The Ultimate Magic Missile 5e Guide: best uses and strategies

Navigating the realm of magic in Dungeons and Dragons can prove to be quite challenging. The aim of this guide is to help you construct a spell loadout that is consistently effective and adaptable in any given situation. 

Through this guide, we will explore the different facets of Magic Missile in 5e dnd and take a look at tips and strategies.

What is Magic Missile? 

Magic Missile

  • 1st-level evocation
  • Casting Time: 1 action
  • Range: 120 feet
  • Components: Verbal Somatic
  • Duration: Instantaneous

You create three glowing darts of magical force. Each dart hits a creature of your choice that you can see within range. A dart deals 1d4 + 1 force damage to its target. The darts all strike simultaneously, and you can direct them to hit one creature or several.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, the spell creates one more dart for each slot level above 1st. The explanation can be found in the Player’s Handbook 5E, page 257.

Who can use it and at what level?

Typically, arcane magic users such as Sorcerers and Wizards can learn magic missile at level 1. The magic combat hybrids of Fighter/Eldritch Knight and Rogue/Arcane Trickster can learn it at level 3. Bards from the College of Lore can learn it at level six.

Technically, any character can learn the spell by taking the feat of Magic Initiate. With this feat, a character chooses a class, in this case, sorcerer or wizard, and takes two cantrips and one level one spell from that class’s spell list. Through this feat, the character can cast this spell once every long rest.

Additionally, any human variant can take this feat at level one. A human can forego the racial feature of +1 in all abilities for +1 in two abilities, 1 skill proficiency, and 1 feat. So technically, a human barbarian with the Magic Initiate feat can have magic missile at level one. All other classes can take a feat instead of an ability score improvement, the earliest being at level four.

magic missle 5e

What class features work well with it? 

Sorcerer Metamagic

Starting at level 3, a sorcerer has access to metamagic and sorcery points to alter the properties of their spells. A sorcerer can use the Quickened Spell to turn the action of magic missile into a bonus action for 2 sorcery points.

With magic missile reduced to a bonus action, the caster still has access to a normal action to attack with a weapon or a cantrip, disengage from the enemy, or interact with an object or item.

They can also use Subtle Spell to remove the verbal and somatic components of the game for 1 sorcery point. This is especially helpful in situations when the sorcerer has their mouth gagged and their hands tied.

More on this later in the uses section. Distant Spell can double the range of magic missile to 240 feet for 1 sorcery point. This can effectively snipe enemies from long distances, injuring or potentially killing enemies that are coming towards the party. Alternatively, this can be an effective way to finish off an enemy that has run away and is attempting to escape.

It is important to note that Magic Missile is a spell that cannot be enhanced with Twinned Spell. Twinned Spell lets a sorcerer change a spell’s target from one to two creatures. A viable twinned spell must be incapable of targeting multiple creatures. Magic missile is capable of targeting up to three creatures; therefore, it is not eligible. (Player’s Handbook Page 102)

Wizard School of Evocation

At level 10, a wizard gains the skill of Empowered Evocation. With this skill, they can add their Intelligence modifier to one damage roll of magic missile.

At level 18, they gain spell mastery over a chosen level one and one level two spell to cast at will. The spell must be prepared and memorized by the wizard. This means that a wizard with spell mastery can cast magic missile an unlimited number of times within the action time limit of 1 round or 6 seconds.

Bear in mind that it takes a lot of time, work, and effort to get to level 18. Reaching high levels like this is especially difficult for casters because they have a tendency to have low hit point totals.

How do I use Magic Missle?

Exploring the Versatility of Magic Missile

Reading through the description, magic missile is primarily used for combat, striking up to 3 targets with one casting. In the first phases of combat, magic missile is a great way to guarantee damage and begin to soften the enemy party. 

Targeting multiple enemies can instantly turn 3 enemies from undamaged to damaged, setting them up for the party in case there are skills or abilities that function off of a damaged target.

Identifying Resistances and Immunities

If the caster is familiar with the enemy type or the enemy is uniform in composition, hitting 3 different types of enemies can also reveal any resistances or immunity to force damage. For example, a party of goblins is uniform in composition, while a party of orcs and ghosts is not. Generally, a focused stream of damage on a single target tends to be the most efficient strategy in combat. 

It is not uncommon for a boss to have minions during the final fight. In some rare cases, a DM could have minions that hit hard but have 1 hit point. If your DM has that rule, magic missile can cull the herd quickly and efficiently.

Finishing off Battles

Magic missile is also an effective way to finish a battle. Asking the DM about the general status of the enemy can give you clues about the potential damage state of the enemies and who is close to death. As a DM, I’ve used the statuses “hurt” (HP >= 75%), “bloodied” (HP >= 50%), and “dying” (HP >= 25%) to indicate enemy health. Respectively, an equivalent range would be “fine,” “hurt,” and “badly hurt.” 

Players who track damage and percentages can gauge if the spell can down a dying enemy. With its 120-foot range and automatic hits, magic missile can finish off fleeing enemies. Battles do not always end with the enemy making a valiant final stand. In many cases, the surviving enemies flee to fight another day and come back with a bigger, more prepared party. 

A fleeing enemy can use its movement and its action to dash, so an enemy with a 30-foot movement speed can move 60 feet in one round. Standing still, the caster would still be able to catch the enemy with at least 2 rounds of magic missile as long as she has a line of sight on the enemy.

5e magic missle dnd

Ultimate Executioner and Intra-Group Dynamics

In the rare cases that enemies have death saving throws, magic missile can be the ultimate executioner. In an unconscious state, a character must roll death saving throws before they permanently perish and can regain consciousness through healing. At three failed death saves, the character is dead. In this unconscious state, all hits count as 2 death save failures.

Magic missile would let the caster kill one recently downed character and still have one missile for another enemy. In games of betrayal, player characters could finish each other off this way too. Although intra-group player fighting and killing is generally forbidden, the players and DMs can all agree to it at the start of the game.

Magic Missile: The Ultimate Magical Sniper

Magic missile’s ability to hit automatically really shines in cases of cover and hiding. It is the ultimate magical sniper. An enemy’s armor class or AC determines its overall difficulty to hit. 

An enemy fighter decked out with plate armor has an AC of 18, and if they bore a shield, their AC would increase by 2 to a total of 20. Additionally, there is a cover mechanic in the game that allows characters to hide behind obstacles to be more difficult to hit (Player’s Handbook Page 196). 

The character’s AC will increase depending on how much the obstacle obscures their body: +2 AC for half cover and +5 AC for three-quarters cover. Magic missile ignores all of this AC math. Targets that have full cover can’t be attacked directly, but if the cover is exposed from the sides like a stone pillar or tree, the caster could simply direct the spell around the obstacle. Cover can also be hostages. The bandit hiding behind the captured innocent bystander won’t be safe from any magic missiles. 

Alternatively, the sniping ability of the spell can be used to target specific parts of enemies. Use it to target the death ray eye stalk of a Beholder. If an enemy is particularly adept at hearing, send two missiles to the ears. The damage would still apply, and any conditions imposed on the creature are at the DM’s discretion.

Disrupting Concentration and Hunting Invisible Enemies

Focusing fire on a single target could interrupt the target’s concentration on magic. For example, take an enemy that just used their magic to become invisible and has not yet moved. Normally, attacks on an invisible creature are at a disadvantage. 

With magic missile, it would avoid the disadvantage and automatically hit. Additionally, each hit would trigger a concentration check for the enemy to maintain their concentration and stay invisible, forcing them to make 3 rolls with a minimum difficulty class of 10. 

On any failed save, they would lose concentration and lose their invisibility. If the invisible enemy has moved, magic missile could be used to hunt for them. For example, if the battle were in an open field with no obstacles, the caster could indicate that the magic missiles would start at three different points from the enemy’s last known location, and spiral around until they reach a point that the other missiles have covered, and then spiral inward to the last known location. 

If there is any movement left, they would again spiral outward, exploding on contact. If you are a particular stickler for the math, the circumference of a 30-foot circle is roughly 90 feet, so each missile would cover 30 feet and then start spiraling inward. Never thought that geometry would come in handy, did you? 

Alternatively, the caster could ask the DM if they can hear the invisible character’s footsteps, but why miss such a fun creative use of the spell? This searching mechanic could be combined with other attacks. The party’s ranger could holster an arrow and hold the attack until one of the missiles explodes. 

The ranger’s attack would still have disadvantage if the enemy kept the invisibility, but it would still be better than shooting an arrow blindly. If the first missile breaks the concentration on invisibility, then the attack would have no disadvantage to hit.


Magic Missile has some uses outside of battle. The guaranteed hits can be used to trigger traps from a safe distance. The glowing aspect of the spell can be used as a makeshift moving dim light source. The explosive nature of the spell can be handy for destroying mundane objects. 

This can be ideal for destroying rope or specific links in a captive’s chains. With groups that are chained together, multiple uses of Magic Missile may be needed to free the captives from their location and then from each other. A caster might also be able to snuff out or outright destroy distant torches or other light sources.

Role Play

Admittedly, Magic Missile has very limited uses for roleplay aspects. The glowing aspect of the missiles and the explosion could be used as a magical display. The automatic targeting could be used to intimidate or interrogate. A caster could use the long range, automatic hit, and glowing aspect of the spell to spell out a message in the dark as a signal, like rudimentary skywriting. 

A caster could create a cipher for the party using simple patterns to communicate. Assuming that the missile glow does not maintain a trail of light and must keep moving, some simple signs on a vertical trajectory could be: a straight line of the three arrows following each other, an arrow pointing up with one missile and two missiles trailing behind the first, rotating around the front missile’s center path, and an arrow pointing down which would repeat the pattern but with the center missile trailing behind the two rotating missiles. 

All three of these signs would be visible from a far distance. Close-distance communication can be simpler with the missiles spelling out actual words.

Example Scenario

A sorcerer has been captured and tied to a post. She previously dropped her pouch with her spell components for the ranger to track and follow. This kept the enemy from taking her spell components but also limits the spells that she can use. The bandits know she is a magic user, so they bind her fingers and gag her mouth.

In the distant trees, she spots a signal from the ranger. She uses her sorcery points to cast Magic Missile without the need for words or hand motions. The Magic Missile targets the rope between her hands, the rope that ties her to the post, and one of her hands. The spell does some damage to her hand, but her hand is freed. She immediately breaks for the tree line while she loosens the mouth gag with her hand. 

When she is free, she signals her party with another Magic Missile moving up in a straight line to indicate her location to the party. The ranger breaks through the tree line on a horse and gallops toward her. She spots the ranger and sees a scattering of bear traps that are set up around the perimeter.

The sorcerer uses one more Magic Missile to trigger three bear traps, creating a safe path for the ranger. They meet, and he pulls her up onto the horse as they make an expeditious retreat back to the forest and the rest of the party.

What spells work well with Magic Missle: Spell Synergy

Effectiveness of Magic Missile

Since Magic Missile is able to guarantee damage, it is a great way to trigger effects that require enemies to be at certain levels of health. For example, Toll the Dead is a necrotic cantrip that deals increased damage to already damaged foes. An undamaged foe hit with the cantrip would normally take 1d8 necrotic damage. With previous damage inflicted, the foe would instead take 1d12 necrotic damage. 

The guaranteed damage could also make the difference for spells that count the total hit points of enemies. Sleep is a spell that rolls 5d8, which is subtracted from the enemy’s hit points; any enemy reduced to 0 hit points is magically put to sleep. Color Spray is a similar spell that rolls 6d10 and causes blindness. 

Magic Missiles on the proper targets could mean one more incapacitated enemy. One more unconscious enemy means that the numbers are more in favor of the caster and their party.

Synergy with Hex

If the caster has access to Hex, they can increase the damage potential on a single hexed opponent. A hexed enemy will take an extra 1d6 necrotic damage on a hit. Magic Missile has 3 missiles that automatically hit. 

Aiming all missiles at one target, the target could potentially take 33 damage in a single turn; each missile would do 1d6 necrotic damage + 1d4 force damage + 1. At a minimum, a single enemy with this combination would take 9 points of damage, which is about the average for a standard attack, assuming the caster is unlucky enough to roll 1 on 6 separate dice. The most common way to have access to Hex is for the caster to multiclass into a Warlock.

Advantage of Warlock-Sorcerer Hybrid

A Warlock-Sorcerer hybrid is particularly powerful with Magic Missile as they have access to “renewable” spell slots. Normally, a magic user needs a long rest to recover their spell slots, requiring a minimum of 8 hours of downtime to rest and recover their mind from accessing all that magical energy within themselves. Since a Warlock borrows their spellcasting prowess from anotherworldly entity, they only need a short rest to recover their spell slots, which is roughly 30 minutes of downtime. 

The short rest would also enable the caster to use hit dice to heal some wounds and recover hit points. Keep in mind that it is generally difficult to find a place to rest deep in enemy territory or down in a dungeon with roaming monsters. An interrupted rest means no recovered spell slots and no recovered hit points.

How do I deal with it if it is used against me?

The spell Counterspell can nullify the spell altogether, but the payoff for using a level 3 spell to negate a level 1 spell is limited. Limit this counterspell option to a Magic Missile casting that would knock a character out or if the spell is attempting to accomplish an objective.

Counterspell can be cast in reaction, so it can be activated after the spell intentions are announced but before the damage is applied. For example, if an enemy wizard casts Magic Missile to attempt to kill the downed barbarian with two missiles and smash the potion that the cleric is holding with the final one, Counterspell eliminates the action altogether.

A better option would be the Shield spell. It nullifies the effects of Magic Missiles on the caster. Note that the Shield spell is for individual characters, so if the three missiles had three different targets, only one would be nullified by Shield.

What are the comparable spells?

Magic Missile damage

Compared to other level one attack spells, Magic Missile has a higher minimum damage at 6 points of force damage but a lower maximum damage at 15 points. Burning Hands can deal 3d6 fire damage in a 15-foot cone area of effect. It will have a lower minimum at 1 point of fire damage if the target makes the saving throw and all the dice roll 1, but it has a higher damage potential with a max damage of 18 points and the ability to hit multiple targets. However, this damage potential comes at the cost of distance, as the casting range of Burning Hands is limited to 15 feet from the caster. 

In contrast, Magic Missile excels with a range of 120 feet, which would take a typical enemy with 30 feet of movement at least 4 rounds to reach the caster, or 2 rounds if the enemy sprints towards the caster. With a 15-foot range, almost any surviving enemy would be able to close the distance to the caster in a single round.


Thunderwave is a comparable level one spell to Burning Hands, casting a 15-foot cube area of effect to deal 2d8 thunder damage and push targets 10 feet away from the caster. 

Thunderwave also requires a saving throw, so the maximum damage is 16 points on a failed save and 1 point on a successful save. However, this spell would leave the caster vulnerable to counterattacks in the following round.

Chromatic Orb

Chromatic Orb provides a bit more distance with a range of 90 feet. The caster can throw a ball of arcane energy at an enemy, dealing 3d8 points of damage. The caster can choose one damage type among fire, cold, acid, lightning, poison, or thunder damage. 

This spell requires an attack roll, so it could miss and result in 0 damage. Additionally, the spell has a component of a diamond worth at least 50 gold pieces, which may pose a challenge for many beginner characters to obtain such a valuable item.

Witch Bolt

Witch Bolt is the level one spell with the highest damage potential. With a range of 30 feet, the caster makes an attack roll against an enemy, dealing 1d12 lightning damage on a hit. On each subsequent turn, the caster can trigger the spell again and deal another 1d12 lightning damage. 

With a maximum damage of 120 points and a minimum of 10 points, the biggest drawback of Witch Bolt is the concentration required to maintain it. The caster needs to make concentration rolls every time they are hit, with the difficulty varying depending on the damage taken.

With a 30-foot range, the caster is well within the range of an enemy projectile attack and within the movement speed of most enemies to be in range of a melee attack. Witch Bolt also requires a successful attack roll to hit, making 0 damage a potential minimum damage.


Magic Missile offers incredible versatility in combat. It can target up to three targets in one casting. With a range of 120 feet, the potential range of the spell could be 240 feet if the two designated targets are the maximum distance away on opposite sides of the caster. Additionally, Magic Missile cannot miss, guaranteeing a hit and damage. With the components of the spell being verbal and somatic, the spell can also be cast without the need for the caster’s spell components or arcane focus.

Force damage

Magic Missile also benefits from being classified as force damage. The enemies that are resistant to force damage, like the stony Galeb Duhr (Challenge Rating 6) or the elemental Storm Giant (Challenge Rating 13), or immune to force damage, like the Helmed Horror (Challenge Rating 4) or the Shield Guardian (Challenge Rating 7), typically have higher challenge levels.

Fighting higher level enemies with Magic Missle

Therefore, when facing those enemies at higher levels, a caster is likely to have other spells at their disposal. There are plenty of early-stage enemies that could have resistances to elemental damage, such as mephits, which are small beings composed of combined elements. A lava mephit (Challenge Rating ½) is a small flying elemental made of fire and earth; it is immune to both fire and poison damage, making Burning Hands an unusable spell.