Exorcist and its Spooky Spirits

This article was written by Puzzle Box in collaboration with the Dominion Strategy blog team. Puzzle Box has been writing a lot lately; thanks for all of your contributions so far! – Chris

Exorcist is powerful and a unique variation on trash-for-benefit. It single-handedly offers trashing, draw, and a (quite unwieldy) source of actions, so its presence alone essentially guarantees the possibility of playing a controlled deck.

Because Exorcist is a Night card, it’s functionally nonterminal and synergizes well with terminal draw. Even normally-weak variations of terminal draw like Moat are effective to open alongside Exorcist. Exorcist is typically at its strongest when turning your Estates into Wisps, then trashing early cards (such as Silver) that have outlived their usefulness into Imps and Wisps. It can trash 0-cost cards such as Copper, Curse, and Ruins, but because it does not get any benefit for trashing these, it welcomes support from other trashers that can do so more efficiently. If you do intend to have Exorcist do all your trashing, consider picking up a second copy. That copy can become an Imp or Wisp when you’re done with it.

The Spirits

Will-o-Wisp

Will-o-Wisp is an innocuous but helpful source of draw, and with Exorcist, you can expect to gain at least a few from your starting Estates. Wisp is good when your cards are cheap, so it’s nice early on, but also means the more Wisps and Imps you get, the better your Wisps become. If an Exorcist is pumping out Spirits on repeat, consider taking Wisp over Imp once your Spirit count becomes high enough — Imp gets worse in multiples while Wisp gets better.

Imp

The first few copies of Imp you gain are excellent ways to draw cards, as the unique-card condition will be easy to satisfy. As you gain more, they act less like Lab and more like Moat, so they are far more impressive as a supporting card than as your primary source of draw. Carefully consider your sequencing of cantrips and draw to maximize your odds that the Imps can play them.In general you will want to play the cards you have many copies of and the biggest pieces of draw first to help line things up. Also note that actions that leave play (such as Distant Lands) can be played by Imp repeatedly in the same turn.

Ghost

I’ll put it bluntly — Ghost is weak and usually best avoided. The opportunity cost is typically very high, since having cards you don’t want that cost 5+ is rare. Additionally, the reward is dubious because Ghost is difficult to control and only operates every other turn. The one niche Ghost really fills is that it allows you to play multiple terminal actions in the same turn, so if there are no villages and powerful terminal payload makes you desperate to do so (here’s looking at you, Goons), you may turn to Ghost. Gold-gainers are a nice way to get Ghost material in the situations where you do want it, and note that Exorcist itself can help set up your Ghosts — playing an Exorcist to make an Imp or Wisp before playing your Ghost guarantees that you have something nice in your discard for Ghost to find. If you do not set up your Ghost, be aware that it has a mandatory effect, so finding trashers such as Remake can be a serious risk.

In Summary

  • Exorcist is an excellent card, offering trashing, draw, and a weak source of actions
  • It’s at its best Estates and cheap, early cards like Silver
  • Pairing Exorcist with terminals is effective, especially with terminal draw
  • Wisp is a low-cost way to get a bit of draw, especially strong early and in multiples
  • Imp is very effective draw in low numbers, but more are weaker
  • Ghost is generally weak, but can be a source of extra actions if you need them badly
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Develop As A Gainer

This article was written by Puzzle Box in collaboration with the Dominion Strategy blog team.

Much has been written about Develop’s role as a mediocre trasher, while its more unwieldy, but more potent role as a gainer remains underdeveloped. Due to the strict and strange constraints on Develop’s gaining plus the fact that it topdecks what it gains, misuse of Develop can easily cause a player to lose control of their deck, making it one of the more difficult cards in Dominion to use effectively. However, when used well, Develop can gain cards very efficiently while bolstering your consistency, and tactical uses can save you from otherwise nasty situations. Additionally, sometimes it will be the only source of gains at all, and using it well in those scenarios will make or break you.

What To Gain With Develop

The best case for Develop is that there are two cards you are happy to add to your deck with a cost difference of 2, and something with a cost in-between theirs. Ideally, topdecking at least one, if not both, of those cards will improve your consistency. An example would be a board with Village, Wild Hunt, and any 4-cost card–you can buy or gain the 4-cost each turn, and end each turn by topdecking Village and Wild Hunt, massively bolstering your consistency while improving your deck. If there is only one card you want to topdeck, saving a cantrip until after your Develop to draw the other allows this.

If two cards you want to gain are separated by a cost of 3 rather than 2, you can still use Develop effectively if you hold onto a piece of Develop material that will resonate back and forth between the two intermediate costs as you alternate which pair you gain. For example, if you want to gain King’s Court and Advisor, you can alternate between Developing Duchy and Gold to do so. If you play with two Develops, you can even topdeck the cards you want to gain but not the others, by putting the card you want on the bottom each time and playing a cantrip to draw the other. In the given example, by doing this while Developing Gold into Duchy then back to Gold, you could even still play the Gold in your buy phase.

Cards with on-trash and on-gain benefits can also be very good to Develop. For instance, with Fortress, Develop can easily gain and topdeck a 3 and a 5 at no cost, or with Ill-Gotten Gains, you can gain one to deliver your opponent a curse, then Develop it into a more useful 4 and 6.

When To Gain With Develop

When Develop is the only gainer you either must make use of it or be limited to a single gain. I believe that on a majority of these boards, being able to use Develop well against an opponent who cannot will all but guarantee your victory.

When Develop is your trasher and you are done using it to trash, you can efficiently continue to employ it. Consider switching to gaining before you are done trashing your coppers. Develop is a horrible copper trasher, removing them one at a time terminally and for no benefit. If you can use it as a gainer in ways that improve your consistency, that allows your deck to carry more stop cards without failing, accomplishing many of the same things as copper trashing but with greater efficiency.

When the Develops are really good then using Develop just makes sense. Situations like the “best case” described above just make Develop into a high-quality gainer.

Pileouts are often enabled earlier than you’d expect by Develop-gaining, since it’s capable of disassembling your deck to lower 2 expensive cards at a time. Gaining Develop on a potentially-pentultimate turn can be a great way to establish pile control, and lines that involve using Develop to gain Develop can lead to some truly wacky victories.

Open Boldly

If there are other useful cheap cards that can be effectively developed for gains, then opening Develop alongside them is often viable, even if these cards are terminal. For instance, Develop plus Moneylender will often be a powerful opener, since if they do not collide you’ll trash 2 cards for benefit, and if they do collide you can Develop the Moneylender to topdeck a Silver (or some other useful 3-cost) and a 5-cost of your choice. Be aware of the awesome strength of these openers.

Summary

  • Develop is a situationally powerful gainer
  • It is at its best when there are 2 cards you want to gain with a cost difference of 2
  • Topdecking the gained cards for next turn can boost your consistency
  • Gaining with Develop is often superior to trashing coppers
  • Develop is good at enabling pileouts
  • Opening Develop with a terminal that you are happy to Develop is safe and often potent
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Star Chart

This article was written by Polk5440, with some edits by the Dominion Strategy blog team. If you would like to contribute to the Dominion Strategy Blog, check out the Articles section of the forums, or send a PM to Chris is me.

Projects are one of the new mechanics introduced in Renaissance. They are abilities everyone can have simply by buying them once. Star Chart’s is “When you shuffle, you may pick one of the cards to go on top.” That seems simple enough; and it is! It is also deceptively strong. Star Chart is easily one of the best of the twenty Projects in the expansion.

Being able to pick a card to go on top of your deck every shuffle just makes your deck work better. How much better? Well, it’s tough to quantify. But, you know that dodgy acquaintance of yours? The one who “shuffles” but magically always has great luck getting his key card in hand? Well, now you, too, can shadily shuffle, but legally.

Star Chart’s topdecking effect always gets used once a shuffle. Without condition. For just $3. This is a huge value proposition over many other cards in Dominion that provide conditional topdecking services. Harbinger misses if you don’t have any cards in your discard pile. Pearl Diver misses if you don’t have any cards in your deck. Watchtower doesn’t topdeck unless you have it in hand. Royal Seal doesn’t topdeck unless you have it in play. Nomad Camp only topdecks itself once. The list goes on. Star Chart just works every shuffle, no matter what.

The topdecking effect is freely transferable and not tied down to a particular card like many events and tokens. This is a big advantage over something like Stash. Stash also can be topdecked once a shuffle, but Stash is usually bad, especially in a single copy. It’s just a Silver! Star Chart lets you topdeck a different card every shuffle depending on your needs. And if you really need to topdeck a Silver, you can, without paying $5 for that Silver in the first place.

After playing with Star Chart for a while, I began asking myself, “When wouldn’t I want Star Chart?” The answer I’ve come to is “probably never.” There may be some cases where there isn’t time to waste a buy on Star Chart — perhaps some Donate games — but I haven’t come across one myself, yet. The more pertinent question is usually not whether to buy Star Chart, but when.

Sometimes certain opening buys like Chapel, Page, or Peasant missing the shuffle is game losing. Star Chart is there to help you out and prevent it. For example, opening Chapel and a cantrip like Poacher over Chapel and Silver helps mitigate the probability Chapel misses the shuffle while still giving some economy, but Star Chart eliminates the probability of a miss. Chapel-Star Chart lets you guarantee you will trash four cards in the first shuffle, and then you can use the second hand in the shuffle to start building your economy.

It’s not always correct to open Star Chart, though. Star Chart itself doesn’t give you anything, so if there isn’t something already in your deck that you really want topdecked, it’s best to work up to it. For example, suppose there is a killer $5 you really want, but you open $3-$4. Yes, Silver-Star Chart lets you topdeck the Silver, but that doesn’t actually increase your chances of getting a $5 hand in the next two hands. Silver-Silver actually gives better odds. There might be something better than Silver-Silver to get your deck going in any particular kingdom, but the point is that you don’t need Star Chart immediately unless you have something in your deck that you just can’t afford to have miss the shuffle. Then later you can pick up Star Chart on a spare $3 or spare buy, but not too late because you still will want Star Chart eventually.

Because of its simplicity, Star Chart is one of those cards in Dominion that, when it was first previewed, appeared pretty innocuous to me. However, it turns out to be incredibly strong.

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Treasure Gainers

This article was originally written by tracer, with some edits by the Dominion Strategy blog team. If you would like to contribute to the Dominion Strategy Blog, check out the Articles section of the forums, or send a PM to Chris is me.

“Silver is a bad card” is a common piece of advice given online these days, and yet many who take it to heart will turn around and tell you that Explorer is a fine card. While these ideas appear inconsistent at first, a closer look at how Treasure gainers like Explorer fit into a deck will clarify that contradiction.

What to Look For In a Treasure Gainer

While there is often no choice in Treasure gainers on a given board, evaluating the advantages of the ones present can help in determining whether the added pace from gaining treasures rather than buying Treasures is worth the cost of the extra Action card.

Most Treasure gainers do something else as well, such as trashing (Amulet), attacking (Bandit), providing other gains (Leprechaun), or general flexibility (Squire, Courtier). Determining how valuable the extra effect is – and at what time – should factor into the decision of if and when to buy the gainer. There are a few non-terminal Treasure gainers which are easier to fit into decks, and this qualification is more likely to determine whether or not the card is worth gaining.

While in many contexts you will take what you can get, whether the gainer provides Silver or Gold (or even kingdom Treasures) can make a difference. Obviously Gold is better in most cases – not only because it provides more coins, but also because the higher cost is beneficial for trash-for-benefit cards, particularly Remodel variants.

In Decks That Like Treasures

The more obvious use case for treasure gainers is those decks in which Silver is clearly not a bad card: you want to gain Treasures, and a Treasure gainer works just fine. Beyond this tautology, there are a few ways the presence of a Treasure gainer can change the thinking in a deck whose goal is to buy a Province each turn (e.g. a money deck).

For example, when you use a Treasure gainer, there are fewer pacing issues with aggressively  trashing your cards. In decks that are attempting to buy a single Province, it is often inefficient to trash, since many trashers do not help directly with Province buying; this is especially true for Copper trashing as it hurts your early game economy. When playing with a Treasure gainer in these single-Province decks, the buys that otherwise would be going to Treasures rather than trashing can go to trashing. You avoid the momentum loss of skipping Treasure buys, and the loss of economy from Copper is more efficiently made up.

Terminal draw money plays awkwardly with Treasure gainers. Various terminal draw big money strategies are well known as speed baselines. However, most Treasure gainers are Action cards, which can be drawn dead. Draw cards such as Gear or Courtyard can allow a Treasure gainer to be played the next turn, and so are more effective with Treasure gainers. If your Treasure gainer is itself a Treasure, this problem is simply nonexistent. Being able to incorporate multiple increasers of pace tends to be what makes an effective money deck, so the synergy between terminal draw cards and Treasure gainers that are themselves Treasures is strong.

In Decks That Don’t Like Treasures

In decks which attempt to draw a large number of cards, Treasures tend to hamper consistency: Treasures do not draw, and so are harmful to this goal. However, many of these decks still require coins in order to buy things, and Treasures could be the main source of coins, whether due to a lack of alternatives or because there is enough draw to compensate. If available, Treasure gainers usually provide the best method of expanding these decks’ capacity to buy payload and components, as opposed to having to buy those Treasures.

The most prominent reason for this preference is efficiency. A single buy of a Treasure gainer provides those needed Treasures that would otherwise need to be purchased with a number of buys (and coins). Additionally, Treasures are expensive for the amount of value they give; being able to gain them during your action phase rather than having to buy them allows those coins (and buys) to be spent on cards which provide more for their cost, such as the draw cards needed to deal with Treasures.

While increasing economy sounds like something that one may want to do early, it is often not immediately useful, and those treasures get in the way of the goal of drawing the deck. Timing the addition of the Treasure gainer to the deck is key. The ideal timing is when additional stop cards will not impede your drawing, while still getting as much value as possible out of the presence of those Treasures over time. Ideally, the addition would be such that the gained treasure can be used the turn it is gained – as the deck reaches a state of drawing itself. Treasure gainers that also trash help get the deck into a controlled state, so they are often gained early for the secondary effect, transitioning into Treasure gaining later on. Either way, unlike in non-drawing decks, the presence of a treasure gainer does not change how to think about the deck’s goals.

In Summary

Treasure gainers are an important tool to reduce the opportunity cost of adding economy to a deck, as long as you know the right ways in which to use them. With practice and context, timing the addition of a Treasure gainer to the deck will result in adding much needed economy exactly when you need it, without getting in the way of your other aims.

 

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Band of Misfits and Overlord

Adapted by the Dominion Strategy blog team from an article by Titandrake. The original article with community comments can be found here.

Band of Misfits and Overlord are the ultimate “it depends on the kingdom” cards. Also, they are cards with some of the most annoying rule headaches.

Context Matters

Some Action cards, like Wharf, are usually strong, and other Action cards, like Pearl Diver, are usually weak, but some cards are strong or weak depending on context.

For example, Noble Brigand is strong if you know your opponents have a Gold in their first 2 cards, and it’s weak if no Silvers or Golds are on top of their decks. Noble Brigand is an extreme example because it goes between “+$1” and “+$1, opponent trashes a Gold, you gain a Gold”, which is a huuuuge shift.

However, the power of most Actions depends a bit on context. Consider a classical Village + Smithy deck. Village is contextually strong when your hand has a lot of Smithies and you only have 1 action. Smithy is contextually strong when you have plenty of actions. Or consider a +Buy card – strong when you have a lot of money, weak when you don’t. Or Chapel; strong early when you have a lot of junk in your deck but completely useless late game.

What if you could have a card that was exactly what you needed in hand this moment then morph into something else the next? With BoM and Overlord, you can.

Powerful Chameleons

Band of Misfits and Overlord are most powerful in games where you expect to run into several contexts where the best Action is different. This is because of an obvious observation: if you always play your Band of Misfits as the same Action, you could have just bought that cheaper Action. The only way you can get extra value over buying a card directly is if you play your Band of Misfits as different Actions depending on the situation.

For example, in a game from Dominion Championship 2017, I played Overlord as Rabble (when I needed draw), Village (when I needed the Actions), Explorer (when I had a Province in my hand), Chariot Race (when a previous Chariot Race revealed a low cost card on top), and Catapult (when I had good ammo for my Catapult). If I had wanted all of those effects, I could have bought an actual Explorer, or an actual Catapult, but it would have been much less consistent. I didn’t want an Explorer or Catapult in my deck, because I don’t always want to play an Explorer, or play a Catapult, and having the terminal when I don’t want to play it is wasted space. But a card that could be an Explorer or a Catapult when I needed it, and a Village / Rabble when I didn’t? Sign me up!

Differences Between Band of Misfits and Overlord

Band of Misfits can be any card that costs less than it, so it usually can be any card that costs up to $4. However, in the presence of cost-reducers, this is no longer true. In particular, if enough Highways are in play so that BoM costs $0, then it can’t copy ANY card at all, because no card costs less than $0. Overlord does not have this restriction; in fact it becomes stronger in the presence of cost reducers because it can always copy cards costing up to $5.

In my experience, Band of Misfits is okay, but often has a lot of competition at the $5 cost spot. A lot of key Dominion cards are priced at $5, and often you want to buy those instead.

Overlord, on the other hand, can be incredibly strong because it can be any $5 cost card and you can open with it. Do you wish you could buy that Mountebank or Junk Dealer but didn’t open 2-5? Well, now you can for the low, low price of 8 debt. A common opening is to buy Overlord turn 1, then pay off debt turn 2. This lets you enter the first reshuffle with only one debt while letting you open with a $5 cost no matter what opening split you got. Seriously, if you haven’t tried it yet: just buy Overlord whenever you’d buy a $5 cost Action, or whenever you want to buy a $5 cost but don’t have $5. The benefits of getting to play any $5 cost you need is often worth the debt.

The Fine Print

There are some trade-offs to having this awesome power to be exactly the card you need at exactly the right moment.

If the pile you want to copy is empty, you can’t play BoM / Overlord as that action, which can debilitate your deck in some situations. For example, it’s tempting to use BoM / Overlord as a second pile of an important card that both players are competing over, like Village, but if that pile of Villages runs out, you lose the ability to play BoM / Overlord as that card. This is often the most important drawback to consider when deciding whether to go for BoM / Overlord and can make or break a deck.

Copying a Reserve card doesn’t work, because once BoM / Overlord goes to the Tavern mat, it is no longer a copy of that Reserve card, so you can’t call it anymore.

Additionally, there are two positive fine print details you should keep in mind.

First, when Adventures tokens (+1 Card, +1 Action, +$1, +1 Buy) are on the board, BoM and Overlord get the bonus of both the tokens on their pile and the tokens on the Action they copy. If you have a lot of Overlords, consider placing your most important token directly on BoM / Overlords, instead of the Action you normally copy.

Finally, for Conspirator, BoM / Overlord count as two separate Action plays, since you first play the BoM, then play the action it copies.

Despite all the rules details, the main idea of BoM / Overlord is simple: they can be the card you need when you need them, but whether you want them at all depends on the kingdom cards they can copy.

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Kingdom Analysis #1

In Kingdom Analysis articles, the Dominion Strategy blog team takes a randomly generated kingdom, discusses the dominant openings and strategies, then play-tests their ideas. The results are then analyzed and contrasted with the initial impressions.

As always, we are looking for more articles to post to the Dominion Strategy blog. Do you have an article you’d like to see published here? Check out the Articles section of the Dominion Strategy Forums, or send a PM to Chris is me for details.

Initial Impressions

Initial reads of this kingdom are unimpressive. There is no way to increase hand size (other than the gain off of Cobbler, which doesn’t really count), limiting the potential for any sort of draw engine. Butcher is there, one of the top cards in Dominion, but it seems stifled with no draw. Perhaps the best approach was to play some sort of Butcher based money variant. This would turn Estates into Silvers, Golds into Provinces, and the Coffers would smooth out buys. Vampire seems interesting, since it gains Butchers, thins, and attacks – plus what else is there to do here, really.

A more fun deck here seems to involve a Messenger opening, so you can occasionally get a few Peddlers, with Border Villages and Butchers for more opportunities to trash into Province. You might even be able to squeeze a Talisman in there, for that chance of a big Peddler buy, but that seems really unreliable. The question is, can this kind of strategy, built with the proper pacing and order, compete with a more conventional Butcher money or Butcher + Vampire + money strategy?

Testing

Butcher money alone reaches the majority of points in 15-17 turns. Adding just Vampire was tried out, but that just slows things down considerably – you don’t gain your first Butcher until a shuffle later, making it harder to line up with Estates, and the trashing with Bat starts pretty late as well. As far as money strategies go here, this is pretty uninspired.

The deck with Messenger immediately had more potential. Assuming no mirror, a Messenger / Silver / Silver opening is essentially guaranteed to hit $5 and has a strong chance of hitting $6 on the next shuffle, which speeds things up a lot. The on-play cycling effect can be used to speed up the introduction of new cards, getting Butchers into play more often on average. Eventually you get a few Peddlers too, which are opportunistically trashable into Province. This basic formula seemed to be working.

The Inn Golden Deck

While messing around a bit, one tester stumbled upon a clever tactic at the end of a shuffle. If they gained Inn, they could set up the perfect 5 card hand – at that time in that game, it was Border Village, 2 Butchers, and 2 Peddlers. Serendipitously, the player drew into another Border Village, and then Messenger again off the Border Village play, and that’s when they figured out that this board has a very potent and reliable golden deck.

A golden deck is a somewhat rare Dominion strategy where you build a deck with perfect consistency turn to turn, with no chance of a dud, consistently scoring points for several turns until the game is decided. Examples include Scavenger / Stash, Capital / Mandarin, etc. The golden deck here relies on gaining Inn every turn to setup the next hand, ensuring you can Butcher for Province every time.

After the synergy was discovered, some tweaking was necessary to optimize it. You want two Messengers, so that you can topdeck one after playing the other. You need at least two Butchers (though more is helpful), one or two Peddlers (to start), and two Border Villages. Once you have these cards in your discard pile or deck with a Messenger in hand and at least $5, you play Messenger to discard, buy the Inn, and shuffle in Border Village, Peddler, Butcher, your other Messenger, and ideally a second Peddler (though a second Border Village is also fine). The second Peddler guarantees a price point, but your two Border Villages will likely hit at least a Copper.

Each turn afterwards goes like this: You play Border Village, then Butcher the Peddler into a Province, play the other Peddler / Border Village, then play the Messenger to discard all. This guarantees at least $5 and 2 Buys, with four Actions in play, making Peddler cost $0. You can buy a Peddler and another Inn to keep the combo going. If you have at least $6 you can gain Inn via a Border Village buy to increase consistency, but it’s usually not worth burning a Coin token for.

Building Into the Golden Deck

The remainder of testing focused on the best way to build into this golden deck. Obviously you want to hit $5 and $6 as often as possible, in order to get the components quickly. The Messenger + Silver / Silver opening is the fastest way to do this, as having 3 different sources of +2 Coins gives good odds of hitting $6. From there your $6 buys will usually be Border Village + Butcher – you’ll need at least 2 of those, though 3 is nice. You need to find time for another Messenger, and at least a Peddler to start off. This isn’t as hard as it seems, as you have about two shuffles to do this and you’re loading up with multiple Action cards a turn.

A $6/$4 split on the first two hands is ideal. You can get Border Village + Butcher on the $6, and the second Messenger on the $4. The second Messenger can give out a Talisman if you want a riskier but higher reward card – being able to get multiple Peddlers in one Buy can save a turn or two, but you need some luck to line that up. Otherwise another Silver is fine. From there you should be able to get another Border Village + Butcher at some point, and once you find a way to buy a Peddler you’re good as soon as you draw that next Messenger.

A $5/$5 or $5/$4 split on those next two hands is tougher. You have to buy that Butcher outright, and that will reduce the number of available Border Villages. You can grab a Border Village with a Peddler later, but that’s far from ideal. This generally sets you back a turn or two.

Finishing the Game

On the second to last turn, you can set up your Inn shuffle slightly differently in order to get 2-3 Provinces at once. Topdecking Border Village, 2x Butcher, and 2x Peddler lets you get two Provinces on the last turn, since you don’t need Messenger anymore. You can usually just outright buy another Province by taking advantage of the Coin tokens that Butcher has been stocking up, on turns where your Border Villages have drawn Treasures. As long as you have 4 Tokens going in it’s guaranteed.

If you are running out of time to take a lead, and you have extra components, you can actually mill multiple Peddlers in a turn and still play Messenger. Each hand would need 2 Border Villages, 2 Peddler, 2 Butcher, and a Messenger. This is more of a desperation move than a consistent strategy, however – two Border Villages increase your chances of accidentally drawing the other Messenger, and you do have a chance of starting a hand without a Border Village in it. It also takes longer to set up as you can’t fire until you have twice as many components.

Conclusions

The big takeaway from this article shouldn’t really be the specific instructions on how to execute a 4-card combo. It is exceedingly unlikely that you’ll see this exact combo on a Dominion board you play at random, after all. The hope here is that you can see the thought process of determining how to execute a particular strategy on a given board. The keys to this are to look at the entire board, noting the unique attributes of each Kingdom card, and considering not just the execution but also the build order of a given strategy relative to all of the other cards on the board. This particular kingdom highlighted the power of deck control cards used in tandem. Time will tell what sorts of synergies and strategies will be revealed in future Kingdom Analysis articles.

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Haunted Woods

This article was written by singletee with some editing help by the Dominion Strategy blog team. We will be taking a short break from regular posting over the holiday season; have a happy holidays and we’ll see you again with regular content in January.

The Basics

Haunted Woods is one of a trio of 5-cost Duration Attacks from Adventures. It does two things: draws cards next turn, and until then forces other players to topdeck the rest of their hand if they buy a card. Both the draw and the attack can have a significant effect on how you build your deck.

Duration Draw

The best time to draw cards is at the beginning of your turn, and Haunted Woods gives you three! Starting your turn with 3 additional cards is a huge boost; primarily this helps you get enough sources of +Card and +Action in hand to kick off your turn. It gives you a wider selection of cards to choose from on start-of-turn effects like Ratcatcher or Transmogrify. It also can help you reach big price points early for juicy purchases like Forge, Inheritance, or Citadel. Normally you will want to add some other draw cards to supplement your Haunted Woods as it is not very cost efficient as your only draw: a pair of Haunted Woods only draws as much as a single Smithy if you are drawing your whole deck every turn.

Using The Attack

To Haunt or Not To Haunt

The Haunted Woods attack varies a great deal in effectiveness depending on the rest of the kingdom. At its strongest, it can make an opponent lose an entire turn; at its weakest, it can actively help them by allowing them to save cards for their next hand. In order for it to hurt other players, they must have dead cards in hand when they are ready to buy, such as Victory cards, Curses, Shelters, or Ruins. In games where there is no way to get rid of this junk, the Haunted Woods attack will hurt opponents a lot by putting these junk cards in hand over and over. If there is a way to trash or discard such cards, or have a productive turn without buying cards, the attack will be ineffective. Megaturn decks that can hold off greening until they end the game also avoid the attack.

Be Afraid of the Dark

The attack also shuts down a few cards in particular: Night cards are played after the Buy Phase, so opponents have to choose between buying a card and playing their Night cards. In addition, a buy from the Black Market makes them topdeck their hand, so they won’t be able to continue playing cards after a Black Market buy as they normally would. In particular, they can’t play another Black Market, nor draw and play their new Black Market buy.

Dealing with the Attack

Look Ma, No Hand!

The most straightforward way to deal with the Haunted Woods attack is to not have any cards in hand when you buy a card. Trash your starting Estates/Shelters and any junk you receive, and the attack won’t bother you until you begin to add green cards. If you can’t trash your junk, look for a card or event that allows you to discard from hand, such as Hamlet, Vault, or Quest.

Just Browsing, Thanks

Another way to deal with the attack is to not buy any cards. Normally this makes it hard to acquire more cards and score points, but this can be a good strategy if you can gain the cards you need by using Workshops or the like, or by buying Events like Ball or Dominate. Even in games where you have to buy cards most of the time, you can skip your buy for one turn to relieve yourself of the accumulating stack of junk.

Stay Out of the Woods

Generic defenses versus Attacks like Moat and Lighthouse also spare you from the Haunted Woods attack. Note that they must be in play (or revealed) at the time your opponent plays Haunted Woods, not at the time you buy a card.

Not So Spooky

Finally, you can use the Haunted Woods effect to your advantage. If you have an extra Village or Laboratory you don’t need this turn, you can use an opponent’s Haunted Woods to topdeck it. If you have a Shepherd or Crossroads, you can save it along with whatever Victory cards you have to set up a big draw at the start of your next turn.

Summary

Haunted Woods is a strong card that boosts both your deck’s total drawing ability and consistency. It can jump-start your strategy by letting you line up key cards or afford powerful and expensive buys. The attack punishes opponents who green early or don’t clear their deck of junk. While it is sometimes harmless, when it hurts it can be debilitating and difficult to recover from.

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Shepherd

This article was written by Puzzle Box in collaboration with the Dominion Strategy blog team.

When things line up well, Shepherd is an extremely potent card. Turning your least useful cards into draw is excellent, and Shepherd’s ability to do so is limited only by the number of Victory cards it can manage to connect with. This, however, can turn out to be quite a large limitation, since without one another the Victory cards and the Shepherds will typically do nothing at all. Shepherd typically plays out according to one of two patterns, each of which will be discussed here: Shepherd-As-Sifter and Shepherd-As-Primary-Draw. The latter will be explored in greater depth, as it is complex and unlike the pattern of any other card in Dominion.

Shepherd as Sifter

In this mode, you have Victory cards in your deck for for some reason other than Shepherd, and you’re adding a Shepherd or two to sift past them. Shepherd only needs to collide with a single Victory card to be card-neutral, so the bar for it to be an effective sifter is not particularly high. Any time you expect a Shepherd you add to see one or more Victory cards on average, this is an option worth considering. Decks that non-terminally increase their hand size are typically the ones where this is most appealing, since doing so is a great way to help ensure that Shepherd lines up with the Victory cards you want to sift past.

Typical situations where you might use Shepherd this way include boards where Estate trashing is difficult or impossible but you still want to play a fairly controlled deck (in which case adding Shepherd early is likely wise), and any board where you play a controlled deck that is scoring by buying Victory cards (like Province or Colony) over the course of multiple turns (in which case adding Shepherd as you begin to score may be wise). There are also some occasions where sifting past Estates in the early game is so valuable that it’s worthwhile to add a Shepherd even if you will trash your Estates after a bit of time–for example, some games where quickly activating Magic Lamp is your highest priority.

Shepherd as Primary Draw

Without a doubt, it is tricker to use Shepherd as your primary draw. Here, you are not simply using Shepherd to deal with Victory cards you already have, but rather buying Victory cards specifically for the purpose of pairing with Shepherd. There is great potential here–Shepherd alone promises the possibility of drawing your entire deck, and Pasture provides an extra wellspring of points to extend the game, buying you the time to capitalize on this. However, be warned! Without the support of other kingdom cards, this strategy is extremely inconsistent. Shepherd needs to be paired with 2+ Victory cards to increase your hand size at all, and you will need to make such a pairing multiple times during each turn to have hope of drawing your entire deck. There are a few different elements that are especially valuable for supporting this strategy:

Support

Copper Trashing

Non-Victory stop cards are a huge liability to decks that use Shepherd as their primary  draw. As such, the ability to trash coppers is very important to making them function. As usual, faster is better for this (a copper trasher as weak as Develop may not be sufficient, depending of course on context), though note that Remodel variants are much better than usual as copper trashers here, since Estate is actually a valuable card.

Start of Turn Draw and Sifting

Drawing and sifting at the start of your turn are great boons to your consistency, and this is as true as it’s ever been with Shepherd. Cards like Wharf, Den of Sin, and Dungeon are massive boons to a Shepherd-based deck.

Topdecking

The ability to topdeck cards is much, much better for Shepherd than it may appear at first glance. Once a Shepherd deck has nearly drawn itself, it’s typically capable of topdecking a number of Victory cards by discarding enough of them to trigger a reshuffle, but not enough to completely draw what has been discarded. For example, with 4 cards left in your deck and an empty discard, discarding 3 Victory cards to a Shepherd will topdeck two of them. As a result of this, having an extra Shepherd and topdecking it with something like Mandarin, Count (who can also gain Duchies while doing it!), or even an opposing Haunted Woods is enough to essentially guarantee the consistency of a Shepherd deck.

Payload

Density

Since Shepherd is so averse to non-Victory stop cards, high-density payload is at a premium. Silvers are worse than usual, powerful actions are even better.

Discard-for-benefit

More notably, since a Shepherd deck that is barely consistent at the start of its turn will massively overdraw at the end, Shepherd has a strong affinity for discard-for-benefit types of effects. The likes of Artificer and Vault are a big pull towards a Shepherd-based deck.

Megaturn Potential

Finally, if there’s no other way to deliver it, megaturn potential can sometimes be a pull towards a Shepherd deck that would otherwise be too inconsistent. It’s not so bad to have a few bad turns if one good turn means you win!

Scoring

Because Victory cards are an integral part of your deck, you will eventually reach a point where scoring actually improves your deck! Being able to fearlessly engage in extended greening without too much regard for which Victory cards you add is fantastic.

Weaknesses

Junking

For the same reasons that copper trashing is important, if an opponent can junk your deck faster than you can remove it, drawing your deck with Shepherd is likely impossible.

Handsize Attacks

Discard attacks and -Card tokens are very bad news for Shepherd. It is most vulnerable to dudding at the start of its turn when your hand size is smallest, and these all accentuate that weakness. Start-of-turn draw can potentially bypass this weakness, but without that kind of support, you should not build a Shepherd-based deck in the face of these.

In Summary

  • Shepherd can play either as an unassuming sifter or a highly fragile but potent source of draw.
  • Add it as a sifter if you will have Victory cards in your deck anyways and it will typically see one or more of them.
  • Using it as primary draw requires full commitment, a high percent of Victory cards, trashing of your other junk, and either powerful payload or additional consistency support. Topdecking effects are fantastic. Attacks on your hand are devastating to it.
  • When you can use it as primary draw, discard-for-benefit is a major pull.
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Recruiter

This post was written by Seprix with a little help from the Dominion Strategy blog team. We’ll be publishing more overviews of Renaissance cards over the coming months; if you’d like to contribute, check out the Articles section of the Dominion Strategy Forums.

Recruiter is a $5 cost Action that draws two cards, trashes a card, and then supplies as many Villagers as the cost of the card trashed. Bearing strong resemblances to Masquerade in both similarity and power level, Recruiter is already considered to be one of the strongest cards in Dominion.

Recruiter Basics

Firstly, Recruiter has a leg up on other $5 cost trashers (Junk Dealer, Upgrade, etc.) by virtue of drawing an extra card, which provides both more flexibility in trashing as well as cycling. If Recruiter draws Copper and Estate in the early game, it could be thought of as providing a virtual coin, much like Junk Dealer. However, unlike Junk Dealer (and most trash-from-hand cards), Recruiter does not decrease handsize, which is a valuable trait.

As if that wasn’t good enough, Recruiter is also one of the best Villages in the game. Playing a Recruiter and killing an Estate provides two Villagers, which can be distributed to mitigate collisions and play more aggressively. The effect can be likened to a more flexible Encampment. If Recruiter has more expensive cards to trash throughout the game, it can serve as the primary source of extra Actions for a deck.

Playing with Recruiter

In the same vein as the other $5 trasher variants, if the opening trasher cards are weak enough, it is often a winning play to gun for hitting $5 and buying a Recruiter. Quite often (but not always) it is correct to pick up two Recruiters, one to trash for Villagers and one to trash Coppers. How Recruiters are used and how many are gained depends on the type of deck built.

If there are no other Villages, Recruiter is indispensable in providing that support. Extra gains are going to be important in fueling the Recruiter fire, and gainers that provide high cost fuel such as Gold gainers are the absolute best at this. In a pinch, Recruiters themselves are quite fine as fuel, and once most of the Coppers are gone, a Recruiter can be tossed into the Villager fire. In fact, it may end up being the correct play to buy multiple Recruiters just for blowing up, for the extra reliability. After all, Gold doesn’t draw cards, but Recruiter does.

Some Pitfalls

Recruiter is not really a draw card in itself, and should not be used as primary draw, but only as a supplement. The forced trashing from an increasing number of Recruiters makes multiple plays very dangerous in the long run, despite the lack of hand decreasing. A notable exception is Fortress, which provides both great draw and is practically a soft Champion with the amount of Villagers that can pile up!

Recruiter does a poor job of gaining Villagers with cost reduction, and does not play very well with cards like Highway and Bridge Troll. On the other hand, this defect can sometimes be mitigated with topdecking effects such as Star Chart or Scheme. In addition, if the board contains Shelters over Estates, Recruiter is not as effective in the early game, although this is not too much of a concern in the later stages of the game. If Recruiter was going to be bad in the late game with Shelters, it was going to be bad with Estates anyways.

Closing

Recruiter is a versatile card that provides several effects that by themselves are good, but added together make for one of the strongest cards in the game. If you see Recruiter on the board, it is almost never wrong to pick one up. The earlier you do, the better.

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Groundskeeper

This article was written by JakeTheZipper, with help from the Dominion Strategy Blog Editing Team. If you would like to contribute by writing your own articles, feel free to post them here.

Groundskeeper

Groundskeeper is a difficult card to evaluate and an essential one to understand. It has very high scoring potential, and the pile is often hotly contested. Boards which play to its strengths often see it deplete, and winning the split can be game-decisive.

To avoid burying the lede for anyone who has the question “should I go for Groundskeeper,” It’s a very strong card. You need a compelling reason to ignore it.

Yet, while Groundskeeper helps you win the game with your deck, it does not help you build it.

Let’s start by talking about two Dominion fundamentals that Groundskeeper challenges:

One: Taking longer to build your deck risks an opponent getting a points lead, and making that up usually means depleting key piles (like Province) yourself, further hastening the game end.

Groundskeeper scores points disproportionate to how much it lowers piles, enabling wider “catch-ups.”

Two: Points make your deck worse.

Adding Groundskeepers allows you to score more points per VP card, and the Groundskeepers themselves don’t hurt your deck. Though Groundskeepers don’t change the fact that scoring will eventually make your deck worse, they do delay it by being a source of points that doesn’t. In other words, Groundskeeper lets you add VP cards to your deck later (and fewer of them) without sacrificing overall score.

What does this card do and when should I buy it?

The key to timing Groundskeeper gains (outside of a mirror) is looking at the card as alt VP. A deck that has/plays more of them has a higher point ceiling, so around when you would start buying VP cards, you should consider Groundskeepers instead.

Essentially, it’s a cantrip worth VP equal to the number of VP cards you expect to gain (with it out) by the end of the game. On boards where you can gain only one VP card per turn, you can expect that to be 2-6 VP, depending how your draws go.

Reading Groundskeeper Kingdoms- Does the Split Matter and what do I do if I lose it?

Everything about Groundskeeper is contextual, so we can’t give you much in the way of hard-and-fast prescriptive advice that will always be helpful. Above all, knowing whether or not to get Groundskeepers and what to do once you have them requires good game sense and an accurate read on how/when the game will end.

Remembering that it’s essentially alt VP, it’s usually better to build your deck to best use Groundskeepers before getting them, but sometimes the split is important enough to make an exception.

How quickly Groundskeepers will/should deplete and whether or not you can afford to lose the split (and by how much) comes down to time, number of gains  and reliability (being able to play your Groundskeepers consistently).

Firstly, given enough time, having/playing more Groundskeepers pretty much always wins because of how they raise your point ceiling, so the less control you have over when the game ends, the more important Groundskeepers are.

Number of gains per turn plays into this too. Obviously, multiple VP gains per turn scores more points, but being able to gain multiple Groundskeepers per turn also makes them more important (because they score more points before Provinces empty).

Finally, the more reliable the decks are, the more the split matters.

If both players play all their Groundskeepers every turn and Josephine gets 6 of them to Martin’s 4, her estates are worth as much as his Duchies and double-Duchy turns are worth almost as many points to her as double-Province turns are to him. Given that she has more total points available to her and that she has to spend less money (and possibly put fewer VP cards in her deck) to score as much as Martin, she is in a much stronger endgame position.

Playing with and against Groundskeeper: Point Ceiling and Pile Pressure

When deciding how to play around Groundskeeper and how to interpret your win condition at any given point, remember that time is usually on Groundskeeper’s side.

It should come as no surprise then that a Groundskeeper deck’s greatest threat is endgame pressure. In other words, Groundskeeper doesn’t have its usual advantages if the game is over (or close to it) by the time  you have to put VP in the deck, or at least have it there for very long.

For example, when it’s possible to empty Provinces over the course of a couple of turns (a la a “megaturn” like with Bridge Trolls or Horn of Plentys), you can punish a player who goes for Groundskeepers by ending the game before they provide any value.

That said, it’s very difficult to catch up to a player with more Groundskeepers once they take their (inevitable) lead. It can certainly be the right move to start pressuring Provinces or a three-pile while your opponent has more Groundskeepers, but if you lose the split or don’t go for them, you’re on the clock.

How Many Groundskeepers do I want before I start greening?

Often you want as many as you can get, but It’s important to have an accurate read on how your opponent intends to win and how quickly they can end the game if they need to. Even when Groundskeepers are the best strategy, focusing on them in the wrong way can lose you games. Namely, if you play to them the same way you would in a mirror.

Outside of a mirror, it’s not necessarily a good idea to empty Groundskeepers when fewer than ten could outscore whatever the opponent is doing. There’s the obvious limitation of how much time it takes to empty them by yourself, but it can also be unwise because emptying the pile potentially hastens the game end, something Groundskeeper usually doesn’t want to do against non-Groundskeeper decks.

Bringing everything we’ve covered together, let’s go through an example of some decisions you may need to make in a Groundskeeper game:

The Situation:

Anna has no Groundskeepers, but bought the first Province last turn. Her opponent Destry hits $15 with three buys and considers his options.

If Destry only gets 3 Provinces to Anna’s 5 because he goes for Groundskeepers and she doesn’t, he needs 13 points in addition to the three Provinces to win. He probably needs at least 4 VP cards to have a chance anyway, so assuming 4 VP card gains he needs to have on average 2 or 3 (2.5) Groundskeepers in play across his VP gains to win with a Duchy, or an average of at least 4 in play per VP card to win with an Estate (again, assuming he gets those three Provinces).

So, what should he do? I have no idea, and neither do you.

Because it depends on a lot of context context in addition to the above– how likely either deck is to stall, which/how many VP cards he expects to gain before Provinces empty, could she 3-pile if he lets her start her turn with a points lead.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume he will gain one VP card every turn  after this one (even though he could likely gain more given the circumstances).

Again, the minimum number he’ll probably need to gain is 4, so if he can play all of his Groundskeepers every turn and still do that, he should probably buy 3 of them, effectively gaining at least 12 points versus Province-Groundskeeper for 9 points (the Province plus 1 VP for each VP card he still needs to gain).

If he will miss out on playing one of his Groundskeepers once or twice, it’s closer, but still slightly in favor of triple Groundskeeper to maximize score, and Province plus Duchy gets closer to being best the less reliable/more “sloggy” his deck is (how unlikely he is to play the Groundskeepers).

If he gains multiple VP cards per turn, the Groundskeepers obviously look a lot better. We do some more Groundskeeper-favorable math, but again, always weigh the possible points against how much harder the extra VP cards make it to keep playing our Groundskeepers.

Signs not to Go for Groundskeeper

No single con makes Groundskeeper ignorable. Rather, these are factors that make the card weaker and steer you away from it.

As mentioned before, a “megaturn” deck that empties provinces over the course of one or two turns can often outpace Groundskeeper’s potentially higher but more gradual scoring. Note that adding Groundskeepers doesn’t hurt that deck, but it doesn’t help build it faster.

In an unreliable/”sloggy” deck or one with single VP gains per turn, buying Groundskeepers can be a waste of time. Slogs have trouble playing their Groundskeepers often enough and single-gain games often reward speed over point ceiling, playing away from Groundskeeper’s strengths.

Junking attacks. No deck likes being junked, but Groundskeeper strategies can suffer more, needing both reliability and multiple VP cards to maximize value. I would say Swamp Hag is particularly brutal, but honestly any junking cripples you about the same without strong trashing.

If you take nothing else from this section, understand that we’re talking about specific situations where Groundskeeper is weak, and you need to look for reasons not to buy it– most of the time it plays a pivotal role in the game’s outcome and shouldn’t be ignored.

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