School of War Magic 5E Guide | Rules, Tips, Builds, and More

war magic 5e

Some Wizards hear of the terrible tragedies that happen to young spellcasters while adventuring. They hear of spells lost, of lives lost, and so some theories have been developed to stop it. The Xanathar’s Guide to Everything offers this course. Practicers of War Magic see their magic as their armor and weapon. They are seen as crucial to the battlefield, though their fellow mages occasionally taunt them for splitting their focus so much. Is there anything to gain for this offensively defensive class? Let’s find out in our War Magic 5E Guide.

Frail No Longer: War Magic 5E

While the flavor of the class tells War Mages as split between two worlds, this is a defensive subclass. And a dang good one! You’ll be a bit low on damage compared to the Evocation School, but there’s no option that can defend your AC quite as well. If your party needs strictly damage or defense, you might want to consider either Evocation or Abjuration… But this is a fantastic middle ground.

Arcane Deflection

Your first ability is a bit different than standard Wizard subclasses… In that you actually get something.

At 2nd level, you have learned to weave your magic to fortify yourself against harm. When you are hit by an attack or you fail a saving throw, you can use your reaction to gain a +2 bonus to your AC against that attack or a +4 bonus to that saving throw.

When you use this feature, you can’t cast spells other than cantrips until the end of your next turn.

Take that, Evocation Savant!

Let’s talk about the Bonus to AC, because it’s… Good. This is a reaction that gives you enough AC to avoid some attacks; since this is similar to the Shield spell, you would know that you were hit beforehand. Especially against burly, muscly dudes, you’ll find that giving yourself a +2 can save your life. However, if you’re really worried about getting slammed, consider learning the Shield spell.

What’s really great here is a +4 bonus for saves. Against enemy casters, this is a 20% chance to succeed. As a reaction, that’s absolutely insane! You can see what you rolled, compare it to your own save DC, and make a decision about whether or not it’s worthwhile. And you’ll want to do this for almost any spell; a failed save against Fireball could wipe you off the map, and a Hold Person pins your hands and mouth shut. As a Wizard, you definitely want to be around to cast!

The downside is that this counts as your spell casted for the next turn. Cantrips still do okay work, but if you really need to cast spells next round, make sure you know what you’re saving against. You might be able to eat damage if you’re high on health… But you won’t be casting that spell if it’s a Hold Person or a Hideous Laughter anyways. Might as well save in those cases.

Tactical Wit

Gee Billy, your school lets you have two level 2 abilities?

Starting at 2nd level, your keen ability to assess tactical situations allows you to act quickly in battle. You can give yourself a bonus to your initiative rolls equal to your Intelligence modifier

So, let’s talk about this.

The fact that this ability adds to your Dexterity rather than replacing it is flat-out ridiculous. In most cases, you kinda want high Dex anyways, so you’ll be adding your best stat to your 2nd or 3rd best. That’ll give you a +5 to Initiative early on, and potentially +8 or +9 later. You’ll be quite comfy at the top of the initiative order, waving at the Rogue or Fighter below you.

I probably don’t need to tell you that a Wizard likes being high on the Initiative order. Going first let’s you throw out Save-or-Suck spells, get buffs on your party members, or deal lots of damage to low-level enemies nearby. This is great for you, as long as your party was somewhat in position beforehand.

With Alert, you can really turn the tides of battle by going first, even during your enemy’s Surprise round. And then nuking your ambushers.

Power Surge

Your most complicated ability just so happens to be your worst. And it’s your level 6 one too. Ouch. You gain a Power Surge mechanic.

Whenever you finish a long rest, your number of power surges resets to one. Whenever you successfully end a spell with Dispel Magic or Counterspell, you gain one power surge [Maxes at your Int Modifier], as you steal magic from the spell you foiled. If you end a short rest with no power surges, you gain one power surge.

Once per turn when you deal damage to a creature or object with a wizard spell, you can spend one power surge to deal extra force damage to that target. The extra damage equals half your wizard level.

This isn’t… Necessarily awful.

This does one big thing for you; It makes Dispel Magic and Counterspell more compelling. They didn’t need to be more compelling, but… They are now! Whenever you successfully end a spell, you basically deal a tiny bit of damage – You can proc this on a cantrip, after all! So that’s nice.

There’s so many problems, though. The fact that you don’t max your Power Surges every day is super strange. It means that you essentially have a once-per-rest “deal half your level to a target.” The Goblin’s Fury of the Small deals it’s level in damage every short rest. This ability’s damage is pretty mediocre.

So, it’s balanced around you spending reactions using Dispel Magic or Counterspell. Both of these spells are really strong, allowing you to circumvent traps, weaken enemies, or stop them from dealing damage to you. But… You need spells to dispel. Without enemy spellcasters, you have no way to charge your batteries. And you don’t want to dispel your allies’ low level spells, because that just wastes so. Many. Spell slots. And all for a tiny extra burst. At least it’s force damage?

Learn both Dispel Magic and Counterspell; they’re really great spells, and you have a bit more incentive to use them. But… Just be aware that you’ll likely not use this ability for more than a once-per-rest half-level damage buff.

Durable Magic

Okay, we got the bad stuff out of the way, and it wasn’t even that bad! Only good stuff from here.

Beginning at 10th level, the magic you channel helps ward off harm. While you maintain concentration on a spell, you have a +2 bonus to AC and all saving throws.

Simple, easy, and to the point. Also, wow!

There’s just too many concentration spells out there that are good. Haste, Hold Person, Banishment, Summoning… Create Bonfire. There’s so many reasons to have a Concentration spell up that positively affects the battlefield. Now, when you do that, enemies have a 10% higher chance to miss you with attack rolls, and you have a 10% higher chance to negate spells. That’s crazy! All for holding onto a Concentration effect!

And you can still use this with Arcane Deflection. That could give you a +6 on a Saving Throw, and you’re just spamming Cantrips at this point anyways. That’s a huge boon, though talk to your GM about if you can use the Concentration effect afterwards. Arcane Deflection isn’t too specific about it.

This doesn’t do too much to help you hold Concentration, other than the +2. You may want to consider War Caster, if you have the feat slots. 

This is a crazy-good addition to an already crazy good class. You’re so tanky for a Wizard!

Deflecting Shroud

Speaking of crazy good additions…

At 14th level, your Arcane Deflection becomes infused with deadly magic. When you use your Arcane Deflection feature, you can cause magical energy to arc from you. Up to three creatures of your choice within 60 feet of you each take force damage equal to half your wizard level.

You know how I complained about Power Surge earlier? It’s because this ability takes the idea of dealing “half level” to damage and kicks it up a notch.

Just in case Arcane Deflection wasn’t good enough for you, you now deal 21 damage if you have 3 opponents. For free. Whether or not Arcane Deflection was or wasn’t successful in avoiding damage.


This ability is the only real good offensive ability that the War Mage gets (unless you count Tactical Wit!). At this point, enemies will be apologizing to their allies as you zap three of them after negating a spell with a +4, or dodging a sword swing. Any attack against you will be reciprocated with furious vengeance. You’ll be an unstoppable force! You might even want to step inside of your own spells to use this and Power Surge to deal upwards of 40 damage, just by pure class features!

I’m… I’m joking. 

But, if an ally wants to deck you in the face for 1 damage and then have you shock enemies for 30 – or have that ally toss a Save cantrip at you – then they can. And the scary part? That’s not an awful strategy! Especially if your Rogue or Dexterity Fighter had their weapons taken from them for whatever reason. You can deal legitimately good damage, if you’re willing to sacrifice your defensive Reaction.

The fact that this ability has effectively no limitations, is attached to one of the best level 2 reactions in the game, and has fantastic range is astounding. War Mages can really do whatever they want, huh?

Best Race for War Magic Wizards

War Mages are still Wizards; boost that Int, yo! Afterwards, your choices are varied. You’ll want good Dexterity so your AC isn’t anything disappointing without Arcane Deflection. But, Constitution is important for your Concentration spells, avoiding Constitution saves (a dangerous save indeed!) and taking hits. Wisdom isn’t as important, since you’re naturally proficient in Wisdom saves.


The Volo’s Guide to Monsters is home to many warrior races, including the Hobgoblin. A +2 Constitution, +1 Intelligence means you’ll be investing a lot into Int, but you’ll have a decent health pool to use your abilities with. Hobgoblins also get free proficiencies; 2 martial weapons and light armor. We’re focusing on the Light Armor; this lets you build towards Medium Armor proficiency in the future, if you want your AC to be good without investing in Dexterity. Darkvision is universally good, and Saving Face can let you get a +3-5 to your Saving Throw… On top of the +4 from Arcane Deflection. Just in case you rolled a 2 and feel like saving anyways!


Humans, our favorite Player’s Handbook buddies, are a pretty obvious choice for any class. Try to be a Variant if possible; +1 can go into Intelligence and then either Dexterity or Constitution. You have quite a few feat options; Alert, War Caster, Lightly Armored, Observant… Even Ritual Caster! Completely up to you. I would suggest Alert or War Caster; either really make use of your ridiculous Initiative, or start working towards making Concentration checks legitimately hard to fail.

Conclusion – Our War Magic 5E Guide

The War Magic school has so much power. Arcane Deflection by itself is perhaps the best multiclassing tool a Wizard can offer; take that on a Fighter or Barbarian and scoff at the limitation as you beat your enemy down afterwards. Durable Magic literally gives you +2 AC and saves for almost free, and Deflecting Shroud is frankly too good to be true. I would have thought it would spend a Power Surge or something, but… Nope! Speaking of, Power Surge is the only lackluster ability on this list, and it still gives you more reasons to use some of the best anti-mage spells in the game. How bad can that be?

If you want a Wizard who’ll live past level 2, and eventually become a damage-dealing brick wall, this is a great choice.


  1. Can you use arcane deflection on a death saving throw? It seems like you should because it says when you are about to fail a saving throw, so if you can it would be awesome.

    • Good question. As I understand it, this requires you to use your reaction – which you can’t do if you are incapacitated. Usually bonuses to death saving throws are specifically worded for that reason.

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