Arcanist Optimization Guide
This is just an early draft, so expect updates.
Also expect updates as more of the questions surrounding how the arcanist interacts with items like pearls of power, runestones of power, pages of spell knowledge, etc. get FAQ answers.
Dec 9, 2014: Boy, Paizo sure is taking their time getting to those FAQs.
In play is the Standard Treantmonk Color System (blue>green>orange>red )
Table of Eventual Contents
Aasimar: This rating depends on your DM allowing peri-blooded (emberkin) variant aasimar. If you are going for a blade adept-to-eldritch-knight, they are also essential for making that build work, but you cannot take variant abilities because you need that daylight spell-like ability to qualify. For anything else, they are orangey-green.
As an aasimar, stealth is not your strong suit, so I would recommend taking the Halo trait. Not only does it give you a +2 bonus on saves against becoming blinded (and a blinded caster has line of sight to nothing), but it’s also effectively a free cantrip slot, granting you light. True, you can’t cast it on a rock and throw it down a pit, but blinding attacks and effects that limit line of sight are so devastating for a caster that whatever defense you can muster against them is worthwhile.
Also, it is possible for a combination of Peri-blooded and the variant aasimar ability chart to grant +4 Int at 1st level. Plus. Four. Intelligence.
Of course, many DMs interpret the blinding yellow glow as emanating from a source of pure cheese, so you may be stuck using a different race.
Catfolk: No Int bonus, Favored Class Bonus, or magic-boosting racial traits. However, they do provide a bonus to Dexterity and Charisma, and a 10-foot speed bonus when withdrawing, which prevents the following:
”I use the withdraw action to move 60 feet away from the monster.”
“It charges 60 feet and makes a bite attack. What is your AC?”
Catfolk also come with a built-in once-per-day reroll-and-take-the-best for one of your crappier saves. Feat options also allow you to get a +2 to initiative that stacks with Improved Initiative, a once-per-day forced reroll at -4 on an enemy’s melee attack, and an extra 10 feet on charge, run, and withdraw, allowing you to avoid the italicized scenario even if the monster is a larger size category than you. But that kind of thing should be beneath a full caster anyway. Besides, you can’t really spare the feats.
Changelings: How the daughters of hags don’t have a bonus to the key ability score of the witch class is beyond me. Though they have a bonus to your secondary ability, you get essentially nothing out of +2 Wisdom, and there are zero options for this race.
If you can convince your DM to change the Wisdom bonus to an Intelligence bonus they become blue just like every other race with an Intelligence bonus, but this is an optimization guide within the rules, so bright red they shall remain.
Dhampir: No Int bonus, FCB, or magic-boosting racial traits. Has a Constitution penalty, is difficult to heal, and is sensitive to light. As it stands: garbage, despite the Charisma bonus. However, expect a racial archetype to pop up soon, centered around an arcane reservoir infused with negative energy. Depending on if it gets sufficiently little playtest time, it might be broken enough to make this orange, or perhaps green if Paizo really screws up.
Drow: (Occultist) Light blindness, no Int bonus or FCB, has a Constitution penalty, and its magic-boosting racial traits are all in the wrong direction (with one exception noted below). I can’t see how these guys make good wizards, either, honestly. Why did they drop the +2 Int from 3.5?
NOTE: The Blasphemous Covenant alternate racial trait is a pretty big boost to Occultist arcanists, especially if you go the route of Eldritch Heritage (Abyssal) + Superior Summoning. The racial Charisma bonus helps make up for the lack of an Int bonus, because you need a high Charisma anyway to get the Eldritch Heritage feats you need.
Drow Noble: If your DM is willing to play ball, sure, go ahead. They get the SLAs for early-entry eldritch knight, as well as a bonus to all mental stats and +4 Dexterity. The Blasphemous Covenant alternate racial trait goes together with the Occultist archetype like peanut butter with jelly. But Drow Nobles are hilariously overpowered as a player race.
Duergar: If you can rationalize a duergar PC to your DM, take the Daysighted and Deep Magic traits and avoid exploits that rely on Charisma. Unlike the spell-like abilities, Deep Magic gets more useful as you level up, not less. In addition, your low carrying capacity becomes less of an issue, as you can carry up to a medium load and experience no penalty unless your Dexterity is 18 or higher.
Dwarf: Doesn’t really offer anything, but unlike with the sorcerer parent class, your choosing this race isn’t actively detrimental to all but the strangest builds. However, their most powerful racial options also make them worse at casting arcane spells. Being forced to stick to the bog standard to avoid being gimped puts them over the line into red territory. And it doesn’t help that their favored class bonus only applies to the one exploit you should never take unless you are a gish, in which case you will be multiclassing or using a prestige class, rendering the FCB moot.
Elf: Just as godly for arcanists as for wizards. Using Potent Magic for the caster level boost rather than DC boost is just as good as Spell Penetration, with the added bonus of allowing you to up the DC if your Knowledge check tells you the monster has crap SR. This alleviates a lot of the need for Spell Penetration.
Take the Fleet-footed alternate racial trait if possible, because initiative bonuses are far harder to come by than Perception bonuses, and you aren’t proficient with martial weapons anyway.
Gillmen: Requires an alternate racial trait that makes you vulnerable to fire just so you can walk on land for longer than a day without dying. Or, if you don’t want fire vulnerability, give up on the entire point of playing a race called “Gillmen” by giving up your amphibious quality and swim speed. This race is bad, and the people who designed it should feel bad.
Gnome: Bonus to Constitution is helpful for literally any class, so that’s a point in their favor. Their penalty is to your dump stat. While they don’t get an Intelligence boost, they do get a bonus to Charisma, which alleviates some of the pain of qualifying for Eldritch Heritage feats. Also, they somewhat make up for the missing Int bonus with a +1 DC boost to either illusion magic (which includes color spray at low levels and shadow spells at higher levels) or necromancy magic, depending on your racial traits. Since both of those schools, being full of save-or-suck, rely heavily on DCs, the gnome is quite good at those if that is where your build is headed. Also, unlike the elf, the gnome’s FCB directly increases the power of your arcane reservoir without going through any additional hoops whatsoever.
Goblins: Surprisingly good, though they get no Int bonus, FCB, or magic racial traits. Also, their culture believes that writing steals your soul, so any goblin arcanist you might encounter is 99% likely to be the result of a shitty reincarnate roll and willing to pay dearly for a scroll of limited wish. The other 1% get their powers from a talking cat, but lack the advantage of being a 16-year-old white girl during the Clinton years.
However, goblins get +4 to Dexterity without a Constitution penalty, and have no speed reduction for small size. They can swap out the Ride and Stealth bonus for a whopping +4 to Perception. While the Charisma penalty hurts your UMD and a large number of the class features intended to keep play interesting at low levels after you run out of spells, it’s possible to work around that with the right build (that is, one whose exploits aren’t garbage). However, the lack of options (understandable given the characterization of their race) means they aren’t as good as a gnome or halfling. If their penalty had been to Wisdom, and if the chances of new options being released were greater than zero, they would be green.
Grippli: Offers absolutely nothing, other than an amusing tongue-related feat. But I think we can all agree that The Phantom Menace ruined long tongues for all time.
Half-elf: It does get the flexible +2 (which goes to Intelligence), and no ability penalties. You can also take the FCB of the elf or the human, which both blow the incredibly shitty half-elf FCB out of the water. Pick Use Magic Device as your Skill Focus feat and you can afford to dump Charisma without taking Pragmatic Activator. For half-human core rulebook races, they beat out half orcs.
Taking the half-drow and drow magic traits for access to the drow racial feats isn’t nearly as attractive for an arcanist as it is for a sorcerer because your saving throw DCs and concentration checks will be in the toilet, and you don’t get as many feats as other classes anyway.
They don’t get fleet-footed or elven magic, but they are still a very optimal race. However, in the final analysis, they lose out to elves. What the hell am I saying, they get paragon surge! And the nerf to paragon surge has zero impact on the arcanist, because the Expanded Preparation feat doesn’t specify what spells you prepare. Although it’s not clear on how you would go about filling suddenly-acquired empty slots, since Quick Study references “existing spells,” and the Advanced Class Guide doesn’t explicitly say that the arcanist can leave spell slots unfilled.
NOTE: There is a loophole in the Magical Epiphany feat: “Once per day, you can prepare a spell in an open spell slot as a standard action.” It can be made to work for this purpose, in the same way that the 1st Amendment can be made to give Hobby Lobby LLC a religion.
Halfling: They get a +2 bonus to Dexterity, which is useful for every class, and their penalty is to your dump stat. They also receive a bonus to Charisma, which is less useless to you than if you were a wizard. Their alternate racial traits also allow you to be just as fast as a medium creature while retaining the AC and attack bonuses. However, you don’t get any magic-boosting traits to even partially compensate for the lack of an Intelligence bonus. It’s a real toss-up whether their FCB (three extra exploits over the course of 18 levels) is better or worse than the gnome’s (three extra points in your arcane pool at the beginning of the day by 18th level). They get a +1 bonus on all saves, which is good for surviving the low levels (and never becomes useless). Not bad, per se, but they’re no elf, and for optimization I’d go for elf.
Half-orc: For their ability to get +2 Int without a Dex or Con hit, they are top-tier contenders, regardless of how much it plays against type. However, the orc does not have a favored class bonus for the arcanist, the human one is very meh, and the half-orc FCB is only useful if you take damage while casting. It is not a bonus to casting defensively. It only helps if you’ve already fucked up.
Orc ferocity is good for them for the same reason it is good for wizards. If any class type can do more with one last standard action before passing out, it would be the full arcane caster.
Since you won’t have the strength, charisma, or class skill list to be party face, drop the intimidating trait for literally anything else. I would recommend unflinching valor, merely because each +1 CMD versus being grappled is key, because there is massive table variation from DM to DM on whether you can use Dimensional Slide while grappled, and a grappled caster is a very, very vulnerable one.
Alternately, if Dimensional Sliding out of grapples is A-OK with the DM, the Scavenger racial trait will make you really good at Appraise (perhaps the best at general use of the skill out of any character), especially combined with the Int bonus, and provides a nice situational bonus on Perception to find hidden objects.
To replace Weapon Familiarity, take the City-Raised racial trait rather than Chain Fighter, because for City Raised you receive all the benefits without having to multiclass, and the spiked chain sucks fat hairy donkey balls.
If you don’t envision a need for darkvision (and really, please think twice before dumping darkvision, because getting it back or finding a suitable replacement can be a real pain in the ass until high level), you can always pick up the Skilled racial trait. This way, you can play a half-orc smarter than the average human, with a broader array of skills, a fear of the dark, and more aptitude for appraising rare antiques than a gnome. With green skin and protruding canines. Playing against type has never been so egregiously effective and hilarious.
Hobgoblins: No Int or Cha bonus or FCB, or even any bonus feats, but with +2 Dex and +2 Con with no ability penalties, they are a solid choice, especially with point buy. If you can rationalize a hobgoblin PC, take the extra step to rationalize an Arcanist with the Magehunter trait. If you know for absolute certain that you won’t need darkvision, you can trade it for a +1 natural armor bonus.
Human: Of course they make good arcanists. Is there any class guide for which the human isn’t blue? But now for the nitty-gritty.
If for some bizarre reason you want to take Skill Focus as a 1st level feat (such as for UMD if you are dumping Charisma and taking Magical Lineage and Wayang Spellhunter), congratulations. Exchanging the bonus feat trait for the Focused Study trait means you can not only get Skill Focus (UMD), but get an additional Skill Focus feat at 8th and 16th level.
As an Int-based class, you will never be hurting for skill points. So it may be worth it to take a “Heart of Wherever.” In terms of which Heart is best at producing “good God, am I grateful I took that” moments, Heart of the Sun, with its +2 versus distraction and poison from swarms, is heads and shoulders above the others.
If you are in dire need of boosting one particular Craft skill (such as alchemy, which seems to have had more items published for it by Paizo than there were races in 3.5 and isn’t even slowing down), then Heart of the Fields is also an option.
NOTE: Heart of the Fields does not work with the Eldritch Font archetype.
And if you don’t feel like you need too many feats, you can dump the skill points AND bonus feat for an additional +2 to any other ability score (meaning Dex or Con).
Ifrit: Ordinarily, it would be hard to rate a race with the same stat boosts as a fleet footed halfling, but with a penalty in a stat that is harder to dump, as well as no attack or AC size bonuses, as being in the same category as the halfling, let alone perhaps even better. However, Wildfire Heart is amazing. So amazing, in fact, that if you have to take the Forge-Hardened trait and put more backstory into your character to placate your DM, do so. And take Fire Insight, because an insanely marginal and situational boost is better than an absolutely useless boost.
Kitsune: With a bonus to Dexterity and your class’s second-most important stat, with a penalty to a dump stat, they aren’t a terrible choice. For an enchanter build, the +1 DC from kitsune magic partially overcomes the lack of an Intelligence bonus.
Kobold: I bet you were expecting red, weren’t you? Let me tell you why not. Yes, the -4 Str penalty (as opposed to -2 for literally every other Small race in the ARG) is ridiculous. Yes, they get no bonus to any mental ability score. Yes, they get no bonus to any useful skill besides Perception. Yes, they have no favored class bonus. Yes, their magic-related traits are really bad.
HOWEVER… they get access to the Kobold Confidence feat. If you have Charisma 13, you can use your Intelligence in place of your Constitution to determine your Fortitude save modifier and the number of negative hit points you can accrue before dying. With this feat, your Fortitude save modifier may well exceed your Will save modifier from level 1 to level 20, and the party cleric can literally let your body lie there with a ruptured aorta for the length of a typical commercial break before having to stabilize you.
However, if your DM doesn’t allow stuff from the Pathfinder Player Companion, don’t even think about playing a kobold. They become super red.
Also, you may very well wind up being better off having your familiar carry your gear for you, which is a uniquely humiliating experience.
Merfolk: Despite the quite favorable ability modifiers, your 15-foot land speed (you don’t need my advice to pick the Landwalker trait, do you?) is guaranteed to get at least one person killed, and since you have no feet, you can’t exactly make up for it with boots of striding and springing. In an underwater campaign, or one where getting at-will fins to feet ain’t no thang, or in any other contrived circumstance where the drawbacks of the race are minimized, these become green, because the Charisma bonus makes them even easier to twink out via point-buy than the hobgoblin.
Nagaji: Penalty to Intelligence. Pass.
Orc: Penalty to your most important stat and most useful secondary stat in exchange for a huge bonus to your dump stat. Pass.
Oread: Penalty to a secondary stat in exchange for a bonus to two dump stats. On top of that, they have 20 foot base speed. Absolute garbage.
Ratfolk: Bonus to Intelligence and Dexterity with a penalty to a dump stat. I could stop this entry right here. But I’ll go into more detail anyway.
By way of comparison with the elf, the ratfolk has the bonus that their ability penalty is in Strength (a dump stat) rather than Constitution (the stat that no character can afford to dump). They also receive a +1 size bonus to AC and attack rolls. Their +2 to UMD is objectively better than the elven +2 to Spellcraft to identify magic items, because a PC actively decides when to use UMD, whereas identifying magic items only comes into play if external factors fall just right.
It’s essentially a tradeoff between the +1 to attack and AC, 1 extra hit point per level and superior skill bonuses, versus +2 spell penetration, +10 feet base speed, and the favored class bonus.
Samsaran: It has an Intelligence bonus. Yes, its other ability bonus is to a dump stat, but the real beauty of the samsaran is their alternate racial trait, which lets you pick up to five arcane spells from the class lists of other arcane classes, including the witch, the bard, and the summoner (and theoretically the magus and bloodrager, but their exclusive spells are almost guaranteed to not be worth the opportunity cost of choosing them over those from a more traditional arcane class).
You can be kind to your DM and poach things like find the path, animate objects, and brilliant inspiration off the bard list, and get greater shout at 6th level, or you can be mean and abuse the summoner list like so: barkskin and haste as 2nd-level spells, black tentacles as a 3rd-level spell, greater teleport and greater dispel magic as 5th level spells, and maze as a 6th-level spell. Heck, even with the bard you can get overwhelming presence three spell levels lower than it would otherwise be, and that spell staggers multiple creatures even if they make their save.
And on top of all that, you can use spell trigger items of these spells, because they are now on your class list.
Strix: With a penalty to your secondary stat and no bonus to Intelligence, their only saving grace is their flight speed. Since many DMs will force you to take wing-clipped so that you aren’t flying before 5th level, and the ability to regain your fly speed thus requires a feat with a Str 13 prereq, a would-be strix arcanist must face the painful truth: They will suck.
If for some reason your DM lets you play a Strix without nerfing your flight speed, it might be useful to have a GTFO button that doesn’t cost points from your reservoir. In this case, they’re orange, because you can always pick exploits that aren’t tied to Charisma, and at-will flight will save you a crapton of spells per day over the course of your career.
Suli: Intelligence penalty. Do not want.
Svirfneblin: Though they have a heavy penalty to your secondary stat, all the crazy bonuses they get (+2 dodge bonus to AC? +2 racial to all saves? SR 11 + HD?) might make up for it somewhat. However, it’s pretty unlikely that you will ever have a DM let you play one anyway, and I can’t see any special racial options ever being published.
Sylph: An equally amazing choice as the ratfolk. While it puts the penalty back into Constitution, they have the elf and ratfolk +2 Dex and +2 Int killer combo. Though sylphs don’t get skill bonuses, they do get darkvision, which can be a big help at low levels.
Also very helpful at low levels, they can trade out the useless air affinity trait for Breeze-Kissed, a +2 racial AC bonus versus non-magical ranged attacks.
I recommend trading out the energy resistance for the Like The Wind racial trait. The Airy Step and Wings of Air feats will give you a +4 to saves against electricity effects anyway, and the +5 feet to base speed means your continuous supernatural flight speed at 9th level is 5 feet faster than normal.
And their obligatory 1st-level spell like ability, while rarely used, is an absolute lifesaver when you do need it. Remember that feather fall can target multiple creatures as the sylph levels up.
Tengu: No Int or Cha bonus, FCB, or magic traits, a bonus to a dump stat, and nothing to offer to make up for it. On top of that, you’re a hideous birdman.
Tiefling: Your bog-standard tiefling is pretty good–in fact, blue rating good–but it’s the other options that push it over the top. Take the prehensile tail trait to replace fiendish sorcery, and the Fiendish Heritage feat at 1st level. The Daemon-spawn (Grimspawn) replace the Charisma penalty with a Wisdom penalty, and your variant abilities can potentially include swapping out your darkness spell-like ability for +2 to Int or Cha (though it is incredibly unlikely for that to happen).
Undine: Same as the tengu, though your character can take some racial traits to not be so goddamned ugly.
Vanara: On the face of it, these should be red, but I get the feeling that the prehensile tail trait is severely undervalued, especially on a class like the arcanist that is constantly pulling out scrolls, potions, wands, component pouches, etc.
Vishkanya: Their ability score bonuses are alright, but none of their other racial features match up at all, and their race point value of 13 is a bit high—right up by the tiefling but with none of the synergy.
Wayang: +2 Dex and +2 Int. Though they have only 20ft speed, their magical traits somewhat make up for it, such as a +1 DC boost to shadow spells, some of the better spells in the game. A +2 bonus to Perception checks helps make up for the Wisdom penalty. And best of all, your DM can’t give you shit for taking both Magical Lineage and Wayang Spellhunter, because you have a magical lineage and are a Wayang hunting for spells.
Strength: Your most reliable dump stat. As an arcane caster, you weren’t really carrying anything anyway. Though do try to have a higher score than your familiar.
Dexterity: You need this for AC at low levels, and initiative from level 1 all the way to level 20. Try for a 14, or at least a 12.
Constitution: Every character needs this. 12 minimum. Yes, even if you’re an elf. Preferably 14.
Intelligence: No other stat comes close. Get at least an 18, preferably 20 by being an elf, sylph, human, half-elf, half-orc, samsaran, aasimar, tiefling, or ratfolk. If you are a samsaran, it is much more important to get that 20 at level 1, because it’s your score at level 1 that determines the power of your racial trait throughout your career.
Wisdom: This does very little for you other than bonuses to Will saves and Perception. However, those things are huge, and because you won’t have the Charisma of a sorcerer, and feeblemind exists, you can’t rely on Steadfast Personality. So dump with care in an actual game, as opposed to theorycraft.
Charisma: Your class features other than spells mostly key off of this ability, so having a relatively high score is a plus, especially at low levels. But don’t sacrifice Dexterity, Constitution, or Intelligence.
Point-buy arrays without racial modifiers:
10 pt buy:
Str 7, Dex 13, Con 12, Int 18, Wis 7, Cha 7
Punch your DM in the face.
15 pt buy:
Str 7, Dex 12, Con 12, Int 18, Wis 7, Cha 12
Str 7, Dex 14, Con 14, Int 18, Wis 7, Cha 7
20 pt buy:
Str 7, Dex 12, Con 12, Int 18, Wis 10, Cha 13
Str 7, Dex 16, Con 14, Int 18, Wis 7, Cha 7
25 pt buy:
Str 7, Dex 12, Con 12, Int 18, Wis 8, Cha 16
Str 7, Dex 16, Con 16, Int 18, Wis 7, Cha 7
I’ll get more into this later, but seriously, it’s not that difficult. You’re a wizard with UMD as a class skill.
This will be a nightmare (more so than you would even think, because Paizo couldn’t be bothered to come up with a new word–internalize, lucubrate, retrieve, etc.–for what the arcanist does when he sets a spell as a spell known for the day), but I will get to it when the FAQs are answered.
Coming soon. If you intend to twink a specific spell, by all means take Magical Lineage and Wayang Spellhunter, as usual. A good standby otherwise is Pragmatic Activator (Int for UMD checks, if you dumped Cha) or Transmuter (if you didn’t), and Reactionary (+2 Init).
NOTE: Clever Wordplay is a social trait that turns one Cha skill into an Int skill. You can pick UMD as your associated skill and still be able to pick up a magic trait.
Acid Jet: This is strictly better than lightning lance: less-resisted damage type, effect lasts longer, and while it doesn’t reduce successful attacks by a full 20%, it does reduce it some, and also penalizes saving throws, paving the way for a followup attack by you or an ally. Spell resistance does not apply, so the only real achilles heel is the short range, combined with the fact that making a ranged attack provokes attacks of opportunity.
Altered Shifting: (From Advanced Class Guide Origins). The poor-man’s shapechange. If you are focused on polymorph effects (such as a blade adept eldritch knight), it may be useful to have the option to meld or de-meld your equipment without ending the spell. This works far better with polymorph and greater polymorph than a spell specialized for one creature type, because the power of this exploit is determined by the number of possible forms the spell allows.
Arcane Barrier: While the steep price increase for multiple daily uses hurts it, and it can’t be used as an immediate action, it is a swift action that lasts for 1 minute per arcanist level. At 1st level, it can increase your hit points by nearly 50% if you have a better than average Charisma, and if you aren’t surprised, you can turn this on before an encounter and basically gain the benefit of Toughness.
Arcane Weapon: You are a primary spellcaster. You have a d6 hit die and a ½ BAB. You were not only encouraged, but in fact required to have dumped Strength to maintain a maximal Intelligence and either decent Charisma or respectable AC and hit points. I’m sure there is some bizarre way to leverage this, which probably involves dips, but this ability is simply unjustifiable for a primary spellcaster, which is a shame, since otherwise its Greater version would be a fantastic source of flexibility.
Obviously, blade adept eldritch knights have a completely different priority for this exploit.
Bloodline Development: Since there are no sorcerous equivalents of the void school wizard (note that getting an arcane bonded item means that you can’t cast a Quickened spell in the same round you use the item), give this a pass. Instead, use the archetype.
NOTE: One possible exception would be the Abyssal bloodline. To make this work, you would need to take the occultist archetype and 1 level of sorcerer, putting you severely behind in your casting and negating your early-entry advantage on summon spells. However, this allows you to get the Extra Summons ability without investing heavily in Charisma and Feats, and lets you pull off the Superior Summoning + Added Summonings combination two character levels sooner. Is it a worthwhile trade? Possibly. There was a prestige class in 3.5 that granted the ability to summon 1 extra creature with summon monster, and it lost a caster level, and was still worth it. Now that there is a feat specifically to not double, but triple the power of your summonings upon gaining this ability, I would say that it is viable. But this is for advanced players only. Though I guess that goes without saying for something called an optimization guide.
Consume Magic Items: This exploit is difficult to rate due to the incredibly wide table variation you might experience in magic item availability, but I can tell you some things.
For example, getting reservoir points from potions is 33% cheaper than from wands (assuming 2nd level spells, which are the most cost-effective).
The cheapest method of creating throwaway items for consumption is to set aside 2 hours every day to create a 2nd level scroll (caster level 4th, because your class can’t cast 2nd level spells at level 3) for 100 gp in materials. Each scroll is worth 1 reservoir point when consumed.
If you must be quick about it, create a wand. It will be 200% more expensive, but 60% faster. It will still take 6 days, though, so this is for the medium-term, not the short-term.
Since staves must be recharged, and you could just as easily have used consume spells on the spell used to recharge it as you could have used this exploit on the staff, and both the staff charge and the spell slot both produce the same number of reservoir points, there is no reason to produce a special staff for consumption shenanigans.
Counterspell (bordering on green): Since counterspelling normally requires a readied action, you almost never saw it in play. Another reason you never saw it in play was because a readied arrow shot by the party archer and the subsequent DC Assload concentration check was a hell of a lot more effective, easier on party resources, and helped kill the guy faster (though not as fast as allowing the archer to full-attack, so take that as you will). You don’t have the spells-per-day for this, though the greater version takes some of the sting out of it if the campaign demands you be able to identify and intercept any and all compulsion effects aimed at the party fighter. However, in such a circumstance, the fighter needs a special ability of their own to intercept any and all daggerlike glares from fellow party members caused by his glass-cannon build.
Dimensional Slide: Super-duper blue if your DM rules you can escape grapples with it. Even if not, it allows you to teleport in all three dimensions as part of your move, and vastly increases your effective speed, so, for example, you could teleport to the top of a 15-foot ledge and cackle madly at the bastard trying to find an open charge lane to hit you. Just because the mat is two dimensional doesn’t mean your thinking has to be.
Eldritch Aid: While it is extremely rare for a +2 caster level bump to an ally’s spell to be worth a standard action in combat, there are a number of uses for it out of combat, such as letting the cleric animate a larger object than they normally could, then casting permanency, or letting them create more powerful undead via create undead. If you have a samsaran Spell Sage wizard in the party, some of these can become absolutely ridiculous.
Energy Shield: Though it takes a standard to activate, the fact that it’s measured in minutes rather than rounds means that you can use it if you are given any degree of preparation time whatsoever, and it scales. It can also be tuned to any energy type, rather than requiring you to pick one at level up as with the elemental ray exploits.
Familiar: It opens up a world of options, including a bonus to initiative checks and the Improved Familiar feat. You can have an imp that turns invisible, flies up into the air, then goes crazy with a wand of grease.
First-World Face Thief: You may be wondering why this isn’t red, as it essentially works as a hat of disguise that takes up an exploits known slot and costs reservoir points each time you use it.
However, there is one saving grace here: It is a supernatural ability. As a supernatural ability, it is not subject to dispel magic or greater dispel magic.
I can’t recommend it for most campaigns, which is why it’s orange (meaning situationally useful), but it does offer a capability that cannot be found anywhere else in PC sources, so it isn’t red.
First-World Illusion Catcher: Since you already have plenty of options for ending spell effects or seizing control of them, an exploit that only applies to a subset of illusion effects and which has a situationally useful prerequisite is not very impressive.
Flame Arc: With an area of effect almost guaranteed not to provide more than one target, the most resisted energy damage type, and the lack of any rider effects, this is the worst of the elemental attack abilities.
NOTE: Because, unlike all other elemental attack abilities, this does not require a ranged attack roll, using it when threatened does not provoke attacks of opportunity. However, this advantage is insufficient to save it from a red rating.
Force Strike: An interesting choice. It’s a magic missile with a stricter target limitation, garbage range, and stops scaling as well past level 3 (though it does more damage at level 2, and eventually starts doing more damage than magic missile at higher levels when you no longer need it). However, it does not allow spell resistance, is a purely mental action, and does not provoke attacks of opportunity, as it is a supernatural ability that requires no ranged touch attack. If the arcanist can see you and is in range, the only way to avoid the attack—aside from the shield spell and a handful of niche magic items and monster abilities—is being in an antimagic field. The sheer difficulty required to stop this attack may make it useful in enough situations to warrant taking it, especially if you can retrain it at level 7 or so, when its damage falls too far behind.
Ice Missile: The ability to stagger the target makes it the best elemental attack of the bunch (no chargepounce or cast-and-retreat for you!), not to mention the fact that its improved version is the best out of the improved elemental attacks. If the retraining rules are in place, though, you may want to dump it after a certain point.
Item Crafting: Totally campaign dependent in a way that is impossible to quantify; hence a rating that is impossible to quantify on the four-color system. However, if crafting IS allowed, scribing your own scrolls for use with your consume magic items feature can become very cost-effective. Like, rip-the-planet-in-half effective. For less than the cost of an 8th-level scroll, a 20th-level elven arcanist can wade into a fight with double the baseline number of 9th-level spells.
Lepidstadt Shifter: Mother of God. This exploit is ridiculously good. You can now actually use the beast shape spells, whether to become something like a manticore for flying poison action, or the tiniest flying creature you possibly can to become impossible to hit and near-guaranteed to go first.
Lightning Lance: Creatures with nonvisual senses aren’t bothered by the concealment, whereas far fewer creatures are outright immune to the staggered condition from the cold attack. It provokes attacks of opportunity for using it in melee range, is the second-most-commonly-resisted energy type, and lacks even the illusion of multitarget capability. Ultimately, it is only marginally better than flame arc. So marginal that it doesn’t deserve a higher rating than the former.
Metamagic Knowledge: Given that this is a prerequisite for one of the best exploits, this would receive a high recommendation regardless of the fact that, hey, it’s a free feat. By the way, when taking a feat at level up, instead of taking a metamagic feat, take Extra Exploit (Metamagic Knowledge). You get the feat and also qualify for the Greater Metamagic Knowledge exploit in one go, making this a better choice.
Metamixing: The high rating does come with some caveats. The key point to remember here is that if your build already centers around one or two particular feat+spell combos, then this isn’t very useful, since you will probably just prepare that Thanatopic enervation or whatever and be guaranteed to have a normal casting time, and at high levels, Spell Perfection allows you to add one metamagic feat for free even if it was prepared with another metamagic (because the specific of the feat overrides the general of the arcanist class description). Instead, this exploit is for increasing your flexibility. The more metamagic feats you have, the more powerful this exploit becomes. If you instead rely on only a few feats, you can prepare metamagic versions of those spells ahead of time.
Nidalese Shadow Veil: It’s not the effect that’s bad, it’s the duration. Mage armor also decreases most low-level foes’ chance to hit by ~20%, and by the time pure AC bonuses become less effective, mirror image is available. If you somehow got an ungodly starting Charisma for free (such as if you’re playing a drow noble and rolled for stats rather than used point-buy), it’s better, but the action required to activate it (remember that for Su abilities it’s a standard unless otherwise specified) is a serious pain.
Potent Magic: The ability to increase the power of your spells at a critical moment will save lives. Or end them. Whatever works. It’s rated blue because it is one of the most powerful abilities your class receives, if not the most. At clutch moments, it will change the face of the game. The fact that you have to wait to level 5 to get it (or spend a feat) if you go School Savant is in fact the most powerful argument there is against taking School Savant. And School Savant is overwhelmingly powerful.
Quick Study: You won’t be using this exploit in combat (barring time stop, which might be amusing as a high-level trick), and carrying your entire spellbook around with you (rather than a smaller backup version) is potentially dangerous if your DM is a dick or if the monsters have ranks in Spellcraft. Also, the CharOp Gods spake ye art to hath a scroll for untangling whatever clusterfuck your party has just dick-tripped into. But if you didn’t bring enough scrolls, you’ll be glad you have this.
However, resist the temptation to think of yourself as a wizard just because you have this exploit. That will lead to laziness and sloppy mistakes. Understand your class. Understand your reservoir. Understand your feats and exploits. And above all, understand your spellcasting mechanic.
NOTE: Since it is unclear whether an arcanist can leave some slots open to prepare later in the day like the wizard, this is still blue, but not as blue as Potent Magic. If it is ruled they can not leave slots open until later in the day (which seems to be the way the wind is blowing, FAQ-wise, though I haven’t seen direct confirmation), it becomes just as blue as Potent Magic.
School Understanding: This blue rating is due to what I assume is a typo. (If your DM vetoes the typo, this becomes mostly garbage.) Take the void wizard elemental arcane school, and pick the reveal weakness power. For some bizarre reason, this is based on caster level rather than wizard level. It is also ungodly strong.
Also, you could theoretically take this exploit and dip one level of wizard (preferably as early as possible), and thereby acquire the entirety of the wizard’s arcane school, including the level 20 boost. But in doing so you have lost more than the magical supremacy capstone: you have broken one of the fundamental rules of optimization: thou shalt not give up caster levels.
It is for this very reason that it is preferable to take the School Savant archetype and lose out on three exploits rather than be two entire levels behind the wizard, cleric, and druid.
See Magic: Spend a point to get arcane sight for 1 minute. Circumstantially helpful at the lowest levels. Obsolete by 9th level save for the check-setting effect.
Spell Disruption: If you didn’t want that effect to land, you should have used a counterspell. Suppressing an effect would be useful as a low-level alternative to dispel magic, except that the rounds spent suppressed don’t count against the duration, and it requires you to run up to and touch the poor bastard who needs the time-out, meaning that this is FFO (for friendlies only).
Spell Resistance: GARBAGE LIKE THE WORLD HAS NEVER SEEN BEFORE. Spend a standard action to gain a 25% chance to resist spells—ALL spells—from equal-level foes… AND ALLIES… and only for less than a minute, usually only 2 to 4 rounds. This is brown rather than red, it’s so shitty.
Spell Tinkerer: The ability to halve the duration of an effect is ludicrously circumstantial, but the ability to extend one can come in handy. It stacks with Extend Spell, and can even let you grant a ghetto version of Extend Spell to party members that don’t have that feat. Cooperation with your party cleric (especially if they have Extend Spell from a feat or rod) can lead to interesting results.
Swift Consume: This is somewhat useful at low to mid levels, since it allows you to budget your point consumption on a round-by-round basis, and thus not worry about overkill. Also, you can consume a spell to get a point, then move to use Dimensional Slide. Is it as powerful as using that spell slot to put protection from evil on the fighter before combat? No. Which is why this is orange.
Once you gain access to Quickened Spells, you’ll usually have more urgent things to do with your swift actions (though don’t forget that even with this exploit, you can always use the consume ability as a move action), but this ability never wears out its welcome. Just remember that you should try to avoid building up your reservoir past 5 + ½ your class level, and try to keep 1 + ¼ your class level in reserve unless you have reached the point where teleport, magnificent mansion, et. al. have rendered the night ambush a thing of the past.
Third Eye: This exploit requires you to have taken another feat to use, and does not become available until 5th level. Given how various archetypes interact with the exploits known per level table, it often doesn’t become available until 9th level, at which point it is completely useless, especially given that it has the same increasing cost problem as arcane barrier.
Burning Flames: While it does result in action denial if the enemy takes time to smother the flames, it’s still just pure damage otherwise. Compare this to icy tomb’s ability damage and entangled effect.
Counter Drain: This receives an orange due to its “polish that turd” effect. You don’t have enough spells per day to afford to waste them on negating one enemy caster’s action when you can simply turn the bastard to stone. However, if you’re in the kind of game where counterspelling is a viable choice, this does indeed provide a useful boost, since you can counter spells of 3rd to 5th level without losing points, and actually come out ahead on the higher-end spells. However, do keep in mind that those spells really could have gone toward something else. But if the enemy is rocking save-or-dies with an ungodly casting stat, but lacks any caster-level boosts, this can be circumstantially useful.
Dancing Electricity: All it does is cause marginal damage to creatures adjacent to the target. It doesn’t even spread the debuff.
Energy Absorption: Not as good as it sounds, because the enemy whose damage you just absorbed is probably immune to your exploit’s effects.
Greater Counterspell: While this officially makes you the greatest counterspelling character in the game, if you’re going to be counterspelling, it will be on rare occasions (to wit, where you don’t or can’t care about conserving resources, and your enemy’s spells are so dangerous that giving up your Quickened Spells to frustrate the enemy’s casting is actually a worthwhile trade).
Greater Metamagic Knowledge: Sweet bippity Christ is this awesome. Do you need your fireballs to deal acid damage today? Get Elemental Spell (acid)! Will you be fighting incorporeal creatures? Ectoplasmic Spell! Does the mission you were just given require you to bring back the target alive? Merciful Spell! Is the second half of the campaign undead-heavy? Retrain a feat to get Spell Focus (necromancy), then enjoy access to Threnodic Spell or Thanatopic Spell!
But please note, you can’t do all these things at once. You are not, and never will be, the Batman wizard.
Greater Spell Resistance: GARBAGE. Nothing was done to mitigate what made the base exploit so terrible.
Greater Spell Disruption: Let me tell you a story.
In 2004, there was a class called the warlock. At 11th level, it gained the power to use a melee-touch-range greater dispel magic at will, and even healed damage whenever they dispelled an effect. This ability was called devour magic, and it was garbage. Since in 3.5E casting defensively was easy, the attack of opportunity for using a spell-like ability rather than a supernatural one was academic. Thus, here we have a gimped version of an ability deemed to be garbage over ten years ago.
Yes, the Cha-to-check feature is nice, but a scroll of greater dispel magic made at a higher caster level is much easier to replace than a core class feature.
Icy Tomb: Now the target is not only staggered, but takes 1 point of Dexterity damage and must spend its one action that turn to free itself from the ice or else take another point of Dexterity damage on the following round. But now it costs an extra pool point. If that weren’t the case, it would be a solid green, but as it is, it is a difficult choice.
Lingering Acid: YUCK! Doubles the cost, and doesn’t even double the damage. No extra status effect either. And the increased damage is dealt in such a way that acid resistance is maximally effective at reducing your damage.
Redirect Spell: You can really mess up someone’s day with this one. This is battlefield control at its best (that is, with action and resource denial thrown in), and you can still cast your own spells as standard actions on the round after the first. While it seems to specifically state spells, as in spellcaster spells only, keep in mind that an offhand FAQ regarding the difference between spells and spell-like abilities singlehandedly made the mystic theurge and eldritch knight viable prestige classes. I’m going to say it allows taking control of spell-like abilities until an FAQ to the opposite effect overrules the FAQ that permitted viable eldritch knights and mystic theurges (for aasimars).
Resistance Drain: Wrap up the fight. Don’t waste actions to potentially collect reservoir points that go away after 1 minute. And don’t forget that while you’re waiting to absorb spells, you’re also presenting a significant difficulty to the cleric that’s trying to keep you alive in the form of a 50% chance of their spells failing to affect you.
Siphon Spell: Unless you’re fighting enemies of equal or higher caster level, this does nothing, and the potential to score a net +1 point out of it is dependent on beating the check by 10 or more. Sure, you add your Charisma modifier, but the caster level is usually either too high for you to waste actions screwing around (1 foe of high CR) or too low for the exploit to work (large number of creatures of lower CR).
Spell Thief: Most garbage thing of all garbage things. Melee touch, save negates, might accidentally steal a debuff, can’t steal personal or permanent effects. If you want to trade a buff with an ally, there are better ways to do it.
Suffering Knowledge: If you’re failing saving throws and still in a position to strike back, whatever you just stole wasn’t worth it.
This archetype is relatively straightforward. Your goal is to prestige into Eldritch Knight as soon as humanly possible to take advantage of your awesome free magic sword by becoming capable of actually hitting things with it.
To do this without sucking requires abuse of the aasimar loophole. (If only the 3.0 team had put deeper darkness as the tiefling’s racial SLA…)
You will want your 1-handed weapon to have an 18-20 critical range, so the best bet is the scimitar. Dervish Dance is preferable to Slashing Grace because it only requires 2 ranks in Perform (dance) rather than Weapon Focus, alleviating the front-loaded early feat crunch, and as an Int class you can afford to spend the skill points (though being forced to justify your character concept can be a handicap at certain tables). You will also want Improved Critical. This allows maximal benefit from Spell Critical when you eventually get it. And don’t rely on spells with an area, but spells with a target entry, allowing you to cast it on adjacent foes without being caught in the center of a fireball.
It works thusly: As an aasimar (preferably peri-blooded) with the Magical Knack (arcanist) trait, take three levels of blade adept arcanist. You won’t get any exploits. Then take a level of a full-BAB class that grants martial weapon proficiency (since I don’t play martials much, it’ll take me a bit to figure out which is the best 1-level dip, but fighter is always at least a decent choice). Then begin taking levels of eldritch knight, and for your 5th-level feat, choose Extra Exploit (eldritch blade). If you have the Magical Knack (arcanist) trait, your black blade will now advance by your arcane caster level rather than class level, and (provided you don’t dip anything else) your caster level will be equal to your Hit Dice.
The next step is to take Extra Exploit (spellstrike). You can now combine touch spells with melee attacks.
The problem is, though, that you are now two levels behind in your casting. And you were already a level behind the wizard in your spell access. You will not receive 9th-level spells until 20th level.
And your arcane reservoir does not improve, so you cannot make use of most of the exploits.
It would require exceptional optimization skills to get anything worthwhile out of this, as is the case with most gish concepts. If I learn more, I’ll be sure to update this guide.
Since you do not gain any bonus spells, it really comes down to whether the arcana and the bloodline powers are worth the lost exploits. And the answer is usually no. There may be something cool out there, but it will take digging if there is. And before you ask, I’m almost one hundred percent certain that the arcane bloodline doesn’t increase the number of spells you can prepare.
The fact that this archetype doesn’t add the bloodline bonus spells to your spells prepared is the truly puzzling aspect of this archetype.
NOTE: Since crossblooded and wildblooded are sorcerer archetypes that modify the sorcerer’s bloodline class feature, rather than being an inherent part of the class feature, you cannot select a wildblooded bloodline or be crossblooded via this archetype.
Also note that the archetype says nothing about changing the key ability to Intelligence, so the saving throws, damage, and uses per day of your bloodline powers will be pretty terrible.
NOTE: If you are going for a build that specializes in a very narrow subset of spells, the DC boost from certain bloodline arcana (such as the fey bloodline) can be respectable (i.e. green), especially since unlike the wizard you can change your spells out when faced with constructs or undead.
This may be one of the most potent arcane buffing classes ever created. Remember when you first opened up the CRB to look at the polymorph fixes and saw all those huge Strength bonuses and thought, “Man, if only my base attack bonus, base Strength, weapon proficiencies, and feat selections didn’t suck.”
Well, now the person benefiting from the spell can say “Hey, none of that applies to me!”
At 3rd level, your enlarge person or what have you grants an extra 2 to the respective ability score (i.e. +4 Strength from enlarge person).
At 9th level, you can spend a point to grant monstrous physique II to the fighter, or 2 points to both transform them and up the Strength bonus by an additional 2.
It’s all there in a nice linear progression from 3rd to 9th: monstrous physique I, monstrous physique II, monstrous physique III, monstrous physique IV, giant form I, giant form II, and shapechange.
If your beatstick has a bit of a problem resisting enemy mind control, undead anatomy is also available for a +8 bonus on saves vs. mind-affecting.
Long arm, see invisibility, resinous skin, expeditious retreat, transformation, paragon surge, resilient reservoir, echolocation, overland flight, fluid form, ice body, iron body, frightful aspect, angelic aspect, ethereal jaunt, fiery body, and time stop (for the self-buffing cleric-types) are all fair game. If you give the fighter ice body, throw protection from energy on him just in case.
If a character is Dexterity-based, you can use elemental body (air elemental) on them. Make sure someone else is holding their rapier or longbow so it doesn’t get absorbed. You can use a wand of mage armor (or cast it yourself) and a wand of barkskin (or cast it yourself if you’re a samsaran) on the elemental to help get some of their armor class bonuses back.
And you don’t need to wait to level 20 to affect targets outside your reach: use a rod of Reach Spell. Though this kind of thing is supposed to be prebattle buffing, so the reach shouldn’t really be a big deal.
So, you want some more spells per day? Be prepared to pay out the ass for it. Because while the 1-for-1 tradeoff in spells prepared versus spells per day for each spell level might be tolerable if there were a “minimum 1” clause, the way it is implemented here results in what is effectively the exact same thing as giving up a caster level, because you will be getting access to new spell levels a level later than normal, when “normal” already meant “a level behind the wizard.”
And Eldritch Surge, to be blunt, is terrible.
How long does it take for the fatigue to go away? Eight hours of total bed rest. And your Strength wasn’t very high to start with, so carrying capacity (especially for ratfolk) essentially tanks. You also take a -1 penalty to AC, ray attacks, and initiative.
And how bad is exhausted? Well…
If you had the recommended Str 7, then becoming exhausted means that your lowly spell component pouch and metamagic rod are a heavy load. This isn’t even counting the weight of your clothing, which, combined with the pouch, can easily put you into a medium or heavy load even without any other items whatsoever. Most arcanists will be moving at 10 feet per round. Gnomes and ratfolk will be moving at 5 feet per round. And on top of this, your Dexterity penalty goes from -2 to -6. And this lasts for an entire hour, and until you take the 8 hours to remove the fatigue, each time you use Eldritch Surge will send you back to the floor for another hour.
And to top it off, the magical supremacy capstone, which is what you would want if you need more spells per day, gets replaced with something completely different. It isn’t a terrible ability, but in order to get it you gave up the ability to turn 1,000 gp of scrolls into a 9th-level spell slot.
While more spells prepared per day is always good, I’m a little leery of this archetype because of how much it restricts your choices of exploits (to the shittiest ones).
Personally, I would pick earth as my element of choice. Since it explicitly states elemental descriptors and not energy descriptors, the only useful spells you’ll be forgoing are wind wall, fickle winds, and ball lightning, while gaining a great deal of useful battlefield control.
Wow. You gain the spell-like ability to summon monsters for 1 minute per level as a standard action. Standard action summons are already an amazing deal. Getting them at the same level as a wizard is also an amazing deal. Having them last ten times the normal duration is an amazing deal. Three amazing deals!
You can trade spells into summons on a 1-to-1 basis, i.e. summon monster V in exchange for a 5th-level slot. Note that you should convert the spell into reservoir points prior to combat since using consume spells takes an action. Also note that you don’t actually have 5th-level spells at the time you get access to summon monster V, so on odd levels you’ll need to dip into your pool a little more.
While it only comes online incredibly late, and requires significant investments in Charisma and feats, getting Greater Eldritch Heritage (Abyssal) and Superior Summoning lets you conjure three nalfeshnees (a CR 17 encounter) as a standard action at 17th level, and at 20th level you can do so at will.
Unlike the sorcerous equivalent, this archetype increases the number of spells you have access to, in the form of one extra spell “prepared” (temporarily known) per day.
Not much has changed, really. Pick divination (foresight) to always win initiative and be allowed to act in the surprise round, or pick conjuration (teleportation) for awesome battlefield control and a superior version of your dimensional slide exploit (take the Dimensional Agility feat. And yes, I’m recommending taking a feat entirely around the 1st-level ability. Move–cast–teleport, teleport–cast–move, cast–teleport–move, cast–move–teleport, round and round you go, and you can never be grappled again.)
If you wish to be a blockbuster, you’ll need the evocation (admixture) school, because it’s far preferable to do so than to duck out of combat to Quick Study a different spell if you run into energy resistance.
What the confusing first paragraph amounts to is: “One spell of each level can only be changed when you gain a class level, rather than per day. Also, you’ll need to use metamixing to add any metamagic to these signature spells without increasing the casting time.”
In exchange, you get some extremely situational ways to alter these spells, a small concentration boost, and +1 to the save DCs, which is what you are actually here for. Are you super-duper into save-or-suck? Here’s one way to really pimp that out, on top of Potent Magic, Spell Focus, etc.
However, you are sacrificing more versatility than the school savant, and the school savant’s other powers may be more useful in a greater number of circumstances.
Also, don’t forget that there is such a thing as overkill.
While it does smack a little bit of “ew, evil, icky, gross,” this is actually a pretty nice archetype.
You’ll want a slightly higher Charisma than with other archetypes, since you’ll probably be dealing with undead more often and it helps for your command undead spell to let you actually convince ghouls and wights to bugger off and stop attacking the other party members.
Because of your higher Charisma, the Twilight Barrier becomes pretty good for the low levels where it is needed most.
But the awesome things about this archetype are consume life and twilight transfer. You may want to play an elf for their favored class bonus, since it has an immediate payoff with consume life, whereas normal elf arcanists have to wait for Scribe Scroll and Consume Magic Items.
For twilight transfer, make sure you also have the Dimensional Slide exploit to get to the fallen ally immediately. This makes for an excellent panic button for if the cleric goes down. If things are truly desperate, Dimensional Slide to the fallen party member as a move action, activate getaway as a swift action, and use twilight transfer as a standard action, using the captive mastodon your hirelings pump full of drow poison and oil of taggit every morning when you go adventuring to power the healing.
Also, if you make sure to deal nonlethal damage, you can simply use this ability to dispose of unconscious enemies and heal a teammate of 5d8 + your caster level of hit points each time. They don’t even get a save as they would with a coup de grace, and since most paladins don’t have ranks in Spellcraft or Knowledge (arcana), they will have no idea what you’re doing and there will be no drama unless your DM decides to create it.
Consume life is rather useful, if a bit front-loaded. At first glance it may scream Evil with a capital “E,” but keep in mind that until level five you can power this ability with common livestock (level 7 if you can find a reliable source of aurochs).
And you can always get at least 1 point out of an elephant even at level 20, though you will go through those elephants pretty damn quick.
For maximum cheese, find as many items as you can that bestow temporary negative levels so long as you are wearing them and keep them in a bag of holding for when you need to fill ‘er up (or borrow something like a holy axiomatic longsword from the paladin or divine caster if they have something to use). This strategy may even allow you to get some use out of “evil only” magic items harvested from BBEGs that you couldn’t otherwise use but are too dangerous or disturbing to sell. Also possible is casting sharesister via UMD or having the cleric place it in a ring of spell knowledge (yes, I looked over the item, and it doesn’t actually state that the spell you teach it has to be arcane. However, since sharesister is also a witch spell, your DM might let it fly). Temporary negative levels extend the mileage you can get out of livestock, because they reduce your Hit Dice (and thus character level) for the purpose of the consume life calculation.
“Here’s an idea. Let’s take a class whose powers revolve around spellcasting, and give them a shittier spell list. In exchange, let’s take away their ability to keep backups of their spell repertoire.”
The only reason this isn’t red is because it would be intellectually dishonest to claim that the witch list has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.
NOTE: Actually, there’s another way to look at it. Instead of being an arcanist with a worse spell list (in general; exceptions exist), you can think of yourself as a witch with a completely different set of class features. Prefer spells to hexes (or have a DM that bans witches due to bad experiences with Slumber Hex), but like the quirky nature of the witch list? Ditch the witch class and take this archetype!
What did you expect? A capable arcane healer with full access to the wizard list would violate the niche protection of the divine classes.
This archetype basically exists for those rare moments at midlevel when the party cleric dies and you don’t have any scrolls on hand, so you need his ass back up now.
But breath of life isn’t overly harmed by a lower caster level, so there is no reason not to simply have it in scroll form.
Alternatively, in a bizzaro-world where divine magic doesn’t exist, this archetype might be the only way to get reliable healing. If this is the case, combine this with Unlettered Arcanist so that you have some access to more reliable sources of healing, as well as the breath of life spell that witches don’t get.
NOTE: Dear developers: If this archetype had given the arcanist access to heal (even if it were effectively a 7th-level spell), it wouldn’t be so bad, because heal is actually pretty powerful and duplicating it with limited wish costs serious cash. Just a note in case you ever read this.