Hey all! We’ve got our fifth installment in Underrated or Underpowered, where we talk about different spells, subclasses, and abilities and determine if they’re… well… underrated or underpowered! Today is actually the first time we’ll be looking at an ability, and this one comes courtesy of the Eldritch Knight Fighter and Valor Bard, though I’ll mostly be focusing on Eldritch Knight because of how similar they are and it’s a subclass I have more experience with. Let’s get to it!
Blasting and Slashing
War Magic is the Eldritch Knight variant of this ability and actually comes at two different levels. At level 7, if you cast a cantrip, you can use a bonus action to make one weapon attack, scaling up to any spell you cast at level 18. For this article, I’m mostly going to be focusing on the level 7 ability, as it is the one that will most likely see play. Originally, the ability was quite lackluster. Using just the Player’s Handbook, there’s not a lot of options that’d make sense for the ability. The only melee spell attack cantrip available to Wizards is Shocking Grasp, and 9 times out of 10 the Eldritch Knight will be in melee range, meaning that any ranged spell attacks will be at disadvantage. Acid Splash and Poison Spray are the other two cantrip options that could work, considering they allow saves, and finally this is one of the few times where True Strike just might not be a meme, as it allows you to basically sacrifice your multiattack to ensure you get advantage on a hit. Off the bat though, the ability is looking pretty rough.
Fortunately, Wizards of the Coast loves us all and is constantly releasing new source books! Perhaps the greatest boon for the Eldritch Knight is the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, giving us the two weapon cantrips Booming Blade and Green Flame Blade as well as some nice options like Sword Burst for AoE and Lightning Lure to get people closer to you. The introduction of Green Flame Blade and Booming Blade especially alleviated some of the stress of giving up multiattack to cast a cantrip, as it allows you to use your main attacking stat (Strength or Dexterity), does the normal weapon damage, and affords you an additional effect, whether it’s Green Flame Blade’s extra, guaranteed damage on a nearby enemy or Booming Blade’s ability to lock foes in place.
So now we get into the meat of War Magic and what makes it so solid, considering we’re using the SCAG cantrips. At level 7, the Eldritch Knight Fighter gets two attacks and can use their bonus action for… second wind? Maybe you get a feat such as Polearm Master or Shield Master which gives you a bonus action, but more often than not, you won’t be using your bonus action. This ability lets you continue to keep up that multiattack by using your bonus action as well as (I’m just going to be using Booming Blade for this from now on) doing an extra 1d8 thunder damage AND locking the enemy in place, for if they move they take an extra 2d8 thunder damage! Pretty nuts! You can also use a cantrip such as Sword Burst if you’re surrounded by enemies, dishing out 2d6 force damage to each one around you if they fail their Dex save. By level 11? That 1d8 damage goes up another d8, your Sword Burst is hitting for 3d6 in an AoE around you, things are looking pretty great! I’ll get more into this later, but I want to first present a few of the downsides of this ability.
A Miss and a Miss
Now of course, these abilities do come with their drawbacks, especially when you take into account the fact that they use those precious actions and bonus actions. However, that’s not the only gripe with the Eldritch Knight and the War Magic ability, so let’s get into it.
One of the first issues that many of you have probably noticed by now is that this ability basically falls flat without SCAG cantrips. Therefore, if you’re playing in Adventure League or another game that only allows PHB + 1 other sourcebook, you’re basically tied to using SCAG for your Eldritch Knight if you wanna get the most out of the ability. Xanathar’s Guide does offer a lot of Save spells, but more often than not you’re going to be wanting those amazing weapon attack cantrips. This unfortunately screws you out of a lot of amazing racial options, spells, etc. However, if you’re able to play at a home table or in an online group that allows all sourcebooks, congrats! You don’t have to worry about this paragraph!
The second and main issue for this arises when the Fighter hits level 11, upgrading their multiattack from 2 attacks to 3, all in one action. This creates a difficult decision, where people don’t want to invalidate their 7th level ability but, trust me I did the math, get more average damage when they use the three attacks. An exception can be made with spells like Sword Burst and Green Flame Blade, but that’s contingent on fighting more than just one enemy, so take that with a grain of salt. The main problem here is just action economy, and while personally I’m quite biased in this decision, I do see that many, many people have stated that after level 11 the cantrip + bonus attack isn’t as worth it, especially if feats like say, shield master are taken.
In a World of Magic Fighters and Samurais….
Now this is the part in the article where I compare the War Magic ability to other fighter abilities which they get at level 7. Fortunately for me, they’re mostly fluff abilities, such as the Battle Master’s Know your Enemy (if you say you pick the battle master for this then I know you’re a liar) and the Samurai’s Elegant Courier, though the Wisdom saves are real nice. The other more combat oriented abilities courtesy of the Arcane Archer and Cavalier, are both great in their own right, but I do believe that the Eldritch Knight’s is more impactful! The Cavalier’s is incredible, allowing you to defend yourself, your mount, or your teammates a few times per long rest and the Arcane Archer allows you to pierce through magical resistances, but to me War Magic almost feels like the core ability of Eldritch Knight! I think it’s one of the best level 7 abilities and compliments the Eldritch Knight play style very well, allowing them to dish out extra damage while still being very defensive with spells like Shield and Absorb Elements.
The Final Verdict
Okay, so this one is a little weird because it’s so contingent on one sourcebook. However, since this website is mostly for things like home games or online games where there aren’t super strict rules such as PHB +1, I’m very happy to give War Magic a nice Underrated! I think that the damage scales really well and it lets you open up some plans for your character! Imagine taking War Caster and coupling that with Booming Blade? Disgustingly good. I am again a little biased in this decision since I do play an Eldritch Knight and have gotten amazing mileage out of him and think he’s one of the most fun characters to play in combat.
Anyway, that about wraps it up for this article! As always thank you SO very much if you made it this far, or if even if you just opened the article and went away as soon as you saw the wall of text. Feel free to show some of your friends the article, ask questions in the forums, and follow us on our social media, we’re very active! Again, thank you guys and I’ll see all of you next week!