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.

Dominion: Never Give Up

I played an interesting game of Dominion today, and while I was nowhere close to perfect, I think the way this game went down is worth talking about. Here’s the kingdom:

Pearl Diver
Courtyard
Urchin
Hermit
Shanty Town
Explorer
Council Room
Forum
Merchant Guild
Possession

I look at this board and I see a couple of things I don’t like: Urchin is the only real form of trashing available, and there’s a way to play multiple Possessions per turn with Council Room to support, so it’s very likely this game will end up being degenerate if both players go for Possession. Also, the Shanty/Council Room draw engine isn’t all that reliable, so there’s potential for “good” decks to have bad turns.

In any case, I judge that the best strategy here is to thin as quickly as possible by opening double Urchin and hoping for the best, then I’ll probably have to prioritize the Shanty Town split as I build my draw engine that aims to play 2-3 Possessions each turn. Once I have all the cards I need for this, I’ll trash all of the other useful cards from my deck until all my deck is capable of doing is playing Possessions.
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Kingdom cards: Pearl Diver, Courtyard, Urchin, Hermit, Shanty Town, Explorer, Council Room, Forum, Merchant Guild, PossessionTurn 1 – Opponent

O plays 3 Coppers.
O buys and gains an Urchin.
O draws 5 cards.Turn 1 – Adam Horton
A plays 4 Coppers.
A buys and gains an Urchin.
A draws 3 Coppers and 2 Estates.

Turn 2 – Opponent
O plays 4 Coppers.
O buys and gains an Urchin.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 5 cards.

Turn 2 – Adam Horton
A plays 3 Coppers.
A buys and gains an Urchin.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws 3 Coppers, an Estate and an Urchin.

Turn 3 – Opponent
O plays an Urchin.
O draws a card.
A discards an Estate.
O plays an Urchin.
O trashes an Urchin.
O gains a Mercenary.
O draws a card.
O plays 3 Coppers.
O buys and gains a Silver.
O draws 5 cards.

Turn 3 – Adam Horton
A plays an Urchin.
A draws an Estate.
O discards an Estate.
A plays 3 Coppers.
A buys and gains an Urchin.
A draws 3 Coppers, an Estate and an Urchin.

Turn 4 – Opponent
O plays 4 Coppers.
O buys and gains a Silver.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 5 cards.

Turn 4 – Adam Horton
A plays an Urchin.
A draws a Copper.
O discards a Copper.
A plays 4 Coppers.
A buys and gains a Hermit.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws 2 Coppers, 2 Estates and a Hermit.

Turn 5 – Opponent
O plays an Urchin.
O draws a card.
A discards an Estate.
O plays a Silver and 3 Coppers.
O buys and gains a Forum.
O draws 5 cards.

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Things aren’t going very well to start out with. My opponent collides Urchins on T3 and decides to buy two Silvers instead of more Urchins, signaling that he wishes to pursue a more money-based payload. In the meantime, I fail to collide my Urchins, so I have to pick up a third Urchin and I go for a Hermit on T4 — it will help me gain Shanty Towns or Silvers as I need them and maybe help out with thinning.

I take a look at my T5 hand and see a draw that suggests I’m likely to collide Urchins on T6, so I go ahead and grab a Madman in hopes of catching up in tempo, while deciding to get a Shanty Town to go along with this plan. I want to re-buy the Hermit later.
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Turn 5 – Adam Horton
A plays a Hermit.
A looks at an Estate.
A trashes an Estate.
A gains a Shanty Town.
A trashes a Hermit.
A gains a Madman.
A draws 2 Coppers, an Estate and 2 Urchins.

Turn 6 – Opponent
O plays a Mercenary.
O trashes 2 Estates.
O draws 2 cards.
A discards a Copper and an Estate.
O plays a Silver and 2 Coppers.
O buys and gains a Gold.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 5 cards.

Turn 6 – Adam Horton
A plays an Urchin.
A draws a Copper.
O discards a Copper.
A plays an Urchin.
A trashes an Urchin.
A gains a Mercenary.
A draws an Urchin.
A plays an Urchin.
A trashes an Urchin.
A gains a Mercenary.
A draws a Copper.
A plays 3 Coppers.
A buys and gains a Shanty Town.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws 3 Coppers, a Shanty Town and a Mercenary.

Turn 7 – Opponent
O plays a Gold, a Silver and 2 Coppers.
O buys and gains a Gold.
O draws 5 cards.

Turn 7 – Adam Horton
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Mercenary and 3 Coppers.
A plays a Mercenary.
A trashes 2 Coppers.
A draws a Mercenary and an Urchin.
O discards a card and a Silver.
A plays an Urchin.
A draws a Shanty Town.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Mercenary and a Copper.
A plays a Mercenary.
A trashes a Copper.
A buys and gains a Courtyard.
A draws 2 Coppers, 2 Estates and a Madman.

Turn 8 – Opponent
O plays a Mercenary.
O trashes 2 Coppers.
O draws 2 cards.
A discards 2 Estates.
O plays a Copper.
O buys and gains a Silver.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 5 cards.

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Some somewhat fortunate draws for me follow. Thinning is going well and I see my Madman in a hand that has a lot of potential, but I get rekt hard by a Mercenary attack that is a huge setback. At this point I’ll need to add Silvers to my deck to hit $5. My opponent has added several very good treasures to his deck, but no +Buy or any signals that he plans to build an engine, so I take some comfort in knowing that even if I get pretty far behind, I’ll have a good deck to Possess, which gives me a chance to catch up.
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Turn 8 – Adam Horton
A plays a Madman.
A returns a Madman to the Madman pile.
A draws 2 Coppers.
A plays 4 Coppers.
A buys and gains a Silver.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws a Copper, an Estate, a Courtyard and 2 Mercenaries.

Turn 9 – Opponent
O plays an Urchin.
O draws a card.
A discards a Mercenary.
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Silver.
O plays a Mercenary.
O trashes a Copper and an Estate.
O draws 2 cards.
A discards a Courtyard.
O plays 2 Golds, a Silver and a Copper.
O buys and gains a Gold and a Forum.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 5 cards.

Turn 9 – Adam Horton
A plays a Mercenary.
A trashes a Copper and an Estate.
A draws a Copper and an Urchin.
O discards a card and a Copper.
A plays a Copper.
A buys and gains a Shanty Town.
A draws 2 Coppers, an Estate and 2 Shanty Towns.

Turn 10 – Opponent
O plays an Urchin.
O draws a card.
A discards a Shanty Town.
O plays a Gold and 2 Silvers.
O buys and gains a Gold.
O draws 5 cards.

Turn 10 – Adam Horton
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals an Estate and 2 Coppers.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws a Silver and a Shanty Town.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals an Estate, a Silver and 2 Coppers.
A draws 2 Mercenaries.
A plays a Mercenary.
A trashes a Copper and an Estate.
A draws a Copper and a Courtyard.
O discards a card and a Silver.
A plays a Courtyard.
A draws a Shanty Town and an Urchin.
A topdecks a Shanty Town.
A plays a Silver and 2 Coppers.
A buys and gains a Merchant Guild.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws 2 Shanty Towns,
2 Mercenaries and a Merchant Guild.

Turn 11 – Opponent
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Gold.
O plays a Forum.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Silver.
O plays a Mercenary.
O trashes 2 Coppers.
O draws 2 cards.
A discards 2 Mercenaries.
O plays a Silver and a Copper.
O buys and gains a Council Room.
O draws 5 cards.

Turn 11 – Adam Horton
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Shanty Town and a Merchant Guild.
A plays a Merchant Guild.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals nothing.
A draws a Copper and a Silver.
A plays a Silver and a Copper.
A buys and gains a Hermit.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws a Copper, a Courtyard, a Shanty Town, an Urchin and a Merchant Guild.

Turn 12 – Opponent
O plays an Urchin.
O draws a card.
A discards a Merchant Guild.
O plays 3 Golds, a Silver and a Copper.
O buys and gains a Gold and a Forum.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 5 cards.

Turn 12 – Adam Horton
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals an Urchin, a Courtyard and a Copper.
A plays a Courtyard.
A draws a Silver, a Shanty Town and a Mercenary.
A topdecks a Silver.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals an Urchin, a Mercenary and a Copper.
A plays a Mercenary.
A trashes a Copper and an Urchin.
A draws a Silver and a Mercenary.
O discards a card and a Mercenary.
A plays a Silver.
A buys and gains a Council Room.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws a Copper, a Silver, 2 Shanty Townsand a Hermit.

Turn 13 – Opponent
O plays 2 Golds and a Silver.
O buys and gains a Shanty Town and a Forum.
O draws 5 cards.

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My opponent has chosen to build a reliable deck with lots of Golds and has added a few Forums to it — while the Forums aren’t currently necessary for the deck to stay viable, he should have little trouble staying viable while he greens. I need to get in gear.

I hit $5 a couple of times and get a Merchant Guild and a Council Room — I probably could have just skipped the Merchant Guild and just gotten two CRs, but I was worried I would run out of payload. I probably slow down by one or two turns because of this mistake, though.

On T13 my opponent still has zero points, but now he gets a Shanty Town and a Council Room, which signals that now he wants to build something resembling a draw engine. This is pretty worrisome, as his deck should adapt pretty quickly to this change since he has ample cycling from his Forums.
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Turn 13 – Adam Horton
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Hermit, a Shanty Town, a Silver and a Copper.
A plays a Hermit.
A gains a Shanty Town.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Silver and a Copper.
A draws 2 Mercenaries.
A plays a Mercenary.
A trashes a Copper and a Mercenary.
A draws a Shanty Town and a Merchant Guild.
O discards a card and a Silver.
A plays a Merchant Guild.
A plays a Silver.
A buys and gains a Courtyard and a Shanty Town.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws a Silver, a Council Room, a Courtyard, a Shanty Town and a Hermit.

Turn 14 – Opponent
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Gold.
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Gold.
O plays a Forum.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Silver.
O plays an Urchin.
O draws a card.
A discards a Hermit.
O plays 3 Golds.
O buys and gains a Shanty Town and a Forum.
O draws 5 cards.

Turn 14 – Adam Horton
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Silver, a Council Room and a Courtyard.
A plays a Council Room.
A draws a Courtyard, 2 Shanty Towns anda Merchant Guild.
O draws a card.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Shanty Town, a Merchant Guild, a Silver and 2 Courtyards.
A plays a Courtyard.
A draws 2 Shanty Towns and a Mercenary.
A topdecks a Mercenary.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals 2 Shanty Towns, a Merchant Guild, a Silver and a Courtyard.
A plays a Merchant Guild.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Shanty Town, a Silver and a Courtyard.
A plays a Courtyard.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws a Hermit and a Mercenary.
A topdecks a Shanty Town.
A plays a Hermit.
A trashes a Mercenary.
A gains a Shanty Town.
A plays a Silver.
A buys and gains a Potion.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws a Silver, a Council Room and 3 Shanty Towns.

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Turn 15 begins and my opponent has zero points still, even though his deck is very capable of much more. I have to believe that he’s built this pretty inefficiently, since he could have picked up an earlier Council Room for faster expansion. I think reliable double-Province turns were possible for him at least 2 or 3 turns ago.

I pick up a Potion here, since if I Hermit-gain a Silver and draw it, I’ll be able to use that along with my coin token to buy a Possession, potentially playing it the very next turn. With a decent draw I should have no problem winning this game, as I should be able to reliably play lots of Possessions. At this point, it shouldn’t matter how good his deck is, I should have the control to win the game.
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Turn 15 – Opponent
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Silver.
O plays a Shanty Town.
O reveals 2 Golds, a Mercenary and 2 Coppers.
O plays a Mercenary.
O trashes 2 Coppers.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 2 cards.
A discards a Silver and a Shanty Town.
O plays an Urchin.
O draws a card.
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Silver.
O plays 2 Golds and 2 Silvers.
O buys and gains a Province.
O draws 5 cards.

Turn 15 – Adam Horton
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Shanty Town and a Council Room.
A plays a Council Room.
A draws a Shanty Town, a Potion, a Hermit and a Merchant Guild.
O draws a card.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Hermit, a Shanty Town, a Merchant Guild and a Potion.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Hermit, a Merchant Guild and a Potion.
A plays a Merchant Guild.
A plays a Hermit.
A looks at a Shanty Town and a Silver.
A gains a Shanty Town.
A trashes a Hermit.
A gains a Madman.

A shuffles their deck.
A draws a Silver, 2 Courtyards and 2 Shanty Towns.

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Huge mistake from me here, I forgot I’d lose my Hermit by not buying something here (Pearl Diver would have been just fine). I actually didn’t realize this had happened (thanks, ShuffleIt) until I drew the Madman. Also, at this point I’ve trashed my Urchin and my last Mercenary, thinking that I want him to have large hands for me to Possess. This is probably premature, and it will certainly hurt now that I have to take and extra turn buying a Silver instead of the Possession that I wanted so badly. My opponent is greening hard at this point, so time is running out.
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Turn 16 – Opponent
O plays a Forum.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Gold.
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Mercenary.
O plays a Shanty Town.
O reveals 3 Golds, a Forum and a Council Room.
O plays a Council Room.
O draws 4 cards.
A draws a Shanty Town.
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Silver.
O plays an Urchin.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws a card.
A discards a Silver and a Shanty Town.
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Forum.
O plays a Mercenary.
O trashes 2 Silvers.
O draws 2 cards.
A discards a Courtyard.
O plays 5 Golds and a Silver.
O buys and gains 2 Provinces.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 5 cards.

Turn 16 – Adam Horton
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Shanty Town and a Courtyard.
A plays a Courtyard.
A draws 2 Shanty Towns and a Merchant Guild.
A topdecks a Shanty Town.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Shanty Town and a Merchant Guild.
A plays a Merchant Guild.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals nothing.
A draws 2 Shanty Towns.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Shanty Town.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals nothing.
A draws a Potion and a Madman.
A plays a Madman.
A returns a Madman to the Madman pile.
A draws a Council Room.
A plays a Council Room.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws a Silver, a Courtyard and 2 Shanty Towns.
O draws a card.
A plays a Courtyard.
A topdecks a Shanty Town.
A plays a Silver and a Potion.
A buys and gains a Silver.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws 2 Silvers, a Council Room and 2 Shanty Towns.

Turn 17 – Opponent
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and an Urchin.
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Forum.
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Gold.
O plays a Shanty Town.
O reveals 3 Golds, a Forum and a Council Room.
O plays a Council Room.
O draws 4 cards.
A draws a Courtyard.
O plays a Forum.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Province.
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Mercenary.
O plays an Urchin.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws a card.
A discards 2 Silvers.
O plays a Mercenary.
O trashes a Silver and a Shanty Town.
O draws 2 cards.
A discards a Courtyard.
O plays 5 Golds.
O buys and gains 2 Provinces.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 5 cards.

Turn 17 – Adam Horton
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Shanty Town and a Council Room.
A plays a Council Room.
A draws a Courtyard, 2 Shanty Towns and a Potion.
O draws a card.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals 2 Shanty Towns, a Courtyard and a Potion.
A plays a Courtyard.
A draws 2 Shanty Towns and a Merchant Guild.
A topdecks a Shanty Town.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals 2 Shanty Towns, a Merchant Guild and a Potion.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Shanty Town, a Merchant Guild and a Potion.
A plays a Merchant Guild.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Potion.
A draws 2 Shanty Towns.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Shanty Town and a Potion.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Potion.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws 2 Silvers.
A plays 2 Silvers and a Potion.
A buys and gains a Possession.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws 2 Silvers, a Courtyard and 2 Shanty Towns.

Turn 18 – Opponent
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Province.
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Mercenary.
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Province.
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Gold.
O plays a Shanty Town.
O reveals an Urchin, 2 Golds, a Forum and a Council Room.
O plays a Council Room.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 4 cards.
A draws a Shanty Town.
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Province.
O plays an Urchin.
O draws a card.
A discards 2 Silvers.
O plays 5 Golds.
O buys and gains a Province, a Courtyard and a Forum.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 5 cards.

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I had my hand hovering over the resign button on this turn — if he double Provinces here, he’s got 7 Provinces and I can only play one Possession on my next turn. I just don’t see much of a way I can catch him here, but luckily he’s a dollar short, so I decide to keep going. He also adds cards to his deck that are huge liabilities when Possessed, so all hope is not lost. He does, after all have seven stop cards in his deck (six Provinces and a Mercenary).

Notice that he’s played his Mercenary twice, it seems for the purpose of just attacking me, and he trashes three Silvers and a Shanty Town from his deck. Yes, this is annoying, but Shanty Town does soft-counter discard attacks, so the fact that he’s making his deck much worse because of this is a pretty big deal. He could have trashed Forums to get the money to Double on that last turn but he doesn’t. Right now, his deck is set up for something I’ve never actually pulled off in a game of Dominion before…
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Turn 18 – Adam Horton
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals 2 Shanty Towns and a Courtyard.
A plays a Courtyard.
A draws a Council Room, a Shanty Town and a Merchant Guild.
A topdecks a Merchant Guild.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals 2 Shanty Towns and a Council Room.
A plays a Council Room.
A draws a Courtyard, a Shanty Town, a Possession and a Merchant Guild.
O draws a card.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Possession, 2 Shanty Towns,a Merchant Guild and a Courtyard.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Possession, a Shanty Town, a Merchant Guild and a Courtyard.
A plays a Courtyard.
A draws 2 Shanty Towns and a Potion.
A topdecks a Shanty Town.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Possession, a Shanty Town, a Merchant Guild and a Potion.
A plays a Merchant Guild.
A plays a Possession.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Potion.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws a Silver and a Shanty Town.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Silver and a Potion.
A draws a Silver.
A plays 2 Silvers and a Potion.
A buys and gains a Possession.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws a Silver, 3 Shanty Towns and a Merchant Guild.

Turn 18 – Opponent [Possession]
O plays a Forum.
O draws a Gold, a Province and a Courtyard.
O discards 2 Provinces.
O plays an Urchin.
O draws a Shanty Town.
A discards a Silver.
O plays a Shanty Town.
O reveals 2 Golds, a Mercenary, a Council Room and a Courtyard.
O plays a Council Room.
O draws a Gold, a Province and 2 Forums.
A draws a Shanty Town.
O plays a Forum.
O draws 2 Provinces and a Forum.
O discards 2 Provinces.
O plays a Forum.
O draws a Gold, a Province and a Forum.
O discards 2 Provinces.
O plays a Forum.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws a Gold, a Province and a Forum.
O discards 2 Forums.
O plays 5 Golds.
O buys a Council Room.
A gains a Council Room.
O buys a Duchy.
A gains a Duchy.
O draws 5 Provinces.

Turn 19 – Opponent
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 5 cards.

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My opponent draws “the perfect hand.” I now have the ability to play more turns than my opponent with his deck, and the ability to ensure that he’s able to do absolutely nothing with his turns. I have all the time in the world to make up this points lead, while his deck gets to buy me Forums, Duchies, and everything I need to keep my foot firmly placed on his throat. BUAHHAHAHHAAHHAHAHAHHH!!
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Turn 19 – Adam Horton
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals 3 Shanty Towns and a Merchant Guild.
A plays a Merchant Guild.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals 2 Shanty Towns.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Shanty Town.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals nothing.
A draws a Courtyard and a Shanty Town.
A plays a Courtyard.
A draws a Council Room, a Shanty Town and a Possession.
A topdecks a Possession.
A plays a Council Room.
A draws a Shanty Town, 2 Possessions and a Potion.
O draws a card.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals 2 Possessions, 2 Shanty Towns and a Potion.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals 2 Possessions, a Shanty Town and a Potion.
A plays a Possession.
A plays a Possession.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Potion.
A draws a Silver and a Courtyard.
A plays a Courtyard.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws a Silver, a Duchy and a Council Room.
A topdecks a Duchy.
A plays a Council Room.
A draws a Duchy.
O draws a card.
A plays 2 Silvers and a Potion.
A buys and gains a Council Room and a Shanty Town.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws a Silver, a Duchy, 2 Shanty Towns and a Possession.

Turn 19 – Opponent [Possession]
O plays a Forum.
O draws a Gold, a Council Room and a Forum.
O discards 2 Provinces.
O plays a Forum.
O draws a Gold, a Province and a Forum.
O discards a Province and a Mercenary.
O plays a Forum.
O draws a Gold and 2 Provinces.
O discards 2 Provinces.
O plays a Council Room.
O draws a Province and 3 Forums.
A draws a Shanty Town.
O plays 5 Golds.
O buys a Forum.
A gains a Forum.
O buys a Duchy.
A gains a Duchy.
O buys a Duchy.
A gains a Duchy.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws a Gold, a Shanty Town, an Urchin and 2 Forums.

Turn 19 – Opponent [Possession]
O plays a Forum.
O draws a Mercenary and 2 Forums.
O discards a Mercenary and an Urchin.
O plays a Forum.
O draws a Gold, a Province and a Council Room.
O discards a Province and a Forum.
O plays a Shanty Town.
O reveals 2 Golds, a Forum and a Council Room.
O plays a Council Room.
O draws 3 Provinces and a Forum.
A draws a Shanty Town.
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 Golds.
O discards 2 Provinces.
O plays a Forum.
O draws a Province, a Courtyard and a Forum.
O discards 2 Provinces.
O plays a Courtyard.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 2 Provinces and a Forum.
O topdecks a Province.
O plays 5 Golds.
O buys a Forum.
A gains a Forum.
O buys a Duchy.
A gains a Duchy.
O buys a Duchy.
A gains a Duchy.
O draws 3 Provinces, a Mercenary and an Urchin.

Turn 20 – Opponent
O plays an Urchin.
O draws a card.
A discards a Silver, a Duchy and a Shanty Town.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 5 cards.

Turn 20 – Adam Horton
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Possession and 2 Shanty Towns.
A plays a Possession.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Shanty Town.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals nothing.
A draws 2 Shanty Towns.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Shanty Town.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals nothing.
A draws 2 Council Rooms.
A plays a Council Room.
A draws a Council Room, a Shanty Town,a Potion and a Merchant Guild.
O draws a card.
A plays a Council Room.
A draws 2 Courtyards, a Shanty Town anda Possession.
O draws a card.
A plays a Council Room.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws a Silver, a Duchy and 2 Forums.
O draws a card.
A plays a Forum.
A draws 2 Duchies and a Shanty Town.
A discards 2 Duchies.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Possession, 2 Shanty Towns,a Merchant Guild, a Duchy, a Forum, a Silver,2 Courtyards and a Potion.
A plays a Forum.
A draws a Silver and 2 Duchies.
A discards 2 Duchies.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Possession, a Shanty Town, a Merchant Guild, a Duchy, 2 Silvers, 2 Courtyards and a Potion.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Possession, a Merchant Guild,a Duchy, 2 Silvers, 2 Courtyards and a Potion.
A plays a Merchant Guild.
A plays a Possession.
A plays 2 Silvers and a Potion.
A buys and gains a Possession.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws a Silver, a Duchy, a Council Room, a Shanty Town and a Forum.

Turn 20 – Opponent [Possession]
O plays a Forum.
O draws a Gold, a Province and a Courtyard.
O discards 2 Provinces.
O plays a Council Room.
O draws an Urchin and 3 Forums.
A draws a Shanty Town.
O plays 4 Golds.
O buys a Duchy.
A gains a Duchy.
O buys a Duchy.
A gains a Duchy.
O draws 2 Provinces, a Shanty Town and 2 Forums.

Turn 20 – Opponent [Possession]
O plays a Forum.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws a Gold and 2 Provinces.
O discards 2 Provinces.
O plays a Forum.
O draws a Province and 2 Forums.
O discards 2 Provinces.
O plays a Forum.
O draws a Gold, a Province and an Urchin.
O discards 2 Provinces.
O plays a Forum.
O draws a Mercenary and 2 Forums.
O discards a Mercenary and an Urchin.
O plays a Forum.
O draws 2 Golds and a Courtyard.
O discards a Gold and a Shanty Town.
O plays a Courtyard.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws a Gold, a Province and a Council Room.
O topdecks a Province.
O plays 4 Golds.
O buys a Province.
A gains a Province.
O draws 3 Provinces, a Shanty Town and a Mercenary.

Turn 21 – Opponent
Waiting for Opponent.

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I don’t blame him at all for ragequitting, Possession is not a fun card to be destroyed by, but when you play so hard into Possession, this is what happens. Even the largest lead can be completely neutralized if your opponent is able to completely shut you down.

I was ready to give this game up, but sometimes it’s worth playing out.

Dominion: Ambassadory

Rant: Kibitzing in board games

At a game night a couple of weeks ago I was playing a game of Spyfall with a group. My wife doesn’t enjoy games that involve her having to lie or deceive so she was watching this game, but she has played it before and she knows the rules. (In Spyfall, each person is dealt a card that tells you a location except for one person, who is the Spy. The goal is for the Spy to hide long enough to figure out the location before everyone else figures out who the Spy is.) I was dealing out cards to everyone and she asked to know what location we were at. Without really thinking about it, before I even looked at my own card, I showed it to her. She looked confused, then passed me the card. Everyone instantly knew I was the spy, I tried to fight it but there was just no hope.

Obviously what I should have done (and did for the rest of our games that night) was just to deal her one of the location cards we weren’t using before shuffling the ones we did use for that game. It was a reminder of how kibitzing in board games is easy to allow, even unintentionally, and the effect it can have on games (this one was totally broken, we should have just started it over at that point, even if I wasn’t the spy I would have had an unfair advantage).

What is kibitzing? It’s when someone who is not playing a game offers commentary on the game being played, such that the players can hear it. The easiest example I can think of is if a group of people are playing poker and a guy walks up to the table, sees someone’s hand, and shouts “Wow, three of a kind! Nice!” prompting everyone else at the table to fold.

The Spyfall game I referenced was a lapse in judgment on my part, I normally make a policy to never show anyone outside of the game any hidden information I have in a game I’m playing, especially social deduction games where the whole point is to read people. I have everything to lose and nothing to gain by showing this information, and in the worst case the game can be broken by information like this being revealed to other people because of something external to the game. It’s questionable that my wife should even be allowed to see a location card at all since she’s not playing the game, but she knows how I feel about this and she did close the head of her hoodie so that most of her face was obscured. It was a casual game of Spyfall so I think everyone was OK with it.

Obviously, if you’re not playing a game, revealing hidden information about that game to the other players is rude. I could argue that people shouldn’t even seek out that information in the first place. I’ve had a lot of experiences similar to this that have really soured my game experience.

I’m sure it’s a pretty common situation where I’m playing a game and we’re pretty far along and there are a couple of people nearby who are hanging around waiting for us to finish up (maybe 10 minutes away from being done? Close enough that it’s not worth it for other people to pull out a short game and play that). Maybe they just got to game night a little late, or their game finished up ahead of ours and they’re ready to join up with our group to play another game. Many times what will happen is the spectators will give advice to players, or maybe just distract them with conversations unrelated to the game. What ends up happening is that instead of our game taking 10 more minutes to complete, it takes 30 minutes, and usually people, including myself, get frustrated.

I have a policy that I never give (serious) advice on what to do in a game while the game is being played unless I’m specifically asked to by the person seeking advice. Of course I will never miss an opportunity to suggest that a player buy as many Curses as possible on their turn in Dominion, but that’s different. I may give some generic tips when explaining a game, and I’ll suggest that players take a course of action that benefits me in games where that is relevant, but these are different things. A lot of people out there would rather figure things out on their own.

But when you aren’t in a game, I don’t think it’s ever appropriate to comment on that game. Even a comment like “looks like Adam is winning” or “who’s winning?” before the game is over can affect the outcome of the game. At best it derails the game and makes it take longer (usually resulting in the people causing the distraction to have to wait longer to get in a game!) and at worst it compromises the integrity of the game.

There’s a regular game night that I often go to, and I have to arrive late. Most of the time there’s a game in progress and I have to wait for it to finish. I always bring my 3DS or something to do by myself while I’m waiting for this game to finish; many times I’ll even sit at a different table until they’re done. Yes, I enjoy the company of the people I play with, but I enjoy it a lot more when I’m in the same game as them — to me it’s about the same as them texting or being distracted while they’re playing. So while it feels a little weird to sit by myself while I’m waiting for them to finish up, I feel like it’s the best thing to do.

Dominion: the dangers of simulation

Disclaimer, because I feel like I need one of these:

Some people have put a lot of time and effort into writing software that simulates Dominion games, and I’m about to be pretty critical of their work. Those same people have made lots of meaningful contributions to the community including, but not limited to, having their software used to help playtest actual Dominion cards before they are published. Dominion simulations do have some value and I’m questioning some of it; this article is meant to focus on the applications of Dominion simulations that I find misleading.

And it should go without saying that I have nothing against these people personally. I think these people are nice people. I want to be very clear that I’m not trying attack anyone’s character, but I am going to be critical of some ideas that they have worked hard to support if I don’t think they are valid and sound.

OK that’s enough for the disclaimer, let’s get to the good stuff.

1. What is the simulator trying to tell me?

You may have seen some statements out there like “Jack Big Money beats Mountebank Big Money”, so you come across a game with Jack and Mountebank, and you play Jack BM and your opponent plays Mountie BM and you lose anyways! Hey! What happened? Simulation is worthless!

Not quite. There are many, many things wrong with this; let’s get to them:

First, the statement “Jack Big Money beats Mountebank Big Money” is pretty misleading. What it means is that a simulation matched two bots against each other, and the Jack bot had a higher winrate than the Mountie bot. This does not mean that Jack will always win a game against Mountebank — sometimes the strategy that’s favored won’t win because you have bad luck. So maybe you just got unlucky. Great! You now have a reason to get really salty and whine a lot, and tell your opponent about how you are still better than them even though you lost! This is great sportsmanship!

Not so fast. Even if your strategy was actually favored, maybe you should be a little more gracious in defeat as a start; let’s put that Haterade aside for a minute. But also, YMYOSL. This is a great time to look critically at your own play and figure out if you could have done something better…

“Better? I already picked a strategy that’s favored! I should win! What more do you want from me?”

Second, just because Jack BM is favored against Mountebank BM doesn’t mean it’s the best thing you can do. A strategy that incorporates both Jack and Mountie will do even better — you’ll be more favored. Maybe this game you just lost could have been won if you played a better strategy that would win a higher percentage of games against what your opponent was doing.

This is exactly what the spirit of YMYOSL is (You Make Your Own Shuffle Luck) — the player who blames bad luck for his loss, even if he isn’t wrong in doing so, can miss out on a chance to get better at Dominion by refusing to look critically at his own play.

Anyways, this is an illustration of how simulator results can be interpreted incorrectly. Just be careful to not take simulator results to mean anything more than what they’re saying, and realize in a real game of Dominion there will be many more factors at play than what the simulation results have taken into account. In fact, enough factors that the simulation results themselves are often not going to be useful anymore…

2. Attempting to apply simulation results to your play

I’ll say this up-front: simulation results can be pretty accurate for Big Money games with minimal player interaction. In fact, because of simulators, the game has effectively been solved if you use no kingdom cards! They call this “best strategy” BMU, or Big Money Ultimate. It knows just how to build and Duchy Dance and observes PPR (the Penultimate Province Rule, which only actually applies with zero kingdom cards), which represents the extent of player interaction in the game with no kingdom cards.

This goes back to a criticism I often hear for Dominion — it’s just multiplayer solitaire. My response to that criticism is that if you think Dominion is just multiplayer solitaire, UR DOIN IT RONG. Player interaction is in every single game of Dominion and if you ignore it, you’re just going to lose more. This is actually true of any game with player interaction.

The problem with simulators is that it’s really hard to account for player interaction when you’re making the bots that are inputs to the simulator. It’s theoretically possible but it would be extremely laborious to actually do, and there’s basically no way to ever know that you’re finished. Why?

Let’s say I want to match up two different strategies on a kingdom of ten given cards to decide which one is better (has a higher winrate). I program my two bots and let it fly. Boom. Done. I got a number, Bot A beats Bot B 55%-40%-5%(tie), post it on the internet! QED.

What I’ve shown here is that I am slightly better at programming a bot for strategy A than for strategy B. How do I know that I did a good job with either one? This number would only be valid if I could know somehow that both bots are playing perfectly, not only in general but also perfectly in reaction to the other bot’s play. This is clearly impossible, but let’s try to get as close as we can and then we can realize how far away we are from this.

I’ll work on refining Bot B’s play to get its winrate up. Maybe I’ll try adding in a couple of tricks that deny resources to Bot A. Ha! If I just pile the villages super-fast and then play Big Money I can beat Bot A most of the time because Bot A will not adapt to the fact that its deck won’t work with only 3 villages. Maybe Bot A is vulnerable to an attack on the board, so when Bot B starts buying that attack, Bot A does worse, mostly because it doesn’t adapt to being attacked.

So you go and work on Bot A — play around these new tricks Bot B is trying to pull. The winrate swings back and forth as you go back and forth, just seeing what works well and what doesn’t. But the goal is to create one Bot A that accounts for everything and one Bot B that also does. The bots get refined and refined, and in theory the swings in winrates will get smaller and smaller until it settles around somewhere. Sweet, I think we figured it out.

But how can you know that you’ve thought of everything? How can you know that there aren’t weaknesses in your bots that you just haven’t found yet? How can you know that you’re building as quickly as possible? Try everything imaginable? I mean, that’s about it. So as much work as we did to get here, we still don’t know if we’re there, we can only assume that we’re getting closer. This process is so difficult and laborious because it’s the only real way to account for the interaction between players in a game of Dominion, using a tool that isn’t particularly good at it.

So theoretically it’s possible to optimize a bot and get a number from a simulator. I suppose that if we take a cue from the scientific method we could come up with a peer review process: whenever someone states simulator results, they should include the bots they used and invite people to improve upon each of the bots until a consensus is reached. I feel like if this doesn’t happen, simulation results shouldn’t be taken seriously (or at least not any more seriously than someone chiming in and saying that they feel like it’s different).

I’ll say this again so I can bold it, because it’s kind of the whole point of this article. Simulation results without the bots used to generate them shouldn’t be taken seriously. It’s the scientific equivalent of stating your results without any method, data, or sources; if you want to get better at Dominion, I feel like this is the least you can do to make sure your information is legitimate.

I’ll even go further and say that I have very rarely seen any simulation results posted where any attempt was made to account for player interaction; and the attempts that I have seen made are almost never even close to being rigorous enough to get accurate results. The single exception to this is what I mentioned before, about the case where there are no kingdom cards. What this means is that any simulation results that cover matches with any player interaction at all can’t be considered accurate. (Man I hope I can change this statement some day, but it reflects the current state of the way simulation results are generated and presented.)

I should be a little more specific about this. I think the margin of error for Big Money vs. Big Money matchups is small enough that you can get some value out of them, and by “Big Money” I’m including most definitions of “slog” as well. Let’s just say that if each bot is assuming the end of the game will come from the same endgame condition (Provinces or the same three piles) and neither bot aims to get more than one Province on a turn, you can take the simulation results somewhat seriously. If this is not the case, you cannot assume the numbers your simulator is giving you are accurate.

3. What are simulation results good for?

I’ve been pretty harsh so far on simulation results, and for pretty good reason IMHO. On the other hand, they are out there and there is some value in using simulation tools, you just have to be really, really careful about the conclusions you draw (namely, that you don’t draw any conclusions). Think of it as a good first step to the conversation about how to play better.

For example: let’s take a certain matchup between Bot A, which plays Militia Big Money, vs. Bot B, which plays Ironworks/Gardens. I suspect that Bot B is winning this matchup a lot of the time if you just use the canned bots for these two strats, so let’s try and improve Bot A and see what we can learn about playing against rushes. You might find that greening a bit earlier than normal increases the winrate. You might find that choosing other big money enablers besides Militia will give better results against a rush which doesn’t care about discard attacks. You can try all sorts of things to see what gives you better results.

Taking this first step is a good start to the conversation. Maybe the rush can play differently to account for these changes, so we have no idea which strategy is best yet — but remember that’s not really an attainable goal. We have learned something about how to get better at Dominion — that we suspect these methods of playing around a rush could be good. Maybe it’s not, maybe the rush can easily play around some of them, but the simulator results nudged us in this direction so it’s probably more promising.

This is something that leads to getting better at Dominion, and it had next to nothing to do with the numbers the simulator output. We can learn about ways to optimize certain strategies with a quick-and-dirty way to get an idea of how effective they are. Now we know which ones to investigate further. Simulation results aren’t about the numbers, it’s about the steps you take to increase those numbers. It’s not about the “what,” it’s about the “why” — it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.

Tables that compare winrates of strategies against each other, in an attempt to determine which strategy has the most raw power are great examples of a misuse of simulator results. There is no attempt to modify each bot to play the matchups well, and it’s all about the numbers. This is more of an exercise of which bots are easier to program (and can do things that the other bots aren’t likely to account for or need to play around) than which strategies are actually best in a game of Dominion. If you wanted to answer the question of which strategy has the most raw power in Dominion, I don’t think simulation is the best way to get there. I also don’t think it’s a question worth answering, but that’s a different topic.

This article is a great example of using simulation results to get better at Dominion. Yeah, the big money bot they played against probably wasn’t adjusted to play well against this engine so the numbers probably can’t be trusted, but the narrative in this article shows you how this deck works and why, and it gives you a great starting point for building the deck if you’re having trouble coming up with it yourself. There is more to playing this deck than the simulator lets on, so don’t stop trying to get better because you think the simulator figured it out for you, but it’s a great first step.

Dominion: Hermit/Market Square Revisited

Hermit/Market Square revisited

Shortly after Dark Ages was released, herowannabe came out of nowhere and blew our minds with the Hermit/Market Square combo. It wasn’t long before this combo dominated every game we saw the two cards in — and with good reason, Hermit/Market Square really is that good and you have to try really stinkin’ hard to come up with boards where some form of this combo isn’t the best thing available when played correctly.

The article I linked is a pretty good starting point; but it, and the discussion that ensued, only scratched the surface of the strategic depth this combo offers. Some of the advice given doesn’t hold up in practice as well as it could, given that you are completely uncontested so rarely. Also, for such a powerful combo, some more in-depth discussion on mirror matches is appropriate. This article aims to be a new starting point on how to play the combo best in all circumstances, and what sorts of interaction you can expect from the rest of the kingdom.

How to play H/MS: the basics

From 55 feet up, the combo looks like this: Open double Hermit, focus on getting as many Hermits as possible until the Hermits are gone (go ahead and trash your starting Estates/Shelters, but be careful as you might want to hold on to one of them for later). At this point, gain Market Squares with your Hermits while turning the Hermits into Madmen during your Buy phase. You’re looking for a deck composition that looks something like this:

  • (X) Hermits
  • (X+2) or (X+3) Madmen (X should really be 1 or 2 here, the combo doesn’t work with 0 Hermits and there is really no practical reason to do more than 2)
  • As many Market Squares as you can get before they’re either gone or low enough that you feel piles are in danger. If you have less than 3 MS, you’re in trouble and you would prefer at least 4
  • Your starting Coppers (these are sort of important to keep around, the combo requires some cards to stay in hand for your later Madmen to continue to draw, but more importantly, taking the time to trash them just isn’t worth your trouble)
  • One non-treasure card that you can trash to start things off (can be a starting Estate/Shelter or maybe something else you’ve gained with your Hermit like a $3 cantrip or something — in the worst case one of your Market Squares will suffice)

While building, your priority is usually to get Hermits first, then if you have a choice between gaining a Madman and buying a Market Square, you’ll want to gain the Madman (unless for some reason the MS split is super-critical, but this is very rare). You primarily want to use your Hermit-gains to get Market Squares.

THE BIG TURN

When to start: You’ll want to play either two or three Madmen to start off your big turn (this the +2 or +3 that we added to X above), once you play two Madmen you’ll have a reasonable-enough chance to draw a third. So when choosing the turn you need to go off, you’d really prefer to either have two Madmen in hand, or have one in hand and know through deck-tracking or something that you’re very, very likely to draw a second. There are cases when you have only one Madman in hand and you just need to YOLO it, these cases are when the game is almost over and you’re behind, to the point where you feel like you will lose the game if you give your opponent just one more turn.

What it looks like: So you play two or three Madmen to draw your deck (or most of your deck. It’s totally fine to not draw everything if you have that third Madman in hand, sometimes it just doesn’t do much for you). Then you play a Hermit, trashing that one non-treasure card I was talking about before, and trigger all of the Market Squares you have in hand. Gain something with your Hermit that you can trash to future Hermits if you’re going to repeat this step (Estate or Curse should be available). Play a Madman to draw again — you should draw most of your cards at this point, but if you don’t draw some, it’s OK. You can repeat the Hermit-trash-then-reveal-MS-then-Madman-Draw portion of this as long as you have Madmen and Hermits to keep this going (it should be X times). Now, play your Market Squares for the buys and play your starting Coppers and the billion Golds you gained this turn and buy a whole bunch of awesome stuff (I’d recommend some green cards, usually you can end the game at this point).

The nice thing about this combo is that it’s pretty versatile — normally you can just win the game on the big turn, but if you can’t, you can at least take a big honkin’ lead and your deck should be able to Province pretty reliably for the rest of the game; after all, it’s full of Golds and Market Squares and very few stop cards.

In-depth analysis: mirrors vs. uncontested

The old article got you to this point. Now, we’re going to go deeper. Let’s talk a bit about the mirror match vs. when you’re uncontested. I should say that even when you’re uncontested, you’re mostly not going to be totally uncontested: every time I’ve played H/MS against an opponent who didn’t know about it, they saw me open double Hermit and thought “oh, that hormat must be really good if my opponent is racing that card, better get ALL TEH HERMITZ!!!!1111” and then something similar with Market Squares. You have to pay very close attention to what your opponent is doing and what the potential of their deck is throughout the game.

(X+2) or (X+3)? How do I know which one to go for? Well playing three Madmen to draw your deck is pretty good, so if it’s not too much trouble, go for it. Sometimes you don’t need that: usually when you only have 4 or 5 Market Squares in your deck plus your seven Coppers, your deck is actually pretty thin, so that extra Madman doesn’t provide much value. The (X+3) is something I go for if I have the time or resources to do it, which isn’t all that often, TBH — the old wisdom is that you really needed three Madmen to draw your deck and I find that just isn’t the case very often, especially in mirror matches.

Racing Hermits: the Hermit split is magnified in the mirror match for sure. 6 Hermits can get you two rounds of revealing Market Squares on your big turn, 5 Hermits can just get you one, and while it’s possible with only 4 Hermits to get a decent megaturn, it’s going to be seriously gimped and it requires a bit of good luck for anything good to happen at all. Hermits are super-important in the mirror and you’re in trouble if you don’t get at least 5 of them. When uncontested, you really want to get 7 Hermits; take comfort in knowing that if your opponent manages to get 4 Hermits and isn’t going for this combo, they probably aren’t going to accomplish all that much this game, so you should be OK. In any case, your strategy doesn’t change much because you want to just get as many Hermits as possible as quickly as possible until you have 7 or the pile is empty.

I guess I’ll stop for a minute here and mention #thedreamhand. Something like Necro/Hermit/Hermit/Copper/Copper + Baker Token, where you can play two Hermits to gain Hermits AND buy a Hermit (yo dawg, I heard you like Hermits). While this is a strong play, you should gauge the pace you get by getting two Madmen so quickly vs. the possibility of giving up a Hermit (will doing this actually mean you get one less Hermit?) and consider taking the two Madmen instead of buying that Hermit. This is kind of edge-casey, but could happen if your opponent opens Embassy or Council Room, or gets a Lost City or something kooky.

Racing Market Squares: Naturally you want to get as many of these as possible, but usually getting Madmen is more important than getting Market Squares. I’ve alluded to this before, but I’ll just briefly mention the exceptions to this rule; they are almost always when the pile is low. If you’re in pile danger (your opponent has gone for a Cursing attack that you’re dealing with nicely because Hermit is amazing) then you may not want to let the Market Squares get too low before taking a lead — you may be better off gaining Silver here instead of letting the MS pile get low. Also, if you’re looking at the last Market Square in the pile, you may want to consider denying it to your opponent over getting a Madman that turn. Usually this matters in the mirror…

Let’s be real, the mirror matchup will end on three piles most of the time, with those piles being Hermit, Market Square, and Estate. Limiting the number of buys your opponent has by denying Market Squares can be a key to victory — you usually threaten to pile Estates yourself when you do this and force your opponent to make some uncomfortable decisions like going for the megaturn earlier than he would like, or in the most desperate of times, buying/gaining Estates to lower the pile to within striking distance. Also, less Market Squares will mean less payload for your opponent in most cases. Think about how many gains they can have on their big turn (remember to take into account Hermit plays!) and if you can deny them the chance to threaten the Estate pileout, you could go for that. This is most effective when there are no other gainers or +Buy cards that cost $3 or less.

When to go mega: Considerations for this are pretty different when uncontested or in the mirror; I’ll talk about them separately. Obviously, you’ll want to keep your finger on the pulse of your payload each turn you could potentially go off, and if you can win the game, just do that. You know, that was kind of the whole point of this thing anyways, right?

Uncontested: This means you haven’t been contested on components enough to really hurt you. You have 7 Hermits, you have access to as many Market Squares as you want. When you get that fifth Madman, you should hear a little timer in your head go “ding!” That means your deck is ready to take out of the oven like a glorious soufflé that has risen like three inches, ready to be devoured in all of its eggy goodness. Be careful, it’s hot! Unless you are under some huge pressure by your opponent, there’s not really a reason to rush things if you aren’t certain you can find enough Madmen this turn to go off. Just pay attention to what your opponent is doing, what kind of pressure they’re putting on you, and use your judgment here.

You’d really like to get your full complement of Golds on your big turn, but the sooner you can go off, the better — just press the button the first solid chance you get. You’re probably wanting to go with (X+3) Madmen and (X) Hermits where X=2 here.

Mirror: You’re going to end up with a much thinner deck in this case, so you can probably get away with (X+2) Madmen with your X Hermits where X=1 and you have an extra Hermit laying around sometimes. If you’ve bossed the Hermit split 6-4, then yeah let X=2 if you have the time. But you probably won’t. You spent two gains on Hermits while your opponent got Market Squares with those two gains, so he’s threatening a three-pile on you most of the time. Get yourself in gear!

Ideally, you want to go off first and empty Estates and win. If you can’t do that, then your opponent probably can, which means you’re in deep doodoo. Consider pulling the trigger somewhat prematurely (meaning you only have one Madman in hand) and/or start gaining Estates to put them within your reach. If your opponent goes off first, you lose anyways. Here’s an example game where this strategy worked out in a mirror where I lost the Hermit split 6-4 with no other support. Fun fact, this is the shortest game of Dominion I’ve ever heard of where all players were trying to win the whole time: 7.5 turns! It just goes to show you how incredibly fast this combo can be. I apologize in advance that I was eating popcorn during my commentary, it’s so embarrassing.

If you can go off this turn but can’t end the game, you probably have to go off anyways and just try to get two Provinces (maybe some Estates too). You have to take enough of a lead so that you don’t immediately lose. Calculate what your opponent’s payload will be when they go off — if you can make it so they can’t win if they go off, do that. If not, make a dent in the Estates and just hope they don’t end it on you next turn. Or maybe you can get two or three Provinces and try to buy some more on your next few turns. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to track your opponent’s deck to know how likely they are to kick off on any given turn, other than the number of Madmen they have.

If you go off second and haven’t already lost the game, then most of the time you get a little bit of flexibility to wait for just the right time to go crazy. What you’d like to do (if you can’t just end the game) is to put yourself in a position where you’re roughly equal to your opponent in points and you have a better deck. Consider gaining Silvers for additional payload if you’re waiting to go off — if you know you’re going to go off on this shuffle, playing a Hermit to gain a Silver, even if you’re forced to buy a Copper to keep the Hermit around, can be better than not doing so. Keep careful track of the payload of both your deck and your opponent’s deck.

Interaction with the rest of the kingdom

Most of this article so far has dealt with the two-card kingdom of just Hermit and Market Square. The combo is so powerful and so fast within itself that this is a really good baseline for all games that involve these two cards. You’re always either opening double Hermit or crying because you got a 2/5 without either Stonemason, Baker, Ball, Borrow, Save, Alms, etc. to bail you out. You’re always piling Hermits ASAP. There are very few cards that cost more than $3 that will interact with this combo at all (they can’t be gained with Hermit and it’s really hard to buy them with this deck), so these cards should really be your focus. I’m going to talk about all cards, though.

Counters?

It’s pretty well-known that H/MS doesn’t really care about junking attacks. Hermit can just trash the junks before you ever draw them with very little opportunity cost, and the combo doesn’t care too much about having extra Coppers around. Junkers are pretty safe to ignore.

It’s assumed that discard attacks will just wreck H/MS. This is just not true, though you’ll have to play differently if you see your opponent going for these attacks. Mainly, you just need an extra Madman to start your big turn, so change that “(X+2) or (X+3)” to three and four and you’re good to go. The only discard attack that costs $3 or less is Urchin, but that’s not something I’d get over a Hermit or a Market Square. We’ll revisit Urchin later on when he fits into the discussion better, but his discardy-ness doesn’t really factor in here. Along with the extra Madman you’ll need to kick off, you’ll want to make sure you know you can find that third Madman after playing only two Madmen, since your first two Madmen draw much less than normal.

What about trashing attacks? Swindler, Knights, Rogue, Sabby, Warrior. Well you play around these guys the same way you would play around them in any other deck: have some redundancy. Get more components then you know you’ll need, and look for alternatives (which I’ll discuss later) if you still run low. The nice thing is that if your opponent has spent time going for these attacks, they likely have done so at the expense of contesting you on components so you’re probably in good shape. I’d say it’s pretty safe to go for H/MS over Knights, Rogue, and Saboteur. My gut says that Warriors are too slow to compete as well, but I’ve never tested that either. Swindler is a bit different because it can trash Madmen and can be Hermit-gained, I’d consider Swindler in a mirror matchup where I felt like I was behind; with some good luck the mustachioed man in purple can get you back in the game pretty nicely.

Does anything counter H/MS? Well, umm, yeah kinda. Possession. Possession with some good trashing can get online before you have a chance to go off, and while they can’t really steal your big megaturn (they gain all the Golds so you-possessed-by-them don’t re-draw them), they can spend your Madmen as you build and prevent you from ever having your big turn. They can even gain Madmen from your deck and build up to multi-Possession turns even with no other village support. Possession might need some support (Copper-trashing, a village, some draw would be really nice but not necessarily required), but it’s the only card that would make me consider not going for Hermit/Market Square at all.

OK, so Possession isn’t around. Do other kingdom cards matter? Of course they do! Here are the things you’re looking for, in order of importance:

  1. Game-changers like Scheme and Alms.
  2. Other cheap trashers.
  3. Other cheap +Buy or gainers.
  4. Cheap cantrips and other minor support.

Let’s talk about these in more depth.

  1. Game-changers

Scheme is a big deal, it lets you gain a Madman without trashing your Hermit, and it’s a great way to guarantee you play a Hermit on almost every turn. Full disclosure: I’ve never played a game with these three cards so my numbers may be a bit off, but you do want to change the way you build your deck significantly. Still you open double Hermit, but after that you want to buy and gain Schemes instead of Hermits — you want to have 2 or 3 (or maybe 4? That seems excessive though) actual Hermits in your deck, about 3 Schemes; and from there, go immediately into the phase where you’re gaining Madmen for your buys and Market Squares with your Hermit-gains. The reason this is so great is now you aren’t contested on Hermits, and you can start getting Madmen sooner which will speed you up by several turns. It also decreases the odds of Hermit-less turns, which are next to useless.

Alms is a big deal for a few reasons. First, you can trigger an Alms to gain a card in your buy phase while also having your Hermit go cray-cray. Second, it gives you easy access to $4 cards in the kingdom that may support your strategy, or even $3 cards that you can’t afford because you’ve got dead Hermits/Madmen in your hand or whatever. Alms can even save you from a disasterous 5/2 opening and potentially make it a boon if Ball or Rogue or something else is around to let you take advantage of it.

In both of these cases, the main thing is that you can (and should) start gaining Madmen earlier than normal, which will speed you up by a couple of turns in building. You’ll get these benefits regardless of how much you’re contested by your opponent.

Two: Trashing

It’s true, without pressure from my opponent, if I could choose any trasher in the game to use during my megaturn to trigger my Market Squares, I would choose Hermit. Why? Well the terminal-ness doesn’t matter, I’ve got plenty of actions from my Madmen. Hermit gains food for future Hermits to trash, it empties the Estate pile which I want almost all of the time; but more importantly it’s much better to have in my deck as I build because it gains all of the components I care about (Hermit and Market Square) and can turn into a Madman, which is usually the limiting component of my megaturn. That’s why Hermits are so important, that’s why we open double Hermit and just pile the Hermits until they’re gone. That’s why any competent opponent (and most incompetent opponents) will contest you on Hermits.

But other trashing in the kingdom can make losing the Hermit split be not-a-game-decisive thing. You still need (X) “Hermits” for your megaturn, but on that megaturn itself, as long as you have something that trashes a card, Market Square doesn’t care! This means if you pick up these other trashers you can turn more of your real-Hermits into Madmen and have a bigger megaturn, even if you don’t have that many real-Hermits. Suddenly, your options in a mirror matchup for larger turns are much greater.

So what matters here? Really, you’re looking for anything that Hermit can gain that will trash a card, except for Loan (it needs to be played in the Action phase) — be careful with Lookout and Doctor, too. Being able to trash Coppers is a big plus, since you don’t need to worry about keeping extra non-treasure junks around to feed them on your megaturn (only Hermit is capable of gaining food for your next trasher at the $3 price point). If you end up replacing all of your Hermits with Copper-trashers, you can even get rid of that last junk card you had laying around as Hermit food! Being terminal or non-terminal doesn’t matter at all. Giving you a +Buy or gains is also really nice because it fits into the next category as well, so Stonemason, Forager and Trade Route are the real rock stars here (but not Develop, since the ability to gain Estates is pretty important in many cases).

Wait a tick, did you just say Trade Route is a rock star?

Yes I did, do not adjust your screen. Trade Route is amazing in a H/MS mirror. mic drop

awkwardly walks back on stage and picks up the microphone

Ahem. As you can see I’m not done talking yet. Uhh, let’s continue.

Be careful with Stonemason, it needs $3 food to really work, so gaining a Silver or triggering a Market Square somewhere along the line has a lot of value here. Also consider emptying Stonemasons as your third pile if you’re short on gains.

What if the trasher is $4 or more? Well if you really need another Madman for your turn to mean anything, yes you should consider putting a Silver (or maybe a Candlestick Maker or something) in your deck to try and hit $4 (or maybe you’ve still got that Baker token lying around from the start of the game?) to get that one single Treasure Map that will guide you to victory (I’m not kidding, T-Map works just fine, though Remodel and the like are better of course). Let’s be clear, in a 2P game this is mostly a desperation play for when you’re way behind — you lose a ton of pace by going for this and normally it will just come up for you on a “lucky” draw for some turn that you aren’t gaining a Madman. This isn’t normally something you play towards. If your trasher costs $5, you can basically forget about it, the odds of actually being able to buy it are super-small. Sure, if you’re staring at five Coppers and the Hermits are gone then go for it, but I’m not holding my breath.

And let me just say this right now, those synergies you’ve heard about like Bank, yeah it would be great to have a Bank in your deck on your big megaturn, but you’re never hitting $7 to buy it and going out of your way to hit $7 is super-not-worth-it. Just don’t. And while I’m here, other gainers like Talisman? Nope, Hermit gains Hermits just fine, no need for that stuff.

In a game with more than two players, though, this becomes much more reasonable. In fact, building up after the Hermits and Market Squares are empty and before you go off becomes much more viable when there’s a third player who already has some points but very little pile control, preventing the this-game-is-over-immediately threat. Here’s an example 3P game where this became relevant, it also shows the disaster that can ensue when you play a Madman to go for your megaturn and get an awful draw.

Three: +Buy or Gainers

The same issues with cards that cost $4 or more apply here that I already talked about. I’m focusing on cards that cost $3 or less that give you extra gains on your turn; and by gains, I’m talking about cards that can gain Estates; these are mostly useful for threatening an Estate pileout if you didn’t get enough Market Squares to do so, and are pretty much only useful in a mirror match. You shouldn’t need too many of these to threaten the Estates unless you totally borked the MS split (in which case you might just be lost anyways) so being terminal shouldn’t usually matter here, just don’t put yourself in a bad situation, make sure you can actually play all of your cards and gain all of the Estates.

The big star of this show is Squire (plus the stars of the previous show, namely Stonemason) because it gives you two Buys for just one card played. Super-hawt.

Four: Other minor support

If the Hermits and Market Squares are out and you find yourself being forced to gain something off of a Hermit play (because you need another Madman), you can often do better than a Silver (though if you know you’re going off later this shuffle, a Silver is frequently the right choice). Sure, those other cards I was talking about are going to be much better than anything I mention here, but many other cards can be relevant in a H/MS deck. Surely some other non-treasure card in the kingdom is better than your last Shelter/Estate, like a cantrip or something (I’m looking at you, Urchin). Maybe, just maybe, you get to play it once for some benefit before trashing it on your megaturn.

There are also a couple of events that are relevant (other than Alms, of course) since you can trigger events and still get your Madman, which is better than just doing nothing. Expedition can be useful, along with Scouting Party, Save, or Borrow.

Conclusion

Oh, mansies. Are you still with me? That was a lot, but these details can be game-decisive in a Hermit/Market Square mirror and there are lot of counter-intuitive things to think about (Trade Route, I know, right?) If you know what to look for, you will win more games. I’ll take this opportunity to caution you against overbuilding and going for the Nine-Hermit Megaturn (X=3) against an opponent who doesn’t contest you. In very few cases are you not putting yourself in real pile danger for not-much-benefit, so be very careful and don’t be afraid to go back and scoop up two more Hermits later on if it feels safer. Usually a competent opponent won’t give you the time and resources you need to live out such a glorious turn, so it’s best not to play with fire.

Hopefully this article can get you from not knowing about the combo to a full understanding of how to play Hermit/Market Square games precisely and maximize your win rate. Comments or suggestions are always welcome. Now go forth and Make Your Own Shuffle Luck! <3

Dominion: Apothecary

Many people attempted to write articles about this card a long time ago, and even more articles about various combos with Apothecary. Unifying those articles into something that takes more modern knowledge of the game into account is something I think would be beneficial; so here I am, writing this article.

I hope this article serves as a primer to general strategy with Apothecary: when the card is good, when to go for it, when you shouldn’t. What are the amazing combos that make Apothecary truly shine? Which cards serve as the best enablers to an Apothecary deck? And most importantly, how to build and play those decks to the best of their potential.

1. The basics, from really high up

Apothecary + Big Money should just lose to Big Money. Why? Well you have to put this silly Potion in your deck which is only good for buying Apothecaries, and you don’t want your economy to just come from Apothecaries and Coppers, so Apothecaries aren’t really doing that much for you. Sure it’s a little more complex than that but the important point here is that Apothecary needs support or else it’s not going to be very good. The most important form of support is +Buy, without +Buy, you almost never want to go for Apothecary.

Apothecary does best at the beginning of the game, for the simple reason that most of your cards are Copper or Potion, so Apothecary has the best chance to draw you lots of cards — when Apothecary does its thing, you’ve just played +5 Cards/+1 Action — even though the cards you just drew weren’t the best, you still have a huge benefit for this hand, along with the increased cycling you got which is not to be underestimated in a deck with so many Coppers in it — playing that one card and having that outcome just sped you up a whole turn…

…Which is a little unfortunate, because there are very few ways to set up such an awesome Apothecary draw, and all of the practical ones involve you drawing your deck first, which is kind of a tough thing to do. So sometimes you’ll play your Apothecary and amazing things will happen, but other times you’ll draw a Copper, then reveal three Estates and another Apothecary and be very, very sad.

This is part of the reality of Apothecary, and understanding that reality will help you get the most out of decks that use the card. The kind of support you need to make Apothecary shine is exactly the kind of thing that will make this situation less likely to happen.

Just for completeness, I’ll mention this specific scenario for emphasis: you really want to be drawing lots of cards with Apothecary to get the most out of it, meaning you want a high concentration of Coppers/Potions in your deck. During most games, you’ll buy green cards, which causes this to become an issue. Maybe you’ve played an Apothecary deck where you draw like 16 Coppers and you buy two Provinces and everything is going great, but then all of a sudden your deck falls apart because you have four green cards on top of your deck and your Apothecaries are helpless to get past them. The point here is that Apothecary decks stall and unless there is a plan to deal with that fact, Apothecary shouldn’t be the centerpiece of your deck.

2. How to play your Apothecary deck

First, let’s define what I mean when I say “natural” draw – it’s the distinction between putting a card in your hand because Apothecary tells you to put the Coppers and Potions into your hand, and between putting a card in your hand because a card says “+X Card(s)” – the +X Card(s) is natural draw and the other one is Apothecary-draw. So when you play Apothecary you get one natural draw and then 4 potential Apothecary-draws; all other cards just give you natural draw. You can think of the five cards in your opening hand as natural draws as well, and anything you did on your previous turn for consistency (which is important enough to have a whole section later on) helps you out with these natural draws – it’s a similar concept.

So the objective is to never draw Coppers or Potions naturally – if you can do this or at least minimize it, you’ve gotten 95% of the way towards perfect play with Apothecary, and I should mention that these principles can even apply when you have zero Coppers or Potions in your deck (say you opened Apothecary but ended up trashing your Coppers later or something).

The simplest thing to do is just use the rule “play Apothecary first.” OK, this rule will get you through the first Action card you play on each turn… most of the time. If you blindly follow this rule by always playing Apothecaries first when you have them in hand, I’m afraid you’re missing the point of Apothecary’s sifting. Your objective is to maximize the number of potential Apothecary-draws off each Apothecary you play, meaning that your Apothecary “sees” the most cards that could potentially be Copper or Potion. From a different perspective, this comes down to wasting as few potential Apothecary-draws as possible.

Example: I’ve just played an Apothecary and revealed four Provinces, I put them back on my deck IN ANY ORDER RAWWRRRR!!!!!! In hand I have 4 Apothecaries and 4 other cantrips (let’s just say they are Schemes), what do I do?

The correct answer is to play three Schemes, then play an Apothecary; why? You already know those next four cards are not Copper or Potion, if you play an Apothecary as any of your first three plays at this point, you’re wasting potential Apothecary-draws on a card you already know can’t be drawn that way. Those four Provinces have to be naturally drawn (man, where’s my Scout when I need it?) so you should use the cards that are only good for natural draw to draw them (your Schemes). Once you’ve played three of these and drawn three of those nasty Provinces, you can play an Apothecary to naturally draw the fourth Province, and look at four fresh, new cards that could potentially be Apothecary-drawn. This way you don’t waste any of the potential Apothecary-draws.

I’m going to say the reasoning behind this example in a couple of different ways in case that helps someone understand better; it’s really important to understand why we’re doing this so you can apply that to lots of other situations I’m not going to talk about here.

Apothecary is best played when you know nothing about the 2nd-5th cards on your draw pile (or maybe you have a reason to think they are more likely to be Copper or Potion. BTW this almost never happens). To set up a play of Apothecary like this, you want to play three Schemes first so that the top card is a Province and the next four cards (2 through 5) are unknown.

You’d like to maximize the “reach” of your hand, meaning that you want to be able to draw from a selection of cards that extends as far down as possible into your draw pile. Apothecaries are better than Schemes at reaching, because they can draw Coppers and Potions, plus bring a card that’s five cards deep into your draw pile up to the top of your deck. If I played my Apothecaries first, I lose out on potential Apothecary-draws, which would have given me more reach into my deck.

Of course a lot of times you want to save a cantrip so you can actually draw that card you just stuck on top with Apothecary, that’s the principle behind why you would play Apothecary first if your starting hand was Apothecary/Scheme/3xProvince – saving that Scheme lets you select which card out of four you want to naturally draw next. If I only had one cantrip left in my hand I might consider playing Apothecary first even if I wasted a potential Apothecary-draw doing so, just to try and find and draw that card that keeps my turn alive.

Example: I have a Scheme in hand, I’ve just played an Apothecary and revealed (Apothecary/Scheme/Scheme/Scheme), what do I do?

Put the cards back in the following order: [deck top]/Scheme/Scheme/Apothecary/Scheme/[rest of deck]. You’ve maximized the potential draw of this next Apothecary while leaving a cantrip in your hand to make use of whatever amazing card(s) your Apothecary may find you – in other words, you don’t risk naturally drawing a Copper because no card you can draw hasn’t been pre-screened by an Apothecary first (OK, OK, if that Apothecary picks up four Coppers then you still could naturally draw another Copper with that last Scheme play, but there was nothing you could do about that).

Sometimes you don’t have these luxurious choices, but every card you play, every card you put back on top of your deck, it should all be done with the intent of wasting as little of Apothecary’s sifting as possible – once an Apothecary has seen a card, you don’t want future Apothecaries to see that card again if you can help it. It may seem like this doesn’t matter that much and that it’s only a slight optimization to the way you play your deck, but it has huge implications. Every time you waste a potential Apothecary-draw, you throw away a chance to put a Copper or Potion in your hand for free. Every time one of those chances works out for you, you dig one card deeper into that deck, which increases your chances at least that much of finding a key card in your deck that either keeps your turn alive or gives you that +Buy you need or something else. This also tends to make the Apothecaries you play later that turn better. Always think before putting your cards back on deck, and if you’re going to waste any of Apothecary’s sifting, make sure there’s no way you can play your cards to prevent that.

3. Support

So we’ve identified the weaknesses of Apothecary: decks built around it are inconsistent and they stall hard. The thing is, Apothecary is so good that it’s often worth going for anyways; the effect can be so powerful if you have the right tools to take advantage of it, so let’s talk about those tools.

3a. +Buy

This was important enough that I mentioned it in the first part, it’s important enough that it’s most of the reason I’m writing this article — no other Apothecary article I’ve seen even mentions the term, and it’s so, so, critical. If you don’t have +Buy, you’re likely to find yourself with hands full of a bunch of Copper and a Potion and only one buy; you’re forced to decide between Apothecary and something else that’s good for your deck. Wasting a Potion doesn’t feel good, and neither does paying $6P for a card that only costs $2P, and these things shouldn’t feel good — they’re not good. They’re actually bad, which is the opposite of good. If you have to make this choice too many times, you’re losing lots of value and usually tempo as well; winning strategies don’t give you this situation very often, so +Buy is really important to making sure this doesn’t happen to you. Yes, there are the rare exceptions, but you need to think long and hard about going for Apothecaries if there’s no +Buy, and you need to land on the “no” side of that coin most of the time.

Even a terminal +Buy on a board with no villages is often enough to make an Apothecary deck viable — in the two-card kingdom of Apothecary and Herbalist, I’d probably play that deck, aiming for Province+Apothecary turns. And for reference, if I was uncontested I would consider picking up a second Potion; if we sub in Woodcutter for Herbalist I definitely get the second Potion. Also for reference, this deck without any additional support should still only be slightly better than Big Money, but hey we’re making progress.

3b. Other sources of draw

Apothecary draws cards, it increases your hand size, why do you need more draw? Well Apothecary can’t increase the number of not-Copper-and-not-Potion cards in your hand, and this includes green cards, so even in the best case where you draw a whole bunch of stuff with Apothecaries and you can control it to where you are always drawing something useful with that one card you get before the revealy bit; all you have is a super-thin deck that can draw a bunch of Coppers for free and have up to four stop cards (including Coppers you draw in your opening hand and off that “natural” card draw part of Apothecaries). This deck won’t green very well, in fact it comes crashing down super-hard once that fifth stop card gets put in.

So you need a way to draw things that are not Copper and Potion. Yeah any card that’s good for draw will work here, especially non-terminals, that’s always been true. Some other things are particularly well-suited for this, and they’re worth mentioning:

Wishing Well: it’s the big winner! Apothecary is a prime Wishing Well enabler, just load up on these guys with your +Buy that you definitely have (right? Or you have Ironworks or something I hope) and this is good enough to get you past a lot of that stuff that junks up the top of your deck so your Apothecaries can draw like champs.

Vagrant: Almost as good as Wishing Well, but a little more conditional. Setting up a Vagrant-draw is pretty easy to do with Apothecary around, as long as there are green cards (or other assorted colors of junk) around to draw. Be careful with this, because Vagrants can’t draw other Vagrants like Wishing Well can, so you don’t really want to load up on them.

Cellar, Warehouse, Storeroom, etc: you can see it, right? Draw a bunch of Coppers, then use these guys to cycle those Coppers for other cards. Then, when there are a bunch of Coppers in your discard, just play one or two more Apothecaries and draw them back up very efficiently! WOOOO!!!!!! Let me temper your expectations.

Yes, this is pretty good, and yes you can increase your hand size this way. The thing is, if this is the only way to increase your hand size, it’s not going to suddenly make a strategy that needs draw more viable or anything like that. These are useful for helping your Apothecary deck to not stall. The Warehouse effect is great for clearing green off the top of your deck so you can move on with your life, Storeroom gives you that +Buy that you wanted so badly, but it’s terminal so you really need lots of villages to make this any good. Also, you aren’t getting a huge benefit from these cards if you’re drawing enough to pick up the Coppers after you shuffle, so make sure you are very careful with your shuffles when using these.

Scout: HAHAHA Adam made a funny! Everyone knows that Scout is terrible and Adam is just trying to find a reason to mention Scout for the lolz. I’m never buying Scout, you can’t trick me!

Actually I’m serious. If I could name one card that makes Scout viable (actually worth buying) more often than any other card, it’s Apothecary. Not Great Hall or Nobles or Crossroads, no. Scout is still not good with those guys around.

If you’ve ever experienced the wonderful torture of playing an Apothecary deck with too much green in it, you will definitely find yourself in a situation with two Apothecaries in hand, staring at three Provinces and an Apothecary you need to put back on your deck, and knowing that your turn is dead, agonizing over whether or not you want a chance at that one extra Copper you might draw versus just punting and leaving that Apothecary on the deck for tomorrow. It doesn’t feel good. And if you just play a Scout, all of your worries vanish. Keep your eyes peeled for this synergy…

Farming Village, Venture, Golem, these guys: there are cute tricks you can pull with these cards, they accomplish something similar to Scout’s effect with some restrictions or bonuses.

Native Village: this interaction deserves a special mention, it’s pretty good — with any +Buy in the game other than the stuff that forces you to trash cards, Apothecary/NV is a tough mark to beat. You can somewhat reliably build up to Province+Apothecary turns and keep your deck viable by sticking your Provinces on the Native Village mat using Apothecary’s excellent sifting abilities. Usually Native Village tricks are a little more difficult to pull off since they will require something more crazy, like drawing your deck, then target-discarding something from your hand, then being able to play a NV, but Apothecary is really good at this. I should note that I don’t think you usually want to open Potion/Native Village for this — you want that +Buy support card first and you want to get your draw up before you put NVs in your deck. Sometimes this means opening with a Silver or a Copper

So those guys are the big winners for draw that enables Apothecary. I should mention that Mystic should not be on that list, we’re really looking for stuff that puts more than one card into your hand that isn’t Copper or Potion, and Mystic doesn’t do that, it’s just a Conspirator that costs more. Sure, cantrips are good for Apothecary decks, but they don’t solve the stalling problem.

If you don’t find any of these enablers, it’s OK! In fact, you’re usually better off with actual draw anyways, but this is the list you should go down when you find yourself saying “Apothecary is the only draw, aww shucks that Apothecary deck isn’t good enough” because these guys don’t usually draw effectively but can be enabled by Apothecary.

So you have draw and Apothecary is around, what do you need Apothecary for? Well first of all, opening Potion and getting Apothecaries early is a pretty strong play, it gives you a big economic boost early on and cycles you past lots of Coppers – To skip Apothecary on a good conscience, you usually need a really fast start that thins you AND gives you economy quickly, and also really wants you to open with a $4-cost, preventing that early Potion buy.

But the role Apothecary serves in your deck has changed at this point, you’re sort of using Apothecary as a way to smooth out your draws and sift past Coppers so that you never “naturally” draw them. The goal in this type of deck is to effectively change the text of all of the other cards in your deck from “+X Card(s)” to “+X Card(s) but don’t worry about Copper” without having to go through the trouble of trashing those Coppers AND while getting to spend them each turn.

3c. Consistency

“Thinning is Winning™”, it’s a thing I always say. Apothecary’s thing is to give you the benefits of Copper trashing without having to give up the economy those Coppers offer you, and it does a pretty good job of it… except when it doesn’t.

If you’ve played an Apothecary already this turn, chances are your next Apothecary is going to draw something good, like another Apothecary. Most of the bad stuff (Copper) is in your hand. Great! That means you just want a lot of Apothecaries, right? Well yeah, you do, but…

What do you do about the beginning of your turn? You probably have like seven Coppers in your deck, maybe even more. If you draw those Coppers to start your hand, you’re looking at a really good chance at a stall turn. This is a big negative mark for Apothecary decks: inconsistency, this is the thing you give up by not actually thinning those Coppers. Adding more Apothecaries to the mix can only get you so far, especially when you are contested and only have access to five of them. Yes, sometimes you want to open Apothecary and then go for actual Copper trashing (in which case don’t get too crazy with the Apothecaries, since they will soon be much less useful) but apart from this, having a way to put reliability into your Apothecary deck is a huge boon — you turn the lack of Copper trashing into a boon for you, and are still able to mitigate the drawback of that.

Let’s take a look at some of the best examples of consistency:

Scheme: hey, Scheme lets you put cards back on top! It’s really good here, you should get a couple of them, they make your life easier. The nice thing here is that you get to play all of your Apothecaries this turn AND top-deck them for next turn, it’s super-great.

Gear: it gets a special nod because having two Apothecaries on top of your deck is so much better than having just one of them because of Apothecary’s sifting ability.

Haven, Courtyard, Mandarin, the usual suspects: top-decking one Apothecary that you didn’t have to play this turn is a good thing, yes. Guide increases reliability, so do cards like Watchtower/Royal Seal that let you top-deck Apothecaries you buy this turn. These kinds of things are useful for pretty much any deck that you want to add reliability to, I’m just mentioning it because of Apothecary’s synergy with reliability. That’s really the only special thing here.

I should say that there’s the situation where you’ve drawn all of your deck except for some cards that your Apothecary is currently revealing, yeah that’s pretty good, just leave those Apothecaries on top for next turn. It’s super-great! The thing about this is that in order to get in this situation you either got a really, really lucky draw this turn (so absolutely take advantage of it) or you’ve overbuilt. Sure you can overbuild when you aren’t contested AND your opponent isn’t applying pressure, so you can tactically take advantage of this type of thing, but it’s not something I want to build my deck around. Let me be clear, overbuilding is not nearly as bad as it normally is for Apothecary decks — the best way to be reliable is often to just buy ALL the Apothecaries, so if you have the time for that, you should probably do it.

Without a non-Apothecary enabler present for reliability, I have to come to terms with the fact that if I choose to keep Coppers around, my deck will be inconsistent and I will have stall turns, and I need to factor that into the speed of my overall strategy when considering my options pre-game.

4. Building your Apothecary deck

The cases where you want to go for Apothecary at all but don’t open Potion for it are quite rare, rare enough that they aren’t worth talking about in this article – see how long it already is? See how in-depth I’ve already gone? Yeah, they’re that rare; not worth talking about. Apothecary’s early economy boost is the reason to open this card, and its ability to smooth out your draws and just drink up those Coppers are why it’s good to have around throughout the game, if these are things you want and +Buy is available, you probably want Apothecary and you probably want to open Potion for it.

You want to get as many Apothecaries as possible as quickly as possible unless you’re going to go for Copper trashing afterward, what this means is that cards like Herbalist and Stonemason are particularly strong for you (this is true of almost all Potion-cost cards) Without these, you’ll often want to pick up a second Potion if you aren’t being contested for the Apothecaries; that’s not true for most other Potion-cost cards, but Apothecary doesn’t mind the second Potion nearly as much because it’s very good at drawing Potions so your opportunity cost is much smaller. Getting some kind of +Buy soon so you can make use of bigger hands will be helpful for Apothecary + X turns in the midgame.

Buying Copper: Hey I have +Buy, should I be buying extra Copper? The simple answer to this is “usually not” but the better answer is that you should almost always keep exactly the number of Coppers you need in your deck to hit your price point and no more, which means you usually want to have more of a concrete plan when building a deck like this at the start of the game than you otherwise would. Picking up extra Coppers in the midgame to increase your payload is usually not worth the additional risk of stalling. The big exception to this is if you have some really intense reliability built in to your deck; I’m talking about King’s Court/Scheme because Throne Room/Scheme is not good enough.

So what does it boil down to? Having sixteen Coppers around to build an Apothecary deck that hits double Province just isn’t all that great – the time you take to get there coupled with the decrease in reliability just doesn’t usually compete with other stuff, like even stronger Big Money enablers. Apothecary-centered decks usually want to get to a reliable Province-plus-Apothecary-per-turn lightning-fast and will often center around playing an attack every turn to slow down the opponent, something like Goons or Possession would be really good here. If you want a deck with a bigger payload than this, you’re going to need sources of draw other than Apothecary to support that.

What counters Apothecary? Well the big offender is junking attacks. Apothecary is at its best when you have a large concentration of Coppers/Potions in your deck, so Cursers really mess with Apothecary. The other big thing that makes you not want Apothecaries is really fast trashing, Apothecaries can take 8 or 9 turns to make you feel like the Coppers aren’t a huge issue anymore, so if you can trash them all and have a decent economy by that point using other means, you’re probably better off skipping Apothecary.

5. Conclusion

If there’s something I want you to take away from this article, it’s the following: Apothecary needs +Buy in order to be viable, and playing your Apothecary deck properly makes a huge difference in its performance. Hopefully this gives you an idea of how to find the best enablers for Apothecary-based decks, how to play them right, and when to skip them.

Dominion: Jack of All Trades, Advanced

The original article can be found on the wiki and was written by theory in late 2011, right after Hinterlands was just released. The original article reflected the mentality of that time, which was that Jack was really strong for money, was overpowered to the point where it could only be beaten by the strongest engines, didn’t really synergize with all that much, and wasn’t interactive so it made games boring (sound familiar? I really hope this article can be written about Rebuild some day).

That article, while it can be enlightening to a beginning player, really needs to be updated. There are several things in the article that are misleading or just flat-out wrong. The original article says that Jack just doesn’t work in engines. The wiki has a small blurb after quoting the original article that says “oh yeah some engines can get use out of Jack.” There are things in the antisynergies section that I flat-out disagree with, and to not mention Spice Merchant as like the number one synergy with Jack (let alone not mention it at all) seems like a travesty to me. Jack is so much more. I mean it’s SO much more. I mean seriously, Jack is amazing and I want to tell you all about it.

For Dominion in general, one can view strategies on a sort of scale with “money” at one end and “engine” on the other. Granted, there’s a lot more to it than that, but I think that’s a helpful model for understanding parts of Jack that are less-often considered. This article will be formatted along those lines with nods to other deck types along the way where they make sense. We’ll start with Big Money.

BM + Jack, aka “DoubleJack”
We’re probably very familiar with this strategy, because it’s quite good. In a one-card kingdom with just Jack in it, you open Jack/Silver, get your second Jack ASAP and buy nothing but treasure cards until you green. For the longest time it was thought that this was too powerful and non-interactive and made Dominion more boring. Well that’s just not true because if it was this article would end here, and as you can see, there’s a lot more text for you to get through. Yes, DoubleJack is strong, but is it always going to be the strongest thing available? Of course not. Is it ever going to be the strongest thing available? Probably not.

Of course I should mention that Jack gets a lot worse in Colony games where Silver isn’t the best card ever; only on the weakest Colony boards imaginable would I consider playing Jack+money with nothing else.

…But there’s Jack
Jack does four things for you, each of which counters a certain type of attack. This is true, I’m not going to deny it, but let’s take a step back here: Jack doesn’t super-mega-ultra-hyper counter every attack ever made, it just counters the attacks (and in the case of Copper-junkers like Ambassador and sort-of-Mountebank, Jack is mostly ineffective). Assuming your opponent is going to go for Jack is not a reason to not go for those attacks. I mean, if you’re both playing Big Money and one person goes for the attack and one doesn’t it might be a close call, but don’t decline to build an engine where it’s important to attack your opponent every turn just because they can play Jack with money. They won’t have a Jack in hand every turn, and even if they do it’s not the worst thing ever if it marginally helps them every once in a while. Engines are better than Big Money, and Jack doesn’t break that rule.

Enablers for Jack in a money deck

Let’s talk for a moment about things that synergize with Jack:

Cantrips: Well Jack is dead draw, so putting cantrips in your Jack deck is a little like putting Peddlers in a Smithy deck (you don’t draw as much as Smithy so it’s actually better) — you’d rather just have Silver. It’s not the worst thing ever but I certainly wouldn’t call it a synergy.

Kingdom Treasures: Just about any money deck can benefit from the list of Kingdom Treasure cards that we’re all used do, and Jack is no exception. Venture, Hoard, Stash, and the like are the usual suspects here.

“Disappearing Cards”: a really nice example is Oasis – you play Oasis and when you’re done you have four cards in hand. Now when you play your Jack you’ll draw right back up to five like before only you have this extra dollar! Wow! Dollars rule! This is great! We’ve found two cards that together are greater than the sum of their parts, so non-terminal stuff that decreases your handsize really synergizes with the draw part of Jack. Oasis, Minion-for-money, Candlestick Maker and the like are all cards that fit this bill, but let’s go a step further:

Disappearing Villages like Festival, Fishing Village, and Squire are even better because now you aren’t dead-drawing. Sifters like Hamlet and Warehouse are really nice because once the Estates are gone, they help you get past all those pesky Coppers and Provinces so you can continue to have nice hands when you draw back up to 5 cards.

My advice with these enablers is that since you’re getting Silvers from your Jack anyways, you should really focus on buying lots of these enablers to get the most out of them, particularly the villages. On the other hand, if you’re going to be playing Big Money and you aren’t going to get a halfway decent amount of synergy out of your support, you may be better off just focusing on your Jack deck with treasures.

Copper trashing
You may notice I’ve left out an entire class of Jack enablers, which is Copper trashers. Of course Jack can’t get rid of the Coppers for you, so with some way to trash all of your starting cards you seriously want to consider going for an engine. Usually with the presence of Jack and Copper trashing the most important thing for me is the presence of a village.

If there’s no village, I focus on money because the number of terminals in my deck is limited, but going for Copper trashing is still worth it. Non-terminal Copper trashers like Forager, Spice Merchant, and Lookout are the best, obviously, because you can load up on them and still get your two Jacks, then Jack-trash the Copper trashers in the endgame if you want without losing too much pace. Even terminal Copper trashers like Moneylender have their use, but without a village I’d probably just skip it and get more Jacks. The exception here is Loan because with incoming Silvers from Jack you will have trouble lining it up with Coppers.

If there’s a village on the board, though, you aren’t limited in the number of terminals you can reasonably put in your deck, which leads us to….

Jack+Enablers, with an engine feel
What exactly am I talking about here? Well each of us probably has our own particular definition of what an “engine” is; since this is my article I’m going to use (the relevant parts of) my own definition.

An engine deck is one that focuses on playing actions and drawing cards. An engine deck has some kind of payload that usually focuses on playing cards together that can be greater than the sum of their parts.

So Jack does a lot of these things really well: Jack draws cards, is an action card that you can play, and has a lot of these types of synergies (draw-up-to-X cards do this) so naturally there are decks you can build that Jack can really shine in, and you can get much more value out of Jack (and your other cards) in these decks.

Take the simplest example I can think of: Jack, Forager, Festival. This is a pretty good deck and most people would build their deck around this synergy: Open Jack/Forager, thin Coppers and Estates while building economy with Jack, get a ton of Festivals, maybe trash some Silvers with Forager (which is a good thing!) and if you’re thin enough it starts to feel a lot like Festival/Library (with strong trashing) only much faster to build and a slightly less explosive payload. Throw in a few Warehouses and you’ve got something really good.

Thanks for MarkowKette for help with this portion of the article
On the other hand, strong engines with Jack as your only draw are very rare. The reason for this is you need a lot of components to ensure good reliability. The “conventional wisdom” of Jack-in-an-engine actually does apply here, since the draw is pretty weak and Silvers are very bad for this type of engine; plus these engines stall very badly. So in order to make your engine reliable you need good sifting. If you want to make this engine you need: Jacks, Sifters, Silver trashers, payload cards, Villages and +buy. That’s a lot of stuff, and getting all these in the right numbers usually takes too much time. Plus, most of these enablers are already great enablers for Jack in other ways and lead to strong Jack-with-money decks that are tough to compete with.

Here’s an example that showcases the fact that Jack is pretty weak when it’s your only source of draw

Let’s be honest, this isn’t really the greatest thing in the world. I mean, if you’re looking at nothing other than getting full value out of all of your cards, then you’re doing great! But if you’re looking at potential in an engine it really isn’t the best thing because you’ve built an engine that revolves around a card that really fits well into money decks. There, I said it: Jack is a Big Money card; so when people are thinking about building Jack-in-an-Engine, they tend to dismiss Jack as a money card if it isn’t front-and-center, the star of the show dressed in sequins and with a big musical number.

If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this article it goes like this.
Jack does not have to be the star of the show in order to play an important role in your engine.

OK, with most cards in Dominion, you have to be of the mentality that if the card doesn’t fit in your engine just right, you have to really stop and think about including it at all, because it might just get in the way. But Jack is so amazing that you can break this rule. Jack does four things for you: FOUR THINGS! That’s SO MANY THINGS! Don’t dismiss it because you can only use three out of the four. Don’t dismiss it because you can only use two! I mean, the spy-effect will be useful in every deck, and if you are using just one of the other things (draw, Estate-trashing, Silver-gaining) then Jack should be a part of your deck.

I’ve tried for quite some time to think of an engine deck that Jack doesn’t make better, and out of 204 other cards there’s only one (Remake) that can ever “outclass” Jack in an engine, and even then you still might want to add Jack. My point is, Jack is good enough that you don’t have to be afraid of what you think of as “antisynergies,” put Jack in your engine and just see how much better it is. Like with many strong trashers, it’s possible for them to become dead cards in the late game: this is OK. Sometimes you have to stop playing Jack, and don’t worry, he’s not offended. He’s just happy that you had what you had when you had it.

If you’re going to have the best strategy on the board, and there’s an engine present, and Jack is available, then odds are the best strategy is Jack-in-an-engine. I have to get really specific to think of cases where Jack can’t be used at all, so let’s just talk about a few things that have helped guide my thought process when building an engine with Jack in it.

All four of the things that Jack does are really good for Big Money, and every game your deck starts out as a Big Money deck, so the best time to get Jack is in the opening. You’re essentially turning your Estates into Silvers while not losing very much pace with your buying power. I admit, this doesn’t sound like the coolest thing ever, but let me tell you a secret.

It is.

Seriously, in two shuffles all of your Estates will be gone, you’ll have a good economy, and you will have had like 4 or 5 buys, hopefully 3 or 4 of which were $5 buys, to buy good cards to put into your deck. Those other cards, in so many cases, will still have their positive impact on your deck: buy a Spice Merchant? Now you’re thinning Coppers without losing pace. Buy a Warehouse? Now you’re cycling past all of your coppers and you’ve sped up your building. Buy a Chapel? Your Coppers are still gone lightning fast and you don’t have to worry about juggling your economy while getting components because you can literally gain and draw a Silver and trash your Chapel all in one turn. I mean, with certain draws Remake can do slightly better, but Jack is basically the coolest thing ever in this situation. I would say you need a very compelling reason to not open Jack.

Now let’s talk about something else: drawing cards. Jack draws cards, which is a good thing for engines. It has long been thought that Jack doesn’t synergize with other sources of draw. Well let me tell you another secret.

It does.

Yeah yeah yeah I realize that if you have already increased your hand size, Jack won’t draw you as many cards as it otherwise would have and maybe that’s what you’re thinking of, but why do you have to focus so much on the negatives, man? I mean, Jack already helped you buy those three Catacombs or Margraves you already have, have you already forgotten? And really, if you already have eight cards in your hand, “Gain a Silver that you’ll draw later this turn, but not early so you can’t still line up your engine components, and also smooth out your draws a bit” is pretty darn good (lots of other draw helps you draw all those lovely Silvers your Jack is giving you!) And even in those dark times after your opponent’s discard attack when you can’t seem to find any of your other draw cards, in those early stages of your turn where it’s the most crucial to just get cards into your hand so you can kick off? Jack will be there for you. Jack will always be there for you when you need him the most.

Don’t be afraid of putting Jack in your deck with other sources of draw. Jack synergizes with other draw cards because other draw cards help to draw all the Silvers you gain from repeated plays of your Jack.

Jack is great with Wharves. Jack is great with Conspirators. Jack is even great with kids and he leaves the toilet seat down when he’s done, just open up your heart. I mean, it’s probably easier to talk about the engines that really can’t get much use out of Jack, and I think it’s really limited to super-tight megaturn engines, or maybe boards with no villages where you do all your cool stuff non-terminally and you want your one terminal per turn for something else. Anything else, you want a Jack and you want it soon.

Something I want to emphasize here again is that the presence of villages really really helps Jack. Like most amazing cards in Dominion, Jack is terminal, but it’s not the kind of terminal that you can be happy making “the” terminal of your deck. You want villages and you want a lot of them.

Jack-with-money synergies:
Starting with the strongest first

– Villages that decrease hand size; such as Fishing Village, Squire, Festival, Hamlet, Plaza, Inn.
– The strong synergy is that if these are drawn with a Jack in hand, you get the benefits from the village without sacrificing the card slot in your hand because of increased draw from Jack.
– Not as much Native Village, because there isn’t a huge benefit that you get from reducing your hand size with NV
– Typically you want to spam these cards since your Jacks will be gaining you Silvers to boost your economy, and with a high concentration of these enablers the risk of dead drawing them with Jack is minimal.

– Non-terminal trashers; such as Lookout, Forager, Spice Merchant, Counterfeit, even Rats!
– Copper trashing can be valuable in Jack games because of the Silver gaining.
– Most of these trashers will reduce hand size, allowing for increased draw with Jack.
– Most of these trashers provide a +Buy to take advantage of the increased economy you’ll get from the Copper trashing they provide, even in a Big Money setting.
– You don’t want too many of these, probably just two or so, though as some of them become a liability in the late game, you can usually Jack-trash them without really losing that much pace.

– Non-terminal non-trashers; such as Oasis, Candlestick Maker, Minion, Mystic, Warehouse.
– With the exception of Minion (in which case you aren’t really playing with a money focus, are you?), you generally don’t want to go too crazy with these because of the risk of dead draw; grab a few early and just hope they collide, but focus a touch more on money.
– Be careful with your Mystic wishes if you plan to play a Jack later in the turn; don’t wish for Provinces or other bad cards because you’d prefer to leave them on top of your deck so your Jack can discard them!

– Junking Attacks
– Yes, Jack can trash the junk cards they give you, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t add them in. Jack+Mountebank beats either of the two on their own, so don’t be afraid!

– Other sources of draw (Thanks to HiveMindEmulator and markusin for help with this)
– Yeah it’s true that Jack is terminal draw, and the conventional wisdom is that you don’t want too many terminal draw cards in a money deck. On the other hand, though, think of it this way: if you haven’t trashed your Coppers, then you’re going to have a high concentration of treasures in your deck. Adding in other sources of draw can really help improve your economy in this case. It might be helpful to think of Jacks as non-drawing terminals you throw in your Big Money + draw deck.

– Cantrips (speculative)
– This was talked about earlier: I wouldn’t go so far as to say there is a synergy there, it’s just a thing you can do.

Jack-in-an-Engine synergies:
Starting with the strongest first

– Fishing Village, Warehouse, Spice Merchant, Forager
– The cream of the crop; these cards plus Jack will help you build up so quickly, and most of them are possible to open with on a 4/3 along with your Jack.

– Scheme, Villages, Copper trashing, big draw
– Scheme can be very helpful for reliability in a deck with Silvers as its payload; you can top-deck your engine components and not worry about having a dud hand.
– Villages are sort of necessary to form and engine with Jack in the mix, since you don’t want your “one terminal per turn” to be just a Jack. Similar things can be said for Copper trashing, it’s hard to call something and engine with so many treasure cards around.
– If you want to continue playing your Jack past the first few shuffles, you’ll want to have some way to draw all those Silvers; strong draw can really increase the payload of your engine so you can focus your buys on engine components and not worry about economy.

– Strong trashing, such as Chapel, Steward
– Jack is great for building up given the deck we all start with, but a 1-card deck with just a Jack is quite strong as well. You can trash very heavily, and as long as you have a Jack you can build up much more quickly by gaining Silvers and drawing them on the same turn.
– Remake, Ambassador, Mint, Forager, and Count can make their way onto this list as well, but only in limited circumstances.

– Attacks
– Any deck that can play a lot of attacks every turn is going to do better than a deck that doesn’t, even if that other deck has Jack.
– Having Jacks yourself will certainly be useful a nonzero amount of the time when these attacks are played on you.

– Something to do with Silvers
– I don’t really want to go too much in-depth about this, since many people see this as a prerequisite for putting Jack in their engine, as opposed to a nice-to-have, so I’ll just say this much and move on…
– Spending Silvers is great, but if you can Remodel them into something else that’s pretty cool too.

– Gainers (speculative)
– Jack itself is a gainer, and the allure is that you hopefully never have to buy any treasures because Jack takes care of your economy. If this isn’t enough, you *can* add gainers to your deck, but most of them are terminal and/or don’t gain you $5-cost cards, so Jack doesn’t exactly synergize with those things.
– University and Ironworks deserve a mention as exceptions to this, though they still come with their caveats
– With University you’re struggling between opening Potion OR Jack. Sure, you can Uni-gain a Jack later but the soonest you could possibly play that Jack is after shuffling your deck three times, which is FOREVER on an engine board. Also, Jack doesn’t fully mitigate the weakness of using Uni as your main source of Village-ness (doesn’t draw a card) in practice nearly as much as it might seem in theory, so be very careful; you want other villages.
– Ironworks can decrease your hand size, and can be useful for gaining Villages in mass; it can also gain you a Jack so it’s a little easier to open with but still not the best thing ever.

Example Jack-in-an-Engine games
Game 1 video
Game 2 video
Game 3 video
Game 4 video

Power Grid: The Step Two Stall

Some people have called the “Step One Stall” but this is how I’ve always heard it. This article will address what it is and how to position yourself to either benefit from it, or to not suffer from it.

The Step Two Stall happens in games of Power Grid where nobody builds their seventh (in 4/5 player games, sixth in 6 player games) city for a while, there can be two or more turns where nobody builds any cities and just powers the five or six that they have. I’ve even heard legends of games where the Step 3 card is revealed before Step Two is triggered, but I’ve never seen it happen. I’ve only seen Step Two Stalls in games with four players or more.

Why does it happen?

The Step Two Stall usually happens because none of the people who are able to trigger Step 2 want to do it. The people who want to start Step Two (those not benefitting from a stall) are unable to do it, usually because of prohibitively expensive connection costs; i. e. their cities are blocked in. The people who can easily start Step Two are benefitting from a stall because they are making more money each turn than their opponents (unless they build enough to trigger Step 2), or they can be towards the back of the turn order and it’s important for them to get first crack at building those juicy cheap connections in Step 2.

The longer the stall goes on, the larger cash reserves people usually have, so the more important it is to continue the stall for those people benefitting from it. Being towards last place when Step 2 hits is a strong move, but if everybody is building five or more cities before you ever get a chance to build any Step 2 Cities, you’re going to be hurting even more. In general, the longer the stall goes, the more incentive the people causing it have to continue it.

What can I do about it?

The easiest thing, and most of the time the best thing you can do is to position yourself to benefit from the stall. This puts your opponents in a difficult position because either they can give you an advantage by stalling with you, or you get to have good initiative on the first turn of Step 2. How can you position yourself this way? Well it comes down to having at least one of two things: good plants and good board position.

An ounce of prevention…

What does it mean to have good plants for a Step 2 Stall? You want to be able to efficiently power 5 or 6 cities. Usually a single endgame plant will suffice for this, and the 13 Plant (nothing -> 1 City) helps as well. You want to profit a lot by powering less than 7 (or 6 in a 6P game) cities, so this should be a significant factor when you’re looking for your second and third power plants of the game. Operating efficiently here is very valuable; the more prepared you are for this point in the game, the more you can benefit from it.

…A pound of cure.

Sometimes you don’t get that luxury of being efficient in the early game. Hopefully in return for that, you have at least a strong board position. This means you’re in a place where you can build the few cities remaining on the board for Step 1 at a reasonable price. If you’re lost on both of these accounts, then you’ve probably misplayed the beginning of the game and you’re about to pay for it, but the course of action is still the same (it just hurts more).

If you’re not benefitting from a Step 2 Stall, then you don’t want it to happen, or at least you want it to be short: you’ve got to build those cities and trigger Step 2. Now don’t just go building them if you can’t power them, that’s even more of a waste. Once someone builds up to Step 2, that almost guarantees them first place in the turn order, so you have to be prepared for the consequences of that.

If you’ve prevented the stall by doing this, that’s pretty good, you have just a slightly weaker position than your opponents, and hopefully the extra money you made from powering one or two more cities than everybody else will compensate for that. If the stall has been happening for a while now, though, you need to go big, since you likely won’t be able to expand at all next turn.

Positioning yourself for a potential Step Two Stall is one of the more subtle tactical plays you can make in the early game and it can carry a big advantage. Look for these things to maximize that advantage, or to deny those advantages to your opponent.

Power Grid Endgame Plants: when to buy them

I’ll begin this article by defining what I mean by an “Endgame Plant.” These are plants you don’t intend to replace for the rest of the game. Generally any plant that powers five cities or more fits into this category, but depending on the number of players you can have more stuff that fits here, including plants that can only power four cities. A simplified version of this rule is that in a 4-player game, you need a plant that powers 5+ cities; in a 5-6 player game, 4+ cities will work, but you’d still rather have a 5+ plant.

The one exception is the 20 Plant (3 coal -> 5 cities). It’s often accessible early, but if you buy it super-early, just be aware that more often than not its use over the whole game can cause a coal shortage at the end of the game, which means you might have to replace this one.

So how many power plants do you want to buy in a game of Power Grid? Ideally, as few as possible; best-case scenario is four. This is because at the end of the game you don’t get anything back for plants that you’ve destroyed, which translates to cash. People who win Power Grid will almost always buy four or five plants over the course of the game, meaning that past your starting plant, you get one “mid-game plant” at most before you need to start thinking about endgame ones. This article focuses on the case where you are aiming to buy only four plants over the course of the game.

This kind of thing isn’t always possible, since it requires a little bit of help from the power plant deck. If it’s a 2-player game or you’re on the China map, you can just forget about it.

There are two different situations here: it’s either turn two or turn three; the analysis is different if you have two plants already. If it’s turn three and you still only have your opening plant then one or more of these things might have happened:

1. I really hope your opening plant powered two cities. That’s a much better place to sit than powering only one city for the first two turns of the game.
2. The board was expensive enough that you knew you weren’t getting up to powering 3 cities on turn 2, so you decided to wait it out

What probably didn’t happen is that you decided on turn 2 to gamble with the power plant market to put yourself in this situation when you could have gotten a midgame plant and powered three cities instead. I’m struggling to come up with a situation where this is a good gamble to make.

Buying an endgame plant on Turn 3 is a great move, but it’s a common move, because you’ve been paid twice already and you have the money to support it better. This article wants to focus on buying an endgame plant on turn 2, where you’re making a long-term strategic play, but sacrificing quite a bit to do so.

So here’s the sitch: it’s Turn 2 and you have the opportunity to buy a juicy endgame plant. This almost always means that if you buy that plant, you won’t have enough money left over to build any cities, even if you get the plant at market price. In fact, in some cases, it’s better to just use your opening plant again! If this is not the case, then one of these things might have happened:

1. Your opponents failed to bid you up on this plant to the point where this happens to you. They have nobody to blame but themselves (or each other, maybe)
2. You were the last person left to bid on a power plant and this gem just fell in front of you. You are very lucky and your opponents are probably saying dirty words to you. Smile.

Either way, you’re sitting pretty. Enjoy your lead and don’t look back.

For those of us who aren’t as fortunate, you have a really difficult decision to make, and there are a lot of factors that weigh into it. You’re sacrificing early income to skip buying a midgame plant that will eventually be replaced, so once you’ve decided if it’s worth it or not to go for it, you’ll want to minimize the damage and maximize the benefits. It’s an aggressive play that can pay off if you navigate it well.

The Sacrifices:

You aren’t getting paid much this turn, and early money is more important than late money. Your opponents are going to have a temporary tempo advantage on you. You’re going to have less money for building cities, so if you’re trying to contest a few key places to build, you’ve got an issue here. You can’t let this make you fall behind even further because you can’t afford to build cities or else you won’t be able to recover.

If the connections are expensive to begin with, or you’re only powering one city this turn, it’s going to be difficult to build two cities next turn with the small amount you’re getting paid if you already can’t build one now. All of your income for the next few turns should be devoted to building cities, so make sure you don’t leave yourself $1 short of your next city next turn or you’ll be hurting even more. You’ll probably be in last place for a few turns, so you’ll be able to plan decently well. If you aren’t doing two cities a turn until you need a new plant, you should reconsider this move.

The Benefits:

As mentioned before, you’ll be low on cities so you’ll have lots of benefits available to you. Make sure you use them! You won’t be buying a plant soon so that one is already gone, and make sure you leave yourself enough money to pick a couple extra resources and continue to build, because when you move up in cities, you’ll suffer in the turn order (you probably have the “best” plant out there). If your snazzy endgame plant is really efficient, make sure you realize you’re throwing this advantage away as well, and make sure you capitalize on city building. Of note is the 30 Plant (3 garbage -> 6 cities), going first isn’t going to make the garbage any cheaper as long as you’re burning three each turn. Since you’re behind in city building, that’s where you’ll need your advantage the most.

This is an aggressive strategy, which is more prone to working on cheaper/faster boards, so keep that in mind.

You also want to think about how you’ll be positioned for a Step 2 Stall. Of course that’s enough for a whole ‘nother article. It’s nice, though, to be positioned where you can either power five cities efficiently, or power six cities semi-efficiently. If thinking about this with your new endgame plant (plus your starter plant) makes you cringe, then either don’t get the plant, or make sure your board position is such that you can prevent a Step 2 Stall.

This can be a high risk/high reward scenario, so if you set yourself up to succeed, you have a very good position for the endgame.

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