DnD 5e - Warlock Subclass Breakdown
Last Updated: October 23rd, 2020
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.
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 or released and this article will be updating accordingly as time allows.
Your choice of Otherworldly Patrond has a significant impact on the feel of your Warlock. While most patrons won't dramatically impact the core of your build, they can offer some very powerful options which you can build your character around.
Warlock Subclasses - Otherworldly Patrons
Focused on illusion, deception, and enchantment. The abilities 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 not 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 truly interesting or impressive, but there's also very little here that's really disappointing.
: The 2nd- and 3rd-level options aren't great, but the rest are fantastic. Remember that these options expand your spell list, not your spells known, so you can still choose not to learn the new options which you don't like.
- : 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.
- : Calm Emotions is very situational. Phantasmal Force is really cool for messing with your enemies, but the fact that it only affects one creature and requires Concentration can make it very difficult to use.
- : Blink is a very effective defensive buff, but 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. Seeming is basically a mass version of Disguise Self with a huge duration. The ability to target unwilling creatures opens up some hillarious tactical options like disguising everyone in the room (including enemies) as the same creature.
- : A 10-foot cube centered on you means that you need to be adjacent to whatever you want to affect. The effect is helpful if you get caught in melee and don't want to be, 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.
- : A decent single-target debuff, but by this level you've got plenty of spells which can provide similar effects. Still, the flavor is absolutely beautiful.
The Celestial offers two tempting options: access to some cleric spells, 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 some healing options 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.
: 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 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, but more cantrips never hurt and sometimes you need to keep zombies down.
- : Roughly equivalent to Healing Word.
- : Warlocks deal the vast majority of their damage with Eldritch 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. If you don't take Agonizing Blast, Sacred Flame will do slightly more damage than Eldritch Blast. 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.
- : This will save a ton of your party's healing resources. It's not quite as good as the Inspiring Leader feat, but it's very close, and you don't need to give your party a pep talk to make it work.
- : There is no save on the blinding effect, so you can stand up and safely walk yourself to somewhere safe before going back to lasering stuff to death.
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. 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 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 burst damage 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.
- : I don't really like Fire Shield, but 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 capitalize on the damage.
- : Flame Strike is worse than Fireball for the same spell slot. 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 about what you get from Advantage. Save this for crucial saving throws.
- : It doesn't specify energy damage or weapon damage, 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 Psychic, Radiant, and Necrotic damage.
- : Only works once per day, but 10d10 damage is pretty great on top of whatever your attack was.
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 it matters.
: 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.
- : A good option against creatures with poor Intelligence scores, and it's not on the Warlock's spell list. The effects don't scale with spell level, but they don't really need to.
- : 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, and this doesn't prevent you from attacking. Sanctuary also has a Bonus Action casting time, so you can attack or cast a cantrip in the same turn. However, since Sanctuary allows the attack to retarget their attack, Sanctuary isn't as effective against ranged attacks.
- : 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. The damage scales nicely, too.
- : 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.
- : Very situational.
- : Invisibility in 5e is really good, and running around for a full minute being almost impossible to target is a huge advantage.
- : Very situational.
: The Efreeti is a blaster. The biggest things that blasters need are good AOE damage spells and lots of spell slots to fuel them. Warlock 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.
- : Good low-level AOE damage, but since it doesn't do anything but damage you'll abandon it once something better comes along.
- : 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.
- : Among the best AOE damage spells in the game, and the scaling keeps it consistently good as you gain levels. However, Hunger of Hadar comes online at the same level, and it's a much better use of a spell slot due to its ongoing damage and 1-minute duration.
- : You're almost certainly not built to be in melee enough that using this makes sense.
- : 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.
: 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 we can get Shadow of Moil.
- : This is not good enough for a 3rd-level spell slot.
- : Too situational.
- : Decent but unglamorous AOE damage.
- : 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.
- : This is mostly for flavor, and thematically it's a really great feature. You might be able to 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. You can't even remain inside long enough to take a long rest.
: 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 the most common type of non-weapon damage, so permanent resistance is great.
- : 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 the most common type 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.
: 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, but Warlocks really need to save their spell slots for something more significant and impactful. Sending is 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. 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.
- : Not as reliable as other mechanics which respond to being attacked, and since most of your attacks are at range you will frequently need to find a way to move out of your foe's reach before attacking.
- : Both effects are situational. Psychic damage is extremely uncommon.
- : It's not quite Dominate Person, but it's very similar.
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 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 new options, 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 damage output is 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 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.
: 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 isn't very exciting 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.
- : Both options are situational.
- : 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, and perpetual Sanctuary against a really common creature type.
- : This is really cool, but only works once per day. You generally want to save this for when you are dying because the healing will bring you back to consciousness. Using it when you stabilize an ally just gives you normal, boring healing.
- : Very little in-game effect.
- : Not a lot of healing, but arcane casters have very few healing options.