Guest Article: Deck Control

The following article was originally written by shark_bait in the forums.

One very important aspect of Dominion is deck control.  This involves knowing what cards you have in your deck, how many of them are left in your deck and where they located in your deck.

I know exactly what some people are going to be saying right now, so I’ll address it immediately: “The deck is shuffled, how do I know where my cards are?”  I’ll answer by stating the contrapositive.  You know where cards are located in your deck by knowing where they aren’t (i.e., your discard pile).  So following this logic, as you get closer and closer to the reshuffle, you gain more and more control over your deck.  That is, assuming you have been keeping track of your deck.  This leads to my first big bullet point regarding deck control.

Know What Cards are Left in Your Deck

It is important that you always know what cards are in your deck at all times.  One thing that helps me keep track of my deck is by playing meticulously.  When  I play my cards, I make sure that I recognize which cards have been added to the discard pile and which are left in my deck.  If you can’t keep track of them all, then start by taking baby steps.  Have you seen your 5-cost action yet?  Out of your 3 Golds, how many have you played?  Keeping track of your big-ticket cards is the first step to controlling your deck.

Knowing your draw deck composition is important when playing cards that draw other cards.  If there are 5 cards left in your draw pile and you haven’t seen your Mountebank yet, please don’t play your Smithy.  There are two things that are fundamentally wrong by playing that Smithy.  First, you could draw your Mountebank this turn and be unable to play it due having no actions remaining.  The second fundamental flaw leads me to my second big (and very much related) bullet point.

Know When You Reshuffle

The reshuffle is a fundamental (albeit rather annoying when playing with the physical cards) aspect of dominion.  This aspect is displayed most prominantly through the chanceller by giving the option for triggering a reshuffle immediately.  This card provides one of the easiest ways to control your deck and it is important to use it correctly.  To use it correctly you must…. Know What Cards are Left in Your Deck (I told you these two points were related).  This allows you to have the best possible deck control.

There is one other way to trigger a reshuffle and this is what I will focus on.  You trigger a reshuffle by emptying your draw pile.  Manipulating when you reshuffle can be a game changing event if used correctly.  Consider the following two hypothetical hands in which 2 cards are left in the draw pile.

Hand 1 – Smithy, 3X Estate, Copper
Hand 2 – Smithy, 2X Gold, 2X Silver

In hand 1, you most certainly don’t want those Estates and Coppers back in your draw deck (even at the cost of losing your Smithy), so you play the Smithy to trigger the reshuffle before those cards are returned to the discard pile.  In hand 2, you want those cards back in your deck, so you don’t play the Smithy.  (You also don’t need to.)

Let’s look back at the Smithy/Mountebank example.  Let’s assume that you don’t draw your montebank with the smithy.  At the end of your clean up phase, you will draw the Mountebank, your Mountebank will miss the reshuffle because you need to reshuffle in order to draw the final 3 cards of your hand.

In either situation described above, you will play your Mountebank only once as opposed to twice if you chose not to play smithy.  With a card as powerful as Mountebank, playing it one more time could determine the outcome of the game.  In this case, you must think “one turn” ahead of the reshuffle in order to manipulate it to your advantage.  But to think “one turn” ahead, you must Know What Cards are Left in Your Deck in order to take advantage of this.

Realistically, you’ll face tradeoffs.  If you’re stuck at $7, you may need to trigger a reshuffle to discard all your good cards in order to draw that extra $1 to buy a Province.  What’s important is that you realize you’re making this tradeoff, and are consciously choosing to discard your good cards rather than simply reflexively playing your Actions.

Sample Game

Consider this example from a recent Isotropic game.  On my 3rd turn, I opt not to play my Warehouse because my deck would reshuffle before I could purchase my Familiar.  Additionally, my Potion is also in my draw deck again, which gives me another chance to purchase a Familiar.


I hope this helped you think about Dominion in a new way and I hope that the connection between knowing what cards are left in your deck and reshuffling was made clear.  Here are a few final bullet points to highlight the key points.

  • Always keep track of the cards left in both draw and discard pile
  • Any card that has a card drawing aspect can be used to manipulate a reshuffle.
  • These include cards that don’t necessarily put them in your hand (Navigator, Scout, etc.)
  • When possible, manipulate the reshuffle to play your “good” cards as much as possible and your “bad” cards as little as possible
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7 Responses to Guest Article: Deck Control

  1. Geronimoo says:

    Very informative! Deck control is maybe the thing I’m worst at in Dominion. My 15 years of playing Magic:the Gathering always make me play “draw +x cards” automatically because there’s almost never a reason not to in that game. A very difficult habit to abandon, potverdriedubbeltjes!

  2. Nakamura says:

    Thanks for this, I will consider controlling my deck a bit more.

  3. Jahz says:

    This is the article I whish I had written 🙂
    Thanks, that’s a nice job. And while I was considering myself not bad at this aspect of the game, I probably learnt something here with the smithy example.

    Deck control is also very much needed when golems are in play, crucial to know where your actions are, even the cheap ones.

  4. chump says:

    I really liked your Smithy example. It’s funny how playing online really makes you lose track of reshuffles and forget where your cards are going…

  5. Adam Simpson says:

    This often comes up in Minion games, when you’ve drawn through your deck about 2832983 times. Make sure your deck is in your discard pile, so you can draw all of your Minions on the next turn. I’ve seen many people go “This is such a bad draw, I have so many Minions in my deck!” When all of their Minions are sitting in their discard pile because they had their 3 copper and 2 estates left in their draw pile. Missing 1 turn like that could be potentially devastating if you could be buying multiple provinces on that turn if you didn’t draw a hand full of nothing

  6. Anonymous says:

    Wow. Thanks! I just realized how much I don’t pay attention to my cards. Good article!

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