Dominion: Chapel

Chapel

Dominion

This is the best card in the game.

Simply put, no other card fundamentally alters the game as much as Chapel and its deceptively simple ability.  In the base game, Chapel was so important that Dominion was essentially two different games: “games with Chapel” and “games without Chapel”.  Later expansions have provided alternative trashing options, such that thin decks are no longer the exclusive hallmark of Chapel.  Nevertheless, Chapel continues to be the most efficient and most readily available trashing card.  Indeed, its presence seriously advantages players that begin with a $5/$2 split, since players that start with $4/$3 will readily forgo money to buy the Chapel on the $3 turn.

There are extraordinarily few situations where you shouldn’t purchase a Chapel on one of your first two turns.  Generally speaking, if there are no Reaction cards, then over-Chapeling is dangerous against the Thief (with support) and the Pirate Ship, especially in multiplayer games.  It is also dangerous when your opponent shows signs of pursuing Gardens; a good Gardens player can end the game before a fine-tuned Chapel engine kicks into high gear.  And Masqueraders might be able to force you into uncomfortable positions.  But even these situations do not call for forsaking Chapel per se, only judicious use of the Chapel.

Against Curse-giving attacks, it is even more crucial to Chapel as much as possible and as quickly as possible.  (If Reaction cards are present, then Chapeling is the first line of defense because it ensures that you can consistently draw your Moats or Watchtowers.)  It is completely untrue that Witch is weakened when Chapel is available; in fact, probably the opposite is true.  Being forced to trash Curses can slow you down just enough to fall insurmountably behind an opponent that is Witching and Chapeling at the same time.  (This is less of a concern when Colonies are in the game, since you’ll sometimes be able to catch up by the time the Colonies are contested.)  You should never need to get a second Chapel; if you do, that’s probably evidence that you didn’t Chapel fast enough early on.

Once past the early game, Chapel usually lies dormant, called upon only infrequently to defend against the odd Curse or Copper.  Goons decks are an exception, since you might want to buy Coppers for the VP tokens and then clear them out.  A particularly unlucky Hoard player might be forced to buy an Estate or two for Golds, and the Chapel can come in handy here.

Chapel even works well with other trashing cards (like Remodel or Salvager) since those cards can turn late-game Chapels into something useful.  (Loan and Lookout, of course, being exceptions.)  Remodel is particularly effective in Chapeled decks because it is more likely to convert good cards into even better cards, instead of Coppers into 2-cost junk.  Chapel does somewhat conflict with Forge, however, since Forge’s best ability isn’t gaining Victory cards but clearing out a ton of deck junk at once.

When actually Chapeling, you should almost always Chapel as much as you can in the early game.  (It is instructive that Donald X. noted that playtesters experimented with a Chapel that trashed only up to 3 cards, and “It was horrible. Just, way slower than the current version, like you wouldn’t believe.”)  The more you delay, the more difficult it is to streamline your deck.  If you draw the Chapel with 4 Coppers, you should have no hesitation about trashing them all.  If you opened with Silver, you should always be able to Chapel Coppers without fear of running out of money in your deck.  If you didn’t, be sure to pick up at least one Silver or other +$2 card on a non-Chapeling turn.

With a $3/$4 split, the other card you buy with Chapel is usually going to be Silver.  However, there are some actions that work very well with Chapel:

  • Cards that prevent your opponent from Chapeling well (e.g., Militia, Cutpurse, Sea Hag), especially if you are first player
  • Cards that boost you up quickly (e.g., Quarry, Mining Village, Feast sometimes)
  • Popular cards that will likely run out (e.g., Fishing Village, Caravan)

With a $5/$2, the Cursing attacks are absolutely devastating.  In their absence, look for cards that can bootstrap you up quickly (Merchant Ship, Vault), rather than cards that provide late game advantage (City).

One little trick in Chapel games is to spare a single Estate from being trashed.  A careless opponent, especially in a face-to-face game, will often overlook this, giving you a permanent tiebreaker at relatively minimal cost.  (This trick doesn’t work quite as well with other deck-thinning options like Salvager or Bishop, since there is no similar presumption that everyone has trashed all their Estates.)

(Update: see Donald X. Vaccarino’s response here.  I agree with his sentiment that although Chapel is the most powerful card in the game relative to its cost, it makes the game far better for it.)

Works with:

  • Remodel
  • Grand Market (sample game, featuring Quarries, where fast Chapeling of the Coppers gets to Grand Markets faster)
  • Adventurer / Venture
  • Other cards that indirectly depend on “high density” (e.g., Market)
  • Actions that depend on other Actions (e.g., Throne Room / King’s Court, Treasure Map)

Conflicts with:

  • Thief
  • Pirate Ship
  • Gardens
  • Moneylender (sometimes; if there is no way to Remodel the Moneylender, it’s an extra card to Chapel and you might draw it with the Chapel when you’d rather have a Silver for a $2 instead)
  • Mint‘s trashing ability, unless you can gain it instead of buying it
  • Cards that depend on a crappy deck (e.g., Coppersmith, Counting House, Loan, Lookout, Forge)
  • Many attacks hurt Chapeled decks more than un-Chapeled decks.  (E.g., Masquerade, Militia, Minion, Saboteur, Spy.)  But this is generally not a concern, since Chapeled decks will be so far ahead that they can usually shrug off these attacks and stay in front.
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39 Responses to Dominion: Chapel

  1. Reyk says:

    I think Chapel and Moneylender (instead of Chapel + Silver) as your first two buys is viable, if there is no good 2cost-card (like Haven, Cellar) that you would buy when drawing Chapel together with a Silver. In this case Silver would be a dead card too (just like Moneylender) as you don’t want to keep one Copper to buy another Silver for example.
    The reward might be especially high if festival (+ actions + money) is available and you can get it with a lucky Moneylender draw in turn 3 or 4. Of course the idea is to thin the deck even faster und trash moneylender after second use. And yes, it is risky ;)
    Good blog – thank you!

    • theory says:

      Excellent point. I used to always open Moneylender/Chapel in base, but I’ve been moving away from it as of late (partially because there are more viable $4 cards now, partially because I’ve been burned too many times). I’ll have to reconsider.

  2. Ryan says:

    I agree overall, but disagree with your very last point – that Minions hurt chapel decks more than un-chapeled decks. When you have a tight deck with all good cards and no junk, minion against you simply cycles your deck. Now it does decrease your hand size by one, but if the average value of your cards is high (which it will be), this will hurt you less than someone with a bloated deck with low average card value.

    • theory says:

      Hmm. I see what you’re saying, but my intuition is that with a bad deck, the kind scrounging for Estates, you can pretty much always get to $2 no matter what. Whereas with a deck striving for double Colonies/Provinces, it’s a lot harder if you start with just 4 cards.

  3. Twinge says:

    Anyone who would disagree that Chapel is the strongest card in the game hasn’t played enough Dominion.

    When we play with Chapel anymore, we only trash up to 3 cards instead of up to 4. This is a nice simple tweak to reduce just how strong it is, while still leaving it quite useful. (Changing the cost is bad because it only hurts in the cases where someone is buying a Chapel to get rid of curses/etc. – the case where Chapel is not at all too strong – and doesn’t slow down someone starting with it to trim their deck.)

    Supposedly it was too weak in playtesting only trashing 3, but I can only imagine they didn’t fully understand the power at the time.

    Also, I think the impact you take from leaving an Estate in your deck is MUCH worse than the extra point you’ll gain. Nicely trimmed decks might be only 10 cards of pure awesomeness + chapel — you don’t want a 2nd deck card gumming up the works, especially when you’ll already be gaining more dead victory cards soon. I am confident you’ll lose more games than you’ll win because of leaving that extra Estate in your deck.

    • theory says:

      I think that depends on your deck mechanism. In a Chapeled deck that runs on Fishing Village – Council Room – Cellar, the extra Estate doesn’t really matter. But if you have no +Cards and doing a Market or Conspirator strategy, yeah, I can see that being more of a liability.

    • theory says:

      Also, it’s amusing that in Donald’s Secret History he says, of the “trash 3 card version”: “It was horrible. Just, way slower than the current version, like you wouldn’t believe.”

      • themaroon says:

        He has to be simply incorrect there though. I often buy Steward and use it entirely for trashing until later. I’d gladly give up the later game utility for it to trash an extra card and it costs 3.

    • Ido says:

      “Supposedly it was too weak in playtesting only trashing 3, but I can only imagine they didn’t fully understand the power at the time.”

      I’m not sure what to think about this statement. Remember that “playtesting” lasted for more than a year before the base game was released, when dominion was just a private game played by donald and his friends. And donald himself said in some post on BGG that he still don’t think chapel is too powerful.

  4. Personman says:

    Because I can’t help but get caught up in debates about card quality — I think Goons might give Chapel a run for its money. They are very hard to compare, fulfilling utterly different roles in the game, but they are both game-warping cards that you essentially always buy. And maybe you can say Goons gets the edge since not only do you always buy it, you always want multiples.

    • theory says:

      I’ve never liked Goons as much as most people. Maybe I’m mistaken in this, but I always feel like its attack comes too late to be that helpful, and full use of its power requires either multiple Goons, a Watchtower, or a willingness to kill your deck.

      Of course, I lose a lot to Goons, so perhaps I should start buying Goons with my first $6 instead of Gold.

      • Reyk says:

        There are many possible combos:
        – multiple goons and village type cards + peddler -> buy many peddlers for VP without killing your deck
        – goons + counting house (better 2 of them) is awesome too -> buy many coppers obviously
        – Quarry and so on …

        • theory says:

          Oh absolutely. Watchtower is the best Goons combo, probably. It costs $6 and is really worth it. But there are certain sets where it doesn’t work as well, and for $6, it’s competing with some really good cards. (See, e.g., Hoard + Great Hall.) Whereas Chapel, on the first turn, has basically no competition.

      • themaroon says:

        People definitely go overboard killing their deck with copper for an extra vp, but the Goons is strong. Until near the end of the game that’s probably a big mistake. But Goons is still amazing. The attack is disruptive sometimes early and a lot of times mid to late if there is solid deck thinning and no draw chains.
        I don’t think it’s as game breaking as Chapel. The only cards I’ve found that you can not buy and still compete with as infrequently as you can Chapel are Pirate Ship and Tournament.

  5. Cait says:

    How much do you chapel in those beginning turns? I always know to buy a chapel right away because it’s so powerful but I never know how much can be safely thrown away in the first few turns. I get nervous about hurting myself more than I’m helping myself. I don’t think I’m using it right because I was surprised at the comment that the trash 3 is so different from the trash 4…I almost never use the full trash 4 =(

    • theory says:

      You should trash as much as possible and use the non-Chapel turns to buy Silver. Keep mental count of how many Coppers are in your deck, as you don’t really ever want to drop below a total of $3 in your deck. But once you get the initial Silver, you can start trashing more freely.

      The most common dilemmas involve when you draw the Chapel with Silver + 3 Copper, or Chapel + 4 Copper. The answer is always to trash, unless there’s an incredibly important $5 that you’d be passing up.

      • RichardMNixon says:

        I’ve just typically bought action cards I like on the 3/4 chapel split but I can see the merit in getting silver ASAP to be safer in trashing copper. I’d be curious as to what $3 or $4 cards you’d prefer over silver. Is it a long list or a short one?

        • theory says:

          I was typing a reply to this but I think it’s too long to include as a comment. I’m going to append it to the post above.

      • themaroon says:

        I think with Chapel+Silver+3 copper you can make an argument for trashing 2 copper and buying a silver. Mostly though you just curse your bad luck.

      • McWeary says:

        Should I trash all 3 estates as well? Let’s say I get Chapel/Silver/Estate*2/Copper. Am I trashing the two estates and buying a silver?

        • rrenaud says:

          If it’s the first time you get the chapel, I’d trash 2 estates and a copper, and buy nothing (or a useful $2, like pawn or lighthouse) if it’s available. The general rule of thumb is to trash as much copper/estate as possible while retaining at least $5 of buying power in your deck (theory says $3, but that might be too little).

          • WanderingWinder says:

            the exact amount varies a bit with what deck you want to build eventually – more enginey wants more trashing, generally, – and really on what you can potentially buy right now. I will save a copper or three if it gets me a card to potentially jumpstart my plan a bit sooner, especially if that plan will give me chances to trash those coppers again later. But chopping the estates early is pretty much a no-brainer, yes.

    • RichardMNixon says:

      I definitely used to be more conservative, never trashing more coppers than estates, and I cried bad luck when I never got two or more estates in my chapel hand. Then I realized that trashing more coppers also makes you more likely to draw estates with a chapel on subsequent hands, so it doesn’t really matter which order you trash them in as long as you do it ASAP. I would gladly trash 3 copper and an estate on my 3rd turn.

      • theory says:

        Heck I’d gladly trash 4 Coppers.

        • ddddddd says:

          Great article. This point was the main thing I hadn’t appreciated about Chapel.

          First time I saw it, I thought, “Why would you ever trash anything other than curses?” Then later, I though, “OK, maybe I’d trash the estates, but I need a fist full of yellow cards to get anywhere in this game”.
          Next time I play, I’m going to trash as much and as fast as possible.

          One question – How would your chapel strategy change (if at all) for multiplayer Dominion?

  6. Pingback: “Analyzing the Chapel” or Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics « Simulate Dominion

  7. avenger314 says:

    Chapel is indeed enjoyable.
    I find that my favorite combo with the Chapel are cycling cards. If I get a 5/2 split, I’ll buy a market if it’s available, or perhaps a treasury. This gives you the coins you need faster and guarantees that they’ll always be there, unlike with say silver.

    One card that worked extremely well for me against a Chapel deck is the Harem, believe it or not. It gave me juuuuust enough victory points without ruining my deck efficiency that I was able to prevail against a Chapel deck.

  8. Brian says:

    Chapel works amazing with Treasure Map. Just make sure not to trash more than 3 coppers before you buy your second map. Once you have it, trash everything and you’ll end up with a 5-card deck of Chapel and four Golds. It also works well if you throw in something with extra buys and something to draw cards once you start getting victory points, (wharf, and council room work great. Cellar, woodcutter, and market are good too). Or if remodel is on the table, grab it and remodel your golds into provinces.

  9. I find Steward a better choice than Chapel. The chances of having 4 cards to trash at once is practically impossible, plus there will be turns you won’t have anything bad or minor to trash. Steward on the other hand will aid you a bit whatever the situation.

    • WanderingWinder says:

      If you’re picking one up even a few turns into the game, yes, you’re right. But as an opener, chapel is just way better – you almost certainly will have 4 cards you want to trash, as you want to get rid of all your starting 10.

      • I’d rather use Remodel or Mine to turn them to something else than trash them in two rounds.

        • Reyk says:

          Don’t take this as an affront, but you might want to try the game a bit more and discover many many subtleties in the wonderful world of Dominion and later return to specific discussions. As it is preconditions are not even at all.
          You asked what Scout does – therefore I think you are only starting to play. Which is fine.
          WanderingWinder has played over 3000 games on Isotropic and is one of the best players out there. There are decks that can beat Chapel und WW is one of the first to try this (have a look: http://forum.dominionstrategy.com/index.php?topic=14.0).
          But you won’t succeed using remodel, stewart or even mine against chapel.

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  11. Anonymous says:

    Yesterday I managed a 19 turn victory in a Colony game after opening Chapel/Highway. Ended up with 6 Colonies! Definitely the best card in the game.

  12. Thorne says:

    I’m surprised you didn’t devote a paragraph to the enormous efficiency of buying Lab and Chapel on a 5/2 opening. In this case, I don’t trash the Coppers straight away, but exactly in balance to the Gold I’m acquiring so that I’ve always got 6 coin total in deck until all the opening cards are gone. (Thus, two Golds, the Chapel, and however many Labs got acquired in the process.) I virtually never lose with this, even against onslaughts of Curses.

    For my part, I’ll definitely still buy a Moneylender to speed up the above equation, and then Chapel it as soon as the last Copper is gone. But point being, Chapeling with a good cycler seems to me the most powerful fundamental strategy in Dominion.

  13. Moocher says:

    Chapel……..the only proper place to get rid of curses………..

  14. Admin says:

    Chapel is fine in 3-4 player games with good non-curse attacks as 2 or 3 good attacks early can devastate a chapel deck.

    The reason it really shines in two player games is because there are no good attacks against when the chapel player is vulnerable. Thief is just about unplayable in a two person game and pirate ship isn’t much better. Masquerade is probably the only card worth a damn.

    A thief with a masquerade passing mechanic could really balance out the decks.

  15. Ela says:

    I’m gonna get flamed for this, but I don’t think you should advise beginners to automatically buy Chapel unless they have a really clear idea of what they’re going to do. I played as a 1k pro against a 3k pro in a Chapel game – she got a Chapel and trashed her opening Estates, we each got four Provinces, and I won. Later, after reading your guide, the same thing happened in reverse on Adventures – I got a Chapel and trashed my opening Estates and lost by exactly 3 points. I can totally understand the uses of the card in Curse games and such and I don’t have much experience with decks other than base but for super-fast base games, as a novice, I have to recommend prioritizing other cards that get you immediate benefits.

    • Ela says:

      I guess what I’m really saying is if beginners should use Chapel then please give some more guidelines, because just about every time I’ve bought it it’s been a disaster.

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