Roleplaying

D&D 5E Cleric Subclasses Ranked, Part 2

A woman with a sword and a scroll.

Inspiring Cleric by Randy Gallegos

Last time, we began our journey through the cleric’s 14 subclasses. Now, we continue that journey. As a reminder, there are three main categories I am looking 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. So, let’s dive back into cleric subclasses with the next five entries.

9. Tempest

A woman with feathery wings and a lightning sword. Righteous Valkyrie by Chris Rahn

For a subclass supposedly themed around the powers of lightning and thunder, the Tempest cleric does a remarkably poor job of realizing that fantasy. The most common use I’ve seen for this subclass is as a multiclass dip to maximize damage spells of other casters like sorcerers or wizards. Without help from another class’s spell list, Tempest clerics are left without some of the mainstay spells that any master of storms should have.

Level 1 – Domain Spells

Cleric Level Spells
1st fog cloudthunderwave
3rd gust of windshatter
5th call lightningsleet storm
7th control waterice storm
9th destructive waveinsect plague

Speaking of spells, here we have the main problem with this subclass. The biggest omission here is the 3rd level Lightning Bolt spell, but it’s also missing higher level options like Chain Lightning and Storm of Vengeance. Wizards of the Coast either didn’t realize how much these missing spells would hurt the subclass or were unwilling to deviate from their established Domain Spells format of two spells per slot level 1–5, but the end result is a storm cleric with few storm spells.

Level 1 – Bonus Proficiencies

You gain proficiency with martial weapons and heavy armor.

Heavy armor is almost always good, and its use for this subclass is no exception. The martial weapons are a lot less useful, as clerics continue to suffer from a lack of Extra Attack features.

Level 1 – Wrath of the Storm

You can thunderously rebuke attackers. When a creature within 5 feet of you that you can see hits you with an attack, you can use your reaction to cause the creature to make a Dexterity saving throw. The creature takes 2d8 lightning or thunder damage (your choice) on a failed saving throw, and half as much damage on a successful one.

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.

For a class that lacks a consistent use for its reaction, this ability provides a solid amount of early level damage. However, characters past level 5 will see the damage fall off significantly due to lack of scaling.

Level 2 – Channel Divinity: Destructive Wrath

When you roll lightning or thunder damage, you can use your Channel Divinity to deal maximum damage, instead of rolling.

Remember the lack of important lightning and thunder spells I talked about earlier? This is where that lack deals a huge blow to this subclass’s power. This ability should be incredibly strong. Evocation wizards have to wait till level 14 for a similar feature that is arguably weaker. Unfortunately, the subclass’s lack of good spells to pair with this feature makes it surprisingly lackluster.

Level 6 – Thunderbolt Strike

When you deal lightning damage to a Large or smaller creature, you can also push it up to 10 feet away from you.

Much like the subclass’s Channel Divinity, this feature is let down by a lack of support. Tempest clerics have two spells that deal lightning damage: Call Lightning and Glyph of Warding. Call Lightning is the more generally useful of the two; however, it still requires the caster to be outside or in a room capable of accommodating the spell’s full width and height.

These spells are also both 3rd level, which is a large enough resource investment that many clerics will be hesitant to use it on suboptimal spells just to activate this ability. If the Tempest domain had lower level spells that could make use of this feature like Shocking Grasp and Dragon’s Breath, I’d be more excited about it, but as is, there’s not enough to make use of this ability.

Level 8 – Divine Strike or Blessed Strikes

Divine Strike. You gain the ability to infuse your weapon strikes with divine energy. 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 thunder 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.

If this subclass’s Divine Strike dealt lightning damage instead of thunder, it could be used in combination with Thunderbolt Strike for a melee cleric that shoves enemies around with their attacks. Instead, we have no synergy between those two features, and like many Divine Strike subclasses, you’ll be better off with Blessed Strikes and cantrips.

Level 17 – Stormborn

You have a flying speed equal to your current walking speed whenever you are not underground or indoors.

I won’t ever say permanent flight, even if it’s conditional, is a bad thing to have. However, when many subclasses pick up flight in the early teen levels with no restrictions, it shows just how underpowered this brand of flight is compared to the competition. This feature should have had its restriction removed, something added to the ability, or have gained it at an earlier level.

Much like the War cleric, the Tempest domain is a subclass that I wish was good. The idea of a cleric dealing out justice with flashes of lightning and claps of thunder gives me some great Thor vibes. Unfortunately, the subclass is very underwhelming as a monoclassed option, and even its multiclass builds aren’t anything special. A not particularly shocking ninth place.

8. Light

An armored woman summoning light. Daybreak Chaplain by Volkan Baga

For anyone looking to cleanse their enemies with holy fire, the Light domain is here to deliver. Funnily enough, this subclass does a better job of combining wizards and clerics than the Arcana domain does until level 17.

Level 1 – Domain Spells

Cleric Level Spells
1st burning handsfaerie fire
3rd flaming spherescorching ray
5th daylightfireball
7th guardian of faithwall of fire
9th flame strikescrying

This is a great spell list with plenty of strong options not normally available to the cleric. Faerie Fire is a great concentration spell at early levels, Flaming Sphere and Scorching Ray give the cleric some 2nd level ranged spells, and of course Fireball is a spell any caster is happy to see on their list.

Level 1 – Bonus Cantrip

You gain the light cantrip if you don’t already know it.

I won’t turn down a free cantrip, but given that Light is already available to clerics, I’d put this feature at middling usefulness.

Level 1 – Warding Flare

When you are attacked by a creature within 30 feet of you that you can see, you can use your reaction to impose disadvantage on the attack roll, causing light to flare before the attacker before it hits or misses. An attacker that can’t be blinded is immune to this feature.

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.

A decent damage avoidance feature is welcome on a subclass stuck in medium armor. It’s no Shield spell, but then again, what is?

Level 2 – Channel Divinity: Radiance of the Dawn

As an action, you present your holy symbol, and any magical darkness within 30 feet of you is dispelled. Additionally, each hostile creature within 30 feet of you must make a Constitution saving throw. A creature takes radiant damage equal to 2d10 + your cleric level on a failed saving throw, and half as much damage on a successful one. A creature that has total cover from you is not affected.

A decent area damage ability that is sure to annoy any Darkness users in your party. At early levels this will be one of the best damage options your party will have, but the damage doesn’t scale enough to keep up with enemy hit points in the mid and late game.

Level 6 – Improved Flare

You can also use your Warding Flare feature when a creature that you can see within 30 feet of you attacks a creature other than you.

Now your defensive ability can be used to help your friends. Great. The biggest problem I have with this and Warding Flare is that you have to use it before the roll is made, increasing the chance it’ll be wasted on an attack that would already miss.

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.

This cleric will want to stay in the backline and throw cantrips for basic damage, making Potent Spellcasting the superior choice here.

Level 17 – Corona of Light

You can use your action to activate an aura of sunlight that lasts for 1 minute or until you dismiss it using another action. You emit bright light in a 60-foot radius and dim light 30 feet beyond that. Your enemies in the bright light have disadvantage on saving throws against any spell that deals fire or radiant damage.

There are two main problems with this capstone. The first is that it takes an action to use; instead of setting things up to make your future spells better, you could simply be casting another spell. The second problem is that clerics don’t have a 9th level spell that deals fire or radiant damage.

If the cleric is allowed to set up this ability prior to a fight or can combine this feature with someone casting a spell like Meteor Swarm, it can be incredibly effective, but on its own, it’s a bit awkward for my liking.

Despite its low ranking, I’m a big fan of the Light domain. I think it fills an important niche for monoclassed clerics to dispense holy fire. If the subclass had gotten heavy armor, it would have climbed higher, but for now it lights up the darkness in eighth place.

7. Nature

A green woman with plants in her hair and on her shoulders. Etani, Nature Whisperer by Alexandra Petruk

From the wizard-cleric to the druid-cleric, we have the Nature domain. While I don’t think this subclass realizes the druidic fantasy, lacking any sort of transformation effects like the druid’s Wild Shape, it has a couple of powerful features that pushed it to this spot on the list.

Level 1 – Domain Spells

Nature Domain Spells
Cleric Level Spells
1st animal friendshipspeak with animals
3rd barkskinspike growth
5th plant growthwind wall
7th dominate beastgrasping vine
9th insect plaguetree stride

Out of all the spell lists we’ve looked at so far, the Nature domain is by far the list with the most non-cleric spells. Nine of the ten spells here are new additions to the cleric class. The only problem is that all of these spells are either niche or just plain bad. I can see Spike Growth and Plant Growth getting some use as battlefield control spells, and Tree Stride adds a form of teleportation* to a class normally without it.

Level 1 – Acolyte of Nature

You learn one druid cantrip of your choice. You also gain proficiency in one of the following skills of your choice: Animal HandlingNature, or Survival.

An extra cantrip is always nice, as is a skill proficiency. This feature does allow for a cleric to acquire the Shillelagh cantrip, making a build with heavy armor that uses wisdom for both spellcasting and attacks. Anyone making this build still needs to figure out how to get Extra Attack, but there’s some potential there.

Level 1 – Bonus Proficiency

You gain proficiency with heavy armor.

One of the two great features this subclass gets. Combined with the ability I cover later, this allows for a decent frontline protector.

Level 2 – Channel Divinity: Charm Animals and Plants

As an action, you present your holy symbol and invoke the name of your deity. Each beast or plant creature that can see you within 30 feet of you must make a Wisdom saving throw. If the creature fails its saving throw, it is charmed by you for 1 minute or until it takes damage. While it is charmed by you, it is friendly to you and other creatures you designate.

At very early levels where enemies like wolves make frequent appearances, this can be a very powerful ability. Outside of that, most Nature clerics will find themselves using the Tasha’s Channel Divinity option to regain spell slots instead.

Level 6 – Dampen Elements

When you or a creature within 30 feet of you takes acid, cold, fire, lightning, or thunder damage, you can use your reaction to grant resistance to the creature against that instance of the damage.

The second great feature of this subclass, this is essentially unlimited uses of Absorb Elements that you can cast on your allies as well as yourself. I would love it if this feature granted resistance for an entire turn like the spell does, but even in this weaker form, it’s a powerful ability.

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 cold, fire, or lightning damage (your choice) 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.

If you manage to make that Shillelagh build work, then Divine Strike adds a nice chunk of damage to your weapon attacks. If you didn’t do that, stick to throwing cantrips with Blessed Strikes.

Level 17 – Master of Nature

While creatures are charmed by your Charm Animals and Plants feature, you can take a bonus action on your turn to verbally command what each of those creatures will do on its next turn.

This capstone comes online far too late to be of any serious use. The highest challenge rating plant creature is nine, with beasts even lower at eight. So even if there are a bunch of those creature types around during a fight, they will be significantly weaker than whatever the party is facing.

While not a particularly exciting subclass, Nature’s heavy armor and ability to hand out resistance allow it to edge its way into seventh place.

6. Order

An armored woman on a battlefield. War Oracle by Steve Prescott

One of the subclasses introduced with Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything,* this is the newest entry on this list so far. The Order domain pushes the fantasy of a battlefield commander, supporting allies and forcing their enemies to obey.

Level 1 – Domain Spells

Cleric Level Spells
1st commandheroism
3rd hold personzone of truth
5th mass healing wordslow
7th compulsionlocate creature
9th communedominate person

With only four of the ten spells on this list being non-cleric options, I’m not terribly impressed by this feature. The standout here is Slow, which makes for a decent control spell. It does compete with the ever-powerful Spirit Guardians for your concentration slot, but it’s nice to have more control options.

Level 1 – Bonus Proficiency

You gain proficiency with heavy armor. You also gain proficiency in the Intimidation or Persuasion skill (your choice).

Heavy armor is great and so is a proficiency in Persuasion.

Level 1 – Voice of Authority

If you cast a spell with a spell slot of 1st level or higher and target an ally with the spell, that ally can use their reaction immediately after the spell to make one weapon attack against a creature of your choice that you can see.

If the spell targets more than one ally, you choose the ally who can make the attack.

This is the feature that I’ve seen used to justify placing the Order domain as one of the strongest choices available. As you might be able to tell by my ranking of the subclass, I disagree. The trick you can pull off with this feature is to combine it with a rogue in your party to allow them to make an additional sneak attack every round.* However, combos that require an additional character of a specific class are unreliable in my eyes.

Without a rogue to empower, this ability goes from very powerful to middling. Most competent martial builds make two attacks at this level, going up to three at level 5. That means this is costing a spell slot and a reaction for a 33-50% damage boost, instead of the rogue’s 100%. As long as you have a martial character this ability will be helpful, but there are certainly better level 1 cleric features.

Level 2 – Channel Divinity: Order’s Demand

As an action, you present your holy symbol, and each creature of your choice that can see or hear you within 30 feet of you must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or be charmed by you until the end of your next turn or until the charmed creature takes any damage. You can also cause any of the charmed creatures to drop what they are holding when they fail the saving throw.

Outside of protecting yourself, this ability borders on useless. All the charmed condition does is make the creature unable to harm the one that charmed them and make social interactions easier. This does nothing to protect your allies, and there aren’t many social roles in combat. The ability to make your enemies drop their weapons is also very weak, as on their turn each enemy can simply pick up their weapon for free.

Level 6 – Embodiment of the Law

If you cast a spell of the enchantment school using a spell slot of 1st level or higher, you can change the spell’s casting time to 1 bonus action for this casting, provided the spell’s casting time is normally 1 action.

You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Wisdom modifier (minimum of once), and you regain all expended uses of it when you finish a long rest.

This feature is seriously hampered by the unintuitive rules around how many spells you can cast per round. Simply put, if you want to cast two spells in a round, one of them must be a cantrip.* So instead of allowing for another leveled spell to be cast, it simply frees up the cleric’s action for a weapon attack or cantrip. Since the Spiritual Weapon spell allows clerics to easily convert their bonus action into an attack anyway, this is a minor damage increase at best.

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 psychic 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.

Normally, I’d advise for Blessed Strikes plus cantrips, but Order’s capstone specifically requires you take the Divine Strike feature, so I’d recommend that one.

Level 17 – Order’s Wrath

If you deal your Divine Strike damage to a creature on your turn, you can curse that creature until the start of your next turn. The next time one of your allies hits the cursed creature with an attack, the target also takes 2d8 psychic damage, and the curse ends. You can curse a creature in this way only once per turn.

The ability to add a baby Holy Smite that requires a friend to activate isn’t what I’d call a good level 17 feature, but it’s better than nothing. It does have the dubious distinction of being the first cleric capstone we’ve seen that fails to function if you took the wrong 8th level feature. If this ability was given a limited number of uses I could easily see it as a level 1 or 6 ability. When it’s received this late, it is very lackluster.

One Tasha’s cleric down, two more to go. I know many people love this subclass, but my ranking only puts it in sixth place.

5. Grave

A robed man surrounded by glowing skulls. Skirsdag, High Priest by Jason A. Engle

Not to be confused with the Death domain, Grave clerics focus more on destroying the undead rather than making more of them. It also happens to be a much stronger subclass.

Level 1 – Domain Spells

Cleric Level Spells
1st banefalse life
3rd gentle reposeray of enfeeblement
5th revivifyvampiric touch
7th blightdeath ward
9th antilife shellraise dead

While the lower level offerings on this list are either redundant with the cleric spell list or not particularly strong, Blight and Antilife Shell provide a decent area damage spell and defense spell respectively. I wouldn’t call this list amazing, but it’s not awful either.

Level 1 – Circle of Mortality

When you would normally roll one or more dice to restore hit points with a spell to a creature at 0 hit points, you instead use the highest number possible for each die.

In addition, you learn the spare the dying cantrip, which doesn’t count against the number of cleric cantrips you know. For you, it has a range of 30 feet, and you can cast it as a bonus action.

Ah, the greatest excuse to ignore your low-health party members until they drop to zero hit points. At low levels, the guaranteed max healing can mean it’ll take two enemy hits to down that character again, which is very efficient. However, at higher levels many attacks do enough that even a maximized healing spell isn’t enough to keep your ally from falling to a single attack, which makes this ability less useful.

However, the ability to auto-stabilize someone at range with a bonus action is useful at all levels. The difference between a full action touch spell and this improved version is very impactful and will save a lot of downed characters when you are either unable or unwilling to burn a spell slot to throw out a Healing Word.

Level 1 – Eyes of the Grave

As an action, you can open your awareness to magically detect undead. Until the end of your next turn, you know the location of any undead within 60 feet of you that isn’t behind total cover and that isn’t protected from divination magic. This sense doesn’t tell you anything about a creature’s capabilities or identity.

You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Wisdom modifier (minimum of once). You regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.

This ability is almost purely flavor. It has no real combat usage, and even out of combat it’s so restrictive that it’s near useless.

Level 2 – Channel Divinity: Path to the Grave

As an action, you choose one creature you can see within 30 feet of you, cursing it until the end of your next turn. The next time you or an ally of yours hits the cursed creature with an attack, the creature has vulnerability to all of that attack’s damage, and then the curse ends.

Do you want to be your paladin or rogue’s best friend? Well, this is the Channel Divinity for you. Most parties should have at least one character capable of dealing a decent amount of damage with a single attack. The better your party is in that regard, the better this ability will be. Grave clerics make mincemeat out of single-entity fights with this ability alone.

Level 6 – Sentinel at Death’s Door

As a reaction when you or a creature you can see within 30 feet of you suffers a critical hit, you can turn that hit into a normal hit. Any effects triggered by a critical hit are canceled.

You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Wisdom modifier (minimum of once). You regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.

The thematic reversal of the subclass’s Channel Divinity, this is a feature that feels better than it actually is. What I mean by that is critical hits don’t actually add that much damage over the course of a fight or adventuring day. However, being hit with a critical strike is memorable and feels bad. This feature makes those bad feelings go away.

That being said, this feature isn’t terrible. It provides a modest, if situational, damage reduction on the cleric’s reaction, something the class otherwise lacks.

Level 8 – Potent Spellcasting or Blessed Strikes

Potent Spellcasting. 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.

Potent Spellcasting is usually the better choice, and the Grave domain is no exception.

Level 17 – Keeper of Souls

When an enemy you can see dies within 60 feet of you, you or one creature of your choice that is within 60 feet of you regains hit points equal to the enemy’s number of Hit Dice. You can use this feature only if you aren’t incapacitated. Once you use it, you can’t do so again until the start of your next turn.

Looking at the monsters found at this level of play, this ability will heal between 15 and 32 hit points, depending on the creature that died. If you’re fighting groups of high hit point targets, this will be pretty strong, but against single enemies or swarms of low hit point targets, its contribution will be negligible.

I mostly see the Grave cleric come up as a two-level dip for builds looking to deal tons of damage in a single attack. However, I think it makes for a solid monoclass cleric as well. Anyone who guessed I wouldn’t give this fifth place was gravely mistaken.

With that we wrap up part two of this clerical odyssey. Check in next time for part three where I reveal which cleric subclass reigns supreme.

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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Comments

  1. HistWarrior

    I think Thunderbolt Strike (for Tempest Clerics) works with Wrath of the Storm since the language says “when you deal lightning damage,” not “when you cast a spell.” Not that it moves the needle on power level by a whole lot, but pushing enemies as a reaction (albeit only when they hit you first) seems like it could be a useful addition to a melee combatant. Also, loving this series!

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      You are correct on all counts. I originally had a sentence touching on this point but cut it to help with flow.

      Glad you’re enjoying the series =).

  2. Luke Slater

    I suppose the other advantage of Sentinel at Death’s Door comes in if you’re facing an enemy – or a DM – willing to shiv an incapacitated PC on the ground, converting two automatic death save failures to one and buying that one extra chance to heal or stabilise.

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      That is a nice secondary bonus I hadn’t considered, but what kind of monster GM would do such a thing =P

    • Nowan

      Can also be monumentally useful against the enemies that kill instantly with crits, like the high level devils that decapitate you.
      But those are so rare that I doubt it will come up.

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