Guest Article: Chancellor

This article is written by Drew Hardin.



This article will discuss the Chancellor. The Chancellor is commonly (but not completely) viewed as a weak card. The most common arguments are that the card is highly situational and the benefit of the card power is marginal. I will attempt to refute both claims and propose how the Chancellor can benefit your strategy.

Issue #1: Is the Chancellor situational?

Yes. Chancellor is one of the cards that you should use only in certain situations. In this sense the reputation is deserved. However, I would point out that most cards are situational and should only be used in specific situations. If anything, the sign of a truly powerful card is the ability to use it in almost every situation. Chancellor is simply not one of those cards. Very few $3 cards are useful in all situations.

Issue #2: Is the Chancellor benefit marginal?

This is where I disagree. Chancellor’s power allows a player to immediately cycle the draw deck into the discard pile regardless of the number of cards in the draw deck.  In practice this power can be very useful.

Issue #3: The Chancellor power requires lots of memorization.

Simulation data suggests that using the Chancellor power each time you play the Chancellor is only marginally weaker than making an optimal Chancellor play. Most of the benefit of the Chancellor comes from using the power.

Issue #4: The Chancellor is highly random

Yes. The card is random. If you draw it early it is much better than drawing it late. Then again, most cards have this problem to some degree. Drawing Silver Copper Estate Estate Estate is a bad draw on Turn 3. If you worry about drawing a card at the wrong time then Dominion is going to make you miserable. The Chancellor power is about using the card to the maximum when the situation is in your favor (such as drawing Chancellor Silver Copper Copper Estate on Turn 3) and avoiding the problems when the situation is not in your favor (such as drawing Chancellor OtherTerminalAction Estate Estate Estate on Turn 3).

Using the Chancellor Effectively

To understand how to use the Chancellor it is helpful to understand why the power is useful. There are three features of the Chancellor power that are important to incorporate into your play.

The first feature is fairly obvious. Early in the game when you buy almost anything your best cards are now in your discard pile. The Chancellor gives you the opportunity of putting those cards into your draw deck on your next draw.

The second feature is less obvious. When you buy a very good card (a good VP card late or a powerful $5 or $6 card early) you have often used up more of your good cards than bad cards. This is especially true very early in the game when you only have 1 or 2 cards granting Coin.  It would be best to get those cards back into play.

The third feature of the Chancellor is the optionality of the card. You don’t have to use the power unless you desire. If you feel that your draw pile is better than your discard pile you can skip the power. The card is a may, not a must. You gain the benefit but can avoid the negatives.

Buying a Chancellor is essentially taking a gamble. In essence you are replacing a safe Silver purchase for a risky Chancellor purchase. The Chancellor has the same +2 Coin value as Silver but requires an Action to gain the benefit while the Silver does not.

Simulation evidence suggests that buying a second Chancellor is of minimal value (an exception may be the Chancellor/Stash)  so more often than not you are faced with only one question you must decide:

Should I buy the Chancellor instead of my first Silver?

Phrased differently, the question is really:

Is the benefit of using the Chancellor greater than the risk of drawing the Chancellor and not being able to play the Terminal Action?

If the answer to this question is yes then buy the Chancellor instead of the Silver. The problem is determining if the answer is yes or no.

The benefit of the Chancellor buy is simple. Each time you play the Chancellor the next time you draw cards you get a reshuffle. Most of the time this means that if you use the Chancellor as the last action of the turn all the cards you just bought (and used that turn) are back in the draw pile and may be redrawn immediately.

In a perfect scenario you draw the Chancellor and your best cards on Turn 3. Then you draw the Chancellor and your best cards on Turn 4. In 41.7% of the openings the Chancellor will appear on Turn 3. If the power is then used to purchase a card it will appear again on Turn 4 38% of the time. In roughly 1 in 6 of your games you will have used the Chancellor power twice. If you draw the Chancellor on Turn 4 your new purchases will be one of the five cards you draw instead one of the three cards you draw after you draw the last two. Simply put, the Chancellor is an accelerator. It puts the cards you buy early into play faster.  The key to the acceleration is the possibility of getting the Chancellor early.

The weakness of the Chancellor is the possibility of drawing the card as the terminal Action with another terminal Action. This is a very real problem and not a desirable outcome. However, the Chancellor is unusual in being able to reduce the impact of this problem. When the happens if you use the Chancellor power the Action Card you skipped this turn will be available to draw immediately instead of waiting another cycle to play.

Another weakness commonly stated about the Chancellor is the Chancellor has few combo cards (though the Counting House and Stash both benefit from putting the draw pile into the discard).  This is true in the sense that the Chancellor rarely combines with any other $3 or $4 card (though Chancellor/Mining Village has an excellent chance of getting a good card early). For this reason the Chancellor often combines with an opening buy of Silver. This opening has been discussed elsewhere.

The Chancellor/Silver opening may not be sexy but it is a stronger opening than many others. The idea behind the Chancellor/Silver opening is to combine the Chancellor with the cards it works best with. The Chancellor combines just fine with any strategy that relies heavily on +1 Action chains or that uses  the powerful +2 Action $5 cost cards. In essence the Chancellor is about bypassing the early weak cards in favor of an accelerated $5 and $6 card buying spree.

So, the Chancellor is a card that produces a key early acceleration, sustains a middle game acceleration but risks costing you a key terminal Action at a bad time.  The problem can be entirely mitigated by simply not buying a second terminal action. Sometimes you need to buy a second terminal action. So, what are the options for mitigating the problem and maximizing the benefit?

First, in some situations the Chancellor should be avoided entirely. The power of the Chancellor is increased in games where trashing is difficult or impossible. The ability to cycle becomes important in these games. The power weakens in heavy trashing games where the power is not needed. In general the Chancellor combines poorly with pure trash cards like the Chapel but does fine when used as part of a ‘trash for value’ strategy like the Salvager, Forge or Upgrade.

The Chancellor performs poorly when combined with terminal actions that draw cards, such as the Smithy, Council Room or Torturer and you are weak on +2 Action cards. In these situations you would rather have drawn Silver.

The Chancellor performs well with any strategy that is heavy on Coin and makes heavy use of non-terminal Actions. Since most of these cards cost $5 or $6 it synergizes well with openings that early  emphasize Coin (such as the Chancellor/Silver).

The impact of attacks on the Chancellor is mixed. Like most Coin heavy strategies discard attacks are a problem. The Chancellor defends well against Treasure stealing attacks such as the Thief and Pirate Ship. The Chancellor cycling ability helps minimize the impact of Curse based attacks by making use of variance to allow you to buy Provinces (or Colonies) with lucky draws then immediately put your best cards back into play.

Summarizing, the Chancellor is a card that plays well in setups where early acceleration through high Coin mixes well with solid $5 and $6 cost cards. The card is basically a replacement for a Silver buy that attempts to speed up your development by taking advantage of early draws and decent card buys.

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13 Responses to Guest Article: Chancellor

  1. Tim says:

    Great article. Some points I’d like to have it addressed though:

    1. As an early booster, how do you compare Chanceller+Silver to Baron+Silver or Moneylender+Silver?

    2. The added variation: suppose in the 3rd turn we have Chanceller+copper*3+estate and bought a good 5-cost card. Shall we reshuffle? I think the answer is yes, but we have to realize that 4 bad cards are also shuffled back into the deck. In the worst case this adds the possibility of some bad draws before taking advantage of the Silver bought in the first two turns. Also, suppose you drawed an identical hand again. Should you take another reshuffle now?

    • Drew Hardin says:

      My thoughts:

      1. I prefer Chancellor/Silver to Baron/Silver but only because Baron/Silver though Baron/Silver has a better chance of hitting Gold it takes longer to put the Gold back in play. But I haven’t really tried to compare these two directly. Baron/Silver may very well be stronger. If you were never going to buy another terminal Action it turns out through simulations that Chancellor/Silver is actually faster to 4 Provinces than Moneylender/Silver. But the Moneylender has a very nice power. I have tried opening them together lately. Interestingly, I drew the Chancellor/Moneylender together 4 times but still had 24 VP against 27 VP at the end despite the worst possible situation happening repeatedly.

      2. You should shuffle for the simple reason that the remaining 7 cards are Silver Copper Copper Copper Copper Estate Estate. Of your 3 best cards 2 are in the discard pile while 6 of your 10 weakest are in your draw. And if you draw the identical hand again I would still reshuffle since 2 of my 4 are in the discard pile while the remaining 8 cards contain 6 of my 10 weakest cards.

      – Drew

    • Drew Hardin says:

      Just to clarify the situation about Turn 3.

      The issue here is your Turn 4 and Turn 5 draws. You either get a weak Turn 4 or the last two cards you draw on Turn 5 are very weak indeed. The Chancellor puts all the cards back in play producing improved chances to avoid a weak Turn 4 or Turn 5.

      If instead of getting the Chancellor on Turn 3 you get it on Turn 4 the situation is the same (but somewhat weaker). You must start Turn 5 with 2 cards that must be some combination of Copper/Estate. Playing the Chancellor means you are drawing from all the cards you have purchased. You have a chance at a stronger Turn 5.

      Your chances of winning go up when you are the first person to buy a key card and play it. The Chancellor is a card that gives you a better chance of achieving that goal. I have had games where I have bought Gold on Turn 3 and Turn 4 and used the Chancellor both times. It can be very helpful when that happens.

  2. Reyk says:

    “but does fine when used as part of a ‘trash for value’ strategy like the Salvager, Forge or Upgrade.”

    What’s the idea behind this? To trash the chancellor after some early use? Otherwise it wouldn’t work well with Salvager and Forge as other terminal actions. But Mining village/chancellor to quickly get and play a forge (trasging the village to get it and than trashing the chancellor) might be strong.
    I’d like to read something about this: Are there less situational uses for chancellor after the release of some expansions?
    And of course a more detailed view on chancellor by theory than already sometimes posted would be fine 😉

    • Drew Hardin says:

      The Chancellor does weaken in value as the game goes on. But it still retains the $3 for use with Salvager/Forge/Remodel/Expand/Upgrade. Converting the Chancellor into a true power card is very much in the spirit of using it.

      I probably use the Chancellor a bit too much. But having used it in so many games I no longer worry about colliding the terminal actions when I buy them. I am willing to open Chancellor with many of the terminal action cards. I have found that in practice collisions between the $3 and $4 cost cards are only a problem if they deny you +Coin. I have just found the Chancellor/Silver is often one of the best openings. The reality is that Silver/Silver is a good opener simply because it creates very good early Coin density and helps propel you past having to buy a lot of $3 and $4 cards.

      Generally you want to avoid very many of those cards. When you do want to buy a lot of those kinds of cards they usually grant +1/+2 Action and they don’t collide with the Chancellor. The Chancellor combines with any of the Villages (though Fishing Village is a bit weaker for this) or cards like Remodel (or even better King’s Court) or any of the chain cards. For example, it combines just fine with the Minion, Treasury, Bazaar, Festival, Market, Grand Market, Peddler and other cards of that type. In my view the collision problem is overstated except for the +Card terminal Actions.

  3. rrenaud says:

    I love to open Potion/Chancellor in Familiar games.

  4. Ido Abelman says:

    Since the “5 worst 3 costers” I’ve been waiting for someone to defend chancellor. It has it’s problems, but it’s definetally not the worst 3 coster. I think the reason it is so underrated is that it’s often hard to keep track of the benefit you gain from it.
    Great article!

  5. Sorry, but this article is not at all convincing. There’s a lot of hand-wavy assertions, but no hard data or analysis. Even if you’re not willing to give the treatment that the guys over at Simulated Dominion are doing when analyzing cards, you could at least link to some cherry-picked isotropic games that back up anything you’re saying. The fact is Chancellor is probably the worst 3 in the game.

  6. geogus says:

    i tried village – chancellor – countig house and it works pretty well

    hitting this combo is worth a province and it is easy to build

    However, its lacks extra buy, what would be useful and is no good in prosperity games

    But when province is the top green card works really well.

  7. PK9 says:

    I think the Chancellor power doesn’t get weak until the very, very late game. In the mid game, that +$2 might be kinda sorry, but you’re probably buying a good card that might take quite a while to reach your hand. Chancellor gives you a chance of drawing it the very next turn. Depending on when it comes up, this ability can be far more powerful than in turn 3, where anything you didn’t draw in turn 4 is going to come up in turn 5 anyways.

  8. Matthew Bond says:

    It bears a mention that this card is usually horrible in junk attack games, especially with 3-4 players. In the base set, your only option is Witch, and good luck trying to line them up with a Village or Festival on top of just trying to make your next shuffle better than the one before…

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