This is the Devil’s Typist, here to give you more of The Devil’s thoughts on D&D 5e bards. As always, the Prince of Darkness stopped by, plopped down on my couch with a whiskey on the rocks, and rambled about life, love, sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll, and I’ve done my best to record and focus his thoughts. I mean, he talks a little bit about D&D, then jumps over to those happy days at the Moulin Rouge then he’s onto a story about how he used to promote apples, so I’ve whittled this down to just his thoughts on bard spells to the best of my ability.
Spells Ranked for Bards
This is a review and ranking of bard spells (the spells for each level are listed from best to worst) rather than a build guide, but you can use it for that purpose. And this is specifically for bards, not for other classes that have access to these spells. Wizards can swap all their spells each day and can cast ritual ones that aren’t prepared, which makes almost no spells bad choices for a wizard. But bards don’t do that. They get the spells they know, and can only swap one at level changes and they don’t know that many. That means a lot of spells are bad choices as they are rarely used, or weaker than other options, and you’re stuck with them. And if they are rarely used or weaker, the bard will fail often, and in 5e (unlike 3e and before), failing is never a lot of fun. If your character dies, you want it to be because the enemy was good, not because you were ineffective. The bard is forced to focus on just a few of the best spells. It also means the bard won’t be able to do a lot of fun, out-of-combat trivial things that seem to fit its character.
WotC recognized their mistake and rectified it in an Unearthed Arcana article, but your DM has to choose to include that—it doesn’t count as the official standard rules. That article is the “Class Features Variants” and The Devil highly recommends DMs adopt “Spell Versatility” for bards. It allows bards to swap out one spell after a long rest. This is still far from what a wizard can do, but it does allow a bard to use some of the situational spells which otherwise will never see use. It’s not overpowered for the bard, but supplies options, mainly for social situations, thus, making it more fun. (Note: This is not the Bardic Versatility in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, which only allows for swapping out a cantrip on the levels that include attribute increases.)
Spell Versatility seems required if your campaign is set in the official D&D universe. In that lore, wizards are not naturally magic users but must study while it is instinctive for sorcerers. A wizard’s magic-casting is like working on mathematical formulas, while a sorcerer’s is like twitching muscles. You can focus your attention on different formulas each day, but you can’t swap out a muscle, thus wizards prepare spells while sorcerers get known spells. Bards are closer to wizards in spellcasting. They aren’t instinctive casters, but rather explore the workings of magic, but instead of as mathematicians, they are doing it as artists. A spell for them is like experimental jazz. So their spells are like a setlist. Now swapping out a whole setlist would make for a shaky performance, but changing one song on the setlist for the day’s performance is not unusual.
However, The Devil will rank and spells using the standard method, which means a lot of decent spells will get a negative recommendation. Some spells are best left to the wizard, who can more easily juggle them. If you use Spell Versatility, any rankings that say “leave it to the wizard” might be worthwhile swapping in on rare occasions (and the sheer number of those shows why you want Spell Versatility).
Substitute-Cleric™ & Style
Also in ranking these spells, The Devil considered the job of the bard. Bards are best as controllers and buffer/debuffers. However, if required, they can stand in as healers if the party has no cleric or druid. The bard will never be as good at this as a cleric can be, so if there’s a cleric in the party, the bard should focus elsewhere. I’ve marked the spells (in yellow) that The Devil designated as Substitute-Cleric™ spells. A bard should take those spells if that’s the bard’s job, even over spells ranked higher, but skip them otherwise—they will weaken the bard for the jobs a bard is made for.
Additionally, The Devil is greatly concerned with style, so spells are ranked not only on their effectiveness, but on their sparkle, their elegance, their savoir-faire. Also, on how much fun they are to play.
Expanded Bard Spell List
The UA document that introduced Spell Versatility also included an expanded spell list for bards, spells that are thematically fitting and should have already been on the bard list. The newest sourcebook, Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything republished that list, making it more-or-less the default list for bards… Well, kinda. It added a few additional spells that were published for the first time in Tasha’s, but then it left some off. Except for two, the spells that didn’t make the Tasha’s list weren’t eliminated because they shouldn’t be there, but instead were removed purely for meta reasons. That is, the expanded spell list in Tasha’s only includes spells from The Player’s Handbook and new ones from Tasha’s. It doesn’t include any of the spells from the UA List that were originally published in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything; so it works for people playing in Player’s Handbook + 1 games. Of course, most games aren’t like that and use Xanathar’s.
So The Devil suggests that any DM using the Tasha’s Expanded List (which is most) add back in the rest of the UA List.
As The Devil assumes most games will be using the Tasha’s Expanded List , the spells on it have been ranked with the spells previously on the bard’s list (though they have been marked with TCoE). These remaining spells from the UA List are included for each level after the other spells.
One last thing. When The Devil invented D&D (don’t argue), he never meant anyone to take components seriously. I, the Typist, have played D&D since 1977, and I have never played in a game that used material components or paid much attention to verbal or semantic ones. They turn the game into accounting, and accounting is rarely a lot of fun. On a quick poll of DMs, a majority either don’t use material ones or use them only in a few cases for high-level spells. As such, The Devil’s rankings will ignore component costs. This doesn’t change the rankings significantly for those of you that play in one of the unusual games that use them. If the Devil later does a wizards spell ranking, it will matter there.
Spells are ranked from best to worst with the legend:
Blue – Take it if possible
Green – Situational/weaker. Probably no room for it
Red – Garbage spell.
Yellow – Substitute-Cleric™ spell
So, let’s start with:
Bards start with only two cantrips and max out at four. This is odd as more than any other class, a bard should be making great use of out-of-combat cantrips. The Devil has no idea what WotC was thinking. Adopting Spell Versatility helps a bit as cantrips are spells so a bard could swap in Dancing Lights for a performance in a city, but drop it when the bard hits the trail. A DM raising the number of cantrips, or just making Vicious Mockery and Prestidigitation class features is another way to go. Some DM’s let casters know all their cantrips, which would be a reasonable move with Bards (though not for Wizards with their 30). But for this review, the Devil assumes the standard rules, which means four is all you get.
• Vicious Mockery — The Devil had a bit more to say than normal with this spell. At first level, this is everything you want. It’s effective, causing little damage but inflicting disadvantage on the target’s next attack. What’s more, it’s fun to play because every time you use this spell, you get to insult your enemies, so start thinking up those insults. If none come to mind, Google Shakespearean insults. The problem with Vicious Mockery is it doesn’t level well. It has the worst leveling of cantrips in the game. Why? Because they screwed up, leveling only the damage, which was never the point of the spell, instead of the condition. At 5th level this does 2D4, but still only applies disadvantage to one attack, while your targets have leveled such that they now have two attacks. At high levels, applying disadvantage against a single attack is far less powerful than the 4D12 damage Toll of the Dead would be doing. The Devil recommends DMs fix this flaw so as to keep Vicious Mockery in the game. Leveling the D4 is fine (or don’t as you please as is it insignificant), but the spell needs to level with “applies disadvantage to the next two attack rolls it makes before the end of its next turn” at 5th, next three attacks at 11th, and next four at 17th (note: it is always just till the “end of its next turn” so this is not giving the cantrip new abilities or overpowering it). As is, yes, a bard should take it as it’s iconic, though eventually, it will stop seeing use, which should never happen.
• Minor Illusion — You can create a limited visual or auditory illusion. The is reasonably useful in combat and more so out. You can have lots of fun here, provided your DM plays nice with illusions, which they should, since creativity and fun are the name of the game. The simplest uses are making a wall to hide behind or a sound to distract a person. Since you won’t have the space for lots of illusions, that makes this even more of a must.
• Mage Hand — It’s short-range telekinesis. If you’re a dungeon delver you can use this to open doors and set off traps. Perhaps you can pick a pocket. If you’re performing it can hold one instrument as you play another. There’s a little overlap with Unseen Servant, so plan accordingly, although The Devil suggests both.
• Prestidigitation — One of the three ribbon spells (the others being Thaumaturgy and Druidcraft) that make you feel like a magic user. Each allows you to do a number of small things that feel magical: puffs of wind, light candles, warm your tea or cool your ale, clean your clothing (Bards should not look dirty and bloodstains can be a pain), or make a trinket. People have suggested using the last to fake a coin when shopping, but the Devil says that as a bard, you’re better than that. Out-of-combat you’ll find there’s always something to do with this.
• Mending — Let’s you repair one rip or tear. How useful this is will depend on your DM, but for a bard, it will always feel useful. You may be running into combat with a lute—it’s going to have some repair needs. If you DM keeps track of rents in armor, Mending because vital. Plus there are clever uses for it. One that The Devil heard was to have some shackles made with no hinge, then have your barbarian cute them open with his axe. When you catch that escape-artist thief, put the shackles on him and cast Mending—now there’s no lock to pick.
• Light — This is very practical. Even if everyone in the party has darkvision, light is needed as you can’t see colors with darkvision. Without it, you’re messing around with torches (and carrying them—who has free hands when dungeon delving?). But others get this, so leave it to the wizard or cleric.
• Dancing Lights © — This is a flamboyant spell with floating globes, so it fits bards. But it also is a concentration spell, so they can’t actually use it for light if combat is possible.
• Friends — Not nearly as good as you’d think at making friends. Since afterward the target knows it was enchanted and is upset, the actual use of this spell is to piss someone off. Disguise yourself as a member of a local gang you dislike, then cast this on a political leader, and run away. Hilarity and bloodshed ensue.
• Message — Send a quick telepathic message to one target. It has its uses, but you have other ways to do that; make a simple illusion of a sheet of paper (with the words you want to say written on it) appear in front of your target. Yes, if you could fit it in, this would be fine, but you can’t.
• Thunderclap — The Devil scoffs and those that say this is good. If you are surrounded in combat you can use this to create a thunderous sound and do minor damage to the mob if they all fail a CON save. Areas spells are nice, but chances are this hasn’t gotten you out of being surrounded. And what are you doing getting surrounded in combat? That’s terrible for a valor bard and as for a lore bard, if this comes up often enough that a cantrip is needed to deal with it, something has gone horribly wrong.
• Blade Ward — This sounds good at first. Trace a sigil and gain resistance to some weapon damage. If you’re facing any of the many creatures that do fire or poison (etc.) damage, this does nothing. And as this took your action, you’ve done nothing to help the situation, so they’re all still there next turn to hit you again. But the real killer is you could instead have taken the dodge action, which was more likely to stop you from taking any damage instead of taking half damage, and can work against fire and poison and all sort of things. Dodging is better, and didn’t require one of your few known cantrips.
• True Strike © — Of course Blade Ward is genius next to True Strike, the worst cantrip in the game. You use your action AND concentration to give you advantage on a single attack against a target next turn, provided you don’t lose your concentration (in which case this does nothing). Here’s an option: just attack both rounds. Two attacks are better than casting this.
There’s a lot of first level spells you’ll want, and you can’t take them all. The cuts here are going to be cruel. Note: If your DM allows UA spells, the Devil is fond of Unearthy Chorus, naturally.
• Sleep — This is the best spell in the game at first level. Take 5D8 hit points worth of enemies completely out of the battle. Eliminate a horde or one big-bad (big for level 1). Easily kill them or avoid fights all together. And it is so thematic, lulling your opponents to sleep. It scales horribly, which is OK as otherwise, this is all you’d do. For practicality, trade it out by 4th level, though it would still be fun to have just to screw with peasants.
• Dissonant Whispers — A spell meant for Bards. It does damage and makes a creature run from you (which could mean opportunity attacks). A useful low-level spell you can use while concentrating on something else—this will be part of your repertoire for a long time.
• Command — You can make an enemy run, grovel, and otherwise waste its turn. It’s useful in combat, a great choice when you are using your concentration on something else, and has a place outside of fights as well. And it scales well. Drop it 4 or 5 places for a glamour bard. TCoE
• Unseen Servant — The Devil understands that you’ll find it odd he ranked this so high, but the game isn’t all about combat. Unseen Servant has style, style you need as a bard. Who plays the drums while you recite? Your unseen servant. Who invisibly helps with your juggling performance? Your unseen servant. Who swipes the papers from the guard’s desk or brings you the keys to the cell? Your unseen servant. Who holds your lute while you do the hurdy-gurdy solo? Your unseen servant? Who cleans your costumes? Who sews up those sword holes? Who pours your ale? Plus, it can open trapped doors and chests, and scout ahead. And it has hit points, so it can stand in front of you, unseen by the aiming caster and take the Disintegrate blast instead of you. And it’s a ritual, so no spell slot cost. You may not be able to fit this in at 1st level, but come back for it.
• Healing Word — Even if you aren’t the Substitute-Cleric™ you’ll probably want this one when you can fit it in. If nothing else you can use it to get your downed cleric back. It keeps your allies up and fighting for only the cost of a bonus action.
• Faerie Fire © — This grants advantage to your party and deals with invisible creatures for a 1st level slot. That’s a bargain. Concentration is the reason you’ll eventually trade this away.
• Tasha’s Hideous Laughter © — The first of your single-target-quarantine spells. You’ll always want one of those, but as they are concentration, you’ll swap them out for improved versions. This one does less than some higher-level ones, but it does its job and it’s cheap to cast, so you may want to keep this around instead of trading up for quite some time.
• Silent Image © — Only limited by your imagination and your DM. My favorite is an illusionary fog, which you and allies can see out of, but enemies can’t see into, making it superior to Fog Cloud and Darkness spells. The Devil likes an illusion of a firestorm. I told him it would be very suspicious if people were apparently hiding in a firestorm, but he didn’t see why. Beware DMs who don’t play nice with illusions. If your DM thinks tossing a stone into an illusion of fog somehow reveals it isn’t fog, give up on this, and every illusion spell.
• Comprehend Languages — A ritual spell that’s very fitting for you, but is also situational and you’re not likely to have a spot for. Leave it to the wizard. As a low-level ritual spell, it is a reasonable choice for your first two levels when you only have 2 or 3 spell slots.
• Bane © — This is a good debuff on your enemies, but they get a save and this requires concentration and you’ve too many better options and not enough concentration to go around. I’d say leave it to the cleric, except the cleric is casting Bless instead.
• Cure Wounds — Take Healing Word, and leave out-of-battle healing for the cleric unless you’re subbing.
• Detect Magic © — You want this in the party, but hopefully someone else has it. That it is a ritual is relevant at level 1 and 2 when you don’t have enough spell slots to cast your spells, but it doesn’t help you the way it helps a wizard as after a few levels the slot cost matters less than the known spell cost. Leave it to the wizard, or cleric, or artificer, or druid at that point.
• Disguise Self — This is a great spell for infiltration, social, and performance purposes, but you won’t have space for it. (Think maybe it’s time to talk to your DM about Spell Versatility?)
• Feather Fall — When you need this, you really need this. But you won’t need it often and you’ve no space for this situational of a spell. When you get a flying steed (via your Magical Secrets), then try and jam this on the list, though even then you’ll have a problem finding a place for it.
• Heroism © — Gives some temp hit points, which is nice at first level, and immunity to fear, which is always nice. But it’s concentration and you’ll have other ways to deal with fear. You can’t afford this.
• Thunderwave — This does 2D8 damage and pushes away creatures near you if they fail a CON saving throw (not the saving throw you want). The Devil’s question, which he’s asked before, is: What the hell are you doing with creatures mobbing you? You are not a barbarian. You are not a tank. Instead of taking this, don’t get mobbed. Only valor and swords bards should ever look this way, but even for them, if they need this, they’re doing something wrong and will die soon.
• Animal Friendship — An animal friend for a day has all kinds of uses, but you don’t have all kinds of known spells. Leave it to the druids and rangers.
• Speak with Animals — Same as Animal Friendship. it’s a nice thing to be able to do, but way too situational for you. Leave it to the druids and rangers.
• Charm Person — This one annoys The Devil as it promises more than it delivers. It’s unreliable in combat, and even if it works, it doesn’t stop the target from fire-balling the rest of your party. Like Friends, the target knows you enchanted it when the spell ends, making this questionable even in the social situations it should be good for. Unless you’ve got a DM who is very kindly about enchantments (far more than The Devil), you’re better off just using your persuasion skill.
• Identify — And one more ritual spell you should leave to the wizard, but if there’s no wizard, still skip it. In 5e there’s easy ways to identify magic.
• Distort Value — Double or half the value of an object. If you’re going full conman, this is your spell. Not something to take, but it’s too funny to rate red.
• Illusory Script — Let’s you pass notes to your friends. Why isn’t this a cantrip? Well, because no one would take it as a cantrip. Adopt Spell Versatility and make this a cantrip, and then maybe it would be worth taking, for a day.
• Earth Tremor — Like Thunderwave, but worse in every way. This one is for when you let enemies surround you, after wandering off from your allies (since you don’t want to cast this if they are close). It does less damage, and has a weaker effect than Thunderwave.
• Longstrider — You can give one creature a speed increase of 10. Yeah. That’s it. I mentioned it and The Devil simply blew a raspberry.
• Color Spray — It’s not a bad spell, but it fills the same roll as Sleep, except this only blinds, making it substantially inferior, and you don’t have room for both. TCoE
UA Expanded List
• Cause Fear — Inflicts the frightened condition on one target, which won’t stop it from shooting your friends. Just use your Intimidate skill. This is a terrible spell, but it was left off the Tasha’s list only because it was from Xanathar’s. If it is going to be on any list, it should be on the bard’s.
Level 2 isn’t nearly as strong as level one, but the top spell is one of the best.
• Suggestion © — You’ve come into your own, and so quickly. This is a must-have and a favorite of The Devil, naturally, as this is manipulation. Suggest your enemies leave to join a cult. Suggest to the bouncer that he’ll get into movies if he lets you in. Suggest to the guy attacking you that violence is meaningless and he should sit down, close his eyes, and give peace a chance. The target gets one save and then is hooked for up to 8 hours. Some DMs might get a bit huffy over if your suggestion sounds “reasonable,” but as the example is to tell a knight to go off and give her warhorse to a random beggar, anything short of “shove a dagger in your eye” is reasonable. Just say it with style. This is your chance for storytelling. Make it good. Note, the spell doesn’t say the target automatically knows you magically affected them, so be clever with your words.
• Mirror Image — This is the defense you are looking for. No concentration and fits you thematically. Will be useful for many levels. TCoE
• Blindness/Deafness — You need some non-concentration combat spells you can use while holding up Faerie Fire or Tasha’s or Suggestion. This will do nicely. Blind fighters miss a lot and blind casters may not even be able to use their spells. It isn’t amazing since it’s single target, but it serves its purpose and it scales well, adding targets when higher spell slots are used, so you’ll keep this one around for a long time.
• Lesser Restoration — Somebody needs to be able to do this. If you’re not the Substitute-Cleric™, it’s not you.
• Calm Emotions © — Thematically it fits—music has charms to soothe… And it’s versatile. It can help you avoid combat and ease all kinds of tense situations. In combat, it’s a way to free your entire party from charm and fear.
• Heat Metal © — It doesn’t have a lot of style, but this can be nasty. You heat up an enemy’s armor and it takes damage turn after turn until it can take it all off—which will probably be after it’s dead. No save. You should know if you are running into armored enemies. If so, take this. If not, or rarely, then skip it.
• Phantasmal Force © — In theory, The Devil loves this. Digging into an opponent’s fears, not only applying damage but playing with him, making him act as you wish, is just delicious. But this one really is DM dependent, even more than all the other illusion spells. If your DM plays nice, then this is great. If your DM is really open to illusion shenanigans (which The Devil encourages), then move this up a spot. If your DM doesn’t play nice, narrowing the effect to just damage, which isn’t the point, skip it.
• Invisibility © — This is a nice spell for defense and sneaking about, though less than you might imagine since enemies can still attack you. But, if you can get this on your known list, do so, though sadly, it may be hard to find a place for it.
• Shatter — A passable area of effect blast spell. You’re not a blaster. If you want to blow things up, be a wizard or a sorcerer. But, if you feel you must have a blast spell, take this, and then don’t waste your valuable Magical Secrets on Fireball. This will kill minions well enough until you get Synaptic Static.
• Aid — Increase your ally’s hit points by 5 for 8 hours, which is good for a few levels. Very fitting for a bard, but unless you’re the Substitute-Cleric™, you won’t have space. TCoE
• Hold Person © — This can completely take an enemy out of the battle, and as it paralyzes, they are likely to be dead soon. However, it does nothing if they save, and they get a save every round, and it’s concentration. It’s a step up from Tasha’s but affects a more limited group (only humanoids) so, you might want to hold on to Tasha’s.
• Detect Thoughts — It’s good out-of-combat, although half the time you can get by with an insight check. If you had room, it would be nice, but you don’t.
• Enhance Ability © — Give a creature (probably you) advantage on a check with one attribute (since it’s you, probably charisma) for an hour. There are social uses for this and it’s thematic, but you can’t fit it in. Leave it to the cleric. Note: This is better than the 8th level spell Glibness, so if you feel drawn to take that, grab this instead.
• See Invisibility – You want some way in the party to deal with invisible enemies, and this will do it, but its uses are limited, and Faerie Fire will be more helpful to the party. If you could swap out spells, sure. But for most games, leave it to the wizard.
• Silence © — Good for sneaking, as long as you only need to sneak 40 feet, and good for shutting down spell casters if your DM pays attention to verbal components, and the caster can’t move 20 feet. So, situational. Still, The Devil is amused by a violent melee combat in a china shop where the guards right outside don’t notice anything. Leave it to the wizard.
• Enlarge/Reduce © — The combat buff/debuff is worse than you think, but there are lots of fun out-of-combat things you can do with this spell, all of which are situational, so leave it to the wizard. TCoE
• Animal Messenger – Remember the animal spells from level 1? Leave this to the druids and rangers. You don’t have room for a spell using animals to deliver your mail. Likewise…
• Locate Animals or Plants – You want to find an animal, check with a druid. Which brings us to…
• Locate Object © — Leave this to anybody else. Wizards, clerics, druids can all have this spell. Its range makes it weak even for prepared casters.
• Warding Wind © — The Devil is not thrilled by spells that deafen the caster and friends. It provides minor protection against ranged weapons and it disperses poisoned gas and fog. The effects are too situational and not strong enough to consider.
• Knock – Opens locks. Get a thief in the party. Leave it to the wizard.
• Magic Mouth – lets you deliver messages or warnings. Far too circumstantial. This one’s even iffy for a wizard.
• Gift of Gab – You can delete from the memories of those around you the last 6 seconds of whatever stupid thing you said, replacing it with anything else. This is a joke spell, and a good one. As a cantrip, it would be worth taking just for the joy of it. Perhaps if it was a 1st level spell, and you were high enough level that you could spare the slots. But the joke isn’t worth it unless your campaign is really easy.
• Pyrotechnics — Flame pots for your stage show! Otherwise, it’s minor crowd control that requires a fire to be sitting in the right spot. Too weak and too situational.
• Zone of Truth — The Father of Lies has little interest in this, nor should a bard who is a master of deception. Instead, use your charisma to get the information you want. Detect Thoughts is superior, and you don’t even have room for that.
• Cloud of Daggers © — It’s main use is to block a hallway. It doesn’t do enough damage, and uses your concentration, so not even the wizard should bother.
• Crown of Madness © — The concept is good, but the mechanics make this a spell to avoid. First, the target can save. If it doesn’t, it attacks whoever you want who’s in melee range (so not using this on casters or archers), but then it gets to move as it wants, so if it is at all clever, it will move away from its friends, and this spell is useless. It also uses not only your concentration, but your action each round, and the target gets another save each turn.
• Skywrite © — It writes a message in the sky. Since it’s a ritual, I suppose it isn’t completely inane for WotC to create this spell, but no one needs this spell, particularly you.
• Enthrall – This spell is trash as it doesn’t do what the name suggests. It doesn’t even apply the charmed condition. It’s useless in combat, and out of combat it just gives someone disadvantage to perceive other people. Just try stealth. Or Invisibility. Or anything other than this.
UA Expanded List
• Mind Spike © — Do some damage to a target and know its location for an hour. If it wasn’t concentration, it would be OK, but as is, so nope.
At this level your crowd control takes a huge leap.
• Hypnotic Pattern © — This will be your go-to concentration battle spell for the next 5 levels. It’s everything you want both in its effect and in its style. You create a pattern that hypnotizes a crowd of targets and then they just stand there and trip-out as your party kills them one by one or you just walk away. The Devil suggests playing sitar music to cast it.
• Dispel Magic © — The Devil has found that this spell is rarely used, but if the party doesn’t have it when it is needed, they are in a lot of trouble. Dispelling higher level magic requires an ability check, and bards are better at ability checks than anyone else. So, while it would be nice to hand this off to the cleric or druid or wizard, it’s the bard’s responsibility.
• Leomund’s Tiny Hut — Your party needs one of the safe rest spells and this is your first. You have several on your list. The wizard has more, and there are magic items that can supply a safe resting spot as well. This one is a ritual, so you really want to leave it to the wizard, but if there’s no wizard, you may have to take this. You’ll find a more fitting one at a higher level.
• Major Image © — The best illusion so far, great for in- and out-of-combat usage and loads of fun, with the fantastic add-on that if you up-cast it to 6th level, it becomes permanent. Like all illusion spells, how well this works is down to the temperament of your DM. If you cast this on a wagon, or a boat, or a skyship, does the illusion move along with it? If your DM says no, then this is just going to create disappointment. If you have a DM who loves creativity, then grab this and go to town.
• Slow © — Another crowd control spell, this one applying a large number of so-so speed-related debuffs, but there are so many that they add up to something worthwhile. And you can choose your targets, which gives this a purpose in your list; it’s far weaker than Hypnotic Pattern, and probably Fear, but those you can’t cast if your allies are mingled with your enemies. But can you fit it on your list with your other options? Probably not (Again, wouldn’t Spell Versatility be nice?) TCoE
• Inspirational Speech — There aren’t many non-concentration buff spells, and advantage on WIS saves for a group is a good effect. A few temp hit points never hurt either. And the longer than normal casting time (1 min) is fitting. But the mechanics are a bit odd. The secondary buff only kicks in if someone is hit, but if they lose the 5 temp points, the spell ends for them; how many times is a character going to be hit for 3 damage? If you can time casting this properly, it is a nice buff to your backline party members. If you’ve got Spell Versatility, try it out just for the fun of making insulting inspirational speeches.
• Fear © — Another solid crowd control spell and again, one that’s got style. The main downside it this makes enemies run away, and The Devil prefers them to stick around so they can be killed. It definitely has its place, but you can only afford so many mass concentration spells, and this level already supplied a better one, so unfortunately, leave it to the wizard.
• Tongues — As a bard, you absolutely should have this ability. You should be able to understand and converse with everything, and this lets you. Except, like Comprehend Languages before it, you won’t have a free slot for it. (So, are you begging for Spell Versatility yet?) Leave it to the wizard.
• Mass Healing Word — How much do you want to lean into healing? As it doesn’t raise the number of hit points you are restoring, but only the number of targets, how worthwhile this is depends on how many of your party members keep ending up close to death. If it’s six, take this, assuming you are the Substitute-Cleric™. If it is one or two, the 1st level spell will do. TCoE
• Fast Friends © — It’s Suggestion with a drop of Charm Person. You charm one target who then carries out whatever small tasks you ask of it for the next hour, as long as you ask nicely. It has that downside of the victim knowing it was charmed. It’s amusing, and offers quite a bit of out-of-combat possibilities, but it’s a level up from Suggestion and is not better. Enchanter Wizards will find great uses for this.
• Speak with Dead — Why isn’t this a ritual? It lets you question the dead, which is bound to come in handy eventually. But “eventually” means it isn’t for you. Leave it to the cleric.
• Clairvoyance © — Your first spying spell. Its uses are limited as your “sensor” doesn’t move, so you just see/hear one spot. It’s OK. You’ll have better spy options later and you will never have room for more than one known. Leave it to the wizard.
• Intellect Fortress © — Gaining resistance to psychic damage is VERY situational (if you’re in a mind flayer campaign, then sure, but otherwise it’s the last damage type you should be worried about) but getting advantage on Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma saves is great… Except it’s concentration. Whenever you want advantage on those sorts of saves, you’re also going to be wanting your concentration for something else. TCoE
• Enemies Abound © — Targets INT saves, so that’s a big plus, and if the creature fails, it goes insane, attacking randomly. Well, if it’s a melee creature in the middle of a huge number of other enemies, then this is great. But if those enemies move, or it happens to have a throwing weapon, or a spell, it might randomly attack you or your allies. That makes this spell a lot of fun, but not reliable, so not good. If you had room for a wacky, problematic spell, then this would fit beautifully. But you don’t.
• Sending — A long-range telepathic telegraph message. It has its uses. Leave it to the wizard.
• Stinking Cloud © — A crowd control spell that targets CON saves and does poison damage, neither of which are good, and it lacks panache. You’ve got better control spells. Leave it to the wizard.
• Speak with Plants — If you didn’t have room for speaking with animals, you sure don’t for plants, who have much less to say. The main benefit of the spell—plants performing tasks for you—is listed as at DM’s discretion so…uncertain. Leave it to the druid.
• Bestow Curse © — The Devil is confused why so many guides think this is a good spell. It’s a single target concentration spell. Well, those need to be doing something special, but this one only supplies one of several midlevel debuffs. And it’s a touch spell. Why are you touching enemies? Even a swords bard should keep them at sword’s distance. If you up-cast it you can do it without concentration, but you’ll have much better uses for your 5th level slots. Out-of-combat this might be fun to use to screw around with some local politicians you don’t like, but you don’t have space for that. Leave it to the wizard, if he wants it.
• Plant Growth — Has a nice double usage – in combat or while being chased you can greatly slow your enemy, perhaps setting up an ambush, and if you have a home base you can make your lands flourish or save local farmers. That’s all good, but not great. Leave it to the druid.
• Glyph of Warding — You know how you are constantly worrying about thieves in your castle opening your books? No. Yeah. There are some weird combo things that can be done at higher levels, mostly by a wizard, which just doubles down on: leave this to the wizard.
• Nondetection — Protects against divination magic, which, might pop up…maybe… Leave it to the wizard.
• Feign Death — Let’s one willing creature play dead for an hour… What the hell? For a 3rd level slot? You can cast it as a ritual, so if you want to do the whole party, the first should be waking up shortly after you finish this. And an hour—not long enough to fake a death since the target will start breathing in the middle of the funeral. Whatever problem they thought this would fix, it doesn’t.
• Catnap — 10 minutes to give 3 allies a short rest? Well, that’s idiotic. It’s already using a third level slot, but it wants 10 minutes. If it was an action, sure. But how often do you have 10 safe minutes when you can’t get 1 safe hour? This level has Leomund’s Tiny Hut, which can give everyone in your party a safe short rest or a safe long rest. Hell, if you want to feed it 10 minutes, it gives you back the spell slot as it’s a ritual. Maybe there’s some situation where Catnap is good…but no, it is never worth learning, or even writing in your book if you are a wizard.
UA Expanded List
• Tiny Servant — The Devil loves Tiny Servant. Its in-combat uses are limited, and even it’s out-of-combat ones are situational. But its ribbon uses are nearly endless. Have your whiskey glass walk over to you, your plates put on a show, and your musical instruments leaping about you. Tiny Servant is a great bard spell… And you just can’t fit it on the list. (Spell Versatility please!) Note, this is another that was left off purely because it comes from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. As the bard list includes Animate Object, and the creation bard includes a power very much list Tiny Servant, it’s ridiculous that they left this off.
The Bard list is really short at this level—half the options of both 3rd and 5th. However, there’s some must-take spells here, so you’ll be fine.
• Dimension Door – The Devil doesn’t rate this as better in general than his second-place choice for this level, but rates it higher for a bard, because you are going to need an escape and you’ll want to move quickly into odd places, so you’ll need a teleportation spell, and this is the viable one the class offers. The ability to take someone along is nice. If you have another teleportation spell, perhaps from the Fey Touched or Fey Teleportation feats, skip this.
• Greater Invisibility © – Invisibility for one, and usable in combat. This would be great on yourself, but it’s even better for your melee attacker for whom this will grant advantage on all attacks. Too bad you won’t have the concentration to have this up more often.
• Polymorph © – A great spell. Change your ally into a T-Rex that gives it a bunch of new hit dice and makes it a better attacker, or turn an enemy into a bug. Nice options in- and out-of-combat. In a vacuum, it’s better than the two spells above it. It scales poorly so you’ll trade this out in a few levels, but when you first get 4th level spells, this is fabulous.
• Charm Monster – Remember how we didn’t take Charm Person? Don’t take this one either. Enchanter wizards can eat this up. Not you.
• Hallucinatory Terrain – You can change the natural terrain in 150 ft cube to appear like a different natural terrain (including sound and smell). This one is out of combat only, and easy to tell it’s an illusion if someone enters it. Could be situationally useful, but beware DMs who don’t play nice with illusion spells. Leave it to the wizard.
• Freedom of Movement – Allows one willing creature to move around better in difficult circumstances and it can’t be paralyzed. Situational and not all that thrilling even then.
• Locate Creature © – Lets you find a creature you know if it’s within 1000 feet of you. Really? 1000 feet. So, good for finding your lost kid at the mall. It’s not totally useless (party member fell through a trap door, your group gets separated in a maze, your enemy is hiding somewhere in the building) but leave it to the wizard.
• Compulsion © – This is a Bard only spell, so The Devil really wanted to love it, but can’t. It’s a mass control spell that lets you march your enemies around. It doesn’t necessarily stop your enemies from attacking, and the range isn’t great, so it is weaker than multiple mass control spells at 3rd level and you can’t afford another one that requires concentration.
• Confusion © – It’s the same situation as with Compulsion, except this spell is so much worse. It’s a mass control spell that has a far weaker effect than Hypnotic Pattern or Fear, grants your enemies more saves, and covers a smaller area. Sure, confusing people sounds like something a bard would do, but that small bit of style doesn’t make up for the mechanical weakness.
• Phantasmal Killer © – Single target spell that inflicts the frightened condition on a failed save and does 4D10 after additional failed saves. It’s an illusion but lacks all the illusion shenanigans possibilities that Phantasmal Force has (which also means DMs who don’t play nice won’t nerf it, but it’s nerfed on its own). It has too many saves for too little effect. It’s very fitting for a bard, but it’s also a terrible spell. TCoE
A level of goodies. Bard’s damage output greatly increases.
• Synaptic Static – Here’s your blast. It’s a Fireball, except doing psychic damage (that’s better), against an INT save (also better), and then applies a D6 debuff to their attack rolls, ability checks, and to maintain concentration for the next minute without your concentration. It’s a basket of goodies that fit your style. You wanted an area attack spell—here it is. (Now wouldn’t you feel stupid if you used a Magical Secret for Fireball?)
• Raise Dead – Someone needs to have it. Hopefully it won’t be you.
• Animate Objects © – This is good damage, versatile, and lots of fun. Block a doorway by animating the door. Have all the torches walk beside you. And of course, the best is to animate 10 tiny objects and have them attack. You’re a bard, so don’t go grabbing pebbles or coins. Make something. I like 10 juggling clubs. The Devil is fond of 10 naked mini-statues or 10 holy symbols from a god who annoys him. How about 10 violin bows or ten metal drums. And in your off time, think of the great show you can put on with the clubs juggling themselves or the drums playing themselves. Or how about puppets!
• Hold Monster © – Paralyzes a creature, which means all hits against it are crits. This is fantastic, except if they save it does nothing and they get to try to save every round. You should only take a limited number of these concentration single target removal spells. This one’s a little pricy and there are far better ones to come. But if your DM doesn’t like Otto’s Dance (see next level), you may want to take this as your temporary replacement.
• Greater Restoration – Someone needs to have it. Hopefully it won’t be you.
• Mislead © – This spell will slightly soothe the pain of not having Find Familiar. Good for spying, good for tricks, and useful to escape a combat, though not much use in combat. But considering its ranking, you probably can’t fit it in.
• Modify Memory – This one’s tricky. There are multiple out-of-combat uses for this, the most important being to make others forget you had charmed them. This fits you perfectly. You need this, more than spells The Devil has ranked higher, yet you probably won’t have a spot for it.
• Awaken – You “awaken” a beast or plant and it becomes your companion for 30 days. This can be good, depending on your DM (your DM chooses its stats). Style-wise The Devil prefers several spells below, but this is more useful, being great for action economy (again, depending on your DM). But there’s no space, so leave it to the druid.
• Mass Cure Wounds – Yes, this spell is OK, but even for the Substitute-Cleric™ this might be too much. If your party keeps getting beaten up that badly and can’t heal enough by spending their hit die, it’s time to suggest one of them picks up a level in cleric or druid to take up some of the strain. Also, buy some potions.
• Dream – Communication mixed with harassment and an attack. As most games play out, this is almost certainly too situational. However, the implications of this spell should not be overlooked. Most people in the world are going to be 1st level-ish, meaning the 3D6 damage this does will kill them. So a caster with this spell can assassinate most of the population of the world without getting out of bed.
• Scrying © – Handy to have if you want to spy on someone. Situational. Leave it to the wizard.
• Seeming – Make your whole party look like someone else for 8 hours. Situational, though in those situations, it’s great. Leave it to the wizard.
• Rary’s Telepathic Bond – An in-game explanation for all the chatting players do anyway. How good this is depends on your DM. If your DM lets you all talk around the table, this won’t change anything. If your DM is very strict and won’t let you communicate when your characters probably shouldn’t be, then this becomes more important. As it is a ritual, it is a viable option since it isn’t taking up your needed slots, but it also makes it much, much better for a wizard. Leave it to the wizard. TCoE
• Dominate Person © – It has a nice effect, but it’s too unreliable in combat, both to succeed initially (the target gets advantage on the save), and then due to all the many saves it will get. Which means unless you are diddling about with low level creatures, this is only reliable if you want to control the local village elder or other big-wigs in social situations. Well, you’re a bard—you can do that in easier ways.
• Skill Empowerment © – Grants expertise to one willing creature for one of its proficient skills for an hour. Sure. The Devil would take this, particularly if it was a 1st level spell. Maybe if it was a 2nd level. You already have expertise in 4 skills (the ones you think are most important). This is situationally useful. Leave it to the wizard.
• Planar Binding – You bind a fiend, etc. and force it to do your will for 24 hours while it tries to screw you over. This is pretty much a license for your DM to gut you like a trout. And the Devil considers the whole concept disrespectful. Since the description states that you really ought to use another spell with this one, a spell not on your list, leave this one for a self-destructive Wizard.
• Teleportation Circle – Either useful or near useless depending on the campaign and how many permanent circles are set up. In either case, leave it to the wizard.
• Geas – This should be great, forcing people to carry out your actions, but the mechanics suck. It doesn’t actually make them do anything. It just punishes them if they disobey with 5D10 damage (and it doesn’t say they know they’ll be punished), so if they’re low level they die, and if higher, they just heal up as they search for a wizard with remove curse. A ridiculously designed spell. DM’s: The Devil suggests DM’s change it so that the target must make a save to even try to veer from their task, and take the damage when they succeed, as well as needing to make multiple saves if they attempt to have the spell removed.
• Legend Lore – Gives you some vague information that is better gotten through a skill check and any good DM will already have given you. No one needs this.
UA Expanded List
• Contact Other Plane – You phone up a god and ask questions, and if you fail a save you go insane. The Devil is well aware how much a god dislikes calls. These sort of spells just annoy DMs and disappoint players. If the DM wants you to know something, the DM will find a better way. This spell is from The Player’s Handbook, and they still didn’t include it on the Tasha’s expanded list, and The Devil is OK with that.
Things are complicated at this level, so a few spells will have longer than usual explanations. Depending on your DM, this is either one of your best levels or so-so.
• Mass Suggestion – Remember how Suggestion was both a great spell and stylish for a Bard? Well, this is that, without concentration, for 12 people, for 24 hours. You are now a master of manipulation. One of your best spells. Use it often.
• Otto’s Irresistible Dance © – OK, notice the weird coloration. That’s because this spell is either very good or complete garbage, depending on how your DM interprets it. And nope, there’s no in-between. The Devil is fond of it being a good spell as this is an iconic one for the bard, and it’s so theme-appropriate. What it does is force a target to dance, layering on some minor conditions, but to get out of it, the creature must use its action to attempt to save. Thus, the purpose of this spell is to burn up a target’s action economy. That makes this worth having.
The problem is in the wording: “As an action, a dancing creature makes a WIS saving throw to regain control of itself.” Now the Devil reads that (as does English) as meaning that the creature uses its action to make a save. The spell says it does it, so it does it. It doesn’t say it can do it or might do it or is allowed to do it, but simply that it does do it. However, a gamish reading, one that a significant number of DMs accept, inserts the words “may choose to” into that description. In that case, the creature doesn’t lose it’s action unless it chooses to, and in many cases, it won’t. If it’s an enemy caster, it isn’t even bothered by the spell, and most other targets would be only mildly inconvenienced by it. Why would anyone use a 6th level spell to mildly inconvenience an enemy when you could use a 5th level one to completely screw it over? Hell, a second level Suggestion is better. You cast this spell to use up your enemy’s action. If a DM takes the interpretation that it doesn’t do that, this spell is weak.
And just to make it more complicated, the spell doesn’t say what it does to flying creatures, and I’ve seen three interpretations. The Devil prefers having the target float to the ground, as having it dance in the air is just goofy and now the players are picturing a Looney Tunes cartoon instead of an amusing epic battle, while the version that has the creature plummet is a bit too strong and apparently not Rules as Intended.
• Heroes’ Feast – It’s a multi-buff feast, and who’s a better host than a bard. This is as thematic as it gets (this should always have been a bard spell, not a cleric or druid one). Your whole party is cured of diseases and poisons, becomes immune to poison and fright, gains advantage on WIS saves, and gains 2D10 hit points for 24 hours. Absolutely. If you’re the Cleric-Replacement™, you take this. If you aren’t, you take this and drop your other healing-type spells. TCoE
• Programmed Illusion – Hey, you get a popup backup singer! You create a semi-permanent recording of a visual and auditory illusion that plays whenever certain conditions apply. Unfortunately, this is another spell that can get nerfed by DMs that don’t play nice with illusions. The question is what you are casting the illusion on, in relation to what. If you cast it on your wagon, then does it move with the wagon or not. The Devil says it should move, because otherwise this is underpowered for 6th level, plus, in a shipboard campaign it becomes truly stupid. If the DM likes creativity, this is great for style and even has some battlefield uses (popup cover, distraction). If your DM doesn’t play nice, then this loses much of its luster.
• Eyebite © – The real plus of Eyebite is its versatility for spell-casters with limited known spells, like you. You can use it to apply sleep, frightened, or disadvantage on one target per round. The style is more warlock than bard (and one of the few cases where The Devil would remove it from the list due to style) and you have other ways to do all of these so it’s a hard sell for you to take at this level. But, if your DM has knocked out Otto and illusions, this becomes a reasonable choice. It works notoriously well with the Find Greater Steed spell that you can acquire from Magical Secrets, though check with your DM to see if that combo is allowed.
• True Seeing – The Devil feels a Bard ought to have this naturally. You want this ability, but the level is too high. If you have a kindly DM who moves this to 4th level, then snatch it up. At 6th, even though it fits you, leave it to the wizard.
• Guards and Wards – Useful if you are hanging around your house. You aren’t hanging around a house. Leave it to the wizard.
• Find the Path © – Does what it says. Cast this, or get a map. Leave it to the wizard.
UA Expanded List
• Mental Prison – You lock up a creature where it can’t move due to the scary illusion you’ve created while your party beats it up. This is solid, except it’s an illusion spell and you know what that means. DM’s who don’t play nice will just have the creature test the illusion, take some damage, and get out, in which case, forget this. If your DM plays nice, meaning the more reasonable approach of your prisoner not wanting to step into the revolving death blades, this spell is ranked above Programmed Illusion. Another case of a spell that clearly should be on the bard list be was left off of Tasha’s due to being from Xanathar’s.
• Scatter – You can rearrange the battlefield to your liking: pull all your people out of melee and set them 120 feet away to escape, regroup them, set your party behind the enemy lines and beat up their caster, zap your enemies onto the little island in the middle of the lava flow. It’s versatile. If your DM has nerfed Otto’s and the Illusions, this is your next pick.
• Tenser’s Transformation © – You are one of the best casters in the game. Giving up that ability always makes you weaker. You’re giving up being a first-class caster to be a third rate fighter, and then putting yourself into a situation where you will eventually fail your concentration check, which will leave you as a squishy caster unable to cast in your non-proficient armor. Congratulations, you’re dead. And that’s after you used half the spell’s duration putting on that armor (no, you can’t put it on first because then you couldn’t cast the spell). It gives you an extra attack. Valor and swords bards have that already. Is this for lore bards? This spell is a joke.
This is a good level, which is helpful since 8th is weak, which means you might want to grab an extra 7th level spell.
• Forcecage – Well, this is nice. You can trap one or more creatures in a cage (and then poke them to death through the bars) or a box (while you rest, and prepare your gang attack) for an hour. This is why most of your 8th level choices look feeble.
• Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Mansion – Some spells are for effectiveness and some are for style. This one’s all style. A dilapidated inn was fine for performing when you were 1st level. Now, you need a theater. Use it for long rests, a pause right in the middle of the big bad’s castle, or just move in. You need one safe-place spell. Why not take the decadent one? Yes, for wizards this would be ranked lower and it ought to be 6th level in any case, but you are a bard, that makes you deserving of the best. OK, as far as actual game effect, this will do little more for you than Leomund’s Tiny Hut, which is a 3rd level ritual. If you are trying to make an effective character, that’s a much better choice. The Devil’s suggestion to DMs is to make this a ritual. Dropping it to 6th level would also be a good idea, but making it a ritual is more important.
• Mirage Arcane – A fantastic spell for controlling a battlefield or sending your opponents off somewhere else. You set up a square mile of terrain with an illusion that covers all five senses and even if someone knows it’s an illusion, that can’t pass through that illusionary wall because they’ll feel it. Now there’s some weird wording that can be a problem: “The spell doesn’t disguise, conceal…” Now, if your DM takes this reasonably, meaning it doesn’t blot out buildings or make you invisible, we’re good. If a DM interprets it to mean that you can’t make an illusionary wall in front of you, then this spell is a mess. It’s also nonsense since the spell description says you can make a “pond seem like a grassy meadow” which is concealing it. But, apparently there are some grumpy DM’s who refuse to play nice with illusions and who actually think that your wall can’t block anything, making this spell unusable, but in that case, I’m guessing all illusions are unusable.
• Project Image © – If this was a level lower, The Devil would love it. It really should be 6th (a hint to wise DMs). It’s a combination scrying, messaging, distraction, and deception spell. For out of combat, that’s quite a few things. If you can fit it in, great, but I’m betting you can’t. It’s a small step up from the 5th level Mislead.
• Regenerate – Probably wanted for a Substitute-Cleric™. Skip otherwise.
• Teleport – Useful for a full party escape, bypassing traps or lava flows or just getting home before anyone noticed you sneaked out. Leave it to the wizard.
• Etherealness – Good for escaping from a losing battle (not so good for the allies you left behind unless you up-cast) or getting through a wall. It’s got style, and it’d be nice to have. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of 7th level spells that would be nice to have.
• Prismatic Spray – Well, it’s flamboyant. The Devil likes that. It’s effects are random. He likes that a lot less, as well as having to stand in front of the tank to cast it. Five-eighths of the time (you roll a D8) it does some OK damage and that’s it. Damage isn’t your job. Two-eighths of the time it does some odd effects that could be worthwhile. For effectiveness, The Devil ranks this below Etherealness, but for wacky hijacks, it’s up with Mirage Arcane. TCoE
• Symbol – It allows you to trap your belongings. The effects are good, and if you want to waste your Magical Secrets, there’s some combos to make this better, but it’s too situational. Leave it to the wizard.
• Dream of the Blue Veil – This doesn’t even seem like it should be a player spell. It allows you to travel to another plane of existence in a slow, poetic fashion. This is the kind of thing a DM should set up without the need of a spell. Well, it exists, so leave it to the wizard. TCoE
• Mordenkainen’s Sword © – A bad version of the cleric’s 2nd level Spiritual Weapon (i.e. it takes an action to cast and uses your concentration), it does some mediocre damage with your bonus actions. You’re a bard; you’ve plenty of things to do with your bonus actions and far better things to do with your concentration.
• Resurrection – Nope. Raise Dead will do fine. This is only needed if you’re bringing back some long-dead ancient hero or mage, in which case it’s the whole campaign so hire a cleric.
UA Expanded List
• Power Word Pain – Why the hell wasn’t this spell already on the bard’s list? All the other Power Word spells are, which shows the Expanded List needs to be the list you use. And it was left off again only because it comes from Xanathar’s. That said, this spell isn’t good. You guess a creature’s hit points. If you’re right, you toss on it some reasonable debuffs, at least until it makes a CON save (the save most often made by your enemies). If wrong, you do nothing.
There are only five 8th level spells, and none of them are impressive (until we get to the Expanded List). If your DM is not using the Expanded List (what kind of monster wouldn’t use it?), it’s up to Magical Secrets to get you a spell.
• Feeblemind – It does some minor damage but if the target fails an INT save, its INT and CHR are dropped to 1 and it can’t cast spells. Sounds good, and it can be. But the target can still fight, which means this does little against Super Troll. It’s only really good against casters, and they often have good INT saves, which means this is only dependable against CHR casters. For a single target removal spell, you had better at 7th level.
• Antipathy/Sympathy – For 10 days, make a type of creature rush toward your tank and run away from you, or just make all the monsters run toward your favorite rock. If you know what you’ll be facing, there are some marvelous traps you can set with this. Clearly situational. For a wizard, who can cast this, then strip it from its prepared spell list, this can be very functional, but far less so for a bard. I say leave it to the wizard, but it’s still the second-best spell at this level. TCoE
• Dominate Monster © – This is Dominate Person, but 3 levels higher and targeting any creature, and all the same problems apply. Leave it to the Wizard.
• Power Word: Stun – All the Power Word spells are subpar. They are single target and most require you to guess your target’s hit points; this time you’re guessing if it has 150 hits left, and any boss at this point will start with more than that. You guess wrong, you do nothing. A wizard has room for guessing games. You don’t. If monsters wear their hit points on a sign around your neck, or your DM gives you an insight check to know, this looks better.
• Glibness – The Devil likes the feel of this spell, giving you high rolls for Charisma checks. But your charisma checks should be golden at this point without needing an 8th level spell, and we’re looking at out-of-combat (so social situations) where there are a number of low-level spells that will do the job.
• Mind Blank – lets you hide a target from divination spells. Situational for an extremely rare situation. For a wizard, it’s fine, but not you.
UA Expanded List
• Maze – Yes please. The Devil includes this under Magical Secrets for DM’s who are foolishly not using the Expanded List. It’s a single-target-quarantine spell that sticks a target in a maze with no save and to get out he needs to make a difficult INT check. This is the best 8th level spell and one you will want. If you can take it from the bard list, that’s the cherry on top.
[Since there are no other really good spells at this level, it does seem like a spell that ought to be added. But The Devil admits that if that’s the reasoning, then a DM ought to add Imaginary Dragon as that’s the spell that theme-wise fits best with a bard.]
There are a few good things here, but you’re going to want at least one 9th level spell from Magical Secrets and you only ever have one 9th level spell slot, so you can’t choose much.
• True Polymorph © – You want to be a dragon? This is how you become a dragon, permanently or just for an hour. Yeah, that’s good. This is your top 9th level pic, except for your Magic Secrets, which will top this.
• Foresight – Not for yourself, but cast it on your party’s Paladin and he’s nearly invincible. This is more thematic for you than True Polymorph.
• Psychic Scream – 10 targets are a good number, 14D6 is acceptable damage, stun is a great condition to impose, and INT saves are more often failed, plus the fluff description has their heads literally exploding, so this is all good. The question is, is it good enough? This is 9th level, and your magical secrets are likely to give you a 9th level spell, so as good as this is, you probably can’t fit it in.
• Prismatic Wall – It’s an extremely powerful way to trap your enemies. Mechanically, The Devil puts this above Psychic Scream, but it doesn’t fit as well with the class, and it doesn’t matter as you can’t afford either of them since you can’t take four 9th level spells (well, you can, but you shouldn’t). TCoE
• Power Word: Kill – It kills anyone with less than 100 hit points, otherwise does nothing. Nothing. Really? That’s it? The wizard with Meteor Swarm is laughing at you. It’s the best of the Power Word spells as it combos nicely with Polymorph, but it is underpowered and requires guessing.
• Power Word: Heal – This is…fine. If you are the party’s Cleric-Substitute™, then…still skip this and use Magical Secrets to get Mass Heal. If you aren’t, you’ve got better things to do.
• Mass Polymorph – Polymorph is a pretty decent spell at it’s level, but you’ve long since outgrown it. This spell offers nothing more than casting polymorph multiple times. Turning your whole party into T-Rexs is not a winning strategy at this point in your campaign, and there are much better ways to deal with enemies.
Magical Secrets let a bard become the best of the best by pillaging other classes’ spell lists and adapting to a campaign. Mostly that means swiping from the wizard, but clerics and paladins have a few gems. While it is often suggested that a bard use this to fill in what they’re lacking, that’s not a good philosophy. That’s what party members are for, and grabbing one or two spells would only be a bandaide. Let your allies fill in the gaps; avoid spells that increase melee damage, or blast because you’re not going to be great in those areas. Use Magical Secrets to perfect what you are already excellent at. So Fireball is a weak choice.
And in case that didn’t already make it clear, Swift Quiver is not a good choice; actually, it’s a horrible choice. You will never be as good an archer as a fighter or a ranger. They will get more attacks than you, be more accurate, and have multiple ways to increase the damage of each strike. If you focus all your resources to run after them, you will have weakened your control ability, while still being far behind them as an archer, sacrificing all for this one trick. Then you finally get to cast Swift Quiver, and for one combat, you are nearly as good, though not as good, as they are without sacrificing anything. Of course, they’ll keep getting better and when the ranger eventually gets Swift Quiver she’ll put you to shame. You’re better than a fighter at nearly everything, but not archery, nor melee. Why not leave those to the fighter?
Another point: bards can swap a Magical Secret at level change, but only for a spell on the bards’ list, so try to choose Magical Secrets that will be good all the way to 20th level. So again, no Fireball.
The Devil has selected his top choices, and placed them in ranked order for each of the Magical Secrets levels.
Level 6 (Lore Bard only)
• Counterspell – The Devil hates recommending this as D&D is not M:TG and wishes this mechanic hadn’t entered the game. But it has, so you need this for control. It helps that bards are better at counter-spelling than any other general class. [Wizard]
• Fortune’s Favor – Grants a reroll for an attack, ability check, or saving throw, or for an enemy’s attack, all with a second level spell. [Wizard]
• Find Familiar – You know you want it. A spy, a combat helper, an audience for your practice sessions. It can replace those high-level spy spells you are having problems fitting on your list. It scales badly, but what price do you put on friendship? [Wizard]
• Revivify – Only if you are the Substitute-Cleric™, but if you are, this is a key spell, bringing an ally back to life quickly with no negative consequences. [Cleric/Paladin]
• Aura of Vitality © – Not a necessity for the Substitute-Cleric™, but rather what you take when you’ve given up on being anything else but a Substitute-Cleric™. It allows you to heal up to 20D6 in a minute using bonus actions, so you can do this in combat while you use your actions for other things. You’ll never be a great bard if you go this way, but you might be what your party needs. [Paladin]
• Spirit Guardians © – You are not a melee fighter. Say it with me. But if you reject reality, this will make you seem a bit more like one. Does 3D8 and slows enemies within 15 feet of you. For delusional valor and swords bards only. [Cleric]
The top Level 6 choices are viable here.
• Wall of Force – THE pick, You can use it to divide and conquer, sequester big-bads, or set up a near-unbreachable defense. The best bang for your buck in wall spells in the game. There’s some “similar” purpose spells that would be great choices if this spell didn’t exist (like Otiluke’s Resilient Sphere), but Wall of Force is the best. [Wizard]
• Banishment – The best one-creature-quarantine spell at its level, with the added benefit of permanently getting rid of creatures from other planes. The only reason this isn’t an auto pic (besides someone else in the party having it) is that you have access to better higher level one-creature-quarantine spells. The Devil does not recommend taking both Wall of Force and this. [Cleric/Wizard]
• Temporal Shunt – A counterspell for both spells and attacks. Two levels higher hurts, but the greater range is nice. If you want control, this gives you control. It may slow the game a bit as the DM has to announce when enemies are making rolls or starting spells so you can choose to stop them. Move it up a spot if you don’t have Counterspell. [Wizard]
• Magic Jar – One of the great shenanigans spells of the game. Assassinate any humanoid if it fails a single CHR score. Take over a kingdom. Become the big-bad’s right-hand man. If all you do is dungeon delve, you may not find much use for this, but in a bigger world, you may end up building your career around this. [Wizard]
• Find Greater Steed – Ride a griffin or pegasus! Warning, the rules in 5e for mounted combat are messy and while the end decision by WotC is that you decide if this steed is controlled or independent, they contradicted themselves several times earlier. The rules for what spells effect both rider and steed are also messy (players: stop trying to twin damage dealing spells with this), so this is a great spell, but be prepared for a lot of annoying game mechanic discussions. Also, a good time to look at Feather Fall. DMs should make this a ritual spell. [Paladin]
• Telekinesis / Bigby’s Hand – Both of these spells are useful for holding an enemy in place, and have significant out-of-combat options. Take only one, and The Devil leans toward Telekinesis [Wizard]
• Destructive Wave – Does 10D6 to enemies you choose in a 30ft radius and knocks them prone. Only for valor and swords bards who insist they are melee warriors against all good judgment. If you are making bad decisions, this will help mitigate those a bit. [Paladin]
• Conjurer Woodland Beings – This is powerful if your DM plays nice with conjuring. You summon 1 to 8 fey creatures, often ones that have spells and effects (DM’s choice). Great for action economy and great for damage, though it can slow the game a bit. [Druid/Ranger]
Lower level Secrets are still an option. Counterspell, Wall of Force, and Temporal Shunt come in after Simulacrum.
• Simulacrum – Make a duplicate of yourself and double your effectiveness. Or sing duets. This is the second-best spell in the game at high levels (after Wish). The only reason you wouldn’t take it is because you plan to cast it with Wish later. [Wizard]
• Contingency – Set it up so that if your hit points drop to zero, a heal spell is cast on you, or if you’re in trouble Dimension Door fires up. Since the spells are pre-cast on an off day, they don’t cost you spell slots when you need them. [Wizard]
• Reverse Gravity – Somewhere between a good and fantastic area control spell, depending on how your DM interprets it. If your DM takes the liberal view, move this up two ranks. [Druid/Sorcerer/Wizard]
• Create Homunculus – Completely loyal servant who shares its senses over any distance without you losing your own, so drop any spying spells, and enjoy the free darkvision. But the selling point is it can attune to magic items, and has hands. With a ring of spell storing, you now can have two concentration spells going. Give it a Wand of Magic Missiles (there’s no argument about if it can use it—hands…). Every trick you wanted to pull with your familiar but your DM frowned at… Well, no frowning now. Plus, you’re now starting up a band. [Wizard]
One slot is an auto-pick. For the other, lower level choices are still good. Temporal Shunt is The Devil’s #2 pick if you don’t already have it. Best to take lower levels spells you’ll want to cast often as Wish will handle most of the occasionally cast spells.
• Wish – The best spell in the game. You can use it to cast all 8th level and below spells, plus do many other unspecified things. Take it. [Wizard]
• Maze – The ultimate one-target-quarantine spell. Your victim is tossed into a maze and can only escape with an INT check. Remember, Wish can cast this, so take it if you think you’ll use it twice in a day. If your DM is using the Expanded List, you’ve already got this. [Wizard]
• Animal Shapes – Welcome to your bear army. This one depends on the campaign. Do you have a lot of peasants or soldiers willing to follow you into combat? If so, then you are going to rule the world. For 24 hours you can turn every willing creature you can see into a beast, and then change to a new beast every turn so they start with all fresh hit points (healing them 50 or 60 hits a turn). If you don’t have a few hundred friends, then this isn’t for you. [Druid]
• Mass Heal – Face it, if you are taking this, you are regretting your life choices for not going to seminary school. But if you are just a second rate cleric, be as good of one as you can be. [Cleric]
• Holy Aura – A collection of desirable buffs for the entire party. [Cleric]