Cantrips are important in 5e — they’re the basic attacks and minor utility effects that define how a spellcasting class is going to spend a lot of their time. It’s essential to make sure that you set yourself up for success with cantrips that are often useful or help fill a few different utility niches at once.
Beyond that, cantrips help to set the thematic tone of your character. Are you an all-out blaster who’s focused on dealing the biggest consistent damage or a problem-solver who brings a suite of tools for non-combat scenarios? Or are you something in between, a tactician who lives to provide support for the rest of your party?
Lucky for you, DnD has suitably strong cantrip options for all these playstyles.
10 Best Cantrips in 5e
Two things to keep in mind: “best,” in my opinion, means most likely to be most optimal in the most common conditions. And while I’ll include the classes each cantrip is available to, any character can learn two cantrips from any Bard, Cleric, Druid, Sorcerer, Warlock, or Wizard spell list with the Magic Initiate feat.
Also, note that I’ve included a mix of damage-dealing and utility cantrips, but the damage-dealers win out by virtue of the fact that combat is the most common scenario at most DnD tables.
Without further adieu, here are my picks for the 10 best cantrips in DnD 5e:
In a league of its own, Eldritch Blast is the premier blasting cantrip in DnD 5e. It’s a standard ranged spell attack, with a fairly standard 120-foot range, and standard 1d10 force damage (one of the least-resisted in the game). Solid, but nothing special on its own.
Two things make this Warlock-exclusive cantrip stand out.
1) When cast at higher levels, it doesn’t just deal +1d10 damage, the way all other damaging cantrips in the game do. Instead, you fire +1 beam, making an additional separate spell attack for each beam. This allows you to spread damage and, more importantly, functions incredibly well with the second reason EB is a dominant cantrip.
2) Eldritch Invocations, a 2nd-level Warlock feature (which can also be accessed via the Eldritch Adept feat) that has a number of options that augment and empower your Eldritch Blast. Most notably, Agonizing Blast, which allows you to add your Charisma modifier to the damage EACH EB beam deals. So with a +5 modifier and two beams hitting, that’s a flat +10 damage modifier that normalizes and significantly boosts your damage output. No other cantrip gets this.
Repelling Blast is another strong invocation that pushes a creature hit by Eldritch Blast 10 feet away from the caster — again, for each beam (so >10-foot pushes are possible). Grasp of Hadar allows for ONE 10-foot pull toward the caster per turn, and Lance of Lethargy slows ONE creature hit by EB by 10 feet.
Overall, this level of customization, power, and tactical utility puts Eldritch Blast decidedly above other cantrips in DnD 5e by a significant margin.
Available to: Warlock
An intelligence saving throw-based attack that deals 1d6 psychic damage on a failed save, with a 60-foot range and only a verbal component. Intelligence is the lowest average ability score for monsters in 5e’s main monster sourcebooks, meaning this is the most likely-to-land cantrip in fifth edition. Plus, it deals psychic damage, one of the least-resisted damage types in the game.
While 1d6 is subpar damage (plenty of cantrips deal more), it’s not the damage that’s important. Mind Sliver’s rider effect, which reduces the next saving throw the target makes by 1d4, is incredibly strong. Many higher-leveled spells rely on saving throws to deal damage, inflict a condition, or otherwise impede an enemy.
With -1d4 (-2.5, on average) on this roll, you’re setting up your allies (or yourself, since the debuff lasts until the end of YOUR next turn) to land an important save-or-suck spell, like Hold Person, or a powerful damaging ability, like Dissonant Whispers. -2.5 might not sound like a lot, but in 5e’s system of bounded accuracy, it’s very impactful from level 1 all the way up to level 20.
It gets even better – for spells that have repeated saving throws at the end of the target’s turn each round, Mind Sliver is the perfect tool to ensure these spells stick around. Damage over time effects like Searing Smite and (potentially) long-term debuffs like Hold Person can really benefit from repeated Mind Sliver debuffs.
This also stacks with Bane, so you can give an enemy -2d4 (-5 on average, equivalent to disadvantage) on saving throws with this combo — incredibly potent.
Available to: Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard
The bread-and-butter damaging cantrip of Bards, Vicious Mockery may not deal a lot of damage (1d4 psychic on a failed Wisdom saving throw) or have a huge range (60 feet), but its rider effect is strong — disadvantage on the next attack roll the creature makes before the end of its next turn.
Note that this applies to all attack rolls — weapons and spells. Almost all creatures make attack rolls on their turn, and disadvantage is akin to -5, so this is a huge defensive boon for your party.
Some may argue (correctly) that death is the ultimate debuff, and extrapolate that heavier-hitting cantrips are superior for this reason alone. But for enemies with hefty hit point pools and heavy-hitting attacks, Vicious Mockery stands out as a significant way to extend the hit point pool of your party.
Available to: Bard
1d6 cold damage on a failed Constitution saving throw and disadvantage on the next WEAPON attack roll the creature makes before the end of its next turn, with a 60-foot range. Very similar to Vicious Mockery, but worse for a couple of reasons.
While the 1d6 damage averages out to +1 average damage compared to Vicious Mockery’s 1d4, the damage isn’t the important part here. What matters is the saving throw and rider effect.
Constitution is the highest average monster ability score in 5e (15; +2 modifier) compared to Wisdom (12; +1 modifier), so Frostbite is less likely to land. Additionally, the limitation to weapon attack rolls means that Frostbite’s rider imposes no negative effect on enemy spellcasters. And Cold resistance is actually the most common in the game, although cold immunity is a rare enough thing.
Still, Frostbite’s rider effect is potent, earning it a spot among the best cantrips in DnD 5e.
Available to: Druid, Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard, Artificer
The hardest-hitting damaging cantrip in 5e (barring Agonizing Blast on Eldritch Blast), Toll the Dead has a 60-foot range and deals 1d12 necrotic damage to a target (on a failed Wisdom saving throw) if it is missing any hit points. Otherwise, it only deals 1d8 damage.
In almost all conditions where you’d actually cast Toll the Dead, it will be at an injured target and deal its heightened damage. Necrotic damage isn’t a common resistance/immunity either, so you can almost always count on the damage to come through.
Toll the Dead might not have any fancy rider effects, but if you’re looking for strong, consistent damage, only Eldritch Blast beats it out.
Available to: Cleric, Warlock Wizard
Guidance gives a creature you touch +1d4 on its next ability check. So, as long as you can touch your ally and they can complete their task in under one minute, your whole party has a +2.5 average on all non-social skill checks (people don’t usually like spellcasting mid-conversation, as a rule). That’s a big deal in 5e’s system of bounded accuracy.
The only problem with Guidance is that it’s a bit annoying to use, and your DM might start hating the phrase “I cast Guidance.” But as long as you self-police to not overuse it and make sure to cast it BEFORE the skill check is made, it’s a damn good ability.
One DnD has plans to change Guidance to a reaction that you use after a player fails an ability check. This changes address that annoying factor, but it’ll still be a great and consistent support cantrip if it makes it into the final version of the new edition.
Available to: Cleric, Druid, Artificer
Prestidigitation offers 6 possible effects — creating an instant sensory effect (wind, sparks, sounds, odors, etc.), lighting/snuffing a flame, cleaning/soiling an object, chilling/warming/flavoring an object for 1 hour, marking a surface for 1 hour, or creating a trinket/image for 6 seconds.
The uses of this spell are many and varied, and only limited by a player’s imagination. But, in a nutshell, Prestidigitation offers your party greater capacity for distractions (sounds, odors, etc.), buffs to certain ability checks (performance, deception, stealth when snuffing flames, etc.), and communication (signal sounds, leaving markers, etc.).Finally, a utility cantrip! I don’t mean to undersell utility cantrips with this list; it’s just that, almost by definition, you’ll use these types of spells less frequently than your bread-and-butter damaging cantrips, which essentially act as a spellcaster’s basic attack.
Available to: Bard, Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard, Artificer
Another utility cantrip, Mage Hand offers a spellcaster something akin to limited telekinesis at a 30-foot range. The hand can manipulate objects, open doors, and stow/retrieve items. It’s weight limit is only 10 pounds, but that’s still enough for a lot of tricks.
This can be used as a hands-free torch holder, a trap tester, a key snagger, a from-a-distance door opener, a lever puller, or a rope tie-er, to name a few of its most common applications.
Basically, all the times when you can totally see the thing you need to interact with, but can’t reach it or feel it would be dangerous to interact with personally, Mage Hand is the tool you’re looking for.
Available to: Bard, Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard, Artificer
A melee spell attack with a 30-foot range that deals 1d6 piercing damage on hit, Thorn Whip seems somewhat underpowered at first glance; low single-target damage at a short range.
But the rider effect, which allows you to pull a creature 10 feet closer to you on hit, is strong. It pairs incredibly well with hazardous terrain effects, like Spike Growth or Web, to multiply their damage or lengthen the duration of a negative effect.
Or pull down enemies who are attacking you from a height, causing fall damage on top of the spell’s damage.
You can also use it to protect an ally by pulling an enemy away from their melee range, so that they can run away on their turn without triggering an opportunity attack. And if you’re willing to attack an ally, you can even pull THEM out of danger with this trick (although you’ll have to run your own cost-benefit analysis on the situation to see if it’s really worth it).
Another small benefit of Thorn Whip is the fact that it’s a melee spell attack, so you won’t suffer disadvantage if you cast it while an enemy is within 5 feet of you.
Available to: Druid, Artificer
The only area of effect damaging cantrips in 5e, Word of Radiance, Sword Burst, and Thunderclap are solid options. All deal 1d6 damage to creatures within 5 feet of the caster, WoR and Thunderclap on a failed Constitution saving throw, Sword Burst on a failed Dexterity save.
Word of Radiance deals radiant damage and Thunderclap thunder damage. Thunderclap also causes a sound that can be heard 100 feet away, making it unfit for stealth operations. Additionally, Thunderclap deals damage to ALL creatures in range, while Word of Radiance only deals damage to creatures OF YOUR CHOICE within range, so you don’t have to worry about friendly fire with WoR.
Sword Burst is better than Thunderclap because it deals force damage (least resisted in 5e) and doesn’t make a loud sound. Dexterity is also a lower average ability score for monsters in 5e than Constitution, so Sword Burst is more likely to land than both WoR and Thunderlcap.
Word of Radiance is the superior spell overall, but it’s limited to Clerics, so other spellcasters will have to settle for Sword Burst. Stay away from Thunderclap.
In any case, most spellcasters don’t like being surrounded by enemies, so these aren’t the sorts of spells you’ll often be using if you’re playing optimally. But for clearing out low-hit point minions, like kobolds and goblins, there’s no better cantrip for the job. And for melee, gish, spellblade type characters, these spells can be a good option as well.
Available to: Cleric (Word of Radiance) | Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard, Artificer (Sword Burst)
Other Good Cantrips
These all get my picks as runners-up for best cantrips in 5e:
Ray of Frost. 1d8 cold damage, 60-foot range, and a 10-foot slow on the target for one round. While the damage is sort of meh and cold is oft-resisted, a 10-foot slow can be quite impactful. If it prevents a melee enemy from getting in range on their turn, its as good as a straight-up attack denial. Pair with other slow effects, difficult terrain, and hazardous terrain for even more value. If you’re in a ranged-heavy party, it’s a top-tier cantrip; if you have dedicated frontline allies, it’s not useful nearly as often.
Minor Illusion. Create an up to 1-minute illusory sound or image that can only be discerned as an illusion with an Investigation check or physical interaction. This can serve many purposes, similar to Prestidigitation, like boosting ability checks, serving as a distraction, and hiding.
Shape Water. The ability to freeze, animate, alter the appearance of, or move/alter the flow of up to a 5-foot cube of water. Again, the uses are too numerous to discuss here, but creative players can get a lot done with Shape Water.
Fire Bolt. 1d10 fire damage at a 120-foot range, Fire Bolt is a no-nonsense damage cantrip that’s never a bad option. It can also ignite flammable objects that aren’t being worn or carried, allowing for some additional utility.
Shocking Grasp. Only 1d8 lightning damage at touch range, Shocking Grasp isn’t impressive in most conditions. But you get advantage on the attack against metal armor-clad creatures, and you deny a target their reactions for 1 round if the attack lands. This is mostly good for denying opportunity attacks, allowing you to attack and escape on the same turn (which you can’t do with Disengage).