Woodcutter is the most niche card in the base set. Its +Buy can be critical if (and this is a big if) you can make use of it and no superior alternatives exist. But with one major exception, Woodcutter almost always ends up being the least-bought Action on the table.
The value of +Buy is often underrated; in evenly-matched 2-player games, having an extra Buy gives you an important tactical edge. Even if you can’t afford to double-Province, the ability to buy the last Province with an additional Estate forces your opponent to hesitate before buying the penultimate Province; your ability to squeeze in an extra Victory card can mean the difference in an otherwise symmetrical game. Alternatively, extra Buys are important to soak up free Peddlers if they are available, or to make use of Hoard‘s Gold-gaining ability. (Note that Goons and Bridge strategies do not want Woodcutters, since more terminal Actions just means fewer Goons or Bridges getting played.)
The problem is that Woodcutter is pretty much the worst card possible for getting this Buy. By the time you’re in a position to need extra Buys, you almost certainly have the money to afford one of the far superior sources of +Buy: Festival, Goons, Market, Salvager, Wharf. Even Baron, Contraband, and Trade Route at least serve useful early game purposes; unlike all the other sources of +Buy, Woodcutter is just never worthwhile outside of its +Buy. Accordingly, Woodcutter is strictly a last resort, a source of +Buy if nothing better is available. (If you do conclude that you’ll need its Buy, then it’s probably better to buy it earlier rather than later, so you don’t have to look foolish spending $8 on a Woodcutter.)
This is assuming, of course, that extra Buys are useful enough to justify spending an Action on. If they aren’t (for instance, in low-quality or Action-poor decks), then buying Woodcutter is simply a mistake. Although there are certain decks that make use of money-providing Actions (e.g., a double Tactician deck that King’s Courts Actions for money before discarding for Tactician every turn, or a deck crammed with Villages and defending against Pirate Ships), Woodcutter is (again) usually the least helpful of the cheap Actions that give +$2 (e.g., Swindler, Chancellor, Steward, Militia).
However, there is one situation where Woodcutter absolutely shines: when Gardens are available. Along with Workshop, Woodcutter is one of the two trigger cards for a Gardens strategy; although it doesn’t guarantee a Gardens like Workshop does, it allows you to grab Duchies to compensate. In a head-to-head battle, Workshop-Gardens is probably slightly superior to Woodcutter-Gardens, but either of them dominates “normal” decks by ending the game on piles before the opponent can get his engine humming.
- Peddler, Hoard, and other decks that call for +Buy if there are no better alternatives
- Decks that need money-providing Actions and the lack of any other alternatives
- Any other source of +Buy
- A lack of need for +Buy