You know, my love for bards runs very deep. In part, it stemmed from my real life hobby of juggling in highschool. I started playing a game online and chose bard as my class because it mentioned they juggle as part of their performances. However, this reason was coupled with my fascination with the juxtaposition of magic and combat in a sort of mixed, jack-of-all-trades character. Which, of course, bard does perfectly well. Powering up a sword with magic to be a super-weapon was the coolest thing ever to baby-Pinstriped.
There are lots of terms for this kind of character like spellblade, arcane warrior, gish, battlecaster, and many more. Examples are all over the place; just check out tv tropes page on the subject. On the simpler side of things you have swordsmen with some spells or mages with swords, like a typical red mage or Gandalf. They have access to both magic and fighting skills, whether they balance them or favor one over the other. More dynamic examples include all three Triforce holders. Link, Zelda, and Ganondorf each use magic to enhance their attacks or even summon their weapons in their own manner. The list goes on, and it’s wonderful.
I bring all this up because the latest book for Pathfinder 2e is out with two returning classes: the magus and summoner. Magus is conceptually exactly what I was looking for as a kid (as far as the magic-sword thing goes). Make your sword catch on fire and hit someone with a lightning burst from the sword? Holy cow, this is awesome! Magus didn’t ever become my absolute favorite class ever for a number of reasons as I still prefer characters with better support. However, I can appreciate a face-smashy dude from time to time.
I think magus and summoner are more different from their original forms than any other returning class to date. Magus is much more a martial class with a smattering of magic abilities. Summoners have to use class resources (class feats) to get new evolutions for their eidolons. Perhaps the most jarringly, each has a grand total of only four spells per day.
Before I go on, I feel like I need to state this openly. I hate bounded spellcasting. I think it’s awful. I argued in the playtest for a long time about how fewer spells are fine, but this is suffocating. Personally, I’d love to see magus and summoner with 2 spells per level of all their spell levels just to keep room for utility spells and the like. Or something like the studious spells feature but more than just two spells extra. And while I will try not to let that color my opinions of the rest of these classes, I wanted to put that out there first just in case.
2e magus seems to push hard into not really being a caster so much as a martial class that just so happens to have spells. Barbarians have rage, rangers have hunt prey and hunter’s edge, magus has a little magic and spellstrike. They aren’t part-time wizards with swords like before. They can’t even take their spellcasting stat as their key ability score. However, since they do get to punch or stab their spell into targets, that doesn’t matter as much. You can have your primary stat for weapon attacks, and it is much easier to get bonuses to your attack rolls with weapons than it is with spells. Also, since spellstrike delivers both with the same roll, you get two attacks without taking a penalty, which is always mathematically significant and very advantageous in p2e. It does, however, really push that style of play, since even if you take the ability to spellstrike with area spells, they don’t actually gain the benefit of hitting harder or landing more often, numerically speaking.
This first magus build is meant to be a “core concept” of what the class represents: a martial class with some magic that combines them whenever possible. I’m also going to make this first one without archetypes, in large part because my gut reaction for magus will usually be to add a spellcasting archetype (or two) to make up for the lack of spells.
This is an updated version of the magus I played during the playtest for the Secrets of Magic classes. As always, I have the character sheet available for viewing in the sidebar (or bottom for mobile). We had a group with two magi and two summoners, which was… interesting. Probably not the best way to test the classes in a party, but we had a divine summoner as a healer, a different one with a lot of skills, a blasty magus, and a tanky magus – me. To do so, I built the character to do a lot of aoe, apply a lot of debuffs, and have as many opportunities to get temporary hit points as possible. In the playtest, the class got the hp whenever they cast a spell, not at the beginning of the turn, so this was a bigger deal then. Even if the temp hp doesn’t stack, I could theoretically bring up a new buffer of hp even after a different one depletes. Hence the name Tubthumper, because his hp gets knocked down, but it gets up again. Other than that a stream of replenishing hp and a silly name reference, the character was all about applying debuffs and keeping enemies nearby.
There are a lot of tanking staples in this character. Ancestry and general feats all basically go into survivability and going early in combat to get the machine rolling. Maxed out athletics for combat maneuvers and intimidation for the rare case of an open third action. I debated on a constitution apex item for more hit points and a spot of regeneration, but I think landing more hits is a bit more important. There’s also the option of an intelligence item for better spell DCs. There are a lot of options and I could be wrong here. For weapon choice, I go with the meteor hammer. It was a favorite of mine back in 1e, and in 2e it still functions great with reach, disarm, and trip. I do wish they gave it the parry trait to represent 1e’s “fortress mode” but oh well. Reach, enlarge, attack of opportunity, and the trip trait are wonderful things to have on a tank.
With a normal spellcaster, I spend maybe a few minutes picking cantrips and a lot longer on spells. With magus, it’s the exact opposite. Grab a couple good damaging spells to go with spellstrike. The cantrips though… I have struggled with them. The spellstrike options make it much more important as they’re really the spammable thing for their staple ability, be it compounding effects or just adding on damage. I feel like magi are more likely than most characters to take the cantrip expansion feat, but I just didn’t have the room for it. Telekinetic projectile and gouging claw are the best cantrips for pure damage if the type doesn’t matter, but gouging claw is slightly better for the critical bleed damage. Ray of frost is the longest ranged option if you really need it and offers diversifies your damage types. Personally, I love tanglefoot spellstrikes since they can potentially keep enemies in our reach, eat up actions for Escape attempts, or allow for better personal positioning, perfect for battlefield control. Gale blast and scatter scree are for use with expansive spellstrike to have more battlefield control, notably to force enemies into situations where they have to trigger Attack of Opportunity. I’d really love to add electric arc, acid splash, and/or produce flame for more damage versatility, but this is meant to be a tanky build, not a nuker. Control and debuffs are more important to doing what this character needs to do.
Enlarge is the only real studious spell choice for such a tanky build. It does lower AC by 1, but the extra reach is invaluable at higher levels when coupled with attack of opportunity and whirlwind spell. Typically for magi, spells with saving throws are less desirable than those that need attack rolls, but part of the approach here is to use area effects to attract enemies more. We can use spellswipe and whirlwind spell for some multi-hits, but most area spells are going to require saving throws. Vampiric exsanguination is useful even if the targets make the save for a decent damage boost and more temporary hit points than we’d normally get from inexorable iron.
Sustaining steel, unfortunately, only activates with spell slots, meaning cantrips, focus spells, and staff spells do not help. That said, even if it only gives four bursts of healing a day, it’s a free action with no cost, which is pretty solid for a tanky magus. Ideally, this character would have access to a ring of wizardry, which would allow for a couple more spells a day, but I could go on and on about ways to get more spells per day.
Another key thing for a magus seems to be to keep spellstrike charged as much as possible, so getting 3 focus points and being able to recharge all of them is important for constant conflux spells. Thunderous strike is all about the chance to knock things, which is handy for the reasons stated above. The damage is pretty pathetic, but it’s sonic and splash, which could come in handy for certain enemies. Cascade Countermeasures in particular is huge; being able to resist damage when you get constantly replenishing temporary hit points makes you surprisingly tanky, even with less than stellar hp. Force fang is a melee, single-action magic missile, which is automatic, guaranteed force damage. Generally, if either of the other conflux spells can do their specific jobs, they’re better, but I feel force fang is so reliable and solid that it’s hard to beat.
Magus is back and… I won’t say it’s “better than ever” but it’s certainly got a fresh coat of paint. It feels different, and if you don’t compare it directly to the old version it’s pretty solid in its own way. In 1e, most magi I saw were all about hitting things with increasingly deadly forms of shocking grasp in a weapon with a high crit range. Maybe at the beginning of combat they’d cast a buff spell or something, but inevitably it was spellstriking for obscene amounts of damage. The new version does feel a good deal more martial if only by virtue of having less magic to work with, but it has a lot more tricks than hit-with-sword-and-spell. I think it’ll be a great class for multiclassing to get a few extra tricks for sure. That’s true for just about every class, granted, but magus does seem to have a good frame for other classes to fill in the gaps.
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