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Warlocks have spell slots that scale with their level. Usually most spells that have an upcast feature either deal extra damage (they seem to follow the DMG guidelines for damage/level) or target extra creatures. Conjuration spells may summon extra creatures and healing spells heal more but that also relates to damage.

Are there any spells with more unique or powerful effects (even if just dealing more damage than expected when scaled)?

Not necessarily from the warlock spell list.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm having trouble finding a way to frame this question suitably. Is this about creating a list of all "unusual" upcasting effects? What defines whether or not additional damage is "more damage than expected"? \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Jul 11, 2023 at 9:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Matthieu though a lot more work than I'd be willing to put in, Taking all upcastable spells (for example level 1) averaging the upcasting damage increase (either % or precise number) and then taking everything outside 1 or 2 standard deviations. I've seen people do long calculations saying upcasting normally isn't worth it a couple of times on the board doing simple (upcast level 3 less damage than level 4 base) calculations showing it is theoretically doable. That being said "upcasts that have non-damage additional effects" would be a better question if suitable for the OP \$\endgroup\$
    – Cassie
    Jul 11, 2023 at 10:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Matthieu I'm referring to the table from DMG about recommended damage per lvl (eg rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/192277/…) Primarily, I'm looking for the best spells to upcast. I strongly suspect they'll be buffs or have unusual effects, instead of just damage. But if there's a spell will unusually high damage when upcast, it's still a valid answer. The ranking Cassie describes makes sense, but indeed it's a lot of work - I'm not looking for a complete list or ranking so it's not necessary. \$\endgroup\$
    – falsedot
    Jul 11, 2023 at 11:20

8 Answers 8

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There are several with useful effects at higher levels

  • Major Image stays permanent if upcast to 6th level.
  • Counterspell can counter higher level spells automatically, Dispel Magic can automatically dispel higher level effects, Globe of Invulnerability can negate higher level spells.
  • Glyph of Warding can store higher level spells.
  • Several other spells extend durations, for example Dominate Beast or Dominate Monster which can go up to 8 hours if cast at higher levels, or Hex; Geas becomes quasi-permanent if cast at 9th level, Mass Suggestion or Planar Binding last for a year and a day on 9th.
  • Modify Memory can go back further into a creature's past.
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    \$\begingroup\$ @falsedot It's very kind that you decided to accept my answer, and the choice is certainly yours alone. I would be happier if you stuck with biziclop's answer as the accepted one — both complement each other, and I'm concerned that my comment contributed to the switch. I really just wanted to point out that major image also loses concentration as it seemed especially pertinent to you, not motivate a switch. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 15, 2023 at 14:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ No worries on my behalf, I just posted the first thing that came to mind, while you did actual research, so... :) \$\endgroup\$
    – biziclop
    Jul 26, 2023 at 13:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Animal Messenger goes up in duration by 48 hours for each level which increases the rage of the message a lot, but more interestingly allows you to move a Tiny beast in a straight line for days and days in a row, seemingly without rest. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 27 at 22:17
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Bestow Curse

This spell has a highly unusual upcast description:

At Higher Levels. If you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, the duration is concentration, up to 10 minutes. If you use a spell slot of 5th level or higher, the duration is 8 hours. If you use a spell slot of 7th level or higher, the duration is 24 hours. If you use a 9th level spell slot, the spell lasts until it is dispelled. Using a spell slot of 5th level or higher grants a duration that doesn't require concentration.

Not only does the duration grow pretty rapidly, it eventually reaches "until dispelled", and at 5th level it turns the spell from one that needs concentration into one that does not.

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    \$\begingroup\$ funny how it should say "of 4th level or higher, the duration is concentration", when on higher levels it actually isn't. \$\endgroup\$
    – ilkkachu
    Jul 12, 2023 at 7:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ some truly amazing answers all around, but decided to accept this one as removing the concentration requirement is unbelievable and completely transforms the spell! \$\endgroup\$
    – falsedot
    Jul 12, 2023 at 13:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @falsedot No objection to accepting biziclops fine answer. Just wanted to point out that major image is also normally concentration, and loses that becoming permanent when upcast to 6th level. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 12, 2023 at 21:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ I can't help but feel that spell could've been written far more clearly with far fewer words if they just tried. All the redundant "or higher" and having to state levels 5+ do not require concentration just because the prior text makes that part needlessly confusing is just big oof. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kryomaani
    Jul 16, 2023 at 13:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kryomaani Let's just say it's not how I would've written it either. Then again, seeing how many seemingly clear rules are being challenged/questioned on this site, maybe you need that level of tedious redundancy. \$\endgroup\$
    – biziclop
    Jul 16, 2023 at 23:20
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Blindness / Deafness was a surprising upcast choice

We discovered, during play, as my bard used this spell to debuff various enemies, that blinding a lot of enemies by upcasting blindness on them (with a high enough spell save DC, it was striking how often the save was missed) really made the battlefield change. I upcast to levels 4, 5 and 6 on a number of occasions in Tier 3 play. A couple of great aspects to the spell are that: (1) it does not require concentration and (2) if the enemy can't see the party, there are a whole host of spells and abilities that cannot be used until the save is finally made.
That it gives allies advantage when attacking the blinded opponent was a key reason I'd use it, since I was playing the bard as a support caster.

I saw similar results with blindness as a DM when the cleric player used it as a debuff.

While it was occasionally useful at lower levels, blindness became a lot more useful as my bard's Spell Save DC went up and she could impact more enemies. Unlike hypnotic pattern, it didn't have the "charmed condition" rider that makes that nice debuff not useful versus creatures who are immune to the charmed condition. (As CR goes up that number seems to increase).

  • @Darth Pseudonym, in a comment, made a point that is worth repeating: Blindness is particularly powerful against spellcasters, who tend to (1) have poor Constitution saves and (2) lose the use of many spells because when they can't see the target of a spell (to include counterspell) they can't cast it.

Two other spells that I see upcast with some frequency are fly and invisibility. Upcasting provides the benefit to more creatures, which can tactically have a substantial impact, and both of them can also have an impact outside of combat. (10 minutes of flying gets you over a non-trivial number of obstacles, the whole party being invisible for an hour allows for quite a bit of movement, infiltration, evasion, etc in many cases).

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    \$\begingroup\$ You touched on it, but Blindness is particularly powerful against spellcasters, who tend to have a lousy Con save and lose most of their spell targeting when they can't see. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 11, 2023 at 14:06
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Scorching Ray

Most damage-based spells increase damage OR target extra creatures, but which one is fixed per a given spell. With Scorching Ray, every upcast level produces an additional ray, giving you the flexibility at cast time to either spread out targets or pour more damage into one.

With a warlock, this may not be super interesting since Eldritch blast scales the same way with character level.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Suggestion: "OR target extra creatures with non-damaging effects", since as written it sounds like upcasting scorching ray increases ray number and damage per ray. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Jul 12, 2023 at 0:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ The flexibility is nice, but because it starts with 3 rays and only adds 1 per spell level, the scaling of the spell's total power is objectively inferior to many other spells. Upcasting Scorching Ray to 3rd, 4th, or 5th level grants a 33.3%, 25%, and 20% damage boost, respectively. Compare that to single-target spells like Blindness/Deafness or Hold Person, which grant a 100%, 50%, and 33.3% increase in power for the same casting cost. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 12, 2023 at 1:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ApproachingDarknessFish: Out of damage spells, though, Scorching Ray is one of the best-scaling spells, especially out of ones with a low base level. An extra 2d6 per level (and more chances to hit at all), is even better than the extra 1d10 from Inflict Wounds. Unless you have something like Advantage and/or Path to the Grave for just your first attack, having more attacks is usually good, especially if you have something that does extra damage on your first hit of your turn. (e.g. Wildfire druid) \$\endgroup\$ Jul 12, 2023 at 12:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Fireball only scales with an extra 1d6/level, from 8d6 at 3rd (same as scorching ray's 4x 2d6 at 3rd), but they differ in Fireball doing half on a dex save vs. miss for none, and being an AoE. Often Fireball would have advantages if you have both prepared and want to spend a 3rd-level slot, but against a target with evasion or a good dex save but not great AC, Scorching Ray has advantages. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 12, 2023 at 12:42
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Let's talk about some buffs!

So I have been playing a bard recently and it turns out that they don't do much blasting, which means I started to be more creative with my spell choices and upcasts.

Aid

  • a great buff spell on lower levels, but when you upcast it on level three, you get twice as much effect. (Three creatures of your choice get 5 + 5 per level upcast max and current HP).

There are bunch of other buffs that are concentration based but by targeting the entire party on upcast make parts of the game that are often dangerous or difficult trivial.

Enhance Ability

  • I recently started really enjoying upcasting this spell in non-combat situations. Do you need your party of dummies to suddenly get better at a given thing? Just upcast this and give them advantage for the duration.

  • I play in a party with three charisma casters (including me) and this became a pretty strong combat buff. It turns out that you can counterspell pretty much anything when you get advantage on the ability check.

  • I don't think it is clear if you can choose different effects for different targets when upcasting the spell (question that addresses it is here) but if yes, it becomes even better.

Fly, Invisibility

  • Get these to the whole party and things are gonna be pretty different.

Armor of Agathys

  • Not a bard thing but has a nice upcast, where you get more temp HP, which means you might keep them after getting hit more than once, and you get a double dip on the damage portion, since the damage portion of the spell also scales on its own.
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Magic Missile,

if you have a single target and are lucky or an evoker

"If you are lucky, you will do more damage" is true of any spell with damage dice. But upcast spells typically have multiple damage dice, and as a result of the law of averages the more dice you have, the more likely your damage will be close to the mean.

But, RAW, magic missile has only a single damage die; you roll just once and apply the roll to every missile. And it is a small die, just a d4. That means that every time you cast the spell, you have a 25% chance of achieving maximum damage, regardless of the number of missiles. Without a feature that grants it (such as overchannel), the chance of maximum damage of other spells becomes vanishingly small the more dice you add with upcasting. Thus upcasting a typical damage spell is more likely to yield a total closer to the average, which is not true of magic missile.

We can compare magic missile with other spells chosen specifically for their high output of damage per level. We should also remember that very few things resist force damage, and that magic missile damage scales well since it does not require an attack roll and does not permit a save.

The results show that for a single target, magic missile is competitive with the best damage spells of each level (inflict wounds, fireball, blight, and disintegrate). Just as higher level spells begin to outstrip it in damage, the empowered evocation ability, if you have access to it, provides significant increases in damage. If for some reason you are limited in your spell choice, magic missile is a robust selection, given that it is among the most effective spells at slots from first to eighth level.


Magic missile cast with a first level slot gets you 3 missiles, with an average damage of 10.5, but a 25% chance of the maximum damage of 15. In comparison, inflict wounds cast with a first level slot has an average damage of 16.5, but a 25% chance of damage around 23.25 (assuming you are in the upper quartile of damage, with results weighted proportionally by the chance of each roll). With an estimated 2/3rds chance of hitting your target, you could expect a lucky inflict wounds to do 15.5 damage.
'Lucky' magic missile: 15
'Lucky' inflict wounds: 15.5

Magic missile cast with a second level slot gets you 4 missiles, with an average damage of 14, but a 25% chance of the maximum damage of 20. Inflict wounds cast with a second level slot has an average damage of 22, but a 25% chance of damage around 29. With a chance of hitting your target, you could expect a lucky inflict wounds to do 19.3 damage.
'Lucky' inflict wounds: 19.3
'Lucky' magic missile: 20

Magic missile cast with a third level slot gets you 5 missiles, with an average damage of 17.5, but a 25% chance of the maximum damage of 25. Fireball cast with a third level slot has an average damage of 28, but a 25% chance of damage around 341. Taking 83% of the damage to account for the chance of the target making its save, you could expect a lucky fireball to do 28.48 damage.
'Lucky' magic missile: 25
'Lucky' fireball: 28.5

Magic missile cast with a fourth level slot gets you 6 missiles, with an average damage of 21, but a 25% chance of the maximum damage of 30. Blight cast with a fourth level slot has an average damage of 36, but a 25% chance of damage around 441. Taking account for the chance of the target making its save, you could expect a lucky blight to do 36.8 damage.
'Lucky' magic missile: 30
'Lucky' blight: 36.8

Magic missile cast with a fifth level slot gets you 7 missiles, with an average damage of 24.5, but a 25% chance of the maximum damage of 35. If you are casting 5th level slots, you might be 10th level or higher, and if you are an evoker, you can use your empowered evocation to add +5 to each missile (assuming 20 Int) for a further bonus of 35 damage and a maximum of 70. From here on up, you don't really have to rely on the 25% chance of maximum damage damage, since the contribution of the empowered evocation is so significant. Blight cast with a fifth level slot has an average damage of 40.5, but a 25% chance of damage around 49.51. Taking 83% of the damage to account for the chance of the target making its save, you could expect a lucky blight to do 41 damage.
Average magic missile: 24.5
Average blight: 33.6
'Lucky' magic missile: 35
'Lucky' blight: 41
Average empowered magic missile: 59.5
'Lucky' empowered magical missile: 70

Magic missile cast with a seventh level slot gets you 9 missiles, with an average damage of 31.5, but a 25% chance of the maximum damage of 45 and a maximum empowered damage of 90. Disintegrate cast with a seventh level slot has an average damage of 87.5, but a 25% chance of damage around 93 1.
Average magic missile: 31.5
'Lucky' magic missile: 45
Average empowered magic missile: 76.5
Average disintegrate: 87.5 with failed save (no damage if save made)
'Lucky' empowered magical missile: 90
'Lucky' disintegrate: 93 with failed save (no damage if save made)

Magic missile cast with a eighth level slot gets you 10 missiles, with an average damage of 35, but a 25% chance of the maximum damage of 50 and a maximum empowered damage of 100. Disintegrate cast with a eighth level slot has an average damage of 96, but a 25% chance of damage around 105 1.
Average magic missile: 35
'Lucky' magic missile: 50
Average empowered magic missile: 85
Average disintegrate: 96 with failed save (no damage if save made)
'Lucky' empowered magical missile: 100
'Lucky' disintegrate: 105 with failed save (no damage if save made)

At a ninth level slot Meteor swarm, with an average damage of 140, and a 25% chance of damage around 154, is pretty much untouchable by other single-round damage spells.

Arcane hand, in a long fight

For a fifth level slot, the 4d8 force damage of a Clenched Fist to a single target is less than the single-round damage of every 5th level Area of Effect spell. Clearly it is not a good choice, especially for a typical three round fight. But when upcast, it gains 2d8 damage for each spell slot, which is good scaling. In a prolonged, tactical fight that might see it on the board for its full duration, the total possible damage is significant. Other damaging spells typically grant saves, which means something like a target's magic resistance dramatically drops expected damage, whereas the Clenched Fist need only hit. Likewise force damage is one of the least-resisted damage types. After the initial cast, it uses a bonus action to strike, which means a non-Concentration caster like an evoker can use it to supplement whatever their main cast is each turn.

Upcast with 6th level slot, it hits for 6d8 (average 27). Assuming two-thirds of attacks hit (but not adjusting for the significant increase of damage on a crit), that is 180 over ten rounds (or 213 with enhanced evocation) with a single 6th level slot.

With a 7th level slot, 8d8+5 is 273 over ten rounds of attack rolls.

With an 8th level slot, 10d8+5 is 333 over ten rounds of attack rolls.

With a 9th level slot, 12d8+5 is 393 over ten rounds of attack rolls.

When I DM'd a 20th level party's climactic campaign-ending fight against Tiamat, the evoker initially wondered how he was going to contribute, given Her high saves, magic resistance, legendary resistance, and elemental immunities. Eventually he chose a strategy with arcane hand as part of both defense (sheltering behind a 7th level wall of force and assailing the Mother of All Dragons with a highly upcast Clenched Fist) and offense (attacking in melee with Tenser's Transformation while throwing in an extra 59hp Clenched Fist punch each round as a bonus action).


1 Upper quartile damage estimate should be used for comparative purposes only. Anydice doesn't display probabilities of less than 1/100th of a percent, and I didn't take the time to calculate these out exactly for the increasingly long tails of the high dice spells.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ thats fascinating! to some extend, the 25% chance of max dmg is counteracted by 25% chance of min damage - but when we factor things like empowered evocation or empowered metamagic it makes sense \$\endgroup\$
    – falsedot
    Jan 28 at 14:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @falsedot Yes, the average is still the average and you are right there is the equal chance of getting minimum damage. It's a high risk, high reward cast - much like disintegrate, which could do absolutely nothing if the single target makes the save. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Jan 28 at 16:59
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Jim's Magic Missile + Spirit Shroud

Both spells upcast, and upcasting spirit shroud with your bonus action can be followed by getting within ten feet of an enemy and using an eldritch blast, which will multiply its output- eventually by 4. You can hold the shroud for a minute and repeat this without consuming more spell slots, but also, next round-

You can upcast a Jim's Magic Missile (not a warlock spell) for (spell level +2) attack rolls to multiply the shroud damage. By the time you get to 7th level slots you're looking at 18d4+27d8 damage if everything hits, with anti-heal and -10 speed on as many creatures as you can hit within 10 feet of you; or just one high threat nova target (288 potential damage before crits, and not factoring in the 3d10+9d8 potential from round one, which brings it up to 390 over 12 attack rolls, using two actions, a bonus action, and two slots).

Obligatory mention of Halflings and/or the Lucky feat to save you from rebounds here.

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That depends on whether it's Warlock specific or not, the question is confusingly phrased.

For other casters, lots of good ones have been covered in other questions, but for Warlock, because they only get up to level 5 spell slots(the Mystic Arcanum spells are once/long rest class features, they don't give higher level spell slots), Armor of Agathys is by far the best upcast:

A protective magical force surrounds you, manifesting as a spectral frost that covers you and your gear. You gain 5 temporary hit points for the duration. If a creature hits you with a melee attack while you have these hit points, the creature takes 5 cold damage.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, both the temporary hit points and the cold damage increase by 5 for each slot.

It's really useless at lvl1, the temp HP can take 1 hit and deal 5 damage, but at level 5, it can absorb 25HP of dmg and deal 50-100 damage, depending on how many hits it took to break it and is a must-have spell to always have known.

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