Last time, I continued the wizard subclass rankings. And now, we cover the final four 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.
Divination is one of the most popular wizard subclasses, and with good reason. This subclass has a core feature that is both unique and powerful, allowing the player to do something normally reserved for the GM: fudging dice rolls.
Level 2 – Portent
When you finish a long rest, roll two d20s and record the numbers rolled. You can replace any attack roll, saving throw, or ability check made by you or a creature that you can see with one of these foretelling rolls. You must choose to do so before the roll, and you can replace a roll in this way only once per turn.
Each foretelling roll can be used only once. When you finish a long rest, you lose any unused foretelling rolls.
I doubt that it’s news to anyone that being able to override two rolls per long rest is very, very good. However, Portent has some limitations that prevent it from dominating as much as some people claim.
The first is that you really want Portent rolls to be very low or very high. High rolls can be used for clutch saves or attacks, especially a 20. Low rolls can be used to force enemies to fail saves or miss attacks. The problem is that middling rolls can often fail in either of the uses I just mentioned. This adds a lot of variance to Portent and helps keep the feature’s average power in check. The second issue is that the Portent roll must be used before a roll is made. This means that Portent can be “wasted” on rolls that might have gone the player’s way.
Level 6 – Expert Divination
When you cast a divination spell of 2nd level or higher using a spell slot, you regain one expended spell slot. The slot you regain must be of a level lower than the spell you cast and can’t be higher than 5th level.
Theoretically, this feature hugely increases the number of spell slots a Divination wizard has. For example, casting a 5th-level divination spell allows the wizard to regain a 4th-level slot, which can then be used for another divination spell and a 3rd-level slot. The problem is that the divination spell school is full of spells that are very specific in their uses.
Contact Other Plane might be very good that one time the cleric needs to chat with their god, but you’re unlikely to cast it every day. The same can be said for most divination spells, meaning that it’s very hard to chain spells together in an effective manner to make full use of Expert Divination. While this feature isn’t useless, it’s a lot weaker than it initially looks due to the spell selection it has to work with.
Level 10 – The Third Eye
You can use your action to increase your powers of perception. When you do so, choose one of the following benefits, which lasts until you are incapacitated or you take a short or long rest. You can’t use the feature again until you finish a rest.
Darkvision. You gain darkvision out to a range of 60 feet.
Ethereal Sight. You can see into the Ethereal Plane within 60 feet of you.
Greater Comprehension. You can read any language.
See Invisibility. You can see invisible creatures and objects within 10 feet of you that are within line of sight.
A collection of weak effects of which you only get one per long rest. If you don’t have darkvision as part of your ancestry, that’ll probably be your best option unless you know you’ll be encountering invisible or ethereal creatures. Greater Comprehension is covered by a ritual spell every wizard should have by 10th level, so it’ll almost never be the correct choice. This could have been a 2nd-level feature and still feel like mostly flavor; at 10th level it is awful.
Level 14 – Greater Portent
You roll three d20s for your Portent feature, rather than two.
Now you have three chances for an extreme Portent role instead of two, which is simple but powerful. While this increase in power is nice, as a capstone I find it somewhat disappointing. Bump this to 10th level and give Divination wizards a real capstone, and I’d be a lot happier.
Divination is a subclass that is completely carried by its 2nd-level Portent feature. As we’ve seen from previous entries in this series, sometimes one good ability can be enough to propel a subclass to the top spot, but not quite in this case. My orb pondering shows fourth place for Divination.
One of the only subclasses to make it out of the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide alive,* the Bladesinger has proven to be something of a contentious subclass. Some see it as the best of both worlds: Not only are you a wizard, but you can also use weapons like a martial character. On the other hand, some see this subclass as merely diluting the powerful base wizard. Why pursue martial options when you’re capable of much stronger spell options? Given where I’ve placed the Bladesinger, I’d consider myself in the former camp.
Level 2 – Training in War and Song (Bladesinging)
You gain proficiency with light armor, and you gain proficiency with one type of one-handed melee weapon of your choice.
You also gain proficiency in the Performance skill if you don’t already have it.
Normally, I don’t have a high opinion of proficiency-based subclass features, but this is one of the exceptions. Unlike weapons, languages, or tools, armor proficiencies are highly valuable, generally requiring either multiclassing or a feat to gain as a wizard. Being able to wear light armor grants the Bladesinger an alternative to Mage Armor, and at higher level being able to wear a magical set of studded leather can be very helpful.
For monoclass wizards, even the weapon proficiency portion of this feature is helpful. Wizards have some of the worst starting weapon proficiencies in 5E, so this is needed if you intend to use weapons as part of your combat style. This feature can be used to acquire proficiency in shortswords or rapiers, depending on what your build calls for. Without this additional proficiency, the Bladesinger would be stuck with a dagger or light crossbow as their best dex-based option. Sadly, there’s no secret use of Performance that makes gaining it as a proficiency good, but we can’t have everything.
Level 2 – Bladesong
You can invoke a secret elven magic called the Bladesong, provided you aren’t wearing medium or heavy armor or using a shield. It graces you with supernatural speed, agility, and focus.
You can use a bonus action to start the Bladesong, which lasts for 1 minute. It ends early if you are incapacitated, if you don medium or heavy armor or a shield, or if you use two hands to make an attack with a weapon. You can also dismiss Bladesong at any time you choose (no action required).
While your bladesong is active, you gain the following benefits:
- You gain a bonus to your AC equal to your Intelligence modifier (minimum of +1).
- Your walking speed increases by 10 feet.
- You have advantage on Dexterity (Acrobatics) checks.
- You gain a bonus to any Constitution saving throws you make to maintain concentration on a spell. The bonus equals your Intelligence modifier (minimum of +1).
You can use this feature a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus, and you regain all expended uses of it when you finish a long rest.
We get to the titular Bladesong, and it does not disappoint. There’s a lot going on in this feature and almost all of it is very strong. Large bonuses to AC and concentration saves and increased movement speed will be helpful in every combat. Advantage on acrobatics is less useful, but still helpful for escaping grapples.
Sadly, this pile of good stuff does come with some restrictions. Disallowing shields and heavy/medium armor isn’t a huge problem for a monoclassed wizard, as they don’t have those proficiencies to begin with, but it does limit the Bladesinger’s utility when multiclassing. Being unable to use two-handed weapons is a larger issue, as Polearm Master plus Great Weapon Master is the best melee damage option.
Instead, the Bladesinger is pushed toward the generally weak two-weapon fighting or a hand crossbow.* Despite my love of crossbow expert plus sharpshooter, I find myself drawn toward two-weapon fighting for the Bladesinger. A good ranged build requires two feats and the ASI-starved Bladesinger simply can’t take them without compromising some other part of their build.
Regardless of weapon choice, Bladesong is a very strong feature. It can even be used with no weapon, functioning purely as a defensive increase while the wizard does normal wizard stuff.
Level 6 – Extra Attack
You can attack twice, instead of once, whenever you take the Attack action on your turn. Moreover, you can cast one of your cantrips in place of one of those attacks
Thanks to changes made in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, this feature went from copying the fighter one level later to being the envy of gish* characters everywhere. The ability to mix a cantrip into a normal attack action opens up a lot of powerful combinations.
At the most basic level, the Booming Blade or Green-Flame Blade cantrips can be used in place of a normal attack, adding some free damage not normally allowed by Extra Attack. However, with some multiclassing, the Eldritch Blast/Agonizing Blast combo can be used instead for upwards of five attacks for one action. This Extra Attack can also be combined with the Eldritch Knight’s 7th-level War Magic feature to make a bonus action weapon attack without requiring a feat.
These more complicated uses come with their own drawbacks in the form of slower class progression or stricter stat requirements, but the existence of so many viable combinations speaks to the power of this unique attack feature.
Level 10 – Song of Defense
When you take damage, you can use your reaction to expend one spell slot and reduce that damage to you by an amount equal to five times the spell’s slot level.
When compared to options like Shield and Absorb Elements already available to wizards, Song of Defense has a tough time keeping up. Given the high AC most Bladesingers have,* Shield will reduce most non-crit attacks to zero for an entire round. The math also works out in favor of Absorb Elements. This spell will reduce an average Fireball’s damage by 14* for the cost of a 1st-level slot. Song of Defense needs a 3rd-level slot to accomplish the same thing, and the gap only widens as damage gets higher.
Where Song of Defense becomes helpful is against non-attack damage types not covered by Absorb Elements or if the wizard is unable to cast spells.* Unfortunately, these narrow use cases are not enough to make this ability feel good as a 10th-level feature.
Level 14 – Song of Victory
You add your Intelligence modifier (minimum of +1) to the damage of your melee weapon attacks while your Bladesong is active.
Now you get rewarded for sticking with a melee Bladesinger like the lore says you should. This is a decent damage boost that, much like Divination’s capstone, leaves me wanting more.
The Bladesinger might not be the best wizard, but it’s definitely one of the most fun. Out of all the subclasses available, this is the only one that creates a wholly different play pattern from the traditional bookish caster. It does suffer from wanting too many attributes and feats to fully function, but the good outweighs the bad. Whether you pick this class simply for the defensive boost or fully embrace the fantasy of the blade-mage, the Bladesinger slashes its way into third place.
When I started writing these articles many moons ago, this was one of the high rankings I thought would be uncontroversial. How wrong I was. From reviews claiming it “does not substantially increase the damage output of the baseline wizard” to others decrying it based on the weaknesses of blast spells, the venerable Evocation subclass isn’t highly valued in parts of the 5E community. I’m here to prove it should be.
Level 2 – Sculpt Spells
When you cast an evocation spell that affects other creatures that you can see, you can choose a number of them equal to 1 + the spell’s level. The chosen creatures automatically succeed on their saving throws against the spell, and they take no damage if they would normally take half damage on a successful save.
This is one of those abilities that fundamentally alter how a party can operate in combat. Difficult fights in 5E are generally the result of a group of decently strong enemies, rather than a single, very strong boss. In these group fights, characters who can interact with multiple enemies at a time are very important, and killing those enemies with spells is a great type of group interaction.
However, most wizards attempting to blow up their enemies have to deal with friendly fire. No matter how tempting that fight-ending Fireball might be, you don’t want to cast it if it ends half your party at the same time. The Evocation wizard doesn’t have this problem. Their fireball is being used to full effect, compared to the zero damage of the Fireball that couldn’t be cast due to friendly fire.
The Evocation wizard gains this great ability to deal damage without skimping on the control elements wizards are known for. They can cast spells like Wall of Force, Mass Suggestion, and Hypnotic Pattern just as well as anyone else, but eventually you need to start dealing some damage and Evocation is the best at it.
Level 6 – Potent Cantrip
When a creature succeeds on a saving throw against your cantrip, the creature takes half the cantrip’s damage (if any) but suffers no additional effect from the cantrip.
This ability was very bad when the Evocation wizard was printed in the Player’s Handbook. The best damage cantrip, Firebolt, simply didn’t work with this feature, so many Evocation wizards never benefited from it. Nowadays we have a pure-damage, save-based cantrip: Toll the Dead. This cantrip is all about damage, so the “no additional effect” clause doesn’t matter, and it deals d12, the largest die on offer. This feature still isn’t amazing, but it’s a lot better than it used to be and has been underrated in multiple reviews that I’ve watched while researching this article.
Level 10 – Empowered Evocation
You can add your Intelligence modifier to one damage roll of any wizard evocation spell you cast.
Much like the Bladesinger’s damage boost, this isn’t terribly exciting, but at least the Evocation wizard gets theirs at 10th level. There are two main scenarios where this feature is helpful. The first is when combined with an area effect spell that hits a large number of opponents. What would be a small amount of additional single-target damage becomes more substantial when multiplied over multiple targets.
The second use case is combining this feature with Magic Missile. Contrary to popular belief, Magic Missile’s damage roll is calculated by rolling 1d4, adding any modifiers, then multiplying that result by the number of darts, rather than rolling a separate d4 for every dart. This is a way to multiply the damage of this feature against a single target. Much like Potent Cantrip, this feature isn’t amazing, but its strengths are often overlooked.
Level 14 – Overchannel
When you cast a wizard spell of 1st through 5th-level that deals damage, you can deal maximum damage with that spell.
The first time you do so, you suffer no adverse effect. If you use this feature again before you finish a long rest, you take 2d12 necrotic damage for each level of the spell, immediately after you cast it. Each time you use this feature again before finishing a long rest, the necrotic damage per spell level increases by 1d12. This damage ignores resistance and immunity.
This is one of the most thematic wizard subclass capstones, and it can be very powerful when used correctly. There is, of course, the obvious usage on spells like Cone of Cold. An overchanneled CoC deals 64 damage to each target, and while blasts might not be as efficient as single-target, sustained damage sources, they get a lot better when used on a group of enemies.
Speaking of sustained damage, this feature also delivers. Rules as written, Overchannel maximizes all of a spell’s damage rolls, not just the first one.* This opens up a host of repeatable, concentration damage options. Dragon’s Breath deals a repeatable 36 area damage of a type you choose, making it a great choice if there is a good target for the spell. Flaming Sphere and Bigby’s Hand are both bonus action spells that deal good damage. Finally, terrain-hazard spells like Sickening Radiance or Wall of Fire can generate a ton of damage while maximized, if you have the teamwork to push enemies into their areas of effect.
Regardless of how you use Overchannel, it’s important to know when to use it. This feature’s self-damage adds up quickly, so you don’t want to use it unnecessarily. Once you’ve used the free activation, the best time to Overchannel something is when you’re pretty sure you’re not going to last another round. Dropping unconscious while dealing a ton of damage is a lot better than getting hit by a random enemy.
The caveat here is to make sure that Overchannel’s damage won’t kill you outright instead of knocking you unconscious. If you have a friend capable of casting Death Ward, that spell works very well with Overchannel, reducing you to one hit point regardless of the damage dealt by this feature.
As I mentioned in my ranger rankings, simple does not equal weak. The Evocation subclass is all about making the best blaster caster out there, and it succeeds at that without compromising the class’s other strengths. In a fair world, Evocation would have blown away the competition, but for now it must live in second place.
Coming into my wizard coverage, I was debating whether or not to even include this subclass in my rankings. In a game as complicated as 5E, even the best designers will make mistakes, but I do expect official subclasses to at least function in their entirety without breaking the game. Chronurgy fails that test. Since I am reviewing subclasses based on rules as written, this broken interaction does put this subclass at the top of the list, but I don’t have to like it.
Level 2 – Chronal Shift
As a reaction, after you or a creature you can see within 30 feet of you makes an attack roll, an ability check, or a saving throw, you can force the creature to reroll. You make this decision after you see whether the roll succeeds or fails. The target must use the result of the second roll.
You can use this ability twice, and you regain any expended uses when you finish a long rest.
This is a very good reaction, similar to Divination’s Portent. Chronal Shift is weaker on average, as it has an activation cost, a limited range, and is less predictable. However, it does have the advantage of being usable after the result of the roll in question has been declared. Portent is one of the best wizard features, and a weaker version of it is still very good.
Level 2 – Temporal Awareness
You can add your Intelligence modifier to your initiative rolls.
This was good on the War Magic wizard, and it’s good here too.
Level 6 – Momentary Stasis
As an action, you can magically force a Large or smaller creature you can see within 60 feet of you to make a Constitution saving throw against your spell save DC. Unless the saving throw is a success, the creature is encased in a field of magical energy until the end of your next turn or until the creature takes any damage. While encased in this way, the creature is incapacitated and has a speed of 0.
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.
A single-turn, save-based control effect that costs an action to activate and targets a strong save is a tough sell. The best use I see for this ability is against an enemy caster that is concentrating on a powerful spell. If the target fails its save, it becomes incapacitated, automatically losing concentration. Outside of that situation, the failure chance of the ability is high enough that I’d rather throw a cantrip.
Level 10 – Arcane Abeyance
When you cast a spell using a spell slot of 4th level or lower, you can condense the spell’s magic into a mote. The spell is frozen in time at the moment of casting and held within a gray bead for 1 hour. This bead is a Tiny object with AC 15 and 1 hit point, and it is immune to poison and psychic damage. When the duration ends, or if the bead is destroyed, it vanishes in a flash of light, and the spell is lost.
A creature holding the bead can use its action to release the spell within, whereupon the bead disappears. The spell uses your spell attack bonus and save DC, and the spell treats the creature who released it as the caster for all other purposes.
Once you create a bead with this feature, you can’t do so again until you finish a short or long rest.
Finally, we arrive at the game-breaking feature. I understand the flavor of this ability, and I agree that it fits as part of a time wizard’s toolkit. However, the designers failed completely in its execution. The big problem here is that they failed to restrict spells that could be stored with this feature by their casting time.
The biggest issue this mistake causes is with the spell Leomund’s Tiny Hut. This spell was created to give parties a safe space to sleep while resting. However, when you reduce its casting time to an action, Tiny Hut becomes an impenetrable fortress that can be used at any time. RAW, Tiny Hut not only protects anyone inside it, but also allows things like arrows to exit the Hut. Now the party’s archers can fire freely while being immune to reprisal. Of course, Tiny Hut can be removed with Dispel Magic, but the GM shouldn’t have to include that spell in every fight to prevent the party from automatically winning.
Tiny Hut might be the worst offender, but it’s not the only one. Using this feature, the Chronurgy wizard can hand out familiars to their entire party. If they feel like multiclassing, they can do the same with spells like Find Steed. The bright side is that this broken feature has the simple fix of limiting the spells that can be stored to action or bonus action cast times. However, GMs shouldn’t have to house rule subclass features to stop them from breaking the game. This ability is incredibly powerful, but much of that power comes from a design error.
Level 14 – Convergent Future
When you or a creature you can see within 60 feet of you makes an attack roll, an ability check, or a saving throw, you can use your reaction to ignore the die roll and decide whether the number rolled is the minimum needed to succeed or one less than that number (your choice).
When you use this feature, you gain one level of exhaustion. Only by finishing a long rest can you remove a level of exhaustion gained in this way.
For when you really want to make sure an important save ends in your favor, Convergent Future is here to help. In many ways this is an upgraded version of the 2nd-level Chronal Shift feature, bringing more certainty, but at a much higher cost. Exhaustion is a big deal in 5E, especially when you can only remove it via a long rest. Given how powerful being able to decide the outcome of a dice roll is, exhaustion is one of the only consequences serious enough to keep the feature somewhat balanced. Even with the cost, this is one of the best wizard subclass capstones out there.
As strong as the Chronurgy wizard is, I do not care for its design. Even if we ignore the broken uses of Arcane Abeyance, I don’t like how much this subclass steps on the toes of Divination. Unlike the warlock subclasses that had upgraded versions printed, Divination is a very strong subclass, and the wizard doesn’t need to be any better. First place goes to Chronurgy. If only I could go back in time and fix its design.
With that, we have covered every class and subclass in 5E. This has been a very informative journey for me, and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it. Check in next time for… something different!
I have also created a tier list for those of you who are interested.