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Dominion: Payload and Deck Control

Payload cards are the cards you play that will enable you to do things that win the game.

Most of the time this directly relates to scoring points; money and buys can be used to buy green cards, so if you plan to do that to win the game, then money and buys are payload. Your payload could also be in the form of a card that gains VP cards without buying them.

Maybe your payload is Monuments or something because they give you VP tokens. Maybe your payload is something that hurts your opponent‘s ability to have his payload, like an attack or even denial of resources they need like a key split.

Why is it that hurting your opponent counts? When it comes to thinking about payload, you can think of it as zero-sum, meaning that you care mostly about the difference between your deck and your opponent’s deck. Hurting your opponent helps this comparison.

If the game situation is right for it, your payload could be the ability to empty piles with a lead, or even just the ability to threaten it.

While your strategy should remain focused on the long-term goal of winning the game, your payload will probably not be directed towards scoring points until the end of the game. Cards like Workshop and Quarry are great payload cards early on in the game because they help you grab more good stuff for your deck, even though later on in the game they aren’t fantastic at getting points.

The biggest takeaway to get from this definition is that before the game starts, you should have an idea of the best payload your deck could have given the kingdom. By planning this out, you can get a rough idea of how much you want to build, and prevent the situation where you make a glorious engine and then realize there’s no +Buy, and your opponent already has 4 Provinces.

Many people have wildly different definitions of payload. It’s OK to have different definitions of this, the point of this article is not to change your mind, but rather to lay the groundwork for good deck building by distinguishing the roles that certain cards play in your deck. Your definition of payload doesn’t have to be the same as this; as long as you get the idea, you should be OK grasping the point of this article.

With that in mind, let’s define another term to go along with payload…

 

Deck Control cards are the cards whose purpose is just to enable you to play other cards.

So this is +Cards and +Actions, also trashing, sifting, that kind of thing. Even junking your opponents fits here because it makes it harder for them to play their payload cards. Once you’ve identified your payload, the deck control cards are the ones that answer the question “how do I play my payload cards?

Keep in mind that while Villages and Draw are great examples of Deck Control cards, cantrips fit into this category even if they aren’t Villages or Draw since they will at least give you +1 Card and +1 Action.

Understanding the distinction between Payload and Deck Control, why it’s important, and how you can apply it to actual games of Dominion is the important thing here, not the minutiæ of the definitions.

If a card is neither payload nor deck control, then we can call it a dead card. So most green cards once they’re in your deck, Curses, a trasher you aren’t using anymore, etc. these are dead cards. Other definitions of dead cards are a little more broad, like any card that does nothing when drawn.

It is possible for a card to have both payload and deck control elements — Torturer and Grand Market are great examples of this. Usually these cards are cantrips, or draw cards with an extra ability; and usually they’re very powerful.

 

So let’s go into a little bit more detail on how we can use these concepts to play better Dominion.

The first major thing here has already been mentioned, but it’s worth mentioning again. Knowing the best payload your deck can have before the game starts will prevent you from building too much on a board where your payload is limited.

If we extend this concept to deck control, we can prevent poor building on boards where the deck control resources aren’t adequate as well — if villages, draw, or trashing is not present, it may be difficult to actually pull off a turn where you get your full payload.

With a lot of experience, you can use all of these metrics to get a feel for how various decks will play out before the game starts, which is a decisive advantage, but just trying decks out and seeing how they function will help you dial in this skill over time.

 

The concepts of payload and deck control are not just limited to forming your strategy at the start of the game. We can get insight on how to improve our deck building through this viewpoint as well. There are other related concepts like overdraw that I won’t go into detail on here.

The main takeaway is that once you have control over your deck, you want to strike a balance between increasing your payload and still being able to draw most or all of your deck each turn. Identifying which role each card in your deck plays will help you make better decisions when adding cards to your deck.

It also will highlight the importance of the cards that serve both purposes: payload and deck control. Frequently there will come a time when the thing you want to do is just shove these cards in your deck as quickly as possible, and this makes your deck much easier to build.

Dominion: Draw

“Draw” is any combination of cards that increases the number of cards you have in your hand, without decreasing the number of actions you have remaining.

Why is this better than other definitions? The short answer is that having a cap on the number of cards you can have in your hand is a significant limiting factor in the potential of decks you’re able to build.

If there is no draw, a natural thing to ask yourself before the game starts is “I can only have five cards in my hand, what are they and how many points can I score on a turn because of that limitation?” Another natural thing to ask is “what can I do with only the available cantrips, plus the X non-drawing cards I can play in a turn?”

(A cantrip is any card that gives you at least +1 Card and +1 Action)

Using this definition of draw, we can divide games of Dominion into two categories which play very differently — games with draw and games without draw. This helps a lot when analyzing a board and forming your strategy.

This article is a deep-dive into draw in Dominion. I will list all of the “draw cards” in Dominion and discuss how to evaluate whether or not there is draw in a given kingdom — you can stop reading after this paragraph if you are not interested in that. The goal is not to have everyone adopt this exact thinking when it comes to draw, but rather to serve as a starting point for your own personal mental model of how Dominion works. Understanding why this “draw” distinction is important and how you can apply it to actual games of Dominion is the important thing here, not the minutiæ of the definition.

It will help if you are familiar with my village article before reading the rest of this article.

 

THE DRAW CARDS

As with villages, it’s useful to have a list of cards that can provide the draw effect, I’ve already called them “draw cards” in this article. It’s rare to find a card that just gives you draw — usually you have to find some kind of support — so I’ve made some categories that may be useful for some people. If this doesn’t help you, that’s OK; really, as long as you think through your draw effects on each kingdom you see and make sure you can do what you want, you’ll be OK. There is a little bit of hand-waving on which category some of these cards fall into, so if you want to move some around to help you understand it better, that’s also totally fine.

 

Draw that doesn’t require a lot of support

The length of this list is pretty short compared to everything else; these cards just draw you cards if that’s what you want. If you need to meet a requirement in order to enable that draw, it’s usually not a huge deal to do so.

Alchemist, Caravan, Cursed Village, Den of Sin, Governor, Hireling, Hunting Party, Laboratory, Lost City, Sauna/Avanto, Scrying Pool, Stables

 

Draw that requires some other non-village support

Most draw cards require some support in order to work. With this list of cards, you will need some support in order to make them work, but I find that the support is there enough that it’s frequently worth going for these cards as a source of draw.

  • Advisor needs a deck with few enough bad cards in it that you can reasonably expect to draw something good.
  • Apprentice needs a deck with enough expensive cards that you can afford to trash some without ruining the potential of your deck.
  • Apothecary can’t increase the number of non-Copper cards in your hand, which is a huge mark against it in terms of actual draw; you usually need some other enabler like Warehouse to make it function as draw, otherwise its effect is closer to filtering or sifting.
  • City needs a way to empty a supply pile quickly enough to be useful as a source of draw.
  • City Quarter and Herald need an action-dense deck to be effective.
  • Crossroads and Shepherd need a way to line them up with enough green cards to make the draw worthwhile.
  • Encampment needs a way to line it up with Gold or Plunder, or else it doesn’t stay in your deck.
  • Expedition needs additional buys and money because you have to buy it repeatedly.
  • Ghost, Golem, King’s Court, Pathfinding, Teacher‘s +1 Card token, and Prince need Action cards to find in your deck that you’re happy to play and/or use as sources of draw, even if they only have +1 Card (which is not normally enough by itself to give you a draw effect).
  • Imp needs enough unique cards in your deck to play with its ability, otherwise it will need village support.
  • Menagerie needs a deck that can provide opportunities to activate its draw ability.
  • Minion and Tactician need a form of “virtual payload” to mitigate their drawbacks of discarding your hand.
  • Storyteller needs high-value treasures, or having money before playing it, to work as draw.
  • Will-o-Wisp can be hard to get, plus it doesn’t always draw you an extra card.
  • Wishing Well normally only works as draw when you have some way of knowing what the second card of your deck is, which requires somewhat narrow support.

 

Draw that requires village support

This category has been put together because all of these cards are terminal when used for their draw ability. In order to actually achieve the definition we have for draw, we need to have the support of a village in the kingdom.

Be careful, though, that you consider the village you plan to use with these draw cards, and make sure it will actually work. For example, if your village is Festival and your draw card is Moat, we haven’t actually increased our hand size while maintaining our action count.

Catacombs, Council Room, Courtyard, Cultist, Diplomat, Enchantress, Embassy, Envoy, Faithful Hound, Gear, Ghost Ship, Haunted Woods, Hunting Grounds, Journeyman, Library, Margrave, Masquerade, Moat, Nobles, Patrol, Pooka, Rabble, Ranger, Royal Blacksmith, Smithy, Steward, Torturer, Tragic Hero, Vault, Watchtower, Werewolf, Wharf, Wild Hunt, Witch

 

Draw with serious issues

The cards in this list can be used, in theory, to help us with our objective; but it’s usually extremely difficult or impossible without very strong support. Many of these cards are good cards, but they don’t serve the purpose of meeting the objective of our definition of draw very well. That’s not to say that you can’t make them work in a pinch when nothing better is available, but it’s a lot of work and frequently won’t be worth it to pursue.

  • Archive and Crypt will increase your hand size, but the issue here is that you can’t use just these cards to draw your deck in any meaningful way, as other cards that you might want could be “trapped” in duration-land with these cards.
  • Crypt also only works on treasure cards.
  • Cobbler, Ghost Town, Haven, Native Village, Royal Carriage, and Save are all just forms of pushing a card from a previous hand off to a future hand — you’ll need something like a megaturn deck to take advantage of this kind of thing.
  • Jack of All Trades is a great card, but as much as I’ve tried, I’ve never made it really work as a very good source of draw in a deck; the main issue is that draw-to-X decks really don’t like to have treasures in them, and Jack gains you treasures every time you play it, plus drawing to 5 is pretty weak. Usually you get much more benefit out of the other things this card gives you.
  • Madman is a one-shot and is tough to gain.
  • Magpie only works on treasure cards
  • Warriors can be tough to get a lot of, and usually aren’t good at drawing cards until you get a Champion out.
  • Patrician is difficult to enable, especially if you want to have a lot of Patricians, plus there are only five of them.
  • Settlers/Bustling Village are very difficult to enable, and most of the draw you can expect to get from these cards is just Coppers.
  • Shanty Town‘s draw very rarely happens and is pretty much impossible to make reliable.
  • Summon can work as draw but is usually very expensive and it only effectively gives you one card worth of draw.

 

Draw that doesn’t really work out in practice

These cards, while you can technically make them work as draw, have issues that are serious enough that I’ve never been able to use them as a real source of draw in over 5000 games of Dominion.

  • Beggar and Counting House are not only terminal, but they only draw Coppers, so you need to convert that into cards that aren’t bad. Beggar gains you a whole bunch of Coppers which you have to deal with somehow, and Counting House requires you to have Coppers in your discard to work at all.
  • Fortress needs to be combined with some very specific sources of trashing in order to function as draw, which is convoluted enough that it’s almost never possible, and when it is, it’s pretty much never worth it to pursue.
  • Sir Destry, Zombie Apprentice, Trusty Steed, and Pixie madness will only work once per turn for you, and they’re not fantastic at actually drawing cards either.
  • Scout* is a bad card.
  • Tribute* isn’t reliable enough at drawing cards that I’ve ever seen it work out.
  • Vagrant can only draw cards that aren’t very good, so it’s more of a “sifter” or a “filterer” than a draw card in real games of Dominion.
  • Villa, so yeah when you buy it it goes into your hand and that doesn’t cost an action! It’s draw! We did it guys! So I guess maybe with Alms this is a slight benefit, cool story bro. I feel like we’re far enough away from what drawing cards really is that we can just stop now.

*Scout and Tribute were removed when the second edition of Dominion and Intrigue were published

Dominion: Villages

A “village” is any card that allows you to play multiple terminal actions per turn.

(A terminal action is just an action card that doesn’t give you any +Actions when you play it)

Most villages give you +2 Actions or more when you play them; most villages have “village” in the name, but that is not always the case. Some people call these cards by other names like “splitter” or other stuff. Some people have slightly different definitions of this term, or will use different words to talk about different categories of villages.

Why is this definition better than other definitions? The short answer is that having a cap on the number of terminal actions you can play in a turn is a significant limiting factor in the potential of decks you’re able to build.

Other distinctions such as requiring +2 Actions impose unnecessary restrictions on decks people will consider; this concept is at the heart of what can enable better decks, so this is the best benchmark — this is my opinion, yes, but I’ve had a lot of success with it and worked really hard to make this definition precise.

If there are no villages, a natural thing to ask yourself before the game starts is “I can only play one terminal per turn, what is it and how many points can I score on a turn because of that limitation?” Another natural thing to ask is “what can I do with only the available non-terminals, plus the X terminals I can play in a turn?”

Using this definition of village, we can divide games of Dominion into two categories which play very differently — games where villages are present and games where they are not. This helps a lot when analyzing a board and forming your strategy.

This article is a deep-dive into the villages of Dominion. I will list all of the villages in Dominion and discuss the trickier ones briefly — you can stop reading after this paragraph if you are not interested in that. The goal is not to have everyone adopt this exact thinking when it comes to villages, but rather to serve as a starting point for your own personal mental model of how Dominion works. Understanding why this “village” distinction is important and how you can apply it to actual games of Dominion is the important thing here, not the minutiæ of the definition.

 

 

THE VILLAGES:

I’ve divided the villages into some categories, there are people that will benefit from thinking of these villages in the different categories, and there are others who will just lump them all together. Choose whatever makes the most sense to you!

The “easy” villages

These cards will always be able to give you the village effect. Some are better than others, but they can all get the job done. For most of these it’s very straight-forward in how the village effect is given because the card just gives you +2 Actions.

Bandit Camp, Bazaar, Blessed Village, Border Village, Bustling Village, Champion, City, City Quarter, Coin of the Realm, Conclave, Crown, Cursed Village, Encampment, Farming Village, Festival, Fishing Village, Fortress, Ghost Town, Hamlet, Inn, King’s Court, Lost Arts, Lost City, Mining Village, Native Village, Nobles, Plaza, Port, Royal Carriage, Shanty Town, Squire, Teacher, Throne Room, University, Villa, Village, Walled Village, Wandering Minstrel, Worker’s Village

  • Throne Room and its variants (Crown, Royal Carriage, King’s Court) are definitely villages, even though it may not be obvious at first. The effects of these cards will enable the same types of decks that other villages do, so it is definitely useful to put them in this category.
  • Lost Arts and Teacher can give the +1 Action token, which gives the same effect, just with a different flavor.

 

Villages that need a little support

These cards are definitely villages, but you have to jump through some hoops to get the effect.

For some people it may be useful to think of these cards separately than the above list because you have to go through an explicit check to make sure it actually works on a given kingdom, other people don’t see it that way. Some people might even bring Royal Carriage, Lost Arts, or Peasant/Teacher down to this list because they make more sense here; that’s OK too.

Really, as long as you think through your village effects on each kingdom you see and make sure you can do what you want, you’ll be OK.

  • With Prince and Summon, there has to be an action that you can make cost $4 or less, or else their effect doesn’t work.
  • With Diplomat, you need a way to have 5 or less cards in hand after playing it, or else the effect doesn’t work.
  • With Golem, there needs to be some other non-terminal on the board for the effect to work past the first play of your Golem.
  • For Herald and Ironmonger you need to have a high enough action density to reveal an Action card often enough to get your effect a useful amount of times.
  • With Tribute* the player on your left needs to have that same kind of Action density.

 

Villages with some restrictions

These cards are definitely villages, but they have some limiting factor that should probably be taken into account when considering the decks you can build with them.

When given a kingdom with only these villages, it can be useful to go through the line of reasoning you have for when there are no villages, but modify it with the limiting factor — “What can I do when I can only play 2 terminals per turn?” instead of just one per turn, for example.

  • Crossroads will only allow you to play two additional terminals per turn.
  • Necropolis and Trusty Steed will only give you one additional terminal per turn.
  • Dame Molly has the same issue, only on top of that she can sometimes be lower in the pile or your opponents could get her instead; plus, she dies to other Knights.
  • Tactician only gives you one extra action, and it requires you to play a Tactician on the previous turn to get it.
  • Procession and Sacrifice can require you to trash cards you might prefer to keep in order to get the village effect.
  • Sauna/Avanto, as a split pile, is difficult to get a lot of, so the number of terminals you’ll realistically be able to play is limited by that and the fact that sometimes you may not line them up properly to get maximum value.
  • Disciple and Ghost can be hard to get in multiples and there is a limited supply of them.
  • Madman works great when you play it, but it’s a one-shot and in order to get more of them, you have to not buy any cards on a turn, which is a very high cost.
  • Pixie is also a one-shot and only gives you a 1/12 chance of actually getting your village effect each time you play one.

 

NOT VILLAGES:

Conspirator, Cultist, Ruined Village, Vassal

If you read my definitions too rigidly, you can find a way to justify calling these cards villages. They are not villages. These cards don’t actually give you the same effect as other villages; they don’t enable the same types of turns. Without something else present that is actually a village, you are subject to the same limitations as a kingdom with no villages.

The logic is that “Hey, Cultist is a terminal, and Cultist allows me to play multiple Cultists in a turn, so it’s a village!” The argument is similar for Conspirator and Vassal.

The flaw in this logic is that in this case, most of those Cultists you played weren’t really terminal. It makes more sense to think of these cards as “sometimes non-terminal” or as having a “non-terminal mode” to them. This categorization is more appropriate to the way these cards actually work in actual games of Dominion with decks that you will actually build.

Obviously Ruined Village isn’t actually a village, even though it says “village” in the title. Sorry 🙁

Anyone who tries to push the idea on you that these cards are villages is being pedantic at best, but really this idea is confusing, misleading, and can sometimes lead to conclusions that cause less understanding about Dominion, which is harmful. These cards are not villages, don’t treat them that way.

*Tribute was removed when the second edition of Dominion and Intrigue were published

Dominion: General Philosophy

This article is about finding the right mindset and attitude to improve your Dominion game, but then I wrote it and I realized that most of it doesn’t just apply to Dominion, it applies to most things in life. So not only are you getting Dominion advice, but you’re getting life advice as well! Such value!

In any case, the fact that you’re reading an article about Dominion suggests that you want to get better at the game. Excellent choice! Over the past six years I’ve gotten much better at Dominion, so I want to share the things I’ve done that I believe have helped me, and hopefully they help you too.

1. Play a lot

Reading articles is pretty good sometimes, but reading articles without a focus on actually playing games of Dominion will rarely help you in actual games of Dominion that you’re playing. It’s very rare that I come across someone who is able to really internalize Dominion concepts without learning what it “feels” like by applying them in a game.

This “feel” is something that really only happens when you play the game a lot — it allows you to strengthen your mental model of how good cards and interactions are, and it allows you to be more comfortable with building your deck efficiently.

I’m not suggesting that you should quit school or your job and play Dominion for 18 hours a day, but it makes sense that the more you play a game, the better you get at it.

Some people benefit from watching high-level players, you can find a couple of relevant YouTube channels here, here, and here.

2. Never stop being critical of your plays (YMYOSL)

You Make Your Own Shuffle Luck: it means that you shouldn’t blame luck for your losses, but rather you should look for what you could have done better. Even if you win, you should never stop looking for flaws in your play.

Maybe you will decide that you made the right play and it didn’t work out for you, this is entirely possible; but the idea is that if you are always critical of everything you do, you give yourself more opportunites to find ways to improve your gameplay.

Always be skeptical of any advice you are given. Always be skeptical of everything you believe about Dominion. Dominion is not a “solved” game and it probably never will be; many people out there will speak like they have everything figured out — they don’t. Except for me. Just kidding. But not really. But yes. Working to keep a skeptical mindset will never stop being a useful resource.

3. You can never get better if you always play what you think is best

Don’t be afraid to try something that you aren’t sure will work, it’s how you get better at Dominion. This piece of advice is something that it’s very important to remember no matter what skill level you are (or think you are). The moment you think you have it figured out, the moment you lose that humility, that’s the moment you stop getting better at the game. Expansions are still coming out, the overall level of play gets higher and higher as time goes on, so if you aren’t improving, you’re effectively getting worse — you can’t let this happen to you.

This is a trap I see so many people fall into once they are comfortable with Big Money: there’s now a thing they can do that is not going to be awful; buy a Silver, buy a Gold, buy a Province. They “commit” to building a more ambitious deck that they believe can work, that they’ve seen people play and crush them with, but when it comes time to really deviate from Big Money, they can’t pull the trigger, they have to do what is comfortable.

It might not feel good, but losing a game because you tried something that didn’t work is by far the best way to get better at Dominion. You have a chance to diagnose exactly what happened and learn why. You got the experience of playing a different deck and “feeling” what it was like. You have the recent loss to keep you motivated instead of a win to reward the (incorrect) assumption that you must have played perfectly if you won the game.

Dominion wouldn’t be the game it is if a simple Big Money strategy was best most of the time, and fortunately, people who play engines win a lot more: those amazing Dominion combos really are out there and the only way to get good at doing them is to just do them. Yes, they require more skill to play, but staying in your comfort zone is not how you get the skill to play those decks, you have to be adventurous.

Just because you tried something that didn’t work, it doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to play Dominion anymore. Commit completely to your grand dreams of glory and you will find yourself winning more often than you would expect; but more importantly, doing this will give you more chances to get better at the game.

I’ve been playing Dominion “seriously” for six years and my focus has never been on a leaderboard or on tournament performance. Every game I play has had the main objective of finishing the game higher in skill than what I started. I am the World Champion of Dominion but that is not an excuse to shift my focus or rest on my laurels, it just helps make me feel better about the six years I put into getting better at the game. Don’t be afraid of losing a game, be afraid of getting comfortable and halting your improvement.

Dominion: Nocturne first impressions

The Nocturne expansion for Dominion has just been released, and so I wanted to capture the community’s first impressions on how powerful each card in the set is. I made a poll similar to polls I’ve done before, asking people to rate each card on a scale from 0-10, and this post will present the results of that poll.

I did not vote in this poll, and my comments on the power level of Nocturne cards have been recorded in a video. I will share my comments when it is appropriate, but until the end of the year, the game designer has asked me to hold off until people have had time to discover things for themselves instead of hearing things from someone who playtested the expansion during development.

So with that, I’ll link to the raw data and present the list of ratings for Nocturne cards!

A couple of observations…

First, every mean and median score given was between 3 and 8. Nobody rated any card a zero, and every card had a significant amount of variance in its ratings (meaning that the median rating may be more valuable information than the mean, despite the fact that these ratings are sorted by mean).

It seems that from this data, we can assume that Nocturne is a “middling” expansion; meaning that we probably don’t have any complete duds in the set and we will probably not see any super-powers like Donate. I imagine that if these things come up, they are not yet discovered…

The most important thing, though, is that in a couple of months when I have this poll again, we’ll have a baseline to compare things to. The fun will be where we see how wrong we all were about — whatever we are wrong about!

Dominion: Combos, Combo Decks, and the pretenders

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

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

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

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

Definition: Combo

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

A Combo Deck is the deck built around this combo.

Why only two cards?

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

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

Why no outside support?

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

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

 

So what decks out there are actually combo decks?

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

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

What decks are NOT combo decks, and why?

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

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

 

Pretender 1: Native Village/Bridge

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

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

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

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

 

Pretender 2: Royal Carriage/Bridge:

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

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

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

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

Dominion: My new storage solution

I have a problem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a picture of the finished case.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dominion: Native Village

Native Village
$2 Action

+2 Actions

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

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

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

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

The Village

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

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

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

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

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

Megaturns

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

The “Tricks”

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

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

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

When is it good?

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

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

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

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

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

Dominion: Card Power Levels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dominion Rant/Article: Mint Openings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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