Wishing Well isn’t the best card at $3, but it isn’t quite the worst either. Ideally, you’d like to play it with knowledge of what card you’re wishing for. Outside of being an obsessive-compulsive deck-tracker, there’s not many ways to do this reliably past the early game. Cards that you view with Spy get drawn by the Wishing Well instead of being wished for. Scout or Apothecary is theoretically the best solution, but it’s often too difficult to pull off. Apothecary works a little better than Scout: because you have to make up the hand size slot lost to Scout, Scout + Wishing Well + Wishing Well is basically having played a Laboratory, making it just too expensive and slow to get running. Navigator + Wishing Well is even worse, since it requires a +2 Actions card.
Stashes are another obvious solution, but in practice it’s too hard to align the Wishing Well with the Stashes. More rarely, if you top-decked multiple cards during the turn—for instance, playing two Ironworks to gain two cards, using Watchtower to place them both on top of your deck—then Wishing Well can work. And once in a great while, if you have exactly three cards left in your draw deck, then you can play Pearl Diver to draw the top card and inspect the bottom card. Leave it on the bottom; the Wishing Well will then draw the second card, and you can wish for the last card.
Interestingly, Wishing Well is often able to wish successfully when responding to an opponent’s attack. Secret Chamber’s reaction is beautifully suited for Wishing Well; if your opponent plays an attack that you can respond to with Secret Chamber, then you gain knowledge of the top two cards of your deck. Wishing Well draws the first and wishes for the second. Alternatively, Wishing Well itself is a perfect counter to Ghost Ship (and more rarely, multiple Bureaucrats played against you).
In general, though, you should usually play the Wishing Well aspirationally, by wishing for the cards you want that will make a meaningful difference in your hand. This is usually the only way you can justify taking the Wishing Well over the Silver. For example: trying to execute Black Market / Tactician, but didn’t draw another Tactician in your Tactician hand? Wish for the Tactician, even if it’s a low probability of success. Of course, you should back these aspirations with some knowledge of your draw deck, but it’s usually much more important to draw one particular card rather than the card most likely to be drawn. (The exception is when you have Vault/Secret Chamber, and your goal is to make your hand as big as possible. Then you should generally wish for the most likely candidate.)
Accordingly, Wishing Well is most powerful in the early game: it’s easy to track what is in your deck, and it helps alleviate the problems of bad opening draws. If you draw 3 Estates with your Wishing Well, wish for your Steward or Ambassador. If you draw Baron and 3 Coppers, wish for the Estate. If you have a spare Action this turn and you know you have two terminal actions left in your 5-card deck, wish for one of them so that they hopefully don’t conflict with each other.
Some decks are particularly dependent on drawing certain cards, to the point where a Silver may actually hurt rather than help the combo. The aforementioned Black Market/Tactician is one; Minion is another, because Minion decks rely heavily on drawing other Minions, whereas Silvers would just be discarded anyway. With Treasure Map, it goes without saying that if you draw one you should wish for the other. Repeatedly wishing for Conspirators is also one of the most effective ways to run a Conspirator chain. And if you open Coppersmith, then Wishing Well is far superior to a Silver because it can help you gain extra Coppers early.
Finally, some cards work best with failed Wishing Well wishes. Pawn is probably the most useful; by previewing the card you draw, you can decide whether it’s worth drawing, and if so, whether you need the +1 Action. Native Village‘s draw becomes more informed, saving you from accidentally forcing your Platinum to go native. You can also mitigate the risk of Upgrade and Lookout by seeing if the card on top of your deck is one you want to trash. Knowing the top card of your deck is also helpful if you plan to Cellar exactly one card, or if you’re hesitant about Warehousing. And the mid-game Steward choice between +2 Cards and +$2 becomes a little easier if you know the top card of your deck; likewise, you are ever-so-slightly more informed about whether to play a blind card-drawing Action like Smithy without +Actions.
All in all, there are ways to exploit Wishing Well’s ability to make it somewhat more like a Laboratory. But spending too much effort is probably not worth it; when there are important $4’s and $5’s, I’ll usually take the Silver instead.
- Cards that help identify the top cards of your deck for the Wishing Well (Scout, Apothecary, Watchtower, Pearl Diver, Stash, Secret Chamber as a Reaction)
- Action chains that depend heavily on drawing a particular card (e.g., Black Market/Tactician, Minion, Treasure Map, Coppersmith)
- Opponents’ Ghost Ships (or more rarely, multiple Bureaucrats)
- Actions where seeing the top card of your deck is helpful (Pawn, Native Village, Upgrade, Lookout, Cellar, Warehouse, Steward, +Cards without +Actions)
- Conspirator / Peddler (sample game where Great Halls, Wishing Wells, and Goons combine for Peddlers)
- Silver, which is usually superior