Pre-Selected Best Spells for Wizards

Even though I love playing wizards, I sometimes wish I could skip spell selection. I can easily get mired among all the options—so many seem appealing.

This page serves players like me who want a shortcut through the spell catalog. The page also helps newer players who want to focus on stronger choices without getting lost in spell descriptions.

Cantrips

For a typical wizard, pick these cantrips: Mage Hand, Minor Illusion, Shocking Grasp, and Firebolt. Instead of Minor Illusion, many players favor Light, Prestidigitation, or Mending.

Spell selections

To select spells for an effective wizard from levels 1-17, fill your spell book with the second column up to your level, and then prepare the spells listed in the third. If you want some customization, the last column gives some strong alternatives that you can swap for the regular picks. For these spells, I note the school of magic so specialists can select more spells that fit their specialty.

Level Add to Spell book Prepared (Wizard Level + Int Bonus) Strong Alternatives
1 (Int 16) Detect Magic
Find Familiar
Mage Armor
Magic Missile
Shield
Charm Person
Mage Armor
Magic Missile
Shield
Charm Person (levels 1-2)
Level 1
Sleep (En)
Tasha’s Hideous Laughter (En)
Protection from Evil and Good (A)
2 Comprehend Languages
Thunderwave
Thunderwave (levels 2-5)
3 Misty Step
Shatter
Misty Step
Shatter  (levels 3-4)
Level 2
Detect Thoughts (D)
Dragon’s Breath (T) (for familiars)
Flaming Sphere (C)
Phantasmal Force (I)
4 (Int 18) Suggestion
See Invisibility
Suggestion
See Invisibility (Levels 4-10)
5 Fireball
Fly
Fireball
Fly (Levels 5-6)
Level 3
Hypnotic Pattern* (I)
Leomund’s Tiny Hut (Ev)
Summon Undead (N)
6 Dispel Magic
Counterspell
Dispel Magic
7 Greater Invisibility
Polymorph
Polymorph
Counterspell*
Level 4
Banishment* (A)
Charm Monster (En)
Summon Aberration (C)
Wall of Fire (Ev)
8 (Int 20) Dimension Door
Haste
Dimension Door
Haste
9 Rary’s Telepathic Bond
Wall of Force
Wall of Force Level 5
Animate Objects* (T)
Conjure Elemental (C)
Contact Higher Plane (D)
Synaptic Static (En)
10 Bigby’s Hand
Passwall
Passwall
11 Chain Lightning
True Seeing
Chain Lightning
True Seeing
Level 6
Mass Suggestion (En)
Otto’s Irresistible Dance (En)
Programmed Illusion (I)
12 Disintegrate
Scrying
Disintegrate
13 Plane Shift
Teleport
Teleport Level 7
Forcecage* (Ev)
Reverse Gravity (T)
14 Crown of Stars
Etherealness
Crown of Stars
15 Antimagic Field
Sunburst
Antimagic Field Level 8
Dominate Monster (En)
Incendiary Cloud (C)
Power Word Stun (En)
16 Contingency
Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Mansion
Sunburst
17 Foresight
Shapechange
Foresight Level 9
Meteor Swarm (Ev)
Wish (C)

The spell selection table assumes your Intelligence matches the scores in the level column. Most will. For different Intelligence scores, you may need to adjust the number of prepared spells.

Especially at lower levels, some spells get surpassed by more powerful options. For these spells, the table lists a recommended level range to prepare the spell. Higher-level wizards can still prepare these spells, but that means dropping other options. Once your level rises above the recommended range for a spell, cross it off your list of prepared spells. If you create a higher-level wizard, just skip preparing the spells that recommend a level below yours.

A few powerful spells may diminish the fun of the game, for example Banishment and Animate Objects both appear on my lists of annoying spells. I put asterisks by these spells and only one, Counterspell, appears among my regular selections. In other cases the list favors more fun spells that fill similar roles. For example, like Banishment, Polymorph can remove foes as threats, plus it offers more versatility.

How would your choices differ from mine?

5 thoughts on “Pre-Selected Best Spells for Wizards

  1. Groody

    To answer your question “How would your choices differ?”

    Overall a great list. Here are some thoughts:

    For cantrips, I would pick any of your alternatives over Shocking Grasp. As a normal wizard, the last thing I want to do is end up in melee. For another damage cantrip after Fire Bolt, I would pick Chill Touch, which works remote and deals necrotic damage that nearly nothing is resistant to, so it remains useful hat high levels.

    On spell level one, I would pick Sleep over Charm Person every time. You have it on your alternate list. Charm person of course has some useful non-combat applications, but starting out against low hp monsters, nothing beats the crushing effectiveness of sleep.

    I found that you can get along without Comprehend Languages quite well, although of course nearly any ritual is worth picking up. I would rather pick Unseen Servant instead, which you can combine with your familiar for remote investigatons. If you do so, you may not need Mage Hand.

    I would not consider Thunderwave – again, you need to stand amidst the opponents to make it work. I’d pick another ritual – Floating Disk if your group uses gritty encumberance rules like ours does, or Identify (more on that later).

    I would not pick magic missile. Not that it is not a good spell, but it can be approximated by your cantrip early on, and every NPC mage has it on his list, so sooner or later you will be able to copy it from a spell book or scroll you find.

    On spell level two, I would pick Invisibilty over See Invisibility. There are countless more uses for it, and it is a proactive choice. Make your Familiar Invisible for a do-it-yourself Arcane Eye. Do you want to burn one of your precious memorization slots on See Invisibilty on the off chance you need it? Until you get to battle mages with improved invisibility, that is unlikely. And all the rest of your team still cannot see them.

    On spell level three, I’d pick Haste, over Fly. The damage output of Haste is disgusting if you have an optimized damage dealer in your party, and the speed adavantage is close to what Fly offers. My mage has Fly, and find I rarely even memorize it. To overcome obstacles, you need to get the whole team across.

    Tiny Hut is a good option that seems to be missing. If the opponents have no dispel magic, this can blank whole tribe of orcs or whatnot, while your team fires from inside. It also allows for safe rest, and it is a ritual.

    On spell level 4, I find that although everyone loves polymorph, it is a fickle way to remove an opponent. If one of his allies hits the chicken you turn them into, they are back the next round. Banishment from your alternative list is safer, gets rid of outsiders for good, and can be upcast to remove several in one go. (But your fighter wants to be a T-Rex. I understand).

    I have greater invisibility and only used it once, in a wizard duel. The duration is so short, you have no time or necessity to cast this in a typical fight, you are busy fireballing or casting Haste. I would rather pick Summon Minor Elementals for 8 flying intelligent mephits to really do a number on the old action economy. Or Arcane Eye, which can allow your team to safely and secretly scout entire adventure sites before you move in. And again, this is on the NPC mage list, so a likely pick-up.

    On Spell level 5, I’d only pick Rary’s if your group is sincere about no metagame talk at the table. Ours isn’t. I would not pick Bigby’s Hand at all, the damage output is not much more than casting your cantrips every turn, and you spent a level 5 slot on it? Am I missing something? Instead, maybe pick up one of the good spell alternatives from lower levels you missed, or pick Scrying now, instead of waiting till level 12.

    I love your choice of Passwall. It rocks in so many situations.

    I tracked how often I used spells in actual play over 13 levels, to give you an idea of utility:

    Firebolt is #1, Mage Armor is #2. Identify is #3 — this was a surprise, as one can make do without it. It just saves you so much time fiddling around during short rests, and it gives you full clarity, also on weird echantment effects.

    Next are all the good rituals: Detect Magic, Tiny hut, Floating Disk and Unseen Servant.

    Then the classics, in order: Fireball, Animate Dead*, Sleep, Haste, Counterspell, Shield, Arcane Eye**, Shatter, Invisibility, Knock, Sending***, Dispel Magic, Hideous Laughter, Dimension Door.

    Animate Dead is an anomaly. You want to recast it every day to upkeep your goons, and sometimes need to cast extras when they die. ** Arcane Eye came relatively late at level 4, and I have been using it a lot since. *** I would have guessed Sending is pretty useless, but it is gold in city adventures and to phone home for help.

    Spells I thought I would be using a lot more but did not, even when they were memorized: Magic Missile, Comprehend Languages, Misty Step, Detect Thoughts, Fly, Suggestion, Polymorph, Greater Invisibility, Animate Objects, Bigby’s Hand.

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  2. Soylent

    Reminds me a conversation on reddit a few years ago; A middle-school teacher was looking to build “pre-selected” spell packages for new players in his school’s D&D Club.

    https://www.reddit.com/r/dndnext/comments/5zd9ci/help_me_make_spell_packages/

    In my games, I’ve done something similar at the worldbuilding level; Each package is tied to a Background; Student of a specific named sect, school, or mentor. Every graduate of the Unseen Academies in Evenlore, for example, starts play with a specific spells list that they’ve demonstrated competence with (a graduation requirement!). They also gain certain proficiencies, starting gear (distinctive garb and focus), contacts within their school, and initiation into certain secrets of my settings lore. Characters with the History skill can identify casters by these features, giving players some idea of the capabilities of friends and foes.

    Serves the dual purpose of allowing quicker character creation for spellcasters and gives players inroads into my setting’s lore.

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