Slay the Spire Ironclad Guide: Best Cards, Builds, and Tips

Your Ultimate Guide to the Ironclad in Slay the Spire

Ironclad in game and artwork

If you’re a fan of Slay the Spire, then you’re probably familiar with Ironclad, one of the game’s four playable characters. Ironclad is a powerhouse with heavy armor and strong attacks, making him a great option for players who enjoy an aggressive playstyle. Both he and the Silent are good classes for beginners.

In this guide, we’ll dive into Ironclad’s builds, best cards, upgrades, and more to help you become a master of this formidable warrior and triumph over the Spire.

Related Content:

Silent Guide

Ironclad Best Cards

Let’s go over some of the best cards for the Ironclad.

slay the spire ironclad guide good cards
So many good options…

Note: Each playthrough of Slay the Spire is different, so just because a card is deemed “the best”, doesn’t mean should take 5 copies of that card.

With that being said, let’s start this Slay the Spire Ironclad guide off by going over some of the best cards to look out for during your playthroughs:

Cleave

slay the spire cleave

Cleave is a very strong card that should be a part of every Ironclad deck. The ability to deal 8 to damage all enemies is extremely powerful. Putting this in a strength build gives you the opportunity to do massive damage to all enemies. This is especially effective against Elites, given that some will spawn minions constantly during battle.

Upgrade

When upgraded, Cleave’s damage is upped to 11 from 8. This is a solid upgrade, especially if you consider that it’s an extra 3 damage to each enemy as well. Upgrade this card when you can, especially early on in runs.

Headbutt

slay the spire headbutt

Headbutt is one of the most underrated cards for Ironclad. It is often overlooked and should be included in EVERY build. This card has to be featured in this Ironclad guide just because of its potential.

The ability to place a card from your discard on top of your draw pile allows you to “reload” your hand for the next turn. You could potentially play the same card twice, if not more before you reshuffle your deck.

Just played Limit Break +? Use Headbutt to get it in your next hand and quadruple your strength. An enemy is about to die and you already drew Feed last turn? Headbutt. Maybe you had to block a big attack this turn and weren’t able to play Shockwave or Disarm. The synergy possibilities are endless with this card. Even using it to get Iron Wave or Cleave next turn is a good play. Very, very strong card.

Upgrade

Unfortunately, the upgrade for Headbutt is lackluster. The damage is increased from 9 to 12. Big whoop; you’re not playing this card for the damage. Look to upgrade other cards before this one.

Iron Wave

slay the spire Iron Wave

One of the strongest Ironclad cards. Ironwave gives players the ability to do both 5 damage and gain 5 block. This card is a two-for-one.

If you think about it, most cards in Slay the Spire can do one of three things; damage, block, or add a status/power. The fact that this card deals damage AND adds block puts it on another level of power. This card alone won’t carry you to the end of the Spire, but picking one (or multiple) early in a run can really give you some great momentum. Every good build has this card.

Upgrade

When upgraded, Iron Wave’s damage and block are both increased to 7. This is a big upgrade and one worth pursuing early. It’s statistically better than a Strike and Defend combined, for only one energy.

Pommel Strike

slay the spire Pommel Strike

Pommel Strike is a very solid card. High damage and card draw are two elements that should be included in every build. This card includes both.

Upgrade

When upgraded, Pommel Strike deals 10 damage and draws you 2 cards. The damage increase isn’t what makes this upgrade good; it’s the extra card draw. Drawing 2 cards versus 1 card may not seem like a big upgrade, but it can make a huge difference late game.

You’ll most likely be cycling through a lot of cards during encounters toward the end of your run. Drawing an Offering or a Limit Break could make or break an encounter.

Twin Strike

slay the spire Twin Strike

Excellent card and a must-have for any strength build. 10 damage for one energy is a great value. Plus, any strength effect is essentially doubled for this card. SO MUCH VALUE.

Upgrade

When upgraded, Twin Strike’s damage is increased from 5 to 7. Not a game-changing upgrade, but a very good option, especially with a strength build.

Shrug it Off

slay the spire Shrug It Off

Another excellent card. Every deck should have at least 2 – 3 copies of this. Gaining 8 block and drawing a card is a great value for only 1 energy. Picking this card up early on in a run can help build up a great deck.

Upgrade

Upgraded, Shrug It Off’s block gain increases from 8 to 11. This doesn’t appear like a massive upgrade, but going up to 11 block really makes this a very powerful card. 11 block is usually enough to block a single attack from an enemy (excluding bosses and elites). I’d consider upgrading this after you get all of your Rare cards upgraded.

True Grit

slay the spire True Grit

True Grit is a great block card, and probably has a use for every build. The tricky part is trying to exhaust the right card from your hand. Being a random card, it’s important to try to play this card last during your turn, so you can try to exhaust the least-important card.

Upgrade

True Grit’s upgrade is possibly the best in the entire game. Not only do you gain 9 block instead of 7, but you now can pick the card to exhaust from your hand, rather than it being a random card.

Being able to pick a card to exhaust makes this an insanely good card. You could choose to exhaust curses, status cards, or even bad starter cards. Eventually, you can trim your deck down to an optimal size.

Carnage

slay the spire Carnage

Carnage is a great card. It’s not a card that will solely carry you to the finish, but it is a great pickup early on, (and possibly later on).

The Ethereal effect of Carnage isn’t a massive drawback. Half of the time, you are going to be purely attacking for your turn, so you will just play this card whenever you draw it. The potential issue comes when you are trying to block an incoming attack. However, since the energy cost is only 2, you can most likely play this on top of a blocking card, which can reduce the total damage you take from a big attack.

Upgrade

Upgraded Carnage deals 28 damage instead of 20 damage. Pairing this with strength builds can lead to one-shotting enemies. Nothing complicated here, just a very solid upgrade. Look to upgrade this when possible.

Disarm

slay the spire Disarm

Overall, Disarm is a great card, but it is a bit situational. It’s a skill that makes an enemy lose 2 strength. Playing this against enemies that deal damage multiple times per attack will cripple them. Oftentimes, this will reduce their attacks to zero, or at the very least, in a range where you can block all the damage. Pair this with the Thorns relic and you can easily clear encounters.

Being that some enemies attack with one large, singular attack, Disarm tends to be a weak play in some encounters. For example: playing Disarm on an enemy attacking for 30 damage reduces the damage to 28. It’s a waste of mana for that turn, you might as well just block instead.

Regardless, you should consider adding at least one copy of Disarm into your build; you will most likely find a good use for it in an encounter at some point.

Upgrade

Upgraded Disarm is good. The strength loss for enemies is increased from 2 to 3. This upgrade makes Disarm even better for dealing with multiple-attacking enemies but doesn’t help much against single-attacking enemies.

Evolve

slay the spire Evolve

Another card that you should include in every deck. Evolve’s ability will draw an extra card every time you draw a status card.

This power will, more often than not, guarantee that you get 5 normal cards from your deck in your hand at the start of every turn. No more hands filled with only Wound or Dazed status cards!

Evolve is an essential card for an Exhaust build, but is also excellent in every other build.

Upgrade

When upgraded, Evolve’s ability will now draw 2 cards for every 1 status card drawn. This upgrade is a bit of overkill, in my opinion. Most of the time, the un-upgraded Evolve will fill your hand to the max, if not close to it. You should upgrade other cards before this one.

Shockwave

slay the spire Shockwave

Great card. Shockwave applies 3 Weak and 3 Vulnerable to all enemies. In a nutshell, it gives you 3 turns of “easy mode”. Enemies deal less damage and are more vulnerable. This means, you take less damage and deal more damage. The 2 energy cost is worth paying. This card belongs in every deck.

Also, it has synergy with Exhaust builds.

Upgrade

Shockwave when upgraded increases the number of statuses inflicted from 3 to 5. Early on in runs, you can skip this upgrade. Most encounters won’t last long enough for this to be truly helpful.

For later encounters, this is a must-have upgrade. Five whole turns of “easier gameplay” gives you a TON of space to work. You can be riskier with attacks, or you could spend more energy on powers to prep for later turns. It’s just a very flexible card. Upgrade this card ASAP during the 2nd or 3rd Act.

Spot Weakness

slay the spire Spot Weakness

Spot Weakness is the best card to initially build strength. Gaining 3 strength for 1 energy is a great play. Most importantly, it is not exhausted after use. You may end up using this two or three times in one encounter.

The glaring weakness of this card comes with its prerequisite; the enemy needs to intend to attack for the card to work. This drawback isn’t as bad as it seems, since enemies in later encounters tend to attack more than anything else.

It also pairs beautifully well with Limit Break.

Upgrade

Upgrade Spot Weakness increases the strength gain from 3 to 4. This is a good upgrade, but not a great one. Most likely, this won’t make a huge difference in an encounter. Gaining 3 strength is still a great effect, and gaining 4 is obviously “better”. Get this upgrade if you have no better cards to upgrade.

Bludgeon

slay the spire Bludgeon

Bludgeon is essentially like a “better” Carnage. Dealing 32 damage is a lot, more than most combinations of cards can do for 3 energy. For that alone, this is a great card.

With that being said, 3 energy is a lot to pay. Assuming you have the normal amount of 3 energy, you are dedicating your entire turn to just playing this card, if you choose to do so.

Counterintuitively, this card is not very good in a strength build. Cards like Twin Strike, Pummel, and Feed work much better in strength builds. Playing this card with 5 strength only deals 37 damage, which is still a lot, but Twin Strike deals 20 damage in the same situation, for only 1 energy. You see where I’m going with this.

But for other builds, this is a good card worth considering.

Upgrade

The upgraded version of Bludgeon now deals 42 damage instead of 32. This is a very solid upgrade. 42 damage can one-shot some enemies, and severely damage others. Upgrade this card if you can.

Exhume

slay the spire Exhume

Why is Exhaust added to all of the good cards? Well, to prevent them from becoming incredibly overpowered.

Exhume allows you to add an exhausted card back into your deck. Feed, Impervious, Shockwave, Offering, Reaper…you name it, Exhume can get it back for you. There doesn’t need to be an explanation as to why this is such a good card.

Upgrade

Upgraded, Exhume’s cost is reduced to 0. This is an excellent upgrade. Since it no longer costs 1 energy, you can look at this as a bonus card that you can play for free. It has no negative impact whatsoever on your hand. Play 3 attacks and Exhume, no problem.

Feed

slay the spire Feed

Feed is one of the best Ironclad cards. Period. Since Ironclad is a tanky character, adding Max HP makes him even MORE tanky. Feed gives you the opportunity to add 4 Max HP add the end of each encounter, given you kill an enemy with it.

Unless you already have two or three copies, please pick this card up. You can snowball your Max HP like crazy if picked up early.

slay the spire ironclad best cards
Bad News: I’m at half of my Max HP. Good News: I’m at 86 HP.

Obviously, you shouldn’t use this when you can’t kill the enemy. But in some situations, you could still use it. For example, if your deck has 25 cards, and you draw Feed in your first hand against a weak enemy, you should probably play it. Chances are you won’t be in the encounter long enough to reshuffle your deck and draw Feed again.

Another situation would be for the final boss. Whether you win or lose, it’s still the end of the playthrough. Use Feed and exhaust it from your deck.

Upgrade

Upgraded, Feed’s damage is increased to 12, and the Max HP increase is upped to 4. This is an excellent upgrade. Dealing more damage means that you will be able to kill more enemies with this card. And on top of that, you will gain more Max HP.

Impervious

slay the spire Impervious

Impervious is awesome. 30 block is enough to entirely block most attacks in the game. It’s almost like gaining an Intangible for one turn (or like a mini-Wraith Form!). Basically, you are getting a free turn. Very good card and should be used in every build.

This also pairs extremely well with Barricade. Adding 30 permanent block is incredibly good.

Upgrade

Impervious gets a good upgrade, going from gaining 30 block to 40 block. Basically, you are going from blocking most attacks to now blocking all attacks. It’s not the most impactful upgrade, since you most likely won’t actually benefit from the difference, but still a solid upgrade.

Limit Break

slay the spire Limit Break

Limit Break is one of those cards that are either useless or outright broken. For obvious reasons, if your build isn’t featuring any strength-increasing cards or relics, this card is useless (doubling zero is still zero).

But…if you have any strength-increasing cards or relics, this is a must-have. Doubling your strength can be very powerful and scales very quickly. The only caveat would be that you shouldn’t play this if you only have 1 strength. Increasing your strength from 1 to 2 isn’t worth the 1 energy cost unless you have nothing else to play.

Upgrade

Upgrading Limit Break removes the “Exhaust” ability. Assuming that you have other strength-increasing cards/relics, upgrade this ASAP. Having this stay in your deck after playing it can swing games in your favor. This can lead to some absurdly broken builds; your strength could be easily north of 10. Combo this with Headbutt for a good time.

Offering

slay the spire Offering

Offering is a crazy good card. It’s almost like having an extra “mini” turn, where you have 2 energy and draw 3 cards. You should pick up one, maybe two copies of this card.

The HP loss is really nothing to worry about. Ironclad’s starting relic heals 6 HP at the end of combat, which offsets Offering’s HP loss.

The extra energy gained from this card allows you to play some expensive cards while also being able to block with other cards. You could play a Demon Form or a Barricade on top of two other blocking cards to lay a great foundation for future turns.

Upgrade

When upgraded, Offering now draws 5 cards instead of 3. Drawing an extra 2 cards gives you even more flexibility with how you can play after using Offering. This is a very good upgrade, and one worth pursuing.

Reaper

slay the spire Reaper

Reaper is a very good card outright but can be made extremely good with the right build. As is, Reaper is a great card to use against minions or weaker enemies. Using it against three enemies will heal you 12 HP (given it’s against unblocked enemies).

Strength builds are where Reaper truly shines. Having any amount of extra strength scales the power level of this card dramatically. Having 5 strength bumps the damage level of this card up to 9, which can heal for 27 if used against three enemies.

If you’re close to ending a fight and feel you have the Upper Hand, you can try to stall a couple of turns until you draw Reaper. This will allow you to heal up a bit before the end of the encounter.

Upgrade

When upgraded, Reaper’s damage is increased from 4 to 5. This is a little underwhelming, but given how powerful Reaper is un-upgraded, it makes sense why this upgrade isn’t a huge jump.

You can skip this upgrade, or upgrade after all of your more important cards have been upgraded. You’re probably not missing out either way.

Ironclad Builds

Next in our Slay the Spire Ironclad Guide, let’s go over some potential builds to consider.

slay the spire strength build

Strength Build

The most common and consistent build is the Strength build. You can call this the “official build recommendation” for this Slay the Spire Ironclad guide. As the name suggests, this build focuses on increasing Ironclad’s strength, followed by punishing enemies with your newly-overpowered cards.

Naturally, you will want to look for cards that increase your strength, although keep in mind some are better than others. Spot Weakness, Inflame, and Limit Break are the cards you should be looking for.

Inflame is okay but not great. It’s a 1-cost power that grants you 2(3) strength. Since it’s a power, you only gain 2(3) strength once during each encounter, whereas Spot Weakness is a skill so it can be used each time you cycle your deck.

Also, you should upgrade Limit Break as soon as possible; which removes “exhaust” from the card. Not having the card exhausted allows you to play it multiple times per encounter (Headbutt synergy). This combo can lead to some CRAZY high strength levels.

slay the spire ironclad builds
That’s a lot of damage.

Flex is really bad, why add strength when you’re just losing it at the end of your turn? Rupture is a very niche power card that grants you 1(2) strength whenever you play cards that damage your HP. Cards that damage your HP, apart from Offering and maybe Hemokinesis, are ones you should generally avoid. Enemies are trying hard enough to kill you anyways, you don’t need to give them any help.

Demon Form is a card that most new players pick, but they usually end up dead before they earn the payoff of high strength. It is what advanced card players call a “win-more” card, where the card is only useful if you are already in a good position. 3 energy is a huge cost for a card with no immediate effect. You are better off using your 3 energy on cheaper and more immediately-effective cards.

Block Build

Another common build. The Ironclad has a wealth of great blocking cards to pick from, and this “Block” build utilizes a combination of great blocking cards and strength-building cards. When done right, you should be able to tank all of the enemies’ attacks and also build up your strength to a significant level.

You should look for good cards that provide block, not just all cards with block. Iron Wave, Shrug it Off, and True Grit are all excellent cards to pick up. Look for these cards early on in your run and prioritize them when offered. Later on, pick up any Impervious copies you can find.

slay the spire ironclad best cards
Using “Impervious” will almost completely block Donu’s attacks.

Barricade on paper seems like a must-have in any block deck. However, just like Demon Form, spending 3 energy on a card without an immediate effect is VERY clunky.

With all that being said, I would rather a pickup Barracade for a block build than pickup Demon Form for a strength build. Barracade‘s effect can be fully utilized the following turn, whereas Demon Form takes roughly three or four turns to become really effective.

Upgrading your block cards can significantly increase their effectiveness, allowing you to block more damage with each use. Prioritize upgrading your key block cards early on, especially True Grit. Upgrading Barracade reduces the cost from 3 energy to 2 energy, which can give you an opportunity to use a 1-cost block card in the same turn after playing Barracade.

The big issue with block builds, to me, is their win condition. Obviously, you can’t defeat any enemies but just blocking. A common strategy is to add some strength-building cards along with high-damage cards. This way, you can constantly build up your block while gaining lots of strength. It just makes you wonder, why not just go all out for the strength build instead?

The one exception would be by using Juggernaut, where you deal 5(7) damage to a random enemy whenever you add block with cards. Since Juggernaut costs 2 energy, it makes it a bit clunky to play in stride with your turns. Plus, 5 (or 7 when upgraded), isn’t enough damage per attack to effectively beat all encounters. Juggernaut can be useful, but it’s not enough to carry you past all bosses.

Exhaust Build

Definitely the most unconventional build. I would not try this build if you’re new to the game or struggling to make it past Act 3.

Basically, the goal when you’re trying to construct your deck is to maximize the chances that you draw a powerful hand every turn. There are a few ways to do this. You can make your deck more powerful by adding good cards to it, but you can also make it more powerful by removing the bad cards from it.

While permanently removing the bad cards from your deck is the best option, you usually can’t get rid of them all, so exhausting them in a fight is a good substitute. This ensures that during later turns your deck becomes more powerful since you are no longer able to draw the bad card that you exhausted, which really adds up over time in a long fight (like against a boss).

For example, say you use exhaust cards to remove all but the five most powerful cards in your deck. That means that for the rest of the fight, you will always draw your best possible hand every single turn, which is a huge advantage.

Also, True Grit‘s upgrade lets you choose the card to exhaust, instead of exhausting a random card in your hand, which makes it much more powerful. If you still have the non-upgraded True Grit, you can get around its drawback by playing your powerful cards before playing True Grit, but you should really just upgrade it, as the True Grit upgrade is considered to be one of the most powerful upgrades in the game.

Finally, having an exhaust deck can give you enough confidence to complete “?” encounters that come with curses, (since you can exhaust the curse whenever you draw it).

How to beat Slay the Spire with Ironclad: Tips for Success

Finally, in our Slay the Spire Ironclad guide, let’s go over some tips to follow if you want to beat Slay the Spire.

slay the spire ironclad fireplace
Since Resting heals 24 HP and Ironclad is only down 18 HP, you should Smith.

Prioritize Upgrading over Resting*

As you progress through the game, you’ll be given the option to upgrade your cards. Prioritize upgrading your most powerful offensive and defensive cards to make them even stronger.

Deciding when to smith is a little more about personal preference. Since Ironclad’s starting relic heals you 6 HP after each encounter, you can be more lenient about choosing to smith over resting. For example, if resting heals 20 HP, and you are only down 10 HP, you should smith at the rest site.

You should prioritize upgrading “win-condition” cards like Exhume and Limit Break.

Note: A general rule of thumb for Slay the Spire; always rest at rest sites if you cannot fully heal back to your max HP. If you are getting low on health, don’t be afraid to rest.

Utilize Starting Relic

slay the spire burning blood relic

Ironclad’s starting relic, Burning Blood, is very powerful and can help get early momentum in a playthrough. Being able to heal for 6 HP gives you flexibility in the earlier encounters, often being enough to tank a hit and fully heal after battle. On top of this, the Ironclad has the highest starting HP of any character; 80 HP.

Even when you have a tough battle and lose a decent amount of HP, Burning Blood can help you regenerate some, if not all of the lost HP in the subsequent battles, (given you play the next few encounters very conservatively). It’s the best starting relic out of all 4 characters.

Burning Blood also works well with the Runic Cube Relic; taking damage will draw you a lot of cards, and after the encounter you heal up.

Choose your paths carefully

Each level of Slay the Spire offers different paths to take, each with its own unique challenges and rewards. Take some time to strategize which path is best for your deck, taking into account the enemies you’ll face and the rewards you’ll receive.


It’s important to keep in mind that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to playing Ironclad in Slay the Spire (or any character for that matter). While our Slay the Spire Ironclad guide can provide helpful tips and strategies, the best way to truly master Ironclad is through practice and experimentation. Try out different cards, builds, and strategies to see what works best for you. Don’t be afraid to fail and learn from your mistakes. With time and experience, you’ll become a skilled Ironclad player and conquer the Spire in no time. So get out there and start slaying!

For those wanting to climb the Spire with the Silent, check out our guide for the Silent.

Avatar of Ethan Floyd
Ethan is the founder of Shark Games and oversees all site content. He's been a dedicated (mainly PlayStation) gamer for over 15 years, netting him over 4100 Trophies; 27 of which are Platinum. Over these countless hours, he has developed a passion for both digital card games and story-driven adventure games. He's reached the "Legend" rank in both Standard and Wild modes in Hearthstone. God of War Ragnarok is his favorite game of all time, and he's 100% completed every game in the Ratchet and Clank franchise (except for the garbage ones on handhelds). He also sucks at League of Legends.