The Five Worst $2 Cards

Disclaimer: Dominion does a really great job of balancing its Kingdom cards.  Pretty much every card has some situations where it shines, and some situations where it doesn’t.  Nevertheless, some cards just end up being flat-out better than others, either because they are more useful more often, or just ridiculously good when they are useful.  Don’t expect this list to be very scientific.


Dominion: Intrigue

5. Pawn

I put this on here for one reason and one reason only: because 90% of the players who buy this never use it for anything other than +1 Action / +1 Card, but only after about a minute or so of thinking.  One of the worst AP culprits, made worse by the fact that there really shouldn’t be much AP over this in the first place.







4. Cellar

By no means is this a bad card.  It’s just a lot less special than it used to be.  In base Dominion, this was an absolutely critical card for Laboratory and Village/Smithy chains, since if you drew into your Victory cards and didn’t have a Cellar you were pretty much dead on arrival.  But with the advent of Warehouse, Cellar’s main selling point is now that it’s slightly cheaper, and honestly, you’re almost never going to need a Cellar but unable to afford the Warehouse.  Theoretically, Cellar can cycle more cards than Warehouse, but it’s just so much worse with small hand sizes that it’s not worth the effort.  Add in the fact that Vault / Secret Chamber provide other options for disposing of unwanted cards, and Cellar becomes relegated to a card only to buy if its superior alternatives are not available.




3. Moat

A tough call, putting a Reaction card on this list, since if you’re under fire from Mountebanks and Witches, you are pretty happy to have one of these in your hand.  Among Reaction cards, Moat has the best Reaction ability—but in exchange for having the worst non-Reaction ability.  The problem is that you rarely need such all-around protection.  Secret Chamber works just as well (possibly better) against deck-inspection attacks; Watchtower does better than Moat against Curse-givers by eliminating their “ammo”.  The only attack that only Moat is effective against is Militia/Goons, and unless you have +Actions to burn, every time you draw it, you’ve given up one slot in your hand to possibly avoid giving up two.  Not a great trade.

Most telling, though, is that if there is no attack in the game, then no one buys Moat.  (The +2 Cards is so pathetically weak that you should probably just not bother building a +Actions/+Cards engine around it.)  The same is not true of Watchtower or Secret Chamber.



Dominion: Alchemy

2. Herbalist

This works best with Alchemist and Hoard.  Other than that, this is a classic “Actions to burn” buy; there’s no point to it unless you have more Actions than you know what to do with, or if you desperately need +Buy.






Pearl Diver

Dominion: Seaside

1. Pearl Diver

The first time you buy it, you conjure up all these images of the great cards buried on the bottom of your deck, to be brought back to the living by Pearl Diver.  But then you hit an Estate on the bottom, and you start to realize, hey, this card is basically useless as soon as you hit a bad card.  Sure, there are certain situations where you might want to bring Victory cards to the top, but even when you’re bringing good cards up, it’s not really a net positive unless you can draw it immediately.  And oh yeah, it’s self-replacing, except that it’ll trigger reshuffles, which can be a royal pain.  Pearl Diver subscribes to the “out-sit rather than out-play your opponent” school of winning.  Even the Village Idiot at least gets extra Actions; all Pearl Diver offers is a dreadful amount of AP.  About the best thing that can be said for this card is that it can feed into a (very) poor man’s Conspirator chain.  God help you.

Coming tomorrow: the five best $2 cards …

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27 Responses to The Five Worst $2 Cards

  1. fellowmartian says:

    You’re right about the way Pawn is often used, but if used properly, it can be pretty awesome for a $2. A free buy, together with either a replacement card or +1$? Hello… Also, if you are keeping an eye on your deck you can know fairly well when it’s good to take a card or not, and when it’s good to take an action with that card, or take a buy or $ instead.

    Can I take a guess at the best five? Hmmm, actually there’s only six left. Still: 5. Embargo, 4. Native Village, 3. Secret Chamber, 2. Haven, 1. Chapel ?

    • fellowmartian says:

      Oh hang on, I missed Lighthouse…. That would definitely come in there, probably at #2. For me.

      • theory says:

        Interesting—one of the reasons I hesitated about putting Moat on this list was because I actually like it better than Lighthouse. Against some attacks you sometimes want to be able to choose whether or not to be affected by them, and Lighthouse doesn’t give you that option. This usually applies to Minion, and sometimes also Militia/Goons if you have a Library.

        • guided says:

          Personally I think Lighthouse is almost invariably superior to Moat. It’s an almost-Silver that protects you from attacks. If I have exactly $2 to spend I’ll often buy one even in the absence of attacks.

          The boards where Moat’s +2 cards ability is useful, on the other hand, are vanishingly rare.

        • fellowmartian says:

          Lighthouse’s value is dependant on the attacks you’re likely to face, for sure, and so changes from board to board like any other card. But for the attacks you know are going to come out and you’re going to hate: Ambassador, Mountebank, Witch, etc., if you get a few of them you have more or less constant protection against your nemesis. Yeah, it takes up a card the turn before, but it doesn’t take up an action and the cash makes it even better. If they group you’ve got a few +$ on the next turn for free (2 of them is like one of the two powers of Minion on your next turn, effectively).

        • tlloyd says:

          Moat has another slight advantage over lighthouse that as far as I’m aware no one has yet mentioned: the attacking player will know when you are protected by the lighthouse, but won’t necessarily know when you are protected by a moat in your hand.

          I doubt this is a very significant benefit, though, since it really only matters when your opponent would regret playing the action card if he knew you had the moat (one example I can think of would be deciding whether to use his last action on a saboteur/sea hag or instead on a productive action card). It seems to me that talented opponents won’t be in this situation that often.

      • Keith Grant says:

        Chapel & Native Village stand out far above the others for me.

  2. Personman says:

    Wow. Some of this is very different from how I’ve thought about things!

    First, Embargo isn’t on this list? And Pawn is? Huh? I think of Pawn as a very good card, not nearly as good as the really good $2s, but generally strong. Sure, maybe people misplay it, but that doesn’t make it a bad card. Embargo, on the other hand, I generally think of as crap that you sometimes pick up when there’s nothing better to do or you want to try to stop someone from doing something particular, but usually that’s a waste of time unless they are stupid and seriously overcommit to a one-card strategy with embargo on the board.

    Second, Lighthouse? Not amazing? Worse than Moat?? I know people who think it’s better than Silver! That’s not quite true since it doesn’t burst your money, but there are certainly situations where you prefer smoothing to burst and it’s a better buy. Oh, and then, on top of that, it’s also Moat. I think Lighthouse is #4 for me, after Chapel, Courtyard, and Native Village, which I believe are all cards you buy over $3s regularly.

    Speaking of Courtyard, I can’t really figure out why it’s not on fellowmartian’s list other than that it’s apparently a generally underrated card. My group identified it as the second best $2 pretty immediately, and I can’t really see a better $2 being printed again ever. Seriously, it’s often better than Smithy!

    Last, and the point I think I’m most likely to wrong about, why does everyone think Secret Chamber is so great? I definitely used to underrate it significantly, and also its value went up a lot over time (it was kind of useless in Intrigue-only, but became an amazing counter to Pirate Ship when Seaside was printed). I get that it’s a kinda nifty combo with Library-like effects if you have a billion actions to spare, and it’s quite nice against top-of-deck attacks, though kind of a toss-up with Moat (you can smooth your hand, but you still lose something to Swinder/Saboteur…). But its Action effect on its own is much worse than Moat’s – it’s $0-$2 most of the time; hopefully you can do better than that in 2 cards. It’s an okay card, but I still think it’s generally worse than Moat and Pawn and maybe even Cellar. What am I missing?

    • theory says:

      In a sufficiently large hand, Secret Chamber is basically the same as Vault, except without the benefit to your opponents. So it’s situational.

      I prefer it over Moat against Swindler, Pirate Ship, and Thief. If someone Swindles you, you can just put an Estate on top and essentially get it discarded.

    • fellowmartian says:

      Courtyard is pretty good as a drawer. I probably underrate drawers in my play; with some + actions Courtyard can be great.

  3. mentalist says:

    i probably buy pearl divers and pawns more than any other 2 dollar cards because they don’t take away value from our hand if we draw them, except maybe lower the chance of drawing reaction cards. especially when you get to the point where buying silver would dilute your deck, extra $2 or $3 usually get spent on these cards when they are available. they also work well with throne room, king’s court and conspirators.

    in terms of usefulness alone, i’d say chapel and courtyard are top 2. also, agree with theory that secret chamber is better than moat against swindler, pirate ship, and thief. but actually drawing ability of moat is not to be ignored either.

  4. I got a real kick out of this post, thanks 🙂

    I’d rate the 2-costers in roughly this order:

    Chapel is Chapel. The card that’s such a good opener it costs 2 to make absolutely certain that everyone can buy one (and another card) if they want.

    -Outside attacking games, Courtyard is absolutely head and shoulders above every other 2-coster that isn’t Chapel. It wouldn’t be totally out of the question to price it at $3–it probably wouldn’t even be the worst $3 card!–and the only thing saving it from being undercosted at $2 is that a Courtyard stack makes for a very mediocre draw engine.

    Lighthouse is obscenely good at $2 on attack-focused boards. As an almost-Silver it’s frequently worth a $2 buy even in the absence of attacks. You can get into trouble even on attacking boards if you buy a big stack of them indiscriminately, so you know, don’t do that.

    Haven, Cellar, Native Village, Pawn, and Embargo I think are all about equally good:

    Haven you can almost stack indiscriminately if you have medium to high trash density. Great card for loose $2 buys in untrimmed decks. Furthermore, the ability to shunt a good card (like a Gold) from one hand to the next during the VP-buying phase can be hugely useful.

    Cellar, while I agree it’s not as good as Warehouse, is maybe 2/3 as good in the general case, and about as good as Warehouse in some cases (e.g. untrimmed draw engines). The cases where it’s better are few and far between, but then, it’s a cheaper card…. Cellar can be very strong as the cheap leg of a 5/2 opening, even if you have no real plan for it other than quick cycling early.

    Native Village is a seductive card that completely blows if you don’t have a specific plan for it. Outside the rare board where it’s a legitimate, fast-enough megaturn threat, it tends to be little more than a crappy version of Village that only gives you about 2/3 of a (delayed) card on average. Now, that said, if you have spare buys and can get a quick stack of these along with other engine cards they can make a pretty good engine, particularly in the absence of other +2 Actions cards.

    Pawn is usually a safe card to take with a loose $2 buy, which is more than I can say for certain other $2 cards. They can float around in your deck doing no harm, and if you find a use for them they can easily be the difference between winning and losing. If a Pawn you bought with a spare two bucks ever once does anything other than +1 Card/+1 Action, it was a good purchase. There are many times I’ve been very thankful to have a spare $1, 1 card, and/or (most especially!) 1 buy in hand.

    Embargo would often be worth $2 if its only effect was to trash itself for $2, as a way to store a loose $2 for later. And it’s a good thing too because frankly, I’m not wild about the value of placing Embargo tokens. It’s rare that I see a game won or lost because of the winner’s Embargo placement… well, except when somebody is foolish enough to try a City rush against me with Embargo on the board 😉 It’s a fun effect that can make for interesting games; I just don’t think it has terribly much value in the general case, and even when it’s valuable it’s only rarely very valuable in my experience.

    Secret Chamber is usually worse as a defensive card than Moat or Lighthouse. In most of the rare cases where it’s better, it’s only very narrowly so. In the extremely rare case where it’s vastly better (e.g. loading a Peddler against Swindler), it’s likely Lighthouse or Moat would have been a more helpful defense on the whole for most of the game. As a deck-building card, while it has its good uses they are not too terribly common. Usually you need a big hand with a lot of junk and an extra action. Other specific uses include multi-Tactician decks with extra actions and as a poor-man’s Vault on a Grand Market board.

    -I had a whole lot of fun with Herbalist when Alchemy first came out: Herbalist/Philosopher’s Stone is actually a marginally useful, complete strategy that even works sometimes! It’s the money version of Woodcutter/Gardens. Herbalist is also a great helper card for Alchemist decks, particularly since they often want the +Buy. Other than that? It’s pretty much terrible unless you desperately need a buy and there is no other source on the board.

    -I’ve already talked about Moat. Ignoring its Reaction ability for the moment, its big downside is that it’s the absolute worst action card in the game. Yes, worse than Pearl Diver. As a terminal action that draws only 2 cards, it is usually worse than nothing. At least with “nothing” you get the next card in your deck into your hand without spending an action.

    Pearl Diver: at least Moat is occasionally useful on attack-heavy boards…. Sometimes nothing, sometimes slightly better than nothing, and occasionally worse than nothing (when playing it would cause an undesired shuffle). If I have a loose $2 buy and there are no other useful $2 cards I will usually buy a Pearl Diver, but not because I actually expect to get any benefit out of it!

  5. DG says:

    The herbalist is fit for purpose. If you’re running an alchemy deck you often want to put a treasure card (potion) on top of your deck. You often want an extra buy to split your coins+potion hand into two useful purchases. Beyond alchemy it’s not so great, but it is an alchemy card and you usually put a number of alchemy cards into the kingdom together.

  6. J.Co. says:

    I wholeheartedly disagree with Herbalist. It works well with other treasure cards with actions (particularly Bank or Royal Seal), not just hoard. Odds are, playing with Herbalist also means other Alchemy cards, which could include Philosopher’s Stone. And, if you’ve got trashing cards (particularly loan), it can help ensure getting rid of coppers faster. If you’re playing with platinums, it can be invaluable. Yes, in most cases you’ll need multiple actions to get the most out of it, but I think it’s definitely worth buying at least one more often than not.

  7. Hogefan says:

    The underestimation of Pearl Diver makes me not take this site too seriously regarding Dominion Strategy.

    • theory says:

      Name me a $2 card you find universally worse than Pearl Diver.

    • guided says:

      Is this a joke/troll or can you actually back this up?

    • rrenaud says:

      This is some pretty nice supporting evidence. Among the non-terminal $2 actions, Pearl Divers are the most correlated with losing.

      • ipofanes says:

        Interesting that these cards don’t fare that great for buying before the first shuffle. As this is indicative of a 5/2 opening, this should tell us that a 5/2 opening is maybe not the best to hope for.

        • Amaranth says:

          Well, the main uses for Pearl Diver are to buy it with Goons for cheap VPs and to fill out a Scrying Pool engine, and it’s not as good as Hamlet or Pawn for either of those purposes. Neither of those are things you want to be doing very early.

          • chris says:

            I thought the main use was Conspirator. It’s not as flexible as Pawn, but it’s just as cheap and sometimes Pawn isn’t on the board.

            …as far as Pearl Diver’s actual power, it does combo with some things; you can follow it with either +cards (including another Pearl Diver), or Scout or Lookout, depending on what card you fetched. If you have plans for both finding a good card and finding a bad card, you won’t risk getting stuck seeing the same card on the bottom over and over (you can also use Chancellor to get out of this situation — in the long run a Pearl Diver/Chancellor deck will draw its good cards slightly more often than its bad cards, but possibly not enough to make up for the turns you spent buying Pearl Divers and Chancellors).

            • Dominator says:

              I’d say Pearl Diver is indeed a little underrated. By itself it doesn’t do alot for you… but imagine checking the bottom of your deck and finding a good card there. Great! Move it to the top of your deck and help you next hand not have as many bad cards in it. Now imagine looking and finding that it’s your dead weight victory cards, a copper, or any of the other cards that you would never want in your hand but are hanging out for the end game. “Oh noes” you say, “I don’t ever want that card in my hand!”… Good thing you have another $2 non-terminal action in your hand that combos very nicely with Pearl Diver: Native Village. Now you can move it to the top of your deck and then move it out of your deck into your Native Village mat, where it can stay all warm and toasty and out of the way until the end of the game when you want it in your deck.
              You end up with the effect of Island (minus the 2 vp) for the same price ($2 twice) AND you can use it as many times as you want. These two cards can work to slowly trim down a deck together when there is no way to trash, taking your curses and crap out of play and making your deck more efficient.

  8. brokoli says:

    Moat. Moat is universally worse than Pearl Diver.

    And when you find a bad card on the bottom of your deck, move it to the top of your deck. Like Dominator said, you have native village. But you may have also Farming Village, Venture, Hunting Party, Adventurer, lookout, etc. But also, you can draw that card and trash it after. And Conspirator, Horn of plenty, Peddler… There are many use for Pearl Diver.

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