DnD 5e - Wizard Subclass Breakdown
Last Updated: April 12th, 2021
RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.
- : Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- : OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances.
- : Good options.
- : Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
I will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, even if it is my own, because I can't assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. I also won't cover Unearthed Arcana content because it's not finalized, and I can't guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.
The advice offered below is based on the current State of the Character Optimization Meta as of when the article was last updated. Keep in mind that the state of the meta periodically changes as new source materials are released and this article will be updating accordingly as time allows.
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The majority of wizard subclasses are themed around a specific school of magic, and the subclass features reflect that theme. Others deviate a bit, seeking to present the Wizard in new and interesting ways. Regardless, your spellcasting is still your Wizard's primary class feature, and your subclass features complement that core capability.
Wizard Subclasses - Arcane Traditions
I'm going to skip the "X Savant" feature because they're mostly identical. Not every subclass gets an X Savant feature, but for the subclasses which do they're a great reason to use your free spells learned at each level on spells which don't benefit from your X Savant feature.
The Bladesinger is a fun concept, falling a lot closer to a normal Wizard than the Eldritch Knight does, and allowing you to get into melee combat while still using the full Wizard spell list. Unfortunately, you're somewhat bothered by MAD since you now need three ability scores to use all of your capabilities effectively. Survive in melee with d6 hit points is hard, even with the wizard's spell list to protect you. There's a lot of risk vs. reward calculations to be made while playing the Bladesinger, so go in with the idea that you'll be routinely betting your life that you chose the right time to take up a weapon.
Note that unlike something the Battle Smith Artificer's Battle Ready feature, the Bladesinger still uses the normal ability score used to attack with weapons. In nearly every case, that means Dexterity for bladesingers. This consideration forces bladesingers to choose between improving their Dexterity or their Intelligence depending on where they want to focus. Just keep in mind that while it's tempting to boost Dexterity and jump into combat with a weapon, the Bladesinger is a wizard first and throwing a fireball is often considerably more effective than swinging a sword, even if you can do it twice.
The Bladesinger's signature feature is Bladesong, a combat buff which turns the Wizard into a gish for a minute at a time. While Bladesong is active, it's an incredibly powerful effect allowing the Wizard to thrive in melee with a boosted AC and boosts Concentration saves so that you can maintain critical buffs like Elemental Weapon or Tenser's Transformation. Bladesong, combined with high Dexterity and buffs like Shield, allows the Bladesinger to boost their AC to heights that most classes simply can't match without without magic items. However, you're not less vulnerable to other sources of damage like spells and area of effect damage, so bring other defensive options like Absorb Elements and Counterspell. Also remember that a single critical hit could easily take you out of combat unless you can also use Song of Defense to reduce the damage enough to keep yourself going.
Bladesong is an incredibly tempting prize for Intelligence-based "gish" builds like the Battle Smith Artificer and the Eldritch Knight Fighter. However, since it's a short-duration buff with a low daily usage cap, I recommend waiting to multiclass until you're high enough level that your Proficiency Bonus will make Bladesong a meaningful part of your tactics.
If you are reading the version of Bladesinging published in the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, please note that an updated version was published in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything. The errata document for Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide includes all of the changes to update the subclass.
You also get free proficiency with a one-handed melee weapon (Rapier, Shortsword, or Whip is your best bet), which is great since the Wizard gets literally the worst list of weapon proficiencies in the game. : Light armor on a Wizard is a nice boost to AC. Mage Armor works great, but it eats one of your precious prepared spell slots for the day, which can be a hard trade at low levels when the AC difference is only +1 and your prepared spells are precious. Still, at higher levels when you're using Bladesong regularly, that +1 to AC is worth the spell unless you can guarantee access to magic items. +1 is a big bonus in 5e.
Bladesong, combined with high Dexterity and buffs like Shield, allows the Bladesinger to boost their AC to heights that most classes simply can't match without without magic items. However, you're still vulnerable to other sources of damage like spells and area of effect damage, so bring other defensive options like Absorb Elements and Counterspell. Also remember that a single critical hit could easily take you out of combat unless you can also use Song of Defense to reduce the damage enough to keep yourself going.
Since your uses of Bladesong per day are tied to your Proficiency Bonus, at low levels you need to think of this more as an occasional buff than your go-to option in combat. Use this as-needed primarily as a defensive buff and pretend that you're any other type of wizard until you pick up Extra Attack and your Proficiency Bonus increases. : While Bladesong is active, it's an incredibly powerful effect allowing the Wizard to thrive in melee with a boosted AC and boosting Concentration rolls so that you can maintain critical buffs like Elemental Weapon or Tenser's Transformation.
Extra Attack notably works even while you're not using Bladesong. Consider carrying a decent ranged weapon like a crossbow so that on turns when you plan to use a ranged attack cantrip you can make a ranged weapon attack in the same turn. Even if your Dexterity is still at a +3 bonus that attack is still a chance at some extra damage for very little effort.
This is a totally unneeded improvement to the subclass, but since you're taking the Attack action to use this, it's compatible with both two-weapon fighting and Crossbow Expert. Booming Blade plus two weapon attacks or Fire Bolt and two crossbow shots at range is pretty great, especially once you pick up Song of Victory and Tenser's Transformation. : One of your attacks can be a cantrip, so you can use Booming Blade/Green-Flame Blade/Swordburst and make an additional weapon attack using one Action. You get all the effectivenesss of using an attack cantrip without giving up the multiple attacks made by using Extra Attack so you get the best of both options. Short of the Eldritch Knight's War Magic feature (which notably uses a Bonus Action), no other "gish" subclass can match this capability.
- : This is a great way to pad your d6 hit points, but it will eat through your spell slots very quickly. Consider Absorb Elements and Shield as your go-to options for mitigating damage, but if Shield won't negate an attack you might use this instead if you expect the damage to be more than you're willing to take.
- : A bit late to the game, but by now you should easily have 20 Intelligence, so 5 bonus damage per melee weapon attack (yes, only melee) is pretty nice. Since Extra Attack can get you two attacks without giving up the benefits of a cantrip like Booming Blade, this can be a noteworthy boost to your damage output on turns where you're not throwing around leveled spells. Combine this with Tenser's Transformation, and a mundane rapier could deal 1d8+10+2d12 damage per attack, which is pretty great. But, while the damage bonus is nice, at this level a +5 damage bonus on your weapon attacks is frequently less impactful than upcastinf Fireball, which any wizard can do.
Chronal Shift and Convergent Future feel very similar in function to the School of Divination's Portent feature, and if you want that feature but don't share my love for divination spells, Chronurgy Magic is a great option.
The Chronurgy Magic subclass gains access to the Dunamancy spell list. See my Dunamancy Spell List Breakdown for guidance on Dunamancy spells.
- : Rerolls are always great, and you can use this after the target rerolls. The target can be you, an ally, or and enemy, so you can use this divert critical hits, to offer another attempt on failed saves, or if you're not worried about your own safety you could use this to let allies reroll missed attacks. Generally you should save this to be used defensively. Rerolling one ally's missed attack will rarely save a life, but rerolling saves will save lives constantly.
- : A sizeable bonus to Initiative. Going first is incredibly useful or spellcasters who can place area control effects to shape the rest of the fight.
- : Taking a creature out of a fight for a turn is great, but Constitution saves tend to be high, and the effect only lasts until the end of your next turn so you're giving up your Action on your turn to possibly deny the target their own turn. It's a fine trade if your party outnumbers your enemies, but if you're outnumbered you should be fireballing things rather than trading turns with a single enemy.
: There are three ways to use this:
- You can have an ally cast a spell which typically affects the caster so that you can share powerful effects like Shadow Blade
- You can use it to let another creature cast a spell for you so that you can get an extra spell off in a hurry. A familiar is a fantastic choice in this case. They're prohibited from making attacks, but nothing stops them from casting Fireball.
- Cast a spell with a long casting time, then freeze it upon completion. Carry the bead around for a bit, then activate it to deliver the spell.
- : Rerolls are great, but they're still a roll. Take the risk out of it and just decide that a roll succeeds or fails. The cost is high, however, and it gets worse the more times you use this in a day. Few creatures can give you levels of exhaustion, so it's usually not a problem, but the one time you encounter an enemy which inflicts Exhaustion you're in serious trouble if you've used this at all that day. Also avoid things like starving, sleep deprivation, and forced marches. Dying at level 14 because you're tired is hardly the way you want to go out.
Graviturgy is a really cool concept, but the abilities are simply too situational and difficult to use to make it effective. The only reliably useful ability is Event Horizon, which you get once per day starting at level 14, and even then it's incredibly dangerous to use because you need to be so close to your enemies and because it doesn't exclude your allies.
There are some abuse cases which can make Graviturgy Magic work well, such as throwing enemies into low-hanging AOE damage effects with Gravity Well, and cooperating with allies who like to grapple in order to capitalize on Adjust Density, but unless your party has abundant options to force enemies to either move or not move at your wthem, you may struggle to make the subclass features consistently impactful. The Dunamancy Spell List offers perhaps the most crucial options for the Graviturgy Magic Wizard, so if those spells are not available to you, I strongly encourage you to look elsewhere.
The Graviturgy Magic subclass gains access to the Dunamancy spell list. See my Dunamancy Spell List Breakdown for guidance on Dunamancy spells.
- : Situational. Your allies might enjoy the extra speed from time to time, and Advantage on Strength checks is great for allies who are grappling, but the 1-minute duration and Concentration requirement mean that you can usually find something better to do. Still, you can use it as often as you like and there's no save, which is great if your allies like to Shove or Grapple.
- : 5 ft. of positioning is occasionally very useful. Since this is forced movement, it doesn't provoke Opportunity Attacks, so you can use this to cast a spell on yourself or an ally to move the target out of melee without provoking an opportunity attacks, and potentially breaking grapples. Tragically, it only applies when you cast the spell so you can't repeatedly reposition targets to keep them inside areas of effect. This also doesn't specify which directions you can move the target, so theoretically you could move targets 5 feet into the air to force them into conveniently-positioned effects like Wall of Fire.
- : There aren't many options which can force enemies to fall, so either you need to really like Reverse Gravity and Gravity Sinkhole, or your DM likes to put a lot of pits and cliffs on the map. Regardless, it's at most 10d10 damage per day (assuming you can somehow cause falling damage on 5 separate rounds) and you have to spend your Reaction to activate it each time, meaning that you don't have your Reaction for Shield or Absorb Elements.
Fortunately, this doesn't appear to care about cover, so you can do things like casting Stone Shape or Wall of Ice to erect a dome over yourself for cover, then lie prone inside it to impose Disadvantage on ranged attacks against you. If cover isn't a option, try to keep moving enemies at bay by hitting them with things like Thunderclap to push them away or Ray of Frost to reduce their speed. Even Earth Thremor may be useful, as knocking targets prone forces them to spend half their speed to stand. : A great area control effect hampered only by the fact that you need to be in the middle of it. With a radius of just 30 feet, you're easily within reach for attacks and abilities with any sort of range, and since you need to Concentrate on this, you might lose your signature feature for the day if you take even a tiny amount of damage.
If you want to collect every wizard spell every published (like me), Order of the Scribes is a great choice. They get some unique capabilities to address many challenges commonly faced while adventuring, but they're not focused on any one small part of wizardry. Rather, Order of the Scribes is a sort of generic wizard subclass that emphasizes, complements, and celebrates some of the best things about being a wizard (like collecting all of the spells).
Order of the Scribes has a unique balancing mechanic: knowing more spells makes you more powerful. Sure, rituals work for any wizard, and having access to more spells makes you more able to adapt to challenges. But Order of the Scribes goes beyond that. Having an abnormally large number of spells in your spellbook allows you to change the damage type of spells, and at high levels to negate damage by temporarily blocking off access to spells in your spellbook. Due to these unique mechanics, you're dependent on learning as many spells as you possibly can. Expect to spend gold and time putting spells into your spellbook at every opportunity.
Unfortunately, that unique capability comes with risk. The Wizard learns a total of just 44 spells by the time they reach 20th level unless you can add additional spells to your spellbook. Depending on the game you're in, you may never get access to ways to add more spells to your spellbook (other wizards' spellbooks, spell scrolls, etc.). In campaigns which take place in the wilderness or in a megadungeon, Order of the Scribes is a risky choice. In games set in cities with libraries or wizard schools, easy access to spellbooks will make the Order of the Scribes effective, reliable, versatile, and fun. If you don't know the nature of the campaign, check with your DM before you commit to this. You will eventually get access to things like teleportation and then you may be able to go looking for sources of new spells, but you probably don't want to suffer the total absence of options until that point.
Taken as a whole, Order of the Scribes is very much the "wizard's wizard". If you like the Wizard and you're comfortable with the mechanics which make the Wizard great, Order of the Scribes is a great choice. But if you're looking for an easy route to a powerful character that works in any campaign, Order of the Scribes isn't what you're looking for.
The quill also allows you to vandalize stuff for free. The ink doesn't magically adhere to things, but given time you could scribble over every book in a library, rendering them illegible until you decide to erase your scribbles. Tragically, the free ink doesn't make it free to add more spells to your spellbook, so expect to spend the bulk of your money on copying new spells. : Copying a spells normally takes two hours per spell level. This reduces that time considerably. Time spent learning spells is typically handled "off screen", but if you're tracking Downtime this means that you can copy 60 times as many spells in the same amount of time as other wizards.
The third benefit lets you cast a ritual more quickly once per day. That's great for options like Detect Magic and if you need them in a hurry, but hopefully you won't need it often. : The ability to change the damage type of your spells makes it much easier to use damage spells. Look for spells which deal damage types that are rarely resisted like Force (Magic Missile, Disintegrate), Thunder (Shatter), Psychic, Necrotic, and Radiant damage. If you know enough spells and know your enemies' resistances, you may go your entire career without dealing damage to a creature which has resistance to that damage type. But, again, you need to learn as many spells as possible to get the most out of this feature, so if your DM doesn't give your access to more spells you may struggle to make this work.
You also gain the ability to cast spells using your spectral mind as the origin point. This allows you to cast spells while you're safely behind cover, or to deliver short-range spells like Burning Hands or Thunderclap without the risk of being in near-melee range and potentially even without the targets being aware of your presence. However, the number of times you can do this per day is small so look for other ways to solve the same problems if you can. : Similar in many ways to Arcane Eye, though certainly less subtle since it's not invisible. This allows you to examine distant objects, peek around corners, keep watch in two places at once, and even explore small spaces where you can't physically fit. It even has Darkvision even if you don't, so it can serve in place of your own eyes in dark places. Think of it like one of those quadcopter drones, but your controls only work out to a range of 300 feet and you can shoot fireballs through it.
- : Since you can't share this (the scroll is unintelligibile to anyone else), this is basically just a free spell per day. Find your favorite 2nd-level spell with a decent effect for being upcast to 3rd level. You don't need to have the spell prepared, so this is good for spells with long durations which you know you will cast, but which you won't cast more than once.
The second benefit of this feature allows you to entirely negate sources of damage. However, this comes with a steep cost and a gamble. First, it eats your Reaction, so consider using Shield or Absorb Elements if either of them will suffice. Second, it dismisses your Spectral Mind, so you'll need to re-manifest it as a Bonus Action on a later turn.
Third, and most important, you temporarily lose access to some of the spells in your spellbook. This is honestly a pain to track, but it's also easy to mitigate this cost. By learning a huge number of spells, you can accumulate enough spell levels worth of unused spells that you may be able to use this numerous times in succession. Just keep in mind that at an average of 10.5 spell levels, you need to spend an average of 525gp learning the spells to fuel a single use.
Finally, if you roll the 3d6 and roll more spell levels than you can spend, you're immediately reduced to 0 hit points. This can prevent you from immediately dying due to massive damage because the original damage is still prevented, but if the original damage wasn't going to knock you down to 0 you're going to feel silly for knocking yourself out because you don't know enough spells. : Advantage on Arcana checks is really nice, especially if you're using the rules for identifying spells presented in Xanathar's Guide to Everything and if your DM allows you to use skill checks to identify monsters and their weaknesses.
School of Abjuration's signature mechanic is Arcane Ward, which provides a pool of not-quite-hit-points that you can use to mitigate damage to yourself and eventually to your allies. Improved Abjuration makes the Abjurer the uncontested champion of Counterspell, allowing you to defend your allies both from mundane damage with your ward and from spells with abjuration options like Counterspell and Dispel Magic.
The Abjurer is an easy option for players new to the game, or players who might be intimidated by managing the Wizard's spellcasting. Because College of Abjuration's features are primarily reactive in nature, it allows the player to focus on using their spells offensively while falling back on their subclass features to defend themselves. However, experienced players who are comfortable managing complex characters may find that the reactionary nature of the subclass frustrating because you may go long periods without your features being impactful unless you're facing an abundance of spellcasters.
- : Standard for PHB wizard subclasses. Strangely, this feature incentivizes you to use your two free spells learned per level to learn literally anything except spells from your favorite school.
Of course, once you get Projected Ward this stops being about you, and starts being about keeping your party members alive, so if you're building an abjurer you still can't skimp on Constitution.
If you're looking for an easy way to charge the ward, consider the Eldritch Initiate feat to get Armor of Shadows. Armor of Shadows allows you to cast Mage Armor on yourself at will, allowing you to fully charge the ward whenever you have a few minutes to repeatedly cast Mage Armor in order to charge it. If you want something less abusive, remember that the points never go away so if you have a day where you're not actively fighting things all day you can waste spell slots on random abjuration spells to charge your ward in order to prepare yourself for when you'll need it. : A great source of what essentially amounts to temporary hit points, but since they aren't technically temporary hit points the two effects stack. You shouldn't need this frequently, but it's great to have, and it greatly reduces your need for Constitution. Since the ward can take damage in your place, you may even be able to avoid saves to maintain Concentration when you take damage.
- : Your party's Defender likely takes a lot more damage than you, so soaking some of it with your ward can really cut down on how many resources your party must devote to healing.
- : Situational by design, but very powerful in games which feature enemy spellcasters. Counterspell is an off-switch for enemy spellcasters. Adding your proficiency bonus dramatically improves its effectiveness, making you able to easily prevent enemy spellcasters from doing anything at all without the need to burn your highest-level spell slots. If you can also cast Enhance Ability (Intelligence) on yourself before walking into a fight with enemy spellcasters, you can counter spells with very little risk of failure.
- : Resistance to spells is great for resisting dangerous save or suck spells, and resistance to spell damage makes you greatly resistant to direct damage spells which typically don't require saves (Eldritch Blast, Fire Bolt, etc.). Both halve sof the feature apply at the same time, so against spells which allow you to save for reduced damage (Fireball, etc.), this is extremely effective because on a successful save you'll often take just a quarter of the game. However, you're expected to counter spells rather than try to resist them, so this is mostly a redundant defense for when you're outnumber or surprised.
Conjuration does a lot of things, but generally when you think of a conjurer you think of summoning creatures, but conjuration is more than that: it also includes teleportation and spells which summon or create objects. School of Conjuration offers you a bit of everything that the Conjuration school of magic has to offer, but if you're just here to play a summoner you won't get anything to support that concept until 10th level.
Starting from 10th level, summoning creatures to aid you in combat becomes a central part of School of Conjuration's tactics. Be sure to read my Practical Guide to Summoning Spells before you reach level 5 and get access to spells like Summon Shadowspawn.
Long-time 5e players should note that School of Conjuration benefited significantly from the new summon spells introduced in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything. Previously, summon spells were complicated, difficult to use, and unpredictable since the DM was tasked with selecting what you actually get to summon. The new spells are consistently useful, easy to manage for both the player and the DM, and generally effective in a broad variety of situations. These additions make School of Conjuration considerably more appealing at level 10 and above than it was previously.
- : Standard for PHB wizard subclasses. Strangely, this feature incentivizes you to use your two free spells learned per level to learn literally anything except spells from your favorite school.
If your DM allows it, creating a weapon with Conjuration Creation may be enough to overcome resistance to damage from nonmagical attacks since the object is "visibly magical". You may even be able to create weapons made of special materials like adamantine or cold iron. Unfortunately, the size constraints may limit your weapon options, so stick to stubby weapons like axes rather than long weapons like spears and longswords. Also note that the weapon will disappear if it deals damage once, so it's a single-use weapon. Maybe useful for rogues or if you just need one hit, but this won't totally replace real weapons. : Like creation spells, Minor Conjuration's effectiveness depends heavily on your creativity and on your DM's permissiveness. At the very least you can summon cylindrical objects and roll them around in dungeons to set off traps, or create a sturdy object to use as cover.
- : A great way to get around when there are enemies present, especially if you switch places with your party's Defender and drop them in the middle of a bunch of surprised enemies. Of course, the biggest benefit of Benign Transposition (getting you out of somewhere dangerous) can be entirely replaced by Misty Step, which can be used as a Bonus Action at the cost of a 2nd-level spell slot.
- : This is great for keeping your summoned creature around even if you take damage, but at this level you have plenty of ways to keep yourself out of trouble. Spells like Shield, Absorb Elements, and Mirror Image are staple defensive options which don't require Concentration, and if you have a summoned creature there's one more ally on the field drawing attention away from you.
- : 30 temporary hit points provides as many additional hit points as casting a "Summon Creature" spell two or three spell levels higher (it varies by spell). That's a huge increase in durability, which means that you're getting more mileage out of your summon spells.
Forewarned is fore-armed, and Divination is all about forewarning. If you ever walk into a room without knowing who and what is inside it, you aren't casting enough Divinations. The biggest problem with relying heavily on divinations is that they can quickly eat your spell slots, often with little tangible effect. Fortunately, Expert Divination dramatically reduces the cost of casting divination spells. Portent provides a wonderful mechanic to influence rolls, allowing you alter the outcome of critical roles in significant and powerful ways.
As great as Portent is, if you plan to play a diviner, you and your DM need to be prepared to handle divinations and how they work. The DM may be forced to predict the future for you, to offer cryptic hints, or to improvise the idle activities of creatures who are generally just sitting in a room waiting for your party to come fight them. You need to remember to use your divinations to mitigate risk and to solve problems that can't be solved using Fireball and the like. But if you put in the work, School of Divination will reward you for your efforts.
- : Standard for PHB wizard subclasses. Strangely, this feature incentivizes you to use your two free spells learned per level to learn literally anything except spells from your favorite school.
- : Roll high? Save it for important saving throws or attacks. Roll low? Use it to replace an enemy attack roll or an enemy saving throw. There is no way for this to be bad unless you forget to use it. Portent is School of Divination's signature trait, and mastering it will have a massive impact on your game.
- : This dramatically expands the number of spells you can cast in a day. If you ever think "is it worth a spell slot to cast a Divination right now?", the answer should always be "yes". Throw them around like confetti. You can even use Mind Spike (the only damage-dealing divination spell in the game) to get big piles of single-target damage at minimal cost whenever you might normally use a cantrip.
- : Darkvision isn't a Divination, so this is a good way to get it for free if you don't get it from our race, an item, or an ally who can cast Darkvision. The other effects are replicated with See Invisibility and Comprehend Languages, which cost next to nothing to cast thanks to both Expert Divination and the Wizard's ability to cast rituals, but having See Invisibility running at all times is a helpful defense since See Invisibility only lasts for an hour.
- : Not a game changer, but Portent is fantastic, and this makes it 50% more powerful.
School of Enchantment is decent, but not terribly exciting. Split Enchantment is the only really exciting ability it provides, but it's good enough to make Enchantment viable, especially once you have some really good save-or-suck spells. Enchantment spells include many of the best save-or-suck options across the level range, as well as numerous staple buffs and defensive options. Enchantment also have magical options like Charm Person which can allow you to (briefly) serve as your party's Face without the benefits of high Charisma and suitable class skill options.
If you're looking beyond save-or-suck spells and plan to enjoy the full benefits of School of Enchantment, the best way to do so is to get comfortable with spells like Charm Person, and work on your "play acting" skills as a player. This is as close as you can get to being a Face without picking a class with Face skills, and you should expect to spend a lot of time conversing with creatures that you've influenced with spells. You may even invest some of your skills from your background and/or race in Charisma-based skills to support your efforts.
- : As a Wizard you should not spend a whole lot of time 5 feet away from enemies. But if you find yourself face to face with something unfriendly, flash those baby blues and hit it with your Hypnotic Gaze. This allows you to indefinitely lock down a single target, provided that you remain within range and that the target consistently fails the saving throw. In an encounter where your allies outnumber the enemies (or at least the significant ones) this is a great way to tilt the balance of the encounter in your favor, even if this also takes you out of the encounter. Using this to incapacitate enemies also means that they release you if they were grappling you, and you can safely move away without provoking Opportunity Attacks.
- : This is a great way to make enemy ranged attackers hit their own allies (or at least your allies if the enemy doesn't have friends nearby. Since you can use this once per target per long rest, you can expect to use this repeatedly in encounters where enemies are relying on ranged attacks. However, since this is difficult to use against melee attacks, you may still want Shield.
- : Many of the best Enchantment spells are single-target, which is a problem in encounters with more than one enemy. This functionally doubles your spell output with your best spells, including powerful options like Dominate Monster and Power Word Kill.
- : This ability is the only Wizard ability which cares about your Charisma, and it's both extremeley situational and disappointingly ineffective. The ability to erase part of the creature's memory of its time spent charmed means that you can hit the creature with Charm Person or Charm Monster, spend an hour or more questioning it, then make it forget that your conversation. Unfortunately, the spells which benefit from Alter Memories are extremely few in number, so expect to lean heavily on Charm X/Dominate X. Even the spell Friends doesn't actually make the target Charmed, so your options are pitifully small.
Evocation is the blunt hammer of magic. It's rarely subtle or elegant, and it's often imprecise. But hey, when 90% of problems are nails, the hammer is the king of tools. Evocation is a great option for players who are new to spellcasters because many of the best spells are mechanically simple, require little tracking if any, and usually leave little room for interpretation of their effects. Beyond the simple instantaneous damage options, evocation spells also include powerful offensive options like Wall of Fire
While School of Evocation is one of the simpler wizard subclasses, experienced players shouldn't overlook it simply because of its relative simplicity. It's an effective set of tools for effectively using go-to offensive spell options, and it works reliably in any game where a blaster caster can be effective. Players new to the game will enjoy being able to sagely fireball enemies without murdering their own party, and as players get comfortable they can explore more complex aspects of spellcasting confident in the knowledge that they can always revert to Fireball if more complex options prove difficult or ineffective.
There's some weird nuance here that's easy to overlook: While this is clearly intended to protect allies from Burning Hands, Fireball, and other such AOE damage options, the protection doesn't end after the initial effect of the spell. Creatures are protected from the spell's effects for the spell's full duration. This means that your allies can comfortably walk around in the areas of spells like Sickening Radiance and Wall of Fire, potentially dragging enemies about inside the area to force them to take damage. You could even cast Otiluke's Freezing Sphere, designate your allies as protected by Sculpt Spells, then send them off with pockets full of frozen spheres to smash at their feet in a room full of enemies. Honestly, I don't think this was intended when WotC wrote School of Evocation. Much like Empowered Evocation, I think that they meant for Sculpt Spells only to apply to the initial effects. But it's been 5+ years and we haven't gotten errata or tweets from Jeremy Crawford, so it appears that Sculpt Spells works as I've described it until someone tells us otherwise. : Friendly fire happens inevitably when you have an evoker in the party. This goes a long way to cut down on the problem, but you should still try to avoid hitting your allies wherever possible.
- : Acid Splash and Poison Spray are the only damaging Wizard cantrips in the PHB which require a saving throw, but other supplements have dramatically increased your options. This is nice insurance, and it encourages you to use saving throw cantrips like Frostbite instead of attack cantrips like Fire Bolt because the guaranteed half damage means that your average damage output is now higher with the saving throw spells.
According to Jeremy Crawford back in 2015, this bonus applies to each missile of magic missile and to all targets of an AOE, but only to one attack for multi-attack spells like Scorching Ray. If Empowered Evocation applies to each missile, Magic Missile becomes very powerful. This conflicts with Crawford's more recent rulings, where he has ruled that each missile from Magic Missile is a separate damage roll, so similar damage bonuses only get applied to one of the missiles. Personally I think the more-recent ruling makes more sense, but discuss it with your DM. : A bonus to damage like this is a considerable boost, especially for your low-level spells like Burning Hands, which can still be decent damage sources at a low spell slot cost.
- Jeremy Crawford the effect was intended to only apply to the first damage roll for the spell, so sticking to Fireball is likely your best choice. Check with your DM about how they want to handle things. : This is a great way to get more mileage out of reliable lower-level spells like Magic Missile and Fireball at a level where your higher-level spells would generally eclipse them. Just be sure to have a Cleric handy when you start taking damage. RAW, the damage is maximized every time that the spell deals damage, which makes spells like Wall of Fire especially powerful. However, according to
Illusion is one of the most complex, open-ended, and flexible schools of magic. It is limited only by your and your DM's imaginations. If you are a creative, artistic person who thinks on their feet, Illusions can be exceptionally powerful. While there are spell options like Phantasmal Killer and Simulacrum which go well beyond the concept of sensory illusions (making stuff which appears to be real), School of Illusion strictly emphasizes sensory illusions, and gives you new options to make those spells more flexible, versatile, and powerful.
However, the freeform nature of illusions also means that your spells place a great deal of burden on your DM to interpret their effects and how other creatures will respond to them. If your DM is the sort of person who will play along with your shenanigans, School of Illusion can be a ton of fun. But if your DM is a mechanical stickler or in any way adversarial or contrarian, you may find that illusions are difficult to use to great effect.
I recommend reserving School of Illusion for games where the DM is reasonably experienced and comfortable running the game. It's unkind to throw something so disruptive into a game where your DM is still getting comfortable with the game's mechanics.
- : Minor Illusion can be incredibly powerful in the hands of a smart caster, and adding both effects on one casting makes it considerably more useful. Creating an illusion of a pot lying on the floor accompanied by the sound of a pot falling, or an illusion of a small animal accompanied by appropriate sounds (I'm fond of chickens for this purpose) can be excellent distractions, and creatures don't get a save or a skill check to disbelieve the illusion until they spend an Action to do so.
- : Most illusion spells which create an ongoing illusory effect (Minor Image, Hallucinatory Terrain, etc.) do not allow you to change the illusion once it's in place. Minor Image and Major Image allow you to move and animate the illusion, but that can turn a red ball into a rolling or bouncing red ball, but nothing more. Malleable Illusions could turn your red ball into a statue of a dragon or something, effectively replacing your existing illusion without re-casting the spell. This adds a ton of flexibility to such spells.
- : Infallibly ignore one attack against you for free, once per Short or Long Rest. Very good for a squishy Wizard. Combined with other defensive measures like hiding and using cover, you may even be able to forgo Shield.
You can't directly harm creatures with Illusory Reality, but the rules say nothing about impeding, restraining, blocking, or even dropping them. Throw up a Silent Image to create a wall of stone between you and your foes, or to put a cage around them. Create an illusory bridge with a convenient trap door (or just time it so that they're on the bridge when the 1-minute duration expires) and drop your enemies into a pit. : This turns your illusions into creation spells, which means that any tool that you can imagine is available for the low cost of casting Silent Image. Sadly, Malleable Illusions likely doesn't let you change the object which you've chosen to make real because Illusory Reality only applies when you cast the spell.
Necromancy is a cool school. In addition to animating dead creatures, it has some really powerful and exciting spells like Bestow Curse, Enervation, and even Clone. However, School of Necromancy is devoted almost entirely to the "army of pet undead" concept and offers nothing beyond Grim Harvest to complement other necromancy options.
A lot of people want to summon an army of undead to overwhelm their foes. This is a great strategy, but make sure that your party is okay with the party being outnumbered by pets, and be prepared to spend a lot of gold on material components and to spend a lot of time managing your undead pets. Maintaining permanent undead under your control requires comitting spell slots every day to reassert control, so they're a persistent tax on your resources in addition to the initial cost to cast Create Undead if you want something more powerful than a zombie.
Unfortunately, there are startlingly few leveled necromancy spells which can kill a creature. The lowest-level option is Vampiric Touch at 3rd level, and amusingly it also heals you so you can combine it with the bag of rats trick to double-dip on healing (though Vampiric Touch can't heal you more than the target's hit points, and rats have 1 hp).
There is some amgibuity about how this works with the spell Summon Undead. Summon Undead is a necromancy spell, and the summoned creature is the spell's "effect", so killing a creature with your summoned undead may qualify to trigger Grim Harvest. As a DM, I would not allow this because the creature's attacks are not the spell itself and because allowing it would immediately become a problem. Along the same lines: the effect of Animate Dead is to create an undead creature. That creature killing something is not part of the spell's effect and therefore doesn't qualify. : This won't work with cantrips (0*2=0), but it can be a nice way to heal yourself with your other spells. RAW you can use this on any creature, so there's nothing to stop you from carrying a bag of rats for you to "harvest" when you need hit points. For maximum efficiency, cast leveled spells with long durations and ongoing damage like Cloud of Daggers, then throw one rat into the spell per turn.
Unfortunately, this doesn't appear to work with the Summon Undead spell. Summon Undead summons an undead creature, and Undead Thralls only applies if your create the undead creature. : Additional hit points and damage will make your pet undead considerably more lethal. Remember that having more undead will require you to spend more spell slots every day to keep them under control, so don't have too many. Instead, try to focus on having a few powerful undead that you can rely upon and move about without too much trouble. Upgrade to Create Undead as soon as possible, and talk to your DM about equipping your undead with armor and weapons to make them more effective despite their low CR.
The immunity to hit point reduction, while intended to address a common side-effect of atacks by undead creatures, isn't limited to those attacks: you're still immune to hit point reduction from other sources. For example, the spells Create Homunculus and Create Magen both require you to reduce your hit point maximum as part of the spells. Immunity to hit point reduction removes that cost, so your Homunculus can perpetually have half of your hit dice at no cost to your hit point maximum, and so long as you have the gold you can create a small army of magens to serve you where undead might not do the job (i.e. almost anywhere with living people). I don't think that this was an intentional rules interaction, so your DM might not be thrilled about this, so be careful not to abuse it too heavily. : Situational, but thematically appropriate. There aren't spells that let you take control of undead that you stumble across or reassert control of undead which you create after you've lost control of them, so sometimes you'll run into a shadow or something and need to actually fight them. Command Undead reduces this risk somewhat, but you can only use it to control one undead at a time, so undead which can reduce your hit point maximum remain a risk.
- : This is a very useful ability if you have enemies which command undead or which are undead themselves, but the fact that intelligent undead (very common by this level) get Advantage on the save makes this ability hard to use effectively. Some high-CR undead like the Nightwalker are tempting targets, but unless you're actively seeking them out (and your DM is silly enough to let you find and enslave one) you can't count on just stumbling upon a suitable target.
Transmutation gets you very little which you couldn't already get more easily from other places, often at a lower level. Transmuter's Stone is arguably the best part of the subclass, but you can replace it with the Resilient feat or by taking your first level in the Artificer, Fighter, or Sorcerer classes to get proficiency in Constitution saves, then learn some basic spells that any sensible wizard should know anyway. Master Transmuter is the next high point of the class, but waiting until level 14 to get a good subclass feature is not a good choice. Even then, the best benefits are made totally obsolete by Wish three levels later.
- : It's hard to say how best to use this, but at the very least you could turn a block of wood into silver and sell it before it reverts and you're run out of town.
- : Several excellent buffs to choose from, and you can change the selected buff easily. If you enjoy Concentration spells, proficiency in Constitution saving throws is huge. You might also share that benefit with a cleric if there's one in the party since clerics have tons of good Concentration spells and tend to be on the front lines a lot but also don't get proficiency in Constitution saves. If you want Darkvision, cast Darkvision. If you want the damage resistance, cast Absorb Elements or Protection From Energy.
- : Helpful for scouting and utility purposes, but it won't get you through a fight, and you can use a Rogue or a Divination spell for scouting. You can use it for overland travel by turning into something that flies, but stick to Giant Eagle, Giant Owl, or Giant Vulture because most beasts have an Intelligence score low enough that you're likely to forget where you were going.
The Panacea and Restore Life options are very good, and giving up your Transmuter's Stone to get the benefits is worth the cost since you can create another one at no cost except time. Wizards don't have many healing options and can't raise creatures from the dead until you can cast Wish, so these are useful options, especially in a party without a cleric.
Restore Youth is amusing but it's basically a party trick. : The Major Transformation option can do curious things like making adamantine weapons, but can't create adamantine armor because adamantine armor is a magic item even though adamantine weapons aren't.
Despite the flavor text, War Magic is primarily defensive. Power Surge (and arguably Deflecting Shroud) are the only truly offensive abilities, and the damage provided is fairly small. War Magic has a lot of overlap with School of Abjuration, but where School of Abjuration focuses more on countering spells and defending your allies, War Magic focuses more on defending yourself and keeping yourself in a fight.
War Magic's focus on your own durability helps solve the Wizard's biggest problem: their frailty. Wizards get no armor except Mage Armor and have just d6 hit dice, making them the least durable class in the game. They are very much "glass cannons", and War Magic does a bit to improve on that pain point. This is appealing if you're planning to play a wizard in tight quarters like dungeons or caves where running and hiding may be difficult, or if you're brave and want to wade into close quarters and rely on short-range spells like Burning Hands.
If you want to play an extra durably wizard, consider adding other mechanisms to boost your AC and ideally your Constitution saves. Starting with a level in Artificer accomplishes both, but you could also choose Githyanki, Mountain Dwarf, or Tortle as your race to get better AC, or you could go for Custom Lineage or Variant Human in order to take Resilient or War Caster.
However, Arcane Deflection comes with an opportunity cost beyond your Reaction: You can't cast leveled spells during your next turn. Consider that casting leveled spells is your primary function as a wizard, that's a lot to give up. When you use Arcane Deflection, you need to be ready to spend your next turn using cantrips or something. At low levels where your spell slots are few in number that's not a problem, but as you gain levels the opportunity cost grows considerably. You can't even use items like wands to get around this because those items still cause you to cast a spell.
There may still be times where Absorb Elements or Shield make more sense so that you can cast leveled spells on your turn, and fortunately as the opportunity cost to use Arcane Deflection increases, the opportunity cost to prepare Absorb Elements and Shield is reduced as your number of prepared spells increases. : Shield provides a better AC bonus, but the real appeal here is the bonus to saves. +4 is enough to make a huge difference, and features that provide similar bonuses (The Paladin's Aura of Protection, the Artificer's Flash of Genius, etc.) are never avialable this early in your career.
- : Initiative bonuses are always great, and getting to go early means that you can quickly cast buff or control spells which will determine how the fight plays out.
- : The damage isn't great, and unless you're facing a lot of enemy spellcasters it will be hard to charge your power surges. You could ask your allies to waste low-level spellS (ideally a cantrip with a non-instantaneous duraiton like Guidance or Shillelagh) so that you can dispel or counterspell them, but it's probably not worth your spell slots do this in order to recharge your Power Surge pool.
If you're worried about the cost to constantly cast and maintain Concentration, look at summoning spells. They typically have a 1-hour duration and many are very effective, so it's easy to fit them into your tactics. : If you're not maintaining Concentration on a spell, you should be casting a spell that requires Concentration. There are too many good Concentration spells for you to not have one running. The bonus to saves notably applies to your save to maintain Concentration, and combined with Arcane Deflection you're very effective at maintaining Concentration.
The damage from Deflecting Shroud isn't great, but there's no usage limitation and since it hits three targets at range it can easily out-damage cantrips. If you're facing groups of weak enemies they might hit you sheerly by making a large number of attacks or by including you in an area damage effect, and this will allow you to thin their numbers without spending expensive spell slots.
The damage also helps justify using Arcane Deflection at high levels by taking some of the sting out of giving up leveled spells for a turn. By this level your pool of spell slots is enormous, so limiting yourself to cantrips in many circumstances means that your turn is reduced to a tiny splash of damage where you could instead throw a leveled spell like Fireball or Chain Lightning.
If you want to trigger this easily, there's an ally can make an unarmed strike to hit you for 1+Strength damage to set this off, allowing you to get a bunch of extra damage before a turn where you may have already planned to cast a cantrip. If you don't have an ally handy, keep an angry rat in a sack, stick your hand into the sack, and wait for the rat to bite you. : You only get to use Arcane Deflection if you're hit by an attack or if you fail a saving throw, but Deflecting Shroud works even if Arcane Deflection doesn't negate the effect which triggered it, so you're always guaranteed the damage.