Which Cantrips Should I Pick?

Need some help picking your Pact of Tome cantrips? Just hit level three and trying to figure out which cantrips are a good fit for your Eldritch Knight or Arcane Trickster? I have some tips for you!

Which Cantrips Should I Pick?
I mean, you don't have to listen to me. But I have some suggestions.
R.V. stood with his new friend, Enid, in Trollskull Manor as the others went about their assigned tasks for the day. Some went off for personal errands while the others went to acquire favors from the other guilds in Waterdeep.

These two, however, assigned themselves the daunting task of cleaning up the four-story manor.

R.V. smirked. The urge to let loose had been swelling within him. He'd been holding it back ever since they began deciding what they would be doing for the day. It was no small feat that he kept himself in check as long as he did.

The roaring storm within him began to crackle, begging for his release; he complied with its request. He could taste the magical words that would summon his gift on his lips. Gusts of wind began emitting from all around him, following his gestures and magical commands as he began to dust and sweep the place.

They had a lot of work to do.
✏️
Do you like the little bit of flash fiction here? It's a real snippet from a recent session, starring my guy, R.V., and one of his new buddies, Enid. The two make quick work of the place.

I absolutely love cantrips. There are so many options and so many ways to get them.

I have a bad habit of trying to put a cantrip (or three) on every character I make. Half or more of the cantrips I pick tend to be for roleplay purposes, with the remaining being for some mechanical reasons, such as combat (damage), accessibility (providing lighting), or future-proofing ("None of us look like we can stop a Troll. Guess I'll take Fire Bolt or Acid Splash"). I love to roleplay and try to find a way to spice up my character with a bit of extra magic, regardless of whether or not it'll help maximize my damage output.

When building a character that I want to add a cantrip to, I try to figure out the primary function of the cantrip. Are they going to be used for roleplay purposes, or will they be for mechanical reasons? Or did I get lucky and find a cantrip that fits both? If the cantrip fits both, then it's definitely a sure pick if I have the room.

All-Purpose Cantrips

If available for my class, or I'm grabbing these via Pact of Tome or Magic Initiate, I typically look at these cantrips first. They fit practically every character or theme imaginable and can be easily flavored with a little imagination.

  • Dancing Lights
  • Druidcraft
  • Light
  • Guidance
  • Mage Hand
  • Mending
  • Message
  • Minor Illusion
  • Prestidigitation
  • Resistance
  • Spare the Dying
  • Thaumaturgy

If I'm playing a human or some other race lacking Darkvision, there's a good chance I've also picked up Light. While Dancing Lights is also an acceptable choice, the shorter duration and Concentration typically make me go for the former. For instance, I would have never wanted my Eldritch Knight to have to maintain his only source of light during combat.

The rest are purely for fun and flavor. Prestidigitation can clean and flavor things, Mage Hand is good for reaching things at a distance, Mending can fix a lot of random things, and Thaumaturgy can open doors from far away. I'm quite sure you know about spamming Guidance.

I had a Warlock who used Minor Illusion (and Silent Image + Disguise Self) in practically every social encounter. In a world where there aren't cameras or videos, these illusions provided a way to hilariously show things to people, as well as stupid little effects, like taking notes in the air.

Elemental Control Cantrips

The cycle of elemental cantrips -- Control Fire, Shape Water, Gust, Mold Earth, and technically Mage Hand -- are always fun and provide elemental- (and mental-) themed characters a way of manipulating their element.

There are a few more elemental cantrips, however, they are discussed later on in the Combat Cantrips sections. WoTC seems to have a bias towards fire-spells in general, though. There's like another four more!

Combat Cantrips

Booming Blade and Green-Flame Blade are the go-to cantrips for those who utilize weapons.

Also, Shillelagh if you use a quarterstaff or club.

If I'm going with a feral theme, Primal Savagery is a good choice. Throw it on a Returned character to represent Zombie claws, or on a Druid showing their animalistic side.

Fire Bolt, Produce Flame, Ray of Frost, Shocking Grasp, Chill Touch, Thorn Whip are good melee and ranged attacking cantrips. They each serve a purpose, so choose based on what you're looking for. Firebolt is primarily for damage, while the others are used for the secondary effects or range.

Magic Stone is a niche battle cantrip but could be useful if you have the build for it. I just recently ran across a question regarding whether Magic Stone can be combined with Sneak Attack, and the answer is YES (but only if you use a sling; because it's using a ranged weapon).

Admittedly, I have yet to be able to use it, but Blade Ward has its purposes. I know I personally have it planned for a level 4 Storm Sorcery who is more of a support build. Will combine it with the bonus-action shove granted by Telekinetic.

Please don't take True Strike. I mean, I think there's like a single type of build that can make it work, but even then it's still bad. I have such high hopes for this, and hopefully one day it'll be errata'd to just be decent.

Oh, and blah blah blah Eldritch Blast.

Situational Combat Cantrips

The following cantrips I consider "eeeeeeeeh, maybe." Save spells aren't bad, but I typically don't prioritize them. I tend to only pick them if they fit the theme of my character and would be somewhat off if my character couldn't do this in the world. Cantrips targeting CON are strictly worse, but, again, if they fit a theme, I pick theme.

  • Acid Splash
  • Create Bonfire
  • Frostbite
  • Infestation
  • Lightning Lure
  • Mind Sliver
  • Poison Spray
  • Sacred Flame
  • Sapping Sting
  • Sword Burst
  • Thunderclap
  • Toll the Dead
  • Vicious Mockery
  • Word of Radiance

For instance, I made a Beekeeper Swarm Ranger for a One-Shot (he was a Tortle, and some real bees lived in his shell) and just had to pick Infestation. Like, it was PERFECT. I have a Storm Sorcery who knows Lightning Lure because why not? That Eldritch Knight knew a flavored version of Sword Burst because it was just so cool. And Vicious Mockery is the only damaging cantrip Bards can learn naturally, and they should totally take it.

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There are no best Pact of Tome cantrips. There are no best Eldritch Knight cantrips. There are no best Arcane Trickster cantrips. There are no best Magic Initiate cantrips.

Pick whatever is the most fun for you and roll with it.

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