In Dungeons & Dragons 1st level spells are essentially glorified cantrips; while they can be useful, their effects are nothing spectacular. 2nd level spells, on the other hand, are when things start to get interesting. This is when spells go from being an annoyance to the enemy to actually being able to turn the tide during a tough encounter.
There are many 2nd level spells that would seem better placed in the higher spell levels due to the power and usefulness of their effects. In fact, many of the more famous spell effects of fantasy settings are mere 2nd level spells in D&D. Here are the ten most useful 2nd level spells in D&D – ranked.
10 Alter Self
Although it was a little more useful in previous editions (like many spells), Alter Self is still one of the more useful low level spells an arcane caster can memorize. This spell not only allows the caster to alter their appearance, but can be used to make useful changes to the caster’s physiology. Using this spell, the caster can grow gills and webbed digits for underwater breathing and movement.
It can also be used to grow sharp claws or teeth to attack an opponent – these are considered magical weapons as well. Previous editions allowed the caster to grow wings; making this the lowest level spell that allowed the caster to fly (albeit awkwardly). This was removed in 5th edition, but there’s no harm in asking the DM if this can still be done.
9 Mirror Image
Mirror Image is another spell that was significantly better in previous editions, but is still extremely useful in 5th edition. This spell creates three illusionary duplicates of the caster; which move around to conceal the true location of the caster.
Before an opponent can hit the caster they must roll a d20 to determine if they attack a duplicate instead (previous versions made the first attack on the caster automatically miss). If a duplicate is hit, it disappears. This spell is invaluable to a low level wizard or sorcerer, mainly due to them having a less than ideal armor class.
8 Aganazzar’s Scorcher
In a confined area like a hallway, this is perhaps the best damage-dealing second level spell. Aganazzar’s Scorcher is basically a flamethrower that extends 30’ from the caster for one turn; previous editions had this effect last two turns (but one is actually better).
Anyone caught in the path of this flame takes 3d8 fire damage. If the target(s) pass a dexterity save, the damage is halved. Like many spells in 5th edition, Aganazzar’s Scorcher is scalable – every spell slot this occupies above 2nd adds a 1d8 to the damage. The caster must be careful to make sure there aren’t any party members in the line of fire, as the spell will hurt them as well.
7 Cloud Of Daggers
Cloud of Daggers is a very potent (for 2nd level) spell that deals damage in a 5’ area cube. The whirling daggers deal 4d4 points of damage to any being that enters or begins their turn in this 5’ cube area. As far as 2nd level spells go this is a respectable amount of damage, and the damage is also scalable.
The damage increases by 2d4 for every spell slot the caster uses to memorize this spell beyond 2nd. As with Aganazzar’s Scorcher it is important to make sure there aren’t any party members in the area of effect. This spell works great when used in conjunction with the spell at the #5 spot on this list.
6 Spiritual Weapon
In previous editions of D&D this spell was called Spiritual Hammer, but the effects are pretty much the same. This spell allows the caster to call forth a weapon made of energy that does not need to be held (it acts in a manner similar to a dancing sword).
The caster can direct the weapon to strike at a target within 5’ and deals 1d8 + the caster’s spell ability modifier; the damage is also scalable. The caster can use a bonus action to move the weapon up to 20’ and strike at a second target. The best part of this spell is that it doesn’t require concentration to maintain, meaning the caster is free to use their bonus action each turn.
5 Hold Person
This useful spell does exactly what the title states – it lets the caster paralyze the target. This spell can end a fight immediately, leaving the opponent prone for an easy victory. The base spell only works on one target (previous editions allowed for up to four), but this version is scalable.
Every spell slot used beyond 2nd allows the caster to target an additional person. The target(s) is/are allowed a wisdom saving throw to avoid the effects; so this isn’t as useful against strong opponents who will probably pass their saving throw. This spell is also handy if a party member is being controlled and the party wishes to harmlessly incapacitate him/her.
4 Dragon Breath
This is probably the best damage-dealing 2nd level spell for 5th edition (so far). Dragon Breath deals 3d6 points of damage to everything in a 15’ cone; it is also scalable and deals an additional 1d6 for every spell slot it occupies beyond 2nd.
This isn’t the best damaging spell because it does more damage, but because the caster can choose between different damage types. This allows the spell to have maximum effect against targets that are weak against a particular damage type. The choices of damage type are; fire, lightning, cold, acid, or poison. This power of this spell can also be imbued to a willing recipient.
3 Healing Spirit
Healing Spirit is the best healing spell available at 2nd level. This spell doesn’t directly heal a person, but summons a spirit that creates a zone of healing within 5’ of its location. The spell heals 1d6 points of damage to whoever is in the zone, is scalable, and last for one minute.
This is an excellent spell to set up around a choke point guarded by the party’s front line fighters; this will provide constant healing during the battle. The spirit can be moved up to 30’ a turn by the caster using a bonus action. The only drawback to this spell is that it requires concentration to maintain.
2 Phantasmal Force
This spell creates an illusion in the target's mind; the illusion can include visual, auditory, and tactile properties. The uses for this spell are nearly infinite; the caster could create a illusionary bridge over a chasm that tricks an opponent into trying to cross, only to fall to their death.
A clever tactic with this spell is to use it to simulate the casting of a damage-dealing spell, like Cloud of Daggers, one turn after casting the real spell. A DM will be hard-pressed to justify the target disbelieving this effect after just suffering damage from a real Cloud of Daggers. It won’t do as much damage as the real spell, but it can still be used to damage an opponent if the caster is out of offensive spells.
This spell should really be at a higher level than 2nd considering what it does. Turning invisible is one of the most useful abilities in D&D. This spell could allow a thief to deliver an easy and decisive sneak attack. It is great for making a safe retreat if the caster becomes separated from the party during a fight.
It could allow the party’s cleric to safely reach a downed party member in the thick of a chaotic melee. One of the best aspects of this spell is its duration of one hour; unless the spell is ended sooner by the recipient attacking or casting a spell.