Slay the Spire – The Card Not Taken

In a departure from my usual topic of Magic, I’ll be writing about Slay the Spire, deck building, and the Value of not adding cards to your deck. If you haven’t tried the game yet, it’s pretty cheap and remarkably rewarding. Especially to broaden one’s gaming horizons in this time of social isolation and cancelled FNMs.

For those unaware, Slay the Spire is an indie videogame by MegaCrit that blends a deck builder like Dominion or Star Realms with the procedural generation and randomness of a roguelike. Players proceed upwards through a branching path of floors, and after each combat encounter have an option to add one of three cards to their deck.

Cards are as follows: Attacks deal damage with some ancillary effects, skills add armour to block incoming damage as well as granting various effects, and powers grant ongoing effects from turn to turn. As well, you draw five cards every turn and have 3 energy to spend playing those cards that can cost anywhere from 0-3.  The player discards their hand at the end of every turn and has a life total that persists between combat encounters.

Of course, almost all of the cards available to add are better than the basic attacks and blocks that comprise the starting deck. That said, over the course of multiple encounters, one begins to build towards a deck archetype and also has the opportunity to remove cards from their deck.

And so the question becomes, at what point does adding a particular card to your deck make it worse? An important aspect that applies across all card games with a deck building component is that cards in the deck should contribute to winning a given game, match or encounter.

The more I’ve played Slay the Spire, having beating the final boss with each character at this point, my default position is often not to take a card. The reasoning is fairly simple. The smaller your deck is, the more frequently you can draw through to the powerful cards and combinations that win combat encounters.

Consider the case study of a card reward costing one, granting seven armour. While better than the basic block that costs one for five armour, such a card may pale in comparison to other cards you already have in your deck. Remember. Every card you put in your deck has the potential to be drawn instead of something you need more on any given turn. That’s the cost of adding a card to one’s deck.

I found that grinding this game gave me lots of insights into game theory and the nature of deck building. I hope that my insights were useful and might encourage you to try Slay the Spire yourself. As always, good luck and good skill! And in these trying times stay safe, sane and healthy.