What a weird little class the Artificer is! The only new class added to 5E (in Eberron: Rising from the Last War, a campaign guide!), the Artificer is unfortunately underdeveloped compared to the other class. There’s only 3 subclasses for the Artificer, and they all do fairly similar things. Thankfully, despite how few options you get, there’s actually a lot of room for character diversity. And, the upside of things being relatively equal is that they’re all pretty great! Each of these use your bonus action and spell slots in efficient ways, and give the Artificer good spells. However, nothing can be truly created equally, and the Artificer does have some troubles that some subclasses don’t solve. Learn about what you should look for in our Artificer Subclasses 5E rankings.
See our Alchemist 5E Guide
This might be a bit of “3.5 Player Grudge,” but I believe the Alchemist is the weakest of the options. Not to say it’s all bad; in fact, it’s much better than the worst subclasses of other classes! But, compared to the other two, Alchemist simply can’t keep up.
Alchemist tools aren’t bad (probably better than Artillerist’s Woodcarving!), but they really limited how creative you can be with these tools. You can’t create magical potions, or create homunculus, or anything fun. All you can really do is make puffs of smoke (without real DM intervention). The spell list is pretty solid; being able to cast Healing Word makes you a fantastic off-healer and emergency pick-up! Neither the tools nor the spells bring you shame.
The only problem is the Experimental Elixir. Getting up to 3 “level 1 spells” is great… But they’re random! You need to spend spell slots to gain the effects that you might need in a situation, because you roll a d6 for your free uses. If you get 3 Transformation Elixirs, then your day is ruined! And none of these effects ever get better! You just get temp hitpoints at level 9.
The follow-up abilities almost exclusively focus on giving you free spell slots. You heal more, deal more damage, and gain free casts of utility healing spells like Restoration. Not bad at all! But you can’t match a Cleric, or even a Bard, in terms of healing ability. Considering how much you dedicate to healing… You’re not awesome at healing. You’ll still need at least one other healer to be safe.
This isn’t an awful archetype, and can deal some pretty above-average damage. It’s just… It dedicates so much to healing, and it’s not even that good at it!
See our Artillerist 5E Guide
Artillerist has an absolutely abysmal tool proficiency, but it doesn’t try to be something that the Artificer struggles with. Instead, the Artillerist is a damage-focused build. The cannons that the artillerist make can be carried or walked around. As a bonus action, the cannons can deal a bit of damage or give your party temp HP. Instead of trying to heal damage, you either prevent damage from happening, or deal a bunch! This gives the Artillerist an absolutely insane bonus action ability; Cast a cantrip, shoot a gun!
If that wasn’t enough, the Artillerist continues to gain damage. They gain damage for their spell slots by using a wooden “gun”, which adds a d8 to their damage. This is actually “less” than the Alchemist, who adds their Intelligence modifier to Acid or Poison damage. However, the d8 can be used for any spell… like Fireball.
The gun is also upgraded much more than Experimental Elixir. The guns gain bonus damage at level 9, and can be exploded for emergency AoE (though this is not recommended!). At level 15, the guns provide cover for your party, and you can have 2 of them! Great defensive buff, and you can fire them both with the same action. That doubles your damage potential! Though, your Protector’s temp HP doesn’t scale well with either ability. That’s fine; you give insane amounts of temp HP anyways!
The main downside of the Artillerist is the cannon’s duration. This is the most resource-intensive Artificer, since the cannons only last an hour, or if it dies. At least the Alchemist gets a ton of free spells! The canons have good health, but if your party is traveling or does two dungeons in a day, you might be spending a few slots. Not bad, and great damage! This is number 1 if your goal is to deal damage, but…
1. Battle Smith
See our Battle Smith Guide
The Battle Smith is just so useful! Blacksmith’s tools are the best free proficiency of any archetype, and the spells that you get from the Paladin spell list work so well! They’re great for their spell level, and offer extra utility and damage, as well as great tank stuff! Tanking is what the Battle Smith does, because they get a little mechanical buddy that soaks damage for you. It’s ridiculously tanky, with loads of health! It has its own reaction, can use your bonus action to deal force damage, and can be healed with a simple cast of Mending. This little friend is a great tank, can check traps for you, and is a full-on construct. A great, completely expendable tank!
The Battle Smith is also themselves quite potent. They use Intelligence for weapon attack rolls, get Martial proficiency, and Extra Attack. That’s loads of damage (as long as you’re using a magical weapon)! If that wasn’t enough, you eventually gain the ability to surge with magic on hit; dealing extra force damage or healing someone nearby. Without any action! This is an incredibly strong ability, since normally healing consumes some part of your turn! And, even better, it uses a new resource pool, so you don’t even spend spell slots!
Finally, your Steel Defender gets buffed to be even more durable, deal more damage, and double the healing or damage of Arcane Jolt. Extremely efficient, extremely useful buffs that will make you a priority target… But you’ll be in their face, dealing damage, wearing heavy armor, and with a robot buddy that can protect you! It’s a brutal combination, and one of the most fun Defenders in the game! That’s why Battle Smith is our #1 choice for an Artificer (if just barely).
Concluding Our Artificer Subclasses 5E Rankings
And that’s the list! The fact that there’s 3 archetypes is a bit saddening, but this is how we ranked them! And, admittedly, there’s subjectivity here. The Alchemist is fine, but we feel it could be stronger, considering how good the Battle Smith’s Protector is. Of course, in a party with no healers, an Alchemist might feel much, much more at home. That’s why you should consider your options carefully, especially for this class, where the few options it does have are so good!