Top 10 Best Spells in Skyrim

By George Wood Jr.

I’ll be up front, my first odyssey through Skyrim (one of our top 10 games of the decade) was spent largely ignoring the art of spellcasting. My master blacksmith, longsword-wielding Redguard warrior Mike Rotch was a man of action. Why shoot some cute little sparks out of my fingertips when a couple of well-placed swings could split an enemy down the middle like a hot dog meeting a buzzsaw?

From my perspective, those nerds freezing their soul gems off over at the College of Winterhold were a bunch of crackpot old fools teaching each other magic tricks. I would cackle with glee as some dungeon pyromancer, eyes wide with terror, would soil their robes as my heavily-armored harbinger of death would shatter their wall of flame and push a hot helping of daedric steel into their guts.

I’ve since abandoned my previous disdain against all things witchcraft and wizardry, starting a new Dark Elf character simply named Gribble. Gribble’s transformation from birthday party magician to ferocious warlock has clued me into a wonderful world of wizardry. Below is a list of my top 10 picks for the best spells in Skyrim.

10. Mass Paralysis

Top 10 Best Spells in Skyrim - Mass Paralysis
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Shut down the party with this master-class Alteration spell purchased from Tolfdir at the College of Winterhold, following the quest “Alteration Ritual Spell.”

Mass Paralysis, like many of the spells on this list, requires a high-level proficiency as a mage to cast. After the somewhat lengthy casting animation, all targets within a certain radius of the Dragonborn will be struck with paralyzing rigor mortis for 15 seconds. This is provided they don’t resist the spell’s effects.

This technique is the perfect remedy for dealing with swarms of Falmer Stalkers down in the depths of Blackreach. As a horde, these ugly bottom feeders can prove overwhelming, but once paralyzed they can easily be transferred to Sovngarde one by one.

9. Invisibility

Top 10 Best Spells in Skyrim - Invisibility
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The best assassins in Skyrim know the importance of Invisibility, which requires an Expert level Illusion skill. The ability to move unseen for 30 seconds is a skill that has boundless application, as long as the caster is able to mitigate the sound of their footsteps when moving. Combined with the Muffle spell, Sneak perks or footstep muting footwear; your character can mosey past NPCs without risk of detection.

I tend to use invisibility with a bit more murderous intent. With the Assassin’s Blade perk equipped, few enemies remain standing after Gribble the invisible backstabber plants one in their back.

It should be mentioned that many actions, such as swinging a weapon, interacting with the environment or engaging with another character nullifies Invisibility. Luckily, casting the spell is a quick animation that almost immediately allows the Dragonborn to disappear once again. 

8. Poison Rune

Top 10 Best Spells in Skyrim - Poison Rune
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I find it interesting that this toxic trap is considered under the Restoration family. Any foe who steps inside this mottled green circle of runes will feel quite the opposite of restored, withering under 3 points of poison damage a second for 30 seconds. In fact, Poison Rune is the only Restoration spell that can damage living enemies.

This spell, only available in the Dragonborn DLC, can be purchased from Talvas Fathryon in Tel Mithryn. The only issue I have with this spell is the sizable range of foes who are resistant or completely unaffected by the trap. Bosmer, Redguards, undead and automatons all fall under this category.

7. Dragonhide

Top 10 Best Spells in Skyrim - Dragonhide
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For any magician worth their fire salts, spending tedious hours banging on metal with an armorer’s hammer is too slow of a route to achieving defensive superiority. Masters of magic require magical solutions.

Dragonhide, like Mass Paralysis, is a Master-level Alteration spell that is made available for purchase after the quest “Alteration Ritual Spell.” Once activated, this spell protects the Dragonborn from all physical attacks with an 80% damage reduction buff that lasts for 30 seconds. The longevity of this protection can be further extended with the Stability and Alteration Dual casting perks.

Any wizard planning to use Dragonhide should be strapped up with Restore Magicka potions, because the base cost of using this spell is a tremendous drain. That said, the impenetrable calm that arises from having mighty Ice Troll punches bounce off like Mud Crab claws is a glorious experience.

6. Storm Thrall

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Of all the summoned elemental thralls, the Storm Thrall is by far the most ferocious of a combatant. This levitating storm of cracked stone and arcing lightning bolts has more health than both the Ice Thrall and the Fire Thrall and, unlike these two, the Storm Thrall has no weaknesses.

The Storm Thrall is an elemental tour de force, zapping foes from afar with devastating bolts of lightning and shocking any who get close enough for a melee battle. Even in death, he goes out with a wicked bang, damaging any who are in vicinity of the blast radius.

This Conjuration spell can be purchased after completion of the “Conjuration Ritual Spell” quest. Unlike a regular Storm Atronach, the Storm Thrall does not disappear after a certain period of time. This floating tempest of ruin will follow you until it is killed, banished, or turned against you.

5. Chain Lightning

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Chain Lightning is the chaos magician’s best friend. All sorts of happy havoc can be wrought by shooting off one of these bouncing bolts of electricity.

Zap a wall behind an enemy, and it might ricochet off the surface and vaporize them from behind. That said, it also might arc into their friend, your loyal follower, a summoned friendly creature or a random dungeon goat. It’s a fun surprise every time!

This adept-level Destruction spell does at least 40 damage to Health and half as much damage to Magicka. Chain Lighting’s volatility can be further tempered with the Augmented Shock x 2 perk, and learning the Impact perk can imbue this spell with the ability to stagger opponents when it is dual-casted.

4. Frenzy

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Frenzy is a potent weapon, inspiring bandits to turn against their comrades, Draugr Overlords to smite their loyal subjects, and harmless citizens to pick a fight with armed guards. This Illusion spell tome can be acquired at the College of Winterhold or in the Blue Palace located in Solitude. One important caveat, the Master of the Mind perk is an essential addition to get the most maniacal range from this spell.

Enraging groups of baddies to kill each other for 60 seconds is a classic use of this spell, (especially when used as a bow enchantment). However, true anarchistic villains will enjoy tormenting the settlements of Skyrim by inflicting endless, homicidal mania upon otherwise honest, hardworking townsfolk.

This is a useful spell for certain Dark Brotherhood missions where you have to kill someone who is surrounded by watchful bystanders. As long as a guard doesn’t see you cast the spell on your hit, you can get away with murder by claiming self defense. Wicked. 

3. Paralyze

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Paralyze’s number four spot on this list is a classic triumph of quality over quantity. As young Gribble ascends to the rank of Dragonborn hero, his need for indiscriminately paralyzing everyone around him becomes a rare occurrence when the norm is being confronted by one or two enemies at a time.

Mass Paralysis takes a few seconds to charge up, which means a few seconds of withstanding attacks from opportunistic enemies. Additionally, Mass Paralysis is a huge Magicka-suck, often necessitating the need for Magicka potions to recover from.

Paralyze is a near-instant cast with half of the cost of Magicka, freezing foes for 15 seconds with the Stability perk learned, 10 seconds without. The benefit of a targeted paralysis means you can focus on boss-status threats first, all the while leaving your loyal adventure buddies completely unharmed.

2. Ignite

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This apprentice-level Destruction spell is a sleeping tank of nuclear napalm requiring diligent work to fully realize its peak infernal capabilities.

Initially, Ignite does 4 points of damage per second for 15 seconds, which is quite unimpressive. However, if the Dragonborn learns the correct string of perks, (Augmented Flames 1 and 2, Aspect of Terror, Intense Flames) this can be boosted to a spicy 21 damage per second for 15 seconds. Dual-cast this spell, and you’re suddenly packing a military grade flamethrower at 42 damage per second, in total equating to 630 points of damage after 15 seconds!

At a base cost of 30 Magicka, this spell costs virtually nothing to cast. This is important to note, because Ignite can be stacked limitlessly upon an enemy. For example, after a few hits from a fully augmented, dual-casted Ignite spell, an assailant could potentially be facing a world-ending 126 damage per second for the low, low cost of only 180 Magicka.

All this in mind, Ignite is undisputedly the most destructive Destruction spell available in Skyrim. Happy barbecuing, folks.

1. Healing

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The one spell mages and fighters in Skyrim can agree on, Healing is the number one essential spell for all Dragonborn hoping to survive. Best paired with a good one handed weapon, Healing is the single Restoration spell that all characters come equipped with, and that 10 points per second Health regeneration can be further improved upon with additional perks and enchanted items.

The wizened mages in their frost-encrusted ivory towers will likely scoff at this choice, but of all the above spells, Healing serves the most practical purpose. Not the sexiest, but definitely my utilitarian pick.

This is the one spell Gribble and Mike can agree on.

Conclusion

I was surprised to discover everything I had missed within the realm of magic by dedicating myself to the longsword. I soon felt like I had missed a vital component of the game, one that was waiting to be uncovered with a second playthrough.

Of course, some people don’t care for all that magic hogwash, and we get that. This is why we also offer guides for those barbarians who prefer two-handed weapons.

A little something for everyone here at GamingTopTens.