Last Updated on January 22, 2023
Crouched in the shadows of the catacombs, a human rogue weaves the illusion of a feral cat. The suspicious guards shine their lantern upon it and, shrugging, return to their patrol.
A dwarven fighter, her battleaxe useless against her demonic foe, calls down her god’s sacred fire upon the hell beast.
Green eldritch fire crackles in the palm of the elven wizard’s hands, streaking from their palm to envelope a charging gnoll in the destructive power they gleaned through study of arts forbidden by their order.
The Magic Initiate feat might be one of the single best feats in Dungeons & Dragons 5e. Pure mechanics aside, there’s no other feat that has the potential to so fundamentally change the way your character plays in terms of flavor.
Seriously, this feat can have such a profound impact on the way you think of your character that it should probably be thought of more as “multiclass lite” rather than a feat.
Just about any style of character can make use of this feat, from the martial warrior looking for a brush with the arcane, to the wizard savant in search of yet more power.
Why Become a Magic Initiate?
Feats are an interesting element of D&D 5e. Their effects can vary enormously in terms of their potential to change the way your character plays at the table, from minor ability tweaks and skill bonuses to new abilities that fundamentally alter your character’s playstyle and probably backstory too.
The Magic Initiate feat definitely falls into the latter category.
Choose a class: bard, cleric, druid, sorcerer, warlock, or wizard. You learn two cantrips of your choice from that class’s spell list. In addition, choose one 1st-level spell to learn from that same list. Using this feat, you can cast the spell once at its lowest level, and you must finish a long rest before you can cast it in this way again.
Your spellcasting ability for these spells depends on the class you chose: Charisma for bard, sorcerer, or warlock; Wisdom for cleric or druid; or Intelligence for wizard.
Source: Player’s Handbook
Now, before we get into why you might want to play a character with the Magic Initiate feat, let’s go over some of the situations in which picking up the feat would make the most sense, as well as some tips to consider off the bat.
Pick up the Magic Initiate feat…
- If you can take a feat at 1st level: cantrips and a level 1 spell are going to feel less powerful the later in the game you get, so grab this early if you can. Playing a variant human, or using the custom origins from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything are both great ways to grab this feat from the get-go.
- If you have the right Ability Scores: You’re going to need to use the spellcasting ability modifier determined by the spell list you pick your spells from, so be careful not to grab a spell that relies on your dump stat. Choose your spells accordingly.
- If you want versatility without compromising your core character concept: Plenty of martial subclasses like the eldritch knight fighter or the arcane trickster rogue can give martial classes access to spellcasting. However, this comes at the cost of abilities and features that other subclasses get, so think about the possible trade-offs. Magic Initiate gives you a great way to incorporate a little magic for flavor and versatility without sacrificing the other things that make your character fun to play with a time-consuming dip into a multiclass build or going down a subclass route that isn’t what you wanted to play.
While the possibilities for clerics hurling eldritch blasts and warlocks casting Cure Wounds, combat medic fighters racing across the battlefield to cast Spare the Dying, are virtually endless.
However, the applications for the Magic Initiate Feat basically break down into two groups: tweak an existing spellcaster or make someone who doesn’t have access to magic capable of casting spells.
First of all, it’s worth noting that, for a character that’s already a magic user, this is a feat you need to pick up at 1st level or 4th at the very latest; gaining access to two new cantrips and a level 1 spell at 8th level or higher is never not going to feel underwhelming.
However, if you’re playing a class that struggles with spell slot management or a limited number of spells known then this can be a great way to broaden your toolkit.
The warlock, for example, has a very limited number of spell slots per rest. This makes warlocks a very cantrip-dependent class to play, which in turn piles on the pressure to choose the right cantrips – versatility and things you find interesting be damned.
Magic Initiate lets you not only expand their toolkit significantly but also reflavor your character in interesting ways without having to go down a subclass route you don’t want or use up precious levels on multiclassing.
You also get the added benefit of being able to expand your spell list beyond the limitations of your class. Want to play a wizard that can heal?
Of course, you do.
You can make the same argument for a martial class, which is where you start to get into some really cool mechanical and narrative options. What about a bow-wielding fighter that can use Mold Earth to ensure they always get access to half cover?
Or a monk who delivers Vicious Mockery through cryptic parables that turn out to be sick burns?
For subclasses like the samurai fighter that thrive on giving themselves advantage on attack rolls, add Guidance for even more likelihood that ability checks will go your way.
For a barbarian subclass like the zealot, lean into the religious fanatic vibe with a dash of divine magic damage like Sacred Flame. I can’t think of a single rogue who wouldn’t also benefit from spells like Disguise Self.
You can accentuate your character’s existing strengths, compensate for a weakness (lack of a dedicated party healer is probably the most common), or just grab something that you think is super freaking cool.
Want a rogue who once served an ancient order of demon-bound assassins?
Give them Eldritch Blast, Minor Illusion, and Hex for a dash of that spooky warlock heat. Want a grizzled mercenary who’s grudgingly embracing the fact that a god they long since abandoned still has plans for their future? Give them Light, Sacred Flame, and Shield of Faith for a great take on the lapsed priest?
DM Tip: I think making players choose between feats and a plain old ASI can kinda suck. Therefore, I like to give out feats to players as boons, either as the result of godly or demonic favor, or time spent training with a legendary master.
Bonus points if you make sure this boon-feat is accompanied by a cool tattoo, piece of clothing, or cool title. Worried about balance? Give your player one less magic item, or just do what I do and forget about balance entirely. Cool magic tattoo, buddy, hope this dragon’s impressed.
Whether you’re interested in increasing the versatility, self-sufficiency, or narrative flavor of your character, a little magic can go a long way.
Magic Initiate Spells Breakdown
It’s a shame that you don’t get access to spells from the Paladin or Ranger lists with this feat, but the Bard, Cleric, Wizard, Sorcerer, Druid, and Warlock lists are pretty exhaustive nonetheless.
Let’s take a look at some of the possible cantrips and level one spells you could pick up with access to Magic Initiate.
This is by no means an exhaustive list (for that, click here) but rather highlights a few of the cantrips and first level spells that can be effectively applied to just about any character interested in picking up the Magic Initiative feat.
Booming Blade – deal regular damage to an opponent with a melee attack and then threaten them with 1d8 thunder damage if they move on your turn is a great form of consistent damage and battlefield control. Great for: Fighters; Rogues who can Disengage as a bonus action to tempt an enemy into following you
Chill Touch – inflict a decent amount (d8 necrotic) of damage from range and prevent an enemy from healing (something which is actually going to keep this cantrip viable well into the higher levels when you’re fighting things like trolls that regenerate HP every turn) for a round.
If you hit an undead target, it also has disadvantage on attack rolls against you until the end of your next turn. The spell also naturally gets more powerful as you level up, rather than requiring to be upcast with a spell slot you don’t have.
Good stuff all round. Great for: Monks and other characters without access to many ranged abilities; Rangers who want to double down on their choice of undead as a favored enemy.
Druidcraft, Prestidigitation, Thaumaturgy – depending on which flavor you’re looking to add to the frozen yogurt swirl of your character concept, one of these three cantrips is going to make the perfect topping.
Each one gives you access to a mixture of sensory and out-of-combat effects, the usefulness of which is very much up to your creativing (not to mention your DM). If you’re looking to inject a little magical weirdness into your character, glowing lights, strange odors, and showers of sparks are a good place to start.
Eldritch Blast – is there any reason why you wouldn’t want to pick up what is objectively the best damage cantrip in the game? Not to mention if you pick up this feat at 1st level and then grab the Eldritch Adept feat at 4th level, you get to add invocations on top?
Great for: any character looking to deal more damage at range; anyone with a high Charisma modifier.
Fire Bolt – another strong damage cantrip. If you’re not looking to pick up Eldritch Adept (or just want more of an arcane than cursed flavor for your character) grab this. Great for: Pyromaniacs.
Light – if you’re in one of those rare parties that doesn’t all have darkvision, grab this for a mixture of cool aesthetics and never having to worry about buying torches or lamp oil ever again.
Also, if you target an object held or worn by a hostile creature, that creature must succeed on a Dexterity saving throw to avoid the spell. This is a great way to chase or track someone through a busy city or darkened tunnel complex.
Mage Hand, Mending, Message – three great utility cantrips that have a mixture of interesting mechanical and social uses. Great for: Pretty much any class that doesn’t need damage.
Sacred Flame – neat damage (d8 radiant) cantrip with pretty good range that imposes disadvantage.
Shillelagh – turn Wisdom into your melee attack and damage modifier with the added bonus of making your attacks magical. Great for: Wizards, Bards, Clerics – anyone who wants to buff their melee abilities while keeping Strength and Dex as dump stats.
Level 1 Spells
Command – utter a one word order that can seriously hamper enemies in combat and force social situations to go your way. Great for: Any character that’s enough of an intimidating or charismatic badass that they can stare down a hell hound without blinking.
Cure Wounds – if healers are thin on the ground, giving yourself the ability to patch up an ally is never going to be a bad thing. Also useful for clerics who initially skilled up exclusively damage spells and are now catching flack from their fellow party members.
Disguise Self – one of the most useful social/sneaky skills in the game and a must-have for any rogue looking to take their infiltration skills to the next level.
Entangle – one of the better low-level battlefield control spells in the game. Create difficult terrain and restrain enemies for easy advantage on attack rolls.
Great for: Fighters, Barbarians, and anyone else who wants to take an enemy out of action and hit them repeatedly with a big sword.
Faerie Fire – another great way to provide yourself and your allies with some blanket advantage against your enemies. Bonus points for how great this spell is against invisible opponents.
Guiding Bolt – advantage on attacks for everyone against a particular enemy, twinned with some juicy damage is no bad thing.
Great for: Wizards, Fighters, Paladins, Rogues – anyone looking to dish out more single target damage.
Hex – extra damage and imposed disadvantage on one ability? Yes please.
Great for: Rogues and Rangers who want to be able to increase their single target damage output to melt boss monsters’ faces.
Mage Armor, Shield of Faith – two great defensive spells. Mage Armor also lasts the whole day, which means that a Dexterity-based fighter can use this in place of any armor at all.
If your character has lower dex and uses armor instead, then Shield of Faith is a great way to up your odds of surviving an encounter, or keeping an ally alive.
Sleep – fantastic for bypassing conflict with guards and other low level enemies. The fact that you can’t upcast this makes Sleep pretty much exclusively useful at lower levels, but it’s still a solid addition to a rogue’s toolkit.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I take the Magic Initiate feat more than once for more spells?
No. You can only take this feat once. If you want more spells than this feat provides, multiclassing is probably a better bet.
Can you cast Magic Initiate spells using spell slots?
The rules of the Magic Initiate feat would suggest you can’t. However, if you use this feat to learn a spell from the same list as your character’s class, there’s no reason why you wouldn’t be able to upcast it.
However, a Bard who knows a level one spell from the Sorcerer list wouldn’t be able to use a higher level Bard spell slot to upcast that spell.
Can you change your Magic Initiate spells later on?
If your base class has the spellcasting feature, then the rules would suggest you can switch out your Magic Initiate spells and cantrips like any of the other spells in your arsenal.
However, if your character is, say, a Fighter, then the rules as written point towards the answer being no.
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.