skip to main content
RPGOT Logo

DnD 5e - Sorcerer Spell List Breakdown

Last Updated: April 13th, 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

The Sorcerer shares a lot with the Wizard, including the vast majority of their spells. However, the Sorcerer gets a strictly limited number of spells known and can't cast rituals, so sorcerers are forced to learn to rely on a smaller number of spells and adjust them using metamagic to make the tools available work in any given situation.

In addition to mastering metamagic, good sorcerer needs to know how and when to cast spells using a higher-level spell slot. Using higher-level slots to get more out of a low-level spell can be just as effective as learning a new high-level spell, all while working within your limited number of spells known. Staples like Fireball remain useful well past the first level that they become available, making them great options when you only get to know 15 spells at the absolute most.

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

Sorcerer 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.
  • Fire BoltPHB: Great range and solid damage. A good go-to option when all you need is damage.
  • 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.
  • Green-Flame 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.
  • 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.
  • True StrikePHB: Typically you'll get better results from attacking trice rather than using this then attacking once. However, the Sorcerer has the unique ability to quicken this before casting a spell which requires a Spell Attack on the same turn, dramatically improving the reliability of your leveled spell without consuming a second spell slot to cast it twice.

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.
  • 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.
  • Chaos BoltXGtE: Great single-targer damage for a 1st-level spell with decent range, and since the damage type is variable you can reliably pick a damage type that the target doesn't resist. Rolling doubles on 2d8 occurs just 12.5% of the time (1/8), so it's not a certainty but if you consider this a go-to option in combat you'll definitely see it happen a few times. It's also exclusive to the Sorcerer, which is fun.
  • 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: More predictable and reliable than Chaos Bolt, but not enough extra damage for it to make a difference, less range, and no chance to get a second attack. I think Chromatic Orb is a better, safer option, but Chaos Bolt is much more fun.
  • Color sprayPHB: The effect is not powerful or long enough to justify the spell slot.
  • Comprehend languagesPHB: A great way to handle language barriers, but you can't communicate back so you may need to cast this on the creature on the other side of the conversation, too. If you can, leave this for ritual casters.
  • Detect MagicPHB: Essential, but hopefully you can leave this for someone in the party who can cast rituals.
  • 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 sorcerers 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Charisma.
  • 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 65% of the time, so your expected damage with Chromatic Orb is just 8.775. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. Considering that the Sorcerer has such a limited number of spells known, getting multiple uses out of a single spell is crucial.
  • 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.
  • 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. You might even use Twinned Spell to save spell slots, or you might use Extend Spell to cast this before resting, then enjoy the 16-hour duration without cutting into your spell slots for the next day.
  • Dragon's BreathPHB: Great if you have a familiar or some other obedient, portable creature to cast this on, but otherwise not worth the spell slot. Tragically, sorcerers don't have Find Familiar on their spell list.
  • 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.
  • Enhance AbilityPGB: Fantastic and versatile. Eagle's Splendor on your party's Face make social interactions much easier, and Bull's Strength provides a huge edge while grappling.
  • 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.
  • 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 option 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 around 65% of the time, so you can expect an average of 65% of the damage from any effect which relies on an attack. Scorching Ray deals a total of 6d6 damage (avg. 21), and 65% of that is 13.65 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 the Sorcerer 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).
  • 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?
  • 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

  • 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. It's also hard to commit a spell known when you might need this every once in a while. Leave this for spellcasters who can more easily change their spell selection like wizards.
  • 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.
  • DaylightPHB: A Continual Flame, Light, or even a torch is typically sufficient, but sometimes you need to light up larger areas like dark battlefiends or massive caverns. This also dispels magical darkness of 3rd level or lower, which is great if you're fighting enemies like drow which can produce magical darkness. Tragically, you can't cast Daylight at a higher level to dispel magical darkness of higher levels.
  • 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 65% of the time, which means you're getting 65% of the maximum damage, so something like 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Resist EnergyPHB: A fantastic buff, especially if you can set it up ahead of time, but it's single-target and requires Concentration.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Wall of WaterEEPC / XGtE: Warding Wind also causes Disadvantage for ranged attacks and it's both a level lower and it follows you.
  • Water BreathingPHB: Situational. Leave this for someone who can cast rituals if you can.
  • Water WalkPHB: Usually flight is a better option than walking across a liquid. The spell notably doesn't allow a saving throw, so you can use this on hostile creatures underwater to force them to surface.

4th-Level Spells

  • BanishmentPHB: Among the most powerful save-or-suck spells in the game for several reasons. First, it's a Charisma saving throw and very few creatures are good at those. Second, many powerful enemies like fiends are exptraplanar, so you can easily remove them with a single spell (though many of them can cast Plane Shift to come right back, so watch out for that). Finally, casting the spell at a higher level allows you to target additional creatures so you can remove big parts of an encounter for up to a minute, deal with anything that passes the initial round of banishment, then prep yourself for everything else to drop back in while your party stands around with readied actions.
  • 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.
  • Dimension DoorPHB: Misty step usually suffices, and Misty Step is cast as a Bonus Action.
  • Dominate BeastPHB: Beasts tend to have poor Wisdom saves, and there is rarely a better way to handle a potentially hostile creature than by dominating it. This spell can trivialize an entire creature type, which is impressive for a spell at this level, and the scaling is good enough that using a higher-level spell slot is appealing if you encounter a sufficiently powerful beast that you could reasonably drag it through a few encounters. Even if the spell ends prematurely, beasts aren't especially smart and they might view the creatures which you were forcing them to fight as enemies and continue fighting them, or they might simply flee if they are injured. Beasts rarely fight to their last hit point unless they're defending their young or something. They're animals, not zealots.
  • Greater InvisibilityPHB: Invisibility in 5e is really good, and running around for a full minute being almost impossible to target is a huge advantage.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • StoneskinPHB: A decent buff, but at this level magic attacks are common.
  • 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).
  • 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: Similar to Maximilian's Earthen Grasp, but you can move it around and it can affect multiple targets. While those are fantastic improvements, targets get to make additional saves at the end of each turn without spending an Action like they must with Maximilian's Earthen Grasp or Web. Given the choice, I would use Web before I considered Watery Sphere.

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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Insect PlaguePHB: Combining both ongoing damage and difficult terrain, Insect Plague is a good area control option, further improved because you can place it in the air or underwater, rather than on the ground. However, the radius isn't big enough to prevent a creature from escaping if its willing to spend its Action to Dash, so look for other ways to force the creature to stay inside the sphere like shoving, tripping, or casting Wall of Stone.
  • SeemingPHB: Very situational. Most campaigns won't make this useful often enough for the Sorcerer to commit one of their limited spells known to this.
  • Skill EmpowermentXGtE: Conceptually, this is a great spell. By the time you can cast it, proficiency bonuses will be at least +4, mathematically exceedin the average increase of roughly 3.5 from Advantage which the target might recieve from Empower Ability. Skill Empowerment pulls ahead of Empower Ability as proficiency bonuses increase, but that doesn't necessarily allow to replace Enhance Ability. Enhance Ability is 3 spell levels lower, has the same duration, and applies to all ability checks for one ability score rather than just a single skill. In cast like sending your party's Face to negotiate, you may want broader coverage than one skill so that the target can use different skills rather than forcing them to rely on the one you picked for Skill Empowerment. Skill Empowerment also won't stack with existing Expertise, which both bards and rogues recieve, so in many parties your most-likely recipient won't benefit. Skill Empowerment is by no means a bad spell, it just only works better than Enhance Ability in certain circumstances on certain characters, and since sorcerers get so few spells known you really need to get as much as possible out of each spell you know.
  • 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.
  • 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

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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.
  • Fire StormPHB: Fireball cast at the same level does slightly more damage (12d6, avg. 42 vs. 7d10, avg. 35). The primary appeal of Fire Storm over Fireball is that you can sculpt the AOE to avoid hitting your allies. But even then, Chain Lightning deals more damage (10d8, avg. 45) and hits four targets, so in many encounters that's a better option. Fire Storm really shines against big crowds where the 10 10-foot cubes can catch a big number of enemies without affecting your allies. But those situations are rare, and in many cases lower-level options like Circle of Death can be really effective and may be able to hit more targets if you're not worried about hitting your allies.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • EarthquakePHB: A powerful area control spell, but you don't want to be within the 100 ft. radius, and because you don't get the control the appearance of fissures you also can't risk placing it with enemies near the edges. You also can't don't want to risk using it inside or in an area where a nearby structure will fall on your. So you need to center the effect on your targets as much as possible, you need to be at a safe distance from the center point, and you may need some extra space to avoid falling structures. If you can manage those parameters and still manage to put the spell where you want (consider flying), this can level a city with an Action. Concentrating on the spell doesn't do anything except maintain the difficult terrain, which means that you get almost all of the spell's effects in one turn, so feel free to drop Concentration and siwtch to something else.
  • 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.
  • 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: Imagine fireball with three times the radius and it blinds the targets. The targets get a Constitution save every turn to remove the blindness so you can't expect it to stay in effect for long, but the save is at the end of their turns so they'll spend at least one turn blinded if they fail the initial save, and that may be enough to determine the outcome of the encounter.

9th-Level Spells

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.