This is a guest article by WanderingWinder.
Think about what you’d do with this set for a while. While you’re thinking I’m going to discuss a little bit about the game in general. One thing you always want to have in playing a dominion game is a game plan. Sometimes your plan will be good, other times it won’t, but in general, the player with a plan will almost always beat the player without a plan who’s just buying cards, even if they’re good cards. This is because one of the defining, great things about dominion is how the relative values of cards really change in value depending on the board or even the game situation. Sea Hag is great as an opener, but by the time there’s only one curse left, it’s really not worth it. Gardens is great with ironworks, weak against bishop or on a board with no gainers. Even colonies are bad on a board with a great Goons engine.
So with the importance of game-planning, one of the big questions becomes how to find the best gameplan for the board (the other big questions deal with watching how your deck and opponents are progressing relative to the board). There are basically two types of gameplans here. You can play one you’ve played before – Envoy/money, Workshop/Gardens, Minion/conspirator/Grand Market/Warehouse ball, etc. You can play one you come up with for the first time on that board. Really you should always do the second option, but your knowledge of more and more decks of the first kind, your experience, will help to inform this process.
With this in mind, let’s look at how I looked at this board. It looked like a pretty weak board to me. King’s Court doesn’t have any great targets. Moneylender can speed the deck up some. Smithy/money looks pretty decent. Horn of Plenty, Horse Traders, Walled Village, and Wishing Well are all pretty slow. Ghost Ship IS a strong attack, but Horse Traders is a quite good counter to it. So option one is Smithy/Money. Option two is GS/Money. But that would lead to option three – HT/Money. Moneylender would fit well with either of these last two options, but not so well in the Smithy deck. However, Smithy is going to be much faster than the Horse Traders deck. Does this lead to some kind of Rock/Paper/Scissors? Then I saw another possibility, probably because I’d just done some analysis of the Horse Traders opening, showing how it leads to $5 with very high frequency. My idea was to use Horse Traders to fuel a duchy/duke strategy.
As it turns out, Horse Traders is one of the very few best enablers of Duchy/Duke, but this game really was what brought the idea to the forefront in my mind, and I think to many of the people on the forums itself. I know theory is planning on writing an article onDuke, so I won’t spoil this too much, but let’s just say it’s more viable than a lot of people think, and with a good enabler, it’s extremely viable.
So let’s see how it turned out. The game log is (spoiler alert!) here. My opponent was a consistently top 10 player, Blooki (aka Triceratops). I knew that I would need to play well to keep up with him, though I was happy that on this board, his first turn advantage would be pretty minimal. Annotations appear in my version of theory’s reduced game notation.
|1||3 -> Silver||4 -> Horse Traders (hereafter referred to|
|2||4 -> Moneylender (reshuffle)||3 -> Silver (reshuffle)|
Okay, at this point, we can already see that we’re going for different strategies. I read Blooki as going for a more conventional Money to province strategy here, and I had little to no idea as to how the two would match up. Game on!
|3||4 -> Walled Village||6-> Duchy (!)|
I have to stop here and say that this was a day or two after Walled Village (hereafter WV) was out on Isotropic. I’d already labelled it in my mind as the second or third worst $4 and knew it was going to be pretty darn terrible here. But Blooki likely had “Oooh, shiny” syndrome/wanted to try it out. On my end, I’m really not sure if this was the best thing, or whether it would have been better to buy a gold or second Horse Traders. However, I think this was eminently reasonable and probably best.
|4||Moneylender,6-> Gold, (reshuffle)||HT, 5 -> Duchy (reshuffle)|
|5||Moneylender,6-> Duchy||HT, 5 -> Duchy|
|6||WV,4 -> HT (return WV) (reshuffle)||4 -> HT (reshuffle)|
|7||WV, Monelyender, 8-> Duchy (return WV)||4 -> Silver|
Okay, a couple more interesting notes. One is that Blooki slowed down to buy Duchies. I think this was probably not the right decision here, though it’s a tough call. Blocking your opponents’ duchies is a big part of a lot of strategies against duke, but you also have to watch out – they can probably deal with the extra green better than you can, and that’s certainly the case here with Horse Traders. For my part, I probably should have picked up coppers with my extra buys and gotten a third horse traders instead of that last silver. On the other side, Walled Village’s drain can really be seen. Blooki plays it every turn for the rest of the game, always returning it to the top of the deck (I will cease to mention it in my report)- it never does anything for him. So basically, silver would probably have been a good bit better, though it would have lessened moneylender’s effectiveness a little bit.
|8||3-> Silver (reshuffle)||HT,4 -> HT|
|9||HT, 6-> Duchy||4 -> Silver (reshuffle)|
|10||6-> Duchy||HT, 5 -> Duchy|
This is the last Duchy. Somewhat surprisingly, an even duchy split. However, if you look at the rest of our decks, you’ll see that I’ve got three Horse Traders. He has one. He has a gold, but I have one more silver than him. And also I have three more copper (and he has a moneylender). This is good for me. What? This is good for me. Our decks are full of green, and my target is $5, so coppers are actually good cards, and Horse traders are great – I have a massive advantage already, though the game isn’t over. Also note that the HT help me grab extra coppers and estates, and those estates will be crucial for getting me a few extra VP and, more importantly, ending the game quickly.
|11||(reshuffle) Moneylender, 3-> Silver||3-> Silver|
|12||HT, 5 -> Duke||HT, 7-> Duke, Estate (reshuffle)|
|13||8-> Province</span (reshuffle)||5 -> Duke|
|14||3-> Silver||HT, 7-> Duke, Estate|
|15||3-> Silver||0-> Copper|
|16||Moneylender, 5 -> Duke (reshuffle)||HT, 6-> Duke, Copper (reshuffle)|
|17||Moneylender,8-> Province</span||HT, 6-> Duke, Copper|
|18||3-> Silver||HT, 5 -> Duke, Copper|
|19||4 -> Smithy||3-> Estate|
|20||HT, 5 -> Ghost Ship (reshuffle)||HT, 5 -> Estate x 2|
|21||4 -> HT||3-> Estate (reshuffle)|
|22||HT, 6-> Gold||4 -> Estate|
(no copper), 2 -> Estate
And I win, 46-36. Blooki has a 2-0 Province advantage, but I have a 6-2 Duke advantage (with 4 duchies each) and a 10-4 estate advantage. Probably if he would have detoured less for duchies, he would have had a better chance, though if I would have optimized my strategy, it would have sped up commensurately. It turns out that my strategy was a pretty good one, though obviously not a totally dominant one. We can also see that I refined my own strategy a bit as the game went on – buying more horse traders and especially coppers are important for my strategy. One of the great things about the HT/Duchy strategy is that it’s difficult to disrupt – Horse Traders’ reaction-ness really helps out against many attacks. Cursers are often still strong enough, though, and you have to watch out for really quick acceleration. Furthermore, like most duke strategies, its much weaker against colonies, though Horse Traders at least give the option, with the possibility of a quick three pile.
This game added HT/Duke to my bag of tricks, mostly 2-3 card combos I watch out for on every board. As I said at the top, this helps me check the board out when I’m planning at the beginning. Learning this pattern will help you too, but IMO some of the most important (and certainly fun) skills of strong dominion play is to be able to find and evaluate these kinds of things for the first time. This comes up most often when new cards come into being, but it can come any time, especially with more complicated combos, as there are just so many different combinations which exist.
As always, post comments on the comment section of the blog and discuss in the forums. I will try to get back to you as quickly and thoughtfully as I can.