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.
Choosing the best and worst $4 cards turned out to be quite a bit more difficult than the $3’s and $2’s. As it turns out, none of the $4’s are actually all that bad: the vast majority are just specialized (Coppersmith, Scout, Navigator), and it’s hard to fault something like Coppersmith if you’re not pursuing a Coppersmith strategy.
Honorable Mention: Thief
As a devoted 2-player gamer, I admit that I’m prejudiced against this card. Depending on your point of view, Thief either scales very well with more players, or very poorly with fewer. It’s nigh-useless in 2-player games, but absolutely devastating in 4-player Chapel games. Still, even in a multiplayer game, no other attack that carries such a risk of no gain to yourself and significant gain to your opponent.
5. Treasure Map
If you love games being decided by shuffling, then look no further than Treasure Map. If it appears with an enabler (Steward, Loan, Chapel, Warehouse, Talisman/Watchtower, etc.), then both players are essentially locked into letting a random number generator decide their fate. If there aren’t any enablers for the Treasure Map, passing on them is the right call, but sooner or later you will lose games you should have won due to unassisted Treasure Maps. No other card in the game (with the possible exception of an early King’s Court) has such a dramatic dichotomy between luckiness and unluckiness.
Both Workshop and Ironworks suffer from the same problem: you’re spending an Action and space in your hand to get more non-essential cards. Ironworks is slightly better than Workshop, but not really by much; unless you’re grabbing Great Halls, even a non-terminal Ironworks takes up a valuable slot in your hand.
OK, so it gives you cheap cards and more cheap cards. But you rarely want that many cheap cards, even if they’re all non-terminal. It works great with Gardens or Quarry (EDIT: and Bishop), but otherwise there’s no point to set up amazing Village/Smithy chains if you don’t have any money to go with it. And if you draw it with $6, you’re forced to choose between either wasting a $6 buy on a Caravan, or reconciling yourself to the fact that you bought an expensive Copper.
That having been said, it is occasionally viable to build a deck concentrated on $2-$4 cards (typically including Fishing Villages, Caravans, and/or Bridges). But remember that spending this much time on building Action combos is a risky proposition, since you might get brute-forced by Big Money before you have a chance to activate.
A solid opener, and that’s about it. Theoretically it combos with Torturer and Masquerade, but Militia and Goons are almost certainly more effective for cutting handsize at the Action-combo point of the game. It’s not a bad opening card—I’ve even seen players successfully double up on it on Turn 3, leading to a pretty miserable game all around. But I’ve never seen anyone pick this up past Turn 4. The fact that it dramatically exacerbates the first-player advantage is another point against it.
One of the most perplexing cards. Its attack is much tamer than Ghost Ship, and its non-attack benefit is … well, there’s a limit to how many Silvers you really want. About its best use is if you’re making a beeline for Duchy/Duke, but even then its terminal nature makes it a really hard sell. And other than Dukes, I can’t really think of anything that Bureaucrat “combos” with. Venture comes closest, but Venture also happens to be the perfect counter to Bureaucrat’s attack. It might be valuable in a multiplayer game where you know you’ll be mired in Curses and Coppers for a long time, but even then you’d probably rather be Cursing instead of playing Bureaucrat’s piddly attack.
This is usually the point where I say that it’s only worth it if there are no other worthy terminals, but honestly, I wouldn’t recommend Bureaucrat even then. Clogging up your deck with Silvers is really a losing proposition, and playing half a Ghost Ship on your opponents doesn’t nearly make up for it.