A domain located only in the fantastic Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, the Arcana Cleric worships gods of magic. Unlike the Knowledge domain, these clerics are less concerned with smarts and more about the pure power of spell-slinging. A lot of gods find this domain to be somewhat useful in their divine duties, but most have unique connections to elves, the moon, or dragons. So, what kind of magic tricks does this strange mixture bring? Pull out your holy symbol, don your robes and wizard hat, and we’ll find out in our Arcana Cleric 5E Guide!
Inscribe the Runes: Arcana Cleric 5E
The Arcana cleric is one of the most complex and unique domains ever introduced to 5e. It functions as a strange “utility cleric,” focused on having many options for different specific scenarios. On the one hand, this versatility is what makes Wizards powerful, so giving it to a d8 class with Cleric spells is great. However, some of the scenarios that this domain counter might be… A little too specific, especially with the domain spells. However, if there’s any Cleric that can handle any encounter a DM throws at a party, it’s this one.
The domain spells are probably the worst options that the Arcana Cleric gets. However, since they are actually pretty strong, you know the rest of the domain has got some good tools.
Ugh… I guess “Magic” is the word of the month for this domain.
There are quite a few potent spells on this list, especially early on. Detect Magic and Magic Missile are both crazy good for what they do; Magic Missile is the only significant damaging spell on the list, and Detect Magic might be the best Divination spell in 5e. They really pack level 1 full of good stuff!
Speaking of good stuff, Dispel Magic and Arcane Eye. When it comes to saving party members, Dispel Magic can never go wrong… Except for your GM, who probably forgot you had it. Arcane Eye is one of the best information spells in the game, and clever use of it can circumvent dangerous encounters.
The rest of the spells are… Fine. Magic Weapon is decent early on, to boost the damage of other characters. Nystul’s is occasionally good for non-combat campaigns, or when fighting an enemy wizard. Magic Circle and Leomund’s Secret Chest are both problematically specific. Magic Circle lets you choose from five enemy types, at least, but it’s an expensive solution. Leomund’s is a cute flavorful spell that is underused… Probably for good reason.
The level 5 options are strictly too situational to ever really be worth the slot. The teleportation just takes too much time, and Planar Binding requires a lot of time, investment, GM allowance, and money. You’ll be glad to have them there if a situation does arise… Though your gold pouch might not be so happy!
The Arcane Initiate ability really starts the trend of the power that this domain has.
When you choose this domain at 1st level, you gain proficiency in the Arcana skill, and you gain two cantrips of your choice from the wizard spell list. For you, these cantrips count as cleric cantrips.
Starting out with the more flavor-driven side of this package, a free proficiency is never bad. Arcana is a good skill for item identification and enemy knowledge. Nice and simple.
Now, to the fun part. One of the weaknesses of the Cleric cantrip list is a lack of damage. They get 3 cantrips that can lower the health of enemies, which is problematic for ranged characters. Wizards have no such weakness with their cantrips. Want ranged options? Firebolt, Poison Spray, Ray of Frost, Thunderclap, Frostbite, just to name a few. How about melee? Green Flame Blade, Booming Blade, and Shocking Grasp are just a couple viable options. These tend to have better debuffs, scaling, or damage types than Cleric cantrips as well, so they can be super useful for a cantrip game.
The level 8 ability down the line supports offensive cantrips, which is why we also suggest spreading out damage types. However, Wizards do have a few options that may be intriguing for clerics; Encode Thoughts, Mind Slither, Mage Hand, and Mold Earth to name a few. Check out our list for Wizard Cantrips if you’re not sure what to choose.
Channel Divinity: Arcane Abjuration
Oh boy, hope you’re ready for a novel. Level 2 gives you quite a few paragraphs.
Starting at 2nd level, you can use your Channel Divinity to abjure otherworldly creatures.
As an action, you present your holy symbol, and one celestial, elemental, fey, or fiend of your choice that is within 30 feet of you must make a Wisdom saving throw, provided that the creature can see or hear you. If the creature fails its saving throw, it is turned for 1 minute or until it takes any damage.
A turned creature must spend its turns trying to move as far away from you as it can, and it can’t willingly end its move in a space within 30 feet of you. It also can’t take reactions. For its action, it can only use the Dash action or try to escape from an effect that prevents it from moving. If there’s nowhere to move, the creature can use the Dodge action.
After you reach 5th level, when a creature fails its saving throw against your Arcane Abjuration feature, the creature is banished for 1 minute (as in the banishment spell, no concentration required) if it isn’t on its plane of origin and its challenge rating is at or below a certain threshold, as shown on the Arcane Banishment table.
- 5th Level – Banish CR ½ or Less
- 8th Level – Banish CR 1 or Less
- 11th Level – Banish CR 2 or Less
- 14th Level – Banish CR 3 or Less
- 17th Level – Banish CR 4 or Less
So, essentially, you get Turn Undead that now affects more creatures; the effects are the same, the save is the same. You can force celestial, elemental, fey, fiend, or undead to run with Channel Divinity.
Obviously, because of the options, this is better than just having Turn Undead. As we said before, this archetype brings versatility to the table, though occasionally at the expense of power. Nonetheless, the Turn effect is normally restricted to Undead for a reason; causing something to run until it is hurt is deadly. There is no additional save for them; you’ve taken them out of the fight for a full minute, unless the Wizard hits them accidentally or something.
The banishment effect is less strong. The CR caps are abysmally low, and you’ll be at the stage where you spending the action should kill that CR anyways. Or the Wizard’s Fireball should wipe them. And it’s not even permanent, so it’s worse than Destroy Undead. They just come back to annoy you. Use this Channel to cause fleeing against dangerous enemies, more than you banish useless ones.
So, what versatility does the level 6 ability grant this versatile archetype?
Starting at 6th level, when you restore hit points to an ally with a spell of 1st level or higher, you can also end one spell of your choice on that creature. The level of the spell you end must be equal to or lower than the level of the spell slot you use to cast the healing spell.
Oh. Oh my.
This essentially says “any time you heal an ally with spells, cast Dispel Magic on them.” It is a weaker Dispel Magic, sure, but this ability can get insane. Let’s talk about two spells that work well with this;
Healing Word takes a bonus action, and can be scaled from Level 1 to 9. That means, as a bonus action, you can heal someone for okay health and remove a debuff of your choice. That’s insane efficiency, as it lets you heal someone, remove a debuff, and then cast a cantrip afterwards. Potentially strong stuff!
Mass Cure Wounds or Mass Healing Word. It’s an area of effect spell. And this does not put any limits on your dispels per turn. Watch as your GM’s – or your player’s – face falls into despair as an en masse Hold Person becomes negated. Listen to them grumble as they accept their new status as they waste a spell.
The downside is that you need to match spell levels with the enemy. But that shouldn’t come up too often and, hey, that’s what the actual Dispel Magic is for.
The damage dealing option for the Arcana cleric is as any seasoned cleric player would expect.
Starting at 8th level, you add your Wisdom modifier to the damage you deal with any cleric cantrip.
Okay, cool. You get some extra damage to your cleric cantri-
Wait… Your cleric cantrips… Didn’t the first ability transform some wizard cantrips to cleric ones?
This is why we suggest using your Arcane Initiate for damage options. Adding Wisdom to cantrips like Acid Splash and Green Flame Blade greatly increase Area of Effect damage for no cost. Firebolt and Chill Touch benefit by a bit with Wisdom damage. Out of all the Potent Spellcasting domains, this one easily becomes one of the top alternatives for damaging cantrips.
So, like I said, the Domain spells leave a little bit to be desir-
At 17th level, you choose four spells from the wizard spell list, one from each of the following levels: 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th. You add them to your list of domain spells. Like your other domain spells, they are always prepared and count as cleric spells for you.
This subclass has something new right around the corner. Even if this said that you get 4 extra prepared spells, it’d be pretty good. But you get them from the Wizard spell list. And they become Domain spells.
Where to start…
You can take quite a few options at 6th level. Area of Effect options like Chain Lightning, defensive options like Investiture of Stone, aggressive options like Flesh to Stone, just to name a few. Level 6 is an awfully powerful level, mostly for crowd control, but pick whatever your party needs most!
7th level has some more crowd control options, with Prismatic Spray, Mirage Arcane, Forcecage, and Reverse Gravity as good options. Defensively, Plane Shift and Etherealness are okay, and likely to be used. Simulacrum or Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Mansion sound cool, but… You’re probably not using them TOO often.
8th level is, surprise surprise, mostly for crowd control. Dominate Monster, Feeblemind, Maze, Mind Blank, and Power Word: Stun are all potent. Depending on your campaign, Sunburst can be okay, especially to monsters weak to it. Once again, Demiplane can be cool, but it tends to be unlikely to be used as often as other combative options.
And guess what 9th level specializes in? That’s right; killing things. Meteor Swarm, Power Word: Kill, and Weird are all solid options. Imprisonment or Gate can be cool if you have the money for it. Time Stop is not amazing on a Cleric, but can be a good setup tool if you have some Delayed Fireballs.
And all of these are Cleric spells, so Wisdom-based. Astounding.
You only get one of each level, however, so think a lot before you pick your four.
Best Race for Arcana Clerics
For this subclass, I only have four words; Get. Your. Wisdom. High. Unlike a lot of clerics, this subclass cannot dedicate much to statistics other than their Casting stat, since so much of their kit is reliant on casting and having their spells be effective. Wisdom is overwhelmingly important to this class, to the point where you should sincerely ignore other options.
Thanks to Booming Blade and Green Flame Blade, a Dwarf can make a good arcana cleric. You will need to be able to take the Heavily Armored feat, if your GM allows for feats, before really considering Dwarf. But, the area of effect options in melee range – with Hand of Radiance and what has already been mentioned – are useful up close. And the healthier the Cleric, the happier the party!
Volo’s Guide introduced the Firbolg race, which allowed players to add +2 to their Wisdom score to start. The only other option for this is the Kalashtar, which is an… okay race, at best. The Firbolg, however, get a lot of information abilities, temporary invisibility, and Disguise Self. That’s not only fun, that’s hilarious! Plus, the Firbolgs have a stereotype of being slow or traditional, so you’re in a position to prove them wrong with heinous amounts of arcane power.
What a tank of a race! Pick Medium Armor and watch as your versatile Wisdom increase, massive amount of health, and natural resistances make you surprisingly durable. And flavor-wise, it would make sense for the Warforged to be invested in magic, even if they’re not traditionally religious types.
Race Notes: Magic is Universal
When I say to drop everything and go for Wisdom, I am somewhat serious. However, don’t think that Wisdom is the only thing that matters. Races that get increases to Constitution often have interesting things to help clerics. If you’re feeling reptilian, Lizardfolk and Tortles are solid. And Humans will never be a horrific choice. Seriously consider increasing Wisdom, but remember to have fun while doing it.
Conclusion – Our Arcana Cleric 5E Guide
A powerful domain with a lot of versatility. What struggles in the Domain spell list easily gets picked up by the insane support abilities and defensive options it gets. The ability for the Cleric to get even more Crowd Control is astonishing, and it could easily change encounters for the better. Consider this subclass if you’re tired of making Wizards or Warlocks, and watch as you become the Swiss Army Knife of any party.
Want to see your other Cleric options or how to optimize your character in general? Check out our Comprehensive Cleric 5E Guide!