damage though, not unless you’re fighting one of those swarmier bosses like Zantarin, Map Room Guardians, Inashkor, Lagoth’Ak, or one of the fast hitters/tickers like Fabius.

With the devo pathing set up the way it is the build is thankfully defensive enough to take the heat in this heavily unfavourable environment without too much panic. Even though boss fights are just clearly not the build’s strength, it doesn’t straight-up crumble there, cause defensively it is good enough to make it through even at SR80 (took quite some tinkering to get there though, the original devo setup from 9.7 without Turtle was not doing well past SR77).

Pretty much the only fight I’d say is just actual factual pain is Reaper, cause while he does have summons that might theoretically make both the damage and the sustain better, in practice, those summons are actually one of the most dangerous parts of the whole fight, so you’ll be spending a lot of time staying the fuck away from them and him so you don’t get esplouded. Despite that, though, it wasn’t actually Reaper that cost me a run, in fact I don’t think I’ve even died to him once I got the devo setup right after 9.7. No, the one enemy that cost me a run was Iron Maiden, who has only ever killed me that one time across all these runs. She just so happened to crit on her Forcewave at SR79 under a Cruel mutator and deleted my entire health pool in one blow. Though I came back and killed her no problem after, unfortunately the only other boss left in that boss room was Rashalga and I didn’t have enough time on the clock to kill her. I was about 20 s short. I don’t remember the exact circumstances but I do believe I may have gotten a big time waster chunk in that shard, either Manifestations of Hunger or Seeker of the Damned, else I think I would have had enough time left to finish and would have scored a possible 10/10. The only other boss worth mentioning, other than the typical Aether resistant assholes like Valdaran that just take up extra time, is Theodin. Not so much that he’s particularly dangerous, but more troublesome than you’d think. It’s not the attacks or the time to kill that’s the problem. It’s the fact that because Reap Spirit leaves behind summons, when he goes to make his big ground slam in his final phase, there are actual targets there for him to hit, so the slam leaves behind Aether ground and you can’t close right back in. You have to stay at a distance and let him come to you, which means he gets the opportunity to use his dangerous ranged attacks, which wouldn’t have been a problem otherwise. As an aside, the Wraiths can also be an unpleasant source of panic, when in the middle of a boss fight you see the boss perform one of their more dangerous attacks and suddenly you see your health bar drop to almost nothing. Except, it wasn’t your health bar, it was just a Wraith overlapping its health bar with yours. You’re actually fine. You’re gonna learn to watch the health bar at the bottom with this build for sure. On the plus side, the Wraiths can serve as nice bullet catchers against someone like Gargabol, Navan etc. It’s nice of them to so selflessly eat projectile shotguns for you, I have to say.

Speaking of summons…the Agrivix Wisps. Fuckem with a cactus. The Wisps are both extremely active in searching for targets to attack and have an extremely long attack range, which means they’ll delight in sniping enemies in far off lands even though you might have enemies to fight right in front of you. Sometimes you just spawn into the map and right from your spawn they’ll rush way off the screen to attack and pull something onto you. In Chunks they’re neither a particular worry, nor a particular benefit. On one hand, the fact that they aggro things onto you doesn’t really matter, as Ulzuin’s Wrath zaps and Ill Omen spreading would pull a lot of the enemies anyway. But they’re not particularly beneficial either, as with so many enemies around, the percentage of targets they actually get to afflict with their RR is not particularly meaningful to the clear speed. In boss rooms though, the Wisps are an absolute menace. To you. Their RR is pretty much useless on this particular setup because Reap Spirit already applies more and the boss will always have it on them. But their aggressiveness means that while you’re fighting one boss, a freshly summoned Wisp will sometimes just decide that the party isn’t quite exciting enough and pulls another boss onto you. Now, against some bosses that isn’t a big deal, in fact in order to capitalise on all that Vindictive Flame CDR you have, it’s sometimes even desirable to pull multiple weaker bosses so that those blasts are going off every 0.3 seconds. You still have to be careful though, cause, again, this isn’t Ember’s Calling, those blasts are not providing any sustain. Stormfire is though, so you get to double dip on that damage through the fragments, at least. But when you already got Fabius to deal with and then a Wisp pulls Reaper…you really don’t need that shit. Even though the wisps can be commanded, just like your Wraiths, they get summoned so frequently and fire so quickly (pretty much no attack animation) after summoning that I’ve found the best way to combat your own fucking summons is to just play like a pussy in the boss room and huddle in the corner far away from all other bosses, just to be safe. In some of the larger boss rooms that isn’t a worry but if you’re on the Sunward Spire, lava room or Conclave of the Three map, better safe than sorry.

Another downside worth mentioning is, again, the energy sustain. Despite the addition of 2x Mark of Illusion, and the inclusion of Seal of Annihilation for cost reduction and Arcane Spark for leech and regen boosting, the build is not sustainable long term in the boss room. In chunks it’s fine cause it gets to energy leech off of so many targets with Stormfire and gets to absorb a lot more energy from the assorted enemy attacks. But against Nemeses and bosses, the output of energy-consuming abilities is lower, so less absorb, the effectivle leech % is lower because of boss leech res, so less energy coming in that way, and there are fewer breaks in between for relocation, i.e. a lot of the combat just happens over a prolonged period of time with no breaks. And the build just isn’t able to sustain even if it pops energy pots on cooldown. While that generally won’t become a problem within the span of a single individual boss fight, it will be an issue if you just chain fights back to back, so it’s important to sometimes capitalise on all that timer the build has accumulated from chunks, and take a little breather after a fight, wait for the energy to regen, for the pot to come off cooldown, before you reengage. Then you won’t find yourself in those unenviable situations where you’ve got a Kaisan on your ass and you got 400 energy left to sustain your health with for the next 10 seconds. That is not a good place to be.

To give a bit of a TLDR, the build is just very polarised. Absolutely outstanding in chunks, but just average at best in the boss rooms. I imagine it would make for a decent Crucible runner. But in SR, it ends up being fairly fast and extremely timer efficient in Chunks, only to then grind to walking pace in the boss room. It allows a very brazen playstyle of a true immortal in Chunks and then has to play like a bit of a coward in the boss room, not even because of any survivability issues but more because the set summons pose more risk than bring benefit. In total it all averages to just a solid build, but unlike just any solid build, it boasts some pretty high highs, while the lows aren’t even all that bad compared to something like PRM or other polarised skills like DEE.

Theoretically, some of that polarisation could be partially addressed by just switching over to a different component skill, namely Chain Lightning from Seal of Skies. I decided against it, though, for a number of reasons. Firstly, while the single target damage on Chain Lightning is better, it’s not that much better. Percentage-wise it might look like a girthy 25 %, but that’s just because the sheet DPS number on both skills is so damn low. In raw numbers the net increase is just some 10k DPS. And that’s assuming none of the Stormfire projectiles clip the same target, else Stormfire surges way ahead. The main benefit of Chain Lightning aside from the arguable improvement of the lacking single target DPS, would be that since it boasts higher %WD, it would be bringing in more sustain in 1v1, which might make it possible to drop Ghoul in favour of something like Raven, Lantern or Viper to improve the OA situation and energy sustain. If the single target were dramaticaly improved through higher raw DPS, plus higher OA=more crits, and the energy situation were fixed, there would essentially be no issues to be found on the build. The problem is, of course, that Chain Lightning alone won’t do nearly enough to bring about such a dramatic change, and it would, in fact, make some aspects of the build worse. Chain Lightning doesn’t work as a long range sniping skill, which means attacking a target (e.g. Theodin or Reaper) when dodging or relocating at range would be impossible, bringing the DPS down again. Also, the sustain and damage in hordes would suffer a bit without all those Stormfire fragments. Chain Lightning only brings a small handful of bounces to the table for AoE. And finally, if even just one fragment hits the main target, Stormfire ends up bringing in more DPS on single target than Chain Lightning anyway (assuming those fragments deal the same damage as Stormfire does).

Ok, my fingers feel just about ready to fall off, so I’m going to stop typing now, before I reach the character limit. Here are the usual SR75-76 and SR80 parts of one of my runs. This was one of the earlier ones, so I was a bit less brazen about the chunk pulling than what I ended up doing on some of the later ones.


Excellent work. Pity you cannot put Spiritbinder Glyphs to push Reap Spirit to 3 summons as otherwise conversion, resists, oa/da suffer too much.

It’s very strange that full set does not give +1 to Necromancer on the offhand since set supports 3 masteries and amulet already has +1 to Arcanist and +1 to Demolitionist. Worth asking for rectifying?

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Well the summons themselves are worthless beyond serving as a pin cushion for projectiles (like one salvo and they’re dead), but some more levels for higher Reap Spirit damage would definitely be nice. Understandable that the skill’s not maxed though, given that Agrivix doesn’t support it.

Some more levels on Necro would definitely be nice, there’s so much there outside of Siphon Souls that could use the levels. You can give it a try if you think Z’d be open to it. It is indeed strange that it’s missing. But personally I don’t think that’s going to solve Agrivix’s problems. I see bigger issues in the Wisp aggro and the inevitable poor single target on Defiler, the latter of which I don’t see a straightforward way to solve outside of forcing Reap Spirit or Drain Essence support on the set (actually scratch that, I don’t think the build could afford the points for DE). Oh, and then there’s the issue of energy sustain, I guess. That one could use a look at, that’s gonna be an issue exclusive to Defiler since all the other native Agrivix combos will have Arcanist in there… Maybe Siphon Souls could get an energy leech mod?