An owl person with a magic staff.

Breena, the Demagogue by Simon Dominic

Last time, I wrapped up my sorcerer subclass rankings. Now, it’s time for the warlock. 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 warlock has nine subclasses, this is a two-part post, starting with the bottom five.

9. Undying

An undead priest in fancy robes.
Mikaeus, the Unhallowed by Chris Rahn

Some classes do not have a massive power difference between their best and worst subclasses. This is not the case for the warlock. The bottom three entries on this list are significantly worse than the top six, and Undying is the worst of the worst.

Level 1 – Expanded Spell List

The Undying lets you choose from an expanded list of spells when you learn a warlock spell. The following spells are added to the warlock spell list for you.

Spell LevelSpells
1stfalse life, ray of sickness
2ndblindness/deafness, silence
3rdfeign death, speak with dead
4thaura of life, death ward
5thcontagion, legend lore

This spell list is unique among the warlock subclasses in that it has no redeeming options, especially since acquiring any of these spells still uses one of the limited spell options warlocks receive. The best spell on this list is Death Ward, but it’s not nearly enough.

Level 1 – Among the Dead

You learn the spare the dying cantrip, which counts as a warlock cantrip for you. You also have advantage on saving throws against any disease.

Additionally, undead have difficulty harming you. If an undead targets you directly with an attack or a harmful spell, that creature must make a Wisdom saving throw against your spell save DC (an undead needn’t make the save when it includes you in an area effect, such as the explosion of fireball). On a failed save, the creature must choose a new target or forfeit targeting someone instead of you, potentially wasting the attack or spell. On a successful save, the creature is immune to this effect for 24 hours. An undead is also immune to this effect for 24 hours if you target it with an attack or a harmful spell.

This feature gives you a decent cantrip and a passive, weaker version of the Sanctuary spell. Not only can attackers get around your protection with a single save, but the feature only works on undead. This will be some help in an undead-heavy campaign, but even then, the warlock is all about doing damage, which negates the ability’s effect.

Level 6 – Defy Death

You can regain hit points equal to 1d8 + your Constitution modifier (minimum of 1 hit point) when you succeed on a death saving throw or when you stabilize a creature with spare the dying.

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

Since an average of 7 or 8 hit points will rarely allow you to survive an additional hit, this feature is a whack-a-mole ability, popping you back up so the bad guys can knock you down on their next turn. It’s also weaker than average, since if you fail the death save, nothing happens. As a consolation prize, you can also get the healing effect when you stabilize a friend, but it’s a lot less useful then, as it’s not bringing you back into the fight. This is the best feature the Undying receives, and that’s not a good sign.

Level 10 – Undying Nature

You can hold your breath indefinitely, and you don’t require food, water, or sleep, although you still require rest to reduce exhaustion and still benefit from finishing short and long rests.

In addition, you age at a slower rate. For every 10 years that pass, your body ages only 1 year, and you are immune to being magically aged.

Despite the mechanics covered by the text of this feature, it is almost entirely flavor. Food and water are almost never an issue in 5E, especially by level 10, and neither is age. The only part of this feature that is any use is the ability to never breathe. This is the equivalent of a 3rd level ritual spell, and a situational one at that. Given that by 10th level, casters are using 5th level spells, that is not a good thing.

Level 14 – Indestructible Life

When you reach 14th level, you partake some of the true secrets of the Undying. On your turn, you can use a bonus action to regain hit points equal to 1d8 + your warlock level. Additionally, if you put a severed body part of yours back in place when you use this feature, the part reattaches.

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

An average of 18 additional health per rest is very bad at 14th level. The ability to reconnect severed body parts has no real rules behind it, so much like Undying Nature, I will treat it as flavor.

There is nothing in this subclass to recommend. Even the designers seem to agree, as they released the similarly named Undead warlock. Given how similar these subclasses are in name and flavor, I can only assume the Undead is considered this subclass’s replacement. Leave it to the Undying to get dead last, ninth place.

8. Great Old One

A sea monster swallowing a sailboat.
Gyruda, Doom of Depths by Tyler Jacobson

From poorly realized zombie warlocks we move to poorly realized eldritch servants. It’s pretty clear this patron was inspired by cosmic horror authors like Charles Stross and Robert Chambers.* Unfortunately, much like the Undying, the GOO-lock* is let down by its mechanics.

Level 1 – Expanded Spell List

The Great Old One lets you choose from an expanded list of spells when you learn a warlock spell. The following spells are added to the warlock spell list for you.

Spell LevelSpells
1stdissonant whispers, Tasha’s hideous laughter
2nddetect thoughts, phantasmal force
3rdclairvoyance, sending
4thdominate beast, Evard’s black tentacles
5thdominate person, telekinesis

This spell list is what pushed the GOO ahead of the Undying. Dissonant Whispers and Tasha’s Hideous Laughter aren’t amazing spells, but they are decent low-level options. At higher levels, Evard’s Black Tentacles is an okay concentration damage spell that’s normally not available to warlocks. I’m not in love with this list, but it’s certainly better than the previous entry.

Level 1 – Awakened Mind

Starting at 1st level, your alien knowledge gives you the ability to touch the minds of other creatures. You can telepathically speak to any creature you can see within 30 feet of you. You don’t need to share a language with the creature for it to understand your telepathic utterances, but the creature must be able to understand at least one language.

When the GOO-lock was printed, this was a weak but fairly unique ability. Nowadays, telepathic communication is so common that Awakened Mind is downgraded to just weak.

Level 6 – Entropic Ward

At 6th level, you learn to magically ward yourself against attack and to turn an enemy’s failed strike into good luck for yourself. When a creature makes an attack roll against you, you can use your reaction to impose disadvantage on that roll. If the attack misses you, your next attack roll against the creature has advantage if you make it before the end of your next turn.

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

Forcing one instance of disadvantage that might grant you a single instance of advantage per rest is awful at level 6. Entropic Ward is not even a good example of this type of ability, as the disadvantage must be imposed before the roll is made, meaning it could be wasted on an attack that would have missed anyway.

Level 10 – Thought Shield

Starting at 10th level, your thoughts can’t be read by telepathy or other means unless you allow it. You also have resistance to psychic damage, and whenever a creature deals psychic damage to you, that creature takes the same amount of damage that you do.

Resistance and reflection of psychic damage, given its rarity, is fine if not good. The immunity to telepathy is plain bad. Players are rarely the target of such effects, so being immune to them isn’t worth much.

Level 14 – Create Thrall

At 14th level, you gain the ability to infect a humanoid’s mind with the alien magic of your patron. You can use your action to touch an incapacitated humanoid. That creature is then charmed by you until a remove curse spell is cast on it, the charmed condition is removed from it, or you use this feature again.

You can communicate telepathically with the charmed creature as long as the two of you are on the same plane of existence.

This feature sounds a lot cooler than it is. To understand why, let’s look at what the charmed condition does:

  • A charmed creature can’t attack the charmer or target the charmer with harmful abilities or magical effects.
  • The charmer has advantage on any ability check to interact socially with the creature.

That’s all. The GOO-lock can’t mind control their “thrall” or exert any type of magical influence over them. This would be bad even at level 1, but it’s especially bad at 14th level.

Much like the Undying, there is little good to say about the GOO-lock. It has a slightly improved spell list, but even that isn’t great. With the release of the Fathomless subclass, the GOO-lock falls even further into obsolescence, as the former replicates much of the latter’s flavor. Eighth place.

7. Archfey

A fairy woman made of flowers.
Oona, Queen of the Fae by Adam Rex

I had originally pegged the Archfey as my last-place entry, but unlike the last two subclasses I covered, there are some moderately useful features to be found here. This subclass is still bad, but it’s the best of the bad.

Level 1 – Expanded Spell List

The Archfey lets you choose from an expanded list of spells when you learn a warlock spell. The following spells are added to the warlock spell list for you.

Spell LevelSpells
1stfaerie fire, sleep
2ndcalm emotions, phantasmal force
3rdblink, plant growth
4thdominate beast, greater invisibility
5thdominate person, seeming

This is a solid spell list. Sleep is good at very low levels, and Faerie Fire is a great party-wide damage boost.* At later levels, Greater Invisibility does a very similar job to the Darkness/Devil Sight combo, only without requiring an invocation or annoying your party by putting darkness everywhere.

Level 1 – Fey Presence

As an action, you can cause each creature in a 10-foot cube originating from you to make a Wisdom saving throw against your warlock spell save DC. The creatures that fail their saving throws are all charmed or frightened by you (your choice) until the end of your next turn.

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

This would be a good feature except for two major issues: range and friendly fire. A 10-foot cube is so small that it’s unlikely to affect more than two enemies when it’s used. As for the friendly fire, it depends on how your GM reads the ability. If they rule that the warlock gets to choose between frightened or charmed for each creature, then effectively there is no friendly fire, as you can just choose to charm your friends, which does nothing. However, if all creatures suffer the same condition choice, then you’ll need to position your tiny cube in such a way that you don’t frighten your own party.

Level 6 – Misty Escape

When you take damage, you can use your reaction to turn invisible and teleport up to 60 feet to an unoccupied space you can see. You remain invisible until the start of your next turn or until you attack or cast a spell.

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

This is a cute defensive feature that lets the Archfey warlock escape at the relatively low cost of their reaction. Unfortunately, its restrictive number of uses leaves it feeling much too weak for a 6th level feature.

Level 10 – Beguiling Defenses

Beginning at 10th level, your patron teaches you how to turn the mind-affecting magic of your enemies against them. You are immune to being charmed, and when another creature attempts to charm you, you can use your reaction to attempt to turn the charm back on that creature. The creature must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw against your warlock spell save DC or be charmed by you for 1 minute or until the creature takes any damage.

While I like the idea of this ability, it is not very good. The first issue is that many monsters that like to hand out the charmed condition are immune to it themselves, meaning that trying to charm them in retaliation will never work. The second issue is that even on a success, the charmed condition isn’t terribly strong, and this instance of it is broken immediately upon receiving damage. The best part of this feature is immunity to charm, but that’s not enough at 10th level.

Level 14 – Dark Delirium

Starting at 14th level, you can plunge a creature into an illusory realm. As an action, choose a creature that you can see within 60 feet of you. It must make a Wisdom saving throw against your warlock spell save DC. On a failed save, it is charmed or frightened by you (your choice) for 1 minute or until your concentration is broken (as if you are concentrating on a spell). This effect ends early if the creature takes any damage.

Until this illusion ends, the creature thinks it is lost in a misty realm, the appearance of which you choose. The creature can see and hear only itself, you, and the illusion.

You must finish a short or long rest before you can use this feature again.

As cool as this sounds, this is effectively the 4th level Banishment spell, something all warlocks gain at 7th level, and that is a generous reading. As a GM, I would interpret that this feature would render its target unable to act for the duration, as it’s “lost in a misty realm.” However, you could read the portion of the ability that says “the creature can see and hear only itself, you, and the illusion” to mean that no matter the illusion, the Archfey warlock is always visible to the target, meaning they could still try to act against you in some way. Even in the most positive light possible, this ability is far too weak for the level it is received.

This subclass has a decent spell list but little else. Sadly, there isn’t a newly printed warlock that can serve as Archfey 2.0 without some major reskinning. This subclass’s charms could only take it to seventh place.

6. Undead

An undead warlock with purple magic.
Sidisi, Undead Vizier by Min Yum

I’ve already mentioned the Undead subclass a few times; now it’s time to cover it in detail. This subclass is the closest thing to an apology we’ve seen for bad subclasses. This is simply the Undying subclass but better. It’s still not in the top tier of warlocks, but it’s the first I wouldn’t actively warn players against picking.

Level 1 – Expanded Spell List

The Undead lets you choose from an expanded list of spells when you learn a warlock spell. The following spells are added to the warlock spell list for you.

Spell LevelSpells
1stbane, false life
2ndblindness/deafness, phantasmal force
3rdphantom steed, speak with dead
4thdeath ward, greater invisibility
5thantilife shell, cloudkill

This spell list shares a lot of entries with the Undying, except there are a couple good spells on here. Bane is a decent low-level concentration spell, and Greater Invisibility is just good. I’d personally take the Archfey’s list over this one, but unlike the Archfey, this subclass has good non-spell-list features.

Level 1 – Form of Dread

As a bonus action, you transform for 1 minute. You gain the following benefits while transformed:

  • You gain temporary hit points equal to 1d10 + your warlock level.
  • Once during each of your turns, when you hit a creature with an attack roll, you can force it to make a Wisdom saving throw, and if the saving throw fails, the target is frightened of you until the end of your next turn.
  • You are immune to the frightened condition.

You can transform a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.

The appearance of your Form of Dread reflects some aspect of your patron. For example, your form could be a shroud of shadows forming the crown and robes of your lich patron, or your body might glow with glyphs from ancient funerary rites and be surrounded by desert winds, suggesting your mummy patron.

Speaking of good features, here’s one. A decent chunk of temporary hit points and the ability to hand out the frightened condition once a turn for an entire minute is a nice boost to the warlock. And you can use the feature up to six times per day! This is especially good when paired with other features that key off of enemies being frightened, such as the Conquest paladin’s Aura of Conquest or the Fey Wanderer ranger’s Beguiling Twist. Even on a monoclass warlock, this will always feel nice to have.

Level 6 – Grave Touched

Your patron’s powers have a profound effect on your body and magic. You don’t need to eat, drink, or breathe.

In addition, once during each of your turns, when you hit a creature with an attack roll and roll damage against the creature, you can replace the damage type with necrotic damage. While you are using your Form of Dread, you can roll one additional damage die when determining the necrotic damage the target takes.

A repeat of the Undying’s 6th level flavor ability, only this time they added something useful to it. Assuming the Undead uses Eldritch Blast like a good warlock, this feature adds an effective 1d10 damage per round at the cost of forcing the damage type to necrotic. This isn’t an amazing damage type, as many undead resist or are immune to it, but most of the time the switch won’t matter. An extra 5.5 average damage isn’t a huge boost, but every bit helps.

Level 10 – Necrotic Husk

Your connection to undeath and necrotic energy now saturates your body. You have resistance to necrotic damage. If you are transformed using your Form of Dread, you instead become immune to necrotic damage.

In addition, when you would be reduced to 0 hit points, you can use your reaction to drop to 1 hit point instead and cause your body to erupt with deathly energy. Each creature of your choice that is within 30 feet of you takes necrotic damage equal to 2d10 + your warlock level. You then gain 1 level of exhaustion. Once you use this reaction, you can’t do so again until you finish 1d4 long rests.

Necrotic damage isn’t as common as fire or poison, but there are still plenty of monsters that use it, so resistance or immunity are both solid boosts to the Undead warlock’s survivability. Unfortunately, the whack-a-mole portion of this feature isn’t great. Dealing an area effect 2d10 + warlock-level damage at the cost of an exhaustion level isn’t going to be worth it very often. Even if you do find yourself wanting to explode regularly, the feature has a rare multi-long-rest cooldown that is both hard to track and not warranted for the power of this ability.

Level 14 – Spirit Projection

Your spirit can become untethered from your physical form. As an action, you can project your spirit from your body. The body you leave behind is unconscious and in a state of suspended animation.

Your spirit resembles your mortal form in almost every way, replicating your game statistics but not your possessions. Any damage or other effects that apply to your spirit or physical body affects the other. Your spirit can remain outside your body for up to 1 hour or until your concentration is broken (as if concentrating on a spell). When your projection ends, your spirit returns to your body or your body magically teleports to your spirit’s space (your choice).

While projecting your spirit, you gain the following benefits:

  • Your spirit and body gain resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage.
  • When you cast a spell of the conjuration or necromancy school, the spell doesn’t require verbal or somatic components or material components that lack a gold cost.
  • You have a flying speed equal to your walking speed and can hover. You can move through creatures and objects as if they were difficult terrain, but you take 1d10 force damage if you end your turn inside a creature or an object.
  • While you are using your Form of Dread, once during each of your turns when you deal necrotic damage to a creature, you regain hit points equal to half the amount of necrotic damage dealt.

Once you use this feature, you can’t do so again until you finish a long rest.

This is a good ability that is hamstrung by its concentration requirement. A feature that competes with all the powerful concentration options is a really tough sell. Even though this ability gives a lot of great bonuses, it can never be used in conjunction with a concentration spell. That doesn’t make it bad, but it will be weaker than capstones that synergize rather than compete with what the warlock already wants to be doing.

Despite its relatively low placement on this list, I think the Undead did a good job of modernizing the awful Undying subclass and is a marked increase in power compared to the last three entries. The Undead has risen again and shambled into sixth place.

5. Celestial

An angel with white wings.
Illusory Angel by Allen Williams

For those seeking the bright side of soul bartering, the Celestial warlock is here to help. This is the divine warlock, and while it’s no Divine Soul sorcerer, it does a decent job of adding support features to the normally offensively minded warlock.

Level 1 – Expanded Spell List

The Celestial lets you choose from an expanded list of spells when you learn a warlock spell. The following spells are added to the warlock spell list for you.

Spell LevelSpells
1stcure wounds, guiding bolt
2ndflaming sphere, lesser restoration
3rddaylight, revivify
4thguardian of faith, wall of fire
5thflame strike, greater restoration

Revivify is the standout spell on this otherwise unexciting list. A party in 5E can never have too many people capable of reviving their recently fireballed allies. Other than that, Wall of Fire is a decent concentration damage spell if your group is capable of forcing enemies into the wall and the Lesser/Greater Restoration spells are utility options that are exceedingly helpful when they are needed.

Level 1 – Bonus Cantrips

At 1st level, you learn the sacred flame and light cantrips. They count as warlock cantrips for you, but they don’t count against your number of cantrips known.

There is no world where Sacred Flame is a better damage cantrip than Eldritch Blast, so this feature is basically just the Light cantrip. Thankfully, Light is a good cantrip, especially if you pick an ancestry that lacks darkvision like the variant human.

Level 1 – Healing Light

At 1st level, you gain the ability to channel celestial energy to heal wounds. You have a pool of d6s that you spend to fuel this healing. The number of dice in the pool equals 1 + your warlock level.

As a bonus action, you can heal one creature you can see within 60 feet of you, spending dice from the pool. The maximum number of dice you can spend at once equals your Charisma modifier (minimum of one die). Roll the dice you spend, add them together, and restore a number of hit points equal to the total.

Your pool regains all expended dice when you finish a long rest.

This feature is extremely similar to the Dreams druid’s Balm of the Summer Court feature. When I reviewed that subclass, I was lukewarm on the ability, and while I don’t think it’s amazing on the warlock either, it is better when attached to a class that normally lacks healing options. For those looking to make a tough warlock, there is a strong synergy between this feature and the Pact of the Chain evocation Gift of the Ever-Living Ones, turning each d6 of this feature into a guaranteed 6 hit points of self-healing.

Level 6 – Radiant Soul

Starting at 6th level, your link to the Celestial allows you to serve as a conduit for radiant energy. You have resistance to radiant damage, and when you cast a spell that deals radiant or fire damage, you can add your Charisma modifier to one radiant or fire damage roll of that spell against one of its targets.

Radiant is one of the damage types players are least likely to encounter, making this resistance one of the weaker ones out there. As for the increase to fire and radiant damage, it can be situationally useful but not something that influences spell choice. Even with this boost, bad fire/radiant spells will still be bad. This is easily the worst feature of the subclass.

Level 10 – Celestial Resilience

Starting at 10th level, you gain temporary hit points whenever you finish a short or long rest. These temporary hit points equal your warlock level + your Charisma modifier. Additionally, choose up to five creatures you can see at the end of the rest. Those creatures each gain temporary hit points equal to half your warlock level + your Charisma modifier.

If your party doesn’t have a good source of temporary hit points, then this is a large boost to the party’s survivability. If they do, then this will feel underwhelming.

Level 14 – Searing Vengeance

Starting at 14th level, the radiant energy you channel allows you to resist death. When you have to make a death saving throw at the start of your turn, you can instead spring back to your feet with a burst of radiant energy. You regain hit points equal to half your hit point maximum, and then you stand up if you so choose. Each creature of your choice that is within 30 feet of you takes radiant damage equal to 2d8 + your Charisma modifier, and it is blinded until the end of the current turn.

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

This is a much better version of the Undead warlock’s Necrotic Husk feature. Instead of triggering on your enemy’s turn, self-inflicting exhaustion, and requiring multiple days to recharge, Searing Vengeance triggers in a way that always allows you to act, has no drawbacks, heals significantly more, and recharges every long rest. If you put 14 levels into warlock, this will feel like a solid increase in power.

While the Celestial warlock has fallen in power as stronger subclasses have been released, it’s still a solid support option that can also throw Eldritch Blasts with the best of them. The gods have granted it fifth place.

That covers the first five warlock subclasses. Check in next time for part two, when I cover the best entity to sell your soul to.

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

Treat your friends to an evening of ritual murder – in a fictional RPG scenario, of course. Uncover your lost memories and escape a supernatural menace in our one-shot adventure, The Voyage.

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