Hinterlands: Crossroads

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by rinkworks, originally posted on the forum.

Dominion: Hinterlands

Dominion: Hinterlands

Crossroads is a very interesting, unique card.  Multiples can serve as both halves of a +Actions/+Cards engine, a strange feat accomplished by no other card save Nobles.  But Crossroads is dramatically cheaper than Nobles and therefore much easier to accumulate.  It also has a much better upside:  +3 Actions and unbounded drawing power!  Compensating for these relative strengths, however, is the tricky coordination required to activate them.

To analyze this card properly, I think it’s important to look at two different cases separately.  These cases are (1) when victory cards in hand are always “dead” cards until the end of the game; and (2) when it helps to have victory cards in your hand.  The reason I want to separate these cases is that the mechanics of the card are much easier to understand on an intuitive level if we consider the simple first case first.

When Victory Cards In Hand Are Dead

First, let’s imagine a deck with no victory cards whatsoever.  You’ve trashed your starting Estates and not gained any other victory cards.  What does a Crossroads do for your deck?   Obviously in this case, all you’ll ever get from a Crossroads is +3 Actions.  And if multiple Crossroads collide, you don’t get anything from the duplicates.  How good is a one-time +3 Actions?  I would argue that it’s not very good.  In a 5-card hand, the +3 Actions are only fully useful if 3 of your other 4 cards are terminal actions, or if you have drawing terminals that will pull in other terminals.

Thing is, it’s really tough to use this Village-type effect without also having drawing power.  If you’ve ever tried to build a +Actions/+Cards engine with University, Nobles, Shanty Town, or Native Village, you know how much that +1 Card on the vanilla Village really helps.  Sometimes the lack of draw on Fishing Village even hurts sometimes.  If the draw component of a +Actions/+Cards engine is lacking, getting an extra extra action from Crossroads still leaves you with a draw problem.

Additionally, since Crossroads cards don’t stack, you won’t want to get too many, for fear they’ll collide.  And if you can’t get too many, that means you shouldn’t be buying lots of terminals, and if you’re not buying lots of terminals, you’re probably not going to use the +3 Actions you get.  It’s a vicious circle.

But everything I’ve said so far is probably obvious:  the real power of Crossroads is when you get some drawing power out of it.   So let’s consider the effect of a single Crossroads card in a deck with some percentage of victory cards.

Let’s say your deck consists of 50% victory cards.  Given such a deck, a hand of Crossroads-X-X-Estate-Estate is probably quite likely.   Now we play the Crossroads, which gives us +2 Cards and +3 Actions.  That’s pretty spectacular!  It’s basically the equivalent of a Laboratory and two Villages.  Staggering.   Now, what do we draw?  Remember that our deck consists of 50% victory cards, so if we draw two cards, the average case is that we’ll draw one Victory card and one X.  Now our hand is this:  X-X-X-Estate-Estate-Estate.

But hang on.  Isn’t this an even worse outcome than our earlier example of a deck with no victory cards?  Remember, we’re operating under the assumption that Victory cards in hand are always dead to us, so the useful part of our hand is now X-X-X.  But in the earlier example, we had X-X-X-X after playing the Crossroads.

This is the Crossroads paradox:  you need Victory cards to activate Crossroads, but having Victory cards in your deck weakens your deck more than a single Crossroads strengthens it.  See, the thing is, even in the best case, a single Crossroads only gets you to the point you’d have been if you hadn’t had any Victory cards in your deck at all.  Say your perfect shuffle luck got you a hand consisting of Crossroads-Estate-Estate-Estate-Estate.  You play the Crossroads, and let’s say you draw four non-Victory cards.  Now your hand consists of Estate-Estate-Estate-Estate-X-X-X-X.  Since we’re assuming all Victory cards are dead cards, the useful part of your hand is only X-X-X-X, which is exactly what it would have been if you hadn’t had any Victory cards in your deck in the first place!

So maybe the solution to this paradox is to accrue multiple Crossroads.  Let’s say our hand is Crossroads-Crossroads-X-Estate-Estate, again from a deck of 50% Victory cards.  Playing the first Crossroads gives us 2 cards, 1 Estate and 1 X.  Now our hand is Crossroads-X-X-Estate-Estate-Estate.  Now play the second Crossroads.  Let’s be charitable and assume we draw 2 X’s and 1 Estate.  Our hand now is X-X-X-X-Estate-Estate-Estate-Estate.  Well, we drew a lot of cards, but we still only got up to 4 X’s, no better than having a single Crossroads in hand from a deck with no Victory cards.  Worse, we lost one of our +3 Actions playing the second Crossroads.

Obviously when you have such a deck, some hands will play out better than this, and some worse.  But this is not a spectacular average case.  Moreover, although increasing the number of Victory cards in your deck will further empower these Crossroads cards, that increase will also space out your Crossroads cards more, making them less likely to collide.

Ultimately, Crossroads doesn’t seem very good, does it?  Except as an end-game accelerator:  buying a mid-late game Crossroads might allow us to start greening earlier without clogging as badly.   But that’s a pretty narrow application for a card that seems like it should have better potential.

But to understand the situations where it shines, let’s take a brief second look at what it actually did for us in the above examples:

  • The first Crossroads provides us the +Actions component of an engine, but it doesn’t really provide +Cards so much as a pseudo-Cellar effect.  As observed, even in the best case, the first Crossroads can’t get us more useful cards in hand than we might have gotten with perfect shuffle luck.  And having the Crossroads in hand still uses up a card slot.  So, again, the first Crossroads is really more like a Cellar with extra actions than something like a Level 2 City, which provides both +Actions and +Cards free and clear.
  • Successive Crossroads cards provide terminal drawing power, like Moat or Smithy.  They use up an action to play, but now it’s possible to accrue more useful cards in your hand than you started with.  However, the drawing power of these extra Crossroads cards is somewhat determined by how diluted your deck is.  So even if you get a staggering +4 Cards out of a Crossroads, the fact that you can get +4 Cards probably means the cards you draw won’t all be useful ones.

Now, certainly there are combo possibilities.  If you can play a Scout before playing Crossroads, not only will Scout increase the drawing power of your Crossroads, but it will increase the quality of the cards you draw with the Crossroads, which is pretty cool.  But in the absence of synergy with other action cards, Crossroads is probably pretty bad most of the time.

Unless….

When Victory Cards In Hand Are Useful

First, when might Victory cards in hand be useful?

  • When you have discard-for-benefit actions.  These include Hamlet, Vault, Secret Chamber, Baron, and Tournament.  Having Victory cards in hand means you can discard these for some benefit, rather than having to discard a more useful card for those benefits.
  • When you have mandatory discard actions.  These include Horse Traders, Young Witch, Warehouse, Embassy, and Inn.  These cards require you to discard something as compensation for receiving their other benefits.  If you have Victory cards in hand, you can discard those instead of more useful cards.
  • When you have trash-for-benefit actions.  These include the Remodel family, Apprentice, Bishop, Salvager, and Trader.  Assuming you might want to feed any of your Victory cards to these, Crossroads can help you draw these with those Victory cards.
  • When you have hybrid Victory cards.  This is the obvious and strongest situation.

The first three cases here are very situational.  They only apply when such cards are in your deck, and the benefit you get from comboing them with Crossroads may or may not actually be worth the trouble to try to do so.

But the last case can be overwhelmingly strong.  Crossroads turn all your Great Halls into Laboratories, basically, because when you play Crossroads, you draw a card for each one, then draw another when you play each Great Hall itself.  Having multiple Crossroads compounds that benefit even further.

With Nobles, Crossroads does better than drawing an extra card per Nobles:  it also allows more of those Nobles to be played for +Cards rather than merely for +Actions, which is huge.

With Harem, Crossroads turns each one into an activated Conspirator, sort of, because you get +$2 from the Harem and also get an additional card in your hand for it.

It’s less effective with Island, however, because the best way to use Island is to get it out of your deck as soon as possible, but it may still help you pair up your Islands with good Island targets.

The bottom line is that Crossroads with hybrid Victory cards is probably a no-brainer.  Otherwise, Crossroads is probably a bad bet unless there is a specific combo possibility, OR you have a spare $2 buy after you’ve started greening but before you want to start buying Estates.

Works With:

  • Hybrid Victory cards.
  • Discard-for-benefit cards, including Baron and Tournament.
  • Mandatory discard cards.
  • Trash-for-benefit cards if your Victory cards are good targets for them.
  • Scout.
  • Silk Road (only insofar as it makes accumulating a density of Victory cards more attractive).

Conflicts With:

  • Lack of the above.
  • Availability of less finicky alternatives for +Actions, +Cards, and/or Cellar-like sifting.
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22 Responses to Hinterlands: Crossroads

  1. Noah Snyder says:

    Crossroads are also useful when doing a small VP card rush (with gardens or with silk roads). The actions let you play your workshop/woodcutter/nomadcamp and the draws increase your chances of getting up to 4 money.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yeah, I think it’s worth adding Gardens to the list of cards it synergizes well with. In a typical mid-game Gardens hand, you might easily get 3 green cards in hand. Crossroads can be a Cellar AND let you play multiple workshops/ironworks/barons/whatever the enabler is.

  2. Brog says:

    When you have a lot of green in your hand, there’s likely to be less green among the cards you draw – because you already have it drawn! This isn’t going to affect the average power of Crossroads (I think), but it makes the spread slightly different to what you might expect.

    • Anonymous says:

      Well, yes and no. With an even distribution of green cards, there will be an equal percentage in your hand as in the cards you draw. You are right, however, that sometimes you might happen to draw a larger percentage of green cards in your hand, leaving fewer in your deck. But if you want to consider that possibility, you have to acknowledge that the reverse is equally likely: you might draw your Crossroads in a hand with less green than the average, which means that not only is your Crossroads weaker, but your next hand is probably going to be weak, too.

  3. tlloyd says:

    Your excellent article is still missing Trade Route, which seems to me to have significant combo potential with Crossroads. Even the names of the cards suggest synergy.

    • Anonymous says:

      Noted. I’m sure you’re right, but I haven’t tried that particular combo myself yet.

      • mischiefmaker says:

        Has anyone actually played this combo effectively? I also think/thought it would have a lot of synergy, but playing solitaire has left me significantly underwhelmed.

  4. Sprocket says:

    I haven’t exactly worked out the math, but I feel like in a heavy green deck, once you hit three crossroads in a turn, you actually end up with a lot of of not green cards too. The 4th should be insane because of all the green cards you end up with from the first 3.

  5. Matt Stephans says:

    You also have +2 actions (+2 in the case where you used one to pull cards) in the later scenarios with XXXX (and VP) as compared to the situations with no VP.

  6. chris says:

    One other card that I think deserves mention is Hoard. The victory cards themselves aren’t necessarily useful (unless of course they are, like Hoard/Harem), but the act of gaining them is; Crossroads helps mitigate what would otherwise be a downside of Hoard.

    Of course, this still works even better with Scout, Warehouse, Embassy, etc. (especially the latter, which is normally badly hampered by its terminality).

  7. LastFootnote says:

    So you’ve shown that Crossroads performs better in a deck without dead Victory cards than it does in a deck with dead Victory cards because even though you’re drawing more cards with Crossroads, they’re more likely to be dead cards.

    What you’ve completely neglected to take into account is that your deck starts with three dead Victory cards in it. Barring mitigating factors like Warehouse, Crossroads doesn’t get better the more dead Victory cards that you have in your deck, but it does mitigate the damage that those cards do to you. Buying a couple of Crossroads (along with some good terminal actions) should help lessen the degree to which your starting Estates hold your deck back. It’s an alternative to trashing your Estates, sort of like Apothecary being an alternative to trashing your Copper. You can then use each buy you would have used on a Estate-trashing card to buy a useful terminal action to go with your Crossroads, like a Moneylender or an Attack card. It’s all about opportunity cost.

    • WheresMyElephant says:

      Late to the party, but I’m very skeptical on this.

      Drawing something like Crossroads-Estate-Copperx3 is no better than what would happen if you didn’t have the Crossroads in the first place. Your +1 Card is only enough to replace the Crossroads itself, and does not in any way mitigate the harm of the Estate’s presence.

      So, the only time a Crossroads is going to (partially) compensate for the presence of your original Estates is if you draw it along with more than one of them. This is hit-or-miss, and as you move into the midgame it’s unlikely to happen at all (except special cases like Tactician), unless you’ve bought a ludicrous number of Crossroads and are drawing them almost every turn.

      In short, until you buy more Victory cards the mitigating effect is so unreliable we should think of it as a side benefit. Or not bother to think of it at all.

      • knott says:

        you still in your X X X – estate- crossroad example gets +2 actions for free, which seems hard to describe as status quo. All your analysis above basically ignore the fact that even when crossroads fail it is only a slightly inefficient village.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I think a large combo everyone has been missing is haven. If you stash green cards with havens then your crossroads are going to be useful without having to clog your deck. Even a deck with three estates is going to turn your first crossroad into two labs plus two villages and the others are going to be a smithy each.

  9. Noah Snyder says:

    It also plays well with giant hands: tactician, envoy.

  10. Anonymous says:

    In general, you really can’t evaluate cards anymore with a static deck distribution – there are just too many cards that allow either the player or the opponent to monkey around with deck distribution. For instance, haven lets the player move cards from one hand into another (at the price of a hand with one fewer cards). Moving green cards into crossroads hands (or crossroads into green hands) vastly increases its efficiency.

    Likewise, rabble tends to effectively move green cards into hand (barring something like a FV to skip them) so that your average draw can be better than your average card in total deck. Spy and scrying pool are also strong cards for controlling deck dynamics and altering draw odds.

    And, lest we forget, remember this is a 2 coin card. It is easily spammable and unlike a lot of 2 coin cards – it _can_ juice an engine. On a 7 or 10 coin hand with 2 buys, this can be a perfectly acceptable buy to speed up the end game. It can also be spammed (e.g. goons) to function as a cheap smithy/village combo.

    Yeah, having zero victory cards in your deck tends to make for stronger hands. Shocking as it be, most dominion games do require you to eventually stock up on those and crossroads is perfectly fine at preserving an already functioning engine.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I’ve found Crossroads to be excellent in draw decks without Estate trashing. Actions are particularly valuable in this kind of deck, so a 0-draw Crossroads is about as good as a Village. When you’re halfway through your draw engine, Crossroads is insane, especially late-game when you have some Provinces.

  12. jtotheonah says:

    Turns out Crossroads-Vault is absurd. Buys Provinces right out of the gate, and each one helps the engine. <5 Crossroads 5-7 Vault or Gold 8+ Province.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I think a couple things have been left out here. First, if you have the ability to negate the Victory cards in your hand, its beneficial because ultimately your goal is to accrue victory cards. Unless you’re trying to set up a mega turn, you’re gonna be collecting those greens in the mid to late game.

    Secondly, there’s a potential combo with King’s Court (although they are in different expansions). KC-crossroads has the potential of drawing out much of your deck because of the additive effect, and if you get to KC-KC-crossroads-crossroads with any substantial green will almost guarantee your entire deck in hand with one triple action remaining and three other actions to play with.

  14. Xam says:

    I played Crossroads/Scout/Cellar when there was an uncanny set: Silk Road, Throne Room, Ironworks, Great Hall, Baron! Scout drew green, Crossroads drew Cellar, and more green, throne room baron, more crossroads, cellar entire deck of greens, buy 4 silk roads.
    By the end my silk roads were worth 8. I doubt this will happen again, but I would like to point out that cellar is not necessarily so bad with crossroads.

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