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The 2019 UA Artificer's Spellcasting feature contains this sentence:

You must have a spellcasting focus—specifically thieves’ tools or some kind of artisan’s tool—in hand when you cast any spell with this Spellcasting feature.

I originally read this as saying that the artificer could use tools as their spellcasting focus, in the same way as a wizard can use a wand or staff. However, on closer inspection, this seems to say that an artificer needs their focus in hand in order to cast any spell, even spells with no material component and spells with a costly or consumed material component that can not be substituted for a spellcasting focus. Which is the correct reading?

For contrast, the wizard's Spellcasting feature has this to say on using an arcane focus:

You can use an arcane focus (see the Adventuring Gear section) as a spellcasting focus for your wizard spells.

And other official classes all have similar rules, differing only in the type of focus mentioned.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Related reddit thread asking the same: reddit.com/r/dndnext/comments/brg5y0/… \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 29 at 4:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast Huh, I hadn't even considered the weird interaction with the need for a free hand to cast non-M spells. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan Thompson Jul 29 at 4:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RyanThompson You can use a hand carrying a material component or focus to perform somatic components twitter.com/jeremyecrawford/status/684172180402274304?lang=en \$\endgroup\$ – Cubic Jul 29 at 9:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Cubic That only applies if the spell has Material Components though; if it does not, then you do need a free hand. That's specified by the section he cited in the book. \$\endgroup\$ – Xirema Jul 29 at 14:25
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Yes: all spells cast as an Artificer have 'de-facto' Material Components

Not only is the wording that you quoted pretty unambiguous; if this weren't how Artificers worked, then there would be some rather unfortunate interactions with some of the other Artificer features.

The Alchemist's Alchemical Mastery feature would be unusable for healing if this weren't true

At 6th level, your command of magical chemicals has become masterful, enhancing the healing and damage you create through them. When you cast a spell using your alchemist's supplies as the spellcasting focus, you gain a bonus to one roll of the spell. That roll must restore hit points or be a damage roll that deals acid or poison damage, and the bonus equals your Intelligence modifier (minimum of +1).

Alchemical Mastery, The Artificer Returns, 2019-05-14

Artificers have, on their spell list, exactly one healing spell that may benefit from this feature: Cure Wounds. Cure Wounds is a spell that does not have a Material Component associated with it. Their only other "healing" spells are Aid and Revivify, and even though they do involve Material Components, neither of them involve rolls in their healing, so there wouldn't be any benefit there either.

So if an Artificer were to cast Cure Wounds, but were not able to use a spellcasting focus with it, they would be unable to gain the benefit of their feature. Since it wouldn't make sense to print a class feature that has no effect—even given the caveat that this is playtest material and thus subject to potential mistakes or oversights—we have to conclude that the feature believes that Cure Wounds will be cast with Material Components; and therefore, Artificers must have Material Components automatically added to all their spells.

This also implies that for spells that have costly or consumed components, an Artificer would need to hold both those components and their tools to cast the spell.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I guess the followup question would be does this mean that the "de facto" material component act like a material component in other ways? Like does this affect the ability of an artificer's spells to be perceived during casting (eg for counterspell)? (not sure if this is in scope of this Q&A or should be asked/answered separately though) \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Jul 29 at 14:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose Yeah, I intentionally didn't edit that part into my question after becoming aware of the issue, since I believe it's ambiguous in the current iteration and will hopefully be solved by a future revision. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan Thompson Jul 29 at 15:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ One minor issue: for a spell with a costly/consumed material component, I guess you need to hold that component and your focus to cast the spell? \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan Thompson Jul 29 at 15:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RyanThompson I believe so; I've edited the answer to state that directly. \$\endgroup\$ – Xirema Jul 29 at 15:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Anyway, I figured this was the answer, but I wanted to check and also call attention to it because I've been playing an artificer for 4 sessions and I totally glossed over this detail until now. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan Thompson Jul 29 at 21:14

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