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[Guide] Beginner's Guide to Workers

Choosing what card to worker is kind of paralyzing. You have a hand full of cards, each of which has varied and powerful effects. You can imagine uses for any one of them as the game goes on, and you’d like to hang on to all of them. It would be a shame to turn one into a worker and lose access to it for the entire rest of the game.

On the other hand, if you don’t you won’t have as much gold next turn and you won’t be able to build higher level Tech buildings that let you use even more powerful cards. How are you supposed to choose?

Welcome to Codex, where the decisions are always tough and the right answer is always “it depends”.

“It depends” is not especially helpful advice if you are a beginner though. This guide will lay out some general guidelines for when and what to worker. There are exceptions to all of these rules, and you will discover them as you improve at Codex. However, these should be a good starting point that will help ease some of the analysis paralysis when you are new to the game.

When to hire a worker?

The normal progression is to hire a worker every turn until you get to 10. There are 4 advantages to this (from most straightforward to most subtle):

  • You have more gold on later turns
  • You can build your Tech buildings as soon as possible (Tech I at 6 workers, Tech II at 8 workers, Tech III at 10 workers).
  • You increase the average quality of the cards you draw. All cards in codex are useful, but the cards you get access to later in the game are better than the ones you can use earlier, and you can only draw so many of them each turn. If you worker the merely decent cards, you will draw your even better cards more often.
  • As a simple example of how cards get more powerful as the game goes on, compare the red starter card Mad Man and the Fire Tech I card Lobber. Both cost 1g and have haste, but the Lobber is a 2/2 instead of a 1/1 and it gets a useful exhaust ability. Mad Man is nice to have, but not if you could have had the Lobber instead.
  • You reduce the variability of your draws. Your deck will grow each turn as you tech additional cards. The bigger your deck is, the more room there is for random variation to not give you the card you need when you need it. Hiring workers helps you reduce the size of your deck to mitigate this. Hiring a worker both takes the workered cards out of your deck, and you helps you reach 10 workers as soon as possible so you stop being forced to tech.

Once you reach 10 workers, you have more freedom to decide whether to worker or not, since the game will probably be over soon anyway.

You’ll often be tempted to skip a worker and spend that gold on something else. Generally, you shouldn’t. When you do skip a worker, it should be because that extra gold allows you to make a big play you couldn’t make otherwise, like destroying a tech building or killing a max level hero. And you probably shouldn’t think about skipping a worker until you have at least 8. Before then the disadvantages of skipping the worker are almost always too high to be worth it, particularly not being able to build your Tech II.

#What to worker?
Conceptually, you want to worker the card that will be the least useful for the rest of the game. That will depend on a lot of factors, including the board state, your Codex and strategy, your opponent’s Codex, the cards they have teched or might tech, etc. However, there are some general rules you can follow.

Most of the time, you will want to worker one of your starting deck cards. Late in the game, however, you might worker one of the first cards you teched, often because you are now going for a different strategy than what the card supports.

When deciding which starter card to worker, you can think about them in 4 different categories:

  • Plan/Matchup-dependent. These are cards whose effectiveness depends on what plan you are going for, or sometimes what plan your opponent is going for. You’ll want to hold on to them if you are using that plan/matchup, but worker them otherwise.
  • In the black starter, Skeletal Archery is strong if you are going for a skeleton-heavy game, but quite weak otherwise.
  • Also in the black starter, Poisonblade Rogue is an effective counter for specific cards (for example Ironbark Treant), but is weaker otherwise
  • Early game cards. These cards tend to be relatively stronger in the early game, but become less useful as the game goes on, often because the cards you tech in will do the same thing more efficiently. You often want to play these cards on the early turns, but worker them later. Most starter cards, particularly units, fall in this category
  • Hardened Mox, from the Purple starter, is a strong early game play as the only Indestructible starter unit. However, it is literally unplayable once you reach Tech II
  • Plasmodium, also in the Purple starter, is nearly as extreme. If you play it on T1, it’s 4/4 stats stack up favorably with the Tech I units your opponent will be playing when it arrives on T4. But if you play the Plasmodium on T4, by the time it arrives on T7 your opponent will have much stronger Tech II or even Tech III units in play, and the Plasmodium won’t be nearly as effective.
  • Balanced cards. These are about equally effective at all stages of the game.
  • In the blue starter, Reputable Newsman is useful both early and late. Early on it can be used to block your opponent’s best starter spell. Later on, you can use it to shut down ultimate spells.
  • Late game cards. These tend not to be that useful in the early game, often because they are expensive or have weak targets. However, their power scales well into the late game and they can make a good impact even as a starter card. You’ll be tempted to worker this early when you can’t get much use out of it, but it’s often worth keeping it around. This is the least common category.
  • Snapback, in the white starter, is the archetypical late game starter card. Early on, 3 gold is a lot to spend and your opponent’s low level heroes aren’t worthwhile targets. But later on when your opponent has a maxband hero on the board and a big ultimate spell in his next hand, Snapback can literally save the game for you.

Early in the game, any of the starter cards could be useful. As the game progresses and you add more powerful cards to your deck, many of those cards will begin to be outclassed. They’ll still be useful in some way, but not as much as the other options you have. As the game goes on, you will want to worker those less useful cards. The cards you retain should fill a useful niche that your other cards can’t, for example a low-cost unit to use as an extra patroller, or a spell that can counter a particular strategy.

This priority order will help you worker the less useful cards first:

  1. Matchup-dependent cards when you aren’t in a favorable matchup. These will usually be the first to go
  2. Plan-dependent cards, as soon as you are committed to not going to that plan.
  3. Early game cards that you won’t be able to play before they get outclassed. Sometimes your choice will come down to playing the card this turn, or workering it, because by the time you draw it again you’ll have better options.
  4. After this point, it becomes so dependent on the state of the game that it’s hard to stick to any general rules. You can work by process of elimination:
    a. First rule out the cards you want to play that turn
    b. Then rule out any cards that are crucial to your gameplan (like a Tech III or an Ultimate spell)
    c. Then rule out any cards that are critical counters to whatever your opponent’s plan is
    d. Worker one of the cards that’s left. If none are left, you can worker one of the counters, or it might be late enough in the game that you can skip a worker

#Color-specific advice

Here’s how the cards in each starter break down between these categories, along with some common early worker choices (usually cards that fall into #1-3 above). For more discussion on the power level of the starter cards see this thread

Matchup/Plan-dependent: Granfalloon Flagbearer, Helpful Turtle
Early game: Fruit Ninja, Spark, Timely Messenger, Tenderfoot, Older Brother
Balanced: Brick Thief, Bloom, Wither
Late game:
Common early workers: Helpful Turtle, Fruit Ninja, Spark

Matchup/Plan-dependent: Careless Musketeer, Pillage, Scorch, Bloodburn
Early game: Nautical Dog, Mad Man, Bloodrage Ogre
Balanced: Makeshift Rambaster, Charge, Bombaster
Late game:
Common early workers: Scorch, Careless Musketeer, Pillage

Matchup/Plan-dependent: Verdant Tree
Early game: Rich Earth, Merfolk Prospector, Tiger Cub, Playful Panda, Ironbark Treant
Balanced: Young Treant, Spore Shambler, Rampant Growth, Forest’s Favor
Late game:
Common early workers: Verdant Tree, Rich Earth, Ironbark Treant

Matchup/Plan-dependent: Poisonblade Rogue, Jandra, Skeletal Archery, Summon Skeletons
Early game: Pestering Haunt, Skeleton Javelineer
Balanced: Thieving Imp, Graveyard, Deteriorate
Late game: Sacrifice the Weak
Common early workers: Poisonblade Rogue, Jandra, Skeletal Archery, Summon Skeletons

Matchup/Plan-dependent: Bluecoat Musketeer, Jail
Early game: Building Inspector, Traffic Director
Balanced: Spectral Aven, Reputable Newsman, Lawful Search, Manufactured Truth
Late game: Arrest, Porkhand Magistrate
Common early workers: Bluecoat Musketeer, Lawful Search, Porkhand Magistrate, Jail

Matchup/Plan-dependent: Fox Viper, Morningstar Flagbearer, Fox Primus
Early game: Savior Monk, Safe Attacking
Balanced: Aged Sensei, Smoker, Grappling Hook, Sensei’s Advice
Late game: Snapback
Common early workers: Fox Viper, Fox Primus, Morningstar Flagbearer

Matchup/Plan-dependent: Battle Suits, Temporal Research, Tinkerer, Time Spiral
Early game: Hardened Mox, Plasmodium, Forgotten Fighter, Neo Plexus
Balanced: Nullcraft, Fading Argonaut
Late game:
Common early workers: Forgotten Fighter, Tinkerer/ Time Spiral (if not doing a time rune plan), Plasmodium/Hardened Mox (if not playing them first cycle)


Feedback on this is appreciated, especially on the card-specific stuff.

I would count porkhand as late game.
I honestly never play him early unless I have no choice and need a blocker.
I would rather build a tower than play it.


This is exactly the kind of guide I am looking for at my level. Thank you. This is awesome!

I’ll try to transfer some of this strategy to my son as well. Too soon he’d rather play as many cards as possible per turn, and he’ll skip hiring workers and end up drawing small hands. But, he’s seven, so it’s impressive enough that he’s playing the game at all, I figure, eh? :slight_smile:


Also I would put porkhand in common early workers too, since by the time you get to the time he’s good, you don’t want to spend 3 gold for a 2/3 who takes a full turn for such a weak effect.


Statement of the year.


I’d say this is a little too detailed for a Beginner’s Guide, as it’s asking or assuming the beginner understands some game concepts, such as early game and late game, AND they can look at a card and figure out where it belongs.

While the starting deck guides are explicit, it doesn’t help a beginner figure out why you ranked the cards the way you did, nor why certain cards tend to be early Workers.

For a complete beginner, they dont need to care why cards got their rankings - if you always worker the starter card in your hand with the lowest grade, you’ll be right nore often than not, and if you are wrong, it won’t be a game ending mistake.

At an intermediate level, reading the analysis will teach when to deviate from the defaults.

And at an advanced level, players engage with the analysis, and can deviate completely based on their own understanding.


As a relative beginner, I’m curious about some white and purple cards.

Safe Attacking seems like it should be match-up dependent. It seems like a powerful counter to Tower dependent teams to me.

Why is Smoker listed as Balanced? Is this because of the unlimited combo or pings to combo with Earthquake? Both seem very plan-dependent. Or is he just a much worse Nullcraft?
Why is Fading Argonaut listed as Balanced? Isn’t he just a standard early game unit?

Pretty much any 1/1 for 1 is going to be “Balanced” - they are good for chump blocking either early or late, and that is 50% of their utility, regardless of text box.

Fading Argo is in the running for best Tech 0 unit in the game, but Barrelfish isn’t sorting by power level, just by use case, and Fading Argo is a good play both early and late. The extra HP over Older Brother / Neo Plexus really does make a difference when fighting Tech I and Tech II things (and in the mid-late game the Fading 3 is a minor benefit that helps power Temporal Research or Rememberer)

Safe Attacking is an interesting case. I’d say it’s more of a “balanced” card - because it affects Tech I units, you can play it at any point where it immediately saves one of your attackers from death, and it will be worth the card/gold.


I realize this morning why I had trouble with your design approach. It boils down to this: do you want to teach beginners how to play, or do you want to teach them why this is how to play?

The difference is this. Teaching how essentially gives a beginner a procedure, like a cookbook. Teaching why covers the underlying logic behind the procedure. If you teach the underlying logic, the students can figure out the procedure on their own, as well as how and to adjust the procedure.

The problem is people need to learn different things. Some people have a lot of knowledge and experience, and just need to learn basic Codex gameplay concepts. These players just need help identifying starter deck cards which are good in the beginning, but useless near the end. Others do not have this knowledge, and need to gain it. Some will want to learn why you do something first, others want to learn how to play well and figure out why it works down the road.

So the design question here is: which audience are you writing for?

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In my experience with language instruction, to go with a cooking analogy, you can’t teach why you’re doing what you’re doing at each step in the recipe without first teaching the recipe itself.

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You can’t teach why without teaching how, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore why.

A. Do X
B. Do X because Y
C. Because Y

This is a good question, and actually something I think about a lot. Generally I am someone that leads with the why, and only then goes to the how. That is how I personally learn best. But I didn’t think it was the most effective method here.

My goal for this guide was to reverse that - start with specific and prescriptive advice (do this, don’t do that), and then explain the why afterward. More “do X, because of general principle Y” rather than “the general principle is Y, from this we can derive X”. For a beginner suffering from analysis paralysis, I think it’s more useful to lead with the concrete and use that to build up the intuition for the general principles, rather than the reverse.

Ideally I’d be able to perfectly teach the general principles and the reader can figure out the specific things to do for themselves, but I think that’s unrealistic for a beginner. Often those general principles don’t really click until you’ve got a good amount of experience under your belt, and you won’t get there if you are agonizing for 10 minutes every turn about your worker decision.

If you think I can revise the guide to achieve that goal more effectively, I’m all ears. I intentionally did not include explanations for why I categorized every starter card the way I did, because I don’t want to bury the concrete, practical advice in mounds of explanation. My hope is that the examples in each category will help lead readers towards the general principle without being too overwhelming.


I’ve taught three or four people how to play Codex in the last month or so. I’ve found that trying to start with the “why” early is often overwhelming - the rules for Codex are not simple, and most of those players needed a game or two to become comfortable with the basic rules - what all the mechanics are. Getting into strategy after that has been a slow process, as well. I’ve been focusing on the early game (first two-three turns) and trying to build up both breadth and depth of knowledge there, before moving onto whys that involve the later game.

So giving rules of thumb for “what should I worker?” has been a pretty major part of that. Because making correct worker decisions for correct reasons requires being able to answer the question “which of these cards least supports my game plan?” which requires… being able to formulate a coherent gameplan. But making bad worker decisions early on can really hurt. So I’ve given the players more or less a priority list of “what to worker on the first two turns.” It matches Barrelfish’s “common early workers” pretty well.

From there, I’ve been able to build up to why you worker those cards most of the time, and we’ve had some pretty rewarding moments where someone “got it” and said something like “Oh, you always worker Fruit Ninja because it’s strictly worse than Older Brother unless you’re attacking with it, and once you get to tech 1 everything is better than it. But if you’re applying early pressure as player one, isn’t it actually good?” as he played a P1 T1 Fruit Ninja, which he used next turn to kill my Squad Leader. I was so proud!


Maybe this will help.

Your 4 Categories are good (early, mid, late, special) and well-defined, but there’s nothing here explaining why a card fits into these categories… so while your analysis of the starting decks might be 100% accurate, the reader has no way to figure out why. This is why your examples don’t really help at the moment.

Something worth adding is how the Worker-Tech mechanics basically mean your deck is growing one card in size every turn, and the end goal is to build a strong 15-16 Card deck, which includes 4-5 Starting Deck cards. Using the guideline to only Worker Starting Deck cards, it might be helpful to identify cards worth keeping in this final deck.

Specifically, I suggest ensuring you have 1-2 starting spells, a defensive unit, and an offensive unit. This way, when everything goes sideways, you should still be able to summon a hero and cast a useful spell, and play a useful Unit.

This topic also leads into a discussion over what to tech, by using this final hand as a framework.

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I added a bit more explanation that should help clarify some of those points. Between that and the explanation of what each category means, hopefully the guide conveys enough of the “why” for the categories to make sense.

I don’t want to go too much farther than this into tech decisions because that is outside the scope of this guide (and frankly the scope of what I feel qualified to write about). That is a topic that definitely deserves a full guide though.

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This is agreeing with what everyone else said, phrases in a different way:

You cannot approach any part of the Codex system in isolation. You need to have a rough idea of what your final deck composition will be to determine what to worker early, and you need to know what starter deck cards are strong to know which ones to include in your final deck composition.


@Barrelfish feedback on white: I’d consider Safe Attacking a “Play Early or Worker Early” candidate, and Sensei’s Advice a “useful all game” (aka I’d switch position of those two)

Tagging @Hobusu b/c I suggested the same edit on his White reference sheet


Is safe attacking mostly part of Ninjutsu’s ninja token strategy or is it interesting to use it for starter purpose only ?