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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 …