Last Updated on January 22, 2023
Wizards are one of the most impressive spellcasters we have in 5e.
From a wizard well versed in the ancient elven tradition of bladesong to powerful mages who study the explosive school of evocation, there is such a wealth of power available to this class.
Of course, wizards are also one of the more complex characters to learn how to play.
With almost 200 spells to choose from, there are a lot of ways to build a wizard. No one type of wizard is the best, but surely there are ways to optimize your own personal build, right?
Well, if there wasn’t, I wouldn’t be writing this article for you.
Since wizards really boil down to what spells they choose, I want to tell you all the top spells for a wide variety of popular builds, but I would be a little overzealous to break down 200 spells in a single article.
This article is devoted to just the cantrips you’ll choose. These spells will be with you the longest and will likely be the ones you find yourself casting the most, so choosing them wisely is of utmost importance.
We’ll be listing the best wizard cantrips out there and then going a bit more in depth through the roughly 40 cantrips that are currently available to the wizard class in 5e.
What Makes a Good Cantrip?
In order to know what a good cantrip is, you need to know how they work. Cantrips can be viewed as 0th-level spells. Instead of using spell slots like you will with any leveled spell, you can cast cantrips as often as you like.
While cantrips tend to be weaker than other spells, this does mean you have an unlimited resource of magic to send flying at your enemies or to support your allies.
Cantrips can even be compared to a martial class’s weapons as they are always available and often deal a similar amount of damage. The big difference is that cantrips can be used for far more than just harm.
So how do cantrips work? Well, you learn three wizard cantrips at 1st level, a fourth at 4th level, and a fifth at 10th level.
These are the spells you’ll have throughout the campaign to cast at will, and they can deal damage, create illusions, support your allies, and many things in between.
A total of five cantrips isn’t a whole lot, and it can really suck to get stuck with a cantrip you never use. At that point, you’re wasting 20% of your “unlimited resources.”
Fortunately, WotC realized how much of a drawback this was and introduced a variant feature called Cantrip Formulas in 2020 with Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.
This new optional feature gives you the ability to swap one of your known cantrips out for another wizard cantrip at the end of each long rest.
This really changes the game for wizards, and I strongly encourage DMs to let their players use this optional ruling.
It can be a harsh punishment to be forced into a decision without any idea of how impactful your choice will be. Especially with newcomers to the game, it makes more sense to include this sort of cantrip test run.
As for the actual cantrips themselves, they work just like any other spell without the added necessity to expend a spell slot.
All you have to do is meet the required somatic, verbal, and material components, and boom, you’ve cast a cantrip.
When it comes to how good a cantrip is, that really comes down to perspective. Each cantrip is unique, but we can at least group them into a few categories.
Types of Wizard Cantrips
Instead of just obnoxiously throwing all of the wizard cantrips in one big long list (like that would be remotely helpful), I’ve grouped them into several categories below.
A rather self-explanatory section. These are cantrips that dish out damage to your foes. Further distinction in this category breaks down into how that damage is decided.
A cantrip can require a spell-attack roll, force a saving throw, or be tied to some other mechanic.
There are also cantrips that have multiple methods involved in damage, such as a saving throw if a creature occupies a specific space. For these cantrips, we’ve noted all applicable methods.
- Acid Splash (Conjuration) – Saving Throw
- Booming Blade (Evocation) – Other
- Chill Touch (Necromancy) – Spell Attack
- Create Bonfire (Conjuration) – Saving Throw/Other
- Fire Bolt (Evocation) – Spell Attack
- Frostbite (Evocation) – Saving Throw
- Green-Flame Blade (Evocation) – Other
- Infestation (Conjuration) – Saving Throw
- Lightning Lure (Evocation) – Saving Throw/Other
- Mind Sliver (Enchantment) – Saving Throw
- Poison Spray (Conjuration) – Saving Throw
- Ray of Frost (Evocation) – Spell Attack
- Shocking Grasp (Evocation) – Spell Attack
- Sword Burst (Conjuration) – Saving Throw
- Thunderclap (Evocation) – Saving Throw
- Toll the Dead (Necromancy) – Saving Throw
These sorts of spells either provide bonuses or create hindrances. Things like advantage and disadvantage, increased or decreased movement, conditions, and more all find themselves in this category.
Very simply, we’ll be labeling things as buff (helpful for you and/or your allies) and debuff (harmful to your enemies).
Keep in mind that there are several overlaps between this category and damage-dealing cantrips. When a spell deals damage and has another harmful effect, that’s typically something we want to keep at the top of our list.
- Blade Ward (Abjuration) – Buff
- Chill Touch (Necromancy) – Debuff
- Frostbite (Evocation) – Debuff
- Gust (Transmutation) – Debuff
- Infestation (Conjuration) – Debuff
- Mind Sliver (Enchantment) – Debuff
- Ray of Frost (Evocation) – Debuff
- Shocking Grasp (Evocation) – Debuff
- True Strike (Divination) – Buff
The last category of spells deal with magic that has some sort of effect on the world around you.
As these are cantrips, you won’t be getting anything as powerful as seeing the future or teleportation, but smaller illusions and environmental effects can be expected.
If it can be used to get you ahead in social interaction or exploration, you’ll find it here.
- Control Flames (Transmutation)
- Create Bonfire (Conjuration)
- Dancing Lights (Evocation)
- Encode Thoughts (Enchantment)
- Fire Bolt (Evocation)
- Friends (Enchantment)
- Gust (Transmutation)
- Light (Evocation)
- Mage Hand (Conjuration)
- Mending (Transmutation)
- Message (Transmutation)
- Minor Illusion (Illusion)
- Mold Earth (Transmutation)
- Prestidigitation (Transmutation)
- Shape Water (Transmutation)
- Thunderclap (Evocation)
Cantrips for Every Type of Wizard
Wizard subclasses mostly break down into different schools of magic, although there are some, such as bladesinger or order of scribes, that are more conceptual than school based.
Your school is a great place to start looking for cantrips, but you can also use your subclass to more broadly define what spells you should be looking for.
You can probably see just by looking above that the schools aren’t all evenly represented. Half of all the damage-dealing cantrips are evocation spells, and that’s mostly by design.
Evocation magic manipulates energy, so it makes sense that most energy blasts, no matter what damage type they are, would fit the bill.
That being said, you probably don’t need more than one damage-dealing cantrip, at least to start.
It’s a good idea to pick up a damage spell that suits your needs and build, and then choose relevant utility or buff/debuff cantrips to flesh out your build. After all, you want to be useful in more than just combat.
So, an illusion wizard might choose a spell like Mind Sliver to deal some damage, Minor Illusion because it fits their subclass, and then a third spell to give themselves more variety.
If you look at what we have so far, there’s a distance damage-dealer and an illusion spell that’s useful for trickery in social interactions.
We would now be looking for something more physical in nature, something that allows us to have an effect on the world around us.
One of the elemental cantrips (Control Flames, Shape Water, Mold Earth, or Gust) would be very useful indeed.
Any of these could allow us to come up with a clever solution to some dungeon puzzle, trap, or really any obstacle in our path.
What we’ve done here is round out a starting build of cantrips that give us something to do in each of the three pillars of D&D: combat, social interaction, and exploration.
Meeting these three goals is an excellent way to get a foolproof set of cantrips to start the game with. This means that no matter what we choose for our 1st-level spells, we won’t be standing around useless at any point in a session.
Best Wizard Cantrips
While I hope I’ve done a good job of enforcing the idea that any cantrip is useful in certain situations, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some that are generally better than others. It’s just a fact that some spells are more reliable than others.
Below, I’ve listed my top 5 wizard cantrips, and I’ve even ranked them in order. These are the spells that are going to deal the most damage or have the widest range of benefits.
5. Mage Hand
A spectral, floating hand appears at a point you choose within 30 feet. The hand lasts for a minute or until you dismiss it as an action.
The hand vanishes if it is ever more than 30 feet away from you or if you cast this spell again.
You can use your action to control the hand. You can use the hand to manipulate an object, open an unlocked door or container, stow or retrieve an item from an open container, or pour the contents out of a vial.
You can move the hand up to 30 feet each time you use it. The hand can’t attack, activate magical items, or carry more than 10 pounds.
Coming in at fifth place is Mage Hand, a very simple spell with some pretty straightforward constraints. Fortunately, “manipulate an object” covers a huge area.
Realistically, everything after that clause is just examples of what manipulating an object can include, and there are a lot more of those out there.
This is a spell you’ll find yourself using time and time again. Likely, every time you cast it, you’ll be able to find a new use for it. It’s basically a watered-down version of the force, and who doesn’t want to be a Jedi?
Of course, this is only our 5th-place cantrip. It will likely be able to help you out with a lot of exploration and even some social interaction if you’re clever, but its constraints do still keep it at a limited power level.
If you enjoy all the possibilities of Mage Hand and don’t have a strict build planned out for your feats, I strongly encourage you to consider the telekinetic feat.
It allows you to cast a special version of Mage Hand that is invisible and capable of even more than what the standard cantrip can do. If you really want to feel like Obi-Wan Kenobi, this is the way to go.
4. Mold Earth
You choose a portion of dirt or stone that you can see within range and that fits within a 5-foot cube. You manipulate it in one of the following ways:
- If you target an area of loose earth, you can instantaneously excavate it, move it along the ground, and deposit it up to 5 feet away. This movement doesn’t have enough force to cause damage.
- You cause shapes, colors, or both to appear on the dirt or stone, spelling out words, creating images, or shaping patterns. The changes last for 1 hour.
- If the dirt or stone you target is on the ground, you cause it to become difficult terrain. Alternatively, you can cause the ground to become normal terrain if it is already difficult terrain. This change lasts for 1 hour.
If you cast this spell multiple times, you can have no more than two of its non-instantaneous effects active at a time, and you can dismiss such an effect as an action.
Of the elemental utility spells, this one is by far the most powerful in my opinion.
Sure, Shape Water has some interesting potential, and Control Flame could quickly burn down a small town, but neither compares to the insane things you can really do with Mold Earth.
I want to focus on the first bullet, the one concerned with moving loose earth. A 5-foot cube is a decent amount of space; it’s what a small or medium creature occupies.
Now consider that this cantrip takes an action to cast. In a single minute, you can perform 16 actions: that’s an 80-foot tunnel!
With just the first option of this spell, there is a lot you can do. You can tunnel an escape route, create hiding holes for your allies, shape a battlefield for protection, or whatever your creative mind will allow.
You really are only limited to what you can think of (and what your DM considers loose earth).
Beyond that, creating or eliminating difficult terrain is an incredible way to gain the upper hand in combat, and creating images is useful to leave a message or even help you out in social encounters.
3. Minor Illusion
You create a sound or an image of an object within 30 feet that lasts for a minute. The illusion also ends if you dismiss it as an action or cast this spell again.
If you create a sound, its volume can range from a whisper to a scream. It can be your voice, someone else’s voice, a lion’s roar, a beating of drums, or any other sound you choose.
The sound continues unabated throughout the duration, or you can make discrete sounds at different times before the spell ends.
If you create an image of an object—such as a chair, muddy footprints, or a small chest—it must be no larger than a 5-foot cube. The image can’t create sound, light, smell, or any other sensory effect.
Physical interaction with the image reveals it to be an illusion because things can pass through it.
If a creature uses its action to examine the sound or image, the creature can determine that it is an illusion with a successful Intelligence (Investigation) check against your spell-save DC.
If a creature discerns the illusion for what it is, the illusion becomes faint to the creature.
Minor Illusions are useful for so much of what we call social interaction. They can convince others of our power, mystify intelligent beings, and so much more.
Often, when used wisely, they can even convince our DM to give us advantage (or at least a bonus) on the appropriate social check.
Every player has their own aspect of the game that they love, and it’s a fact that combat is unavoidable at times. However, use this spell in creative ways, and you’ll find yourself pulling your party out of the stickiest of situations.
2. Fire Bolt
“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.” – Han Solo
You hurl a mote of fire at a creature or object within 120 feet. Make a ranged spell attack against the target. On a hit, the target takes 1d10 fire damage. A flammable object hit by this spell ignites if it isn’t being worn or carried.
At Higher Levels. This spell’s damage increases by 1d10 when you reach 5th level (2d10), 11th level (3d10), and 17th level (4d10).
Han said it well; no matter how many fancy tricks you have up your sleeve, sometimes blasting away your enemies is all that really counts at the end of the day.
Sure, Fire Bolt isn’t a blaster, but it’s certainly the closest we come in the damage-dealing wizard spells. With an incredible range and the highest regular damage die, this spell can seriously mess up your foes.
It’s no Eldritch Blast, but for a wizard, this is one of the best, if not the best spell, spells to make sure is in your arsenal.
With the impressive intelligence modifier you should have, you can almost guarantee to hit around 75% of the time. Plus, like all damaging cantrips, this only gets stronger as you level up.
1. Toll the Dead
You point at one creature you can see within 60 feet, and the sound of a dolorous bell fills the air around it for a moment.
The target must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or take 1d8 necrotic damage. If the target is missing any of its hit points, it instead takes 1d12 necrotic damage.
At Higher Levels. The spell’s damage increases by one die when you reach 5th level (2d8 or 2d12), 11th level (3d8 or 3d12), and 17th level (4d8 or 4d12).
Fire Bolt is an amazing damage-dealing spell, and it’s a safe bet, but I would argue that Toll the Dead is superior in every way.
First off, you’re almost never going to be dealing a d8 of damage with this spell. Wizards aren’t known to be incredibly dexterous, so they probably won’t be at the top of the initiative order.
That means your allies can get a swing in at an enemy before you have to even think about your move, leaving you the chance to roll that sweet d12.
Then, wisdom-saving throws are far better than an attack roll. Wisdom is one of the least-prioritized abilities, second to intelligence.
Most of your foes, especially early on, won’t have a decent bonus and might even end up subtracting something from their saving throw.
Finally, when we look at the damage types, Toll the Dead really pulls into 1st place. Fire is the second most commonly resisted damage type in 5e, while necrotic falls in around the middle.
You certainly won’t be bumping into creatures left and right that keep taking half damage every time you manage to hit them.
Cantrips keep wizards active, and give new and old players alike the ability to worry a little bit less about how often they’re spending spell slots.
Choose the right ones for you, and you’re well on your way to becoming the most powerful caster in the land.
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As a kid, I was often told to get my head out of the clouds and to stop living in a fantasy world. That never really jived with me, so I decided to make a living out of games, stories, and all sorts of fantastical works. Now, as an adult, I aspire to remind people that sometimes a little bit of fantasy is all you need when life gets to be too much.