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 soufflĂ© 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

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