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A character wizard level 10 of mine recently acquired 2 Tomes of Clear Thought, a Staff of Power, and Wand of the Warcaster +3 on some very lucky random treasure generation. This makes my spell attack bonus +16 with 24 Intelligence.

I am trying to take advantage of this, but the best options at the moment all seem to involve casting lower level spells using a higher slot, such as:

  • 4th level Chromatic Orb, 6d8 damage (~27)
  • 4th level Scorching Ray, 5 rays, 2d6 each = 10d6 (~35)
  • 1st level Ray of Sickness, 2d8 damage + poisoned 1 round
  • 2nd level Ray of Enfeeblement, target does half damage next turn
  • 5th level Vampiric Touch, 5d6 damage + heal half (nerfed from 3.5)
  • 4th level Contagion, has many uses

The advantage here is the target generally gets full damage with no save.

What am I missing? It seems they changed Disintegrate to not be a ranged touch attack? Looking in 3.5 and 3.0, I see Finger of Death was never a touch attack anyway.

Are there better spells at higher levels than merely upping the levels for the rays mentioned? So, assuming no fire resistance, is Scorching Ray really the best for damage? Was this a design decision?

The core of the question is "what is the best use of my high spell attack bonus?", but I am interested in the surrounding context.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I am unsure what you mean by a ranged touch attack. A ranged attack cannot have a range of "touch". \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Jun 15 '17 at 19:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Szega Sorry, I mean spells which require a spell attack roll, another word for that? \$\endgroup\$ – Ἄρτεμις Jun 15 '17 at 19:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ The way you phrased it is clear enough. "Higher level spells using Attack Rolls" is fine. \$\endgroup\$ – UrhoKarila Jun 15 '17 at 19:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ The way attacks are phrased in 5e is that they are either melee or ranged and are either a weapon or spell attack. What you are looking for is ranged spell attacks. \$\endgroup\$ – Javelin Jun 15 '17 at 19:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Szega For your reference, a Touch Attack in D&D 3.0 and 3.5 is one that ignored the armor component of your AC, relying on the agility side of things. This is different from your flat-footed AC (armor without agility), and different from your normal, full AC. By my reading, the OP might be mixing up terminology from different editions. \$\endgroup\$ – Joel Harmon Jun 21 '17 at 11:32
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The highest level spell I could find that uses a melee spell attack to deal damage is Mordenkainen's Sword (level 7). The relevant part of the spell reads:

When the sword appears, you make a melee spell attack against a target of your choice within 5 feet of the sword. On a hit. the target takes 3d10 force damage. Until the spell ends, you can use a bonus action on each of your turns to move the sword up to 20 feet to a spot you can see and repeat this attack against the same target or a different one.

However, it's worth noting that Plane Shift (level 7) requires a spell attack and a save to let you banish an enemy, which is equivalent to killing them most of the time:

You can use this spell to banish an unwilling creature to another plane. Choose a creature within your reach and make a melee spell Attack against it. On a hit, the creature must make a Charisma saving throw. If the creature fails the save, it is transported to a random location on the plane of existence you specify.

Otherwise, for a wizard, there aren't really spells that start at high level that require an attack roll.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for providing another example. I suppose the benefit of Mordenkainen's sword over Bigby's Hand is that it uses the melee spell attack, and that it is force damage? \$\endgroup\$ – Ἄρτεμις Jun 17 '17 at 15:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Honestly, I don't think that Mordenkainen's sword has any advantage over Bigby's Hand--both are force damage, the hand is more versatile and longer-range, and the sword does less damage. I cite it only because it's two levels higher than the hand for some reason :P \$\endgroup\$ – Icyfire Jun 17 '17 at 16:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Icyfire The only advantage I can find for Mordenkainen's over Bigby's is Bigby's is a separate target that can be attacked to death. However, it has as many HP as the caster, and an AC of 20, so it may be better to just hit the mage anyway (what with concentration and all). \$\endgroup\$ – Joel Harmon Jun 21 '17 at 22:39
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Touch Spells, Not Really

While there are higher level Touch spells, they are buffs, heals, non-damage, or abjuration type spells with longer casting times.

What you can do is upcast those lower level spells for increased damage.

Ranged or Melee Attack Spell Attacks? YES!

The list is long and distinguished. You can sign up for a Free account on www.dndbeyond.com, an Official WoTC property, and sort their spell lists with the Advanced Filter to find all the goodness.

You will, of course, still be limited by the highest level spell you have access to depending on your Class Level.

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