Last time, I started the wizard subclass rankings. This week, we cover the middle entries. 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.
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.
Scribes is the newest wizard kid on the block, appearing in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. If I had to sum up this subclass in one word, it would be “neat.” There are lots of interesting features on offer that expand the flexibility of the wizard without a straight increase to the class’s effectiveness.
Level 2 – Wizardly Quill
As a bonus action, you can magically create a Tiny quill in your free hand. The magic quill has the following properties:
- The quill doesn’t require ink. When you write with it, it produces ink in a color of your choice on the writing surface.
- The time you must spend to copy a spell into your spellbook equals 2 minutes per spell level if you use the quill for the transcription.
- You can erase anything you write with the quill if you wave the feather over the text as a bonus action, provided the text is within 5 feet of you.
This quill disappears if you create another one or if you die.
Although there are three pieces to this feature, only the second has any mechanical significance. Essentially, this is a more powerful version of the PHB spell school Savant feature. If your campaign is very tight on time and/or money, this will be a useful way to add any wizard spells you find, but for most I doubt even this much-improved spell-copying ability will feel impactful.
Level 2 – Awakened Spellbook
While you are holding your spellbook, it grants you the following benefits:
- You can use the book as a spellcasting focus for your wizard spells.
- When you cast a wizard spell with a spell slot, you can temporarily replace its damage type with a type that appears in another spell in your spellbook, which magically alters the spell’s formula for this casting only. The latter spell must be of the same level as the spell slot you expend.
- When you cast a wizard spell as a ritual, you can use the spell’s normal casting time, rather than adding 10 minutes to it. Once you use this benefit, you can’t do so again until you finish a long rest.
If necessary, you can replace the book over the course of a short rest by using your Wizardly Quill to write arcane sigils in a blank book or a magic spellbook to which you’re attuned. At the end of the rest, your spellbook’s consciousness is summoned into the new book, which the consciousness transforms into your spellbook, along with all its spells. If the previous book still existed somewhere, all the spells vanish from its pages.
Thankfully, this feature has a bit more mechanical meat* on its bones. The first portion is still mostly flavor, although I do find it odd that this is the only wizard that can cast spells through their spellbook. The third portion is stronger, but given its extremely limited number of uses, a single sped-up ritual won’t feel very powerful.
Lastly, let’s cover the second portion. This is where we see the increase in flexibility I mentioned earlier. Now, the Scribes wizard can pick which damage type their leveled spells use, meaning they can avoid resistances or immunities while taking advantage of any weaknesses a monster might have.
While moderately useful on a monoclass wizard, this part of the feature really shines on multiclass builds that attempt to stack multiple elemental damage increases onto Magic Missile. Using this ability to convert the spell from force to fire damage and combining it with features from the Wildfire druid, Celestial warlock, and Dragon sorcerer can make for a very consistent and efficient damage dealer.
Level 6 – Manifest Mind
You can conjure forth the mind of your Awakened Spellbook. As a bonus action while the book is on your person, you can cause the mind to manifest as a Tiny spectral object, hovering in an unoccupied space of your choice within 60 feet of you. The spectral mind is intangible and doesn’t occupy its space, and it sheds dim light in a 10-foot radius. It looks like a ghostly tome, a cascade of text, or a scholar from the past (your choice).
While manifested, the spectral mind can hear and see, and it has darkvision with a range of 60 feet. The mind can telepathically share with you what it sees and hears (no action required).
Whenever you cast a wizard spell on your turn, you can cast it as if you were in the spectral mind’s space, instead of your own, using its senses. You can do so a number of times per day equal to your proficiency bonus, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.
As a bonus action, you can cause the spectral mind to hover up to 30 feet to an unoccupied space that you or it can see. It can pass through creatures but not objects.
The spectral mind stops manifesting if it is ever more than 300 feet away from you, if someone casts dispel magic on it, if the Awakened Spellbook is destroyed, if you die, or if you dismiss the spectral mind as a bonus action.
Once you conjure the mind, you can’t do so again until you finish a long rest, unless you expend a spell slot of any level to conjure it again.
Now you don’t even need to be in the same room as your enemy when you Fireball them. This is another expansion to the wizard’s flexibility, this time in the realm of battlefield placement rather than damage types. If an encounter is proving too dangerous for the squishy wizard, simply hide in another room and throw spells through your ghost book. However, this remote casting is limited, so you must be judicious in which spells you use this way. A Scribes wizard attempting to battle remotely will be significantly less effective than one doing so in person.
This feature can also be used as a scouting and first-strike tool. It shares many similarities with the Find Familiar spell, but it trades stealth for immunity to damage and an increased range. If you are able to set up a situation where your enemies either can’t escape the Manifest Mind or don’t recognize the danger it represents, you can blast away with your biggest spells without any threat of reprisal. Granted, I don’t see such a situation arising against enemies of significant threat, but it’s still a useful tool in the wizard’s arsenal.
Level 10 – Master Scrivener
Whenever you finish a long rest, you can create one magic scroll by touching your Wizardly Quill to a blank piece of paper or parchment and causing one spell from your Awakened Spellbook to be copied onto the scroll. The spellbook must be within 5 feet of you when you make the scroll.
The chosen spell must be of 1st or 2nd level and must have a casting time of 1 action. Once in the scroll, the spell’s power is enhanced, counting as one level higher than normal. You can cast the spell from the scroll by reading it as an action. The scroll is unintelligible to anyone else, and the spell vanishes from the scroll when you cast it or when you finish your next long rest.
You are also adept at crafting spell scrolls, which are described in the treasure chapter of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. The gold and time you must spend to make such a scroll are halved if you use your Wizardly Quill.
An additional 1st- or 2nd-level spell upcast by one level per long rest is very weak at 10th level. After reviewing the spells on offer, I’d say a defensive spell like Blur or Mirror Image would be decent candidates. Neither of them take advantage of the upcasting, but most of the spells that do aren’t really worth it, even with an additional level. If you do want an offensive spell, then Hold Person is a good choice, as its effectiveness doubles from one target to two when it is upcast.
The second half of this feature is highly dependent on how often your campaign uses spell scrolls. Personally, I rarely see such items used, but I’ve heard about games where they play a major role. If you find yourself in the latter, then being able to produce scrolls for half the price and time will be very useful. If you’re in the former group, then it’ll be mostly worthless.
Level 14 – One with the Word
While your spellbook is on your person, you have advantage on all Intelligence (Arcana) checks, as the spellbook helps you remember magical lore.
Moreover, if you take damage while your spellbook’s mind is manifested, you can prevent all of that damage to you by using your reaction to dismiss the spectral mind, using its magic to save yourself. Then roll 3d6. The spellbook temporarily loses spells of your choice that have a combined spell level equal to that roll or higher. For example, if the roll’s total is 9, spells vanish from the book that have a combined level of at least 9, which could mean one 9th-level spell, three 3rd-level spells, or some other combination. If there aren’t enough spells in the book to cover this cost, you drop to 0 hit points.
Until you finish 1d6 long rests, you are incapable of casting the lost spells, even if you find them on a scroll or in another spellbook. After you finish the required number of rests, the spells reappear in the spellbook.
Once you use this reaction, you can’t do so again until you finish a long rest.
I’m conflicted on this feature. The ability to simply negate a source of damage by drawing on the power of your spellbook is both powerful and so intrinsically wizard-like that it’s hard not to love it. However, it’s attached to the most annoying tracking requirements I’ve seen in 5E.
Given how large the wizard spell list is and how easily Scribes wizards can copy spells into their books, you’ll probably always have a surplus of worthless spells to fuel One with the Word. The problem is that every time you use this ability, you need to start tracking a different number of long rests before those spells reappear. This could be as many as 108 spell levels that need to be tracked in six separate groups. Spellcasters are already fairly complicated in 5E, so adding a new layer of busy work to the wizard is a big ask. Mechanically, this feature is fine, but it is not worth all the extra garbage the player is being asked to sort through.
While doing research for this article, I noticed more than one review say that the Scribes subclass is something that should have been given to all wizards, and I agree with that sentiment to a point. A lot of this subclass feels more like something any wizard could do than a bespoke subgroup of the class. That doesn’t mean this subclass is weak, as increased flexibility can be very useful. However, it can leave the subclass without much of an identity of its own. Pencil in the Scribe for eighth place.
From the complicated Scribes, we return to the much simpler PHB subclasses, this time with Abjuration. This subclass has a simple, if effective, sales pitch: would you like to be a tougher wizard that shuts down other spellcasters?
Level 2 – Arcane Ward
When you cast an abjuration spell of 1st level or higher, you can simultaneously use a strand of the spell’s magic to create a magical ward on yourself that lasts until you finish a long rest. The ward has a hit point maximum equal to twice your wizard level + your Intelligence modifier. Whenever you take damage, the ward takes the damage instead. If this damage reduces the ward to 0 hit points, you take any remaining damage.
While the ward has 0 hit points, it can’t absorb damage, but its magic remains. Whenever you cast an abjuration spell of 1st level or higher, the ward regains a number of hit points equal to twice the level of the spell.
Once you create the ward, you can’t create it again until you finish a long rest.
With powerhouse spells like Absorb Elements, Shield, Counterspell, and Dispel Magic all coming from the abjuration school, it’s safe to say this feature will always be active to some extent for wizards of all levels. Without any augmentation, this is a decent feature, providing the wizard with an extra pool of health that shields their concentration whenever damage is dealt to the ward rather than the wizard’s hit points.
What makes Arcane Ward really shine is the ability to quickly recharge it between fights without expending any resources. There are a couple ways to do this, but the best is through the Eldritch Invocation Armor of Shadows. This can be acquired through 2 levels of warlock or the Eldritch Adept feat and allows the Abjuration wizard to repeatedly cast the abjuration spell Mage Armor without expending spell slots, charging the ward for free. With that upgrade, Arcane Ward goes from decent to amazing.
Level 6 – Projected Ward
When a creature that you can see within 30 feet of you takes damage, you can use your reaction to cause your Arcane Ward to absorb that damage. If this damage reduces the ward to 0 hit points, the warded creature takes any remaining damage.
If you want to help others with your Arcane Ward, now you can do so. Given how valuable a wizard’s reaction is, I doubt this feature will see much use. It’s sad that the 6th-level feature for Abjuration is so weak, but at least the Arcane Ward is still scaling up every level.
Level 10 – Improved Abjuration
When you cast an abjuration spell that requires you to make an ability check as a part of casting that spell (as in counterspell and dispel magic), you add your proficiency bonus to that ability check.
Counterspell and Dispel Magic can be some of the most powerful spells in the game, and now the Abjuration wizard is the best counter-mage in town. Being able to protect yourself and your party from hostile spellcasters can be hugely important in 5E, especially at the higher levels of play. This feature might be simple, but it is very good.
Level 14 – Spell Resistance
You have advantage on saving throws against spells.
Furthermore, you have resistance against the damage of spells.
Now you have a good chance at saving against any spells that you don’t Counterspell, and you take half damage from them. I wish this feature had the “and other magical effects” clause that the Yuan-ti Pureblood’s Magic Resistance feature has, but even without that this is another strong boost to the Abjuration wizard’s survivability.
Abjuration is a solid subclass that makes up for its lack of flashy abilities with a suite of useful features that will be helpful in any campaign. There’s not too much more to say except seventh place.
6. War Magic
Between the Abjuration subclass we just covered and the Bladesinger we see later, the War Magic subclass has always felt a bit lost to me, identity-wise. Thankfully, it has a strong set of abilities to offset any misgivings I might have on its flavor niche.
Level 2 – Arcane Deflection
When you are hit by an attack or you fail a saving throw, you can use your reaction to gain a +2 bonus to your AC against that attack or a +4 bonus to that saving throw.
When you use this feature, you can’t cast spells other than cantrips until the end of your next turn.
This feature is an excellent addition to the powerful reaction options already available to wizards. Between the two boosts, adding +4 to a saving throw is the stronger option by far. Saving throws are often the most important rolls you can make, and failing one can be the difference between being active on your turn or spending it trying to break whatever condition has afflicted you.
Arcane Deflection also works well out of combat, meaning you essentially have +4 to all your saving throws while not actively fighting. The cantrip-only limitation can be annoying, but since it’s common for wizards to cast their concentration spell on round one and then rely on cantrips for the rest of the fight, the restriction is often mitigated.
Level 2 – Tactical Wit
You can give yourself a bonus to your initiative rolls equal to your Intelligence modifier.
Going first can be very useful, especially if you want to spend that round throwing out an area-effect spell before friendly fire becomes an issue, and this feature helps make that happen. I do like that this bonus is optional, so if you find yourself in a situation where going first would be a detriment, you can ditch this bonus for that combat.
Level 6 – Power Surge
You can store a maximum number of power surges equal to your Intelligence modifier (minimum of one). Whenever you finish a long rest, your number of power surges resets to one. Whenever you successfully end a spell with dispel magic or counterspell, you gain one power surge, as you steal magic from the spell you foiled. If you end a short rest with no power surges, you gain one power surge.
Once per turn when you deal damage to a creature or object with a wizard spell, you can spend one power surge to deal extra force damage to that target. The extra damage equals half your wizard level.
This is a complicated way to add a tiny amount of damage to your spells. At level 20 this is doing a whopping 10 additional damage once per long rest unless you gain more activations through the use of Dispel Magic or Counterspell. As good as both those spells are, you won’t be casting them every day, and you won’t always succeed when you do. Even if you gained the benefit of Power Surge on every spell you cast, it would be a below-average ability. With these usage limitations, it is just bad.
Level 10 – Durable Magic
While you maintain concentration on a spell, you have a +2 bonus to AC and all saving throws.
A bonus to AC and saving throws is very good. Since you’ll be concentrating on some sort of spell in every fight, this feature will almost always be active, granting a substantial increase in survivability.
Level 14 – Deflecting Shroud
When you use your Arcane Deflection feature, you can cause magical energy to arc from you. Up to three creatures of your choice that you can see within 60 feet of you each take force damage equal to half your wizard level.
Now you can zap a few enemies for a little bit of damage whenever you use your 2nd-level feature. I’ll never say no to some free damage, and given how good Arcane Deflection is, Deflecting Shroud will see some use, but at 14th level, this feels incredibly weak to me.
My feelings on the War Magic subclass are similar to the ones I expressed about Abjuration. Both make the wizard harder to hurt and push them toward operating as an anti-mage. I give War the slight edge due to its more consistent early features and less situational 10th-level ability. Sixth place to the battle wizard.
Necromancy is one of those subclasses that, depending on how you play it, can either be the highest damage wizard by a mile or feel like you don’t have a subclass at all.
Level 2 – Grim Harvest
Once per turn when you kill one or more creatures with a spell of 1st level or higher, you regain hit points equal to twice the spell’s level, or three times its level if the spell belongs to the School of Necromancy. You don’t gain this benefit for killing constructs or undead.
Before we get to why that is, let’s look at this below-average 2nd-level feature. Depending on how you play your wizard, killing an enemy won’t be an unlikely occurrence, but you need this ability to trigger a lot before its healing will be felt.
The oddest thing about this feature to me is that it would be more at home in the Evocation subclass than Necromancy. Grim Harvest has no synergy with the undead minions that a Necromancy wizard might summon. If my skeleton horde kills an enemy, that doesn’t trigger this feature.
Level 6 – Undead Thralls
You add the animate dead spell to your spellbook if it is not there already. When you cast animate dead, you can target one additional corpse or pile of bones, creating another zombie or skeleton, as appropriate.
Whenever you create an undead using a necromancy spell, it has additional benefits:
- The creature’s hit point maximum is increased by an amount equal to your wizard level.
- The creature adds your proficiency bonus to its weapon damage rolls.
Time to talk about the massive power variance I mentioned earlier. The strength of this feature will depend entirely on how well you can manage a large group of summoned creatures and how willing your party and GM are to work with you while doing so. Animate Dead can theoretically summon huge numbers of ranged allies that deal absurd damage, and Necromancy wizards get the best boost to these summons.
A build I’ve worked on uses Undead Thralls as a foundation to safely* create and manage a horde of 124 skeletons capable of doing over 1,000 damage per round. This does come with the question of how you manage such a large horde.
Pre-rolling attacks, using spreadsheets to track everything, and tools like digital tabletops with mass selection can mitigate the logistical issues presented by the necromantic swarm, but it is a lot of work for both the player and the GM. The alternative to all this is to keep a much smaller number of undead around, but in doing so the damage and hit-point boosts granted by this feature become significantly worse.
Level 10 – Inured to Undeath
You have resistance to necrotic damage, and your hit point maximum can’t be reduced. You have spent so much time dealing with undead and the forces that animate them that you have become inured to some of their worst effects.
Resistance to a relatively uncommon damage type and immunity to an even rarer secondary damage effect is something I’d expect as a 6th-level feature. At 10th level, it is underwhelming.
Level 14 – Command Undead
As an action, you can choose one undead that you can see within 60 feet of you. That creature must make a Charisma saving throw against your wizard spell save DC. If it succeeds, you can’t use this feature on it again. If it fails, it becomes friendly to you and obeys your commands until you use this feature again.
Intelligent undead are harder to control in this way. If the target has an Intelligence of 8 or higher, it has advantage on the saving throw. If it fails the saving throw and has an Intelligence of 12 or higher, it can repeat the saving throw at the end of every hour until it succeeds and breaks free.
This feature depends entirely on what monsters your GM decides to put in their game. If they are kind enough to throw a challenge rating 20 nightwalker at you, then this will feel like the best capstone in the game. However, they could also run a game with no undead to speak of, leaving this as a dead feature.* Taking the average of those two extremes, I’d say Command Undead is on the weaker side of 14th-level features. You’ll probably get a decent pet out of it, but nothing terribly good compared to the level at which you gain it and the hordes you can already summon.
If you plan to make a Necromancy wizard, make sure you have an understanding with your group on how you intend to use Animate Dead during the game. If they’re okay with piles of skeleton bowmen, this subclass will feel incredibly good. If not, it becomes so much weaker that I’d recommend picking a better subclass and flavoring yourself as a necromancer. Fifth place to the spooky scary skeletons.
That covers the middle four wizard subclasses. Check in next time for part three, when we cover the best wizards on offer.
I have also created a tier list for those of you who are interested.
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