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League start builds for Path Of Exile: Sentinel league and patch 3.18

Prepare for the new uber bosses with these build concepts

Looking for some Sentinel league start builds in Path Of Exile? Patch 3.18 is upon us, and with it the new Sentinel league for Path Of Exile. Each new league brings new content, a fresh trade economy, and a progression reset. The vast majority of players start fresh with every league launch rather than playing in the evergreen Standard league. If you want to get in on the fun, you’ll need a plan for your new character. That’s no easy task in Path Of Exile, so we’re here to help you get the ball rolling on your league starter build.

The best league starter builds for Path Of Exile Sentinel League (3.18)

How to pick a league starter build in Path Of Exile

Before deciding on a build, consider your goals for the new league. Are you a veteran looking to farm the new uber pinnacle bosses? Look for builds with excellent single-target damage like Seismic Trap Saboteur or Explosive Arrow Elementalist. Do you prefer blasting hoards of monsters and flying through maps? You will love Lightning Strike Raider. Are you a hardcore player who needs to prioritize defense? Detonate Dead reigns supreme.

Additionally, make sure to account for the cost of any required Unique items. Many Uniques are dirt-cheap, but some are exorbitantly expensive in trade leagues. For example, many Shield Crush builds lean on the Prismatic Eclipse Unique sword for attack speed. This is an extremely common item that you can easily find or trade for on day one of the Sentinel league. On the other hand, a build that doesn't function without a highly-specific Watcher's Eye roll will probably struggle to acquire the currency needed to buy one in the first place.

Finally, make sure you pick something that you will enjoy. Every player is different and enjoys different play styles. I tend to gravitate towards melee builds even when the archetype is struggling because I just enjoy them more. There’s a build out there for everyone, and the vast majority of players should be more concerned with finding the best build for them rather than the best build period. With that, here are some suggestions using player data and passive tree heatmaps from the first week of Archnemesis league, obtained from poe.ninja’s excellent repository.

A heatmap of Seismic Trap build passive trees in Path Of Exile

Seismic Trap Saboteur - best overall league starter

If you asked me to recommend one build to a player with no information on their experience level or game knowledge, it would be Seismic Trap. This incredibly powerful build took some slight nerfs in patch 3.17 that ultimately proved inconsequential, and remains one of the strongest, easiest-to-start builds for patch 3.18 and the Sentinel League.

  • Required Uniques: none
  • Helpful Uniques: Cold Iron Point, Atziri’s Step, Tinkerskin, Coated Shrapnel (for poison variants only)
  • Ascendancies: Pyromaniac, Perfect Crime, Chain Reaction, Born in the Shadows
  • Target gear stats: Life, Spell Suppression, Evasion/Armor, Resists, +1 to level of all Physical/Dexterity skill gems, trap throwing speed, critical strike chance/multiplier (for crit variants), damage over time multiplier (for poison variants)

Most versions invest in either poison or crit, and the poison variant is particularly easy to scale. Both types use Exsanguinate traps to more easily clear monster packs before unloading Seismic Traps on bosses. I league started the poison version of this build in Scourge, and it was by far the most powerful league starter I've ever played.

The Saboteur ascendancy has a solid defensive foundation, gaining blind and significant life regeneration from the Born in the Shadows and Pyromaniac nodes. It also has easy access to Spell Suppression on the tree, and the poison variant gets enough damage for Tier 16 maps from a single Cold Iron Point Dagger and Coated Shrapnel jewel. Seismic Trap Saboteur has all the simplicity and early scaling you want from a league starter and can take on all of Path Of Exile’s content with higher investment. If you want a build that you can easily pick up and play through the entire game with, this is it.

A heatmap of Lightning Strike build passive trees in Path Of Exile

Lightning Strike Raider/Berserker/Champion - fastest map-clearing league starter

Lightning Strike has been a solid skill for about a year and really established itself as a top choice during last Fall’s Scourge league. The addition of the Crystallized Omniscience unique amulet during Archnemesis pushed it through the roof and made Lightning Strike one of the deadliest skills in the game. The skill has everything you want from a melee attack, which is to say it really functions more like a ranged attack and blows up entire screens of mobs before they ever come near you. However, it has some mechanical quirks you need to take advantage of to really make it shine.

  • Required Uniques: none
  • Helpful Uniques: Crystalized Omniscience, Atziri’s Step, Mark of the Elder, Farrul's Fur, Perseverance (for Champion)
  • Raider Ascendancies: Way of the Poacher, Avatar of the Slaughter, Quartz Infusion, Avatar of the Veil
  • Berserker Ascendancies: Aspect of Carnage, War Bringer, Flawless Savagery, Blitz
  • Champion Ascendancies: Unstoppable Hero, Fortitude, Inspirational, First to Strike Last to Fall
  • Target gear stats: Life, Spell Suppression, Evasion/Armour, Resists, Strike Skills Target 2 Additional Enemies, Critical Strike Chance/Multiplier, Elemental Damage, Attack Speed

Lightning Strike has two components; the melee hit, and the three projectiles it fires. A single Lightning Strike attack can only hit an enemy with one of these. So, if you hit a target with the melee strike, the projectiles will pass through them without doing damage. However, you can hit an opponent with both by taking advantage of “Strike Skills target additional enemies.” You will get this from the Ancestral Call Support gem while leveling before picking it up from gear in the endgame (many players also level with Spectral Helix until they can get +1/2 Strike gloves).

The “Strike Skills target an additional enemy” attribute causes ancestral spirits to appear and strike nearby enemies with a melee hit. If you have this stat and position yourself just outside of melee range of a single enemy or aim your attack slightly to one side of them, a spirit will appear and hit them with Lightning Strike’s melee hit. This is considered a separate instance of Lightning Strike, meaning the projectiles fired by your own instance of Lightning Strike can also damage the target. This trick allows you to effectively hit a boss twice per attack. If you’re playing Lightning Strike and finding your single-target damage lacking, this is a likely culprit. Failing to take advantage of this mechanic can cut your damage by more than half in many cases.

Once you have a feel for this trick, Lightning Strike is a dream to play and has clear upgrade paths through Path Of Exile’s entire endgame. The skill easily stacks crit multiplier through Nightblade Support and eventually gets massive amounts of elemental penetration from Trinity Support and/or Crystalized Omniscience. You can use the Farrul’s Fur unique body armor for easy charge generation, or get massive defenses from high-end rare body armors. There are tons of directions to take this build, regardless of which Ascendancy you play. Raider is the easiest to get rolling, while Berserker has a higher damage ceiling. Champion is also a great choice for hardcore, as it has by far the best inherent defenses.

A heatmap of Explosive Arrow Ballista passive trees in Path Of Exile

Explosive Arrow Ballista Totem Elementalist/Champion - best boss-killing league starter

I had Explosive Arrow Ballista Totems as a cautious favorite last league, and the build certainly delivered. This build uses Ballista Totems to easily stack a large number of Explosive Arrow fuses on a target, before detonating for a massive ignite. With a little investment, Explosive Arrow Ballista Totems can obliterate bosses.

  • Required Uniques: none
  • Helpful Uniques: Atziri’s Step, Rain of Splinters, Dyadian Dawn, Polaric Devastation
  • Elementalist Ascendancies: Shaper of Flames, Shaper of Storms, Mastermind of Discord, Heart of Destruction
  • Champion Ascendancies: Unstoppable Hero, Fortitude, Conqueror, Worthy Foe
  • Target gear stats: Life, Spell Suppression, Evasion/Armor, Resists, Damage over Time Multiplier, +2 to level of socketed Bow gems, +1 to level of socketed gems, Attack Speed, Burning Damage

The downside of this build is the slightly clunky playstyle. You need to place your totems, wait for them to fire, wait for the Explosive Arrow fuses to detonate, and then wait again for the ignite to tick away and kill enemies. This is fine in a boss fight, but it makes mapping a little janky and puts you at higher risk of dying to juiced-up monster packs than most builds. Plus, you often have to backtrack for loot.

In hardcore, you can overcome defensive issues by just playing Champion. However, the Elementalist variant of this build has a far higher damage ceiling, making it the go-to for softcore players. This will never be an elite map-clear build, so if your early league goals include things like Uber Breaches and wave 30 Simulacrum you should go a different route. If you just want to push through pinnacle bosses as fast as possible though, Explosive Arrow Ballista Totems is an excellent choice.

A heatmap of Detonate Dead passive trees in Path Of Exile

Detonate Dead Necromancer - Best Hardcore league starter

Detonate Dead has dominated the hardcore racing meta for a year for a simple reason; its damage inherently scales with the level of content you are running. This skill blows up monster corpses to deal damage based on a percentage of that monster’s life, which means it automatically scales up with your enemies. That means you can put extra investment into your defenses early on.

  • Required Uniques: none
  • Helpful Uniques: Atziri’s Step, Rumi's Concoction, Hrimnor's Resolve
  • Ascendancies: Mistress of Sacrifice, Plaguebringer, Corpse Pact, Essence Glutton
  • Target gear stats: Life, Spell Suppression, Evasion/Armor, Resists, Damage over Time Multiplier, +1 to level of Fire/Intelligence/Spell gems, Burning Damage

The Necromancer Ascendancy has a particularly easy time of this, gaining massive amounts of attack and spell block by combining the Mistress of Sacrifice Ascendancy Node with the Bone Offering skill. That enables this build to run high amounts of block, 100% spell suppression, and the Grace/Determination/Defiance Banner holy trinity for unparalleled early defenses.

The build is also the prime beneficiary of the “no changes to player power, even from bug fixes,” stance Grinding Gear Games has taken with patch 3.18. Detonate Dead builds will summon high-life spectres using the Raise Spectre skill, which adds them to the pool of potential corpses your Desecrate skill can generate. Spectre corpse life was nerfed across the board to counteract this in 3.17, but an oversight left the Auric Colossus (the statue enemies you’ll first encounter in Act 3) spectre with around 60% more life than intended. This bug remains intact for Sentinel League, leaving Detonate Dead as the top hardcore league starter.

Honorable mentions

The above builds above are reliable, surefire starters for a variety of content. They are comfortably my top four recommendations because of their low entry requirements, proven success, and straightforward leveling. There are more potential league starters than one could possibly fit into a single guide, but there are a few other builds I’d like to mention. These builds are strong starters but have various barriers that make them harder to recommend to new players.

Skeleton Mages Necromancer

Skeleton Mages has been the top summoner build for a few leagues now and will continue to excell in Sentinel League. However, it requires the Dead Reckoning unique jewel, which turns the Skeleton Warriors from the Summon Skeletons skill into Skeleton Mages. Until you can get your hands on a Dead Reckoning, you will have to settle for regular Skeleton Warriors or use Absolution. Dead Reckoning isn't particularly expensive, but I still prefer not to recommend a build you can’t actually play for the first day or three of the league.

Poisonous Concoction into Bladefall-Blade Blast Occultist

Poisonous Concoction is an incredible map-clearing build but ultimately struggles against high-end bosses. With the renewed emphasis on boss content delivered by recent endgame updates, this has become a bigger issue. Thankfully, Poisonous Concoction builds can easily respec into the resurgent Bladefall-Blade Blast combo for significantly better single-target damage.

My only reservation with this build is that, like with Skeleton Mages, you’re making a major playstyle change after gearing up. You can technically play Bladefall-Blade Blast from level 28 onward, but it just feels really bad without significant cast speed bonuses. It is also a two-button combo that plays completely differently from Poisonous Concoction. The transition isn’t necessarily difficult to make, but it is a bit uncomfortable.

Hopefully now you've got a solid idea for your Sentinel league start build! All of these build concepts can serve as a powerful base for characters that are strong early and scale well into harder content. If you haven't yet figured out your endgame plans, check out our guide to the new Atlas passive tree for some ideas. For new players in need of some leveling help, we've got guides to Path Of Exile skill point locations, Trials of Ascendancy, and helpful vendor recipes for the campaign.

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