My favorite memories of playing Magic the Gathering has always been drafting. You pay an entry fee that is about 3 packs worth of cards. These packs get opened, you take a card from the pile, and pass it around a table of other entrants. From the pile you get, you take another, and so on and so forth until you have enough cards to make a deck. Then you play that deck in a tournament setting for prizes and clout.
What I loved about it was the moment-to-moment tactical element of building a deck on the fly. Big props to everyone out there, thinking up infinite combos and turn-3 win conditions for their standard deck play. I don’t have the time or money or interest to enjoy the game in that way. But if we’re all walking into the game on equal footing, and can only succeed on the strength of our decision-making. Well, I like those odds.
If all the things Slay the Spire does right could be distilled down to one singular thing, it would be that it most reminds me of those days. Every run starts with that same “I’m as good as the decisions I make” energy.
There’s no initial pack trade here, but Slay might do something better. With every win, there’s an opportunity to choose between a handful of cards to add to your deck. I like the idea of playing your deck before deciding to add to it. You may be theory-crafting combos and synergies when you look at the mana costs and potential damage outputs. Seeing your choices work (or not) before you decide to double down on them is a much more rewarding take.
Another strong design plus of Slay is that you always feel like your ideas are good ones. If you see two cards with seemingly obvious synergy, you can use them. If you want to try some sort of hair-brained, many card Hail Mary of a combo, there’s a good chance that it’ll have some time to shine. There are lots of winning strategies that are all viable, and I’ve rarely felt boxed into a set of cards that doesn’t work at all.
That each of the three characters – the Ironclad, the Silent, and the Defect – can all maintain such unique identities and also have so many different styles of play is a pleasant wonder. My favorite, Defect, is a malfunctioning robot that has its own resource meter on top of the normal ones each character has. It has much more to manage than the other two, but it still manages to be equally as accessible and rewarding as the more straightforward Ironclad, for example.
You can also be freely incentivised to pursue the cheesiest combos you can muster. There’s no “spirit of the rules” vs “letter of the rules” debate here. If you can crush the enemy with the most busted loop of cards you have, do it and do it often. There’s no feelings to hurt here except for the Hexaghost’s, and he’s an asshole.
My draft event days are surely over, but this tabletop video game wave hitting indie devs in the past couple years has really scratched that hobby store itch for me. is a completely unexpected place to find myself reminiscing those old and bold days. It’s also a much better alternative to them.
This game was played on a Nintendo Switch system with a review code provided by the publisher.