Alchemy: Possession

Possession

Dominion: Alchemy

Possession is quite possibly the most hated card in the game.  This article is divided into three segments: how to play Possession, how to counter Possession, and when to go for Possession.

How to play Possession

In building your own deck, there are a couple tactics you can use to maximize the effect of the Possession.  Throne Room and King’s Court are absolutely incredible when paired with Possession; it is the only way to get multiple consecutive turns other than Outpost, and even Outpost only gives you a 3-card hand.  Drawing the golden hand of KC + KC + Possession + Possession + Possession should basically guarantee you the win, since you have 9 turns in a row to either win on piles or build an insurmountable lead.  In addition, multiple Possessed turns eliminates one of the primary counters to Possession, since you can safely play Duration cards and other cards that improve the draw deck.

Council Room also synergizes with Possession.  Play your Council Rooms, giving your opponent a bigger hand, then Possess it.  (As noted below, playing a Possessed Council Room is even better.)  Vault works similarly, though a canny Opponent that smells a Possession coming might just discard his good cards.  And Golem is a great way to keep playing Possession.  Golem’s main weakness is that it discards so much of your own deck, but who cares when you’re hardly using it anyway?

Your own attacks tend to anti-synergize with Possession.  Curse-giving attacks are always strong, of course, but it somewhat decreases the power of the average Possession turn.  (And if your opponent buys them, they’re one of the strongest counters to your Possession.)  Handsize reduction attacks are more mixed; usually you wouldn’t want to Militia your opponents and then Possess them, but if you do it consistently enough, you can start to scare your opponents into discarding good cards to the Militia.  Spies and Scrying Pools can be useful: keep good stuff on your opponent’s deck if you plan to draw those cards while Possessing them.

When actually Possessing your opponent, you should have two goals in mind: getting the biggest benefit out of the Possessed turn, and crippling your opponent’s future turns.  Accomplishing the first goal is relatively easy: play turns like normal, keeping in mind that trash-for-benefit cards are a godsend.  Normally those cards are limited by a desire not to trash expensive cards.  But under Possession, when you can trash without consequence, they become impossibly powerful.  Apprentice Colonies to draw 11 cards!  Remodel a Colony into another Colony for yourself!  Salvage Colonies for +$11!  Mine a Platinum into an extra Platinum for yourself!  Note that cards that provide benefits to opponents are great as well; courteously allow yourself to draw an extra card from a Possessed Council Room, or discard some cards via the Vault.

Accomplishing the second goal (crippling your opponent’s future turns) is a little more tricky.  Be on the lookout for cards that involve choices.  Like Lookout, which can be used to rearrange the top of the Possessed player’s deck to be as terrible as possible.  After you’re done with Treasuries and Alchemists, decline to return them to the top of the deck.  Even better, if your opponent has built a card-drawing engine with Cellar, you can often manipulate his deck by discarding junk cards, then selectively triggering a reshuffle so his draw deck consists of nothing but junk, ensuring several crappy turns.

Also look for cards that can pseudo-trash.  Ambassador and Masquerade are most powerful: return two Colonies to the supply with Ambassador and generously help yourself to one to boot.  Island is great as well: maybe his Platinums feel like taking an extended tropical vacation.

How to counter Possession

The converse of the above advice suggests that in order to deal with Possession, you should construct a deck that can gain cards useful to yourself but not your opponent, and you should avoid cards that, if Possessed, will destroy your deck.  So no Ambassador, no Masquerade, no Island.  Try building Gardens, Vineyards,  or Duchy/Duke decks, since your opponent may be unwilling to gain those cards if he is going for Colonies or Provinces.

Prosperity offers another full-fledged counter: VP chips are always earned by the Possessed players, not the Possessor.  Therefore, a deck built around Monument/Goons/Bishop, not aiming for Provinces, has the benefit of not only denying him his Provinces, but also providing you with VP chips.

The most common way to counter Possession, though, is with unconditional attacks.  Your Possessing opponent will be unwilling to play Sea Hags, Witches, and Saboteurs against himself.  This is especially true with Golem, since your opponent will be hesitant to play your Golems for fear of hurting himself.  Attacks that involve choices are less good: Possessed Swindlers are little more than a nuisance, and Possessed Minions will only help him.

Other cards involving choices are also much worse when you get Possessed.  Treasuries and Alchemists won’t get returned to the top of your deck.  Envoy becomes much better in the Possessor’s hands than your own, especially in 2-player games.  Herbalist and Navigator (and Courtyard, to a lesser extent) become massive liabilities, essentially guaranteeing you will have junk on top of your deck after the Possession.  Loan, which you might ordinarily decline to play in the late game, becomes every bit as bad as you always feared.

A special note on Stash: Stashes are particularly vulnerable to Possession because the Stash cards have identifably unique backs.  Drawing several them in hand (possibly from a Chancellor/Stash combo) is just begging to be Possessed.  In addition, if your opponent Possesses your deck on a reshuffle, your Stashes are going to the bottom of the deck.

Durations are tricky.  They’re great to have in your hand when being Possessed, since your opponent will be unwilling to improve your future turns.  At the same time, playing Durations on the previous turn telegraphs to your opponent that you have a good hand to be Possessed.  (For instance, if my opponent was going for Tactician, I would simply Haven my Possession from one to hand to another until she plays Tactician to discard her hand.  Then I’ll gladly take the 10-card Tactician hand for myself.)  The one Duration that is completely unaffected by Possession is Outpost, since your Outpost turns are never going to be Possessed.  EDIT: See comments for discussion on how Possession and Outpost interact.

Finally, try to predict when the Possession is coming.  Sometimes you can tell for sure, like when your opponent played a Scout on the previous turn, or you played Cutpurse or Bureaucrat on this turn.  Even when you can’t, you can usually have a pretty good guess.  Have you not yet seen it on this reshuffle?  Is your opponent cackling with delight and a particularly vicious glint in her eye?  Maybe you should junk up your next turn.  Play the Adventurer even though you already have $11 in hand; leave some Victory cards on your deck with the Spy; use Navigator to discard good cards coming up; move your Stashes elsewhere; don’t put your Alchemists/Treasuries back on the deck.

When to go for Possession

Possession is a ridiculously expensive card—consider that, all else being equal, if you had bought a Silver instead of a Potion, every turn you buy Possession you could have bought a Province instead.  Add to that the negative effects of having drawn Potions instead of a Silvers, and there are many situations where the best counter to Possession is not to get a Possession.

In the absence of Colonies and/or other worthwhile Potion cards, then I’m unwilling to buy an early Potion just for Possession.  But if my opponent builds a deck particularly vulnerable to Possession (e.g., Alchemist/Herbalist, or Ambassador), then in the mid-game I will sneak in a Potion to try to play a Possession right as his engine peaks.

If Colonies are present and/or the board seems to call for me to get Potions anyway, then I will look to get Possessions, partially as a counter against my opponent’s Possessions.  Colony games make Duchy/Duke, Gardens, and Vineyards decks (the main counter to Possession) less viable.  In addition, Throne Room and King’s Court are so incredibly strong with Possession that if I will be buying them anyway, then I will certainly go for Possession.  But if my opponent starts to stock up on unconditional attacks or Victory cards, then I will shift to another strategy.

In summary, Possession is not quite a must-buy card.  But more than any other card, its availability considerably warps the strategy of the board.  You don’t have to buy Possession, but you do have to plan for its effect.

Works with:

  • Your Throne Rooms / King’s Courts
  • Opponents’ Ambassadors and Masquerades
  • Opponents’ trash-for-benefit cards (Salvager/Apprentice/Remodel/Mine, but not Bishop)
  • Opponents’ Islands
  • Opponents’ Stashes
  • Opponents’ cards that involve choices (Envoy, Treasury, Alchemist), including attacks (Minion, Swindler)
  • Opponents’ cards that affect the rest of their deck (Lookout, Pearl Diver, Navigator, Courtyard, Herbalist, Loan)
  • Opponents’ cards that involve choices
  • Both your opponents’ and your own Council Rooms
  • Your Golems
  • Opponents’ duration cards (so long as you avoid playing them during the Possession)

Conflicts with:

  • Opponents’ unconditional attacks (Sea Hag, Witch, Militia, Saboteur, Possession), especially when coupled with Golem
  • Opponents’ junk decks (Gardens, Vineyard, Duchy/Duke)
  • Opponents’ VP-chip decks
  • Opponents’ Outpost
  • Possession itself is a good counter to Possession, especially in 2-player games
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29 Responses to Alchemy: Possession

  1. davey says:

    “The one Duration that is completely unaffected by Possession is Outpost, since your Outpost turns are never going to be Possessed.”

    I love this blog, but wow, really bad advice here. I’d say Outpost is one of the WORST cards to get against a Possession.

    Possesion: “The player to your left takes an extra turn…”

    Outpost: “…Take an extra turn after this one. This can’t cause you to take more than two consecutive turns.”

    Thus, holding an Outpost after you’ve been possessed is terrible. It doesn’t let you take an extra turn – you just took two in a row (though one was not under your control.) Playing Outpost now would be REALLY bad – you draw only 3 cards and gain nothing for it. A warning of this interaction should have been in the article.

    Worse yet, if I double-possess you and you draw an Outpost on your second extra turn, I’ll play it for you. You draw only 3, and since you just took two extra turns while I possessed you, you can’t take your Outpost turn. Welcome to your 3-card normal turn, courtesy of your Outpost.

    • theory says:

      I should clarify this, you’re right that it’s not totally clear.

      What I was trying to say is that Outpost is a good card to have in your hand while you are being Possessed, since if they play it, the Possessed player gets a 3-card Outpost turn then his normal 5-card turn. And if your deck is built for Outpost, then playing Outpost essentially provides you with extra non-Possessed turns.

      The one situation you cannot play Outpost is immediately after the turn where you were Possessed. In fact, it will actively harm you — you will draw 3 cards (per the rules), but fail to take the extra turn because of your Possessed turn.

  2. PlatypusNinja says:

    Loan, which you might ordinarily decline to play in the late game, becomes every bit as bad as you always feared.

    My understanding of Loan is that your opponent plays it while possessing you and gets one cash, and then they try to trash your Platinum but trashed cards just get discarded when you’re Possessed. I don’t think Loan is really that dangerous.

    Drawing several Stashes in hand is just begging to be Possessed.

    When I draw a Possession, I basically always play it. I mean, that’s what I bought it for, right? I guess if I had just played three Torturers or something I might hold off. But in the absence of other information, playing a Possession has value equal to my opponent’s entire turn, so it’s the highest-priority thing I can do.

    • theory says:

      1) It’s dangerous in the sense that in the late game, there are many potential “nightmare” scenarios where Loan skips your Actions only to discard high-quality Treasures. Possessed Loans can do this to your deck where you ordinarily would not have.

      2) Sometimes I use Haven to move my Possession from hand to hand. Sometimes when Ghost Shipped the Possession gets put on the next hand. Naturally you normally want to play it as much as possible, but there are sometimes situations where you have to choose to play it this turn or the next.

  3. Xenix says:

    Possession seems to drastically alter the flow of every game I’ve seen it in. Once it shows up, you nearly always have to go for it because if you don’t then your opponent will and they’ll tear you apart. You mention using duration cards, but every game I’ve seen it in, one player manages to get off two in a row and the game might as well just be over then.

    It seems like the only way to ‘beat’ Possession is to build a deck without any chaining or card drawing, which only hurts you while your opponent gets their money plus your own to build off of.

    I don’t want to argue that it’s unbalanced, but it definitely feels “un-Dominion”. It radically changes the tone and flow of any game it shows up in and generally makes a fun deck-building game into something completely different. I guess Dominion is always fun for me, even when losing… except when I’m losing 66 to 5 against somebody running a Possession/Golem deck.:-/

    • rrenaud says:

      I agree that Possession is the most game altering card in the game. It certainly turns many good strategies into bad ones, and indeed, I think it is the most controversial of all the cards.

      But that is not to say that it is always a dominant strategy. I’ll happily play a few Workshop/Gardens/Possession games with you on isotropic, and I’ll be really surprised if you both buy a Possession and win.

  4. Curses says:

    Possession is one of the ‘flavors’ of Dominion. A Goons, Minion, Torturer, etc.. game can easily become a race to buy the most and launch your combo. I used to hate alchemy cards, but I have come to enjoy and respect them. Everyone has a ‘style’, and some card are made for your style, and other cards are antithetical to it. I find in games with a key card or combo, the support cards (and draws) are the difference in who wins and loses.

  5. Huuuze says:

    Gameplay question — three player game. If I (Player A) possess Player B and play a possess card that he has in his hand, who gets to make the decisions that affect Player C? When we played, Player B made those decisions, but that didn’t seem like it was in the spirit of the card. I’m assuming the gained cards from Player C would go to Player B, but maybe that’s incorrect as well.

    Thoughts?

    • rrenaud says:

      Player B makes the decisions and gains the cards for player C, whether he played the Possession on his turn or was gifted the Possession turn by his own possessor.

  6. eSSkay says:

    Question:

    I played a game where I was possessed by my friend. He makes me play a Fishing Village. At the end of my possessed turn, can he make me clean up the Fishing Village?

    This would also lead me to the question – Can duration cards be intentionally cleaned up on the turn they are played?

    • rrenaud says:

      The duration cards cannot be cleaned up. If they are played, they effect your next turn.

      This means that your opponent might not want to play a Fishing Village if you get the next turn. On the other hand, it also means he gets the benefits of the duration cards you played when he possesses you. For equally beneficial on current and next turn cards like Fishing Village or Caravan, the interaction pretty even overall. But for something like a Tactician, it is really one sided. The possessor could steal your Tactician turn, but he won’t ever (well, unless you have a Golem) play a Tactician for you.

      • Jimmy Jimmy says:

        It might even be worth putting golem in here as a card that possession conflicts with. It’s very risky to play a golem as a possessor, particularly if there are possessions in your opponent’s deck (which is likely).

  7. Fred says:

    In a recent 2-player game, the entire game seemed “possessed”. Somehow, all the “+cards”, and “+actions” and Alchemists showed up on his own turns, and my turns while possessed by him, and the coppers, curses, and victory showed up in my hand when not possessed, and his hand when I possessed him.

    On 6 separate turns, my opponent possessed me and was able to purchase 3 provinces, 3 more possessions, and a gold. On one turn, he had $13.

    On none of the intervening 6 turns of my own was I able to buy a province. Only once did I even have the $6+p to buy another possession.

    During that same stretch, my opponent purchased 2 provinces, 2 possessions, a gold and a harem on his own 6 turns.

    I possessed him three times, but was never able to accumulate more than $5. Once, I only had $1.

    Even though I had bought the first province, he bought all the rest, mostly by possessing me, and that was it, game over.

  8. Jonah C says:

    So I just played my first possession game … and found it combined REALLY well with heavy trashing. Basically I got my hand down to five cards, a couple of which were possession. My own deck was useless for anything but possessing, but it didn’t matter because my opponent had a great engine, which I used to buy a province every turn. If he ever managed to possess me there wasn’t a whole lot he could do except possess himself for me. It doesn’t seem like anyone’s mentioned this approach, but it worked REALLY well.

    • thisisnotasmile says:

      This is a good approach to Possession games and it is used quite regularly in high-level matches. The only problem with it is when both (or all) players adopt this approach. You are then left in a stalemate situation where nobody wants to improve their own deck to break the deadlock because it will help their opponent more than it would help themselves.

  9. Cleanest says:

    If you trim your own deck to nothing but possession and rely on opponent’s deck for green, then at best your odds are fifty percent.

    • thisisnotasmile says:

      Not if you trim your deck to nothing but an engine which can play multiple Possessions each turn, whether that be by KC/TR or Village.

    • Jonah C says:

      Or if their deck leads itself well to sabotaging itself, such that you can make their deck work for you but not for them. That said, I’m realizing that I got lucky in my first Possession game and it won’t always work that well.

  10. ozyx says:

    I think it’s really weird that Possession can be played multiple times (and consequently, can be used with Throne Room or King’s Court) to obtain multiple extra turns, especially since Outpost explicitly disallows obtaining more than one extra turn.

    I guess I’m not experienced enough to quite understand how to counter Possession by polluting your deck: if Possession is on the board, and I think that the player to my right might get it, then preemptively cluttering my deck with victory cards means that my opponent would just do something else, leaving him with a nice deck and me with junk. And all the junk in my deck makes it hard for me to get Possession to take advantage of his nice deck.

    If I don’t preemptively clutter my deck with victory cards, then I’m making myself a target for Possession later.

    I feel like the best way to counter Possession is to buy Possessions myself.

    • WheresMyElephant says:

      First off, the idea of a Duke/Gardens/Silk Road/etc. deck is that it works perfectly fine when it’s riddled with green cards, because you don’t need to buy $8 cards to win. That’s how you’d play those decks even when Possession ISN’T around.

      But anyway when those options aren’t available, consider thinking of a green deck as a “soft counter” in some cases. Maybe you just transition from engine-building mode to green-card mode a little earlier than you otherwise would. The choice between a late-game Duchy or Gold can be a hard one already, and this might tip the scales. Sometimes these things are about finesse. This isn’t incompatible with the idea of buying your own Possessions.

      As for predicting his Possession buys: does he have a Potion? If so, it’s pretty hard to imagine he’ll pass up Possession for Gold under any circumstances, even if this isn’t what he bought the Potion for. Unless he’s doing something like Vineyards himself and he doesn’t have the cash to afford it, it’s probably coming sooner or later.

  11. Anonymous says:

    The odds of such a thing occurring are very low, but is it feasible, if in a 3 or 4 player game, to possess the player to your left, and if he has a possession, to possess the next player to the left? I can see the incredible amounts of frustration this would cause.

    If this happens, do the gained cards still go to you, based on the phrasing of the card?

    Granted, one should not be basing strategies off of possessing more than one player, but the idea intrigued me.

    • WheresMyElephant says:

      If this were possible, it would presumably be possible in 2P too; you would get to Possess yourself for a turn. It isn’t possible though, because of how Possession technically works. YOU don’t play your opponent’s cards when you possess them. THEY play their cards at your behest, and if they try to gain or trash a card then those particular rules kick in; otherwise everything is as normal.

      So if P1 makes P2 play a Possession, P2 is the one that played that card; when the Possession card text says “You,” it means P2. Thus P2 is entitled to Possess P3 for a turn. Moreover, this won’t happen until after the current turn (the turn where P2 played their Possession) ends, so P2 will no longer be under P1’s spell in any way.

  12. Łukasz W. says:

    Possession makes it tricky to keep track of the cards players have. Let’s say I possess Barry. Barry’s hand is: Remodel, Crossroads, Gold, Province, Graverobber. You can immediately see what Barry is up to.
    So I decide:
    1. Play crossroads, no draw, +3 actions,
    2. Remodel Gold into Province. Provice goes immediately to my discard pile. Gold however, goes to trash.
    3. Play Graverobber, gaining Gold just trashed. That Gold goes to my discard pile.
    4. Forfeit buy.
    Will that indeed happen? Will that cause Barry not to regain his Gold?

  13. ElijahF says:

    I can’t remember where I read this, but the best way to beat possession is to buy a couple copies of it, then immediately go for vp, coppers, and crap cards. This way you are gaining vp, while using your opponent’s engine to get provinces and colonies.

    Any experiences trying this? Counter-arguments? I’m curious.

  14. Brian says:

    This card seems ridiculous in that the way you are seated affects who you attack? Anyone have experience with picking a player to possess rather than the “left” player? Potential conflict with this approach?

    • theory says:

      Donald X. prefers games without politics, so all game interactions either affect all your opponents, or affect a pre-determined opponent. I’m sure you can experiment with alternatives.

      • Brian says:

        Great, thank you for the response. Another thought I had after you said this is: picking the cards for the game, then picking the seating arrangement after that. Two different strategies occurring then.

  15. mccartneyjacob says:

    Coin tokens have a poor synergy with possession, on turns you possess your opponents simply use all of their coin tokens even if you aren’t using them to buy anything.

    Also a question: can you play multiple possessions on the same turn? I always thought you couldn’t, but if you can use a king court to get multiple possessed turns, with plus action could I just play two possessions?

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