Intrigue: Saboteur


Dominion: Intrigue

The ultimate spite card, and on the surface, seemingly ridiculously powerful.  But on a closer look, considering its cost, Saboteur is one of the weakest attacks in the game.

First, Saboteur is one of the two attack cards (along with Sea Hag) that provides zero benefit to the attacker, which is a much greater liability than it might seem.  $5 represents an elite tier of Actions, so buying Saboteur means passing up some very strong alternatives.  And the fact that it is terminal means that you can’t exactly load up on Saboteurs without doing even more harm to your own deck.

Second, the attack does benefit your opponents in a way: because it skips all the $0 and $2 cards, it might let them cycle through the junk in their deck.  I would be completely fine with my opponent discarding all my Coppers, Curses, and Estates just to trash a Silver.  (It’s for this reason that Saboteur also anti-synergizes with your Cursing attacks.)

Third, an opponent can sometimes take advantage of the Saboteur to exchange an expensive card for a card they’d rather have — converting $7 cards into Duchies; Golds into Gardens or Estates.  And not being able to buy the winning Duchy because you trashed your opponent’s Peddler into the last Duchy is a pretty painful thing.

Fourth … it’s just not that strong.  The best case scenario is hitting an opponent’s Colony/Province, which either just gets “un-Remodeled” into a Platinum/Gold, or gets bumped down into a Province/Duchy.  The possibility of a 3-4VP difference is therefore hardly that much better than buying a Duchy with the $5.  And your opponents can counter Saboteur pretty strongly by filling their deck with cheap, expendable non-terminal Actions (boo hoo, you trashed my Wishing Well), or hiding their valuables with Island or Native Village.

Nevertheless, Saboteur is still good in certain situations.  If you have an abundance of Actions, there are certainly worse terminals to purchase.  (I’m looking at you, Chancellor.)  It really benefits from gaps in card costs: for instance, a lack of $4 Actions means that a Sabotaged Gold has to drop by $3 instead of $2.  Similarly, Saboteur’s effect is effectively amplified if the only available cards at a certain price level totally suck (how many Talismans do you really want or need, past early game?) and/or are terminal and incompatible with the rest of the set.

Like most other attacks, Saboteur is more powerful early on, when discarding Coppers still hurt, and a couple lucky draws can really hamstring your opponent’s upward progress.  And also like most other attacks, Saboteur becomes wildly powerful with Throne Room and King’s Court, which lets you really pore through an opponent’s deck, making it much more likely that you’ll hit a Victory card.  (You’ll also be trashing his cards much faster than he can replace them.) It’s also a common last-minute desperation gambit if you have no other realistic way to catch up to someone ahead of you in Provinces.

All in all, though, Saboteur looks much more powerful than it actually is.  The best counter to Saboteur is probably not getting one.

Works with:

  • Throne Room / King’s Court
  • Spy
  • Opponent’s Possession

Conflicts with:

  • Opponents that flood their decks with expendable non-terminal $3/$4Actions
  • Your other attacks
  • Peddler
  • Opponents’ Remodel/Expand
  • Opponents’ Gardens decks, since the Saboteur slows you from getting your Provinces before the game ends, while trashing Gardens into Estates accelerates the end of the game and trashing Workshops doesn’t really matter
  • Opponents’ junk decks in general (decks that primarily rely on cards costing under $3: for instance, Counting House)
  • Opponents that hide their Victory cards with Island or Native Village
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34 Responses to Intrigue: Saboteur

  1. Keith Grant says:

    “…there are certainly worse terminals to purchase. (I’m looking at you, Chancellor.)”

    I’m intrigued you think so poorly of the Chancellor. I would argue it was one of the strongest cards in the base set. Granted, it doesn’t synergize with much in any of the expansions, but I still play with a lot of the base-set cards. And combine it with several copies of Stash? Good stuff.

    • theory says:

      I’ll write up my thoughts on Chancellor soon. Suffice to say for now that I think Chancellor usually can’t compete with the other $3 Actions, and definitely not as your sole terminal Action in a set without +Actions.

      You’re right that Chancellor works well with Stash, but so does good deck-drawing. And it’s a combo made up of two rather mediocre cards. I’d much rather be building Village-Torturer chains.

  2. Tim says:

    Overall I like your analysis of this card. The deck cycling part is one thing I have not thought of.

    Nevertheless, I don’t think the biggest gain of the card is to hit a VP– just as you’ve said, a 3-4 VP gain hardly worth it. In my experience of the game, the most hurting way a saboteur can do is to hit villages, when the villages are bought out. This way you break your opponent’s combo and leave his deck in poor condition.

    One of the more interesting game I had is to have ambassador+sabateur+village+trashing available. If the opponent does not aware of what you’re going to do, you can successfully trim your deck down to a villages, a ambassador, 1 copper, and some treasure. Now giving your opponent a copper every turn and kill off a higher cost card is quite fun.

  3. Personman says:

    One thing I would add is that Saboteur goes way up in value when your opponent has a single copy of an expensive, important card, and doesn’t often generate enough money to buy it again. This doesn’t happen that often, but when it does, gambling on a Saboteur is often a good idea.

  4. Bulb says:

    You mention, on the Chapel page, that Chapel conflicts with Saboteur. Why not mention that Saboteur works well with opponents’ chapel? (Obviously there are MAJOR exceptions to this.) If your opponent is trying to slim his deck and build big money, Saboteur can stop him dead in his tracks.

    An especially powerful counter to Chapel is University + Saboteur. Drawing MORE Saboteurs every few turns, while being able to play 2+ on a single turn, can cripple an opponent going for big money.

    It is interesting, despite being intuitive, that most players will get a Silver when a Gold gets Saboteur’ed, but will not get anything when a Silver is Saboteur’ed. Thus, it is often the best case scenario when you Saboteur an opponents’ Silver if he is going for big money.

    • theory says:

      I’m actually not sure that Chapel is hurt more by Saboteur than an untrimmed deck. After all, most of what you’re Chapeling is going to be $0 and $2 cards unaffected by the Saboteur. So perhaps I should correct the Chapel page.

      I don’t know that University / Saboteur is all that great. Saboteur would have to basically be the only decent $4 or $5, because otherwise I don’t see how you can build your deck upwards if all you’re doing is filling your deck with Saboteurs.

      • Bulb says:

        Regarding Saboteur vs. Chapel, consider this: Playing against an untrimmed deck, Saboteur can do more harm that good (as you point out in the original article). And against one with lots of good $2 cards (Pawn, Haven, Courtyard), Saboteur might be close to worthless/irrelevant. So, while it might not be a strong counter in itself, Saboteur works (on average) better against a trimmed deck than against an untrimmed deck.

        Regarding University + Saboteur, you’re probably right, that Saboteur would have to be the only decent $5, as it was here:

        Without any strong $4 or $5, not only does Saboteur become an obvious choice for University, but it encouraged my opponent to go all out Silver, which of course strengthened my Saboteurs. He spent $4 on a Silver on Turn 4, and $5 on a Silver on Turn 5 and Turn 12, Turn 8, and Turn 11.

        • Bulb says:

          “He spent $4 on a Silver on Turn 4, and $5 on a Silver on Turn 5 and Turn 12, Turn 8, and Turn 11.”

          Note, that should have read:

          “He spent $4 on a Silver on Turn 4 and Turn 12, and $5 on a Silver on Turn 5, Turn 8, and Turn 11.”

  5. Daniel says:

    Also Saboteur and other deck atacks (e.g. thief, pirate ship) are useless with the rare 5 card decks.

  6. Zaphod says:

    Thanks to the handy new site, we now have proof that Saboteur is among the least effective cost 5 cards. Hopefully this link works…

    The reason people still buy it is that, when it hits you hard, you remember it for a long time. It is incredibly annoying, which gives the impression that it’s a powerful card. One reason it’s so annoying is the high luck factor; will it hit a Colony or a Silver?

    The best counter to Saboteur is any card that produces Silvers, or other cards (Bureaucrat, Ironworks, University, etc.). This creates “blockers” for the cards you want to keep, but it does mean a certain amount of clutter. You can protect your Provinces and Colonies with Islands, Native Villages and Havens. Or, you can ignore the Saboteur, and usually you’ll be fine. Saboteur seems more powerful when several opponents are playing it, but it really doesn’t scare me most 0f the time.

  7. Kn1tt3r says:

    The strenght of Saboteur is extremely dependend on the number of players. While it’s clearly one of the weakest (if not THE weakest) $5 card in 2 player games, it becomes horribly powerful (and frustrating) playing against 3 opponents.

    • Personman says:

      This seems to be a common fallacy about hit-everyone attacks — far from being stronger in multiplayer games, they are in fact weaker! In a two player game, you can choose to buy such an attack when you think it has a good chance of hitting the opponent enough to make it worth it — say, Saboteur when they have three provinces in a small deck, or Thief when they have a ton of Gold. But in multiplayer, it is a) much less likely that all your opponents are vulnerable at the same time, and b) much MORE likely that you’ll miss at least one of them, giving the lucky player an edge over everyone else (and you, since they will probably spend their turn doing something less useless than playing saboteur).

      • chesskidnate says:

        of course with cards like theif/ pirate ship where you gain soemthing based on what you attack they do become better whereas with sabotuer it becomes worse with more people

      • Frisk says:

        There’s another way of looking at it. In a 2p game, most of the time you can just ignore the saboteur and laugh your way to victory after your opponent buys it.

        However, in a 4p game, if all 3 players start buying saboteurs, you actually do have to figure out a way to do something about it.

        Thieves and Pirate ships are strictly stronger in 4p games because the chance of providing a benefit increases.

  8. jt says:

    Isn’t the Saboteur really really strong as an opening card or am I missing something?

    If you get to buy Saboteur in Round 1 or 2 you pretty much get to destroy whatever your opponent buys that costs $3 or more in the early rounds, which means their deck pretty much stays poor…

    I have very limited play with the card as this was my opinion of it.

    • rrenaud says:

      Play more. Try it on isotropic. It’s extremely weak and rarely useful, and it needs to be for the game to be not totally broken, because when it’s good it creates some really painful games for opponents.

      If your saboteur hits on the first cycle, it’s about as bad as a 4 cost action is good. You might kill a $3 card, or knock a $4 down to $2. This is the reverse of a remodel action, which only costs $4. It doesn’t even do as much bad as a playing a single workshop does good. Note that there is about a 15% chance it will completely miss if you are first player and play it on your 3rd action and your opponent has a 3/4. If they had a 5/2, it will miss with about 40% of the time. It also cycles the opponents deck a bit, which is overall mildly advantageous for the opponent early game.

      Here you can see how often people win given they bought a card on a given turn. Notice that saboteur is significantly lower than decent 3 and 4 cost cards?

  9. David Kempe says:

    This card combos with Bridge and (to a lesser extent) Quarry/Black Market. It may or may not be incredibly viable in most setups, but I think it deserves mentioning.

    • rrenaud says:

      How so? The cost reductions are symmetric.

      Quarry/Quarry/Black Market -> Actions are 4 cheaper. You play a Saboteur, now your opponents Laboratory goes unscathed, but then the Silver (at 3, and still 3) purchased gets turned into a Laboratory (which costs 1 under the double Quarry).

      The Bridge makes the card you Sabotage cheaper, but also makes the card its being replaced cheaper, for no net change.

      For reference, a discussion of this on BGG:

      • Nathan B says:

        It does mean it will skip $3 cards since they become $2. Someone loading up on wishing wells and the like to stifle a saboteur is going to be hurt a lot worse with bridges out.

      • Great Greedy Guts says:

        Multiple Bridges are where Sab becomes close to useful. With two Bridges, nothing below $5 normally will be up for destruction, and when something that normally costs $5 does come up, you can replace it with something that normally costs 2, such as Estates.

        It seems like there should be some way to make it good, but I just keep thinking other things would be better. A KC > KC > Bridge/Sab/Sab late in the game could potentially wreck a Big Money style deck, especially a thinner one. The odds of getting it are slim, and you could do better things with your time (especially as Sab wouldn’t help set that up, unlike something like a Native Village), but it’d be a pretty frustrating way to stall an opponent. On the other hand, two Bridges in there, which is the smarter move for, y’know, winning the game, would make the Saboteur useless without Colonies (where it’d mow through their Platinum and Colonies and nothing else).

        • rrenaud says:

          I am skeptical. Compare KC/KC/Bridge/Sab/Sab to KC/KC/bridge/bridge/bridge. The first one really hurts, but the latter has won the game. The latter is also cheaper.

          I tend to like KC/Sab more if there are no +buys. When there are no +buys, you can rip a deck down faster than it can be built up. When there are +buys, you can just build insane engines with the KC.

  10. ycz6 says:

    I think this game, and in particular turn 18, shows why Saboteur is not that good. Cal- a pretty good player, I might add- played 31 Saboteurs this game, and still lost by a significant margin.

    • chris says:

      ISTM that game mainly shows that Native Village is very powerful against Saboteur. It’s one of the best 2 cost cards in the game, especially in multiples, which is ordinarily not that significant because how often do you want to buy a 2 cost card? But when you’re downgrading stuff into it and then it’s immune to further sabotage, being a great spammable 2 cost card is quite powerful. Cal’s opponent ends up with hardly any actions… except for 6 Native Villages.

      If the only cost 2s are something weaker, or there aren’t any, Saboteur would be much more powerful against cost-4s in particular.

      It also seems to show that Saboteur isn’t as strong against treasure. You can always replace a treasure with “the same thing but a little worse”, but actions usually have to become something completely different and disrupt your strategy.

      Also, Workshop should probably be added to the conflict list. It generates a lot of mid-cost stuff that gets in the way of hitting $5 actions and Gold.

    • vidicate says:

      I count 51 plays of the Saboteur–due to King’s Court.

  11. Mean Mr Mustard says:

    Saboteur has cost me some games recently against elite players and not because I was the one who bought it. I am having trouble finding a good counter against this card in the hands of someone who knows how to use it properly. In the beginning I feel pretty confident that the presence of the card in my opponent’s deck will really hurt them more than me but that confidence slowly but surely evaporates along with my golds and provinces.

    I can deal with the other attack cards pretty well. Sometime I get behind on the Mountebanks or Torturers other good attack cards and realize I am cooked, but usually there is at least something I am able to do to counter them. With this card I am scratching my head. I have tried spamming silvers and other lower cost cards. That hasn’t really helped. Hoard can sometimes help if they come up together. But jeez. I need some guidance here.

    • Death to Sea Hags says:

      Counters depend on the board, taking into account what the Saboteur is costing your opponent. Its terminal, with no benefit other than killing your card.

      If there’s no +action, you can probably buy cards faster than he can destroy them – especially if you can get to $5 early. Each trashed card comes back as silver, which is just cannon fodder for the Saboteur. This is especially true if there’s +Buy or card-gaining actions.

      In those cases where it seems, for whatever reason, that Sab will turn out to be a good play, your best bet is to join it – in force. If they bought one first, and early, odds are that your deck will be stronger than theirs because your actions will already have added more value to your deck, either with more coin, or more trashing. Answer their Sab with TWO of your own – your head start in deck-building will be enough to defend you.

  12. PK9 says:

    I like the mention of the Peddler because it’s probably a card purchased at much lower than it’s $8 price tag, so the opponent is probably getting a better return on his investment. Another card I would say that conflicts is Border Village, especially if there are other $4 Village-variants out there. The BV is a card that, once in your deck, acts exactly like the $3 Village (the higher price is for that extra $5-or-less card you gain). So really, if the Saboteur hits a Border Village, it’s allowing the opponent to upgrade his card to a $4 card. I just had it happen in a game where I got a Worker’s Village out of it – so the other guy played an attack card and resulted in tacking on an extra Buy to the card I already owned. =)

  13. NewandForgiven says:

    Does Saboteur not work well with Ghost Ship (you get to break your opponents choicest card assuming they go for strong second turn) and when an opponent is using courtyard for the same reason?

    Also, rabble and saboteur seem made for each other. Hard to set up, but a rabble chain into saboteur would be very hard to answer on most boards surely?

  14. chesskidnate says:

    I believe saboteur is at its best in
    1. A mad KC chain with no +buy(as mentioned by rrenaud)
    2. Vs a thin deck
    3. An attack for your mad drawing&actions engine to play giving it more time to build.
    Basically, I think its mainly good when engines can’t be built from cards costing less than 3 and you can play the sabotuer very frequently( if around t11 you’re playing 3 per turn you might slow down a bm opponent enough but this is theorycrafting and piles could become troublesome. Oh, and this

  15. Mavyrk says:

    If you’re 1P and start on a 5/2 with TR or KC in game and none of the true Saboteur counters, opening Saboteur can often-times put you in a position where you simply force them to stumble too much in the early game to put up a defense. I’ve had games where opponent opens 3/4 against this, only to have one 3-4 card be immediately trashed. The amount of tempo that gives the leading player is unbounded.

  16. Dyl says:

    It’s just one of those Murphy’s Law cards. It WILL hit your 1 Province, and it will promptly hit the Gold that Province became. If you buy things to fight back, it will hit them.

    In a 2 player game it’s not as good, but in 3 or 4 player games, if one person takes one, and another one grabs one for revenge, *sigh*.

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