As a spellcaster, we like to get caught up on the big powerful spells we’ll be able to cast down the line. It’s easy to forget about the cantrips we start the game with, but those are often the most important to staying alive and putting up a fight.
Today, we’re going to be talking about a powerful cantrip for those casters who like being right in the middle of the action.
Magic missile and eldritch blast aren’t your thing?
Well, that’s fine, let’s talk about Sword Burst.
- Casting Time: 1action
- Range: Self (5ft radius)
- Duration: Instantaneous
- School: Conjuration
- Class: Artificer, Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard
- Level: Cantrip
- Damage/Effect: Force
- Attack/Save: Dex Save, 1d6
- Components: V
You create a momentary circle of spectral blades that sweep around you. All other creatures within 5 feet of you must succeed on a Dexterity saving throw or take 1d6 force damage.
At Higher Levels. This spell’s damage increases by 1d6 when you reach 5th level (2d6), 11th level (3d6), and 17th level (4d6).
What Is Sword Burst?
Sword burst is a fantastic cantrip that deals a modest amount of force damage to any creatures within five feet of you who fail their dexterity saves.
You’ll be able to cast this spell as much as you want and dish out some serious damage over time that has an incredibly low chance of being resisted.
The first thing I personally notice when looking at this spell is that it deals force damage. If you haven’t read our article on force damage to know why that’s important, I’ll let you in on the quick info.
Force damage is the least resisted damage type in all of D&D. Out of over 2000 creatures, only 10 published have any resistance to force damage.
After that, we can talk about the actual mechanics of the spell.
For all intents and purposes, this is an AOE spell, it just happens to be centered on you. Creatures surrounding you (within 5 ft) are going to have to make a dex save to prevent this damage.
The dex save takes some of the guesswork out of the spell for you. Instead of rolling to beat your target’s AC, each target will have to beat your DC. Since your DC is typically equal to 8 + your proficiency bonus + your spellcasting ability modifier, this is only going to get harder for creatures to beat as you level up.
The only other parts of the spell we need to understand are the components and damage. Amazingly, this only has a verbal component, meaning a few magic words along the lines of “please,” “thank you,” or “alakazam” are going to do the trick.
Its damage is a measly 1d6, but it does deal more damage as you get stronger. Considering you almost never have to worry about this being cut in half by resistance, that’s not too shabby.
If we were to compare it to a weapon, it’s as strong as a shortsword or quarterstaff, and you have the potential of hitting multiple enemies if you time it right.
When To Cast Sword Burst
With most area-of-effect spells and spells in general, timing is key. With sword burst, it’s best to make sure you’re hitting more enemies than allies. Actually, that might just be a good tip for D&D in general.
So sword burst affects any creatures within a 5-foot radius. On a battlemat, that’s extremely easy to visualize; it’s just all the squares touching yours (assuming you’re size Medium or Small). Unless you’re in a combat with tiny creatures, you’re going to be able to affect a maximum of 8 creatures with this spell.
This isn’t a great spell to cast if you have another option to deal with an enemy and there’s an ally within range, but that only really matters if you can’t move.
Since your movement speed is probably higher than 5 feet and it only takes one space of movement to remove any one ally from the danger zone, this conflict is easily remedied.
That covers the “when not to cast,” but we want to know when to cast. Well, the opposite goes. If you can get a lot of enemies within 5 feet of you, then you’re set to unleash a burst of magical swords.
Roleplaying Sword Burst
There’s a huge difference between saying “I cast sword burst” and uttering some form of gibberish before describing how the spell happens. This difference is the difference between playing an rpg and roleplaying in D&D.
Especially since this is a cantrip you’ll be casting time and time again, I recommend coming up with some sort of utterance for your spell.
Casters in books don’t just say “I’m going to cast my spell that creates light” they say “Lumos!” or “deluce” or something like that.
You also might want to come up with your own take on how the spell is visualized. A circle of spectral blades is nice and simple, but if you can add in some more imagery that will only make the immersion better for other members at your table.
You don’t have to describe this every time, but every once in a while to give your friends some excitement can be really cool.
Unfortunately, it’s not quite as simple as I’ve made it sound. As a spellcaster, you probably aren’t the most durable member of the party. You’ll need to have some insurance that you aren’t going to paint a target on your back.
Walking into a crowd of 5 goblins isn’t worth 20 damage if you’re just going to die before you make it back to your next turn.
If you know that a few of your targets are on their last legs you can drop this spell without much concern.Your place in the initiative count should also come into play here.
Since this isn’t guaranteed to kill any creature, it’s helpful to know that one or more of your allies are ready to also deal with the creatures.
Other Methods of Casting Sword Burst
Unfortunately, since sword burst is a cantrip, you can’t store it in any of the typical storage items. Spell rings, an artificer’s spell-storing item, and even spell scrolls require at least a 1st-level spell to work.
You can, however, pick this spell up as your cantrip from the Magic Initiate feat. As a fighter, rogue, or basically any martial class, this is a great grab.
It’s maybe not as useful as booming blade, but if you really want a sort of AOE spell attack, this is the one.
Placing an enemy directly between you and one of your allies is an excellent way to control the battlefield with sword burst.
Your ally is still outside of your blast zone while also having the ability to swing at the creature on their next turn. Now that enemy is fighting a war on two fronts, and we know how well that goes.
The last incredibly important thing to remember is: this is a cantrip! Cast it as much as you want. The only downside if you’ve placed yourself appropriately is that you’ve used your action.
Sure, you might have another stronger spell ready to go, but why burn a spell slot if you can deal some irresistible damage to multiple targets?
Who Should Take Sword Burst?
Since sword burst involves being up in the fray, it should be on the spell lists of characters who want to do just that. This means casters with a focus on close range spells, self buffs, and probably even a weapon or two to use when dealing with a single target.
Any class that can take this spell has justifications for this spell, but those will differ on a class-to-class basis. The more general things you should be concerned with have to do with how well you can take a hit.
A great example of a staple spell for any character using sword burst is mage armor. If you don’t already have something giving you a solid AC, like natural armor or being able to wear decent armor, you want to buff yourself up and protect yourself from any hits once you’ve surrounded yourself with enemies on all sides.
A good AC isn’t the only way of avoiding damage though. Characters with a good movement speed, even a fly speed, that can get in and out of danger and cast this spell all in one turn are also excellent candidates.
Best Subclass: Armorer
Artificers are the only half-caster class that can grab up this spell, making them quite a threat with it. They have proficiency in medium armor, and more often than not are going to find themselves in the fray.
This cantrip then serves as a great way to deal with suddenly being surrounded by enemies (or maybe not so suddenly).
The armorer subclass, and the guardian armor model in particular, is all about having a big suit of armor that lets you fight like a normal fighter and cast your powerful spells.
The ability to use intelligence (your spellcasting ability) for your weapons is just another reason to take this spell.
As an armorer, you’re not choosing between being a spellcaster and being a martial combatant, you’re just attacking with weapons as if they were spells.
Best Subclass: N/A
Most sorcerer subclasses don’t perform incredibly well at close range. That doesn’t mean you can’t grab up this spell, it just means you might have some better options available.
You can also pair sword burst with Careful Spell or Heightened Spell, protecting an ally or giving an enemy disadvantage on their saving throw, respectively. Using your sorcery points on a cantrip isn’t always highly advised, but it’s certainly an option.
Best Subclass: Hexblade
The supreme martial combatant warlocks, your connection to weapons and your proficiency in medium armor will allow you to deal with enemies at close range.
This makes sword burst an invaluable cantrip to deal with multiple enemies surrounding you.
Best Subclass: Bladesinging
Bladesinging wizards are perfect fits for a cantrip like sword burst. Not only are you more protected than the average wizard, having proficiency in light armor, you’re also intended to be directly in the fray.
With your 6th-level Extra Attack ability, you can cast one of your cantrips as one of your two attacks in an Attack action. Sword burst and similar close-range spells are perfect.
Add in your increased movement speed and you’re functioning similar to a monk with their fury of blows, just using a combination of weapons and spells to get the job done.
Similar Options to Sword Burst
At its core, sword burst is a close-range spell damage dealing spell. While it isn’t a melee spell attack, it has a very similar feel to that concept. If you’re looking to fill your spell roster with close-range spells, here are some options.
Booming Blade, Evocation Cantrip
Booming blade allows you to make a regular attack with a melee weapon and leave a charge of energy on the creature you hit. If that creature willingly moves 5 ft before your next turn they take an amount of d8 (depending on your level) in thunder damage.
This spell is available to the same list of spellcasters, and works for the same types of builds. The big difference is that this requires you to actually use a weapon. Realistically, having a trusty weapon is a great suggestion for any caster that wants to be close range, so this works perfectly.
Green Flame Blade, Evocation Cantrip
Another cantrip that makes for a stronger melee attack, green-flame blade deals the weapon’s damage as normal and then allows you to send a ball of green flame toward another enemy within 5 feet of the first target.
Like sword burst, this is a great close-range option for dealing with multiple targets. Where sword burst works well when you yourself are surrounded, green-flame blade is excellent for working with a more variable battlefield.
With this cantrip, you can make sure you’re only next to one enemy, and still deal damage to multiple targets.
Mordenkainen’s Sword, 7th-Level Evocation
A great spell for much further down the line, mordenkainen’s sword allows you to conjure a sword that you control for as long as you maintain concentration.
Aside from being a magical sword that deals force damage, there aren’t many similarities, but that’s enough for me to count it.
Both of these spells allow you to conjure up a weapon that deals with multiple targets, just in different ways. Conveniently, since mordenkainen’s sword is controlled on a bonus action, you can cast a bunch of high-level sword bursts and still continue to slash through the battlefield.
It’s a pretty spectacular image in my opinion.
Thunderwave, 1st-Level Evocation
Moving away from really cool swords, this is a spell with a similar range to sword burst. This spell, which is centered on you, forces creatures within 15 feet to make a constitution save or be pushed back and take some decent thunder damage. It even deals damage on a successful save.
If you find yourself in a situation where sword burst just isn’t going to cut it, thunderwave makes an excellent low-level solution to your problems, especially if it manages to push creatures away from you.
Sword burst is a great spell for what it is. It’s a cantrip, and with the exception of eldritch blast, there aren’t many cantrips we can base a whole character around.
Luckily, there are plenty of great options for character builds that make this cantrip feel incredibly powerful, just based on the other spells and abilities you’re using.
This is a spell that’s all about understanding where you are on the battlefield and using the tactical advantage when you have one. If you can do that, this spell is perfect for you.
As always, happy adventuring.