In the roguelike deckbuilder Slay the Spire, you can play as one of four characters. The Ironclad, the Silent, the Defect, and the Watcher all have unique and interesting playstyles that can bring you to victory, or at least offer a cool run. We’ve previously covered all of these characters individually, going over their stats and getting in depth into several builds for each. This Slay the Spire character guide offers a broader overview of all the characters, and ends with a verdict on which of the characters is the best.
Slay the Spire Overall Character Guide
Let’s get right to it! We’ll go in order, starting with the first character you unlock — the Ironclad.
The Ironclad is your classic warrior. He is by far the tankiest of the four, starting out with 80 HP and a starting relic that heals you for 6 at the end of each combat. Burning Blood is without question the best starting relic in the game — never get rid of it unless you’re offered Black Blood (which is a strict upgrade).
The Ironclad is the first character you are given for a reason. Simply put, he’s the easiest to start out with. He doesn’t use a lot of gimmicks and generally has more straightforward, safer playstyles. While some of the other characters in the game have better builds (if things all go optimally), this does not mean that the Ironclad cannot contend with them. He most certainly can.
Overall, the Ironclad often ends up being more middle-of-the-road, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, he can still have some very powerful builds.
The Ironclad primarily focuses on either a straight-up offense or defense build. For an offense build, getting cards and effects that buff your strength is almost always the play. There are many variations of this theme, but cards like Heavy Blade (which gains additional bonuses from strength) or any card that hits multiple times (as each hit counts the strength bonus separately) are always solid picks.
The Ironclad has more offense options, but you can always go ham on Block if you want. In our Ironclad guide, I detailed two versions of that build I like. One relies on using Body Slam, which does damage equal to your current Block, and costs 0 energy when upgraded. The other version doesn’t really attack, instead relying on cards like Flame Shield (which damages opponents who attack you) or Juggernaut (which damages enemies when you gain Block) alongside relics that have similar effects to deal damage.
Finally, it’s wroth noting that the Ironclad does have some interesting cards playing around with the Exhaust mechanic, as well as a self-damage theme. Both are a bit weaker in my opinion, and can be tricky to bring together, but can be fun to try.
The Silent is a classic rogue/assassin style character. She is described as a huntress and lives up to the name. She is the weakest character in terms of base stats, as she has the lowest starting HP and the worst starting relic. However, she can be incredibly strong, and makes up for her low HP with a defense-focused starting deck.
The Silent takes more setup than the Ironclad to be strong, but if you get that setup, you can blow most other builds away.
The Silent has various builds, but two clearly stand at the top — the Shiv build and the Poison build. The Shiv build is based around (unsurprisingly) Shiv, which the Silent cannot put into her deck directly, but is generated by many cards and relics. This build relies on playing tons of cards in a single turn and getting huge bonuses for doing so. In our Silent guide, I go deeper into the extensive list of cards and relics that make this build insane.
The Poison build is the other top build for the Silent, and it is much more straightforward. This build is based around debuffing opponents with as many stacks of the poison status effect as possible, and killing them that way. The great thing about this build is that poison gets around armor and all forms of damage reduction other than intangible. This makes it a very potent strategy.
The Silent also can play around with a Discard theme. It’s trickier to assemble than the Shiv or Poison builds, but if you can, you can create a very powerful value engine. You may even be able to go infinite or near-infinite, but that’s quite difficult to achieve.
The Defect is a robot who primarily plays around with an interesting mechanic known as Orbs. Their different elemental orbs can attack, defend, or net you extra energy. One of the best things about this mechanic is that the Orbs activate at the end of your turn, so they’re unaffected by your debuffs.
There are various cards and relics in the game that give you additional slots for Orbs, as well as ones that give you stacks of Focus. This mechanic increases the effectiveness of all Orbs (except for plasma) by one per stack — essentially a combined strength and dexterity for orbs. Learning how to properly cycle through Orbs can be a tricky skill, but very rewarding when it pays off.
All in all, the Defect gives you a lot of options in how to play, making it the most creative of the four characters. But it also means they won’t be quite as straightforward, which can make them a bit challenging to learn. You’ll want to decide very early on if you’re focusing (heh) on your Orbs, and stick with your decision for the strongest builds.
In our Defect guide, I went over the two main Orb builds — Lightning for offense, and Frost for defense. The Lightning build is very aggressive, with each Orb dealing 3 damage to an enemy at the end of your turn. When invoked, they deal 8 damage to a random enemy. The downsides to this build are that it’s very one-sided offensively, and is a bit slow to set up during a fight. But when you do get the setup, you can destroy enemies really quickly.
The Frost build is the opposite. Frost Orbs give you 2 Block at the end of your turn, and five Block when invoked. This build creates an impenetrable wall that will carry you far. The weakness is that this build relies somewhat on Blizzard, which does damage for each Frost Orb you’ve channeled during the game). Blizzard is an incredibly strong card, but if you don’t get it, this build can have real trouble closing out fights.
The Watcher is the last character added to Slay the Spire, and is also the trickiest to play. She is the monk/mystic character to round out our quartet. Her unique mechanic that makes her so interesting and challenging is her Stances. She has three Stances she can switch between: Calm, Wrath, and Divinity. The basic skill to master with the Watcher is switching between Calm and Wrath to make the most of their energy gain and double damage mechanics. in order to gain value and not just die to enemies dealing double damage. Once you’re a little more practiced (and with the right cards and relics), you can move onto using her Divinity stance and the energy and triple damage bonuses it offers.
The Watcher is probably the spikiest of the four characters. Her top-tier builds outperform nearly all the others, but she’s also the most fragile character. It takes a lot of skill to play the Watcher optimally, though this is not prohibitive. Just keep in mind that while she is very strong, getting your math wrong may result in ending your turn in Wrath and losing to a low-health enemy.
In our Watcher guide, I covered several strong builds, including a detailed breakdown of her basic Stance-switching build. Though it’s her most basic mechanic, getting (and removing) the right cards can turn into an infinite build, which will trivialize all but a few fights. I also went over her Divinity and Pressure Points builds, which likewise rely on tight decks and careful turn-taking.
One fun strategy for the Watcher I didn’t cover in the guide is the Smite build. Smite is a card much like the Silent’s Shiv, in that it’s a special attack card generated by other effects and exhausts. The difference is that Smite is much stronger than Shiv (dealing 12 base damage and 16 when upgraded), but has fewer effects that buff or synergize with it, and notably costs 1 energy instead of 0. Even so, generating Smites can be a fun and strong build unto itself, or just a great add-on to other builds.
The Best Character in Slay the Spire
So, out of these four Slay the Spire characters, which one is the best?
As it turns out, that’s a clickbaity question and the answer is frankly somewhat subjective. Each character has their strengths and weaknesses. There is a good argument to be made (and many will make it) that the Watcher is the best Slay the Spire character simply because her skill ceiling is higher than the other characters’. However, her low end is almost equally low, and the Watcher has a lot less middle ground than the other characters. You’re almost as likely to hit that low end as you are to hit the high end.
That said, the Ironclad is easily the best character in Slay the Spire for new players, as he’s much more tanky and reliable without having to sacrifice high-end builds. (Anyone who’s got the Limit Break build online knows exactly what I’m talking about.) His consistency is huge, and Burning Blood is by far the best starting relic — it isn’t even remotely a contest. While that alone does not the best character make, the free heal does mean you’re a lot safer and can take bigger risks, and Slay the Spire is all about risk vs. reward.
Join the High Ground!
That’s it for our Slay the Spire overall character guide — thanks for reading! Ultimately, each character is fun and powerful in their own way. Be sure to check out our in-depth guides on each character if you’d like more specific build tips and strategies. Let us know your thoughts in the comments, and don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter for more content on Slay the Spire and your other favorite games.