I’ve been getting a few questions due to this build being high on the ladder (first character to hit 1 billion XP in Open Beta), so this is a guide to the cold caster on a Shadow.
This is a type of build that has been around for a long time. It’s been run a lot, and there are many ways to do it well. A lot of this guide will be general advice for cold casters, and my specific build is not the be-all-end-all way to do them.
What is a cold caster?
Good question! When I say ‘cold caster’ I am referring to a character that uses Freezing Pulse and Ice Spear as their main attacks. Freezing Pulse has some of the highest AoE DPS in the game if you are up close, and Ice Spear has great long range single target DPS and freezelocks enemies like nothing else. As you might guess, these two skills complement each other perfectly.
What is a cold caster good for?
They are pretty good at everything. They have high DPS and good AoE, and their freeze gives them additional survivability. They are good solo and in groups, where people will appreciate you freezing everything up to and including map bosses.
Note: This build is NOT a hardcore build and I am not a hardcore expert. I know this type of character has been run successfully in hardcore, but such a character will have far more defense than the passive tree I’ll be linking.
In my current gear which is almost entirely self found except Maligros and a one ring, I have 6100 tooltip Freezing Pulse DPS, for an effective point blank DPS of over 18000. I crit 45% of the time with it. Things freeze and die in short order. With perfect gear at lvl 90 a cold caster could easily reach 30k effective point blank DPS on FP.
Made a quick and dirty example map run. Gameplay is a little wonky/slower due to performance issues with FRAPS, but the general idea is the same. PS: An untwinked lvl 70 fresh out of Sarn grinding will have a more difficult time than this.
You want a good mix of crit, crit damage, and spell/cold damage, with some cast speed, maxmana and mana regen as well. And you want at least a decent amount of HP. You also need to end up with enough STR and DEX. This build provides those things.
It’s a balance though, and can easily be tweaked. Don’t feel tanky enough? There are HP nodes easily available. Want moar deeps? There are DPS nodes available. Going all the way to both the Witch and Templar start areas opens up a lot of options.
When to get which passives?
I would base this on need at the time. In general though, the build progresses from the shadow area to the witch area to the templar area in order.
HP vs CI
In closed beta, this was a CI build. In the current ‘new ladder’ economy, in my opinion, CI is flat out inferior to HP at everything, except at mitigating chaos damage of course. I want to go CI at some point so I can run Bloodrage and swap out HP pots, but the gear to do this is far in my future.
Shadow vs Witch
You can run this on either, or on templar even. Witch gets better mana regen early. Shadow gets the crit engine running faster. Shadow also gets Lesser Multiple Projectiles as a quest reward, a non-negotiable must-have gem, saving you some trading.
Eldritch Battery and Inner Force?
You can modify the build to get Eldritch Battery and Inner Force, though a cold caster does not rely on tons of auras like say an elemental wander does. Currently I rely too much on my ES for additional defense to do this, so I would recommend also getting more HP nodes.
If possible, acquire a high quality Freezing Pulse gem early. The quality bonus on FP is insanely good.
LMP (lesser multiple projectiles) is the most important support. This gives you 3 pulses, and since they are so wide they will all hit. LMP applies a 0.7 dmg modifier, but then you multiply that by 3 and end up with a 2.1x multiplier. This is literally a double damage gem.
Note: You can ‘upgrade’ to Greater Multiple Projectiles. It costs more mana, and does more potential DPS. I found that it was difficult to hit with every projectile at longer ranges though, and the mana cost wasn’t worth the possible DPS. If you find a GMP, I’d recommend experimenting for yourself.
In a 4link, the other two are:
–Faster Casting. It’s a big DPS upgrade and more casts = more freezing.
–Faster Projectiles. This makes Freezing Pulse go farther, hit more enemies, and do more damage because the damage falloff is also scaled outwards. It adds very little to the mana cost to boot. IF you have a high quality Freezing Pulse gem or make a tanky character, you can replace this with one of the other gems, but I love it. Even if you are right in the face of an enemy, faster projectiles allows you to hit more enemies behind them, for example killing melee mobs right on top of you while also freezing their archer friends in the back.
The 5th link is very flexible in my opinion. You can go for:
–Added Chaos Damage: The highest tooltip DPS option.
–Cold Penetration: More DPS than Added Chaos vs cold resistant enemies.
–Increased Critical Strike Damage: 3rd highest DPS.
–Increased Critical Strikes: mediocre tooltip DPS increase, but ‘defensive’ in the sense that you are freezing enemies more often.
–Mana Leech: If you hate mana flasks.
–Life Leech: I don’t think you should need it, but if you are dying a lot it will help.
–Added Lightning: I need to test with this more. In theory you can stack shocks with your super high crit chance, but I’m not sure about the shock duration when it’s your only source of lightning damage.
Faster Casting, Increased Crit Damage, Cold Penetration all good choices. Elemental Proliferation is fun with it as well.
Your main curse is Frostbite. Big damage increase and enemies freeze more, great stuff.
I also recommend running Enfeeble or Temporal Chains. There are some enemies which call for a defensive curse, especially things that cannot be frozen effectively like story bosses.
There are so many totem options, and feel free to be creative. Here are the three I think are the best
Summon Skeletons: Super cheesy, only requires a 2link. Trivializes a lot encounters as the enemies fight infinite skellies. Use if you are dying a lot.
Ice Spear + GMP + Faster Casting: Freeze everything, and do good DPS to boot. Part defensive, part offensive.
Spark + Fork + Faster Casting: Highest DPS option, because spark will stack shock on enemies and increase your DPS by 120%. However, provides no defensive bonuses and the totem dies very fast in a lot of situations.
Clarity is the most important. If the mana reserve starts to eat your whole pool, stop lvling it for a while. But you will want to eventually lvl it all the way.
Discipline post nerf is a shadow of its former self, but is still useful. Grace is also solid, though you will have to either get some dex on gear or get another +30 DEX node to run it at high levels.
It is unlikely that you will be able to run more than 2-3 auras.
Summon Zombies is a useful meatshield to use in difficult areas. You’ll have to constantly resummon them, but its better than dying.
Whirling Blades is an excellent escape skill if you are using a dagger.
Dagger preferred, specifically a Kris which will have 80% crit as an implicit mod. This provides more DPS than a wand’s 20% spelldmg implicit, and allows you to use Whirling Blades. I recommend crafting on daggers with transmutes as soon as you see Copper Krises drop in late Act2 to try and get spelldmg, spellcrit, cast speed and/or +cold skills.
If you find a great wand though, by all means use it. I am currently using a wand.
Load up on as much life and resists as possible with good sockets until you are as tanky as you need to live. Don’t worry about DPS too much until you are at that point.
If you feel tanky enough, then amulet, shield and glove are the places you can start looking for DPS. Amulet can get a big +crit dmg mod which is a massive DPS increase. Shield can get spelldmg and spellcrit. For gloves the only good DPS option are Maligros Virtuousity, but they are utterly amazing.
ES, EV, or Armor?
Pure ES gear is preferred, getting a decent ES buffer greatly improves your survival even though the build focused on life. However, lvling up with limited gear choice, go for whatever has the best HP/resists and sockets, don’t worry so much about the exact armor type.
Also, it would be easy to modify the build and get the Body and Soul hybrid armor/es passives in the templar area and run with some armor. This will improve your defenses vs. things like flicker strike and archer packs while reducing it vs. spells/elemental.
Standards for Maps?
I’d hope for around 3k tooltip DPS on Freezing Pulse, 3k+ combined HP/ES (at least 2k of that should be HP), and 50%+ to all resists except Chaos. Capped resists and 4k combined HP/ES are better, of course :p
Freezing Pulse does more damage the closer you are. This means you have to figure out how close you can afford to get to enemies without dying. This is a learning process, and sometimes you will make bad decisions 🙂
But remember, if something is very tough, you have the option to hide behind minions, Ice Spear, and freezelock things down from infinite range. It will be slower, but it’s faster than dying.
Positioning is also important in that you want to hit as many things with Freezing Pulse as possible. Move around so that your pulse goes through the maximum number of enemies. This not only increases your DPS, it keeps you alive by freezing/chilling more monsters.
For most boss enemies in maps, I recommend Ice Spear freezelocking them unless you are confident they won’t kill you if you FP. Once you get FP to a 5link, it will do more potential single target DPS at close range than Ice Spear at long range, but often it just aint worth the risk.
Large packs of ranged monsters are dangerous to this build as well, capable of exploding you while you go in for Freezing Pulse. Approach them by spiraling in, moving sideways a little while moving towards them. Then, after each cast, sidestep a little bit. If done properly most of their projectiles will miss.
Help, my mana sucks and I always run out!
This is a problem with the Shadow start, for all shadows. Until you get to the witch start area mana can be bad. I recommend acquiring Paua rings and amulet as early as possible, and trying to get mana and mana regen on them.
Once you have the witch regen and maxmana passives, and a bit of regen and mana on your gear, you should be able to run a 4link Freezing Pulse fairly easily, and once you get a higher level clarity you can run FP almost completely off regen.
Look for the ‘Surgeons’ mod on your mana flasks to keep you supplied with charges.
I went mana > skillpoint > skillpoint. I took mana over HP because of the aforementioned early shadow mana issues, but either one is good. Taking the 4% cast speed in Cruel is also fine.