Prestidigitation: Thinking about Dexter Solo

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zozo · 2287

This is a Dexter Drake solo deck. I built this deck with a friend, Peredur, and we each piloted a version through The Circle Undone, exchanging notes and discussing upgrades. You can look through the upgrade path to see the level 0 version of the deck in this list. I had a lot of fun learning to pilot Dexter over the course of a campaign in solo, so wanted to share some thoughts.


As with any solo endeavour, the deck needs to find clues, handle enemies and respond to the particular challenges of a given campaign. For Dexter, as with many , his high is both boon and bane. If he has the right spells in play, he's golden. If he doesn't, his 2 , 3 and 2 leave a lot to be desired.

There were a few different ideas for this deck at design stage. The headline thoughts were 'probably lots of assets', 'succeed by x' and 'curse'. For curse, with access to Faustian Bargain, the cursed spell suite, Promise of Power and upgrade options like Priest of Two Faiths and Ríastrad, Dexter can do a decent job of getting curses into the bag and then using them for further impact. False Covenant and Skeptic provide some curse mitigation alongside Tides of Fate. But, as you can probably tell, that deck is not this deck. [Incidentally, I wonder if that's even viable in solo? But more curse solo deck thoughts to come in future...]

Instead, we unashamedly opted for the more straightforward get-high-stats-with-willpower, succeed-by-lots style.... but did it work?


The underlying thrust of Dexter is you can, if you want, take an asset in play, wiggle your fingers (like so: ) and – whoomph – turn it into something else, with the kicker of a cheeky discount. The question is: should you? And that's chased by 'particularly in solo'? The balancing act I came to discover was judging when a card was ready to be disappeared and when to hold on and spend an action - I know, right? - playing an asset like any other, regular investigator. Ditch things too freely and you're left without a board state; hold off and play conservatively and you're not using what Dexter does, his very essence, to slingshot you into advantageous positions.

So I began to have a hierarchy in my head of assets that I was happy to sling or otherwise:

  • Sixth Sense - very unhappy. This card gets you through pretty much everything clue-related and some.
  • Lone Wolf and Lucky Cigarette Case - pretty unhappy. These cards are the bread-and-butter economy drivers of the deck. But, if you're loaded with resources or flush with cards and not hunting for a particularly piece, go ahead, ditch one.
  • Shrivelling and Sword Cane - moderately unhappy. It's good to have enemy management on hand. But (again with the buts!), if you have another option in hand, it might be worth chucking one to re-set-up. I know that might sound sacrilegious, but the more I played, the more I found I could play fast and loose with enemy management tools. Essentially: don't get too precious about a Sword Cane that's already helped out. It could become a Lone Wolf or Cig Case if that's going to be more useful in the short-to-medium term.
  • Blood Pact and David Renfield - ditch these guys! Use them aggressively (doom clock allowing), smash tests or make bank, and then lose them. You can even use a Blood Pact in hand to ditch a Renfield (or vice versa), so you can keep toying with doom to your heart's content with a bit more control.
  • In the level zero deck, I also ran Scroll of Prophecies - and I'm happy to say sometimes I used all four secrets and other times I played it and turned it into something else almost immediately. If you were to run Flashlight in Dexter, I suspect you'd have a similar use-it-if-you-can-but-don't-feel-precious approach. Likewise with Obfuscation, you can pop it down fast, maybe tank a hit or two, particular if that's to draw or clear a hex or otherwise get sorted, and then turn it into your enemy solution. Tasty! I came to see it as 'pay 1 to give a future asset fast', because you're essentially using the 2-cost, fast Obfuscation to get an asset into play, to set up the Dexter chain of magic.
  • The Tower • XVI and Occult Scraps - ditch these guys! The weird quasi-bonus of having two irritating asset weaknesses in the deck is I used Dexter's ability to get them into play... and then turned them into something else, without spending an action, the very next turn. Honestly, just in case it's not clear: these are perfect Dexter fodder.

Magic is fun

So I'm not going to try to convince you otherwise: at its heart, this is a simple deck. Play your assets, prioritising Sixth Sense, then Lucky Cigarette Case, then Lone Wolf. I think the draw is of slightly higher importance for Dexter than some investigators both because he's a who needs his tools and because he likes a suite of options in hand on which he can use his ability. As noted above, if you have duplicates of specific cards in hand, you can be a little more playful in how you switch assets. I've even used a duplicate Lone Wolf or Cig Case to, over two turns, Occult Scraps into play and then get rid of it.

The other advantage of reliable draw is having options for self-inflicted-doom mitigation and being able to accumulate a series of succeed-by-x skill cards, so that you can go heavily into a test to power through a sticky point. In particular, getting "Watch this!", Quick Thinking and Promise of Power all in together can feel potent. As with any succeed-by-x style, the more you can thrust in together, the better.

I've not really mentioned the event suite, but in brief:

  • Spectral Razor is a cracking 3-health enemy solution.
  • Ward of Protection keeps you safe
  • Intel Report is for those tricksy locations or for when compression is key. Dexter usually prefers events that masquerade as assets, like Sword Cane and Obfuscation, and keeping up the asset count was particularly interesting as I upgraded. Speaking of which...

Upgrade thoughts

A challenge I ran up against was Dexter's health and sanity. Deny Existence wasn't in the level 0 deck, but I happily teched into it for the higher level deck. You can also see Momentum for more succeed-by-x, and the succeed enabler, Seal of the Elder Sign. The other upgrades, as already noted earlier in this write-up, were pretty standard: getting those baked-in in our core spells enabled more reliable passing of tests. I also explored adding Mists of R'lyeh into the deck for repeated evades. It adds some arcane-slot pressure, but the way Dexter moves through assets, you can usually work around that. I also slotted a Grotesque Statue for the finale of the campaign. As with Scroll of Prophecies it's something you can use fairly aggressively and then either allow to discard or, if you'd prefer, save a charge on it to use Dexter's ability on.

Notable absences

Oh so. damn. many. One of the biggest challenges was getting this deck to its lean essentials. Scroll of Secrets is probably a better shout than Scroll of Prophecies; Read the Signs and Drawn to the Flame could both compete with Intel Report for the slot. David Renfield only just saw off Arcane Initiate, and if I transitioned into Deny and Read the Signs in the level 0 deck, Initiate is almost certainly a better fit. My version of the deck didn't run Guts (at level 0 or 2), but I could be very swayed by an argument to include it, especially for boosting Sword Cane actions.

If one were to go cursed, then of course Armageddon, Shroud of Shadows and The Eye of Chaos need a look. For non-solo player counts, Clairvoyance and Rite of Seeking are worthy includes. In solo, Sixth Sense does everything you need; in multiplayer, the compression becomes more valuable.

You could also look at Gregory Gry for the ally slot, or our good pal Leo De Luca, of course. And likewise upgrading into Haste is a possibility, though it adds pressure to the arcane slot that's already somewhat tight. At heart, there's a balance to be struck between disposable assets and those you want to sit around doing work for you, turn in and turn out.

Show's over

I hope you've enjoyed this write-up. As ever, please share your thoughts and comments, and if things occur to you, I'd love to hear them. Thanks for reading!


Jan 25, 2021 suika · 7580

Nice build! I particularly like the idea of including Momentum in solo, since it allows you to make any test easy as long as you can Investigate or Fight first with your spells.

A question though: why Showmanship over Molly Maxwell? It doesn't seem like this deck gets much from Showmanship, while Molly's tutor is always useful. It is just because Occult Scraps is an easier weakness to deal with?

Jan 25, 2021 zozo · 2287

Hey @suikathank you for the comment. Yeah, Momentum can be tasty in solo. For TCU in particular, setting up easier Sword Cane tests or even the Circle tests was useful.

Great question. A couple of reasons, neither of them compelling. One was wanting to explore Dexter's regular sigs (I've already played him with Molly). Two was this list doesn't exactly make the most of Molly's ability - you could still call for Pact, Charm, Talent, Favor, Patron, Relic, but it's not geared around tutoring those pieces particularly and it certainly wasn't built with Molly in mind. To be honest, I think Molly could be traded in and you wouldn't lose much (if anything). So yeah, no compelling reason. I did find Showmanship + Sword Cane to be handy at the later scenarios (testing at 7 or 8 with Renfield vs just 5) but that was a rarity.

Jan 26, 2021 andresd6 · 1

@suika amazing deck. question: aren't you supposed to pay only 4 xp when you upgrade from shrivelling to shrivelling(3)?

Jan 26, 2021 andresd6 · 1

sorry I meant to @zozo... this is for you: amazing deck. question: aren't you supposed to pay only 4 xp when you upgrade from shrivelling to shrivelling(3)?

Jan 26, 2021 zozo · 2287

Hey @andresd6 I guess you’re asking because you might be thinking you get a discount for the lower level version? But no, upgrading from level 0 shrivelling to level 3 shrivelling costs 3xp per copy (3-0=0) so it’s 6xp for the pair. Does that make sense? You can get an xp discount if you go from a level above 0 (such as Hot Streak 2 to Hot Streak 4, which costs 2xp) but a level 0 card doesn’t give a discount. Hope that helps! Thanks for the comment!

Jan 26, 2021 andresd6 · 1

Hey @zozo I guess I was thinking about how purchasing level 0 cards cost 1 experience and brought the same logic to the upgrade process. In my mind it was 3-1=2. Always trying to chest the System!

Jan 27, 2021 Susumu · 127

@ andresd6 Level 0 cards only cost 1 XP, if you swap one for another one, in practice that's a fee for flexibility or not planning accordingly in your level 0 deck. However upgrading two Shrivelling (0) into Shrivelling (3) for 4 XP would have been possible, if you took twice Arcane Research before. You would get one for 1 XP and the second for 3 XP in this case.

Feb 05, 2021 HarrisonF · 68

Have you considered getting Versatile in order to be able to add Trench Knife? The knife appears in all of the Popular decks except this one, so we need to get it in there.

Feb 07, 2021 zozo · 2287

@HarrisonF hahaha! Funnily enough I just made a Trench Knife and then realised there were a load about! embarrassed Oh well! Thanks for the comment, cracked me up!