by screwyioux on reddit
Who/What This Guide is For:
This is a guide for winning more often in Slay the Spire. Most of my advice assumes that you play at Ascension 20, but you can still use it to improve your play at lower levels.
What works on A20 will also work while you’re climbing there (but the reverse is not true). This is a guide to fundamentals that will help you get better if you’re not consistently winning at lower ascensions, or if you’re struggling to pull even the occasional win on A20.
Mostly, I want to stress is that this is a guide to winning as many of your runs as possible. Some people like to play the game in a particular way, build certain kinds of decks, use pre-made seeds, go for Achievements. That’s totally valid. This guide isn’t for you (A20 probably isn’t either). This is a guide for people who want to win more often on the highest difficulty available.
Your deck needs to solve your immediate problems– short-term strength snowballs into long-term strength.
Be thinking about the encounters you’re likely to face/want to face and how good you are at dealing with them. In act 1 especially, there’s a balance between taking cards that are strong immediately (front-loaded damage, mainly) and cards that will be good later, when your deck matures a bit.
Generally, you should skew strongly toward the short-term, because being strong in your current act gives you advantages that snowball into a stronger character throughout the run.
Let’s say we’re in Act 1 and we just added a Footwork. Next, we’re offered either a Dodge and Roll, or a Poisoned Stab. Which one is the better choice? Doesn’t Dodge and Roll synergize with the Footwork we just added?
It might eventually, but we need to look at the map. Will we be fighting an elite soon? Our deck plus a Poisoned Stab might hold up against Lagavulin or Gremlin Nob, while our deck plus a Dodge and Roll will probably die to those. In other words, if we don’t take the Poisoned Stab now, we can’t fight the elite, we’ll die.
So if we take the Poisoned Stab, we come away a relic, more gold and a better card reward (because we got to take on the elite). These are assets we can invest in getting even stronger to snowball through the rest of the run. Even if the Dodge and Roll is a better card for us later on, taking it now can leave us weaker in the long-run by not enabling us to get enough out of Act 1.
This is an example of how micro-decisions can have ripple effects throughout the run, but there’s something I want to stress. I am NOT saying that Poisoned Stab is a better card than Dodge and Roll, or that the synergy between Dodge and Roll and Footwork is irrelevant.
The reason Poisoned Stab is the pick is that we’re in Act 1 and our deck needs to kill Gremlin Nob and Lagavulin to get the best rewards. If you think you can kill them without the Poisoned Stab, or if we won’t be fighting Act 1 elites for some reason (usually inadvisable), the Dodge and Roll might be a better pick.
Also, to be clear, Elites are the main reason to veer toward being strong as quickly as possible, but they aren’t the only one. In addition to fighting elites, having more frontloaded damage and block helps you do better in most hallway fights, which keeps you at higher HP so you can do things like Smith and spend HP on events for rewards.
Why elites are great:
But fighting them can get me killed! Not fighting them also gets you killed, it just happens later.
The floors between you and your next boss shouldn’t be seen as obstacles. You need to get stronger to handle the boss and stronger still to handle the next act. The floors in-between are the opportunities the game gives you to do that, and to that end your HP is a resource you spend to get stronger.
You can value an elite reward at around 2.5-3 times the reward you’d get from another floor (you get a relic, triple the chance of rare/uncommon cards, and roughly double the gold of a normal fight).
In other words, you only have a certain number of floors between you and the next boss, and elites are where the highest rewards are concentrated per floor. It follows then that tuning your deck to handle them and pathing through as many as you can (without dying) maximizes your opportunity to get stronger.
Yes, you’ll take more damage that way, and possibly have to rest more. But an elite fight probably only forces one rest, if that, and the rewards are normally far more impactful than a single upgrade could ever be, so it’s worth it.
Scaling and Front-load: You’re going to hear these terms a lot when people talk about StS, and for good reason. They’re how you measure your deck’s capabilities. I’m not one to harp on terminology, but these terms can get a little murky when left in the abstract, which leads to confusion.
When we think about whether we have enough scaling or front-load and what that means for us, it helps to remember why these terms are even used.
Some fights in StS ask you to deal 25 damage as quickly as possible, others ask you to deal 100 damage as quickly as possible, and some have you deal several hundred as quickly as possible. All of those situations call for different tools.
The cards that are quickest at dealing 25 damage, might not be nearly as efficient at dealing 200.The same is true for blocking/mitigation. A fight might try to deal 40 damage to you over 3 turns, or 60 over 5 turns, or 300+ over 10 turns, and when your goal is to block/mitigate as much of it as possible, the tools you use to handle each of those situations can look very different from each other.
This is where the concepts of scaling and frontload come in. Essentially, we’re looking at how different fights favor different kinds of cards in terms of dealing damage and blocking efficiently in terms of energy cost (and turns) and effectively at preserving your HP. That in mind:
Front-load is anything you do that has an impact on this turn. A Strike is front-loaded damage. A Bludgeon is front-loaded damage. Impervious and un-upgraded Neutralize are front-loaded damage mitigation.
Scaling is anything you do that affects future turns. Most Powers are scaling. Deadly Poison deals 5 front-loaded damage, but poison ticks down, scaling over future turns. Inflame is scaling damage because it makes all of our future attacks hit harder. Upgraded Neutralize, Disarm and Malaise are scaling damage mitigation because they mitigate damage on this turn, and on future turns.
Your definition may differ and that’s okay. The important part of scaling and front-load is thinking about it as your ability to deal/block damage efficiently. Decks with good front-load tend to be good against hallway fights and Act 1 elites, as those fights are shorter, while decks with good scaling tend to be better against bosses, as they’re efficient over longer fights (elites in Act 2 and 3 are a mixed bag).
The main reason I want to establish the definitions this way is to help you recognize viable sources of scaling you might be missing right now. Some players narrow their definition of scaling to only include things that would keep scaling infinitely, like Demon Form or Noxious Fumes, or Creative AI and think that if they don’t have something like that, they don’t have scaling, neglecting things like Shockwave, Crippling Cloud and Biased Cognition.
There is no fight in the game that requires you to keep scaling anything indefinitely, forever. Vulnerable, is damage scaling. Metallicize is block scaling. At a certain point they might not be enough damage scaling, just like at a certain point Biased Cognition might not be enough scaling to deal with a fight, but that point is pretty late in the run.
And even once you reach it, having those things should factor in when you decide whether or not you have enough scaling. For example, if you have Vulnerable, you don’t need quite as much strength.
It’s all about being able to finish fights efficiently in terms of dealing damage and saving HP, and when you’re thinking about cards that way, it helps to divide effects between things that happen this turn, and things that “invest” in future turns.
AOE and single-target: Fights against a single enemy tend to play differently from fights against two or more. You need to make sure you’re able to deal with both of them, especially in Act 2 where the deadlier fights tend to have multiple enemies. The most obvious answer here is something that deals its full damage to ALL enemies, like Immolate, Electrodynamics or Mercury Hourglass, but that’s not the only solution.
Something like Bowling Bash, Gremlin Horn or AOE mitigation like Piercing Wail or Shockwave can work too. Remember, the goal is just to deal with multi-target fights. It doesn’t matter if we get there by damaging everyone at once, or by bursting them down one-by-one, as long as we do it efficiently and without taking too much damage. I wouldn’t CALL those things aoe, because that seems silly, but pretty much any time people talk about aoe you can assume they work too.It’s worth understanding why this is, too.
In a fight like the Three Slavers elite or the three Jaw Worms, aoe is simply about chewing through their collective health faster, but Gremlin Leader, The Collector and Reptomancer also call for aoe for an entirely different reason.
When Gremlin Leader has 2-3 minions up, he will either buff himself or hit you very hard, but when he has 1 or 0 remaining, he is more likely to spend his turn summoning new ones, so bursting down the gremlins saves you HP by (probably) preventing him from attacking next turn.
It’s a similar idea with the Collector and her (yes it’s apparently a her) Torch Heads, swatting down the enemies keeps the boss from attacking you, so doing that while also damaging the boss reduces the damage you take in those fights. It’s a similar concept with Reptomancer, except her minions also hit you very hard if they live for a full turn, so not being able to kill them quickly while also making progress on her is a bit more dire.
Notice all of these examples are calling for front-loaded aoe. Scaling aoe like Noxious Fumes simply doesn’t accomplish what we want aoe to do (even though Fumes is a good card for other reasons).
It’s also why I don’t consider damage to a random target like Sword Boomerang or Thunderstrike aoe, even though it can technically hit multiple targets. Trying to use those as aoe simply misses the point. Damage to a random target is WORSE when there’s more than one target, not better, and scaling aoe does nothing to prevent you from being attacked while you’re waiting for it to do it’s thing.
The role of card manipulation: Card Manipulation is what I will call any effect that doesn’t directly deal/scale damage or deal/scale damage mitigation. We’re referring to cards/potions/relics that instead let you control which/how many cards are in your hand, or play more energy’s worth of cards.
Basically, Damage and Mitigation are effects that win you the game/keep you from losing, and card manipulation helps you better access your Damage and Mitigation when you need them.
Examples are drawing cards, retaining cards, adding cards to your draw pile, making cards Innate, gaining energy/changing card cost and exhausting cards. Removing cards from shops and events is also a form of card manipulation.
I think Jorbs’s video on Protect gets this concept and its value across pretty clearly as well. Protect’s “per-energy” block value is lackluster, but it ends up being an excellent card because of its built-in card manipulation effect that allows us to use its mitigation at the best time:
It’s also why Runic Pyramid makes having only 3 energy more okay– it helps you use that energy as best you can every turn.
It’s worth noting when we talk about card manipulation that nothing is free. Card manipulation effects often cost energy, or need to be drawn themselves. Removing cards at shops costs gold, which could otherwise be spent on relics, adding cards or potions. Even cards like Escape Plan and Finesse that LOOK free because of their built-in card manipulation, can cost you something in fights against the Chosen, Snecko, Nob, Time Eater and The Heart.
Don’t get me wrong, these effects can absolutely be worth it, especially when your deck has all the tools it needs to solve its immediate problems. Investing in card manipulation can even strengthen certain kinds of damage and mitigation, like Grand Finale, Rampage, Flechettes or Stack. But remember:Card Manipulation helps you access your deck. It is only as strong as what your other cards are capable of doing.
Pathing and Neow Bonus:
You might as well plan these together, as a lot of the time, how good the bonus is will depend on the path you take.
First, let’s talk about what makes good pathing and what makes bad pathing. Remember in middle school how your PE teacher would tell you that cheating on your push-ups really only hurts you in the long-run? That applies to Slay the Spire too. Remember that the floors between us and the next major hurdle are how we get strong enough to overcome it. We need to maximize how strong we can get before the boss.
Priority one is making sure we fight enough Elites. We need to get as strong as possible and that’s where most of the challenge and reward for that act is concentrated.
We usually don’t want to leave the act without fighting at least two of them, and three is usually better, if we can manage it. Ideally, we take a path that gives us options, a fork that allows us to take 2-3 elites if we feel able, but also lets us wuss out into something easier but less rewarding if things aren’t going well.We do need to make sure we’re properly prepared to fight them by adding cards (specifically damage cards) or potions first.
Priority two is campfires. Upgrading a card is generally more important earlier on in a run (as that card is going to be in our deck for longer) and the fewer cards we have (we’re going to see it more often), so act 1 campfires are pretty important.
Note that it’s almost always worth resting instead of upgrading if it lets us fight one more elite, as the rewards from the elite will probably make us stronger than any single upgrade would. Especially helpful are elite “sandwiches” (campfire, elite, campfire).
Priority three is shop timing. Ideally, you’d like to visit a shop when you have around 300 gold. That number is arbitrary, but I’ll explain why I use it: visiting a shop without making your deck better is a waste of one of your floors before the next boss/act, so visiting them too frequently is bad pathing.
At the same time, gold is a resource you use to get stronger, but just having it does nothing, so sitting on gold you haven’t invested in your character means you’re not as strong as you could be. That in mind, don’t get too hung up on the specific number. You don’t always have a ton of control over when you see shops, but ideally we’re looking at about 1.5 shop visits per act. Most important is making sure we have enough gold when we get there to make them worth a floor.
When planning your initial path, simply bear in mind that a normal fight drops an average of 15 gold and an elite fight drops roughly 30. Add that to however much gold you have to figure out roughly when your first shop visit should be.
Priority 4 is adding cards to our deck from hallway fights. This is arguably the most important thing to be doing throughout the early floors, but I listed it last because you’ll have many opportunities to do it throughout the run. Just know that a bunch of Question Mark floors probably won’t prepare you very well for your first elite, get your easy fights in while you can.
That in mind, it’s time to choose a Neow bonus. At the beginning of every single run, our immediate concern is the same: front-loaded damage. All of the act 1 elites and hallways fights call for it, so anything that helps us in that department is a strong pick.-+ Max HP: Useful for everyone, as extra health is a resource you can invest in fighting elites and upgrading instead of resting. Low-impact, but helpful.
-Neow’s Lament (Enemies in your next 3 combats have 1 HP): You probably know about the trick where you use this to “snipe” an elite by pathing to them first. Yeah, stop doing that. Or at least stop doing it just because you can.
Remember, you only have a certain number of floors to get stronger. Sure, the “free” elite fight is great, but taking a bunch of ?s and early shops instead of fights to get there can seriously set you back later in the run. It’s not like those things give you NO value, but it’s not worth putting yourself on a worse path when you could instead just fight the elite normally. And of course you could have taken a different bonus.
However, this bonus can still be quite good. At the start of the game, you’re as weak as you’re ever going to be, so making your first few fights “free” gives you a chance to add cards to your deck without losing as much HP. I’m not saying don’t ever take a free elite with it, just that that’s not a good reason to take Lament as your bonus or to alter your pathing.
-Remove Card(s): This just doesn’t help you much early on. This bonus is certainly better than nothing, but rarely the best choice. If you do take this, don’t remove two strikes. Normally you want to remove your strikes first, but being down two strikes against an early Jaw Worm or Cultist can be disastrous.
-Transform Card(s): This, on the other hand is more reasonable, albeit risky. Most cards are better than Strikes and Defends, and turning a bad card into a better card is very different from simply removing the bad one. This is a high-variance option though, as some cards are worse than nothing that early. Similar to removing, it’s usually bad to get rid of two strikes in the first couple of floors, so you probably want to choose Strike/Defend instead.
-Obtain Potions: This one is a bit like Neow’s lament, in that the purpose is to get you through early fights or help you take on an early elite. I have the same caveats as I do with Lament, it can be a useful early boost, but don’t compromise your pathing to take advantage of it.
-Upgrade a card: This is never a bad option, but it’s worse on The Silent, as upgrading Neutralize just doesn’t do a lot that early (definitely upgrade it later, it’s just unimpactful at first).
-Choose a card to obtain: Better than nothing, but pretty low-impact.
-Obtain a random Rare card: Extremely class dependent, also one of the riskier options to take. Rare cards offering front-loaded damage such as Glass Knife, Hyperbeam, Bludgeon or Immolate make Act 1 a cakewalk, but a floor 0 Barricade, Nightmare, Creative AI or Deva Form can simply be dead weight until later in the run.
I take this pretty often on Ironclad, and a tad more rarely on Defect or Silent. It seems good pretty often on Watcher but I’m too new to the character to say.
-Choose a rare card to obtain: THIS, on the other hand is almost always great, all the benefits I listed above with less potential to screw you over. Probably the best thing you can get on Ironclad or Watcher.
-Obtain Random Colorless Card(s): Don’t take this. I don’t have many “never do this”s in StS, but this is one of them, too many of the colorless cards are worse than nothing.
-Obtain a Rare Colorless Card: At the time I’m writing this, the option hasn’t been available for very long so I’m not super confident in my evaluation. It seems a bit dubious to me though. Currently, there are 15 rare colorless cards.
Two of them I’m happy to get from Neow (Hand of Greed, The Bomb), two that are somewhat helpful in Act 1 (Violence and Master of Strategy) and 11 that either have no immediate impact or are actively bad for the deck early on. Getting an early Hand of Greed is a huge boon, but with about a 40% chance of this being either mediocre or bad, I have to imagine there’s a better bonus available.
-Obtain a random Relic: This is usually worth doing, and I think it’s usually worth taking a drawback to get a rare relic too. It’s hard to say much more about it because the impact is so varied but I’m usually happy to take this option.
-Obtain 100 (250) Gold: See my notes on shop pathing above, but this is definitely one of the stronger bonuses available.
-Lose your Starting Relic for a random Boss Relic: This one is risky, and also fairly class-dependent. Watcher doesn’t so much mind losing her starting relic, but Defect losing his turns off Dualcast, which can make your early fights pretty rough.As for the drawbacks, I think they’re all pretty equal and fair, to be honest. Taking a curse is usually worse than the others and rarely worth doing, though.
Again, the name of the game here is front-load, front-load, front-load. The first half of act 1 should be devoted almost entirely to increasing the amount of damage you put out in the first three turns of each fight.
Most of these fights want high single-target damage, but we’re also rewarded by some of the later hallway fights for having some aoe, so adding one or two of those early is a solid decision.
Failing that, potions such as Attack Potion, Fire Potion or Explosive Potion can go some way towards bridging this AoE gap temporarily.The big things to keep in mind throughout the act are “how am I going to kill Gremlin Nob” and “How am I going to kill Lagavulin,” as those are usually the most dangerous fights you’ll find yourself in. Both of those elites demand to be bursted down quickly, and if you might still fight Nob, you should slightly bias away from adding skills.
For the most-part, a deck built to handle Nob and Lagavulin can also handle the Act 1 boss, but bear in mind that Hexaghost’s large health pool and junking usually require some kind of scaling damage and Slime Boss pushes you a little harder toward front-load and aoe.
At this point, our front-loaded single-target damage should be pretty well covered, so we shift our focus toward front-loaded aoe (if we don’t already have something for it) and damage mitigation. Again, there are things you can have INSTEAD of aoe, that make you just as effective in those fights, like Bowling Bash, Gremlin Horn, etc, but ACTUAL aoe like Electrodynamics, Corpse Explosion or Conclude makes a lot of the harder fights more manageable.
In Act 2 I also think our pathing priorities shift a little due to how taxing the hallway fights are (higher health pools and more frail/vulnerable being applied to you).
In my opinion, the difference between hallway fights and elites in Act 2 is a lot less noticeable than it is in Act 1. Act 2 also has some super high-value question mark events, so all things considered, I skew toward Act 2 elites and questions marks instead of hallway fights.The Act 2 elites are also half the reason we want aoe.
The Gremlin Leader fight is pretty much all about manipulating his ai into attacking you less by bursting down his summons until you’re ready to kill him next turn. The Three Slavers fight threatens to put out more damage over the course of turns 1 and 2 than most things we’ve seen so far, so being able to either output 50+ damage (to kill the Red Slaver) or block 40ish is a must if we’re taking act 2 elites.
However, that damage coming from three different sources means we they do less damage as we kill them, so the best defense is a good offense.
Book of stabbing is also a pretty threatening fight and kind of functions like a miniature version of the Hexaghost boss. His damage scales very quickly, and his health pool is too high for most decks to burst down with only frontload, so we need fast damage scaling.
Any strength reduction effect is excellent against him, but in the absence of that, the goal is to kill him before we shuffle. The wounds he hands out suck to draw, but they function as a clock more than anything.
Once the junking would start to really matter, it’s too late anyway, his damage scaling is probably too much to handle (with or without the wounds).The Act 2 boss is, for the most part, a check to make sure you have enough damage scaling.
Dealing promptly with a boss-sized health pool is asking our deck to output 350 ish damage over the course of 9 turns or so. There’s no HARD time limit, but surviving much longer than that against Collector or Automaton is exceedingly difficult.
The bosses in act 2 also tend to have unique mechanics that demand a little more respect.
The Collector fight is basically a bigger version of Gremlin Leader. It’s mostly about killing her Torch Heads at the right time so that she doesn’t attack you (and spends her turn re-summoning them instead), especially on turn six, after her debuff. I usually kill the first round of Torch Heads, and leave the second one alone to focus down the boss instead.
If it takes you more than two rounds of Torch Heads to kill her, you are probably dead anyway, because most decks just can’t survive that many turns against her damage output.
The Champ rewards you for being able to take him from half health to 0 health quickly, so you’re looking for some kind of scaling that doesn’t do damage until you want it to, like Demon Form/Limit Break + or a Dark Orb.
The Bronze Automaton is about being able to survive HYPERBEAM, which you can do with a Ghost in the Jar, Apparitions, Buffer, blocking a lot, weakening or just having a lot of health left.
It’s important to note that HYPERBEAM is a flat number (58). Unlike a lot of the threatening damage sources in the game, it doesn’t scale with things like strength or have some special mechanic. As such, you have some options in how to mitigate it, and one of those options is just having HP, this is a boss you should definitely consider resting before, because as long as you can survive HYPERBEAM, he’s not all that threatening.
As a general aside, in act 2 (and in 3), I’m a lot more likely to spend resources removing my bad cards, as well as draft card manipulation effects like draw. As stated earlier, removing cards and other card manipulation are about accessing your deck’s capabilities faster/more consistently, and at this point, those capabilities actually exist (I hope).
By this point, our damage needs are probably covered, both front-loaded and scaling, so we only add more if it makes our output significantly faster or more consistent (like an extra Catalyst or Limit Break). In act three, the focus shifts to damage mitigation to keep ourselves healthy in longer, harder fights, like the Act 3 bosses and the Heart.
Act 3 is where things like Barricade/Calipers, lots of Frost Orbs, Malaise, Talk to the Hand and Disarm really earn their keep, but in their absence, enough front-loaded mitigation (especially Intangible and Piercing Wail) can get the job done.
The scary fight to look out for here is usually Reptomancer. If you’ve made it this far without front-loaded aoe, understand that she will probably kill you if you meet her.
Left to her own devices, she deals around 100 damage on turn 2, and it doesn’t get much better from there. You need some way to take out the swords efficiently while ALSO killing her. Let me be clear about this: if you don’t have front-loaded aoe, some way to kill her quickly (three turns max), a Smoke Bomb or Apparitions, you CANNOT fight elites in Act 3. You will die. Because you might hit Reptomancer. And Reptomancer will kill you.
All of the bosses behave a bit differently in Act 3, and on A20 you won’t know one of the ones you’re fighting until you get there. This means you need to act as if you’re fighting all three of them, respecting their mechanics as you make the final adjustments to your deck.
Time Eater: The existence of Time Eater makes a lot of cards worse. A 66% chance to fight the time eater is one of the reasons that drawing and cycling through your deck a lot and going for “infinite” combos isn’t very good on A20. The Time Eater is also probably the boss that requires the most mid-fight consideration, as the encounter demands to be played in a particular way, managing his clock so that you don’t have too few available card plays when you need them.
The Awakened One: I know I said powers are usually worth playing anyway in this fight, but that’s only half true. Low-impact powers (especially ones that don’t help you damage more quickly) probably shouldn’t be added to your deck in act 3, and should be saved until the second half of the fight to play them, as his multi-attack scales pretty hard with extra strength.
Also be aware that he probably has the most sustain of any Act 3 boss due to his revive effectively doubling his health pool and his HP regen. Decks that rely on resources that get consumed/exhausted to survive and deal damage (like Apparitions, Piercing Wails, un-upgraded Limit Break, Catalsyt) or persistent debuffs he will cleanse (Malaise, Disarm Talk to the Hand) need to take care.
It may be necessary to look for something more sustainable, and to conserve some of those resources for the second half of the fight. Kill the cultists first. Mostly because it’s easy to do.
Donu and Deca: Honestly there isn’t much to say about this fight at all except that you probably want to kill Donu first. The thing that makes the fight hard is that the numbers are high and you get attacked every turn. Glhf. Also try to finish off Donu with Feed, there’s an achievement for it.
This is it, everything your run has been building toward, and the next two fights test your build in every way imaginable. Also you’re probably buying potions from the shop.
The elite is about as hard as an Act 3 boss, and on A18+, they’re harder than the heart in some ways.
The scariest moment in your run is probably turn 2 against the Spear and Shield, when you draw your two topdecked burns and are being hit for a ridiculous amount of damage.Once you get past that, it’s not so bad.
Kill the Spear first and change your facing when you need to. The debuff the Shield applies (-1 Strength or -1 Focus), is annoying, but it’s usually too slow to do much to really compromise your damage output.
Note that the debuff actually checks for orb slots to decide whether to drain strength or have a 50% chance to drain focus. Note also, that Prismatic Shard gives you one orb slot. Do with that information what you will. I’m not looking, I promise.
The Heart. If you can beat the Heart on A20, you can do anything. Anything. That girl/boy you’ve been wanting to ask out? They’ll be lucky you’re even talking to them. That raise you’ve been wanting at work? Ask for double or you quit. That Thank-You note you forgot to write your grandparents after your birthday?
You can tell them thank you when they come back to life to witness your glory. That coupon you– ah right, the Heart.Essentially, almost every fight up to this point is checking to make sure you can either output damage/block consistently each turn, OR scale those things so quickly that it doesn’t matter. For example, a deck with Burst/Catalyst+ doesn’t usually need to block as consistently as a deck with more gradual damage output, it just needs to block and rest enough to survive until that winning turn.
A Defect deck with lots of Frost/Focus usually takes a few turns to get going, but is so efficient/powerful by turn 5 or so that it doesn’t take damage for the rest of the fight. If you’re good enough at one thing, it can often compensate for the others.
The Heart is a little different. Because of the “Invincible” damage per turn cap, and its own frightening damage output, the Heart requires you to consistently output damage/mitigation WHILE ALSO scaling quickly to drain its 800 HP before turn 17. On turn 16 he basically casts a “you’re dead now” buff on himself (+50 Strength), so just surviving isn’t enough, you need to chew through 800 HP before then, and you essentially have a damage “quota” to meet turn by turn while you get there because of “Invincible.”
Any source of Artifact on turn one is pretty good here to avoid being made vulnerable and dying on turn 2. Any source of Strength down is fantastic, as are things that work off being attacked like Thorns, Static Discharge and Self-Forming Clay.
Other than those things, there’s no real “trick” to the fight. Essentially The only advice I can give you is pop your potions, have a really good deck and play well.
When deciding how much to block, consider whether or not the enemy scales damage.Let’s say the enemy is hitting you for 8 and you can strike/strike/defend or defend/defend/strike.
If it’s a Louse or a slaver, full blocking is probably better because their damage output doesn’t go up meaningfully. If it’s a Jaw Worm, a Cultist or an elite, all of which deal more damage over time, you might want to take a little damage now to end the fight faster, depending what your draw pile looks like.
Potions can be the best thing to buy from shops: It seems like a waste of gold to buy something that only works once, right? Remember that being able to take on a harder fight now yields rewards that you can invest over the course of the run. Also, taking less damage in a fight because you have the potion means you can upgrade instead of rest.
Short-term strength translates to long-term strength. In particular, Fear Potion and Fire Potion tend to be good against act 1 elites, and a Strength, Dexterity or Cultist potion can give you some extra scaling against bosses (Liquid Bronze is quite good against the Heart).
Additionally, specific potions can win you specific fights you’d otherwise be worried about. Artifact Potion plus Speed or Flex potion is essentially a bottled fight win, and Cultist Potion can get you through Champ or Hexaghost if your scaling is on the weak side by the time you get to them.
On A20, you have a 66% chance to fight the Time Eater and a 100% chance to fight The Heart. Decks that rely on a lot of card plays per turn aren’t necessarily bad, but they do get countered a bit by these bosses. This makes cards like Escape Plan, Warcry and Swift Strike a little worse in general. This also applies in for taking low-impact powers in Act 3, as you’ll probably be fighting the Awakened One.
More Specific Tips:
Usually don’t rest before the Hexaghost fight. He scales his first attack based on your current remaining health, so you might as well upgrade unless your health is VERY low and you can’t burst him down quickly.
In the Gremlin Gang fight in Act 1, you should usually prioritize killing them in this order:Fat Gremlin>Wizard Gremlin>Stabby Gremlin>Shield Gremlin>Angry Gremlin.However, Fat Gremlins become a much lower priority if you can’t avoid being debuffed anyway (either because there are two of them or because you can’t finish the one off in time). This also applies somewhat to the Gremlin Leader fight in Act 2, assuming you’re unable to kill all of the Gremlins.
Against Slime Boss, you might consider picking up a Flame Potion or Explosive Potion if you’re unsure of your deck’s ability. Those potions are especially effective for reducing the amount of health he splits with,
In the Three Slavers Elite in Act 2, your first target is almost always the red guy in the back to avoid being Entangled. After that, the blue one in front is your usual target, as the guy in the middle with the whip isn’t much of a threat on his own. The one huge exception to this is when you have Runic Pyramid (or when your deck is ≤15 cards).
On A18+ those wounds will start to choke up your hand quickly, so you probably don’t want to leave him for last. That said, none of them have particularly high health, so you can sometimes just burst out whoever of the two is attacking for the most at any given time, it depends on your deck’s damage output.
The Writhing Mass fight in Act 3 has a risk/reward dynamic. He doesn’t scale his damage up over time, so there’s no need to rush damaging him with the last attack in your hand unless he’s doing something you really can’t tolerate (like cursing you).
Once he’s doing something you can deal with, just chill. Stop attacking him and block as much as you can, win the fight by inches until you can finish him off.
Against the Awakened one, if you’re able, try to play any temporary Strength Down effects like Piercing Wail or Dark Shackles right before you kill his first health bar. If you do this, he’ll “go to sleep” with that debuff still applied. When he wakes up, he won’t still have any negative strength, but he also won’t have any of the positive strength you sapped away for the rest of the fight.
As Watcher against Time Eater, if you play Vault as your 12th card (in his clock cycle), it skips his turn, effectively resetting his clock for you (he keeps the same intent).