Balatro: Tips/Strategies for Jokerless Challenge

The Jokerless challenge is the final of Balatro’s 20 Challenge Runs, and is by far the hardest. This guide includes a few tips and tricks, as well as the strategy that I personally used to beat it.

About the Challenge

Balatro has 20 different challenge runs, most of which show of fun or unique ways to play. However, the final 3-4 challenges are much more difficult than the rest, and require much more strategy and (of course) good RNG.

This guide is about the Jokerless challenge, which has the following rules:

  • Jokers no longer appear in the shop
  • 0 Joker Slots
  • Banned Items: Judgement, Wraith, Soul, Buffoon Packs, Uncommon Tag, Rare Tag, Negative Tag, Foil Tag, Holographic Tag, Polychrome Tag, Buffoon Tag

There is exactly 1 source of generating Jokers that is not banned, possibly by oversight, but it is also nearly impossible to take advantage of, so I wouldn’t count on it. But just to point it out, here it is. If you are able to purchase both the Blank and Antimatter Vouchers, you can get 1 Joker slot. Then, you can get the Top Up Tag to create 1 common Joker. Most common jokers aren’t terribly impactful anyway, but the fact that you can technically get a Joker in this challenge is kinda funny to me ūüôā

Quick Tips

Before getting into more detailed strategies for this challenge, I wanted to share some tips that can help make your runs more consistent.

  • Playing without Jokers is very different to standard play, so it¬†WILL¬†take some time to get used to. Be patient when you start attempting it.
  • Skipping Blinds is not worth it 99.999% of the time, no matter how tempting the skip tag is.
  • As always, try to maximize the money you earn from interest, as it is kind of the only way to accelerate your economy without any income Jokers.
  • Be patient, and be ready to reset. A lot.
  • Planet and Tarot cards that are in the shop or your consumables will prevent duplicates of them from spawning in any packs you open, so use that to your advantage to “block” any cards you don’t want.
  • Because of the lack of Jokers, the base score of your hand must make up the slack, so getting planet cards for your desired hand is the best possible way to get out of the first few antes quickly.
  • Certain Vouchers can provide a huge amount of value, such as the extra hands, discards, Hieroglyph and Petroglyph, and most notably, Telescope.
  • If you really want to minimize issues, play with a calculator. It is a little boring and silly, but it really does help in situations where you need to figure out if you need to risk playing something like a glass card or not.

Selecting a Hand to Build Around

As you may already know, the hands that are the easiest to use early on for good score are the ones with 4 Mult at Level 1. These include Flush, Full House, and Straight. I advise building your entire run around one of these 3 Hand types.

Flushes are the easiest to create, but scale the worst, with each Jupiter card giving +15 Chips and +2 Mult

Straights start out weak, but scale the best out of these 3, with each Saturn card giving +30 Chips and +2 Mult

Full Houses are the strongest of the 3 at level 1, but since the Earth card only gives +25 Chips and +2 Mult, it will eventually be surpassed by Straight. They are also the hardest of the 3 to find with an unedited deck.

Personally, I started with Flushes and was having trouble getting past Ante 3, but eventually switched to Straights because of how well they scale, and this gave me much better chances at making it further.

You may find success with another hand, but I would not advise going after anything below 3 of a Kind, as its scaling is way too slow to make it anywhere past Ante 3 or 4.

Early Ante Strategies (Ante 1 – 3)

A lot of runs will die extremely early due to a number of different factors, but here is a good method that I used to get things off the ground:

In the first Small Blind, try to play whatever hand you are going to be taking all the way (in case you see Telescope) and win in 1 hand. If you don’t draw the right cards to do so, just reset. Nothing has happened yet. If you do win, you should have $10 in the first shop. Try to get a planet card for your chosen hand, whether it be from the base shop items, a Celestial Pack, or even the High Priestess. However, if the Telescope voucher is available, do not spend any money and go to the next Big Blind immediately. You will need 2 hands to win, most of the time, so try to make at least one of them your chosen hand. Then, when you are back at the shop, you should have $17 – $18 and can hopefully pick up Telescope and a Celestial Pack before going into the first Boss Blind. If you don’t get an upgrade or Telescope in the first shop, just reset.

You should continue to try to upgrade your chosen hand as much as possible throughout Antes 1 and 2, but do not spend more money than is needed. Without ways to generate money from Jokers, saving money for Interest is your best possible bet. If you play well and get good shop RNG, you can have your hand as high as level 5 or 6 going into Ante 3.

Ante 3 is where things can get tough. The jump from the 1,600 Boss Blind of Ante 2 to the 2,800 Small Blind of Ante 3 is a big hurdle to say the least. If you can pick up a score boosting Tarot card such as the Empress, Justice, or Chariot, hold onto it, and use it to beat this blind. If you’ve had¬†very¬†good planet luck, you can still clear this without card enhancements though.

Once you make it out of Ante 3, your run is officially off the ground. You should continue to upgrade your hand, but also start considering a few important Tarot cards that can help your score, and make things more consistent. In my opinion, the best ones to help you are the Empress, Justice, and Chariot, as mentioned before, in addition to the Fool, Hermit, Hanged Man, and potentially High Priestess/Emperor. Depending on the hand you have chosen, the Lovers, suit changers, and Strength can also be useful to make hands easier to create. It is important to note that the Hierophant is not nearly as impactful as you may want it to be, as your chips are almost always much larger than your mult, so focusing on increasing mult is much more impactful. You can also take a risk on the Magician if you’re feeling lucky (haha) but for the most part, Lucky cards won’t do much.

Mid Ante Strategies (Ante 4 – 6)

When you get to the mid game, things open up a bit. You should have a decent amount of money saved up, and your chosen hand should be at least level 8, hopefully higher. You should begin to search for alternate ways of increasing your power, however. Due to the nature of how leveling up hands works, you get diminishing returns for each upgrade. For example, a Level 1 Straight has a base score of 30×4 for 120, but upgrading it to Level 2 makes it 60×6 for 360, which is 3x better. However, upgrading it from Level 9 (270×20) to Level 10 (300×22) is only a 22% increase. However, this does not mean it is not worth upgrading, you should still take them when they are given to you. Just don’t go out of your way to try to get a level 4000 hand.

In the mid game, you should work on obtaining another source of score, mainly coming from Tarot cards. I mentioned some of the most useful ones at the end of the previous section, but to quickly summarize, the ones you should be looking for are: Empress, Justice, Chariot, Hermit, Fool, Hanged Man, Death, Emperor, High Priestess, Strength, Lovers, and Suit changers.

I would also suggest opening Standard Packs as well, as they can contain powerful cards that help grow your power. The best possible things you could find (that you can’t easily get elsewhere) are Holographic/Polychrome cards, or things with Red, Purple, or Gold seals. Blue seals are not terribly useful, but they do have the potential to either give you the planet card for your chosen hand, or at the very least, block an unwanted planet from showing up in the next shop.

Spectral Packs are very tempting as always, but not always as useful without jokers. Cards like Hex, Ankh, and Ectoplasm obviously do nothing here. However, there are still some good Spectral Cards that are worth pursuing. The best ones to look for are Talisman, Aura, Sigil, Immolate, Deja Vu, Medium, and Cryptid. A case could also be made for Ouija if you are playing Full Houses, but I would say that the -1 hand size is not worth the sacrifice in this challenge. For the most part, Familiar, Grim, and Incantation are not worth risking adding potential garbage cards to your deck, so in most situations are not worthwhile.

The mid game is fairly standard in most runs, and is a good time to start shifting away from planet cards and toward a good endgame strategy. Do your best to enhance your cards and find alternate sources of income and power. When you reach Ante 7, you are in the home stretch and poised to complete the challenge!

Endgame Ante Strategies (Ante 7 & 8)

You have made it to the last few obstacles standing in your way of completing the hardest challenge! In Antes 7 & 8, the required scores really pick up. For the most part, your chosen hand should be Level 15 or higher, and your most played cards should be enhanced.

At this point, your largest spikes in power come from 2 or 3 sources, and these are anything that multiplies your Mult. The best possible things to do this are Glass cards, Steel cards, and Polychrome Cards. If you can hold Tarot cards like Justice and Chariot in hand during a round and use them as needed, that is the best case scenario.

I would suggest using a calculator to figure out whether or not you need to use these items, especially glass cards. I know it may be boring, but you didn’t come this far just to restart! If you can hold onto those consumables until a time where you actually need them, do so.

Also, don’t be afraid to overwrite enhancements with a better one. At this point in the game, bonus cards have almost no impact, and even something like a mult card could have a much bigger impact on your score.

When you get to the final shops in Ante 8, spend all your money to make yourself as powerful as possible and put yourself in the best position to win. Unless you’re crazy, you won’t be taking this run into Endless, so you don’t need to save money for interest anymore, or worry about whether or not Glass cards break. Make as many Glass and Steel cards as possible, and even better if you can get them on Red Seal cards. If everything goes well, you should be able to clear the final boss with your card enhancements!

Problematic Boss Blinds

In addition to bad RNG, there are a few other problems that have the potential to kill your run. Mainly these are certain Boss Blinds with especially problematic abilities. You have a few options to counter them, so this section will detail the potential threats and how to work around them. These are the ones to look out for:

The Wall:¬†This boss is not hard to beat if you get it on Ante 2 or 4, (Ante 3 Wall is actually harder than Ante 4 Wall most of the time) but can potentially cause issues if you haven’t been lucky with upgrades/enhancements. The difference in scaling can be made up for with a single Glass card, however, making this boss not a huge issue, just something to look out for.

The Ox:¬†This one is just annoying. Due to the nature of this challenge, you can’t afford to play anything other than your chosen hand, but The Ox will steal all your money when you do. If this one comes up, just remember to spend as much money as you can after the Big Blind, and try to rebuild your economy afterwards.

The Arm:¬†Just straight up rude. Eating 1 de-level is not a huge deal, but if you don’t beat this boss in 1 hand, your scaling will probably be permanently off track.

The Needle:¬†As always, only getting 1 hand is potentially a run killer if you don’t draw the right cards. You can try to counter this boss by holding Tarot cards like Strength or Death in hand to potentially get out of a bad draw.

The Plant and The Mark:¬†Both of these bosses punish you if you build into face cards too much. Considering the nature of leveling up your hands, it won’t really matter the ranks of the cards you play after Ante 1, so it’s probably better to avoid face cards if possible.

The Goad, The Club, The Head, and The Window: These are the biggest problem if your chosen hand is Flush, obviously, but can be problematic to any hand if your enhanced cards are debuffed. If you can, try to hold some Tarot cards in hand for these bosses that can help make up the difference.

The Flint: This boss is almost never a problem in normal play, because your Jokers are usually much more powerful than the base score of your hand. But here, effectively making your hand 1/4 as powerful is more dangerous than The Wall or even the Violet Vessel, believe it or not. This is the most dangerous boss in this challenge, hands down. You do have a prayer of beating it with a LOT of enhancements, but considering you need 2 Glass cards just to return to your base score, this one is a run killer more often than not.

Final Bosses:¬†Crimson Heart and Amber Acorn do nothing, since they only effect your Jokers, which you don’t have. Full transparency, I’m not sure if Verdant Leaf permanently debuffs all your cards, or does nothing, so feel free to let me know if you have got this one as your final boss. If your cards are debuffed, you better hope your hand is high enough level to make it in 2 or 3, because not having any enhancements is more than likely a death sentence. The Cerulean Bell is more annoying than difficult, but with the right enhancements, you can reach 100,000 with only 1 good hand. So just keep trying until the boss selects the right card for you. Violet Vessel is scary, of course, but not unbeatable if you have enough Glass and Steel at your disposal. Do your best to carry a Justice and/or Chariot card with you into this boss.

You also have the potential to get out of a bad boss if you pick up the Director’s Cut voucher, but I wouldn’t count on that showing up all the time. Sometimes bad boss RNG can say FU to even the best of runs. Do your best to look ahead at each boss and try to pick up some consumables to mitigate its impact.

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