The Five Worst $3 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.



5. Village

Village earns its place on this list solely due to its notorious misuse by beginning players, an epidemic that carries its own insulting nickname. Many a tale is told by grizzled BSW veterans, in the days before Isotropic, of the endless Village chains they were forced to endure, usually culminating in the Village Idiot buying yet more Villages, never increasing their buying power. And yet it remains an inexplicably popular first-turn buy, despite the fact that players who buy it on one of the first two turns score well under 40% against players who don’t.  (For reference, this is about two percentage points better on average than opening with Copper.)


Wishing Well

Dominion: Intrigue

4. Wishing Well

There’s definitely uses for this card.  There’s a whole article on how to use it.  Problem is, when you’re only scrounging up $3 per hand, you really can’t waste time buying a card that’s usually like buying nothing at all.  If for whatever reason you find yourself with $3 in the midgame, it’s a worthwhile non-terminal if you don’t want to weigh your deck down with Silvers, but the $4 non-terminals are so much better it’s not even funny.  It can’t really do any harm, but it can’t do that much good either, and so it’s #4 on the list.





3. Workshop

University is amazing, Workshop isn’t.  The difference?  $5 Actions are actually useful, to the point where you probably want as many of them as you can in your deck because of how much they boost your deck quality.  That just doesn’t hold true for $3 and $4 Actions.  Most of them are terminal and intended strictly for early-game use.  And few of the non-terminals actually improve your deck in a meaningful way.  About its best use is for Great Halls and Caravans, but even then, it’s far outclassed by Ironworks.

Of course, it’s good for Gardens, and if in a Cursy game, or in a game overflowing with Actions but without +Buy, Workshop might be worth it to pick up some Caravans or Great Halls if Ironworks isn’t around.  But that’s a lot of if’s.  90% of the time, it’s far more important to ramp up your engine instead of dilly-dallying at the $3/$4 level.  Even if you gain every Great Hall and every Spy with your Workshop, you still haven’t made any progress whatsoever towards reaching $8, or even $6 per hand.




2. Woodcutter

No one purchases a Woodcutter unless they have no other choice.  If you’re very prescient, I can see the appeal of opening with Woodcutter if you know you’ll be setting up long Laboratory chains.  But you’re never happy to do it, and there better be basically no other terminal on the board to justify such a move.

Woodcutter ranks worse than Workshop because it’s not even the best card in the one situation where Woodcutter shines.  (Though I concede this is a debatable point.)  Plus, the Woodcutters in the picture aren’t even sawing correctly.  I mean, come on!  What’s the point of making such an inefficiently wide (not to mention crooked) cut?




1. Chancellor

Most players’ first impression of Chancellor is that it’s crap.  Then you start second-guessing yourself; you wonder whether or not you’re giving it short shrift.  Maybe this is one of those “expert-level” cards that only good players can appreciate, you think to yourself.  You start trying it out, faithfully trying to manipulate deck variance in your favor.  Then you realize it’s still crap.

Nevertheless, Chancellor holds the unique title of “most overrated underrated card”.  That is, you will continue to see people extolling its virtues, coming up with exotic scenarios that justify using a terminal Action on deck reshuffling.

The long and short of it is that although Chancellor offers a benefit, it’s a marginal and uncertain one.  If you really want, you can get most of its benefit (and then some) from Watchtower/Royal Seal/Navigator anyway.  And unlike just about every other card, there is never a board where you need a Chancellor in order to succeed.  Yeah, it works nicely with Stash, but the fact that Chancellor’s best combo involves investing in another mediocre card (a promotional one, to boot) really should end up counting against it.

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45 Responses to The Five Worst $3 Cards

  1. david707 says:

    Is Silver going to be the best $3 card?

    • theory says:

      Nah. Maybe I should retitle these the best “Actions” … but I do want to consider Hoard and Venture and Bank.

      Besides, I have a strong distaste for Silver. It’s a real liability in the late game.

  2. RobF says:

    I’d definitely put Woodcutter as better than Workshop, rather than the other way around. In the early game, Woodcutter is $2 that can go towards buying a good $5-6 card, and as long as actions aren’t too scarce, the +Buy can make Woodcutter a better option than Silver. Workshop OTOH just takes up space (and actions) buying small stuff.

    But the late game is really where Woodcutter can be good. If you’ve built a good deck and are producing lots of $ and actions, Woodcutter’s extra buy can pick you up an extra Province or Duchy, and what is Workshop going to get you – an Estate?

    • Keith Grant says:

      In the early game, you can get a Silver for the same price. That gives you $2 that can go towards buying a good $5-6 card. And you can play another action on the same turn.

      • Marcel says:

        Getting silver early game wouldn’t necessarily give you another action to play. Consider the situation after your first shuffle.

        Imagine buying woodcutter gives you:
        woodcutter, 3 x copper, estate

        however buying silver instead gives you:
        silver, 3 x copper, estate.

        Obviously in that case you’d rather have woodcutter since it’s an extra buy.

        Of course later on in the game woodcutter becomes a problem because it’s a terminal action. I’d agree with the original poster though and put woodcutter above workshop. You can find good uses for it as long as you don’t have too many woodcutters in your deck. For example you can throne room a woodcutter if you’ve got nothing better and get the higher cost cards. You can’t throne room a silver.

        • theory says:

          In non-Gardens games, Woodcutter is much more helpful later on than early. You’re more likely to have +Actions cards, and more importantly, the +Buy actually matters. In the examples you provided, $5 Actions are so much better than $3’s and $4’s I can’t imagine anyone would ever want to pass up a $5 for a $2 and a $3.

          • Marcel says:

            I guess that’s my point. Very early on it is effectively the same as a silver *not* worse. Mid game it’s not so good because it’s a terminal action and then late game it can become useful again depending on what other cards are around.

  3. Keith Grant says:

    My take on Chancellor:

    Back before any expansions, when action chaining was limited (particularly in games without Festival or Village), this was a strong card. If you can only have one or two action cards in your deck, Chancellor is worth considering. The day I decided to try it–and actually make heavy use of its ability–I won several games.

    The big problem is it doesn’t pair well with anything. Now that we have so many expansions, and strategy has evolved into finding two or three or four cards that work well together, Chancellor has lost almost all its viability.

    I still buy it on occasion. But even then, it’s usually only when I’m experimenting.

  4. A single Woodcutter is an excellent opening buy in situations where you plan to have no other terminal actions and can see any use for the +Buy. It’s much more generally useful than Workshop.

    Chancellor is a good opening buy in most any situation where you plan to have no other terminal actions. Even if you only use it once early on to cycle past an Estate and 2 Coppers, the snowball effects justify the purchase. Yes, Royal Seal is almost always better and Navigator can sometimes be better, but those are more expensive cards.

    I’d put Workshop squarely at the bottom of the list, with Chancellor at #2. In my own playtesting, by the way, with fully optimized strategy Woodcutter and Workshop are equally effective for Gardens decks. I haven’t tested Gardens vs. Gardens though, and maybe Workshop is better there.

    I will say one thing for Village: there have been a lot of times when some other Village flavor (or Shanty Town) was available and I spend the whole game wishing like hell I could just have good old $3, guaranteed +1 Card Village on the board instead. Of course everybody knows it’s a great card and the right situation, and I totally agree with putting it on this list for all the Village Idiots out there.

    • rrenaud says:

      Do you realize how rare it is that there are no terminal actions better than a Woodcutter or Chancellor?

      I primarily play Chancellor (and the highly related Navigator) precisely when there are good terminal attacks like Witch or Mountebank. The Chancellor let’s me trade-off having a half dead card in the future for getting more Witch/Mountebanks played early.

      • It’s rare that there are no terminal actions better than Woodcutter, but it’s not nearly so rare that you don’t plan to buy any of them, or that you plan to have +Actions cards before you buy more terminals. For a specific example, Woodcutter can sometimes be far and away the best opening terminal when cards like Alchemist or Peddler are on the board.

        I’m hardly saying Woodcutter is among the best $3 cards, just that it’s pretty clearly superior to Workshop.

  5. Stutzcraft says:

    I would like to know which card people think is overall more preferable, Village or Shanty Town? Which card do you find you play more often or ignore more often if it is on the board?

    • theory says:

      If I need +Actions, and either (but not both) are on the board, I’ll go for either one.

      If both are on the board, and I need +Actions, I’ll go for Village.

      If I don’t actually need +Actions because almost all my Actions are non-terminal, I’ll get one or two Shanty Towns (since then you can nearly guarantee when you play it you aren’t playing it with any other Actions).

      • Stutzcraft says:


        If I had to weigh them against each other, I would pick Village (of course it depends on the board). Overall, I find the Shanty Town less versatile and gets in the way of itself. Yet, like you mention, if played right and with constraint it can be more powerful than village. Like the Village (Idiot), I have been mystified with the way people play Shanty Town. +2 Action is such a strong allure for many players.

  6. Ken Watson says:

    I find it funny that all of the $3 kingdom cards from the base set made this list.

    Predictions as to the best 5:
    Steward (a shoe-in for #1)
    Fishing Village?

    • Steward, Ambassador, and Fishing Village are no-brainers. If any one of those 3 is to be considered clearly better than the others it’s probably Ambassador rather than Steward, but they all have their strong points.

      Knowing theory a bit I expect to see Swindler 😉

      I won’t speculate too much on his 5th choice (or 4th if Swindler isn’t included), but neither Warehouse nor Masquerade would surprise me. I don’t have the full cardlist in front of me to make my own selections.

      • Actually I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pull the same trick as Pawn: Village’s power in the right hands cannot be denied! I’d rank it over Warehouse and maybe even Masquerade.

      • Personman says:

        I’m glad people like Steward so much! It’s long been my pick for ‘best-designed Dominion card’. It’s so versatile! And so balanced! And has such interesting tension!

        I do think Ambassador is clearly stronger than it, and should be #1. I think Fishing Village is clearly better than it too, though I used to think Fishing Village was #1 by a huge margin, and I no longer do. A friend made an instructive but ultimately misleading comparison to Bazaar, a 5 which seems to do ‘just less’ than Fishing Village, in that Fishing Village gives you something now, and is identical to having played a Bazaar at the beginning of your next turn (you have two actions, a money, and a 5-card hand). So for a while we were all certain that Fishing Village really ought to be a 5, and was obscenely undercosted.

        It kind of is obscenely undercosted, but it’s not quite that bad. First, it’s a duration, so you can miss it in a shuffle. Second, though it does sort of give you a virtual card on your next turn, it can’t draw you another one of itself like Bazaar can, or be Throned or Kinged to help you get through your deck, etc. When you have as much control over your deck as you do in dominion, virtual cards are actually less valuable than real cards.

    • theory says:

      Ha, interesting. Didn’t notice that all four $3 from base were here. I guess that speaks to the power creep in Dominion …

      • Well, hopefully power creep doesn’t ever get to the point where Witch, Gold, and Chapel are considered weak cards 😉

        • joel88s says:

          Yeah, we’ll laugh deprecatingly about those cards some day as we’re playing Nuke, Demi-God and Black Hole.

        • theory says:

          Heh. To clarify, I think the only expansion that introduced “power creep” was Seaside: Prosperity’s cards are good but expensive. Seaside is the one that has (in my mind) the most cards that are most often “must-buy”: Fishing Village, Ambassador, Wharf, Sea Hag, Haven, Caravan, Warehouse, Tactician, Ghost Ship, Treasure Map, Salvager, Treasury are all among the best cards in the game.

  7. Ido Abelman says:

    I disagree about chancellor’s position. It’s not the best 3$ card, but it’s not the worst. I think it’s definetly better than woodcutter, and sometimes better than the other cards on the list.
    It seems you understand that the point of it is getting your new cards earlier (that’s why you listed watchtower and royal seal as “similiar benefit”). It’s true that watchtower and royal seal are more reliable as you can always get the card you bought next turn, but chancellor let you get all the cards you bought during the reshuffle. Maybe you won’t get them the next turn, but you’ll get them earlier.

    • theory says:

      The thing is, having good cycling is already an important component in many decks. Either you get it via trashing (Chapel) or good card draw (Laboratory chains). So it doesn’t seem that important to me to have a terminal Action solely devoted to what you should be achieving anyway.

      • Drew Hardin says:

        Really, the Chancellor is worse than the Woodcutter?

        The Chancellor may not have not synergy with any one card but the advantage of the card is that it doesn’t need to do so. It immediately cycles your deck. All it requires to do so

        In any situation where your deck is high variance (and there are many setups where steady perfect combo plays are not possible) the card is useful.

        At the beginning of the game it is a stronger version of a Silver and if you are using Action heavy combinations then you should have no difficulty playing the card.

        The card gets a bad rap because it doesn’t have the magic ability of doing any complex thing. It does one thing well. Compare that to the Woodcutter. Every weakness that applies to the Chancellor also applies to the Woodcutter and it is a rare game indeed when you need lots of buys but only the Woodcutter will do.

        – Drew

        • theory says:

          Both Woodcutter and Chancellor have their functionality duplicated by other, superior cards (Woodcutter by Market, and Chancellor by good deck drawing/Watchtower/Royal Seal). The difference is that +Buy is a critical component of just about every game. It gives you a lot of endgame control. So although Woodcutter is my last resort, it is still a resort: lacking other sources of +Buy, I will gladly take Woodcutter as my terminal.

          By contrast, I never need Chancellor’s deck-cycling. If I can’t get deck-cycling from other sources, then I will just not bother and use my terminals on something mediocre like Mine.

          • Drew Hardin says:

            I suspect we just play differently.

            I find the Chancellor very useful for a fast high Coin opening and a steady middle game cycling. The Chancellor can easily cycle 10+ cards.

            I have seen simulation data that shows that the Chancellor/Silver actually beats Moneylender/Silver to 4 Provinces in a 1-Action strategy. That of course ignores the power of the Moneylender when combined with Action strategies but I found it interesting.

            I have noticed your tendency to focus on specific styles of play and cards that provide powerful combos. The Chancellor is not that type of card.

            This is not to say that the Chancellor is a great card. But it performs better than the Wishing Well or the Woodcutter across a wider range of strategies.

            When I play it I use it to speed up my opening to get to the good 5-6 cost cards. There are many setups in which this is a good strategy and the Chancellor does well in all of them. Whereas the Woodcutter and Wishing Well work with very specific strategies and situations.

            I would simply say the Chancellor is often weak but often useful, while the Wishing Well and Woodcutter are quite weak unless the right cards are in play.

            – Drew

            The Chancellor is excellent for getting to 5-6 Coin quickly and then putting those cards back into play quickly. There are a number of strategies that work very well when played that way (even high Action Card strategies).

          • Drew Hardin says:

            You never ‘need’ the Chancellor to cycle. But if you ignore the issue of ‘need’ and focus instead of ‘can greatly benefit from’ the Chancellor becomes a very flexible Silver for the cost of a Silver. Simulation data (and my own regular use of the card) has proved to me beyond a doubt that simply using the Chancellor power often and regularly will accelerate your deck by 1-2 turns per game. During a regular game it will cycle 30+ cards which will put your power into play that much faster at key moments.

            Compare that to the Woodcutter or Wishing Well. They both need very specific situations to be of much use.

          • Drew Hardin says:

            Though the new cards change this, the +Buy historically has been of minimal use. The use of breakpoints in Dominion means you almost always want to use your full Coin value to buy the best card you can afford.

            Now that high Coin strategies are viable the +Buy is more useful. And yet the Woodcutter is still often of no use because when you hit high Coin you somehow always end with a buy from one of the cards that let you get high Coin in the first place.

            Rare indeed is the situation where the Woodcutter is necessary and there is no other way to get it.

            • theory says:

              You don’t always have Buy when you have a lot of Coin; Lab, Platinum, and Vault are good examples of how to get obscenely high money without Buy.

              Buy isn’t just important for $16 to buy two Provinces with; it dictates endgame tempo too. Your single-buy opponent cannot buy the second-to-last Province if you can buy the last Province and an Estate to end the game.

  8. Bob dole says:

    Ignoring the misuse of village that warranted its place on the last, what would you consider the 5th worse 3 action?

    • theory says:

      Good question. I might still say Village, but more likely Shanty Town. Loan and Trade Route I would consider more specialized than flat-out bad.

      • skurlywaterpog says:

        Shanty Town is a pretty odd situation. If you have a strategy that doesn’t actually pick up any terminal actions (rare, but not unheard of), you can pick up Shanty Town as a one-of early on and it functions exactly like a Laboratory, but for only $3. Of course, Laboratories are much stronger in multiples, but you can also pick up Labs and the Shanty Town will still be just as strong as long as you play your Labs first.

        However, when you actually need its +2 action effect, it’s almost always worse than a Village. Having a card where its two effects have negative synergy is pretty sad.

  9. Zaphod says:

    Interesting. I like the Chancellor and have won many games with it. I have played with people who are only happy if their turn uses 10 actions and takes up 5 minutes, and I can understand why those people wouldn’t enjoy the card very much, but for deck-building hands, this is a useful card.

    While Watchtower and Royal Seal will also get you to the card you just bought, they won’t get you to the card you bought the previous turn, nor to the useful cards you used to get those cards. If most of the cards you are accumulating are useful cards, the Chancellor is a decent buy most of the time, IMO.

    My least favorite card listed here is probably the Wishing Well. Unless the contents of your draw pile are predictable, or you play a Scout or Apothecary first, this card typically does nothing at all.

    • Drew Hardin says:

      You hit at the main point of the Chancellor.

      The argument that the Chancellor power is part of other cards treats all deck cycling basically equal. Sure, if you have a bunch of +Card or cards that draw through your deck quickly you might equal the Chancellor power.

      The Chancellor can cycle 10+ cards at once, putting your cards back into action at faster pace than any other card. The only problem with the card is it is a terminal action. It has the same Coin value as silver at the same cost.

      Any player who has a giant +Action strategy should be able to use the Chancellor power regularly and any situation in which +Action is too hard to get is often the very situation in which the Chancellor is particularly powerful.

      The Wishing Well, OTOH, provides the possibility of increasing your deck size by one. Early on the game you would do better with a Silver and in the middle game it is an acceptable buy if no other 3 or 4 cost card looks good. But that makes the card just a placeholder in most situations.

      Why you can find a use for the Wishing Well but consider the Chancellor crap is beyond my understanding.

      – Drew

      • Mick says:

        And this is what makes Dominion so great: there are balanced cards for every play style (thus the disclaimer). That’s what makes this list so interesting. Just remember that it’s at least a bit subjective…

      • theory says:

        I think your point about Chancellor always being helpful (albeit not that very much) and Woodcutter sometimes being helpful (but more so than Chancellor) is right on the money. In my experience, I just find that Chancellor’s helpfulness rarely rises to the level of a terminal, whereas Woodcutter sometimes does.

  10. PCScipio says:

    Chancellor/Counting House can be very effective combination. It does need another +2 action card to make it work. My girlfriend used it to devastating effect against me recently.

  11. Adam Simpson says:

    Chancellor could be one of the best cards in dominion. It allows you to use your awesome cards the next turn. It’s almost always a silver on your openning turn (allowing you to usually buy a $5,) with a chance to run into your $4 if you chose to buy a terminal action with it. The real upside is it lets you use that $5 immediately. On a board where you need to play your $5 faster than your opponent (Mountebank comes to mind,) If you go T3 Chancellor, T4 Mountebank your opponent is just dead. And even if you just want to buy a gold, T3 Chancellor and flipping your deck just so you can go T4 chancellor makes a chancellor a silver you see twice as often. Chancellor turns your wheelchair into a motorcycle.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I once opened village on a $5 $2 split and won the game. I Chapeled my deck and bought 2 poor houses.
    Next I bought provinces.

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