A Beginner’s Guide to Warlock Subclasses in 5th Edition D&D

The two Warlocks eyed each other up across the tavern table. One fidgeted with the sword strapped to his hip. The second warmed her bowl of gruel with a flame conjured from her fingertips. To the side, the Rogue sighed. “Alright, I was wrong. I guess you two got nothing in common after all.”

Table of Contents

Anyone who says all Warlocks look the same clearly haven’t met enough Warlocks. I’ve seen Warlocks who glow like a shooting star, Warlocks who carry more battleaxes than even the toughest Barbarians. I know at least two Warlocks with horns, and they’d melt your mind until it poured out your ears if you said they were similar.

And it’s all thanks to subclasses! Every Warlock will sell their soul to a different patron, which means the powers they get in return are going to vary. It’s just good business to have a custom-tailored contract.

So if you think a Warlock has to be some brooding figure in a hooded cloak with claws for hands, check your privilege and prepare to get educated. Although I have met that guy, and I would not recommend hanging around to ask his subclass. But if you’re looking for a subclass of your own, read on and let’s find the best pick for you!

Read our in-depth subclass guides:

Using This Guide

Everything in this guide has an emoji, ranking how useful a given ability or feature is to playing this class effectively.

✅ — An absolutely crucial feature. Often forms the backbone of a class’ look and feel. Will provide some bonus that can’t be found through other means.

🆗 — A solid feature that does its job well. Not game-breaking, and certainly replaceable, but a strong choice that shores up some weakness.

⚠️ — A debatable choice. Could work for a specific build, but otherwise is either a wasted opportunity or is just weaker than other alternatives.

⛔ — Outright bad and detrimental. This weighs down the class and just takes up space on the character sheet. A weakness you will have to accommodate for.

These rankings are meant to help you create an optimized class build but remember—DnD isn’t a game where you need to win to have fun. Weaker but flavorful builds also have their place and can make for fulfilling characters.

What Do Warlock Subclasses Mean?

For Warlock, subclasses represent the archetypal patrons you can make a pact with. Rather than being one specific entity (Titania the Fairy Queen), it is instead a type of patron (an Archfey). You will pick a subclass at Level 1, so it defines your Warlock’s flavor right from the start.

Much of Warlock’s power and flexibility comes from the class’ base abilities, so Warlock can pull its weight no matter which subclass you choose. The subclasses thus serve as specializations, giving you wider options for damage spells, melee combat, battlefield control, or key support abilities. Interestingly, almost all subclasses improve Warlock’s survivability in one way or another, but each takes a different approach.

Every subclass has a few unique spells which Warlock only gains access to through that subclass, though you don’t get subclass spells automatically. You still have to learn them and miss out on learning a different spell, so pick wisely and don’t feel like you need to take every subclass spell.

🆗 The Archfey

Your one-stop-shop for frighten, charm, and mind-control effects! Choosing The Archfey helps you weaken enemies and control the battlefield. Unfortunately, the status effects it makes you good at imposing are all commonly resisted. Additionally, the subclass is very reactionary, unable to do much in a vacuum without the right enemies to turn into puppets. The defensive features aren’t bad, and the rest are at least straightforward to use.

🆗 Expanded Spell List

This spell list is hurt by the fact it tries to do a little bit of everything. You lean into Warlock’s controlling side with spells like dominate beast and dominate person, as well as getting some good utility in faerie fire and greater invisibility. Conversely, some spells like calm emotions and plant growth feel a bit backwards for Warlock to use, leaving this spell list pretty hit-or-miss.

🆗 Fey Presence

If you get surrounded by enemies, giving them disadvantage on attacks by frightening them can save your bacon. The biggest downside is the limited range, so you will only use this when adjacent to enemies, which is a risky place for Warlock to be. 

🆗 Misty Escape

This makes ambushes a joke, because you can jump away from danger with a snap of your fingers. There are also fun synergies where your party can whack you to let you teleport. Recharges on a short rest too, so you get lots of uses.

⚠️ Beguiling Defenses

The magical UNO-reverse-card. If something tries to target you, the immunity is great, and the chance to charm them back can make for a big turnabout. However, with so many charm effects in your arsenal, this becomes ridiculously situational and reactionary.

⚠️ Dark Delirium

While this probably works best for roleplay rather than combat, it does mean one more charm or frighten effect per short rest, which takes pressure off your spell slots. However, this does nothing new, and hardly disables the target beyond the status effect.

Read our complete guide on the Archfey Warlock here.

🆗 The Celestial

Surprisingly excellent healing meets support spells and a few good defensive options. The Celestial turns Warlock into a support class, able to buff allies and restore health. Much of the power of Warlock comes from base features, so while this subclass doesn’t synergize much with your other abilities, going this route won’t cripple you. If your party needs a support class, this is an effective way to fill that role while also pummeling enemies with cantrips.

🆗 Expanded Spell List

Most of this spell list covers effects that you want in an emergency, when using your spell slots is most worth it. This includes spells like cure wounds, greater restoration, or revivify. Since Warlock has limited spell slots, reliably supporting your party can be tricky. Still, even if you never use the healing spells, having them on-hand is nice. The damage spells all scale well at higher levels, though none are standouts.

If you want to play a support role, check out all the available healing spells here thanks to D&DBeyond.

🆗 Bonus Cantrips

Creating light is an important utility. Sacred flame can be good for hurting targets with high enough armor to block eldritch blasts, but you already have a few options for that.

✅ Healing Light

This feature alone provides much of the subclass’ power. A reliable ranged healing effect with a hefty pool of dice to draw from puts you on par with Clerics and Paladins for quick life gain. This also frees up spell slots for other effects that otherwise would have been spent casting cure wounds.

⚠️ Radiant Soul

Radiant resistance is okay, though it’s not a common damage type. The extra damage hits when a spell is cast, so ongoing effects will barely benefit from it.

✅ Celestial Resilience

This is a ton of extra health for everyone in your party, and it reapplies every short rest. Not only is this free compared to the pricey heroes’ feast, but it consistently grants more health too.

✅ Searing Vengeance

As a lightly-armored spellcaster, Warlock will go down a lot. This feature helps with that in a big way, giving you tons of life back while blasting the enemies who just knocked you down and blinding them so you can retreat. A self-healing-healer saves the rest of your party a lot of headaches.

Read our complete guide on the Celestial Warlock here.

⚠️ The Fathomless

To get it out of the way: everything about this subclass gets better in an underwater or oceanbound campaign. The Fathomless loves water and everything wet, although mechanically that flavor is sometimes sidelined. Playing it feels more like you have a pet that fights with you (a ghost tentacle), and none of its features are that unique. It just does more of what base Warlock is already doing.

🆗 Expanded Spell List

Everything here does its job, but in the most unremarkable, basic way. Spells like lightning bolt or thunderwave often won’t be as effective as some base Warlock spells, even if their damage is good. Many of these spells work best if you’re around water a lot, like in an underwater campaign or if your party are pirates.

🆗 Tentacle of the Deep

Warlock will often have an unused bonus action, so this is a good way to squeeze out some extra damage. Slowing enemies can also be useful for locking them down in area-of-effect spells. The damage will quickly become obsolete at higher levels, but it never hurts to have a tentacle friend around for kicks.

⚠️ Gift of the Sea

Fine if you’re going in the water all the time, but if so, you should have probably picked up a swim speed from your racial choice.

🆗 Oceanic Soul

We will never turn down a damage resistance. The speaking-underwater-thing will come up so rarely you’ll forget you have it.

✅ Guardian Coil

A great way to use your reaction for easy damage reduction. It does mean you’ll want your tentacle in the middle of battle instead of cleaning up the edges. But this can soak up a lot of damage, and at this level you can use it in every battle during a day.

✅ Grasping Tentacles

A free spell once a day? Sign me up! The health boost is just the cherry on top. Since your concentration can’t be broken, you can create a permanent obstacle on the battlefield.

⚠️ Fathomless Plunge

At this level, someone in your party should already have better teleport options. If not, this is a decent alternative, but only moving one mile at once sucks.

Read our complete guide on the Fathomless Warlock here.

✅ The Fiend

It might surprise you how many problems can be solved through burning them alive. That’s what The Fiend does, giving Warlock a diverse suite of offensive spells and subclass abilities to make them very capable in combat. This is your best option if you want to kill enemies as Warlock rather than mind control them or slap them with a debuff. It also grants good multi-target damage spells like fireball which Warlock won’t have many options for normally.

✅ Expanded Spell List

All of these are excellent if you’re looking to go on the offensive and cook your enemies into piles of ash. High damage output is big, but so is scaling well at higher levels, which all of these do. The upper-level spells shift more towards a defensive stance, but if used creatively will still dish out damage.

✅ Dark One’s Blessing

Rewards you for picking off weak targets, which eldritch blast excels at. The bonus health also improves your survivability, and will be a welcome boost even at high levels. It effectively increases your max health, and every kill replenishes that health more cheaply and reliably than healing spells.

✅ Dark One’s Own Luck

Not much to explain here. A straight-up bonus to a roll once per short rest is welcome on any character, Warlock included.

✅ Fiendish Resilience

Possibly the best part of this is being able to change it on a short rest. Getting fire resistance before trekking through the Nine Hells is one thing, but being able to adapt to a new damage resistance when you only seem to encounter ice devils makes this feature superb.

✅ Hurl Through Hell

A big single-target damage ability that also removes your target from the battlefield for one round. You do have to hit them with an attack to use it, but that’s not too difficult with eldritch blast.

Read our complete guide on the Fiend Warlock here.

✅ The Genie

Aladdin wants his subclass back. The Genie lets you pick an elemental as a patron, so some features are better or worse depending on your choice. Still, even at their worst, these features are reliably strong. At their best, they are the perfect intersection of wiping baddies off the map, saving your own skin, and some game-changing utility.

🆗 Expanded Spell List

This varies with your genie’s type, either making you great at blasting enemies, disabling enemies, or protecting yourself. The shared spells are decent utilities that are nice to have. Nothing on the list can’t be found either in the base Warlock spell list or under another subclass, but there are some solid options here.

🆗 Genie’s Vessel

The first feature, Bottled Respite, is good flavor and an okay escape option. Genie’s Wrath on the other hand is a consistent damage boost that applies every single turn. It isn’t incredible since eldritch blast uses several damage rolls, but having your vessel on hand for this bonus is worth it.

✅ Elemental Gift

Getting to fly during every fight in a day is outstanding, and seriously improves your survivability. On that note, so does a damage resistance. The Efreeti wins here, since fire damage is very common, but the others never hurt.

✅ Sanctuary Vessel

Now it’s easier than ever to persuade your party to take a short rest! This really helps Warlock regain spell slots consistently, and the bonus health rounds out this feature nicely.

✅ Limited Wish

Even a small-scale wish has a big-time effect. Pick something big and flashy to make the cooldown worth it, but that’s easy to do when the effect is this open ended. This feature is essentially a skeleton key for any problem that arises.

For tips on using wish effectively, take a look at this guide from RPGBOT.

Read our complete guide on the Genie Warlock here.

🆗 The Great Old One

Tap into the power of an elder god for better roleplay and some indispensable utility. The Great Old One’s features revolve around mental mischief, telepathy, and some mind control. One of the best things about this subclass is how accessible it is. The flavor will draw in a lot of new players (When I DM, literally every player trying Warlock for the first time chooses The Great Old One) and the subclass features are easy to understand, with the depth to appeal to veteran players too.

🆗 Expanded Spell List

Most of these spells are single-target, but are quite capable of damaging, restraining, or otherwise weakening that target. It’s a decent mix of combat spells (either offensive or control) with a little bit of utility sprinkled into the mix. The real fun is when you get creative with spells like phantasmal force or telekinesis, which can make them pretty powerful.

✅ Awakened Mind

Being able to speak to any creature regardless of a language barrier really complements Warlock’s high Charisma. As the party’s face, you’ll be doing most of the talking, and this feature makes that a hundred times easier. There is also some good roleplay flexibility since you don’t need to be speaking aloud.

🆗 Entropic Mind

Slapping a big bad guy with disadvantage to hit you is a great way to stay alive, and being able to hit him back next turn with advantage is some tasty salt in the wound. Unfortunately, this does nothing against multi-attacks except weakening the first attack.

⚠️ Thought Shield

Two defensive buffs that you will almost never use. Having your thoughts read is uncommon, and psychic damage is the least-used damage type in the game.

⚠️ Create Thrall

Being paralyzed, stunned, or knocked unconscious makes one incapacitated, so the feature is a little tricky to use for a minor effect, but it’s pretty unique and has a lot of roleplay opportunities. Once the effect is applied, the target is just non-hostile, even so you still need to persuade them to fight for you.

Read our complete guide on the Great Old One Warlock here.

✅ The Hexblade

This is the subclass if you want to play a weapon Warlock, combining melee fighting with spellslinging (the classic “Gish” for those who played early editions of D&D). You even get some subclass features designed to help you focus down individual enemies and execute them. The Hexblade improves on almost everything Warlock does, and adds unique combat capabilities too—no wonder it’s often called “the best Warlock subclass.”

🆗 Expanded Spell List

There are some wonderfully versatile options here, and then there are the smites. These spells only deal extra damage once, then you need to maintain concentration to get their other effects. Some, like banishing smite, are worth the concentration. The rest are not. Save your concentration for the other spells here, such as blur and blink which keep you alive, or elemental weapon which dishes out damage.

✅ Hexblade’s Curse

The bonus damage scales with your proficiency bonus, so it stays relevant all the way into upper levels. It also rewards you for targeting one enemy at a time with some better crits and free healing. Top that off with a short-rest-recharge, and you have a subclass feature you’ll be using whenever possible.

✅ Hex Warrior

Medium armor and shields make you capable of entering melee combat without getting instantly murdered. Martial weapons will crank up your damage output. The insane bonus of this feature is adding Charisma for attack and damage roles with your bonded weapon, which puts you on par with combat classes.

⚠️ Accursed Specter

Fun and flavorful, but you are basically getting an unseen servant for a day, and the requirements are stringent enough it’s often not worth it.

✅ Armor of Hexes

Considering this subclass wants to get up in the face of whatever it’s cursing, this means that during a lot of combat, you’ll be hit with 50% less attacks than usual. That is quite simply bonkers, and even better when paired with defensive spells.

✅ Master of Hexes

With the ability to move your Hexblade’s Curse around whenever you kill something, almost everything you ever fight will be cursed, granting you unlimited access to the massive bonuses cursing a creature gives you.

Read our complete guide on the Hexblade Warlock here.

⛔ The Undying

This is the perfect example of a subclass not being outright terrible, but being made worse because you don’t get the alternatives other subclasses provide. The Undying is meant to prevent you from dying (duh), but none of its features really do that well. You end up closer to a Grave Cleric. The hard truth is you will be weaker than every other member of your party if you decide on this subclass.

⚠️ Expanded Spell List

Lots of utility, which is already a risky choice with Warlock’s limited spell slots. The useful spells like blindness/deafness and death ward almost feel like flukes compared to the rest of this list. There is a distinct lack of power present, and the utility spells are probably best left to a full spellcasting party member.

⚠️ Among the Dead

A free-but-situational cantrip isn’t anything to celebrate over. Being very hard for undead to hit is great, but only if you fight a lot of undead.

🆗 Defy Death

Being healed in either scenario brings you or your friend up from unconsciousness to rejoin the fight, which makes this an effective use of spare the dying and a solid bonus otherwise. Too bad it’s only once per long rest.

⛔ Undying Nature

Cool flavor, but since you still need to rest, this has almost no effect on how you play.

⚠️ Indestructible Life

Getting this on a short rest makes it a little better, as does the fact it scales with your Warlock level for a decent chunk of health. However, one measly self-healing ability is weak at this level, especially since you likely won’t make it here unless someone in your party has been healing you. Not a great reward for sticking with this subclass.

Read our complete guide on the Undying Warlock here.

If you enjoyed this article, share it with your friends! Let us know which subclass you think is strongest in the comments below. Since you pick one so early, Warlock subclasses will have a big impact on your character, so choosing a subclass wisely is key.

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