Author Archives: Adam Horton

Dominion: Nocturne Cards revisited

It’s been a few months since the release of Nocturne. I captured some first impressions of how powerful each of the cards in the set was a few months ago; and a week or so ago I put up another poll to see what opinions people have after having some time to play with the cards. This blog post will show the results of that poll, along with a comparison to see which cards were the winners and losers. And finally, you’ll get to hear my opinions on the Nocturne cards and how I differ from the community.

For more detail on my thoughts on each Nocturne card, you can check out this first impressions video, and then this podcast episode for more recent thoughts.

Let’s take a look at the rankings given for this Nocturne poll — keep in mind that for cards with a high variance, the median may be a more relevant data point to think about than the mean

I think the interesting thing to look at here is to see how much cards have changed since our initial impressions, so let’s take a look at that piece of data:

It seems like Monastery had a bit of potential that was missed by some folks at the start of things, and several cards have fallen out of favor by the crowd, including Necromancer, Cobbler, Raider, and Crypt. It seems like a lot of the Nocturne cards seemed to tend farther away from the low or high end of power level — almost all rankings were contained within the 3 to 8 range.

I’ll use the ratings I have for the cards now, and compare them to the rankings we got here, and let’s address a few of the cards with the most disagreement!

Here’s the really juicy stuff, let’s go:

Cobbler: Wow, a 4.5 versus my 8 rating? There’s a huge disconnect here, and I don’t think I’m willing to budge and even say that Cobbler is a 7! Cobbler is so good, and I think it’s been seriously underrated. I seriously don’t know how anyone could rate this card lower than Ironworks, which is a solid 8 for me, but the community rated at 5.67 in the last poll — I guess that’s the core of the disconnect here, but man, gaining cards is amazing when you don’t have to spend an Action to do it.

Guardian: I remember my initial impressions where I gave Guardian a 4, then after playing with it I changed my rating to a 2. The big thing this card has going against it is the fact that its effect minus the defense is really bad. It’s worse than Copper. That’s so bad, and while it isn’t terminal, it might as well be because it does nothing for your current turn, and so little for your next turn. Gaining this to hand just doesn’t matter enough to save this card. I stand by the 2.

Leprechaun: Did you know that you can wish for Gold? That means you could gain TWO GOLDS with Leprechaun! OP OP!!!! Really though, even if you never get a Wish with this card it’s OK, and gaining a Wish is just so incredibly powerful, you can add a ton of payload to a deck that can overdraw, or you get extra flexibility in case you wanted something else. All you need is a Village and some modest amount of deck control and this card is worth getting almost all of the time. I even contemplated giving Leprechaun an 8.

Idol: I started with Idol as a 6, then moved it down to a 4. I could see that being a little harsh, but I’m not super warm on this card. In any case, I don’t think there’s a huge disagreement here.

Pooka: I gave it a 7, the average here was a 5. I wonder if people were taking Cursed Gold into account when rating Pooka, as it can be unplayable sometimes with no Curse trashing, but trash a Copper and draw a bunch of cards is pretty good, even with the awkward dance you have to do. Pooka is a solid card, I stand behind the 7.

Ghost Town: 6.24, and I gave it an 8. I don’t think my ratings for all villages are higher than normal, and Ghost Town is above average when it comes to villages, so yes, I think people have underrated this card for sure.

While I could argue for my ratings over other ratings, I’d say there isn’t much of a disagreement from here down on the list. Let’s hear what you all think, how wrong am I? How wrong is everyone?

Dominion: Winter 2018 Tournament summary

This weekend I hosted my eighth Dominion tournament in Cincinnati, Ohio; we had 23 people turn out for this one, which is the largest field we’ve ever had. The interesting thing is that a lot of new faces were here for this tournament from groups I had no direct connection with, I’m really hoping that this is an indication that word is spreading about the fun and well-run Dominion tournaments that are regularly happening and this will only become bigger as these tournaments continue.

This field featured my youngest contestant, a record number of Adams (there were two, not including myself!), and for the first time we have a repeat champion: Kevin Thompson! The other people who won portions of the prize pool were Adam Hopkins in second place, and Adam Blasch and Ben Voorhorst who split the third and fourth place prizes (instead of playing a tiebreaker game).

The tournament consisted of two-player games, and I designed four kingdoms for use in the finals. You can find a list of all of the kingdoms used here, along with some other information about the setup of the event. This post will discuss in detail the four designed kingdoms, as well as a fifth kingdom that I designed but didn’t use in the finals (it’s table 1 in the spreadsheet).

In two-player tournaments, there are much fewer games played with these kingdoms, so there may be a few perspectives out there that I didn’t see during the tournament. This post will share those kingdoms and I’ll add my thoughts about the design and play of these kingdoms. I’ve done quite a bit of playtesting so I think I have the best stuff nailed down but of course I may have missed something…

Table 1: Farmland, Bandit, Forum, Rats, Secret Passage, Moneylender, Devil’s Workshop, Vassal, Market Square, Vagrant, Save, Ritual, Shelters

This one was not part of the finals, it was the fifth designed kingdom I had, but there are only four that I use for the finals. This means that I did get to see more people play this one. I designed this one to just be fun to play.

So there’s quite a bit you can’t do here — there’s no “real” draw other than Imp, and there’s no village other than Necropolis. However, there’s a ton of synergy between lots of different cards here, which make for a deck that just feels good to play. There are two “packages” here:

  1. Secret Passage and Forum can enable Vassal and Vagrant to be quite good. Vagrant can kind of be used as draw, if you set it up with a Secret Passage, play the Vagrant, and then play another Secret Passage or a Forum to filter out the bad stuff. Being able to set up your Vassals to hit non-terminals is a pretty powerful effect as well.
  2. There’s no way to really get rid of your Shelters, but Farmland and Rats can allow you to get some benefits out of them. If you can set it up, you could trash both Hovel and Overgrown Estate with a single Farmland buy, and maybe you want to keep the Necropolis around? (I don’t really think you need it though), but Farmland can be pretty useful here as a Silver-that’s-only-good-for-buying-Provinces-and-doesn’t-work-well-if-you-have-more-than-one-at-a-time, or a pretty nice Ritual target.

So there’s this tension between wanting to green early because of Forum and wanting to build more because you can get lots of points from Ritual while increasing the capabilities of your deck. I saw a lot of people try a lot of different things, but my favorite moment was when someone managed to reveal a hand of all Rats after playing a Rats. That’s how you know you’re truly HWinning.

To open on this board, I would stack a 4/3 and just get Moneylender/Market Square. If they collide you’re very happy to grab an early Gold, and Silver just isn’t so important early on because the next few cards I want to get are Devil’s Workshop and about 55 Secret Passages.

Finals set 1: Prince, Fairgrounds, Rogue, Tragic Hero, Spice Merchant, Sea Hag, Armory, Exorcist, Merchant, Encampment/Plunder, Ball

Why hello there, Sea Hag. I love a board where you can just ignore her (I’d say it’s a majority of 2P boards where you see her, actually) but sadly this is not one of them. Yes, you can deal with the purples but it’s something that slows down your opponent enough that I think you need to go for it. Also, later on she can be Exorcised into an Imp (theme?) which is quite nice. In the two games that were played with this kingdom, one person went for the lovely lady, the other didn’t, and the person who got all of the purples lost the game.

There’s some other cool interactions going on here, though. +Buy is really limited, since there is no way to play a Tragic Hero, still have actions left, and keep the poor guy alive. It also feels pretty bad to Armory a Silver just to trash it to Spice Merchant for a buy, so you have to leverage the gaining ability of Rogue to gain Tragic Heroes back from the trash, and you really want to be playing a Ghost to hit a Tragic Hero each turn so you can get two buys from him while he kicks the bucket yet again. He can also gain a Plunder on his way out that you should be able to draw this turn pretty easily.

There are a lot of key splits to play around — Encampment/Plunder is important as always, of course the Curses matter a lot, but Fairgrounds can be a pretty big deal too. Opening here is extremely tough to figure out as well, but I would personally stack a 5/2, get a Ball for a Sea Hag and an Exorcist, and then just pay off the -$1 token on my second turn. If I couldn’t stack my deck I’d just open Sea Hag/Silver with a 4/3 and aim to pick up Exorcist and Spice Merchant ASAP.

I had cute little names for each of these finals kingdoms. The name I have for this is a mild Game of Thrones spoiler so I won’t explicitly post it here, but it has to do with the poor Tragic Hero being brought back to life only to be killed again and again.

Finals set 2: Counting House, Minion, Royal Carriage, Distant Lands, Council Room, Ghost Town, Storeroom, Leprechaun, Coin of the Realm, Chapel, Travelling Fair, Fountain

This board was only played once, sadly; sometimes that’s just how it goes. I really enjoyed putting this one together, the idea behind it was that I wanted the Counting House/Travelling Fair combo to be present, but also the hard-counter of Minion. But I also wanted Minion to feel bad to play, so the only support it has here is Royal Carriage and Travelling Fair (and Chapel, obvs.) so the deck takes quite a while to build and doesn’t green particularly well, especially because it doesn’t have much of a chance to pick up Fountain points if it wants to stay viable. Any other deck you want to build can’t really splash a Minion play because you’ll be attacking yourself just as much as your opponent, so I wanted to make it so that the combo could even be viable in the face of the hard counter. After some playtesting, the two strategies end up being pretty close, surprisingly.

But that’s not all, I wanted MOAR layers! So I thought that including Council Room would be fun, that way the combo deck player could have to play around potentially drawing extra cards, which can be pretty bad in certain situations — not quite as bad as being hit by Minion, though (or is it?). The Council Room deck has a lot of great enablers here and can also go for Fountain points — Coin of the Realm is a rock star here, and Royal Carriage does some work, Storeroom is great for reliability, too, it turns out you can have a very large deck here and still be quite reliable.

…in fact, even though you can live the Travelling Fair/Chapel dream and stack your opening hand so that you can trash three Estates on T2 (this is quite good for the Minion deck), it turns out that just makes the Council Room deck worse. Once you get going you can topdeck Council Rooms and Royal Carriages each hand so that you’re reliable, and just draw a billion Coppers every turn (yes, you’re buying Coppers with all of your extra buys, even after you have Fountain points). It’s very easy to activate Leprechaun in this deck (Reserve cards are great for this, especially Coin of the Realm) so you can make good use of your Wishes if you should ever find yourself with 15-20 Coppers, a Storeroom, and a Wish in hand… the title of this kingdom comes in for this situation.

So there are three decks you can build: the Minion deck, the Counting House combo deck, and the Council Room deck. The matchups between each of these are quite interesting, but I think the Council Room deck is just the most powerful one, which is OK with me. I’d probably open Council Room/Coin if I had the choice, but a Storeroom/Silver opening is quite good here too, especially if you can high-roll and get a Council Room AND two Coins on that next shuffle.

The title of this kingdom is “I wish for a Counting House.”

Finals set 3: Capital, Inn, Cobbler, Sacrifice, Conclave, Feodum, Ironworks, Shepherd, Secret Cave, Menagerie, Raid, Scouting Party

Who doesn’t like Menagerie? Nobody, yeah that’s what I thought. Secret Cave is also my favorite card from Nocturne, and goes quite well with Menagerie. The tough thing here is that you can build a neat Menagerie deck, but with Capital as the only source of +Buy, it’s really hard to score a lot of points on your turns, so is building really worth it? Then there’s Feodum with Ironworks AND Cobbler, but only Raid to gain Silvers? How are you going to make that work? You can do a lot of cool stuff on this board, but scoring points is not so easy. So how do you do it?

The neat thing about this board is that you can build up really quickly using Menagerie as your main source of draw, and you can shove a lot of Cobblers and Ironworks into your deck; this buildup is so good that I think you have to go for it, but then I think the best thing to do is to transition the entire purpose of your deck away from Menagerie, into using Shepherd as your main source of draw. You can overdraw so much that you can gain a Feodum or two in a turn, Sacrifice them, and draw all of the Silvers, and then Raid multiple times to suddenly have 18 Silvers in your deck. Now your Feoda are worth an obscene number of points, and you can still trigger a Menagerie or two each turn if you managed to get enough unique cards in your deck, even with 18 Silvers or more. Now you just gain Feoda and Silver like crazy with Cobbler, Ironworks, and Raid, and emptying the Silver pile can take only 3 or 4 turns and you get an unreal number of points. Adam Hopkins managed to accomplish this, having 36 Silvers in his deck by the time the game was over; his Feoda were worth 12 points each.

I would open Sacrifice/Silver on this board, and then after that I’d spam Ironworks and Cobblers and other unique cards until I got my Magic Lamp to go off. I think I ended up doing better when I only trashed Coppers to my Sacrifice, keeping the Estates around. In most of my playtesting games I found myself spending all three of my wishes on Menageries, though it can certainly vary depending on your draws. It felt a little weird getting that third Menagerie, but it reminded me of this meme, which is coincidentally the name I gave this kingdom 😛

Finals set 4: Bank, Grand Market, Crown, Library, Den of Sin, Villa, Jack of All Trades, Scheme, Changeling, Monastery, Seaway, Inheritance, Platinum/Colony

This is the set I had slated for the final game of the tournament, you can do some pretty nutso stuff here. Everyone who played this board in the tournament went for the shiny distraction I put in — Monastery, Grand Market, and Den of Sin are the core components of that deck, but the Jack/Changeling synergy factors in there too. It’s a race for Grand Markets and then suddenly piles are empty, but there’s more…

I built this set around the synergy that Villa has with draw-to-X cards like Library and Jack. You can enter your buy phase, spend your treasures, get a Villa, then go back to your action phase and draw a bunch of cards. So the idea is to do this a lot, put Seaway on Villa at some point, and then at the end of it all, Crown a couple of Banks that are worth about $30. Scheme and Library give this deck a ton of consistency — in playtesting I could reliably empty Colonies by turn 9, sometimes on turn 8. The power level is absolutely insane, so much that cards like Grand Market, Den of Sin, and Monastery, which are normally powerhouses, are just not good enough because they don’t really fit in with what the deck is trying to do.

Inheritance and Changeling are there to make the mirror match a little less weird — I could usually empty Colonies by only using 5 Villas, but I didn’t really want Villa denial to be a thing, so I added in these two other methods of getting Villa’s on-gain effect so that a competent player could still make the magic happen if their opponent just went crazy trying to empty Villas.

On this board I would open Jack/Scheme and hope that I hit $5 over the next two turns (this speeds the deck up a lot, you can get an early Library and start going crazy immediately). Pick up Schemes on any sub-$5 hand and just start adding draw cards to the deck as fast as possible. You don’t even have to have a Bank at the start of the megaturn, you can buy it, then get a Villa, then draw it and it’s still insane. You can Seaway Villas mid-turn if you need to, and you can even enter your Night phase and gain stuff with Changelings, and get a Villa and go back to your turn if you want.

The name of this kingdom is “Don’t worry, you’ll probably have one or two Grand Markets by the time I empty the Colonies”

Anyways, I’m super-happy with the turnout for this tournament, it’s the biggest I’ve had and it looks like the hype is spreading — even though quite a few regulars had to cancel last-minute, the turnout was still this big. The next one could be even bigger!

Dominion: Video Tutorial update


Over the past few weeks I’ve been making updates to my Dominion Video Tutorial series. In the playlist linked above, I’ve made changes to videos 2-7, in case you’ve seen the tutorial before and just want the new stuff.

The updates incorporate some articles I’ve written recently for this blog, as well as refining terminology and teaching methods I’ve had a chance to use over the past year — I had the opportunity to do a lot of individual coaching sessions and give a seminar at U-Con, a gaming convention in Ypsilanti, MI this year, and the feedback from the target audience of these videos was a huge help in updating things to make them clearer and more useful.

This isn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last time I make updates to these videos, so your feedback is welcome. You can also check out the new forum section of Wake Up, Meeples! if you want to give some feedback on anything else related to this blog or Dominion in general.

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.

There is an important distinction between this type of payload and the type of payload that’s focused on scoring points; without the ability to do something more that simply getting one Province in a turn, it’s often not worth building a more complex deck than Big Money…

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 deck 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; 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.

Usually when I refer to the payload of a deck, or a payload that you’re aiming for, I use deck control as a way to temper my expectations — in other words I take deck control into account when considering my payload. My payload can’t be “play ten Bridges” if there is no village on the board, for example, so the limitations of your deck control at any point are important when thinking about what the real potential of your deck is, and this is a much more practical way to use the term “Payload.”


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.



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.
  • Ironmonger can increase your handsize, but in order to get this to happen reliably, you need a high density of victory cards in your deck, which usually makes decks much worse and doesn’t function well without another source of draw.
  • 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.




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.



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.