Theme Thursday: The Best Arcane Spells

Today we’ll be delving into a theme for the burgeoning master of magic, the powerful and mysterious wielder of amazing arcane forces few have understood. This list of spells comes almost entirely from the core pathfinder rulebook, with a few exceptions. The reason for this attitude is that the APG and other sources have lots of spells whose balance is questionable at best.

I wish to emphasize that these are, in my opinion, the BEST spells. There are lots of spells out there that are very very GOOD…but aren’t the absolute best. Here is proof that no matter what schools you choose as prohibited, you will have problems at some point. Because you want to be the best, and that means having the best spells, which are spread throughout the arcane schools.

The Best Arcane Spells

Level 0 (cantrips) 

Transmutation: Mage Hand. Truly amazing spell that can be used to befuddle enemies, trip traps, flip switches, drop things, pick things up, and generally break the game six ways from Sunday.

Evocation: Spark. One of the few spells we’ll be mentioning that come from the APG. A simple spell that does amazing things. You can destroy so many encounters with the simple application of a quick fire.

Level 1

Conjuration: Mage Armor. Clearly an amazing spell, which is absolutely necessary for you, for the monk, and for anyone who’s not a walking hunk of metal. This spell should be cast early, and as often as needed.

Conjuration: Grease. It’s a buff, it’s a debuff, it’s battlefield control. One of the most versatile spells in the game that can mean a victory for your party in many ways.

Illusion: Color Spray. During levels 1-5, this is the most powerful offensive spell. Nothing else can hold a candle to the incredible effectiveness of color spray. It’s a will save. It does multiple effects, all of which are equivalent to death. It hits a controllable area. Pretend you’re a unicorn. Amazing!

Illusion: Silent Image. First of the Image spells, which remains useful forever. You can hide in it. You can fool people with it. You can sin an encounter before it starts. Enemies don’t even get a save until they specifically take an action to interact. Superb.

Enchantment: Charm Person. Instant victory on a failed will save. Actually, it’s better than instant victory. It’s victory x2. Think carefully about how you want to use your new friend.

Level 2

Illusion: Invisibility. Supremely powerful in an infinite number of situations. Use with spells that don’t inflict an attack (like Summon Monster spells) during combat. Pop in for a surprise visit with the local duchess. Essential spell.

Illusion: Minor Image. Important upgrade from Silent Image as you now have sound. If anything, it’s twice as useful now.

Conjuration: Web. Insanely good spell that has a very mild prerequisite. Freeze enemies in place, make them waste their turns trying to get out, and knock them dead.

Level 3

Abjuration: Dispel Magic. At last we have something from this school that is truly among the ranks of “the best.” Sometimes this spell wins you the game. Other times it merely gives you an enormous advantage. Prepare multiple copies and use carefully.

Enchantment: Hold Person. This is a death spell at times. Otherwise, it’s an effective way of handling foes that need a “pause” button.

Transmutation: Fly. Essential spell that only gets more important the higher level you are.

Transmutation: Haste/Slow. These are both incredible spells with multiple targets. You can gain such an edge over the enemies that they’ll never be able to catch up.

Illusion: Major Image. The last in the series of the Image spells, with the most believable illusion ability and the most varied uses. Too bad you still can’t create intelligible speech, but a combination with Ventriloquism should fix that.

Evocation: Fireball. A classic spell that’s really quite good. It may have some specific uses, and fire resistance is an all too common feature of monsters, but when you need a fireball, you really need one.

Level 4

Abjuration: Globe of Invulnerability, Lesser. Extremely effective defense spell against particular enemies.

Abjuration: Stoneskin. Awesome defense against all the enemies that your Globe didn’t stop.

Conjuration: Black Tentacles. Commonly known as “Win the Fight.” This is the true name of an amazing and flavorful spell. Behave accordingly.

Conjuration: Dimension Door. Thus begins the series of absolutely vital movement spells associated with this school. You need this spell.

Divination: Scry. Classic and way more reliable than many similar spells. This one wins the game out of combat.

Divination: Detect Scrying. I don’t remember the last time I played a game where this wasn’t the most important spell the players could cast.

Enchantment: Charm Monster. Now we’re talking. Not everything is a humanoid, but everything is your friend. And ally.

Illusion: Rainbow Pattern. Ahhh, yes. I love the spell of victory in the morning. This spell hits multiple monsters, removing them from the fight, can move them around, has medium range, and lasts as long as you can keep awake.

Illusion: Phantasmal Killer. It only hits one monster, but two bad rolls and the boss of the game is dead. As the first true death spell available, you must respect its power.

Illusion: Invisibility, Greater. An unfortunately short duration is compensated by the fact that this version lets you attack, or do all kinds of crazy things without losing the spell. Definitely among the best.

Transmutation: Mnemonic Enhancer. Classic and very very good. Lets you change your plans at the last minute or be more effective in certain areas.

Level 5

Conjuration: Teleport. You need it. It’s the only way to travel, my friends.

Divination: Prying Eyes. Too awesome not to mention. If you’re playing a dungeon crawl, it may not be the best. But in other parts of the game…simply amazing.

Enchantment: Dominate Person. No longer do you have to cajole or convince your newfound friends to do what you want. Just tell them. And no more silly qualms about attacking their former allies for you.

Enchantment: Feeblemind. Also known as cheating. For the right enemy–often the enemy leader–this negates their effectiveness entirely with a -4 Will save.

Enchantment: Hold Monster. As formerly, except no longer limited. Be free! Deny others of their freedom!

Transmutation: Polymorph/Baleful Polymorph. Now that they make a lot more sense in Pathfinder, they’re a lot cooler to use. Effective, versatile, and powerful.

Transmutation: Telekinesis. We’ve been waiting all this time for the upgrade to Mage Hand. Now at level five we have it, and it basically does everything. Do more ranged attacks than the ranger, do combat maneuvers better than the monk, and just generally win at everything.

Illusion: Persistent Image. This spell can generate intelligible speech, and you don’t even have to be there when it happens. This is one of the most unlimited spells in the game. Do whatever you want.

Level 6

Abjuration: Antimagic Field. It may give you some problems. Small price to pay for the spell that makes some enemies “wink out” when they get too close. Laugh and enjoy immunity to half the game.

Abjuration: Dispel Magic, Greater. This one is better than the former version. Choose your uses carefully and this spell does amazing things.

Divination: True Seeing. Ridiculously good spell. Absolutely necessary. This spell alone makes the school of Divination unstoppable.

Enchantment: Suggestion. Very few limitations on this spell other than your imagination. Choose your words cleverly and you can change the course of your world’s history.

Evocation: Contingency. Almost too good to exist. Use to cast a spell for free when you need it.

Illusion: Permanent Image. Did I say permanent? Yes, yes I did. It lasts forever. Awesome.

Transmutation: Disintegrate. Oddly versatile for a death spell. Worth every spell slot.

Level 7

Abjuration: Spell Turning. It’s not just defensive, it’s offensive too. So many laughs can come from this one spell.

Conjuration: Teleport, Greater. Worth the upgrade. Reliable and fast transportation.

Evocation: Prismatic Spray. Way more powerful than blasting. Anything caught in there has a very small chance of making all its saves.

Illusion: Project Image. Do two things at once, both of which are awesome. Need I say more?

Level 8 

Abjuration: Mind Blank. Stupidly powerful. Become immune to…well…basically everything that’s really dangerous. Compose an “immunity song” and sing at formal occasions, or whenever enemy enchanters start crying.

Abjuration: Prismatic Wall. All you need to do is get them to go through it. And somehow, they always do.

Enchantment: Irresistible Dance. Still one of the best spells even after getting nerfed. Too hilarious to “skip” over. Get it?

Evocation: Polar Ray. It does two cool things with no save. Now that’s dangerous for a blast spell.

Level 9

Abjuration: Mage’s Disjunction. Sometimes it seems like the true purpose of this school is to screw with magic. And this spell does that the best.

Conjuration: Summon Monster IX. There could probably have been one or two others of this list, but this one is overwhelmingly powerful, especially if you take 1d3 of the 8th-level choices.

Illusion: Weird. Yes, it’s good. Don’t argue. Kill your enemies.

Transmutation: Time Stop. Classic, and one of the best spells in the game or on this list. Your most effective spell of win.


Just because these are my picks for the best spells doesn’t mean you always want to cast these. That’s the whole point of being a wizard. Choose the best spell for the right moment. Maybe you can even find a use for Foresight. Good luck!



2 responses to “Theme Thursday: The Best Arcane Spells

  1. Couple spells I would have thrown out there.
    Nightmare at 5th – but its generally hard to get a good use out of it as a PC.
    Magic Jar at 5th – you could possibly conquer an entire castle with just this spell while your party guards you. Wreak havoc using enemies to attach each other.
    Demand at 8th level – its planar wide range suggestion, welcome to political espionage on a stupid scale.
    Dominate Monster at 9th level – like dominate person but for any creature with a brain.

    • I’m not sure how I left out Magic Jar. As I mentioned to TC the other day, there were a couple mistakes in there. I’ll add it. I’m thinking about removing Irresistible Dance as well.

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