At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, the cold damage increases by 1d6 for each slot level above 1st.
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 60 feet
Components: S, M (a drop of water or a piece of ice)
School: 1st-level conjuration
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, pg. 157
Ice Knife 5e
Ice Knife is a must-pick spell for any frost-themed caster, but players are split as to whether it’s a “good” spell or not. I’ll get into that debate, but first, I’ll cover the basics of how Ice Knife works and how to use it optimally.
Who Can Cast Ice Knife in 5e?
The following classes have Ice Knife on their spell list:
No subclasses get Ice Knife for free.
What Does Ice Knife Do in 5e?
Ice Knife is a spell that is both a ranged spell attack and a Dexterity spell save. For the ranged spell attack, target one creature within range. If the attack hits, you deal 1d10 (5.5 average) piercing damage to the target.
Regardless of the spell attack’s result, the attack’s target and all creatures within 5 feet of them must make a Dexterity saving throw. If they fail, they take 2d6 (7 average) cold damage.
Ice Knife can be upcast, dealing an additional 1d6 (3.5 average) cold damage for the Dexterity save portion of the spell.
What Are the Rules for Ice Knife in 5e?
The rules for Ice Knife in DnD 5e are as follows:
Ice Knife’s Dexterity save portion affects 9 total squares, assuming a 1 square = 5 feet battle map. You can think of Ice Knife’s area of effect as having a 5-foot radius, with the initial target being the center.
Ice Knife can damage allies. The spell states that “the target and each creature” must pass a Dexterity save. This includes allies — including the caster themself.
Ice Knife cannot be twinned using Sorcerer’s Twinned Spell metamagic. For the simple reason that “it can affect more than one creature.”
Ice Knife’s spell attack can be a critical strike, but it won’t affect the cold damage caused. If you roll a 20 on your ranged spell atttack, you roll 2d10 for the spell’s piercing damage.
But if that creature (or any other creature in range) fails their Dexterity saving throw, they still only take 2d6 cold damage (or more, if upcast).
How Do I Use Ice Knife in 5e?
Here are a few ways to use Ice Knife in DnD 5e:
Cast it when enemies are bunched up. Like all area of effect spells, Ice Knife’s power multiplies the more enemies you can hit with it in one action. Use Ice Knife to punish enemies that like to be bunched up, like Kobolds, Wolves, or any creature with Pack Tactics.
This is equally useful for softening up a few low-health minions or cleaning them up.
Pick it up on your Druid. Druids only have access to four 1st-level damaing spells: Absorb Elements, Earth Tremor, Thunderwave, and Ice Knife. Of those options, Ice Knife is the only one with decent range, and it deals the best damage (assuming both parts of the spell hit; otherwise, Thunderwave wins out).
Cast it while Silenced. Only 5.5% of DnD 5e’s spells lack a verbal component; Ice Knife is one such spell. This gives it the rather niche use of being one of only a handful of damaging spell options while your character is under the effects of the Silence spell.
Use it on fire elementals. Speaking of niche uses, fire elementals (MM 125) have the Water Susceptibility attribute that causes them to take 1 cold damage per gallon of water splashed on it.
It’s up to your DM how many gallons of water is in a shard of ice, but most will give you a small damage boost for taking advantage of fire elementals’ weakness.
Who Can I Target With Ice Knife 5e?
You can only target a creature with Ice Knife. Some spells make this explicit, like Eldritch Blast, while others explicitly allow for object targeting, like Fire Bolt.
Ice Knife is a spell that explicitly requires a creature as the target. The area of effect cold damage from a failed Dexterity saving throw can also only affect creatures, not objects.
Is Ice Knife 5e a Good Spell?
Ice Knife is a decent spell that’s a good low-level damaging option for Druid. But that’s really because Druids don’t have many damaging spell options at 1st-level.Sorcerers and Wizards, on the other hand, have access to spells like Magic Missile, Burning Hands, and Chromatic Orb. Most players agree that these spells outclass Ice Knife in one way or another.
That being said, Ice Knife isn’t seriously gimped or anything. If you’re in a situation where you want to do small area, decent range area of effect damage, it’s your best option at 1st-level. And the unique “attack + save” aspect of the spell is a good way to hedge your bets against an enemy when you’re unsure of their AC/Dexterity modifier.
Last but certainly not least, if you’re building a caster who loves cold magic, picking Ice Knife is a great way to highlight this trait early on.
Ice Knife 5e Compared to Burning Hands
Burning Hands is another 1st-level, AoE damaging spell that Sorcerers and Wizards can pick up. The big difference is that Burning Hands has a self (15-foot) cone (affects 7-11 squares), while Ice Knife has a 60-foot range and affects a 5-foot radius (9 squares).
Burning Hands also deals 3d6 (10.5 average) fire damage on a failed Dexterity saving throw, or half that on a successful save.
To compare, Ice Knife deals an average of 5.5 piercing damage to one target and an average of 7 fire damage to enemies who fail a Dexterity saving throw — no damage on a successful save.
Half damage on a successful save is a big perk for Burning Hands — you also know you’ll deal some damage with it, whereas Ice Knife can whiff completely.
Burning Hands is a more resisted damage type (fire), but if you’re comfortable getting up close and personal with enemies, Burning Hands is the superior spell for straight-up blasting at early levels.
Ice Knife 5e DM Tips
Ice Knife is an easy enough spell to DM. So easy, in fact, that I recommend giving your frost-themed spellcaster baddies Ice Knife to liven things up. This is especially great for breaking up parties that are over-reliant on bunching up in a small group to avoid being flanked.
Frost Giants, Ice Mephits, and any spellcaster living in a tundra region are great options to cast Ice Knife with.