The Five Worst $2 Cards, 2011

Disclaimer: Dominion does a really great job of balancing its Kingdom cards.  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 objective.

Last year’s list

Duchess

Dominion: Hinterlands

Honorable Mention: Duchess

Duchess is almost certainly worse than all the other $2’s, because it’s the only card that you get for free by buying something else.  On the other hand, it’s also the only card that you get for free by buying something else.  It’s a little unfair to judge it on its power alone, since the whole point of the card is that you can get it without having to spend coins or a buy on it.  As a freebie, it’s not bad: Duchy strategies don’t need more than Silver anyway, and if half your deck is Duchies then the fact that it’s terminal doesn’t really matter, and the Spy is more likely to help you than your opponent.

On the other hand, if you’re actively buying it, then Duchess is pretty awful.  Its main appeal is +$2 for just $2, but the fact that it’s $2 and not $3 rarely matters.  About the only time it really matters is on a 5/2 opening split, but you’re committing a terminal Action for +$2 and not much else.  You’d have to have Actions to burn, or else have literally nothing else worthwhile on the board.

The real nail in the coffin is that even when you can get it for free, you sometimes don’t want it.  When you won’t even take it into your deck for free, at a point when you’re already greening pretty heavily, that doesn’t bode well.

Pearl Diver

Dominion: Seaside

5. Pearl Diver

The first time you buy it, you conjure up all these images of the great cards buried on the bottom of your deck, to be brought back to the living by Pearl Diver.  But then you hit an Estate on the bottom, and you start to realize, hey, this card is basically useless as soon as you hit a bad card.  Sure, there are certain situations where you might want to bring Victory cards to the top, but even when you’re bringing good cards up, it’s not really a net positive unless you can draw it immediately.  And oh yeah, it’s self-replacing, except that it’ll trigger reshuffles, which can be a royal pain.  Pearl Diver subscribes to the “out-sit rather than out-play your opponent” school of winning.  Even the Village Idiot at least gets extra Actions; all Pearl Diver offers is a dreadful amount of AP.  About the best thing that can be said for this card is that it can feed into a (very) poor man’s Conspirator chain.  God help you.

On the other hand, since the first edition of this ranking, quite a few cards have been released that don’t necessary explicitly combo with Pearl Diver, but are slightly aided in some way by it.  Pearl Diver boosts Horn of Plenty, aids in triggering Menagerie, and is not an actively bad target for Haggler.  So it gets to move down the list.

Cellar

Dominion

4. Cellar

Cellar is a card to buy only if its superior alternatives (Warehouse, Crossroads, Vault) are not available.  The fact that you discard before drawing makes it considerably worse than Warehouse, and giving up a potential Silver for a chance at redrawing up to 4 other cards in your hand is just not worth it.  It’s nice in very big draw decks, because it keeps your engine flowing, but it implicitly depends on bad cards in your hand (and not just in your deck) in order to truly succeed.  Against hand-discard attacks in particular, it completely collapses and leaves you with unpalatable options all around.

Nevertheless, unlike the cards above it, Cellar still sees quite a bit of use in 2-player games.  You’ll wish it was a Warehouse instead, but in big draw decks, and towards the end of the game, you’ll grudgingly take the Cellar nevertheless.

Moat

Dominion

3. Moat

A tough call, putting a Reaction card on this list, since if you’re under fire from Mountebanks and Witches, you are pretty happy to have one of these in your hand.  Among Reaction cards, Moat has the best all-around Reaction ability against attacks—but in exchange for having the worst non-Reaction ability.  And its Reaction ability is no longer unique; Lighthouse does it better, and you’d probably prefer something like Watchtower or Horse Traders against other attacks.

Most telling, though, is that if there is no attack in the game, then no one buys Moat.  (The +2 Cards is so pathetically weak that you should probably just not bother building a +Actions/+Cards engine around it.)

Herbalist

Dominion: Alchemy

2. Herbalist

This works best with Alchemist and Hoard.  Other than that, this is a classic “Actions to burn” buy; there’s no point to it unless you have more Actions than you know what to do with, or if you desperately need +Buy.

Sure, you can come up with situations where it’ll be helpful.  But it’s usually just too situational to justify taking up a slot in your hand.

 

 

 

Secret Chamber

Dominion: Intrigue

1. Secret Chamber

Reactions already get a bad rap, being so bad in 2-player and all, and being the worst reaction out there just makes matters worse.  It works great against deck-inspection attacks, but no one ever lost because they got Spied on too much.  And against the attacks that matter most — the Cursers — Secret Chamber really drops the ball.  Yeah, it’ll let you discard them for money, but you need to draw at least two Curses in hand with it to make it better than a Silver.  A deck that’s 40% Curses and 20% Secret Chambers is going nowhere fast.

Its non-Reaction ability is not awful, strictly speaking, and has its uses in double-Tactician decks, but the fact that Vault does the same thing, but so much better, is just another strike against it.  Secret Chamber is a Reaction that’s not really all that meaningful plus an Action that is strictly dominated by another. For that it earns the Worst $2 Card spot.

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36 Responses to The Five Worst $2 Cards, 2011

  1. I think you’re just a tiny bit unfair to Secret Chamber: its reaction ability helps against theft attacks (Thief, Pirate Ship, Noble Brigand) and also against Saboteur.

    I’m not actually disagreeing with you that it’s the worst $2 card, I’m just quibbling a little.

    • chwhite says:

      Yay! Secret Chamber defends against the four worst attacks in the game! Woohoo!😛

      To be fair, there is one genuinely strong attack that SC defends well against: Swindler. It’s sometimes marginally useful in Minion games too.

      • Voltgloss says:

        Secret Chamber can be useful against any attack that makes you discard – as it gives you more options to decide what gets discarded. Not just Minion, but Militia and Torturer as well.

        Also, I’m not sure it’s accurate to say Secret Chamber’s Action is “strictly dominated” by Vault. Vault has one drawback Secret Chamber doesn’t have: Vault gives your opponents an opportunity to improve their hands.

  2. Mike says:

    I think secret chamber is especially hurt by the fact that all the serious competition online is at the 2 player level, reactions scale well with players and secret chamber defends against the attacks which are weak in 2 player but can lead to pins in 3 or 4 player games

  3. Anonymous says:

    What ? Secret Chamber the worst card ? No, no, no. Secret chamber is strictly better than moat. its non-reaction ability is just so good ! And his reaction ability isn’t weak against Pirate Ship, Ghost Ship, Saboteur, Swindler, Sea Hag, rabble, fortune teller, etc.
    Moat is a terminal card, and is so weak when you have 2 moats in hand. But with 2 secret chamber, you may discard another secret chamber for 1$…
    But, I’m glad the pearl diver moved in the list. He is good with conspirator, horn of plenty, menagerie, but also with farming village, hunting party, adventurer, venture (if the bottom card is bad). And Peddler….

  4. brokoli says:

    What ? Secret Chamber the worst card ? No, no, no. Secret chamber is strictly better than moat. its non-reaction ability is just so good ! And his reaction ability isn’t weak against Pirate Ship, Ghost Ship, Saboteur, Swindler, Sea Hag, rabble, fortune teller, etc.
    Moat is a terminal card, and is so weak when you have 2 moats in hand. But with 2 secret chamber, you may discard another secret chamber for 1$…

    But, I’m glad the pearl diver moved in the list. He is good with conspirator, menagerie, horn of plenty, but also farming village, adventurer, hunting party, venture (if you don’t want the bottom card), and Peddler (another cantrip).

    • Sam says:

      Secret Chamber’s action ability is better than Moat’s, but it’s still terrible in the absence of combos. It only does anything for you if you have a lot of junk in your hand, or colliding terminals which you shouldn’t have accumulated in the first place. It can’t even improve upon Copper!

      It’s reaction ability, meanwhile, certainly provides a small bonus in response to attacks, but it’s almost never better than simply being able to stop the attack outright. This graph says it all: http://councilroom.com/win_weighted_accum_turn.html?cards=Moat%2CSecret%20Chamber

  5. LastFootnote says:

    Ugh, these ‘Top 5’ lists are the worst. They’re highly subjective, get obsolete quickly, and contain the least in-depth strategy. Now we’re re-hashing them? As far as I’m concerned, that’s sheer filler.

  6. tlloyd says:

    “Add in the fact that Vault / Secret Chamber provide other options for disposing of unwanted cards, and Cellar becomes relegated to a card only to buy if its superior alternatives are not available.”

    Cellar . . . #4
    Secret Chamber . . . #1

    What gives?

  7. Ferrouswheel says:

    Where’s woodcutter going to end up when there’s the Best/Worse five $3 cards, because I know that I’d almost always be willing to take an herbalist over a woodcutter for the treasure return against the additional +$1.
    However, I guess that the standard it should be compared to would be hamlet and pawn, both of which have herbalist beat.

    • chris says:

      Depends — herbalist is stronger in a platinum game, or sometimes with potion (especially with alchemist, but also if you’re racing for something like familiar). It’s a double whammy with Horn of Plenty, both making it stronger and letting you recover it to use again next turn, and can combine nicely with Royal Seal, too. It does have one big weakness — it’s terminal — but how bad that is varies quite a bit from board to board.

      …and yes, I expect woodcutter will retain a place of honor (?) on the worst $3 list. Nearly everything on the worst lists is terminal, because the big drawback common to all terminals is that they conflict with each other and additional copies of themselves.

  8. PSGarak says:

    If your main argument against Cellar is that there are better alternatives, I think that’s being rather unfair. There are only 10(-ish) cards in every game, and very few games with Cellar also have Warehouse in them. In the rather frequent scenario that Cellar is the only deck-cycling card available, I’ll buy it, and I’ll even buy down to it, and I’ll be quite happy to do so. The Cellar is not made worse by the fact there’s a Warehouse left in the box that I can’t buy (Black Market excepted). That’s not something I would say about Secret Chamber: Even if it’s the only reaction, and there are attacks it works against, and it’s the only way of benefiting from dead cards, I still may not bother.

  9. Yuma says:

    In real life–as opposed to Isotropic play–I only own Intrigue and Prosperity expansions–as a result Secret Chamber and Grand Market get put out at the same time with relative frequency. This is almost the only time I will buy it, even sinking down when I have a 3-4 opening because of its obvious ability to get me Grand Markets by the third or fourth turn. I rarely if ever buy Moats or Cellars with 3 coins. However, that is a very limited purpose but I thought I would mention it since no one else had.

  10. Maybe these “2011” posts should link to the originals?

  11. Anonymous says:

    Why are you saying Cellar is bad just because Warehouse exists? What if, you know, Cellar is on the board and Warehouse isn’t? You do that again when you compare Moat to the omg2good lighthouse.

    • I’d like to hear theory’s response to this frequent criticism. I’ve really learned a lot reading this blog over the last year, but it gives me hives when you say things like “X’s problem is that Y is so much better” or “for $5 you are better off buying Z.”

      • theory says:

        If you imagine each card as filling some unique deck role, and allowing for the fact that there’s some overlap, any card that you would never take for its role when there’s a better option is, in my mind, a weak card. Every card is useful some of the time, but when a card find itself in the situation it’s designed for, and still you wouldn’t buy it because another card performs that role better, then I consider that card weak.

        • DG says:

          I’d say that cost is too important to ignore. Cheap deck components should be cheap. You can’t get cheaper than cellars. Walled villages and farming villages are often too expensive to pursue strategies that villages or native villages can support. Monuments and militias are not weak just because goons exist.

          I think the reason the cellar is in the worst 5 list is because by the nature of lists, ‘something has to be’. Used at the right time the cellar, moat, and secret chamber can be decisive game winning cards. Those times are just less frequent than for the hamlet.

        • that makes zero sense to me. if a card frequently finds itself in a situation it’s “designed for” and you still don’t purchase it, then it could be called weak (because that implies you’d almost never purchase it under any circumstances). but if a card is passed over on account of a superior analogue, that merely implies a relationship; ie, it is “weak-er” than the other; it is weak on that board only.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I really like these Top 5 posts – don’t listen to the naysayers, they’re the best!

  13. Sprocket says:

    Secret Chamber combos well with other reactions, basically giving you an extra card to find an answer for an attack (+2, subtracting the slot taken up by SC). It can find you a curse for mountbank, for example. If you’re getting attacked every turn, you can put it back on your deck for next turn and play it every turn without it actually even taking space up in your hand.

    It also lets you do this: http://councilroom.com/game?game_id=game-20110713-125838-9fdcbc57.html (see turn 19, needed more markets for a truly awesome turn though😦 )

    Also a very minor point about pearl diver that I think raises it’s value slightly is that it can help to ensure that one of the cards that misses a reshuffle is a bad one. Play them until you hit an estate and leave it there, and that estate probably won’t get shuffled in on your last hand. (A friend pointed this out to me a while back, and I think I had been underestimating the importance of reshuffle timing)

    • ycz6 says:

      FYI, the “— Sprocket’s turn 19 —” at the beginning of each turn on a CouncilRoom game log is a permalink to that location on the page.

  14. Secret Chamber becomes invaluable in a game with Grand Market, and can make it viable to use both hand-increasing cards and Minion at the same time.

  15. DG says:

    I think there’s a lot of danger in looking at the duchess as a free card that can’t harm a deck. I’ve seen the duchess lose a lot of games since hinterlands came out. To be honest I don’t think I’ve seen her force a win in any game. The ‘discard the top card’ effect will frequently be of more benefit to the opponent.

  16. BookS says:

    While Secret Chamber isn’t a card anybody is going to build a deck around, the hand / top of the deck manipulation is often useful to plan out the next two hands. It seems to combo well with Steward which can be used to either draw the next two cards (you’ll know what they are), boost your cash by 2, or trashing two bad cards. This is true of both curse giving attacks and handsize reduction attacks. Of course, all cursing attacks are weakened when good trashers are available, but Secret Chamber helps set up the trashing turns.

    Secret Chamber’s action ability is situation based, but Dominion strategies always depend on what is in the kingdom card set. Grand Markets, Gardens strategies, and games with cursing and without trashing can all benefit.

  17. Cedric says:

    I *luuuurve* Secret Chamber. I play four-player casual. I’ve often found Secret Chamber useful to give me a 4-coin hand, especially if others are Attacking me with Curses. I’ve even used it early in the game with a 5/2 split so I had an additional 4-coin hand in the second round (Secret Chamber and two Estates, plus two Coppers or a Copper and Silver). In a four-player game with Attacks, the Secret Chamber is pretty much a free Action each round that allows you to “bump” your hand by a critical coin or two, and, depending on the Attack, cycle through your crappy Curses, Estates, and Coppers. What Secret Chamber *isn’t* useful for is to protect you from Attacks! (: Particularly in the later expansions, many Attacks don’t go after your hand. While many cards depend on the other cars on the board, Secret Chamber’s utility *really really* depends on the Attacks on the board. Secret Chamber won’t do much against Ambassador, but may save you a six-point swing (and cycle your deck) against Possession!

    • thisisnotasmile says:

      It won’t do anything against Possession as Possession isn’t an attack.

    • Ryan says:

      The problem here is that $4 turns are pretty crummy, and in particular they’re not much better than $3 turns (which you can almost guarantee even in the worst decks by replacing that Secret Chamber with a Silver). What is there that costs $4 which you want to load up on so badly that you’d reduce the odds of $5-$6 turns in the early game? Caravan or maybe Ironworks if that’s appropriate; Gardens and perhaps Silk Road later on. Maybe Young Witch or Militia but how many of those can you possibly want? (And will Secret Chamber conflict with them as a terminal)? I can’t think of many others.

      Still, I guess if you’re playing a 4P game where you can count on being Attacked practically every turn, then it’s almost always better to have a Secret Chamber in your hand than not have one. After all, if it’s useless you can always pass it off to the next hand to wind up with the same hand or a slightly better one than you would have had otherwise.

      • Ryan says:

        Actually now that I think about it, it would be interesting to buy just a single Secret Chamber and move it down to the next hand before every turn. I can see doing this in a game of dueling finely-tuned Goons or Margrave engines (which would also give you the +Buy to pick up a Secret Chamber easily late in the game). Or even if my opponent had just grabbed all the Spies, in which case the Secret Chamber would totally nullify them but have little furtger effect.

        • Ryan says:

          Then again that makes no sense since the Margraves or whatever cards you use in your Goons engine will just pick the Secret Chamber back up. Maybe a tiny deck of Fishing Villages and Goons, or some overwrought plan scheme to play a Courtyard every turn? This is looking less and less practical.

          (Sorry for all the replies, especially to people whose RSS inbox is getting flooded or something. I’ll resist posting any further half-baked ideas here unless someone happens to respond.)

  18. Admin says:

    You forgot the worst 2 dollar card. The estate.

  19. Levi Hobbs says:

    Actually, Secret Chamber has won me a game all in its right. You see, in a Slogs game with Gardens, the entire game is about who can consistently generate 4 gold every turn. Most decks don’t have a problem with generating gold on many turns, but EVERY turn in a slogs game is far from achievable…unless you have Secret Chamber! Every time you draw it you discard the rest of your hand and buy your Garden.

    It also works pretty well in Slogs games with alternate-VP-cards that cost 5. Just buy silvers as well as secret chambers and now you’re consistently getting 5 per turn.

    I still agree with you that overall in “most situations” it’s a sucky card. But saying that Vault strictly dominates it is silly since Vault costs 5 and SC is 2.

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