Dominion: Hermit/Market Square

Hermit/Market Square is one of the fastest, most resilient, and most powerful two-card combos in Dominion. With no other support, it runs circles around just about anything else out there. This, combined with the fact that the two cards come from the same expansion and frequently appear next to each other when kingdoms are sorted by cost, means that almost every kingdom with these two cards in it comes down to both players going directly for the combo. This article will tell you everything you need to know about the mirror match, when you’re uncontested, and the types of support you can look for.

The basics

From 55 feet up, the combo looks like this:

  • Open double Hermit, focus on getting up to 7 Hermits, or until the Hermits are gone.
  • Gain Market Squares with your Hermits while turning the Hermits into Madmen during your Buy phase.
  • Once you have your deck set up, here’s your megaturn:
    • Draw your deck with Madmen
    • Play a Hermit to trash something, discarding all your Market Squares to gain Golds
    • Play another Madman to draw your Market Squares and Golds
    • You can repeat the last two steps to gain even more Golds if you have an extra Hermit/Madman pair.
    • Play your Market Squares for the buys, and have a whole bunch of money to spend.

Setup

  • 1 or 2 Hermits
  • 3 to 5 Madmen
    • You would like 3 more Madman than you have Hermits, but sometimes you can get away with only 2 extras. The important thing is that you have 2-3 Madmen to initially draw your deck, and then 1-2 Hermit/Madman pairs on top of that.
  • At least 4 Market Squares
    • Of course having more isn’t bad for you, but don’t go emptying the pile if you feel it’s too dangerous and you already have 7
  • Your starting Coppers
    • These are sort of important to keep around, because 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
    • This can be a starting Estate/Shelter or maybe something else you’ve gained with your Hermit — in the worst case one of your Market Squares will suffice

While building, your priority is usually to get Hermits first. After that, if you have a choice between gaining a Madman and buying a Market Square, you’ll want to gain the Madman.

The Big Turn

You’ll want to play either two or three Madmen to start off your big turn, 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 just need to YOLO it, these cases are when the game is almost over and you’re behind and desperate. Just realize that if you start playing Madmen and can’t draw everything that turn, you will probably just lose the game on the spot.

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 if you have a Hermit/Madman pair to keep this going. 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.

On top of being extremely fast, another 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 get a lot of points and your deck is still pretty good; after all, it’s full of Golds and Market Squares.

You may find yourself with the ability to reveal a Market Square to gain Gold before your megaturn. While this is usually slightly better than not revealing, it should almost never come up; you’d rather play your Market Squares just to make sure you can find a Hermit to play every turn, which is a much higher priority than gaining Golds before your big turn.

In-depth analysis

Everything from here on in this article is meant to be a deep dive into the nuances of the combo. If you only wanted the high-level stuff, you can stop here.

Do I need 2 extra Madmen or 3 to draw my deck?

Having 3 extra Madmen is certainly safer, since you won’t usually draw everything with only two Madmen; so of course you’d rather have the third Madman than not have it. On the other hand, unless you’ve built a lot (the case where you have two Hermit/Madman pairs, for example, or maybe you got a lot of Market Squares), a lot of the time the third Madman won’t do much for you. It’s totally fine to play two Madmen, still have cards left to draw, and just go ahead with the rest of the megaturn while saving that third Madman (or not even having it) if you wouldn’t get that much value from it.

In practice, Hermit/Market Square games are so fast and Hermits are contested so often that I find I rarely need that third Madman, and the value I get from pulling the trigger first is more important. Every other source out there will suggest that you absolutely need that third extra Madman to make this work, but based on hundreds of Hermit/Market Square games I’ve played, that just isn’t the case.

As you might imagine, being able to have a decent megaturn with only 2 extra Madmen has huge implications for mirror matches when you’re likely to have access to only 4-6 Hermits to begin with…

What if I’m being mirrored?

The Hermit split is magnified in the mirror match. 6 Hermits has the potential to 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. You’re in trouble if you get only 4 Hermits, but you’re not completely dead in the water. If you have less than 4 Hermits, you should seriously consider switching strategies, but it’s looking extremely grim.

If you’ve lost the Hermit split, then even without any support from the kingdom you have some counterplay available, which is trying to win the Market Square split. While your opponent is passing up more $3 buys because they want more Madmen, you can get more Market Squares. Your opponent had to spend two more gains on those extra two Hermits they got, which can be Market Squares for you. One round of 6 Market Squares revealed is nearly as potent as two rounds of 4 Market Squares revealed (it’s actually better for a potential Estate pile-out), and if you can keep them to 3 Market Squares or less, their advantage is lost.

In a mirror, the number of gains you can have on your megaturn is more important than the amount of money you can make, as the game almost always ends with the Hermit, Market Square, and Estate piles being empty. If you have the ability to empty Estates on your megaturn and your opponent doesn’t, you can tip the scales back in your favor, even if you’ve lost the Hermit split. Remember to include the fact that Hermit can gain Estates during the megaturn in your calculations. Don’t be afraid to gain an Estate before your megaturn to threaten a pileout this way; your opponent may be forced to go for Provinces on their megaturn which is less of an advantage than what they had when they won the Hermit Split.

There is more detail on this later in the article, but in a mirror you’re looking for two forms of support: other trashing and extra buys/gains. Other trashing has a huge effect on the value of the Hermit split, and other gains have a huge effect on the value of the Market Square split, where both are made much less important. Keep in mind, though, that this support really needs to cost $3 or less or else it doesn’t usually see play.

When do I pull the trigger?

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.

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. What you’re doing is almost certainly more powerful than whatever your opponent can come up with, so you want to make sure you don’t hand them the game. Consider leaving Market Squares in the pile if you have at least 5 already and you feel like there is pile danger; and don’t just wait around to get more Market Squares if you can go off with at least 5 or 6 this turn. If you have any reason to think you might not get another turn, it’s probably time.

But past these situations, the main way you can lose the game is by spending your Madmen, but not finding your second or third Madman to initially draw your deck. Track your deck and know what’s coming up to make sure you’re going to be OK.

Mirrored: 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 with only one Madman in hand, or start gaining Estates to put an Estate pile-out 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, at the time, this was the shortest game of Dominion 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 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 their 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 sometimes you can find yourself with a little bit of flexibility to wait for just the right time to go for the megaturn. 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 know you’re going to go off this shuffle. 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 something to bail you out. You’re always piling Hermits ASAP.

Does anything counter Hermit/Market Square?

Hermit/Market Square 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.

Most people assume that discard attacks will just wreck Hermit/Market Square. 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 instead of 2 or 3 extra Madmen you’ll want 3 or 4. 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.

The only discard attacks that cost $3 or less are Urchin and Catapult, but neither of them is something I’d get over a Hermit or a Market Square (unless I need the trashing part of Catapult, which is addressed later, and usually only happens after the Hermits and Market Squares are empty). 

What about trashing attacks? 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 ignore Knights, Rogue, and Warrior. 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.

Bandit Fort and Wall can mess with your math in some cases. The impact of these landmarks isn’t normally enough that you should abort and go for something else instead of the combo, but if your plan is to win the game with an Estate pileout (as is the case for many mirrors) then you have to make sure you don’t get screwed by these landmarks and surprise! You lose! In Bandit Fort’s case you’ll usually just need to limit how many Golds you gain on your megaturn and only get as many as you’ll need to empty Estates. With Wall you will probably have to get one or two Provinces on your big turn to have enough points to win the game, plus Copper trashing can frequently be worth it since you might find yourself with more time (just try not to lose the Hermit split).

Does anything counter H/MS? Well, umm, yeah kinda. 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. 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.

What supports Hermit/Market Square?

There are very few cards that cost more than $3 that will support this combo at all (they can’t be gained with Hermit and it’s really hard to buy them with this deck), so sub-$3 cards should really be your focus; it’s very rare that you hit $4 with this deck before your megaturn, and putting cards other than Hermit or Market Square in your deck to try and help you hit $4 is only worth it in desperation.

Here are the things you’re looking for, in order of importance:

  1. Game-changers
  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.

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. You want to change the way you build your deck significantly. You still open double Hermit, but after that you want to gain 2-3 Schemes instead of more Hermits. You want to have 2 actual Hermits in your deck; 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 getting a Madman. 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.

With both Scheme and Alms, the main thing is that you 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.

Advance can be like a less-good version of Alms, since it comes at the cost of an Action card, which is usually Hermit and sometimes Market Square. This can still be good, as an upgrade from a Hermit to a better trasher can be useful when your other options is buying nothing because you want a Madman that turn, but this isn’t nearly as good as Alms most of the time unless you manage to find  your Necropolis to trash or something.

Donate pretty much always changes things, and Hermit/Market Square is no exception. If you have Hermit, Market Square, and Donate around, then you have to compete with Donate/Market Square, which effectively gives you the same deck that Hermit/Market Square does only faster and without keeping the Coppers. When Donate is around, just going straight for Donate/Market Square is usually better than going for Hermit/Market Square — so you’ll open with two Market Squares, and hopefully get a third one on turn 3 and Donate on the same turn. You’ll Donate two or three times and then be off to the races on turn 5-7.

I played around with the math on opening Hermit/Market Square and then going for Donate, and while in some cases you can end up with less Gold/Market Square in exchange for a Hermit or a Madman when it’s all over with (which is usually a good trade-off), your chances of having a disastrous draw where you crash and burn are increased enough that I don’t think it’s worth going for without a compelling reason.

Other cheap 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 fact that it’s terminal doesn’t matter, I’ve got enough 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 it so losing the Hermit split isn’t game over. You still need Madmen 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 Hermits into Madmen and have a bigger megaturn, even if you don’t have that many 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). Catapult’s discard attack can potentially be annoying, but this isn’t as good as the other examples.

Other cheap +Buy or gainers

The most useful cards like this can help you 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.

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 best 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 on your megaturn. Surely some other non-treasure card in the kingdom is better than your last Shelter/Estate.

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 Travelling Fair, Scouting Party, Save, or Borrow.

Last updated March 2020

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