Spire-climbers, monster-slayers and deck-builders rejoice! Just last Monday on Sept. 9, Mega Crit released the Watcher, the long-awaited fourth character to join the Slay the Spire universe.
Who is The Watcher?
Although still in beta-stage, the Watcher comes completely playable, ready to conquer and ascend the Spire. The game describes the Watcher as “a blind ascetic who has come to ‘Evaluate’ the Spire. Master of the divine Stances.”
The Watcher’s character clearly suggests inspiration from East Asia. The Watcher wears a purple kimono-like clothing and obi with gray bottoms. Adorned on the Watcher’s hair bun is a pair of golden chopsticks. And in the Watcher’s hands is a long golden staff topped with a design reminiscent of an eye. Even beyond character design however, the Watcher’s abilities also seem inspired by martial arts and spiritualism.
The Watcher’s Stances
Unique to the Watcher are Stances, or what I like to think of as states of mind, that unlock different potentials and abilities in the character. There are three Stances that the Watcher can adopt. Technically four stances, if you count not having a Stance as a stance itself.
- Wrath enshrouds the Watcher in a furious red aura. In this Stance, the character deals twice as much damage, but also reciprocally becomes susceptible to double damage.
- Calm envelops the Watcher in a calming blue cloud. In this Stance, the character has no changes to attack or defense. However when exiting the Stance, the character gains two energy.
- Divinity surrounds the Watcher in a sphere of purple eyes. Upon entering this Stance, the character gains three energy and damages enemies at three times normal. Yes. Truly divine. Unfortunately, this Stance only lasts for the remainder of your turn. Also, you can only achieve Divinity by collecting a total of 10 Mantra over the course of the battle. (Or using the card Blasphemy, but that comes at a steep cost. Read more below.)
Important to note is that, outside of Divinity, the Watcher does not shift autonomously between Stances. You’ll need to use cards or potions to switch the Watcher from one state to the other. (And yes, for those of you already with some forethought — you can change your Stance directly from Calm to Wrath.)
There’s a couple action words that long-time players of Slay the Spire may not be familiar with:
- Retain: Any card with ‘Retain’ will stay in your hand until you use it. These cards do not influence the amount of cards you draw from your deck per turn, however. In other words, you can have as many ‘Retain’ cards in your hand and still draw a fresh five per turn, given you’re within the overall hand limit of 10.
- Scry: Allows you to review and discard cards from the top of your deck.
Both these actions grow incredibly important in combination with the Watcher’s abilities, which seem heavily dependent on the right cards at the right time. Retain keep cards ready for commission when your time shines. And Scry allows you to plan at least a few turns ahead.
Let’s Talk Strategy
I’m sure just based on all this information, you can imagine how best to utilize the Watcher.
- Playing the Watcher well involves good timing.
- You want to have as much energy and as many attack cards as you can, while you are in either Wrath or Divinity.
- You don’t want to leave the Watcher in Wrath before you’re hit hard.
- Make sure that you exit Calm with enough actions to spend your energy wisely.
- And just in case, you want back-up zero-cost mechanisms to switch the Watcher from Stance to Stance.
I imagine this kind of play is natural for players that like to alternate between phases of slow build-up and heavy attack. The Watcher lends well to turtling when enemies are in high damage phases, watching and waiting until ready to torrent a series of attacks. If you’re a player who enjoyed using Dark Orbs when playing the Defect or using Body Slam, you’ll likely love the potentiating in Watcher’s gameplay.
Even with a main overall strategy, there’s still a wide variety of ways to ascend the Spire. In energy-focused plays, you can aim to form zero-cost decks or not even having to worry about energy at all with a power card that carries over unused energy combined with a relic that offers excess energy. In strength-focused plays, you can defend until you eventually multiply your attack damage with your combined strength and Stance and defeat enemies in just a few shots. Given the many types of relics and items available on your journey, there are still numerous strategies to ultimately get you to the Corrupt Heart.
New Relics, Potions, and Interesting Cards
When dropped off on the ground floor with Neow, the Watcher begins with the relic Pure Water, which starts your hand with the card Miracle. Don’t get too excited though — although zero-cost, the card only provides a single energy and exhausts after use. Other than Miracle, the Watcher starts with a standard strike-and-defend deck similar to ones the Ironclad, the Silent, and the Defect begin with.
Other Watcher-specific items includes the relic Violet Lotus, which provides players one additional energy when exiting the Calm Stance, and Stance Potion, which sends the character into either Wrath or Calm.
In my plays so far, I found these cards interesting:
- Unraveling: This card plays all cards in your hand from left to right, with targets chosen randomly. I imagine the meticulous player would be able to execute many high-cost cards to their benefit for the single cost of this one card.
- Windmill Strike: For each turn you Retain this card, the card’s damage increases by 2. This card will probably go very well with a Wrath or a Divinity session.
- Blasphemy: This card allows you to go directly into Divinity. However, you die next turn. (AKA make sure you win in that round.)
- Judgment:Reduces an enemy’s HP to zero, as long as their HP is 30 or below. Basically an insta-kill once you bring an enemy down far enough.
- Omniscience: Scry your entire draw deck. This is powerful, especially when you know the attack patterns of your enemies.
East Asian Culture in the Watcher’s Stances
The Stereotypical Fashions
We can’t talk about the Watcher without discussing the obvious East Asian cultural influence on the character. Not only is the Watcher dressed in a kimono and obi, with hair up in a stereotypical fashion (using chopsticks, no doubt), but the Watcher also possesses unique traits that also come from East Asian background.
Take for example the Watcher’s Stances. Across the diversity of martial arts, holding stances represent the most basic foundational skills. Specific stances maximize efficacy for attacking or defending. Interestingly, the gameplay that players will utilize in playing the Watcher will fall in the same pattern, i.e., using Calm when defending and using Wrath when attacking.
Divinity doesn’t quite come from martial arts, but it certainly comes from East Asian spiritual beliefs. In the game, divinity is a state the Watcher can only achieve by accumulating enough Mantra, which is somewhat a brute representation of attaining enlightenment. Also note that the Watcher is surrounded by the third eye when in Divinity, symbolic of higher consciousness.
With this context in mind, I think it’s interesting the Watcher is evaluating the Spire, as noted in the game’s description, since a central theme in the game’s lore is the hint that characters continue to re-spawn and die in this same tower, over and over again. Reminiscent of reincarnation, no?
East Asian Culture in the Watcher’s Deck
The cards unique to the Watcher’s deck collection also incorporate words from East Asian culture. Some of these cards include Empty Fist, Empty Body, and Flying Sleeves, which are not necessarily movements from a martial art form but certainly sound syntactically like something from Hidden Dragon, Crouching Tiger. With cards like Meditate, Inner Peace, and Fasting, there is no doubt about the Watcher’s influence from asceticism found in Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism.
One of the cards, Foreign Influence, reads to me like a political or historical joke… Especially given China and Japan’s relationship with European nations little over a century ago. I’m sure the game developers had at least considered the Watcher’s Asian-ness in developing this card, as none of the other Slay the Spire characters seem coded with ethnic or national clues. At any rate, as its title would suggest, the card allows the character to choose a card from another character’s deck. An example of this below:
The card Foreign Influence is still in beta, so there’s no illustration on its face for now. But I imagine the card would depict spheres of influence, haha. (History buffs, you know what I’m getting at.)
Waiting For More from Mega Crit
Mega Crit continues to bring us their best through Slay the Spire, and the beta release of the Watcher has absolutely been the highlight of my week. I await the updates and interesting gameplay they’ll bring us, and I’m incredibly happy to have this addicting and visually stunning game in my Steam library.
However, I have a confession to make: As awesome as the Watcher is, I must admit that my favorite character to play is still the Defect. But that’s probably only because I haven’t spent enough time with the Watcher just yet. I’m sure by the time the full release of the Watcher comes around, I’ll be all about adopting the right Mantras so I can get into Stance.
Slay on fellow Spire-ascenders! Who’s your favorite Slay the Spire character? Tweet us at @geekgalsco or shout directly at the writer @czaw13.
Featured image credit: Mega Crit