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.
- Throne Room / King’s Court
- Opponent’s Possession
- Opponents that flood their decks with expendable non-terminal $3/$4Actions
- Your other attacks
- 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