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Making Luck Episode 67: Wedding and Skulk

In this episode, Adam and Wandering Winder discuss Wedding from Empires and Skulk from Nocturne.

Kingdom at the end: City Quarter, Poor House, Candlestick Maker, Encampment, Amulet, Watchtower, Skulk, Taxman, Recruiter, Replace, Wedding, Fleet

Great job with the episode! I'm also glad I'm at the point where I can be wrong without even saying anything!

My thoughts on the Wedding portion:
Wedding- I think you covered this pretty well, dividing the discussion between taking it instead of Gold (for payload), instead of Duchy (for points) and instead of two Silvers (in the open) and going into the pros and cons of each.

Wedding over Gold (with exactly $6)-- The ability to take a debt for a VP token is extremely powerful in the abstract, and because of this, Wedding is very often better than buying Gold, but there are a few caveats:

- You usually only want to do this when you'd be buying Gold anyway, the VP token doesn't suddenly make Gold the best card for your deck if it wasn't already.
- Gaining a worse card because you had to pay off a debt will often cost you more than 1 VP over the course of the game, so if you have reason to suspect that debt will cost you pretty much anything at all next turn, just buy the Gold instead. Track your deck, think about it #thinkingisop.

-In the open: On a 4/3, on turns 2-5, having a Gold in the deck is pretty comparable to having two Silvers (better in some ways, worse in others), and very quickly becomes better as your money density exceeds $1, so Wedding/Debt is usually a better open than Silver/Silver. Of course, that implies you were thinking about opening Silver/Silver, so the other cards you're considering  to open need to be pretty unimpressive.

On a 3/4, the reasoning is similar as to whether or not you open Wedding, but it's a weaker option because you have to take the debt into turn 3.

Wedding for Points:

-Occasionally, gains are limited such that 1 point is about the same for you as 3 points, and more than occasionally I'd rather have a Gold in my deck than a Duchy. Obviously, if you have less than $7 and the debt is reasonably likely to deny you a Province next turn you take the Duchy instead, so track your shuffle, think about it #thinkingisop.

My thoughts on the Skulk Discussion:

I admit, I have a bit of disagreement with some of what was covered here (which I'll get to), but I think you guys did a good job overall talking about Skulk.

First and foremost, you're buying this for the Gold the majority of the time-- Skulk's main role is to make Gold gainable on $4.

To that end, part of the "cost" of the Gold is that it comes with a terminal action that makes $0, which can be problematic when you mainly wanted to gain the Gold to increase your $ output, especially early on when you're probably not drawing a ton. And especially especially in the open when those two stop cards are suspect for hitting desired price points AND make it less likely for the Shuffle gods to favor you.

Which leads into where the card is especially strong, when you are drawing a ton. The weakness of Skulk is that it delivers those $3 across two stop cards instead of one, but if you're operating outside the money density paradigm (if you're drawing your deck), then for $4 you get +$3, +buy and an attack, which is quite strong for its cost.

Now the attack part of the discussion is where I have a bit of a bone to pick.

WanderingWinder: "I can never know that I'm going to hit them with a hex that's going to make it worth it."

I think this is a bit fallacious/reliant on the illusion of "safe play" that you've done a good job redressing in the past.  You can't know for sure that you'll hit them with a bad hex, but if you don't hex them then you know for sure that you won't. If that Hex would decide that game then you'd usually take the chance on it.
Similarly, even early on when we can talk about just getting good attack value out of one or two hexer plays. If getting an attack off on the opponent is the best payload, the hexer doesn't get disqualified just because it might not work. It definitely won't work if you don't get it.

Now this isn't to say that that's often the case, but it does come up sometimes and I more bring it up to refute your point that Hexers don't influence the kind of deck you build. I think they sometimes do for the same reason Swindler does-- no deck will definitely get screwed over, but any deck might so giving yourself the chance to do the screwing is sometimes worth playing around as long as the other stuff the card does is reasonably good (and sometimes even if it isn't, like getting a bunch of werewolves you might never play as actions).

TO BE FAIR: You did say that you felt thinking about the card that way was a bit flawed, and my criticisms are aimed at the part of the discussion that encompassed hex attacks in general. I don't so much want to attack the discussion of Skulk (though I do think the point applies to Skulk) so much as I want to attack the idea of looking at Hexers as whatever they do minus they attack.

Quote from Screwyioux on March 14, 2019, 9:38 AM

Now the attack part of the discussion is where I have a bit of a bone to pick.

WanderingWinder: "I can never know that I'm going to hit them with a hex that's going to make it worth it."

I think this is a bit fallacious/reliant on the illusion of "safe play" that you've done a good job redressing in the past.  You can't know for sure that you'll hit them with a bad hex, but if you don't hex them then you know for sure that you won't. If that Hex would decide that game then you'd usually take the chance on it.
Similarly, even early on when we can talk about just getting good attack value out of one or two hexer plays. If getting an attack off on the opponent is the best payload, the hexer doesn't get disqualified just because it might not work. It definitely won't work if you don't get it.

Now this isn't to say that that's often the case, but it does come up sometimes and I more bring it up to refute your point that Hexers don't influence the kind of deck you build. I think they sometimes do for the same reason Swindler does-- no deck will definitely get screwed over, but any deck might so giving yourself the chance to do the screwing is sometimes worth playing around as long as the other stuff the card does is reasonably good (and sometimes even if it isn't, like getting a bunch of werewolves you might never play as actions).

TO BE FAIR: You did say that you felt thinking about the card that way was a bit flawed, and my criticisms are aimed at the part of the discussion that encompassed hex attacks in general. I don't so much want to attack the discussion of Skulk (though I do think the point applies to Skulk) so much as I want to attack the idea of looking at Hexers as whatever they do minus they attack.

There is some point to this, but...

the big part of it is, and I maybe didn't describe this so well, that most of the hexes aren't suuuper impactful most of the time. So a few of them might be, but a 25% chance to really nail my opponent doesn't seem worth it to me; if we think of it as 4 attacks to give the beatdown... I'm playing 4 terminals to militia attack them once? Or to give them a curse? Obviously this is a little bit unfair, since even in the case that e.g. militia attack is the killer, the others have *some* effect. But they don't always stack super well, and I think that there's generally better ways to spend your deck/terminal space than with these. So it's more of, in my estimation the attack is about 1/3 of a 'real' attack, which just isn't overall powerful enough, especially given that e.g. a militia which gave you an extra buy instead of money would be a lot weaker than normal militia anyway? And then the thought of, you can't choose... that's more about, yes, if you got some particular hex every time, or the one you pick every time, then usually the attack would be good, but because you get the really good one so infrequently, it's not good enough? Does that make sense?

 

So the thing about not playing safe, the point which I have made many times is, you don't make a lower win % play just because it's "safe". But in this case, I think the odds are flipped; you're making a lower win% play to not play safe, hoping to spike the good case. Or in short, it's more like Treasure Map.

Yeah I'm with you for the most part on the conclusions you come to regarding Skulk in particular, I was more picking at some of the logic you described that gets us there.

I would argue the Treasure Map example is a little different because there's a strict yes or no answer to figuring out if the Treasure Maps did what they were supposed to and the Maps don't give you any other value at all, which you'd only equate to (insert hexing attack here) if you were actually searching for one particular Hex. I agree that fishing for one hex among many is a lower winrate play because it's so unlikely, but using the hex deck as a whole to slow the opponent down is a little different (which you addressed in your reply above). It's usually the case that most of the hexes are at least annoying, and 1-3 of them would be truly painful.

Which usually only matters if the hexer is a reasonable addition to your deck either way-- but you can say that about most attacks, they do different things to the opponent at different times. So getting them implies that they do enough for you besides that you're willing to roll the dice on punching your opponent in the nose, even if you swing wide and hit their chin from time to time. If there's a way to hit their nose for sure (some other attack) then you probably go for that, but if the thing letting you take a less accurate swing is doing other stuff you need to do (you need that plus buy and it's Skulk or Candlestick Maker, you need to thin and it's Vamp or Count), then taking the swing at all certainly factors in. That's also why I buy Swindler over Silver and why I sometimes choose to trash Copper instead of Estate with my Catapult.

Quote from Screwyioux on March 14, 2019, 10:50 AM

Yeah I'm with you for the most part on the conclusions you come to regarding Skulk in particular, I was more picking at some of the logic you described that gets us there.

I would argue the Treasure Map example is a little different because there's a strict yes or no answer to figuring out if the Treasure Maps did what they were supposed to and the Maps don't give you any other value at all, which you'd only equate to (insert hexing attack here) if you were actually searching for one particular Hex. I agree that fishing for one hex among many is a lower winrate play because it's so unlikely, but using the hex deck as a whole to slow the opponent down is a little different (which you addressed in your reply above). It's usually the case that most of the hexes are at least annoying, and 1-3 of them would be truly painful.

Which usually only matters if the hexer is a reasonable addition to your deck either way-- but you can say that about most attacks, they do different things to the opponent at different times. So getting them implies that they do enough for you besides that you're willing to roll the dice on punching your opponent in the nose, even if you swing wide and hit their chin from time to time. If there's a way to hit their nose for sure (some other attack) then you probably go for that, but if the thing letting you take a less accurate swing is doing other stuff you need to do (you need that plus buy and it's Skulk or Candlestick Maker, you need to thin and it's Vamp or Count), then taking the swing at all certainly factors in. That's also why I buy Swindler over Silver and why I sometimes choose to trash Copper instead of Estate with my Catapult.

I think the biggest difference is that I'm lower on *insert generic hexing attack here*. It just seems like so often to me, the vast majority of them are pretty nothing-ish, like the Fortune Teller attack Adam mentioned, or even worse. Obviously you have to factor in the other stuff that the card gives you, and I think that the rest of the card is going to determine what I get, far more than the attack. And that's true for your examples above: whether I want Skulk or CSM is going to come down to whether I have terminal space and/or draw space for the skulk (because gold is economically more desirable than CSM, but deck control is worse); if I just need to thin, I'm taking count over Vamp in the vast majority of cases? Vamp is not very good at thinning. Obviously Vamp also gains 5ers, which is a massive deal. But in any of these cases, the hexing is such a small fraction of the value of the card, right? Which is not so true for Catapult, and... somewhat true of Swindler.

Here's my summary for Wedding, which attempts to combine what was said in the episode with some of the discussion above:

  • In real life, absolutely nothing apart from your spouse's death (rare) and polygamy (illegal) can possibly enable you to get married more than once.
  • For that reason alone, when you play a Dominion board that has Wedding on it you shouldn’t base your entire strategy around buying Wedding a million times, even though it still gives you a VP chip even after the Golds have run out.
  • There are some edge cases that make gaining Gold with Wedding different from just buying Gold: Embargo, Swamp Hag, Mission, Tax, Contraband, Exploration, Hermit (assuming you want to convert) etc. favour the Wedding, whereas Goons, Merchant Guild, cost reduction etc. favour buying the Gold. Also note that taking any debt stops you buying from the Black Market next turn because debt can be paid off only during your Buy phase. Watch out for these when they come up, but the below discussion just assumes none of this funny stuff applies.
  • Wedding gives you a Gold and a VP, so the cards it’s most likely to be competing with are Treasures and, to a lesser extent, Victory cards. Let's look at the most common cases where you might consider buying Wedding.
  • Case 0: instead of Gold with $7+. Clearly you prefer Wedding here as it’s just a free VP.
  • Case 1: instead of Gold with $6. In a vacuum it’s worth taking on 1 debt to get a VP chip, but there are exceptions. If you’re drawing your deck (or are near the bottom of the shuffle) and can therefore map out your next turn with reasonable confidence, you can work out whether the debt will stop you doing what you wanted to do. For example, if it’s going to knock you off $8 and cause you to lose the Province split then you’d be crazy to do that just for a VP chip.
  • Case 2: instead of Silver with $5 or $4. Now you’re taking on 2 or 3 debt in return for a VP chip and an upgrade from Silver to Gold. If it’s early in the game (which it probably is if Silver is the best alternative) then the higher money density going forward may well justify the debt, even though it’s likely to be detrimental to your next turn. In particular, on a $4/$3 opening, Wedding/debt will usually be better than Silver/Silver. It gives you a slightly better chance to hit $5 and a significantly better chance to hit $6 on Turns 3 and 4 (although less chance to hit $5 twice), but mainly it’s one stop card fewer and will be better for your overall money density for most of the game. Of course you can open Wedding on a $5/$2 as well, where Silver/Silver wouldn’t be possible, but this will rarely be better than buying a $5 card on Turn 1. Buying Wedding on Turn 2 with a $3/$4 is less appealing because you usually want to be doing something better with your Turn 3 than paying off this debt.
  • Although Wedding looks promising as an alternative to Silver or Gold in a lot of these cases, the catch is that when you have $4-$6 and a Buy there’s often a better way to spend it than buying a Silver or Gold. You need to be pretty unimpressed by the $3 and $4 options on a board (at least in comparison with the $5 and $6 options) in order to consider opening Silver/Silver, and you’d often prefer a $5 card to a Gold even if you could afford either. The takeaway from this is that the VP token doesn’t usually make it right to buy Wedding unless you wanted the Gold anyway.
  • Case 3: instead of Province or other VP. If you have $8+ and you’re just at the tipping point of when you want to start greening, it’s sometimes a close call between Province and Gold. In this case, the VP chip from Wedding might be enough to tip the balance in favour of Gold, but like with Harem it doesn’t come up much because there’s usually only a narrow window between when you’re focusing just on money density and when you just want the most VP you can get for your money. By the time you’re considering Duchy, you’re usually in the second category and hence unlikely to want Wedding, but occasionally 1VP looks like being as good as 3 and you’d prefer to shuffle in a Gold than a Duchy.

And here's the Skulk summary:

  • Buying Skulk adds a lot of payload to your deck: 3 money, a Buy and an Attack for $4 is great value! The problem is that it’s split over two stop cards, one of which is terminal.
  • When you have loads of free draw and an extra Action to spare, it’s a lot of payload for $4. That’s pretty rare though.
  • Sometimes you really need the +Buy to the extent that you’re prepared to put two stop cards in your deck to get it. That’s also pretty rare.
  • More often, you want to ask yourself whether Skulk is better than Silver. If you view the Skulk as a blank card, Silver is better for your money density, cycling and so on almost always. As an opening compared to Silver/Silver, Skulk/Silver makes you less likely to hit $5 on Turns 3 and 4 but more likely to hit $5 twice and more likely to hit $6. It’s really bad for your deck control though, at a point in the game when deck control is usually your top priority.
  • Of course Skulk isn’t a blank card. Apart from sometimes wanting the +Buy, you also get the attack (although if you open it along with a terminal then you're probably not going to play the Skulk if it collides). The hexes in general aren’t super-strong and rarely change the type of deck either player tries to build (partly because you can’t rely on any particular Hex coming up), but if you get to play Skulk quite a few times over the course of the game then the chances are it’s going to do some meaningful damage at some point. You don’t buy Skulk just for the attack, but it does make the package better value than if it were just a blank card that came with a Gold.
  • The bigger factor that can make Skulk viable as an alternative to Silver is if you expect to be able to trash the Skulk without significant loss of tempo. That way you’ve got a Gold for $4, and if it took a couple of shuffles before the Skulk collided with your trasher then at least you hopefully got to Hex your opponent a couple of times as a bit of compensation.
  • Trash-for-benefit cards that care about cost are the best case, since you can get value out of trashing the Skulk too.

I haven't included much of the discussion about the Hexes because it doesn't seem particularly unique to Skulk. I hope that just saying the attack is better than nothing but not super-strong is sufficient to inform the decision about buying Skulk versus Silver.