Dominion: Laboratory



The benchmark against which every other $5 card is measured.  Laboratory was the first Dominion card released with such delicious self-synergy: unlike +Actions/+Cards engines, Laboratory chains can’t sputter because it drew its cards in the wrong order.  And there’s no fine-tuning selection of purchases needed, no need to balance between terminals and +Actions: just spam Lab over and over again. This makes Lab chains easier to run than a Village/Smithy chain, albeit a bit more expensive.

Along with City, Laboratory is one of the few non-attack $5 cards that might be worth buying with $6.  (Similarly, it’s also one of the cards that might make opening with Feast worth it.)  It’s not as important as City or Mountebank or Witch, but you can quickly fall behind if you allow your opponent to grab all the Labs, even if you establish a counterbalancing Gold advantage:

This isn't conclusive, but it indicates that you can't forsake Labs entirely to concentrate on Golds
Graph from

Laboratory is an excellent addition to just about any deck, since almost every deck benefits from increased handsize, and no other non-terminal instantly increases your handsize (other than a Level 2 City, Alchemist, and Wishing Well (sometimes)). But Laboratory is especially powerful in trimmed decks, because its value is entirely tied to your deck’s average card value. At the same time, Lab doesn’t actually improve your deck in a macro sense.  It’s easy to get caught up in a Village Idiot situation, where despite being able to draw your deck, you have nothing worth drawing.  So it’s important to balance your Lab buildup with actual deck improvement if you foresee being able to draw your deck.

In a high-powered Lab deck, you also need some source of +Buy.  Ideally you’d pick up some kind of Market, to facilitate drawing more Labs and use your terminal on an attack instead, but if you see that you’ll be building a Lab chain, and there’s no non-terminal source of +Buy, you can get the need for +Buy out of the way with an early Woodcutter.

If there isn’t +Buy, it’s important not to build too fine-tuned a deck.  It’s no use spending time getting your Lab chain to consistently draw $20 if you can only buy one Province at a time: you’ll likely fall too far behind an opponent whose deck only gets to $10, but got there two turns sooner than you did.

Works with:

  • All cards that work with big hand sizes:
    • Cellar/Warehouse
    • Vault/Secret Chamber
    • Bank
    • Forge
    • Coppersmith
  • Conspirator
  • Market/Grand Market/some other source of +Buy
  • Early trashing, particularly Chapel if you can get it on a 5/2 opening
  • Throne Room / King’s Court

Conflicts with:

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42 Responses to Dominion: Laboratory

  1. Newbie says:

    Nothing much to say here except that I can’t wait for the “Best 5 Kingdom Cards” article. Minion has to be #1 though, right?

    Anyway, one of my first chapel games I just bought gold all the way, but on my opponent’s second (or third? don’t recall) $6 buy he bought a lab, and eventually beat me 5-3 in provinces. I had already reached the point where I knew I had to balance spending power with drawing, but I thought that it mattered less with your deck being so thin (I hadn’t done any math on it yet). That game was a real eye opener.

    • chesskidnate says:

      My guess is mountebank/witch for best 5 coster or perhaps apprentice

    • DRG says:

      There are a lot of really good 5’s to choose from. Apprentice isn’t in the top 5, it can be a sick card late game, but stuff like mountebank, witch, lab, minion and the not yet mentioned wharf and vault are all better for most of the game.
      King’s courted mountebanks tend to end the game, and kings courted wharves lead to 2 massive turns, not just one, and supply the extra buys you need without even needing to worry about them.
      As for vault… unless your hand size was reduced, playing a vault at turn 3 is a gold, or even a grand market if it’s in play, which is rather disgusting. Not to mention gold + vault = province regardless of the rest of your cards.

  2. Kn1tt3r says:

    I also think the best $5 cards will include Minion, Laboratory, Wharf and either Witch or Mountebank (can’t really tell which one is better… maybe Mountebank but not sure). The fifth is difficult… but there are some candidates (Festival, Vault, Tactician, the tricky City, or even the solid Upgrade).

    • DRG says:

      Given how many good 5’s there are, I agree only one of witch/mountebank should be on, to leave room for more dissimilar cards.
      Minions, upgrades, cities are all things that stack on themselves like labs, which may limit how many are included if they’re kind of in the same category. I do love getting 5-6 upgrades if the tempo of the game will allow for it, especially if there’s a 7 cost in play.
      Mint is also a very interesting card… trashing a lot of coppers at once then duplicating harems golds and platinums later.

    • Zaphod says:

      The impact of the Witch seems to be roughly the same as the impact of the Mountebank, or the Familiar, for that matter…,%20Witch,%20Mountebank

      My top 5 $5 cards, in order, would be…Wharf, Mountebank/Witch, Minion, Laboratory, City. Some personal preference goes into this, of course.

      And, just for fun, my bottom 5 $5 cards, also in order…Saboteur, Outpost, Contraband, Counting House, Mine.

  3. Grujah says:

    Lab/Chapel is one of the best combos in the game.

    As for best 5$, I can’t imagine the list witout Vault (Ok, Mountebank and Wharf too). Its either a free Gold or a free Province whenever you draw it (Solo or with Gold, respectively).

    • nemryn says:

      I was skeptical about Vault at first. It’s worse than Secret Chamber in three different ways; are the extra two cards it gives you really worth that much? It turns out that yes, they really are.

      • michaeljb says:

        I’m curious about what the 3 ways are. Maybe….
        1) Doesn’t have the reaction
        2) Allows opponents to discard
        3) I can’t think of a 3rd one, unless being expensive is one of those ways, but that would be silly to me. (ie “Lab is worse than Moat because it’s expensive and doesn’t block attacks!”)
        How else is it worse than Secret Chamber?

        • nemryn says:

          I’m counting being more expensive as one way; you have to wait a little longer to get the first one, and you can’t load up on them as much. Those are both marginal, though, so let’s call it two and a half ways.

  4. Kn1tt3r says:

    The problem with Vault is that it becomes significantly weaker in Colony games unless there’s some additional carddraw to increase your hand size. In Province games it’s certainly really powerful.

    • Reyk says:

      “The problem with Vault is that it becomes significantly weaker in Colony games ”
      Not necessarily. It’s strong enough to try some kind of province rush to end the game depending on the setup.

  5. Personman says:

    “..and no other non-terminal instantly increases your handsize (other than a Level 2 City).”

    Wrong again! 😉

    Nobody ever remembers Wishing Well…

  6. Celicath says:

    I don’t think Laboratories conflicts with Tactician. Tactician’s main disadvantage, discarding the whole hand, can be overcomed by either playing enough +Coin actions or Black Market. Laboratory instantly increase your hand, allowing more actions to be played, or give you more coins for Black Market.

    Even without some actions which you can’t play Tactician every turn, Laboratories helps you draw the Tactician before Tactician turn, and increasing hand size during Tactician turn isn’t bad at all.

    • mentalist says:

      you are making an argument that laboratories can be used with tactician because both are powerful enough despite the fact that they naturally conflict with each other.

      • Celicath says:

        I’m asking, why Laboratories and Tactician conflict with each other. I have said nothing about the powerfulness of both cards.

        Just like Minions, discarding the whole hand increased by Laobratories might hurt. But if you understand that way, you’re misunderstanding the purpose of Tactician. Tactician is, by itself, sacrificing this turn to have mega-turn next turn. You played 3 Laboratories and then Tactician, discarding 7 cards, and you’ll think it’s a crab. However, on your next turn, you’ll probably play more than 3 Laboratories due to increased hand size. It’s basically same as Gold: Discarding many Golds with Tactician is hurting, but if your deck is full of Golds, your next mega-turn will have many Golds to buy, say two Provinces.

        Also Tactician really shines when it can be played with other combo cards, and allows you to play Tactician every turn. The most useful cards will be Secret Chamber and Vault. However, to play Tactician every turn, Secret Chamber only provides you 7 Coins, and Vult provides you 9 Coins. Add 1 or 2 Laboratories in these deck and you’ll have enough money to buy Province or Colony. In this case, Laboratories are much better than Gold to be combined with Tactician.

        Laboratories also makes you draw Tactician faster if you’re eager to draw one. This makes Laboratories better than any treasure cards, or even Markets/Festivals in some way.

        In summary, Laboratories does not conflict with Tactician more than any treasure cards, rather they are much more useful. Also, Laboratories combines with any combo cards which works with Tactician in some way. Secret Chamber/Vault/Black Market is the most obvious, it makes you to play more Festivals and other +Coin cards.

        • theory says:

          If you’re just using the Laboratory to draw to the Tactician, wouldn’t a Warehouse be better for that purpose?

          • Celicath says:

            Of course. What I meant was, even without any other actions which helps Tactician, Laboratories are slightly better than any treasure card, because it can help you draw the Tactician more than treasures. Warehouse is good for this purpose, but overall power is weak. I mean, Laboratories are not the best card to be combined with Tactician, but they do not particularly conflict with Tactician.

        • mentalist says:

          One draws cards. Other discards all of them. Sure, if you have a blackmarket + enough actions, no problem. Vault or secret chamber also help Tactician/laboratory combo. But these helper cards are useful exactly because they help you mitigate the conflict between laboratories and Tactician. Yes, Tactician could be a positive addition to your laboratory-heavy deck; but its usefulness is reduced by the fact that you often have to discard all of your treasures. Like you said, sometimes it’s worthwhile to discard 7 cards to draw 10, but definitely it’s better to discard 4 to draw 10. If somehow you can get the exact compensation for forgoing laboratories from different combination of cards that didn’t draw as many cards as laboratories, then the power of adding a Tactician to your deck will be greater than if you had laboratories instead.

          • Celicath says:

            I’ll say discarding with Tactician after 3 Laboratories is not discarding 7 cards to draw 10. Rather, it is discarding 7 cards to draw, say 16 cards because of all the Laboratories you’ll play during Tactician turn. I’ll definitely choose this option over ‘discard 4 to draw 10’.
            It’s not Laboratories which makes Tactician worse. Without some helpers, Tactician is just a mediocre card: skip this turn to have a doubled next turn. Sure, Laboratories by themselves does not make Tactician a better card so I’ll not say they works with Tactician best, but they do not conflicts with Tactician either.

            • theory says:

              Yeah, but the point is your Laboratories aren’t doing you that much good. There are better options for handsize increasing from a Tactician hand (since +Actions/+Cards combos are much more likely to go off), and so for your $5 many other cards are superior to Laboratory.

              “Conflicts with” doesn’t always mean work directly against. Here it just means doesn’t pair very well with.

              • ipofanes says:

                There are definitely worse options for handsize increasing with Tactician: Jack of all Trades, Library, and Watchtower.

  7. SkittlesMcGee says:

    Theory, could you explain why Laboratory conflicts with Minion? The way I see it, Laboratory makes it easier to get multiple Minions in your hand at once, letting you spend more of them on +2 coins. Sure, you wouldn’t buy Laboratory until the Minion pile had been exhausted, but why not afterward?

    • michaeljb says:

      Probably because Minion’s self-stacking ability relies on using its discard option to cycle the deck. Getting hands with a lot of Treasure cards therefore conflicts with Minion. Unless you had a trim deck and the Lab picked up non-terminals for you, like Market, but if you have a trim deck cards like Market combo well with Minion already anyway. Overall, I feel Lab is just too expensive to combo with Minion effectively, since the +Coin and +Buy of the Market (or +2 Coins from Conspirator) synergize with Minion better than the extra Card from the Lab.

      • SkittlesMcGee says:

        I’m utterly confused by your response. Did you read my post? Where did I advocate buying Treasure cards? The idea is that the Lab picks up more Minions for you, allowing you to use a greater number of them on +2 coins and fewer of them on getting a new hand.

        Furthermore, you don’t need a trim deck in order for Lab to help your Minions. Quite the opposite. Lab can help you get a higher Minion concentration if you haven’t been able to thin it effectively.

        You say that Market and Conspirator combo better with Minion than Lab? I never argued otherwise. I’m simply suggesting that Laboratory has positive synergy with Minion rather than negative. As we well know, Market and Conspirator won’t be in every game.

        • Zorblak says:

          But if you’re just using them for +2 coin, and not expecting to cycle hands with them, then you’re better off with a silver. The value of the minion is that you get several in a hand together, play most of them for +coin, and then get to replenish your hand. If you’re never using it to redraw, then minion doesn’t get you much.

          • SkittlesMcGee says:

            Yeah, I know. When playing a Minion deck, you always want to use at least one for a new hand, allowing you to attack your opponent if nothing else. By your own admission, though, you want to play most of them for +2 coin and Laboratory aids in that by allowing you to have more in your hand at once. If you only have one Minion per four cards you draw (and no other +coin, +Action), your Minion deck isn’t doing its job.

        • michaeljb says:

          I think I made some changes (or tried to) in the middle of writing my comment then failed to proofread it after I finished…sorry about that.
          What I was trying to say was that Minions don’t really work with the bigger hand size in general (which the Lab gives), and if the goal is to play more Minions for 2 Coins, why not just focus on Labs and Treasure instead of Minions?
          And I guess if you’ve focused on Minions, then they run out, then you happen to land on $5, Lab wouldn’t be a terrible choice, it just doesn’t seem that good, especially to how good Lab can be in other scenarios and deck builds.

          • SkittlesMcGee says:

            Yes, I agree. I guess what it comes down to is that if you’re building a Laboratory deck, a Minion is a bad investment. If you’re building a Minion deck and the Minions are gone, a Laboratory isn’t a terrible investment. It’s better than Gold, but not as good as +coin, +Action cards.

    • rrenaud says:

      Do you have any games where you’ve bought a bunch of Minions, and then switched to Labs instead of Provinces for the win?

      Or vice versa, you bought a bunch of Labs, and then switched to Minions?

      It’s not like the Lab in the deck makes it worse, it’s just a pretty big opportunity cost (+$5 money, +1 buy) in a Minion deck,

      • SkittlesMcGee says:

        Yeah, I have had games where once the Minions were gone, I’d buy labs if I didn’t have 8 coins. It may not synergize quite as well as Market, but it’s a heck of a lot better than Gold in a Minion deck.

    • SkittlesMcGee says:

      OK, after some thought, I can see what you were saying here, Theory. The fact that Minion resets your hand to four cards has the potential to undo what Laboratory does. However, if what you’re drawing with Laboratory is mostly non-terminal actions that generate coin (for example, Minion), then Laboratory and Minion can combo quite well.

  8. Kn1tt3r says:

    I think Minions don’t really conflict with Laboratory, they are just two comletely different strategies that don’t need any cards but more Minons/Labs. The only exception are +buys, and in a Minion deck I’d rather buy a Pawn for $6 and ignore tha Laboratory. Sure, w/o +buys one or two Labs can stabilize a Minion deck by some degree but in most cases you just go for Provinces after you’ve succeeded in the Minion rush.

  9. Matthew Ryan says:

    Should Laboratory cost $6?

    There’s lots of cards (maybe even the majority?) that are only worth their face value in certain tableaux. Given that Lab seems to be worth $5 in just about every tableau, and the graph showing Laboratory advantage > Gold advantage, $5 seems underpriced.

    • theory says:

      No. Don’t take the graph as indicative that Labs are better than Golds in general. Remember: they don’t actually improve your deck: if you’re drawing your whole deck, each Lab you add is worthless, but each Gold/Grand Market/Market you add adds value.

      Labs are one of the best $5’s, but it’s a huge jump from $5 to $6. And there are enough situations where you don’t need Labs that it’s not overpowered.

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