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DnD 5e - Wizard Spell List Breakdown

Last Updated: April 22nd, 2020

Disclaimer

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.

Introduction

Wizards have arguably the best spell list in the game, capable of addressing nearly any situation with a single spell. Nearly nothing is beyond the Wizard's ability, with the possible exception of healing (and even then, options like Vampiric Touch and Life Transference exist). Wizards are ritual casters, allowing them to further capitalize on their growing library of spells added to their spellbook(s) without cutting into the spells which they can prepare every day.

While other classes can cast many of the same spells, the Wizard can often cast them better due to their unique ability to write spells in a spellbook and cast any of them as rituals. Rituals are so central to what makes the Wizard great that collecting ritual spells is nearly required to play the class to its full potential.

This article is a perpetual work-in-progress. Please check back periodically as I add assessments for more spells.

Wizard Spells

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.

Cantrips

  • Acid SplashPHB: Low damage for a cantrip, but it's one of very few cantrips which can affect more than one target. If you can hit two targets, the total damage will beat any other cantrip (Eldritch Blast doesn't count), and since it's on Dexterity saves many bulky melee enemies will reliably fail. However, it's hard to count on two enemies being adjacent, and generally when they are you want to use leveled spells to take advantage of the situation.
  • Blade WardPHB: Similar in function to taking the Dodge action, but since your AC may be terrible this may be more reliable. That doesn't make is necessary, but it's an option.
  • Booming BladeSCAG: Melee cantrips are an extremely difficult prospect for a class with d6 hit dice, and relying on a weapon attack rather than a spell attack just makes that issue worse.
  • Chill TouchPHB: The same range as Fire Bolt, but less damage. In exchange, you get a better damage type and the target can't regain hit points for a turn which can be a big help against enemies with regeneration or enemy clerics. This also imposes Disadvantage on the next attack if the target is undead, but many undead also have resistance to necrotic damage so Chill Touch isn't always a good option against undead. Still, if you need a staple, go-to damage cantrip that isn't Fire Bolt, Chill Touch is a great option.
  • Create BonfireEEPC: A low-budget area control spell. It does as much initial damage as most cantrips, but the ongoing damage only applies when a creature enters the area or ends their turn there, so you can only get extra damage if you can force an enemy into the space or if you cast it on them and they remain in their space. If you have an ally who likes to grapple enemies, or if you need to block a narrow space like a hall or doorway, this is extremely useful if you're not already commiting Concentration to something else.
  • Dancing LightsPHB: An amusing distraction, but you can usually accomplish the same thing using Mage Hand and a candle or torch.
  • 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.
  • FriendsPHB: This is hard to use. 1 minute is not a lot of time, and you generally need to put distance between yourself and the subject of the spell before they turn hostile. You could use this to intimidate a creature into fleeing, but in most cases you'll probably be using this quickly talk your way past a creature blocking your way like a guard at a gate. You generally won't need this; between high Charisma and other spells, you can find plenty of options which work better like Charm Person
  • 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.
  • InfestationXGtE: Constitution saves tend to be high, which is this spell's biggest problem. The damage is low but tolerable, and the forced movement is enough to make it useful by forcing enemies to move around in dangerous places or move out of a grapple despite your lack of control over the direction.
  • LightPHB: Disposable magic light is fantastic, but if you don't have room for the cantrip you'll do fine with torches.
  • Mage HandPHB: The ability to move objects at a safe distance is profoundly useful. Use it to pull levers, open doors, sort your laundry, and all manner of other important but potentially hazardous tasks where you wouldn't want to risk your own hands.
  • Minor Illusion:PHB Room for plenty of creative, deceptive uses. The 5-foot cube is easily enough to create something to hide behind, provided that your enemies don't see you create the illusion.
  • Poison SprayPHB: Good damage comparable damage, but poison damage is commonyl resisted, the range is essentially melee, and it's a Constitution save.
  • PrestidigitationPHB: Whenever you want to do something small and magical that's not covered by another spell, it's usually covered by prestidigitation. This spell is exceptionally versatile. For suggestions on how to use Prestidigitation to its fullest, see my Practical Guide to Prestidigitation.
  • Ray of FrostPHB: You have a limited number of cantrips, Frostbite is much better, and the need diversifying the damage types you can deal is too important to take two cold damage cantrips.
  • Shape WaterEEPC / XGtE: 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. Build a small bridge in 5-foot segments. Block a hallway. Freeze a door in place. The uses are numerous and fantastic. If you have a barrel of water and this cantrip, you have a solution to most problems. Honestly the fact that this spell is so much better than its other elemental equivalents (Control Flames, Gust, and Mold Earth) is a good indication of just how awful those spells are.
  • Shocking GraspPHB: The damage is worse than Fire Bolt and it's touch range. Advantage against enemies in metal armor is nowhere near enough to make this useful.
  • Sword BurstSCAG: If you are in a position where it makes sense to use this, you should probably be running away.
  • ThunderclapEEPC: Sword Burst with a worse save but a better damage type.
  • Toll the DeadXGtE: 60 ft. range, the damage is measured in d12's, and since it's necrotic damage almost nothing will resist it.
  • True StrikePHB: Typically you'll get better results from attacking trice rather than using this then attacking once.

1st-Level Spells

  • Absorb ElementsEEPC / XGtE: A fantastic defensive option at any level, this will save your life when you encounter an unpredictable source of elemental damage like as a trap or a spell. The bonus damage on your next attack is largely useless, but it still feels cool when you use it.
  • AlarmPHB: Never prepare this, but cast this at least once as a Ritual any time that you take a long rest.
  • Burning HandsPHB: The cone is just 15 feet, so it's unlikely that you'll hit more than two targets. The 3d6 damage is fine, but it's not enough to justify rushing into melee unless you have enough movement to retreat to safety after doing so.
  • CatapultEEPC: Equivalent to Chromatic Orb, but Chromatic Orb is more versatile and has better range.
  • Cause FearPHB: A decent low-level crowd control option, but it has some drawbacks and it becomes obsolete as other options come online. Frightened foes can't move toward you, which is great for melee enemies which tend to have poor mental stats like many beasts and many non-caster humanoids at low levels. Still, targets are able to attack (albeit with Disadvantage) and cast spells.
  • Charm PersonPHB: If you can cast this on a target outside of combat without them noticing, this can be a great way to defuse a potentially hostile situation. However, the spell has some complications. Charm Person has no visual effect like a ball of fire, so there's no visual indication that the spell succeeded or failed. The target doesn't know that they've been targeted by the spell if they succeed on the saving throw, but you don't know if they succeeded or failed unless your DM decides to tell you (and they are under no obligation to do so). So generally your best bet is to cast this once or twice and hope for the best before presenting yourself to your target.
  • Chromatic OrbPHB: Solid damage with good range, and the ability to pick the damage type means that you can always avoid damage resistances if you know what the target is resistant to.
  • Color sprayPHB: The effect is not powerful or long enough to justify the spell slot.
  • Comprehend languagesPHB: Cast this as a ritual. You may need to cast it twice so that both sides of a conversation can understand each other.
  • Detect MagicPHB: Essential. If you're not concentrating on anything else, it's often a good idea to cast this as a ritual and walk around with it.
  • Disguise SelfPHB: Learning a single spell is cheaper than proficiency in a Disguise Kit.
  • False LifePHB: A great use for your low-level spell slots when they stop being effective in combat. 1d4+4 hit points is as much as most wizards get from an extra hit die, which can make a huge difference for a class that's typiclaly very frail.
  • Feather FallPHB: Someone in the party needs to have this at all times, and you're someone. Falling damage is a silly, embarassing way to die.
  • Find FamiliarPHB: A familiar is a fantastically useful asset. It can't attack, but it can still do other useful things like carrying items between party members, taking the Help action, and scouting for danger. Familiars have terribly few hit points, but you can always resummon them if you have the 10gp worth of components handy, so after very low levels your familiar's death is more of an inconvenience than a real loss. Generally the Owl is the best option because it has Flyby, allowing it to fly in and out of enemies' reach without provoking Opportunity Attacks so that it can use the Help action. You may also find specific buffs like Dragon Breath which you can cast on your familiar to turn it into a serious threat in combat.
  • Floating DiskPHB: While you can get off the ground with Floating Disk, you can't ride it around without some very complicated shenanigans like have a second wizard and casting Gust on each other repeatedly. Generally you'll use this to carry heavy things like loot or unconscious party members. It's very specifically written to have almost no use beyond carrying heavy objects for you, so you'll likely never cast this unless you cast it as a ritual.
  • Fog CloudPHB: An excellent way to cover your escape, but you can't see through the fog any better than anyone else, so don't expect to fight in this without some other advantage.
  • GreasePHB: Even if creatures fall prone, that only eats half of their movement, and with a radius of just 10 feet most creatures can walk out unimpeded once they're no longer prone.
  • Tasha's Hideous LaughterPHB: A great low-level save or suck, but generally you want to use this on a creature then leave it alone until you've dealt with anything else in the encounter. The best comparison at this level is to Cause Fear, which doesn't hinder foes as much as Hideous Laughter, but they also don't get another save whenever they take damage.
  • Ice KnifePHB: The closest you'll get to Fireball at this level. Allowing both an attack and a save seems weird, and while it makes it likely that foes will avoid partial damage, they'll also likely take at least part of the damage. The only problem is that the splash damage radius is so mall that Acid Splash can usually fill the same situation with similar rang euntil better spells come online.
  • IdentifyPHB: Even if you encounter a magic item, this typically isn't necessary bedcause you can usually identify a magic item by spending a Short Rest in contact with it. However, Identify allows you to safely identify if an item is cursed or if it's currently under the effect of a spell, which you otherwise may have difficulty learning. Regardless, cast this as a ritual and don't learn it at 1st level because the 100gp pearl is too expensive for a 1st-level character.
  • Illusory ScriptPHB: A fun party trick, but 10 gp is expensive if you want to use this often.
  • Jim's Magic MissileAI: This spell is fun, but it's risky unless you can mitigate the risks with Advantage on the attacks and/or with a way to negate natural 1's like the Halfling's Lucky trait. If you can get Advantage on all of the attacks (maybe by making the target Restrained) you can easily outdo the average damage of most other 1st-level spell since Jim's Magic Missile does more damage than usual on a critical hit.
  • Mage ArmorPHB: A great source of AC, but it provides a perpetual tax on your spell slots and 13+Dex will stop being effective as enemies' attack bonuses scale while your Dexterity remains static so that you can focus on Intelligence.
  • Magic MissilePHB: A great option with long range and reliable damage of what is probably the best damage type in the game. 3d4+3 (avg. 10.5) damage is slightly less than the 3d8 (avg. 13.5) dealt by Chromatic Orb, but the Attack vs. AC progression shows that players maximizing their primary ability score will hit with attacks 60% of the time, so your expected damage with Chromatic Orb is just 8.1. Plus, Magic Missile can be split between targets, allowing you to deal with pests like familiars or enemies just barely clinging to life while still dealing damage to other threats.
  • Protection From Evil and GoodPHB: An absolutely fantastic defensive option, but it's technically situational.
  • Ray of SicknessPHB: Less damage than other spells of the same level, but poisoning a target for a turn means Disadvantage on attacks and ability checks for the full turn. Unfortunately, the big martial monsters that you typically want to use this on are also typically good at Constitution saving throws.
  • ShieldPHB: The fact that you can cast this after hearing the result of the attack roll means that you can frequently turn a hit into a miss. On top of Mage Armor, you can effectively have an AC of 17+Dex so long as you have 1st-level spell slots to spend.
  • Silent ImagePHB: While not nearly so powerful as Major Imagine, if you just want an object or a visual effect, Silent Image does the job just as well. Throw up a fake wall, door, or portcullis to slow pursuers. Create a piece of furniture, then hide inside it and stab people when they try to open it. Illusions are limited more by your creativity (and your DM's willingness to play along) than by the spell's text.
  • SleepPHB: At an average of 22.5 hp worth of creatures, you won't be able to affect many creatures while they're at full hit points, but you can wait to wear down their hit points before finishing them off with Sleep. Sleep notably doesn't require a saving throw, making it a powerful and reliable way to incapacitate with relatively few hit points even at high levels.
  • SnareXGtE: Good for setting a trap, or if you're resting somewhere dangerous with a convenient choke point like a narrow halway. Targets are restrained for at least one round, which is hopefully enough for you to fight your way out of your bedroll and grab a weapon.
  • Tasha's Hideous LaughterPHB: A great low-level save or suck, but generally you want to use this on a creature then leave it alone until you've dealt with anything else in the encounter. The best comparison at this level is to Cause Fear, which doesn't hinder foes as much as Hideous Laughter, but they also don't get another save whenever they take damage.
  • Unseen ServantPHB:
  • ThunderwavePHB: With the exception of Gust, this is one of your very few options for pushing enemies away from you. It's especially appealing if you can push an enemy into an area control effect, but otherwise it's not a good go-to option for damage output in combat.
  • Witch BoltPHB: A solid option at very low levels because you can get so much out of a single spell slot, but once you've got enough spell slots to get through the day and your cantrip damage scales, the Action to maintain the damage becomes too expensive compared to casting a cantrip or nearly any other spell.

2nd-Level Spells

  • Aganazzar's ScorcherEEPC: Lines are frequently hard to aim, so you're likely to only hit 2 creatures in most cases. With that same assumption, compare the 3d8 damage of Aganazzar's Scorcher to the 3d6 damage of Burning Hands which will also likely only hit two targets. The difference in average damage is just 3 damage, so it's not enough to justify the higher-level spell slot.
  • Alter SelfPHB: Two situational effects and a combat buff that you can't risk using. Until you get something more powerful like Polymorph, Alter Self allows you to handle breathing underwater and can replace the benefits of Disguise Self.
  • Blindness/DeafnessPHB: Blindness is crippling, especially for enemies who fight at range like archers and spellcasters. It's also helpful against melee enemies, but Constitution saves tend to be high, so it's often best to use this on enemies which are more physically frail.
  • BlurPHB: A great defensive option, but with a short duration and it requires Concentration. If you're considering Blur, also consider Warding Wind because they have similar effects.
  • Cloud of DaggersPHB: Create Bonfire can fill the same function, though Cloud of Daggers deals damage when a creature starts its turn in the effect while Create Bonfire takes effect when creatures end their turn in effect, making it much easier to guarantee damage with Cloud of Daggers.
  • Continual FlamePHB: Having reliable, constant light is really nice. Cast this on a shield, a necklace, a weapon, or maybe a whole bunch of different things to guarantee that you always have adequate light without casting light or lighting a torch.
  • Crown of MadnessPHB: "The charmed target must use its action before moving on each of its turns to make a melee attack". Unless your enemies are dumb enough to stand next to their ally while they're clearly under the effects of a harmful spell, you're going to get maybe one attack out of this.
  • DarknessPHB: Situational. Typically you can solve the same challenges with Fog Cloud, and you don't need to worry about the possibility of enemies being able to see through the effect using magic or by being devils or something. Fog Cloud also has 6 times the duration and a radius 5 feet larger and can be expanded using higher-level spell slots. Darkness's one unique advantage over Fog Cloud is that it's portable: you can cast Darkness on a rock and toss it into a room or stick into your pocket to produce in the middle of combat by using your item interaction to take it out of your pocket rather than spending an Action to cast a spell.
  • DarkvisionPHB: Fantastic at any level. 8-hour duration, no Concentration. If you can afford the spell slots, cast this on everyone in the party who doesn't get it from their race.
  • Dragon's BreathPHB: Cast this on your familiar to turn it into a pet flamethrower. It's a great way to get a bit of extra damage output without cutting into your own action economy, but it makes your familiar and their 1 hit point a massive target.
  • Dust DevilEEPC: Creatures can walk past or even through the effect unhindered.
  • EarthbindEEPC: While it doesn't force flying enemies to fall, it does force them to the ground which is often enough if you can't cause your entire party to fly. This remains a useful option at any level, especially since you can maintain the spell for its full 1-minute duration and keep the target on the ground long enough to kill them.
  • Enlarge/ReducePHB: A great option both as a buff for melee allies and as a utility option, though I would rarely try using this to shrink enemies. You can use this on a small ally to make them small enough to smuggle in a pocket, or you can use this on and ally to give them an edge against enemies that rely on grappling. The bonus damage for being enlarged is nice, but not really worth the spell slot unless the target is making a huge number of weapon attacks like a high-level fighter.
  • Flaming SpherePHB: An interesting but sometimes difficult option, Flaming Sphere combines area control and regular damage output, but monopolizes both your bonus action and your Concentration for the 1-minute duration. In small areas where enemies can't easily get away from the sphere, it can be a reliable source of ongoing damage while also helping control a 15x15 area. However, the sphere only applies damage when it rams a creature or when a creature ends its turn; in the intervening time creatures can run past or even directly through the sphere unharmed.
  • Hold PersonPHB: While humanoid enemies make up a small portion of the monster manual, they appear frequently as major villains. It's rare to find a spell that can totally eliminate a creature type at such low spell level, and Hold Monster remains a reliable opti`on against humanoids at any level, and since its so low level you can easily upcast it at higher levels to handle crowds. But keep in mind: you need to maintain Concentration, and the target gets another save at the end of each of their turns. If you're going to paralyze an enemy, send an ally to capitalize on their paralysis as quickly as you can manage. This also needs to compete with options like Maximilian's Earthen Grasp and Web, both of which can Restrain targets without any creature type restriction, and both of which are much harder to escape on later rounds.
  • InvisibilityPHB: An essential scouting and infiltration tool, and as you get higher-level spell slots you can affect more of your party.
  • KnockPHB: The primary reason to have proficiency with Thieves' Tools is to handle locks. Knock doesn't require a check. It just works. Make aggressive eye contact with your party's rogue while you cast this just to rub it in.
  • LevitatePHB: A low-level substitute for both telepathy and flight. Getting 20 feet off the ground doesn't feel safe, but it's high enough that you can't be reached by most creatures with melee weapons, which is frequently enough. The 10-minute duration means that you can easily use this to ascend cliffs or tall walls; in 10 minutes you can ascend 2,000 feet. You can also use this to lift heavy objects, or to rescue allies from things like pit traps, pools of acid, or other unpleasant things which can't fly.
  • Magic WeaponPHB: Access to magic weapons is basically requires once enemies start having resitance to weapon damage from nonmagical attacks. Unfortunately, Magic Weapon monopolizes your Concentration for an hour at a time, so you don't want to have this running constantly just for the attack/damage bonus in most cases..
  • Maximilian's Earthen GraspEEPC: At 2nd spell level, this may as well be Hold Monster. The initial Strength save is fine, but after the initial save the target makes a Strength check to escape. Short of huge, strong creatures that you should never target with this spell anyway, targets are a massive disadvatnage when attempting to escape. Spellcasters, Dexterity-based martial enemies, and most humanoids (including many strong ones) can't easily escape this, and bring Restrained makes them extremely vulnerable to attack. It's not as lethal as Hold Person, but it doesn't have a creature type limitation and it's much harder to escape. You can use an Action on later turns to try to damage the target again, but since they're restrained you get Advantage on attacks against them, and if you have an attack cantrip that may be more reliable than forcing another saving throw.
  • Melf's Acid ArrowPHB: At an average of 15 damage on a hit (2.5 on a miss), this deals less average damage than Chromatic Orb cast at the same level (avg. 18 compared to avg. 15), and Chromatic orb both lets you choose the damage type and doesn't make you wait for a third of the damage. If you account for a 60% expected hit chance, Magic Missile is also a much better use for the same spell slot at an average damage of 14 compared to Melf's Acid Arrow's expected damage of 10 (15*0.6=9, 2.5*0.4=1 for the splash damage on a miss).
  • Mind SpikeXGtE: Extremely situational, and only as much damage as a 1st-level spell. If you can see the target to target them with Mind Spike, you should look for a way debilitate or incapacitate them rather than just mitigating invisibility.
  • Mirror ImagePHB: A great defensive option, and it doesn't require Concentration so you can easily use it alongside other great options like Fly. It's easy to compare this to Blur since they're the same level and fill the same niche. Blur applies Disadvantage, but Disadvantage is only useful if your AC is high enough that attackers have a reasonable chance to miss their attacks. When enemies' attack bonuses have long outstripped the AC provided by Mage Armor and Shield, Mirror Image remains useful. However, since its usefulness diminishes quickly it works best against enemies making small numbers of attacks with high damage. Also, the 1-minute duration can be challenging when it's an Action to cast.
  • Misty StepPHB: Useful in a all manner of problematic situations, and cast as a bonus action with only Verbal components.
  • Phantasmal ForcePHB: Don't cast this spell for the damage (though 10d6 single-target damage is really good for a 2nd-level spell); cast this to incapacitate the target somehow. For example: Create an illusion of the floor beaneath the target sprouting teeth, rising up around the creature, and eating it like a venus fly trap. The creature "treats the phantasm as if it were real", and unless they know to use Intelligence (Investigation) to disbelieve the illusion they'll spend 10 rounds struggling against a non-existent trap which is slowly killing them. An ally might try to convince them that something is amiss, but that's time that your enemies are trying to get their act together while you're hitting them with other spells. The save is Intelligence, and Intelligence saves tend to be relatively low, especially at low levels where beasts are still a threat.
  • PyrotechnicsPHB: Only situationally useful, slightly annoying to set up, and when it does work the effects aren't good enough. The flame doesn't need to be especially large, so a torch or even a candle will suffice. Drop a torch on the ground, run out of range, and cast the spell. The blinding effect isn't spectacular because it only lasts on round and it's on a Constitutuion save, and the smoke cloud option is objectively worse than similar options like Fog Cloud or Darkness.
  • Ray of EnfeeblementPHB: Garbage. The targets you want to use this on will have good Constitution saves.
  • Rope TrickPHB: In previous editions, this was a cheap option to create a magically safe place to rest overnight. The duration has been reduced to one hour, but that's still sufficient to take a Short Rest. Tragically, this can't be cast as a ritual, so unless your party has some other way to make Short Rests safe, you may want to keep this prepared while travelling anywhere dangerous in case you and your party need to suddenly vanish somewher safe.

    Note that the rope can be up to 60 ft. long, and that the portal appears when the rope is perpendicular to the ground, so its full length runs straight up and down. No mention is given to what happens if the rope hits a ceiling, but I imagine that the spell would simply fail. Unless you relish the idea of your wizard with 8 Strength climbing a 60-foot rope, I recommend carrying a much shorter length of rope for just this purpose. 10 feet at most is typically sufficiently tall that none of your party members need to duck, and any medium sized creature in party can lift any small or frail allies nearly to the top of the rope. 10 ft. of rope should also reach its full length before hitting a ceiling in most locales, but if you're worried you can always shorten the rope before casting Rope Trick.

  • Scorching RayPHB: Good damage split across three attacks. If you have Advantage on all of the attacks or have some other attack buss like Bless the expected damage increases considerably, so when those opportunities arise be sure to tak them. Making numerous attacks means that you're likely to hit with at least some of them, but you're also likely to miss with some of them and therefore deal only partial damage. The best way to think about stuff like this is to rely on averages: if you're sticking to the Attack vs. AC progression, you're expected to hit aroun 60% of the time, so you can expect an average of 60% of the damage from any effect which relies on an attack. Scorching Ray deals a total of 6d6 damage (avg. 21), and 60% of that is 12.6 expected damage (disregarding critical hits, which are more common because you're making multiple attacks).
  • See InvisibilityPHB: Easy, reliable counter to invisibity. No Concentration, no aiming an AOE like Faerie Fire, and if you cast this ahead of time no spending an Action in combat. The 1-hour duration is great, but expect to refresh this after short rests if you expect invisibility to be a frequent problem.
  • Shadow BladeXGtE: This is an objectively great spell that you should probably never use. Melee is a terrifying place for most wizards to be. You could throw this every round and use a bonus action to retrieve it, but there's a very narrow level range where that will deal more damage than a cantrip (levels 3 and 4 before cantrips improve at 5th level). The best use casea for this is the Bladesigner Wizard and the Arcane Trickster wizard.
  • ShatterPHB: The poor man's fireball. 3d8 damage in a 10-foot radius is enough to hit several targets and deal decent damage. However, the save is Consitution so many creatures will be able to resist easily. Disadvantage for creatures made of inorganic materials is really neat, but how often do you fight a group of animated armors or iron golems?
  • SkywriteEEPC: Bascally only useful as a novelty. Still, it's hard to resist the ability to insult someone by writing nasty things about them in the sky for everyone to see for miles around.
  • Snilloc's Snowball SwarmPHB: Compared to Shatter, this is less damage, a smaller area of effect, and a worse damage type. It does have 50% more range and a better save, but I don't think that's nearly enough to make this on par with Shatter.
  • Spider ClimbPHB: Even when flight becomes an options, Spider Climb remains an inexpensive and reliable way to get off the ground, to sneak into places, and to manage many other problematic obstacles.
  • SuggestionPHB: Extremely versatile, you can use this to accomplish a lot of things. This is more effective, reliable, and immediates than Geas. However, the 8-hour duration requires Concentration, so if you want to use this while adventuring you're comitting a significant resource for a full day to get the full duration of the spell. This spell benefits greatly from your own creativity, so the more thought you put into its use the more effective it will be. You may also need a patient, permissive DM, so try not to abuse this too much or your DM may grow tired of your shenanigans and instill some sort of consequences. Strangely, the spell doesn't state that the target knows that they were charmed, so much like a "Jedi Mind Trick", the target will carry out the specified action as though it made sense to do so even if they'll regret it later.
  • Warding WindEEPC: Being deafened is annoying but usually not impactful. The big draw here is the difficult terrain to deter melee enemies and Disadvantage to deter ranged attackers. This competes conceptually with Blur since both options impose Disadvantage, but there are some trade-offs. Blur only lasts 1 minute, but the Disadvantage applies to all attacks rather than just ranged attacks. Warding Wind lasts 10 minutes and makes it hard for enemies to move near you, potentially keeping them from reaching you in melee. I'm not sure which spell is better, but given that Warding Wind lasts longer and can handle effects that normally require Gust of Wind, I think Warding Wind may be slightly better.
  • WebPHB: Fantastic crowd control, but with some complications. This competes for space with Hold Person and Maximilian's Earthen Grasp. Compared to Earthen Grasp, Web can affect more than one creature and has a much better dureation, but Web may be easier to escape. Web requires an initialy Dexterity saving throw, then creatures can make Strength checks to escape on later turns. Strength checks are going to be hard compared to your Spell Save DC since Strength checks will never add a Proficiency Bonus, but many creatures will be good at either Strength or Dexterity, so your ideal targets are creatures which are bad at both like many spellcasters. The webs can also be burned away, so any creature that can deal fire damage, or which is carrying something like flint and steel or a lit torch can easily escape without struggling through a series of Strength checks. Being Restrained doesn't prevent creatures from taking such actions. Given all of the comparisons, I think Web is a better option for handling groups of foes, but Maximilian's Earthen Grasp is better against single foes.

3rd-Level Spells

  • Animate DeadPHB: Undead are excellent replacements for living creatures in many ways. An undead guard never gets tired keeping watch. An undead horse never tires of marching. An undead porter won't complain about their back hurting from hauling your treasure. Sure, desecrating the bodies of the dead is "icky" or "evil" depending on who you ask, but you can't pay peasants to work 24/7 in highly dangerous conditions far from home, so sometimes you need to compromise ethics in favor of effectiveness. You could technically use this to animate the bodies of big enemies like giants and dragons to make powerful undead warriors to serve you, but try not to do that too much or you're going to bog down the game with your army of undead. Leave that to NPCs, or let the zombie army exist off-screen. Also, don't forget that if you want to keep your undead pets you'll need to refresh the spell every 24 hours or they'll revert to their natural behavior, which will often involve trying to kill you for the crime of being both nearby and alive.
  • Bestow CursePHB: The effects are versatile enough that you can easily bring this into play in a variety of situations, and the scaling mechanism works well enough that this remains a viable option for higher-level spell slots. Use the third option against big tanky enemies with poor Wisdom, or use the first option against enemies that like to grapple. If you're ever uncertain, use the third option. Robbing a creature of their turn on a failed saving throw is debilitating, and can take creatures almost completely out of a fight.
  • BlinkPHB: 1-minute duration, cast an Action, it only has a 50% chance to work on any one turn, and you find out the results at the end of your turn when you no longe rhave the ability to do anything about it. I would prefer Blur or something similar over Blink, though admittedly Blink doesn't require Concentration.
  • CatnapXGtE: All the benefits of a Short Rest in 10 minutes rather than an hour. This is nice if you're short on time, but it only affects four creatures so in larger parties it's difficult to use. If you're worried about ambushes, but not about the actual passage of time, cast Rope Trick instead.
  • ClairvoyancePHB: With a 1-mile range and the ability to place the sensor in place you can't see, this is a fantastic way to safely scout dangerous places. If you have enough time to sit around and cast the spell repeatedly you can scout whole structures from the outside by gradually learning about more interior locations through previous castings.
  • CounterspellPHB: Essential in any party.
  • Dispel MagicPHB: Every party needs someone who can cast Dispel Magic. It's simply too important to forgo.
  • Enemies AboundXGtE: Astoundingly few enemies have good Intelligence saves, especially big scary melee monsters. Throw this on something tanky and horrifying that's there to protect squishy enemies from you and your friends, and watch it freak out and kill its buddies for you. The duration is only a minute, and obviously this only works in an encounter with multiple enemies, but that doesn't make the spell less awesome.
  • Erupting EarthEEPC / XGtE: 2/3 as much damage as fireball and has a quarter the surface area, so it's clearly for a different purpose: You're using this spell for the difficult terrain. The damage is enough that you won't regret casting it instead of a cantrip, and even at higher levels it's a great way to place some difficult terrain. The difficult terrain effect is nearly permanent, so if you have time you can use this to set up ambushes and choke points which can define encounters against anything that can't fly.
  • FearPHB: A great way to disable groups of opponents, but it doesn't scale with spell slot level so you may want to trade it out at some point.
  • FireballPHB: 8d6 damage in a 20-foot radius with 150-foot range. Simple, effective, and reliable. Fireball is a good baseline for measuring other AOE damage spells because it's so simple and so effective, and in many cases when you're selecting a spell to cast you'll want to ask yourself "Is this spell better than Fireball?"
  • Flame ArrowsEEPC / XGtE: This is a waste of a spell slot. It amounts to at most 12d6 damage, which is a tragic waste of a 3rd-level spell slot. If you somehow manage to hit one target with all 12 arrows, you'll do more damage than Fireball. But you have to somehow hit with a bunch of arrows or pass them off to someone who will, and following the typical attacks vs. AC progression means that a player will hit something like 60% of the time, which means you're getting 60% of the maximum damage, so something like 6d6 or 7d6. At that point, Erupting Earth is better.
  • FlyPHB: It's hard to overstate how powerful flight is. The only major drawback is that Fly requires Concentration.
  • Gaseous FormPHB: Situational, but a fantastic way to safely infiltrate or scout an area.
  • Glyph of WardingPHB: I'm really glad WotC was smart enough to add a 200gp consumable material component to this spell. If they hadn't, I would solve far too many problems by delivering scrolls with a Glyph of Warding to hostile NPCs.
  • HastePHB: An excellent buff for nearly any martial character.
  • Hypnotic PatternPHB: I often say that spellcaster's spells early in a fight should dictate the outcome of the fight, and Hypnotic Pattern is a great example of such a spell. Take a group of creatures out of a fight for a full minute on only one save. Targets don't get another save, and the effect doesn't end until the spell does or someone breaks targets out of the effect. This means that you can focus on enemies which pass the initial save, then gradually eliminate the remaining targets one at a time. This doesn't scale with spell level, but it really doesn't need to. A 30-foot cube is enough to hit several creatures, and so long as your Spell Save DC is decent you'll do fine. Even if enemies spend an Action to break their allies out of the spell, you've spent one Action to incapacitate them and they're spending more than that just to fix it without actually harming you or your allies.
  • Incite GreedAI: This is a gamble. If targets fail their saves you can draw them into melee range with you and keep them there for up to a minute. You then need to find a way to capitalize on their position. You could walk your full speed away (affected targets can do nothing but move toward you, so they can't take Reactions to perform an Opportunity Attack), drop Concentration, then hit them with a Fireball.
  • Leomund's Tiny HutPHB: With an 8-hour duration and the ability to cast it as a ritual, Leomund's Tiny Hut is useful both as an option for resting, and as a surprising utility and combat option. The dome which it creatures is impenetrable and impassable like a wall of force, except for creatures which are inside the sphere when you cast the spell (your party, usually). Since it's opaque, most low-level teleport effects like Misty step can't be used to get inside it. You could use it for cover, then dart in and out to attack or cast spells, or you could drop huts periodically in dungeons when you need to block a hallway or create somewhere safe to retreat to. However, it's only a dome so you're vulnerable to attack from below if your enemies can burrow, and with a 1-minute casting time you need to set this up in advance if you want to use it in combat.
  • Life TransferenceXGtE: Unless you have regeneration or something, this is generally a terrible idea. Still, it's one of the Wizard's only ways to heal other creatures.
  • Lightning BoltPHB: Regardless of its length, it is very hard to target more than two targets with a line like Lightning Bolt. That makes this Fireball but with worse range and fewer targets per spell.
  • Magic CirclePHB: With a 1-minute casting time, you can't use this in combat unless you have time to prepare and your enemies are coming to you. Even then, using this in combat isn't reliable protection because it doesn't mitigate the effects of spells and abilities which don't require attack rolls like breath weapons or fireballs. The best use case is generally to invert the effects and use a spell to summon a creature so that you can bargain with it without risk of the creature escaping. Even then, the 1-hour duration may not be enough to guarantee your safety. If you want similar effects in combat, Protection From Evil and Good will do the trick.
  • Major ImagePHB: Fantastically versatile, and creatures don't make a saving throw. Instead, they need to know to touch the illusion or make an Intelligence (Investigation) check, or they need to physically interact with the illusion. Even then, you can buy yourself a great deal of time while the target tries to figure out your illusion.
  • Melf's Minute MeteorsPHB: This spell is difficult to assess. You get 2 meteors per spell level (6 at the default 3rd level), and you can generally only spend two per turn, though turn on which you cast the spell you could spend two meteors when the spell is cast then spend your Bonus Action to fire two more. Each meteor deals 2d6 damage, so at 6 meteors you can deal a total of 12d6 damage, beating Fireball by half. However, the 5-foot radius on the meteors is tiny so you're lucky if you can hit just two creatures. Fortunately, you have 10 minutes to find good targets if you don't mind dedicating Concentration to keeping this running as your pool of meteors gradually depletes. Probably your best bet is to cast this before going into a fight, then fire meteors as a Bonus Action between casting other spells.
  • Phantom SteedPHB: A great way to travel long distances, but if you're casting it as a ritual you'll have trouble keeping your whole party mounted at once unless you cast while riding. With a total casting time of 11 minutes as a ritual, you can have at most 5 horses up and running at a time before the 1-hour duration starts to wear off and you lose a horse. If your party is larger than that, consider sharing horses, getting a wagon, or just buying a horse. If you have an ally in the party who is built for mounted combat but doesn't have a way to get a magical mount, this is a great way to keep them mounted despite 5e's utter opposition to the survival of horses in combat.
  • Protection From EnergyPHB: An important, staple defensive option. When you're high enough level to do so, expect to cast this on multiple members of the party when you anticipate facing an enemy with an easily-identified favorite damage type like a dragon.
  • Protection From EnergyPHB: An important, staple defensive option, but it's single-target and requires Concentration so you can't afford to keep it running constantly.
  • SendingPHB: Not especially glamorous, but messaging over massive distances has a number of uses. Also, due to the wording of the spell, you can use it on creatures that don't understand your speech and they'll still understand your meaning, allowing you to use Sending in place of Tongues if you only need to convey brief messages.
  • Sleet StormPHB: If you could combine this with an effect that damaged the targets it could be decent. Difficult terrain and knocking targets prone makes it difficult to escape the 40-foot radius of the spell, but in most situations that's all you get from the spell. The area is heavily obscured, so it's hard to target creatures inside it directly. Expect to follow this with fireball.
  • SlowPHB: Slow is a great debuff, but it has to compete with other Wisdom save options at the same spell level. Compared to Hypnotic Pattern, Slow severely handicaps targets, but they can still fight back. Hypnotic Pattern' targets can't act at all until they're released from the effect, but it's also a Charm effect which some creatures are immune or resistant to.
  • Stinking CloudPHB: While this can rob targets of their Action if they fail the save, the area is small and easy to escape. Given the choice between the two, I would go for Sleet Storm first.
  • Thunder StepPHB: Amusing, but it takes an Action to cast, the AOE isn't especially large, and the damage is poor for the spell level. Use Misty Step instead.
  • Tidal WaveEEPC / XGtE: Being knocked prone typically isn't a problem in 5e because standing is costs so little. However, being knocked prone while flying causes you to fall, potentially taking a bunch of damage. This spell notably doesn't require that it be cast on the ground or on top of a body of water. You could cast this in mid-air, or even wholly underwater. Using it mid-air seems like a good way to counter multiple flying enemies.
  • Tiny ServantXGtE: With an 8-hour duration, Tiny Servant is in many ways a temporary familiar. Unlike a familiar it has fixed stats and it can attack, but attacking is definitely not its intended function. With 60-foot blindsight, it's a portable sentry. It's not smart enough to follow complex commands and it can't see, so it can't discern invisible foes from visible ones, but you can command it to inform you of approaching creatures, or you could command it to chase a specific foe which you know to be present but can't see. I recommend casting this on something small, portable, and loud like a hand bell so that the servant can communicate by ringing itself. Still, as good as this spell is I would wait until you've got plentiful 3rd-level spells before you consider it.
  • TonguesPHB: You are almost certainly your party's Face, and language can present a serious barrier. You may not want to pick this up when you first get access to 3rd-level spells, but consider picking it up later when using a 3rd-level spell on a utility option is less daunting.
  • Vampiric TouchPHB: Migrants from previous editions should note that this spell is no longer a single attack: The spell lasts a minute and you can repeat the attack every turn. Unfortunately because the range is "Self", you can't cast this through your familiar, so if you want to use this you'll need to wade into melee. Be very cautious if you use this.
  • Wall of SandEEPC / XGtE: Decent area control, but it only take 30 feet of movement to move through so enemies may be able to do so and still act on their turns. Try to place the wall so that enemies need to expend more than their base movement to get through the wall, then drop AOE spells like Fireball in the air above the wall to strike targets on the other side.
  • Wall of WaterEEPC: This is a really hard spell to use effectively, but if you have a spell like Ray of Frost which you can fire through the wall to make it solid to can give yourself solid cover, then walk in and out of cover to cast other spells.
  • Water BreathingPHB: Unless you're actively expecting to be around dangerous bodies of water, having this available as a ritual is sufficient.

4th-Level Spells

  • Arcane EyePHB: One of the best scouting spells in the game.
  • BlightPHB: Not enough damage for a spell slot this level, and Constitution saves tend to be high.
  • Charm MonsterXGtE: A great nonlethal way to deal with enemies. It doesn't require that the target be able to understand you, but otherwise has the same complications which Charm Person does: the target is only friendly toward you, and when the spell ends they know that they were charmed.
  • ConfusionPHB: I've hated Confusion since 3rd edition. It's unpredictable, unreliable, and makes combat take twice as long as it would normally. It's great that it's an AOE, and you might be able to make creatures attack their allies, but there are too many points of failure for it to be a reliable option.
  • Conjure Minor ElementalsPHB: The same CR range as Conjure Animals, but a spell level higher. You could argue that elementals might be more useful than animals since elementals can often do things like move through solid stone or light things on fire, but you're still totally beholden to the DM's whims. You might need an earth elemental and get a magmin or something. The spell isn't limited to vanilla elementals; any creature of the Elemental creature type qualifies.
  • Control WaterPHB: All of the effects are situational, and there are some weird edge cases like using the Flood option on a puddle or a full bucket where U
  • Dimension DoorPHB: Misty step usually suffices, and Misty Step is cast as a Bonus Action.
  • Elemental BaneEEPC / XGtE: A great way to overcome damage resistance to your favorite spells. Note that the extra damage is per turn, so if your allies can deal the same type of damage you can pile up a lot of damage very quickly. Unfortunately, the save is Constitution-based and Constitution saves tend to be high.
  • Evard's Black TentaclesPHB: The 20-foot square area is relatively small, but the fact that the spell restrains targets means that they're trapped in the area taking continuous damage unless they spend an action to attempt a Strength or Dexterity check. If they succeed, they get to move but little else that turn. Strength and Dexterity checks will lag saving throws considerably, so even characters with good physical ability scores will have trouble passing the DC. Unfortunately, despite how good this spell is it competes with other options of the same level like Sickening Radiance which are much better for crowds and Otiluke's Resilient Sphere which is better for single targets.
  • FabricatePHB: I really wish that this spell was better, but it's simply too situational. It only works on raw materials, so you can't pull tricks like turning a door into toothpicks or something equally useful.
  • Fire ShieldPHB: Potentially useful for bladesingers, but other wizards should stay out of harm's way.
  • Greater InvisibilityPHB: Invisibility in 5e is really good, and running around for a full minute being almost impossible to target is a huge advantage.
  • Hallucinatory TerrainPHB: Situational.
  • Ice StormPHB: This spell is terrible. Two types of dice for no readily apparent reason. Two types of damage, which makes sense but is still annoying. Compare thisis to Erupting Earth: ice Storm's AOE is much bigger (20 ft. cube vs. 20 ft. radius cylindar), but it does an average of just 3 more damage, and the difficult terrain only lasts until the end of your next turn so it's nearly pointless. This simply isn't good enough to justify being a spell level higher than Erupting Earth.
  • Locate CreaturePHB: More effective than mundane tracking, but the 1,000-foot range can be a problem if the target is actively fleeing from you. If you're going to use this, be sure that you're moving faster than your target.
  • Mordenkainen's Faithful HoundPHB: The primary appeal of this spell is to watch for invisibile foes while you rest, but you can use Tiny Servant as a ritual with double the radius of detection. Faithful Hound does have on advantage, in that it's meaningfully useful in combat, but the hound takes up one square, can't move ,and can only attack creatures within 5 feet so unless you can pin a foe in on place (maybe with Evard's Black Tentacles or something) the hound is going to spend most of its time barking and doing nothing else.
  • Mordenkainen's Private SanctumPHB: This is hard to justify. It's great for protecting a "home base" of some kind if you have magically-inclined enemies, but it doesn't block passage so enemies can still walk right into it. If you're going to rely on this, you likely need to combine it with some other form of protection like a building or Leomund's Tiny Hut.
  • Otiluke's Resilient SpherePHB: Single-target save or suck on a Dexterity save. Dexterity saves tend to be low for many enemies, so you can often take a target out of a fight for the duration while you deal with its allies or set up unpleasant traps for it.
  • Phantasmal KillerPHB: Despite how slowly it kills the target, this is a great single-target spell and the spell level scaling is absolutely spectacular. Against big burly foes which often have poor mental stats, the save will be hard to pass and Frightened will make their attacks and ability checks much less effective. How the Frightened condition works is somewhat confusing because there's no indication where the "illusory manifestation" appears, if it has a location at all. I think that the intent is that the target is Frightened, but their movement isn't hampered like it would normally be by the Frightened condition. Because casting Phantasmal Killer increases the damage by a d10 every time (rather than just the on the first damage roll like many spells), this remains an effective option well beyond its spell level.
  • PolymorphPHB: Fantastic and versatile, but also very complicated. See my Practical Guide to Polymorph for detailed advice on how to get the most out of Polymorph.
  • Sickening RadianceXGtE: This spell is very easy to overlook. The effects are complicated, and the 4d10 damage looks underwhelming, but don't let that deter you. This is a great spell to cast into a room then shut the door, but even if that's not an option it's a fantastic way to handle crowds. With a 30-foot radius you can hit a huge number of targets, and with a 10-minute duration you can easily kill anything stuck in the area for an extended period. The 4d10 damage is fine, and negating invisibility is great, but the real appeal is the levels of Exhaustion. One level makes targets less able to resist grappling or other crowd control spells like Maximilian's Earthen Grasp or Web which your allies could cast to keep enemies in the area. Two levels halves targets' speed, making it harder for them to move out of the area. Three levels imposes Disadvantage on saves so their condition will deteriorate even faster. If targets somehow survive until 5 levels of exhaustion (they'll have taken 20d10 radiant damage by now, which is a lot), their speed drops to 0 so you no longer need to do anything to prevent escape. Just wait for them to hit 6 levels of Exhaustion, which results in death if a total of 24d10 radiant damage somehow hasn't killed them. Just be warned: this spell affects allies, too, and if the spell ends the levels of Exhaustion are removed instantly.
  • Stone ShapePHB: This is one of the must useful spells in the game. Castles, dungeons, caves, mountains, and all manner of other locales include an abundance of stone. The ability to reshape that stone to your purposes in an instant is immensely useful. This is a spell limited only by your imagination. A 5-foot cube is plenty of space to wreak all kinds of havoc if you're clever..
  • StoneskinPHB: Expensive, but really good.
  • Storm SphereEEPC: Sickening Radiance is considerably better. Bigger AOE, better damage, longer duration, and a better secondary effect. Even against a single target, the damage of Sickening Radiance (4d10, average 22) is better than the damage of Storm Cloud to a single target (6d6, average 21, including both the area damage and the lightning bolt).
  • Summon Greater DemonXGtE: Potentially very useful, but Summon Greater Demon is a double-edged sword. The demon is only under your control so long as it keeps failing Charisma saves, so you want to pick something with poor Charisma saves to keep it under your control as long as possible. In a pinch you can use the option to create a safe space and bottleneck the demon in a room full of enemies, then walk away and let the demon run wild. Even at this level a CR 5 is still decently powerful, and thanks to 5e's flat math a CR 5 will remain a meaningful addition to the party for a reasonably long time. As your spell slot levels improve, you can summon more powerful demons, which keeps the spell useful for a long time. It may wane in effectiveness a few levels after you max out at 5th-level spell slots, but if you can find a demon with good utility options Summon Greater Demon may remain viable long past the end of its usefulness in combat.
  • Vitriolic SphereEEPC: Fireball, but a higher level and a different damage type. The same range, the same AOE, the same save, the same school. But Vitriolic Sphere deals acid damage, and instead of dealing the damage all up front, some of it is applied at the end of targets' next turns. The initial damage exceeds Fireball's initial damage by a few points, but on it's own not by enough to justify the spell level difference. The big addition is that you get half of the initial damage at the end of targets' next turns. That's a huge damage boost, but it only applies if the targets fail their saves, and obviously it only matters if they're still alive. This is a great spell early in a fight, especially if you know that you're not going to kill the targets in one shot, but that's also the time when you should be dropping spells like Sickening Radiance or Wall of Fire, so maybe use this as your second spell in an encounter.
  • Wall of FirePHB: An absolutely fantastic area control option.
  • Watery SphereEEPC / XGtE: If you just want to restrain creatures, cast Entangle. The primary appeal here is the ability to restrain the target, then drag them around for the spell's duration.

5th-Level Spells

  • Animate ObjectsPHB: This spell is complicated, but when it works it can be profoundly effective, but you need to carefully choose the objects which you animate to get the most out of the spell and you don't always have the luxury of abundant options. First, avoid any object with feet or legs like tables and chairs; choosing objects which are forced to fly makes them much more useful. From there, you need to weigh the benefits of various size objects. Larger objects can take up more space and deal more damage per attack, but having numerous small attacks may deal more damage. Larger objects have considerably more hit points but considerably worse AC. Medium creatures have the worst attack bonus, and attack bonuses improve as you move away from Medium in either direction, altering the amount-------------------------- of damage which you can expect from each attack.

    Looking at all of the various factors, in most cases your best option is 10 tiny objects. Enemies still can't move into their space, and with a total of 10 attacks they'll easily deal more damage than any other combination of objects. Over 10 rounds, 10 attacks per round, 100 total attacks, totalling 100d4+400 damage, avg. 650. Expect attacks to hit roughly 50% of the time, but even then against a single target that's an average of up to 325 damage if the target doesn't do something about.

    If you select objects which will fly, they can easily encircle an enemy, keeping them in place either in the air or on the ground. Granted, with just 20 hit points they're vulnerable to AOE damage, but it's easy to look for other spells whenever that's a problem. And, if you can't find adequate targets you can carry around a sack full of daggers or loaves of bread or something else light and portable.

  • Bigby's HandPHB: Versatile and effective against a variety of enemies. The damage from both Clenched Fist and Grasping Hand is great, and scales well with spell level. By this level you have plenty of ways to handle single targets, but generally once the target passes a save they're free of the effect. Bigby's Hand sticks around for the spell's duration, allowing you to repeatedly harrass the target and move on to a new target once the previous one falls.
  • CloudkillPHB: Designed to be rolled through armies, this spell is hard to use in the small, tactical fights between a party of adventurers and a handful of monsters. The simple fact that the effect moves away from you makes the spell difficult to keep in place, and RAW it's unclear if the effect stops if it hits a solid barrier or if it's happy to roll straight through solid objects like castle walls. RAW, the spell moves away from you rather than from your original position when casting the spell, so you may be able to pilot the effect by running around it, but with a 20-foot radius you may need more than the typical 25/30 ft. speed most humanoid races have if you want to make more than slight adjustments to the cloud's direction every round. If you want run fully around to the opposite side of the cloud, you need to move upwards of 60 feet (half the circumference of a circle with 40-foot diamater is roughly 62.5 feet, but that doesn't account for poisitioning on a grid).
  • Cone of ColdPHB: Despite the larger total area of effect, I think this is worse than Fireball. Even with a 60-foot cone you have much less flexibility than a 20-foot-radius sphere with 150-foot range. Cone of Cold's 8d8 damage on slightly exceeds Fireballs 8d8 damage (just 8 points more damage on average), and if you cast Fireball as a 5th-level spell Cone of Cold does just 1 point more damage on average.
  • Conjure ElementalPHB: While you get to choose the type of elemental summoned, you don't get to pick the CR, so your DM is totally allowed to screw you and make you summon a single steam mephit or something else incredibly low-CR. Don't use this unless you sincerely believe that your DM will give you something worth the spell slot. Also, be very careful to maintain Concentration for the duration of the spell. Losing control of your summoned elemental could be a serious problem if things are already going badly for you.
  • Contact Other PlanePHB: This is a fantastic divination. You can gain a ton of useful information from a handful of yes or no questions. Unfortunately, Intelligence is a dump stat for Warlocks so the save will be very difficult even at a DC of just 15. Try to pad your save bonus however you can: bardic inspiration, Guidance, whatever you can get. Oh, and don't cast this unless you can safely endure the 6d6 damage and spend the rest of the day tied to a bed.
  • Control WindsPHB: Inconvenience creatures relying on ranged weapon attacks, and slow enemies attempting to move in one particular direction. If you're worried about ranged attacks, cast Warding Wind. If you're worried about enemies moving around, consider something that creates difficult terrain like Eruptin Earth. If you're worried about flying enemies, cast Earthbind or something. My point is that there are lower-level spells which solve the same problems that Control Winds solves, and they usually do a better job.
  • CreationPHB: This spell is limited by its maximum volume and by your creativity. It takes a full minute to cast so it's not going to be useful in combat, but it's an amazing utility option. A 5-foot cube may not sound like a lot, but that's enough to get up to all sorts of mischief. Need to block a hallway? How about a 5-foot cube of wood or stone? Need a quick trap? 5-foot sphere of something heavy, roll it down a hill. Short on ammunition? Enough arrows to fill a 5-foot cube. Food? 5-foot cube of non-living vegetable matter sounds a lot like food to me. Fancy clothes for a party? The finest cotton. Need to bribe someone you hate? Gems only last 10 minutes, to make it fast.
  • Danse MacabreXGtE: As a DM, I'm going to ask you a personal favor: Don't cast this spell on anything except human corpses. The Monster Manual contains only a handful of skeleton and zombie stat blocks, and if you do something silly like raise a bunch of zombie wolves your DM is going to need to generate a new stat block for them in the middle of a game session. At some point I'll write a "Big Book of Skeletons" and "Big Book of Zombies" to convert every living creature in the Monster Manual, but that's probably a long way off. I think the intent is that you should use the generic "Zombie" stat block used for humanoid zombies, but it never explains what to do if players use this on any other kind of corpse.
  • DawnPHB: This is a mediocre area denial option. You can spend a Bonus Action to move it, which is really nice, but Constitution saves tend to be high, and the damage isn't spectacular. Dawn's single saving grace is that is specifically says "this light is sunlight", which means that it hurts vampires very badly. If you can grapple a vampire to hold it in the radius of Dawn you can kill them pretty easily.
  • Dominate PersonPHB: Humanoids stop being common enemies after low levels because high-CR humanoids are typically NPCs with names and backstories and things like that. Still, there's no better off-switch for a humanoid that Dominate Person. Upcasting the spell increases the duration, allowing you to drag the target through a bunch of fights. However, the creature taking damage allows additional saves so be sure to keep it out of harms way until you can conveniently do away with them at minimal risk to yourself and your allies.
  • DreamPHB: While this spell on its own can be very powerful, it's only usable outside of combat, and there are a lot of limitations on its usage. If it were easier for the Warlock to change their spells known this would be fine, but you get an extremely limited number of spells known and you want those options to be consistently useful. If you really want this, make sure that you have plenty of other spells known that can cover your needs in combat.
  • EnervationPHB: Remember Witch Bolt from all the way back at level 1? Enervation is the same idea: you hit once, then you spend every Action for a while dealing automatic damage. It's a fine concept, but at just 4d8 damage it's going to take a profoundly long time to to kill any single target worthy of a 5th-level spell slot.
  • Far StepXGtE: The teleportation is really nice, but you can teleport with Misty Step which is 3 spell levels lower. Sure, Far Step lets you go twice as far and you couldn't teleport 10 times in a row with Misty Step without spending a huge number of spell slots, but situations where you need to teleport once every round should probably be addressed by things like flying or invisibility.
  • GeasPHB: This spell is situational by design. It has a 1-minute casting time and Verbal components, so you're not going to break this out in combat or while sneaking around in a dungeon. You're going to restrain the subject, and stand around chanting for a full minute and hope that they fail the save. Once that's done, you need to give them a suitable command (read the spell description). Generally you'll want it to be something that benefits you, but will also take the target most of the duration to keep them from becoming a problem for you. Also remember that the base effect of the Charmed condition makes it easier for you to talk the creature into doing things with Charisma checks, so a Geased creature may be a useful ally for the duration of the effect even if the original order isn't directly related to what you want them to do.

    Increasing the spell level extends the duration, but weirdly the damage doesn't increase. 5d10 is a nice pile of damage, but it doesn't scale with spell level and at some point the target will get smart enough to wake up, trigger the 5d10 damage, take a short rest, then go about their business. If the damage scaled this would be less of a problem, but damage is so easily repaired in 5e outside of combat that without further penalties Geas is more a tax on hit dice than the magical shackles it's intended to be. If you want a homebrew fix, add a level of fatigue each day that the target is out of compliance, or make the damage impossible to heal until they go a day without taking it. Neither of those is a perfect solution, but they're miles better than an average of 27.5 damage.

  • Hold MonsterPHB: A great example of a "save or suck" spell. With the exception of undead, this works on any creature type, and paralysis takes a creature out of a fight almost as much as killing them. If you have an ally who fights in melee, send them to follow up with melee attacks. Automatic critical hits are too hard to pass up many melee allies. Keep in mind that targets get another save at the end of each of their turns, so you need to act quickly while targets are still affected.
  • ImmolationEEPC: Against a single target with a ton of hit points and terrible reflex saves, this is a passable use of a spell slot. But it's also a slow way to kill the sort of high-CR creature which you typically want to use this on, and for the same spell slot you could cast Fireball and deal 10d6 damage to everything in an AOE rather than 8d6 to one target and maybe more damage the next round.
  • Infernal CallingXGtE: If Summon Greater Demon was a frustrating gamble, Infernal Calling is even more difficult. You need to negotiate with your summoned devil, and unless you're playing to the devil's nature or doing something actively eveil you may find the whole spell totally unreliable. Casting Summon Greater Demon will get you a creature of the same CR, which will likely be sufficient, and doesn't require so much real-world work. There's an option to summon individual devils using their talisman, but getting one of those would be a plot point which the DM would need to include, so don't gamble on that happening.
  • Legend LorePHB: Extremely situational. The fact that the subject needs to be "of legendary importance" severely limits the spells usefulness, and you might not benefit from this more than once or twice in an entire campaign. In previous editions this was a great way to ask the DM for background information which they often had available but with no excuse to share, which is both informative for the players and rewarding for the DM who has spent hours crafting fun lore with no in-game reason to share it. You can still use it for major places, items, and characters, but "legendary importance" is highly subjective so your DM can make this totally useless if they don't feel like sharing.
  • MisleadPHB: Situational. Not a great option in combat, but out of combat this provides a passably safe way to scout an area or to trick other creatures.
  • Negative Energy FloodXGtE: Much like Danse Macabre, this requires the DM to produce zombie statistics for creatures on the fly, so I'll politely ask you not to use this on anything which doesn't already have published monster stats. On top of that, it's really hard to time this so that you'll get a zombie. Enervation is probably a better choice.
  • PasswallPHB: Much faster than repeatedly casting Stone Shape, and it cleans up after itself so enemies won't find your handiwork several days later. The 1-hour duration is typically plenty of time to go in, do some work, then retreat to safety and take a rest before suddenly opening a tunnel somewhere else. If you can, try to use divination spells to determine what's going to be on the other side of the passage so you don't accidently burrow into a magma flow or a room full of heavily-armed demons or something.
  • Planar BindingPHB: At the level you get this, 1,000gp is a steep price to pay for a spell that lasts 24 hours. Save this for higher levels when you can cast something like Gate to summon a powerful creature and bind it to your service for a long time. If you can somehow get two 9th-level spells, you could summon a Balor or something equally powerful for a year and a day, then command it to conquer a continent for you or something. Most creatures won't be happy about this form of servitude, of course, so be sure to plan for their sudden yet inevitable betrayal.
  • Rary's Telepathic bondPHB: If you have time to cast this, you should always have this running while you're somewhere dangerous. Speaking aloud is a great way to alert enemies to your presence and to give away clever plans. The fact that this has no range limit once it's in effect means that you can use it to communicate with allies while they scout around, potentially including beasts, familiars, and summoned creatures.
  • ScryingPHB: Technically situational, but it's a situation that comes up frequently. Any time that you want to know what the BBEG is up to, cast Scrying and take a look. The spell gets easier the more you know the target, and after one face-to-face encounter you could easily make off with something tying you to the target to penalize their saving throw.
  • SeemingPHB: Very situational, but hard to replace in situations where you need it.
  • Skill EmpowermentXGtE: Expertise for everyone! You won't be throwing this on the Fighter for them to shove or grapple everything they meet (you have better combat buffs), but you can put this on a character before sneaking, before an important social situation, before investigating something important, or basically any other time that there's an important skill check to be made and you have time to buff yourselves beforehand.
  • Steel Wind StrikeXGtE: The damage is decent, but you generally don't want to end up withing 5 feet of a target unless you're a bladesigner.
  • Synaptic StaticXGtE: Start with fireball. Shave 30 feet off the range, change the damage type to psychic, and change the saving throw to Intelligence. Very few creatures are good at intelligence saves, so expect most creatures to fail the save. The 8d6 damage feels underwhelming at this spell level, but subtracting a d6 from from attack rolls and ability checks for a full minute is a significant debuff. This is a good option to start a fight with a large number of martial enemies because they'll be impacted most by debuff and most martial enemies have poor Intelligence saves.
  • TelekinesisPHB: Fantastically versatile. The utility capabilities alone are well worth the spell, and with 10 minutes to enjoy it per casting you can solve all manner of problems. Open doors, safely handle traps, move obstacles, retrieve items from under courches, aid in construction, or solve any number of problems which might require a crane in real life. Against enemies, lifting them into the air and making them Restrained can easily be a death sentence if you have other allies who can follow up with ranged attacks or who can reach the target via flight or some other means. Because the target must remain within the spell's range, be careful about holding the target directly above your own head to get them to the maximum height. It's perfectly fine to hold them 30 feet off the ground roughly 30 feet away from you horizontally. The target falls prone if they take damage from the fall, which should slow most creatures enough that they can't get into melee with you without dashing. Then you can attempt to pick them up again on your next turn because the spell lasts 10 minutes and you can use it every turn without limit.
  • Teleportation CirclePHB: Situational, but generally one of the safest long-distance teleportion options, especially since it doesn't have a cap on the number or size of creatures affected. However, how useful it is depends on the availability of convenient teleportation circles in your campaign. If your DM isn't going to make such teleportation circles available and useful, look elsewhere.
  • Transmute RockEEPC / XGtE: In previous editions, this was two spells, and if you were quick you could transmute mud to rock, then back into rock once enemies had sunken into it. Now that combination is specifically prohibited, but transmuting rock to mud is still a decent combiantion. Adventuring frequently takes you to places with stone flopors and ceilings like caves and castles, and even if you don't use this to restrain enemies, you can use it for things like walking through walls, collapsing structures, or generally just ruining anything made of stone. It affects a 40-foot cube, which is enough to do a horrifuingly large amount of structural damage.
  • Wall of ForcePHB: Nearly inpenetrable, and with a 1-Action casting time you can use this to neatly separate encounters, or to trap foes in a sphere or hemisphere until you're ready to deal with them.
  • Wall of LightXGtE: The damage is awful, but that's not what this spell is for. The real benefit is blinding stuff. Creatures are only blinded if they're in the wall when you create it, and creatures can move through the wall totally unaffected. The save is Consitution-based and Constitution saves tend to be high, and since creatures get another save every round you can't count on the blidness to last more than a round or two. Even the ability to short rays from the wall is disappointing, dealing the same 4d8 damage and not re-applying blindness.
  • Wall of StonePHB: While it certainly isn't glamorous, it's difficult to overstate how effective a solid stone barrier can be at solving problems. Walling off some of the enemies an encounter can take one challenging counter and make it two very easy back-to-back encounters. You do need to maintain Concentration, but that also means that when you're ready to deal with whatever you decided to wall off temporarily you can just drop Concentration rather than breaking down your own wall. Outside of a life of adventure, this spell is powerful enough that you could make a decent living in construction based on this spell alone. If you ever decide to settle down, find somewhere with enough stone to anchor the spell and build yourself a nice stone house.

6th-Level Spells

  • Arcane GatePHB: Very Situation. Cast Fly and have your party fly the 500 ft. distance instead. That obviously won't scale to big groups if you need to do something like lead a village across a chasm or something, but how often do you actually need to do that?
  • Chain LightningPHB: Fine damage at good range. You'll be able to get more total damage from a normal AOE damage spell because you'll likely be able to hit more targets, but thhat misses the primary appeal of Chain Lightning. Chain Lightning is good because you can cast into a crowded are which might include your own allies without any risk of friendly fire. The spell level scaling adds additional targets rather than additional damage, so you can easily cast this at a level that hits exactly as mant targets as you feel the need to hit.
  • Circle of DeathPHB: 8d6 damage matches Fireball, which is three spell levels lower. The big improvements are Circle of Death's damage type and it's absolutley massive 60-foot radius area of effect. With such a large area and a target-rich environment you could easily deal more total damage than with Fireball. The scaling is also unusually nice, adding 2 dice per spell level rahter than 1 like most spells do. Circle of Death competes for space on the wizard's spell list with Freezing Sphere, which has more range and deals two more dice of damage, but has a worse damage type.
  • ContingencyPHB: This is the ultimate insurance policy. The material component is very expensive, but this spell is phenomenally useful. There's no spell level cap on your contingent spell, so as you gain access to new spell levels you can pick a new favorite. If you're unsure what to pick, go for conditioins and spells which will keep you alive like "when I fall to 0 hit points, teleport me to that cleric I know in town", or "when I fall below half hit points but not to 0, cast Invisibility". Remember that you actually cast your congintent spell when you cast Contingency, so you need to provide any material components (potentially consuming them), and there's no guarantee that your contingent spell will be triggered, so avoid spells with an expensive material component. Once you get access to Wish, you can use it to make most spells in the game available, so don't shy away from cleric options like Heal.
  • Create HomonculusXGtE: If you don't mind the 1,000gp component cost for a fancy dagger, this is a nice way to get another permanent pet. The homunculus has some advantages over familiars: darkvision, flight, a telepathic bond with you, and the ability to attack on its own. However, it's still very frail and the only way to address that is to give it part of your hit points maximum. Wizards are notoriously frail, which makes that a terrifying gamble, especially considering that you can just recreate your homunculus by casting the spell again so long as you haven't lost your fancy dagger. Most likely, your homunculus will serve basically the same role as a familiar: a scout, a courier, and occasionally a vehicle for Dragon Breath. If your familiar or someone else in the party can fill those roles already, you might skip this spell and spend that 1,000gp elsewhere. I'd also like to take a moment to call out the new homunculus art: humunculi are typically depicted as grotesque human-like things resembling a partially-melted baby doll with wings, but the new official art resembles a somewhat-cute bat-frog-squirrel thing.
  • Create UndeadPHB: If you just need something to ride around on or a minion to carry your treasure, use Animate Dead. If you want to have an intelligent thrall to handle complex tasks or to act as a bodyguard, use Create Undead. But remember: undead are evil and will murder you at the first opportunity, and generally DMs don't like players dragging an undead army around behind them.
  • DisintegratePHB: Among the most damaging single-target damage spells in the game, Disintegrate's single-target damage is roughly equivalent to 21d6 (total average of 75). On a Dexterity save it's tempting to use this against big, bulky foes who tend to have a lot of hit points to burn though. Ideally you can save-or-suck those sorts of creatures, but sometimes things like legendary resistances make that hard. You can also use disintegrate to remove problematic things like walls of force (or of anything else), allowing you to do things like toppling structures or bursting through walls to surprise enemies on the other side.
  • Dwamij's Instant SummonsPHB: Very situational, and very expensive.
  • EyebitePHB: If you cast this, don't expect to do anything else for the duration of the encounter. A save-or-suck to put targets to sleep every turn is hard to beat, and the fact that you can do it every turn is spectacular. Sure, targets only remain asleep until the spell ends, but that's plenty of time for someone else in your party to walk over and deliver a guaranteed critical hit. When the target wakes from taking damage they'll still be prone, and on your next turn you're free to put them to sleep again.
  • Flesh to StonePHB: Single-target save-or suck, but they get multiple saves and Constitution saves tend to be high so you can't count on this to work reliably. Even if the target does succumb to the spell, it takes at least three rounds.
  • Globe of InvulnerabilityPHB: You'll only rarely need this, but against enemy spellcaster it's irreplaceable. Once this is up, enemies can't even cast Counterspell because it targets you and you're inside the sphere. They could cast Counterspell at a spell level high enough to get through your globe, but they need to guess what spell level to use and they need to spend very high-level spell slots to do so. Even in fights with spellcasters who can cast 9th-level spell slots, you can cast this as a 9th-level spell and use Counterspell against any 9th-level spells which they cast (though you'll need to roll an ability check and hope for the best). This spell also uniquely cripples warlocks, since their spell slots cap at 5th level and they're heavily reliant on cantrips. They can still use their Mystic Arcanum unless you upcast Globe of Invulnerability, but they only get 4 of those at most, and you've got plenty of spell slots for Counterspell. Despite all these strengths, you still need to be cautious: 1 minute is not a long time, and enemies can still move into the globe unimpeded and attack you at point-blank range. Keep your allies inside the sphere both to protect themselves and to protect you, and beware non-spell attacks like breath weapons and pointy sticks.
  • Guards and WardsPHB: Very situational. This spell is generally used by NPCs rather than by players since it's so rare for players to stay in one place long enough to make the spell permanent.
  • Investiture of FlameEEPC: You should never remain close enough to enemies for long enough that this is a good choice.
  • Investiture of IceEEPC: You should never remain close enough to enemies for long enough that this is a good choice.
  • Investiture of StoneEEPC: You should never remain close enough to enemies for long enough that this is a good choice.
  • Investiture of WindEEPC: Combine the most important parts of Fly and Warding Wind, and you get an option to shove creatures around at range which you might use once or twice. Probably not good enough for the spell level, but potentially interesting.
  • Magic JarPHB: Risky and complicated. Generally an enemy might use this to try to take over a player's body, but I've never seen a player use this successfully. The spell also has a lot of open questions: What happens if you gain a level while possessing another creature's body? Are hit points a class feature for the spell's purposes? What about racial traits like weapon and armor proficiencies? How much of your body needs to be nearby? I recommend avoiding this spell as a player, and as a DM I recommend keeping Counterspell handy since the effect can be ended by Dispel Magic.
  • Mass SuggestionPHB: Situational, but potentially very effective. Unlike Suggestion you don't need to maintain Concentration, and the base duration for Mass Suggestion is triple Suggestion's duration with the option to extend it with higher-level spell slots. If you've had good results with Suggestion, consider replacing it with Mass Suggestion.
  • Mental PrisonXGtE: The damage is good, and taking a creature out of combat for up to a minute is fantastic, but it's hard to predict if creatures will remain in the effect or choose to take the damage. Creatures can't see or hear through the effect, so their allies can't convince it to leave. Another creature could push or pull the target, forcing them to take the damage, but I don't know if another creature would know to do that unless they knew what spell you had cast. There are a lot of variables that are almost entirely out of your control, and that makes me nervous, but the spell is really cool and potentially very effective.
  • Move EarthPHB: Outside of adventuring, this spell would be profoundly useful, especially when combined with Stone Shape. But for an adventurer this has very limited usefulness.
  • Otiluke's Freezing SpherePHB: At 10d6 damage, Freezing Sphere exceeds Fireball by just 2 dice, but it has twice the range and a massive 60-foot radius. You also have the option to freeze the sphere amd give it to an ally, so you could have an ally fire several from slings as an opening salvo in an encounter, dealing mass damage in an area. Freezing Sphere competes for space on the Wizard's spell list with Circle of Death, which does less damage (but scales better), but uses a better damage type.
  • Otto's Irresistible DancePHB: The effects are very similar to making the target Restrained, and strangely the spell doesn't allow a save to resist the initial effects so the target either spends an Action to attempt the save, or they're stuck dancing for the spell's duration. This is a fantastic way to take many martial enemies out a fight, especially if they can't make ranged attacks, but remember that many enemies are immune or resistant to Charmed, so you can't use this on every enemy you meet.
  • Programmed IllusionPHB: This spell is weird and complicated and I love it. The casting time is 1 Action, so you can use it really quickly but somehow script a 5-minute performance in under 6 seconds. It has a 25gp expensive material component which it doesn't consume for reasons I don't understand. The 30-foot cube area is enough to fill a decently large stage, allowing you to script entire plays (albeit short ones). The triggering condition is flexible enough that you can use a separate casting of Programmed Illusion to trigger it. There's a 10-minute cooldown on each performance, but you could have three spells overlapping to trigger a perpetual 15-minute loop. Just to mess with people, you could add another Programmed Illusion that triggers when another one is either dispelled or discovered to be an illusion. Honestly, if you can't find a way to abuse this you're not trying hard enough.
  • ScatterXGtE: Teleport your melee allies into melee combat and your ranged allies out of it. If you have remaining targets, use it to teleport enemies somewhere unpleasant like into an ongoing area effect.
  • Soul CagePHB: This is really good, provided that you're fighting humanoids. You could technically use this on an ally (or a random humanoid you stumble upon), but I think as a DM I might frown upon that. I might not do anything about it, but there would be serious frowning. I'm also curious how this interacts with spells which raise the dead, as the spell makes no mention of how that's handled.
  • SunbeamPHB: Constitution saves tend to be high, and line sare hard to aim so that you'll hit more than one target. There are numerous better spells which could consume your Concentration for Sunbeam's 1-minute duration.
  • Tenser's TransformationPHB: I would only use this as a bladesinger. First, while you gain proficiency in armor and shields and weapons, you probably don't just have decent armor and stuff laying around. Second, if you lose Concentration, you're now in armor in which you're likely not proficient, so you can't cast spells. In fact, skip armor and maybe just grab a bow and fight from a safe distance. Two attacks with advantage and 2d12 bonus damage is going to outstrip your cantrip damage easily, even with only moderately high Strength/Dexterity, though in most fights you'll get more out of more directly offensive spells. If you need to wade through a see of low-CR enemies I could see this working, but otherwise cast something like Sickening Radiance and start slinging cantrips.
  • True SeeingPHB: You don't always want this running, but you always want this available. For 1 hour you can see through illusions and invisibility, effectively negating them, and you can see into the Ethereal plane so creatures using options like Blink or which around on the ethereal plane on their own like Phased Spiders. However, you can only see 120 feet away, so you're not totally protected. Invisible creatures can maintain a safe distance while observing and even attacking you if there is sufficient space to do so.
  • Wall of IcePHB: This attempts to combine the wall effect of Wall of Force with a little bit of damage. While the damage is nice, the fact that the wall is so frail means that's it's not a reliable way to wall off your enemies. Personally, I would much rather use Wall of Force and deal damage later.

7th-Level Spells

  • Crown of StarsXGtE: Similar in many ways to Melf's Minute Meteors. Crown of Stars does considerably more damage per charge (2d6 vs. 4d12), but Crown of Stars only affects one target as opposed to a negligibly small AOE. Upcasting Minute Meteors gets you a total of 14 meteors for a total of 28d6 damage (assuming that nothing passes the save, of course). Crown of Stars will deal a total of 28d12 at the same spell level, and it's delivered much faster over considerably fewer projectiles. If we ignore the possibility of critical hits from Crown of Stars, you would still need to hit two targets per meteor with Melf's Minute Meteors to exceed Crown of Stars' average damage, and considering you need to do it 14 times in the span of 10 minutes that seems incredibly unlikely. If you've been relying on minute meterors, it's time to upgrade. Crown of Stars doesn't require Concentration, and with a 1-hour duration you get six times as long spend half as many projectiles. This may not be a go-to option for every spellcaster, but if you can set it up before you walk into a fight and if you don't normally have many uses for your Bonus Action, it's a great boost to your damage output.
  • Delayed Blast FireballPHB: Situational and potentially very hard to use to its full effect, but if you can make it work the maximum of 22d6 damage (avg. 77) is hard to beat. The hardest part of getting this to work is charging it for a minute without enemies doing anything to stop you, either by breaking your Concentration or by meddling with the fireball. In some cases you may find that the fight is over or the combatants have all relocated before you can trigger the effect. Possibly your best option is for an ally who is exceptionally good at Dexterity saving throws (especially if they can get Advantage and/or some other buff like Resistance or Bless) to grab the fireball and throw it the maximum of 40 feet to trigger it somewhere more effective just before the spell's 1-minute duration expires. If you can pull this off at the start of a fight, 22d6 damage is a great way to introduce yourself.
  • EtherealnessPHB: A profoundly effective scouting/escape option. Unless you're fighting ethereal enemies, you're untouchable. You can see and hear into the material plane (albeit at limited distance), allowing you to spy on other creatures in person without their knowledge. The only problem is that the spell lasts 8 hours and you can't dismiss it, so you may need to cast Dispel Magic on yourself to end the effect.
  • Finger of DeathPHB: This does less damage than Disintegrate (which is a spell level lower), and has a saving throw which enemies are more likely to resist. The only reason to cast this over Disintegrate is the free zombie if you kill the target, and if you just want zombies this is a slow way to build an army, even if the targets are permanently under your control.
  • ForcecagePHB: An absolutely amazing way to isolate either your party or your enemies. The duration is long enough to take a short rest, and there's no save for enemies to resist it. Have an ally drop an AOE damage over time spell like Hunger of Hadar, then drop a Force Cage on top of it and you're playing a magical game of "Will it Blend?".
  • Mordenkainen's Magnificent MansionPHB: In the real world, learning to cast this spell would mean that you could comfortably retire. Each day you would walk out of the mansion, cast the spell again to recreate the house for 24 hours, then you would return to your invisibile extraplanar abode to enjoy another 24 hours of abundant food, comfort, and nearly-invisible servants. The size of the mansion amounts to 5000 square feet, which is plenty to accomodate a part of adventurers and a sizeable retinue. The suggested 100 banquet guests would each have 50 square feet (a 5x10 area) of space to themselves, but a cleverly layed out mansion could easily turn that space into a large common area for feasting and a collection of small rooms with bunk beds for sleeping off a magical 9-course meal. However, in purely mechanical terms this is a spell that the Bard can't afford to learn. There are many less costly options for solving the same problems, and you're strictly limited in the number of spells which you can learn.
  • Mordenkainen's SwordPHB: This is an objectively bad spell. Compare it to Bigby's Hand, and it's pretty clear.
  • Plane ShiftPHB: Not quite as easy to use as Teleport, but it has some specific advantages. First and most obvious, Teleport can't take you to other planes. Second, Teleport can't be used offensively. Unfortunately, Plane Shift is very hard to use in combat because other creatures need to be holding hands in a circle. You also can't go directly to locations on the same plane, so you may need to find a convenient place to stop on the way. Pick somewhere hospitable, safe, and ideally either unpopulated or populated by creatures you know and which are friendly to you.
  • Power Word PainPHB: It's hard to rely on this unless you have an ally who can follow up with a save-or-suck before the target's next turn. But at that point, you might have better results leading with the save-or-suck unless the target has Legendary Resistances.
  • Prismatic SprayPHB: Unpredictable. The AOE is great, and effects 6, 7, and 8 are all great (any two rays would be spectacular), but the spell is unpredictable and I'm always reluctant to recommend unpredictable spells because unpredictable often means unreliable. If you've historically enjoyed Cone of Cold and want an upgrade I could see an opportunity here.
  • Project ImagePHB: Mislead with a longer duration and better range. The language used to describe the copy's capabilities is nearly identical. The extra range makes it a bit more versatile, but it's still fairly situational.
  • Reverse GravityPHB: Fantastic because it's so hard to resist. Even if targets grab onto something, they still need to hang onto it for the duration of the spell. Targets which can't grab onto something will be mostly helpless unless they can fly, and while flight is common at this level it's not universal by any means. The Tarrasque, for example, is largely helpless against this spell.
  • SimulacrumPHB: You could absolutely create a simulacrum and send it into combat in your stead, but it's risky and you won't gain experience for doing so. It also can't recover spell slots, so its utility in combat diminished quickly, but it's great for casting rituals, for using magic items, for keeping watch, and for donwtime tasks. You can effectively double how much you can do so long as you're not relying on spell slots. Unfortunately, healing the simulacrum is absurdly expensive so it's often best to create a new one when your old one starts falling apart.
  • SymbolPHB: While many of the effects are wonderful, the inability to move the symbol and the high casting cost are prohibitive.
  • TeleportPHB: With a 10-foot range and up to 8 targets you can easily teleport your entire party, and without the need to hold hands and form a circle you can often rescue the whole party in the midst of combat without too much trouble. However, Teleport has a complicated mechanic related to how familiar you are with the target destination and there's often a possibility of mishap. Be sure to borrow a souvenire from new places so that you can easily return if necessary without the risk of a mishap.
  • WhirlwindEEPC: If you want damage, look literally anywhere else. If you want to lift enemies off the floor, cast Reverse Gravity because it's much more effective and reliable.

8th-Level Spells

  • Abi-Dalzim’s Horrid WiltingPHB: For such a fancy name, this spell is surprisingly simple. With the exception of the way it interacts with some creature types, it's basically fireball with a different AOE and better damage. Sunburst does roughly the same damage and blinds targets in an AOE with double the radius, so I think it's a much better option.
  • Antimagic FieldPHB: Situational by design, but incredibly powerful. Even with such a small radius, removing magic from the game totall shifts the balance of the game. The biggest problem is that you are primarily a spellcaster, so you are turning off your biggest set of tool to use this. The best-case scenario is to use this when you are outmatched magically, but your allies can still fight without magic and defeat whatever you're facing.
  • Antipathy/SympathyPHB: Difficult to use because it targets a single type of creature, but if you're facing a homogenous group of enemies you can greatly hinder them with either option. Even against single creatures, using Sympathy to force an enemy to approach one of your party members (sympathy on a paladin to attract a lich) can force enemies into a situation which will end in their death.
  • ClonePHB: Immortality! The components are expensive, but it's well worth the cost. You can come back younger so you'll never die of old age! Clone is more expensive than Raise Dead, but Clone doesn't require that your body survive or that you have a friendly cleric around to raise you. If you're budget-conscious, clone your party's cleric, too so that they can raise the rest of the party. Once you've used your clone, be sure to make another for next time. The containers are reusable, though the 1,000gp isn't.
  • Control WeatherPHB: Very situational, and kind of a pain for the DM. Go to your setting's arctic equivalent, and raise the remperature to "Unbearable Heat" for 8 hours. That certainly won't cause horrifying and potentially irreperable ecological damage that the DM will need to either totally disregard or track in some unpleasant fashion for the duration of the campaign.
  • DemiplanePHB: Despite the small size, the 30-foot cubic room is a nice, cozy home base. The 1-hour duration is enough to take a short rest then leave before the door closes, but that's an awful use of an 8th-level spell. More realistically, you'll use this when you need to lay low for a couple days, then emerge fresh. The spell description states that once the door closes you're "trapped there", but that's somewhat vague. According to Jeremey Crawford, you can cast Demiplane again to reopen the door and exit, though the spell makes no mention of the ability to do that so RAW it's totally unclear. You can probably also escape using Plane Shift, but that opens up more questions like "Can I use Plane Shift to get into my own demiplane?".
  • Dominate MonsterPHB: Arguably the best save-or-suck spell in the game. You can do a lot with perfect control over a creature for such a long period of time. Using the target as a thrall in combat is obviously tempting, but the target gets to repeat their saving throw every time that they take damage, so be very cautious if you choose to do so.
  • FeeblemindPHB: Wisdom-based and Charisma-based casters are extremely vulnerable to Feeblemind. Even creatures who cast spells as a supplement to their other abilities can be seriously inhibited by suddenly being less intelligent than many animals. Beyond limited spellcasting, I've always found this spell difficult to manage for other enemies. 1 Intelligence and 1 Charisma is obviously very poor, but what is the victim capable of? If they're a cleric, can they still cast spells? What are they smart enough to do in combat? There's a lot of room for the DM to interpret how this works, and while that could be fun it also makes the spell's effect totally dependent on the DM.
  • Illusory DragonXGtE: Frighten every enemy that can see the dragon (there is no range on this part), then spend the spell's 1-minute duration flying the dragon around and breathing necrotic damage on everything around. You're free to use your Bonus Action on the turn in which you cast Illusory Dragon, so you can get up to 11 breath weapons out of it before it ends at the end of your turn 10 turns later. The dragon isn't limited by the spells range, and it doesn't have a specific movement type, so you can move it through the air or through water unimpeded. It's unclear if you can move it through the ground or through walls, so I would assume that you can't. Even if all of that doesn't soung good enough, it's basically a Huge creature, so it can block a large area and provide a great deal of cover for you and your allies.
  • Incendiary CloudPHB: Basically Cloudkill with a bunch of improvements. The damage is fully doubled, the damage type is improved (though fire is still one of the most commonly resisted damage types), and Dexterity saves are more effective than Consitution saves. The damage roughly matches a Fireball cast at the same level (avg. 45 vs. avg. 45.5 for Fireball), and the damage applies every round for the full 1-minute duration. However, it still retains some of Cloudkills biggest issues. First, the damage applies when the spell is cast but only re-applies to creatures inside the effect when they end their turn inside the cloud. With a 20-foot radius, most creatures can easily walk out of the cloud. The spell is also forced to move 10 feet every round, and the text explaining how that works is absolutely nonsensical. RAW you get to choose the direction, but you only get to choose that it moves directly away from you. Fortunately, Jeremy Crawford clarified that you choose its heading, so you're free to make the cloud slowly roll back and forth in the same small area if you choose to do so.
  • Maddening DarknessXGtE: 10-minute duration, decent damage, 60-foot radius, and magical darkness which is nearly impossible to overcome. You still need a way to keep enemies inside the area, unfortunately, but if you have an ally that can cast a wall spell of some kind that's typically sufficient.
  • MazePHB: The target doesn't get an initial save, and they need to make an Intelligence check to escape. If the creature has less than 10 Intelligence, it literally can't escape.
  • Mighty FortressPHB: This looks like so much fun, but it's the sort of spell that you cast when your wizard retires at high level with a mountain of gold to spend. Fill some space in the keep with clones of yourself, then inhabit one any time that you die of old age, born again in a younger body to be waited on by a hundred invisible servants and a functionally bottomless supply of lavish food. But as an adventurer, stick to cheaper options like Leomund's Tiny Hut.
  • Mind BlankPHB: Situational, but hillarious if you have a Berserker Barbarian in the party.
  • Power Word StunPHB: Gambling on a creature's current hit point total is hard, especially since you get so few spell slots at this level, but if you can time this to hit a wounded enemy (or an enemy with a low hit point maximum like many spellcasters) it can take them out of the encounter long enough for you to win largely unopposed.
  • SunburstPHB: Good AOE damage in a big area, and the blindness rider is really nice, but it's on a Constitution save, and Constitution saves tend to be high.
  • TelepathyPHB: Rary's telepathic bond is 3 levels lower, links up to eight creatures, and can be cast as a ritual. The only advantage of Telepathy is the unlimited range. But if range is an issue, you could easily use Sending or something to locate the target, then cast Teleport to go find them.

9th-Level Spells

  • Astral ProjectionPHB: A relatively safe way to explore the Astral Plane, but it has some complications. Avoid Githyanki at all cost; their silver swords can cut your astral cord and kill you outright. If things ever look bad for you, spend the Action to return everyone to their bodies. If any of your allies drop to 0 they'll go back to their body unharmed, but if you don't see it happen you may not know about it so you need to have a way for your party to contact your astral projection from wherever you hid your bodies. If you ever get forcible returned to your body and don't have a chance to end the spell intentionally and bring your allies back too, they can always get home by punching themselves down to 0 hit points.

    While you have this spell running, make sure that your party's bodies are hidden and protected somewhere that your enemies (or curious but hungry mosnters) can't get to you, but that won't be immediately dangerous if you return to your body with no spell slots. A comfortable, but totally sealed underground hideout is a great option that you could feasibly create using Stone Shape and some patience.

    Your bodies don't need food or air while you're under the spells effects, but the spell doesn't mention water. I assume that this is an oversight, but check with your DM; you may need to solve the issue of keeping your bodies hydrated. Since you don't need to breath, maybe submerge everyone in a shallow pool of water fed by a Decanter of Endless Water? Or maybe get a dedicated sect of monks to tend your bodies. Since your bodies don't age, this makes you effectively immortal while you're exploring the Astral Plane, so this can be a good way to keep your character alive between world-threatening problems so that you can return to the world to smite the latest lich without worrying about gray hair or whatever.

  • ForesightPHB: This is, without a doubt, the best buff in the game. With an 8-hour duration you can throw it on the lucky recipient and watch them laugh their way through nearly any challenge for a full day worth of adventuring.
  • GatePHB: There are several ways to use this spell, two of which were intended when the spell was designed.
    • Travel to another plane: The simplest option, you open a door and you walk through to another plane, leaving the gate open for up to a minute for whoever else to walk through in either direction.
    • Summon a creature: If you know the name of a creature on another plane, you can drag them (potentially against their will and without a save) to your location. This is easy to abuse by going to plane where you know they aren't (pocket dimensions work great for this, but there are so many planes that it's hard to accidently be on the same one), then forcibly summon them. You could summon your biggest antagonist after spending a bunch of time setting up traps, buffs, and readied actions, then have your party stomp them into the dirt. If you're extra clever, you can use Astral Projection to fight whatever you're summoning whiel projected so if something goes wrong you won't actually die and you could try again later. I think the intent of this function was to summon an ally to help you in a fight, but I think my idea is more useful.
    • One-way cover: You can only enter the portal from the front, but it's unclear what the back looks like or how it functions. It's not described as solid, so it's entirely possibly that you can fire projectiles through it from the rear, while projectiles from the front pass into the portal. I can't imagine that you can see through the portal, so this may be hard to do, but it may be possible. Check with your DM.
    • Magical drain: About to drown? About to hit by a flow of magma or falling rocks? Open a gate to literally anywhere else and let the offending substance enjoy eternity floating in limbo or anywhere else that isn't a problem for you. The multiverse is your dumping ground.
  • ImprisonmentPHB: This is an incredibly interesting spell, and it's incredibly effective for handling problematic foes who have a habit of rising from the dead or other such nonsense. However, it is insanely expensive to use even once. It's also not totally clear to me what happens to the material component when you cast the spell. Since nothing is specified, I presume that you're lefting holding the component. That means that you're now responsible for ensuring that no one ever casts a 9th-level Dispel Magic on that component, and you're also not allowed to use that component again for fear of releasing the previous target. My advice: throw the component into a demiplane surrounded by traps. If the target is portable (such as with the Sleep option), throw them in too.
  • InvulnerabilityPHB: Expensive, but it's hard to argue with how good the effect is. But you only get one 9th-level spell slot, and if you're spending it just to not worry about damage you're probably wasting the spell slot.
  • Mass PolymorphXGtE: You sacrifice the absolute power of True Polymorph for the ability to affect up to 10 creatures. The rules for handling creatures with no CR (your party) are written to make this really unappealing compared to True Polymorph. Compared to turning one ally into a CR 17+ dragon, turning up to 10 of your allies into Tyranosauruses (Tyranosaurs? Tyranosauri?) simply isn't as effective, even if the phrase "I turn us and our horses into tyranosauruses" is one of the coolect things I can think to say during a game. Tragically, the targets assume the beast's mental statistics, so turning your party of adventurers into toothy lizards may actually make them weaker.

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

  • Meteor SwarmPHB: The ultimate AOE damage spell, 40d6 is enough to level most buildings, and with a 40-foot radius and a staggering range of 1 mile you can lay seige to cities a safe distance. The spell states that it only damages creatures, but according to Jeremy Crawford, Meteor Swarm damage objects. The spell's biggest problem is that all it does is damage. While damage is fantastic and it certainly does plenty of it, if you don't outright kill your targets you'll still need to deal with them the next round. Also, keep in mind that targets can only be affected once, so don't both making the spheres overlap.
  • Power Word KillPHB: Outright kill the target, and their only way to resist is to have more than 100 hp (or Counterspell or something). Unfortunately, without a ton of metagaming it's very difficult to know if the target has less than 100 hit points. And, even if they do, Power Word Kill isn't necessarily your best option. Meteor Swarm deals an average of 140 damage, so if the target is at less than 100 hit points they're in trouble anyway. Granted, you can't Meteor Swarm someone across a dinner table, but I think Meteor Swarm will be more reliable in most situations where you need to end a life in the space of a few seconds.
  • Prismatic WallPHB: The ultimate area control spell. 10-minute duration, you and your allies can pass through it unharmed, and if enemies move through it they can take up to 50d6 damage, be turned to stone, and be sent to another plane. The wall can be destroyed, but the process to do so is so laughably obnoxious that I doubt anyone would actually try it. Drop a spell like Maddening Darkness or Sickening Radiance, then encircle your enemies in a spherical Prismatic Wall. They'll either die from ongoing damage, or they'll die from touching the wall. Or if you don't want to waste two spell slots, have a party member shove enemies into the wall.
  • Psychic ScreamXGtE: Up to 10 creatures within 90 feet of you in any direction. Intelligence saves tend to be low, even for high-CR monsters, so in many cases you can Stun enemies and keep them stunned for an incredibly long time. The damage is fine, buut that's absolutely an after-thought compared to the stun effect.
  • Time StopPHB: 1d4+1 turns in a row lets you do a lot to trivialize an encounter. If you want to be extra mean about it, you could drop a Delayed Blase Fireball, wall off the area with something like Stone Shape, then teleport away.
  • True PolymorphPHB: Powerful, versatile, and it lasts an hour. This is a spell that really rewards thorough knowledge of 5e's monsters, so go sit down with the Monster Manual etc. and do some reading. You'll want a go-to combat form at CR 17, 18, 19, and 20 for when you need to turn yourself or an ally into a monster, but you should also look for a good CR 9 in case you need to polymorph an object into a pet. Remember that the spell becomes permanent if you keep it running for an hour, so you can also use this to permanently turn yourself or someone else into a monster or a dragon or something. You'll lose all of your Warlock stuff because you assume the creature's statistics, but honestly a CR 20 dragon is much more powerful anyway. The spells final option allows you to turn a creature into an object with no save. Turn them into a flower pot, then either drop them from high enough to deal maximum fall damage (the extra damage carries over to their regular hit points when they revert), throw them into a demiplane, plane shift them somewhere unpleasant, or dispose of them in some other permanent and irrevocable fashion.
  • WeirdPHB: Like Phantasmal Killer for every creature in a 30-foot radius. Fine conceptually, but not good enough at this level. Targets which suffer the full effects will take 40d10 damage in total, but compare that to the 40d6 up front from Meteor Swarm or 14d6 and Stunned from Psychic Scream. Weird just can't compete.
  • WishPHB: The best spell in the game, but also the most complicated. It's literally so good that I won't rate anything else 9th-level as Blue because nothing else can compete. At some point I'll write a Practical Guide to Wish to go into all of the nuances.