I (Phil Gallagher / Reddit user deathandtaxesftw) have been repeatedly seeing the same questions pop up from struggling players, and I figured it was about time to put together a dedicated guide that I could link people to when they are struggling with putting up wins in Monster Train, especially at Covenant 25. This guide assumes you have a decent amount of hours under your belt and understand the core mechanics of the game; if you don’t, you can check out the very basic Monster Train strategy guide I drafted up here first. With that said, let’s get into the real tips.
I see a surprising number of people talking about resetting their runs repeatedly until they have what they view as good start cards or “the right champion.” I think this hinders growth quite a bit and actually serves as a detriment to your long-term success as a player. If you’re resetting until you get a strategy you are comfortable with and know is good, you’re spending less time exploring and learning how other cards and combinations work. Knowing interactions and being comfortable with the entire card pool opens so many doors to success. Yes, those runs with cards like Inferno in your starting deck are going to be easier on average than many other runs, but if you’re going to seek to get wins with every clan combination and do some win streaking, you’ll need to widen your understanding of the game. Most runs are short. Take them as learning experiences. Try out that champion you think is bad. Try to make “the imp deck” work. Take those cards you think are trash to see what they do to your run; you might just stumble upon something broken for your efforts!
Of note here, if you are speedrunning, reset all you like! That’s an entirely different beast from how I approach the game. I’m trying to win every run, not go fast.
People often talk about their builds getting “hard countered” by a specific enemy type or boss. While this is sometimes true, it’s often lack of planning that leads to these situations. Your deck can’t necessarily just do the same thing every fight and expect to win. You need answers to various problems the game presents you with. You need to prepare specifically for most of these problems, or you might find your run crumbling. Here are some of the basic problems you should have in mind for a run, but this is not an exhaustive list by any means.
Problematic back units
190 hp enemies
Multiple 190 hp enemies and units with a shield in front
Specific Daedalus, Fel, and Seraph variants
Scaling enough to do 4000 damage to Seraph
When people talk about their builds being hard countered, it’s often because they didn’t prepare for a certain problem. In reality, many of the disaster level scenarios can be avoided. So, for example, let’s say you have started with a Chillwind Tethys, which has only 3 health. Chillwind Tethys often dies very easily on the circle 2 fights since one boss has spikes and another has sweep. You can plan for this though by finding a way to increase Tethys’ health by just a touch; a single hit (or one more hit) from Tethys means so much in the circle two fights, especially if you starting deck is weak. Accordingly, cards like Fortify might be much more valuable in this situation than they would normally.
Each boss variant asks for slightly different approaches, and failing to plan for the bosses from early on might lead to your downfall. Against Double Barrel Daedalus, for example, it’s very important to have extra targeted damage spells so your tanks don’t die; you might not *want* to take that early Vine Grasp, but it may make this fight much easier. If you were up against Plating Seal (Spellshield) Daedalus though, Vine Grasp looks much worse. Against Scouring Crest (Scourge) Fel, you probably want to take Ember after Daedalus to prevent taking a ton of Pyre damage if you don’t have another good answer to the fight. This are the sorts of things that help inform your draft picks. You can often “brute force” your way through Daedlaus and Fel if your deck is very strong without accounting too much for specific variants, but the Seraph fight can be devastating if you don’t prepare.
As you get better at planning, you can add more things to your mental list and start planning for potential scenarios instead of just guaranteed scenarios. For example, if I see an Unnamed Tome (silence enemy units) early on, I might take it since it neuters the Living Armor boss fight in circle 7. If I see a Resin Removal (remove buff/debuffs), I might pick it to neuter Stealth or Lifesteal from a problematic boss.
Knowledge is power. Cliche saying? Sure. Does it apply here? You bet. Waves are not nearly as random as you might think. You can actually know what enemies spawn and in what order from the preview screen. Jorbs and DolphinChemist both put together great reference sheets that will help you understand fights at a deep level. One spreadsheet isn’t necessarily better than the other, and I regularly reference both for different reasons.
Similarly, the Cavern events are not entirely random either. There are maximum rings where events stop appearing, and some events are more common than others. So, for example, you can’t go to a late Cavern to try and find the unit duplication event, though you’re much more likely to see that event in the early game. I think this post does a great job of laying that all out well.
I commonly see posts from players complaining about “getting stuck” or “bashing their heads against the wall” when they reach a certain point of the game. If this happens to you, it’s probably time to watch someone else play a run at a high level to see what you aren’t thinking about. This game is quite complex, and many of the things you need to be thinking about are not immediately obvious. Spending an hour watching someone else play a run will probably result in your quickest jump in understanding in terms of bang for your buck. My Monster Train videos are specifically educationally focused (I’m a teacher, I can’t turn that off!), so they are probably your best bet if you are stuck. Newer videos are obviously going to have better commentary than older videos, as I’ve learned a significant amount about the game since I started recording. The other person I recommend is Jorbs; while he doesn’t necessarily post Monster Train videos daily, the ones he posts are extremely good since he has ton of experience with a similar game, Slay the Spire. If you prefer live interaction on Twitch, you can find me here and Jorbs here.
I hope this proves helpful to some of you who are struggling. If you find it helpful, please pass this on to others when you see them struggling! This game is wonderful, deep, and intellectually engaging. I hope to see the community grow and to see updates on this game for a very long time. To do that, we need to keep people playing and interested in the game. Help others “level up” when you can, and the community will get better and better over time!