skip to main content
RPGOT Logo

DnD 5e - The Wizard Handbook

Last Updated: March 17th, 2020

Disclaimer

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

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

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

Introduction

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.

After reading this handbook, I encourage you to read my Wizard Subclasses Breakdown and my Wizard Spells Breakdown.

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.

For help selecting spells, see my Wizard Spell List Breakdown.

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: Wizard subclasses are briefly summarized below. See my Wizard Subclasses Breakdown for help selecting your subclass.

  • Bladesinging: Elven masters of fighting with both weapons and with spells, bladesingers can perform a secret song and dance which makes them deadly
  • Chronurgy Magic: Manipulate the flow of time, allowing you to force rerolls, to stop creatures, and even to temporarily suspend spells in a tiny bead and share it with your allies. Chronurgists also gain access to the Dunamancy spell list.
  • Graviturgy Magic: Manipulate space and gravity to move your foes about on the battlefield and crush them with powerful gravitational effects. Graviturgists also gain access to the Dunamancy spell list.
  • School of Abjuration: Masters of protective magic, Abjurers gain a powerful magical ward which can absorb damage dealt to you or your allies and recharges when you cast abjuration spells.
  • School of Conjuration: Masters of teleportatin and summoning, conjurers can teleport without using a spell and are better at using summoned creatures.
  • School of Divination: Diviners gain the powerful Portent feature, allowing them to roll two to three d20's at the beginning of the day and use them to replace rolls, as well as the ability to cast divination spells and incredible little cost.
  • School of Enchantment: Powerful and versatile spellcasters, enchanters gain abilities to charm and hypnotize foes, and to affect additional targets with single-target enchantment spells.
  • School of Evocation: Exceptional at dealing damage with spells, evokers deal more damage with cantrips than other spellcaster, and can make safe spaces in their area damage spells to avoid harming allies.
  • School of Illusion: Masters of illussion spells, illusionists gain abilities to manipulate illusion spells beyond their normal limits, including the ability to make them partially real.
  • School of Necromancy: Gain the ability to heal yourself when you kill other creatures, and to more easily create and control undead, including powerful ones far more powerful than spells alone would allow.
  • School of Transmutation: Gain abilities to turn things into other things, like wood into metal, yourself into an animal, dead things into live things, and injured or sick things into happy and healthy things.
  • War Magic: Powerful combatants, war wizards gain abilities to defend themselves against attacks and to boost their spell damage by countering or dispelling other spells.

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.

Abilities

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.

Point Buy Standard Array
  • Str: 8
  • Dex: 14
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 15
  • Wis: 12
  • Cha: 8
  • Str: 8
  • Dex: 13
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 15
  • Wis: 12
  • Cha: 10

Races

Intelligence bonuses are crucial, and nothing else is strictly necessary. Things which add to your spellcasting capabilities like extra cantrips are great, and ways to increase your durability are like Dexterity or Constitution increases or AC boosts can be really nice, but none of those are strictly necessary.

AarakocraEEPC: No useful ability score increases, 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.

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.

DwarfPHB: 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, medium armor, and the bonus Wisdom is helpful for the Wisdom saves.
  • MountainPHB: Strength is useless for a single-class wizard, but the Mountain Dwarf's primary appeal is proficiency in medium armor. That provides a significant improvement to your AC, reducing your need for spells like Mage Armor and Shield. However, without an Intelligence increase you'll lag offensively.

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.

  • DrowPHB: 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, but it doesn't offer anything unique that you wouldn't already get from the class with the exception of weapon proficiencies that we don't care about.
  • Sea ElfMToF: Nothing useful for the Wizard.
  • Shadar-KaiMToF: Nothing useful for the Wizard.
  • Wood ElfPHB: 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, and both subraces offer useful psionics.

  • GithyankiMToF: Medium armor proficiency means that you can cast spells in half plate, which is pretty nice. The psionics are nice, too, but you can learn and cast those spells already so they're not a huge addition.
  • 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-ElfPHB: 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.

  • GhostwiseSCAG: Nothing useful for wizards.
  • LightfootPHB: Charisma is worthless to a Wizard, and if you need stealth you can cast Invisibility.
  • StoutPHB: 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: With a familiar (or a conveniently-place ally), Pack Tactics can give you easy Advantage. While the Kobold doesn't get a Intelligence increase, Advantahe on spell attacks can easily make up the difference. Avoid offensive spells which rely on saving throws, and you should do fine.

LizardfolkVGTM: Nothing useful for the Wizard.

LocathahLR: No Intelligence increase.

OrcVGTM: Nothing useful for the Wizard.

TabaxiVGTM: Nothing useful for the Wizard.

TieflingPHB: 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.

  • AsmodeusPHB/MToF: 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. You can do much better with other options.
  • MephistophelesMToF: Bonus intelligence, but using Flame Blade is dangerous for a wizard.
  • ZarielMToF: Too melee-centric.
  • Variant: FeralSCAG: Marginally better than the basic Asmodeus Tiefling because Wizards get more from Dexterity than from Charisma. According to the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, the Feral Variant is compatible with other variants, so if your DM allows it you may be able to use this in conjunction with another useful subrace.
  • 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 anyway, 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.

VerdanAcInc: Bad ability spread.

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 Eberron

BugbearERLW: See above under the general Races section.

ChangelingERLW: Bad ability spread.

GoblinERLW: See above under the general Races section.

HobgoblinERLW: See above under the general Races section.

OrcERLW: Bad ability spread.

KalashtarERLW: Bad ability spread.

ShifterERLW: None of the Shifter's subraces offer an Intelligence increase.

  • Beasthide: Bad ability spread.
  • Longtooth: Bad ability spread.
  • Swiftstride: Bad ability spread.
  • Wildhunt: Bad ability spread.

WarforgedERLW: The flexible ability increase goes into Intelligence, and the Warforged's other traits will make you more durable than a typical sorcerer before considering spells. A warforged with Mage Armor would have an AC of 14+Dex totally unequipped, allowing you to meet the AC of characters in light armor and a shield.

Dragonmarks

While the design intent for Dragonmarks was that they would offer some innate spellcasting for everyone, every dragonmark includes an expanded spell list which is arguably a more significant benefit than most of the provided racial traits. Because the expanded spell options are such an important part of the dragonmarks, if you're not playing a spellcaster you're giving up a huge part of your racial traits, which makes it exceptionally difficult to justify playing a dragonmark character who can't cast spells.

Dragonmarked DwarfERLW: Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

  • Mark of Warding: Finally a good way to make a dwarf wizard without sacrificing Intelligence! Alarm is a good spell to have handy, but rarely worth one of your limited prepared spells. Mage Armor is basically a tax on low-level wizards that you pay to stay alive. You get each once per day for free. Several of the dragonmarks spells are already on the Wizard's spell list, but there are several interesting new options like Armor of Agathys and Antilife Shell.

Dragonmarked ElfERLW: Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

  • Mark of Shadow: Bad ability spread.

Dragonmarked GnomeERLW: Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

  • Mark of Scribing: Gnomes get an Intelligence increase, but you gain very little from the Dragonmark. Every interesting spell is already on the Wizard's spell list.

Dragonmarked Half-ElfERLW: Dragonmark traits replace some of your normal racial traits, as described in the entry for each Dragonmark.

  • Mark of Detection: The ability score increases work great, and while there is some overlap with the Wizard's spell list,
  • Mark of Storm: Bad ability spread, and nearly every spell on the spell list is already on the Wizard's spell list.

Dragonmarked Half-OrcERLW: Dragonmark traits replace ALL of your racial traits.

  • Mark of Finding: Bad ability spread.

Dragonmarked HalflingERLW: Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

  • Mark of Healing: Bad ability spread, but both the innate spellcasting and the expanded spell list allow the Wizard to fill many of the healing functions which normally require a cleric. While you won't get the high-level healing options like Heal or any options to raise the dead, you still get crucial options like Healing Word and Restoration. You'll lag offensively, but if you can focus on utility and support options, you could be a spectacular contributor to the party without focusing on obvious offensive options. As an example: a Mark of Healing Halfling Diviner with the Bountiful Luck feat may be abundantly effective withut ever directly interacting with enemies, but instead by acting as a force multiplier for the rest of the party.
  • Mark of Hospitality: Bad ability spread.

Dragonmarked HumanERLW: Dragonmark traits replace ALL of your racial traits.

  • Mark of Finding: See Mark of Finding under Dragonmarked Half-Orc, above. Mechanically, the final racial traits are identical.
  • Mark of Handling: The ability score increase work, and many of the spells are new to the Wizard's spell list, but they focus very heavily on a single creature type that never passes CR 10.
  • Mark of Making: The ability score increases are great, but all of useful spells except Elemental Weapon are already on your spell list so you gain very little except the Intelligence increase and a free cantrip.
  • Mark of Passage: The ability score increases work, and the extra speed and free Misty Step are helpful to keep you out of danger, but the only new spell on the spell list is Pass Without Trace.
  • Mark of Sentinel: Bad ability spread.

Races of Ravnica

CentaurGGTR: Nothing useful for the Wizard.

GoblinGGTR: See above under the general Races section.

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.

Races of Theros

CentaurMOoT: See above under the general Races section.

HumanMOoT: See above under the general Races section.

LeoninMOoT: Bad ability spread.

MinotaurMOoT: See above under the general Races section.

SatyrMOoT: Bad ability spread.

TritonMOoT: See above under the general Races section.

Races of Wildemount

AarakocraEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

AasimarEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

BugbearEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

Dragonborn: Wildemount presents two new Dragonborn variants, each replacing the standard Dragonborn's ability score increases and damage resistance.

  • DraconbloodEGtW: An Intelligence increase, Darkvision, and a breath weapon. Forceful Presence is neat, but you're probably going to dump Charisma.
  • RaveniteEGtW: Bad ability spread.
  • StandardPHB: See above.

ElfEGtW: Wildemount elves share the core traits of core elves, but Wildemount adds two new elf subraces. See above for information on core elf traits.

  • Pallid Elf: No Intelligence increase.
  • Sea Elf: See above.

FirbolgsEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

GenasiEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

GoblinEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

HalflingEGtW: Wildemount halflings share the core traits of core halflings, but Wildemount adds a new halflings subrace. See above for information on core halflings traits.

  • Lotusden: No Intelligence increase.

HobgoblinEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

GoliathEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

KenkuEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

OrcEGtW: See above, under "Races of Eberron". Wildemount uses the updated Orc racial traits rather than the original traits published in Volo's Guide to Monsters.

TabaxiEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

TortleEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

Skills

  • 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.

Background

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.

If you're having trouble deciding, here are some suggestions:

  • AcolytePHB: Two skills from the Wizard skill list, and two languages. Not awful, but nothing that you really need to have and it doesn't expand your options.
  • 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 you can use to craft potions of healing.
  • 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.

Feats

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 feats which I think work especially well for the class or which might be tempting but poor choices.

  • 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.
  • DurablePHB: Cast False Life instead.
  • 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.
  • Keen MindPHB: A partial bonus to Intelligence, but the other bonuses are nearly worthless. You could use this to do things like recall the appearance of documents and use that recollection to create perfect illusory replicas, but the situations in which you would use that are exceptionally rare.
  • Lightly ArmoredPHB: Mage Armor works fine.
  • LinguistPHB: Cast Tongues.
  • LuckyPHB: Amusing, but not particularly useful to Wizards since they don't frequently roll attacks or saves. This could be useful for Concentration, but I think it's better to invest in avoiding damage rather than attempting to suffer the damage and mitigate the effects. If you find that you're making more than three Constitution saves in a day, Resilient (Constitution) may be a better choice.
  • 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 if you insist on taking this.
  • MobilePHB: You can solve all of these problems by flying.
  • Moderately ArmoredPHB Mage Armor and Shield work fine, and as you gai nlevels you'll get even better defensive options.
  • ObservantPHB: A partial Intelligence bonus, and the passive Investigation bonus can be useful.
  • ResilientPHB: Proficiency in Constitution saves really helps with Concentration, not to mention how common Consitution saves are. If you care primarily about Concentration it's easy to compare this to War Caster. Advantage works out to a little more than +3, so once your Proficiency Bonus hits +4 Resilient becomes the more effective option of the 2. However, 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 to 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • ToughPHB: Cast False Life instead.
  • War CasterPHB: A really great feat, but generally best left to Artificers and Eldritch Knights. Bladesingers can get a lot of use out of it while they're in melee, but if you just want Advantage on Concentration checks I think Lucky or Resilient are better options.

Weapons

  • 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.

Armor

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.

Multiclassing

  • Artificer: Starting with a level in artificer gets you a lot. Proficiency in medium armor, shields, and Constitution saving throws are really tempting, plus artificers get access to some low-level spells which the Wizard doesn't like Cure Wounds. The Artificer's multiclassing rules allow you to round up when determining spell slots (other spellcasting class round down), so while you don't learn spells of new spell levels as quickly you still get the same spell slot progression. It's nothing that you absolutely need to have, but for 1 level it's pretty good. Bladesingers might consider 3 levels to get the Battlesmith's Battle Ready feature, allowing them to use Intelligence for weapon attacks and damage.
  • 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.

Abilities

We will assume the point buy abilities suggested above.

Base Increased
Str 8 8
Dex 14 16
Con 14 14
Int 15 16
Wis 12 12
Cha 8 8

Race

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.

Skills and Tools

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:

  • Arcana
  • History
  • Investigation
  • Perception
  • Religion

Background

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.

Feats

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.

Levels

Level Feat(s) and Features Notes and Tactics
1
  • Spellcasting
  • Arcane Recovery
  • Cantrips Known:
    • Acid Splash
    • Chill Touch
    • Prestidigitation
    • Ray of Frost
  • Spells Known:
    • Burning Hands
    • Comprehend Languages (R)
    • Detect Magic (R)
    • Find Familiar (R)
    • Mage Armor
    • Magic Missile

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
  • School of Evocation
  • Evocation Savant
  • Sculpt Spells
  • Spells Known:
    • Identify (R)
    • Shield

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
  • Spells Known:
    • Scorching Ray
    • Shatter

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
  • Ability Score Improvement ( 16 -> 18)
  • New Cantrips Known:
    • Fire Bolt
  • Spells Known:
    • Flaming Sphere
    • Misty Step

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
  • Spells Known:
    • Fireball
    • Fly

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
  • Spells Known:
    • Counterspell
    • Dispel magic

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
  • Spells Known:
    • Conjure Minor Elementals
    • Wall of Fire

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
  • Ability Score Improvement ( 18 -> 20)
  • Spells Known:
    • Polymorph
    • Stone Shape

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
  • Spells Known:
    • Arcane Hand
    • Wall of Force

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
  • New Cantrips Known:
    • Any
  • Spells Known:
    • Cone of Cold
    • Any

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
  • Spells Known:
    • Chain Lightning
    • Sunbeam

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
  • Ability Score Improvement (Constitution 14 -> 16)
  • Spells Known:
    • Flesh to Stone
    • Globe of Invulnerability

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
  • Spells Known:
    • Delayed Blast Fireball
    • Forcecage

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
  • Spells Known:
    • Plane Shift
    • Teleport

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
  • Spells Known:
    • Incendiary Cloud
    • Sunburst

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
  • Ability Score Improvement (Constitution 16 -> 18)
  • Spells Known:
    • Feeblemind
    • Maze

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
  • Spells Known:
    • Meteor Swarm
    • Wish

You get just 1 9th-level spell slot per day, 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
  • Spell Mastery
    • Scorching Ray
    • Shatter
  • Spells Known:
    • Any
    • Any

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
  • Ability Score Improvement (Constitution 18 -> 20)
  • Spells Known:
    • Any
    • Any

More of the same. Learn more spells, get more hit points.

20
  • Signature Spell
    • Fireball
    • Fly
  • Spells Known:
    • Any
    • Any

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.