Mage Armor 5E: DnD Spell Guide

A wizard is fishing through their spell component pouch in preparation for their next spell when they hear shouts of alarm from ahead. The hobgoblin captain leading an assault against the local village has broken through the front lines, charging straight at the spellcaster who has been wreaking havoc on its minions.

Raising its sword, the hobgoblin roars in triumph as it unleashes a fearsome slash at the still preoccupied wizard, a roar that suddenly stops in confusion as the blade is halted just short of its seemingly unarmored target.

Finally looking up, the wizard draws a fur-tipped amber rod, points it at the hobgoblin, and with a few words, strikes it down with a bolt of lightning, idly noting the receding glow from a recent impact on their mage armor as the hobgoblin’s lifeless body falls to the dirt.

While it isn’t the flashiest spell your sorcerer or wizard can cast, the defense Mage Armor provides unarmored spellcasters often plays a crucial role in helping them survive long enough to learn stronger magic during the early levels of a D&D campaign.

Mage Armor is a 1st level 5E spell that changes the base armor class (AC) of a willing, unarmored creature to 13 + its Dexterity modifier. This protection lasts for 8 hours, until the affected creature dons armor, or until the caster dismisses the spell.

In order to see whether there are any chinks in this magical armor, we’ll need to take a closer look at the full wording of the spell, which spell lists have access to it, and which classes can benefit from it.

Sorcerer casting Mage Armor
The party sorcerer casts Mage Armor before venturing into an area of the woods populated by bandits.

Breaking Down the Mage Armor Spell

First, let’s take a look at the Mage Armor spell as written in the Player’s Handbook:

Mage Armor
1st Level abjuration

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Touch
Components: V, S, M (a piece of cured leather)
Duration: 8 hours

You touch a willing creature who isn’t wearing armor, and a protective magical force surrounds it until the spell ends. The target’s base AC becomes 13 + its Dexterity modifier. The spell ends if the target dons armor or if you dismiss the spell as an action.

The Player’s Handbook, p.256 (emphasis added)

Despite seeming very straightforward, there is more to the 2 clear benefits of Mage Armor than meets the eye.

Benefit #1: Your base AC becomes 13 + your Dexterity modifier, rather than the normal 10 + your Dexterity modifier.

For most unarmored sorcerers and wizards, this represents a free +3 to their AC for 8 hours. Reducing an enemy’s odds of hitting you by 15% (unless you’ve picked a really bad fight) is a huge deal, and puts you in a slightly safer position than your fellow party members wearing nonmagical light armor, giving you a better chance of surviving low level combat encounters.

Unfortunately, there is a quick point of clarification that needs to be addressed before we go any further.

Mage Armor does not give a blanket boost to AC – it provides an additional option for how you calculate it.

This is extremely important because of a paragraph discussing how to calculate AC in the Player’s Handbook:

Some spells and class features give you a different way to calculate your AC. If you have multiple features that give you different ways to calculate your AC, you choose which one to use.

The Player’s Handbook, p.14

Since most player characters (PCs) calculate their AC by adding 10 to their Dexterity modifier, a sorcerer who chose the Wild Magic sorcerous origin will be able to increase their base AC by 3.

On the other hand, a Draconic Bloodline sorcerer whose scales already allow them to calculate their base AC by adding 13 + their Dexterity modifier must choose between their class feature’s AC formula and Mage Armor’s, ultimately netting them no benefit.

The same considerations will also apply to any other form of natural armor or unarmored AC calculation like the monk’s Unarmored Defense class feature, so keep that in mind as we explore Mage Armor’s other benefit.

Benefit #2: Mage Armor may be used on any willing, unarmored creature.

This is simultaneously Mage Armor’s best and most overlooked trait. While clearly intended for sorcerers and wizards, as their spell lists are the only ones Mage Armor appears on, monks don’t have armor proficiency either, so giving a buff to one with a low Wisdom score can make it safer for them to lend aid to the front line of a fight.

Wild shape tiger
Giving a wild shaped druid Mage Armor is now a goal for my wizards.

Since the creature you cast Mage Armor on also doesn’t have to be humanoid, you can expand on this even further by giving an AC boost to your wild shaped druid, a familiar to ensure they come back safely from a scouting mission, a summoned creature you’re sending into battle, or even someone who’s been polymorphed!

Just make sure to have a quick look a transformed creature’s AC calculation (read: check for natural armor) before casting your spell.

And remember the Mage Armor will fall off once any merged armor is back on active duty.

Oddly enough, it’s also worth noting that Mage Armor doesn’t say anything about shields. Rules master Jeremy Crawford has ruled that shields do not count as armor for the Defense Fighting Style, so it’s safe to say that they’re fair game with your Mage Armor too, but double check with your DM first, as the wording is more than a little ambiguous.

Imagine being able to reach an 18-20 AC with a high Dexterity at lower levels, without the expense of plate, as a spellcaster.

Not too shabby if you can snag some shield proficiency!

5E Classes That Can Learn the Mage Armor Spell

Mage Armor only appears on the sorcerer and wizard spell lists, leaving it available for just a few classes and archetypes:

  • Bard (Magical Secrets)
  • Fighter (Eldritch Knight)
  • Rogue (Arcane Trickster)
  • Sorcerer
  • Warlock (self only, using Armor of Shadows)
  • Wizard

This is a surprisingly short list of classes when compared to many other spells, but that makes a certain amount of sense. Mage Armor is intended for unarmored spellcasters, and since sorcerers and wizards both lack armor proficiency, it makes sense for their classes to have unrestricted access to this 1st level spell.

That said, any class can gain access to Mage Armor through use of the Magic Initiate feat, and since you can choose either the sorcerer or wizard spell list to learn this spell, you can lean on either Intelligence or Charisma as your spellcasting stat for the other spells you select.

5E Classes That Should Consider Learning the Mage Armor Spell

To nobody’s surprise, sorcerers and wizards are the classes most likely to benefit from learning how to cast Mage Armor. While it won’t be a good fit for specific variations like the Draconic Bloodline sorcerer or the Bladesinging wizard, the archetypes that lack armor proficiency or natural armor will welcome access to this armor substitute.

This will be especially true at lower levels where Hit Point maximums are quite low due to d6 hit dice, even if you have a decent Constitution score.

The opportunity cost for a wizard to add this spell to their spellbook is also quite low in most campaigns, as 1st level spell scrolls are common, typically costing between 50-100 gold pieces (gp) each.

Add in another 50 gp to copy it to your spellbook, and you can have access to this spell whenever you like if you elected to take different 1st level spells at lower levels.

5th Ed Classes that should learn the Mage Armor spell:

  • Sorcerer (except Draconic Bloodline, unless casting on others)
  • Wizard (except Bladesinger, unless casting on others)

5E Classes That Should Never Learn the Mage Armor Spell

Apart from monks, every other class in 5th edition begins the game with at least light armor proficiency. Leather armor, which is the most commonly available light armor for new PCs, makes your AC 11 + your Dexterity modifier, and studded leather armor, available for 45 gp, raises your AC to 12 + your Dexterity modifier.

While this makes Mage Armor the better option at first, once magic armor enters the picture, even +1 studded leather armor is superior to this 1st level spell because you aren’t spending a spell slot to maintain your AC every 8 hours – it’s simply always at 13 + your Dexterity modifier.

Monks, while lacking armor proficiency, get to add their Wisdom modifier to their AC due to their Unarmored Defense. Every positive point in their Wisdom modifier reduces Mage Armor’s effectiveness by 1/3, and the same is true for both a barbarian’s Constitution modifier (as they also have Unarmored Defense) and each point of AC given by light armor for other classes.

ArmorCostArmor Class (AC)StrengthStealthWeight
Light Armor
     Padded5 gp11 + Dex ModifierDisadvantage8 lb.
     Leather10 gp11 + Dex Modifier10 lb.

Studded Leather

45 gp12 + Dex Modifier13 lb.
Medium Armor
     Hide10 gp12 + Dex Modifier (max 2)12 lb.
     Chain Shirt50 gp13 + Dex Modifier (max 2)20 lb.
     Scale Mail50 gp14 + Dex Modifier (max 2)Disadvantage45 lb.
     Breastplate400 gp14 + Dex Modifier (max 2)20 lb.
     Half Plate750 gp15 + Dex Modifier (max 2)Disadvantage40 lb.
Heavy Armor
     Ring Mail30 gp14Disadvantage40 lb.
     Chain Mail75 gp16Str 13Disadvantage55 lb.
     Splint200 gp17Str 15Disadvantage60 lb.
     Plate1500 gp18Str 15Disadvantage65 lb.
It doesn’t take a math whiz to see how quickly any armor tanks Mage Armor’s effectiveness. The armor table can be found on page 145 of the Player’s Handbook.

Most medium armor is also going to be as or more effective than Mage Armor (except for hide), unless your character has a high Dexterity score, and the same is also true of heavy armor, and that’s before bringing magic armor into the equation.

While these factors build a strong case against Mage Armor for bards, Eldritch Knights, Arcane Tricksters, warlocks, and Magic Initiates, there are still a couple scenarios when these characters might consider this spell.

Low magic, low money campaign settings are the first. If the only armor you have access to is your starting leather armor, and it’s expected to get you through several levels of a campaign, boosting your AC by a net of 2 might still be worth it for an Arcane Trickster or a warlock.

Environments where conventional armor can be damaged or destroyed are another example of campaigns where Mage Armor can really shine. Sure, your Eldritch Knight might start with chain mail, but if they get into a lot of fights without access to a blacksmith, they might want a backup plan for protecting themselves in combat.

Both of these scenarios are pretty rare, however, so unless you’re dealing with these or similarly unusual limitations, Mage Armor is only going to be of slight help at best to those with armor proficiency at low levels, and often of no use at all.

Naturally, this is also the case for sorcerers and wizards who gain armor proficiency through multiclassing, feats, racial abilities, or other means.

5th Ed classes that can not or should not learn the Mage Armor spell:

  • Artificer
  • Barbarian
  • Bard (there are so many better spells you can pick up through Magical Secrets)
  • Cleric
  • Druid
  • Fighter
  • Monk
  • Paladin
  • Ranger
  • Rogue
  • Warlock

Is Mage Armor Worth it?

If you don’t have proficiency with armor and a 1st level spell slot to spare, Mage Armor will usually have a place in your magical repertoire. The same is also true if you frequently find yourself allied with summoned or transformed creatures that can take full advantage of a +3 bonus to their AC.

Unfortunately, there’s no getting around the mathematical fact that conventional armor simply caps out at higher AC bonuses. Unless you’re dealing with a strange situation or restriction, any class with armor proficiency isn’t going to be able to tap into Mage Armor’s full potential, assuming they benefit from it at all.

Mage Armor FAQs

Does Mage Armor Affect Natural Armor?

Natural armor and Mage Armor cannot stack with each other. This is because both alter how you calculate AC, and you can only use one formula for calculating AC at a time, per page 14 of the Player’s Handbook.

Does Mage Armor stack with Unarmored Defense?

No. Monks and barbarians can either calculate their AC using Unarmored Defense or Mage Armor, per page 14 of the Player’s Handbook.

Does Mage Armor Work with a Shield?

Yes! Shields are distinctly separate from armor in 5E, and do not count as armor for class abilities like the Defense Fighting Style, so they can be used with Mage Armor.

That said, the wording on whether shields count as armor is pretty ambiguous depending on which section of the Player’s Handbook you’re looking at, so double check with your DM before trying this.

Does Mage Armor Count as Wearing Armor?

No. While it fulfills the same role as armor, the Mage Armor spell specifically says it is a protective magical force.

Is Mage Armor Visible?

There aren’t any concrete rules in the Player’s Handbook to address this, but I take the same view as Jeremy Crawford when answering this question – it should be left up to the caster to make that decision.

Does Mage Armor Require Concentration?

Nope! You can simply set and forget this spell without having to worry about maintaining it for the full 8 hour duration!

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