Last Updated on January 22, 2023
The Hexblade Warlock is one of the hardest-hitting subclasses out there and an extremely fun gish build (a hybrid between a martial and a caster). Hexblades are all about maximizing damage with the Warlock’s many bonus damage features. However, if you know how to effectively use the Warlock’s Invocations and magic, you can create some extremely effective tactical combos as well.
Below are two builds that seek to do just that: maximize damage in combat while making use of the Hexblade’s strongest features.
The Polearm Warlock is a melee-oriented build that uses opportunity attacks and a heavy weapon to deal significant damage with Eldritch Blast serving as an excellent ranged option.
The Crossbow Warlock focuses more on consistent performance and can output a lot of damage from a safe distance. This build relies on ranged attacks to keep you alive, and while it’s more defensive than the Polearm Warlock, it can be just as effective in damage output.
Both builds tend along similar paths in terms of Invocations and techniques, but they implement these in very different ways. If you’re looking for a good Hexblade build, you’ve got options.
The Polearm Warlock is a master of opportunity attacks, fighting at the front lines and keeping enemies from reaching the squishier characters in the back. Ostensibly this Hexblade warlock is a melee fighter, but a significant feature of the build’s combat ability and flexibility is their ability to control the battlefield with Eldritch Blast.
Let’s get into it.
Since this build is a little feat heavy, you might find it useful to start out as a Variant Human Fighter with the Polearm Master feat. Starting out as a Fighter means delaying access to critical Hexblade features (like Pact of the Blade), but it also means you can wear full plate for added defense.
Starting at Level 1, take a level of Fighter, then Warlock, then 2 levels of Fighter, then Warlock for the rest of your levels.
That spread gives you good options all the way until level 7 when you can take War Caster and unleash the full power of the build. Make sure to play an Echo Knight Fighter when you hit level 3 in the class.
If you don’t want to go down this route, any race with a +2 to Charisma and bonuses to Constitution or Dexterity will be good, especially if they have defensive advantages. Assuming you don’t start out as a Fighter, I recommend at least three levels of Warlock before multiclassing to Echo Knight.
You’ll also want to grab a magical halberd or glaive as soon as possible. You’ll probably be relying on a spear and Eldritch Blast until then.
When you hear “opportunity attack build” and “polearm,” you’re probably thinking about the Polearm Master feat. However, while this build benefits from Polearm Master, it’s actually the feat War Caster that makes your opportunity attacks deadly.
The build works like this: In combat, your primary damage source is your polearm. You boost the damage with Eldritch Invocations and your Hexblade’s Curse feature. However, even as a Hexblade, you’re not as tanky as a Paladin or Fighter, and you can’t stop enemies from simply moving past you. That’s where War Caster comes in. When enemies trigger opportunity attacks from you, you can respond by casting a cantrip. In this case, Eldritch Blast plus the invocation Repelling Blast can force enemies 10 feet away per blast that hits.
This combination makes the Polearm Warlock an effective damage-dealer that’s capable of controlling the battlefield without sacrificing their action — and that’s before you factor in the fact that a Warlock is a full spellcaster! But it gets better. Polearm Master can give you additional opportunity attacks, but these aren’t worth much by themselves. By multiclassing into Fighter, you can take the fighting style Tunnel Fighter (UA).
Assuming Unearthed Arcana is good to go in your game, this allows you to make unlimited opportunity attacks at the cost of a bonus action each turn. Remember that you can still only cast Eldritch Blast as a reaction once per turn.
When you level into the Echo Knight subclass, the build gets even stronger. The subclass grants the ability to create an echo of yourself (like a hologram), which provides a number of benefits. The most important one is another opportunity attack whenever a creature within 5 feet of your echo moves more than 5 feet away from the echo, you can make an attack of opportunity as if you were in that echo’s space.
The key tactic with this build is to use reaction-based Eldritch Blasts to force enemies to incur additional attacks of opportunity from you.
Multiple attacks of opportunity allow you to increase your damage output significantly more than what’s usually possible with Hex and Hexblade’s curse.
Let’s recap. Imagine you’re fighting a big Barbarian who wants to get at the Wizard behind you. Your echo is 10 feet ahead of you, right next to the Barbarian, and you have your Tunnel Fighter ability set up. The Barbarian moves toward you. Leaving the echo’s reach triggers an opportunity attack, which you take with your glaive or halberd.
Then the Barbarian enters your actual reach. Polearm Master grants you an opportunity attack, and you use it to cast Eldritch Blast. That pushes the Barbarian at least 10 feet away (assuming it hits) and does a nice chunk of damage.
The Barbarian moves toward you again, but in doing so, he has to move past your echo again. That’s another opportunity attack. Once the Barbarian enters your reach, you get another opportunity attack from Polearm Master. When it finally moves past, you get one last opportunity attack in.
The Barbarian used up 20 feet of movement at least (10 to get to you the first time, another 10 after it was pushed back), and in return was attacked five times (once from Eldritch Blast and four times from your polearm). Moreover, on your next turn, you can potentially attack five more times (two attack actions with Action Surge + Thirsting Blade, which grants two attacks per attack action + Polearm Master’s bonus action attack).
That’s nine attacks in a single round. A level-20 Fighter can match that if they have a bonus action attack and use their own action surge. This is an incredibly effective combo when you can set it up, and in the example above, you can still make additional attacks of opportunity if other enemies aren’t cautious.
Polearm Master and War Caster are the feats for this build, and I recommend not taking additional feats after you get these two. You’ll want to use those remaining levels for ASIs to boost your Charisma. Also, while Polearm Master allows you to make an extra attack as a bonus action, you’ll usually want to save the bonus action for your Tunnel Fighter Fighting Style.
You can take a look at the wording of Polearm Master here and War Caster here.
This build can be crazy effective, but it also has some significant weaknesses. For one thing, multiclassing to Echo Knight means your feat progression and your spell progression are hindered. That also slows down your ASIs.
This build only really needs Charisma, but if your Dexterity and Constitution are too low, your survivability is really impacted. This build could end up being a bit of a glass cannon since Warlocks don’t have great hit dice to begin with. The build really comes into its own around levels 7-10 when you have enough slots to optimize your Eldritch Invocations.
Battlefield control spells are your friend.
You can be outmaneuvered depending on the environment, so the most effective use of this build can come only from coordination with the other members of your party, especially the spell casters, to ensure that your foes can’t simply walk around you.
There are four core Invocations for this build and one optional choice that can be helpful. Those are:
- Repelling Blast (10-ft. knockback on hit with Eldritch Blast)
- Agonizing Blast (+Charisma modifier to Eldritch Blast)
- Lifedrinker (+Charisma Modifier to pact weapon attacks)
- Thirsting Blade (2 attacks/attack action)
- And optionally, Devil’s Sight (See in magical darkness for an easy source of advantage)
Together, these invocations mean that in that nine-attack combo I demonstrated earlier, you can do a lot of damage. Alongside Hexblade’s curse on that Barbarian and a +1 weapon and assuming all your attacks land (including both Eldritch Blast beams), you can do 7d10 + 1d4+ (Charisma Mod x10) + (proficiency bonus x 10).
And that’s all in a single round with no additional buffs.
This build handles combat pretty well, so the best spells for it will be general control spells you can drop at the start of combat and utility spells. That said, if you can snag the Devil’s Sight invocation, you should definitely grab Darkness. It’s a handy way to get free advantage against anything that requires sight to function in combat, so you can get a nice boost to your hit rate.
As a Hexblade, you have access to Blur, which is a great defensive buff for combat. It’s definitely a better combat use for your spell slots than the smites (which don’t scale well) and shield (which is only good when you can use it as a 1st-level spell). Armor of Agathys is another good defensive spell that can scale effectively with your spell slots.
In terms of offense, I recommend picking up either the Booming Blade or Green-Flame Blade cantrips. These cantrips can provide excellent damage boosts, especially before you have access to the double attacks of Thirsting Blade.
Lastly, watch out for common traps! Hex is a great spell at levels 1-6 or so, but the damage just isn’t that great for the cost at higher levels. Hex takes your concentration and uses a bonus action. Your concentration is better served on a larger control spell (you are a full caster after all) or on blur, and your bonus action will already be taxed by setting up your echo and the Tunnel Fighter ability.
Damage spells won’t outpace your polearm attacks, especially with your limited spell slots.
Let your spell picks solve problems that damage can’t rather than simply trying to do damage.
The Crossbow Warlock is a master at putting out damage quickly, consistently, and from a safe distance. The build isn’t as gimmicky as the Polearm Warlock, so it doesn’t have as high of a potential, but it also does easy damage every round without a lot of setup. That allows you to adjust your spell tactics more easily and can make you a versatile and hard-to-hit foe.
Although we’re moving from melee to ranged, be aware that several choices between the two builds do overlap. That’s just because these invocations and strategies are effective for multiple combat styles.
For this build, you can be a lot more flexible with your starting Race. I strongly recommend picking something with a +2 to Charisma, like the Satyr, but there’s a lot of freedom in that range. Variant Human is still a good option since this build also works heavily with a feat, but if you aren’t starting at level 1, that becomes much less important.
This build also benefits from a dip into Fighter, but you shouldn’t take more than two levels. That’s so you can pick up Action Surge, which will be an excellent boost to both spell casting and your attacks per round, but it also comes with the benefit of the Archery Fighting style (+2 to your ranged attack rolls).
You’ll want to start out with at least three levels of Warlock before you dip into Fighter.
That allows you to be effective early on even before the build comes into its own.
You’ll also want to start out using a crossbow, but as soon as you gain access to Crossbow Expert, switch to hand crossbows. That feat will let you make an extra attack as a bonus action with the crossbow each round, which is key to this build. Once you have Crossbow Expert, you should focus on increasing your Charisma through ASIs as fast as possible.
The tactics for this build are simple. Stay at range and use your hand crossbow to pepper your opponents. You’ll be able to use Crossbow Expert to gain an extra attack as a bonus action and use Thirsting Blade for two attacks per attack action. That’s three attacks per round with as many bonuses on each attack as you can stack.
While both Hexblade’s Curse and Hex are options for increasing that damage, it is better to get buffed by other party members when possible. Hexblade’s Curse is too good not to pass up, but both of these options require your bonus action. Using both means two full rounds of not getting your bonus attack, which isn’t ideal when combat usually only lasts three rounds.
On the defensive side, you’ll want a shield and half-plate armor ASAP. Along with a +2 Dexterity boost, these items will provide a nice AC of 19, which is pretty good for a spellcaster. Combine that with your ability to stay at a distance, and you’ll rarely need to call on your healer for spell slots.
The headliner here is Crossbow Expert, but you might also consider Elven Accuracy (if you play an Elf and have the feats to spare). This is a half feat that allows you to roll 3d20 whenever you have advantage, which is a major boon to your accuracy. Besides granting you an extra attack as a bonus action, Crossbow Expert also lets you ignore the loading property of crossbows and doesn’t force disadvantage on close-range crossbow shots.
This build is fairly flexible, but Crossbow Expert is essential. Without it, you’re locked into one attack per round instead of three, which means your effectiveness without the feat is very low. For this reason alone, running a Variant Human can be extremely tempting, even if they don’t get great stat bonuses.
Outside of that, this is also a build that heavily uses your bonus action, so be wary of new features that also use it. Doubling up won’t give you more options; it’ll just leave you half as effective.
The invocations for this build are pretty similar to the previous one.
- Lifedrinker (+Charisma Modifier to pact weapon attacks)
- Thirsting Blade (2 attacks/attack action)
- Devil’s Sight (See in magical darkness for an easy source of advantage)
With these three invocations plus Hexblade’s curse, you can attack (with advantage if you have Darkness up) for 1d6 + Charisma modifier + Proficiency Bonus three times every turn. Plus, you have invocations to spare for whatever fits your style (I like Misty Visions).
Spells for this build are similar to the Polearm Warlock. Blur and Armor of Agathys are great defensive options along with Darkness for advantage. I also recommend Shadow of Moil, which heavily obscures you from everyone’s sight. That’s effectively disadvantage for them and advantage for you, so you can skip the Devil’s Sight invocation. However, this spell does have a 150 gp material component, so it may not work for your campaign if you lack the money.
Hexblade Warlocks have a lot of good options. Both Polearm Warlocks and Crossbow Warlocks can do excellent damage. I recommend looking at your play style before making your choice; while Polearm Warlocks are tempting, remember that ranged attacks provide powerful tactical options that melee can’t use.
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Growing up I spent most of my time reading, so when I first started playing RPGs in middle school and got a copy of DnD 3.5’s rules I loved their collaborative take on storytelling. These days I like to use RPGs to develop my creative problem-solving skills as well.