Happy Thursday everyone! Today we’ll be having a look at Matt Mercer’s Way of the Cobalt Soul, a subclass used by everyone’s favorite monk. This one is a bit of a doozy, so we’re just going to be jumping right into it!
We’re going to start off on a bit of a sour note, since this subclass is heavily reliant on knowledge and other Intelligence based abilities. Because of this, you’ll almost feel obligated to at least try and get a decent Intelligence, which is difficult because Monks also need Dexterity, Constitution, and Wisdom. Additionally, there’s a reason that Intelligence is more often than not dumped unless you’re a Wizard or Artificer. Therefore, unless you roll some god tier stats, you may end up with only a +1 in Intelligence or if you’re going for full flavor, a lower than ideal Constitution or Wisdom.
Know Your Enemy
Starting at level 3, you gain the abilities Mystical Erudition and Extract Aspects.
Mystical Erudition gives you proficiency in a language and an intelligence based skill, choosing from Arcana, History, Nature, and Religion. At level 11 and 17, you gain additional proficiencies and languages, or you can choose to gain expertise in one of the above skill proficiencies if you are already proficient. As far as fluff skills go, this is a pretty solid one. Getting both a language and a skill proficiency is incredibly helpful, even if you don’t really have the Intelligence to back it up. Eventually getting expertise doubles down on this, since at Level 11 you’d have AT LEAST a +8 to the skill. This ability definitely outshines abilities that other monks get, such as the Drunken Master’s Bonus Proficiencies or the Kensei’s Way of the Brush, and both compliments the class well and gives some great bonuses.
Extract Aspects is the other 3rd level ability we get, and it serves as an enhancement for your Flurry of Blows. As long as you hit a creature with one attack, you can learn the creature’s Damage Resistances, Damage Immunities, and Condition Immunities. You can use this once per short rest, increasing to twice at level 6 and three times at level 17. While the ability does a fantastic job of gathering information that can help your group, it doesn’t quite have the same combat oomph that say, an Open Hand or Kensei monk has. Additionally, it doesn’t help the Monk directly in a way that the Shadow Monk or Drunken Master do. On the flip side, this ability doesn’t cost anything to use and can be very helpful if you find that you’re fighting a ton of creatures that you simply don’t know about. Using it on say, an Assassin Vine will tell that the plant resists fire, allowing your spellcasters to make a better decision on their spell choice. Also in the ability’s favor, most Monks will be going early in initiative, allowing everyone to benefit from the knowledge. While I wouldn’t call this ability impressive, it does a great job of capturing the idea of the subclass and in certain situations can be very useful.
Level 6 heralds in two more skills, Extort Truth and Preternatural Counter
Extort Truth allows you to expend 1 ki point to force a Charisma saving throw on a creature you hit with your Flurry of Blows. You can choose to not let these attacks do damage, and if the target fails the saving throw, they can’t willingly speak a lie for the next minute and all Charisma checks against the target are made with advantage. Additionally you know if the target fails or succeeds their saving throw. Personally I think that this ability, since you get it in conjunction with a combat based ability as well, serves its purpose as an excellent source of information gathering and a useful ability. Using this in addition to a high charisma character and doing some good cop bad cop shenanigans allows you to do an incredible job interrogating any hostages you may capture. However, it suffers the same problems that Zone of Truth does in that an enemy can choose to answer indirectly or simply not talk. For what it is though, I think that this ability is definitely above average.
Preternatural Counter is an excellent reaction based ability, allowing you to make a melee attack against a creature that misses you with an attack. While the ability is simple, you won’t be using your reaction much outside of Deflect Missiles and Opportunity Attacks. Any chance for a Monk to increase their damage is welcome, and dealing 1d8 + Dex (considering you’re using a quarterstaff) on a reaction isn’t anything to scoff at. Couple this with a decent AC from Unarmored Defense and you’ll be smooth sailing in the damage department.
At level 11, we get my personal favorite ability for the subclass, Mind of Mercury. With this, you can take an additional number of reactions equal to your Intelligence modifier at the cost of 1 ki point per additional reaction. Additionally, you can spend a ki point to gain advantage on an Investigation check. I love the idea of classes getting more than one reaction and sadly we’ve only seen it in the Cavalier fighter. This couples incredibly with both Preternatural Counter and Deflect Missiles, and if you decide to pick up Sentinel? No one is going to be getting past you. While it is unfortunate that this can be a ki sink, as long as you’re smart about your use of ki and forgo one or two Patient Defenses/Flurry of Blows, you’ll do an awesome job taking full advantage of this ability.
The class’s capstone is Debilitating Barrage, and while it does a good job of fitting the flavor of the class, I’m on the fence about it. First off, you have to hit a target with at least three attacks, meaning you have to use your bonus action to unarmed strike and hit all three attacks or use Flurry of Blows and again pray that you hit at least three attacks. On top of that, you’ll have to use three ki points in order to apply the debuff. However, there is no save associated with the ability. If you were to say, choose lightning for the vulnerability and then have your Sorcerer/Wizard use Chain Lightning… that’s a pretty solid 20d8 damage. Additionally, if a creature resists even magical Bludgeoning, Piercing, and Slashing, taking away that is INCREDIBLY useful. Being able to remove a creature’s damage resistance or reduce immunity to resistance for a minute can essentially double your damage output in a combat. I think it fits the subclass very well though, and in the right hands could wreck an encounter.
All in all, I’m certainly a fan of the subclass. The abilities compliment the ideas of the class very well and it has a good mix of in and out of combat utility. I think that a lot of the class’s power simply comes in how many features it gets, with a whopping six separate abilities compared to the average four received by an average monk subclass. When you get so many abilities, it’s easy to make them individually a little weaker so that they add up and create something that’s pretty strong.
Additionally, while the class certainly isn’t official, I feel like it’s also more DM dependent than your average subclass. There’s a chance that you may very rarely be able to use abilities like Extort Truth if your DM is confrontational about things like that. Likewise, if your table knows all about resistances and immunities, Mystical Erudition could find very little use.
Finally, I sadly have to reiterate how much of a shame it is that the subclass is reliant on Intelligence. I think it would be really awesome if this subclass was able to use Intelligence instead of Wisdom for abilities like Unarmored Defense, but hey, it could be a little too broken. The subclass is completely based around knowing your enemies and how to fight them, so I think that using Intelligence instead of Wisdom makes sense? However, having a class that relies on four separate abilities is really rough, and one of them will have to be much lower than you’d want.
While I’m very on the fence solely because of the fact this subclass relies on Intelligence so much, I’m still going to go ahead and call it Underrated. I think the amount of abilities that the subclass gets coupled with how versatile they can be creates a very solid subclass that I think can create a character with a very deep and rich backstory and ideals/motives.
That will do it! Thank you all for joining us in this article, it’s a ton of fun to talk about things that aren’t quite official but still loved by the community. If you guys have any remarks or wanna say anything to us, join us on our twitter or our instagram!