DnD 5e - Wizard Subclass Breakdown
Last Updated: December 8th, 2020
RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.
- : Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- : OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances.
- : Good options.
- : Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
I will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, even if it is my own, because I can't assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. I also won't cover Unearthed Arcana content because it's not finalized, and I can't guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.
The advice offered below is based on the current State of the Character Optimization Meta as of when the article was last updated. Keep in mind that the state of the meta periodically changes as new source materials are released and this article will be updating accordingly as time allows.
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. +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 boosts Concentration saves 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 cantrip you can make a ranged 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 three 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 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.
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 two 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, or 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. If you want the latter, a familiar is a fantastic choice. They're prohibited from making attacks, but nothing stops them from casting Fireball.
- : 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. Exhaustion rarely comes up, 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.
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.
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 with a cantrip. Still, you can use it as often as you like, which is nice.
- : 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 attack. Tragically, it only applies when you cast the spell so you can't repeatedly reposition targets to keep them inside areas of effect.
- : 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.
- : 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 ft., you're easily within reach for attacks and abilities with an sort of range, and since you need to concentrate on this if you take damage you might lost your signature feature for the day. Fortunately, this doesn't appear to care about cover, so you can do things like casting Stone Shape to erect a waist-high cylinder for cover then lie prone inside it to impose Disadvantage on ranged attacks against you.
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 the 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.
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 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 resistant 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 which you're safely behind cover, or to deliver short-range spells like Burning Hands or Thunderclap. 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 powerful and less subtle. 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. Thing of it like one of thos quadcopter drones, but your controls only work out to a range of 300 feet.
- : 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. 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 fo 525gp learning the spells to fuel a single use. : Advantage on Arcana checks is really nice, especially if you're using the rules for identifying spells presented in Xanathar's Guide to Everything.
I'm really surprised by Abjuration. In previous editions abjuration was an after-thought for Wizards. You took a couple of protective spells like Resist Energy to handle frequent niusances, but I don't know anyone who ever played a real Abjurer (Abjurant Champion doesn't count, 3.5 enthusiasts). School of Abjuration provides a really fantastic Ward mechanic, and really lends to the idea that the Wizard's magic is focus on defending himself and his allies.
- : A great source of what essentially amounts to temporary hit points, but since they aren't technically temporary hit points the two effects stack. You shouldn't need this frequently, but it's great to have, and it greatly reduces your need for Constitution. Of course, once you get Projected Ward this stops being about you, and starts being about keeping your party members alive.
- : 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.
- : 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.
- : 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.
Conjuration does a lot of things, but generally when you think of a conjurer you think of summoning creatures. The Concentration rules only allow you to have one Summon X spell running at a time, and the School of Conjuration only provides two summoning-centric abilities, and neither are fantastic. Overall, Scholl of Conjuration is lackluster, and you can get by as a Conjurer just fine without it.
- : Like creation spells, Minor Conjuration's effectiveness depends heavily on your creativity and on your DM's permissiveness. At the very least you can summon cylindrical logs and roll them around in dungeons to set of traps.
- : A great way to get around when there's enemies present, especially if you switch places with your Defender and drop him in the middle of a bunch of surprised enemies. Of course, this can be largely replaced by Misty Step, which can be used as a Bonus Action at the cost of a 2nd-level spell slot.
- : 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.
- : At high levels your best summon spell is Summon Celestial, which gets you a CR 5 creature. The flat number scale of 5e means that your pet will still be reasonably effective, but they will have considerably fewer hit points than a creature you can reasonably expect to face in combat. 30 hit points goes a long way to keep your summons alive, but by this level you can't expect these hit points to buy you more than one extra round of focused damage output.
Forewarned is fore-armed, and Divination is all about forewarning. If you ever walk into a room without knowin who and what is inside it, you aren't casting enough Divinations. The biggest problem with relying heavily on divinations is that they can quickly eat your spell slots with little tangible effect. Fortunately, Expert Divination dramatically reduces the cost of casting Divinations. Portent provides a wonderful mechanic to save your party from unlucky rolls by anyone at the table.
- : Roll high? Save it for important saving throws. 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.
- : 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.
- : Darkvision isn't a Divination, so this is a great way to get it for free. The other effects are replicated with See Invisibility and Comprehend Languages, which cost next to nothing to cast thanks to Expert Divination.
- : 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.
- : As a Wizard you should not spend a whole lot of time 5 feet away from enemies. But if you find yourself face to face with something unfriendly, flash those baby blues and hit it with your Hypnotic Gaze. This allows you to indefinitely lock down a single target. In an encounter where your allies outnumber the enemies (or at leas the significant ones) this is a great way to tilt the balance of the encounter in your favor, even if this also takes you out of the encounter.
- : This is a great way to make enemy ranged attackers hit their own allies (or at least your allies if the enemy doesn't have friends nearby. To use this in melee you will need to have an adjacent ally to draw fire.
- : 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.
- : This ability is the only Wizard ability which calls for Charisma, and it's extremeley situational. This could have easily been a spell.
Evocation is the blunt hammer of magic. It's not subtle, it's not elegant, and it's often imprecise. But hey, when 90% of problems are nails, the hammer is the king of tools. Evocation is a great option for players who are new to spellcasters because the spells are mechanically simple, and usually leave little room for interpretation of their effects. A couple of School of Evocation's abilities are problematic, but Scult Spells is great for new players, and Overchannel is a really exciting high-level ability.
- : 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. If you are ever at the point that half damage from a cantrip is essential, you are in a truly bad place, and should consider all of the poor life choices which led you to that point.
- Sage Advice, this bonus applies to each missile of magic missile and to all targets of an AOE, but only to one attack for multi-attack spells like Scorching Ray. This means that Magic Missile is a considerably better spell, and low-level AOEs like Burning Hands can still be decent damage sources as you level. : A bonus to damage like this is a considerable boost, especially for your low-level spells. According to
- Jeremy Crawford the effect was intended to only apply to the first damage roll for the spell. Check with your DM about how they want to handle things. : 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.
- : 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.
- : A simple solution to animate your illusions. Changing your illusions from a static image to something else periodically can be a very effective way to convince enemies that the illusion is real.
- : Ignore one attack against you for free, once per rest. Very good for a squishy Wizard.
- : This turns your illusions into creation spells. You can't directly harm enemies with them, but the rules say nothing about impeding, restraining, or blocking them. Throw up a Silent Image to create a wall of stone between you and your foes, or to put a cage around them.
Necromancy is a cool school. A lot of people want to summon an army of undead, then roll over their enemies. This is a great strategy, but make sure that your party is okay with the party being outnumbered by pets.
- : This won't work with cantrips (0*2=0), but it can be a nice way to heal yourself with your other spells. RAW you can use this on any creature, so there's nothing to stop your from pulling a wagon full of rabbits for you to eat when you need hit points.
- : Additional hit points and damage will make your pet undead considerably more lethal. Remember that having more undead will require you to spend more spell slots every day, so don't have too many.
- : Situational.
- : This is a very useful ability if you have enemies who also use undead, but the fact that intelligent undead (very common by this level) get Advantage on the save makes this ability had to use effectively. 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 one.
Transmutation gets you very little which you couldn't already get easily from other places.
- : 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.
- : 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. If you want Darkvision, cast Darkvision.
- : 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.
- : The Panacea and Restore Life options are very good, but both are situational.
Despite the flavor text, War Magic is primarily defensive. Power Surge is the only truly offensive ability, and it's mediocre. It has a lot of overlap with School of Abjuration, but where School of Abjuration focuses more on mitigating effects, War Magic attempts to prevent them entirely.
- : Shield provides a better AC bonus, but the real appeal here is the bonus to saves. +4 is enough to make a huge difference, but since it triggers on a reaction you'll want to avoid failing any further saves for the rest of the round.
- : 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 spellcaster it will be hard to charge your power surges. You could ask your allies to waste low-level spell slots so that you can dispel or counterspell them, but it's probably not worth the spell slots to do so.
- : 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.
- : You only get to use Arcane Deflection if you're hit by an attack, or if you fail a saving throw. But there's no reason an ally couldn't make an unarmed strike to hit you for 1 damage to set this off. If you don't want to be silly and let your friends treat you light a piñata full of damage output, this is still a great defensive mechanism. If you're facing groups of enemies they might hit you sheerly by making a large number of attacks, and this will allow you to thin their numbers in response.