The Five Best $4 Cards

Disclaimer: Dominion does a really great job of balancing its Kingdom cards. Pretty much every card has some situations where it shines, and some situations where it doesn’t. Nevertheless, some cards just end up being flat-out better than others, either because they are more useful more often, or just ridiculously good when they are useful. Don’t expect this list to be very scientific.

Choosing the best and worst $4 cards turned out to be quite a bit more difficult than the $3′s and $2′s.  There were quite a few great $4′s, and it took a lot of effort not to have a 10-card “Five Best” list.

Throne Room

Dominion

Honorable Mention: Throne Room

There were a bunch of candidates for this slot: Moneylender, Island, Remodel/Salvager, and even Treasure Map.   To be perfectly honest, you could substitute any of them here (or even in the top 5), and I couldn’t really argue with you.  But in the end, I went with Throne Room, for its Actionlicious combo potential.  The card was only bumped up to $4 at the last minute when Donald X. realized just how ridiculous $3 Throne Rooms could be in a heavy Action deck.   It lost some of its luster when King’s Court came out, especially since Throne Room sometimes leads to trouble when you do something like (Throne Room – Throne Room – Smithy) and then find yourself forced to Throne Room a Trading Post.  But Throne Room’s considerably more accessible price makes it much easier to pick up multiple copies and build lovely headache-inducing Throne Room recursion trees.  It makes certain cards really good (Conspirator, Shanty Town, Steward), and makes most of your attacks ridiculously painful (Sea Hag, Mountebank, Torturer).

 

Envoy

Dominion: Promo

5. Envoy

Really, this entry is for both Envoy and Smithy, which earn a joint #5 because of their impact on the game’s tempo. The presence of either of these cards gets the clock ticking: Big Money sets a 4-province baseline of ~17 turns, but Big Money + a single Smithy or Envoy cuts that down to ~14.5 turns and is more resilient to attacks to boot. Envoy and Smithy leave an indelible mark on Dominion strategy because their presence holds players to a higher standard: if you can’t get your deck together by that time, you’re going to get crushed.

On their own, of course, they’re also great, being the center of most +Actions/+Cards engines. Envoy gets the nod over Smithy, though, simply because the discard is usually not that big a deal compared to the benefit of drawing an extra card.

 

Caravan

Dominion: Seaside

4. Caravan

Pretty much the greatest cheap +1 Action / +1 Card in the game.   The appeal of this is absolutely obvious and incredibly easy to spam.  It makes cards like Ironworks and Talisman (almost) worthwhile: you can’t win by loading up on early Spies or Wishing Wells, but you can definitely win with a monster Caravan stack.   It’s especially nice with something to take advantage of your next ultra-turn (Bank, Forge, Vault), but there’s never anything wrong about increasing your handsize.

 

 

 

Militia

Dominion

3. Militia

In the base game, Militia was second behind Moneylender as the best $4.  But with subsequent expansions and more trashing ability, Moneylender has slipped behind Militia in many sets.  In the absence of trashing, I might still take Moneylender over Militia, but as a concession to my multiplayer readers (apparently some people play Dominion with more than 2 players!  Who knew?), Militia is a devastating opener, especially for those ahead in the turn order.  It dramatically changes the pace of the game, turning the first few turns into painful slogfests as players struggle to get to $5 and $6.  And it’s especially gratifying at the end of a Council Room chain.

 

Bishop

Dominion: Prosperity

2. Bishop

Usually cards that give benefits to your opponents are really, really powerful.  Bishop is no exception, and has the added benefit that its opponent-friendly effect goes away quickly after early game, especially in the presence of strong trashing.  In exchange for providing your opponent some minimal trashing, the typical Bishop will net you at least a Province’s worth of free VP chips.  You can build ridiculous five card decks with it (Bishop/Gold/Gold/Gold/Province), you can use it to dramatically exploit Quarry and Peddler‘s cost changes, or you can use it to grind up the crap that the Goons bring into your deck.  It’s a potent scoring card, and one of the most underrated openers.

 

Sea Hag

Dominion: Seaside

1. Sea Hag

I think $4 is the cheapest a Cursing attack could conceivably be, since opening with two Cursers seems like a ready-made recipe for a degenerate games.  As it stands, Sea Hag is already a near must-buy (especially in multiplayer games); without an easy way to trash the top of your deck (Upgrade, Lookout), its Cursing attack is the most powerful in the game.  It’s a god-awful card once the Curses have been handed out, and the only “dead-end” $4 card (providing zero benefit to your own deck), but its attack is so strong that like Ambassador, you pass it up at your peril.

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47 Responses to The Five Best $4 Cards

  1. Kevin says:

    Wow. Just wow. If I had to predict what this list would look like , I wouldn’t have come close. Comments on two of your inclusions:

    1. Bishop — Funny, I thought this card was great, then read some comments that the best way to play Bishop is to let your opponent buy it and enjoy the free trashing. And I started to try that in practice with some success. And now a comment that steers me the other way. How am I supposed to be a sheep if I keep getting led in different directions?

    2. Envoy — Never, ever, ever play with Envoy if your deck isn’t going to have lots of extra actions in it. Playing Envoy with no actions left is so much worse than Smithy it’s not even debatable. It’s powerful if you’ve just played your Village/Festival/etc., but otherwise it’s only good for passing by your money.

    • Frisk says:

      Re: Bishop, I have won by ignoring it, buying it early, and buying it late, and have lost to all of the same. My gut feel is that its good to buy it if there isn’t a need to race to something. But if there is a juicy combo on the board, i’d rather tech up first, and let my opponents bishop thin my deck for me.

      Re: Envoy – it is perfectly fine without actions… the super fast deck cycling is crazy. Who cares if they are tossing your gold, if you’re also picking up 3-4 coppers. The same could be said of any terminal actions that provide +card… they don’t work well with action heavy decks.

      • Tahtweasel says:

        He means that Envoy doesn’t play well with other actions unless they’re Village-types – which is true. If there’s no +2 actions card on the board, but you are buying a few other actions, Smithy is the right call.

        If you’re playing with no other actions, they’re about equal.

        If you’re playing with a decent village-type on the board, Envoy becomes preferable.

    • Shanty Conspiracy says:

      Bishop is a great defense against curse-giving attacks, because it lets you discard your curses for a net bonus of +3 VP each time. Also, if you let your opponent buy the curse-giving attacks, she might give in to the temptation to buy Bishops too–letting you trash your curses for free when she plays it.

      It’s also powerful in the late game if you’ve bought duchies, because you can trash a duchy for +3 VP (keeping the benefit of the duchy without letting it gum up your engine).

      I just won a game with all three of these benefits. My opponent bought 3 Bishops and 1 Young Witch; I bought 2 Bishops and no YW knowing that the more he cursed me, the more likely I’d have a curse in hand when he played his Bishops. I snapped up Minions and we both snapped up Great Halls and Villages to the point where there were 0, 3 and 2 left respectively. Then I started buying duchies and trashing them for +3 VP, balancing out the copper I bought with my Goons. Pretty soon there was 1 duchy, 1 estate, and 1 Great Hall left with two empty piles, and it was no longer mathematically possible for him to score enough points.

      http://dominion.isotropic.org/gamelog/201105/02/game-20110502-154350-b4d4c255.html.gz

      • chesskidnate says:

        Ironically I think that the setup that you showed might be a situation in which buying young witch is a very good idea and bishop doesn’t work amazingly as a counter. it seems that if he didn’t bother with bishops he could ensure that every time you trash a card he could as well and he could try to build a minion/goons/village deck(play goons through villages then minion for more cards) where his thinner deck would make it easier for him to get goons/other engine cards and making it easier for his combo to click. it would seem like using the buys on more goons/villages/minions or maybe some great halls would be able to outperform many other options. now the only reason I’m not sure about this working is that the bane card is pretty easy to spam so you may be able to avoid devastating hits but if you do it means that your buying a card that isn’t helping your immediat buying power to have a chance at blocking the attack, later game it might be worthwhile but I expect that you’d have too much junk by then.

  2. guided says:

    I still say Bishop is usually a bad opener. There is simply no other card I’m nearly as happy to see my opponent open with. The free trashing you give away is not a minor effect, and good opponents will beat you routinely using that free trashing.

    It’s a good card. I use it fairly often. But I almost never open with it, and I almost never lose if my opponent opens with it.

    • theory says:

      I thought this for a long time. Then I started actively playing with Bishop, and doing much better with it. Maybe the pendulum will swing back the other way, but I’m pretty happy to play Bishop especially when my opponent is Chapeling anyway.

      • Epoch says:

        Could this be a single-opponent/multi-opponent difference? Bishop seems worse in a four player game than in a two player game, and it seems considerably more likely in a four player game that you can get all the trashing you need by opponent-played Bishops.

        • DRG says:

          I almost never lose with bishop when the other person doesn’t get one. Village/bishop is even a reasonable opener when your opp goes sea hag or you are clearly going to receive curses, with the intent of quickly gaining more of both (obviously fishing village/bishop is better, and is a very strong opening on any board)
          Throw in peddler and something with +buys and +2 action cards, bishops and +buy is all you need, as peddlers produce a ridiculous number of VPs.

          All of the +vp chit cards are incredibly powerful if used properly.

          • Kn1tt3r says:

            IMO Village is almost never a good opener, and very rarely Fishing Village is. What for? To play all the numberous actions you have in your deck?

            • theory says:

              I think DRG’s intent is to draw Village/Bishop when the opponent has played Sea Hag, thereby allowing you to draw and trash the Curse immediately. It seems slightly dubious, but at least it’s better than the usual Village opening.

              Opening with Fishing Village, on the other hand, is a pretty good move when there are +Cards out and about. Fishing Villages run dry very quickly (especially in multiplayer) and it’s important to get your share.

              • DRG says:

                Cards like fishing village and lighthouse work a lot like a silver the turn after they’ve been played, on top of the additional benefits.
                This and the fact that they are much more useful than silver later will usually lead me to skipping silver all together when they are around. (Unless there are no draws/excellent terminals and no attack cards,respectively)
                Another bonus is if TR or KC is around you are more likely to pick up actions with them if you have more actions and less money in your deck.

          • Epoch says:

            I’m confused by why you posted that as a reply to me. Unless I’m missing something, the exchange went a little like this:

            Epoch: Maybe Bishop is good in 2 player games and bad in 4 player games? What do you think?
            DRG: Bishop is good in 2 player games!

            It doesn’t seem like you’re really addressing the question. Not that your post doesn’t have merits on its own, I just don’t get why you replied to me in particular.

  3. nemryn says:

    Note that, while Throne Rooming a Sea Hag or Torturer is indeed good, it’s not twice as good as the single attack. 2x Hag still only leaves one Curse on top, and double Torturer lets them take a Curse for the first one and then effectively discard only one card to the second one. (This is also true of Torturer / ‘village’ chains, but Throne Room means that they’re sure to see it coming.)

    • rrenaud says:

      On the other hand, a Throne Roomed Toturer could be more than twice as good as a single Torturer. Consider that a single Torturer might do no or little harm at all (opponent discards two estates), whereas a Throne Roomed Toturer could force the opponent to gain a curse or effectively lose their turn.

  4. Drew Hardin says:

    Just to cherrypick and show how dangerous data is:

    http://www.councilroom.com/win_weighted_accum_turn.html?cards=Throne%20Room,Village,Wishing%20Well

    A Best $4 is ‘universally’ worse than two of the Worst $3 if we take the graphs at face value. Quite surprising is the Wishing Well.

    • Drew Hardin says:

      Somebody is going to need to write a memo about how to make sure you link these properly.

      Compare the Throne Room, Village and Wishing Well.

      • theory says:

        Click the “get link” button. I assume you meant this link?

      • rrenaud says:

        What browser are you using? Like every other bad javascript developer, I only test on one browser. I’ve had bug reports that the get link button doesn’t work on firefox, and that the entire graph doesn’t render in Safari.

        Edit: I think I’ve fixed the problem on firefox, would be nice to get confirmation that it works for you now or else some information about your browser would be helpful.

    • RichardMNixon says:

      I could see Throne Room suffering excessively from poor play. I remember thinking it was the coolest thing ever when I first started playing, and I still occasionally see people buy it with a village on their first turns.

  5. Personman says:

    “you can’t win by loading up on early Spies or Wishing Wells”

    I disagree with the second half of this statement so, so much. I keep trying to convince people that Wishing Well is one of the most broken cards in dominion, but nobody listens… I wish I had kept that log of the game I played earlier this morning against Larry (ranked #13 on isotropic) in which I got a turn 6 platinum and then proceeded to get like 6 colonies to his 2 and some provinces. I had 6 wishing wells in my deck, and excluding the last time through my deck, they went off about 80% of the time. The card is really, really good if you’re willing to pay attention to what’s where in your deck.

    As for these 4s, I wouldn’t have thought of Sea Hag as #1, but I believe it. In general, these seem like fine choices. Part of me wants Bridge to get mentioned, because it’s so cool and has done things like let me buy five provinces in a turn, but it is much narrower than most of these and probably doesn’t really belong here.

    • theory says:

      I’ll have to give that a try. I’ve never actively tried with Wishing Well before. Then again, maybe Larry just sucks ;-)

      I did think about mentioning Bridge, but I didn’t know who to squeeze out for it. Consider this its mention: KC-KC-Bridge-Bridge-Bridge is the greatest 5 card hand in the game.

  6. DRG says:

    Except at the very beginning of the game, I think smithy is a more useful card than envoy, especially if you have no actions left when you play it (envoy is clearly better when all your cards are coppers and estates).

    As for the sea hag, it’s really a two-edged sword, where the benefit outweighs the fact that it helps you in no way and it has some pure counters (not just reaction cards).
    I steer clear of it when ambassador or masquerade is in play, and open with 2 ambassadors or masquerades if I think or see my opponent is getting a sea hag. Interesting that a 3-cost (ambassador) is better than the best 4 cost, no? Masquerade is a seriously hard counter to sea hag – lookout just trashes the curse that was just put on your deck, masquerade gives it right back to the guy who gave it to you, putting it in his hand (in 2 player games anyway, sucks for the guy who gets curses in hand and on top of his deck in multi player games when this happens).

    On the other hand, a turn 3 sea hag flipping the other guy’s sea hag with no trashing/ambassador in play is one of the things about dominion that really sucks, as not only is the game is already over, it’s going to take a long time.

    Bridge should have been the honorable mention imo, just because of what can happen with it in action chains including king’s courts, while it’s not that great if you can’t play more than one.

    • rrenaud says:

      One thing that is nice about Envoy over Smithy is that it’s easier to draw your whole deck with it. If you can draw your whole deck (minus the last card, which some +1 card/+1 action can pick up, hopefully), you get around the big disadvantage of the Envoy (you drew lots of cards, but none of them good), because you are left with all the nice cards together.

      I’d rather throne/throne/envoy than throne/throne/smithy.

      But yeah, Ambassador is crazy good.

  7. Celicath says:

    Well, Caravans are good, but I have seen many games where Caravans were slow, and I never saw where Caravan stack went that big.

    As a opener, when you need a boost to buy good cards early, Caravan is not going to help you much because your starting deck is full of Coppers and Estates.
    Also, Caravan does not “shine” as the game goes. To draw whole deck every turn, Caravan deck needs almost twice Caravans when compared to Laboratory deck. Variations of Village/Smithy combos are better when you need a large hand(two Caravans draws two cards next turn, while cheaper Village+Smithy draws two cards this turn). A few smithies might help you more than Caravans when you play similar to Big Money(possibly due to many cursing attacks). Conspirators are better when you can play enough actions.

    Just like Markets, Caravans have +1 Card and +1 Action on them, allowing them to be bought many copies. However, this also means that Caravans are not the best card to combo with.

    Of course, when Caravans are on the board, I’ll grab an Ironworks or two, and I’ll buy them whenever I have 4 coins to spend in the mid game. Also it might be the only non-terminal action or only way to increase your hand-size. However, I don’t think they are fast enough to rush and buy tons of them. Just my two cents though, as I don’t have detailed statistics of these cards, so I’d be happy to see some opinions about it.

    • Bulb says:

      1 Village/1 Smith is better than 2 Caravans, true.

      But if you have 4 Caravans in your deck, it doesn’t matter which 2 you draw in your hand. Whereas drawing 2 Smithies is not so good if you have no Villages in hand.

      So the fact that Caravan can combo on itself gives it a slight advantage over Village/Smithy, IMHO.

      • Ace says:

        You guys (in the above debate comparison) are also forgetting that caravan is a duration card – smithy is not. The added bonus of extra cards on your subsequent turn (especially if you have a lot of caravan cards in your deck) far outweighs the benefits of smithy, even when combined with numerous other cards. A good caravan + money deck is almost unbeatable in comparison because of it’s perpetuity factor that smithy does not accumulate . . . . .

        • WanderingWinder says:

          I must disagree. They obviously didn’t ignore the duration benefit of caravan – that’s the only reason you want the card at all! And because it’s a duration, it misses the reshuffle an awful lot. Furthermore, ‘a good caravan and money deck’ is not a very good deck.

  8. Nakamura says:

    Caravans are very powerful if throned. No one used a Smithy in this game.

    http://dominion.isotropic.org/gamelog/201102/07/game-20110207-144854-82e27654.html.gz

    • rrenaud says:

      The argument works better if someone plays smithy and loses to someone who uses exlusively caravans..

      • Nakamura says:

        …then the argument would be unrealistic . My friend would never avoid Caravans. Neither would I. Exclusively Caravans are no good, too. Maybe I could have bought one Smithy instead. But not 4. With 4 Caravans you are save. Smithy is chancy, unless you go for big money, which is boring and mediocre.

  9. nemryn says:

    Also note that if there aren’t any +2 Action cards available, you can Throne Room a +1 Action to simulate one. It’s not reliable, and not really worth specifically trying for, but it’s occasionally relevant.

    • DRG says:

      You can also just chain throne rooms together and not even need a +action. Throne/throne smithy allows you to play another throne then another 2 smithies, etc. This is easier to work with kings courts and wharves, but it’s the same principle.

  10. Kn1tt3r says:

    Very interesting list. I’ve never considered Sea Hag to be that strong since it doesn’t help your own deck at all and is dead after the curses have run out. Of course it depends on the number of non-terminals available, but w/o some +Actions i’d rather ignore Sea Hag and prefer terminals that push my own deck.
    Bishop is interesting too since i’ve read lots of different oppinions on this card (from ‘virtually unplayable (due to the opponent bonus)’ to ‘extremly strong’).

    • DRG says:

      If you can’t trash or defend the sea hag, and you ignore it, you will soon have 10 curses and no chance. There are many cards that can allow you to ignore it, however, including the counters discussed above, and better cursing options if you can get them quickly enough.

  11. fellowmartian says:

    Interesting list. I’ll have to try more with Envoy; I still mistrust it.

    Salvager is the one I’d vote for inclusion, and maybe not just in the honourable mention slot. Trash your Estates for some powerful early buys, get $6 instead of $3 from your Golds (or $9 instead of $5 for your Platinums) if you decide it’s the last time you’ll need them, replace your Sea Hag/Familiar/Moneylender with a late-game card halfway through, get value from times you might not have used a buy by buying something you can trash for its coin value later… it’s pretty versatile. And it keeps your opponent on their toes as they often can’t rule out a seriously good VP gain like a double-Province turn even when your deck wouldn’t otherwise warrant it, and so they have to watch what they’re leaving available to you more than they might have otherwise. Even at a pinch it can rid you of Coppers and Curses…

    • Rakunk says:

      I’m a relative new-comer to the game and all, but I was also surprised Salvager didn’t make the list.
      I have to definitely agree with everything you said and add…
      Opening: beyond trashing estates, the extra buy it gives is invaluable if you need a lighthouse or moat because your opponent bought an attack during one of his or her first two hands.
      Later in the game: if you have a VP advantage, you can use salvager to trash a province (or colony) and just get a replacement one with the bonus $ and buy. It isn’t a net gain, but it does accelerate the game and give your opponent less time to mount a comeback.

  12. Ido says:

    Bishop requires a lot of thought. Riding the benefit from other players’ bishops can be almost as good as buying one, especially in multiplayer games. You don’t waste a buy, you don’t waste actions and cards, and yet you can thin your deck. The VP advantage is the thing that can make you buy bishop anyway, but if you need to trash faster than your opponents, another trasher would be better.
    I once had a 3-players game with treasure maps and a lot of trashers, including mint (which synergizes really well with treasure map, nearly as much as warehouse I think). It was clear that we should all go for treasure map, so I figured out that the key for victory would be to trash faster than my opponents. It seemed that my opponents didn’t figure it out, as they each bought a bishop, while I got a moneylender and a maquerade (better to have both in the same hand than not have them when I need them). As expected, I got my treasure earlier and started rapidly duplicate golds with mint and buy colonies. Unfortunatly, one of my opponents had to go in the middle so the game didn’t end and we can’t know whether their vp coins were enough to offset my colony advantage. I think I would have won.

  13. Mark says:

    The best $4 card, bar none, is the Gardens. You agree not to buy them and I’ll gladly refrain from purchasing Sea Hags.

    • chesskidnate says:

      Of course if your gardens deck doesn’t have +buys costing 2-4 or workshop/ironworks then the truth is your gardens deck will have a tough time going anywhere and the sea hag will give you a tough time staying at a consistent 4$ for gardens. if theres workshop/ironworks I’d avoid sea hag and, unless there are other fast strategies(i.e. maybe salvager, quarry+buy with strong 5+actions, treasure map+warehouse, chapel(if colonies are out if not its a fair race) ,2 smithys+big money on a colony board would probably have chances, apprentice, minion with trashing) I’d probably lose. of course gardens works as a sort of counter to sea hag and many other decks would die from sea hag. so in direct competition between the two the gardens has times when it shines. The real problem is that so many things can beat gardens workshop(I think ironworks works better , especially with great halls) in colony games. And gardens/trashing(even then it’s tough) are the main things to beat sea hag(other then sea hags and other cursers). It really boils down to gardens needs support cards and colonies hurt it whereas sea hag is almost always a good buy. also note that going a gardens strategy your opponent might want to buy some so you dont get them all and then trash them(i.e. bishop/salvager/apprentice etc.) so in those cases the gardens strategy has a good chance of losing but if I can’t buy gardens it may be different. With 4 players and groupthink, however, I can see your post as justified(if three players are running out piles while one tries to get provs the piles players will probably win). also notably with more players sea hag becomes a little bit different, if one person has it then its similar to 2 player with one person getting sea hag. however if you’re playing against three opponents with sea hag and you buy cash then your getting ten curses (in about 4 shuffles) whereas your opponents are each getting around 6-7 so its more reasonable. The thing to note is that many people here play almost exclusively 2 player and I think many prefer colony games where you’d need a dang good reason to go gardens. As such gardens would be considered ok but not top 5.

    • Meej says:

      What I’m seeing from that is that a turn 1 or 2 buy of a Sea Hag has a higher overall win rate than any buy of a Gardens does… Not sure that’s really supporting your point.

    • Personman says:

      This seems like evidence against your point — Sea Hag on turn 1 or 2 has a higher win rate than Gardens at any future point. Perhaps you didn’t notice because the graph legend kind of covers it up?

  14. Ace says:

    Additionally, don’t forget the benefit of a heavy money deck coupled with Envoy – not sure that got mentioned anywhere in this forum. Envoy is also beneficial in use (versatility) with a multitude of different strategy decks; more so than many other cards in any deck. Envoy is one of my favorites in the game, and I have won many games by it’s employment. Don’t underestimate it’s value!

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