(I’m https://steamcommunity.com/id/jesnell/ in case anyone wants some leaderboard action.)
I’ve won at covenant 9, always using random faction selection. I think 7 of the 10 wins involved Stygian, and 3 were specifically Stygian/Awoken. That’s just total easy mode for my playstyle. (Awoken/Stygian is pretty smooth sailing too.)
Thoughts so far:
The random starting cards from covenant 1 onward bother me less than I thought. Sure, there’s time when it means there’s unplayable garbage in your deck. But the game is very generous with deck culling capabilities, and it really doesn’t matter whether you’re culling out a card that doesn’t work all or that’s merely underpowered. And it’s pretty hard to lose the game, or even get into a bad situation, before you’ve had time to fix the deck. But it does at least force you into thinking about why some of these cards exist.
(E.g. I was forced to play with the card that gives a unit 3 lifesteal in exchange for 2 emberdrain. Which seems like trash; three lifesteal does not seem worth losing three energy, even with a delay. And unlike the other emberdrain cards I’d seen, you can’t arrange to have the unit get killed after you gained the benefit. The beneft from lifesteal is delayed kind of by definition. But it turned out to be a killer card for the boss rush.)
This is an easy recommendation for a friend who gave up on StS due to thinking that act 1 in StS is a pointless waste of time, and would just like to draft cards to start in act 2.
But I’m still not convinced by the upgrade system. There’s basically no tension about early/mid/late game tradeoffs in the deck building, since basically everything could be upgraded to something that’s viable in endgame. There’s also no need to delay taking cards or delay upgrades, since as far as I can tell the loot tables and shop contents are the same at every level. Just go with endgame cards right from the start.