DnD 5e - Warlock Subclass Breakdown
Last Updated: May 20th, 2021
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.
- : Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- : OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances.
- : Good options.
- : Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
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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.
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Your choice of Otherworldly Patron has a significant impact on both the theme and the mechanics of your Warlock. While several subclasses like the Archfey and the Genie will mostly add options which complement the Warlock's core class feautures, other subclasses like the Celestial and the Hexblade will expand on the Warlock's capabilities, allowing them to expand into new roles within the party.
Warlock Subclasses - Otherworldly Patrons
Focused on illusion, deception, and enchantment. The Fey's subclass features provide a variety of useful options. However, illusions, enchantments, and fear effects face challenges because resistance and immunity to those effects are common. You'll need to diversify your capabilities to make sure that running into something without a brain doesn't reduce you to spamming Eldritch Blast with no other useful options.
While few of the Archfey's options are actually bad, the only truly fantastic feature is Faerie Fire. After that, most of the options are good but unremarkable. There's very little here that's exceptional, but there's also very little here that's really disappointing.
Overall, the Archfey is a solid, but not amazing options. The spellcasting expands your capabilities without adding significant complexity, so the Archfey is a good choice for relatively inexperienced players looking to improve their understanding of spellcasting classes. More experienced players will find the Archfey reasonably effective, but you may find that the more situational portions of the subclass's features go a long time without being useful.
: A broad mix of utility, offensive, and defensive options. They're all enchantments or illusions, so be cautious about creatures immune to those effects.
- : Faerie Fire makes things very easy for any Rogues in the party, and it's a great way to handle invisible foes. Sleep is usually an option which Wizards dump after low levels because it's not good enough to spend high-level spell slots on, but Warlocks cast every spell with their best spell slot, so there's no reason why Sleep can't remain a go-to option for a Warlock.
- : Two decent save-or-suck options. Calm Emotions can handle crowds, and Phantasmal Force can handle single targets. Unfortunately neither benefit from spell level scaling.
- : Blink is an effective defensive buff which doesn't require Concentration, but Shadow of Moil comes online at 4th-level spells, and if you're going to spend a spell slot and an Action for a 1-minute buff, you want it to be Shadow of Moil. Plant Growth is very situational.
- : Dominate Beast is very situational, especially since you won't be running into many beasts by the time you can cast 4th-level spells. Greater Invisibility is an absolutely fantastic spell for many reasons, but in combat Shadow of Moil may be more appealing.
- : Dominate Person is among the best single-target control/debuff spells in the game, but it is single-target and only works against a single creature type. Humanoid enemies in combat at this level are uncommon, and when they do appear they're typically major antagoniists, but you can still use Dominate Person in non-combat situations to accomplish numerous goals by dominating NPCs. Seeming is basically a mass version of Disguise Self with a huge duration, and while that's very situational, the 8-hour duration means that you can cast it early in the day and immediately take a Short Rest to recover your spell slot. The ability to target unwilling creatures opens up some hillarious tactical options like disguising everyone in the room (including enemies) as the same creature, and if that doesn't screem "archfey" I don't know what does.
- : A 10-foot cube originating from you means that you need to be nearly adjacent to whatever you want to affect, and you're unlikely to effect more than one or two targets at the same time. The effect is helpful if you get caught in melee and don't want to be because you can make targets Frightened before running away (Frightened imposes Disadvantage on their Opportunity Attack), but try your best to never need this.
- : This is a great way to get away from a big enemy with multi-attack or from damage-dealing area effects which leave lingering effects. Or, if you don't have a good teleportation option have your party members slap you around a little and "escape" from them.
- : Situational by design, but charm effects are common, and turning them back upon the creature can be both powerful and hillarious. Imagine turning a vampire's Charm back upon the vampire.
- : This is almost a single-target save-or-suck, but the target can still act freely for the most part (within the confines of the Charmed or Frightened condition). The effect ends if the target takes damage, so if your allies are going to pile in on the target they should try to make all of their attacks occur before the target gets another chance to act. You could use this to briefly charm a target and have a nice conversation with them, but one minute is a short duration so you need to work fast.
The Celestial offers three tempting options: access to some cleric spells, a pool of easy hit point restoration (Healing Light), and access to some sources of radiant/fire damage. Unfortunately, it doesn't do either especially well. The radiant/fire damage options will still lag behind your core Warlock options, and the Cleric spell options are so limited that they're only good in a party where having a real divine spellcaster is not a possibility or where your divine spellcaster has an unconsciousness problem.
If you're desperate for healing but also need to be a warlock for some reason, the Celestial is fine. Otherwise, it's a mix of decent healing and disappointing blasting on top of the Warlock's excellent core features. If you want to actually cast spells like a cleric, consider the Divine Soul Sorcerer instead.
: Most of the options are poor attempts to introduce fire damage to the Warlock's spell list, but there are a handful of useful options mixed in with the garbage, including staple healing options like Lesser Restoration and Restoration.
- : You don't really need either. Cure Wounds is tempting, but you get Healing Light which will provide comparable healing without eating your extremely limited spell slots. You can still use Cure Wounds right before a short rest to get some healing out of any leftover spell slots, but I've never seen a warlock make it to a short rest with remaining spell slots.
- : Both good options, but Lesser Restoration should be left to your party's divine spellcaster if possible. Flaming Sphere looks tempting with Radiant Soul, but Radiant Soul only applies to one damage roll for a given spell, so you don't get to apply it every time your sphere hits something. Still, it's a decent area control option and you get a lot of use out of a single spell slot.
- : Get Revivify. Let me clarify: you should really get Revivify. It's really good. The one concern is that you only have two spell slots until 11th level and it's hard to reserve one of them so that you always have revivify ready. Get a Pearl of Power if you can.
- : Wall of Fire is one of the most iconic area control spells, and it works very well in the warlock philosophy of spending one spell slot to massively reshape an encounter before reverting to cantrips. You can use invocations to push/pull enemies through the wall, too. Unfortunately you still only get to apply Radiant Soul once each time you cast it.
- : Flame Strike is fine, but it does less damage in a smaller AOE than Fireball and Radiant Soul's bonus damage only affects one target, and in general spending a spell slot to deal AOE damage is rarely a good use of a warlock spell slot compared to other damaging options like Hunger of Hadar. Restoration is a situational but important healing option. If you can, leave high-powered healing to your party's divine spellcaster.
- : Warlocks don't have a way to create light with a cantrip, so Light is nice. Sacred Flame won't matter often since Eldritch Blast will outpace Sacred Flame's damage (especially with Agonizing Blast), but more cantrips never hurt and sometimes you need to keep zombies down and sometimes creatures have high AC but low Dexterity saves.
- Healbot Olympics. However, it's the Celestial's only healing option and doesn't solve problems beyond hit point restoration so you still need to look elsewhere for options to handle status conditions. : Roughly equivalent to Healing Word, but without eating into your spell slots. This provides enough healing that the Celectial Warlock made a solid showing in the
The Celestial's expanded spell list offers a handful of extra spells that deal radiant/fire damage, but most of them aren't a great use of your warlock spell slots and the damage still only affects one target on one damage roll (e.g. one target of Flame Strike). The primary use case for this is definitely cantrips, but since Eldritch Blast+Agonizing Blast is so effective Radiant Soul is rarely impactful. : Warlocks deal the vast majority of their damage with Eldritch Blast and Agonizing Blast. Celestial warlocks get Sacred Flame, which is probably the best way to make use of this. But If you pick up Agonizing Blast (you should, it's amazing) this will almost never come up with cantrips because Eldritch Blast will massively outpace any other cantrip's damage output even with the damage boost from Radiant Soul. If you don't take Agonizing Blast, Sacred Flame will do slightly more damage than Eldritch Blast.
- : This will save a ton of your party's healing resources. It's not quite as good as the Inspiring Leader feat since it only works after a rest, but it's very close, and you don't need to give your party a 10-minute pep talk to make it work.
- : There is no save to resist the blinding effect, so you can stand up and safely walk yourself to somewhere safe before going back to lasering stuff to death. Since creatures that you damage are blinded, you get Advantage on attacks against them so it's a great time for Eldritch Blast.
The Fathomless is a servant of some sort of an aquatic creature, and the subclass's features reflect that theme very effectively. However, much of the subclass is dedicated to functioning in and around water. If your patron sends you onto dry land to do its bidding, big chunks of the subclass dry up (see what I did there) and cease to be useful.
In an aquatic or naval campaign, this is a good subclass. I could see a Fathomless Warlock fighting on the deck of a ship, or facing down tritons and merfolk while raiding a submerged dungeon, but in a typical land-based campaign you're going to spend a lot of time wishing that you were elsewhere. From the list of current published campaigns, that means Ghosts of Saltmarsh is basically the only one where The Fathomless is a good fit, and considering that there are 8 published campaigns as I'm writing this paragraph (December of 2020), fitting into one of 8 campaigns isn't a good success rate.
: A lot of situational options, and the combat options aren't great. The spell list gets a little better if you're underwater frequently, but even then there's not a lot to be excited about.
- : Two situational options. Thunderwave is fine if you get stuck in melee or need to break a grapple, but I wouldn't consider it a go-to damage option because getting close enough to hit multiple targets often means getting into melee by choice.
- : Gust of Wind is very situational, but Silence is a huge problem for enemy spellcasters, especially if your party can keep them inside the area by grappling them, hitting them with a tentacle which applies a speed reduction, or otherwise inhibiting their movement.
- : Lightning Bolt is fine damage, but hitting more than two targets with line effects is hard regardless of the line's length. Sleet Storm is decent area control but very hard to use effectively, doesn't scale with spell slot level, and requires Concentration.
- : Control Water is very situational in non-aquatic campaigns, and limiting Summon Elemental to water elementals similarly handicaps the spell unless you're in an aquatic campaign.
- : Bigby's Hand is a great, versatile spell. Cone of Cold is decent but unremarkable AOE damage, but if you need area damage you'll have better results with Hunger of Hadar.
- : At 1st level, this matches the effects of Ray of Frost (at least in terms of damage and the secondary effect. With a 1-minute duration it will get you through a single encounter each time you use it, provided that the encounter doesn't move too far away from the tentacle to reasonably bring the tentacle back into range. This reduces your reliance on Hex at low levels, allowing you to use your one or two spell slots elsewhere without sacrificing damage output. However, since the daily usage limit is tied to your Proficiency Bonus you won't be able to use this as often as you could use Hex. Consider the two options complements to each other: use Hex if you just need to Eldritch Blast stuff, and use Tentacle of the Deeps when you need to use Concnetration on something other than Hex.
- : Great in an aquatic campaign, but otherwise very situational.
- : Damage resistance is great, and in an aquatic campaign the ability to speek to all submerged creatures will make it much easier for you to play a face. However, outside of aquatic campaigns you may find it difficult to convince creatures to talk to you while underwater unless you already share a language.
- : You likely don't have any interesting ways to use your Reaction, so using it to reduce damage to yourself or an ally is an excellent addition to your capabilities. With a 1-minute duration on your tentacle, you could reduce up to 10d8 (20d8 at level 10) damage every time you use it, dramatically improving your party's ability to handle damage without resorting to in-combat healing.
- : Evard's Black Tentacles is a good spell. I don't know if it's better than Hunger of Hadar, but the added benefits from this feature certainly help. You get to cast this once per day for free, which helps with the Warlock's tiny pool of spell slots, and any time you cast it (free or otherwise), you get temporary hit points. Being unable to lose Concentration on black tentacles due to taking damage also helps quite a bit in combat, making this an easy go-to option in dangerous situations.
- : With a 1-mile range, this isn't exactly a long-distance teleportation option. Rather, this is a panic button. When things are going poorly, grab your friends and retreat to a nearby body of water. However, keep in mind this feature has very strict limitations. You can bring 5 other willing creatures, so if your party is bigger than that you're in trouble. There's also some debate over whether unconscious allies can be "willing", so if allies are down you might not be able to save them. The 1-mile range is small, so you need to be very careful to stay near a suitable body of water, which is hard when you're delving dungeons or wandering the planes. Of course, it's great if you're in an ocean because you can just pop out in a different part of the ocean.
Straightforward and effective, The Fiend offers mostly offensive options which improve the Warlock's ability to kill stuff, but also offers some extremely potent defensive abilities. The Fiend is a blaster first and foremost, and is heavily dependent on fire damage, so consider taking the Elemental Adept feat.
: Warlocks don't get any AOE blast spells, which means that they often have trouble against crowds of enemies. The Fiend's spell list offers several excellent options to address this.
- : Burning Hands is a decent AOE, especially at low levels, and since warlocks get armor and more hp than other arcane spellcasters like the wizard you can survive being close enough to melee to use it. However, I wouldn't use it beyond very low levels. You'll get more total damage out of Hex or other spell options despite Burning Hands' scaling. Command is a great control/debuff effect and scales really well with your spell slots.
- : Blindness/Deafness is a powerful debuff, but allowing repeated saves can make it unreliable. Scorching Ray is a bit redundant with Eldritch Blast, but it scales very well and benefits from the same tactics.
- : A good AOE blast and a good area control effect. Fireball remains the best instantaneous AOE damage spell at every spell level until around spell level 8, and while the Warlock can't cast Fireball past 5th level, it still remains a perfect go-to AOE blast option. However, remember that you will often get better results out of spells with ongoing effects like Hunger of Hadar, and with so few spell slots you need to squeeze as much out of them as you can. Stinking Cloud is an ongoing AOE save-or-suck effect, but creatures within the area are Heavily Obscured so it's hard to attack them. Hunger of Hadar is likely a better choice in most cases.
- : Fire Shield is fine for "gish" builds, but if you're going for a warlock gish you're going to play a hexblade. Fire Shield also seems redundant with Armor of Agathys, which notably lasts longer, provides temporary hit points, deals more damage to attackers, and scales with spell level. Wall of Fire is one of the best area control spells in the game and with the right invocations you can push and pull enemies through it to repeatedly capitalize on the guaranteed damage dealt when a creature passes through the wall.
- : Flame Strike is Fireball, but a smaller AOE and worse damage. Sure, some of the damage is radiant, but if damage resistance if a problem you should be using Eldritch Blast since nearly nothing resist Eldritch Blast. Hallow is very situational.
- : This makes Fiendish Vigor considerably less important. It also makes it important that you occasionally pick off weak foes to ensure that your temporary hit points are up before you focus on more important foes. RAW the creature just needs to be hostile, so a permissive DM might allow you carry around a bag of angry rats and kill one whenever you need temporary hit points.
- : Adds an average of 5.5 to your roll, which is mathematically much betterthan what you get from Advantage (Advantage is word slightly more than +3). Save this for crucial saving throws or if you desperate need to escape a grapple but can't teleport or something.
- : This doesn't specify restrictions on the damage type, so if you want to do Slashing for a while then switch to Radiant, you can do it. This is one of very few ways to get resistance to Force damage, but you still want to use this for common damage types like fire, poison, and slashing.
- : Only works once per day, but 10d10 damage is pretty great on top of whatever your attack was (let's be honest: it was Eldritch Blast). The creature is also removed from the game until the end of your next turn, allowing to temporarily banish the creature, and potentially place hazards in and around its space such as Hunger of Hadar, Wall of Fire, or the rest of your party.
Absolutely fantastic, the Genie is a spectacular spellcasting-focused option for the Warlock. However, many of the spell options and class features require that you do the work to think of ways to use them creatively. For an experiened player this is a spectacular option, but if you don't have a good grasp of the system you may have better luck with other subclasses.
You also get a type of damage resistance depending on their type at 6th level, but the spell list is the big part. Every variety of genie also adds Wish as a 9th-level spell option (Mystic Arcanum), so the 1st through 5th-level spells are where each variety of genie distinguishes itsel from the others.
: Unlike most warlock subclasses, the Genie gives you a base set of additional spell options, plus the choice of four spell lists depending on your genie patron's specific type.
: You get these spells regardless of what type of genie your patron is in addition to spells from one of the four lists below.
- : Situational. Helpful in any party, but spending a warlock spell slot on it is hard.
- : A good option against creatures with poor Intelligence scores (which is most creatures). The effects don't scale with spell level, but if you don't care about the spell's damage this remains an effective way to lock down single foes for your whole career.
- : Rations are cheap.
- : An excellent single-target damage option, and all of the damage scales with spell level rather than just the initial damage.
- : Fantastic if you're creative enough to find a use for it, but generally not a go-to option.
: With one exception, everything on the Dao's spell list is excellent, and every spell is new to the Warlock's spell list.
- : Potentially forcing enemies to give up an attack is great. Sanctuary has a Bonus Action casting time, so you can attack or cast a cantrip in the same turn, then follow it with Sanctuary. However, since Sanctuary allows the attacker to retarget their attack, Sanctuary isn't as effective against ranged attacks, and if you try to hurt your enemies while it's running the spell ends early. So you may want to use this to protect yourself while you cast buffs or utility spells, if you have an ally who's unable to attack for some reason, or if you already have an ongoing spell running like Hunger of Hadar.
- : 2d4 damage every 5 feet, and it's every time the creature "travels", not every time the creature moves. So if you push or pull the creature, they take damage. Sounds like a job for Eldritch Blast!
- : Very situational.
- : One of my absolute favorite utility spells.
- : Not as precise as Stone Shape, but much easier to use in combat. Give yourself cover, separate enemies, or make yourself a nice home out of stone.
: Several good options, but the Djinni's spell optioins range wildly in effectiveness.
- : Decent short-range AOE damage, especially if you're being swarmed or grappled and can't teleport. This isn't a go-to offensive option since the AOE is small and the damage isn't great, but it can occasionally solve problems for you.
- : Useful for pushing enemies into ongoing AOE damage effects, but since it requires Concentration it's hard to combine with things like Hunger of Hadar so any ongoing AOE damage effects would likely need to come from an ally.
- : Very situational.
- : Invisibility in 5e is really good, and running around for a full minute being almost impossible to target is a huge advantage. Sure, you already get Shadow of Moil at this level, but Greater Invisibility prevents you from being targeted rather than just making you difficult to attack.
- : Very situational, but with an 8-hour duration you can cast it early in the day and immediately take a Short Rest and recover your spell slot. Still, it might not be worth learning permanently.
: The Efreeti is a blaster, sharing many spells with the Fiend. The biggest things that blasters need are good AOE damage spells and lots of spell slots to fuel them. Warlocks don't have the spell slots to back this up. This is definitely the simplest option for the Genie, but that doesn't make it good.
- : Burning Hands is a decent AOE, especially at low levels, and since warlocks get armor and more hp than other arcane spellcasters like the wizard you can survive being close enough to melee to use it. However, I wouldn't use it beyond very low levels. You'll get more total damage out of Hex or other spell options despite Burning Hands' scaling.
- : Like Eldritch Blast but with a worse damage type. It works great with Hex since you get an additional ray per spell level (up to 6 when you get 5th-level spells), but that's the only thing that makes it better than Eldritch Blast once you add Agonizing Blast.
- : Fireball remains the best instantaneous AOE damage spell at every spell level until around spell level 8, and while the Warlock can't cast Fireball past 5th level, it still remains a perfect go-to AOE blast option. However, remember that you will often get better results out of spells with ongoing effects like Hunger of Hadar, and with so few spell slots you need to squeeze as much out of them as you can.
- : You're almost certainly not built to be in melee enough that using this makes sense. Cast Armor of Agathys.
- : Flame Strike is Fireball, but a smaller AOE and worse damage. Sure, some of the damage is radiant, but if damage resistance if a problem you should be using Eldritch Blast since nearly nothing resist Eldritch Blast.
: Almost nothing worth having.
- : An excellent way to cover your escape, but you can't see through the fog any better than anyone else, so don't expect to fight in this without some other advantage.
- : A great defensive option, but with a short duration and it requires Concentration. Still, it'll help until you can get Shadow of Moil.
- : This is not good enough for a 3rd-level spell slot.
- : Too situational.
- : Cone of Cold is decent but unremarkable AOE damage, but if you need area damage you'll have better results with Hunger of Hadar.
For more help with Wish, see my Practical Guide to Wish. : The best spell in the game. You get one Mystic Arcanum which can cast a 9th-level spell, and honestly Wish is so good that there is very little mechanical reason to select anything except Wish.
- : The best spell in the game. You get one Mystic Arcanum which can cast a 9th-level spell, and honestly Wish is so good that there is very little mechanical reason to select anything except Wish.
- : You get these spells regardless of what type of genie your patron is in addition to spells from one of the four lists below.
: Bottled Respite is mostly for flavor, but Genie's Wrath is a compelling reason to keep your vessel in hand when you're in a fight, and to work to prevent its destruction even though you can get a replacement for free.
- : Use this to eavesdrop on people, to evade harmful effects, and to hide or store items, but the fact that you can only enter the vessel once per long rest means that you can't just pop in and out at random. Eventually you'll be able to stay inside long enough that you and your whole party can rest inside the vessel, conveniently removing the need for things like tents, keeping watch while resting, or spells like Rope Trick or Leomund's Tiny Hut, but even at low levels you can still stay in the vessel long enough to take a Short Rest without risk of enemies wandering by and surprising you.
: A small, but meaningful and scaling bonus to your damage. It only applies once per turn, but that's really all that you need. This applies to attack rolls of any kind, and once again the warlock is the only class to add their Proficiency Bonus to damage (the Hexblade does it too).
- : Things with resistance to bludgeoning damage typically resist bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage from non-magical weapon attacks. You will likely deliver this with either a cantrip or a magic weapon (Pact of the Blade), so nearly nothing in the game will resist it.
- : Resistance to thunder damage is very rare.
- : Fire damage is among the most common resistances/immunities, so you'll often find that your bonus damage is ineffective.
- : Cold damage isn't quite as commonly-resisted as fire damage.
: Flight for 10 minutes at a time which you can activate as a Bonus Action without Concentration. This would be good once per Short Rest, but you can use this 3 to 6 times per day depending on your Proficiency Bonus. Oh, you get some damage resistance too. But honestly, the flight is so good that I forgot about the damage resistance.
- : Bludgeoning damage is one of the three types of weapon damage, but most monsters which deal damage through weapons rely primarily on teeth and claws so bludgeoning is the least common of the three weapon damage types. Of course, it's also difficult to get permanent resistance to weapon damage types, so the rarity of this resistance adds to the value.
- : Thunder damage is uncommon.
- : Fire damage is one of the most common types of non-weapon damage, so permanent resistance is great.
- : Cold damage isn't quite as common as fire damage, but it's still very common.
- : The ability to hide your party in something as small as a ring while taking a short rest means that you can rest even in extremely dangerous places so long as you can hide your vessel somewhere. The added healing benefits are minor, but they still feel nice even when taking a 10-minute short rest in an extradimensional space isn't an impactful benefit at the moment.
- : You know how the Bard gets Magical Secrets? Yeah, forget that. This is so much better that it's in its own league. You don't even have to pay for expensive components! Sure, there's a 1d4 Long Rests cooldown, but when the effect is this good a few days is nothing. Look for anything that has expensive material components or a permanent duration. Abuse those spells.
An eclectic mix of options, the Great Old One focuses on drawing power from something unknowable and being appropriately crazy. Some of the abilities are very potent, but just as many are situational and won't see much use. The end result is that the Great Old One Warlock (Often shortened to "GooLock") feels a lot like an Enchanter Wizard, but more spooky than the Fey Warlock.
It's hard to say which warlock subclass is the most emblematic of the Warlock as a class, but I think the Great Old One might be it. The spells are a good mix of options, the features provide some excellent tools to handle a diverse set of challenges, and overall the spooky, cultish feel of getting power from an elder being just feels right for the Warlock. At the same time, the subclass isn't especially complex, so it's approachable for new players but satisfying for experience players without being exceptionally powerful.
: A really diverse mix of debuffs, are control, and utilities.
- : Two great single-target control effects.
- : Both options are situational, but can be extremely potent if you're clever.
- : Clairvoyance is a fantastic scouting option if you have a normal number of spell slots like literally any other spelkcaster, but Warlocks really need to save their spell slots for something more significant and impactful. Sending is very situational, and you likely can't justify using it on a day when you're adventuring.
- : Dominate Beast is very situational, especially since you won't be running into many beasts by the time you can cast 4th-level spells. Black Tentacles is one of the best area control spells.
- : Dominate Person is among the best single-target control/debuff spells in the game. Telekinesis is a great utility.
- : This is basically free permanent Tongues combined with Telepathic Link. With high Charisma and access to Face skills, you can use this a lot.
Advantage on your next attack is nice, but since it's only one one attack it's minimally useful with Eldritch Blast, and there are very few spell attacks beyond cantrips. You might consider learning another attack cantrip like Fire Bolt specifically for use with Entropic Ward, but unless you go Pact of the Tome it's hard to justify spending one if your few cantrips known on a combo that you can use once per Short or Long Rest. : Not as reliable as other mechanics which respond to being attacked such as the Shield spell, but imposing Disadvantage makes you mathematically immune to critical hits, and since your AC will likely exceed that of similar spellcasters like the Sorcerer and the Wizard, you're more likely to cause attacks against you to miss.
- : Both effects are situational. Psychic damage is extremely uncommon, but if you run into mind flayers you're going to have a lot of fun.
- : This can be hard to use. Your best bet is to affect the target while they're sleeping. Once you make the target Charmed, the Charmed condition gives you Advantage on ability checks to "interact socially" with the creature and with a permanent telepathic connection to the creature you can easily talk the creature into doing nearly whatever you want. This isn't a "dominate" effect so you can't precidely control the creature's actions, but you can talk it into taking specific courses of action (bring me that thing, tell me what you see, spy on your allies, release the prisoners, feed my dog, water my plants, kill the king, check the mail, etc.).
Warlocks who want to go into melee will be hard-pressed to find a better option than the Hexblade. Access to better armor, shields, and better weapons solves many issues which warlocks (expecially Pact of the Blade users) have faced since 5e first released. But beyond mere proficiency improvements, the Hexblade has a lot to offer.
Hexblade's Curse is amazing, and the ability to use Charisma for attack and damage with your favorite weapon makes the class very SAD without detracting from the Warlock's excellent spellcasting capabilities. Combining all of the Hexblade's features, including its expanded spell list, the Hexblade is a truly fearsome threat with a weapon, often meeting or exceeding damage from Eldritch Blast+Agonizing Blast, though the dependence on spell slots for buffs means that the Hexblade's best damage output may be more "bursty" than other warlocks.
For detailed guidance, see my Hexblade Warlock Handbook.
: While several options on this list are very good, many of them require Concentration. In particular, even though all the smites are Bonus Actions (good for your action economy) they require Concentration to ensure that you’re able to actually get the effect off as long as you hit sometime during the next minute, but this prevents you from running other excellent Concentration buffs like Blur and Elemental Weapon from the very same expanded list. Furthermore, since the smite spells don't scale well (if they scale at all), they're often a poor use of your limited Warlock spell slots. Consider using them for a level or two when you first get them, but replace them after that when better spells become available (even if it's just the next smite spell).
- : Shield is fantastic... on any other spellcasting class. It costs a precious spell slot, and offers no benefits for upcasting, so it's only helpful until you get access to 2nd-level slots for Armor of Agathys. If you aren’t running another Concentration spell, Wrathful Smite into Booming Blade is staggeringly good damage at low levels, assuming the target moves and triggers the secondary damage. The Wisdom save for fear is a nice touch, though your defenses aren’t really turned on yet so maintaining Concentration can be a challenge in melee. To summarize: tempting options at low levels, but you'll abandon them in favor of other options almost immediately.
- : Blur is just a superb spell. Turn it on if you have more than one thing attacking you and/or your Armor of Agathys doesn’t look up to the job. Branding smite fills some excellent niches, but is not otherwise overly helpful. It’s probably the only way you’re going to be able to deal radiant damage (you’ll be very grateful if you ever come across zombies) and it also prevents invisibility if your party can't cast Faerie Fire, Invisibility Purge, or something else along those lines.
- : Blink would be interesting if it wasn’t random in the fashion it is. Elemental weapon’s primary benefit is making a weapon magical if for some reason you aren’t running Pact of the Blade, and I'm not sure why you would skip Pact of the Blade (and the Invocations which require it like Thirsting Blade) and still use a weapon. It still runs into the Concentration problem, interfering with smites and defensive buffs, but it adds a small amount of extra damage (which will increase when your spell slot levels increase). Keep in mind that the Pact Weapon granted by Pact of the Blade counts as a magic weapon for the purpose of overcoming damage resistance and immunity. It's technically not a magic weapon unless you bind a specific magic weapon, so you can use your Pact Weapon with Elemental Weapon.
- : Phantasmal Killer is still an excellent spell, although the fact that it never scales past 5th level for warlocks is disappointing at higher levels. Staggering Smite would be much better if the effect lasted more than one round. Both spells cause the creature to suffer Disadvantage on attack rolls, but Phantasmal Killer works at range and lasts longer.
- : Banishing Smite is a big pile of damage on a Bonus Action and the rider effect doesn't allow a saving throw. 50 hit points is a reasonably large window, and banishing the target could dramatically affect the outcome of an encounter. Cone of Cold is a helpful way for you to do area of effect damage, but apart from being a big pile of damage does little else for you.
You only get this once per Short or Long Rest, so be sure to use it where it will matter. You want to make as many attack rolls as possible while this is running, so at high levels this will frequently work best when combined with Eldritch Blast since Warlocks can't get more than three attacks (assuming Thirsting Blade and either two-weapon fighting or Crossbow Expert). However, since this only works once per Short or Long Rest, remember that you may still have better results focusing on other parts of your build, and focusing on being effective with weapons is often a better choice for the Hexblade than Eldritch Blast even though you may get fewer attacks.
Since this comes in at 1st level and scales based on your proficiency bonus, it's very tempting for class dips into Warlock, totally disregarding how good Hex Warrior is. : Are you ready to confuse literally every new player by being the only thing that gets proficiency to damage? Then Hexblade is for you. Note that you can both Curse and Hex someone if you like to track several effects at the same time. In all seriousness though, this is a fantastic ability.
Using your Charisma for attack and damage rolls in place of Strength is crazy powerful. Not only does it make Pact of the Blade considerably easier for the Warlock, it makes Paladin/Warlock multiclass builds massively more effective. Keep in mind that by default Hex Warrior's weapon effect works on a weapon which you touch at the end of a long rest, but if you later take Pact of the Blade the effect extends to that weapon too, so you can affect have two weapons with which to attack using Charisma. This is important if you plan to explore two-weapon fighting or if you want a backup weapon or something. : This is probably why you picked the subclass. You get medium armor and shields so that you’re able to exist in the front line without dying immediately, but far more importantly you get to be a melee character and still have Str and Dex be dump stats. You do still need enough Dexterity to fill out Half Plate's Dexterity cap, but that's not hard.
- : Not only does it have to be a humanoid, but you personally have to get the killing blow. That said, if you can get one, Specters are a phenomenal companion to have with you. They are effective in combat (although they never scalebeyond the tiny amount of temporary hit points and the attack bonus which you give them) and, while they can’t speak, they will follow your verbal commands allowing a creative person to use one for scouting and have it report back. However, they have no ability to speak, to their ability to report their findings is limited to gestures like nodding, pointing, and pantomime.
- : Take the already excellent Hexblade's Curse and put an astonishing and unique defensive buff on it. Somewhere, a 40k player is wondering how 4-up saves got into their D&D. This is a 50% miss chance on top of whatever other defenses you might have running (Blur or Shadow of Moil, for example),
Clever players might try to move the effect to an angry rat which you keep in a sack (the old "bag of rats" trick) to allow you to carry one use of Hexblade's Curse all day, but wise DM's should explicitly disallow such shenanigans. : The only problem with Hexblade’s Curse was that it could feel wasted if you used it on something and then ran into something more threatening before your next rest. That is now slightly mitigated by allowing you to chain it through a whole fight. You do need to be able to see a new target creature when you move Hexblade's Curse, so if you're facing hidden or invisible enemies you may need to keep that in mind before you finish off your current target.
The Undead does a lot of things that I really like. From a design perpsective, it's an excelent subclass. The theme and the mechanics align perfectly, and the whole thing has nice spooky feel (which makes sense considering the sourcebook that it came from). The subclass also handles complexity well, introducing few additional resources to track while also making those resources useful and exciting, and gradually adding complexity to the subclass as the player gains levels. This gradual ramp in complexity makes the Undead approachable for new players and players who don't handle resource management well, but still includes enough buttons to press that veteran players will find the subclass exciting.
The Undead is clearly intended to be a spellcasting-focused subclass, and many of the subclass's most impactful features work best when combined with Eldritch Blast. Form of Dread is the signature feature of the subclass, and once you add Touch of the Grave your go-to combat tactic is to turn on Form of Dread and start blasting. However, Form of Dread has a limited usage pool, so once you're out of uses you'll need to fall back on core warlock class features and spell slots.
Because the Undead grants access to False Life and a second source of temporary hit points when you activate Form of Dread, the Undead can be more durable than most warlocks. This, combined with the damage boost from Touch of the Grave, may be enough to support weapon-using builds. Touch of the Grave can work with weapons, so if you can get proficiency with a greataxe you could add a second d12 of damage when you hit with it once on each of your turns.
However, Touch of the Grave's damage boost is less useful with common weapon-using warlock builds like Crossbow Expert where you're using a weapon with a small damage die, and temporary hit points won't last long in light armor with no shield. Once your get Spirit Projection, the damage resistance can help, but since you need to maintain Concentration it can be hard to stay in melee with a weapon in hand. It's also difficult to justify investing resources in using a weapon when it's only going to be effective for one minute per Short or Long Rest.
- : Bane isn't a great spell and False Life is unappealing when you can get Fiendish Vigor. Both spells scale with spell level, which is a great option for the Warlock, but they're still not good enough options that I would rush to cast them. False Life cast using a spell does notably allow you to produce temporary hit points right before taking a Short Rest, so you could finish a Long Rest, cast False Life, then immediately short rest and have a big pile of temporary hp. You can also get temporary hit points from Form of Dread, so even with this abuse case it may be hard to justify spending a spell known to get False Life.
- : Both options are good and cover different use cases. Blindness/Deafness targets Constitution saves and adds additional targets with spell level, so it's good for low-Constitution targets like spellcasters and for crowds. Phantasmal Force targets Intelligence and is single-target, so it's good for single enemies with poor Intelligence (most martial foes).
- : Both options are only situationally useful.
- : Both options are excellent. Death Ward is a powerul defensive buff, and with an 8-hour duration you can use all of your spell slots to cast it one multiple members of your party, then immediately take a Short Rest to regain your spell slots and get right back to adventuring. Greater Invisibility is an absolutely fantastic spell for many reasons, but in combat Shadow of Moil may be more appealing.
- : Both decent options. Antilife Shell can make it easy to corner and eliminate foes with limited reach and no ranged options. Cloudkill is decent, but Hunger of Hadar will frequently be both easier to use and more effective.
With a Bonus Action activation time, it's easy to turn this on when you need it without cutting into your Eldritch Blast time. Since it grants temporary hit points and immunity to fear, it's a great option after you've taken damage or if you're currently Frightened (becoming immune to a condition removes the condition). But if you're not worried about those conditions, it's still great if you activate it early in a fight to keep an enemy perpectually Frightened.
Since your number of uses per day for Form of Dread is tied to your Proficiency Bonus, you can technically use it back-to-back, reactivating it immediately after it expires, or using it in back-to-back encounters. I don't recommend this until your Proficiency Bonus improves a bit, otherwise you'll get through the first few encounters in a day and find yourself short on resources. : A great combat buff, and as you add subclass features you'll gain additional benefits. At this level it adds temporary hp (the temporary hit points don't appear to expire when Form of Dread ends, but it's not clear if that's intentional) and the ability to make the target Frightened of you, allowing you to repeatedly debuff one creature per turn. The target does get a save, and weirdly the text doesn't specify a save DC (The first print just game out. Expect Errata at some point), so I assume that it uses your spell save DC like everything else.
The improvement to Form of Dread is more significant. An additional damage die once one each of your turns is a decent damage boost, though not alarmingly powerful. An extra d10 once per turn with Eldritch Blast is a reliable damage boost, especially as you add addition attacks because you have more opportunities to apply the once-per-turn damage boost. The damage boost is worded as "extra damage", so it's multiplied on critical hits like Divine Smite, Sneak Attack, and other similar damage boosts. Since the Unfortunately you only benefit from this boost while using Form of Dread (which you can only use a few times per day), so the rest of the time you're working with core warlock class features. : While not using Form of Dread, Grave Touch is minimally impactful. Changing the damage type of one attack per turn usually isn't impactful, especially if you're using Eldritch Blast (while necrotic damage isn't as good as Force damage, it's still one of the best damage types in the game). If you're using a weapon, changing your damage type from slashing etc. to necrotic can help overcome common damage resistances to weapon damage types.
- : The damage resistance is nice, but necrotic damage isn't especially common unless you're facing a lot of undead enemies. The second half of the feature is more interesting: The damage is decent but not enough to win a fight, but the AOE is decent and it's enough that you may be able to eliminate weakened foes. The 1d4 long rests cooldown is odd but probably not a problem unless you're frequently being reduced to 0 hit points. If that's the case, you should reconsider your tactics. You're not a Defender. The Exhaustion is annoying, but one level of Exhaustion is minimally impactful for most warlocks.
While using Spirit Projection you need to keep track of both your body and your spirit. Your spirit doesn't duplicate your equipment, which I think RAW means that your spirit is a spiritual projection of yourself in the nude. Fortunately, I think you can loot your own body to get your items, though it's not totally clear to me if that's intentional. Just keep in mind that you have a time limit, so it may save you time to strip yourself naked before activating Spirit Projection. If you're facing inclement conditions like extreme cold, your spirit doesn't get any sort of protection so your body and your spirit may both need separate outfits to keep yourself from suffering the effects of the climate.
You don't need to breath thanks to Grave Touch, so you can shove your body into a bag of holding if you need a safe place to store it. If you're low on hit points or otherwise need to get out of a bad spot, you can teleport back to your body to escape to safety.
While projected, you have resistance to weapon damage types, making you exceptionally resilient. Combined with resistance to necrotic damage and potentially damage resistances from other sources (your race, items, etc.) you can be alarmingly durable for a warlock. However, you need to maintain Concentration to maintain Spirit Projection, and without proficiency in Constituton saves that's a hard prospect even with damage resistances.
You effectively have a built-in spellcasting focus for Conjuration and Necromancy spells, though if you looted your body that's probably not impactful. You can fly and move through objects similar to the Etheralness spell, allowing you to scout, inflitrate, and escape in ways that normally require extremely high-level spells. With proficiency in Stealth, you can be an extremely effective scout.
The final bullet provides a way to heal yourself by dealing damage, but it only works while combining both Spirit Projection and Form of Dread. You heal for half of the necrotic damage dealt, so use Grave Touch to change the damage type and add extra damage like Eldritch Smite if you need more healing in a hurry. If you're close to end of Spirit Projection and you're short on hit points, consider activating Form of Dread and dig out your bag of rats to give you easy targets to farm hit points. : Where Form of Dread is a dedicated combat buff with a small usage pool, Spirit Projection is a once-per-day combination of defense, utility, and combat buff. It provides a combination of exciting effects with a variety of uses, and combining Spirit Projection with Form of Dread can be exceptionally powerful.
The Undying seeks to make the Warlock survivable, but hardly manages to do so any better than other patrons. Most of the options are situational and reactionary, and grant the Warlock very few options to actively address problems. You do get a few options to heal yourself and your allies, but they're underwhelming on their own and they feel laughably weak when you compare them to the Celestial Warlock's Healing Light feature.
: A few options are good, but most of the options on the Undying patron's spell list don't add anything important to the Warlock's existing abilities.
- : False life is a bit silly considering you can get Fiendish Vigor. Ray of Sickness is passable, and scales with level, but it isn't very exciting and poison resistance/immunity is very common so you'll probably replace it very quickly.
- : Two options for debilitating foes: one more martial foes, and one for spellcasters.
- : Two situational options, but Speak with Dead is extremely useful in a game where you frequently kill things with useful information.
- : Death Ward is a powerul defensive buff, and with an 8-hour duration you can use all of your spell slots to cast it one multiple members of your party, then immediately take a Short Rest to regain your spell slots and get right back to adventuring.
- : Contagion is versatile and very powerful. Legend Lore is situational, but it's essentially "Ask the DM About the Plot" as a spell, which makes it very potent.
- : A free cantrip (albeit a bad one), and perpetual Sanctuary against a common creature type.
- : This is really cool, but only works once per Long Rest. You generally want to save this for when you are dying because the healing will bring you back to consciousness, but it's not enough healing to use it if you just want to get back to full hp. Using it when you stabilize an ally just gives you normal, boring healing.
- : Very little in-game effect. Holding you breath indefinitely may mean that you can safely fight underwater, but as a DM I would rule that performing Verbal spell components would require inhaling and exhaling for races which need to breath.
- : Not a lot of healing. Compare this to the Fighter's Second Wind feature which provides more healing and is available at level 1 rather than level 14 where most warlocks are getting their subclass's "capstone" feature.