In the old legends of the Middle East from where they originate, the Magus, or Magi, are students of the arcane who also study other arts such as the sciences, astrology, and alchemy. They were overall students of knowledge, which is perhaps why the word Magi tends to conjure the idea of mystery, knowledge and wisdom in the minds of people when they hear it.
The word and ideas being the Magus are used in a variety of fantasy settings, usually as a kind of magic user with skills beyond the normal arcane. In fact, the word "mage" is pretty much an Anglicization of the old Roman "magus."
Since the term "mage" is irrevocably associated with wizards now, the Pathfinder magus is completely different from its source material. Magi are students of the arcane and the martial arts at the same time, bending spellcraft and weapons work together into a fusion deadlier than its parts - essentially a Duskblade but with fewer spells and some of the higher-level stuff available as starting character, or a reworked Swordmage. Many are wandering travelers seeking mystic and material lore to further improve their skills. Mechanically, they get three major advantages: the ability to cast arcane spells in light armor (with the weight class going up with higher levels), an ability called spell combat, which is essentially two-weapon fighting but with the off-hand weapon being a spell the magus casts, and an arcane pool, a resource the magus can spend to make different special abilities go off.
Spell combat is powerful and versatile, and it only gets better as they level up. It lets them put up a shield spell before whacking you, or shoot a fireball at you from outside the blast radius before charging into melee. It keeps getting better: as early as level two, they can also deliver touch attack spells through their weapon, giving them a free extra damage roll if the spell hits. And any spell you cast in this way crits when your weapon does, which, if you sprung for a high-crit weapon like a scimitar or urumi, can get ugly fast. (Protip: Shocking grasp is almost too good for a first level touch attack spell already, and the "Magical Lineage" trait lets you metamagic it at a reduced rate, while the arcane mark cantrip never gets used up and explicitly permits the second attack as per a FAQ. Also, because touch spells only go off when they hit or you "drop" them, always lead with your spell rather than your weapon attack. That way, you get two chances to get the spell off instead of one.)
The arcane pool, meanwhile, is a pool (HA!) of resources not unlike ki. Points can be spent to boost attack and damage rolls, or to activate various other arcana gained by leveling up, like swapping out prepared spells or suddenly learning new ones.
"So far, so good," you might be thinking. "Sure, this class sounds like a hideous amalgamation of every other D&D class ever made, but it also sounds fun and powerful." Well, hypothetical reader, you're right.
"But is it as powerful as a wizard?" screams the bloody-handed munchkin, scheming some way to have his constructs make other constructs that cast infinite numbers of wish spells for more wish spells so that he can literally get whatever he wants whenever he wants.
Of course not, you schmuck. Magi are tier 3, able to a variety of things well, but none so well they invalidate challenges. They gain fewer spells more slowly than wizards, but still rely quite heavily on janking spellbooks. They never get high-level spell slots either, capping out around the sixth level. They will never be able to break game balance like a twig, then don their robes and wizard hats to fuck its corpse quite like a wizard, and they don't get full base attack/feat progression and independence from any kind of resource exhaustion like a fighter. They aren't as narrowly focused as either. Hell, one can't even call them the ultimate "jack of all trades" class, as that title is also already taken.
What they do have is a unique twist on the arcane caster style, and a very fun and unique way of playing the game. Magi aren't fighters and aren't wizards, and trying to play them like either will leave you the impression they suck, because they need to be played like magi to be effective.
Magi get access to some pretty cool archetypes too, most porting over some aspects of earlier classes and kits from previous editions, and unlike some Pathfinder classes, many of them are stackable. Being a bladebound magus trades in a few low-level class features for a sentient magical weapon buddy with cool powers who may or may not end up backstabbing the poor sod for its own agenda, the kensai loses all of their armor and one of their spells per level to gain tons of cool weapon powers and the addition of monk-style unarmored defense (which is close enough to the spirit of the original kensai to be forgiven the addition of spellcasting), a hexcrafter gains access to some cool new curse spells and witch hexes (like its cousin, the hexblade), the mindblade basically amounts to a soulknife that doesn't suck quite as much, myrmidarchs basically trade in half their class features for fighter ones, you can go the fluff route and basically be [Gambit] complete with [quarterstaff] etc. All of them have a lot to offer, both mechanically and flavor-wise, and almost none of them are flat-out better than the base class.
Similar to witch hexes, oracle revelations, alchemist discoveries, fighter bonus feats, and the like, the magus gets a magus arcana every three levels. One of them is called "Bane Blade", which is awesome.
Some 3rd party developers handled the Magus differently; and the following are some examples:
Spheres of Power
In Spheres of Power, Spheres of Might and Champions of the Spheres, Magus gained some interesting archetypes, including the obligatory Spheres Magus to convert its casting to a Mid-Caster with standard 3/4 talent progression. Spell Recall is also shifted into 3/2 arcane points to 1 spell point conversion, while Knowledge Pool turns into a floating magic talent.
One archetype, Arcane Weaponeer, instead shifts Magus into being a High Caster with "talents every even level" progression. Additionally, they gain arcane pool for their armor, the ability to give themselves a "Magic Talent Flexibility", the ability to pseudo-pounce with Spell Combat, Stalwart, enhancing weapon, armor and shield all in one action, unhindered Metamagic and lastly, dualcasting Sphere abilities.
Another, Runic Knight, designed explicitly for Spheres of Might and therefore required its Spheres of Power compatibility to be through Transparency rules, gained access to the usual Combat Training of a Practitioner with a delayed Spell Combat, but gained some new rules to assist it, such as the Mystic Order that give it Combat Spheres and Advanced Spellstrike, which allows it to be used as an attack action, allowing for it to be used with Spheres of Might attack actions.
Lastly, Mystic, abandons Spell Combat completely for Internal Casting; to use self-Magic Sphere abilities as move actions, whilst maintaining the Advanced Spellstrike of Runic Knight. Additionally, it gains a form of Blended Training that is obtained at every odd level, gained a floating combat/magic talent, similar to Spheres Magus and a dodge bonus.
The problem is that much of the "balanced" nature of Magus starts to be shifted on its head in Spheres, due to its reliance on Spellstrike. See, unlike the magic talent versions of Spellstrike, the real deal has the ability to not only use the weapon's crit threat range, but also crit correctly, meaning the full damage of an ability is multiplied. When discussing Destructive Blast and similar, this becomes more apparent as a problem, especially when considering the archetypes with Advanced Spellstrike, Vital Strike and worse yet, Mythic Vital Strike (which multiplies everything able to be multiplied by a crit when Vital Striking). Suddenly, a Magus is able to brutalize nearly everything else in the game with immense amounts of damage, and all it takes is at least one tier of Mythic and 9 levels.
Legendary Games: Legendary Magus
|This article contains something which makes absolutely no logical sense, such as Nazi Zombie Mercenaries, Fucking Space Orangutans, anything written by a certain Irish leper or Robin Crud-ace, Matt Ward creating (against all odds) a codex that isn't completely broken on every level. If you proceed, consider yourself warned.|
While Legendary Games is primarily known for making content for Spheres and rebalancing and reworking some of the Pathfinder classes, Legendary Magus is a particularly "unique" specimen. Gaining access to Arcanist casting, Arcane Strike as a free action, higher skill points per level and losing access to Spellstrike, the Legendary Magus changes up their mechanics in a big way. For starters, Arcane Pool is replaced by a Panache-like Arcane Potential pool, allowing it to be refreshed during battle but not only has little non-combat utility, but it in fact depletes outside of combat. Rather than turning a non-magic weapon magic (or giving a minute long enhancement bonus), Arcane Potential is used for a variety of "Potential Techniques", including changing the elements of spells or attacks, improving AC, increasing attack and damage rolls, and even miniature teleports. Like the original Magus, the Legendary Magus also gains options for Potential Techniques through Magus Arcana, but they also passively learn new ones. The Legendary Magus's Spell Combat is obtained a bit later, but is otherwise the same (except conspicuously lacking the wording that makes it like two weapon fighting).
The first red flag is that the class has a series of "mini-archetypes" similar to Sorcerer Bloodlines and Mysteries, known as the Eldritch Tome. This sturdy tome serves as the spellbook and can't be permanently destroyed; it'll just show up the next day. Additionally, the Tome also grants its user abilities including:
- Tome of the Bulwark: The sword and board tome. Grants access to all shields, removes spell failure for shields and gives a bonus equal to their shield's enhancement bonus, gives back spellstrikes using shield bashes, gets their shield bonus to their touch AC while also giving adjacent allies the Magus's shield enhancement bonus with Touch AC (later turning into a 15 foot area of effect), and the ability to switch places with allies.
- Tome of the Deadeye: No more Myrmidarch or Eldritch Archer! This does it for you! Gains Rapid Reload, spellstriking using the ranged weapon (including the ability to place Fireballs and self AoEs using their weapon), using one ammo to strike multiple enemies and ignoring concealment and cover (except for their total counterparts), while treating total concealment as only 20%.
- Tome of the Duelist: Somehow, even better than the Finesse path. Takes a blast back into 3rd Edition by giving Intelligence to damage with Dexterity to attacks, but can also give themselves normal concealment or concealment with a 50% miss chance. If they get hit, they can use an Attack of Opportunity to deal damage by someone who misses using the concealment. Lastly, they gain a 50% miss chance if they're adjacent to one foe; and counts as the pervious ability.
- Tome of the Gemini: Duel-wield. Or Darth Maul. Also, free Two Weapon Fighting and treats their weapon as somatic components. Free AC if they hit with both weapons, free Improved Two Weapon Fighting and can get bonus attacks when using spells, and gets Greater Two Weapon Fighting for free and the ability to move during Spell Combat; granting them literal Pounce.
- Tome of the Juggernaut: Two-handed weapon Magus. They can Vital Strike, Spell Combat and charge, don't get forced into concentration checks when taking damage, and can essentially just keep casting whenever. They also ignore DR, Resistance, Hardness and immunities when using spells and attacks on charges.
- Tome of the Magister: The Spellbook is a shield now. Also, free spells, and bonus damage to spells. Shield Bashing uses Intelligence to attack rolls, and can potentially have higher damage. Lastly, free Metamagics for spells during Spell Combat.
- Tome of the Pugilist: Monk style. Improved Unarmed Strike for free, unarmed Spellstrike as part of a pseudo Flurry of Blows, Stunning Fist and counter attacks, and bonus damage when using the Spellstrike/Flurry of Blows hybrid.
- Tome of the Spear Dancer: Speardancing style, and they can attack adjacent foes if the weapon has the reach property, land touch attacks using the weapon's reach (not a spellstrike though!), free Whirlwind Attack (even during Spell Combat), and increases the reach of their weapon and can hit adjacent foes without penalty.
As a result the Legendary Magus trades the nova-crit fishing of the original for a more sustained build, but the Legendary Magus can regain the original Spellstrike through the Spellstriker Archetype, mix it with the Duskblade's Arcane Channeling (meaning they can spellstrike multiple attacks), turn it into an attack action, and even get the full critical hit modifier at level 14 (after spending that many levels without access to the weapon's critical threat range).
It's praised for "freeing" the Magus from Spellstrike, and the class certainly has a lot of good ideas, but the class unfortunately has the issue of having many strong features for free.
The Magus in Pathfinder Second Edition had undergone a considerable rewrite in order to require less moving parts in comparison to other classes. Perhaps one of the biggest examples of this is the fact that Magi start off with proficiency in light and medium armor without the jank of having to gain proficiencies as you level up. The progression for attacks isn't too bad, but the progression on AC is quite very limited.
The central prospect - that is, casting things from the end of a sword - remains about the same. You cast a one or two-action spell that requires you to roll to hit, but the range is shrunk to the end of your weapon. Also limiting its usefulness is that Spellstrike is now an ability that requires an action to recharge. This limitation is somewhat elevated by the fact that Spellstrike now no longer requires touch spells. A Magus starts out being able to use any Attack roll spell for Spellstrike, as early as level 2 this can be expanded into any spell that's harmful to another creature. New to this edition is the fact that you can follow-up from Spellstrike and enter a stance called Arcane Resonance, which makes your attacks deal some additional damage of certain types depending on what you cast.
This matter involving spells also means talking into arguably the most contentious bit of the Magus: the spell slots. Like the Summoner, the Magus has an extremely limited number of (Arcane) spell slots, reaching a grand total of four slots. Two at the maximum level they can cast and two one level below it and while these slots auto-heighten, they auto heighten to the lower level, all this means you're going to have to seriously consider what spells you take. While you gain some extra spell-slots from class features, these slots are restricted entirely to utility spells like True Strike, Spider Climb, and Fly at lower levels. Furthermore, unlike the Summoner, the Magus is not a Spontaneous Caster meaning the limitation in slots is further nailed down with a limitation in situational flexibility.
The unique subclasses for the Magus are called Hybrid Studies, which has you focusing on a particular style of fighting. Each one gives a special perk when using Arcane Resonance as well as focus spells and certain limited spell slots.
- Inorexable Iron is the style favored by anyone wielding a two-handed weapon of any sort, from polearms to greatswords. When you trigger Arcane Cascade, you get some temporary HP to supplement your offensive style. All of your spells are focused on maximizing the damage you make in a swing while your focus spell makes your attack deal splash damage.
- Laughing Shadow makes you somewhat like a Rogue, with Arcane Resonance dealing damage on flat-footed enemies when you're wielding a one-handed weapon and keeping the other hand free as well as a speed boost. Your spells are more illusory, with duplicates and teleportation.
- Sparkling Targe is the subclass dedicated to using shields, allowing you to use one and letting Arcane Cascade allow you to add the shield's AC bonus to saves and let it tank spell damage. Your spells involve making you tankier while your focus spells mitigate the action economy involved in using shields.
- Starlit Span is the ranged subclass, letting you cast spells through projectiles at short range. Your spells help you with mobility or just giving ways to target enemies.
- Twisting Tree focuses entirely on staves, letting you modify one based on how you hold it. Arcane Cascade pretty much lets you switch your holding position at will.
|The Classes of Pathfinder 2nd Edition|
|Core Classes:||Alchemist - Barbarian - Bard - Champion - Cleric - Druid |
Fighter - Monk - Ranger - Rogue - Sorcerer - Wizard
|Advanced Player's Guide:||Investigator - Oracle - Swashbuckler - Witch|
|Secrets of Magic:||Magus - Summoner|
|Guns and Gears:||Gunslinger - Inventor|
|Dark Archive:||Psychic - Thaumaturge|
|The Classes of Pathfinder 1st Edition|
|Core Classes:||Barbarian - Bard - Cleric - Druid - Fighter - Monk |
Paladin - Ranger - Rogue - Sorcerer - Wizard
|Alchemist - Antipaladin - Cavalier |
Inquisitor - Oracle - Summoner - Witch
|Arcanist - Bloodrager - Brawler - Hunter - Investigator |
Shaman - Skald - Slayer - Swashbuckler - Warpriest
|Kineticist - Medium - Mesmerist |
Occultist - Psychic - Spiritualist
|Ultimate X:||Gunslinger - Magus - Ninja - Samurai - Shifter - Vigilante|