DnD 5e - The Wizard Handbook
Last Updated: February 15th, 2019
I will use 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 Wizard is the iconic arcane spellcaster, capable of doing all manner of fantastic tricks, and generally limited only by their spellbook. A Wizard with a comprehensive spellbook can do essentially anything in the game, often as well as or better than a non-magical character who is built to do that thing. A Wizard with Invisibility is as stealthy as a Rogue. A Wizard with a summoned pet can replace a fighter (at least temporarily). A clever Wizard could even find a way to heal his allies and replace a Cleric.
Because Wizards can do so much so well, their roles are numerous and varied. However, in a typical party the Wizard's primary functions are as a Blaster, Striker, and Utility Caster.
Wizard Class Features
Hit Points: d6 hit points is the lowest in the game. Fortunately Intelligence is the only ability which Wizards strictly need, so you can afford a decent Constitution score.
Saves: Intelligence saves are very rare, and proficiency in Wisdom saves won't help much if your Wisdom is terrible.
Proficiencies: Wizard's weapons are pitiful, but can be easily replaced by cantrips. Unfortunately Wizards only get two skills.
Spellcasting: Wizards are the king of spellcasters. They can do everything; kill stuff, charm stuff, solve problems, gather information, travel, whatever. If you can imagine doing it with magic, a Wizard can do it. Except healing. They can't really do that.
Arcane Recovery: This provides a bit of sustainability to the Wizard which was missing in previous editions. Wizards were the biggest cause of the "five minute day", in which the Wizard would burn their biggest spells in the first encounter, then would be essentially useless unless the party immediately took a long rest. Arcane Recovery gives you the ability to recover your biggest spell slot (or several smaller ones), allowing you to continue at least through the first short rest without issue.
Arcane Tradition: See "Subclasses - Arcane Traditions", below.
Spell Mastery: Your first thought might be to pick up something to replace your cantrips as a go-to damage solution, but your cantrips hit 4dx damage a a level ago, which means they will outstrip nearly all first and second spells in terms of single-target damage. Your best bets for damage are Shatter (if you need a spammable AOE) and Scorching Ray, but even scorching ray only beats cantrips by an average of 3 damage. Instead, look for utility spells which are helpful to spam like Invisibility, Mirror Image, or a save-or-suck spell like Tasha's Hideous Laughter.
Signature Spell: Cool, but not nearly as important as Spell Mastery. The free castings are nice, but the biggest draw is the two extra spells prepared per day, which dramatically improves your versatility.
Subclasses - Arcane Traditions
I'm going to skip the "X Savant" abilities because they're all identical.
- BladesingingSCAG: The Bladesinger is a fun concept, falling a lot closer to a normal Wizard than an Eldritch Knight does, and allowing you to get into melee combat while still using the full Wizard spell list. Unfortunately, you're plagued by MAD (you now need three ability scores to be even remotely functional), and have to survive in melee with d6 hit points, and your AC only remains viable as long as you can keep Bladesong running.
- Training in War Song: Light armor on a Wizard is a nice boost to AC. Mage Armor works great, but it eats one of your precious prepared spell slots for the day. You get free proficiency with a one-handed melee weapon (Rapier is your best bet) and Performance.
- Bladesong: The bonus to AC, combined with light armor and a decent Dexterity bonus will allow you to match or even exceed the AC of a Fighter. You get two uses per short rest, so you can reasonably expect to use this up to 6 times in a day. The duration is only a minute, so beware of long, drawn-out fights.
- Extra Attack: With exceptionally rare exception, you will do more damage by using a cantrip like Green-Flame Blase.
- Song of Defence: This is a great way to survive your d6 hit points, but
- Song of Victory: A bit late to the game, but by now you should easily have 20 Intelligence, so 5 bonus damage is pretty nice.
- School of AbjurationPHB: I'm really surprised by Abjuration. In previous editions abjuration was an after-thought for Wizards. You took a couple of protective spells like Resist Energy to handle frequent niusances, but I don't know anyone who ever played a real Abjurer (Abjurant Champion doesn't count, 3.5 enthusiasts). School of Abjuration provides a really fantastic Ward mechanic, and really lends to the idea that the Wizard's magic is focus on defending himself and his allies.
- Arcane Ward: A great source of what essentially amounts to temporary hit points, but since they aren't technically temporary hit points the two effects stack. You shouldn't need this frequently, but it's great to have, and it greatly reduces your need for Constitution. Of course, once you get Projected Ward this stops being about you, and starts being about keeping your party members alive.
- Projected Ward: Your party's Defender likely takes a lot more damage than you, so soaking some of it with your ward can really cut down on how many resources your party must devote to healing.
- Improved Abjuration: Counterspell is an off-switch for enemy spellcasters. Adding your proficiency bonus dramatically improves its effectiveness, making you able to easily prevent enemy spellcasters from doing anything at all without the need to burn your highest-level spell slots.
- Spell Resistance: Resistance to spells is great for resisting dangerous save or suck spells, and resistance to spell damage makes you greatly resistant to direct damage spells which typically don't require saves.
- School of ConjurationPHB: Conjuration does a lot of things, but generally when you think of a conjurer you think of summoning creatures. The Concentration rules only allow you to have one Summon X spell running at a time, and the School of Conjuration only provides two summoning-centric abilities, and neither are fantastic. Overall, Scholl of Conjuration is lackluster, and you can get by as a Conjurer just fine without it.
- Minor Conjuration: Like creation spells, Minor Conjuration's effectiveness depends heavily on your creativity and on your DM's permissiveness. At the very least you can summon cylindrical logs and roll them around in dungeons to set of traps.
- Benign Transposition: A great way to get around when there's enemies present, especially if you switch places with your Defender and drop him in the middle of a bunch of surprised enemies. Of course, this can be largely replaced by Misty Step, which can be used as a Bonus Action at the cost of a 2nd-level spell slot.
- Focused Conjuration: This is great for keeping your summoned creature around even if you take damage, but at this level you have plenty of ways to keep yourself out of trouble.
- Durable Summons: At high levels your best summon spell is Summon Celestial, which gets you a CR 5 creature. The flat number scale of 5e means that your pet will still be reasonably effective, but they will have considerably fewer hit points than a creature you can reasonably expect to face in combat. 30 hit points goes a long way to keep your summons alive, but by this level you can't expect these hit points to buy you more than one extra round of focused damage output.
- School of DivinationPHB: Forewarned is fore-armed, and Divination is all about forewarning. If you ever walk into a room without knowin who and what is inside it, you aren't casting enough Divinations. The biggest problem with relying heavily on divinations is that they can quickly eat your spell slots with little tangible effect. Fortunately, Expert Divination dramatically reduces the cost of casting Divinations. Portent provides a wonderful mechanic to save your party from unlucky rolls by anyone at the table.
- Portent: Roll high? Save it for important saving throws. Roll low? Use it to replace an enemy attack roll. There is no way for this to be bad unless you forget to use it.
- Expert Divination: This dramatically expands the number of spells you can cast in a day. If you ever think "is it worth a spell slot to cast a Divination right now?", the answer should always be yes. Throw them around like confetti.
- The Third Eye: Darkvision isn't a Divination, so this is a great way to get it for free, and you can't get Etheral Sight from a spell (to the best of my knowledge). The other effects be replicate with See Invisibility and Comprehend Languages, which cost next to nothing to cast thanks to Expert Divination.
- Greater Portent: Not a game changer, but Portent is fantastic, and this makes it 50% more powerful.
- School of EnchantmentPHB: School of Enchantment is decent, but not terribly exciting. Split Enchantment is the only really exciting ability it provides, but it's good enough to make Enchantment viable, especially once you have some really good save-or-suck spells.
- Hypnotic Gaze: As a Wizard you should not spend a whole lot of time 5 feet away from enemies. But if you find yourself face to face with something unfriendly, flash those baby blues and hit it with your Hypnotic Gaze. This allows you to indefinitely lock down a single target. In an encounter where your allies outnumber the enemies (or at leas the significant ones) this is a great way to tilt the balance of the encounter in your favor, even if this also takes you out of the encounter.
- Instinctive Charm: This is a great way to make enemy ranged attackers hit their own allies (or at least your allies if the enemy doesn't have friends nearby. To use this in melee you will need to have an adjacent ally to draw fire.
- Split Enchantment: Many of the best Enchantment spells are single-target, which is a problem in encounters with more than one enemy. This functionally doubles your spell output with your best spells.
- Alter Memories: This ability is the only Wizard ability which calls for Charisma, and it's extremeley situational. This could have easily been a spell.
- School of EvocationPHB: Evocation is the blunt hammer of magic. It's not subtle, it's not elegant, and it's often imprecise. But hey, when 90% of problems are nails, the hammer is the king of tools. Evocation is a great option for players who are new to spellcasters because the spells are mechanically simple, and usually leave little room for interpretation of their effects. A couple of School of Evocation's abilities are problematic, but Scult Spells is great for new players, and Overchannel is a really exciting high-level ability.
- Sculpt Spells: Friendly fire happens inevitably when you have an Evoker in the party. This goes a long way to cut down on the problem, but you should still try to avoid hitting your allies wherever possible.
- Potent Cantrip: Acid Splash and Poison Spray are the only damaging Wizard cantrips in the PHB which require a saving throw. If you are ever at the point that half damage from a cantrip is essential, you are in a truly bad place, and should consider all of the poor life choices which led you to that point.
- Empowered Evocation: A bonus to damage like this is a considerable boost, especially for your low-level spells. According to Sage Advice, this bonus applies to each missile of magic missile and to all targets of an AOE, but only to one attack for multi-attack spells like Scorching Ray. This means that Magic Missile is a considerably better spell, and low-level AOEs like Burning Hands can still be decent damage sources as you level.
- Overchannel: This is a great way to get more mileage out of reliable lower-level spells like Magic Missile and Fireball at a level where your higher-level spells would generally eclipse them. Just be sure to have a Cleric handy when you start taking damage. RAW, the damage is maximized every time that the spell deals damage, which makes spells like Wall of Fire especially powerful. However, according to Jeremy Crawford the effect was intended to only apply to the first damage roll for the spell. Check with your DM about how they want to handle things.
- School of IllusionPHB: Illusion is one of the most complex, open-ended, and flexible schools of magic. It is limited only by your and your DM's imaginations. If you are a creative, artistic person who thinks on their feet, Illusions can be exceptionally powerful.
- Improved Minor Illusion: Minor Illusion can be incredibly powerful in the hands of a smart caster, and adding both effects on one casting makes it considerably more useful.
- Malleable Illusions: A simple solution to animate your illusions. Changing your illusions from a static image to something else periodically can be a very effective way to convince enemies that the illusion is real.
- Illusory Self: Ignore one attack against you for free, once per rest. Very good for a squishy Wizard.
- Illusory Reality: This turns your illusions into creation spells. You can't directly harm enemies with them, but the rules say nothing about impeding, restraining, or blocking them. Throw up a Silent Image to create a wall of stone between you and your foes, or to put a cage around them.
- School of NecromancyPHB: Necromancy is a cool school. A lot of people want to summon an army of undead, then roll over their enemies. This is a great strategy, but make sure that your party is okay with the party being outnumbered by pets.
- Grim Harvest: This won't work with cantrips (0*2=0), but it can be a nice way to heal yourself with your other spells. RAW you can use this on any creature, so there's nothing to stop your from pulling a wagon full of rabbits for you to eat when you need hit points.
- Undead Thralls: Additional hit points and damage will make your pet undead considerably more lethal. Remember that having more undead will require you to spend more spell slots every day, so don't have too many.
- Inured to Undeath: Situational.
- Command Undead: This is a very useful ability if you have enemies who laso use undead, but the fact that intelligent undead (very common by this level) get advantage on the save makes this ability had to use effectively.
- School of TransmutationPHB: Transmutation gets you very little which you couldn't already get easily from other places.
- Minor Alchemy: It's hard to say how best to use this, but at the very least you could turn a block of wood into silver and sell it before it reverts.
- Transmuter's Stone: Several excellent buffs to choose from, and you can change the selected buff easily.
- Shapechanger: Helpful for scouting and utility purposes, but it won't get you through a fight, and you can use a Rogue or a Divination spell for scouting.
- Master Transmuter: The Panacea and Restore Life options are very good, but both are situational.
- War MagicXGtE: Despite the flavor text, War Magic is primarily defensive. Power Surge is the only truly offensive ability, and it's mediocre. It has a lot of overlap with School of Abjuration, but where School of Abjuration focuses more on mitigating effects, War Magic attempts to prevent them entirely.
- Arcane Deflection: Shield provides a better AC bonus, but the real appeal here is the bonus to saves. +4 is enough to make a huge difference, but since it triggers on a reaction you'll want to avoid failing any further saves for the rest of the round.
- Tactical Wit: Initiative bonuses are always great, and getting to go early means that you can quickly cast buff or control spells which will determine how the fight plays out.
- Power Surge: The damage isn't great, and unless you're facing a lot of enemy spellcaster it will be hard to charge your power surges. You could ask your allies to waste low-level spell slots so that you can dispel or counterspell them, but it's probably not worth the spell slots to do so.
- Durable Magic: If you're not maintaining Concentration on a spell, you should be casting a spell that requires Concentration. There are too many good Concentration spells for you to not have one running.
- Deflecting Shroud: You only get to use Arcane Deflection if you're hit by an attack, or if you fail a saving throw. But there's no reason an ally couldn't make an unarmed strike to hit you for 1 damage to set this off. If you don't want to be silly and let your friends treat you light a piñata full of damage output, this is still a great defensive mechanism. If you're facing groups of enemies they might hit you sheerly by making a large number of attacks, and this will allow you to thin their numbers in response.
Wizards are a single-ability class. All you need is Intelligence, ans everything else is supplemental.
Str: Dump stat. A Wizard should know better.
Dex: A bit for AC is nice, but that's all you get unless you go for Bladesinging, in which case you will want a bunch for the rapier that you're going to use.
Con: Hit points and Constitution saves are problems for Wizards.
Int: A Wizard's first priority should be to get 20 Intelligence. Their second priority should be to find a way to exceed 20 Intelligence.
Wis: Good for Wisdom saves.
Cha: Dump stat.
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Intelligence bonuses are crucial, and little else matters.
AarakocraEEPC: No useful ability bonuses, and flight stops being as cool when you can cast a spell for it.
AasimarVGTM: Nothing useful for the Wizard.
- Fallen: Nothing useful for the Wizard.
- Protector: Nothing useful for the Wizard.
- Scourge: Nothing useful for the Wizard.
BugbearVGTM: Nothing useful for the Wizard.
Dwarf: The only thing which Dwarfs offer the Wizard is hit points, and if a Wizard needed hit points WotC wouldn't have only given them a d6 hit die.
- DuergarSCAG: Strength and some spells which a Wizard can already cast.
- HillPHB: Of the two Dwarfs, Hill Dwarf is the better option only because it gets even more hit points and the bonus Wisdom is helpful for the Wisdom saves.
- MountainPHB: A Wizard with strength is like a fish with a bicycle. Both are absurdities imagined by fools.
DragonbornPHB: None of the Dragonborn's abilities are helpful to the wizard, and if you want something like a breath weapon there are plenty of spells which will do the job.
ElfPHB: Dexterity is nice for your AC, and Perception can be very effective if you didn't dump Wisdom. Darkvision is welcome on any character, but when you can cast Darkvision or conjure up light it quickly stops being important.
- Drow: The Charisma bonus is wasted on a Wizard, and the extra spells will be lousy since they're Charisma-based.
- EladrinMToF: Bad ability spread.
- High Elf: A small bonus to Intelligence, and you get an extra cantrip for free. Altogether a solid choice.
- Sea ElfMToF: Nothing useful for the Wizard.
- Shadar-KaiMToF: Nothing useful for the Wizard.
- Wood Elf: Wisdom is nice for saves and Perception, but that's the best that the Wizard gets from the Wood Elf.
FirbolgVGTM: Nothing useful for the Wizard.
GenasiEEPC: Constitution is great for everyone, but doesn't play directly to what the Wizard needs.
- Air: Dexterity doesn't help Wizards much, and the Air Genasis other abilities are terrible.
- Earth: Earth Genasi are melee monsters.
- Fire: Intelligence, Darkvision, a free offensive cantrip, Burning Hands once per day, and fire resistance so you can drop fireballs on yourself a bit more often. Altogether, a decent option for Evokers.
- Water: Nothing useful for a Wizard.
GoblinVGTM: Nothing useful for the Wizard.
Gith: +1 Intelligence is a good start.
- GithyankiMToF: Medium armor proficiency means that you can cast spells in half plate, which is pretty nice. The psionics are nice but not really necessary.
- GithzeraiMToF: The psionics are nice, but you're a wizard and you can cast those spells already.
Gnome: A bonus to Intelligence is exactly what you want. Darkvision is nice, but can be replicated with a spell. You also get advantage on mental saving throws against spells, which is a great flavor for a Wizard.
- Deep (Svirfneblin)EEPC / SCAG: Interesting for stealthy Wizard or an illusionist, especially in a subterranean campaign.
- ForestPHB: A small Dexterity bonus can help your AC, and Minor Illusion for free saves you a Cantrip.
- RockPHB: A small Constitution bonus can get you some much-needed hit points, and Artificer's Lore is a great flavor for a Wizard. Tinker is easily replaced by magic.
Half-Elf: Half-elfs are arguably the best race in the core rulebook, but they don't do much for wizards. You can still get a small bonus to intelligence, but the half-elf doesn't offer anything which you can't get elsewhere.
- AquaticSCAG: Only if you're in an aquatic campaign.
- DrowSCAG: The free spells are decent, but you can cast comparable spells.
- High/Moon/SunSCAG: You get enough of your own cantrips already.
- Keen SensesSCAG: The sidebar describing half-elf variants specifices that you can take Keen Senses in place of Skill Versatility, or a trait based on your elf parentage. Keen Senses give you a single fixed skill, and you're giving up proficiency in any two skills. It should be immediately apparent that this is a terrible trade.
- WoodSCAG: Nothing useful for the Wizard.
- VanillaPHB: Two free skills means that you can pick up some more knowledge skills.
Half-OrcPHB: Nothing useful for the Wizard.
HalflingPHB: Dexterity is nice for your AC, but the Halfling offers little else that is specifically useful to the Wizard.
- Ghostwise: Nothing useful for wizards.
- Lightfoot: Charisma is worthless to a Wizard, and if you need stealth you can cast Invisibility.
- Stout: Constitution is nice, but hardly essential. Still, the Stout halfling is marginally better than the Lightfoot.
HobgoblinVGTM: The Constitution increase makes you nice and durable, and Saving Face is really great if you miss an attack roll with a high-level spell.
HumanPHB: Versatile and fantastic at everything.
- Vanilla: Wizards really only need Intelligence, so a +1 to all of your scores is totally wasted.
- Variant: You can still get a small bonus to your Intelligence, and you can get an awesome feat at level 1, plus you can use the free skill to get an extra Knowledge skill, especially one that's not on the Wizard skill list like Nature. If you're looking at the Skilled feat, consider a Half-Elf instead.
KenkuVGTM: Nothing useful for the Wizard.
KoboldVGTM: Nothing useful for the Wizard.
LizardfolkVGTM: Nothing useful for the Wizard.
OrcVGTM: Nothing useful for the Wizard.
TabaxiVGTM: Nothing useful for the Wizard.
Tiefling: A small bonus to Intelligence, and access to Thaumaturgy, which is weird for a Wizard. The Flames of Flegethos feat is tempting for School of Evocation.
- AsmodeusMToF: The ability scores don't work as well for a Wizard as a race with a +2 Intelligence bonus, and as nice as the free spells are they're also on the Wizard spell list already.
- BaalzebulMToF: ntelligence and access to Thaumaturgy.
- DispaterMToF: Bad ability spread.
- FiernaMToF: Bad ability spread.
- GlasyaMToF: Bad ability spread.
- LevistusMToF: Bad ability spread.
- MammonMToF: Bonus intelligence, but the spells are really situational.
- MephistophelesMToF: Bonus intelligence, but using Flame Blade is dangerous for a wizard.
- ZarielMToF: Too melee-centric.
- Variant: FeralSCAG: Marginally better because Wizards get more from Dexterity than from Charisma.
- Variant: Devil's TongueSCAG: Changing the spells doesn't really improve the Tiefling for Wizards.
- Variant: HellfireSCAG: Burning Hands works better for Wizards than Hellish Rebuke.
- Variant: WingedSCAG: Permanent flight without concentration. You don't need the free racial spells on a Wizard, so this is a great trade.
TortleTP: A definite possibility for a Bladesinger Wizard, but I wouldn't consider it for other wizards.
TritonVGTM: Nothing useful for the Wizard.
Yuan-Ti PurebloodVGTM: Better suited to Sorcers and Warlocks, but purebloods still make excellent wizards.
Setting-specific races are address below. Not every setting allows every race, and while most races presented in the core rules and in content for the Forgotten Realms can be used in other settings, races specific to settings like Ravnica aren't typically allowed in other settings. Talk to your DM about what races are allowed in your game.
Races of Ravnica
CentaurGGTR: Nothing useful for the Wizard.
GoblinGGTR: See above.
LoxodonGGTR: Nothing useful for the Wizard.
MinotaurGGTR: Nothing useful for the Wizard.
Simic HybridGGTR: A neat option, but you can get most of the race's benefits from spells.
VedalkenGGTR: The Intelligence increase is a great start. The free proficiencies add some extra utility, and getting an extra d4 on the ability checks with those proficiencies really helps the Vedalken stand out as an expert. Vedalken Dispassion will help protect you from spells and effects which might otherwise take you out of a fight in one go.
- Arcana (Int): Wizards are all about Arcana, so it's reasonable to assume that you know it.
- History (Int): Helpful, especially in campaigns which go into history frequently.
- Insight (Wis): You likely don't have enough Wisdom to be particularly good at this, but it can be helpful if your party's Face doesn't have it.
- Investigation (Int): Helpful, but likely best left for the party's Scout.
- Medicine (Wis): Leave this for Clerics.
- Religion (Int): One of the more important knowledge skills, and you ar eprobably better with it than the CLeric.
This section does not address every published background, as doing so would result in an ever-growing list of options which don't cater to the class. Instead, this section will cover the options which I think work especially well for the class, or which might be tempting but poor choices. Racial feats are discussed in the Races section, above.
With the Wizard's Intelligence, you want as many knowledge skills as you can get.
- AcolytePHB: Two skills from the Wizard skill list, and two languages. Not awful, but nothing that you really need to have.
- Clan CrafterSCAG: History is good, but Wizards typically don't get a lot of use out of Insight, and artificer's tools aren't terribly useful.
- Cloistered ScholarSCAG: Two knowledge skills are great, and you get to pick one. The bonus languages might not be particularly helpful, since you can handle languages magically.
- Faction AgentSCAG: Insight is okay, and the flexible skill choice is nice, but you can get the languages magically.
- HermitPHB: Two skills from the Wizard skill list, one language, and proficiency with the herbalist's kit, which could be useful.
- SagePHB: Two of the better skills from the Wizard skill list, and two languages. The bonus languages might not be particularly helpful, since you can handle languages magically.
This section does not address every published feat, as doing so would result in an ever-growing list of options which don't cater to the class. Instead, this section will cover the backgrounds recommended in the "Quick Build" section of the class description, as well as other backgrounds which I think work especially well for the class, or which might be tempting but poor choices. The possibility of custom backgrounds also means that it is literally impossible for me to provide comprehensive analysis of every potential background in existence.
- AlertPHB: The bonus to Initiative is tempting because spellcasters can do so much to affect a fight if they go first, but nothing else is particularly helpful.
- AthletePHB: You can solve all of these problems by flying.
- ActorPHB: Not for Wizards.
- ChargerPHB: Not for Wizards.
- Crossbow ExpertPHB: Not for Wizards.
- Defensive DuelistPHB: Not for Wizards.
- Dual WielderPHB: Not for Wizards.
- Dungeon DelverPHB: Best left for Rogues.
- DurablePHB: If you need this you are not a very good Wizard.
- Elemental AdeptPHB: Very tempting for Evokers, but specializing in one element is severely limiting. If something is resistant to one element, use a different one. Changing 1's to 2's averages 1/6 damage per die, which is as close to nothing as you will ever see.
- GrapplerPHB: Not for Wizards.
- Great Weapon MasterPHB: Not for Wizards.
- HealerPHB: Not for Wizards.
- Heavily ArmoredPHB: Not for Wizards.
- Heavy Armor MasterPHB: Good luck getting enough feats to pick this up.
- Inspiring LeaderPHB: A great feat, but you need Chari
- Keen MindPHB: A partial bonus to Intelligence, but the other bonuses are worthless.
- Lightly ArmoredPHB: Mage Armor works fine.
- LinguistPHB: Cast Tongues.
- LuckyPHB: Amuzing, but not particularly useful to Wizards since they don't frequently roll attacks or saves.
- Mage SlayerPHB: Wizards don't typically carry melee weapons.
- Magic InitiatePHB: A tempting way to get cantrips from other classes, but remember that you use the spellcasting ability of that other class, and since your Wisdom and Charisma will be poor so will your spellcasting. Stick to utility options
- Martial AdeptPHB: Not for Wizards.
- Medium Armor MasterPHB: Good luck getting enough feats to pick this up.
- MobilePHB: You can solve all of these problems by flying.
- Moderately ArmoredPHB: Mage Armor works fine.
- Mounted CombatPHB: Not for Wizards.
- ObservantPHB: A partial Intelligence bonus, and the passive Investigation bonus can be useful.
- Polearm MasterPHB: Not for Wizards.
- ResilientPHB: You don't really need other saving throw proficiencies. There is a case to be made that proficiency in Constitution savings throws is useful for Concentration checks, but Concentration only becomes a factor if you're taking damage. If you're taking damage, you have much bigger problems than Concentration. Instead, boost your Intelligence and use the extra prepared spell tp pick up something that will keep you from getting hit like Shield, Invisibility, or Mirror Image.
- Ritual CasterPHB: All of the same issues as Magic Initiate. Really only useful if your party needs access to Cleric rituals.
- Savage AttackerPHB: This is a bad feat. The largest damage die (d12), yields an average of 2 extra damage per turn.
- SentinelPHB: Not for Wizards.
- SharpshooterPHB: Not for Wizards.
- Shield MasterPHB: Not for Wizards.
- SkilledPHB: Proficiencies are great, especially since Wizards get few skills, but if you really need skills you should probably play a Half-elf or start as a Rogue.
- SkulkerPHB: Not for Wizards.
- Spell SniperPHB: Great for spellcasters who like to make spell attacks. Selecting this at first level as a variant Human makes the Human strictly better than the High Elf.
- Tavern BrawlerPHB: Not for Wizards.
- ToughPHB: If you need this you are not a very good Wizard.
- War CasterPHB: A really great feat, but generally best left to Eldritch Knights.
- Weapon MasterPHB: Not for Wizards.
- Dagger: Carry one or two for utility purposes at any level, but the damage isn't good enough to make it better than shocking grasp. You can make opportunity attacks with a dagger, but that's not something you should be doing frequently.
- Light Crossbow: Until you hit level 5, a light crossbow can do more damage than firebolt. If you have at least 14 Dexterity, a light crossbow is probably a better option than firebolt when you just need to do some damage, and you can defer taking firebolt until you've gained some levels so that you can spend your limited number of cantrips on something more interesting like ray of frost or a utility cantrip.
- Quarterstaff: A great cosmetic item, but totally useless in combat. Use Shocking Grasp or a Dagger instead.
- Rapier: The Bladesinger Wizard's go-to weapon.
Cast Mage Armor and learn Shield. At low levels that will be enough to keep you safe, but at high levels you'll likely dump mage armor because enemies' attack bonuses will be so high that it will stop being helpful. You might keep shield around for those rare times when it would deflect an attack, but you're better served by other spells like Blur or Blink.
This is not a comprehensive guide to every available spell, as that would be an exercise in madness. The following is a brief compilation of the most notable spells available to the class. Spells available via Magic Initiate are also excluded; for suggestions for Magic Initiate, see the "Feats" section, above.
- Blade WardPHB: Similar in function to taking the Dodge action, but since your AC may be terrible this may be more reliable.
- Fire BoltPHB: Great range and solid damage. A good go-to option when all you need is damage. Toll the Dead will do more damage and has a better damage type, but Fire Bolt has twice the range.
- FrostbiteXGtE: Relatively low damage, but Disadvantage on the target's next attack roll is much more useful than the damage in many cases. Unless you could kill the target, handicapping it so that it's less likely to hurt your allies is a good idea.
- Poison SprayPHB: Toll the Dead does comparable damage, has better range, targets a better save, and uses a better damage type.
- PrestidigitationPHB: Whenever you want to do something small and magical that's not covered by another spell, it's usually covered by prestidigitation. This spells is exceptionally versatile, and
- Shape WaterXGtE: This is as abusable and versatile as Prestidigitation. Freeze a solid 5 foot cube of water and drop it on someone. Pour water into a lock, freeze it, and allow the ice expansion to break the lock. Put a dome of ice over something you're protecting. The uses are numerous and fantastic.
- Toll the DeadXGtE: 60 ft. range, the damage is measured in d12's, and since it's necrotic damage almost nothing will resist it.
- Fighter: If you want Action Surge, two levels of Fighter are tempting, but remember that you're giving up an entire level of spells to get one to three extra spells per day (the game expects two short rests in a full day of adventuring). If you want to be a fighter that blasts stuff, Eldritch Knight exists for a reason.
Example Build - High Elf Wizard (Evoker)
Lightning bolt! Lightning bolt! Lightning bolt!
This is a "Staple Build". This build is simple, and relies on options from the SRD and the Basic Rules wherever possible. If you need a functional build with nothing fancy or complicated, this is a great place to start.
By wizard standards, the evoker is simple. Blow stuff up, long rest, repeat. The biggest impediment to evokers is needing to overcome enemy resistances to various types of damage from their spells, and that's easy to overcome by diversifying your spells.
We will assume the point buy abilities suggested above.
High Elf. High Elf is a spectacular option for the Wizard. The ability score increases line up nicely, and a free cantrip provides extra versatility at low levels where it is sorely needed. You also get proficiency with longbows, and with 16 Dexterity and proficiency you're just as good with a longbow as anyone else, and 1d8+3 damage will be more damage than a cantrip at low levels.
The Wizard's skill list is almost exclusively dominated by Intelligence-based skills, and that's exactly what we want. Your party will look to you to know things about stuff, and you should meet that expectation as much as possible. You'll get two more skills from your background, so try to find a background that lets you cover the knowledge skills which no one else in your party can cover. You also get Perception proficiency as a racial trait. Assuming that you take the Sage background as suggested below, I recommend that you take Investigation and Religion to start with the following proficiencies:
Acolyte and Sage both have things to offer. Sage is go-to option for wizards, giving you two knowledge skills and two languages. Languages may not seem important with dumped Charisma, but it's hard to read ancient tomes if you don't know the language. Of course, you could cast Comprehend Languages as a ritual.
Acolyte gives you proficiency in Insight and Religion, both of which are on your skill list, but Insight should usually be left to someone with higher Wisdom if anyone else in the party has it. You also get two languages, but again: Comprehend Languages as a ritual.
We'll use Sage for this build.
Intelligence is the only ability score that wizards really need, so once you hit 20 Intelligence you might consider exploring feats. Magic Initiate can get you some powerful options from other class's spell lists, and Elemental Adept can help you focus on your favorite element without worrying as much about damage resistances. If you're not ready for complicated feats but still don't see ability score increases as appealing, try something simple liked Skilled.
|Level||Feat(s) and Features||Notes and Tactics|
|1|| || |
For your starting equipment, take a dagger, a component pouch or spellcasting focus, either pack, and a spellbook.
The list of cantrips I've suggested include three offensive options, giving you good damage type coverage. Acid Splash requires a saving throw, while Chill Touch and Ray of Frost require attack rolls. Use Acid Splash on clustered enemies, on enemies within 5 ft. (you don't care about Disadvantage on ranged attacks while adjacent to an enemy if you don't make an attack roll), or enemies with problematically high AC, but Ray of Frost is your go-to offensive cantrip. A 10 ft. speed reduction can be a significant tactical advantage, especially if you position yourself so that enemies would need to Dash to reach you in a single turn.
I've notably skipped over Fire Bolt. Fire Bolt is the most damage (1d10) which you can get from a cantrip while remaining within the SRD. But at this level if all you want is damage you should grab a longbow. With 16 Dexterity, Fire Bolt would attack at +5 and deal 1d10 (avg. 5.5) damage, while a longbow will attack at +5 and deal 1d8+3 (avg. 7.5) damage and has considerably better range.
Because your spell slots are so limited at 1st level, we'll lean hard on ritual spells, spending half of our free spellbook entries on ritual spells. Get a familiar as soon as possible, and use Detect Magic as a ritual whenever it could be useful. That leaves use three useful combat options: burning hands, mage armor, and magic missile. Mage Armor is a significant AC boost, bringing you to 16 AC which matches the AC of a fighter without a shield, but you're still frail so standing behind someone durable is still better protection. Burning Hands is your go-to crowd control option, while Magic Missile is a reliable pile of damage at range.
Don't forget Arcane Recovery. You only get to use it once per day, but it allows you to recover a few spell slots, which can be the difference between life and death in a full day of adventuring. Use it early, use it often.
|2|| || |
The "Savant" feature is a staple of every wizard school. So long as you can find written spells to copy (which depends heavily on the setting in which your campaign takes place), it's often smarter to spend gold to learn spells from your school while using your two free spells at each level to get spells from other schools. However, the point of staple builds is to emphasize simplicity and ease of access, so I'll continue to assume that you're only getting the two free spells per level.
Sculpt Spells is a crucial tactical option for evokers. The majority of the best evocation spells are area spells like Fireball, and when you drop big damage spells into a fight it typically means damaging your allies. Sculpt Spells largely removes that difficulty, and scaling the number of safe spaces based on the spell's level means that as the area of effect of your spells gradually increases, you'll be able to adequately protect your allies. However, it notably doesn't work on yourself, so you can't drop fireballs on yourself without taking damage.
At this level we pick up yet another ritual spell, but don't expect to use Identify until you start finding magic items. If you know that your campaign doesn't include magic items, get something else like Thunderwave. Shield adds another defensive option, allowing you to block an attack at the last second and potentially protecting you better than Mage Armor.
|3|| || |
2nd-level spells give us more offensive options. Shatter is your go-to option whenever you can hit three or more targets. Two or more would be more damage than you can do with nearly any of your existing spells, but hitting two targets probably isn't worth one of your two 2nd-level spell slots. Scorching Ray is a good single-target option, but expect to do partial damage because you'll inevitably miss with some of the rays, so Magic Missile may actually be a better option.
|4|| || |
4th level is typically boring, but there's a lot going on here. First, and most importantly, your Intelligence increases, raising your spell attacks and your spell DCs. For the first time your cantrips are more accurate than your longbow, and with Fire Bolt added to our arsenal it may be worthwhile to use Fire Bolt. However, your longbow will still deal more damage, so against foes with low AC I would lean on your longbow first, and use Acid Splash or a leveled spell on targets with high AC. We mostly want Fire Bolt for 5th level and beyond.
We're notably not picking up any new evocation spells at this level. Flaming Sphere is a great option for long fights to stretch your spell slots, and it's a great way to use your under-utilized bonus action. Misty Step is a crucial defensive option that gets you out of grapples, traps, etc.
|5|| || |
5th level brings the first cantrip damage improvement. Fire Bolt now deals 2d10 damage (avg. 11), greatly exceeding your longbow, so it's finally time to set aside mundane weaponry.
3rd-level spells bring iconic options like Fireball and Lightning Bolt. Fireball is among the best spells in the game for its level, so I would recommend taking it even if we weren't building an evoker. Fly provides some utility and mobility. We'll skip lightning bolt because it's really hard to hit more than two creatures with a line, and thanks to Sculpt Spells it's easier to drop big AOEs over your allies.
|6|| || |
Potent Cantrip is less helpful than you'd think. Acid Splash is our only cantrip which calls for a saving throw.
Our leveled spells at this level are boring, but extremely important. Counterspell allows you to shut down enemy spellcasters, while Dispel Magic removes numerous problematic magical effects. Both spells are crucial parts of your party's arsenal at any level.
|7|| || |
The SRD contains very few 4th-level evocation spells, and most of them are bad. Wall of Fire stands out as a potent crowd control effect, but the other options aren't worth a spell slot. Instead, we'll look to other schools to expand our options. Conjure Minor Elementals gives us a versatile option for handling problematic encounters. Crowding a hall or small room with elementals can restrict enemy movement, providing a significant tactical advantage unless your enemies spend their turns attacking the elementals.
|8|| || |
8th level brings us our final Intelligence increase.
We still don't have any good new evocations to pick up, so get some interesting options from other schools. Polymorph is a powerful and versatile spell that's equal parts buff and save-or-suck. Stone Shape is a generally useful spell that provides a lot of utility in a game that involves a lot of dungeons and caves.
|9|| || |
Note that "Arcane Hand" is the SRD name for "Bigby's Hand".
Arcane Hand is a great spell that provides much of the utility of a high-Strength ally for the 1-minute duration of the spell. Clenched Fist and Grasping Hand are your go-to options, but don't overlook the other options.
Wall of Force is basically cheating. Almost nothing can break it, and with a 10-minute duration you can easily entrap the biggest thing in a fight while you go and deal with its friends or while you and your friends heal, buff, and set up prepared actions. Against especially large creatures you can raise the dome off the floor enough that you can still target the victim's feet while the victim is unable to escape.
|10|| || |
Empowered Evocation provides a significant damage boost, especially for our cantrips. Fire Bolt goes from 2d10 (avg. 11) to 2d10+5 (avg. 16), increasing its damage output by nearly 50%. The damage boost also notably applies to all of our AOE spells like Acid Splash and Fireball, dramatically boosting your output when you can apply the bonus to multiple foes.
Cone of Cold is a decent spell, but it's rarely better than fireball. The difference between 8d6 and 8d8 damage is only an average of 8 damage, and the ability to cast fireball from a distance will often make it the superior option. We mostly want Cone of Cold for when we get Overchannel.
|11|| || |
Immediately after receiving Empowered Evocation, our cantrips get another damage boost. Fire Bolt now deals 3d10+5 (avg. 21.5), dramatically exceeding the maximum damage we can deal with our low-level spells
Even with the advantage of Sculpt Spell, it can still be difficult to throw around AOE spells like Fireball without damaging things you would prefer not to damage (like the wooden building you're in). Chain Lightning provides a convenient way to damage numerous foes and does an impressive amount of damage.
Sunbeam allows you to spend a whole minute firing lines that do as much damage as lightning bolt and potentially blind targets. It's an exceptionally efficient use of a spell slot, and it's one of very few ways that a wizard can deal radiant damage.
|12|| || |
We've already got the best 6th-level evocation spells, so let's get some other options. Flesh to Stone is a great save-or-suck option, and Globe of Invulnerability is an excellent defense should you encounter enemy spellcasters.
|13|| || |
Delayed Blast Fireball is admittedly difficult to use. 12d6 is a good pile of damage, but you get Overchannel next level, and using Overchannel with Cone of Cold will deal much more damage. Save Delayed Blast Fireball for situations where it will have time to charge. Long encounters, encounters with enemies running into the area, or ambush scenarios where you can charge the fireball before the fight starts.
Forcecage is essentially a better version of Wall of Force's hemisphere option. With a longer duration and no concentration component, you can drop it on an enemy and go about your business while they're in "time out". In a pinch, you could cast it over yourself and your party to give yourself a safe place to take a short rest.
|14|| || |
Overchannel dramatically improves the effectiveness of your low-level spells, and it's the biggest reason why we learned Cone of Cold. Be very cautious about using it more than once, however. Even the second use can easily kill you (10d12 averages to 65 damage, and at this level you have something like 100 hit points), and your lower-level spells likely aren't powerful enough that they're a better option than a cantrip, even while overchanneled.
7th-level spells introduce real long-distance travel options. Between Plane Shift and Teleport you can go basically anywhere in the multiverse. You won't need these options frequently, but you have better access to them than any other spellcast, so your party will likely rely on you.
|15|| || |
Incendiary Cloud isn't an evocation spell, but it's a fantastic damage option nonetheless. With a 1-minute duration, 10d8 damage adds up quickly. Combined with Forecage, you can easily kill groups of powerful enemies with two spells and some patience while they're helpless to escape or resist.
Sunburst, while less interesting, is no less effective. It has fantastic range, a massive AOE, decent damage, and it blinds targets that fail the saving throw. Throw it at the beginning of a fight and it can easily win the encounter for your party.
|16|| || |
There are surprisingly few 8th-level evocation spells, so we'll grab some good options from other schools. Feeblemind shuts down enemy spellcasters who aren't Intelligence-based, and Maze puts enemies with low Intelligence into an inescapable demiplane for up to 10 minutes while you fight their friends. Unfortunately, Maze requires Concentration so you can't set up Delayed Blast Fireball while you have a target trapped in a Maze.
|17|| || |
You get just 1 9th-level spell slot per day (two if you use Arcane Recovery), so you really need to pick the best options available to you. Meteor Swarm is a great go-to damage option, dealing a truly horrifying 40d6 (avg. 70) damage in 4 40-ft radius spheres. You can destroy a castle with that.
Beyond Meteor Swarm, you would be a fool to not learn Wish. It's the best spell in the game even if you never use its more powerful options.
This level also brings the final cantrip damage boost, raising Fire Bolt to an impressive 4d10+5 (avg. 26).
|18|| || |
Remember how great cantrips have been as at-will damage output for most of your career? Well, it's time to put them out to pasture because Spell Mastery is here. Scorching Ray supplants Fire Bolt; at a total of 6d6+5 damage (avg. 26) Scorching Ray matches the average damage of Fire Bolt, but with three attacks you're more likely to hit at least once and your Empowered Evocation damage boost can apply to any of the rays that hit, leading to better overall damage output. Shatter becomes our go-to option for handling groups of enemies, dramatically outpacing Acid Splash's number of targets and roughly matching its damage with a much more useful damage type.
Selecting spells known at this level is surprisingly difficult. Selecting more 9th-level spells is fine, but since you can never cast more than two in a day it seems wasteful to learn more than a handful. Pick up whatever other 9th-level spells you want to diversify your options, but strongly consider pickin up lower-level spells which you passed over previously.
|19|| || |
More of the same. Learn more spells, get more hit points.
|20|| || |
Signature spell is disappointing for 20th level. Sure, two free spell slots of any level is great, but the ability to prepare two additional spells is probably more impactful because it means that you can prepare more spells to diversify your options for the day.