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DnD 5e - Bard Spell List Breakdown

Last Updated: March 31st, 2021

Disclaimer

RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.

  • Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
  • Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances.
  • Green: Good options.
  • Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.

I will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, even if it is my own, because I can't assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. I also won't cover Unearthed Arcana content because it's not finalized, and I can't guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.

The advice offered below is based on the current State of the Character Optimization Meta as of when the article was last updated. Keep in mind that the state of the meta periodically changes as new source materials are released and this article will be updating accordingly as time allows.

RPGBOT is unofficial Fan Content permitted under the Fan Content Policy. Not approved/endorsed by Wizards. Portions of the materials used are property of Wizards of the Coast. ©Wizards of the Coast LLC.

Introduction

The Bard's spell list borrows a lot from the Wizard and a few options from the Cleric, but with a distinct focus on support spells, illusions, and enchantments. While the Bard does get some healing options like Cure Wounds and Healing Word, they don't get the full range of non-hp healing options required to fully replace a cleric.

Bard Spells

Optional spells are marked below with (Optional) following the spell's name. These spells are considered optional rules, as described in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything. Consult your DM before deciding to use these spells.

Cantrips

  • Blade WardPHB: The Dodge action makes this redundant.
  • Dancing LightsPHB: An amusing distraction, but you can usually accomplish the same thing using Mage Hand and a candle or torch.
  • FriendsPHB: This is hard to use. 1 minute is not a lot of time, and you generally need to put distance between yourself and the subject of the spell before they turn hostile. You could use this to intimidate a creature into fleeing, but in most cases you'll probably be using this quickly talk your way past a creature blocking your way like a guard at a gate. You generally won't need this; between high Charisma and a long list of skill proficiencies it's easy to cover all of the Face skills.
  • LightPHB: Disposable magic light is fantastic, but if you don't have room for the cantrip you'll do fine with torches.
  • Mage HandPHB: The ability to move objects at a safe distance is profoundly useful. Use it to pull levers, open doors, sort your laundry, and all manner of other important but potentially hazardous tasks where you wouldn't want to risk your own hands.
  • MendingPHB: Too situational. Short of Rust Monsters, nearly nothing in 5e deals damage to your equipment.
  • MessagePHB: Bards built for stealth can do a lot of sneaking around, which frequently involves being separated from your party. Use this to send messages without revealing your position. Of course, the spell requires Verbal components and it's not clear how loud verbal components are intended to be, so take precautions if possible.
  • Minor Illusion:PHB: Room for plenty of creative, deceptive uses. The 5-foot cube is easily enough to create something to hide behind, provided that your enemies don't see you create the illusion.
  • PrestidigitationPHB: Whenever you want to do something small and magical that's not covered by another spell, it's usually covered by prestidigitation. This spell is exceptionally versatile. For suggestions on how to use Prestidigitation to its fullest, see my Practical Guide to Prestidigitation.
  • ThunderclapEEPC / XGtE: Damaging every creature within 5 feet of you is great if you're in melee facing numerous enemies. Even with Extra Attack you will deal more damage with this against three or more foes than you could with a weapon. See my article on Melee Cantrips vs. Extra Attack for a breakdown of the math comparing melee cantrip spells to normal martial attacks.
  • True StrikePHB: Typically you'll get better results from attacking twice rather than using this then attacking once.
  • Vicious MockeryPHB: Easily the most iconic bard spell, Vicious Mockery is unique, flavorful, and mechanically fantastic. The damage is relatively small, but the debuff is absolutely worth the poor damage.

1st-Level Spells

  • Animal FriendshipPHB: Arguably easier than proficiency in Animal Handling, but it will become obsolete once beasts disappear around CR 10.
  • BanePHB: I would only use this in encounters where you're vastly outnumbered, and even then it's typically better to use area damage or control spell spells to eliminate enemies rather than debuffing them.
  • Charm PersonPHB: If you can cast this on a target outside of combat without them noticing, this can be a great way to defuse a potentially hostile situation. However, the spell has some complications. Charm Person has no visual effect like a ball of fire, so there's no visual indication that the spell succeeded or failed. The target doesn't know that they've been targeted by the spell if they succeed on the saving throw, but you don't know if they succeeded or failed unless your DM decides to tell you (and they are under no obligation to do so). So generally your best bet is to cast this once or twice and hope for the best before presenting yourself to your target.
  • Color sprayPHB (Optional): The effect is not powerful enough and the duration is not long enough to justify the spell slot.
  • CommandPHB (Optional): Enough effects to be useful in some situations, but it's a single-target spell so at low levels you can't afford to spend a spell slot on this. Consider picking this up a few levels into your career.
  • Comprehend LanguagesPHB: You can't learn every language in 5e. It's simply not possible. Eventually you will want to replace this with Tongues, but Comprehend Languages does fine until then.
  • Cure WoundsPHB: More healing than Healing Word, but the action economy is considerably worse. Save this for when you need hit points and you're either out of hit dice or don't have time to rest.
  • Detect MagicPHB: Someone needs to have it in every party.
  • Disguise SelfPHB: Learning a single spell is cheaper than proficiency in a Disguise Kit.
  • Distort ValueAI: If your DM allows you to trade magic items, this might be incredibly useful. However, your DM might also find this incredibly annoying and punish you for using it by having angry traders track you down after an unfair trade. Discuss this spell with your DM before you consider learning it.
  • Dissonant WhispersPHB: Surprisingly good crowd control. This only requires verbal components, so you can use it while grappled to force the creature grappling you to run away. The damage isn't spectacular, but honestly you don't need it to be.
  • Earth TremorEEPC / XGtE: Not nearly enough damage, and being prone isn't enough of a problem in 5e. The difficult terrain effect is the real draw. It only works on "loose earth or stone", but that covers nearly anything you'll stand on except wood, so it's an easy way to create difficult terrain. Unfortunately, it also effects you so be careful not to trap yourself among enemies.
  • Faerie FirePHB: The lowest-level option to deal with invisible creatures, and Advantage on attacks against creatures which fail their save means that this remains a powerful support option well into high levels, especially against bug bulky enemies with high AC but poor Dexterity saves. Hopefully you won't run into any invisible creatures at 1st level, but but it's important to have some way to deal with invisibility just in case.
  • Feather FallPHB: You don't need to get this at 1st level, but eventually you'll want it. You may only use it a couple times in your character's whole career, but when you do it will save someone's life.
  • Healing WordPHB: More important than Cure Wounds, especially at low levels. As a bonus action you can heal an unconscious ally enough to get them back into the fight, and you still have your action for Vicious Mockery.
  • HeroismPHB: At low levels where your tank might only have 12 hp and enemies are only doing something like 5 damage per turn, this is a big enough buff to win a fight for you. At higher levels it will be less appealing due to the Concentration requirement, but it will always remain a solid use of a 1st-level spell.

    Compare Heroism to Cure Wounds: Cure Wounds will heal at most 11 hp (1d8+Cha with a +3 Charisma modifier). If you have 16 Charisma and can keep Heroism running for four rounds you can prevent up to 12 damage (remember that temporary hp doesn't stack, but the hit points refresh every round) and still have 6 rounds to enjoy the spell. When you use higher-level spell slots, Heroism continues to outpace Cure Wounds. At 2nd-level, Cure Wounds heals 2d8+Cha (maximum 19 with 16 Charisma), while Heroism can prevent 18 hit points of damage in just three rounds,

    An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. All that you need to make Heroism more effective than Cure Wounds is to know who is going to take damage for the next several rounds. Considering that most parties have one or two characters drawing the vast majority of attacks, that's usually easy to figure out.

  • IdentifyPHB: Too situational to justify on a class with a limited number of spells known.
  • Illusory ScriptPHB: Too situational to justify on a class with a limited number of spells known.
  • LongstriderPHB: Even with a hour-long duration, this isn't especially appealing. Movement in 5e is really easy, and you can use other options to get away from enemies or to get enemies away from you.
  • Silent ImagePHB: While not nearly so powerful as Major Image, if you just want an object or a visual effect, Silent Image does the job just as well. Throw up a fake wall, door, or portcullis to slow pursuers. Create a piece of furniture like a box or a chest, then hide inside it and stab people when they try to open it like a pointy jack in the box. Illusions are limited more by your creativity (and your DM's willingness to play along) than by the spell's text.
  • SleepPHB: At an average of 22.5 hp worth of creatures, you won't be able to affect many creatures while they're at full hit points, but you can wait to wear down their hit points before finishing them off with Sleep. Sleep notably doesn't require a saving throw, making it a powerful and reliable way to incapacitate enemies with relatively few hit points even at high levels.
  • Speak with AnimalsPHB: Situational, but sometimes the only witnesses are wild animals and you just need a clue from your local family of squirrels.
  • Tasha's Hideous LaughterPHB: Single-target save-or-suck. It won't work on unintelligent creatures, but otherwise you can easily compare this to Hold Monster. Both have the same duration, require Concentration, and allow Wisdom saving throws both to resist the initial effect and to end the effect at the end of the target's turn. Paralysis is a more lethal effect, but if you just need a creature to sit out of combat for a while they're functionally interchangeable. The only problems are that it can't be cast on unintelligent creatures and it can't be up-cast to affect multiple targets.
  • ThunderwavePHB: This is one of your very few options for pushing enemies away from you. It's especially appealing if you can push an enemy into an area control effect, but otherwise it's not a good go-to option for damage output in combat.
  • Unseen ServantPHB: This has very limited utility in combat or in dangerous situations, but that doesn't mean that it has none. With a 1-hour duration you can get a lot done with a single casting. Interacting with items can mean opening doors and chests, carrying items, using potions on allies, and other things which you might not have time or patience to do. 2 Strength isn't enough to carry anything heavy or to break down a door, but it's often enough to trigger traps.

2nd-Level Spells

  • AidPHB (Optional): With an 8-hour duration and three targets, this is a staple buff that's worth casting literally every day. Keep in mind that this actually increases the targets' hit point maximum, so temporary hit points can be added, too.

    Aid's casting time allows it to be used in combat, which is unusual but offers an interesting option. With three targets and a 30-foot range, you can cast it to both buff and heal your allies during combat. Targets current hit points and hit point maximum both increase, so allies at 0 hit points are healed in addition to having their hit point maximum raised, thereby allowing Aid to serve a similar function to Mass Healing Word. However, since spells don't stack with themselves, it's hard to repeat this trick. You'll need to cast Aid again using higher-level spell slots, which can get expensive quickly, so Mass Healing Word is probably better if Aid is already running and if Mass Healing Word is an option for your party.

  • Animal MessengerPHB: Too situational to justify on a class with a limited number of spells known.
  • Blindness/DeafnessPHB: A 1-minute duration is usually longer than an encounter. Targeting big melee enemies seems like an obvious use, but the best targets for this are actually enemies who rely on spellcasting. Many spells simply don't function if the caster can't see the target, and the Constitution save is more effective against relatively frail enemies like spellcasters.
  • Calm EmotionsPHB: Two situational but frequently useful effects. First, you can use this to temporarily suppress effects which charm or frighten your allies. Both effects are common, and many enemies can apply them to your whole party. Charm effects often include mind control effects, and suppressing them for a minute on a willing ally can easily buy you enough time to deal with whatever is trying to mind control your friends. Fear effects are often area effects, such as a dragon's Frightful Presence, so suppressing them for a minute can bring whichever portions of your party failed their saves back into the fray.

    Second, you can use this to make enemies not be hostile toward you and your allies for one minute. That will at least pause most encounters for the spell's duration, which is enough time to either heal and buff the party or escape. I wouldn't try to negotiate a truce in one minute, especially since the targets can go right back to hostile the moment that the spell ends. Note that this effect intentionally uses the "Hostile/Indifferent/Friendly" scale referenced in the Social Interaction rules in the Dungeon Master's Guide.

  • Cloud of DaggersPHB: It's hard to guarantee that this will deal damage unless you have a good way to keep an enemy in the area of effect. An ally who likes to grapple will work, but that's hard to guarantee, and it's an extra point of failure. The damage will roll reliably because it's spread over multiple small dice, but even then the damage won't be great unless you can hold a single target in the area for several rounds. If you want single-target damage, go for something with more damage up front. If you want area control, go for something with a bigger area.
  • Crown of MadnessPHB: This spell is borderline unusable. The creature must attack before it moves, so you may be able to make it attack an ally once immediately after the spell is cast, but it retains control over its movement so it's free to walk away from its allies. On top of that, you need to spend your own action to maintain the spell rather than simply concentrating, so you're eating your own turns for the remote chance that the target will wander up to another of its allies.
  • Detect ThoughtsPHB: Situational, but a clever player can use this to gather crucial information from enemies unwilling to share it. However, the checks to continue focusing on a single creature's throughts are Intelligence checks and bards rarely have enough Intelligence to succeed reliably at opposed Intelligence checks. If you can, have an ally cast buffs like Guidance or Enhance Ability (Intelligence) on you to give yourself an edge.
  • Enhance AbilityPHB: Fantastic and versatile. Eagle's Splendor on your party's Face make social interactions much easier, and Bull's Strength provides a huge edge while grappling. Enhance your spellcasting ability (or that of an ally) to get Advantage on the ability checks to counter spells and to dispel magic.
  • Enlarge/ReducePHB (Optional): A great option both as a buff for melee allies and as a utility option, though I would rarely try using this to shrink enemies. You can use this on a small ally to make them small enough to smuggle in a pocket, or you can use this on and ally to give them an edge against enemies that rely on grappling. The bonus damage for being enlarged is nice, but not really worth the spell slot unless the target is making a huge number of weapon attacks like a high-level fighter.
  • EnthrallPHB: Too situational, too limited, and the duration is too short. The best usage I can think of for this is to distract a bunch of creatures while your allies move past them or move into place to ambush them. But in most cases where you're resorting to violence you'll have better resulsts with a different spell like Calm Emotions. In situations where you need to move past people, cast Invisibility.
  • Gift of GabAI: Another hilarious entry from Acquisitions Incorporated with dubious use in a typical game. The intent of having mechanics in place for social interactions is to detach your real-world social skills from your character's social skills. If you say something foolish in real life, your DM should generally be kind enough to filter that through your character into something that would make sense for them to say. But if they don't, this is a perfectly fine way to clean up a mistake. Keep in mind that it only resets six seconds of conversation, so a short sentence is all that you can cover. You can't spend an hour berating someone than say "Gift of Gab" and have everything forgotten.
  • Heat MetalPHB: Situational by design, but against nearly any humanoid in metal armor, this spell is a death sentence. The damage will be slow, but disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks makes martial characters (the ones typically in metal armor) basically useless. Upcasting the spell is suprisingly efficient since the additional damage applies every round, so if you're fortunate enough to encounter a suitable enemy, use this to its fullest. Unfortunately, since the Bard learns spells permanently, it may be hard to justify selecting this unless you know that your campaign will feature abundant suitable targets. It also monopolizes your Bonus Action, which can be hard for the Bard since you need your Bonus Action for Bardic Inspiration.
  • Hold PersonPHB: You can get most of the same benefits from Tasha's Hideous Laughter, and Tasha's Hideous Laughter isn't limited to humanoids. But Tasha's Hideous Laughter can't be up-cast to affect multiple targets.
  • InvisibilityPHB: An essential scouting and infiltration tool, and as you get higher-level spell slots you can affect more of your party.
  • KnockPHB: The primary reason to have proficiency with Thieves' Tools is to handle locks. Knock doesn't require a check. It just works. Make aggressive eye contact with your party's rogue while you cast this just to rub it in.
  • Lesser RestorationPHB: Situational, but a situation that comes up often. If you don't have a cleric in the party you may be the only one with access to this spell, so you'll want to take it at some point.
  • Locate Animals or PlantsPHB: Too situational to justify on a class with a limited number of spells known.
  • Locate ObjectPHB: Too situational, and too easy to counter. Anyone with any knowledge of magic that's trying to hide something will wrap it in lead.
  • Magic MouthPHB: Find a way to cast Thaumaturgy to raise your voice's volume, then cast this spell on a piece of paper and scream into it for as long as you are physically capable. Set the trigger to "when the paper is unfolded". Leave the paper for someone to find, or use mage hand to open it at a distance. Instant distraction. The material component is inexpensive by the time you can cast this, and the duration is "until dispelled", so you can carry about a big stack of pre-cast Magic Mouth spells for all sorts of shenanigans.
  • Mirror ImagePHB (Optional): A great defensive option, and it doesn't require Concentration so you can easily use it alongside other great options like Fly. However, since its usefulness diminishes quickly it works best against enemies making small numbers of attacks with high damage. Also, the 1-minute duration can be challenging when it's an Action to cast.
  • Phantasmal ForcePHB: Adventuring tends to involve running into a lot of things that aren't very smart. Beasts, ogres, etc. all have terrible Intelligence saves. This spell is a great counter to those creatures, and its flexible nature gives you a lot of room to really mess with the target. Unfortunately, it also requires that your DM be creative enough to simulate how a creature would respond to whatever nonsense you come up with. If your DM has trouble with illusions, this spell may not work out well for you.
  • PyrotechnicsPHB: Only situationally useful, slightly annoying to set up, and when it does work the effects aren't good enough. The flame doesn't need to be especially large, so a torch or even a candle will suffice. Drop a torch on the ground, run out of range, and cast the spell. The blinding effect isn't spectacular because it only lasts on round and it's on a Constitutuion save, and the smoke cloud option is objectively worse than similar options like Fog Cloud or Darkness.
  • See InvisibilityPHB: With a 1-hour duration and no concentration requirement, See Invisibility is a great way to handle invisible creatures.
  • ShatterPHB: The poor man's fireball. 3d8 damage in a 10-foot radius is enough to hit several targets and deal decent damage. However, the save is Consitution so many creatures will be able to resist easily. Disadvantage for creatures made of inorganic materials is really neat, but how often do you fight a group of animated armors or iron golems?
  • SilencePHB: Verbal components are extremely common in spells, including many that spellcasters frequently use to escape dangerous situations. If you can trap an enemy spellcaster in place (such as by having an ally grapple them) and drop Silence around them, they're usually trapped with no hope of escape.
  • SkywriteEEPC: Too situational to justify on a class with a limited number of spells known.
  • SuggestionPHB: Extremely versatile. You can use this to accomplish a lot of things. This is more effective, reliable, and immediate than Geas. However, the 8-hour duration requires Concentration, so if you want to use this while adventuring you're comitting a significant resource for a full day to get the full duration of the spell. This spell benefits greatly from your own creativity, so the more thought you put into its use the more effective it will be.

    You may also need a patient, permissive DM, so try not to abuse this too much or your DM may grow tired of your shenanigans and instill some sort of consequences. Strangely, the spell doesn't state that the target knows that they were charmed, so much like a "Jedi Mind Trick", the target will carry out the specified action as though it made sense to do so even if they'll regret it later.

  • Warding WindEEPC / XGtE: A decent buff for melee bards. Making the area around you difficult terrain makes it hard for enemies to move toward or away from you, and disadvantage on ranged weapon attacks keeps enemies with ranged weapons from picking you off from afar while you're closing the distance.
  • Zone of TruthPHB: Too situational to justify on a class with a limited number of spells known.

3rd-Level Spells

  • Bestow CursePHB: The effects are versatile enough that you can easily bring this into play in a variety of situations, and the scaling mechanism works well enough that this remains a viable option for higher-level spell slots. Use the third option against big tanky enemies with poor Wisdom, or use the first option against enemies that like to grapple. If you're ever uncertain, use the third option. Robbing a creature of their turn on a failed saving throw is debilitating, and can take creatures almost completely out of a fight.
  • CatnapXGtE: A Short Rest is typically one hour. In most campaigns, that will be fine most of the time unless the DM is deliberately creating a time crunch which prevents resting or otherwise sitting about wasting time. In those cases you might be able to squeeze in a Catnap, but more than likely the 10 minute duration will still be problematic.
  • ClairvoyancePHB: With a 1-mile range and the ability to place the sensor in place you can't see, this is a fantastic way to safely scout dangerous places. If you have enough time to sit around and cast the spell repeatedly you can scout whole structures from the outside by gradually learning about more interior locations through previous castings.
  • Dispel MagicPHB: Essential. Someone in every party should always have this handy. Dispelling spells of a higher level than Dispel Magic requires an ability check, so you can cast Dispel Magic at a higher spell level if you absoutely need to end a spell effect, but you can also use Enhance Ability to boost your spellcasting ability to make the ability check more reliable.
  • Enemies AboundXGtE: Astoundingly few enemies have good Intelligence saves, especially big scary melee monsters. Throw this on something tanky and horrifying that's there to protect squishy enemies from you and your friends, and watch it freak out and kill its buddies for you. The duration is only a minute, and obviously this only works in an encounter with multiple enemies, but that doesn't make the spell less awesome.
  • Fast FriendsAI: A fantastic non-lethal option for handling single targets, but it has some limitations. The target needs to be able to understand you, so you likely need to share a language. The spell requires Concentration, so you don't want to maintain this during combat if you can avoid it. And of course, you don't want to try casting this during combat. Still, if you can isolate a single enemy outside of combat you may be able to ply them for information or send them on errands which will save you trouble later. Tragically, the spell only lasts an hour so just as you're getting really attached to your new best friend the effects end, and the targets knows that you charmed them. You may be able to cast this repeatedly or you may be able to negotiate the situation peacefully even after the spell ends, but many people don't take kindly to being charmed.
  • FearPHB: A great way to disable groups of opponents, but it fear immunity is common.
  • Feign DeathPHB: Too situational to justify on a class with a limited number of spells known.
  • Glyph of WardingPHB: I'm really glad WotC was smart enough to add a 200gp consumable material component to this spell. If they hadn't, I would solve far too many problems by delivering scrolls with a Glyph of Warding to hostile NPCs.
  • Hypnotic PatternPHB: AOE save or suck.
  • Intellect FortressTCoE (Optional): Technically situational, but an absolutely spectacular defense against enemies which rely on spells or common effects like charm and fear effects. Unlike racial traits like the Gnome's Cunning or the Satyr and Yuan-Ti Pureblood's Magic Resistance, this applies to all Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma saving throws, providing broad and effective protection against many of the most dangeorus save-or-suck effects in the game. You also get resistance to psychic damage, which is nice if you're fighting mind flayers, aboleths, or bards who enjoy Vicious Mockery. With a 1-hour duration, the Concentration requirement can be problematic, but it also means that you can carry this through multiple encounters at low cost, so in situations where you need this it's not going to eat all of your spell slots.
  • Leomund's Tiny HutPHB: Tiny Hut is a great place to rest, and if you have time to set it up it's a great defensive position.
  • Major ImagePHB: If you don't like to use illusions frequently, consider picking this up later when you can cast 6th-level spells so that you can create permanent illusions.
  • Mass Healing WordPHB (Optional): You never want to need this. It heals exactly as much as standard Healing Word at a much higher cost, but the ability to heal multiple targets means that you can bring mutiple allies back into the fight and you still have your Action that turn.
  • Motivational SpeechAI: This makes the Inspiring Leader somewhat obsolete. Inspiring Leader will provide considerably more temporary hit points, but this doesn't require a feat and takes one tenth the time.
  • NondetectionPHB: Good, but not totally essential. Divination spells include things like See Invisibility, so if you or your party relies on invisibility of any kind this protects from several maigcal countermeasures to both stealth and invisibility. However, most enemies aren't spellcasters and won't have access to those divination options, so you can't justify casting this every day. The spell also has an expensive material component specifically to deter you from casting this all the time. Still, with an 8-hour duration, if you need this spell it's going to do exactly what you need it to do.
  • Plant GrowthPHB: Situational. Outside of normal adventuring activities, the ability to enrich land to double crop yields is very useful. But DnD is a game primarily about adventuring, and the option to make an area of plants overgrown is the more important option for most adventurers. In most cases, Entangle will work fine if you just need to slow your enemies down, but Plant Growth doesn't expire, so those plants remain difficult to walk through until someone clears the plants (which may requires hours of chopping and/or burning). The spell also doesn't specify that the plants grow along the ground or sufaces, so RAW it can create a sphere of plants, creating super-difficult terrain extending 100 feet into the air, potentially engulfing flying enemies.

    The math on Plant Growth's speed reduction is impressive. Since most creatures have a speed of around 30 feet, moving at 1/4 speed means that they can move one 5-foot square and be left with 10 feet of movement that won't get them anywhere (unless they dash or something). Jeremy Crawford has clarified that Plant Growth doesn't create difficult terrain, so it's possible that difficult terrain would stack with Plant Growth, but I personally think that's not how it's intended to work. Plant Growth specifies that "a creature moving through the area must spend 4 feet of movement for every 1 foot" while the difficult terrain rule specifies that "moving 1 foot in difficult terrain costs 2 feet of speed", and since those two statements conflict I think you're intended to use whichever effect is greater rather than stacking them or multiplying them or something.

    While it's not discussed in the text of the spell, it seems likely that Plant Growth would also impede vision. If you turn a nicely-tended hedge into a 100-foot-radius hemisphere of super-difficult terrain, there's clearly enough stuff in the way that seeing through it is difficult. This would necessarily mean that creatures inside the area would likely be concealed to some degree, so don't expect to drop Plant Growth on and enemy and then spend the next several turns spraying them with cantrips until they fall down.

    Plant Growth's problematic limitation is that it requires plants to be in the area. However, there doesn't seem to be any restriction on how many or how large these plants must be (just that they must be "normal", whatever that means), and where there's lack of clarity there's room for shenanigans. For example: you might carry around a potted plant and throw it into the area to provide the necessary plant life to support the spell. Plants like mint or clover can fit into a small pot, and when you make them grow you get a pretty and pleasant-smelling field of super-difficult terrain. If your DM scoffs at the idea of 100-foot-tall clover patches, consider carrying a bonsai tree or some other plant which would normally be very tall (though a bonsai might not qualify as "normal" since we don't know what that word means here).

  • SendingPHB: Not especially glamorous, but messaging over massive distances has a number of uses. Also, due to the wording of the spell, you can use it on creatures that don't understand your speech and they'll still understand your meaning, allowing you to use Sending in place of Tongues if you only need to convey brief messages.
  • SlowPHB (Optional): Slow is a great debuff, but it has to compete with other Wisdom save options at the same spell level. Compared to Hypnotic Pattern, Slow severely handicaps targets, but they can still fight back. Hypnotic Pattern's targets can't act at all until they're released from the effect, but it's also a Charm effect which some creatures are immune or resistant to.
  • Speak with DeadPHB: Too situational to justify on a class with a limited number of spells known. This is a spell of last resort. It is extremely limited, and if the dead creature didn't like you while it's alive it's unlikely to be helpful after you've killed it. Your best bet is to use this on an ally with information that you can't get otherwise. Cast Gentle Repose on the corse to keep it intact so that you can hit it with Speak with Dead again 10 days later.
  • Speak with PlantsPHB: Situational. If you encounter plant creatures, this may allow you to handle them nonviolently, but I don't think is useful enough to learn permanently on a class with a limited number of spells known.
  • Stinking CloudPHB: Constitution-based save or suck in an AOE. Hypnotic Pattern may be more reliable, but you can still attack the targets of Stinking Cloud without breaking the effect.
  • TonguesPHB: You are almost certainly your party's Face, and language can present a serious barrier. You may not want to pick this up when you first get access to 3rd-level spells, but consider picking it up later when using a 3rd-level spell on a utility option is less daunting.

4th-Level Spells

  • Charm MonsterXGtE: A great nonlethal way to deal with enemies. It doesn't require that the target be able to understand you, but otherwise has the same complications which Charm Person does: the target is only friendly toward you, and when the spell ends they know that they were charmed.
  • CompulsionPHB: This is technically situational, but if you can get a group of enemies to all run one direction and bunch up against a wall or something, they're very easy to hit with a big AOE. You can't run them into something like a Wall of Fire, unfortunately.
  • ConfusionPHB: I've hated Confusion since 3rd edition. It's unpredictable, unreliable, and makes combat take twice as long as it would normally. It's great that it's an AOE, and you might be able to make creatures attack their allies, but there are too many points of failure for it to be a reliable option.
  • Dimension DoorPHB: Misty Step isn't on the Bard's spell list for whatever reason, and having a way to teleport out of a terrible situation (like ropes or a grapple) is extremely useful.
  • Freedom of MovementPHB: Nice, but situational. If you need to get yourself out of restraints or a grapple, cast Dimension Door.
  • Greater InvisibilityPHB: Invisibility in 5e is really good, and running around for a full minute being almost impossible to target is a huge advantage.
  • Hallucinatory TerrainPHB: Situational. Unless you specifically need the 24-hour duration and the massive area of effect, Major Image will suffice.
  • Locate CreaturePHB: More effective than mundane tracking, but the 1,000-foot range can be a problem if the target is actively fleeing from you. If you're going to use this, be sure that you're moving faster than your target.
  • Phantasmal KillerPHB (Optional): Despite how slowly it kills the target, this is a great single-target spell and the spell level scaling is absolutely spectacular. Against big burly foes which often have poor mental stats, the save will be hard to pass and Frightened will make their attacks and ability checks much less effective. How the Frightened condition works is somewhat confusing because there's no indication where the "illusory manifestation" appears, if it has a location at all. I think that the intent is that the target is Frightened, but their movement isn't hampered like it would normally be by the Frightened condition. Because casting Phantasmal Killer increases the damage by a d10 every time (rather than just the on the first damage roll like many spells), this remains an effective option well beyond its spell level.
  • PolymorphPHB: Fantastic and versatile, but also very complicated. See my Practical Guide to Polymorph for detailed advice on how to get the most out of Polymorph.

5th-Level Spells

  • Animate ObjectsPHB: Provided that there is sufficient fodder for the spell, this can work in a variety of encounters. Tiny and Huge are notably the most lethal options, so generally you'll be animating one big thing or a bunch of tiny things. Suitable objects should be easy to find: even random debris should suffice. However, the duration is short is the animated objects are frail and don't get stronger as you gain levels, so you may want to retrain this after enjoying it for a few levels.
  • AwakenPHB: Neat, but extremely situational.
  • Dominate PersonPHB: If you don't face many humanoid enemies, this may not be worthwhile. But if you do, dominating an enemy and turning it into a temporary ally is very effective.
  • DreamPHB: While this spell on its own can be very powerful, it's only usable outside of combat, and there are a lot of limitations on its usage. If it were easier for the Warlock to change their spells known this would be fine, but you get an extremely limited number of spells known and you want those options to be consistently useful. If you really want this, make sure that you have plenty of other spells known that can cover your needs in combat.
  • GeasPHB: This is too situational to spend a spell known. It's great for spellcasters like Clerics and Wizards, but it's usable too rarely to waste scant resources learning it in hopes that it will be useful someday.
  • Greater RestorationPHB: If you don't have a Cleric in the party, you need this.
  • Hold MonsterPHB: A great example of a "save or suck" spell. With the exception of undead, this works on any creature type, and paralysis takes a creature out of a fight almost as much as killing them. If you have an ally who fights in melee, send them to follow up with melee attacks. Automatic critical hits are too hard to pass up many melee allies. Keep in mind that targets get another save at the end of each of their turns, so you need to act quickly while targets are still affected.
  • Legend LorePHB: Too situational to justify on a class with a limited number of spells known.
  • Mass Cure WoundsPHB: You shouldn't need this. It doesn't do enough healing to justify the spell slot, so the best use case is to cast it when you have more than one ally at 0 hit points. If you reach that point, things have gone very seriously wrong. Healing Word is a much more efficient way to get people conscious, and considering how little healing you're getting out of Mass Cure Wounds your allies will probably go down again anyway if anything looks at them funny.
  • MisleadPHB: Situational. Not a great option in combat, but out of combat this provides a passably safe way to scout an area or to trick other creatures.
  • Modify MemoryPHB: The actual intent of the spell is very situational, but this spell is accidentally a really effective save-or-suck spell. Compare it to Hold Monster against a single target, which is the same level. Hold Monster allows additional saves every round, though admittedly Paralyzed is more lethal than Incapacitated. The target is unaware of its surroundings, so you can reasonably get Advantage on attack rolls against it, but as long as it isn't damage you could also fully restrain the target before the spell's duration expires. However, the target gets Advantage on their save if you're fighting it, so you need to hit them with this before fighting starts. That typically means before Initiative is rolled, but your DM may let you do it if the creature is Surprised.

    If you need to incapacitate a creature in an encounter with multiple enemies, your enemies likely won't know how to break the effect (except by killing you), and once you've defeated everything else you can use Modify Memory to convince the target that the other creatures attacked them and you came to their rescue. Then you've won a fight, and earned the real treasure: the friends that you made along the way, and whatever their previous friends had in their pockets.

  • Planar BindingPHB: Extremely situational and very expensive. If you learn this, wait until you're high level, can easily afford the 1,000gp material cost, and can cast a spell of sufficiently high level to summon something extremely powerful.

    For more help, see my Practical Guide to Summoning Spells.

  • Raise DeadPHB: This is an odd thing to find on the Bard spell list. Death is part of the game, so eventually you'll need this, but it's no fun to spend one of your limited spells known on a spell you might cast once or twice ever.
  • Rary's Telepathic bondPHB (Optional): If you have time to cast this, you should always have this running while you're somewhere dangerous. Speaking aloud is a great way to alert enemies to your presence and to give away clever plans. The fact that this has no range limit once it's in effect means that you can use it to communicate with allies while they scout around, potentially including beasts, familiars, and summoned creatures.
  • ScryingPHB: Technically situational, but it's a situation that comes up frequently. Any time that you want to know what the BBEG is up to, cast Scrying and take a look. The spell gets easier the more you know the target, and after one face-to-face encounter you could easily make off with something tying you to the target to penalize their saving throw.
  • SeemingPHB: Very situational. Most campaigns won't make this useful often enough for you to commit one of your limited spells known to this.
  • Skill EmpowermentXGtE: Expertise for everyone! You won't be throwing this on the Fighter for them to shove or grapple everything they meet (you have better combat buffs), but you can put this on a character before sneaking, before an important social situation, before investigating something important, or basically any other time that there's an important skill check to be made and you have time to buff yourselves beforehand.
  • Synaptic StaticXGtE: Start with fireball. Shave 30 feet off the range, change the damage type to psychic, and change the saving throw to Intelligence. Very few creatures are good at intelligence saves, so expect most creatures to fail the save. The 8d6 damage feels underwhelming at this spell level, but subtracting a d6 from from attack rolls and ability checks for a full minute is a significant debuff. This is a good option to start a fight with a large number of martial enemies because they'll be impacted most by debuff and most martial enemies have poor Intelligence saves.
  • Teleportation CirclePHB: Situational, but generally one of the safest long-distance teleportion options, especially since it doesn't have a cap on the number or size of creatures affected. However, how useful it is depends on the availability of convenient teleportation circles in your campaign. If your DM isn't going to make such teleportation circles available and useful, look elsewhere.

6th-Level Spells

  • EyebitePHB: A fantastic use of a spell slot: spend one spell slot, and every round for a minute you get to pick a creature and put it to sleep.
  • Find the PathPHB: Situational, and often difficult to use, but still very interesting. The hardest part of using the spell is finding an object from the place you want to go. Once you've solved that problem, Find the Path merely gives you directions. It doesn't avoid hazards and it doesn't point out traps, so be wary of traps and ambushes along the way.
  • Guards and WardsPHB: Too situational to justify on a class with a limited number of spells known.
  • Heroes' FeastPHB (Optional): An absoutely amazing spell, but with a 1,000gp cost to cast it, it's not worth permanently learning.
  • Mass SuggestionPHB: Tell a potential fight to go take a pleasant stroll somewhere far away.
  • Otto's Irresistible DancePHB: Hillarious, but Hold Monster is more effective, works on the same save, and has the same duration.
  • Programmed IllusionPHB: Situational, but really abusable. It's permament and resets on its own, so you can do all sorts of hillarious things with it to mess with other creatures. The 25gp material component is nothing by this level, so you can throw up programmed illusions all over the place for a pittance. As far as I can tell, you can cast the spell with otherlapping areas, so you could cast it three times to make the illusions trigger each other and have a perpetual illusion running. Unfortunately, the spell's language restricts what you can depict to "an object, a creature, or some other visible phenomenon", so you probably couldn't create a room of illusory guards. Still, you could have a permanent illusory bard playing a 15-minute loop of songs.
  • True SeeingPHB: Situational, but largely unbeatable in situations where it applies.

7th-Level Spells

  • Dream of the Blue VeilTCoE (Optional): This is more a plot point than a spell. Don't learn this unless your DM tells you to.
  • EtherealnessPHB: A profoundly effective scouting/escape option. Unless you're fighting ethereal enemies, you're untouchable. You can see and hear into the material plane (albeit at limited distance), allowing you to spy on other creatures in person without their knowledge. The spell lasts 8 hours, which is sufficient to do a lot of things potentially including a Long Rest.
  • ForcecagePHB: An absolutely amazing way to isolate either your party or your enemies. The duration is long enough to take a short rest, and there's no save for enemies to resist it. Have an ally drop an AOE damage over time spell like Hunger of Hadar, then drop a Force Cage on top of it and you're playing a magical game of "Will it Blend?".
  • Mirage ArcanePHB: This is a difficult spell. The affectable area is huge, the distance is Sight (go climb a mountain on a clear day), and the effects of the illusion are tangible enough that you can physically interact with them, including picking up sticks or stones. But it's unclear how far that goes: Can you burn the illusory wood to keep yourself warm? Can you smooth over difficult terrain in the same way that you can make smooth terrain difficult? Could you place stairs in the side of a clear cliff face? How far up and down does the effect stretch? The closest we have is these two tweets which indicate that you have a lot of leeway, and that the effects are real enough that a creature could drown in illusory water, brun in illusory lava, and climb illusory trees. Your DM will be the abiter of exactly what you can get away with, but the spell itself is a wildly versatile toolbox.
  • Mordenkainen's Magnificent MansionPHB: In the real world, learning to cast this spell would mean that you could comfortably retire. Each day you would walk out of the mansion, cast the spell again to recreate the house for 24 hours, then you would return to your invisibile extraplanar abode to enjoy another 24 hours of abundant food, comfort, and nearly-invisible servants. The size of the mansion amounts to 5000 square feet, which is plenty to accomodate a party of adventurers and a sizeable retinue. The suggested 100 banquet guests would each have 50 square feet (a 5x10 area) of space to themselves, but a cleverly layed out mansion could easily turn that space into a large common area for feasting and a collection of small rooms with bunk beds for sleeping off a magical 9-course meal. However, in purely mechanical terms this is a spell that the Bard can't afford to learn. There are many less costly options for solving the same problems, and you're strictly limited in the number of spells which you can learn.
  • Mordenkainen's SwordPHB: This is an objectively bad spell. Compare it to Bigby's Hand, and it's pretty clear. Bigby's Hand isn't on the Bard spell list unfortunately, but that's what Magical Secrets is for.
  • Prismatic SprayPHB (Optional): Unpredictable. The AOE is great, and effects 6, 7, and 8 are all great (any two rays would be spectacular), but the spell is unpredictable and I'm always reluctant to recommend unpredictable spells because unpredictable often means unreliable.
  • Project ImagePHB: Mislead with a longer duration and better range. The language used to describe the copy's capabilities is nearly identical. The extra range makes it a bit more versatile, but it's still fairly situational.
  • RegeneratePHB: Too situational to select as a spellcaster with a limited number of spells known. DnD doesn't have injury rules which lead to limb removal except in very specific circumstances, so it's not like characters are losing fingers and toes despite spending potentially years being sliced and diced by all manny of oponents.
  • ResurrectionPHB: If you learned Raise Dead you might replace it with Resurrection, but I don't think Resurrection is a meaningful improvement over Raise Dead.
  • SymbolPHB: While many of the effects are wonderful, the inability to move the symbol and the high casting cost are prohibitive.
  • TeleportPHB: With a 10-foot range and up to 8 targets you can easily teleport your entire party, and without the need to hold hands and form a circle you can often rescue the whole party in the midst of combat without too much trouble. However, Teleport has a complicated mechanic related to how familiar you are with the target destination and there's often a possibility of mishap. Be sure to borrow a souvenire from new places so that you can easily return if necessary without the risk of a mishap.

8th-Level Spells

  • Antipathy/SympathyPHB (Optional): Difficult to use because it targets a single type of creature, but if you're facing a homogenous group of enemies you can greatly hinder them with either option. Even against single creatures, using Sympathy to force an enemy to approach one of your party members (sympathy on a paladin to attract a lich) can force enemies into a situation which will end in their death. Still, it's a situational spell that you can't guarantee will be useful, so it's hard to recommend for a class that permanently learns their spells.
  • Dominate MonsterPHB: Arguably the best save-or-suck spell in the game. You can do a lot with perfect control over a creature for such a long period of time. Using the target as a thrall in combat is obviously tempting, but the target gets to repeat their saving throw every time that they take damage, so be very cautious if you choose to do so.
  • FeeblemindPHB: Wisdom-based and Charisma-based casters are extremely vulnerable to Feeblemind. Even creatures who cast spells as a supplement to their other abilities can be seriously inhibited by suddenly being less intelligent than many animals.

    Beyond limited spellcasting, I've always found this spell difficult to manage for other enemies. 1 Intelligence and 1 Charisma is obviously very poor, but what is the victim capable of? If they're a cleric, can they still cast spells? What are they smart enough to do in combat? There's a lot of room for the DM to interpret how this works and which abilities creatures can still use. While that could be fun and very effective, it also makes the spell's effect totally dependent on the DM and their interpretation of what an affected creature is mentally capable of doing.

  • GlibnessPHB: Charisma checks include skills like Persuasion, but they also include thing like the ability checks for Counterspell and Dispel Magic. Throw this up before going into a fight with an enemy spellcaster and enjoy countering everything that they cast with minimal effort.
  • Mind BlankPHB: Situational, but hillarious if you have a Berserker Barbarian in the party.
  • Power Word StunPHB: Gambling on a creature's current hit point total is hard, especially since you get so few spell slots at this level, but if you can time this to hit a wounded enemy (or an enemy with a low hit point maximum like many spellcasters) it can take them out of the encounter long enough for you to win largely unopposed.

9th-Level Spells

  • ForesightPHB: This is, without a doubt, the best buff in the game. With an 8-hour duration you can throw it on the lucky recipient and watch them laugh their way through nearly any challenge for a full day worth of adventuring.
  • Mass PolymorphXGtE: You sacrifice the absolute power of True Polymorph for the ability to affect up to 10 creatures. The rules for handling creatures with no CR (your party) are written to make this really unappealing compared to True Polymorph. Compared to turning one ally into a CR 17+ dragon, turning up to 10 of your allies into Tyranosauruses (Tyranosaurs? Tyranosauri?) simply isn't as effective, even if the phrase "I turn us and our horses into tyranosauruses" is one of the coolect things I can think to say during a game. Tragically, the targets assume the beast's mental statistics, so turning your party of adventurers into toothy lizards may actually make them weaker.

    You can use the spell offensively and the targets don't get saving throws beyond the first, so turn your enemies into slugs or something and pitch them into the plane of fire or somewhere equally unpleasant.

  • Power Word HealPHB: Full healing and removing a bunch of status conditions in one spell is really tempting, but preventing all of that damage and all of those conditions with Foresight will work much better.
  • Power Word KillPHB: 100 hit points is a very low cap, but it's hard to argue with how effective it is to outright slay a creature with no rolls involved. As an example, a 20th-level wizard with 12 Constitution will have 102 hit points (6+19*4+20), so basically nothing which is scary at this level will be immediately vulnerable, but if your allies can deal a bunch of damage quickly you may be able to use this in round 1 of a fight.
  • Prismatic WallPHB (Optional): The ultimate area control spell. 10-minute duration, you and your allies can pass through it unharmed, and if enemies move through it they can take up to 50d6 damage, be turned to stone, and be sent to another plane. The wall can be destroyed, but the process to do so is so laughably obnoxious that I doubt anyone would actually try it (it's a relic of early editions of DnD).
  • Psychic ScreamXGtE: Intelligence saving throws tend to be poor, and this affects up to 10 creatures. The damage is decent, but it is absolutely not the primary appeal of the spell. It's the fact that you can make creatures' heads explode. Or if that's not appealing it's the ongoing Stun effect which again targets those low Intelligence saves. The stun has no limit on its duration, so creatures are stunned until they get a lucky roll, leaving your plenty of time to deal with them and their allies.
  • True PolymorphPHB: Powerful, versatile, and it lasts an hour. This is a spell that really rewards thorough knowledge of 5e's monsters, so go sit down with the Monster Manual etc. and do some reading. You'll want a go-to combat form at CR 17, 18, 19, and 20 for when you need to turn yourself or an ally into a monster, but you should also look for a good CR 9 in case you need to polymorph an object into a pet.

    Remember that the spell becomes permanent if you keep it running for an hour, so you can also use this to permanently turn yourself or someone else into a monster or a dragon or something. You'll lose all of your class stuff because you assume the creature's statistics, but honestly a CR 20 dragon is much more powerful anyway.

    The spell's final option allows you to turn a creature into an object (which allows a Wisdom save). Turn them into a flower pot, then either drop them from high enough to deal maximum fall damage (the extra damage carries over to their regular hit points when they revert), throw them into a demiplane, plane shift them somewhere unpleasant, or dispose of them in some other permanent and irrevocable fashion like a bag of devouring.