“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