The Five Worst Potion Cards

Disclaimer: Dominion does a really great job of balancing its Kingdom cards. Pretty much every card has some situations where it shines, and some situations where it doesn’t. Nevertheless, some cards just end up being flat-out better than others, either because they are more useful more often, or just ridiculously good when they are useful. Don’t expect this list to be very scientific.

Since there’s only 10 Potion-costing cards, and since Top Five really means Top Six factoring in the Honorable Mention, two cards will overlap between the Worst and Best list.  So again: don’t expect this list to be very scientific.

Familiar

Dominion: Alchemy

Honorable Mention: Familiar

No other card highlights Turn 3-5 unfairness quite like Familiar.  It’s basically the strongest Curse-giver in the game, and it all comes down to whether or not you drew your Potion with $3 on turns 3 or 4.  If you didn’t, and your opponent did, you might as well GG.  Of course, this happens to Witch / Mountebank too, but the odds of not making your $5 after Silver/Silver are only 6.6%.  The odds of not making $3P on a Silver/Potion opening is 34.6%.  That’s a 34.6% 23.3% chance you’re just dead on arrival, because you didn’t get $3P and your opponent did, and there’s nothing you can do about it.  (You can actually see a dip in the win rate on Turn 5 Familiar purchases, since most of those are by people whose Potion missed their reshuffle.)

And no, this has nothing to do with the fact that my lowest win rate given availability is with Familiar.

Apothecary

Dominion: Alchemy

5. Apothecary

Apothecary combines two traditionally weak categories of cards — Copper-oriented and deck-inspection — into a surprisingly decent card.  Of course, it’s set back by the fact that you never really want Coppers, but the fact that you usually have so many Coppers lurking somewhere in your deck means it’s not really that awful.  It doesn’t have the same versatility as the better Potion cards, but it’s definitely better than the ones below, and it can be especially powerful with Warehouse.  Let’s just move on before I move it onto the Best list.

 

 

University

Dominion: Alchemy

4. University

It gives you free $5 Actions, and then the +Actions to play them!  What’s not to like?

Well, for starters, the cost.  To get a University, you need a Potion.  Problem is, most of the cards that you want in the University engine don’t call for a Potion.  So bam, right there, University has the same problem that all Alchemy cards have.  Your opponent, who went for just pure money, can use his money to buy $5’s OR a Border Village, which basically does the same thing except is a lot easier to buy and gain.

Moreover, University doesn’t give you any cards.  It doesn’t even fake give you cards like Native Village does.  It just flat out dies in your hand, with no replacement, and so you need some major Action density to make any kind of University engine viable even after greening.

Like Apothecary, University is still quite an effective card.  But since it’s so slow, you need either some major $5 attacks out there (Torturer, for one), Throne Room, some powerful accelerants (Wharf, City), Vineyard, or ideally, some combination thereof to make it worthwhile.  Otherwise you’re better off with some kind of Village.

Philosopher's Stone

Dominion: Alchemy

3. Philosopher’s Stone

Philosopher’s Stone is the odd card that rewards you for building stereotypically bad decks and punishes for building stereotypically good decks.  As such, it’s hard to integrate into most decks.  It’s a nice alternative game strategy if you find yourself far overloaded with Curses and Coppers and such, and if you can get your deck fat enough each Philosopher’s Stone is a guaranteed Province.  But how do you rank such a card, which can help you only if you’re doing poorly?

The fact that it slows down in-person games with its counting doesn’t help it either.

 

Possession

Dominion: Alchemy

2. Possession

Possession gets low marks primarily because it’s such a trap card.  Even most beginners understand not to open with Potion when the only Alchemy card is Philosopher’s Stone, but something about Possession’s presence drives even experienced players into the madness of opening Silver/Potion.

Moreover, Possession is much more bark than bite.  Most experienced players know how to beat Possession: simply don’t play like you would normally play. Rush Duchies, junk your deck, and you’ll reward your Possessor with fistfuls of crap every time.

Worst of all, the opportunity cost of Possession is about as bad as it gets.  Every time you buy Possession, you could have bought a Province instead if you had bought a Silver instead of Potion.  Against an experienced player who knows how to counter Possession, you simply can’t recover from that slow of a start.

Transmute

Dominion: Alchemy

1. Transmute

It’s the annual Dominion Christmas party, and all the trash-for-benefit cards are invited.  They brought you presents: the Salvager is great, since he just gave you cash, and you can use it on whatever you want.  The Apprentice’s present is stuff that he knows you’ll like, since you’ve bought it for yourself already.  Remodel’s gift is OK — it’s a gift card, but you still have a nice selection, usually, and only rarely do you get stuck with something you don’t want.  (Expand is the jerk that went over the Secret Santa limit.)

Transmute, on the other hand, is the awkward guy that gives you the unwanted gift that you had no say in and would probably rather regift.  Yeah, sure, if you can draw Transmute with your Estates, some early Gold is great, but it’s just way too slow for an early-game trasher.  And one of the top things you look for in an early game trasher is how it handles all your Copper; all Transmute gives you for trashing Copper is … more Transmutes.  You can Transmute them into each other, but then they just turn into … Duchies?  As in, the card that you Swindle your opponent’s early $5’s into?  Yuck.  Not to mention how badly it drops the ball when you have Curses you need trashed.

In the odd scenario that you need a sudden rush of late game Duchies, Transmute is still terrible.  Its awkward cost makes it all but impossible to buy unless you have +Buy.  In Duke games, your opponent who invested into Horse Traders can just buy Dukes, whereas you’re crippled once the Duchies run out.

The one scenario when you really want Transmute is when you can make full use of its Copper->Transmute ability.  For instance, with Vineyards, the fact that Transmutes spread like a plague through your deck can actually be helpful.  Theoretically, Venture could also skip all your Transmutes, but in practice, going Potion->Transmute->Transmute rush really isn’t the optimal way to set up a Venture chain.

The worst thing to be said about Transmute, I suppose, is that it’s so often ignored.  You never see it in a discussion of trash-for-benefit cards, you never hear about it as a card to watch out for.  It’s not really awful in the same way that Thief can be awful, but it’s just irrelevant.  Its presence on most boards just means that you’re playing with a 9-card Kingdom.

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43 Responses to The Five Worst Potion Cards

  1. jonts26 says:

    I have to take exception to putting familiar as an honorable mention. Your rationale is that it introduces a lot of variance and drawing 2P on turns 3/4 is pretty much game over. But that’s true precisely because this card is super powerful. It’s a spammable curse attack and very often a must buy.

    • Deremann says:

      I’m pretty sure that Familiar will be on the “Best” list, as well.

      • Jets says:

        I bet Familiar ends up #1 on the “Best List”

        • The Cow says:

          Maybe, although Golem, Scrying Pool and Alchemist are very strong competition. Really depends on what other cards are available. I’ll hazard a guess at Golem 4, Pool 3, Alch 2 and Familar 1, which means I agree, although you certainly wouldn’t want more than 1 familiar and you would load up on the others.

          • DStu says:

            So some more guesses:
            HM: Possession
            5: Golem
            4: Alchemist
            3: Vineyard
            2: Pool
            1: Familiar

            I’m sure with the Familiar, it’s the only card that is as good as always worth the Potion. I’m quite sure with Possession. Also Golem on 5 I feel is quite certain. The other three I don’t know.

          • Rob Hankins says:

            I don’t know what you mean by “you certainly wouldn’t want more than 1 familiar”. Are you saying you don’t want to purchase multiple familiars? I would strongly disagree with that – the goal when familiar is on the board is generally to cycle through your deck as fast as possible and hand out the curses quickly. 2 familiars does this better than 1. Your other options at 3P would be pretty meager, unless there was another alchemy card you wanted.

        • FTL says:

          Good guess, by the way.

  2. Lhurgoyf says:

    May this (http://dominion.isotropic.org/gamelog/201111/06/game-20111106-043252-e688869f.html) prove you wrong about Transmute. It does an exellent job in Duchy-rushing while also threepiling (ok Island helped here, too). Like you can see on turn 23 I could empty the pile relatively fast.

    • theory says:

      None of the Potion cards are really awful. But I couldn’t think of one I considered worse than Transmute.

      • chwhite says:

        I think Philosopher’s Stone and, to a slightly lesser extent Transmute, can plausibly both be considered “awful”. I’m honestly not sure when I’d buy the Stones in situations that aren’t notrash Familiar games; if it’s the only Potion card are you really going to go out of your way to buy Potion for it, and if there are other Potion cards available, it anti-synergizes *hardcore* with most of them.

        Great list, by the way. I actually like Apothecary a bit more than Alchemist, but besides that and recognizing that Familiar’s place here is symbolic of it being a bad card to deal with rather than actually a bad card, I more or less with all of this. Glad to see Possession so low, in particular.

        • chwhite says:

          Also, as to why Apothecary is a favorite of mine: first off, by pulling out your Coppers, it usually pulls off the trick of improving both your current hand *and* your next one. It synergizes with a lot more than just Warehouse, also:

          * It’s a great thing to have in Ambassador games. Cycles your deck super fast, if Coppers are sent your way you can soak them up, often lets you skip Silver on the way to Gold or stronger Actions as you build your attacking bits in too.
          * Unlike Scout/Wishing Well, Apothecary/Wishing Well actually leaves you with more cards in your hand than you started: an extra one, plus some Coppers.
          * It’s Coppersmith’s best friend! That’s got to count for something.

          • The Cow says:

            Apothecary > Alchemist? That’s absolute crazy talk. Alchemist will continually head to the top of the deck and is usually as good or better even with a bad deck. Apothecary is nice for the look forward but to really take advantage you would need some other card, say Alchemist, to draw what you’ve set up. Once your deck gets good Alchemist blows Apothecary away.

            • DStu says:

              I also like the Apothecary more than the Alchemist. Probably the Alchemist is the stronger card, but it’s nevertheless a trap quite often. And in some situations where the Alchemist is a trap, the Apothecary is quite good. When you can’t (or do not want to (Salvager/Apprentice)) trash coppers, it accelerates the deck, especially with additional cantrips by the possibility of reordering. Possibly even more than the Alchemist.
              I play the Apothecary more often than the Alchemist, win with it more often and lose more often without.

        • AJD says:

          Philosopher’s Stone makes a great complement for Goons (especially in the absence of villages).

        • ehunt says:

          I’ve messed around with p-stone jester and it’s not bad. Otherwise I agree that I would only buy that card in familiar games, although the same is true for transmute.

          Contra the blog, I would say transmute is “truly awful like thief.” I have tried a million clever ideas to make that card work, and they’ve all failed. I can point to a couple great wins I had with transmute, but I can point to a couple great wins I had with thief, and what they have in common is that I got lucky.

          • mischiefmaker says:

            The other thing that Transmute and Thief have in common, at least for me, is that when I buy them it’s almost always as a desperation move rather than part of some bigger coherent strategy.

  3. Anonymous says:

    You say you’re “dead on arrival” 34.6% of the time because there is a 34.6% chance to miss the familiar purchase on turn 3/4. Well, since your opponent has the same odds, you’re basically only “dead” 23.3% of the time, which is when your opponent gets it and you don’t.

  4. Biodiesel says:

    It sounds like you imply that Transmute can’t trash a curse, which it certainly can!

    • ozyx says:

      But you don’t get anything for transmuting curses, and since you can trash only one curse at a time at the expense of an action, it’s really inefficient.

      • Biodiesel says:

        Sure, but in the absence of any other trasher, would you still pass on it? Besides, theory’s wording above makes it sound like you CAN’T trash with it.

      • chwhite says:

        It’s not any of the other trash-for-benefit cards give you anything better for trashing Curses. Okay, I guess Expand does, and maybe Remodel if there are good $2s out.

        I am actually most likely to get Transmutes in slow Familiar games without better trashing, where trashing Curses one at a time is actually not that bad.

        • theory says:

          Trade Route and Bishop? 🙂

          I would pass on Transmute if it were the only trasher and rely on sifters like Warehouse instead.

          • lastfootnote says:

            Dude, Trade Route is not a trash-for-benefit card. It produces coins and it makes you trash a card, but those two things are completely independent of one another.

            • theory says:

              That is true, and maybe I should tighten the definition of trash-for-benefit to encompass cards that care about costs.

              But it’s as much trash-for-benefit as Transmute. Or almost.

            • vidicate says:

              Bishop (the other card he mentioned) doesn’t trash-curses-for-benefit either.

              Said another way, Trade Route gets just as much “benefit” from trashing curses as does Bishop, but either of those still does something for you beyond the trashing unlike Salvager, Apprentice, Remake, etc.

  5. Rob Hankins says:

    I’m assuming Familiar will pop up again somewhere in the Best of List. It is just so often a must buy, and on boards without trashing it is devastating. Golem is awesome, but just not worth it unless there are some strong attacks that you want to play multiple times (in this way, I suppose it’s powerful like KC is powerful, which is…..powerful). The kingdoms where Familiar is powerful are a lot more plentiful than the ones where Golem is powerful in my experience – I don’t see how it could be ranked ahead of Golem in this respect. But I HATE how much it swings games when you miss the 3P on the reshuffle.

  6. hughes says:

    I’m glad you mentioned the in-person problem with philosopher’s stone. Counting during the game is a surefire way to take up time. I usually just auto-exclude it for this reason. That being said, I don’t mind it on isotropic.

    Does anyone have a good way of reducing the time-sink on philosopher’s stone?

    • Biodiesel says:

      We haven’t found it to be much of a problem. Our pattern is: play the stone, the player counts one of their piles, while a player next to them counts the other. It’s done in no time, especially considering you usually have less than 40 cards. Maybe takes 60 seconds.

  7. Silverback says:

    Phil. Stone allows you to go green pretty early. I sometimes open Potion/Silver, buying only money until I have 2 or 3 Stones then go heavily green, even passing up Gold for Duchies, but getting 1 or 2 more stones. In the endgame I can still buy provinces every time I see my stones.

  8. Geronimoo says:

    The Familiar is also the worst translated card in the Dutch version which is “someone you’re familiar with” (Oude bekende).

    • Ruud Kool says:

      Hey, Geronimoo, are you Dutch? In that case, what did you think of Forge?
      (Translated as if it was a conjugation of the verb ‘to forge’, as in to reproduce for fraudulent purposes)

  9. Anonymous says:

    I loved the list and all the comments.

    As a newbie to this website, I found myself actually laughing out loud at the original transmute comments above.

    Right on and keep ’em right on comin.

    – Andrew (aka Canada Andrew)

  10. Kirian says:

    Everything else notwithstanding, I absolutely love the Christmas party analogy of Transmute. We all know that one guy who is Expand…

  11. Ahmet Ilpars says:

    In a game which has familiar and/or Alchemist my buy strategy is to start with silver/silver (or silverlike action). Then buy 2 potions as early as possible. That will reduce bad luck for turns 3-4 but may result the enemy buys the 1st card of the race.

  12. DG says:

    I’ll stand up for the transmute. It’s not a great card but it’s cheap. It’s so cheap that once you’ve got one you make any number of them, and maybe that’s the problem. Anyway, the value of the transmute is the creation of totally non-standard decks.That makes them very hard to quantify and categorise. Open potion/chapel, trash your coppers, buy a transmute, and your opponents get very worried. Since you can gain gold without buying it, you can concentrate on buying handy actions to draw the gold then trash the actions out for sneaky duchies at the end of the game. Part of the value of transmutes is rushing for vineyards or duchies so it is more valuable in multi-player games. It needs partner cards since it often can’t justify a potion cost on it’s own but put it with other alchemy cards such as familiars, alchemists, or vineyards and it seems fine.

    Here’s a set created by Donald X. for the Dominion World Masters. {Courtyard, Duke, Great Hall, Minion, Nobles, Scout, Wishing Well, Herbalist, Transmute, Vineyard}. You look an minions and nobles, then wonder what the transmute is doing there? Then you look again and go hmm, maybe. Then you just go into confusion as you’ve so rarely played transmutes in 4 player games that you don’t know how good they can be in the right kingdom. Donald X. knows.

  13. chris says:

    No other card highlights Turn 3-5 unfairness quite like Familiar

    I think Sea Hag is actually worse. Whether you draw a Familiar-capable hand or not isn’t normally dependent on what your opponent does (unless he opens Potion/Oracle and forces you to discard your Potion or something), but having an opponent’s sea hag discard your sea hag is brutal, not just in morale terms but in its actual effect too.

    BTW, I think there’s probably several 3-cost actions for which Potion/X beats Potion/Silver as a way of maximizing your chances of an early Familiar. Warehouse, Oracle, possibly Wishing Well, maybe Oasis, for example. Courtyard would probably do it too, and it only costs 2 so you can open Potion/Courtyard with any opening split. Possibly ditto Haven.

    • chwhite says:

      Potion/Chancellor doesn’t actually give you better chances at a Turn 3/4 Familiar than Potion/Silver, but it does give you better chances at playing it more, faster.

      Yes! Chancellor!

  14. Anonymous says:

    If you’re looking for creative uses for Philosopher’s Stone, I’ve gotten several awesome wins off of it.

  15. chris says:

    And no, this has nothing to do with the fact that my lowest win rate given availability is with Familiar.

    Actually, I would suggest that it has a lot to do with that. As a highly skilled player, most likely, your lowest win rate given availability is with cards that make the game more dependent on luck and less on skill — a description that Familiar fits to a T.

    On the other hand, I did have a game the other day where both opponents opened Potion/Silver heading for Familiars and I got a 5/2. Figuring that Potion/nothing couldn’t possibly compete, I went Treasury/Embargo, Embargoed the Familiars when only 1 had been bought and then picked up a JoAT to build buying power and trash estates and curses. While the opponents were still cursing themselves buying familiars (it was the only potion card on the board and they had already committed to the potion) and having their potions show up at awkward moments, I was buying gold and platinum and thinning out my estates before the curses started arriving in quantity. I ended up with only 3 curses (tied for the fewest).

    It was something of a desperate move — I probably would have followed suit if I had gotten a 4/3 — and maybe it only worked because of luck, but it was still cool to beat one of the most notorious attacks in the game.

    http://councilroom.com/game?game_id=game-20111119-211400-8269a360.html

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