After a year and a half without any episodes, the podcast is finally back with a new host, Jake! Go check it out!
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.
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.
“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.
The presence of draw in a given kingdom is important because 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; Kingdoms with draw and kingdoms without draw play very differently. Without the presence of draw in a kingdom, the focus of most decks shifts to the cantrips, plus the most desirable non-drawing cards available.
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.
It will help if you are familiar with my village article before reading the rest of this article.
THE DRAW CARDS
Cards that can provide the draw effect will be listed below. Without the presence of at least one card on this list, it is impossible for a kingdom to have “draw” as defined above. However, the presence of most of the cards below does not necessarily mean that draw is possible — some of the cards require some level of support to achieve the draw effect. Draw cards are sorted into sections according to what type of support they require in order to give the draw effect.
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, Archive, Caravan, Cursed Village, Den of Sin, Governor, Hireling, Hunting Party, Laboratory, Lost City, Research, Sauna/Avanto, 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 sifting.
- City needs a way to empty a supply pile quickly enough to be useful as a source of draw.
- City Quarter, Scrying Pool, and Herald need an action-dense deck to be effective.
- Crossroads and Shepherd need a way to line them up with enough Victory 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 and Experiment need additional buys and money because you have to buy them 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.
- Sauna and Avanto require you to be able to draw the cards together in order to not decrease your action count.
- Seer requires you to have enough cards in the appropriate cost range in your deck that you would like to draw in order to make use of its effect.
- 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
All of these cards are terminal when used for their draw ability. In order to 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, your hand size hasn’t actually increased while maintaining the action count.
Catacombs, Council Room, Courtyard, Cultist, Diplomat, Enchantress, Embassy, Envoy, Faithful Hound, Gear, Ghost Ship, Haunted Woods, Hunting Grounds, Journeyman, Lackeys, Library, Margrave, Masquerade, Moat, Nobles, Old Witch, Patrol, Pooka, Rabble, Ranger, Royal Blacksmith, Scholar, Silk Merchant, Smithy, Steward, Swashbuckler, 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 meet the requirements for draw; 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 the draw definition 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.
- 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. Plus, it only works on treasure cards.
- Cultist has an on-trash benefit of +3 Cards. While this works well as draw, the number of times you can use this is usually limited to the number of Cultists you have that you’re willing to trash from your deck (or from the supply with Lurker).
- Ghost Town, Haven, Native Village, and Royal Carriageare 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.
- Madman is a one-shot and is tough to gain.
- Magpie only works on treasure cards
- Warrior can be tough to get a lot of, and usually isn’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.
- Sinister Plot can be used to draw lots of cards on specific turns, but can’t be used to increase hand size consistently across consecutive turns.
- Summon can work as draw but is usually very expensive and it only effectively gives you one card worth of draw.
- Vagrant can usually only draw cards that aren’t very good, so it’s more of a sifter than a draw card in real games of Dominion.
Draw that doesn’t work out in practice
These cards, while you can theoretically make them work as draw, have issues that are serious enough that they can almost never provide the draw effect in a real game of Dominion.
- Adventurer can only draw treasures, and requires village support to fit this definition.
- 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.
- Boons can sometimes increase your hand size in some cases with The Sea’s Gift or The River’s Gift, but these are unpredictable, weak effects that are impractical to try to plan around.
- Cobbler and Save are forms of pushing a card from one turn to the next, but are limited enough in their utility that they don’t work out well in practice.
- Duplicate has interactions with the gain-to-hand abilities of cards like Rocks or Guardian, which can increase hand size. While this fits the definition of draw here, it’s completely impractical.
- 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; the main exception being with Procession.
- Guide will increase hand size when called if you’ve been hit by a discard attack or something similar.
- Jack of All Trades has many abilities, but the draw-to-5 isn’t powerful enough to overcome the fact that a deck that uses this as its only source of draw is brought down by the constant treasure-gain from Jack.
- Cargo Ship, Citadel, Crop Rotation, Flag, Innovation, Piazza, Sir Destry, Trusty Steed, and Zombie Apprentice will only effectively draw one extra card per turn for you at most, and many of them have additional requirements on top of this restriction in order to get the draw effect.
- Road Network can be useful towards the end of the game, but its reliance on opponents to do something very specific to enable it means that building a deck around this as the only source of draw isn’t practical.
- Scout is a bad card.
- Tribute isn’t reliable enough at drawing cards to work out.
- Villa,increases hand size when gained and returns to the Action phase, so it technically fits the definition of draw. With Alms this can function as draw once per turn, but isn’t practical.
Village is the informal generic name for the family of cards which offer the ability to play more than one terminal action in a turn — so called because many of them have “village” in their names. They are also sometimes called “splitters.” The simplest village is Village itself. Typically, these cards offer +2 Actions, but there are some village cards which give this effect in other ways.
The presence of villages in a given kingdom is important because having a cap on the number of terminal actions that can be played in a turn is a significant limiting factor in the potential of decks that can be built; kingdoms with villages and kingdoms without villages play very differently. Without the presence of villages in a kingdom, the focus of most decks shifts to the non-terminals, plus the most desirable terminal available.
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.
Villages with no restrictions
Typically, these cards offer +2 Actions, but there are some cards which give this effect in other ways.
Festival, Throne Room, Village
Mining Village, Nobles, Shanty Town
Bazaar, Fishing Village, Native Village
City, King’s Court, Worker’s Village
Farming Village, Hamlet
Border Village, Inn
Bandit Camp, Fortress, Squire, Wandering Minstrel
Champion, Coin of the Realm, Lost Arts, Lost City, Port, Royal Carriage, Teacher
Bustling Village, City Quarter, Crown, Encampment, Villa
Blessed Village, Conclave, Cursed Village, Ghost Town
- 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.
- 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 the effect a useful amount of times.
- Hideout requires trashing a card from hand for each use.
- Recruiter needs to trash cards with a nonzero cost to get villager tokens.
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 that can be built 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 two additional terminal actions per turn.
- Necropolis and Trusty Steed will only allow one additional terminal action per turn.
- 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 played, 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.
- With Tribute the player on your left needs to have enough Action cards in their deck to reveal an Action card often enough to get the effect a useful amount of times.
- Academy requires a source of extra gains to get a large quantity of Villager tokens.
- Acting Troupe gives a bounded number of Villagers and must be re-bought and replayed in order to get more of them.
- Barracks, Citadel, and Piazza are limited to giving only one extra action per turn. In addition, Piazza requires you to have a high enough action density to reveal an Action card often enough to get the effect a useful amount of times.
- Capitalism and Scepter can play terminal actions in the Buy phase, which can be very useful for payload but isn’t as useful for deck control.
- Lackeys and Silk Merchant are terminal actions give their Villagers on-gain, which limits the overall number of times you can make use of the village effect using only these cards.
- Patron and Sculptor function in practice as a method of banking an action not used in an earlier turn for later; you’ll need something like a megaturn deck to take advantage of this kind of thing.
Villages that don’t work out in practice
These cards fit the definition of village used here, and with just the right circumstances can be useful for this effect. However, it is almost never worth building a deck that relies on getting the village effect from these cards alone.
- Dame Molly only allows for one additional terminal action per turn; and 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 one extra action, and it requires playing a Tactician on the previous turn to get it.
- Pixie is also a one-shot and only gives a 1/12 chance of actually getting the village effect each time it’s played (The Field’s Gift)
- Fool gives the state Lost in the Woods which also gives the same 1/12 chance of getting the village effect at the start of your turn.
- Exploration can only give one Villager per turn and this comes with the significant cost of not being able to buy any cards on that turn.
- Innovation can give the village effect once per turn and its usefulness is usually limited to cards that can be gained in the Action phase.
Conspirator, Cultist, Ruined Village, Vassal
With the definition of village used here, it can be possible to misunderstand and think of certain cards as villages that don’t provide the effect of playing multiple terminal actions in a turn. These cards are not villages. These cards don’t actually give 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.
- Conspirator, Cultist, Vassal: The logic with these cards is that Cultist, for example, is a terminal action which allows for playing more Cultists in the same turn, so multiple terminals have been played. The argument is similar for Conspirator and Vassal.
The flaw in this logic is that in this case, most of those Cultists that were 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 games of Dominion
- Ruined Village is is not a village, even though it has “village” in the title.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
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?
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.
I have a problem.
It’s a pretty good problem. There’s another Dominion expansion coming out (Nocturne), but the problem is that it won’t fit in my current Dominion box (those pictures are with my extra set of cards and stuff I use for tournaments). In fact, everything that’s currently out won’t fit in there, I even had to take out a card I actually like just to make room for everything (Peasant), along with not including any removed First Edition cards (except for Coppersmith <3 ) and then the standard cards I don’t really like to play with (Black Market, Tournament, Cultist, Rebuild, Page, in that order).
So the game already doesn’t fit in my box, I only have one set of base cards in there, and there’s another expansion coming out. I will not unsleeve my cards, so that means I need a new storage solution. I understand many other people who sleeve their cards are running into the same issue, so hopefully this blog post helps them out.
So this is a pretty tough problem, actually. I want a briefcase-style solution, this is mostly because making an insert is going to be the easiest when I can put the cards on end and have nothing on top of anything else. I don’t want to have to remove anything from the box to access my stuff. It turns out that it’s pretty difficult to find large briefcases, especially those that are meant to be filled with as much weight as I’m putting in them. I already had to replace the handle on my old case twice and it still makes me nervous. It’s really hard to find a briefcase that’s large and durable enough for what I want, I was down to a few options.
Custom briefcases: I contacted several custom case companies about making a box for me. Many of them advertised that they have no minimum orders, etc. but none of them ever responded to me. BOO!
Cases by Source: I came across a reddit post by someone who had used a soft bag to make a storage solution he really liked, and he used Cases by Source as his vendor. They actually had a couple of products on their site that might work for me, but they have a $100 minimum order, and I can’t find their products in stock anywhere except their website, which is a little bit sad. What I ended up doing was finding two cases I thought might work and ordering them both. I figured I’d get at least one working solution out of it. I also ordered these boxes to use as the inside of the box, also suggested by that reddit post.
You may have noticed in the first picture I linked, that the rows on those cardboard boxes are wider than Dominion cards. After some measuring I discovered that I could get an extra row in both boxes if I made them shorter. Fortunately, this isn’t too difficult to accomplish, all I had to do was cut some new holes in the cardboard and use that with some tape to plug up the old holes, and I can move those cardboard dividers wherever I want (picture). This has already been done in the first picture if you look closely. With some creative folding, cutting, and taping, I merged the two boxes into one giant box with smaller rows and one less row, but it actually fits in both boxes (picture).
For the soft case I found some “hardboard” at the hardware store and put that under the boxes, then I got some foam to put around the edges so that everything fits tightly, and it turns out that both cases were functional and looking pretty good. If it turned out this way, I had planned to give one of them to a friend of mine who frequently lets me use his cards for my IRL tournaments; I chose the hard case for myself and gave him the soft one.
Here’s a picture of the finished case.
So the hard case had one big problem remaining: the lid has to just rest behind the case whenever it’s open, which takes up a huge amount of table space, and is probably bad for the hinge if it has to go off the edge of the table. I wanted to rig something up so that the lid would stay vertical, so I just bought a small length of chain and screwed it into the sides of the box near the hinge. Here’s a picture of that. It fits nicely into the hole I cut in the foam for that, and after some adjustments it worked the way I wanted.
Other components: there isn’t all that much that’s new here, but I’ll cover it anyways. The plastic containers for tokens are just bead storage containers that I found in the craft aisle at Wal-Mart, you can find them in just about any craft store as well. I use them for lots of games. The dividers on the right are PlexiGlas dividers that I used to use before Empires, but they ended up being too thick and I needed to make room for cards. I still use them for the supply piles, though, since they get a lot of use and the thickness is more welcome there. The dividers on the left were generated by Sumpfork’s tab generator and printed on 100-weight non-glossy cardstock. I ended up printing them in black and white because I thought they looked better that way.
With this storage solution I have enough room for two sets of supply cards again, as well as a whole row that I can use for proxies and playtesting (I just put the removed first edition cards, my blanks, and the cards I don’t like in there). I have enough extra room that I can even keep my notebook in there.
Areas for improvement: decorating this case is going to be a bit harder, since black plastic is tougher to work with. I’m going to come up with some kind of design, but even then, this new case isn’t going to get the same looks as my old case did. Lucky for me, the guy I gave the other case to is pretty into painting miniatures, so he might have some equipment that can be helpful 😉
I’d also like to put something on the inside of the lid so there’s something nice to look at there instead of just blank plastic. I have an idea for a fold-out miniature basketball hoop with a trash can below it for fun with trashing cards, other people have suggested a collage of relevant Dominion pictures and stuff that I’ve accumulated over the years. I guess I could make a pouch for the rulebooks but that just doesn’t appeal to me.
It turns out that when you add more stuff to the case, it gets heavier. Who knew? The handles on these new cases should hold up to the weight, but if I ever find something I can use to wheel it around I’ll probably pick it up. In any case, after Nocturne, the box could easily fit two more similarly-sized expansions and potentially three, so I’m hoping this will last for a while longer.
Choose one: Set aside the top card of your deck face down on your Native Village mat; or put all the cards from your mat into your hand.
You may look at the cards on your mat at any time; return them to your deck at the end of the game.
Native Village is gradually becoming one of my favorite cards in Dominion, and that’s because I like doing “cool Native Village tricks”. One of the fundamental things about Dominion is that scoring points is supposed to make your deck worse, but Native Village can get around that in ways that make me happy.
On the other hand, it’s not a very good card, so trying to pull this off can backfire if the situation isn’t just right for it.
Native Village is a village, it does village things. This isn’t an article about villages, so I’m not going to go over all of the points that apply to all villages.
Native Village costs $2, and that’s because it’s not really a very strong card. The comparison to Village can be made where Village draws you one card every time you play it, while NV draws you N/(N+1) cards on average, where N is the number of times you set aside a card to your mat before picking up. Since this average draw is always going to be less than 1, it’s not a favorable comparison, but if you’re wanting to use NV for the same thing as Village, it can be instructive: you want to pick up cards from your NV mat as little as possible to maximize your draw from Native Village. This is typically done by having lots and lots of Native Villages and only picking cards up off the mat if there’s a significant, immediate benefit to doing so.
But that’s really hard to actually do. You typically want to draw cards the most at the beginning of your turn and the best (only) way to do that is to leave them on the mat at the end of your previous turn. But that means you aren’t playing them! What cards are so important to you that you need them at the start of your turn, but you could get through your entire previous turn without playing them?
If it’s payload, then you’re sacrificing your payload for reliability. That feels pretty bad. If it’s draw components, then usually you’ve severely overbuilt. These don’t do very well, so in this situation, it’s usually really difficult to maximize that N/(N+1) term.
In practice, this draw ends up being pretty close to zero, so this is what you should probably expect when using NV as a village. I’ve called it “Necropolitive Village” in the past, which is pretty fun to say 🙂
There’s the “classic” Native Village/Bridge combo deck, which involves setting cards on your mat the whole game and ending the game in a huge megaturn where you play a lot of Bridges. In some situations, a properly played NV/Bridge deck is the best thing you can do, but Native Village really isn’t all that great at enabling megaturns because most of the time you’re better off playing your payload cards every turn so you can build faster. Usually Bridge combos or similarly explosive payloads are the only things out there strong enough to justify building in this way, and if there’s any draw out there at all, you’re usually better off using that instead of playing for a Native Village megaturn.
So the really cool thing to do with Native Village’s ability is to use it as pseudo-trashing by never picking cards up from the mat. Actually, not many cards out there will let you keep your Provinces around and not have them in your deck — there’s only Island to compete with but normally there aren’t enough Islands to go around to make this work, among other things. With the right support, one single Native Village can represent all of the green cards you hope to “have in your deck”. Yes, these decks can be quite satisfying to pull off, so let’s talk about when they’re good.
The easiest example is the Apothecary/NV deck: with pretty much any +Buy at all, this is a lightning-fast, reliable Province-per-turn deck. Apothecary is great at getting you your NV in hand while putting a green card on top of your deck, and the big synergy is that most Apothecary decks tend to stall with any reasonable amount of green in them, so NV’s role is quite welcome there.
Aside from Apothecary, though, relying on deck inspection to get your greens onto the mat just doesn’t cut it in practice. There are two main ways to get this to work for you, and they both involve drawing your deck as a prerequisite. You can either target-discard the card, then play your NV, or you can gain a Province mid-turn and then mat it. Keep in mind that this will almost always require another Village on the board besides NV, since the only thing out there that’s non-terminal AND capable of gaining Provinces mid-turn is Governor, and it’s really tough to use NV as a splitter this way because you have to draw your entire deck first without playing any villages, then play NV to put nothing onto the mat, then gain the Province, then play another NV to mat the Province. Rough.
When is it good?
So we’ve talked about the mechanics of NV pseudo-trashing, but when are they actually good? Sure, thinning Provinces is nice, so if you’re looking at the opportunity, sure do it. I’m talking about when it’s best to roll in Native Village pseudo-trashing when building your deck.
A little bit of math. You’re going to have one NV in your deck at the very least, and most of the time you’ll start your turn with a Province in your deck that you’ll have to draw in order to put it on your NV mat. You’ll want these two stop cards to be much less than what you’d otherwise have if you just left the green in your deck, and maybe take into account that you probably could have just bought another draw card instead of the NV. It also needs to happen before the game is over, since if the pseudo-trashing finally worth it and you never get to take a turn with those benefits, then it wasn’t helpful there either.
What this points to is that these tricks are really only practical in decks that aim to buy just one Province or Colony per turn. Gaining and matting two cards per turn doubles the opportunity cost and ends the game twice as fast. So what you’re really looking for is a quick way to get up to Province-per-turn and then stay reliable.
NV tricks can work well with Wall around, since they allows thin decks to stay viable without picking up too many components or overdraw.
As discussed earlier, Apothecary is great for this. Governor, not as much, since the payload of most Governor decks is multi-Province turns. Other synergies here include attacks that you want to play every turn like Militia or Pillage, but be careful of stuff like Rabble or Ghost Ship, as Native Village can serve as a soft counter to those attacks. Junking attacks can work if it’s one of those games where you’ll want to go for them in the mid-game or late game.