A robed man surrounded by candles.

Mikaeus, the Lunarch by Steven Belledin

Last week, I wrapped up my bard subclass rankings. Now, it’s time for the cleric. As a reminder, there are three main categories I look at as I judge the power level of each subclass: combat strength, allowance for a range of powerful builds, and how it interacts with multiclassing. Since the cleric has a whopping 14 subclasses, this is going to be a 3-part post, starting with the bottom 5.

14. Knowledge

A robed woman with a glowing book.
Augusta, Dean of Order by Bryan Sola

The cleric is a class that derives much of its power from its base features, meaning that many of its subclasses play a supporting role rather than a defining one. Even with this in mind, the Knowledge domain does little to augment the cleric’s power. However, as with any subclass that relies heavily on open-ended spells like Command and Suggestion, your mileage will vary depending on how your GM interprets those abilities.

Level 1 – Domain Spells

Cleric Level Spells
1st commandidentify
3rd augurysuggestion
5th nondetectionspeak with dead
7th arcane eyeconfusion
9th legend lorescrying

With five of the ten spells here already on the cleric’s spell list, this feature is not off to a great start. Clerics already have more available spells than they know what to do with,* and they can swap out those spells every long rest, making redundant domain spells very lackluster. Looking at the remaining five spells, Confusion is the only one that even breaks into decent territory.

Level 1 – Blessings of Knowledge

You learn two languages of your choice. You also become proficient in your choice of two of the following skills: ArcanaHistoryNature, or Religion.

Your proficiency bonus is doubled for any ability check you make that uses either of those skills.

Learning extra languages, while nice, is still a minor power bump in my mind. This becomes even more evident once the Tongues spell is available to the cleric, removing any potential problems caused by language barriers.

The proficiencies and expertise would be pretty good, except that every one of the skills on offer are based on intelligence rather than wisdom. If you aren’t using intelligence for your spell or attack features, then it is one of the worst attributes out there. Requiring a Knowledge cleric to put points into an additional attribute to get the most from their feature is quite bad.

Level 2 – Channel Divinity: Knowledge of the Ages

As an action, you choose one skill or tool. For 10 minutes, you have proficiency with the chosen skill or tool.

Thanks to Tasha’s, all clerics can now expend their Channel Divinity to get a precious spell slot, which is way more useful than a single proficiency for ten minutes even if there aren’t any undead around to turn. If the proficiency bonus applied to more skills or if the duration were longer, this might be good. As is, I am not enthused.

Level 6 – Channel Divinity: Read Thoughts

As an action, choose one creature that you can see within 60 feet of you. That creature must make a Wisdom saving throw. If the creature succeeds on the saving throw, you can’t use this feature on it again until you finish a long rest.

If the creature fails its save, you can read its surface thoughts (those foremost in its mind, reflecting its current emotions and what it is actively thinking about) when it is within 60 feet of you. This effect lasts for 1 minute.

During that time, you can use your action to end this effect and cast the suggestion spell on the creature without expending a spell slot. The target automatically fails its saving throw against the spell.

A level 6 feature that combines two middling 2nd level spells, Suggestion and Detect Thoughts. By this point, the Knowledge cleric can already cast Suggestion, so a couple more noncombat uses of the spell is not hugely helpful. The Detect Thoughts portion is a little better, as clerics don’t normally have access to it, but it’s still not worth a 6th level feature. This is better than the previous Channel Divinity option, but still generally worse than getting a spell slot back.

Level 8 – Potent Spellcasting or Blessed Strikes

Potent Spellcasting. You add your Wisdom modifier to the damage you deal with any cleric cantrip.

Blessed Strikes. When a creature takes damage from one of your cantrips or weapon attacks, you can also deal 1d8 radiant damage to that creature. Once you deal this damage, you can’t use this feature again until the start of your next turn.

The level 8 cleric subclass feature slot is one of the weirder ones in 5E. It seems like Wizards of the Coast wanted to have a generic feature at this level, but for whatever reason decided they couldn’t do that. Instead, every cleric subclass has some flavor of increased weapon damage or cantrip damage, depending on what role they were intended to play. Tasha’s even added the generic Blessed Strikes option, which all clerics can now choose instead of their normal level 8 ability, just to split the difference.

For cantrip-based Knowledge clerics who plan to raise their wisdom to 20, Potent Spellcasting is better, whereas Blessed Strike wins out if you want to make weapon attacks. However, your damage won’t be great either way.

Level 17 – Visions of the Past

You spend at least 1 minute in meditation and prayer, then receive dreamlike, shadowy glimpses of recent events. You can meditate in this way for a number of minutes equal to your Wisdom score and must maintain concentration during that time, as if you were casting a spell.

Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

Object Reading. Holding an object as you meditate, you can see visions of the object’s previous owner. After meditating for 1 minute, you learn how the owner acquired and lost the object, as well as the most recent significant event involving the object and that owner. If the object was owned by another creature in the recent past (within a number of days equal to your Wisdom score), you can spend 1 additional minute for each owner to learn the same information about that creature.
Area Reading. As you meditate, you see visions of recent events in your immediate vicinity (a room, street, tunnel, clearing, or the like, up to a 50-foot cube), going back a number of days equal to your Wisdom score. For each minute you meditate, you learn about one significant event, beginning with the most recent. Significant events typically involve powerful emotions, such as battles and betrayals, marriages and murders, births and funerals. However, they might also include more mundane events that are nevertheless important in your current situation.

It is very hard to assign a general power level to this ability. In combat it does literally nothing, which isn’t a great start. However, its potential outside of combat is extremely high in a game that revolves around mysteries. Unfortunately, by level 17 a party will have so much powerful information-gathering magic that this feature will be largely redundant.

A weak spell list combined with weak features leaves little to recommend with the Knowledge domain. Fourteenth place for this nerd.

13. Arcana

An elven woman summoning a ball of fire.
Containment Priest by Jesper Eising

If someone pitched me a subclass idea of “What if cleric but also wizard?” I’d say that’d probably be overpowered, given that clerics and wizards are two of the best classes in 5E. Somehow, the Arcana domain not only manages to avoid being overpowered but also ends up being one of the weakest cleric subclasses.

Level 1 – Domain Spells

Cleric Level Spells
1st detect magicmagic missile
3rd magic weaponNystul’s magic aura
5th dispel magicmagic circle
7th arcane eyeLeomund’s secret chest
9th planar bindingteleportation circle

Much like the Knowledge domain’s spells, many of these are already available to all clerics, and those that aren’t are middling to bad. Magic Missile is probably my favorite, but it is not good enough to make up for all the duds on this list.

Level 1 – Arcane Initiate

You gain proficiency in the Arcana skill, and you gain two cantrips of your choice from the wizard spell list. For you, these cantrips count as cleric cantrips.

Also like the Knowledge domain, Arcana is not a skill most clerics will be good at, even with proficiency. Unlike Knowledge, at least Arcana clerics get two additional cantrips from a list they don’t normally have access to, making this feature slightly better.

Level 2 – Channel Divinity: Arcane Abjuration

As an action, you present your holy symbol, and one celestial, elemental, fey, or fiend of your choice that is within 30 feet of you must make a Wisdom saving throw, provided that the creature can see or hear you. If the creature fails its saving throw, it is turned for 1 minute or until it takes any damage.

A turned creature must spend its turns trying to move as far away from you as it can, and it can’t willingly end its move in a space within 30 feet of you. It also can’t take reactions. For its action, it can use only the Dash action or try to escape from an effect that prevents it from moving. If there’s nowhere to move, then the creature can use the Dodge action.

After you reach 5th level, when a creature fails its saving throw against your Arcane Abjuration feature, the creature is banished for 1 minute (as in the banishment spell, no concentration required) if it isn’t on its plane of origin, and its challenge rating is at or below a certain threshold, as shown below.

Arcane Banishment
Cleric level Banishes Creatures of CR…
5th 1/2 or lower
8th 1 or lower
11th 2 or lower
14th 3 or lower
17th 4 or lower

I’m not sure what about being a wizard/cleric hybrid means you’re strong against celestial, elemental, and fey creatures, but that’s what we have. This ability is highly situational, but when it does work, the turn effect is very good, as the creature does not get repeat saves.

The Banishment portion of this ability is definitely the weaker effect. While the spell Banishment is very good, the strict CR limitations of this feature means that by the time you can banish a creature with this ability, it’s weak enough that it’s probably not worth your time.

Level 6 – Spell Breaker

When you restore hit points to an ally with a spell of 1st level or higher, you can also end one spell of your choice on that creature. The level of the spell you end must be equal to or lower than the level of the spell slot you use to cast the healing spell.

This feature can be very strong, ending spells like Hold Person or Confusion with as little as a Healing Word. However, it does have some limitations. The first is that it only works on spells and not magical effects like a dragon’s fear aura. The second is that the target you wish to end an effect on must be damaged. If they’re not, then you can have the goofy situation of the cleric trying to hurt their friend so they can heal them and end whatever spell effect is on them.

Level 8 – Potent Spellcasting or Blessed Strikes

Potent Spellcasting. You add your Wisdom modifier to the damage you deal with any cleric cantrip.

Blessed Strikes. When a creature takes damage from one of your cantrips or weapon attacks, you can also deal 1d8 radiant damage to that creature. Once you deal this damage, you can’t use this feature again until the start of your next turn.

Another case of Potent Spellcasting if you’re going for cantrips and Blessed Strikes if you’re not.

Level 17 – Arcane Mastery

You choose four spells from the Wizard spell list, one from each of the following levels: 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th. You add them to your list of domain spells. Like your other domain spells, they are always prepared and count as cleric spells for you.

A truly amazing feature, it’s just too bad that it’s gained at level 17. Obviously adding four powerful spells from the best spell list in the game is good. If Arcana clerics got a weaker form of this feature at earlier levels or some progression of wizard spells as they leveled up, I’d have ranked the subclass higher.

A subclass that becomes great at level 17 is still bad unless you plan to start at those high levels. If so, Arcana is an excellent choice; if not, it gets 13th place.

12. Trickery

A bald man leaping through the air, trailed by shadows.
Zagras, Thief of Heartbeats by Anna Steinbauer

I went into this list assuming the Trickery domain would be last place, given some of its truly awful subclass features. While it managed to save itself with a good subclass spell list, Trickery is unable to climb any higher than the best of the worst.

Level 1 – Domain Spells

Cleric Level Spells
1st charm persondisguise self
3rd mirror imagepass without trace
5th blinkdispel magic
7th dimension doorpolymorph
9th dominate personmodify memory

Down here in the depths of weak cleric subclasses, a powerful domain spell list can make all the difference. With standout non-cleric spells like Pass Without Trace, Polymorph, and Dimension Door, the Trickery domain at least has some good spells to look forward to.

Level 1 – Blessing of the Trickster

You can use your action to touch a willing creature other than yourself to give it advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks. This blessing lasts for 1 hour or until you use this feature again.

The other good feature Trickery clerics get. Granting permanent advantage to your sneaky character’s stealth checks is a powerful bonus. I just wish it were part of a better subclass.

Level 2 – Channel Divinity: Invoke Duplicity

As an action, you create a perfect illusion of yourself that lasts for 1 minute, or until you lose your concentration (as if you were concentrating on a spell). The illusion appears in an unoccupied space that you can see within 30 feet of you. As a bonus action on your turn, you can move the illusion up to 30 feet to a space you can see, but it must remain within 120 feet of you.

For the duration, you can cast spells as though you were in the illusion’s space, but you must use your own senses. Additionally, when both you and your illusion are within 5 feet of a creature that can see the illusion, you have advantage on attack rolls against that creature, given how distracting the illusion is to the target.

We now get to the worst part of the Trickery cleric: its main gimmick. The idea of illusory copies is a cool one, invoking characters like Loki or Puck that trick everyone around them. Unfortunately, that fantasy is not realized by this feature.

The first major problem is that this supposed combat feature costs both an action and your concentration. These are the two most valuable resources a character has, and what you get for spending those resources is definitely not worth it.

Speaking of what you get, the second problem is how weak your illusion is once you make it. You can cast spells using the illusion’s location as the origin for the spell, although you still need to be able to see your target yourself. This is only useful on the rare occasion when you can see a target but aren’t in range of it.

You can also use your illusion to give you advantage on attack rolls while you’re both near the target, similar to Pack Tactics. Unfortunately, clerics are poorly equipped to take advantage of such a bonus as they never get the extra attack feature.

Besides these two effects, the illusion does nothing else. It doesn’t draw attacks or have any mechanics for tricking or confusing opponents. Most of the time, this concentration ability will be weaker than the 1st level Find Familiar spell.

Level 6 – Channel Divinity: Cloak of Shadows

As an action, you become invisible until the end of your next turn. You become visible if you attack or cast a spell.

While slightly better than your illusion, this use of your Channel Divinity is also awful. In combat, this amounts to a slightly improved Dodge action. Most creatures will attack you with disadvantage as if you had dodged, with the added bonus that spells and abilities that require sight on the target also fail. The best use for this I can think of is to spend one action going invisible and then a second action to try and hide. Spending two actions to maybe hide is very weak. Outside of combat, the effect’s duration is far too short to be used for any kind of sneak attempt.

Level 8 – Divine Strike or Blessed Strikes

Divine Strike. Once on each of your turns when you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can cause the attack to deal an extra 1d8 poison damage to the target. When you reach 14th level, the extra damage increases to 2d8.

Blessed Strikes. When a creature takes damage from one of your cantrips or weapon attacks, you can also deal 1d8 radiant damage to that creature. Once you deal this damage, you can’t use this feature again until the start of your next turn.

The first entry on this list that is significantly improved by the generic Tasha’s option. Trickery’s Divine Strike is bad for two reasons. It pushes the subclass toward weapons, something it’s not great at, and it does poison damage, the worst damage type to deal.* Blessed Strike still isn’t great for Trickery, but it is an improvement.

Level 17 – Improved Duplicity

You can create up to four duplicates of yourself, instead of one, when you use Invoke Duplicity. As a bonus action on your turn, you can move any number of them up to 30 feet, to a maximum range of 120 feet.

Now you can make four bad illusions instead of one. The power of this capstone is based entirely on the base feature’s power. Since that ability is garbage, so is this one.

The Trickery domain escapes being the worst subclass thanks to its good spell list and strong buff to a party member’s stealth check, but it’s still not great. Can’t trick me, 12th place.

11. Death

A woman with black robes and a big staff.
Shadowborn Apostle by Lucas Gracino

Alongside the Oathbreaker paladin, the Death domain was an evil subclass released in the Dungeon Master’s Guide to use for NPCs instead of the Player’s Handbook. If the intent of these subclasses was to create overpowered villain powers that players couldn’t access, it certainly failed with the Death cleric.

Level 1 – Domain Spells

Cleric Level Spells
1st false liferay of sickness
3rd blindness/deafnessray of enfeeblement
5th animate deadvampiric touch
7th blightdeath ward
9th antilife shellcloudkill

This is a middling spell list at best. Blight and Antilife Shell are the only decent non-cleric spells on here, and they aren’t available till higher levels.

Level 1 – Bonus Proficiency

You gain proficiency with martial weapons.

This is the beginning of a tug-of-war over whether the Death cleric wants to use a weapon or cantrips as their main damage option. I’ll spoil it now: cantrips are by far the better option, making this feature almost completely useless.

Level 1 – Reaper

You learn one necromancy cantrip of your choice from any spell list. When you cast a necromancy cantrip that normally targets only one creature, the spell can instead target two creatures within range and within 5 feet of each other.

Speaking of cantrips being better, this is the feature that settles that debate. When this subclass was made, the only damaging necromancy cantrip was Chill Touch. The problems with that cantrip were that it only dealt d8s and its extra effects were situational. Now that we have Toll the Dead dealing d12s, this ability gets a lot stronger.

When you factor in multiclassing, this feature goes from good to something that can rival Eldritch Blast builds for cantrip-based damage. With at least 1 level in Death cleric added to sorcerer levels, you can use the Quickened Spell Metamagic to throw out four instances of Toll the Dead per round. This comes out to 8d12 per round at the cost of 2 sorcery points. This single build idea isn’t enough to push Death higher on the list, but it points to some interesting build space I haven’t seen explored often.

Level 2 – Channel Divinity: Touch of Death

When you hit a creature with a melee attack, you can use Channel Divinity to deal extra necrotic damage to the target. The damage equals 5 + twice your cleric level.

If you can find a way to use this with a melee attack cantrip like Shocking Grasp or Booming Blade, this ability is a decent damage boost. Unfortunately, the cleric doesn’t get any melee cantrips, so you’ll have to use feats or multiclassing to do the trick. If your only option is to use a melee weapon, then you’re probably better off converting your Channel Divinity into a spell slot using the Tasha’s option.

Level 6 – Inescapable Destruction

Your ability to channel negative energy becomes more potent. Necrotic damage dealt by your cleric spells and Channel Divinity options ignores resistance to necrotic damage.

A nice boost to any necrotic damage we deal, especially in an undead-heavy game, as most of the 74 necrotic-resistant monsters fall into that monster type.

Level 8 – Divine Strike or Blessed Strikes

Divine Strike. Once on each of your turns when you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can cause the attack to deal an extra 1d8 necrotic damage to the target. When you reach 14th level, the extra damage increases to 2d8.

Blessed Strikes. When a creature takes damage from one of your cantrips or weapon attacks, you can also deal 1d8 radiant damage to that creature. Once you deal this damage, you can’t use this feature again until the start of your next turn.

Oh, how I wish this were Potent Spellcasting, which some other cleric subclasses get. Adding our wisdom modifier to each casting of Toll the Dead would be a huge boost. Unfortunately, boosting our weapon attacks is a trap, so we’re stuck with Blessed Strikes only adding 1d8 per turn.

Level 17 – Improved Reaper

When you cast a necromancy spell of 1st through 5th-level that targets only one creature, the spell can instead target two creatures within range and within 5 feet of each other. If the spell consumes its material components, you must provide them for each target.

For something that claims to be “improved,” this feature is significantly worse than the cantrip version at level 1. Looking at cleric necromancy spells, there are very few options that make use of this ability. Inflict Wounds is the best damage option, and Bestow Curse is a decent debuff. Neither of these are something I’d be happy spending my turn on at level 17.

While I’m excited to explore the possibility of a new cantrip build, that on its own isn’t enough to take the Death domain any higher than 11th place.*

10. War

A human man with a glowing sword.
Ondu War Cleric by Ben Maier

Cracking the top ten, we have the first dedicated martial cleric subclass. I really like the idea of the War cleric, mixing traditional martial options with the cleric’s powerful casting kit. Unfortunately, I think Wizards missed the mark on bringing that idea to life.

Level 1 – Domain Spells

Cleric Level Spells
1st divine favorshield of faith
3rd magic weaponspiritual weapon
5th crusader’s mantlespirit guardians
7th freedom of movementstoneskin
9th flame strikehold monster

Back to spell lists with half their options already on the cleric’s spell list. The remaining entries aren’t particularly exciting either. Stoneskin is probably the best non-cleric spell, but concentration and 100 gold per cast is a steep price when Spirit Guardians is an option.

Level 1 – Bonus Proficiency

You gain proficiency with martial weapons and heavy armor.

If you want to be a front-line melee cleric, these proficiencies are must-haves. In practice I’d say the heavy armor is by far the better inclusion, but I won’t say no to the weapons either.

Level 1 – War Priest

When you use the Attack action, you can make one weapon attack as a bonus action. You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Wisdom modifier (a minimum of once). You regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.

This is the big failure of the War subclass. Any attempt at a martial caster needs the extra attack feature to make their weapons worth using. This is a pale imitation of that feature. Not only is this “extra” attack limited use, but it also costs a bonus action. One possible solution would be to replace this feature with something else and give a true extra attack at level 6. Instead, we are stuck with something too weak to make a real martial character but still taking up a feature slot.

Level 2 – Channel Divinity: Guided Strike

You can use your Channel Divinity to strike with supernatural accuracy. When you make an attack roll, you can use your Channel Divinity to gain a +10 bonus to the roll. You make this choice after you see the roll, but before the DM says whether the attack hits or misses.

A decent option, although most of the time getting back a spell slot with Tasha’s option will be a better choice than making sure a single attack hits.

Level 6 – Channel Divinity: War God’s Blessing

When a creature within 30 feet of you makes an attack roll, you can use your reaction to grant that creature a +10 bonus to the roll, using your Channel Divinity. You make this choice after you see the roll, but before the DM says whether the attack hits or misses.

If you have a rogue in your party, this feature is good, as it helps ensure the class’s single high-damage attack lands. If you don’t, then this has the same issues as the level 2 version.

Level 8 – Divine Strike or Blessed Strikes

Divine Strike. Once on each of your turns when you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can cause the attack to deal an extra 1d8 damage of the same type dealt by the weapon to the target. When you reach 14th level, the extra damage increases to 2d8.

Blessed Strikes. When a creature takes damage from one of your cantrips or weapon attacks, you can also deal 1d8 radiant damage to that creature. Once you deal this damage, you can’t use this feature again until the start of your next turn.

Another missed opportunity to give War clerics an extra attack. If you are trying to make the weapon cleric work, then go with Divine Strike; otherwise, take Blessed Strikes.

Level 17 – Avatar of Battle

You gain resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage from nonmagical weapons.

A solid capstone, although it will look pretty sad when we get to the Forge cleric.

Honestly, the only feature I can recommend from the War domain is its heavy armor proficiency. Trying to focus on weapons means more restrictive attribute requirements, worse spell casting, and trying to compensate for the lack of extra attack. The War is lost at 10th place. Next week, we’ll continue our trek through the cleric subclasses ranks nine to five.

I have also created a tier list for those of you that are interested.

Treat your friends to an evening of dark ritual murder. In a fictional game scenario, of course. Uncover your lost memories and save the day in our stand-alone game, The Voyage.

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