The Five Worst $5 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.

The bad $5 cards tend to be bad in a different way from the bad $4 and $3’s.  None of them are actually that bad for your deck (well, except maybe Saboteur), since most of them are strictly superior to Silver.  It’s only when you start comparing them to the good $5’s that you realize just how steep their opportunity cost is: I’m happy to get all my Silvers swapped for Stashes, but I would infinitely prefer Mountebanks instead.

Counting House

Dominion: Prosperity

Honorable Mention: Counting House

I hate putting this on here, since hey, it’s a specialized strategy, and if you try to add Counting House to a normal strategy of course it won’t work well.  But it’s really, really hard to get a decent Counting House engine going.  Warehouse is about your best option, but without +Buy, it’s difficult to find turns to buy Copper, which means you aren’t ever going to get more than $7 from Counting House.  And while that sounds like a lot, it really isn’t if you have no other source of money!  It does counter Mountebank decently, and is of course immune to handsize-decreasing attacks.  But it’s rarely the best strategy on the board.

 

Mine

Dominion

5. Mine

It got a boost in Prosperity, but without Platinums, it’s just far too slow.  Trash your Coppers … one at a time … to get Silvers.  With any half-decent trashing, you’re better off just trashing your Coppers altogether.  In an extremely Action-rich environment, it can be useful to upgrade all your Treasures very slowly, but you might as well just use Expand instead.  Most of the trash-for-benefit Actions are nice for the flexibility they give you in the endgame; Mine does no such thing, and in fact gets worse and worse as the game goes on: if you don’t see the card again, Mine is a Copper you have to spend an Action on.

 

 

Contraband

Dominion: Prosperity

4. Contraband

Incredibly dangerous.  It’s excellent when there are multiple good options at $6+, but when there isn’t, it’s trivial to shut down a Contraband player by repeatedly denying Gold.  If you can survive that, you’ll find yourself in late game wishing your Contrabands were just Coppers, since Contrabands are unplayable anyway lest you get blocked from Provinces.  The +Buy is nice, and can be helpful in setting up cheap Action chains, but one Gold is almost always going to be preferable to two Villages.

 

 

 

Explorer

Dominion: Seaside

3. Explorer

Borderline in Province games, near-useless in Colony games, and totally smoked by Hoard.  Admittedly, very few $5 cards give +$3, but it’s too difficult to get that all lined up.  If you’re saturated with Provinces, you should probably be buying Duchies; if you have great draw, then you should have probably gotten another draw engine component instead of the Explorer, and the Gold is probably just going to gum up your engine anyway.  So you have to get this early, and then it’s just basically a Silver-gaining machine that gets a little better in the late game, assuming you can compete for Provinces with a Silver-based deck.

 

Stash

Promotional

2. Stash

Many of the $5 Kingdom cards are “Silver-with-a-benefit” cards.  Stash is one of them, but got stuck with pretty much the worst benefit.  You can’t move it around your deck whenever you please — only when you shuffle — so it’s difficult to make an informed decision as to where to put it.   They get a little better with multiple copies, since you can stack them all together to get a Province, but then you’re running a Silver-based deck: good luck in Colony games, or trying to deal with any handsize-affecting attack whatsoever.  Not to mention their unique backs make it easy for people to mess with you.

 

 

Saboteur

Dominion: Intrigue

1. Saboteur

Maybe this isn’t really the absolute worst $5 card, but it’s got all the X-factors working against it: wildly overrated, leads to groupthink, encourages an unfun game, high-variance, even makes people quit playing Dominion.  There’s a (very small) strategy space around this card in advanced games, but I think (like Possession), Saboteur should probably be taken out of beginner games until they gain a greater appreciation for when exactly to use it.  There’s a reason why it has the highest “win rate without” out of all the $5’s.

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118 Responses to The Five Worst $5 Cards

  1. kn1tt3r says:

    I think Stash is only(!) useful if you buy exactly 4 copies of it, and only if you buy them relentlessly (as soon as possible, even for $6 or $7). With decent cyling accelerators (Chancellor, Warehouse…) it’s a strategy quite hard to beat (of course only in Province games – except for some Chancellor rushs maybe).
    Sure, if you just buy 1-3 Stashs it’s an awful card – but that’s true for any badly applied card.

    • Personman says:

      Stash combo can be really strong, strong enough that I’m not sure it belongs here. I would swap it with Counting House, I’m pretty sure there are way more spreads where Stash combo is viable than there are where Counting House is viable.

      • mojosmitty says:

        I concur, I would put stash as honorable mention over counting house (strictly province games). I have ran into more situations where stash is viable over counting house, both are not that great imho.

      • Keith says:

        Stash definitely has its place. There’s the obvious Chancellor combo (which gets boring fast), and I recently won a game with a Stash/Wishing Well deck (which was much more fun). But generally… the best you can do is clump them together. Not the best use of $5 buys.

  2. michaeljb says:

    When I was trying to figure what your picks for the worst $5’s were, I also considered Tribute and Outpost. I have had games where Outpost was awesome, but the same goes for every card you mention here; too often I find that drawing the 3 cards does little more than discard those same cards.
    Tribute’s never been that good for me, except in the obvious case where the dual type cards are on the table. Maybe I’ve just not been playing well with it. I guess I’ll have to wait for your card-specific article to figure it out :)
    On another note, I imagine it’d be pretty tough to pick out the best $5’s, but I’m looking forward to it…my quick guesses, why not:
    (in no particular order)
    Wharf
    Mountebank
    Minion
    Witch
    Venture

    • michaeljb says:

      ps I was going to mention, but forgot, that I once had a game with a double-Tactician + Outpost combo. That was lots of fun.

      • mojosmitty says:

        Did this involve Vault + Lab? Because I have done something very similar and utterly destroyed.

        • michaeljb says:

          No, Festival+Library. There were 2 turns at the end when I drew cards from Tactician1, played Outpost+Tactician2, then played Tactician1 in the Outpost turn, then on the turn after the 2nd round of that I won. There was also trashing help from Chapel. I got to 35 points after 16 turns, so it wasn’t as fast as some other Tactician decks I’ve played but it sure was fun combo-ing it with Outpost.

    • Personman says:

      Venture!? Over Tactician!? Maybe I seriously underestimate that card. Sure, it’s amazing if you buy a billion of them and trash all your other treasure, but Tactician feels like almost a must-buy in most spreads, while Venture goes unbought fairly often.

      • tlloyd says:

        I love the Venture more than I should, but there’s no way it’s better than Tactician, which should definitely be the #1 $5 card. Even without the Jedi-Master-level combos where you play multiple Tacticians in a turn or use Black Market to dump your treasure in between Tacticians, the Tactician makes every other strategy much much more powerful: trashing, chaining +actions/+cards, Big Money, you name it.

        • Mean Mr Mustard says:

          Any tips on solid Tactitian play?

          • Ithan says:

            First, look to Tactician on boards with no other +Buy. Mid-game, when you want to buy $5+ and Golds, you’re often better off skipping a $3 or $4 buy and keeping your deck lean. Tactician lets you discard that hand for a big one. It’s also great for getting fast Platinum.

            Second. it may be the only way to play two different terminal actions in a turn. It’s easier to draw and play one Tactician than two TRs or two KCs, and takes far fewer cards than a Village-based +Action, +Cards engine. This also goes for Cities, Bazaars, and Festivals because of the need for +2/3 Cards (Lab and Minion are better, obviously).

            Third, try to avoid losing that +Buy if you can. There’s several ways to get your $$ in the Action phase before playing the Tactician. +Action +$ cards are ideal: Lighthouse, Fish Village, Minions are nice (even Pawn!), and lots of the weaker chaining cards mentioned above play very well with Tactician, letting you get a few +$ together to get a silver or extra card (if you need it) before playing the Tactician, esp Treasury, because it comes back on your mega-turn. The +1 Action Market-types can get coin quickly. Village + Vault or Salvager gives you lots of money. Likewise, you can still play all your Upgrades before the Tactician.

            Fourth, manage your draw for the Tactician. Scout will pull the victory cards off the top of the deck, improving your next turn. Spy and Pearl Diver, Haven and Native Villages let you stockpile actions or treasure. If you have +Actions before the Tactician, Navigator is good.

            Fifth: crap turns. If you are faced with turn after turn of $3 no-combo deck-sapping crap, play Tactician. Curses, Copper, or VP bloat? Might as well play the Tactician, because you we’re going to do anything else useful. Militia, Goons, Three cards left? Tactician counters hand-reduction attacks. You’ll get revenge next turn.

            Finally, several already-good terminal action cards get even better in a Tactician turn, so don’t worry if they collide and you have to choose:
            Chapel: wow- more efficient deck thinning, and you still get another Action!
            Trading Post, Ambassador: efficiency – more likely to trash two junk cards.
            Vault: more is better!
            Goons: more +Buy, more Money, more VP. Play two the easy way for double VP with less deck-clutter! Also more likely you’ll pull your Watchtower with the Goons in a big hand.
            Forge: more choices and flexibility

            • Reyk says:

              “Vault: more is better!”

              That’s not the point. The point is that it works like Black Market + double Tactician and still gets you 8 money every turn (secret chamber alone can’t do this).

          • Stephen says:

            Best way to get a feel for Tactician — buy one as soon as you get $5, and play it every time you can (even give up hands with $6 or your cursing attack for it…). Also get some other good terminals so you can play them on your Tactician turn. Tactician is so powerful that it’s actually not that big a mistake to play this way.

          • chwhite says:

            Briefly: Vault, Festival and Black Market (or, really, any deck with lots of Actions that give money) are the obvious combos, letting you buy stuff even on the turns you discard your hand.

            Also: once you have these non-Treasure methods of getting money, buy a second (or even a third, if there’s not much trashing) Tactician. 10-card hands every turn! Tactician is also great in boards with no Village, since you now have exclusive access to +Actions on your Tactician turn.

            Tactician is a fantastic card, and I’ll buy it on just about any board that doesn’t have Posession.

        • dave glasser says:

          How do you play multiple Tacticians in a turn (getting the benefits more than once)? The only way I can think is if you play the first tactician as the first golem-hit card and the second golem-hit card gives you +card.

          • michaeljb says:

            The double-Tactician being discussed here is having 2 Tacticians in your deck, getting the benefit from one Tactician at the start of your turn and then playing the other Tactician at the end of your Action phase, so that you can end up starting every turn with +5 cards, etc.

            • dave glasser says:

              Ah, sure, but I was responding to “Jedi-Master-level combos where you play multiple Tacticians in a turn”.

              • michaeljb says:

                Oh right. Yeah, that needs Golem, and as far as I know there’s only been one case of that happening, and the guy who pulled it off basically spent the game building to where his deck could do that and lost because it took too long to set up. I think it’s somewhere in the comments on the Great Moments on Isotropic thread

      • Ithan says:

        Venture + Bank = Awesome

        Agreed, though Tactician is too good to avoid. It’s got +Buy, with more treasure to let you get consistently larger buys. It’s got and +Action, while reducing deck variance and VP clog, which means that you have less chance of a false start for your Action engine. It also promotes faster deck-cycling: you’ll draw 15 cards in 2 turns instead of 10, before +Cards+Actions.

        If you’re drawing your whole deck anyway, then sure, skip it, but on many boards it’s a lifesaver.

      • michaeljb says:

        I do often go for Tactician and it definitely is an awesome card. I probably should have guessed it instead :P
        Maybe it’s just because lately when Venture’s come up I’ve been more consciously going for it than I did before, and often times it’s payed off. Tactician is the better card, but I guess I’ve been having more fun with Venture lately :)
        So let’s change my list to include Tactician over Venture.

  3. First says:

    In my opinion, contraband is better than royal seal. I see many reasons to buy it (platinum game, many good cards, lack of +buy, way to trash it), but I only buy royal seal if there is no other $5 or if I don’t want more terminal action.

    I agree with michaeljb’s point on Tribute. It’s just too random and unreliable; it is bad early(hitting 2 coppers is worth $2), very bad in a curse game, +2$+2action is worse than festival, +2card+2action is a lab+, +4$ is less likely. Maybe it’s good as an attack card ? Still, it depends on pure luck.

    For the best $5 cards, I guess minion, wharf and city would be on the list. Other cards I like are venture, mountebank, tactician, apprentice, torturer, but they are not as dominant as the first three.

    • First says:

      Ah, I forget Vault, definitely on the top 5 since it is so good that it gives your opponent some profit.

      • tlloyd says:

        Vault is invaluable when the Grand Market is in play. Torturer can be brutal, as can City but perhaps less often. I can’t think of a setup where I wouldn’t want a Tactician (although Possession sure makes me think twice).

        By the way, Theory, is there any effort as part of these posts to include alchemy cards? Clearly they don’t costs a straight # of coins, but some of them deserve to be recognized on “Best” and “Worst” lists.

    • DG says:

      Contraband will often fail the “worse than silver”test and can single handedly lose you games. That’s a pretty poor recommendation for a 5 cost treasure card. The best time to buy one is when you can mine/expand/upgrade it into something better.

      • mojosmitty says:

        Agreed. I never touch the card unless I can expand/upgrade it mid game and there’s an action/card drawing engine on the board (to make sure I can trash it mid game).
        In that specific scenario though, I think it’s a great card to build your deck quick to where you want it.

      • Ithan says:

        Contraband is the only Treasure with +Buy. That makes it very useful if +Buy is limited on the board, but there’s lots of other good cheap cards – or if you just want lots of +Buy (goons? gardens?)

        If Stash had +Buy, it’d be awesome.

    • chwhite says:

      Tribute is a luck-frustrating and below-average card, but there are two situations in which it is worth a buy: 1) games with dual-color cards, 2) games with a lot of really good Actions but no reliable Village.

      As for the best $5s, I think Mountebank and Minion absolutely have to be the top two. I’d probably put Tactician and Vault on there, and contenders last spot might be Torturer, Apprentice, Wharf, Witch, and Festival. Festival is not, by itself, the most flashy or dominant card, but it is useful on just about every single board, and it turns many other cards, esp. Tactician/Watchtower/Library/Goons into absolute juggernauts. I know a lot of people like Venture, but I’ve never been able to get it to work well.

      • chwhite says:

        Contenders *for* the last spot, even.

      • michaeljb says:

        But if there’s no reliable Village, a smart player won’t stock up on lots of terminal actions, yet using Tribute as a Village requires the other player stocking up on lots of Actions so the Tribute will actually hit them…so in the end it seems like it’s best for both players to ignore Tribute and have few terminal actions, or for both to get lots of actions and Tributes.

        • chwhite says:

          Yeah, using Tribute in this manner can be dangerous if the other player decides to ignore most Actions, so I wouldn’t want to go *too* action-happy in this scenario. Of course, if the other player ignores most Actions and goes Big Money, that also increases the chance of your Tribute becoming +4$, which is nothing to sneeze at.

          Obviously, using Tribute as your +Actions source requires *really good* terminals, and you’re never that happy to do it. But it’s sometimes necessary.

          • chwhite says:

            This is the most recent example I can find of a game in which using Tributes for +Actions was important. Obviously, it helped that both my opponent and I went that route:

            http://councilroom.com/game?game_id=game-20110322-192910-8ac6459f.html

          • Ithan says:

            Tribute is a mirror. If you and your opponent are pursuing similar strategies, it gets better. If both players are heavy on actions, it’ll probably give +4 Action – which you want to play all the actions in your hand. If both are heavy on treasure, it’ll give you +4 cards – again, great because most of your cards are treasure too, so you get big money.

            You just can’t rely on it for +Action if it’s the only source of +Action on the board. The risk of it being terminal (and turn-killing) is too great.

            You can reduce this risk by playing Spies to ensure your opponent has an action on top. Also, any +2 action card you can play before the Tribute takes a LOT of the risk away from Tribute. That includes Native Village, Fishing Village, Caravan, or playing it on a Tactician turn.

            • tlloyd says:

              Just theorizing here, but it seems that Tribute could be good with Nobles (and to a lesser extent Steward, Minion and other cards that give you options when you play–i.e., Intrigue cards). Start Nobles for Actions, then Tribute. If you get lots of cards, use Nobles for the actions. Lots of actions, use Nobles for cards.

              That said, I never seem to do very well with Tribute, although it always seems very effective for my opponent. Somehow the other guy’s Tribute always seems to pull my platinum and leave my estates. I have a similar complaint about Minion.

              • Ithan says:

                If Nobles is on the board, Tribute rocks. Your Nobles give you the +2 Action that neutralizes the risk of a terminal Tribute, and if you draw Nobles, that’s +2 Actions AND +2 Cards. Very nice…

                As for Minion, Tribute is not as good, because it will kill your turn. Also, your opponent is more likely to have a thin deck with low card diversity (many of which are Minions), making it more likely that you’ll draw two of the same card.

            • theory says:

              To nitpick: If your opponent is Treasure-heavy you will get +$4 from the Tribute, not +4 Cards.

      • tlloyd says:

        I don’t think Mountebank is stronger than Tactician, though I think it’s close and certainly don’t have any strong arguments one way or the other.

        As for Minion (which I love), I can’t see any argument for it being better than Tactician. Minion may be close to a must-buy, but that’s because you can’t let your opponent get a majority of them. So the Minions often split 5/5 or 4/6, and thus seldome determine the outcome. I’ll grant that 8 Minions are better than a single Tactician, but 1 for 1 the Tactician is a stronger card.

        But why pit Minion and Tactician against each other, when they are THE BEST COMBO EVER! Okay, I got a little excited there. But seriously Minion + Tactician is a dream come true. Get as many Minions as you can and at least two Tacticians. After you’ve played your first Tactician, every turn from there on out should begin and end with a Tactician, with plenty of Minion-money to play in between.

  4. tlloyd says:

    I think it’s important to remember that even the worst $5 cards are useful in some circumstances. It’s just that the competition at $5 is really really strong.

    That being said, I think you’ve undervalued Mine–or at least overstated how overvalued it is. :D Sure the Expand provides a similar benefit (though not truly the same, since Mine returns the “Expanded” treasure to your hand) with greater flexibility, but there’s a reason the Expand costs $7! In general saying one card is better than another really only means much when both are on the table, but I find it particularly silly to argue that a $5 card isn’t that good because a $7 card is better.

    You do make some strong points about the Mine. Absent a KC it is a painfully slow way to trash junk and get good money–even taking into consideration that you’re doing both at the same time. The key with Mine is to take it early so it can pay off over the course of a game, but to use something better to clear out the copper. Thus I think on a $5/$2 split, Mine/Chapel could be a very strong opening.

    • tlloyd says:

      Just tried this playing solitaire on Isotropic. Got $5/$2 and opened Mine/Chapel. Bought Provinces on turns 8, 10, 11, and 12. Next three turns were Duchy, Duchy, Province.

    • ipofanes says:

      It is not mentioned here that you gain the Mined card in your hand, which is a serious benefit over Expand.

      • theory says:

        Is it that big a deal? It’s basically +$1, sometimes +$2. Would you get (a slightly cheaper) Expand if it required you to only trash/gain Treasures but gave you +$1?

        • DStu says:

          No, it’s not only + the difference $1-$2 of the card, but its +the value of the new card. If you expand the Gold to a Platinum, the Platium is in the discard, if you mine it, it’s in your hand. So Mine is +$5 compared to an Expand in this case.

        • ipofanes says:

          ok, say I have a Silver and a Mine. After Mining a Silver I can spend + €3.

          In contrast, say I have an Expand that gives you an additional +€1. After using this on a Silver I can spend +€1. If I can use Expand on a Kingdom card instead, I can spend the total of +€3, but cannot use the Kingdom Card in the same move. I have Expanded some other than a Treasure card, which may or may not be better.

          Any card which gives you an additional €1 compared with another card (for instance Bazaar vs Village) would be worth 1 or 2 more, so a money-granting Expand would be worth €8 or €9. If its scope is restricted to Treasure cards, it’d be worth considerably less, but €3 or €4 less sounds about right.

          You are definitely more savvy slicing and dicing the isotropic game logs so you can filter faster than me how often Expand is used on Treasure cards, but I’d think more than 30 per cent of the time.

        • theory says:

          You guys are both right! My mistake.

  5. tlloyd says:

    Miscellaneous Questions:
    1. Has anyone tried using Counting House in order to trash coppers, not spend them? Early on this is probably more trouble than it’s worth, so I guess this would be in response to Mountebank/Ambassador attacks.

    2. Has anyone come up with a useful way to use the Stash ability other than putting them all together on top of your deck? I just love in the card explanation how it contemplates all these different ways you might arrange them in your deck, and most don’t seem all that helpful.

    3. Anyone ever pull the KC-KC-Explorer-Province-Bishop combo on Theory? That’ll learn him some respect… :D

    • DStu says:

      3. Anyone ever pull the KC-KC-Explorer-Province-Bishop combo on Theory? That’ll learn him some respect… :D

      don’t know, but at least rrenaud beat him with 21 Explorers in one turn, doesn’t seem to impress him…

    • Ola says:

      It’s a great combo, but I see one glaring flaw: it doesn’t finish the game. You can only finish the Gold pile that way. So, while you do gain 12vp per turn, your opponent has plenty of time to set up an engine gaining even more than that, and in the end he’ll beat you.
      What am I missing?

      • Thisisnotasmile says:

        When the golds run out, drop to Gold, Gold, Gold, Bishop, Province. That should do the trick.

      • tlloyd says:

        You’re right Ola. I’m used to 3- or 4-player games, where 12VP guaranteed every turn will win even in a Colony game.

        I think, depending on how quickly you got down to the 5-card deck, that 12VP per turn could be competitive in a 2-player Province game. Notice that simply buying a Province gives you an equivalent 12VP swing in a 2-player game. You’ve got one of the eight Provinces, so if he gets all the rest of them that only gives him a 36 VP lead on Provinces, which you make up with three CK-CK-Exp-Prov-Bish combos. And unless your opponent builds a deck that can buy multiple provinces at once, you should also be able to snag the last Province instead of running the combo, which will force your opponent to invest heavily in Duchies before buying the Penultimate Province. So as long as you get your deck down to the 5-card combo without too much delay, I doubt you’ll have much difficulty outpacing a Province + Duchy strategy.

    • Yariv says:

      If you have a wishing well in hand (or more than one) when reshuffling, you can arrange them for the wishing well. Other than that, I don’t see any reasonable way to play them apart from on the top of the deck. The main reason is that you might not know the positions of later hands in the deck due to actions that draw cards.

    • Ithan says:

      Stash:

      1. Defensive placement? Against top-deck attacks, place them in second position; Pirates and Thieves, place third; against Rabble, place fourth?

      2. Bottom placement for Pearl Divers?

      3. With +Action engines, too much treasure will clog you up. Ideally, you’ll draw Actions on top and treasures last. Stash does that, even if you play the whole deck every turn. Might help libraries.

      4. Use with Chancellor, wash-rinse-repeat. Might help gardens.

      • Reyk says:

        “Stash:

        1. Defensive placement? Against top-deck attacks, place them in second position; Pirates and Thieves, place third; against Rabble, place fourth?”

        The problem is not to place a single stash as you want draw four together. Add the fact that you often draw say 2 cards in the cleaning phase and have to add 3 after the shuffle. And it’s not so trivial anymore.

        • kn1tt3r says:

          Defensive placement? If you place your Stashes you usually get them into hand the very next turn, so attacks affecting your deck don’t matter anyway. One problem I ran into once was Maskerade when I had my 4 Stashes and a Province in hand, but in general there is no big danger regarding attacks.

          • Reyk says:

            “Defensive placement? If you place your Stashes you usually get them into hand the very next turn, so attacks affecting your deck don’t matter anyway. ”

            No, as you don’t want to add 3 stashes to an already drawn estate + copper. I’ve already answered this in my previous post:
            “Add the fact that you often draw say 2 cards in the cleaning phase and have to add 3 after the shuffle.”

          • Ithan says:

            Good points re: attacks. I overlooked the fact that you’d re-draw them immediately.

  6. Aeek says:

    I fear Swindler way more than Saboteur, being able to choose the replacement with the option of none more than makes up for the -2 replacement value.

  7. Eric S says:

    I definitely agree with Contraband being on this list in most games because its an easy way to shut yourself out of Provinces. But when I saw Dukes and Harems up for grabs as alternatives in this game I had to give Contraband a shot and it worked pretty well.

    http://dominion.isotropic.org/gamelog/201104/06/game-20110406-045925-0bc74144.html.gz

    Contraband/Duke is pretty effective if you can end the game on piles once the dukes and duchies sell out.

  8. EricTheRed says:

    The thing I love about Dominion, is how even the “worst” cards can be well used.

    For example… Saboteur.

    On my player page, it is one of my highest “win rate with” cards, and my highest “effect with” cards. (http://councilroom.com/popular_buys?player=ericthered) Meaning, on average, I have a much much greater chance of winning when buying this card than most other players on Dominion.

    This card can be absolutely brutal in a deck that allows you to play it each turn – or with an action engine that includes King’s Courts. I rarely, if ever, buy it – but there are decks and setups when it can destroy an opponent’s deck. For that, I’m glad you leave your disclaimer. I think, for the purposes of your list, it’s probably in the right place. Simply because the majority of players will buy this card too early (before developing buying power) or in the wrong type of deck (the best is a king’s court/action driven deck).

    • mojosmitty says:

      Far too often I see new players buy 5 Saboteurs as their first $5 cards, and the board isn’t even right for Sab at all (I made the same mistake when I started). Imo, it is an atrocious terminal, especially when you overload your deck with it. I agree that it is in the correct spot simply because newer players always get so excited about it, and then lose.

    • mojosmitty says:

      PS.. I too have a higher win rate with, than without. But I like you, buy it correctly in the right situation. http://councilroom.com/popular_buys?player=mojosmitty

  9. Yaron says:

    Excellent points.
    I think my metric for card quality is “how often would I buy this” rather than “how good is it when I do”, which leads to a somewhat different bottom 5 (in no particular order):

    Saboteur
    Outpost
    Counting House
    Explorer
    Tribute

    The first three are only good in very specific situations. Saboteur with KC against trimmed decks, or late against Provinces with Duchies gone; Outpost in dedicated trimmed engine decks that can reliably kick off from 3 cards; Counting House in weird situations I can’t even imagine.
    In any other situation, you’re better off getting Silver.

    Explorer and Tribute both let you have big dreams, but rarely deliver. Most of the time, you’ll draw your Explorer without a Province, or pull duplicates with Tribute (or just get 4 actions when you don’t need them, or no actions when you do need them). I’ve found myself wishing my Tribute was a Silver way too often.

    On the flip side, Mine and Stash are mediocre cards which rarely shine (especially Stash), but are correct acquisitions in many games. Mine is good with Platinum, and also in any game that’s going to run long (say, Curses without good trashing and no plausible 3-pile ending). If there’s no way to win quickly, it gives you staying power and inevitability. Stash, as you say, is just a Silver with a small benefit. That’s enough for me to (usually) get it over any of my bottom 5.

    Contraband is the only inclusion I strongly disagree with. When it’s bad, it’s worse than Silver, but quite often it’s a powerful way to jump-start your deck. You do have to get it early if you’re going to get it at all, and you don’t want to get more than one, except for extreme cases.
    There are 3 situations that make Contraband a choice worth considering:
    1. Colony Games.
    2. A viable $6 or $7 alternative to Gold: Nobles, Goons, Hoard, Forge, Expand, Bank, King’s Court (Grand Market is problematic: you can’t usually get it early).
    3. Some way of efficiently trashing your Contraband when you’re ready to go green: Salvager, Upgrade, Apprentice, Expand, Mine, maybe Remodel or Forge.

    Each of these situations is fairly common, and should make you at least consider an early Contraband (especially situation 2). Having situation 2 together with one of the others probably means that Contraband is key.

    • EricTheRed says:

      I agree 100% with your analysis. Especially your choice of 5.

    • mojosmitty says:

      Great analysis. Same as Eric, 100% agree.

    • Yariv says:

      Yaron, another thing that significantly improve mine is other treasures. Loan, for example, can be mined into a gold once you get rid of all the coppers. Talisman and quarry can be mined to gold as well, if you stopped gaining actions. Silvers can be mined to venture instead of Gold in many situations, and if you managed to get rid of your coppers it’s an obvious improvement. Even with potion you sometime want to turn it to Gold, or make a silver into one (this was a combo of the day once, right? I don’t think it’s significant, however). The additional treasures, not just the platinum, improved the mine by quite a lot.

  10. WanderingWinder says:

    Royal Seal doesn’t make this list?
    I almost never buy it, and feel totally justified in that. I mean… it’s probably the card that I would buy least often, at least now (though my historical stats don’t QUITE back that up)

    • kn1tt3r says:

      I think Royal Seal is maybe a bit underrated. Being able to use just bought key cards in your very next turn is really good, especially in the early game. In this sense it’s somewhat comparable to Chancellor – it accelerates and gives you better, more stable turns.

      • DStu says:

        Oh it’s comparable to Chancellor. Then it must be really good *scnr*.

      • Personman says:

        I’ve always thought of Royal Seal as quite strong — it’s one of those cards that I always wish I could buy, only there’s probably some really fantastic 5 that it’s hard to justify passing up for it. Certainly not in the bottom 5 — looking over the list of 5s, I would say Duke, Upgrade, Tribute, Merchant Ship, and Outpost are all roughly in a tier with Royal Seal — not nearly as bad as the ones on this list, but still usually outclassed by the really good 5s.

        • chwhite says:

          I think Upgrade is much better than the other cards you mentioned- trash-for-benefit is always good, and it’s the only one which is “free” (+1 Card +1 Action). I also think it combos well with itself, and is quite potent on boards with $7 cards. Probably not a top-5 5-coster, but IMO top 10.

          Agree on Royal Seal though- I like the power, and it never hurts to have one around, but I’m not going to pass up at power 5 for it. (Well, I’d probably get a Seal rather than a third Witch, but you know what I mean.)

          • Stephen says:

            Upgrade is not quite “free” — you don’t have the option to not trash, so your handsize is always reduced by 1 after you play it. There are some nightmare lategame situations (play upgrade, draw province-province-gold-gold-gold)

            • tlloyd says:

              That’s not a true nightmare scenario in the endgame. You only drew 1 card with the Upgrade, which means you already had the other four when you played it. If you already had 3 Golds (and drew the second Province), then you’re stupid and greedy to play the Upgrade (I speak as someone who’s been guilty of this), when you already had the money to buy a Province. If you only had two Golds and two Provinces, you should know that playing the Upgrade won’t net you a Province! So unless you’re already ahead an are trying to end the game by burning a Province, playing Upgrade in the scenario you imagine is foolish. Late in the game you should only play Upgrade if the card you want/are willing to trash is in your hand. Either buy the Province (if you had 3 Golds) or buy the Duchy (if you had 2).

              • Stephen says:

                Yeah — my point is that unlike other “free” cards (such as pearl diver), you can’t always automatically play upgrade at any time you have a spare action.

  11. Chris says:

    I really enjoy counting house with Golem. It takes a few turns to get rolling, but then you’re a Province buying machine!

    Here’s the combo:
    Purchase 1 counting house as your only non-golem action card in the game.
    Purchase 1 copper at some point.
    Buy as many golems as makes sense. Typically you just buy a golem each time you can early. This usually involves buying a silver to two and a potion or two. I’ve found 3-4 golems is about right. Note that it wouldn’t be too hard to do math here to know the exact right number of things to buy, I obviosly haven’t done this.

    Then every time you draw a golem and don’t have your counting house in hand, you go through your entire deck looking for two non-golem actions, which means your discard pile automatically has all your copper (except for some that are in your hand, which you get to play anyway.)

    It’s a fun strategy! Though I’m not sure it’s competitive. I’ve used it to great effect in casual games.

  12. Shark_bait says:

    I think that the number of players also needs to be taken into consideration. A 4 player game with saboteur is in essence a 2 player player game with saboteur and kings court. This can completely decimate your deck if you don’t do something. Either by reaction cards or by fighting fire with fire (hope you can saboteur their saboteurs before your deck is in shambles).

    • mojosmitty says:

      I don’t think this is completely true. I have played several 4 player games when sab was on the board. I have been the only one to not go sab several times, and won. The people buying sab end up just sabing each others sabs, so it doesn’t get played as often as king’s court sab (again depends on the set).
      They end up with nothing in the end because they were fighting to win sabs, when really they should have been building there deck to buy some victory. The game usually ends in a 3 pile run out, and you win with 20 – 40 points.
      You end up surpassing them simply because there are no +actions, and sab is an inferior terminal in that situation.

    • Personman says:

      This is one of the most common misconceptions in Dominion — with the exception of Thief and Pirate Ship, attacks do not get stronger in multiplayer games. In fact, if the attack involves any randomness, it gets _weaker_. Any such attack has some probability p of improving your position against a given opponent. It only takes one person to beat you, so for any given play of a random attack, your odds of coming out ahead are actually p^n, where n is the number of players in the game. If you play Saboteur in a four player game and hit 2 provinces and the last player’s now-useless Moneylender, all else being equal, you’ll just lose to player 4 despite having gained a massive advantage over players 2 and 3.

      On the other hand, a deck that can consistently King’s Court a Saboteur is fairly high up there on the list of nasty things in Dominion, maybe even comparable to Torturer combo.

      • chwhite says:

        Curse-givers are definitely stronger with more players. In 2p, there are 5 curses per player. This rises to nearly 7 with 3 and over 7 with 4.

        Hand-reduction attacks are not necessarily, in isolation, stronger in multiplayer. However, the more players that are investing in something like Militia or Goons, the more likely you are to be hit on your turn, so I do think that trying to simply ignore those attacks becomes weaker- which has the same effect as saying “the attack is stronger in multiplayer”.

        You do make a good point about Saboteur, one which sort-of applies to Swindler as well (though Swindler usually gives out curses as well, so I’d say that cancels out). And Minion is certainly better in 2p, because you want a lot of them, and that’s harder to do with 3 or 4 people buying Minions. But those are the exceptions.

        • rrenaud says:

          You have to deal with the attacks more in multiplayer. The number of attacks you deal with divided by the number of hands you get to play goes up.

          On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that you should be more focused on attacking. If three other plays have militias, the incremental value of your militia is pretty low. On the other hand, the incremental value of a watchtower or library is really high.

          As an extreme, I could easily believe that chapel/chapel (which seems crazy for 2er) beats 5 witch/chapel players.

        • guided says:

          “Curse-givers are definitely stronger with more players. In 2p, there are 5 curses per player. This rises to nearly 7 with 3 and over 7 with 4. ”

          This is an argument that curse-givers have a greater effect on multiplayer games where everybody buys them. It is absolutely not an argument that they are stronger to buy in multiplayer games. Indeed, cursing attacks are substantially weaker in multiplayer games, since you stand to gain less against the other players than in 2p. If I pass on Witch and you don’t in a 2p game, I get 10 more curses than than you, gg. If I pass on Witch while the other 3 players buy it in a 4p game, I can buy some other more immediately-useful card for $5+ and gain only 3-4 more curses than anyone else (instead of 10 more).

          In 2p, Witch is the closest thing to a must-buy there is. There are few Witch boards where it is anything but completely wrong to use your very first buy of $5 or more (even if it’s $8!) to purchase anything other than a Witch (or Mountebank). In multiplayer you can often ignore it so long as multiple other players buy it.

      • Hart says:

        As noted, curse givers get stronger with more players. I would also add that other attacks can become crushing in sequence. Cutpurse is the prime example here, moving from 5 to 4 or 6 to 4 is harsh. Moving from 5 to 2 is crushing. Other compounding attacks include Rabble, Bureaucrat, and Torturer. Each successive hit of a compounding attack is worse; the first torturer – meh drop two green cards, the second and third gain curses (or have no hand). There is a wealth of difference between playing hands at 5 useful cards, 4 useful cards, and lower. Some attacks have static effects, militia being obvious, sab less so. However for ones that compound, like cutpurse or torturer things do get worse each successive hit you make.

        Worse is the option for combination attacks. E.g. In two player you normally only see an opening cutpurse or an opening sea hag. You need to deal with lower cash payouts and with added curses. Once you start throwing in the expensive attacks, the synergy becomes extremely potent. Hitting ghost ship/swindler is a bit hard to do early game in 2 player; but it is trivially easy to do it in 4 player.

  13. cminus says:

    Like pretty much any card, I’ve found Mine is not only useful but even a good choice when the circumstances are right. The right circumstances primarily don’t involve trashing Copper — they involve trashing Silver. I’ve won games thanks to gradually replacing my startup Silver buys with Harems throughout the game; this gets you a jump on the Harems — a card that tends to wind up making the difference in a lot of close games — without expending a buy or diminishing your current buying power.

    Similarly, I’d also argue that Mine is one of the better ways to get rid of treasure buys that, like Silver, might make sense early but can be a drag on your deck later, such as Loan, Contraband, or Quarry. On the whole I’d prefer Apprentice for that purpose, but Mine’s ability to put the new card in your hand helps compensate for its inability to work on any sort of cards the way Expand does. With a +buy, Mine (Potion->Bank) is potentially a nifty little kata for those alchemy-heavy games where you can draw pretty much your entire hand by the endgame without being able to trash your Copper, for example.

    • Bob dole says:

      These are my thoughts exactly, Mine shines with prosperity because of all the different treasure cards, turning quarry, talisman and loan into something more usable at the end game.

    • ipofanes says:

      If you trash a Silver into a Harem, Mine becomes effectively “+2P”; is this better than Monument? Doubtful.

      Neither do I care to handle coppers with the mine, as I prefer alternating shitty with brilliant hands over a strain of mediocre hands, I use it to go Platinum fast.

      • cminus says:

        If you trash a Silver into a Harem, Mine becomes +2 VP — and two fewer VP available for any other player to get, since unlike VP counters Harems usually run out. In a two-player game with a race for the Harems, that’s a 4 VP swing.

        You’re right about not giving much attention to Coppers, though: in my experience Mine is best used for getting specialty cards, then Platinum, then Gold. Mining Copper into Silver is the least useful thing to do with a Mine that still improves your circumstances.

        • AJD says:

          Is mining copper into silver substantively worse than mining silver into gold? It seems to me it has the same effect on your expected money per turn, and mining copper into silver gives you a better chance of getting a grand market later on.

          • Stephen says:

            I’d say it depends on the set, but most sets favor mining silver->gold over copper->silver. As one example, having gold-gold-silver-copper-copper when your opponent plays a militia is much better than having silver-silver-silver-silver-silver.

          • Ithan says:

            Preserve your potential actions. If you have a trasher, then Mine silver to gold, and keep trashing coppers. If no trasher, mine copper to silver to reduce the chance of drawing the mine with no way to use it.

            • Amaranth says:

              My best recent Mine moment was using it on a Gold to turn it into a Horn of Plenty, and gaining a Province with the Horn.

  14. chwhite says:

    The top 3 here are also my top 3- I’ve occasionally had some success using Stash as a counter to Pirate Ship to supplement money-giving Actions, or as a random $5 buy on super-boring Smithy/Big Money boards, but overall it’s pretty weak. (I’m not even sold on Stash/Chancellor, despite liking Chancellor more than most here. I consider the primary use for Chancellor to be an opening with Silver/Potion on a board with Witch/Mountebank/Familiar/Minion and no good trashing). Explorer and Saboteur are probably the only two cards I won’t buy under any circumstances. (Even B-crat might have some use on boards which force a Gardens strategy.)

    Disagree on Mine and maybe Contraband, though- I actually tend to have a win rate much above normal when I play Mine. Both are situational cards that are probably worse than most 5s, but there are situations in which they shine. Contraband is *excellent* on Goons or Nobles boards, and Mine is usually worth a buy in boards with poor trashing and exotic treasures (esp. Harem or Platinum). Counting House is way worse than those two. I’d consider swapping in Outpost as well; it combos well with monoculture Minion decks, but monoculture Minion decks are going to win most 2p games anyway.

    • chwhite says:

      Duke is another card I have never had any success with; I might actually make that #5 with Outpost an honorable mention.

    • Zaphod says:

      I get the appeal of Contraband with Goons, because of the additional buy, but couldn’t a wary opponent simply forbid you from buying Coppers? In many cases, I think that would get in the way of using the extra buy.

      • chwhite says:

        The point of Contraband/Goons isn’t the extra buy on your Goons turn so much as the Goons being another good option at $6, ensuring you buy something wanted no matter what your opponent prohibits. (Oh no! I’ll have to take a Gold as a consolation prize!) It works the same with Nobles, Grand Market, etc. In this case, Contraband is mostly an early-game card used to quickly ramp up your buying power.

        • Zaphod says:

          Ah, that makes sense. Thanks for clarifying that.

          Actually, in that situation, I would prevent you from buying Goons. I’d be relatively happy to see you get a Gold instead.

          • I Eat Tables says:

            But then it depends where in the game you are. A frequent mistake one of my friends makes is to always get a Goons with his first $6 buy, when he’d have been much better off with a Gold.

            A lot of the time, it depends on the board as well as other factors, but still, getting Goons instead of a Gold and vice versa is generally not that bad a thing.

  15. ksf says:

    Duke is also at least as situational as Explorer. It’s more or less wholly irrelevant in a Colony game, and only comes in to play in a rather select set of circumstances otherwise. But anyone endorsed by Gene Chandler deserves to stay off the Worst of $5 list.

    • DRG says:

      If there is enough buying power, or upgrades, remodels, transmutes, etc you can’t ignore duke in colony games. I was getting crushed in colonies once and my opp ignored dukes/duchies, next thing he knew I had about 8 of each which is more than all 8 colonies.

  16. Saucery says:

    I would place mountebank, tactician, apprentice as my top $5 in that order. I dont think i’ve ever won a game ever by ignoring mountebank. Then again i havent run a gardens strategy against it.

  17. Hart says:

    In defense of Sab, I have won more games with buying that late than people might think. It is the pen-ultimate come from behind card; playing it off of mass spies, a combo with rabble/bureaucrat, or a 5 card thinned deck can decimate an opponent in record time. The key is not to buy it until you will it just about every turn and after your opponent can’t adapt.

    A few other nice counting house options: counting house/workers village/vault(or secret chamber) can let you rack up a game winning turn when everything hits; being able to raid your discard multiple times is just a bit fun. It is also a natural counter to cutpurse. In a game with 2 or more other players going cutpurse I will give serious thought to CH as my best possible deck accelerator.

    Stash. Wishing well is the best friend the stash ever had. Forget everything about reshuffling dynamics, you automatically know if the card is a stash or not so for a simple case wishing well becomes a cheap lab. Also when shuffling for a draw mid turn, stash can become extremely valuable for making precise money draws (say off a market) so you hit exactly 16, 11 or whatever coin total you want for maximum efficiency. Another combo that can work well for a stash/province game is loan. If you have no other treasure in your deck (which loan will do for you), then whenever you hit your single loan, the next turn is a province (requires 5 stashes). Stash also works well as cash for building a scrying pool engine. Bottom deck it to increase odds of big pool draws and then use engine cards drawn with the pool (e.g. village/smithy) to get the cash for a big turn. Lastly, stash great for a venture deck. Outside of banks, stash make the best terminals for ventures; you can always be sure to hit all your ventures before hitting a stash. This allows you to build a venture/stash colony engine or a faster province engine.

  18. guided says:

    Top 5:

    Mountebank
    Witch
    —who cares what else—

    …OK, you twisted my arm: Wharf, Torturer, and either Minion or Tactician. Trading Post is an elite opener but rapidly becomes less useful. Rabble is an excellent card for fully-formed draw engines since playing multiples will grind the opponent to a halt once they start trying to buy VP cards. Vault is absolutely elite in Province-focused big-money decks on action-poor boards but not so good on other boards.

    By the way, Outpost is a very good card. It is useful an order of magnitude more often than Counting House, and in situations where it’s useful it’s also much stronger. It’s one of the very best cards to put in a double-Tactician deck, and it’s great in any draw engine involving Caravan or Wharf. It’s even good in high-density engines with no duration cards. Outpost certainly wouldn’t make my top 5, but it doesn’t belong within a mile of the bottom 5.

    • tlloyd says:

      Guided – I agree with you! That’s . . . never happened before. ;)

      • guided says:

        Haha :D

        I forgot to mention: If Chancellor is an overrated-underrated card (weak players think it’s terrible, good players realize it’s useful, and great players realize it’s.. usually terrible), Treasury is an underrated-overrated card (weak players think it’s amazing, good players think it’s mediocre, and great players realize it’s excellent). The key to using Treasury well is to get one or two of them early and then use them to churn lots of good cards into your deck in the early/mid game. It’s not quite as critical to get early as Trading Post, but it’s another card that rapidly dwindles in value-for-$5 (aside from rare opportunities to build Goons or Bishop decks around it).

        • white_lancer says:

          I once dominated a game through buying Treasuries–I originally got them for help with buying Grand Markets, but I quickly discovered they were very helpful in getting me to Platinums. I nearly depleted the entire Platinum pile–the only problem was, I waited too long to start buying Colonies or Provinces over Platinums because I kept wanting to return the Treasuries to the top of the deck, so the game was closer than it should have been.

    • chieftains says:

      Here’s an example of an outpost/double tactician in a game I played with theory last night. I managed to hit the Tactician on my last 3 Outpost turns.

      http://councilroom.com/game?game_id=game-20110406-203959-b25b66c5.html

    • chwhite says:

      Vault is also a must-buy on Grand Market boards, since it guarantees you a GM every time you play it (assuming you haven’t been hit with Militia or something).

  19. Willvon says:

    I don’t have Seaside. So I can’t really speak from experience about Explorer, but the other cards are pretty good choices for worst $5 cards, except for one. Personally, I would buy Mine most any time before Tribute. I really do not like Tribute. It is way too random for me. At least 60% of the time or possibly more, when I have tried to use it, it does not give me what I need. If I need money, I get actions. If I need actions, I get money or cards. The only time I buy it now is if it is the only card in the deck that gives +2 actions. Even then, I would rather buy good +1 Action cards first if they are available. One too many times I have found myself with a Tribute and a good terminal in my hand that I really wanted to play. Do I play Tribute, hoping to get actions along with a little extra money or cards? Whenever I try it, the majority of the time, I don’t get to play that good terminal card I wanted to use. So I don’t use it, which means I have a wasted card in my hand taking up space because I’m afraid to use it. My wife, on the other hand, always buys Tribute. She doesn’t mind the randomness of it. She will purchase 3 or 4 of them in a game. At first, when she would play it, it bothered me because she sometimes hits a card that I was hoping to draw in my next hand, like a Platinum or a Goons. But then I began to appreciate it for the help it gives me in cycling through my deck. So personally, I avoid it if at all possible, but if my opponent wants to use it, thanks for cycling my deck for me.

  20. Jack Rudd says:

    I had a recent game where I was forever playing Throne Room – Throne Room – Tribute, thus turning my turn into a Random Effect Machine. I won the game, but whether it was as a result of that I do not know.

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