Last time, I wrapped up my rogue subclass rankings. Now, it’s time for the sorcerer. As a reminder, there are three main categories I’m 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. Since the sorcerer has seven subclasses, this is a two-part post, starting with the bottom four.
7. Wild Magic
Although the contest for this bottom slot was closer than I expected, in the end the Wild Magic meme takes home the dubious distinction.
Level 1 – Wild Magic Surge
Immediately after you cast a sorcerer spell of 1st level or higher, the DM can have you roll a d20. If you roll a 1, roll on the Wild Magic Surge table to create a random magical effect. A Wild Magic Surge can happen once per turn.
If a Wild Magic effect is a spell, it’s too wild to be affected by Metamagic. If it normally requires concentration, it doesn’t require concentration in this case; the spell lasts for its full duration.
|01-02||Roll on this table at the start of each of your turns for the next minute, ignoring this result on subsequent rolls.|
|03-04||For the next minute, you can see any invisible creature if you have line of sight to it.|
|05-06||A modron chosen and controlled by the DM appears in an unoccupied space within 5 feet of you, then disappears 1 minute later.|
|07-08||You cast fireball as a 3rd-level spell centered on yourself.|
|09-10||You cast magic missile as a 5th-level spell.|
|11-12||Roll a d10. Your height changes by a number of inches equal to the roll. If the roll is odd, you shrink. If the roll is even, you grow.|
|13-14||You cast confusion centered on yourself.|
|15-16||For the next minute, you regain 5 hit points at the start of each of your turns.|
|17-18||You grow a long beard made of feathers that remains until you sneeze, at which point the feathers explode out from your face.|
|19-20||You cast grease centered on yourself.|
|21-22||Creatures have disadvantage on saving throws against the next spell you cast in the next minute that involves a saving throw.|
|23-24||Your skin turns a vibrant shade of blue. A remove curse spell can end this effect.|
|25-26||An eye appears on your forehead for the next minute. During that time, you have advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight.|
|27-28||For the next minute, all your spells with a casting time of 1 action have a casting time of 1 bonus action.|
|29-30||You teleport up to 60 feet to an unoccupied space of your choice that you can see.|
|31-32||You are transported to the Astral Plane until the end of your next turn, after which time you return to the space you previously occupied or the nearest unoccupied space if that space is occupied.|
|33-34||Maximize the damage of the next damaging spell you cast within the next minute.|
|35-36||Roll a d10. Your age changes by a number of years equal to the roll. If the roll is odd, you get younger (minimum 1 year old). If the roll is even, you get older.|
|37-38||1d6 flumphs controlled by the DM appear in unoccupied spaces within 60 feet of you and are frightened of you. They vanish after 1 minute.|
|39-40||You regain 2d10 hit points.|
|41-42||You turn into a potted plant until the start of your next turn. While a plant, you are incapacitated and have vulnerability to all damage. If you drop to 0 hit points, your pot breaks, and your form reverts.|
|43-44||For the next minute, you can teleport up to 20 feet as a bonus action on each of your turns.|
|45-46||You cast levitate on yourself.|
|47-48||A unicorn controlled by the DM appears in a space within 5 feet of you, then disappears 1 minute later.|
|49-50||You can’t speak for the next minute. Whenever you try, pink bubbles float out of your mouth.|
|51-52||A spectral shield hovers near you for the next minute, granting you a +2 bonus to AC and immunity to magic missile.|
|53-54||You are immune to being intoxicated by alcohol for the next 5d6 days.|
|55-56||Your hair falls out but grows back within 24 hours.|
|57-58||For the next minute, any flammable object you touch that isn’t being worn or carried by another creature bursts into flame.|
|59-60||You regain your lowest-level expended spell slot.|
|61-62||For the next minute, you must shout when you speak.|
|63-64||You cast fog cloud centered on yourself.|
|65-66||Up to three creatures you choose within 30 feet of you take 4d10 lightning damage.|
|67-68||You are frightened by the nearest creature until the end of your next turn.|
|69-70||Each creature within 30 feet of you becomes invisible for the next minute. The invisibility ends on a creature when it attacks or casts a spell.|
|71-72||You gain resistance to all damage for the next minute.|
|73-74||A random creature within 60 feet of you becomes poisoned for 1d4 hours.|
|75-76||You glow with bright light in a 30-foot radius for the next minute. Any creature that ends its turn within 5 feet of you is blinded until the end of its next turn.|
|77-78||You cast polymorph on yourself. If you fail the saving throw, you turn into a sheep for the spell’s duration.|
|79-80||Illusory butterflies and flower petals flutter in the air within 10 feet of you for the next minute.|
|81-82||You can take one additional action immediately.|
|83-84||Each creature within 30 feet of you takes 1d10 necrotic damage. You regain hit points equal to the sum of the necrotic damage dealt.|
|85-86||You cast mirror image.|
|87-88||You cast fly on a random creature within 60 feet of you.|
|89-90||You become invisible for the next minute. During that time, other creatures can’t hear you. The invisibility ends if you attack or cast a spell.|
|91-92||If you die within the next minute, you immediately come back to life as if by the reincarnate spell.|
|93-94||Your size increases by one size category for the next minute.|
|95-96||You and all creatures within 30 feet of you gain vulnerability to piercing damage for the next minute.|
|97-98||You are surrounded by faint, ethereal music for the next minute.|
|99-00||You regain all expended sorcery points.|
In a game as random as 5E, adding more randomness generally doesn’t end in a powerful result, and this feature is no exception. On average, rolling on this table will net the sorcerer a neutral or positive result, but the benefits aren’t that powerful. As for negative results, an unlucky roll can kill the sorcerer and their entire party via fireball, which isn’t great. On the whole this ability is bad enough it’s almost worse than not having a feature at all.
Level 1 – Tides of Chaos
You can manipulate the forces of chance and chaos to gain advantage on one attack roll, ability check, or saving throw. Once you do so, you must finish a long rest before you can use this feature again.
Any time before you regain the use of this feature, the DM can have you roll on the Wild Magic Surge table immediately after you cast a sorcerer spell of 1st level or higher. You then regain the use of this feature.
As far as incentives to roll on the Wild Magic Surge table, this is a pretty good one. Theoretically, Tides of Chaos can grant advantage on a number of rolls equal to the number of spell slots the sorcerer has. Unfortunately, whether or not this happens is completely out of the player’s hands. GMs already have a lot to keep track of during a session; giving them additional responsibilities can easily result in them simply forgetting that this feature exists. Since we haven’t seen an ability like this in any of 5E’s later books, I assume the designers realized that this was a bad idea, but sadly this feature is still saddled with the poor design choice.
Level 6 – Bend Luck
When another creature you can see makes an attack roll, an ability check, or a saving throw, you can use your reaction and spend 2 sorcery points to roll 1d4 and apply the number rolled as a bonus or penalty (your choice) to the creature’s roll. You can do so after the creature rolls but before any effects of the roll occur.
Given how powerful Metamagic options can be, spending two sorcery points for a measly 1d4 modifier is extremely expensive. There will be times when a single saving throw is important enough that changing its outcome is worth the cost, but I doubt it’ll come up often.
Level 14 – Controlled Chaos
Whenever you roll on the Wild Magic Surge table, you can roll twice and use either number.
Now the Wild Magic sorcerer can more regularly gain the middling benefits of the Wild Magic Surge table. Unfortunately, this feature suffers from all the same issues as the previous subclass abilities. Even though the sorcerer is more likely to receive a positive outcome, the power of those outcomes has not increased. A light increase to reliability is not nearly enough for a 14th level feature.
Level 18 – Spell Bombardment
When you roll damage for a spell and roll the highest number possible on any of the dice, choose one of those dice, roll it again and add that roll to the damage. You can use the feature only once per turn.
This is a damage boost that doesn’t always trigger and, when it does, adds between three and five damage. This would be uninteresting as a level-1 feature, and it’s incredibly bad at 18th level.
As bad as this subclass is, I’m glad it exists for groups* who are looking to add a bit more chaos into their game. However, even within this role there is definitely room to bring the subclass up to modern design standards. Wild Magic rolls up seventh place.
6. Storm Sorcery
Moving on from the silliness of Wild sorcery, we have the Storm sorcerer. While this subclass’s lack of random negative consequences places it above the seventh-place entry, make no mistake, Storm is also very bad.
Level 1 – Wind Speaker
You can speak, read, and write Primordial. Knowing this language allows you to understand and be understood by those who speak its dialects: Aquan, Auran, Ignan, and Terran.
A single language is about as weak as a mechanical feature can be. Even under the best circumstances, language barriers are easily circumvented with low-level magic options.
Level 1 – Tempestuous Magic
Starting at 1st level, you can use a bonus action on your turn to cause whirling gusts of elemental air to briefly surround you, immediately before or after you cast a spell of 1st level or higher. Doing so allows you to fly up to 10 feet without provoking opportunity attacks.
The best use of this ability is as a bonus action pseudo-disengage. The problem is that casting a leveled spell is a rather steep cost, one that the sorcerer might not always be willing or able to pay. Of course, the relative cost of casting a leveled spell decreases as the sorcerer picks up more slots, but the likelihood they pick up a spell that replaces this feature increases in a similar way.
Level 6 – Heart of the Storm
You gain resistance to lightning and thunder damage. In addition, whenever you start casting a spell of 1st level or higher that deals lightning or thunder damage, stormy magic erupts from you. This eruption causes creatures of your choice that you can see within 10 feet of you to take lightning or thunder damage (choose each time this ability activates) equal to half your sorcerer level.
While gaining two damage resistances is never a bad thing, these are two of the weaker offerings. Out of the 2,000 or so monsters I looked at, roughly 3 percent dealt some amount of lightning or thunder damage. The rarity of such creatures leaves the first half of this ability too situational for my liking.
As for the second half, it suffers from a similar lack of good spells that deal the required damage types. For most sorcerers, the best options here are Lightning Bolt and Thunder Step. The first is almost always a massive downgrade from Fireball due to area of effect,* and the second is a large slot investment for an effect often mimicked by the 2nd level Misty Step. Even if you do manage to activate Heart of the Storm, the damage is pitiful. When the feature is acquired, it nets a maximum of 3 damage per round, increasing to a whopping 10 damage at level 20.
Level 6 – Storm Guide
If it is raining, you can use an action to cause the rain to stop falling in a 20-foot-radius sphere centered on you. You can end this effect as a bonus action.
If it is windy, you can use a bonus action each round to choose the direction that the wind blows in a 100-foot-radius sphere centered on you. The wind blows in that direction until the end of your next turn. This feature doesn’t alter the speed of the wind.
This ability is even weaker than Heart of the Storm. The first half has no real mechanical bonus even if the text’s formatting acts like it does. Being rained on has no effect on a character, so preventing it is purely cosmetic.
The second half is almost as weak, but it could be used to try and manipulate spells like Wind Wall and Warding Wind. Even this niche use is a stretch, as neither spell mentions being susceptible to manipulation. For a subclass this weak, getting a flavor feature as one of its level-6 offerings is not great.
Level 14 – Storm’s Fury
When you are hit by a melee attack, you can use your reaction to deal lightning damage to the attacker. The damage equals your sorcerer level. The attacker must also make a Strength saving throw against your sorcerer spell save DC. On a failed save, the attacker is pushed in a straight line up to 20 feet away from you.
I wish this feature was attached to a different class, as combining it with spells like Armor of Agathys and the Abjuration wizard’s Arcane Word could make for an interesting thorns build.* However, most sorcerers want to avoid getting hit entirely due to their d6 hit dice, and they have powerful reaction options like Shield and Absorb Elements that clash with this feature.
Level 18 – Wind Soul
You gain immunity to lightning and thunder damage.
You also gain a magical flying speed of 60 feet. As an action, you can reduce your flying speed to 30 feet for 1 hour and choose a number of creatures within 30 feet of you equal to 3 + your Charisma modifier. The chosen creatures gain a magical flying speed of 30 feet for 1 hour. Once you reduce your flying speed in this way, you can’t do so again until you finish a short or long rest.
Now your situational defenses are even better. If you run into lots of thunder and lightning damage, this is great. If not, it’s useless. Thankfully, flying speed that can be granted to the entire party is very useful. Many subclasses will have already gained flight speeds around 11th level, but being able to help those who haven’t is a great boon for the party.
Much like the Tempest cleric I covered earlier, the Storm sorcerer suffers from revolving around relatively rare damage types in both monster stat blocks and player spells. Unfortunately for Storm sorcerers, they are attached to a much weaker base class than the Tempest cleric. At least they can keep the rain off them in sixth place.
5. Draconic Bloodline
The only serious* sorcerer subclass when 5E was released, the Draconic origin has fallen far since then.
Level 1 – Dragon Ancestor
You choose one type of dragon as your ancestor. The damage type associated with each dragon is used by features you gain later.
This is the rare example of an ability that does literally nothing when it is acquired. We’ll cover the effects it will have in later features.
Level 1 – Draconic Resilience
As magic flows through your body, it causes physical traits of your dragon ancestors to emerge. At 1st level, your hit point maximum increases by 1 and increases by 1 again whenever you gain a level in this class.
Additionally, parts of your skin are covered by a thin sheen of dragon-like scales. When you aren’t wearing armor, your AC equals 13 + your Dexterity modifier.
Increasing the sorcerer’s hit dice to an effective d8 and providing constant Mage Armor are both nice, if unexciting, bonuses. The hit point increase is the more generally useful of the two, as not all sorcerer builds invest in the dexterity score needed to make their pseudo Mage Armor valuable.
Level 6 – Elemental Affinity
When you cast a spell that deals damage of the type associated with your draconic ancestry, you can add your Charisma modifier to one damage roll of that spell. At the same time, you can spend 1 sorcery point to gain resistance to that damage type for 1 hour.
Finally the Draconic Ancestor chosen at 1st level begins to matter. The value of this feature varies greatly based on selection. Since fire is both one of the more common monster and spell damage types, the brass, gold, and red selections will be the most generally useful.
One thing to note: in order to trigger the defensive portion of this feature, the sorcerer needs to cast a spell that deals the correct damage type. This probably won’t be an issue with common types like fire, but could prove restrictive for players who select options like poison or acid.
Level 14 – Dragon Wings
You gain the ability to sprout a pair of dragon wings from your back, gaining a flying speed equal to your current speed. You can create these wings as a bonus action on your turn. They last until you dismiss them as a bonus action on your turn.
You can’t manifest your wings while wearing armor unless the armor is made to accommodate them, and clothing not made to accommodate your wings might be destroyed when you manifest them.
Flight speed is great and this feature provides it with no real restriction.* Now the sorcerer can be much safer while they rain death from above.
Level 18 – Draconic Presence
As an action, you can spend 5 sorcery points to draw on this power and exude an aura of awe or fear (your choice) to a distance of 60 feet. For 1 minute or until you lose your concentration (as if you were casting a concentration spell), each hostile creature that starts its turn in this aura must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or be charmed (if you chose awe) or frightened (if you chose fear) until the aura ends. A creature that succeeds on this saving throw is immune to your aura for 24 hours.
Five sorcery points for an arguably* improved version of the 3rd level Fear spell is not worth it in my eyes. This feature also suffers from the ever-increasing number of high-level enemies that are immune to both conditions it tries to impose.
The Draconic origin is a serviceable, if unexciting, subclass. It’s the option I would have recommended when 5E was released, and it’s still good enough to not actively hinder players looking for that dragon flavor. However, it falls short of newer offerings, securing its fifth-place spot.
4. Shadow Magic
Not to be confused with the Shadow monk, Shadow sorcerers embrace the spooky, edgy vibe many of us longed for during our teenage years.
Level 1 – Eyes of the Dark
You have darkvision with a range of 120 feet.
When you reach 3rd level in this class, you learn the darkness spell, which doesn’t count against your number of sorcerer spells known. In addition, you can cast it by spending 2 sorcery points or by expending a spell slot. If you cast it with sorcery points, you can see through the darkness created by the spell.
Free darkvision with an increased range is fine, but not terribly powerful. However, the ability to cast Darkness that the sorcerer can see through at level 3 is very good. Obscurement* that you can see through is very powerful in 5E. It gives you advantage on all attacks against targets that can’t see through it, forces those targets to attack you at disadvantage, and makes you immune to spells that require line of sight.
Monoclassed sorcerers are on the weaker end of classes when it comes to taking advantage of obscurement, as they lack a powerful attack option and often want to concentrate on other powerful spells. This can be partially fixed by a dip into warlock for the Eldritch Blast/Agonizing Blast combo. No matter the build, having the option to create one-sided obscurement is a powerful addition to any subclass.
Level 1 – Strength of the Grave
Starting at 1st level, your existence in a twilight state between life and death makes you difficult to defeat. When damage reduces you to 0 hit points, you can make a Charisma saving throw (DC 5 + the damage taken). On a success, you instead drop to 1 hit point. You can’t use this feature if you are reduced to 0 hit points by radiant damage or by a critical hit.
After the saving throw succeeds, you can’t use this feature again until you finish a long rest.
This is a very weak whack-a-mole feature, as it relies on a save that, outside of low levels, will be very difficult to make. For example, if a monster downs the sorcerer with 18 damage, that becomes a DC 23 save. Even a character with maxed charisma would be hard-pressed to succeed.
Level 6 – Hound of Ill Omen
As a bonus action, you can spend 3 sorcery points to magically summon a hound of ill omen to target one creature you can see within 120 feet of you. The hound uses the dire wolf’s statistics (see the Monster Manual or appendix C in the Player’s Handbook), with the following changes:
- The hound is size Medium, not Large, and it counts as a monstrosity, not a beast.
- It appears with a number of temporary hit points equal to half your sorcerer level.
- It can move through other creatures and objects as if they were difficult terrain. The hound takes 5 force damage if it ends its turn inside an object.
- At the start of its turn, the hound automatically knows its target’s location. If the target was hidden, it is no longer hidden from the hound.
The hound appears in an unoccupied space of your choice within 30 feet of the target. Roll initiative for the hound. On its turn, it can move only toward its target by the most direct route, and it can use its action only to attack its target. The hound can make opportunity attacks, but only against its target. Additionally, while the hound is within 5 feet of the target, the target has disadvantage on saving throws against any spell you cast. The hound disappears if it is reduced to 0 hit points, if its target is reduced to 0 hit points, or after 5 minutes.
This feature is a mix of very good and very bad. The good is that the hound makes its targets roll their saves with disadvantage against any spell you cast. A Metamagic option does this for only the first roll of the spell, and it has the same cost of three sorcery points. This ability can be combined with a powerful all-or-nothing spell like Hold Person to make it more likely to land on the target.
The bad is that this powerful feature is attached to the weak body of a CR1 dire wolf. At level 6, it’s unlikely that the hound will hold up under any sustained attack, and its powerful effect vanishes when it dies. The hound also rolls its own initiative, which can cause problems if its roll doesn’t line up with yours. For example, the hound might take its turn to get close to its target, but then the target moves away before you take your turn. Overall I think this feature is good, but it’s also more difficult to use than it should be and its main benefit is hard countered by legendary resistances.
Level 14 – Shadow Walk
When you are in dim light or darkness, as a bonus action, you can magically teleport up to 120 feet to an unoccupied space you can see that is also in dim light or darkness.
This is feature is incredibly similar to the Shadow monk’s Shadow Step,* the main differences being that the sorcerer has double the range and the monk receives the feature at level 6. Thanks to the sorcerer’s ability to see through their own darkness, Shadow Walk is much easier to use than Shadow Step and makes a good repositioning tool, even if it does come online very late.
Level 18 – Umbral Form
You can spend 6 sorcery points as a bonus action to magically transform yourself into a shadowy form. In this form, you have resistance to all damage except force and radiant damage, and you can move through other creatures and objects as if they were difficult terrain. You take 5 force damage if you end your turn inside an object.
You remain in this form for 1 minute. It ends early if you are incapacitated, if you die, or if you dismiss it as a bonus action.
Six sorcery points for near-complete damage resistance and the ability to move through walls is a good trade in my book. This makes the Shadow sorcerer much more durable, especially as they can simply disappear into a wall between turns and only suffer five damage. This is easily the best sorcerer capstone so far, and it will feel very impactful when you gain this ability.
I ended up liking the Shadow sorcerer a lot more than I expected to. I’m still not a huge fan of how the Hound of Ill Omen is implemented, but an obscurement-based sorcerer with a couple warlock levels could make for a solid ranged damage dealer.
That covers the first four sorcerer subclasses. Next week we take a look at the top three.
I have also created a tier list for those of you who are interested.