Just sharing the builds that I find the most reliable and fun to use as the Ironclad. If you have the chance, give it a chance!
Other Slay the Spire Guides:
What's That You Say?
The Ironclad Exhaust build is a flexible, fun, and fast-paced deck that revolves around two core enabling cards: Corruption and Feel no Pain. Along with these, we are going to stuff our deck full with defensive cards, play them for free, and laugh at our enemies while we take cover behind all our bonus armor. You are a hoarder and you feel sad because everybody tells you to keep your deck size tiny? This is the build for you!
Just like for any other Ironclad build, you can only decide to go for this build if you find at least one of these two enabling cards. And if you do, I'm going to try to convince you that it's really worth it to give them a shot!
So How Do We Start?
Well, just like in any Ironclad run, we have to play vanilla Ironclad until we find some core cards. But we are in luck! Our core cards are two uncommons. So unlike other builds that you can only start with rare cards such as Barricade, Demon Form, Limit Break, or Double Tap, we actually have more chances to loot the necessary cards from elite mobs and events. You can also find them in shops at an affordable price (~75 gold).
At the beginning you really want to improve your offensive capabilities. I would keep the Bash, and use every chance you have to remove the Strikes you start with. Replace them with Body Slam+, Pommel Strike+, and/or Headbutt. Iron Wave is okay. Flex, Inflame, or Spot Weakness are good picks as well. Finally, it's nice to have some AoE attack; so Whirlwind+ if you're lucky, otherwise Cleave does the job.
For defense, let's keep all our starting Defend cards for now. I like the starting Relic so I usually stick with it. The additional cards we are looking for are Armaments+, Shrug it Off, or Battle Trance. True Grit+ is also always good, use it to exhaust your starting Strikes and Defends during combat. Of course at this stage we want to keep our deck small, so I would say no more than 3-4 offensive cards, and 1-3 defensive cards.
Yay! I Found My Core Cards!
If you found both Corruption and Feel No Pain cards before fighting the first boss you are in luck! But don't get too excited and use them in combat just yet! Especially for the boss! We still lack all the skill cards we need to back up our claim as Exhaust-lord.
If by the time you killed the first boss you have not found any of the core cards, I would clearly choose another build depending on what rare card the boss drops. If you are unlucky enough to have only one of the two cards, it's a tough call. Those cards are not rare, you will have more chances to grab them in the second level, but you will need them urgently as your deck is going to start feeling dysfunctional in the second level.
In any case, the rare cards the first boss drops is going to mark a fork in the road for our build.
- First option is Barricade, we might go for a "Turtle/Exhaust" build.
- If the boss drops Dark Embrace, we can try the path of the "Pure Exhaust" build.
- If the boss drops Demon Form, we might consider a "Strength/Exhaust" build.
If none of these drops, Offering can be a good pick, leaving the choice for the more specific build open. Limit Break, Reaper and Feed would better synergize with "Strength/Exhaust", whereas Impervious and Juggernaut go better with "Pure" Exhaust or "Turtle".
The "Pure Exhaust" Build, and "Turtle / Exhaust" Build
The philosophy behind these builds is to cycle through our deck until we activate all our powers, we then stack up armor to ridiculously high values, and kill using Body Slam+ attacks. The difference between "Pure" and "Turtle" is that "Pure" needs to play all the skill cards in his deck in one single turn using "Dark Embrace", and cash out all the damage on the same turn. "Turtle" can stack armor over few turns thanks to "Barricade".
Only 8 cards left from a 28 cards deck. All exhausted!
So "Turtle" is really safer and more reliable, while "Pure Exhaust" is more fun. Ideally, as you progress, you really want to get both Barricade AND Dark Embrace, at which point the two builds merge into the super Sayan autowin "Ultimate Exhaust" build.
For our deck, we really only want 4-5 offensive cards. For the "Pure" build, we need 2-3 Body Slams+, or Body Slam and Dual Wield+ for bosses like Donu & Deca, and groups of elite mobs. For "Turtle" it's less of a priority, but it's still nice to have those cards.
As for defensive cards, the world is our oyster! our top priority is to find one more Feel no Pain+ card, or use Dual Wield+ to duplicate Feel no Pain. We can also look for Sentinel, Impervious, Flame Barrier, True Grit+, Ghostly Armor, Entrench, Armaments+, Shrug it Off. They are all good!
How many cards do we want? Well as many as YOU want! The key is to keep a good equilibrium with the following utility cards that help cycle through your deck: Offering, Battle Trance, Burning Pact, War Cry. And colourless cards such as Master of Strategy, and Finesse. I don't have a strict rule on the ratio. I would say something like 3-4 defensive cards for each utility card? (maybe?)
Another very good option to help cycle through your deck is to play with wounds. With Evolve and Power Through you can generate wounds, and each time you draw a wound you draw two cards. Enemies inflict wounds as well so be sure to pick True Grit and Burning Pact to exhaust wounds if you have too many of them. Wounds can be a liability for a "Pure" build you could get unlucky and get stuck with status and attack cards only in your hand, breaking your combo. So I wouldn't use Power Through on its own without Barricade.
And finally, keep an eye out for the colourless card Panache!
The "Strength/Exhaust" Build
Here the philosophy is quite different. What you want to do is to stack up Strength, while Feel No Pain and free defensive cards give you some nice survivability. You then go for the kill using Heavy Blade. This hybrid build is not as spectacular as a "Pure" strength build, because you can't just abuse Limit Break. (Because you exhaust it when you use it. DOH!) This build is also less effective than the "Turtle" Exhaust in my opinion. But it's definitely a viable build as well.
What you need offensively is Heavy Blade. And an AoE like whirlwind. Thunderclap is nice to have, just for the Vulnerable status effect. And Headbutt is always nice to put Heavy Blade back into your hand. Then there are good rares such as Reaper, and Feed that go well with any Strength builds.
In terms of defensive cards, we don't need as many as for "Pure" and "Turtle" but they are the same ones; more Feel no Pain cards, Sentinel, Impervious, Flame Barrier, Entrench, True Grit, Ghostly Armor, Armaments, Shrug it Off. We also want all the same cards that cycle through our deck; Offering, Battle Trance, Burning Pact, War Cry, Master of Strategy, and Finesse. The Evolve+ and wounds strategy works here as well.
Now in addition we want some of the Strength boosting cards, to accelerate the process. So Spot Weakness and Inflame. Again, you can't exploit Flex + Limit Break to boost your Strength, it makes them less good. Limit Break is still an okay card, if you play it last.
Beyond the Relics that are just really good, I want to point out some of the synergies that are particular to these Exhaust builds. But Relics are not necessary to run a successful exhaust build only invest if you have money to waste.
- Kunai: Every time you play 3 Attacks in a single turn, gain 1 Dexterity
- Shuriken: Every time you play 3 Attacks in a single turn, gain 1 Strength.
- Ornamental Fan: Every time you play 3 Attacks in a single turn, gain 4 Block.
- Mummified Hand: Whenever you play a Power, a random card in your hand costs 0 for the turn.
- Letter Opener: Every time you play 3 Skills in a single turn, deal 5 damage to ALL enemies
- Bird Faced Urn: Whenever you play a Power, heal 2 HP.
- Calipers: At the start of your turn, lose 15 Block rather than all of your Block.
- Charon's Ashes: Whenever you Exhaust a card, deal 3 Damage to ALL enemies.
- Unceasing Top: Whenever you have no cards in your hand, draw a card.
- Eternal Feather: For every 5 cards in your deck, heal 2 HP whenever you enter a campfire.
- Mark of Pain: Gain 1 Energy at the start of each turn. At the start of combat, add 2 Wounds to your draw pile.
- Orrery: Choose and add 5 cards to your deck.
- Medical Kit: Status cards can now be played. Playing a Status will Exhaust the card.
Avoid like the plague:
- Runic Pyramid: At the end of your turn, you no longer discard your hand. Draw 1 less card each turn.
- Velvet Choker: Gain 1 Energy at the start of each turn. You cannot play more than 6 cards per turn.
I have not tested these yet:
- Strange Spoon: Card with Exhaust when played will instead discard 50% of the time. (I'm afraid it could screw you over in some cases)
- Dead Branch: Whenever you Exhaust a card, add a random card to your hand. (This might stuff your hand full of junk)
- Ninja Scroll: Start each combat with 3 Shivs in hand. (Can Ironclad get shivs??)