Eldritch Knight 5e Guide
Published on March 13, 2023
Turn your fighter into a whirling storm of blades and magic with this arcane-powered subclass!
Wesley Burt - Wizards of the Coast - Fiendslayer Paladin
What is an Eldritch Knight in 5e?
Eldritch Knights are fighters that gain access to the subtle arts of spellcasting. The Eldritch Knight subclass turns fighters into a semi-caster, like rangers and paladins, by allowing them to gain spells slots up to 4th level. They are limited to the wizard’s spell list and can usually only learn abjuration and evocation-based spells, though they can occasionally learn a few spells outside of those schools of magic.
The Eldritch Knight gains access to the best defensive spells in the business: shield, absorb elements, blur, mirror image. These are all extremely effective ways to help your heavy-armored fighter avoid getting hit in combat.
Your spells also afford you some versatility in combat, which can help mix up your options and make the character more fun to play.
Fighters need a strong physical ability modifier (STR or DEX) as well as a high CON modifier, this leaves very little room left over for your spellcasting ability modifier, INT. Eldritch Knights also gain access to a very limited pool of spells and spell slots.
Eldritch Knights can offset these downsides by exclusively using spells that don’t require a spellcasting modifier. While this is the “optimal” way to play an Eldritch Knight, it decreases their versatility in things such as crowd control or out-of-combat utility.
Another limitation of the Eldritch Knight is their reliance on the War Caster feat, especially if they are planning on going for the defense-focused, “sword and board” style that is discussed in this guide. If you plan on using a shield, you will need the War Caster feat in order to ignore the somatic components of the spells you cast.
Eldritch Knight 5e Guide Rating Scheme
This guide is meant as a deep dive into the Eldritch Knight Fighter subclass. For a full overview of the Fighter class, check out our fighter 5e Guide.
For our full class guides, we use the following color rating scheme:
- Red isn’t going to contribute to the effectiveness of your character build at all
- Orange Situationally good, but a below-average option otherwise
- Green is a good option
- Blue is a great option, you should strongly consider this option for your character
- Sky Blue is an amazing option. If you do not take this option your character would not be optimized
For our subclass guides, we focus mainly on the Blue and Sky Blue options, because the other options are discussed in the parent guide or other subclass guides. We also discuss options that normally would be good for a typical build, but underperform when used in a subclass.
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Eldritch Knight Features
Spellcasting: At 3rd level, Eldritch Knights gain access to a limited selection of wizard spells. These spells are drawn from the Evocation and Abjuration schools of magic, meaning they are primarily focused on damage and defense. The ability to cast spells is what makes Eldritch Knights such a powerful and fun class to play. Adding the versatility of spellcasting to a fighter’s martial strengths allows you to make a variety of viable class builds (discussed below) that are unlike anything else the fighter class can provide. We will be covering which spells are best for your Eldritch Knight to grab in our Spells section below.
Weapon Bond: At 3rd level, Eldritch Knights can also bond with a weapon, allowing them to call it to their hand as a bonus action. Never being without your weapon is a great thing, even outside of combat situations. It can be used to make sure you have access to necessary equipment, even if you’ve been disarmed or captured, allowing you to surprise your adversaries.
War Magic: At 7th level, Eldritch Knights gain the ability to cast a cantrip as an action and make a weapon attack as a bonus action in the same turn. This brings the effectiveness of booming blade and green-flame blade back online by allowing you to use your action to cast the cantrip in which you get your first attack, then attack again with your bonus action.
Depending on the battlefield, this option can even be superior to your three attacks at 11th level.
Eldritch Strike: At 10th level, the Eldritch Knight’s weapon attacks can disrupt a target’s magical defenses, making them vulnerable to your spells. This is an absolutely amazing tool to help Eldritch Knights overcome their low INT modifier. Disadvantage reduces the result of a roll by -5 on average. So at this point, if you hit a creature with your weapon the turn before, you essentially have a +5 to your INT for the sake of casting a spell that causes a saving throw. This makes spells like banishment much more viable starting at this level.
Arcane Charge: At 15th level, the Eldritch Knight can teleport up to 30 feet as part of their Action Surge, allowing them to close in on an enemy or escape from danger. This free misty step adds solid utility to your Action Surge, allowing you to take movement and better position yourself for your attacks (or escape from danger after attacking).
Improved War Magic: At 18th level, the Eldritch Knight can make one weapon attack as a bonus action when they cast a spell as an action in the same turn. By this point, your Eldritch Knight will be outputting a ton of damage with their four melee attacks. However, when you can hit with a spell like fireball and keep attacking, you can easily outpace your damage from solely attacking with a weapon.
The Basics of Playing an Eldritch Knight
Playing Eldritch Knights can be a fun and rewarding experience when you make your fighter an unstoppable war mage. That said, they require more strategy in the build and playstyle to feel as potent as other more basic fighter subclasses, like the Champion.
To start, it’s important to choose spells based on your strengths. You might think you don’t need the shield spell if you already have a physical shield, but the Eldritch Knight’s greatest strength is in its defensive capabilities.
Being able to wear heavy armor and a shield, then raise your AC by +5 for an entire round by casting shield as a reaction allows you to have just about the highest AC out of any other 5e build.
That said, at the end of the day Eldritch Knights are still fighters. Their magic is meant to enhance their martial capabilities, not replace them. If you want to focus on casting spells more than taking multiple weapon attacks in one round, Eldritch Knights may disappoint you.
Eldritch Knight Playstyles
The most optimized version of an Eldritch Knight is one that focuses almost exclusively on using magic to boost their defense. Because they focus on using spells that don’t rely on a high INT modifier, they can invest fully into STR and CON. This results in a mage warrior who can dish out damage on par with any other fighter subclass, but has an almost impenetrable defense.
Defense-focused Eldritch Knights will want to pick up plate armor, a shield, and a longsword as soon as they can get their hands on them. Then, they’ll want to pick up shield and other defensive spells like blur, and absorb elements.
After their defensive spells are in place, they will focus primarily on using all of the attacks the fighter class grants them.
Seeing as they’re so hard to hit, DMs may redirect enemy attacks toward party members instead of your nigh-unbreakable wards. This can be an awesome opportunity to pick up the Sentinel feat to get some extra attacks in.
Offensive Marital Spellcaster
Your fighter gained spellcasting abilities and you’re damn well going to use them to blast your enemies to smithereens.
Eldritch Knights that are looking to use their spells for offense will need to boost their INT, which will usually come at the expense of your CON.
This option is slightly less optimal than the Defense-Focused playstyle mentioned above. This essentially boils down to Ability Score Increases. Even though fighters get access to more ASIs than any other class, these resources are better spent on feats to enhance your Eldritch Knight’s abilities, rather than increases in INT.
These types of Eldritch Knights are itching to get to 13th level so they can start dropping fireballs on their foes. Until then, they have plenty of evocation spells, like burning hands and scorching ray, to keep them satisfied.
DEXy Martial Caster
These pseudo-Arcane Archers won’t stack into STR at all. Instead, they’ll max their DEX and INT and grab a longbow, and use a mixture of ranged attacks and spells to destroy their foes from afar.
Because none of the Eldritch Knight’s features specify melee weapons or melee weapon attacks, they can still use Weapon Bond, War Magic, Eldritch Strike, and Improved War Magic with a bow.
While they may not be able to compete with the defensive capabilities of the Defense-Focused builds, they can output some potent ranged damage with a combination of Sharpshooter and debuff spells that help offset the feat’s negative bonus.
Maxing for Eldritch Knights
As we mentioned above, maxing your Eldritch Knight’s AC is relatively simple. It can be done by:
- Wearing heavy armor and a shield for a baseline 20 AC.
- Choosing the Defense Fighting Style at 1st level to get a baseline 21 AC.
- Using defensive spells like shield to temporarily boost your AC to 26 for the round or blur to give enemies disadvantage on their attacks.
- You can also use absorb elements when targeted by elemental area of effect attacks to offset your dismal DEX modifier.
Eldritch Knights that want to maximize their damage output need to do a bit more analysis. Because they have features like War Magic, which allows them to attack after they cast a cantrip, or Improved War Magic, which allows them to attack after casting a spell, their optimal option changes frequently.
If you’re going all-in on damage, pump your STR modifier, then your INT modifier so your spells are more effective. You can put any remaining resources into CON.
The best loadout is to grab a greatsword or maul at character creation for a baseline 2d6 damage. Then, seeing as Great Weapon Fighting doesn’t provide that much of a benefit, grab the Defense Fighting Style.
You only have access to your basic Attack action, so that’s all you can do. Still, 2d6 + STR ain’t half bad.
You now have green-flame blade and booming blade, if the situation calls for it (more than one enemy within 5 feet or an enemy that needs to move next turn) these cantrips can eke out more damage than your basic attack. You also get two 1st level spell slots, which you can use for burning hands when enemies start to group up.
At this point, you have two attacks when you use your Attack action. At 2d6 + STR each, these will likely outpace anything green-flame blade or booming blade have to offer. You can still use burning hands for that sweet AoE damage.
Now you can use green-flame blade or booming blade AND still attack with a bonus action. This will be your most effective offensive strategy when you’re not able to land a shatter or scorching ray.
You also have access to shadow blade, which can deal 2d8 + STR modifier with each hit (and advantage on attacks in dim light). This is likely your best use of concentration until you get haste at 13th level.
Unfortunately, the blade cantrips were reprinted in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything and no longer work with shadow blade because they require a weapon worth at least 1 sp. Personally, I ignore this as a DM but your mileage may vary.
You can now attack three times with your weapon, which will cause you once again to outpace anything you can do with the blade cantrips, even with War Magic. Luckily, you also gain fireball at 13th level.
For your concentration slot, haste will likely be your spell of choice as it nets an extra attack on top of some defensive bonuses. This means you’ll be outputting (2d6 + STR) x 4 when hasted, which is slightly more than 3 attacks with shadow blade. If you’re in dim light, shadow blade will certainly end up outputting more damage because you’ll be more likely to hit and crit with advantage.
Even though you gain access to 4th-level spells and Improved War Magic at 19th level, casting haste/shadow blade and using all your attacks will likely be your most consistent way to output damage turn after turn. However, keeping track of the battlefield and using AoE spells at the most opportune time will go a long way to produce potent burst damage.
As we discussed in the Eldritch Knight Playstyles section, there are plenty of ways to build a viable Eldritch Knight. While they are multi-ability dependent (MAD), certain playstyles allow you to make the most of the Eldritch Knight’s strengths while investing minimal resources.
Ability Score Increases (ASI): Thanks to being a fighter, you gain access to ASIs at 6th, 8th, 12th, 14th, 16th, and 19th level. This can help offset your MAD nature, even if you’re going with a less-optimal build.
Based on your build of choice, focus your ability score resources in the following order:
- Defense-Focus: STR > CON > INT
- Offense-Focus: STR > INT > CON
- DEXy: DEX > INT > CON
If you’re not sure what ability scores effect for Eldritch Knight, here’s a quick overview:
- STR: Eldritch Knights are fighters and primarily use STR to output damage with their attacks.
- CON: Fighters are a tanking class and CON gives you extra hit points. Eldritch Knights specialize in mitigating getting hit but when you inevitably get hit, you will want plenty of hit points to soak damage.
- INT: Intelligence is your spellcasting modifier, meaning that the effectiveness of your spells is based off of this ability. One of the most effective ways to play an Eldritch Knight is to pump STR and CON and stick to spells that don’t use your spellcasting modifier.
Best Races for Eldritch Knight 5e
If you’re using the Player’s Handbook to create your Eldritch Knight, consider the following options:
Dwarf: +2 CON and a free resistance to poison. Eldritch Knights are very interested in this.
- Mountain: An unrivaled +2 to STR on top of the Dwarves +2 to CON makes mountain dwarves the ideal choice in terms of racial bonuses.
Dragonborn: +2 to STR is beneficial for Eldritch Knight, but the +1 to CHA is wasted. Breath Weapon is also a nice AoE attack that scales with character progression.
Half-Elf: Half-Elf is a solid choice to take for your Eldritch Knight. Being able to boost STR and CON leaves you with solid starting ability scores and the resistance to charm/sleep and Darkvision are both super useful.
Half-Orc: Half Orc’s get you +2 STR and +1 CON. Darkvision is nice, proficiency in Intimidation will help you with helping in social situation, Relentless Endurance will help keep you up while you're in the fray, and Savage Attacks is just plain savage.
- Variant: You get to boost to STR and CON and choose any of the numerous awesome feats for Eldritch Knights at 1st level. One thing with the Variant Human choice is you will be unable to take War Caster because you need to be able to cast at least 1 spell before you can take the feat.
If you’re looking for more options for your Eldritch Knight outside of the standard ones offered in the Player’s Handbook, or if you’re using the Customize Your Origins optional rule from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, here are some solid options:
- Chromatic: Great option to make your Eldritch Knight more tanky while also giving you a solid option for AoE damage. Being able to use the breath weapon in place of one of your extra attacks will offer huge boosts in damage when you have enemies lined up properly.
Eladrin: Eldritch Knights will love the free misty steps. Whether they need to close in with an enemy or get out of the thick of it to be healed, a bonus action teleport is extraordinarily useful. Now, stack on the different rider effects from the Fey Step’s seasons and it’s even better. Obviously the Eldritch Knight’s favorite will be the Summer ability because they’re most likely to teleport into a large group of enemy to maximize the damage they put out. That said, the Winter ability would also be nice as it will allow them to focus fire on an enemy without risking too much incursion. On top of this, the passive abilities of the eladrin are nice to have, especially Fey Ancestry which can help resist nasty mind-control effects.
Goliath: Everything about the goliath is perfect for a STR-based Eldritch Knight. With the goliath’s traits, your fighter will deal massive damage while being able to tank for the party.
Beasthide Shifter: Use your bonus action to gain +1 to your AC for a minute, which can pump your already insane AC even higher.
Best Backgrounds for Eldritch Knights
Choosing the right background may not be crucial for the viability of your Eldritch Knight, but can enhance your character’s flavor and backstory while also providing useful abilities and proficiencies.
- Sailor: Proficiency in Athletics and Perception would be good enough to make this a great option. If you are playing in a campaign that involves boats in any way, this turns into an amazing option.
- Soldier: Proficiency with Athletics and Intimidation is certainly a good choice, especially because Intimidation can add to your utility for the party. Proficiency in the gaming set and land vehicles isn’t awesome but could be useful in certain circumstances.
Best Spells for Eldritch Knight 5e
Eldritch Knights learn spells from the wizards spell list and are limited to the evocation and abjuration schools for most of their choices. The rules for choosing spells as an Eldritch Knight are as follows:
- All of your spells must appear on the wizard spell list and you use INT as your spellcasting ability.
- When you choose Eldrtich Knight at 3rd level, you can pick up three spells. Two of these spells need to be from the abjuration or evocation school.
- When you gain spells, they must come from the abjuration or evocation school, except for the spells you learn at 8th, 14th, and 20th level.
The spells you want your Eldritch Knight to learn are completely dependent on the playstyles we discussed in the Eldritch Knight Playstyles section:
- Defense-Focused: Don’t concern yourself with any spell that needs your INT to cast. Spells that buff your Eldritch Knight or make them harder to hit, like shield, haste, and greater invisibility, are your bread and butter.
- Offensive Marital Spellcaster: This is a bit more lenient because you have pumped your INT modifier to respectable levels. Choose your favorite combination of offensive and defensive spells.
Spells marked with an asterik (*) are outside of the abjuration and evocation schools of magic. These can be learned at 3rd, 8th, 14th, and 20th level.
- Booming Blade: Another great cantrip + bonus attack option for when you pick up War Magic at 7th level.
- Blade Ward: This may seem like a good option, but usually taking the Dodge action is more effective, especially with your high AC. It can have uses if you are entering a room you think might be trapped, or are in dire straights and don’t have any spell slots left but still need to get a hit off with War Magic.
- Fire Bolt: A worthwhile pickup so you have some effective ranged damage options.
- Green-Flame Blade: This is an awesome tool to have in your repertoire for when enemies start to cluster together. This gains the most traction between 7th and 10th level because you gain access to War Magic, so you still have your extra attack PLUS the damage dice is 1d8 + INT modifier, instead of just the INT modifier.
- Absorb Elements: Amazing use for your reaction, being able to half the elemental damage and turn it into more attack power is exactly the kind of stuff Eldritch Knights are looking to do.
- Burning Hands: Decent option if you can catch a bunch of creatures in the cone. Might be a bit lackluster due to your low save DC.
- Find Familiar: * Seeing as your familiar gets to take a turn of its own but can’t attack, having it take the Help action to give you advantage on attacks every turn. This is a great option.
- Magic Missile: Guaranteed, ranged damage when you need it and doesn't need your INT modifier to be effective.
- Protection from Evil and Good: Awesome defensive buff to use when facing certain foes and doesn't use your INT modifier.
- Scorching Ray: If you’re going to be staying away from damage spells that require a spell attack or save, stick with a javelin. Otherwise, this is a potent ranged damage option.
- Shield: This is likely one of the best spells in your repertoire. It doesn’t require any INT to be able to cast and is a great use of reactions.
- Thunderwave: Decent AoE spell but if your Spell Save DC is low compared to your level this could have underwhelming effects.
- Blindness/Deafness: * An excellent debuff that will give you advantage on all of your attacks. Unfortunately, this isn’t viable for Eldritch Knights with low INT until they gain Eldritch Strike at Level 10. By the time you reach 14th level and get access to any school’s spells, you may have better things to choose than this.
- Blur: * Absolutely incredible choice, requires concentration but enemies will have a bad time trying to hit a target that has +20 AC while they have disadvantage.
- Hold Person: * Extremely potent debuff for humanoid opponents that may be held back by your INT modifier.
- Mirror Image: * No concentration, but the duplicate's low 'AC' doesn’t make this as effective as blur.
- Misty Step: * Cast as a bonus action and gives you awesome mobility and the ability to get out of sticky situations. This is a take for sure.
- Shadow Blade: * Really good damage but is concentration. If you're fighting in dim light, the advantage you get from shadow blade will likely make it worth it.
- Shatter: This is essentially a 2nd level thunderwave with better damage. But it’s going to be tough to land if your Eldritch Knight has a low INT modifier.
- Scorching Ray: If you’re going to be staying away from damage spells that require a spell attack or save, stick with a javelin. Otherwise, this is a potent ranged damage option.
- Fireball: Your low INT modifier might make this a bit of a less attractive option, but with 8d6 damage and a large AoE, fireball is a solid use of a 3rd-level spell slot whenever you can target a group of enemies.
- Fly: * This is a great pick up at 14th level when you can choose a spell from any school of magic. Having the flight ability gives you tons of mobility and advantage over grounded opponents. However, this is likely more effective if you're going for a ranged build than a melee/tank build.
- Haste: * Possibly the best self-buff for Eldritch Knights. Make sure you're running War Caster if you're going to be using this spell frequently, as losing your concentration is very detrimental.
- Lightning Bolt: Does as much damage as fireball but has a less effective AoE because it’s a line rather than a circle.
- Spirit Shroud: * This spell is an amazing buff for Eldritch Knights. The extra damage on every attack is solid for a 3rd-level, bonus action, concentration spell. The fact that this scales 1d8 for each level of spell slot higher than 3rd makes this spell amazing.
- Slow: * An amazing debuff that can work well even for low INT Eldritch Knights as long as you can hit the enemies you're trying to affect with Eldritch Strike.
- Banishment: * Amazing single target save-or-suck spell that can take a baddy out of the fight. It will likely be worth to hit your target with an attack before you can so you can undercut their defenses with Eldritch Strike.
- Dimension Door: * Great mobility option that doesn't require your INT modifier.
- Fire Shield: Awesome defensive and offensive option. Activate, run into the fray, enjoy all your extra damage!
- Greater Invisibility: * Really good spell to get in and do a lot of damage because you have advantage on your attacks. One downside is that, as a fighter, you are supposed to be taking damage off your party members. You can’t exactly do that if you’re invisible.
- Polymorph: * Amazing single target save-or-suck spell that can take a baddy out of the fight. It also has the upside where you can use it on yourself or an ally as a sort of pseudo Wild Shape. It will likely be worth to hit your enemy with an attack before you can so you can undercut their defenses with Eldritch Strike.
- Stoneskin: Good defensive option. The downside is you will likely be getting hit with magical attacks a decent chunk of the time when you are past 19th level.
- Wall of Fire: Probably your best option with a 4th level slot. Really great at controlling the battlefield, even if your save DC is low.
Best Feats for Eldritch Knight 5e
- Magic Initiate: Magic Initiate is a great choice for Eldritch Knights. Your best options would either be warlock for hex and eldritch blast or cleric for shield of faith and guidance.
- Fey Touched: An amazing half-feat that allows you to pump your INT and get a free cast of misty step once per long rest. For the 1st-level spell, there are quite a few powerful spells to add to your Eldritch Knight's spell list. Among the best would be bless, command, dissonant whispers, and hunter's mark.
- Sentinel: Because Eldritch Knights are so hard to hit, you may find your DM directing attacks at squishier party members. Sentinel goes a long way to getting extra damage in and protecting your party members.
- Shadow Touched: If you aren’t looking to be a pure damage beast, this feat is a solid utility boost for Eldritch Knights. Of course, any free spells can extend your limited list and getting a free casting of invisibility allows you to stretch you spell slots.
- War Caster: War Caster is an extremely beneficial feat to have as an Eldritch Knight. Gaining proficiency to Concentration checks will be important for keeping blur, mirror image, or haste up and running. Due to your limited spell slots, you really don’t want to waste a spell by losing concentration on it. This also allows you to cast a cantrip when you get an opportunity attack. This works AMAZING with booming blade or green-flame blade. War Caster is also extremely important because it allows you to cast spells with somatic components even when both of your hands are full which is super important for the Eldritch Knight tank build.
Multiclass Options for Eldritch Knights
Due to their MAD nature and interesting limitations on spellcasting, multiclassing for Eldritch Knights can be tricky. That said, if done right, it can net quite the reward.
One thing to keep in mind is, if you’re playing up to a level 20 campaign, multiclassing at all will mean your Eldritch Knight won’t get their fourth attack, nor a 4th-level spell from any school on the wizard spell list. If you’re not planning on playing up to 20th level, or simply don’t care about these features, here are some good choices:
Dipping one level into wizard gives you some spells that you can cast with your INT that aren’t limited by school. The most common pickup here is find familiar. Dipping two levels into wizard gives you a subclass of your choice. Divination gives you Portent, making it by far the best option, but Abjuration gives you temp hp when you cast abjuration spells and is more on-theme for Eldritch Knights.
A one-level dip is all you need to pick up some nice healing spells, guidance, and bless. All of which are decent options. You’ll also get a subclass, but most of the options here are going to be based off your WIS modifier, which won’t be very high. War domain has the best option, allowing you to take an attack as a bonus action at least once per long rest.
Eldritch Knight 5e Build Example
In this example, we will be building a Defense-Focused Eldritch Knight. We’ll be forgoing INT for maxed STR, CON, and some potent feats that make us a terror to deal with on the battlefield.
Because of our low INT modifier, we’ll be primarily sticking to defensive spells that don’t need INT to be effective.
Sources Used in This Guide
- BR: Basic Rules
- SotDQ: Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen
- ERLW: Eberron: Rising from the Last War
- EEPC: Elemental Evil Player’s Companion
- EGtW: Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount
- FToD: Fizban's Treasury of Dragon
- GGtR: Guildmasters' Guide to Ravnica
- MotM: Monsters of the Multiverse
- MToF: Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes
- MOoT: Mythic Odyessys of Theros
- PHB: Player's Handbook
- SAiS: Spelljammer: Adventures in Space
- SCoC: Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos
- SCAG: Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide
- TCoE: Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
- TTP: The Tortle Package
- WBtW: The Wild Beyond The Witchlight
- VRGtR: Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft
- VGtM: Volo's Guide to Monsters
- XGtE: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything