The Shadowfell welcomes us with its characteristic nothingness. The flat landscape, fueled by doll trees and eerie mist, calms our emotions until they are empty. I walk alongside my party for miles in an unknown direction, trying to find a resting spot. The surrounding forest becomes denser until no light from the stale moon passes through the foliage.
That’s when I hear it. The screech of a thousand bats coming from an unknown place in the sky shatters my ears and renders me prone. In front of us, the flock of bats swirls and transforms into a pale and tall man with long fangs. I try to fight back, but his speed is sound, and his strength unbeatable. Before we know it, the vampire catches the mage at the back and goes for the neck.
Before the creature’s fangs touch my ally, a shadow, black as the void of space, penetrates the chest of the foul beast. It staggers for a moment, and before it can fight back, the shadow disappears from its chest and flies to the hands of a hooded woman from behind. The strike was swift and clean. The pale head rolls for a moment on the ground until it touches my shoe.
“Welcome to the Realm of Shadows.” Said the woman. She points her strange weapon at my feet. “I’ll have that head if you don’t mind.”
Welcome to a Shadow Blade 5e Guide.
Is Shadow Blade a Good Spell?
Shadow Blade is a fun and iconic spell, it’s great for some builds and has great potential. The spell is not easy to use, so I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re just learning the game’s mechanics.
That said, the spell can be potent and play-style-defining under the right circumstances. However, how can I make this spell work? How does an illusion spell damage? To learn more, keep reading.
What Is “Shadow Blade?”
As stated in the PHB (Player’s Handbook), Shadow Blade is a 2nd level illusion spell. The casting time is one bonus action, the range is Self, and the duration is up to 1 minute with concentration. The Components are Verbal and Somatic. The effect reads as follows:
“You weave together threads of shadow to create a sword of solidified gloom in your hand. This magic sword lasts until the spell ends. It counts as a simple melee weapon with which you are proficient. It deals 2d8 psychic damage on a hit and has finesse, light, and thrown properties (range 20/60). In addition, when you use the sword to attack a target that is in dim light or darkness, you make the attack roll with advantage.
If you drop the weapon or throw it, it dissipates at the end of the turn. Thereafter, while the spell persists, you can use a bonus action to cause the sword to reappear in your hand.”
The spell’s damage increases with the following progression:
- Add 1d8 with a 3rd or 4th-level spell slot
- Add 2d8 with a 5th or 6th-level spell slot
- Add 3d8 with a 7th or higher level spell slot
Breaking Down The Spell’s Characteristics
Shadow Blade is a 2nd level spell, coming early in the game for full casters. It has to compete with spells like Branding Smite, Cloud of Daggers, Phantasmal Force, Dragon’s Breath, Spiritual Weapon, etc. Most characters won’t have Extra Attack at these levels, a vital feature for this spell. But I’ll discuss this further down the article.
The School of Magic is Illusion. This is very interesting because the damage is not its primary use when we think of this magic school. However, I’d rather discuss this fact in more depth later.
The range of self is very “self-explanatory.” However, it comes with a catch. You can’t give the sword to anyone else. The spell is for the caster to be used and no one else. The spell specifies this later when it says, “when you drop the weapon,” it dissipates. Sorry, but as it is, you can’t give the sword to your barbarian friend to wreak havoc.
The duration is enough to last an entire combat encounter. With that said, the spell uses your concentration, so this can be hindered. I tend to cast the spell, preferably at the beginning of the encounter. It is not a finisher but a constant threat the enemy needs to deal with.
Shadow Blade has only Verbal and Somatic components. These limitations mean you must speak and weave your hands for the spell to occur. Furthermore, if you are silenced, hand-tied, or in some way unable to use your hands, the spell won’t work. This is essential if you base your play style on the spell. If the enemy manages to block your ability to cast spells, you’re screwed.
Before I talk about the Bonus Action and the Concentration of the spell, I’d like to break down the effect so that those two considerations are more understandable.
Breaking Down The Spell’s Effect
Shadow Blade has a short description, but the spell is very complex in mechanics. This is because it interacts with the “attack” mechanic of the game.
The Sword is magical. This isn’t much in terms of overcoming resistance because the damage type is psychic. However, this is important when compared to regular weapons. When something is magical, it can’t be destroyed by non-magical means. At the same time, the weapon can be dispelled relatively quickly with a Dispel Magic spell.
The weapon is a simple melee weapon, and you’re proficient in it. Meaning you add your proficiency modifier when making attacks. This is the case no matter the form the weapon takes. Remember that, even if you are proficient in the weapon, being melee means you attack with strength or dexterity (if it has “finesse”).
The Shadow Blade has three properties:
- Light: This property allows the user to use a bonus action to make an attack with the off-hand. This attack is weaker, and most of the time, it won’t come into play. However, it is good to consider that you can throw the weapon as a bonus action, thanks to this property. With the arrival of One Dnd, two-weapon fighting might be more assertive, so keep this in mind in the future.
- Finesse: Weapons with this property allow the user to use dexterity instead of strength for attack rolls. This property is essential for many builds that use this spell. This property is even more important considering that most full-casters dump strength but not dexterity because the latter impacts their AC.
- Thrown (20/60): This property is the icing on the cake. The ability to throw the weapon gives just a little utility and versatility under challenging situations. It becomes viable for some classes that wouldn’t usually choose this spell. This property also provides an edge of survivability for characters who don’t want to go into melee.
Darkness And Advantage
Having advantage in an attack roll is one of the strongest things a martial class can have, especially when they can make more than one attack. With that said, the spell has some interesting interactions with Darkness.
For example, if you were to use the Darkness Spell, you couldn’t see inside your own darkness unless you had something like Devil Sight. Nonetheless, if you knew where your enemy was, the attack would be flat instead of having disadvantage. Another exciting interaction comes with the long range of the thrown property. Usually, it would be an attack with disadvantage, but if you attack in darkness, the attack is again flat.
Like these, there are a lot of interactions that change if you attack in darkness since any number of disadvantages cancel out with just one advantage and vice-versa. You could be prone, restrained, blinded, and poisoned, but if the attack is in darkness, Shadow Blade cancels all out.
With that said, it is good to consider that races with darkvision will have the best chance of truly getting the advantage.
When I talk about the damage of something in the game, I get a bit technical with mathematics. This is the best way to compare with other resources of the game. In the case of Shadow Blade, 2d8 damage translates to 9 damage on average per attack. The result would be pathetic if you were only to do one strike when you cast the spell. Scorching Ray does 21 fire damage for the same spell slot on average.
However, Shadow Blade is not just a spell, it acts like a weapon, and when compared with the rest of the standard weapons of the game, Shadow Blade does the most damage. The polearms are the most prominent weapons in the start equipment, and they all do 2d6 at most. This is crucial when we consider abilities that are triggered by weapon attacks. The most notable is the Extra Attack of some characters, doubling the damage output. If you have a character making two attacks per turn, it would have done 36 damage on average at the end of the second turn.
Another critical point is that Opportunity Attacks are also possible with Shadow Blade. Depending on the encounter, this little detail could make the difference. Adding another attack with this much damage is not a joke.
Psychic damage is one of the best damage types in the game. There are very few monsters with resistance to that damage. Nonetheless, a fair amount of creatures have immunity to it, primarily constructs. This is great for battling organic threats but not as much for dealing with mechanical o psionic dangers.
Although the damage type is excellent for combat, it is good to consider that the blade wouldn’t be able to damage objects most of the time. However, this can be reinterpreted as a spell dealing with materialized gloom or Shadow Stuff. More on that later.
Dissipation And Reappearance
This part of the spell is essential for two reasons. First, the weapon dissipates when it leaves your hand at the end of the turn. Meaning you can’t throw the weapon on your first attack, use a bonus action and throw it again. Rules as written, the weapon needs to disappear if you want to use your bonus action to return it to your hand. Second, the weapon reappearing as a bonus action makes it a reliable way of attacking from a distance with almost no downside and still benefiting from the spell’s significant damage and type.
Spell Slot Progression
The spell has an unconventional progression. Making it grow to a 3d8 with just one spell slot makes it an optimal cast at the 3rd level. Full casters will have those spell slots at the 5th level, and others will take longer. With that said, the spell benefits significantly with just one overcast. Still, it’s slowed because it could get overpowered when we consider it an attack.
The casting time of one bonus action is critical. Most spells in the game use an Action to be cast, and the bonus action’s importance comes from the game’s action economy. This concept explains how characters interact with the game in combat. The more things you can do in battle, the better. This is why most boss creatures in the game have “Legendary Actions.” A spell like this won’t work if it uses an entire action.
Firstly, the bonus action cast makes it possible to use the Attack Action on the same turn. This is essential to make the spell worth casting on your turn. Furthermore, the fact that you can use your bonus action to retrieve the weapon after throwing it is also crucial for builds that want to stay out of danger. It is good to consider that you can cast a cantrip like Green Flame Blade.
Second, you can set up the spell with fewer downsides. If you’re on a sunny day, on a plane field, it is hard to get the best out of the spell. However, you can cast Shadow Blade far from the enemy and follow the turn with a long-range cantrip. If you don’t make a single attack during the encounter, at least the first turn wasn’t wasted completely.
I believe Concentration is the spell’s Achilles heel, and that is why Spiritual Weapon is better. Having concentration on a spell is a massive investment for a spell caster. Concentration is a single resource that needs to be managed carefully. It is worthless if a spell doesn’t deliver on its expected value.
Comparing Shadow Blade to Heat Metal lets us see the spell’s potential and great weakness. Both spells can do 9 damage on average reliably. However, if we consider things like Extra Attack, the potential of Shadow Blade becomes much more remarkable. With that said, once you cast Heat Metal, you can go away and still damage your enemy, but with Shadow Blade, you can’t go too far, or you can’t attack.
Melee fighters are much more propensity to get hit; thus, any spell that requires concentration but leaves the caster close to the enemy is harder to maintain. With that said, the thrown property of the spell leaves room for range use, but with just one or two attacks per turn.
School Of Magic And a Bit Of Lore
My favorite part of the spell is its lore. To understand why Shadow Blade is a dangerous illusion, we need to understand Illusion Magic.
All magic in DND is a connection to The Weave. This “Weave” is the field in which magic occurs and the place most casters tap to alter the real world. Illusion Magic is a school that focuses on the alteration of the senses and the mind of creatures. We can understand why Shadow Blade does Psysich damage with just that definition. But what if I tell you that Shadow Blade can damage more than the mind? What if the “materialized gloom” the spell talks about is, in fact, real matter?
Illusion Magic can be separated into 5 types: Figment, Glamer, Pattern, Phantasm, and Shadow. The first two mess with the senses, and the next two affect the mind, but Shadow is more. Shadow Blade is clearly a Shadow Illusion spell. Spells in this sub-school tap on the Shadowfell to mold what’s called Shadow Stuff, a malleable and unstable material present throughout the Shadowfell.
Shadow Stuff acts like a fifth element. In Shadowfell, this element is everywhere, and a good magician could mold it to create things with physical properties. If you can conjure it into the real world, it would theoretically cause any type of physical damage.
Who Can Be The Champion Of The Shadows?
Firstly, Shadow Blade is a second-level spell in the Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard lists. The three classes have the same spell slot progression, but the Warlock has the least number of spell slots. The good thing about those limited spell slots is their constant scaling.
The Bard has the Magical Secrets ability at the tenth level, allowing them to pick any spell from any class. This is probably best used to choose a higher-level spell. Still, the College of Lore Bard can make this choice earlier.
Besides those classes, the other way to get this spell is through a subclass with access to those spell lists. The two most iconic are the Arcane Trickster and the Eldritch Knight. The first receives the spell earlier, which is excellent, but the second has the added benefit of having extra attack.
Which Is The Best Option?
Although Eldritch Knights could do a lot of damage with this spell, the fact that they tend to be Frontliners and the spell has concentration makes them a bit lackluster. Suppose you have another ally to take the mantle of “meat shield.” In that case, this spell could give you some great moments, especially considering Action Surge.
An honorable mention is the Arcane Trickster. Sneak Attack uses the same damage type as the weapon. An Arcane Trickster with Shadow Blade could surpass many resistances they wouldn’t usually can. Thanks to the introduction of Soulknife in “Tasha’s,” this option is less optimal but not insufficient.
There are no monsters or NPCs with this spell on their spell lists. However, DMs can add spells to their creatures whenever they feel it is a good idea.
I wouldn’t recommend adding this spell to a creature because keeping track of Concentration and Spell Slots can be unnecessarily challenging. If you, as a DM, want Shadow Blade on a creature, instead, add an attack with the Shadow Blade’s statistics and call it a day. Not having concentration would make the spell more robust, but this is not a big difference in the case of single encounters.
Question: Can you dual-wield with Shadow Blade?
ANSWER: Yes, you can. Shadow blade has the light property, allowing you to use a bonus action to make an extra attack with another light weapon. With that said, you can’t wield two shadow blades. Thanks to concentration, you can only have one cast at any time.
QUESTION: IS SHADOW BLADE + DARKNESS GOOD?
ANSWER: Not very much. Both spells need concentration, so you can’t combine those effects alone. Furthermore, a character with normal darkvision can’t see through magical darkness, so the advantage you get from the spell gets countered by the blinded condition. However, this can be surpassed with warlock’s devil sight or the blind fighting style. That said, if the creature is already blinded from the darkness spell, the advantage guaranteed by shadow blade is meaningless.
QUESTION: WHAT FEATS ARE GOOD FOR SHADOW BLADE?
ANSWER: Shadow blade acts like a dagger with better damage, so any feat applicable to that weapon would apply to shadow blade. Feats generally good for martial fighters are also good. Some examples are dual wielder, mobile, sentinel, and defensive duelist. Another good pick for maintaining concentration is war caster or resilient (constitution).
Shadow Blade is a fun spell that can be strong under the right circumstances. It’s far from optimal, but you can have great characters with it.
Furthermore, the spell gets amazing if your campaign is set in an underground location or someplace like the Shadowfell. If you like to mid-max, the spell won’t be your first pick, but give it a try.