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Pathfinder - Magus Archetypes Breakdown

Disclaimer

I will use content from the core rules, but will intentionally omit any content not published on the official Pathfinder SRD due to the unmanageable volume of non-SRD content, and the wildly varying quality of non-SRD content. If you would like me to write handbooks for specific content not published on the official SRD, please email me and I will consider it on a case-by-case basis. I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks. Also note that many colored items are also links to the Paizo SRD.

Temporary Note: Pathfinder Unchained and Occult Adventures were both recently added to the SRD. I'm excited to explore them, and I am actively working on adding their contents to my collection of handbooks. I appreciate your patience while I make these changes.

Archetypes

The Magus is an arcane Striker, and primarily functions in melee combat. Spellstrike and Spell Combat allow the magus to deliver touch attach spells alongside normal attacks, which can make for some very impressive damage output. The Magus depends on intelligence and gets all knowledge skills, so a Magus can serve as the party's librarian. Magus archetypes change the feel and play style of Magi, but don't change their role in the party.

Bladebound

The Black Blade is a really cool concept. You get a magical, sentient blade with some weird unknown purpose, and you're stuck with it for life. The blade can be very useful, and the free enhancement bonus will save you a lot of money. Other than giving up the possibility of a familiar, the Bladebound archetype is free. It provides a large number of useful abilities which are frequently more useful for the Magus than what a familiar could offer. And, again, it doesn't cost anything but the option to have a familiar.

Black Blade (Ex): The Black Blade is very powerful. While it cuts your arcane pool from 1/2 level to 1/3 level, the blade gradually develops its own arcane pool which the Magus can use to fuel the blade's abilities, or the Magus can drain points from the blade's pool to fill his own. In addition, the blade gets an enhancement bonus for free which progresses as you level.

There is some debate about wether or not you can permanently enhance the Black Blade, but because the text does not specify that you can, I would assume that you can't. Similar abilities which provide items (Arcane Bond) explicitly state that you can enhance the weapon.

Alertness (Ex): Bonuses to Perception are great, though you probably don't have spectacular wisdom, and Perception isn't a class skill.

Black Blade Strike (Sp): This could be nice at high level when the bonus is better than +1 and you get multiple attacks, but at low levels its going to be pitiful and expensive.

Telepathy (Su): Until you reach about level 10, you are constantly communicating with a stupid, socially inept piece of metal. At high levels you are constantly communicating with a hyper-intelligent piece of metal that probably finds you to be a ridiculous sack of meat. I imagine that these conversations will be hilarious.

Unbreakable (Ex): Good for killing rust monsters, but very situational.

Energy Attunement (Su): Using energy damage instead of weapon damage is a fantastic way to bypass DR. I'm not sure why acid damage is omitted, but you have plenty of options. Force damage completely removes the need for Ghost Touch when fighting incorporeal enemies.

Teleport Blade (Sp): Situational, but nice to have.

Transfer Arcana (Su): You have many more uses for arcane pool points than you Black Blade, so sometimes it's nice to make the blade share. Keep in mind that the blade will never have an arcane pool bigger than 5.

Spell Defense (Sp): The spell resistance is very small, and spellcasters of your level will have to roll at most a 5 to bypass your SR. At this level, many spellcasters will have Spell Penetration.

Life Drinker (Su): Finally a way to charge your arcane pool on an ongoing basis! If you haven't traded in Spell Recall, you can use this to cast a theoretically infinite number of spells in a day.

Replaced Features: None

Compatible Archetypes: Any

Eldritch Scion

The Eldritch Scion is to the Magus what the Sorceror is to the Wizard. Instead of depending on Intelligence, the Eldritch Scion depends on Charisma and casts spells spontaneously. Because spontaneous casters increase the spellcasting time when using metamagic, Eldritch Scions are considerably worse at Spell Combat and Spellstrike, and the introduction of the Eldritch Pool hugely handicaps the Eldritch Scion because it adds another limitation on how much the Magus can do in a given day.

Spells: Because you can't change your daily spell list as easily as a normal Magus, you lose quite a bit of versatility, but make up for it with additional spells per day. Because the Magus is less of a utility caster than a Wizard, this may be a good trade because it allows the Magus to output more spell damage per day, and most Magi will depend primarily on a small subset of the Magus spell list (Shocking Grasp, Vampiric Touch, Fly, etc.). However, because you are a spontaneous caster, casting metamagic spells (like Intensified Shocking Grasp) takes a full round action, which means that you can't use them with Spell Combat/Spellstrike.

Bloodline: Bloodrager bloodlines provide a lot of excellent options including spells and bonus feats. For help selecting a bloodline, see my Bloodrager Blooodlines Breakdown.

Eldritch Pool (Su): Splitting your Eldritch Pool points between normal Arcane Pool usage and "Mystic Focus" usage is hard. You simply don't get enough points.

Spell Combat (Ex): Limiting Spell Combat to when you're in a "Mystic Focus" severely limits your effectiveness.

Bonus Spells: You learn the spells at considerably higher level than you should.

Improved Spell Combat (Ex): 6 levels late.

Greater Spell Combat (Ex): 4 levels late.

Replaced Features: Arcane Pool, Greater Spell Combat, Improved Spell Combat, Knowledge Pool, Spell Combat, Spell Recall, Spells

Compatible Archetypes: Bladebound, Spellblade, Staff magus

Hexcrafter

The Hexcrafter is a very easy archetype. You give up Spell Recall, which isn't a huge loss, and you get access to Witch Hexes. This can add some very cool abilities to the Magus which go beyond tehir weapons and spells.

Hex Magus (Su): May witch hexes are fantastic. See my Witch Hex Breakdown for more information.

Hex Arcana: You only get one, but it's pretty good if you like curses.

Spells: Bestow Curse is probably the only spell that you want from this list, but the others don't hurt to have.

Replaced Features: Spells, Spell Recall

Compatible Archetypes: Bladebound, Spellblade, Staff Magus

Kensai

The Kensai trades some of the Magus' limited spellcasting and what little armor that the Magus gets for some cool abilities with a specific weapon. While manu of these abilities are great by themselves, the archetype as a whole doesn't really add anything to the Magus. If you want to focus on one specific cool weapon, Bladebound is much more interesting and much more effective.

Weapon and Armor Proficiency: Exotic weapons are very rarely notably better than Martial weapons, and losing armor really hurts the Magus. Be sure to pick up a suit of Haramaki to compensate for your lack of armor. For weapons, a Katana is likely your bets choice for the critical threat range. You still get Spell Combat, so you still want to keep a hand free to cast spells.

Diminished Spellcasting: Magus already get a very small number of spells. Giving up more really hurts.

Canny Defense (Ex): Adding your intelligence to AC is great for an intelligence-based class, but it's much cheaper to enchant a chain shirt than it is to enhance your intelligence. Make sure to get a suit of Haramaki, or your AC is going to be garbage. You may also want to commit spells to your AC.

Weapon Focus (Ex): This certainly doesn't hurt to have.

Perfect Strike (Ex): You will get much better damage by spending that point to add Flaming to your weapon for a minute.

Fighter Training (Ex): This is great for feats like Weapon Focus/Specialization.

Iaijutsu (Ex): Initiative bonuses are fantastic, and making attacks of opportunity while flat-footed is a really cool trick.

Critical Perfection (Ex): The bonus is nice, but critical hit builds are best when two-weapong fighting, which isn't a thing that the Magus does well.

Superior Reflexes (Ex): Nice, but the Magus is hardly a Defender.

Iaijutsu Focus (Ex): You get one Standard Action in a surprise round, so trading it down to a swift to draw a weapon is no better than trading it down to a move action. Adding your intelligence to damage is a nice touch, but it won't make much difference.

Iaijutsu Master (Ex): Ruin every surprise party anyone ever throws for you. Also, go first in basically every combat.

Weapon Mastery (Ex): This ability is fantastic.

Replaced Features: Armor and Weapon Proficiency, Spellcasting, Magus Arcana (9th), Spell Recall, Knowledge Pool, Medium Armor, Improved Spell Recall, Heavy Armor, Greater Spell Access, True Magus

Compatible Archetypes: Bladebound, Spellblade

Myrmidarch

The Arcane Archer wishes it was as cool as the Myrmidarch. The Myrmidarch gives up a big chunk of the Magus' spellcasting ability to get some fighter abilities, and since its limited to ranged touch spells with Ranged Spellstrike you won't get as much damage output as a melee magus, but the Magus gets a lot of interesting utility and debuff options from various splat books which most magi can't use as effectively. In effect, this makes the Myrmidarch a bit like a base class version of the Arcane Archer, with the ability to enhance their weapon and cast spells through it, but also with decent ability to fight without spells. If you want to play an Arcane Archer, I would recommend the Myrmidarch instead.

Diminished Spellcasting: Magus already get a very small number of spells. Giving up more really hurts.

Ranged Spellstrike (Su): It's important to note that you can only use ranged touch attack spells here. Going from the Magus' original spell list in Ultimate Magic that doesn't give you a ton of options for spells which you can cast repeatedly like a normal magus uses Shocking Grasp. Advanced Race Guide adds mudball, touch of combustion, and web bolt as 1st-level options, so you'll have some great utility options but your damage will likely lage behind a melee magus.

Weapon Training (Ex): This is really great for the Magus due to their 2/3 BAB, and the additional damage really helps to compensate when you can't use Spell Combat.

Fighter Training (Ex): This is great for feats like Weapon Focus/Specialization, and for things like Point Blank Master if you choose to focus on archery.

Armor Training (Ex): improved and Greater spell comba are no great loss, and Armor Training is really great for the Magus. The improved max dex bonus allows you to depend on high dexterity at low levels, and continue to benefit from it at high levels as you gain access to better armor. This also allows you to use heavier armor while still remaining an effective archer.

Armor Mastery (Ex): 5/- is a lot of DR.

Replaced Features: Spellcasting, Magus Arcana (6th, 12th, 18th), Spell Recall, Knowledge Pool, Improved Spell Combat, Improved Spell Recall, Greater Spell Combat, True Magus

Compatible Archetypes: Bladebound, Spellblade, Staff Magus

Skirnir

The Skirnir is a shield build for the Magus. Typically shield builds on Strikers involve two-weapon fighting, but the Magus needs to keep a hand free to cast spells. You can either use a buckler and a weapon, or you can use a heavy spiked shield and a spiked gauntlet. The difference in AC is important for a lightly armored character like a Magus, and you can't bash with a buckler, so the heavy shield is likely your best bet. Because your damage output depends on your spells and the use of Spell Combat (which you get at level 8), the Skirnir will have slightly better AC, but will have problems dealing damage.

The Skirnir is a great concept, but the execution us poor. Carrying a shield improves the Magus' AC, which is great, but the Skirnir completely handicaps the Magus' damage output, which essentially makes the Magus a bad wizard with mediocre AC. If you really want a shield on a Magus, a mithral buckler costs 1165 GP and won't interfere with any Magus abilities.

Diminished Spellcasting: Magus already get a very small number of spells. Giving up more really hurts.

Arcane Bond (Su): Arcane Bond is a great ability, and the additional spell slot helps to compensate for your Diminished Spellcasting. A shield is a weird choice, and it costs half as much to enchant as a weapon, so the ability to enchant it without a feat isn't as helpful as it normally is..

Arcane Pool: You can enhance a weapon and a shield at the same time. This can become expensive if you let it, so be careful to manage your Arcane Pool points.

Sorcerous Shield (Ex): The Magus is a light armor melee class, which is always a dangerous concept. Adding the ability to use shields really helps to compensate for the Magus' low AC.

Spellstrike (Su): Cool, and makes sense for the Archetype.

Shield Pool (Ex): There are much better ways to improve your Concentration checks, there are much better uses of your Arcane Pool points, and Pool Strike is terrible.

Spellshield (Su): Put your biggest, scariest damage spell in your shield a few days ahead of time to help compensate for your Diminished Spellcasting.

Shielded Spell Combat (Su): If you used a buckler, you can't bash. If you use Spell Combat to deal damage, you lose your shield bonus to AC, so you might as well not have a shield. This ability doesn't really become useful until level 19.

Greater Spellshield (Su): Auto-hit with Vampiric Strike to recover the hit points which you just lost.

Replaced Features: Spellcasting, Arcane Pool, Spell Combat, Spellstrike, Spell Recall, Knowledge Pool, Improved Spell Combat, Greater Spell Combat, Counterstrike, Greater Spell Access

Compatible Archetypes: Bladebound, Staff Magus

Soul Forger

The Soul Forger trades in a considerable amount of the Magus's spellcasting ability for an Arcane Bond weapon and some abilities to craft and repair items. The Magus already has the ability to temporarily enhance weapons, but enhancing the item with abilities which you commonly need (A Keen Rapier/Scimitar is the Magus' best friend) combines really well with Arcane Pool enhancements. If you like to craft items, this can be a decent archetype. However, with a spell list more limited than a full caster, the enhancements available to you may be limited.

Diminished Spellcasting: Magus already get a very small number of spells. Giving up more really hurts.

Arcane Bond (Su): A free spell per day that you don't need to prepare, and you can enchant your weapon for free.

Spell Combat (Su): Ocasionally annoying, but why would you willingly use anything else?

Spellstrike (Su): See "Spell Combat".

Master Smith (Ex): With one or two ranks your Craft skill will exceed your Spellcraft skill, even if you max out Spellcraft. Remember that you need to make Craft or Spellcraft checks to enchant items, including your Arcane Bond weapon. The time limitations are nice, but very few campaigns keep strict track of time, so they won't matter most of the time.

Fortify Bond (Su): If you're about to fight rust monsters or something that likes to Sunder thing, use this. Otherwise, it's useless.

Reforge (Su): How often do you encounter broken items? Unless your party likes to Sunder things, you will probably never use this.

Destructive Counterstrike (Su): Very situational, but a free attack of opportunity never hurts.

Instantaneous Reconstruction (Su): Unless you fight a lot of rust monsters, you will probably never need this.

Replaced Features: Spellcasting, Spell Combat, Spellstrike, Spell Recall, Knowledge Pool, Improved Spell Recall, Counterstrike, Greater Spell Access

Compatible Archetypes: Bladebound, Staff Magus

Spellblade

Spellstrike is one of the Magus' best abilities, and giving it up for a lousy dagger is not a good trade.

Force Athame (Sp): Two-Weapon fighting is not something that the Magus is good at. Dealing force damage is pretty great, but you can jsut cast Magic Missile instead.

Spellblade Arcana: Pool-Sourced Athame should be part of the normal Athame ability, and the other two arcana are worthless.

Replaced Features: Spellstrike

Compatible Archetypes: Bladebound, Eldritch Scion, Hexcrafter, Kensai, Myrmidarch, Spell Dancer (Elf), Staff Magus

Staff Magus

Despite the Quarterstaff's general lack of flair, the Staff Magus is fantastic. My first thought when I read the Magus was "this would be really cool with a staff", and I was completely right. The Staff Magus makes the Quarterstaff a viable one-handed weapon for use with spell combat, and Quarterstaff Defense fixes the issue of high dexterity Magi not being able to switch to medium/heavy armor at high levels. Staff Weapon, the archetype's 10th level ability, is absolutely fantastic, and really adds a lot of flair to archetype at high levels where magic staves are available.

3.5 players will want to note that staves in Pathfinder have only 10 charges, but can be recharged, making them a permanent resource instead of an over-priced wand.

Weapon and Armor Proficiency: All you need is a long stick and a chain shirt.

Quarterstaff Master (Ex): Skipping the prerequisites on this is nice, and using the staff one-handed allows you to use Spell Combat with it.

Quarterstaff Defense (Ex): This makes the enhancement bonus on your staff just as important defensively as offensively. The free +3 bonus at level 13 is a really nice boost, and doesn't require you to change armor.

Staff Weapon (Su): You no longer need to spend money to enhance magic staves as weapons, and you can spend your extra points at the end of the day to recharge your favorite staff much more quickly than other characters who are typically limited to recharging one charge per day.

Replaced Features: Weapon Proficiency, Medium Armor, Heavy Armor, Fighter Training

Compatible Archetypes: Bladebound, Eldritch Scion, Hexcrafter, Myrmidarch, Skirnir, Soul Forger, Spellblade