Pathfinder - Practical Guide to Metamagic
Last Updated: May 18th, 2015
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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.
- Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances
- Green: Good options.
- Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
Metamagic feats are a complex and interesting subject. They provide a lot of versatility, especially for casts with limited numbers of spells known. Players who are new to spellcasting will want to skip over metamagic, but experienced players can put metamagic feats to devastating effect.
Because metamagic spells use their original spell level when calculating DC, you may often find that your enemies can easily pass the DC's of your spells. Be very cautious about using metamagic with spells which require a saving throw to function. It is frequently easier to use spells which don't require saving throws, but might depend on an attack roll. Attack rolls aren't affected by metamagic, so spells like Shocking Grasp, Scorching Ray, and Polar Ray are all great options.
Bouncing Spell: For one spell level, you effectively get to retry a spell on someone else if your first attempt failed. Your spells shouldn't be failing often, but sometimes it's nice to have some insurance. Not as powerful or precise as Persistent spell, but half the cost.
Burning Spell: A cool concept, but the math doesn't justify the feat. Compare a 7th-level fire spell like Delayed Blast Fireball and a 9th-level spell like Meteor Swarm (the only choice), both cast by the same 20th-level Wizard. Delayed Blast Fireball will deal 20d6+14 (avg. 84 damage) compared to Meteor Swarms flat 24d6 fire + 8d6 bludgeoning damage (avg. 84+28). The only advantages offered by Delayed Blast Fireball are the timer and the AOE.
Concussive Spell: The penalties roughly match the Shaken and Nauseated conditions, and the duration last for several rounds, but 2 spell levels for this effect is simply too expensive.
Dazing Spell: Tempting, but difficult to use. The 3 level cost ensures that the spell DC will lag behind your best spells, dramatically improving the likelihood that enemies will pass the DC for the Daze effect. Potentially useful for Spell Perfection abusers like the Magus, but most casters can skip this.
Disruptive Spell: If you are trying to prevent another spellcaster from casting a spell, just kill them instead.
Echoing Spell: Considerably worse than the Split Slot Arcane Discover, but potentially useful for non-Wizards.
Ectoplasmic Spell: Too situational. Go learn some force spells.
Elemental Spell: Essential for blasters. Energy resistance is common and often problematic, and changing energy types of your favorite blast spells can keep them useful against any foe. Unfortunately you can't switch to Sonic damage.
Empower Spell: Nice for blasts with a limited number of spells known (looking at you, Sorcerers), Empower Spell has a surprisingly good damage payoff. At many levels, you may find that an Empowered spell does as much or more damage than spells of the spell's new level due to caster level limitations. Consider Fireball and a Cone of Cold, both cast by a 10th-level Sorcerer. The Fireball deals 10d6*1.5 damage (avg. 52.5), while the Cone of Cold only deals 10d6. 10d6*1.5 is effectively the same as 15d6, which means that Cone of Cold will meet but never exceed Fireball. Empowered Cone of Cold has a similar relationship with Delayed Blast Fireball; 15d6*1.5 is effectively 22.5d6, which is more than delayed blast fireball can do. Empowered Delayed Blast Fireball does as much damage as Meteor Swarm's best-case scenario, and has a better AOE and doesn't require attack rolls. Empower Spell's only real problem is that it lowers the spell's DC, making it more likely that enemies will succeed on their saves and end up taking less damage.
Enlarge Spell: Often confused with Widen Spell, Enlarge Spell improves the spell's range. Instead of wasting a feat, Fly closer to your enemies. If you absolutely need to increase the range of a spell, Reach Spell is more effective and considerably more versatile.
Extend Spell: Extend your buff spells and area control spells. At high levels you can abuse hours/level duration spells by casting them the evening before, and letting them last through the next day.
Flaring Spell: Dazzled is a garbage status effect.
Focuses Spell: Spell Focus is considerably better.
Heighten Spell: Potentially useful for Sorcerers who need to stretch their limited set of spells known, but not very flashy.
Intensified Spell: This took 4 spell levels in 3.5, but Paizo had the good sense to lower it to one. The extra damage dice won't matter until you are high enough level to start maxing out spells' variable numeric effects, but this can stretch the effectiveness of spells like Fireball well into high level.
Lingering Spell: Turn your blast spells into a short-lived area control effect. Potentially useful for blasters, but situational.
Maximize Spell: Not nearly so easy to use as Empower Spell, but the math is very similar. Let's compare a Maximized Fireball to Delayed Blast Fireball. At 13th-level, the minimum to cast Delayed Blast Fireball, Maximized Fireball deals a flat 60 damage, while Delayed Blast Fireball deals 13d6 (avg. 45.5). As the caster grows in level, that Delayed Blast Fireball will cap out at 20d6 (avg. 70), just barely above Fireball. This is certainly very tempting, but lowering your DC by 4 is going to give your enemies a huge chance to pass the save.
Merciful Spell: You are not a pacifist.
Persistent Spell: Make people reroll against your insanely high spell DCs. Better than Bouncing Spell, but at twice the cost.
Piercing Spell: Just take Spell Penetration.
Quicken Spell: At high levels, Quicken Spell is king. The +4 spell level hurts, but it gets you a second spell per turn. Be sure to use spells which don't allow saving throws like ray spells and buffs.
Reach Spell: This is a great option for spells with range problems like Shocking Grasp, and can dramatically improve their usefulness for spellcasters who can't risk going into melee. Compare an Intensified Reach Shocking Grasp to Fireball (both 3rd-level spells). Each does up to 10d6 damage, but Shocking Grasp doesn't allow a saving throw, and Fireball is an AOE. Each is great for a different situation, and versatility is one of the big draws of Metamagic. And that's only the offensive application. Consider how many important buff spells are touch range: protection from energy, protection from evil, cure spells, heal, sanctuary. All touch range. Imagine standing in the middle of a big room and hitting your entire party with Communal Protection From Evil without needing to walk over to them. Breath of Life benefits even more because its full-round casting time typically means that you need to find some way to reach your fallen ally without using your move action.
Rime Spell: Entangling creatures can greatly impede them if they rely on movement, but if you really need to entangle things you can use a net or a tanglefoot bag.
Selective Spell: Potentially useful if you have a bad habit of dropping spells on top of your allies, but many blast spells more powerful than Fireball have the ability to shape or place the AOE so that they won't hit your allies.
Sickening Spell: 2 spell levels isn't enough to justify Sickened.
Silent Spell: Situationally useful. Just get a rod.
Still Spell: Situationally useful. Using Still Spell on a teleportation spell is a great way to get out of a grapple, but that's a pretty rare case.
Toppling Spell: If you like force spells like Magic Missile or X Hand, this can be a nice trick. Magic missile allows you to make up to five trip attempts as a second level spell, which can do a lot of good things for your melee allies.
Thundering Spell: Deafened is absolutely not worth two spell levels.
Widen Spell: Awful. Truly awful. You might be tempted by the prospect of fireballs with huge areas, but higher levels spells will generally have sufficiently large areas that Widen Spell isn't helpful.
Metamagic rods are easily overlooked, but are among the most important items in the game for prepared spellcasters. Where spontaneous casters can use metamagic on a whim, prepared casters must plan to use metamagic well ahead of time. With fewer spells per day to use, prepared spellcasters are often loath to give up high level spell slots when using metamagic, making rods the obvious solution.