Combo of the Day #26: Horse Traders/Duke

This is an example of one of those glorious cross-expansion synergies.  Duke strategies rely on being able to consistently hit $5, even as your deck gets stuffed with many more green cards than usual.  As WanderingWinder illustrates, Horse Traders is just about the perfect card for the situation: it is a reliable method of reaching $5 (but no more), it’s quite affordable, and it doesn’t get slowed down by green cards.  At the same time, Duke covers for Horse Traders’ main weakness (stuttering in more powerful decks designed to reach $8) by allowing you to score big with only $5’s.

In the simulators, this strategy crushes most Province-based strategies, and even Big Money-Mountebank.  Ordinarily, a Province engine can snipe enough Duchies away from a Duke engine to settle the match with its Provinces.  Horse Traders, on the other hand, can force the game into being decided by Duchies and Dukes, and in that case an engine built to reach $5 from the start is going to win in the long run.

Baron is also effective in a Duke strategy, insofar as it can consistently hit $5 in a green deck, but it’s a little more dependent on drawing Estates with the Baron.  So long as you keep up your Copper buys (yes, Copper, a task made much simpler with Horse Traders’ +Buy), Horse Traders doesn’t need much support from other cards, and as a bonus, is a mild defense against many attacks as well.

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21 Responses to Combo of the Day #26: Horse Traders/Duke

  1. Biodiesel says:

    So what ratio of Horse Traders do you think you should have in your deck?

    • theory says:

      Probably you want as many as you can while buying as many Dukes and Duchies as possible. You shouldn’t be drawing $4 too often, and when you do later on, you probably want two Estates. Take a look at WW’s game linked above.

  2. Avrair says:

    In the same field of thought as the question above (dealing with the proper ratio of Horse Traders in your deck), at what point should you start utilizing Horse Traders’ +buy to purchase Coppers? Is it wise to start this endeavor as soon as possible (as I instinctively assume it to be), or should it be started two or three HT-plays in (so as to conserve the higher HT-to-deck ratio that can be afforded early in the game)? Essentially, is there a proper (or rather, is there an improper) ratio of Coppers you should have in your deck?

  3. olneyce says:

    I’ve almost entirely avoided Dukes until very recently, so I may not be up on the basic stuff. What’s the consensus on when to stop buying Duchies and start buying Dukes? I assume you just want to buy out the Duchies and then switch, but is that ever not the case?

    If you’re trying to get to 51 points (8 Provinces + the original 3 Estates), 6 Duchies + 5 Dukes gets you there, as does 8 Duchies and 3 Dukes. But 7 Duchies and 4 Dukes gets you up to 52. So I suppose that’s ever-so-slightly faster. I can’t really imagine it’s worth it, though. Especially since it lets your opponent buy the last Duchy, which is some more concentrated extra points for them.

    If you can get 8 Duchies and 4 Dukes, that’s exactly half of the available points unless there are other point options on the board. That seems like the goal to shoot for.

    • I am also really interested in this. It might be because I don’t own a copy of Intrigue, but I find it hard to understand how I should generally set up a Duchy/Duke deck. How soon do I start greening and what does that question depend on (besides the availability of HT or Baron, obviously)?

      • Anonymous says:

        I believe the answer is to always exhaust the Duchies before buying any Dukes, with the main exception being if you expect the game to end soon. Then you buy whatever gets you the most points in the short-term.

        I’m sure there are other exceptions having to do with what other cards are available (for example, if you have Trade Routes, maybe you get an earlier Duke to boost those, I dunno).

        • Jeremy says:

          Really? See, I thought it was buy whichever one would be worth more on that particular purchase. Buying 8 Duchies gives you 24 VPs. With those same 8 purchases, buying 4 Duchies and 4 Dukes gives you 28 VPs. Hence the term Duke-Duchy dancing. But I could very well be wrong. This also would require keeping track of how many of each you have, a skill that should be a high priority anyway.

          • LastFootnote says:

            To maximize your points, you need to have about 3 to 4 more Duchies than Dukes. However, the moment your opponent(s) realize what you’re doing, they will start buying Duchies in order to limit how much your Dukes are worth. That’s why you need to buy Duchies until they’re gone, or at least until you have about 6 and it’s clear your opponents aren’t going to try to stop you.

          • ftl says:

            The way to MAXIMIZE the number of points you have is to have more Duchies than Dukes. Specifically, 3 more Duchies than Dukes. (At 0 Duchies 0 Dukes, buy a Duchy, obviously. At 1/0, a Duke would be worth 1 and a Duchy 3, so buy a Duchy. At 2/0, still buy a Duchy. At 3/0, buy either one. At 4/0 buy a Duke, or at 3/1 Buy a Duchy, and so on – if you count the points, it works out that you want # of Duchies = # of Dukes+3). With 8 buys, as in your example, the best possible split is 5 duchies 3 dukes (30 points) or 6 duchies 2 dukes (30 points).

            The problem is that, at the end of the game, there’s the SAME number of Dukes and Duchies around. So if the game is going to end by running out of Dukes and Duchies, you’d rather miss out on a few Dukes rather than on a few Duchies. And if there’s a race for the two, at all, then getting more Duchies than your opponent is more important than winning the Duke race. (Since if you are up on Duchies but down on Dukes when both run out, you’re closer to the optimal +3). So strategy-wise, you actually probably want to buy up duchies, and then the dukes, because you ARE racing against an opponent who may steal some of those buys from you.

            It’s a lot harder if Dukes and Duchies WON’T run out by the end of the game, if your opponent is going for provinces or for something else. You want to end up as close as possible to the +3 ratio at the end of the game, and then it really is a judgment call – if you go JUST duchies then you’re sad if the game ends after you buy eight (with no Dukes), but on the other hand if your opponent switches to buying some Duchies to deny them to you, you’ll wish you got some more of them before switching to Dukes.

            • Thank you for this! The +3 rule is obvious, but important. I am still struggling, though: if I start buying duchies on the very first turns, will my deck be able to keep up? Or do I need to set up a little engine first to give myself the power to get through? I am so unused to greening from the start, that I really can’t judge this. When I go for Gardens or Silk Roads, I usually set up a double-buy engine first, and the 4-cost is quite a difference from D/D’s 5-cost.
              Of course, this depends on other available kingdom cards, but right now I won’t be able to recognize those. Without HT or anything to substitute it, I guess I will need silvers or golds to keep my deck from clogging too much. That, or a draw-engine. Any more tips?

            • GwinnR says:

              I think, that the game will fast end by 3 empty piles, because when there are no more duchies and dukes you can buy 2 estates when you have the HT. After 4 (or 6 in 3 or 4 player games) turns you can finish it. Of course the others want to have points too, so they’ll buy estates too and the game ends even faster

  4. mpawliuk says:

    (mathguy)
    This won me a Dominionstrategy Championship game today! The copper buys were very helpful!

  5. Anonymous says:

    I think the only kind of engine you need, will be HT+Coppers (ofc take Silver with $3). The rest can be D/D or with $7 and 2 buys D/Estate *. Later on you could take 2 Estates with $4 and 2 buys (when you have enough HT, which in WanderinWinder’s game was when the Duke and Duchy pile was empty).
    *Or do you early on take Silver/HT with $7? I suppose Gold is never needed.

  6. Geronimoo says:

    With $7 and 2 buys definitely buy Duchy/Copper early and Duke/Estate late.

  7. toaster says:

    Vault is another card that works very well with Dukes. I’ve often beaten opponent’s with this, but I haven’t run the simulator to see whether the strategy is sound. In the absence of a discard attack it’s a guaranteed Duchy each time you draw one…however, Vault/Gold is a fast Province-buying strategy, and I’m not sure if Vault/Duke can outrun it.

  8. Geronimoo says:

    Vault/Duke is slightly better than trying to race the Provinces with Vault.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I got slammed when using this strategy when playing with my wife. I decided before we set up the cards that I was going to try using it no matter what other cards were layed out–I made sure that HT and Dukes were out before the other 8. But when I saw what was randomly selected I knew I was in trouble… Grand Market, Chapel and King’s Court. Needless to say she Chapeled everything made a run for Grand Markets, got two King’s Courts and had all eight provinces before I even had a chance to buy 3 Dukes.

    I guess my point is an obvious one… That this strategy is nice when there aren’t other more obvious strategies. It was too slow and cumbersome to compete against a sleek Chapel deck with Grand Market and King’s Court to boot! But it was fun to try.

  10. brokoli says:

    Today, I tried a duke strategy. Ad I found another great card with duke : Mandarin !
    Remodel also helped me a lot, remodeling silver into dukes/duchies. And, with village/Margrave, I succeed to buy one duke and one duchy in a single turn, puting a silver on the top of my deck thanks to Mandarin.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I tried a duke strategy today, but with vault and that card has to be the best for dukes unless if there are card-in-hand reducing attacks. Every time you play a vault with at least 4 cards in hand, you are guaranteed a duke or duchy. You won’t have to buy anything else except more vaults later on to speed it up.

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