Slay the Spire is an incredible game, and easily the best roguelite as far as I’m concerned. The sheer complexity of the interactions means that every single run feels like a completely different experience.
Yet, despite this, it’s simple enough to learn and get started with. This is one of those titles where the skill gap between novice and experienced players is enormous, but both parties can still have an excellent time. You can adapt the amount of challenge to suit your current skill level, and there are always new techniques to try out.
The unique experiences are driven by many factors, one of which is the character you choose. There are 4 playable characters in Slay the Spire, each with their own card catalog and unique Relics. The tactics you’ll use in the Spire will vary considerably depending on who you pick.
This article will help give you a better idea of which Slay the Spire characters will suit your play style, and how to use them. By the end, you should feel comfortable knowing the best strategies for each character.
The Characters at a Glance
- Which playable characters are there? The Ironclad, The Silent, The Defect, The Watcher
- Which character is best for beginners? The Ironclad
- How much starting HP does each character have? The Ironclad (80), The Defect (75), The Watcher (72), The Silent (70)
- What are their starting Relics? The Ironclad (Burning Blood), The Silent (Ring of the Snake), The Defect (Cracked Core), The Watcher (Pure Water)
The Ironclad is always my go-to if I’m just looking for a casual run. That’s not to say he’s not good for challenging runs too, but it’s just that he doesn’t have complicated mechanics as the others do. Instead, he has a few simple strategies that can be played individually or blended together in a deck to create some interesting combos.
The Ironclad is a fearsome warrior from an extinct tribe, and he is all that remains. Resurrected by Neow, it’s his mission to defeat the enemies that lie within the Spire. He hides his face with a golden mask and wears simple armor on his torso. He has a vibrant pair of red breeches that are tucked into his dull boots.
He starts with 80 Max HP, the highest out of any of the characters. His starting deck consists of 5 Strikes, 4 Defends, and a Bash. All his cards are outlined in a red border, but he can also use colorless cards if he comes across them in his run.
Strengths and Weaknesses
When deciding whether to pick The Ironclad for your run, these are what you should consider:
- High HP/ Poor Dexterity – The Ironclad does start with the most HP, but his defense capabilities are quite poor. He doesn’t have many cards that produce Block, nor does he have many means of improving his Dexterity (makes Block higher).
- Excellent Strength Scaling – One of The Ironclad’s main mechanics is rapidly improving Strength. There are several cards in his repertoire that can improve Strength either as a one-off or as a recurring effect.
- Easy for Beginners – I suppose ‘easy’ is a subjective term, but he’s easier to learn than the other characters. When you’re just starting out with Slay the Spire, I’d recommend sticking with The Ironclad for a while. This will allow you to get used to the other aspects of the game without having to also learn the more complicated mechanics of other characters.
Many deck strategies work for The Ironclad. Because he doesn’t really have any unique mechanics there’s a lot of versatility with him. You can often mix and match strategies to utilize the cards and Relics that you pick up over your run without having to decide too early on. However, the below decks can provide a solid core strategy.
This is my favorite strategy to try, simply because I get excited when ‘big number go brrrrr’. Essentially, it involves scaling your Strength as high as possible which means your Attacks deal crazy high damage.
With most other characters, your Strength is unlikely to go above 5 or so. With The Ironclad, you have so many card combos to play with and can easily get Strength stats in the double digits and even triple digits.
If you go this route, make sure to have a handful of decent Block cards such as Impervious as otherwise, you could die before getting your Strength to the level you need it at.
This is a mechanic that appears in decks for other characters too but is more prominent for The Ironclad. There are a high number of Exhaust cards in his catalog. If you’re only taking a few of them then this can be a disadvantage as you lose out on deck efficacy, but it’s a totally different story if you build around it.
When playing an Exhaust deck, it’s crucial to stack your deck with Power cards that make use of the mechanic. They can deal extra damage, provide extra Block, or offer more drawing power. Don’t solely rely on Powers though, as there are enemies such as the Awakened One who are designed to counter them.
This is a risky strategy, but one that can pay off if you have the right deck. This strategy involves deliberately causing yourself to lose HP to trigger effects that will help you win the combat. This could be through earning more energy, getting extra drawing power, or dealing more damage to the enemy.
If you do go this route, it’s essential to have means of recovering HP. You also want to save any Block cards for the end of your turn so that they only stop enemy attacks and not your own conscious HP loss.
Cards to Look Out For
Pretty much any card can be good when used in the right way, but some cards are typically better than others. The below cards are worth building a deck around and should be considered as core to your chosen deck strategy.
- Corruption – Perfect for an Exhaust deck, and can allow you to stock up on higher-cost Skill cards.
- Demon Form – My favorite card of the game, this is a Power card that is practically essential for a decent Strength deck. I’d recommend upgrading it as soon as possible.
- Limit Break – Another necessity for a Strength deck, and a prime candidate for an early upgrade. This doubles your Strength, so can lead to some insane combos when played after a few turns.
- Reaper – If you’re playing an HP Loss deck, you want to pick this up when it’s offered. This allows you to recover some of the HP you’re losing and can be especially helpful if you’ve also got some Strength scaling happening.
- Fiend Fire – A solid choice for an Exhaust deck, this one can trigger several of your Power card effects by Exhausting multiple cards at once. I’d recommend having Exhume in the same deck so that you can restore any particularly helpful cards that get Exhausted this way.
If you’ve ever played a role-playing game like D&D, The Silent is meant to represent a Rogue. She’s a sneaky huntress who specialises in dealing damage over time rather than going for an all-out attack strategy like The Ironclad. She’s unlocked after you play one run with The Ironclad, regardless of whether you win or lose.
She has an appealing visual design that works well for the fantasy vibe she portrays. She wears a menacing horned skull helmet, that conceals her face, but you can see her long silver hair dangling below it.
The rest of her body is wrapped in an emerald-green cloak, with only a single hand protruding. In that hand, she clasps a wavy dagger.
Her starting Max HP is the lowest of them all at just 70, but she does tend to have cards that improve her Dexterity. Her starting deck consists of 5 Strikes, 5 Defends, 1 Survivor, and 1 Neutralize. Her cards are outlined in a green border.
Strengths and Weaknesses
When deciding whether to pick The Silent for your run, these are what you should consider:
- Low Starting HP/ Decent Dexterity – Although you may be intimidated by her only having 70 HP to begin with, don’t let it faze you too badly. Her cards often revolve around giving you plenty of Block, so you’re able to protect yourself quite well.
- Can Provide Lots of Drawing Power – The Silent is great at cycling through her deck using cards that give her extra drawing power. However, this doesn’t mean you should fill your deck with clutter, and making the most out of this mechanic means streamlining your deck as well as you can.
- Great at Facing Single Enemies/ Struggles with Multiple Enemies – The Silent’s best deck strategies often involve builds that excel when only dealing with one or maybe two enemies. She can struggle a lot if she has to take on several enemies at once, as she won’t be able to stack Poison as effectively.
Moreso than perhaps the other characters, The Silent really needs to specialize. That means picking a build early on and sticking to it as much as possible. There is still some general synergy to be found with randomness, but most cards have specific combos that make them efficient.
You should try and choose cards that almost all fall under the same strategy. Below are some suggested mechanics to focus on when playing The Silent.
Being able to cycle through your deck has several benefits. Aside from increasing the odds of getting the combos you need, it also gives you the chance to get infinite.
This is a term used in the Slay the Spire community where you have enough sources of energy and drawing that you can continually damage the enemy on a single turn by cycling through your deck/ hand until they’re defeated, no matter how much HP they have.
Even if you have a deck that’s capable of going infinite, it probably won’t happen every time, so make sure you have several core cards in your deck that will be useful to draw.
This is easily my favorite way to play as The Silent. Poison is a fascinating mechanic that stacks over time. When you apply Poison, the enemy will take X damage at the end of each turn (where X is the number of Poison the enemy has), reducing by 1 every turn. If you do decide to go the Poison route, you need to commit to it.
If you’re playing Poison, then you don’t really need to worry about Attack cards. Instead, focus on getting Power cards that will apply extra Poison or deal other useful effects.
You’ll also need to ensure that you have enough Skill cards to continually provide Block, although using the Intangible from Wraith Form can be an alternative solution to that.
This is a build that I overlooked when I was a beginner, and that I wish I’d paid attention to sooner. Shivs don’t seem that powerful on the face of it as they only start with 4 damage and Exhaust when used. However, The Silent has access to multiple cards that can make them exceedingly useful, and that damage can stack fast.
If you decide to go for a Shiv build, make sure to also have cards that offer drawing power. Earning extra energy is less important as Shivs costs 0 to play. You’ll be playing several cards per turn, so if you find cards or Relics that synergize well with playing multiple cards, then pick those up too.
Cards to Look Out For
There are several wonderful cards in The Silent’s catalog, but these ones in particular can make an excellent core for your deck.
- Accuracy – This is crucial for a Shiv deck, as it’s what makes them deal actually decent damage. This is a Power card that increases the damage by 4 for Shivs. It’s worth upgrading early on so you can up the damage to 6.
- Blade Dance – Another staple of a Shiv deck, this adds 3 Shivs into your hand. It’s worth having several copies of Blade Dance in your deck as it only costs 1 energy.
- Wraith Form – An interesting alternative to standard Block cards. This is a Power that lowers your Dexterity over time, but grants you 2 Intangible (all damage is reduced to 1, and you lose 1 Intangible every turn). It’s especially worth taking if you have a means of negating the Dexterity loss, such as Orange Pellets which can remove all debuffs.
- Corpse Explosion – Useful in pretty much all decks. This means you can focus on killing a single enemy even when in a fight with multiple enemies. It also does apply Poison, although it’s not the most energy-efficient way of doing this.
- Noxious Fumes – Awesome in a Poison deck. It applies 2 Poison to all enemies at the start of every turn, which counters the fact that enemies heal 1 Poison each turn.
- Terror – Good in most decks, but practically useless for a Poison build. It applies 99 Vulnerable, so essentially means the enemy will take 50% extra damage from Attacks for the rest of the combat.
- Acrobatics – This may only be a common card, but it’s really convenient in a drawing power deck, and can help you on your way to infinite.
The Defect is a genderless automaton that gained sentience. Created out of the Spire, it has a similar appearance to some of the enemies you’ll find throughout your runs. However, it has set its sights on destroying the Spire. The name ‘Defect’ could refer to the fact that it is broken and no longer fulfils its original purpose of defending the Spire.
Visually, The Defect has an uncanny valley thing going on. It’s almost humanoid in shape, but the proportions are slightly off. The stony arms and legs jut out awkwardly from its central orb, which acts as a torso.
This blue orb is visibly cracked, perhaps the cause of the defection. Its flat stony face is adorned with two blue circles, a large one at the bottom and a smaller one directly above that. It wears a blue poncho around its neck.
Out of all the characters, The Defect probably has the most unique play style. Instead of being its main form of combat, the cards are almost secondary to its real means of interaction – orbs. These can provide it with Block, extra energy, and even deal damage to enemies.
The Defect has a starting Max HP of 75. Its starting deck is 4 Strikes, 4 Defends, 1 Zap, and 1 Dualcast. The Defects cards have a blue border around them.
Strengths and Weaknesses
When deciding whether to pick The Defect for your run, these are what you should consider:
- Medium HP/ Decent Defense – Dexterity doesn’t really come into it with The Defect, as it rarely gets Block from cards. Instead, it relies on Frost orbs which activate at the end of each turn unless it evokes them. These can be cultivated pretty early on in the run, and assuming you can activate them quickly in combat, defense is unlikely to be much of an issue.
- Deals Lots of Passive Damage – The effectiveness of orbs is determined by how much Focus you have, but if you can raise it by even just 1 or 2, that can really add up over time. There are many cards in The Defect’s catalog that allow you to Channel Lightning, and this deals passive damage to enemies every single turn.
- Can Be Tricky to Get a Balanced Deck – One of the disadvantages of The Defect is that it takes a while to learn to play it properly. There are so many potential strategies and so many genuinely awesome cards. Discovering which cards synergize well with what you already have can prove challenging. The first few times you play as The Defect, you’re likely to be overwhelmed by choice.
As I’ve already mentioned, The Defect has some incredible cards, and this means there are a whole host of viable deck strategies. It would be impossible to claim that one or two options were unequivocally better because that’s simply not true.
You have to build around what you find, and The Defect is arguably the most versatile of all the characters. Nevertheless, I’ll provide you with some tactics to try out.
I’m putting this as its own section, but that’s more so I can explain the benefits of overloading your deck with Frost. Realistically, any deck you choose needs to have a considerable amount of Frost orbs. These provide you with Block, and after a few turns, you can easily get 40-50 Block provided you have enough Focus and orb slots.
If you go this route, it’s important to also pick up a few cards that will deal damage. A good way of doing this can be to Channel a couple of Dark orbs. You’ll also want to try and increase your orb slots either with Relics or with a card like Capacitor. If you have plenty of Frost, you won’t need to worry about getting Block cards.
I really love the unique Power cards that The Defect has access to. They can be a lot of fun, and rely on randomness as opposed to the quite rigid Powers that other characters have. Stacking your deck with plenty of Powers can make each turn an exciting mystery. It also means you have ongoing effects to help you win the combat.
Deciding when to play the Powers is crucial, though. If you have Power cards that will be adding new cards to your hand, you may want to bide your time before playing them if it’s going to be a long combat.
Otherwise, your discard pile will be full of potential junk, and it’ll affect your draws on the second cycle through. A great use of Power cards is to increase your Focus.
Claw is law! Although the phrase is a meme in the Slay the Spire community, it’s not necessarily inaccurate. If you have the right supplementary cards, then a Claw deck can cause some serious damage. Claw is an interesting card that becomes progressively more useful throughout combat.
It starts out dealing 3 damage, but every time you play one, it adds 2 damage to every single Claw for the rest of that combat. It also costs 0 energy which means theoretically you can play an endless amount of them if you have enough draw power.
Building a deck around Claw can be brilliant, especially if you can find/ buy enough to make it a viable strategy.
Cards to Look Out For
Honestly, almost every card in The Defect’s catalog can prove to be useful in the right circumstances. Below are simply some cards that work really well with the deck strategies I’ve already mentioned.
- All For One – This costs 2 energy, but allows you to take every single 0 cost card in your discard pile and put it into your hand. If you’re playing a Claw deck, you could effectively wipe out most enemies in a single turn using this card midway through combat.
- Biased Cognition – This is one of the best Power cards you can get as it gives you an immediate Focus boost and makes your orbs more effective. However, after activating it, you’ll lose Focus every turn. This means you have 5 turns before it starts putting you into negative Focus, so don’t use this near the beginning of Boss fights/ Elites/ combats you know will last a long time.
- Defragment – Useful for gaining extra Focus, it’s pretty good in a Power deck, especially if you have its upgraded version along with Echo Form.
- Creative AI – This is a 3-cost card which means it’ll potentially take up your whole turn, but it makes the rest of combat considerably easier (and more fun). It will put a random Power card into your hand at the start of every single turn. There is so much you can do with this, and stacking all of those effects can make for some epic combos.
- Glacier – Very useful for a Frost deck. It provides you with instant Block and also channels 2 Frost orbs. You don’t want too many of them in your deck as they cost 2, but it’s great as a staple.
- Echo Form – Particularly useful in a Power deck, but never a bad choice. It costs 3 to initially use, but after that, you’ll play the first card of every turn twice. Imagine combining this with Creative AI and playing a Power twice every turn. The effects it can provide will be insane.
I was so excited when Megacrit (the developer) added The Watcher to Slay the Spire in 2020. Not only was it cool to have a new character, but purple is my favorite color so I was in love with her design from the instant I saw her.
The Watcher’s deck grants access to several mechanics, the most interesting of which are the different Stances she switches between.
She’s got a sleek design which exudes elegance. I love the simplicity of it, and it’s an interesting contrast to the bold designs of the other characters. She stands tall and skinny, wearing a purple cloak, a ribbon billowing out behind her.
Her eyes are gently closed, and the bottom half of her face is covered by a red mask. A beautiful gold hair stick holds her bun in place. In her hands, she holds a long, gold staff.
Her starting Max HP is only 72, making hers the second lowest. Her starting deck consists of 4 Strikes, 4 Defends, 1 Eruption, and 1 Vigilance. Her cards are outlined in a purple border.
Strengths and Weaknesses
When deciding whether to pick The Watcher for your run, these are what you should consider:
- Low HP/ Poor Dexterity – She is probably the worst character when it comes to being able to consistently defend herself. The other characters all have some means of defending themselves well, even The Ironclad compensates for his poor defense by having higher HP and means of healing himself. But with The Watcher, you have to be very strategic to stop your HP from becoming a problem.
- Drawing Power and Energy Combo – The Watcher has many cards suited to filling out her hand, and she also can generate extra energy using cards like Miracle. This can lead to longer and more effective turns.
- Plenty of Versatility – Whilst she doesn’t have quite as many viable strategies as The Defect, The Watcher still has access to plenty of mechanics. And where The Defect has so many great cards that it’s distracting, The Watcher makes it easy to create a balanced deck regardless of what you find.
The Watcher is an interesting one for me as I love her whilst simultaneously not having as much experience with her compared to the other characters.
I’m trying to improve using deck strategies devised by more skilled players as well as my own learned experience, so I’ll share those techniques with you. Here are some great options when choosing The Watcher.
Divinity is an exceptionally powerful mechanic, but consistently entering it takes a really finetuned deck. When in Divinity, you gain 3 energy upon entering it, and then all of your Attacks deal triple damage.
That means that even something as simple as a Strike could potentially kill a weaker enemy. However, this Stance only lasts for one turn, so you need to make sure you have the right Attack cards to make it count.
To get into Divinity, you need to earn 10 Mantra, which can be earned from various cards. With the right deck, this can be an awesome build.
Stances are a mechanic exclusive to The Watcher, and these affect various aspects of her gameplay. Calm gives you 2 energy every time you switch out of it. Wrath deals double damage, but also means you take double damage.
I described Divinity above. If you can get a deck with decent drawing power and energy efficiency, you can really use stances to your advantage. You want to start the turn in Calm, switch to Wrath to play your Attacks, and then switch back to Calm at the end before the enemy can attack you.
Mix and Match
This is probably the only character where you can get away with this. With The Defect, you have access to lots of great cards but they don’t necessarily synergize well.
However, with The Watcher, you can make a lot of things work. The key thing is to always be aware of what’s currently in your deck, and how any new cards would slot in. Consider possible combos, as well as any potential drawbacks. Ideally, you’ll want a good mixture of Attacks, Skills, and drawing power.
Cards to Look Out For
As I mentioned already, The Watcher has lots of great cards, but here are some you might consider building a deck around.
- Pressure Points – A lot of experienced players aren’t fond of this one, but it can be exciting to try once or twice. However, you’ll need to build the entire deck around this and have multiple copies. It can deal a lot of stacked damage, but it’s tricky to get right.
- Miracle – This one works in pretty much any deck as it’s essentially free energy. It Exhausts when played, but you do Retain it, meaning it stays in your hand until you play it. You get one extra energy with this, or 2 if it’s upgraded.
- Lesson Learned – This is The Watcher’s answer to The Ironclad’s Feed. Instead of gaining Max HP when you kill an enemy using this, you instead permanently upgrade a card in your deck. This is really useful for getting the most out of your cards.
- Blasphemy – Go big or go home. This card immediately puts you in Divinity, but you die at the end of your turn. This means you should only ever play this card if you can be certain it’ll allow you to defeat your enemies that turn. It’s high risk, high reward.
- Foresight – This can be particularly useful in a Stance Switching deck. It’s a Power that lets you Scry at the start of every turn. That means you can pick the best cards to go into your hand, and discard any that won’t be useful that turn.
Question: How many Characters are in Slay the Spire?
Answer: There are 4 characters – The Ironclad, The Silent, The Defect, and The Watcher. The developers have confirmed there will not be a 5th character added. However, the unofficial expansion called Downfall gives you the chance to play as 7 other characters. This mod is approved by Megacrit.
Question: Should You Fight Elites in Slay the Spire?
Answer: This depends on what your deck is looking like, and how much HP you have left. If you have the capability to get through the fight then it can be really worth it. Beating elites rewards you with a Relic.
Question: Is The Silent a Girl in Slay the Spire?
Answer: Yes, The Silent is confirmed to be a ‘huntress’, showing that her gender is female. She and the Watcher are the two female characters you can play as.
The characters in Slay the Spire are all so unique, and what works for one player may not work for another. You should play around with them and find what fits your personal style. I can find enjoyment with any of them, and I’ll vary who I pick depending on my mood.
I stand by that The Ironclad is the best pick if you’re new to the game as he’s definitely the most beginner-friendly. If you’re looking for the character who you’re most likely to win with, then The Watcher is best for experienced players.
Hopefully, this guide has helped you feel confident about the characters in Slay the Spire. Now you’ll be able to choose any of them and know which deck strategies to try out. Definitely only use this guide as a starting point, though.
Most of the fun in Slay the Spire comes from discovering your own tried and tested techniques! Happy playing!
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