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When cast at 3rd level, dispel magic ends a spell that is currently affecting the target:

Choose one creature, object, or magical effect within range. Any spell of 3rd level or lower on the target ends. For each spell of 4th level or higher on the target, make an ability check using your spellcasting ability. The DC equals 10 + the spell's level. On a successful check, the spell ends.

Notably, this does not work on effects from spells with instantaneous duration, as those spells have already ended.

But when cast at 4th level or higher, it appears as though it should end spell effects from spells having Instantaneous duration:

When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, you automatically end the effects of a spell on the target if the spell's level is equal to or less than the level of the spell slot you used.

Is this the correct ruling? Does a 4th level dispel magic end spell effects from instantaneous duration spells?

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You cannot dispel the effects of an instantaneous spell

The Sage Advice Compendium states (emphasis mine):

Q. Can you use dispel magic on the creations of a spell like animate dead or affect those creations with antimagic field?

A. Whenever you wonder whether a spell’s effects can be dispelled or suspended, you need to answer one question: is the spell’s duration instantaneous? If the answer is yes, there is nothing to dispel or suspend.

There's really no ambiguity in that statement. A spell that has an instantaneous duration simply cannot be dispelled regardless of what level dispel magic is being cast at.


Furthermore, the definition of Instantaneous spells states (emphasis mine):

Many spells are instantaneous. The spell harms, heals, creates, or alters a creature or an object in a way that can't be dispelled, because its magic exists only for an instant.

This is just a fact of instantaneous spells and dispel magic is not making some unusual exception to this fact.


The dispel magic spell should be better worded

Technically, the rule on instantaneous spells only says the spell cannot be dispelled, which may or may not imply anything about the dispel-ability of its effects. Meanwhile, the dispel magic spell says first that:

[...] Any spell of 3rd level or lower on the target ends. [...]

And then, when upcast, that:

[...] you automatically end the effects of a spell on the target [...]

And these use different wording... one mentions spells and the other mentions the effects of spells. Are these the same thing? Only the GM can tell you.

Similarly, whether a spell being unable to be dispelled (because it is instantaneous) applies also to its effects is going to be up to the GM because the rules don't give an explicit answer to the question.

I would hope (and the Sage Advice Compendium does agree here) that if a spell cannot be dispelled, neither can its effects be dispelled. Though this is not explicitly laid out within the rules (nor do the rules spend much time distinguishing between these terms at all, if there even is a distinguishment to be made) which is why I fell back upon the Sage Advice Compendium ruling at the beginning.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer might be improved by demonstrating a difference between "ending a spell" and "ending a spell's effect". \$\endgroup\$ – RevanantBacon Jan 6 at 13:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Revenant I believe the burden of proof goes both ways there. I simply stated that they might be different and that I haven't found a rule making it clear. Thus a GM decides \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Jan 6 at 13:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ That said, I've edited to make that clearer \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Jan 6 at 13:42

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