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[Repost] Dominion: Winter 2019 Tournament Summary

Note: this was originally posted in January 2019, but was lost because of some server upgrades, combined with my own incompetence. It's being re-posted now for posterity.

This Saturday, January 12, 2019; I put on my tenth Dominion tournament with physical cards near Cincinnati, OH; it consisted of 2-player games.

Coming into the tournament I had projections of 24 people coming -- for reference, the last tournament I had projected 21 and eventually had 31 people -- so things were looking good until a few days before the tournament when Winter Storm Gia showed up. Cincinnati and a lot of the surrounding area ended up getting over six inches of snow over that weekend and understandably many people decided not to risk driving significant distances to play a Dominion tournament. We ended up with 13 people brave enough to take on the challenge of a Dominion tournament through the snow, which still included five people who travelled from outside the tri-state area.

The game store that allows me to host these tournaments decided to close early the day so people could get home before the roads got even worse, and so this tournament had to be cut short. After the four rounds of Swiss play I would have normally taken the top four players and had them play in a single-elimination bracket to decide placement, but instead the tournament just ended there and I used the Swiss rankings to award prizes to the top finishers and crown a winner.

Luckily, there was a clear winner after 4 games, as exactly one person had won all four of the games they played, so congratulations to Ryan Echternacht for his first tournament win! He placed second in my previous tournament, ended up qualifying for the world championship based on that performance where he finished second again. Congratulations also to the other three people who cashed: Joe Griffith, John Prather, and Nick Galauxy.

I made a total of 24 kingdoms for this tournament, 8 of which were designed. The spreadsheet containing those kingdoms along with other tournament information can be found here. Tables 1 through 7 saw play at the tournament, of which tables 1 through 4 were designed kingdoms (which I'll talk about below). The other four kingdoms I designed for the finals did not see play, but they're still in the spreadsheet if you want to try them out. I may make some content highlighting these kingdoms in the future but for this post I'll only talk about the ones that were played at the tournament.

It was a bit disappointing to have a lower turnout and not get to finish the tournament, but there were a lot of positive things about the way it turned out as well, which I'm trying to focus on. I'm considering a few updates to the way I run future tournaments based on what I learned from this, including adding Cartographer to my ban list due to it taking a while to resolve IRL, sticking more rigidly to a time schedule than before, and moving my tournaments to a Spring/Fall cycle rather than a Winter/Summer cycle to avoid situations like this in the future. I also still hold out hope that the next tournament I host can be done at Origins in Columbus this summer, but a lot still has to go right for that to work out so I won't promise anything just yet.

Now, let's look into the four designed kingdoms that saw play in the tournament:

Table 1: Embargo, University, Castles, Shanty Town, Cutpurse, Treasure Map, Tragic Hero, Horn of Plenty, Swashbuckler, Bank; Sewers, Mission, Shelters

The concept here was to have weak draw and Sewers as the only thinning, and have the jankiest ways possible to enable it. You can trash a Hovel for Humble Castle, buy an Embargo or Treasure Map to trash them on-play, or potentially use Tragic Hero or Horn of Plenty's self-trash abilities to thin your deck here. I also put in a combination of University and Horn of Plenty to allow someone who uses this trashing to bypass the likely Embargo spam. Eventually you can build to a big turn centered around trashing Tragic Heroes for Horns of Plenty, which give you a bunch of Provinces. Marlene, who finished fifth in the tournament and was one win away from winning it all, managed to build this core of the deck, though I think she started going for points early enough that she only got two or three Provinces in a single turn. It was still a crushing victory for her.

Table 2: Courtyard, Pawn, Hamlet, Guide, Market Square, Workshop, Hideout, Cemetery, Sculptor, Inn; Bandit Fort, Triumph

Bandit Fort with no really good way to get Provinces without Silvers and Golds. Many people bit the bullet and went for Silvers and Golds anyways, and some people even won the game doing that. On the other hand, there are ways to enable big Triumph turns here despite the lack of any decent draw. It's possible to save up some Villager tokens from Sculptor plays on previous turns and spend them on Courtyards on a turn where you have a Ghost in play to gain a lot of cards on that turn and get one or two big Triumphs. A few people built this deck and had success with it as well.

It's a tough deck to pilot, though, because there are a lot of things that need to stay in balance in order to keep a deck that functions at all. You're gaining a lot of cards, so having the right number of Hideouts is important to keep the deck from getting too bloated and to make sure you can clean up the Silvers you need in the deck before the game is over. On your bigger turns you really want to be gaining as many cards as possible, so that means having a lot of Market Squares around for extra Copper buys, having some Estates or Cemeteries available to trash with Hideout and gain Curses, and enough Sculptors to keep gaining Silvers so that you can potentially get multiple Triumphs on those big turns.

It's not crazy to put together a deck that can get two 7-8-point Triumphs every two or three turns and stay viable here.

Table 3: Engineer, Lackeys, Haven, Steward, Inventor, Remodel, Patron, Catacombs, Courtier, Fairgrounds; Exploration, Canal

There were a few things I was designing around here. First, I wanted to make it good to open with Exploration. Second, I wanted more of a "puzzley" board. Third, I wanted to have a dynamic where you saved up and carefully managed Villager tokens. And fourth, I wanted it to have a Renaissance-heavy kick without feeling like a lot of other Renaissance-heavy games where you just rush for Inventors. What ended up happening was a board where there are a lot of possibilities for what to do, and after a lot of tweaking and playtesting, I think the best build looks like this:

Open Steward/Exploration. Get a single Patron while trashing with Steward, and pick up 3 Inventors and 3-4 Engineers. You'll want to be using your gainers for these things and give up your buys on a lot of turns to stockpile Villagers and Coffers so you can get a Canal (which still gives you the Exploration bonuses!) and ideally one Catacombs on top of that. Once you have all of this, you'll want to take one turn to shove as many Lackeys as possible into the deck so you have 15 or so Villagers, and then on the next turn spend them all on Lackeys and Catacombs to draw everything (and potentially overdraw so you can gain-and-play some stuff from your earlier Inventors), play your three Inventors so that Provinces only cost $4, then blow up your Engineers so they gain you two Provinces each. I was able to consistently empty the Provinces by turn 12 using this strategy.

I put in a few distractions here: Courtier/Patron is really nice because it lets your use Patron's reveal-ability along with giving you two of Courtier's bonuses, but it doesn't really help you build to this megaturn as fast so I don't think Courtier is worth getting. Fairgrounds is there mostly as a distraction, Haven usually isn't worth a buy, and originally I thought Remodel would be great in the deck but it turns out that Exploration is just a better opener and skipping over Remodel was part of the most efficient build I could come up with.

Ryan, the champion, is the only person I saw building this deck (though he made some variations on the build); he was able to get six Provinces in one turn with it.

Table 4: Fortune Teller, Tunnel, Warehouse, Conspirator, Scepter, Scholar, Legionary, Laboratory, Artisan, Grand Market; Capitalism, Star Chart

I've been holding on to the concept of this kingdom since early in the playtesting days for Renaissance: the core of the deck was to have a very short action phase where you just play a Scholar, and then in your buy phase, play all of your treasures, then play a Scepter as Scholar to reload and repeat. The deck needs quite a lot of help to function well, so I put it in here.

Star Chart ensures that you draw your Scholar every turn, which is really important. Capitalism can give you options for payload beyond just the basic treasures, and Legionary can give you an option against the other distractions I put in here: Laboratory, Warehouse and Tunnel, and Grand Market/Conspirator can build a decent deck, but it still has reliability issues because of Legionary (Fortune Teller then Legionary, then Fortune Teller again is brutal for this deck) and the complete lack of trashing. The Scholar deck just doesn't care at all about getting hit by Legionary and has extra flexibility options because Scepter can be payload or more draw, whichever you need at the time. The Scholar deck can use Tunnel pretty well if it needs to, and there are still some crunchy decisions about whether or not you want to play your Coppers on a given turn, since you need at least a few Grand Markets in the deck for your Scepters to copy as it's the only +Buy.

I saw a lot of people going for the distractions I put in, and a few people go for some of the Capitalism tricks I described, but nobody fully committed to the Scholar-for-draw plan during the tournament.

I want to thank everyone who was brave enough to come out for the tournament, especially whose who travelled in. It means a lot that there are this many people enthusiastic enough about the game and these tournaments that they'll brave the elements for one of these. I'm looking forward to putting more of these on in the future!

This episode of Making Luck has an interview with Ryan, the winner of this tournament, starting at 13:40.