Last time, I wrapped up my warlock subclass rankings. Now, it’s time for the wizard. 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 wizard has thirteen subclasses, this is a three-part post, starting with the bottom five.
Much like the paladin I’ve covered previously, the wizard is a strong standalone class that will perform well regardless of its subclass. However, that doesn’t mean that all the subclasses are equally useful.
Spell School Savant
This feature is shared by every Players Handbook wizard subclass, varying only in which school of spells is cheaper/faster to copy. Given the relatively low gold cost to copy spells and the limited reduction given, these features are uniformly terrible. As we look at PHB subclasses, I won’t be covering this type of feature, given how similar they are to one another.
Before we dive into the Illusion wizard, I want to highlight that any subclass built around the often open-ended illusion school will vary wildly in power depending on how the player tries to use it and whether or not the GM allows such usage. I personally take a rather strict stance on vague spells.
If a player is trying to gain an effect that is stronger than the average effect another spell of that level could have, I won’t allow it. For example, I’ve seen claims that judicious use of the Minor Illusion cantrip allows the caster to gain the benefits of one-sided obscurement.* Given that this interaction generally requires a 2nd-level spell and a class feature like Blind Fighting or Devil Sight, I don’t allow that power level coming from a cantrip.
This stricter view has informed where I place this subclass on the ranking chart. If you can convince your GM that Minor Illusion can generate the effect of a leveled spell, then bump this subclass up the power ranking accordingly.
Level 2 – Improved Minor Illusion
You learn the minor illusion cantrip. If you already know this cantrip, you learn a different wizard cantrip of your choice. The cantrip doesn’t count against your number of cantrips known.
When you cast minor illusion, you can create both a sound and an image with a single casting of the spell.
This feature’s power relies directly on how powerful the Minor Illusion cantrip is in your game. Granting both sound and images to the spell increases its flexibility, but the mechanical impact of that flexibility is simply impossible to generalize.
Level 6 – Malleable Illusions
When you cast an illusion spell that has a duration of 1 minute or longer, you can use your action to change the nature of that illusion (using the spell’s normal parameters for the illusion), provided that you can see the illusion.
Much like the last feature, the power of this one lies in your creativity and the permissiveness of your GM. Now all of the wizard’s illusion spells are more flexible in their usage, something that can be ruled as game breaking or utterly useless.
Level 10 – Illusory Step
When a creature makes an attack roll against you, you can use your reaction to interpose the illusory duplicate between the attacker and yourself. The attack automatically misses you, then the illusion dissipates.
Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.
Finally, a feature that I can judge more precisely, and it is very bad. Forcing one attack to miss per short or long rest would be bad at 2nd level. At 10th, it is awful.
Level 14 – Illusory Reality
When you cast an illusion spell of 1st level or higher, you can choose one inanimate, nonmagical object that is part of the illusion and make that object real. You can do this on your turn as a bonus action while the spell is ongoing. The object remains real for 1 minute. For example, you can create an illusion of a bridge over a chasm and then make it real long enough for your allies to cross.
The object can’t deal damage or otherwise directly harm anyone.
And we’re back to GM-dependent features. Depending on what the GM allows, this feature can have some fairly potent applications for a very low cost. However, it will often only allow for the creation of temporary mundane items that at 14th level probably won’t do much.
There are two main reasons this subclass ranks so low. The first is that in a campaign that strictly regulates the power of illusion magic, most of the subclass features do very little. The second is that in a more permissive campaign, illusion magic can be game breaking with or without these features. Even in the most favorable situation, you’ll probably be better off casting illusion spells as a stronger subclass. This illusion can’t hide thirteenth place.
From open-ended illusion to open-ended enchantments, this subclass has many of the same issues as mentioned above. For example, it could be ruled that Charm Person would allow the caster to turn an enemy combatant to their side for the duration of the spell. That would effectively make this 1st-level spell a save-or-die spell that then resurrects the target as a concentration-free companion. This is obviously significantly stronger than a 1st-level spell should be, and I would not interpret that as within the purview of the spell. The main difference between Illusion and Enchantment for my purposes is the latter has one good mechanical feature, where the former has none.
Level 2 – Hypnotic Gaze
As an action, choose one creature that you can see within 5 feet of you. If the target can see or hear you, it must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw against your wizard spell save DC or be charmed by you until the end of your next turn. The charmed creature’s speed drops to 0, and the creature is incapacitated and visibly dazed.
On subsequent turns, you can use your action to maintain this effect, extending its duration until the end of your next turn. However, the effect ends if you move more than 5 feet away from the creature, if the creature can neither see nor hear you, or if the creature takes damage.
Once the effect ends, or if the creature succeeds on its initial saving throw against this effect, you can’t use this feature on that creature again until you finish a long rest.
I’ve seen this feature spoken of favorably in multiple wizard subclass analyses, and for the life of me I cannot understand why. The best-case scenario for Hypnotic Gaze has the squishy wizard standing five feet away from an enemy, exchanging their own action for the target’s.
Given that wizards have pretty powerful actions, I’m not a huge fan of this exchange. Worse, running into melee range to try and shut down one target will often leave you exposed to that target’s friends, and Enchantment wizards don’t have many defensive tools outside of Shield. If Hypnotic Gaze fails, things get even worse, as the wizard is now in melee range and spent their action doing nothing.
This ability is odd in that it gets worse the stronger the wizard using it is. If your wizard is poorly built and does almost nothing with their action, then burning it to try and shut down a single opponent is a net win for the party. However, if your wizard is capable of taking useful actions, then that math quickly shifts in favor of the monsters who don’t have to deal with all the mean actions the wizard might take.
Level 6 – Instinctive Charm
When a creature you can see within 30 feet of you makes an attack roll against you, you can use your reaction to divert the attack, provided that another creature is within the attack’s range. The attacker must make a Wisdom saving throw against your wizard spell save DC. On a failed save, the attacker must target the creature that is closest to it, not including you or itself. If multiple creatures are closest, the attacker chooses which one to target. On a successful save, you can’t use this feature on the attacker again until you finish a long rest.
You must choose to use this feature before knowing whether the attack hits or misses. Creatures that can’t be charmed are immune to this effect.
This highly situational defensive tool has far too many restrictions to be good. The first is that the feature allows the target to make a save, and if they succeed, the Enchantment wizard can no longer attempt to use this feature against them. The second problem is that the wizard doesn’t get to choose where the attack is redirected. It might target another enemy or one of the wizard’s allies, and the target gets to decide tiebreakers. Finally, this feature must be used before the result of the attack is known, so the wizard might be attempting to redirect an attack that would have missed them anyway.
Level 10 – Split Enchantment
When you cast an enchantment spell of 1st level or higher that targets only one creature, you can have it target a second creature.
This is the feature that pushed Enchantment ahead of Illusion. This is effectively an always-on version of the sorcerer’s Twinned Spell Metamagic that is limited to enchantment spells. Luckily, the enchantment school includes some spells that are made significantly better by doubling the number of targets. Low-level spells like Hold Person and Suggestion become much more viable, and high-level options like Dominate Monster and Feeblemind benefit even more from the doubling of their more potent effects. If this subclass had anything else going for it, this feature would have increased its ranking significantly, but, sadly, it is the one good Enchantment feature.
Level 14 – Alter Memories
When you cast an enchantment spell to charm one or more creatures, you can alter one creature’s understanding so that it remains unaware of being charmed.
Additionally, once before the spell expires, you can use your action to try to make the chosen creature forget some of the time it spent charmed. The creature must succeed on an Intelligence saving throw against your wizard spell save DC or lose a number of hours of its memories equal to 1 + your Charisma modifier (minimum of 1). You can make the creature forget less time, and the amount of time can’t exceed the duration of your enchantment spell.
Sorry to spoil it with my last sentence, but this feature is not good. The first half removes the “creature knows it was charmed by you” clause present in spells like Friends, Charm Person, and Charm Monster. This is an okay upgrade, but by the time this feature comes online, many of the Enchantment wizard’s spells no longer have this drawback. Mass Suggestion, Dominate Person, and Dominate Monster are some of the best enchantment spells in the game and do not benefit from this improvement. The second half of the feature is much more geared toward roleplay interactions, and its power will once again vary wildly depending on the game it is used in.
While Enchantment is much easier to judge than the Illusion subclass, it’s not all that much better. Being able to twin powerful control effects is a very good ability, but it’s gained late and lacks significant support from other features. This subclass can only charm its way into twelfth place.
With options like the Shepherd druid and Necromancy wizard, it’s easy to forget that the Conjuration subclass exists at all. While this subclass isn’t awful, nothing about it really stands out, and it never receives the needed boosts to its summoning spells that the alternatives have.
Level 2 – Minor Conjuration
You can use your action to conjure up an inanimate object in your hand or on the ground in an unoccupied space that you can see within 10 feet of you. This object can be no larger than 3 feet on a side and weigh no more than 10 pounds, and its form must be that of a nonmagical object that you have seen. The object is visibly magical, radiating dim light out to 5 feet.
The object disappears after 1 hour, when you use this feature again, if it takes any damage, or if it deals any damage.
Minor Conjuration shares a lot of similarities with the Creation bard’s Performance of Creation feature, along with many of its problems. Where the bard is limited by gold cost, Conjuration wizards have a specific weight their object cannot exceed and must have seen the object they are creating.
For the majority of campaigns, this feature is too restrictive to be of any real use. If your GM allows you to create items like purple worm poison,* this ability becomes significantly better, but I doubt that type of activity will be allowed very often.
Level 6 – Benign Transposition
You can use your action to teleport up to 30 feet to an unoccupied space that you can see. Alternatively, you can choose a space within range that is occupied by a Small or Medium creature. If that creature is willing, you both teleport, swapping places.
Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest or you cast a conjuration spell of 1st level or higher.
Given that wizards have had the Misty Step spell available to them since 3rd level, spending an entire action for a similar effect is not a tempting proposition. This feature does have the bonus that it can be used to swap positions with a target, but that is a niche application that can only be used on an ally. On the bright side, the generous recharge rate means you’ll at least have access to this below-average feature whenever you want it.
Level 10 – Focused Conjuration
While you are concentrating on a conjuration spell, your concentration can’t be broken as a result of taking damage.
Given how important concentration is, being able to guarantee its maintenance is very powerful. Thanks to the various spell-list expansions wizards have received since the PHB, there are now powerful concentration-based conjuration spells at most levels of play. This feature is very good and by far the best one in the Conjuration subclass. It’s just a shame that it comes online relatively late.
Level 14 – Durable Summons
Any creature that you summon or create with a conjuration spell has 30 temporary hit points.
Unfortunately for the Conjuration wizard, this feature is looking for a type of summons not available to the class. Every good wizard conjuration spell at 14th level and up summons a single powerful creature. While 30 hit points to this single entity is decent, it would be so much stronger if applied to a large group of individually weaker summons, like Conjure Animals. A swarm of 10 hit point velociraptors would appreciate the extra durability a lot more than a single draconic spirit with 50. That’s not to say this feature is bad on a single target, it’s just not amazing, especially as a subclass capstone.
An ostensibly summoning-focused subclass that doesn’t receive a direct bonus to its summons till 14th level already has an uphill climb to prove its usefulness. There are some okay features present, especially the 10th-level unbreakable concentration, but it never fully comes together mechanically or thematically. The most this subclass can summon is eleventh place.
Graviturgy is one of two subclasses introduced in Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount, a book based on the hit YouTube series Critical Role, and I have major issues with both of them. I’ve ranked Graviturgy quite low on the list, but my issue with this subclass isn’t one of power*, but the semi-attached spell school of Dunamancy.
The Dunamancy spells, while not directly referenced anywhere in the Graviturgy subclass, are described in the Wildemount book as only usable by that book’s wizard subclasses. This raises the question of whether I should consider access to that spell list as a unique feature present in the Graviturgy and Chronurgy subclasses.
In the end, I have decided to consider Dunamancy spells as accessible by all wizard subclasses. The limitations placed on this spell list are not present in either Wildemount subclass, and the section of the book discussing it even includes that other wizards could take the spells with the GM’s permission. This decision has impacted the power ranking of the Graviturgy wizard, and if your campaign does restrict the Wildemount spell list, then this subclass will be relatively stronger.
Level 2 – Adjust Density
As an action, you can magically alter the weight of one object or creature you can see within 30 feet of you. The object or creature must be Large or smaller. The target’s weight is halved or doubled for up to 1 minute or until your concentration ends (as if you were concentrating on a spell).
While the weight of a creature is halved by this effect, the creature’s speed increases by 10 feet, it can jump twice as far as normal, and it has disadvantage on Strength checks and Strength saving throws. While the weight of a creature is doubled by this effect, the creature’s speed is reduced by 10 feet, and it has advantage on Strength checks and Strength saving throws.
Upon reaching 10th level in this class, you can target an object or a creature that is Huge or smaller.
Whenever an ability has unlimited uses, designers need to take a very hard look at its application to make sure its interactions remain balanced even when they are used an infinite number of times. Even with unlimited uses, this feature is so restrictive in its application as to be very weak.
This ability not only requires concentration, but also it makes only minor changes to its target’s attributes. Between jump height and movement speed, the latter is the more important in most situations, but a 10-foot change in either direction will never be worth an action in combat. Out of combat, movement speed usually doesn’t matter. I’ve seen attempts to add effects to this feature through the justification of “that’s how it would work in real life,” but it’s important to remember that 5E is a game with rules, and Adjust Density is an ability with clear rules governing its effects and little creative wiggle room.
Level 6 – Gravity Well
Whenever you cast a spell on a creature, you can move the target 5 feet to an unoccupied space of your choice if the target is willing to move, the spell hits it with an attack, or it fails a saving throw against the spell.
If your party makes use of forced movement, having another source of it will be very helpful, especially when it’s attached to the great spells a wizard already wants to cast. However, for many wizards, this feature will be little more than an afterthought as they have no way to benefit from shifting their targets five feet.
Level 10 – Violent Attraction
When another creature that you can see within 60 feet of you hits with a weapon attack, you can use your reaction to increase the attack’s velocity, causing the attack’s target to take an extra 1d10 damage of the weapon’s type.
Alternatively, if a creature within 60 feet of you takes damage from a fall, you can use your reaction to increase the fall’s damage by 2d10.
You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Intelligence modifier (a minimum of once). You regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.
Between Shield and Absorb Elements, wizards have some very powerful reaction options that compete with both parts of this feature. It will almost always be better to save your reaction for a defensive spell than to deal at most 2d10 additional damage.
Level 14 – Event Horizon
As an action, you can magically emit a powerful field of gravitational energy that tugs at other creatures for up to 1 minute or until your concentration ends (as if you were concentrating on a spell). For the duration, whenever a creature hostile to you starts its turn within 30 feet of you, it must make a Strength saving throw against your spell save DC. On a failed save, it takes 2d10 force damage, and its speed is reduced to 0 until the start of its next turn. On a successful save, it takes half as much damage, and every foot it moves this turn costs 2 extra feet of movement.
Once you use this feature, you can’t do so again until you finish a long rest or until you expend a spell slot of 3rd level or higher on it.
This would be a solid capstone if it weren’t for the concentration requirement. Wizards don’t have as much competition for their concentration as some casters, but it’s still highly valuable, and any feature that competes with those powerful spells needs to be significantly stronger than one that doesn’t. At 14th level, I would much rather be concentrating on Wall of Force or Forcecage than Event Horizon.
This feature has another weakness: the timing when it triggers on an enemy. Unlike spells like Spirit Guardians, Event Horizon doesn’t trigger when an enemy enters its radius. This means an enemy can close to melee with the Graviturgy wizard before the enemy must make any sort of save that would lose them movement. Additionally, Event Horizon isn’t a spell, so it doesn’t synergize with the Gravity Well feature. None of these is a deal breaker, but they do knock what could have been an excellent capstone down to merely average.
If you don’t consider its spell list as an exclusive feature, Graviturgy is a collection of okay features. It doesn’t have anything I’d consider fully useless like the entries before it, but there’s little to recommend the subclass either. It’s only fitting that the gravity wizard settles toward the bottom in tenth place.
Much like Conjuration, the Transmutation subclass is one I often forget about when considering wizard options. While there isn’t as much direct competition from other subclasses, Transmutation still fails to carve out a thematic or mechanical identity for itself.
Level 2 – Minor Alchemy
You perform a special alchemical procedure on one object composed entirely of wood, stone (but not a gemstone), iron, copper, or silver, transforming it into a different one of those materials. For each 10 minutes you spend performing the procedure, you can transform up to 1 cubic foot of material. After 1 hour, or until you lose your concentration (as if you were concentrating on a spell), the material reverts to its original substance.
A temporary transformation of mundane material that requires concentration is both weak and restrictive. The best use for this feature that I’ve seen is to convert as much material you can into silver and then trick shopkeepers with the fake silver. Even if this is allowed,* it’s a niche use that probably won’t work in the same place more than once.
Level 6 – Transmuter’s Stone
You can benefit from the stone yourself or give it to another creature. A creature gains a benefit of your choice as long as the stone is in the creature’s possession. When you create the stone, choose the benefit from the following options:
- Darkvision out to a range of 60 feet, as described in chapter 8.
- An increase to speed of 10 feet while the creature is unencumbered.
- Proficiency in Constitution saving throws.
- Resistance to acid, cold, fire, lightning, or thunder damage (your choice whenever you choose this benefit).
Each time you cast a transmutation spell of 1st level or higher, you can change the effect of your stone if the stone is on your person.
If you create a new transmuter’s stone, the previous one ceases to function.
What a wasted opportunity to give the wizard a philosopher’s stone. There are technically a lot of options in the poorly named feature, but there’s only one that matters: proficiency on constitution saving throws. Most wizards have to spend a feat to gain constitution proficiency and the improved concentration it brings; the Transmutation wizard gets it as a subclass feature.
Level 10 – Shapechanger
You add the polymorph spell to your spellbook, if it is not there already. You can cast polymorph without expending a spell slot. When you do so, you can target only yourself and transform into a beast whose challenge rating is 1 or lower.
Once you cast polymorph in this way, you can’t do so again until you finish a short or long rest, though you can still cast it normally using an available spell slot.
Polymorph is a spell that is good when it turns a 7th-level character into a giant ape, or an 8th-level character into a Tyrannosaurus Rex. It is not good when it can only be used to turn yourself into a beast of challenge rating 1 or below. Not only are the beast selections for this special use of Polymorph pitifully weak at 10th level, but the Transmutation wizard can only use this bad ability once per short or long rest.
Level 14 – Master Transmuter
You can use your action to consume the reserve of transmutation magic stored within your transmuter’s stone in a single burst. When you do so, choose one of the following effects. Your transmuter’s stone is destroyed and can’t be remade until you finish a long rest.
Major Transformation. You can transmute one nonmagical object—no larger than a 5-foot cube—into another nonmagical object of similar size and mass and of equal or lesser value. You must spend 10 minutes handling the object to transform it.
Panacea. You remove all curses, diseases, and poisons affecting a creature that you touch with the transmuter’s stone. The creature also regains all its hit points.
Restore Life. You cast the raise dead spell on a creature you touch with the transmuter’s stone, without expending a spell slot or needing to have the spell in your spellbook.
Restore Youth. You touch the transmuter’s stone to a willing creature, and that creature’s apparent age is reduced by 3d10 years, to a minimum of 13 years. This effect doesn’t extend the creature’s lifespan.
Out of the options on offer from this feature, the full heal from Panacea and the free Raise Dead spell from Restore Life are by far the best choices. It is sad that using this feature is not only limited to once per long rest but you also lose the constitution saving throw proficiency granted by the Transmuter’s Stone you destroyed. Even with these drawbacks, this is probably the best wizard subclass capstone we’ve seen so far.
Finding the exact ranking order for these weaker wizard subclasses was difficult, but Transmutation was able to secure its slot thanks to its first good feature coming online before any of the others and having a legitimately good capstone. Ninth place.
That covers the first five wizard subclasses. Check in next time for part two, when we move into the middle of the pack.
I have also created a tier list for those of you who are interested.