The best Ability Card combos in Red Dead Online

Make your character unstoppable with the ideal ability card combinations.

Screengrab via Rockstar

Ability cards are the backbone of Red Dead Online, and there are many combinations to create your perfect playstyle. If you play in a posse, you can play support for your team by healing, boosting damage, and gaining boosts from reviving. If you play alone, you can increase your DPS output or turn your character into a tank that can survive any onslaught. You can alternate between player versus player (PvP) or player versus environment (PvE) settings, or you can choose just one. The RSO subreddit has a lot of detail about each card and suggested ones.

Each player can have up to four ability cards. Different cards unlock at different levels, and each card can be leveled up twice to improve its performance. There are two types of cards: active and passive. Each player gets one active card and three passive cards. The active card changes the effects of the player’s Dead Eye ability. Passive cards support the player and, if stacked correctly, will cooperate with the chosen Dead Eye ability. 

Passive cards have three types: combat, recovery, and defense. Just because you have three slots and three cards doesn’t mean that you need to have one of each card type. Depending on your preferred playstyle, you may want three of one type, or to mix and match. Some of the best combinations come from utilizing multiple cards from one category. Combat cards boost your damage with certain weapons or under certain conditions. Recovery cards boost your health, stamina, or Dead Eye recovery. Defense cards reduce incoming damage based on certain conditions.

Best combos for PvE

Everyone must play PvE in Red Dead Online. As such, even if you prefer PvP, you still should have a preferred PvE setup for bounties, moonshiner events, or trader deliveries. Players that prefer PvE will need to focus on crowd control and survivability. Crowd control is especially important when playing without a posse. It is easy to become overwhelmed by hostile NPCs without a group to support you. You’ll see a lot of overlap with the combinations. There are some really good cards and some not so good cards. As a result, we’re picking from nearly the same pool.

Paint it Black: The Damage Dealer

Screenshot via Rockstar
  • Dead Eye: Paint it Black
  • Best Passives: Strange Medicine, Iron Lung, Fool Me Once
  • Alternative Passives: Peak Condition, Unblinking Eye, A Kick in the Butt, Fool Me Once

Paint it Black is an excellent damage-centered PvE card. Most players think of it in terms of PvP. It’s strong in that setting, but nothing crowd controls like Paint it Black. This Dead Eye card will help you clear your pursuers quickly and allow you to escape with your life. Paint it Black is the Dead Eye ability in Red Dead Redemption 2’s story mode. It is a familiar card for those who have played the story mode. Dead Eye paints your enemy with a small X, and firing will fire a bullet for each painted enemy. It is a high burst damage card that can be used when overwhelmed with NPCs. 

If you want more damage, pair it with Peak Condition. If you want better survivability, use Iron Lung. Peak Condition will increase damage based on your stamina level. Iron Lung will reduce incoming damage based on your stamina level. 

Eye for an Eye or Unblinking Eye can extend your Dead Eye ability for emergency use. Strange Medicine is always a reliable card, even if it nerfs your overall health regeneration. You are guaranteed to be dealing damage, so it is a handy choice to have equipped. Fool Me Once is also a useful one to have when fighting a large group of NPC enemies. 

Slow and Steady: The Tank

Screenshot via Rockstar
  • Dead Eye: Slow and Steady
  • Best Passives: Fool Me Once, Strange Medicine, Iron Lung
  • Alternative Passives: Eye for an Eye, Kick in the Butt, Unblinking Eye, Cold Blooded

Slow and Steady is a strong PvP or PvE card. You can use the same setup in both situations or modify it slightly. For PvE, Slow and Steady can help you tank incoming damage. Pair it with Fool Me Once and Iron Lung and Strange Medicine. If you want, remove Fool Me Once or Iron Lung and add Cold Blooded. Cold Blooded will increase your health regeneration rate after you kill an enemy and pairs very well with Strange Medicine. This isn’t great in PvP, but it’s excellent for PvE when enemies have worse survivability than players. 

Focus Fire: The Damage Boost

Screenshot via Rockstar
  • Dead Eye: Focus Fire
  • Best Passives: Iron Lung, Strange Medicine, Gunslinger’s Choice
  • Alternative Passives: Fool Me Once, Winning Streak

The next two, Focus Fire and Quite an Inspiration, are for players that have a posse at the ready. Focus Fire is for those that like to play in a team and always play supporting roles. It increases the amount of damage dealt for all teammates while your Dead Eye is active. 

Pair this card with Gunslinger’s Choice or Winning Streak to improve your own damage output. Iron Lung will help you take some extra hits and Strange Medicine will restore your health as you injure targets. 

Because this card assumes that you will play in a group, you can also add Strength in Numbers, which will reduce your incoming damage for every nearby ally. 

Quite an Inspiration: The Healer

Screenshot via Rockstar
  • Dead Eye: Quite an Inspiration
  • Best Passives: Strange Medicine, Iron Lung, Strength in Numbers
  • Alternative Passives: Unblinking Eye, Kick in the Butt, Take the Pain Away

Like Focus Fire, Quite an Inspiration is for those that play in a group and like to support their team. While in Dead Eye, you and your allies’ health will regenerate. It doesn’t stack, so only one person on the posse should use it. 

With this loadout, focus on recovery and survivability. You’re the healer and you need to be alive. You are particularly important when doing Legendary Bounties where there is a limited amount of deaths allowed. Pair it with Strange Medicine to recover health as you fight and keep yourself alive, Iron Lung to help your tanking abilities, and either Strength in Numbers for a damage boost or the Unblinking Eye to keep your Dead Eye ability up. 

It is a less useful card, but you can also try Take the Pain Away if you really want to be the designated healer. When you revive a person, you and that person will take less damage for a set amount of time. Because players don’t always get downed and will sometimes just die, this card doesn’t have much utility. It may still be useful in Legendary Bounties or similar events. 

The Race Horse

Screenshot via Rockstar
  • Dead Eye: Any
  • Best Passives: Ride like the Wind, Horseman, Friends for Life

This arrangement will only work in PvE and maybe for a racing fan. Dedicated PvP sessions, other than racing, will not feature your horse in a meaningful way to make this valuable. Those that have spontaneous battles in Free Roam usually kill the enemy’s horse to prevent them from changing weapons. 

This combination doesn’t build around a Dead Eye card. Instead, it builds around your horse. Starting with your passives, you will want Horseman, increasing damage you do while mounted. Your second card should be Ride Like the Wind. Whenever you take or deal damage, a portion of that number is added to your horse’s health and stamina. Finally, your last passive should be Friends for Life. You and your horse will take less damage while you are mounted. 

Your Dead Eye card is up to you. Almost any card will work with this setting. If you like to trample your enemies, go for Slippery Bastard to keep your speed and avoid damage. If you want to be a support, Focus Fire or Quite An Inspiration will help both you and your allies. As good as Slow and Steady is, you cannot sprint, which may limit your horsemanship abilities. A Moment to Recuperate will let you heal as long as you do not take damage. Paint it Black will offer some crowd control. 

Best combos for PVP

Fighting other players is technically optional — you are not forced to play Showdown. Still, it is a potentially enjoyable part of the game. Sometimes, other players instigate it in Free Roam. Your PvP combos will often translate well to PvE. 

Paint it Black: The Raw DPS

Screenshot via Rockstar
  • Dead Eye: Paint it Black
  • Best Passives: Gunslinger’s Choice, Iron Lung, Strange Medicine
  • Alternative Passives: Sharpshooter, Fool Me Once, Never Without One

Paint it Black has a very bad reputation in PvP settings. It’s considered a crutch for those that can’t aim and is a solution for aim challenged players. However, because it reduces the bloom on weapons, this is a very good option in general. It is one of the base cards, along with A Moment to Recuperate and Focus Fire, and there’s a reason for that. It’s good. In fact, it’s a little too good because of how well it can help players aim. 

Paint it Black is a good card for raw DPS output. It does not work with scopes, however. If you’re going into PvP modes with a sniper, do not expect Paint it Black to do the work for you. 

If you want damage, Paint it Black pairs well with Gunslinger’s Choice or Sharpshooter. If you like closer combat, pick Gunslinger’s Choice. If you prefer snipers, use Sharpshooter for the scope buff. Winning Streak will increase damage with each consecutive shot on the same target. Add Iron Lung for some additional health. Fool Me Once will help reduce incoming damage. If you’re always wearing a hat, Never Without One will protect you from a headshot once, but it will increase damage taken without it. 

Slippery Bastard: The Close Combat Specialist

Screenshot via Rockstar
  • Dead Eye: Slippery Bastard
  • Best Passives: Fool Me Once, Strange Medicine, Iron Lung
  • Alternative Passives: The Unblinking Eye, Eye for an Eye, A Kick in the Butt, Never Without One

Slippery Bastard makes the user harder to hit. Bullets will literally curve around your head. The trade-off is significantly reduced accuracy on your end, and your Dead Eye will drain very fast. Use it when moving from cover to cover or to close the distance between yourself and a target. Throwing weapons and arrows are not affected by the accuracy reduction. Shotguns are also very effective because their bloom remains unaffected.

Pair with Iron Lung for some extra damage resistance and Strange Medicine to restore some of your dwindling health. To restore Dead Eye, you can use a Kick in the Butt, Eye for an Eye, or the Unblinking Eye. You can also use Gunslinger’s Choice, Winning Streak, or the less common The Short Game. Thelatter pairs better with Gunslinger’s Choice or Winning Streak and is not as valuable on its own. 

Slow and Steady: The Defensive Tank

Screenshot via Rockstar
  • Dead Eye: Slow and Steady
  • Best Passives: Iron Lung, Strange Medicine, Fool Me Once
  • Alternative Passives: The Unblinking Eye, Winning Streak, Sharpshooter or Gunslinger’s Choice, A Kick in the Butt, Eye for an Eye.

You cannot be aggressive with this build — this is designed purely for the person that wants to enjoy the game at a slow pace and mind their own business. It is for the player that wants to be left alone but finds themselves harassed constantly by other trigger-happy players and wants to defend themselves. It relies on players having defensive mode active. If you shoot first, you will be kicked out of defensive mode and you will lose some of the protection of this build. Without defensive mode, you can still make use of the health benefits but you can be an easy target with the slow effect. Defensive mode will also not work in dedicated PvP game modes. 

Slow and Steady is good here for the same reason it’s good in PvE — you take very little damage. Defensive mode reduces incoming damage and prevents lock on, making Paint it Black useless. Slow and Steady further reduces damage and prevents you from dying outright to headshots when the card is active.

Good passives to pair with this defensive tank build are Iron Lung and Fool Me Once, both of which will reduce incoming damage. Iron Lung increases your stamina regeneration and reduces incoming damage based on your stamina level. Fool Me Once will reduce damage on each consecutive shot taken. The effect will end after 10 seconds without taking damage. 

The third card can vary. For Dead Eye centered builds look for Eye for an Eye, A Kick in the Butt, or the Unblinking Eye. Each will increase the duration of your Dead Eye, depending on your strengths. If you’re good at headshots, go with Eye for an Eye. If your aim isn’t great, pick a Kick in the Butt or Unblinking Eye.

Strange Medicine is one of the best recovery cards. For each amount of damage done, you will restore health. For damage builds: Winning Streak is the best generalist choice. If you know you prefer snipers, use Sharpshooter. If you prefer dual-wielding sidearms, use Gunslinger’s Choice.