Slay the Spire has exciting challenges to offer with each new run. Once you’ve beat the game with all four playable characters, however, it may feel as though the game has nothing left to offer. Luckily, that’s not the case! For those who want more of a challenge (or simply want to maximize their score), there’s the game’s Ascension mode. This adds a layer of difficulty with the reward of higher scores and bragging rights. In today’s guide, we’ll be going over the Slay the Spire Ascension mode and offering tips on how best to tackle it.
Let’s get started!
Slay the Spire Ascension Mode Guide
Ascension levels are easy enough to unlock. Once you’ve beaten Act 3 with one of the four characters, you’ll unlock the first Ascension level for that character. Beating the first Ascension level unlocks the next, and so on.
There are twenty Ascension levels per character, and you can choose which level you’d like to play when starting your run.
with each level tacking on cumulative penalties to your run. You can choose which level you’d like to play when you begin a run.
Each Ascension level imposes a new penalty on your run. These penalties are cumulative, meaning that the new penalties stack on top of the penalties from the previous level. This makes higher Ascension levels much harder, increasing the challenges you’ll face as you go.
- Level 1: Roughly 60% more elite encounters on each map.
- Level 2: Normal enemies (not boss or elite enemies) deal more attack damage.
- Level 3: Elites deal more attack damage.
- Level 4: Bosses deal more attack damage.
- Level 5: Heal 75% from boss fights as opposed to 100%.
- Level 6: Start each run with 10% less health.
- Level 7: Normal enemies have higher health and gain more block.
- Level 8: Elites have more health.
- Level 9: Bosses have more health and some gain more block.
- Level 10: Start each run with Ascender’s Bane (unplayable ethereal curse that cannot be removed from your deck).
- Level 11: Start each run with one less potion slot.
- Level 12: Upgraded cards appear 50% less during Acts 2 and 3.
- Level 13: Bosses drop 25% less gold.
- Level 14: Ironclad starts with 5 less max health, each other character starts with 4 less.
- Level 15: Events (question marks on the map) will have worse outcomes than normal.
- Level 16: Merchant prices go up by 10%.
- Level 17: Normal enemies have stronger movesets/patterns/abilities.
- Level 18: Elites have stronger movesets/patterns/abilities.
- Level 19: Bosses have stronger movesets/patterns/abilities.
- Level 20: Fight two Act 3 bosses back-to-back.
Basic Ascension Strategy
The Slay the Spire Ascension mode may seem a bit rough — because it is. But the aim is to add additional challenges to the game for enhanced replayability, and it is certainly achieved. Don’t be too daunted, as the levels are beatable!
Most Ascension levels make your enemies tougher while making you weaker. Because of this, playing more defensively is key. Super aggressive builds that throw block to the wind are a lot less viable. You’ll want to prioritize healing and block generation where you can.
Another thing to watch out for are the Act 1 Elites. These enemies can wreck your day — the Gremlin Nob and Lagavulin (the sleeping shellfish guy) especially can crush you if you go too ham on defense and lack good finishers. You’ll face these enemies at your weakest, so they’re the most important hurdle to clear.
Slay the Spire Character Ascension Guides
With all of this in mind, let’s take a look at the individual Slay the Spire characters and see which builds and strategies will serve you best as you climb the Ascension levels.
The Ironclad is the most defensive/tanky character in Slay the Spire. As such, he has some strong advantages in Ascension mode. His higher max health, built-in healing, and good block generation make him a solid beginner’s choice. The only drawback is that he can’t get the same crazy combos as the other characters.
One of the best Ironclad builds for Ascension mode is the Body Slam build. This boils down to generating lots of block, then turning that block into damage with Body Slam. We cover this build in greater depth in our Ironclad guide, so check that out for more info!
You can also go for a more aggressive build, but that can be tricky and may require a lot of healing. In most cases, especially at higher Ascension levels, you simply aren’t killing the enemies quickly enough to come out on top. The best offense is a good defense when it comes to the Ironclad.
The Silent is interesting in that her most aggressive build can also be her greatest defense. The Shiv build makes use of the After Image card, which grants block every time you play a card. With the help of Cloak and Daggers, you can pile on the offense and defense at the same time.
If you’d like to read more about our recommended Shiv build, check out our Silent guide! We cover a few more of the key cards and a handful of helpful relics that improve the overall viability of the deck.
The Defect has a couple builds that work well for Ascension mode. Their Frost build (which we cover in our Defect guide) involves channeling as many Frost Orbs as possible, then using Blizzard to deal increased damage based on the number of Frost Orbs you’ve channeled. This is similar to the Ironclad’s Body Slam build, in a way.
You can also go for the Defect’s 0-cost build, which we didn’t cover in our guide. This build blitzes enemies quite effectively, allowing you to pile on the damage even at higher Ascension levels. As the name suggests, it runs cards like Claw, Beam Cell, and Go for the Eyes, which all cost 0 energy. Pairing them with synergy cards like Scrape (which draws more 0-cost cards) and One for All (which returns all discarded 0-cost cards to your hand) further improves the build.
If you go this route, we recommend trying for the Unceasing Top, Shuriken, and Kunai relics. The first draws a card whenever you empty your hand, and the other two grant you additional Strength and Dexterity (respectively) whenever you play three cards in a turn. This lets you unleash a lot of damage in a single turn, which is great for those tougher enemies.
Finally, we’ve got the Watcher. She’s a tough character to master, but with this toughness comes…well, toughness. If you can get a handle on her Stance mechanics, she’s actually got a few high-damage builds that remain viable even into higher Ascension levels. Check out our Watcher guide for some helpful tips, and pay close attention to the Pressure Points and Divinity decks!
One thing we didn’t really cover is the Watcher’s infinite combo, which will let you easily beat any enemy (except perhaps the Time Eater). This combo utilizes Rushdown, a power card that draws two cards when you enter Wrath stance. You then play Fear No Evil (a 1-cost card that damages your opponent if they intend to attack you, and puts you into Calm stance) and Eruption (a 1-cost card that puts you back into Wrath stance).
The key is reducing your deck size as much as possible. Theoretically, you’d play the three cards in that exact order over and over — Eruption triggers Rushdown to draw you two new cards, hopefully putting Fear No Evil and Eruption back into your hand, and you gain the 2 energy needed to play them from exiting Calm stance. You can then repeat this process until the enemy is dead.
Join the High Ground
That’s it for our guide to the Slay the Spire Ascension mode — thanks for reading! Ascension levels can be tough, but with a lot of skill, the right build, and some luck, you can prevail. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, and don’t forget to subscribe to our weekly newsletter for more gaming content!
Have fun Ascending!