I frequently find myself staring at a 2/5 or 5/2 opening, seriously considering a Mint opening. There are some cases where trashing 5 Coppers from your deck immediately can put you so far ahead that you can’t realistically lose the game, but I find those so incredibly rare that in 3000+ games of Dominion, I’ve never had it happen to me, not even once. (I’ve done it before and regretted it but I’m not counting that)
And the common wisdom out there among many people I’ve talked to (not necessarily “top players” but this article probably isn’t helping those people that much anyways) is that a Mint opening on a 5/2 is just overpowered, even with no support at all (opening Mint/Copper is pretty bad, especially considering how bad opening Mint/Silver is). This is really far from the truth, and this article aims to explain exactly why this is the case. I want to outline the few scenarios where opening Mint is good and why; then explain a few of the common examples I get told about where opening Mint is supposedly great, but I think it isn’t. Hopefully you’ll finish this article with the tools you need to decide whether opening Mint is good for you on any given board. Pro tip, if you just say “no” all the time then you’re almost there!
In general, the reason opening Mint is bad is because you have 6 or 7 cards in your deck after T2 and four of them are completely dead (3 Estates and 1 Mint). Two of them are really bad (Coppers), and your next few turns are going to be spent not doing anything useful. Many times this just loses to Big Money pretty hard. Usually it’s much better to put one or two better cards in your deck (something that trashes Estates or draws cards is best here) and hope for a Mint on the next few turns. If you don’t have a plan for what you’re going to do with your turn 3 and turn 4, and you don’t think the tempo boost you’ll get from trashing those Coppers in the opening (as opposed to a couple of turns later) will be significant enough to outweigh the very real possibility that you will be getting some awful draws and just have to pass your T3, T4, T5, etc. completely, then you really shouldn’t open with a Mint.
There is only one card in all of Dominion where if we just had the two-card kingdom of Mint and that card, I’d open Mint on a 5/2: Fool’s Gold. This is because you have an 85% chance to pick up at least a FG on turn 3, and these odds only get better for future turns. You even have a 38% chance to Mint a FG and buy a FG on T3, and going forward you have decent odds at having a FG in hand whenever you draw your Mint. Trashing the Coppers in this case doesn’t actually hurt your T3 or T4 all that much, and it’s a huge boon to a FG deck. It’s certainly better than a double FG opening, and if there is any Estate-trashing on the board the advantage becomes really big.
The next one, which is probably worth going for almost all of the time, is Page. Page/Champion are just so powerful that usually the first person to get a Champion in play has a huge advantage, not to mention the potential blowouts related to Warriors. Trashing 5 Coppers immediately accelerates your cycling so much that just playing your Page on T3 constitutes a successful turn (your chances of this are just over 70%, which I might add are pretty much the best chances you have of anything good happening on T3 if you opened Mint), and on 47 out of those 70 percents you’re also getting a second Page that turn, which is a solid addition to the deck.
Add to that the fact that Treasure Hunter quickly injects economy into the deck at this point, which you desperately need, and Warrior helps you make use of that economy, so you’re usually able to have whatever support you needed in your deck already by the time your Champion is in play. Plus, Champion needs so little of this support to be the main focus of your first few turns; a Mint/Page opening shines here almost all of the time.
Why not Peasant? Without going into too much detail, Peasant/Teacher is slower and doesn’t give you as much immediate support as Page does; you need a lot of cards in your deck for Teacher to be good at all, and the Mint opening is sacrificing a lot of that to get you a Teacher ASAP. I’m not saying it can’t work, but it needs a LOT of support to be better than playing for a later Mint instead of opening with it.
I want to be clear about this: other than Fool’s Gold and Page, every other Mint opening requires a lot of support to be good. Support beyond just the other card you get with Mint in the opening, because that alone isn’t enough.
After this, the need for support gets bigger and bigger as the list goes on, and eventually it’s just going to be not worth it most of the time.
Alms: The really nice thing about Alms is that the 2 out of 7 (about 30%) chance you have of not drawing the other card you open with and having your T3 really suck just doesn’t exist with Alms — you can always gain a card costing up to $4, so if there are some good ones, you can even get one before you shuffle! In particular you’re looking for something that can trash Estates that you can gain with Alms. The thing you have to be careful about, though, is that 5/2 with Alms is pretty good in general, so the bar you’re comparing a Mint opening against is higher. Without that Estate trashing that you can easily get with Alms, it’s going to be much harder to justify a Mint opening, especially if the Estate trashing exists but costs $5 (in that case, you open with the Estate-trasher and play towards a later Mint if there’s any draw at all).
Chapel: It’s true that opening Mint takes away a lot of the targets that you wanted to Chapel, making Chapel slightly less good. But Chapel is a really good card, and it’s the only thing at the $2 price point that can just eliminate those Estates (and yes the Mint too) lightning-fast, which is the main weakness of a Mint opening. By the end of T5, even with below average draws, you can have a deck with a Silver, three Coppers, and at most one Estate plus a Chapel. While this isn’t the best thing ever for building whatever engine you want, a lot of times it’s better than not going for the Mint, especially in the absence of a better $5 option. It’s also slightly better than the alternative for Big Money.
On top of this, you get the possibility of a huge high-roll if you draw your Chapel on T3 and are able to trash three out of your four junks and buy a Copper (about a 43% chance of this happening), giving you a deck of Chapel/Copper/Copper/Copper/Silver to start T5 with. Sometimes you can even do better than Silver.
When is this not good? Well, plan out your next few turns from there and if it feels like pulling teeth, you may be better off without the Mint. If I’m getting a T6 Market, then a T7 Gold, then a lot of my components are still pretty expensive (and don’t draw lots of cards) then you lose a lot of that pace the early Mint bought you, so many times you’re better off thinning more gradually and focusing on drawing more cards.
Why not Donate? With Donate you can just get rid of those Coppers whenever you want, so normally you want to put a few good cards in the deck and then Donate. Passing up the opportunity to put a fiver in your deck and potentially even play it before Donating, and trashing 5 Coppers immediately just doesn’t mean as much with Donate around. So don’t open Mint here.
Overlord: Let’s take that 1/6 chance of getting our “lucky” opening and chop it in half. If you have a 5/2 (not a 2/5) you can consider an Overlord opening with the right support. I’m looking at junking attacks and Estate-trashing (the kind of stuff you normally look for when you think about opening Overlord) with Soothsayer and Trading Post at the top of the pile here.
Advance: This is really only viable when you have Shelters, since you can trash your Necropolis on the turn you aren’t buying your Mint. It still requires the same kind of support as all of this other stuff, namely something good to gain off your Advance. Sure, you can pick up a crappy action for $2 or less and hope to Advance it later, but this is much worse and requires super-strong support in order to be better than “awful.”
…and as we get farther down the list, I’m now requiring 3 almost-unique cards to be in the kingdom. These are barely worth talking about, but here we go…
Steward: Needs Baker, Borrow, or some other shenanigans to work, but sure, this is a fine opening for most of the same reasons as Chapel is, but the tactics are slightly different.
Ambassador: Needs the same enabler as Steward does for the opening, but yeah if the Ambassador war is everything, this puts you in a decent position to start the game.
Let’s say you have a 4/3 and a coin token from Baker. Most of the time trashing 5 Coppers is barely enough to be worth it, so trashing 4 Coppers plus spending your opening token to do it? Ugh, this is worse than opening Baker/Silver or Baker/whatever-you-were-getting-with-your-Mint almost all of the time. Just don’t do this. Maybe you can do a Save on a 3/4 if you’re going to use some of the support I mentioned above that’s compatible with this (so basically just Alms and sometimes Advance).
Delve/Squire: Delve is usually better than Squire for this purpose but they’re similar enough that I’ll lump them together. These aren’t very good unless you have some big draw and something to reward you for having a bunch of Silvers. So basically Feodum. Just run the numbers, opening Mint/Silver is more likely to give you bad draws than good draws, hitting $4 with this deck on T3 is nearly impossible (28% with Delve and 0% with Squire) and your bad draws don’t increase the odds of this by very much very quickly. All you can realistically expect to do on these turns is get some more Silvers and Squires — if there isn’t some big payoff for that, then I’d say don’t bother.
Poor House/Secret Chamber/Engineer (5/2 only): These aren’t good. In fact, yeah I’ll just say that and end the list here. Sure, with enough support anything can be good but man, Secret Chamber isn’t even in the game anymore. You have to construct a kingdom and require like 5 or 6 cards before I would open Mint because of these cards.
So yeah, that’s about how good opening Mint is, with a lot of detail to support. Sure, you can craft kingdoms that are exceptions to these rules, but I don’t feel like talking about them. Maybe I’ll change the name of this from “article” to “rant” at some point 😛