So, you want to play a wizard? This is, of course, an excellent choice. Bending the laws of physics to your whim to overcome your enemies is always a great strategy. But, which spells to choose? While many spells got hit by the nerf bat transitioning from D&D 3.5 to Pathfinder, there’s still plenty of earth-shattering power to be found, and this guide will help you find it. I’ll be sticking to the Pathfinder SRD, and, to make things interesting, I’m going to assume the only spells obtained are those from leveling up. I’ll provide other options than the four “best” recommendations typical of most levels at the end of this article, for those who gain access to scrolls, are specialists, or would just like alternatives, but this is intended to be played in a real game where it’s not always possible to buy all the scrolls you would want, and also to be possible for universalists (which I know is often a subpar choice, but this is a spell guide, not a complete wizard guide). Also note, the focus is on combat, though not exclusively so, as Pathfinder is pretty combat centric. Finally, spells are chosen for a combination of effectiveness, fun, and playability over all levels.
Level 0 – All of them. You’re a wizard, you start the game with all level zero spells, congratulations. So, I’ll go with good choices for memorization here:
Prestidigitation – This should be memorized all the time. Unlike in 3.5, having this memorized once means you can always be ready to create the minor effects wizards are known for, such as constantly glowing eyes, a breeze whipping your cape in the wind, lighting a pipe with your finger, and so on. Great for performances, parlor tricks, and any other little effects you might want.
Mending – This basically makes you the new repairman in town, able to fix up anything non-magical with a few spells. Very handy spell to have if things break a lot in your games.
Read Magic – Makes it a lot easier to learn spells when you can read them outright, instead of puzzling through the other wizard’s spellbooks. Also great for identifying scrolls.
Spark – Finally, a level 0 spell that makes fire. Sure, you need small, flammable, unattended objects to do so, but creative use of this spell could be used to create some significant havoc, assuming there’s no divine caster waiting to cast create water over your conflagration.
Level 1 – I’m going to assume an intelligence of 15 starting out, which means we get to choose 7 first level spells.
Magic Missile – This will be your bread and butter damage spell for awhile, and it’s a great fallback when other options don’t work. This spell allows no save, always hits unless the target has spell resistance, and deals force damage which can be used to hit incorporeal creatures with no miss chance. The damage is small, but it’s still good for a 1st level spell.
Ray of Enfeeblement – Not as good as it used to be in 3.5, as it now deals a strength penalty, but still a fine selection when it gives such a harsh strength penalty for a 1st level spell. This spell is good well into the middle levels so long as you can cause your target to fail the 1st level spell save DC.
Grease – This is a great multi-effect spell. First, it can be used for battlefield control. Cause enemies to fall prone and move more slowly through a specified part of the battlefield. Or, it can be used to cause enemies difficulty in using any item that needs to be held, such as the sword or staff they’re swinging at you. Finally, it can be used to grease up an ally to let him squeeze out of tight situations, like grapples or that post he’s tied to.
Burning Disarm – On a successful save, the enemy whose metal item you’ve targeted chooses: drop the item, or take up to 5d4 damage. If the save is failed, or if the item can not be dropped, then the enemy takes the damage automatically. Whether they save or not, you get something good. Unless they have immunity to fire, of course.
Expeditious Retreat – Gives you an enhancement bonus to your move speed (walking and running only) of 30 ft. Great for running away, per the intent of the spell, or also just better combat maneuverability if you’re staying on the ground.
Protection from [Alignment] – Pick an alignment you’ll be opposed to most of the campaign, and you have single target mind blank (the good, D&D 3.5 version) against that alignment as a first level spell. Yes please! Oh, and +2 to AC and Saves against that alignment. Oh, and some summoned creatures of the appropriate alignment are also barred from touching you, preventing them from engaging you in melee.
In fact, if you have the space in your spellbook, learn every version of this spell your alignment allows, and prepare the most appropriate one for the day. If not, pick the one you’ll use most often.
Comprehend Languages – Understanding what other people are saying when they don’t want you to know it is useful. In battle, it tells you what they plan to do to you. In diplomacy, it tells you what they’re saying behind your back in your very presence. And it also allows two people with no common language to speak, assuming both can be recipients of the spell.
Web – Even though it got hit with the nerf bat, Web is still a good spell to have in your arsenal. Creatures failing CMD or Escape Artist checks against this spells DC are caught within the Web and grappled, severely hampering them. The web can also be set on fire, causing it to incinerate and deal damage to those inside. Finally, it can be used to provide cover when placed between you and your opponents. Great if you need a quick breather in the midst of battle.
Mirror Image – Some of the best protection you can get (from attacks that require attack rolls). Every time an opponent attacks you, they have a chance of hitting one of your many duplicates. This amounts to a close to 90% (88.88…%) miss chance when you’re lucky enough (or high enough level) to get all eight images. Even with four images, your opponents have an 80% miss chance, and with one it’s 50/50, the same as improved invisibility when your square can be pinpointed. Get this spell, it will serve you well.
Alter Self – Although this has also been hit hard with the nerf bat since D&D 3.5, it’s still a great utility spell. Use it anytime you need darkvision, low-light vision, the ability to swim, a bonus to strength or dexterity, or scent. Forms exist for all of these, and they’re specifically listed as the abilities you can use with this spell.
Resist Energy -While mirror image will protect you from most physical attacks, this spell should handle many damaging magical attacks. Specifically, energy attacks that you get caught in, providing you choose the right energy to defend yourself from.
Dispel Magic – You know how you like weaving defenses around yourself? Other casters will like doing so too, so you’ll use this to clear those spells out leaving yourself and opening to attack. Also the universal counter spell if you have a high caster level.
Lightning Bolt – Here’s the big damage spell of choice this level, and your first big damage dealer. I like lightning bolt over fireball because it’s a little easier to fire into a crowd without hitting allies, and lightning resistance is less common for enemies to have than fire resistance in many campaigns.
Fly – You know what hurts a lot? Getting hit by the business end of the big pointy sticks that melee loves to carry. You can avoid this unpleasant experience by flying above the battlefield and raining destruction from above. Sure, you can still be hit by arrows and other ranged attacks, but they tend to hurt less than the melee weapons. And next level, you get improved invisibility, making it much easier to avoid those ranged attacks.
Haste – Move faster to gain maneuverability on the battlefield, give those who attack with physical weapons extra attacks, and get bonuses to some offensive and defensive rolls. Very helpful spell.
Enervation – Give target temporary negative levels. No save. So it makes a nice nerf to use when you really don’t want to deal with saving throws and would like to lower an enemy’s effectiveness across the board.
Greater Invisibility – Like invisibility, but it continues working even after you attack. Great for the 50% miss chance, if the enemy can find you in the first place.
Bestow Curse – This spell can kill an enemy’s action economy, or just kick any ability score down by 6. -4 to most rolls is another good option, though I like the first two better myself. This spell always has what you need though.
Fear – Panics enemies. Making them much easier to mop up as they stop resisting. As long as they aren’t capable of running away faster than you, in which case consider it a nice way to keep your enemies spread out and not working together.
Hold Monster – Paralyze a creature and make it helpless. Full of win.
Cloudkill – Outright kills some creatures, and deals constitution damage to the rest. Either way, this is a great one to have available, as con damage hurts. And since it’s con damage, you can keep casting this one until the enemy is dead, assuming you can’t force them to stay in the field of poison.
Teleport – Yeah, there’s that small chance you could end up off target, but really, it’s small and who worries about that when you can traverse the world in an instant with only a few words of power. Also great for escaping grapples as there is only a verbal component, so you don’t have to move your hands to cast this one.
Feeblemind – Great for taking arcane casters out of the game. They aren’t casting anything with a 1 for their casting stat. Will still cripple other characters, though not quite as harshly as the casters.
Level 6 – I expect my choices here will be the most hotly contested. And yes, I did choose two spells with costly material components (250 GP each), because they are that good.
Flesh to Stone – Fortitude save or lose against most living creatures.
Contingency – Set up a spell to go off at a time certain conditions are met. Great for lifesaving buffs or other protections.
Unwilling Shield – Force an opponent to share in the damage dealt to you, for the low, low cost of 250 gp. It’s a lot harder to kill you when doing so will severely injure or kill the person trying to kill you.
True Seeing – Essentially immunity to illusions, along with some other goodies. For 250 GP a cast, having this in your arsenal will make your life a lot easier when you face casters with lots of illusions, or even a couple choice ones such as greater invisibility.
Spell Turning – Deflect a spell or two back at the person who cast it on you. Only works on single target spells. Very nice against other spellcasters.
Plane Shift – Travel the planes. Also good for fast getaways when you don’t have a better option available for some reason, or if your opponent can scry and fry.
Finger of Death – High damage single target spell that hits weak fortitude saves. Also, one of the first spells available with no damage cap.
Reverse Gravity – Messes up anyone without air mobility quite nicely. Nothing quite like picking off easy targets just floating in midair.
Protection from Spells – +8 to all saving throws vs. spells. Sign me up.
Wall of Lava – Use as a defensive measure, or use to inflict 10d6 damage/rd as a move action until wall is depleted. Continue using your standard actions for other spells. I like this plan. Also, no save, no sr. Just a ranged touch attack.
Irresistible Dance – Denies actions for at least 1 round, even longer against opponents who fail will saves. Also lowers defenses against the target. This is still one of the greatest spells in the game, even after the nerf from D&D 3.5.
Stormbolts – Nice AoE fort save spell. Can be made to not harm allies. Keep this in your repertoire for when the typical AoE blasting just isn’t working. Only works on creatures within 30 ft. of you though. Can cause stun for a round too.
Level 9 – Here’s what you’ve been waiting for, the most powerful spells in the game. You get 8 of these, unless you decide to pick some of the other great spells from lower levels for some reason. Either way, here are my 9th level picks.
Mage’s Disjunction – This spell has been heavily nerfed since D&D 3.5, and is now at a level of power below “tactical nuclear strike against the PCs.” As such, I’d consider it fair game on both the part of the GM and the players now. This beauty is able to dissolve all magical effects in the area and suppress all magic items, just as dispel magic, without the dispel check. Has a small chance of permanently destroying any given magic item instead of suppressing it too.
Can also single target a magic item for a simple save or destroy, or to destroy artifacts at a low rate. Destroying an artifact will cause you to never cast spells again if you fail a will save though, so be careful.
Also, discuss this spell with your group first. I think the nerfs make it ok, but some people might still prefer the game without it.
Astral Projection – Great for planar travel, as you can get anywhere from here. Just make sure you’re physical bodies are well protected first, as you’ll be leaving them behind. So long as you’ve done that, planar travel by this method is considerably less risky than via plane shift, as dying in an astral or second body only deals two negative levels to you, which the party cleric should be able to fix up nicely. Just watch out for the Gith.
Time Stop – Get extra rounds for buffing, running away, or setting up damage spells that have durations long enough to persist after the time stop runs out. Great for when you’re caught by surprise.
Prismatic Sphere – The ultimate magical defense, this wall takes seven specific spells, in the right order, to bring down completely. The caster can move in and out freely, but everyone else will suffer horrible agony in attempting to breach it, likely being severely injured, dying, or being transported to another (likely unfriendly) plane of existence, among other fates.
Gate – As a summoning spell, this spell has a high cost, but allows you to call on extraplanar creatures up to your HD to aid you, or up to twice your HD if you’re willing to forgo automatic control of the creature (a dangerous proposition). Can also be used in a manner similar to planar binding for longer tasks.
Finally, gate can be used like plane shift, except bringing you exactly where you would like to go on the plane you’re traveling to.
Energy Drain – 2d4 negative levels. Which can’t be negated by a saving throw. And become permanent after 24 hours with the failure of a fortitude save at that time. Yeah, we have an awesome debuff here. Think about losing 5 levels instantly for a second. You would cry, wouldn’t you? So will the DM, as long as the monster isn’t immune somehow.
Imprisonment – Will save or lose, and may as well be dead until someone manages to find you with freedom, another 9th level spell. Possibly a fate worse than death in Pathfinder, as it’s probably going to be harder to bring someone imprisoned by this spell back than it would be to bring back a dead person.
Suffocation, Mass – Essentially a fortitude save or die, but gives the target a slightly better chance of survival by giving them chances to stave of the suffocation. Still, with the nerf to wail of the banshee since D&D 3.5, this is now the best replacement for it, and with the duration of the spell, it’s unlikely for a target to throw it off unless you’re relying on them to keep rolling really low. Basically, no more lucky victories against dragons, but still works great for circumstances where instant death spells shine.
Below here, I’m offering some additional options. These, as mentioned before, are for those who have access to learning spells beyond those allowed to a universalist wizard upon leveling up. Consider these as supplementary spells to round out those above.
Level 0 Supplemental Spells
Detect Magic – If you have the time before battle, knowing where the magic loot is tells you which enemy should go down first. If looking for treasure, this tells you where the magic loot is, and with a little time and sufficient spellcraft, what it does.
Light – Playing a vision-challenged race such as human? This will let you negate that disadvantage easily enough.
Disrupt Undead – Great for campaigns heavy in undead, infinite pings for 1d6 when other options are gone. Otherwise, skip this one.
Ghost Sound – Making people thing there are things scampering around in the dark where there aren’t is fun. And useful when you need to herd them someplace when used well.
Level 1 Supplemental Spells
Break – Make the equipment of your enemies less effective. With two castings, destroy it completely, assuming the item fails both of it’s saves. As you don’t have to touch the equipment to be effected (the spell is close, not touch, range) this is a surprisingly useful spell at times.
Sleep – This is only listed as another option due to the hit die cap the spell has. Once you get to fighting creatures with more than 4 HD, this spell becomes useless. However, before then, this spell is your first save or lose, and effectively ends encounters very quickly. Pass the fort save or go to sleep. Not effective against elves though.
Charm Person – Makes people who dislike you like you temporarily… though they’ll probably hate you more once the spell wears off if they realize what happened. Make the most of your time with your new friend to learn about any hidden information they may have, or simply convince them to do you a favor and let you in early for an audience with the duke. Very useful to have at the ready.
Mage Armor – Use this with shield to give yourself a nice boost to AC. Assuming dex 10, this puts you at AC 18, which is respectable at 1st level. At higher levels, pairing these spells with other AC boosting effects, like Cat’s Grace, will be useful against weaker enemies when you don’t want to blow your good spells, assuming you have time to prepare and aren’t going to just wipe the combat with one powerful spell.
Shield – See mage armor. Also blocks magic missiles.
Burning Hands – For those who absolutely must have an AOE for their first level slots, this is the one you want. This spell is at it’s most effective between 2nd and 6th level in my estimation, and it is useful, but it will quickly become outclassed by better options that let you wreak havoc from afar.
Level 2 Supplemental Spells
Scorching Ray – In most circumstances, this will be your best bet for a straight up attack spell in this spell level, so I’d go with this one. 4d6 damage per 4 spell levels is nice for a second level spell, even if the scaling is a bit wonkier than I would like.
Gust of Wind – Blow away excessively small creatures, and slow the movement of those that fall in normal size ranges. Also great for blowing hazardous gases away from you and your friends.
Darkness – Exactly what it says. This is best used if you have a method for seeing in magical darkness, if you’re attempting escape, or if you or your friends will be at less of a disadvantage blinded than your enemies will be.
Touch of Idiocy – Casters hate getting hit by this one. Lowering their casting stats makes their spells less potent, and sometimes causes them to lose the ability to cast them outright.
Blindness/Deafness – Blind or deafen an enemy, make your life easier. Spellcasters who are deafened risk losing a spell if by mispronouncing the verbal portion of the spell, while anyone blinded risks missing their target with any kind of targeted attack, assuming they can even find that target. Then their are all the normal drawbacks to these conditions as well.
Acid Arrow – This is a great alternative for a damage spell if scorching ray isn’t your thing. This spell has the advantage of dealing acid damage, which fewer enemies will be resistant to, and it bypasses spell resistance, all while allowing no save. So while it does less damage, and that damage is done over time, it bypasses some of the better defenses against magic in favor of forcing the caster to hit with a ranged touch attack, something even most casters can handle easily.
Invisibility – Be invisible, get sneakier. Great for getting into a better spot to unleash your fury upon the battlefield, or to allow the party rogue to do his sneaky spying thing even better than could be imagined.
Fox’s Cunning – Boost intelligence for stronger spells. Simple, really.
Bear’s Endurance – Boost constitution for more hit points. This is helpful if you like your character to continue living.
Spider Climb – Walk on walls and ceilings. This is really fun, and provides some tactical advantages until you get to fly.
Level 3 Supplemental Spells
Keen Edge – Make your friends crit more often, they’ll appreciate it, especially if they have a scimitar.
Water Breathing – Breathe underwater. Useful for daring escapes and underwater adventure.
Deep Slumber – Like sleep, but works on up to 10 HD creatures. A great battle ender while it remains effective.
Protection from Energy – Good when you need to resist lots of energy damage right now, all at once… but resist energy is better long term protection.
Hold Person – When you really need a humanoid to stop moving, this is your go to spell. Goes great against weak will saves.
Fireball – Take this over lightning bolt if you prefer large blasts and fire damage.
Level 4 Supplemental Spells
Stone Shape – Useful for reshaping battlefields, trapping opponents, and making new exits from difficult situations.
Fire Shield – Use this to protect yourself from cold or fire damage. In addition, it also deals cold or fire damage to those hitting you with non-reach melee weapons, and while the damage is small, it adds up over time, and is a great psychological deterrent to attacking you.
Phantasmal Killer – If you’re optimized for high saving throw DC’s, especially for illusions, this is a good choice. It’s now one of the few spells that cause instant death, though it still requires enemies to fail two saves to be effected by it. Still, if you’re looking for spells that deal death instantly, this is a good place to start.
Firefall – Requires a fire source, but does a lot with it. 5d6 damage to those within 60 ft, and they catch on fire. Also temporarily blinds people at twice that distance.
Resilient Sphere – Imprison a creature in a sphere to keep it out of battle with you for a time, or surround yourself or an ally with it to keep you protected (though also out of the battle) until you can rejoin the fight in a better position, such as after healing or applying a couple choice buffs.
Scrying – For GM’s who make scrying an effective option through well-planned (or well-improvised) campaigns, this spell is an integral part of the scry and fry technique. Scry on your enemy, teleport in (available in one more spell level), roast your enemy, and teleport out. Naturally, your GM will make it harder to effectively apply this technique than that, but it is fun when it works. Also useful for gathering information without putting yourself in danger.
Dimension Door – Short teleporting hops can get you out of danger very quickly.
Stoneskin – If you have the money for casting this one (250 gp costly material component), it’s a great defense when your opponents have true seeing and your illusions just aren’t going to cut it. DR is always a good thing to have on your side.
Level 5 Supplemental Spells
Cone of Cold – If you have any extras this level, or if you can bring yourself to give up one of the above spells, take this one to have a spell that targets reflex saves. Cold damage against lots of enemies in a cone shape.
Telepathic Bond – How useful this is depends a lot on how strict your group is about metagaming, but it’s generally a useful option when you want to communicate with allies over a long distance, assuming you planned ahead and cast it on those wanting to communicate ahead of time.
Break Enchantment – Frees subjects from mind control, polymorph nerfs, and other such horrible effects. Probably a good one to have in your repertoire, though divine casters (except druids) could also take care of this one if you need other spells instead.
Life Bubble – Makes it possible to survive in conditions that would normally kill you, like being in a vacuum or underwater. Great option for some of the more difficult adventures.
Level 6 Supplemental Spells
Chain Lightning – AOE that won’t hit your allies. Nice to have in your arsenal.
Disintegrate – High damage spell that targets fort saves, also makes it impossible to bring creature back with a raise dead if it deals the killing blow. Useful in other ways as well, such as bringing down walls, and negating some force spells that are a pain to get rid of. Chain lightning beats this one out solely because stone to flesh is on the list already, and it’s good to vary your saving throws a bit with spell selection.
Getaway – If you’re going into a rough battle, this one is a great one to cast ahead of time so everyone can get out quick without having to all gather around and grab onto the wizard. Plus, it’s a swift action once actually cast.
Greater Dispel Magic – As dispel magic no longer caps your effective caster level, this spell is less important to pick up than it used to be. On the other hand, the new distinction is that this spell can negate more than one magical effect at a time, making it way more efficient when it comes to action economy and bringing magic down fast. If you only use dispel magic as a counter spell or to strip really annoying effects, you can skip this one, but if you like getting rid of lots of opposing magic, you’ll want to make room for this one.
Level 7 Supplemental Spells
Mage’s Magnificent Mansion – Live a life of luxury whenever and wherever you take a break from your adventure. Or use this spell to blow a level 7 spell for resting overnight if you must.
Greater Teleport – For those coddled mages who insist on appearing exactly where they want, when they want. Also works over longer distances, for those who are playing in very large worlds. For most, teleport should be enough, but by all means, this is a useful spell if you prefer the extra benefits and spell level trade off.
Delayed Blast Fireball – Nice high power nuking spell, good if you need an upper level boom to hit those with weak reflex saves. Or just blast everyone in the area aside from the rogues you’re picking off with finger of death.
Greater Polymorph – Use this when you or an ally wants a different, more useful form for specific purposes.
Level 8 Supplemental Spells
Horrid Wilting – Nice AoE fort save spell. A good alternative when you can’t use stormbolts for some reason.
Mind Blank – While not the powerhouse it used to be in D&D 3.5, this is still a useful spell. Protects you from all forms of scrying, and gives a +8 to saves on all mind-affecting spells targeting you. Usually you can get either effect better from Protection from Spells or Protection from [Alignment] now, but when you can’t, this spell will probably have you covered.
Binding – This spell is just awesome in terms of flavor. Uses in a typical adventuring party a bit limited, which is the only reason this is listed with other options. Still, I’m sure enterprising mages can come up with some interesting uses of this spell, and it’s possible effects are so amazing it simply has to be included here. The best of these condemns the target to forever be imprisoned in a jar, mostly in gaseous form except for the head, conscious and able to speak, but unable to take any other actions, but with life sustained by the imprisoning magic.
Seamantle – Water surrounds you, but you continue breathing normally. Enemies attacks treat you as though you’re underwater, but you continue attacking them normally. Fire spells fizzle on the water wall unless cast directly into the water, forcing enemy mages to approach you if they wish to land these spells. Also grants cover against opponents who don’t have freedom of movement. You also get a slam attack with 30 ft. reach. Hope you took combat reflexes and have a high dex, because threatening a 30 ft. radius is awesome.
Polar Ray – High damage single target cold spell, also causes dexterity drain. What’s not to like?
Level 9 Supplemental Spells
Weird – One of the few sources of instant death still in the game. Works best against those with both weak will and fortitude saves, but as an AOE, you can probably pick off one or two enemies with this one.
Soul Bind – This spell is for when you really just need something to stay dead. Sealing the ancient evil as it were. You probably won’t need this one too often, but it’s good to have on hand if necessary. Such as defeating someone who auto-reincarnates, or somehow has a contingent resurrection or the like set up.
Wail of the Banshee – Large AOE that deals lots of damage in a big radius. Useful against weak fort saves.
Wish – This is your get out of jail free card. It has a steep cost (25,000 GP in diamonds), but generally allows you to pull out almost any magical effect you could need. Good to have one in reserve for emergencies where you just don’t have another answer. Also cheaper and easier to find than stat tomes when you want to purchase inherent bonuses.
So there you have it, a long list of great spells based on effectiveness and fun. All in a nice list designed to let you deal with most situations in some helpful manner, as long as you prepare well each day. Also, in making this list, I’ve learned spells that allow reflex saves generally don’t make the cut for my favorites, with a few exceptions. Must be something about dealing with rogues.