Guest Article: Annotated Game #7

The following guest article is written by Kemps.

(Friday’s preview)

Transmute, University, Conspirator, Ironworks, Trading Post,
Scrying Pool, Lookout, Cutpurse, Bazaar, Wharf

Annotated Game #7

(Click for enlarged link at

This is a 2-player game played between me [Kemps] and spazard1. The log is available here (spoiler alert!).

Analyzing the Set

Alchemy is probably the most contentious Dominion set to come out thus far. It is home to some of the most powerful cards in the game. Unfortunately, the opportunity cost of buying a potion is often too high if a non-Alchemy strategy is available; conversely, games can come down to strategies based solely around abusing a particular Alchemy card (Vineyard, Alchemist, Possession).

Things to note about this set:

  1. The two attacks are not very harmful, so it is unlikely that the game will come down to a well-timed attack.
  2. Wharf has the second highest “win rate with” of the non-attack $5 costs (behind Venture). With Bazaar and University as good extra action cards, Wharf has a chance to shine even more than Venture would in this set.
  3. There are both extra buys (Wharf) and trashing-for-VPs shenanigans (Transmute) on the table, so this game can swing heavily if one player does not work to end it quickly.

Game Analysis

My opponent, spazard1, has played about twice as many games as I have. I am currently 2-1 against spazard (including this game) and they have all been close games. I half expected this game to be a mirror match, where both players would be digging for their Universities with Scrying Pools and Wharves to create multi-Province turns. Spazard surprises me with a Cutpurse/Lookout start, and I do not realize until later what he plans to do with this start. After noticing the Wharf/Bazaar combo, I decide to go heavy University; I open Silver/Potion.

I am trying out theory’s notation, but I have marked when an attack had its intended effect (i.e. a Cutpurse caused a Copper to be discarded) by coloring the attack red.

spazard1 Kemps
1. $4 -> Cutpurse $3 -> Silver
2. $3 -> Lookout (reshuffle) $4 -> Potion (reshuffle)
3. Cutpurse
$5->Trading Post
P$2 -> University

Two out of Spazard’s first three buys are trash cards, so he is definitely going for an extra thin deck. I luck out and get my potion plus enough money
to eat the Cutpurse and still buy my University, though I could have gone for Transmute had I drawn 2 estates with my potion; more on that later.

4. Lookout (T Estate, D Copper) (reshuffle)
$3 -> Silver
$3 -> Lookout (reshuffle)
5. Cutpurse
$5 -> Bazaar (reshuffle)
$4 -> Conspirator

Spazard chooses Bazaar over Wharf after his Trading Post and Cutpurse collide in the hopes that he will not get a repeat later on. Spazard’s Cutpurse connects and drops me from my first Wharf into $4 territory. I choose Conspirator over Silver because I do not have any terminal actions yet and I plan to have a very action heavy deck.

6. Bazaar
Lookout (T Copper, D Copper)
Trading Post (Estate/Copper)
$5 -> Wharf
University (Wharf)
P -> Transmute (reshuffle)
7. $6 -> Gold (reshuffle) Wharf
$4 -> Conspirator

Spazard’s Bazaar hits perfectly and he finishes trashing all his Estates, as well as a copper, and he buys the only extra buy card on the table: Wharf. Although the Cutpurse does no good on offense this turn (P$1 would have bought nothing more than Transmute) I buy my first Transmute as a late “soft counter” to Trading Post. Spazard buys his first Gold and my Conspirator collides with my Wharf causing another $4 problem.

8. $4 -> Silver University (Wharf)
Transmute (Estate -> Gold)
$4 -> Conspirator (reshuffle)
9. Wharf
$5 -> Bazaar (reshuffle)
Lookout (T Copper, D Copper)
P$2 -> University

Spazard buys his third Silver because he plans to rid his deck of all Copper.  I make my first mistake by gaining a Wharf with only one University to handle the massive amounts of terminals I now have; my non-terminals will collide soon because of the reshuffle. Spazard’s Wharf buys him the last action he buys this game: Bazaar. My Lookout thins my deck and I buy another, much needed, University.

10. Lookout (T Copper, D Copper)
$9 -> Province
$2 -> nothing
11. Bazaar, Bazaar (reshuffle)
Trading Post (Silver/Copper)
$8 -> Province
(reshuffle) University (Bazaar)
Wharf, Conspirator
Transmute (Copper -> Transmute)
$9 -> Province

Spazard’s strategy begins to pay off with two turns of trashing Coppers and buying Provinces. My turn 8 mistake comes to bite me when my hand comes up with four terminals and a Silver, gaining me nothing but 2 cards for the next turn. I fix my previous mistake by gaining a Bazaar (though not in time for the reshuffle) and my Transmute trashes a copper for lack of Estates; I will need Transmutes now that Spazard has his engine going and I am at a disadvantage with both Provinces and turn order.

12. Lookout (T Copper, D Cutpurse)
$2 -> nothing (reshuffle)
Lookout (T Copper, D Estate) (reshuffle)
University (Bazaar)
Conspirator x3, Bazaar
P$14 -> Province, University
13. Wharf
$6 -> Gold
University (Wharf), Wharf
Transmute (Transmute -> Duchy)
$2 -> Nothing (reshuffle)

Now with only four Provinces left and both decks firing on all cylinders, we are entering end game; let’s check the scores:

Spazard 13 (2 Province, 1 Estate) Kemps 16 (2 Province, 1 Duchy, 1 Estate)

I am leading by a Duchy, but my deck has less big money in it and is very susceptible to colliding terminals. Spazard’s deck, with only three terminals and two Bazaars to activate them, is probably going to be a bit faster in the end game.

14. Bazaar
Lookout (T Bazaar, D Province) (reshuffle)
$8 -> Province
Bazaar, Wharf
Lookout (T Copper, D Copper)
University (Wharf)
University (Bazaar)
P$3 -> Scrying Pool
15. Trading Post (Copper/ Silver)
$8 -> Province (reshuffle)
Bazaar, University (Bazaar)
Transmute (Copper -> Transmute)
Conspirator x2 (reshuffle)
$10 -> Duchy, Duchy

Spazard’s Lookout misfires for the first time this game, trashing a Bazaar, but his Cutpurse keeps me from another Conspirator.


Spazard 25 (4 Province, 1 Estate) Kemps 22 (2 Province, 3 Duchy, 1 Estate)

As expected, Spazard’s deck buys Provinces much better than mine. Because of the Penultimate Province Rule, I buy two Duchies.

16. Bazaar
$9 -> Province
Scrying Pool (University, Duchy)
(reshuffle) Lookout (T Estate, D Province)
Bazaar x2, Conspirator
Transmute (University -> Duchy)
Transmute (University -> Duchy)
P$6 -> Duchy, Transmute
17. Lookout (T Copper, D Province)
$4 -> Estate, Estate (reshuffle)
Bazaar x2, Wharf x2
Conspirator x2 (reshuffle)
Transmute (University -> Duchy)
$11 -> Province, Estate

Game end:

Spazard 33 (5 Provinces, 3 Estates) Kemps 40 (3 Provinces, 7 Duchies, 1 Estate)

Concluding Thoughts

I won this game because of Transmute, a card that I did not consider prior to the game starting. My deck was not going to be able to buy Gold on its own merits and the four Duchies the card gained helped immensely.

Lookout is a very interesting card and Spazard’s deck demonstrates both its strengths and weaknesses rather well.  Lookout thinned Spazard’s deck so quickly that I barely had time to catch up. However, Spazard’s turn 14 Lookout was probably a mistake because it caused a reshuffle, meaning he was likely to hit two Provinces and a value card (which is likely what actually happened). His turn 14 Lookout may or may not have been a mistake based on how well he was deck counting.1

Both Ironworks and Scrying Pool were dead cards in this setup. Ironworks had no good actions at that level. Scrying Pool anti-Synergizes with Lookout to the point that my one buy of the card might have been better spent on another University or even an Estate.

As stated before, this game can be fast. Spazard bought the first Province relatively late (considering how long the game lasted) at turn 10 (2 turns after the middle of the game).

This game also demonstrates that small decks are not always the best decks.  Spazard had a very thin deck based around trashing cards that got worse as the game went on. I am unsure of what his win rate would be, but I am relatively confident that my deck (with twice as many cards) would have an edge over his.2

Lastly, people do not seem to like Alchemy. It has the least reviews on this site (relative to its size)3 and it can cause set ups where the best card on the board is unbuyable because the Potions will muck up your deck more often than buying you the cards you actually want.  But you should not be afraid of Alchemy or ignore it when there are only one or two Potion cards on the table; it is very easy to lose a game out of spite for Alchemy when an opponent buys the only Familiar.

Editor’s notes:

1 Also, Lookout takes up a spot in your hand. This doesn’t seem like a huge deal, but when you draw 4 Copper + Lookout you sure wish you had bought that Silver instead.
2 It’s an interesting question, because your deck just exhausted itself by trashing several key engine cards.  I’m not totally sure that you still have your advantage, but certainly you have the capacity for a endgame Duchy lunge that spazard couldn’t get.  This lets you do things like win despite the Provinces breaking 5-3 the other way.
3 That’s because I suck at Alchemy.

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36 Responses to Guest Article: Annotated Game #7

  1. tlloyd says:

    Interesting read, and excellent work with the Transmute. On the other hand, I think there are stronger strategies than either of the two shown here. Check the comments following the Annotated Game #7 Preview.

    I do think your game shows that Cutpurse is not as strong in this set, where your initial buys are focused on University. Personally I would have bought a second Potion instead of that first Conspirator, so you can grab another University quick and load up on strong $5 cards.

    I have to say though, that the notion that Scrying Pool is a dead card in this set is laughable. Buy early Universities, gain Wharfs/Bazaars and a whole lot of Conspirators, then buy a few Scrying Pools midgame and you’ll be pulling three-Province turns as early as turn 12 – and never later than turn 15.

    • tlloyd says:

      I know this is solitaire, but take it for what it’s worth:

      Comparing to your game log, it looks like Spazard’s Cutpurse wouldn’t have kept me from getting Universities early on. It would have kept me from getting a single silver (which I only bought because I didn’t have the $4 for another Potion). I buy 3 Provinces on turn 12 and another 3 on turn 13. I’ve tried this strategy a few times, and I’d say this is a slightly-better-than-average result.

  2. timchen says:

    I think one trap around University play is to overvalue its power at gaining the card. I have fallen into this trap for more than once. The bottom line is that cycling is as important as gaining, I would say. Multiple Universities won’t help as much if you cannot cycle through your deck to play them in a single turn.

    With trashing and cycling cards (wharf, bazaar), University has its right to dominate. Here opening Lookout is almost certain to be better than silver, as also mentioned by tlloyd above. However, on a board without trashing, and with mediocre cycling cards, say, Ghost Ship, Festival, etc, it becomes a lot weaker.

  3. kn1tt3r says:

    Small mistake after turn 15: Score of p1 is 25, not 20.
    Regarding the game itself, as tlloyd said, there are stronger strategies, but you’ve managed the endgame battle really well, even hough the game was (even with your strategy) far from perfect. But very fine article.

    • Deadlock39 says:

      There are few more scoring mistakes. The first score should be:
      Spazard 1413 (2 Province, 1 Estate) Kemps 1716 (2 Province, 1 Duchy, 1 Estate)

      The second score listing should be:
      Spazard 2025 (4 Province, 1 Estate) Kemps 2322 (2 Province, 3 Duchy, 1 Estate)

  4. chesskidnate says:

    Scrying pool anti-synergizes with lookout??? scrying pool thrives on trashing (along with good actions) lookout trashes a card of your deck and sets up the deck so you can put an action card on top. Did you mean lookout conflicts with university as this is probably true?

    • DG says:

      The lookout works fine in a scrying pool deck with many uses. It can remove your non-action cards over a number of turns or clear the top of your deck on any one turn. If your opponent scries and leaves a bad card on your draw deck you can trash it out. Also as soon as you can draw your entire deck a few ‘tricks’ become possible, such as discarding coppers with the scrying pool and then playing your lookout when only those discards are left to be drawn again.

      • David Kempe says:

        What I meant by that comment is this: my opponent was using Lookout much more aggressively than I was. Scrying Pool would have either had me discard his good cards and keep his crap. If I left a Province on his deck, he most certainly would not have used his Lookout (as the numbers become skewed against him); if I leave a Copper on his deck he becomes more likely to use a Lookout without fear. My Scrying Pools (since I’m the only one buying them in this game) anti-synergize with my opponent’s Lookout.

        • Yariv says:

          This is true, but the strength of Scrying Pool is not in the attack (which is, as you noted in the first point of the set analysis, not very harmful in any case), but in drawing. In action heavy decks, this is easily the best drawing cards in dominion. For it to be better than laboratory on average you only need ~32% action cards (in your deck, which means a slight decay in multiple successive Scrying Pool, if there’s a reshuffle). If you have 50% actions it draws on average 2.5 cards, and if you have 60% actions you draw more than 3 on average. This is on average, and according to the general principle (1 Big turn > 2 mediocre ones) it is even better. With universities, your hand should be full of actions in any case, so it should be quite powerful (of course, once you started transmuting actions, it’s effectiveness declines).

  5. Silverback says:

    In Turn 5 you buy a Conspirator due to lack of money. In this early game state an Ironworks should be considered. You can get extra Conspirators with that, even if the Cutpurse hits you again. Then the Ironworks help to activate the Conspirators later.
    Obviously at that game state you were not thinking about building a Conspirator chain.

    I think you really made a mistake in turn 9, when you bought a second University. You should have gotten a Scrying Pool instead. Sure, you were short on +Actions, but Scrying Pool also helps this matter by digging for your University, which in turn will give you a Bazaar. Also Wharf does not need so many +action cards, as you only need to play it every other turn and it’s likely, that it draws into another +action card next turn. Finally Scrying Pool digs for Conspirators (which you already had three of) and also makes it very likely, that you can activate them.

    Then in turn 11 you seem to have gotten nervous, as you buy a Province with 9. Another Conspirator and another Wharf would have enabled you to sift through your deck much faster, thus making it more likely that you can use your Transmute more profitable. And they would also have provided you with the buying power to gain 3 or 4 Provinces later.

    Of course this is easy to say after we readers had some days to analyze the setup and test different strategies.

    Though your strategy was far from perfect, you showed a lot of skill in the endgame when you were racing for points. Very well played.

    • David Kempe says:

      I agree that my turn 5 buy should have been Ironworks.

      At turn 9, the only action in my deck that was +2 was my one University; had I not made the mistake of gaining a Wharf turn 8 I would agree with you, but as my deck stood at that point, it need extra actions.

    • tlloyd says:

      Much as I love the Scrying Pool, it’s not that useful until you’ve reached a critical mass of Action cards, i.e., the midgame. University, on the other hand, is important to get as early as possible so you can take full advantage of the powerful action cards you’ll gain with it. So a clear strategy is to buy Universities early, gain lots of action cards, then buy Scrying Pool to draw all those action cards. And to make this happen, it helps to grab a second Potion early on. So I agree that a turn 9 University was a mistake (should have been a Scrying Pool as you suggest), but turn 9 was really just a result of earlier mistakes (not opening lookout to trash/cycle, no extra potion, only one University, over-investing in terminal action cards, etc.).

  6. timchen says:

    “Both Ironworks and Scrying Pool were dead cards in this setup. Ironworks had no good actions at that level. Scrying Pool anti-Synergizes with Lookout to the point that my one buy of the card might have been better spent on another University or even an Estate.”

    Since the author is replying, I’d like to point out some fallacy of the writing here. This part of the conclusion is not supported from the play. What you intended to mean, I guess, is that in both of your strategies, it seems you will have a hard time finding extra buys/gains to get Scrying Pool/Ironworks, not that they are useless. This is more due to not getting the second potion/the Ironworks early enough.

    As other players also pointed out, Scrying Pool excels at drawing actions, the spying part is just a nice little bonus. In this sense it certainly does not conflict with Lookout. The presence of Conspirator is probably already a good enough reason to get Ironworks.

    • Kemps says:

      Useless was an overbearing term to use. Based on the speed with which my opponent was getting his deck started, I felt that a mega turn (such as the ones described) would not have bought a majority of the Provinces, so gearing up toward one didn’t seem like the best option at the time I played this game.

  7. Bob dole says:

    The one problem iwth scrying pool is the lakc of buys aside from wharf, which can make it hard to get in this set.

    • tlloyd says:

      With all the cards you can “gain” with University/Ironworks rather than “buy”, and given that the Wharf is a pretty good source of +Buys, I don’t see this as much of a problem.

      • Bob dole says:

        You can’t gain scrying pool from ironworks or university though, they have to be bought. this game has enough trashing options in it that the deck is going to be small enough to pull mega turns. At least in notable numbers.

        • tlloyd says:

          My point was that you can afford to spend your buys on Scrying Pools, because most of the other key cards you want in your deck you can gain without buying.

  8. Kirian says:

    It’s interesting that the overwhelming choice of the preview crowd (Lookout/Potion–>Uni–>Wharf/Conspirator) was not either player’s strategy here–and it would have won against either strategy. In some of the solitaire games linked on the preview, players had 4 Provinces at T11 or so and had wiped the board at T13–usually getting 2 Provinces–and there were no non-buy turns because of the quantity of Wharves. (In my solitaires of this, by the end of the game I was drawing the whole deck; alas, appears not to keep solitaire logs.)

    I think newer players severely underestimate the power of Lookout. While it does take up space in your hand, it trashes a card and allows you to set up the top of your deck for next turn. That said, the use of Transmute saved you here, and I think people were underestimating its power in the preview thread.

    • rrenaud says:

      Hmm. A lot of solitaire games are users randomly starting a game by themselves and then immediately leaving. But I guess those are easy to detect and remove. Perhaps I should keep solitaire games that do not end in resignation for purposes like these?

      • tlloyd says:

        I don’t care much either way, but I never play solitaire games to the end (as you’ll notice in my link above). If you’re trying to gauge how a strategy performs, you have to assume an opponent who is also buying cards–including victory cards. So I usually play to see how many turns it takes to buy a majority of the Provinces. I don’t see “how long my strategy takes to buy all 8 Provinces” as very relevant.

        • rrenaud says:

          Hmm. Maybe something like gained at least 24 points in 16 turns is a useful heuristic?

          • Bob dole says:

            Not all solitaire games last 16 turns though.

            • Bob dole says:

              By which I mean they legitimately end before then.

              • rrenaud says:

                To be clear, my hypothetical intended solitaire rule is you must have at least 24 VP no later than turn 16.

                • Kirian says:

                  I think a better heuristic would be solitaire games that do not end in a resignation before turn 6. A resignation earlier than that is probably a mistake; later than that is probably someone testing something.

                  And now we’ve nested way too much.

                  • Personman says:

                    How about before turn 3? Is database space a big issue? I can’t imagine there are *that* many non-meaningful solitaire games where someone plays even two turns, and anything > 3 excludes the amazing turn-3 Platinum demo. (I’d go scrape up the link, but I’m lazy. It’s on this site somewhere. Figuring out how to do it is also a fun puzzle.).

                    • tlloyd says:

                      I can only think of one way. You need four things:
                      – An Envoy
                      – A Silver
                      – Luck
                      – A nice, or foolish, opponent 🙂

                    • tlloyd says:

                      Here’s another even less plausible way:
                      – open Tribute and Embargo
                      – other player opens with Island or Great Hall
                      – lots of luck still needed…

                    • timchen says:

                      Is there any way to cure this nesting behavior?

                    • chesskidnate says:

                      it seems that its been slowed at least by people not being allowed to reply to comments nested 8 or so times

                • Personman says:

                  Whoa, those are clever! Especially the Tribute/Embargo/Island one… I thought there was only one! However, there’s another that can be done regardless of your opponent’s deck (though of course it still requires luck)

                  • theory says:

                    Hint: it has to do with Personman’s favorite card, the one he relentlessly pimps out in the comments and the one he is slowly convincing me to try more often.

                  • tlloyd says:

                    I got it! (without Theory’s hint)

                    Wishing Well / Coppersmith

                  • tlloyd says:

                    Man I am retarded. I just tried this in a solitaire game, and what do you know I pulled it off on my first try! Wishing Well, draw copper, wish for and draw copper, Coppersmith –> $10!

                    Only then did I realize that I hadn’t specified Platinums/Colonies, and there were none. So I laughed and bought a Province.

    • Kirian says:

      So here’s a sample solitaire game with this set:

      This deck could have bought a Province at T10, but the Gold allowed it to get 2 on T11 and 3 on T12… gg.

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