Whenever you envision fantasy, besides the fantastical monsters and harrowing villains, the heroes of such tales fight hordes of minions and adversaries while acquiring connections to ancient powers to defeat their foes. Many of these characters become expert swordsmen and even wield magic to a certain extent. In games such as Skyrim, the Dovahkiin can learn military weaponry and use uncanny magic. Geralt of Rivia from the Witcher series learns signs to invoke the raw arcane forces of the world along with their swordplay to combat against dangerous creatures that roam it. Such warriors that wield sword and sorcery are often known as eldritch knights but are commonly known as a Magus.
Being a Magus – The Art of Sword & Spells
In most traditions, a prospective adventurer takes the active choice to develop their swordsmanship or their talents in the magical arts. There are, of course, benefits for such specializations, namely the right to declare oneself to be unparalleled in their particular skill or craft. A mage who has devoted all of their time and efforts in spellcasting is capable of reality-bending feats and exploits while a warrior becomes a force of reckoning for anyone foolish enough to stand in their path.
But what about a Magus? Typically, to wield both sword and spell, much like a bard, you become skilled in both but not a master in either skill. In this article, we will try to break that mold and expand on maximizing both martial and spellcasting capabilities. When we refer to mages, we are typically looking at arcane spellcasters and less the divine spellcasting variety. Clerics are the epitome of a magus and embody the core principles of our focus, as they are granted some measure of martial training along with full spellcasting capabilities. Clerics belong in their own category, what I would call champions, and perhaps one day we may revisit the topic in the future.
In older editions, such as 3rd Edition and 4th Edition D&D, there are have been multiple attempts to bridge the world of sword and spellcasting. Starting with the Eldritch Knight prestige class (which was later adapted into a Fighter archetype for 5th Edition), followed by the Duskblade class in D&D 3.5’s Player’s Handbook 2 with their ability to channel touch spells into their weapons. A feature that I personally loved about the class. In 4th Edition, multiclassing could be controlled by feat acquisitions, but in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting book, we were introduced to the Swordmage class. The Swordmage had magical effects, the ability to navigate a battlefield, and still provide controlling elements. I personally enjoyed the class and the many features I was presented, I never felt I was without options. A trait that becomes a recurring topic as we look at the builds below. Finally, Pathfinder provided a Magus class (hence the name of this archetype) with a plethora of options, abilities, and spellcasting potential.
Build Design Goals:
- Must have reasonable martial capabilities as a Fighter of equal level.
- Must have considerable spellcasting proficiency (at least 5th-level spell slots)
- Battlefield mobility
- Battlefield control capabilities
- Capability to protect themselves (from physical & magical threats)
Magus Build #1 – The Eldritch Warrior
Our first Magus build focuses, we will go the expected but traditional route employing the Eldritch Knight Fighter archetype but multiclass with the Wizard to maximize our spellcasting. In this build, we will assess the best points to multiclass and why. Spell access will be a critical consideration in our build analysis.
For this build, we start with a 7th-level Eldritch Knight Fighter/13th-level Evocation Wizard
- Extra Attack feature (our Magus can attack twice for every Attack action)
- Ability Score Improvement from Fighter at 6th level
- Heavy Armor proficiency plus all martial weapons
- Second Wind – Free healing when your healer is far away from you adds to your survivability
- Action Surge – Those special rounds where you want to attack and cast your big spells
- War Magic feature – A bonus action weapon attack after casting a cantrip is always useful
- Sculpt Spells – Your evocation spells can avoid allies now, still useful for an area of effect (AOE) spell such as fireball
- Potent Cantrip – Nothing sucks more than having an enemy save against your cantrip, now they take half damage, that’s far better than nothing
- Empowered Evocation – Add your Intelligence to one damage roll from an evocation spell. An extra 4 points of damage is never a bad thing, especially when it triggers every time.
- With the multiclassing rules, this build has access to 8th-level slots, knowing up to 7th level Wizard spells.
- Does not have access to 9th level spells or spell slots
- Does not get access to the 3rd & 4th attacks from the increased Extra Attack feature
- Does not gain access to the Overchannel Evocation feature at 14th level
- Does not gain access to the Improved War Magic feature
- Does not gain access to the Eldritch Strike feature (loss of spellcasting potency)
- Does not gain access to the Arcane Charge feature (loss of mobility)
There are some distinct advantages to this build, but there are some clear negatives. It’s important to note that you gain the most from this build if you start as a Wizard, gaining access to the Arcana skill plus Intelligence & Wisdom saving throws before entering into the Fighter class. You can always gain proficiency to Strength or Dexterity saving throws through a feat through your Ability Score Improvement (if that option is given in your game). While the loss of Arcane Charge is not a detriment from the Eldritch Knight, the loss of a free 30-foot teleport means that the character must spend an action of some variety to move around the field. It should be noted that losing 8th-level and 9th-level spells is not actually the worse thing that could happen for this build, while these spells are typically world shattering, this build does achieve in providing a variety of options. Spells like reverse gravity, forcecage, finger of death, project image grants the build plenty of versatility in tactics and gameplay.
What if you altered the class spread? With a 6th-level Eldritch Knight/14th-level Evoker, you do lose out on War Magic, but if you’re planning on not entering the fray often, then this loss is inconsequential to you. With this build, you’re treated as a 16th-level caster, which means you get an additional 8th-level spell slot, which means more Wizard spells (only up to 7th level spells but more free spells is never a bad thing). The Overchannel feature from the Evocation Wizard sets you more of a spellcaster that lays down a heavy barrage before relying on the consistency of melee combat. Even if you went a more ranged Eldritch Knight build, you could enjoy the ability to have reliable, steady damage and use your spells as tactical implements.
Magus Build #2 – The War Mage (or Valkyrie)
A warmage is a unique caster that was introduced in D&D 3.5’s Complete Arcane supplement. A full caster with some martial training that focused exclusively on damage spells and possessed the occasional influence and to shape their spells through metamagic.
For this build, we’re looking at a 2nd-level Fighter/18th-level Divine Soul Sorcerer
- 9th-level spells and spell slots
- Proficiency with heavy armor and martial weapons
- Action Surge
- Access to cleric spells thru Divine Magic feature
- Otherworldly Wings – Flying speed means you can stay out of the fray and unload spells from above
- Unearthly Recovery provides survivability when necessary
- Loss of Extra Attack feature
- Short one Ability Score Improvement
- Loss of Sorcererous Restoration
There are various permutations of this particular build, but the suggested class spread maximizes spellcasting to the maximum with a small sacrifice to spellcasting, plus we get to see this build acquire the Sorcerer’s 18th-level bloodline features. Metamagic is a powerful feature, and with the Divine Magic feature, it expands the Sorcerer’s limited spell list into the Cleric spell list. The Cleric spell list has access to both offensive spells as well as powerful buffs, debuffs, and utility spells. Some notable metamagic to consider are Quicken Spell and Twinned spell, as those two provide the amplest amount of use both offensively and defensively when casting damage spells, buff/debuffs, and even healing (but that’s not your primary task). Careful Spell is an excellent Metamagic to consider for your AOE sorcerer spells, but if you’re using single-target spells more, than Twinned Spell is your absolute best pick. Having the ability to cast things like Twinned Aid or Heal/Harm can yield impressive results.
If you’re looking for more martial prowess, you can certainly go for 5th-level Battlemaster Fighter/15th-level Divine Soul Sorcerer.
With this variant, I prefer the Battlemaster archetype over the Eldritch Knight, there is much more combat versatility with the Battlemaster’s combat maneuvers and with the Extra Attack feature you can see it in play more often. Plus, going Battlemaster grants you more features without a whole lot of investment (the 7th-level Battlemaster feature isn’t great in combat and functions more in a roleplaying aspect). By keeping our sorcerer levels at 15, you can still expect to cast 8th level spells. If we went Eldritch Knight, sure you would get that one extra 8th-level spell slot, and the cantrips and spells known, but I think Battlemaster fits well for a mage in the fray while also casting powerful spells. Also, if you’re going into Eldritch Knight, you might as well at least fetch War Magic since the sorcerer class is frontloaded with cantrips compared to the wizard. But one of the main reasons I chose not to go the Eldritch Knight is due to the multiple ability score dependency (or MAD) on Intelligence while the Sorcerer relies on Charisma.
Magus Build #3 – The Darkblade
Now we’re going for a dark warrior that wields the shadows and fear. This build requires a lot of manipulation of multiclassing and while still possessing access to at least 5th level spells.
For this build, we’re looking at an 8th-level Conquest Paladin/12th-level Hexblade Warlock
- Melee combat focused
- Paladin auras
- Smite spells
- Warlock spell slots refresh after short rests
- Hex Warrior feature lets you strictly focus on Charisma as the primary ability score
- 6th-level mysterium from Warlock
- 5th-level warlock spell slots
- Warlock invocations such as Lifedrinker, Eldritch Smite, Relentless Hex, and Grasp of Hadar
- Extremely limited spell slots
- Only 2nd-level Paladin spell slots
- Divine Smite feature only triggers on melee weapon attacks
This particular build sacrifices spellcasting devastation for a more personal approach in combat. This build synergizes the Paladin and Warlock’s dependency on their Charisma score. With the Hex Warrior feature, the build can even ignore strength as a necessary attribute so long as they are using their pact weapons. The loss of 3rd-level spell access reduces our chance to have the fear spell automatically prepared, but we can merely acquire it from the Warlock spell list just as readily. Alternatively, the cause fear spell presented in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything grants a targeted approach for this build’s tactics. In this particular build, we will be relying on the Paladin spell slots to cast one our hex spell regularly to maximize the benefits of Relentless Hex. Since this class largely depends on their placement for their Aura of Conquest to trigger. Between the Conquest Paladin’s Commanding Presence Channel Divinity power, there are certainly plenty of ways to utilize and gain the most out of Aura of Conquest.
With this build, Eldritch Smite using a Warlock spell slot yields more damage than if it was used for a Divine Smite, as the maximum damage for a Divine Smite is limited to 5d8 (unless it’s undead which becomes 6d8). While Eldritch Smite does not have any limit plus can cause the target to fall prone if Huge or smaller with no saving throw. A great tactic is to switch your pact weapon into a longbow with the Improved Pact Weapon invocation, strike a target that’s fleeing from you due to the frightened condition, use Relentless Hex to teleport next to the target. The target triggers Aura of Conquest at the start of its turn and takes psychic damage but most importantly, they have 0 speed, and they are now prone. Free attacks with advantage on your next turn! The Lifedrinker invocation is primarily to boost and reward the Hexblade character for their dedication to the Charisma ability score. In other words, they can use their Charisma as both attack and damage for their pact weapon, plus necrotic damage equal to their Charisma modifier. If they under the hex spell, that’s another 1d6 necrotic damage, or in the case of Hexblade’s Curse, that’s potentially another 3 to 6 points of necrotic damage.
This build requires strategy to maximize the damage output, but it’s still a formidable force even without them. Alternatively, if you want a much more spellcasting focus for this particular build, I would suggest 6th-level Hexblade Warlock/14th-level Shadow Magic Sorcerer. With this adjustment, there would be plenty of sorcery points, 7th-level spell slots, and the ability to use the Shadow Walk feature.
Magus Build #4 – The Bladesinger
The Bladesinging Wizard Tradition presented in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide harkens back to the iconic Forgotten Realms class for elf bard/fighters or wizard/fighters who learn ancient elvish battle songs along with unique fighting styles to channel arcane magic while being deadly melee combatants. This Wizard tradition attempts to bring itself into the full Magus category, before the release of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, the class was extremely underwhelming and limited in its combat capabilities.
For this build, we’re looking at a 20th-level Bladesinger Wizard.
- Wizard spellcasting list
- 9th-level spells and spell slots
- Full spellcasting progression
- Light armor proficiency (great for an elven chain)
- Spell Mastery
- Signature Spells
- Song of Victory feature is underwhelming
- D6 hit dice
- Not many spells or features that maximize the action economy, in other words, a lack of bonus action features or spells
So there are many significant advantages with this build, the chief consolation would be access to 9th-level Wizard spells. With spells such as shadow blade and crown of stars, the Bladesinger has become a much more viable Magus build with the ability to deal significant damage with shadow blade and take advantage of the Extra Attack feature this tradition grants. Crown of stars has a 1-hour duration with no need for concentration and lets the Bladesinger use their bonus action to make additional attacks. Spells with no concentration attach to them are a valuable commodity for the Bladesinger, granting them buffs and benefits without worry except a dispel magic. The Bladesong feature is essentially a Wizard’s “rage” like effect an makes them a reckoning on the field. Song of Defense provides some additional preventive measures for this build given the use of the Wizard’s d6 hit dice for hit points.
The Wizard has an impressive spell list that provides dozens of options and utility in and out of combat while still having the capability of entering combat if necessary. This is a character that your tank support character does not have to worry about you often, with plenty of ways to escape, buff, and control the battlefield, the bladesinger has the most options to employ.
Magus Build #5 – The Dervish
The dervish was always an enjoyable concept of sword dances, creating art while wielding deadly weapons into combat. The College of Swords for Bards from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything grants a variety of sword tricks that are very intuned to the Battlemaster Fighter but channeling their Bardic Inspiration.
For this build, we’re looking for a 14th-level Swords Bard/6th-level Battlemaster Fighter.
- Sword Flourishes
- Bardic Inspiration
- Magical Secrets (10th & 14th level)
- Combat Maneuvers
- Action Surge
- One less Magical Secret
- Loss of 8th and 9th level spell slots
- Bardic Inspiration die at d10 instead of d12
You may ask why I chose to not the full 20 levels in Swords Bard? While there are many great 8th and 9th level spells under the Bard spell list, I want to provide more martial options for this build and brought back the Battlemaster Fighter since their features have a synergistic quality to them. Overall, the primary goal of this particular build is to acquire the Martial Adept feat as often as possible. Combined with the natural Superiority dice from the Battlemaster Fighter, along with Blade Flourishes, this build is never without any combat tricks. Focus on Dexterity for defense and offense, have a decent Charisma for your battlefield control spells, but ideally, you will be focused on a lot more on personal buffs like haste for example. Your Magical Secrets can grant you access to spells like shadow blade or zephyr strike for example and much more powerful buff related spells like holy weapon or even Smite spells from the Paladin spell list. If you decided to go the full 20 levels in Swords Bard, you would only lose out really on the Action Surge, as the Martial Adept feat is still accessible for this build (unless you’re playing in a game where it is not allowed).
There are plenty of paths to choose for the Magus, tailoring your expertise in either sword or sorcery can yield a strong character that can face a multitude of different problems. That has always been the hallmark of this particular build and playstyle. Many characters in the Forgotten Realms tend to be a mix of martial and spellcasting able characters, mostly due to the need for survivability. Magic is powerful but limited, but a sword does not have as many of the limitations, wielding magic weapons and casting spells are a terrifying combination. I hope you enjoyed this article, and if you have any suggested builds or have played Magus styled characters in the past, please share and leave a comment below.
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