Dominion: Combos, Combo Decks, and the pretenders

There are lots of cards that work well together in Dominion, many people call this a “combo” and there’s nothing wrong with this, it’s just a word. Collectible Card Games have decks called “combo decks” that have a very specific purpose (draw a lot of cards and survive until you draw all the pieces of your combo, then play your combo to win the game), and many people wish to find the Dominion analog to this concept.

With this mentality, people see Festival and Library on the board and try to play that deck with no other support, and they wonder why it doesn’t work. Yes there is synergy between these cards but it needs a lot of other support. This certainly doesn’t fit the definition of a “combo deck” in my mind, and it definitely doesn’t resemble the “combo decks” from other CCGs.

So what is a “combo deck” in Dominion? How can we define it in an instructive way that helps us understand the game better? Then, once we have that definition, what combo decks exist in the game? Let’s talk about it.

Disclaimer: I realize that my definition here is not the only possible definition and that there are plenty of other ones out there that are equally as viable. It’s perfectly OK to think of things in a different way, this is just something that has helped me and others understand Dominion a little better.

Definition: Combo

Exactly two cards that allow for a strategy that beats most other decks with no outside support.

A Combo Deck is the deck built around this combo.

Why only two cards?

This question really has two parts: Why not more than two cards? And why two particular cards (instead of one of them being a type of card)? I’ll answer the second part first: stuff like [village]/Torturer or [village]/Wild Hunt is less of a combo-deck and more of a “Torturer deck” or “Wild Hunt deck”, so specifying two specific cards allows for us to talk about more specific decks that require very different ways to build them, while the decks I mentioned tend to focus around a single card and its support.

As for limiting it to two cards, it’s simply because there are so many Dominion cards now that seeing three particular cards in the same game is so unlikely that I don’t think it’s worth talking about.

Why no outside support?

I want to make a distinction between two cards that work well together under the right circumstances versus two cards that will shape the entire course of the game by themselves. From my experience I’ve found that combos that require no support at all to beat most decks are the ones that are worth actually practicing, plus they fundamentally change the way I look at the board away from “build a good deck” to “build around the combo.”

I realize this is the more contentious part of the definition, so if you don’t agree with this, then you probably won’t agree with a lot of the rest of the article. Again, that’s OK (see the disclaimer) but this definition has given other people a deeper understanding of the game, even if it doesn’t work for you. Neither one of us is “right” or “wrong” in this case, we should just celebrate our diversity!

 

So what decks out there are actually combo decks?

1. Hermit/Market Square
2. Travelling Fair/Counting House
3. Mandarin/Capital

There are good articles on each of these, so I’ll just link them and not say much else.

What decks are NOT combo decks, and why?

1. Native Village/Bridge
2. Royal Carriage/Bridge

Wow, people really like to find creative ways to play lots of Bridges in a turn. Unfortunately that’s really hard to do with just one other card to support. Each of these two strategies is flawed enough that it doesn’t quite carry the same impact as the actual combo decks. The reasons why this is the case are actually interesting to talk about because they shine the light on how to play against them, so I’ll focus on that in the rest of this article.

 

Pretender 1: Native Village/Bridge

This is probably the first “classic” combo deck in Dominion, it’s been around since Seaside, the second expansion of the game. It’s true that a deck played around these two cards is pretty good, but the main problem is that the “combo deck” of just NV/Bridge is worth going for so little of the time that it just doesn’t have that same presence that these other combos normally do: the whole “you better be playing something absolutely amazing if you aren’t going for this combo deck” presence.

Why is NV/Bridge not worth going for so much? The short version is that it’s not powerful enough. I think it’s a combination of several factors. You have to fully commit to playing the NV/Bridge deck very early on and counters do exist, so pretty much any other deck that can play multiple Bridges per turn more consistently than NV/Bridge is going to have more flexibility in the mid-to-late game, and since NV is a village itself, all you really need for this is any other decent source of draw, trashing, or a junking attack.

NV/Bridge just doesn’t have the speed that’s necessary to be so fast that you have to go for it or lose the game. When contested, it doesn’t have the raw, inevitable power you need to make up for that slowness, and there are just so many things out there that will allow you to contest Bridges or NVs and build a better deck that I find myself not going directly for this combo most of the time, even when NV/Bridge is on the board. Normally the combo just isn’t enough without at least 5 NVs AND 5 Bridges, and you should really have more of both of them.

All that said, practicing the NV/Bridge deck is still a potentially useful skill, because it has been a dominant strategy in maybe 5 or so games of Dominion that I’ve ever played and I was glad I practiced it when I played those games. So if you want to up your chances in those 0.2% of games, there you go.

 

Pretender 2: Royal Carriage/Bridge:

This is not a combo by my definitions for similar reasons to NV/Bridge: to play the combo deck you have to commit strongly enough that changing into a hybrid strategy isn’t really feasible, and this benefits so much from other types of support that I find myself rarely going for the RC/Bridge “combo deck,” but rather incorporating the synergy between these two cards into the payload of whatever deck I’m building.

The RC/Bridge “combo deck” is weak to pretty much every kind of attack there is, and while lucky draws can find you emptying Provinces on T12, the average case is closer to T14 or 15; too slow to outrace even a strong Big Money strategy, or almost any decent engine (remember that this “decent engine” has Royal Carriage and Bridge as tools it can use, so the only missing piece here is trashing or draw, or an attack. Sound Familiar?).

The other big point against the combo deck here is that it needs a minimum of 6 Royal Carriages or else it’s not going to be able to do anything; it’s actually easier for other decks to pick up RCs because they can go for other support, plus Royal Carriage is a good card in almost any deck. Even a 5-5 split of RCs can completely cripple the combo deck, leaving it with no backup plan at all.

The fact that other support plays so nicely into a deck that aims to play lots of Bridges means that it outperforms the RC/Bridge combo deck so much of the time, so that Looming Combo Presence™ isn’t usually a factor with these two cards. RC/Bridge is an explosive payload, no doubt, but it’s not a combo by this definition because you’re frequently better off building a good deck and then adding RC/Bridge as the payload.

Dominion: My new storage solution

I have a problem.

It’s a pretty good problem. There’s another Dominion expansion coming out (Nocturne), but the problem is that it won’t fit in my current Dominion box (those pictures are with my extra set of cards and stuff I use for tournaments). In fact, everything that’s currently out won’t fit in there, I even had to take out a card I actually like just to make room for everything (Peasant), along with not including any removed First Edition cards (except for Coppersmith <3 ) and then the standard cards I don’t really like to play with (Black Market, Tournament, Cultist, Rebuild, Page, in that order).

So the game already doesn’t fit in my box, I only have one set of base cards in there, and there’s another expansion coming out. I will not unsleeve my cards, so that means I need a new storage solution. I understand many other people who sleeve their cards are running into the same issue, so hopefully this blog post helps them out.

So this is a pretty tough problem, actually. I want a briefcase-style solution, this is mostly because making an insert is going to be the easiest when I can put the cards on end and have nothing on top of anything else. I don’t want to have to remove anything from the box to access my stuff. It turns out that it’s pretty difficult to find large briefcases, especially those that are meant to be filled with as much weight as I’m putting in them. I already had to replace the handle on my old case twice and it still makes me nervous. It’s really hard to find a briefcase that’s large and durable enough for what I want, I was down to a few options.

Custom briefcases: I contacted several custom case companies about making a box for me. Many of them advertised that they have no minimum orders, etc. but none of them ever responded to me. BOO!

Cases by Source: I came across a reddit post by someone who had used a soft bag to make a storage solution he really liked, and he used Cases by Source as his vendor. They actually had a couple of products on their site that might work for me, but they have a $100 minimum order, and I can’t find their products in stock anywhere except their website, which is a little bit sad. What I ended up doing was finding two cases I thought might work and ordering them both. I figured I’d get at least one working solution out of it. I also ordered these boxes to use as the inside of the box, also suggested by that reddit post.

Everything arrived, I have some pictures of the components (cat for scale)

You may have noticed in the first picture I linked, that the rows on those cardboard boxes are wider than Dominion cards. After some measuring I discovered that I could get an extra row in both boxes if I made them shorter. Fortunately, this isn’t too difficult to accomplish, all I had to do was cut some new holes in the cardboard and use that with some tape to plug up the old holes, and I can move those cardboard dividers wherever I want (picture). This has already been done in the first picture if you look closely. With some creative folding, cutting, and taping, I merged the two boxes into one giant box with smaller rows and one less row, but it actually fits in both boxes (picture).

For the soft case I found some “hardboard” at the hardware store and put that under the boxes, then I got some foam to put around the edges so that everything fits tightly, and it turns out that both cases were functional and looking pretty good. If it turned out this way, I had planned to give one of them to a friend of mine who frequently lets me use his cards for my IRL tournaments; I chose the hard case for myself and gave him the soft one.

Here’s a picture of the finished case.

So the hard case had one big problem remaining: the lid has to just rest behind the case whenever it’s open, which takes up a huge amount of table space, and is probably bad for the hinge if it has to go off the edge of the table. I wanted to rig something up so that the lid would stay vertical, so I just bought a small length of chain and screwed it into the sides of the box near the hinge. Here’s a picture of that. It fits nicely into the hole I cut in the foam for that, and after some adjustments it worked the way I wanted.

Other components: there isn’t all that much that’s new here, but I’ll cover it anyways. The plastic containers for tokens are just bead storage containers that I found in the craft aisle at Wal-Mart, you can find them in just about any craft store as well. I use them for lots of games. The dividers on the right are PlexiGlas dividers that I used to use before Empires, but they ended up being too thick and I needed to make room for cards. I still use them for the supply piles, though, since they get a lot of use and the thickness is more welcome there. The dividers on the left were generated by Sumpfork’s tab generator and printed on 100-weight non-glossy cardstock. I ended up printing them in black and white because I thought they looked better that way.

With this storage solution I have enough room for two sets of supply cards again, as well as a whole row that I can use for proxies and playtesting (I just put the removed first edition cards, my blanks, and the cards I don’t like in there). I have enough extra room that I can even keep my notebook in there.

Areas for improvement: decorating this case is going to be a bit harder, since black plastic is tougher to work with. I’m going to come up with some kind of design, but even then, this new case isn’t going to get the same looks as my old case did. Lucky for me, the guy I gave the other case to is pretty into painting miniatures, so he might have some equipment that can be helpful 😉

I’d also like to put something on the inside of the lid so there’s something nice to look at there instead of just blank plastic. I have an idea for a fold-out miniature basketball hoop with a trash can below it for fun with trashing cards, other people have suggested a collage of relevant Dominion pictures and stuff that I’ve accumulated over the years. I guess I could make a pouch for the rulebooks but that just doesn’t appeal to me.

It turns out that when you add more stuff to the case, it gets heavier. Who knew? The handles on these new cases should hold up to the weight, but if I ever find something I can use to wheel it around I’ll probably pick it up. In any case, after Nocturne, the box could easily fit two more similarly-sized expansions and potentially three, so I’m hoping this will last for a while longer.

Dominion: Native Village

Native Village
$2 Action

+2 Actions

Choose one: Set aside the top card of your deck face down on your Native Village mat; or put all the cards from your mat into your hand.

You may look at the cards on your mat at any time; return them to your deck at the end of the game.

Native Village is gradually becoming one of my favorite cards in Dominion, and that’s because I like doing “cool Native Village tricks”. One of the fundamental things about Dominion is that scoring points is supposed to make your deck worse, but Native Village can get around that in ways that make me happy.

On the other hand, it’s not a very good card, so trying to pull this off can backfire if the situation isn’t just right for it.

The Village

Native Village is a village, it does village things. This isn’t an article about villages, so I’m not going to go over all of the points that apply to all villages.

Native Village costs $2, and that’s because it’s not really a very strong card. The comparison to Village can be made where Village draws you one card every time you play it, while NV draws you N/(N+1) cards on average, where N is the number of times you set aside a card to your mat before picking up. Since this average draw is always going to be less than 1, it’s not a favorable comparison, but if you’re wanting to use NV for the same thing as Village, it can be instructive: you want to pick up cards from your NV mat as little as possible to maximize your draw from Native Village. This is typically done by having lots and lots of Native Villages and only picking cards up off the mat if there’s a significant, immediate benefit to doing so.

But that’s really hard to actually do. You typically want to draw cards the most at the beginning of your turn and the best (only) way to do that is to leave them on the mat at the end of your previous turn. But that means you aren’t playing them! What cards are so important to you that you need them at the start of your turn, but you could get through your entire previous turn without playing them?

If it’s payload, then you’re sacrificing your payload for reliability. That feels pretty bad. If it’s draw components, then usually you’ve severely overbuilt. These don’t do very well, so in this situation, it’s usually really difficult to maximize that N/(N+1) term.

In practice, this draw ends up being pretty close to zero, so this is what you should probably expect when using NV as a village. I’ve called it “Necropolitive Village” in the past, which is pretty fun to say 🙂

Megaturns

There’s the “classic” Native Village/Bridge combo deck, which involves setting cards on your mat the whole game and ending the game in a huge megaturn where you play a lot of Bridges. In some situations, a properly played NV/Bridge deck is the best thing you can do, but Native Village really isn’t all that great at enabling megaturns because most of the time you’re better off playing your payload cards every turn so you can build faster. Usually Bridge combos or similarly explosive payloads are the only things out there strong enough to justify building in this way, and if there’s any draw out there at all, you’re usually better off using that instead of playing for a Native Village megaturn.

The “Tricks”

So the really cool thing to do with Native Village’s ability is to use it as pseudo-trashing by never picking cards up from the mat. Actually, not many cards out there will let you keep your Provinces around and not have them in your deck — there’s only Island to compete with but normally there aren’t enough Islands to go around to make this work, among other things. With the right support, one single Native Village can represent all of the green cards you hope to “have in your deck”. Yes, these decks can be quite satisfying to pull off, so let’s talk about when they’re good.

The easiest example is the Apothecary/NV deck: with pretty much any +Buy at all, this is a lightning-fast, reliable Province-per-turn deck. Apothecary is great at getting you your NV in hand while putting a green card on top of your deck, and the big synergy is that most Apothecary decks tend to stall with any reasonable amount of green in them, so NV’s role is quite welcome there.

Aside from Apothecary, though, relying on deck inspection to get your greens onto the mat just doesn’t cut it in practice. There are two main ways to get this to work for you, and they both involve drawing your deck as a prerequisite. You can either target-discard the card, then play your NV, or you can gain a Province mid-turn and then mat it. Keep in mind that this will almost always require another Village on the board besides NV, since the only thing out there that’s non-terminal AND capable of gaining Provinces mid-turn is Governor, and it’s really tough to use NV as a splitter this way because you have to draw your entire deck first without playing any villages, then play NV to put nothing onto the mat, then gain the Province, then play another NV to mat the Province. Rough.

When is it good?

So we’ve talked about the mechanics of NV pseudo-trashing, but when are they actually good? Sure, thinning Provinces is nice, so if you’re looking at the opportunity, sure do it. I’m talking about when it’s best to roll in Native Village pseudo-trashing when building your deck.

A little bit of math. You’re going to have one NV in your deck at the very least, and most of the time you’ll start your turn with a Province in your deck that you’ll have to draw in order to put it on your NV mat. You’ll want these two stop cards to be much less than what you’d otherwise have if you just left the green in your deck, and maybe take into account that you probably could have just bought another draw card instead of the NV. It also needs to happen before the game is over, since if the pseudo-trashing finally worth it and you never get to take a turn with those benefits, then it wasn’t helpful there either.

What this points to is that these tricks are really only practical in decks that aim to buy just one Province or Colony per turn. Gaining and matting two cards per turn doubles the opportunity cost and ends the game twice as fast. So what you’re really looking for is a quick way to get up to Province-per-turn and then stay reliable.

NV tricks can work well with Wall around, since they allows thin decks to stay viable without picking up too many components or overdraw.

As discussed earlier, Apothecary is great for this. Governor, not as much, since the payload of most Governor decks is multi-Province turns. Other synergies here include attacks that you want to play every turn like Militia or Pillage, but be careful of stuff like Rabble or Ghost Ship, as Native Village can serve as a soft counter to those attacks. Junking attacks can work if it’s one of those games where you’ll want to go for them in the mid-game or late game.

Dominion: Card Power Levels

This article has been a long time in the making, and it’s going to be a big one, but there is a lot of information here. Let’s get to it.

At some point on our Dominion journey we’ll all be at that point where we understand the fundamentals of the game and we’re starting to get good at the game; we come across a board and get completely destroyed by a card that seemingly came out of nowhere. Or maybe there’s a card that we see some potential in but we just can’t seem to make it work. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a general idea of the super-power cards to look out for, so we can focus on understanding them better?

A week or two ago (depending on how long it takes me to write this article) I posted on reddit, asking for people to fill out a Google form. The intent is to rate each Dominion card on a scale of 0 to 10 in terms of power level. I’ll copypasta the description below:
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I’m looking to compile some data for an article I plan to write, and you can help by filling out this form! It took me about 15 minutes to complete. Feel free to share wherever you’d like. I’ll publish a draft article on reddit and on my blog when it’s complete.

Rate each Dominion card (or card-shaped-object) on a scale from 0-10, with 10 being the most powerful. The cost of the card, not just the effect, should be taken into account for your score. I have a few suggestions:

1.Your name is “required,” you can put anything there though — I’d prefer some username that I can recognize so that I can make sure submissions are unique. If you troll me, I reserve the right to not count your input 😛

2.You can pick and choose which cards you rate — feel free to leave some cards blank if you don’t want to rate them for whatever reason.

3.If you aren’t using every number at least once (and preferably more than once) then you may want to consider adjusting your criteria so that all ratings 0-10 are actually useful.

4.You may use whatever criteria you like for your ratings, but I have a guideline that can be used as an example or a template if you would like something to get you started — the examples in parentheses are just my opinions, feel free to disagree!

0 – Adding the card would make most decks worse than adding nothing (Scout, Secret Chamber)

1 – The card almost never sees play in good decks, and when it does, its effect is marginal at best

3 – The card is not necessarily bad, but usually doesn’t play a key role in any deck; still not worth picking up some of the time

5 – The card plays a minor supporting role in many decks, or has some synergies that make it good in a few situations

7 – The card plays a support role in most decks, plays a critical role in many decks, or can be the backbone of good or mediocre decks with proper support

9 – The card is almost never ignorable, and usually plays a large role in the best decks that can be built

10 – The card warps the strategic and/or tactical landscape, causing most games to revolve around it. Ignoring or misusing the card will almost always result in a clear loss (Donate, King’s Court)

Landmarks can sort of be judged on a similar scale, kind of. Again, feel free to rate Landmarks using whatever criteria you want, but I personally would give higher scores to landmarks that are more likely to influence the strategy, tactics, and/or outcome of the game.

This may be helpful for looking up what cards do: http://wiki.dominionstrategy.com/index.php/List_of_cards

Five. I’m aware that these ratings are similar to Qvist’s cards lists, I’ve talked with him about using his data and what I’m going for here is a comparison of cards with different costs, while taking those costs into account. While his web portal supports doing a ranking of cards just like this to aid in making an ordered list by cost, the data from that unfortunately can’t be used for what I’m going for. Your participation is completely voluntary and it would really help me out. Thanks!

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The response was great! I felt I could have some useful data with 20 responses and I got about twice that. The purpose of this article is to present the data by looking at it from as many viewpoints as possible and clarifying what can actually be useful when it comes to playing games of Dominion.

Here’s a link to the raw data. The rows below the black line are each person’s submission, with their name replaced by a letter code (just in case someone didn’t want their ratings shared). Here’s a link to the Excel spreadsheet where I’m taking these screenshots from. I’m not using a Google Doc for this because Google Spreadsheets don’t support some of the features I wanted to use for presenting this data. In any case, you’re free to download a copy of that data and I encourage you to play around with it if you’d like!

So let’s talk briefly about what the data actually means. A bunch of different people rated Dominion cards using whatever criteria they felt was appropriate. My definition of what constitutes a 10/10 could be very different from someone else’s, and this fact has to be kept in mind when interpreting every result we get from the data. It can be perfectly reasonable to completely agree on a card’s power level and rate it up to two scores apart. With that said, I’ll just give you what you probably came here for, here’s the ordered list of all of the cards, sorted by mean rating.
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1 King’s Court
2 Donate
3 Mountebank
4 Chapel
5 Goons
6 Page
7 Cultist
8 Wharf
9 Ambassador
10 Peasant
11 Fortune
12 Tournament
13 Governor
14 Rebuild
15 Scrying Pool
16 Witch
17 Avanto
18 Ferry
19 Lost Arts
20 Grand Market
21 Torturer
22 Border Village
23 Inheritance
24 Minion
25 City Quarter
26 Pathfinding
27 Masquerade
28 Dominate
29 Margrave
30 Sauna
31 Overlord
32 Familiar
33 Highway
34 Wandering Minstrel
35 Steward
36 Fishing Village
37 Wild Hunt
38 Junk Dealer
39 Lost City
40 Remake
41 Villa
42 Royal Carriage
43 Ghost Ship
44 Ironmonger
45 Sentry
46 Counterfeit
47 Hunting Party
48 Upgrade
49 Keep
50 Black Market
51 Urchin
52 Crown
53 Bridge
54 Encampment
55 Groundskeeper
56 Save
57 Tomb
58 Bridge Troll
59 Plunder
60 Laboratory
61 Butcher
62 Alms
63 Museum
64 Rabble
65 Hireling
66 Swindler
67 Alchemist
68 Haggler
69 Amulet
70 Throne Room
71 Wall
72 Fortress
73 Knights
74 Count
75 Stables
76 Plaza
77 Peddler
78 Magpie
79 Gear
80 Port
81 Tactician
82 Vineyard
83 Swamp Hag
84 Jack of All Trades
85 Worker’s Village
86 Soothsayer
87 Herald
88 Wolf Den
89 Hunting Grounds
90 Bonfire
91 Legionary
92 Forager
93 Young Witch
94 Borrow
95 Bandit Camp
96 City
97 Smithy
98 Menagerie
99 Horn of Plenty
100 Lurker
101 Raze
102 Altar
103 Sacrifice
104 Training
105 Bandit Fort
106 Possession
107 Militia
108 Apprentice
109 Sea Hag
110 Spice Merchant
111 Bazaar
112 Nobles
113 Envoy
114 Coin of the Realm
115 Summon
116 Caravan
117 Haunted Woods
118 Tower
119 Orchard
120 Patrol
121 University
122 Village
123 Ratcatcher
124 Travelling Fair
125 Bustling Village
126 Council Room
127 Replace
128 Journeyman
129 Artisan
130 Hamlet
131 Marauder
132 Scheme
133 Storyteller
134 Catacombs
135 Baker
136 Moneylender
137 Hermit
138 Enchantress
139 Stonemason
140 Archive
141 Jester
142 Plan
143 Bishop
144 Trade
145 Apothecary
146 Embassy
147 Prince
148 Mining Village
149 Market Square
150 Distant Lands
151 Conspirator
152 Quarry
153 Delve
154 Forum
155 Procession
156 Dungeon
157 Ill-Gotten Gains
158 Farming Village
159 Advisor
160 Castles
161 Royal Blacksmith
162 Temple
163 Monument
164 Chariot Race
165 Salvager
166 Relic
167 Triumph
168 Festival
169 Fool’s Gold
170 Triumphal Arch
171 Outpost
172 Watchtower
173 Band of Misfits
174 Merchant Guild
175 Artificer
176 Golem
177 Seaway
178 Bank
179 Transmogrify
180 Salt The Earth
181 Remodel
182 Mountain Pass
183 Lighthouse
184 Catapult
185 Ironworks
186 Charm
187 Advance
188 Ranger
189 Walled Village
190 Market
191 Trading Post
192 Vault
193 Forge
194 Inn
195 Expedition
196 Engineer
197 Warehouse
198 Obelisk
199 Defiled Shrine
200 Mill
201 Treasury
202 Courtier
203 Wine Merchant
204 Lookout
205 Fairgrounds
206 Capital
207 Colonnade
208 Fountain
209 Emporium
210 Battlefield
211 Bandit
212 Courtyard
213 Duplicate
214 Cartographer
215 Guide
216 Squire
217 Library
218 Duke
219 Crossroads
220 Expand
221 Labyrinth
222 Treasure Trove
223 Ball
224 Palace
225 Native Village
226 Giant
227 Diplomat
228 Arena
229 Farmers’ Market
230 Mission
231 Hoard
232 Doctor
233 Basilica
234 Wedding
235 Gladiator
236 Mystic
237 Smugglers
238 Shanty Town
239 Poacher
240 Loan
241 Graverobber
242 Gardens
243 Horse Traders
244 Island
245 Pilgrimage
246 Merchant
247 Rogue
248 Cutpurse
249 Scouting Party
250 Scavenger
251 Trader
252 Windfall
253 Mint
254 Candlestick Maker
255 Caravan Guard
256 Aqueduct
257 Armory
258 Storeroom
259 Conquest
260 Patrician
261 Settlers
262 Wishing Well
263 Tunnel
264 Develop
265 Pawn
266 Oasis
267 Baron
268 Venture
269 Oracle
270 Sage
271 Miser
272 Workshop
273 Messenger
274 Secret Passage
275 Merchant Ship
276 Farmland
277 Silk Road
278 Tax
279 Ritual
280 Haven
281 Feodum
282 Vassal
283 Rats
284 Harbinger
285 Vagrant
286 Taxman
287 Royal Seal
288 Cellar
289 Death Cart
290 Harem
291 Nomad Camp
292 Pillage
293 Rocks
294 Trade Route
295 Moat
296 Talisman
297 Explorer
298 Mine
299 Tribute
300 Quest
301 Banquet
302 Feast
303 Baths
304 Contraband
305 Woodcutter
306 Embargo
307 Spy
308 Coppersmith
309 Poor House
310 Noble Brigand
311 Mandarin
312 Treasure Map
313 Stash
314 Fortune Teller
315 Raid
316 Masterpiece
317 Annex
318 Saboteur
319 Great Hall
320 Pirate Ship
321 Navigator
322 Beggar
323 Pearl Diver
324 Herbalist
325 Counting House
326 Philosopher’s Stone
327 Cache
328 Chancellor
329 Bureaucrat
330 Harvest
331 Thief
332 Adventurer
333 Secret Chamber
334 Duchess
335 Scout
336 Transmute

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So let’s be clear about what this does NOT mean. Just because Market was in 190th place and Trading Post was in 191st place, doesn’t mean that I should always buy Market over Trading Post 100% of the time whenever I have the choice — that’s ridiculous. It means that they are somewhere in the middle in terms of overall power level. That’s basically it. It can be pretty dangerous to go extrapolating from this point.

So this data is approximate. If it’s so approximate, what can we actually learn from it? Well, let’s look at the data from a few different viewpoints and see what kinds of conclusions we can draw…
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This is the top of the heap: every card you see here has the potential to be the focus of an entire strategy because it’s just so powerful. Most of the time these cards aren’t ignorable and when they are, you typically need a compelling reason for it. Especially notable are the ones towards the top with low variance: what this means is that across all different definitions of what constitutes the highest possible rating people could give, these cards fit all of them.

Also, in my personal opinion, the cards here with low variance scores are probably all worth having dedicated articles written about them.

Let’s take a look at the other end of the spectrum:
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No card in Dominion is completely useless, but it seems that these cards are about as close as they come. It’s no surprise that five out of these bottom twelve cards were removed for the second edition of Base and Intrigue. If you want to make these cards work, you’re going to either need a ton of support (such as the Travelling Fair/Counting House combo or the Herbalist/Phil Stone combo) or a very weak board so that the marginal effects and somewhat high opportunity cost of these cards is mitigated (almost all of them are terminal and the two that aren’t either require a Potion to buy or is Scout).

I’m not going to say you can always ignore these cards, so I’ll just say you can almost always ignore them and do pretty well.

Here’s a chart that will require a little bit of explanation:
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OK, first of all, what does all of this mean? So I’ve taken every card-shaped object and categorized it according to 12 things that I thought might be useful. Let me start by saying that a lot of the definitions of these things are not entirely agreed upon, so I used my own definitions. If you disagree with my choices on one or two of the cards, sorry! You’re welcome to make a copy of the data and tinker with it yourself to see how things change.

Then, I wanted to capture statistics about each type of card in isolation and compare it to the statistics about all cards. So the data at the right is the average mean, median, and variance for all Dominion cards. Looks like the average Dominion card has a 5.7 mean and 2.3 variance, so that’s the baseline we’re working with. Then, we can look at the categories and see what the differences are. The bottom section is the same data, only it’s the difference between the stats-by-category and the overall stats that we’re looking at — I just subtracted out the overall averages in case looking at those numbers is easier to digest.

So what does this all mean? A few things. First, it seems that the community believes that villages and draw cards are pretty good, and that defense cards are pretty bad. VP and Treasure cards aren’t considered powerful overall, +Buy, Attack, and Trashing cards are considered pretty powerful. Not the most useful thing because it’s so abstract, but I don’t think I’d disagree with it. The valuable thing here is that these can be used as reference points later on, for example, when we choose to look at just the victory cards — we’ll want to keep in mind that the ratings for VP cards are going to be a little more pessimistic than overall ratings, and maybe it will make more sense when we compare victory cards to one another.

The “average variance,” what does that even mean? So higher numbers here represented where the community disagreed more on how each individual card should be rated. It means that there’s less consensus on the precision of these ratings, so more is left open to interpretation. Some would consider the median of a data set more valuable than the mean when the variance is high, so that’s something to keep in mind as well.

For example, it’s pretty well agreed upon that villages and draw are pretty good. VP cards and Landmarks, on the other hand, seem a bit more difficult to judge in a consistent way.

So with that said, we can look at every category of card and see how things shake up. I’m not going to address every one of them in this article but I will address the four categories that I think will be the most instructive: Landmarks, villages, VP cards, and trashers.
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Comparing Dominion cards to Landmarks can be difficult to understand, partially because I don’t think it makes much sense to do so, so I think it’s especially useful to look at them separately. Keep in mind that the variance on Landmarks is higher than other categories of cards, so you may want to pay special attention to the median even though the cards are sorted by mean in this picture.

What can we get from this data? I see a couple of useful things. First, the bottom four Landmarks; Baths, Aqueduct, Basilica, and Arena; have some of the lower variances, so we can feel pretty good about the idea that these are four of the least impactful Landmarks around. It also looks like the top five Landmarks; Keep, Tomb, Museum, Wall, and Wolf Den; deserve a bit of a distinction as being pretty powerful.

I can’t say this for certain but I suspect that unpopular cards tend to have higher variance than normal, and this probably hurt Wall and Wolf Den in this case. Those Landmarks can be unpopular simply because they give negative VP instead of positive VP. Same thing with Bandit Fort to a lesser extent.
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The villages, or by my definition, any card that allows you to play more than one terminal action in a turn. The data for this is pretty tight, actually; variance is quite low on every card here except for Prince (which is not a conventional village by any stretch). What kind of information can we get from this list?

Let’s start by looking at the bottom of the list for the cards on the lower end. Many of them don’t draw a card, and/or don’t always give the village effect. When compared to a lot of other cards which can do those things and more, they end up on the bottom of the list. So if you’re looking for a village and all you have are those guys, you’re going to have a tougher time.

Let’s look at the top of the list; a lot of these cards will give you the village effect along with something else, and that’s what truly sets them apart. King’s Court, Page, Peasant, Border Village, City Quarter, Sauna, Wandering Minstrel, and Lost City all fit into this description: they’re good at being villages but they’re also good at something else.

So what about the cards near the top that I didn’t list? Lost Arts, Fishing Village, and Villa. Each of these cards has a unique effect that makes it so good that it appears high on this list in spite of its other potential weaknesses. Lost Arts on a terminal draw card makes drawing your deck trivial. Fishing Village gives you actions at the start of your turn, which is when they are far more useful than any other time. Villa is broken as heck because you can play it after you have zero remaining actions (among other insane interactions). These are cards to look out for.
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It can be useful to look at just the victory cards in relation to each other, mostly when assessing the potential strength of strategies that want to pursue points in this way. It’s similar to Landmarks (especially the ones where you aren’t limited to a certain number of VP) in some ways.

The variance is pretty high on almost all of these cards, so the conclusions you can draw from this data are going to be a bit fuzzier. I think it’s useful to talk about the best cards on this list that just give you points: Dominate, Vineyard, Distant Lands, Castles. These are useful on quite a few boards that they appear on. Below them on this list are mostly cards that can provide support along side other methods of scoring points in the right situations.
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Trashing cards is really good. Not all trashing cards are created equal. Many cards aren’t very good at trashing other cards and for that reason, they appear towards the bottom of this list. I think Forge and lower on this list are good cards to keep an eye on, since they all are either very slow, or somewhat ineffective at removing bad cards from your deck in many circumstances.

Similar to villages, looking at the top of this list can be instructive because many of the cards the top are there because they’re either really good at trashing, or they do something else besides trash cards.

Ambassador, Governor, Inheritance, Masquerade, Sauna, Steward, Remake, Sentry, Counterfeit, Upgrade, Urchin, and Butcher all give great auxiliary benefits.

Donate, Chapel, Ambassador, Steward, and Remake are all really good at trashing cards. Of note are the three cards that appear on both of these lists.
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Finally the “fun” chart. If I showed you the lowest variance cards, it would look like a combination of the top and bottom cards — it seems that those cards are easier to agree on. On the other hand, these are the cards that have generated the most disagreement.

What does it mean? It means that the ratings on these cards are most likely to be inaccurate. It means that they’re the most likely to be talked about. Several cards on this list have a min score of 0 and a max score of 10 — how does that even happen? I think the main takeaway for me is that if anyone tries to write an article on any of these cards, or claim to have them “all figured out,” I’m going to be extra skeptical of them. It doesn’t mean they don’t know what they’re talking about, but a little extra healthy scrutiny would seem appropriate to me.

By the way, my next article will be about Possession. Just kidding.

So I’ve presented the data and given some different viewpoints on it. This article is already long enough so I’m going to stop it here, but there’s still quite a bit more to do with this stuff. Discussions about the rankings and about individual cards in relation to these rankings are easy and fun to have.

I think if I write more card articles, I’ll start at the top of the list and pick cards I feel comfortable with. Also, I plan to make a video in the near future about cards I rated differently enough from the community average that it’s worth talking about. I’ll take a closer look and see if maybe I got it wrong, or if I want to double down and say I have some insight that the community just isn’t seeing. Guess which one there will be more of?

Dominion Rant/Article: Mint Openings

I frequently find myself staring at a 2/5 or 5/2 opening, seriously considering a Mint opening. There are some cases where trashing 5 Coppers from your deck immediately can put you so far ahead that you can’t realistically lose the game, but I find those so incredibly rare that in 3000+ games of Dominion, I’ve never had it happen to me, not even once. (I’ve done it before and regretted it but I’m not counting that)

And the common wisdom out there among many people I’ve talked to (not necessarily “top players” but this article probably isn’t helping those people that much anyways) is that a Mint opening on a 5/2 is just overpowered, even with no support at all (opening Mint/Copper is pretty bad, especially considering how bad opening Mint/Silver is). This is really far from the truth, and this article aims to explain exactly why this is the case. I want to outline the few scenarios where opening Mint is good and why; then explain a few of the common examples I get told about where opening Mint is supposedly great, but I think it isn’t. Hopefully you’ll finish this article with the tools you need to decide whether opening Mint is good for you on any given board. Pro tip, if you just say “no” all the time then you’re almost there!

In general, the reason opening Mint is bad is because you have 6 or 7 cards in your deck after T2 and four of them are completely dead (3 Estates and 1 Mint). Two of them are really bad (Coppers), and your next few turns are going to be spent not doing anything useful. Many times this just loses to Big Money pretty hard. Usually it’s much better to put one or two better cards in your deck (something that trashes Estates or draws cards is best here) and hope for a Mint on the next few turns. If you don’t have a plan for what you’re going to do with your turn 3 and turn 4, and you don’t think the tempo boost you’ll get from trashing those Coppers in the opening (as opposed to a couple of turns later) will be significant enough to outweigh the very real possibility that you will be getting some awful draws and just have to pass your T3, T4, T5, etc. completely, then you really shouldn’t open with a Mint.

There is only one card in all of Dominion where if we just had the two-card kingdom of Mint and that card, I’d open Mint on a 5/2: Fool’s Gold. This is because you have an 85% chance to pick up at least a FG on turn 3, and these odds only get better for future turns. You even have a 38% chance to Mint a FG and buy a FG on T3, and going forward you have decent odds at having a FG in hand whenever you draw your Mint. Trashing the Coppers in this case doesn’t actually hurt your T3 or T4 all that much, and it’s a huge boon to a FG deck. It’s certainly better than a double FG opening, and if there is any Estate-trashing on the board the advantage becomes really big.

The next one, which is probably worth going for almost all of the time, is Page. Page/Champion are just so powerful that usually the first person to get a Champion in play has a huge advantage, not to mention the potential blowouts related to Warriors. Trashing 5 Coppers immediately accelerates your cycling so much that just playing your Page on T3 constitutes a successful turn (your chances of this are just over 70%, which I might add are pretty much the best chances you have of anything good happening on T3 if you opened Mint), and on 47 out of those 70 percents you’re also getting a second Page that turn, which is a solid addition to the deck.

Add to that the fact that Treasure Hunter quickly injects economy into the deck at this point, which you desperately need, and Warrior helps you make use of that economy, so you’re usually able to have whatever support you needed in your deck already by the time your Champion is in play. Plus, Champion needs so little of this support to be the main focus of your first few turns; a Mint/Page opening shines here almost all of the time.

Why not Peasant? Without going into too much detail, Peasant/Teacher is slower and doesn’t give you as much immediate support as Page does; you need a lot of cards in your deck for Teacher to be good at all, and the Mint opening is sacrificing a lot of that to get you a Teacher ASAP. I’m not saying it can’t work, but it needs a LOT of support to be better than playing for a later Mint instead of opening with it.

I want to be clear about this: other than Fool’s Gold and Page, every other Mint opening requires a lot of support to be good. Support beyond just the other card you get with Mint in the opening, because that alone isn’t enough.

After this, the need for support gets bigger and bigger as the list goes on, and eventually it’s just going to be not worth it most of the time.

Alms: The really nice thing about Alms is that the 2 out of 7 (about 30%) chance you have of not drawing the other card you open with and having your T3 really suck just doesn’t exist with Alms — you can always gain a card costing up to $4, so if there are some good ones, you can even get one before you shuffle! In particular you’re looking for something that can trash Estates that you can gain with Alms. The thing you have to be careful about, though, is that 5/2 with Alms is pretty good in general, so the bar you’re comparing a Mint opening against is higher. Without that Estate trashing that you can easily get with Alms, it’s going to be much harder to justify a Mint opening, especially if the Estate trashing exists but costs $5 (in that case, you open with the Estate-trasher and play towards a later Mint if there’s any draw at all).

Chapel: It’s true that opening Mint takes away a lot of the targets that you wanted to Chapel, making Chapel slightly less good. But Chapel is a really good card, and it’s the only thing at the $2 price point that can just eliminate those Estates (and yes the Mint too) lightning-fast, which is the main weakness of a Mint opening. By the end of T5, even with below average draws, you can have a deck with a Silver, three Coppers, and at most one Estate plus a Chapel. While this isn’t the best thing ever for building whatever engine you want, a lot of times it’s better than not going for the Mint, especially in the absence of a better $5 option. It’s also slightly better than the alternative for Big Money.

On top of this, you get the possibility of a huge high-roll if you draw your Chapel on T3 and are able to trash three out of your four junks and buy a Copper (about a 43% chance of this happening), giving you a deck of Chapel/Copper/Copper/Copper/Silver to start T5 with. Sometimes you can even do better than Silver.

When is this not good? Well, plan out your next few turns from there and if it feels like pulling teeth, you may be better off without the Mint. If I’m getting a T6 Market, then a T7 Gold, then a lot of my components are still pretty expensive (and don’t draw lots of cards) then you lose a lot of that pace the early Mint bought you, so many times you’re better off thinning more gradually and focusing on drawing more cards.

Why not Donate? With Donate you can just get rid of those Coppers whenever you want, so normally you want to put a few good cards in the deck and then Donate. Passing up the opportunity to put a fiver in your deck and potentially even play it before Donating, and trashing 5 Coppers immediately just doesn’t mean as much with Donate around. So don’t open Mint here.

Overlord: Let’s take that 1/6 chance of getting our “lucky” opening and chop it in half. If you have a 5/2 (not a 2/5) you can consider an Overlord opening with the right support. I’m looking at junking attacks and Estate-trashing (the kind of stuff you normally look for when you think about opening Overlord) with Soothsayer and Trading Post at the top of the pile here.

Advance: This is really only viable when you have Shelters, since you can trash your Necropolis on the turn you aren’t buying your Mint. It still requires the same kind of support as all of this other stuff, namely something good to gain off your Advance. Sure, you can pick up a crappy action for $2 or less and hope to Advance it later, but this is much worse and requires super-strong support in order to be better than “awful.”

…and as we get farther down the list, I’m now requiring 3 almost-unique cards to be in the kingdom. These are barely worth talking about, but here we go…

Steward: Needs Baker, Borrow, or some other shenanigans to work, but sure, this is a fine opening for most of the same reasons as Chapel is, but the tactics are slightly different.

Ambassador: Needs the same enabler as Steward does for the opening, but yeah if the Ambassador war is everything, this puts you in a decent position to start the game.

Let’s say you have a 4/3 and a coin token from Baker. Most of the time trashing 5 Coppers is barely enough to be worth it, so trashing 4 Coppers plus spending your opening token to do it? Ugh, this is worse than opening Baker/Silver or Baker/whatever-you-were-getting-with-your-Mint almost all of the time. Just don’t do this. Maybe you can do a Save on a 3/4 if you’re going to use some of the support I mentioned above that’s compatible with this (so basically just Alms and sometimes Advance).

Delve/Squire: Delve is usually better than Squire for this purpose but they’re similar enough that I’ll lump them together. These aren’t very good unless you have some big draw and something to reward you for having a bunch of Silvers. So basically Feodum. Just run the numbers, opening Mint/Silver is more likely to give you bad draws than good draws, hitting $4 with this deck on T3 is nearly impossible (28% with Delve and 0% with Squire) and your bad draws don’t increase the odds of this by very much very quickly. All you can realistically expect to do on these turns is get some more Silvers and Squires — if there isn’t some big payoff for that, then I’d say don’t bother.

Poor House/Secret Chamber/Engineer (5/2 only): These aren’t good. In fact, yeah I’ll just say that and end the list here. Sure, with enough support anything can be good but man, Secret Chamber isn’t even in the game anymore. You have to construct a kingdom and require like 5 or 6 cards before I would open Mint because of these cards.

So yeah, that’s about how good opening Mint is, with a lot of detail to support. Sure, you can craft kingdoms that are exceptions to these rules, but I don’t feel like talking about them. Maybe I’ll change the name of this from “article” to “rant” at some point 😛

Dominion: Discipline in the Opening

One of the easiest ways I have of telling that someone isn’t fantastic at Dominion is that they open with a village. Sure, there are some edge cases where opening with a village isn’t all that bad, like opening Fishing Village or a very sad Bazaar, but these are the exception. Opening with Village or Farming Village or something is pretty much never correct; you can do better.

Every card you buy and the order in which you buy those cards should have a specific purpose in mind; if a card isn’t helping you directly towards where you want your deck to be, then you shouldn’t get that card. Having focus on where you’re going and getting there as quickly as possible is how games of Dominion are won (it’s also pretty good general life advice), but it’s not exactly where I’m going with this article.

Your opening buys are the most important buys of the game; messing them up can set you really far behind, and it’s very possible that you can be dead in the water after turn 2 against an opponent who makes a better decision here and has reasonable draws. How will you know what to buy? The purpose of this article is to provide a general outline of the thought process for the first two turns of Dominion.

From a long way up, a game of Dominion should have the following rough outline:

1. Get control over your deck
2. Make your deck do good stuff
3. Win the game with your deck

Your priorities should start at 1 and shift to 2 and then 3 as the game progresses, so for the first two turns of the game, you usually want to get cards for the purpose of getting control over your deck. If that is not possible or can be accomplished with only one of your buys, then the next best thing is a card that makes your deck do good stuff. This is not very specific, but I feel like the “why” is much more important than the “what” here — I’m not going to be there to give you advice for every single kingdom you play, but you can always ask yourself “are my opening buys helping me get control over my deck?” and if the answer is no, find something better.

So we know what our purpose is, but let’s go into a bit more detail. Your priorities (again, ordered like the above list) should go something like this, keeping in mind that if you’ve decided you can’t or don’t want to pursue some of these steps, you’ll just skip over them:

A. Thinning and junking
B. Gainers
C. Draw
D. Payload
E. How do I win?
F. Endgame play

A and C correspond to 1, B and D correspond to 2, and E and F correspond to 3 — in terms of the opening, you can prioritize your buys according to this list. That’s the really short version, I’ll go into a little bit more detail now.

Thinning and junking: so these are both kind of serving the same purpose, if you’re junking your opponent then it’s harder for them to get thin, so both of these have sort of equal priority. If you can do both of them, I’d say I pick up the junker before the thinner more often than the other way around, but it depends on a lot. Keep in mind that a lot of the best cards for thinning and junking cost $5 and you don’t usually get to open with those cards, so buying a Silver or some other card that helps you hit $5 counts as working towards this purpose.

Gainers: the earlier you can pick these up, the more of an effect they can have on your deck, and the faster they can “pay for themselves” in terms of giving you a tempo boost when building your deck. So it follows pretty easily that opening with a gainer is a pretty good play. Be careful, though, since most gainers are going to actively hurt your chances of hitting $5, so while it can sometimes be correct to open Ironworks/Silver and hope to high-roll and hit $5 anyways, you may be better off opening double Silver and picking up Ironworks later. Just keep in mind that thinning and junking should be your first priority and make sure you don’t lose sight of that goal.

The rest of the items on this list usually don’t drive your opening buys all that much, so I won’t talk about them here.

I have just one more main idea I want to get to in this article: we’ve stated the goals we want our opening buys to accomplish, but sometimes it can be tricky to evaluate how well cards can help us reach those goals. The rule of thumb I have is that if your opening buys aren’t going to do something for you on turn 3 or turn 4, you should try really hard to find something better. I have a few more specific things to look out for:

I really don’t like opening with Duration and Reserve cards because they so often miss that second shuffle. Sometimes their effect is so good (Amulet, Transmogrify, Ratcatcher, basically the trashers) that you want to open with them anyways, but so many of these cards are really bad unless you draw them on T3 so you’re better off not going for that 40% chance of greatness and dealing with these guys later.

Keep in mind that cards don’t have to be orange or tan to have these issues, a Warehouse (or Dungeon) opening is really only good if you draw the Warehouse on T3, since if you draw it on T4 and play the Warehouse, then the amazing card that Warehouse helped you buy doesn’t get shuffled in. Another one to look out for is Ranger, since it doesn’t do anything the first time you play it.

Opening with two terminals can be a little suspect if your goal is to hit $5, even if both of them give you $2 to spend; in general, you should think about the cost of the cards you want to buy/gain on T3 and T4 and put some focus on hitting those price points, especially if those cards you’re aiming to buy are trashers or junkers. More generally, if you are unlikely to hit a price point you really want, then think really hard about your openers.

Make sure you aren’t putting something higher on your priority list than thinning/junking, and you aren’t putting anything else higher than gaining good cards.

Consider the chances of denying your opponent a $5 hand with a well-timed attack like Militia or Cutpurse if you’re first player — as a later player this gets much less good since you pretty much have to draw your attack on T3 for it to have the desired effect. If the trasher or Junker costs $5, then denying your opponent the fiver is on that level of importance.

There are many more nuances that I could list, but the more important skill is to know the right metrics to use to guide your decisions when you open. Think about what your T3 and T4 will be like, and make sure your priorities are in order and that you stay focused on them, and you will find your way to the best opening.

Dominion: Summer 2017 Tournament summary

I hosted a tournament this past weekend in Cincinnati, we had 17 people show up for it and things went pretty well. It’s the seventh IRL tournament I’ve hosted and the seventh unique winner we’ve had; there’s a large amount of Dominion talent in the area and a significant number of people traveled to attend, including my first contestant from out of the country!

The tournament consisted of three-player games, using all expansions. You can view more details about the tournament format here and find the spreadsheet I used to organize kingdoms here. The winner of the tournament this time was Jim Mounce, part of a very enthusiastic group from Indianapolis who have recently become regulars to the tournaments I host (and may host some tournaments of their own soon!) Other players who won portions of the prize pool were Ben King, Adam Hopkins, and Kevin Thompson — congrats to them and thanks to everyone who showed up and performed well. There were a lot of very talented people at this tournament.

Most of the purpose of this post was to talk about the designed kingdoms I came up with for the finals. The 9 players who made it past the first round of the tournament got to play four kingdoms I designed for this tournament; I never considered myself to be all that great at kingdom design but feedback from the designed kingdoms was overwhelmingly positive so I guess that’ll be a staple in my future tournaments. In any case, 9 people got to play these four boards and I’ll share my thoughts as well as what I saw from people while they were playing these kingdoms.

It took me a few months to design, playtest, and tweak these kingdoms, so I’m reasonably confident that what I’m saying isn’t total garbage, but hey I could be wrong…

Game 1: Crossroads, Squire, Apothecary, Gear, Duplicate, Mill, Duke, Festival, Talisman, Prince; Windfall, Palace

If you’re thinking that this looks very familiar to one of the kingdoms I used for my 2P tournament six months ago, you’re right. Not many people got to play it then and nobody who did built a deck close to the one I really like here. Also in 3P games it gets a little more interesting. There are two main directions you can go here: Duplicate/Duke, or the Crossroads engine.

Duplicate/Duke is pretty straight-forward: Get lots of Duplicates (4-6), get them all on the Tavern Mat, get a bunch of Duchies in one turn. Repeat with Dukes, have a lot of points. Support for this deck includes Gear and Mill, but surprisingly I don’t think Talisman, Crossroads or Squire really fit in here.

The Crossroads engine, though, is something a little more complex. The main idea is to get four Gears, playing two each turn and setting aside four green cards, and also Prince a Crossroads. You are able to start your turn by effectively “thinning” your starting Estates and having nine cards in hand with three Actions. You can use Festival/Crossroads for an insane amount of draw and you’ll find you’re piloting a deck whose draw gets stronger as you add more green. With just these four cards you can build a pretty powerful deck, but it doesn’t stop there: Windfall allows you to add payload lightning-fast and has great synergy with Palace, Mill helps you hit the price points you need with Gear’s help, along with providing you with some reliability with Crossroads; and Squire/Duplicate can find their places in the deck to accelerate growth and further increase the point-scoring potential of the deck when it’s time.

Surprisingly, after several games, I found that Apothecary is actually not good enough to really fit in, in spite of the fact that you can’t trash Coppers and that it has a ton of support here — it turns out you can put together a deck that’s amazing quickly and reliably without it.

Really, it’s Gear who is the star of the show here, but Crossroads/Gear/Prince at the core of the deck have such strong synergy that this deck breaks a lot of the usual rules of the “Crossroads decks” that you’ll see every once in a while. A lot of those decks need a lot of green to function and just can’t tolerate treasures; also the Crossroads decks tend to have severe reliability issues. This deck flies in the face of both of those, because it’s just so powerful.

I saw a couple of people playing a deck that had a similar concept to this at the tournament — it was at most one per game and they all won handily. I don’t believe they committed quite as hard as you can really afford to commit here, with the four Gears and multiple Windfalls, but they had the Crossroads/Gear/Prince core of the deck found.

Game 2: Native Village, Ambassador, Village, Mining Village, Poacher, Artificer, Library, Pillage, Rabble, Soothsayer; Donate, Wall

Ambassador is on my list of banned cards for 3P tournaments; usually nobody “wins the Ambassador war” and the game turns into a drawn-out slog that isn’t much fun. Wall can be unpopular because it gives you negative VP (among other reasons) and can be especially offensive with Ambassador-junk flying around. Donate is loved by many, but a common criticism is that it makes thinning and building your deck trivial. But what if you put them all in the same kingdom? Turns out there’s a very interesting dynamic to play with.

If you just look at these three things plus Soothsayer, you have a pretty unique start to the game: Soothsayer works pretty well for getting Golds and taking part in the junkfest for a while; but the Curses will eventually run and Ambassador will be necessary to keep your opponents from building too good of a deck. You also don’t want too many Golds since there is no +Buy. The games at the tournament, from what I saw, were mostly about the dynamics between these cards — once the Curses run, Donate for the second or third time, pick up a terminal draw card, and just go straight for green and hope it’s enough. The tournament champion was clever enough to spot an opponent playing Rabbles, so he kept some Native Villages around in order to counter those Rabble attacks by tucking his VP cards safely away to stay “thin.” But there’s more…

These decks are still vulnerable to sustained junking, and the threat of losing too many points to Wall can allow a player who continues to build to really shut their opponents down. There is a deck to be built here that is one level beyond. Turns from that deck look like this:

Play a couple of Villages/Rabbles to draw most the deck. Play Artificer, discard 5 cards, gain Pillage to the top of the deck. Play another Artificer, discard a Province (bought last turn), then play Native Village to mat the Province. Play Pillage, maybe play Ambassador(s) to keep thin and keep junking, then play a Library to draw the Spoils; buy Province. Rabble/Library are somewhat interchangeable here, but sustained Rabble attacks can shut down your opponents so it’s important to have a few Rabbles at least.

This deck stays thin while greening, and manages to play three different types of attacks on opponents every turn — even with Donate around, I don’t think decks will be able to buy Provinces under this assault. Plus, it’s sustainable for the most part, since you’ll be able to stop your opponents from doing much to attack you once you get this online.

Furthermore, the deck gives you options. You can remove the Pillage and just have two Golds in the deck. You can use Mining Villages and trash them on the last turn for Wall points. You can work in more of one type of attack if you feel that’s appropriate, and if things get too hairy you can always Donate to make sure this somewhat delicate deck doesn’t fall apart too badly.

I didn’t see anyone attempt to build this deck at the tournament, but I think it’s quite good.

Game 3: Pawn, Pearl Diver, Gladiator/Fortune, Harbinger, Warehouse, Diplomat, Throne Room, Baker, Mandarin, Mine; Dominate

There’s no thinning here; there are tools to make an “engine” but the draw is very weak (Diplomat only) and those two things combine to make a deck that’s pretty unreliable. Without some severe overbuilding, the best I was able to do was a deck that kicked off every other turn.

But there’s Dominate, and that’s a lot of points. So you want to put a lot of cards in the deck, and they work well enough together that you probably want to go for this weird Warehouse/Diplomat/Throne Room thing with Bakers in order to hit $14 as much as you can. Fortune helps a lot here too.

Surprisingly, Mine is great here — it has everything going for it. You can open with it and another good card because of Baker, and its effect is actually quite good because there’s no thinning and you want to like, have a lot of money. I saw many people build decks capable of Dominating a few times over the course of the game, and usually the person who Dominated most… dominated the scoreboard. Oh, I’m hilarious aren’t I?

But there’s a hidden gem here that nobody found during the tournament. If you can manage to find the following five cards in your hand: Fortune/Gold/Gold/Gold/Copper, you can buy Dominate/Mandarin and topdeck those five cards, meaning you can Dominate every turn. While the draw resources on this board are weak, there are a ton of tools to help you get these five cards in hand quickly: Mine is a rock star here, Warehouse/Diplomat is the core of the deck, and even Gladiator helps you out by probably giving you a Gold when you pick up that Fortune. Throne Room is pretty good here too. I was able to get this “golden deck” set up as quickly as turn 8 in my playtesting, and it almost always happened by T10. Being able to Dominate every turn with an option to double Province to just end the game did way better than any “engine” I was able to build here, and is a pretty unique payload. Before, the only real Mandarin combo out there was Mandarin/Horn of Plenty, which required a ton of support, but Fortune does the job all by itself, and Dominate made the payload of that Mandarin trick actually worth going for here.

Game 4: Fool’s Gold, Fishing Village, Forager, Jack of All Trades, Coin of the Realm, Charm, Counterfeit, Journeyman, Hoard, Watchtower; Battlefield, Keep

There’s a lot of stuff going on here, and this game tends to be over super-fast so there’s just not enough time to go for all of it. You have Fishing Village/Forager/Jack/Watchtower, which you can do for a while before you start shoving treasures in the deck as fast as you can with Hoard. You can also go for other sources of draw like Journeyman, other support cards like Charm or Coin of the Realm, and other payloads like Counterfeit/Hoard or Fool’s Gold. You can mix and match a lot of these things to build lots of different decks here, and there’s no telling which combination is right until you actually get in a game and see what your opponents are doing.

And that’s because Keep is weird, and it gets a lot tougher because of the fact that this is an IRL 3P game and there are eight different treasure piles that you may want to KEEP track of (oh yes). Oh yeah, and Battlefield is also a pretty big deal here because a lot of times, the temptation is to keep building and building with Keep around (because it can be the best points play for you) but not so much here.

This is a really tough board to play and it can be very different depending on what your opponents do.

Dominion: 2017 Video Tutorial

Recently I made another update to my Dominion video tutorial series. This time I made it so hopefully I won’t have to completely redo everything, but maybe I can make small adjustments or add new topics as I feel they are helpful/necessary.

I go into a number of topics here that really haven’t been talked about before. It may not be perfect, but I think it’s a good resource for anyone who’s trying to get better at Dominion, regardless of their current skill level. I’d encourage you to check it out!

Here’s a link to the playlist

My games sheet

I play a lot of tabletop games, and many times I’m playing in a game store or someone’s home. I have a duffel bag on wheels that I stuff full of board games (there’s more than 25 games in there) and I’ll throw it in my trunk whenever I’m going somewhere to play games.

Then the question is asked: what are we gonna play? It’s usually followed by awkward silence while people try to figure out how many people we have, how long of a game we want, and what they brought with them. Sometimes, someone has something they want to play, but for all of the other times, we don’t know what to do.

So I made this. I carry it around in my wallet all of the time. I feel like everyone should have one of these, so I’m sharing mine:

Games sheet

Rant: Existing in shared spaces

When I was 6 years old I remember being able to run at full speed through crowded rooms with no problems. Later in my life, when I was a teenager, I realized that this was because other people were paying attention and were getting out of the way of the small child with little awareness of what was going on around him. When I had this realization, I knew that I had elevated to a higher plane of existence: I was a “mature adult”*. With great power, though, comes great responsibility. Now that I had reached this great pinnacle of human achievement, I knew I had to be aware of my surroundings when I was in any place that I shared with other people. No longer could I run without looking where I was going. No longer could I stand in a place where I was blocking the path of others. Those days were gone.

*The irony that I’m using the words “mature adult” to describe myself is not lost on me.

I had this epiphany when I was still in high school, but many times in my life I have noticed people much older than me who don’t seem to understand this basic concept. The purpose of this rant is to increase awareness of the obligations people face when they are in spaces they have to share with other people. Another purpose of this rant is that I like to whine and it makes me feel good.

I realize that in some situations, the problem is solved by alerting the offending the person to the fact that they’re in the way. Simply saying “excuse me” can suffice in a lot of situations. On the other hand, there are a lot of times where this is inconvenient, difficult, or even impossible to do (as you will see in some of the examples below). I believe it is important, regardless of circumstance, that every person take responsibility for making sure they are always aware of what’s around them when they are in public. At the very least it makes you more pleasant to be around; but it’s nice to not have to worry about distracting people from whatever is so important on their phones that they CAN’T PAY ANY ATTENTION TO WHERE THEY ARE WALKING OR THE PEOPLE THEY ARE ABOUT TO RUN INTO. I also won’t judge you silently and harshly if I interact with you and you’re being particularly annoying to me.

I’d like to outline some scenarios that have come up in my life where people have created situations that made me wonder if they had any awareness that other people might have been around. If you should ever find yourself in one of these situations, perhaps you will have read about it here and you can do the right thing. Even if the people there don’t thank you for thinking ahead, I thank you now for making the world a better place.

Situation 1: You’re in a grocery store aisle. The bad guy (denoted with red circles) is looking at some item on the shelf, but has parked his cart (the red rectangle) across the aisle so that it’s blocking the entire path. Innocent bystanders just trying to get through (the blue circles) now have to either wait for this person, or interrupt them and tell them to move.

Much better would be to park your cart on the same side of the aisle that you’re looking at, or to stand on the other side of the aisle with your cart and look across the aisle at the shelf until you’re ready. A move I sometimes use is to park my cart at the end of the aisle and just hop in and grab what I need, but this has its issues.

Then there are the worst type of people in the universe, who see someone they know at the grocery store and stop to chat with them for however long — while having their carts block so much space that the entire aisle is unusable. They are so engrossed in their conversation that they will never realize what’s going on and don’t respond to interruption. Ugh.

Situation 2: Now we’re in a hallway, or maybe on a sidewalk or something. If we’re on a sidewalk, let’s assume there’s snow piled up on the ends or it’s really muddy or something so it’s oppressive to leave the sidewalk. There are pair of bad guys walking side-by-side in one direction, and even when they see me walking, they will not make any adjustments so that I can get by, despite the fact that the hall is only wide enough for two people, one in each direction. Often I’m forced to come to a complete stop, while one of them brushes up against me and acts like I’m a jerk because they couldn’t be bothered to move. Where am I supposed to go?

There are a couple of variations on this situation. One where I’m coming up behind them and I want to pass them because they’re walking super-slow. If I can’t get their attention somehow, there is no way for me to pass them.

Then there’s this travesty, when the hallway is wide enough for them to still walk beside each other, but they don’t move and I still have to smush up against the wall! When people walk side-by-side like this they are always taking up space that needs to be shared with other people sometimes, so when you do this, be aware of what’s going on around you and stop getting in the way, jerks!

Situation 3: Here’s one I ran into at work the other day. A guy was walking in the building, and he presses the button for handicapped-access, which opens one of the doors in front of him. There is already judgment here because he is fully capable of opening a door himself, but he decided to press the button, and wait for the door to slowly open instead of just opening the door that’s right in front of him. Seriously, how lazy can you be? And before you ask, yes I know he is capable of opening a door because I saw him open the door right behind him, which didn’t have this button (it’s an exterior door and you have to badge in and open it manually).

Anyways, he then goes over to the left side of the hall to enter the open door as I’m coming up. Naturally, I have to stop and wait for him to get back over to the other side of the hallway. I made sure to squeak my shoes nice and loud as I had to come to a sudden stop because this guy is too lazy to open a door that’s right in front of him. And yes, the doors were glass, he could see me coming. There is no excuse.

There’s a scenario that’s even worse, though. When I was in college, there was this same scenario, only imagine instead of one person going each way, it’s a constant stream of people (people entering/exiting a building between classes). Both doors open, but the red people are not allowing the blue people to pass because they don’t want to open the door that’s right in front of them. So the blue people have to just stand and wait because not a single person in the red line has the common sense to just open the other door so everyone can get where they’re going.

There should be a license to have the privilege of walking in a public place and it should be revoked for stuff like this. Come on, people.

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