The Five Best $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.


Dominion: Prosperity

5. Watchtower

There were a ton of candidates for this slot.  There’s the sadistic pleasure of Masquerade; the infuriating attack of Swindler; the rage-inducing chanciness of Smugglers; I even briefly considered the criminally underrated Loan.

In the end, I went with Watchtower simply because it’s the most versatile card (and the best Reaction) in the game. Against Curse-givers, it depletes their ammo. As a Goons player, it massively increases your VP earning potential while indirectly defending against opposing Goons.  With Talisman and Treasure Map, it’s an absurdly powerful combo.  And it even works as a Royal Seal if you draw it dead.



Dominion: Seaside

4. Warehouse

I hinted at the utility of this card when discussing Cellar in the Worst $2 Cards: this card so out-classes Cellar it’s not even funny.  Not only are you rarely going to be Cellaring more than 3 cards at a time, the ability to view what you draw before you discard makes Cellar a better card only when you’re going to be discarding 5+ cards at a time.  (This is why Treasure Map/Cellar doesn’t work nearly as well as Treasure Map/Warehouse.)

Warehouse is best in the endgame, when you have a lot of Victory cards to discard, but it’s also a solid opening paired with another Action: I’ve already mentioned Treasure Map/Warehouse, but Baron/Warehouse, Salvager/Warehouse, Feast/Warehouse, and even Chapel/Warehouse all work nicely as ways to cut your variance.  It’s a good way to guarantee you draw your Action with a given other card, or to accelerate the reshuffle to get a critical $5 card into your hand faster.



Dominion: Intrigue

3. Steward

After Chapel and Moneylender, the most effective early trasher.  The trash-for-benefit cards don’t work very well on Coppers, and tend to be too slow anyway; Lookout is too chancy; Trading Post and Forge are ordinarily too late.  More importantly, Steward is the one of the few early trashers that has any use in the late game.  It’s not the best card for any of its roles, but its flexibility often makes it more prized than all its superior alternatives.  And it works especially well with Throne Room and King’s Court.

Of course, it’s completely useless when Chapel is around, but that’s true for quite a few cards, and Steward takes up the mantle admirably in Chapel’s absence.


Fishing Village

Dominion: Seaside

2. Fishing Village

Heavy Action chainers must have thought they died and went to heaven when they saw this card.  +2 Actions this turn and the next?  And money to boot?  With good terminals, this is one of the few cards you’ll see people double up on on the first two turns, just to make sure they grab their share before it runs out.

If there aren’t good terminals, this card becomes quite useless; it’s essentially a Copper this turn and an extra Copper the next.  But its sheer power in the presence of +Cards, Goons, Bridge, or any other good terminal makes it far and away the best +Actions card in the game.  You feel almost guilty using it: it lets you indulge in massively over-investing in terminal Actions like we did when we first got the game and Big Money was a Wheel of Fortune catchphrase rather than a fun-destroying heuristic.  Action chains are the most fun part about Dominion, and Fishing Village is all about accepting that fact.  It is so wrong, and yet at the same time it is so very, very right.



Dominion: Seaside

1. Ambassador

How good is this card?  So good that with 5/2, I’d often rather open Ambassador/nothing than fall behind in Estate tennis.  It “trashes” like a Steward, it attacks like a Mountebank Jr., and for the low low cost of $3!  About the only time you won’t want to buy this is if your opponent is going Gardens, or if he’s cheating and somehow started with a Possession in his deck.  Otherwise, the fact of the matter is: if you don’t buy it, your opponent will, and getting your own Ambassador is pretty much the only effective response.  Plus, if you trim your deck enough, you can turn Ambassador into a Witch by buying a Curse (the “I win if I lose just a little less” strategy).  It’s one of the most brutal attacks in the game; the fact that it’s available on the very first turn dramatically alters the strategy space of any game it’s in.

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22 Responses to The Five Best $3 Cards

  1. Jahz says:

    Ambassador is so good it’s only rare I would not open with two of them on 4/3, despite the risk of having them together.

  2. Mark Diehr says:

    List is wrong without Swindler.

    Silver should get a mention since it’s actually better than most $3 buys during most of the game.

  3. theory, you need to see a doctor about your Moneylender obsession! When both Steward and Moneylender are available, I probably take Steward more often than Moneylender. I would go so far as to say Moneylender is very rarely a better opening card unless it nets you a Gold at turn 3 or 4 — something that happens less than 35% of the time even when you aim for it. Ultimately Moneylender is “spend a terminal action for +$2 if you have a copper. oh, and I guess you can trash the copper after you’re done with it.” It was an elite opener in the base set when trashers were so scarce that dumping a single copper was a big deal, but there are much better trashers now.

    Steward is only a halfway decent trasher, but having serious usefulness beyond its trashing life makes it one of the elite cards in the game.

    • theory says:

      Like Trading Post, Moneylender is one of the very few trashing cards that gives you an immediate benefit as you trash. (Apprentice and Salvager sometimes, but they don’t work well on Coppers.) I feel that this is a bigger effect than you think: I’m happy to open Moneylender/Chapel because it means I have a better shot at getting the 5’s and 6’s while simultaneously trimming the deck.

      • The problem is that neither the benefit (+$2) nor the trashing ability (a single copper) is all that great. You put them together and you get a merely decent card. The main difference between Loan and Moneylender as openers is that Moneylender spends an action for an extra $1.

        • theory says:

          First, it’s $2 more than Loan, which is huge for getting to $5 and $6. Second, I do love Loan, so using an Action to get an even better Loan is a-ok with me. And third, Moneylender is really a Gold with a “trash a Copper” condition. How can you pass that up? In the first couple turns, Actions are quite plentiful and getting what amounts to a Silver+trasher is about as good a $4 terminal as you can get on the first few turns.

          • No really, it’s $1 more than Loan. Loan is worth $1 and Moneylender is worth $2 net. Loan also provides early cycling and costs less… because it’s not quite as good. It is not an acceptably fast deck-trimming card against any other trimming terminal. The loss of a copper amounts to a minor fringe benefit.

            Equating it with Gold is pretty silly. It can never be worth more than $2 net, it always costs an action for it to be worth $2, and eventually it becomes a dead card.

            I’m not bagging on Moneylender, which is after all a pretty good card, but you overrate it significantly. It’s far from an auto-buy. Remember my opening strength thread? It was in the low-50s win rate in the unduplicated results, right along with Steward.

            • theory says:

              I analogize it to Baron and Salvager. Moneylender is basically the same as Salvager/Estate except it doesn’t cost you the VP (ok, whatever), is much more likely to go off (ok, good), and can be activated up to 7 times (usually more like 4-5 without other trashers). Baron is strictly better than Moneylender in terms of money when it goes off, but doesn’t trash and is less likely to do so.

              It’s not as good a pure trasher as Steward or Chapel or even Ambassador, but it’s the only the only trasher I will open in conjunction with other trashers. I think Moneylender/Chapel, for instance, is strictly better than Silver/Chapel if there aren’t good $2’s around.

              That’s sort of what I meant by my statement that I place Steward after Moneylender. I’m happy to open Moneylender/Steward, or Moneylender/Chapel, but not Steward/Chapel.

            • Sprocket says:

              The other major difference between loan and moneylender is that loan only requires one of the slots in your hand while moneylender requires two. Basically I think of it as $3 for 2 cards instead of $1 for one card. Also, the loan is always worth at least $1, but the moneylender will often contribute $0 to your hand.

      • Well, it appears Moneylender can serve as a good springboard to completely bullshit Forge luck:

        We both got an early Moneylender, but he got a turn-4 Forge, a turn-5 Gold, and promptly trashed 3 Coppers and all his Estates with Forge on turns 6 and 7, gaining a Gold in the process. This may be the luckiest first 7 turns I have ever seen in a Dominion game.

    • tlloyd says:

      All true, but this only matters when there is a choice between Moneylender and Steward. If they’re both on the table, I’d take moneylender early and then use a steward (in the absence of remodel or some other trash-for-benefit card) to get rid of the moneylender.

  4. We’ve definitely got the right top 3 here. In 2p I think Masquerade is easily #4, and then there’s a big logjam of second-tier cards after that. I’m pretty sure I’d pick Lookout for #5, but other candidates include Warehouse, Village, Watchtower, Loan, and Swindler.

    I don’t have a lot of experience with Masquerade in multiplayer games but I’d expect it to be a little weaker, since the attack-like effect of the card is diffused between multiple players.

  5. Zaphod says:

    Estate tennis, as you describe it, is boring as hell. If Ambassador is in the game, I’m hoping there’s also Watchtower or Upgrade, to help me get around it. I can’t stand games where you pass me your Estate, I pass it back, you pass it to me again, etc. Neither of us is really improving our hand, and these games tend to drag on forever. The only time I really like the Ambassador is when there’s a risk of Curses being handed out.

    Good call on Fishing Village. The freedom this card gives to buy more actions than usual makes it my favorite card in the Village family. Watchtower is probably my second-favorite cost-3 card because it’s so versatile, and useful in many different situations.

    • chwhite says:

      I’ve recently been coming around to the idea that Watchtower is actually the best $3 in the game. It’s essentially:

      a) a better Moat against Curse and/or discarding attacks
      b) an almost-Library (one card less, and setting aside Actions isn’t a big deal)
      c) an almost-Royal Seal

      *all* for only $3, when at least the last two of those functions are probably worth $3 each *by themselves*. As long as there are any +Action cards or attacks, it’s basically a must-buy IMO.

    • Arya Stark says:

      I agree with you Zaphod!!! I hate ambssador so much now, I try to decline any time I see it, its so boring to me and Im not a very good villain

  6. Anonymous says:

    Fishing Village + Vault + Watchtower

  7. ycz6 says:

    Any initial thoughts on whether Menagerie makes this list? It seems like the best comparison is Wishing Well. Both are $3 semi-labs, and both require fairly dedicated decks to work well. Menagerie seems less spammable than Wishing Well, but significantly more powerful in small numbers?

    Based on initial Councilroom statistics, it seems like Menagerie is the second-best $3 card in the game. I’m tempted to doubt that; it probably does much better in games with multiple Cornucopia cards, which are no doubt being played more frequently right now. I would put it in the top 5, though.

  8. brokoli says:

    For me, Menagerie is the best 3$ card and one of my favourite card in the game.
    But I agree with you about Warehouse, Fishing village and Steward. Also Tunnel from Hinterlands is an excellent card when there are discarding possibilities.

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