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D&D 5E Guide to cruddy spells (v1.01)

NotAYakk

Legend
It is still a badly designed spell.
The heavy armor proficiency combined with donning heavy armor is just stupid.
At level 6, why not summon armor at the same time or instead give a magearmorlike buff.
Sure; actually, as a transmutation spell, it can transmute your clothing and armor into platemail.

(It could also transmute items you are holding into melee weapons and shields).
 

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Gadget

Adventurer
For Tensor's Transformations, I have added a bullet point that the spell equips you with any non-magical armor, shield & martial weapon of your choice that disappear when the spell ends. I have also removed concentration and added the stipulation that you cannot concentrate on spells or spell-like effects while under the effects of this spell. It seems to help somewhat.
 

I remember the popularity poll that came down to True Strike and Find Traps being the two worst spells in the game. I think Find Traps won, but that was down to last moment chicanery. Regardless, both are absolutely horrible.
 
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Dausuul

Legend
I remember the popularity poll that came down to True Strike and Find Traps being the two worst spells in the game. I think Find Traps won, but that was down to last moment chicanery. Regardless, both are absolutely horrible.
It's fitting that both spells are divination. No matter what idea you come up with to make them useful, they have already anticipated and prevented it.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
Here is my stab at making a selection of these spells at least interesting.

Barkskin

The target’s AC is 14 plus your proficiency bonus. When the creature takes non-fire damage, as a reaction the creature subject to the spell end the spell and make the creature immune to the damage. At higher levels, for every 2 levels higher than 2nd you use to cast the spell, they can do the reaction once without ending the spell.

Arcane Sword

The sword’s speed is increased to 60’. The sword deals 4d10 damage, and if you do not take a bonus action to direct it, it moves up to 60’ towards the last target you told it to attack and attacks it if it is adjacent to it at the end of your turn.

Blade of Disaster

Does not require concentration.

Witch Bolt(s)

Crackling energy forms in your hands. When you cast the spell, or as an action while concentrating on it, you can make a ranged spell attack on a creature within 30’, dealing 1d12 plus your spell casting ability modifier lighting damage on a hit. In addition, as an action you can deal 1d12 plus your spell casting ability modifier lightning damage to every creature you have hit with Witch Bolt within 60’ that does not have total cover against you. Creatures you damage with Witch Bolt cannot take reactions and have disadvantage on attacks against you until the end of your next turn.

At higher levels: +1d12 damage per slot level above 1.

Blade Ward

You can cast this spell as a reaction to being hit by an attack. If you do so, you do not get an action or reaction on your next turn.

Feign Death

You can touch up to 10 creatures as you cast the spell.

False Life

If you suffer damage that would remove the last of these temporary HP, you gain resistance to it, unless it is radiant damage.

True Strike

If you hit with the true strike enhanced attack, it deals an extra 1d12 damage, increasing to 2d12 at level 5, 3d12 at level 11 and 4d12 at level 17.

Searing Smite

The next time you hit a creature with a melee weapon attack during the spell’s duration, your weapon flares with white-hot intensity, and the attack deals an extra 1d6 fire damage to the target and causes the target to be set on fire for 2d4 dice. Once you have struck a creature, you no longer have to concentrate on this spell.
At the start of each of its turns until the spell ends, the target must make a Constitution saving throw. On a failed save, it becomes on fire for an additional 1d4 die, and on a successful save it becomes on fire for 1d4 die less. Then roll the on fire dice and the creature takes that much fire damage. If the target or a creature within 5 feet of it uses an action to put out the flames, or if some other effect douses the flames (such as the target being submerged in water), the spell ends.
At higher levels: For every level above 1st, the initial damage increases by 1d6 and the initial on fire dice increase by 1d4.

Flame Arrows

The ammunition only gains its property if the person possessed the quiver at the start of their turn. The arrows deal an extra 2d8 fire damage, not 1d6.

Bestow Curse

If the target succeeds in the saving throw, as an action you may attempt to curse a creature within 5’, forcing them to make the same saving throw. You may continue to do this until the spell ends or a creature fails a saving throw against your curse.

Vampiric Touch

You gain temporary HP equal to the damage this spell does, and creatures damaged by it are considered charmed by you until the end of your next turn.

Blight

The spell’s duration becomes 1 hour. While the spell is active, you can repeat the attack as an action. Each time you attack, the damage of the next attack is reduced by 1d8; the spell ends when it is reduced to 0d8 damage. While the spell is active, plants within 30’ of you look and feel sickly

Immolation

The target burns even if it succeeds on the saving throw. At the end of each of its turns while burning it takes 4d6 damage. Before it takes this damage, it may make a constitution saving throw; on success, the damage is reduced by 1d6. When the damage is reduced to 0d6 the spell ends.

Flesh to Stone

On a successful initial save, you can choose a different target as an action on your turn, but it must be a creature that hasn’t already saved against this spell already.

Phantasmal Killer

The creature must make a wisdom saving throw when the spell is cast, and at the end of each of its turns. If it fails any saving throw, it becomes Frightened of the manifestation until the end of its next turn, and takes 4d10 psychic damage; the manifestation appears to move 1d6*5 feet away in a random direction, and moves at the start of each of the creature’s turns; the creature is aware of where the manifestation is, even if they cannot see it. Creatures immune to fear are immune to this spell. The spell ends after the 3rd successful saving throw.

Spare the Dying

The spell has a 30’ range, and targets any creatures you choose within range. In addition to becoming stable, for the next minute, those creatures require 5 failed death saving throws instead of 3 before they die.

Weird

As Phantasmal killer, but the manifestations appear to be all in one random direction, and the radius of the spell can be any value between 10’ and 50’ (chosen when you cast the spell). The manifestations all change position to a different direction randomly at the start of your turn.

Crown of Madness

On your subsequent turns, you must use your action to maintain control over the target or the crown disappears from their head. You can also spend an action to attempt to place the Crown on a creature who hasn’t saved against this spell yet, they must make a wisdom save or have the crown appear on their head; this removes the crown from any other head. If you do neither, the spell ends.
The creature who has the Crown on their head may make wisdom saving throw at the end of each of their turns. On success, the Crown disappears from their head.

Cordon of Arrows

You can plant up to 10 arrows, and the arrows deal 1d6 plus your spellcasting attribute modifier. Creatures trigger the arrows when they first move within range, or start their turn within range. You are aware when the ammunition is triggered. If cast at 3rd level each triggering creature is attacked by 2 arrows, and if cast at 4th level they are attacked by 3 arrows each.

Grasping Vine

Does not require concentration.

Acid Arrow
On a hit, the target takes 5d4 acid damage, and on a miss the target takes 3d4 acid damage. The acid clings to the target if they make the save or not.

At the end of each turn afterwards, the creature takes 1d4 less acid damage, or 2d4 if submerged in water or other fluid that could wash the acid off. As an action, the target or a creature within 5' of the target can scrape off the acid; this deals 1d4 acid damage to the creature doing the scraping, but reduces the ongoing damage by 2d4.

At higher levels: The spell deals an additional 1d4 acid damage on a hit for every slot level higher and 1d4 more acid damage on a miss for every 2 slot levels higher.

Horrid Wilting

The spell has a duration of 1 minute. Creatures who enter the area or end their turn in the area must repeat the save, but never more than once for each of their turns, and the damage is reduced by 1d8 at the end of your turn.

Shillelagh

You can choose to cast this spell as an action instead of a bonus action. You do so, the next time you attack a creature before the end of your next turn with the enchanted weapon, if you hit the attack deals an extra 2d8 bludgeoning or piercing damage. At level 5, 11 and 17 this additional damage increases by 2d8.

Tenser’s Transformation

You may choose to have the spell transmute your clothing or armor into plate, half plate or a breastplate for the duration of the spell. They keep whatever magical properties they had in addition to being serviceable armor.
You may choose to have the spell transmute the objects you are holding in your hands into a shield and a martial melee weapon of your choice. They keep whatever magical properties they had in addition to being serviceable weapons and shields.
You add your casting attribute bonus to your Strength and Constitution saving throws.
When the spell ends, or if they leave your possession, objects transmuted by this spell revert to their previous form.

Dragon’s Breath

The creature can use its breath as a bonus action.

Find Traps

This spell does not require line of sight. It tells you how many traps there are. From the information about the nature of the trap gained, you have advantage on ability checks to further perceive, investigate or disarm any trap the spell detects, and it has disadvantage on attacks on you, and you have advantage on any saving throws it inflicts upon you.

Investiture of Stone

You have resistance to all damage except thunder and psychic. The small earthquake does not cost an action, and you can do it once on your turn.

Investiture of Ice

The damage of the cone is 4d12, and all creatures damaged by it have their speed halved.

Investiture of Flame

Creatures who move within 10’ or start their turn there take the 1d10 fire damage instead of 5’ range and at the end of their turn.
The line of fire is up to 100 feet long, and deals 4d10 fire damage.

Investiture of Wind

If you are still flying when the spell ends, you do not take falling damage from the fall.
The cube of swirling wind can be 10’ to 30’ in size. The damage is done is 3d10. It targets creatures other than you.

Instant Summons

You can summon the item if it is on the same plane and within 100’ and not possessed by another creature without without crushing the sapphire as an action.

If another creature is holding the item, they must make a charisma saving throw. On failure, the item is taken from them; on success, you become aware of who and roughly where the creature is. An object may not be subject to this spell more than once at a time.
I made a lot of "oh, you passed the save, there goes the slot" spells not do that.

Unless I screwed up, the only thing you can force a monster to save against repeatedly with one spell slot is damage (this is because I want to avoid legendary-resist-draining spell design; want to strip 3 legendary resists? Spend 3 spell slots at least.)

Bestow Curse is an exception; possibly a low-wisdom monster with legendary resists could be given the action wasting curse and be screwed. But it requires 2 failed saves to have any effect in the short term. Possibly I should change it to "a creature who hasn't succeeded in a save against this spell already" or something, matching the other spells?
 
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It is still a badly designed spell.
The heavy armor proficiency combined with donning heavy armor is just stupid.
At level 6, why not summon armor at the same time or instead give a magearmorlike buff.

Or just set your AC to 19 for the duration of the spell. I mean, I guess they want to give you the option of using magic armor if you have it. But it seems unnecessary.
 

I updated the list of cruddy spells with "utility" spells
Its a pretty complete list, but I'm gonna disagree strongly on Aid, Bless, and Enlarge/Reduce.

Bless is a top tier spell for the sole reason that if the caster is one of the targets, it can help save itself for Concentration checks. Bonuses to saves and attacks are hard to come by and always good. You're absolutely crazy for knocking this spell. The only sad thing is the 3 target limit, which you didn't even mention. But it can be upcast at least.

Aid is good, can't argue with extra HPs. More HP is more HP. No concentration too. Its not S tier, but its good.

Enlarge/Reduce. It has utility for out of combat purpose, and no spell or tool can do what it does. If it was Enlarge and Reduce was split into separate spells, then yes they would be underpowered.

Also, how did FLAME BLADE not make it in?
fame blade is listed as type:damage (right here) and I haven't gotten to those yet. Damage spells is an area that very much deserves scorn but I've had some family visiting since getting done with spells listed as buffs and will probably do ones listed as debuffs or control spells next. The problem with damage spells is that the math of 5e is so incredibly bonkers that it's hard to do the equivalent of saying the sky is blue & not sound like a crazy person. For example, did you know that a fighter with a shield & starting dagger will outdamage the d12 cantrip toll the dead with moderate investment into strength or dex?
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It gets even worse if you look at dps powerhouse builds like longsword & shield

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So as to damage spells, I'm not even sure how to judge them yet when something like a greataxe & gwm with moderate investment in strength will provide an at will damage that will meet or drastically exceed the output of leveled spells while so many nondamage spells are written as if 5e has hardcore extreme linear fighter quadratic wizard damage scaling they need to resist.
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My guess is that a big part of the problem stems from this assumption from dmg249 being always applied as an absurd multiplier for any aoe/multitarget spell without enough consideration to the fact that it's A: a lot more monsters than many encounters will have & B: even if you could credibly claim that every single encounter was wall to wall baddies like some kind of TWD zombie hoard it still runs into the problem that the baddies are not usually going to politely line up in the properly arranged clusters needed for those multipliers to work
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The sheet for this can be copied here
If you want to see me get to damage spells sooner it might help for folks to keep discussing how awful some of the lemons are like has been happening over the last couple pages as right now I'm still undecided how to judge them
 

Stalker0

Legend
I updated the list of cruddy spells with "utility" spells

For example, did you know that a fighter with a shield & starting dagger will outdamage the d12 cantrip toll the dead with moderate investment into strength or dex?
So maybe I'm reading your sheet wrong, but just looking a few numbers.

Dagger with 16 dex (normal for 1-3 level): 2.25 DPR (50% hit)
Toll the Dead: 3.25 DPR (50% hit)
Winner: Toll

Dagger with 18 dex, 2 attacks (aka 5th level): 6.5 DPR (50% hit)
Toll the Dead: 6.5
Winner: Draw

So what am I missing?

Now the fact that its only holding up to a dagger isn't great, but I'm not seeing the dagger beat it.
 


For reasonable ACs, Melf's Acid Arrow deals more damage on average than Scorching Ray; of a less frequently resisted energy type. It is a better spell. Of course, Magic Missile is better than either.
 
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So maybe I'm reading your sheet wrong, but just looking a few numbers.

Dagger with 16 dex (normal for 1-3 level): 2.25 DPR (50% hit)
Toll the Dead: 3.25 DPR (50% hit)
Winner: Toll

Dagger with 18 dex, 2 attacks (aka 5th level): 6.5 DPR (50% hit)
Toll the Dead: 6.5
Winner: Draw

So what am I missing?

Now the fact that its only holding up to a dagger isn't great, but I'm not seeing the dagger beat it.
I'm not sure but maybe 28 of them, unless I miscounted 23 of which work with a shield & extra attack with no extra feats. With fighter having 2 martial weapons or martial weapon & shield plus a longbow light crossbow & 2 handaxes there is really no reason for it to ever use a dagger
1617237236662.png
I did everything I could to rig the numbers against the sword & board fighter by giving it the dagger, yet it still came out virtuallyequal or better than the highest damage die cantrip making the worst nonmagical melee weapon better than d4 d6 d8 and d10 cantrips. Dagger & shield is so silly that it really doesn't even count as the also included sword & board longsword or some other tropey phrase. Also you are limiting your scope to levels before +2 attrib from an ASI & the second attack kicking in with the starting dagger. Only a few classes even start with a dagger unless they deliberately choose it from an and (type) weapon choice & all of them start with at least one weapon with a higher damage die. The fact that the d12 cantrip happens to use a damage type that all constructs undead & many others are immune to only further shows the problem's seriousness.

The fact that it's not a total blowout pairing toll the dead against that deliberately damage shunning PC shows how silly it is for people to claim that castersare the ones dealing the most damage.
 


Dausuul

Legend
Yes, attack cantrips deal much less damage than the at-will attacks of martial PCs. That is how it is supposed to be, for two reasons.

First, casters have powerful nova capability, and their at-will options are weaker to compensate.

Second, single-target damage is the specialty of martial PCs. Casters are better at everything else. Buffs? Casters do it better. Debuffs? Casters do that better too. Area damage? Battlefield control? Utility? Casters, casters, and casters.

The fact that it's not a total blowout pairing toll the dead against that deliberately damage shunning PC shows how silly it is for people to claim that castersare the ones dealing the most damage.
No one, ever in the history of ever, has claimed 5E casters deal more at-will damage than martials.
 


I'm not sure but maybe 28 of them, unless I miscounted 23 of which work with a shield & extra attack with no extra feats. With fighter having 2 martial weapons or martial weapon & shield plus a longbow light crossbow & 2 handaxes there is really no reason for it to ever use a dagger
I did everything I could to rig the numbers against the sword & board fighter by giving it the dagger, yet it still came out virtuallyequal or better than the highest damage die cantrip making the worst nonmagical melee weapon better than d4 d6 d8 and d10 cantrips. Dagger & shield is so silly that it really doesn't even count as the also included sword & board longsword or some other tropey phrase. Also you are limiting your scope to levels before +2 attrib from an ASI & the second attack kicking in with the starting dagger. Only a few classes even start with a dagger unless they deliberately choose it from an and (type) weapon choice & all of them start with at least one weapon with a higher damage die. The fact that the d12 cantrip happens to use a damage type that all constructs undead & many others are immune to only further shows the problem's seriousness.

The fact that it's not a total blowout pairing toll the dead against that deliberately damage shunning PC shows how silly it is for people to claim that castersare the ones dealing the most damage.
It's by design that Casters have lower at will damage than Martials.

Casters can hit the 'Nuclear' button and turn an entire encounter with a well placed AoE or Save or Suck or Wall spell.
 

I'm not sure but maybe 28 of them, unless I miscounted 23 of which work with a shield & extra attack with no extra feats. With fighter having 2 martial weapons or martial weapon & shield plus a longbow light crossbow & 2 handaxes there is really no reason for it to ever use a dagger

I did everything I could to rig the numbers against the sword & board fighter by giving it the dagger, yet it still came out virtuallyequal or better than the highest damage die cantrip making the worst nonmagical melee weapon better than d4 d6 d8 and d10 cantrips. Dagger & shield is so silly that it really doesn't even count as the also included sword & board longsword or some other tropey phrase. Also you are limiting your scope to levels before +2 attrib from an ASI & the second attack kicking in with the starting dagger. Only a few classes even start with a dagger unless they deliberately choose it from an and (type) weapon choice & all of them start with at least one weapon with a higher damage die. The fact that the d12 cantrip happens to use a damage type that all constructs undead & many others are immune to only further shows the problem's seriousness.

The fact that it's not a total blowout pairing toll the dead against that deliberately damage shunning PC shows how silly it is for people to claim that castersare the ones dealing the most damage.

You do understand that the difference in at-will damage is deliberate don't you?

The fighter dealing 15-25 damage in a round compared to less than 10 damage for a caster's cantrip is to compensate for the caster dealing 80+ damage in the first round when they caught 4 of their opponents in a fireball. And note that dealing immediate damage with that spell slot is often the least effective use for it.
 

You do understand that the difference in at-will damage is deliberate don't you?

The fighter dealing 15-25 damage in a round compared to less than 10 damage for a caster's cantrip is to compensate for the caster dealing 80+ damage in the first round when they caught 4 of their opponents in a fireball. And note that dealing immediate damage with that spell slot is often the least effective use for it.
A spell being cruddy doesn't mean that it's "the worst spell" and I explained that in the opening post while talking about how there were a few spells so incredibly bad that they shielded spells that were simply unjustifiably bad in some way. That' also part of why I chose a less precise term like "cruddy" over a somewhat more loaded one like bad awful lemon or similar.

Fireball is a great spell, so good in fact that many other spells become unused by design & I don't believe that I said otherwise. The at will damage difference is not the problem, it's the scale that spells other than fireball need to measure up to. Using math to show the deliberate gap between at will damage that exists even before you consider things like AC/HD differences, energy resists vrs resist nonmagical bps, legendary resists, magic resistance for advantage on saves, & so on. All of those things serve to widen the gap while illustrating why those spells other than "Dungeons & Dragons’ most iconic and satisfying spells" can't simply be tossed aside and excused just by saying "fireball is great so these spells here can be almost good but hamstrung, those spells there can be laughably bad, & all these ones depend entirely on the gm." If fireball is so good that wotc felt large chunks of the spell lists involving other damage & nondamage spells need to compensate for it being intentionally overtuned, that means that all of those other spells compensating for fireball are intentionally undertuned...
 


They only become unused if you have 5-minute work days, and if you do, the DM just isn't very bright.
Actually the weight that leveled spells like buffs debuffs battlefield control &utility spells need to pull goes up the longer your adventuring day is and/or the more the gm does things like use fewer more powerful monsters over a larger number of trash monsters because the impact of the intentional damage disparity grows larger and larger.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
For reasonable ACs, Melf's Acid Arrow deals more damage on average than Scorching Ray; of a less frequently resisted energy type. It is a better spell. Of course, Magic Missile is better than either.
Acid Arrow, 2nd level slot, deals 10+5 delayed damage on a hit and 5 damage on a miss. On a crit it deals +10 damage.
Scorching Ray, 2nd level slot, deals 21 damage on a hit. On a crit it deals +21 damage.

If you have a P chance of hitting, and you don't care about the delay of damage (!), AA deals 15P + 10/20 + (1-P)*5 = 5.5 + 10P damage.
Scorching Ray deals 21P + 21/20 = 1.05 + 21P damage.

Solving for when they cross, 1.05 + 21 P = 5.5 + 10P -> 11 P = 4.45, P = 0.405. In order for AA to deal the same damage as SR, the AC must be high enough that you need a 13+ to hit. At level 3 with 16 attack stat and +2 proficiency that means the cross over point is 18 AC; on foes with more than 18 AC, AA does 0.55 damage more than SR for every point of additional AC, and 0.55 less damage for every point lower than 18 AC.

At higher levels, AA gains 5 damage on a hit and 1.25 damage on a miss per slot level, while SR gains 7 damage on a hit. Using P chance to hit, 5P+(1.25)1-P + 2.5/20 is 3.75 P + 1.375 damage per slot level. SR is 7P + 0.35 meanwhile per slot level.

At "level infinity" this crosses at 3.75 + 1.375 = 7P + 0.35 -> 5.625 P = 1.025, or P = 0.182, a 17+ to hit. So at higher slot levels, AA requires harder and harder to hit targets to match SR.

AA has the advantage that "per roll" damage applies on a miss. So arcane firearm, for example, adds 1d8/2 to the miss damage. I don't think this is large.

It is unclear who has the variance advantage; AA is one attack roll, but damage on a miss, while SR is multiple attack rolls. I'd have to run numbers.

The above ignores the delayed damage. Damage delayed means that the foe could get a last set of actions before it kills them, or burn resources that would have otherwise not been spent if it had been done earlier. It is perfectly reasonable to discount damage delayed by a significant amount, like 30%; that corresponds roughly to the 3-turn damage measurement of 5e encounter balancing (1 + .7 + .7^2 + .7^3 + ... is 3.333, so a dealing X damage per round forever is "worth" as much as dealing X/3.333 damage all at once).

Doing that and AA drops to 13P+5(1-P) damage, or 8P + 5.5, and the crossover point becomes P=0.35, or a 14+ to hit, or 19 AC instead.

At level 5 using a 3rd level slot, 18 casting stat, 3 proficiency, SR deals 28P+1.4, AA (with delayed discount) deals 14.75P+6.25(1-P)+0.625, or 8.5 P + 6.875. These cross at 19.5P=5.475 or P=0.280; for AA to outdamage, 16+ to hit, or a foe with 23 AC.

AA is only better against rather high AC foes after you account for the "damage later on sucks" factor, and it gets worse the higher level slot you use and the more accurate the spellcaster is.

Finally, AA suffers from blowthrough problems; a SR (under many DMs) doesn't require pre targetting every ray. So if the first 3 rays kill a foe, the 4th ray can go after another. AA is more likely to waste damage.

Its only real advantage is it isn't fire damage, and if you know a foe has 5 HP left it is a guaranteed kill.

Compared to MM with a 3rd level slot, 5 darts at 3.5 damage is 17.5 flat damage. Comparing to SR we get 17.5 = 28P+1.4, or 28P=16.1, or P=0.575 is the crossover point. So if you have a 55% chance or less to hit, MM wins; or a 12+ to needed to hit, or an AC of 19 or higher.

Force is less resisted than even Acid, and I'm really not sure there is a range where AA beats SR even without future discounting that MM doesn't beat both.

TL;DR; on higher AC targets, MM wins. Otherwise, SR wins, especially if you account for "delayed damage isn't as good as damage right now".

At higher levels, MM adds 3.5 damage per slot; SR adds 7*P+0.35. Basically, if you need a 12 or higher to hit, MM does more damage than SR does, regardless of slot.

At level 17 with 20 int and an item that adds +2 to hit to your spell attack rolls, a 12+ corresponds to 12+6+5+2=25 or higher AC. At level 3 with 16 int it corresponds to a 17 or higher AC. MM definitely wins the variance battle, so is more reliable as well; maybe not if you do the "MM only rolls for damage once" ruling however.

For every point lower than that threshold, SR does 1 more DPR (+ about 1/3 per additional slot level). So on a foe with merely 20 AC, SR with a 4th level slot does 8.5 additional damage over MM on average (aka 40% more, which is reasonably large). Now, if you go for the "MM rolls once" and you stack a damage boost on it it just blows SR out of the water.

(PS: I didn't have the crit boost the delayed damage on AA; ruling it does is reasonable (as is ruling it doesn't), but the effect is tiny; 0.25 flat damage + 0.125 damage per higher level slot. The effect of this on the above math would be lost in the rounding error.

I also possibly have arithmetic errors above; I tried to show my work to ensure that any errors are more obvious.)
 
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