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.
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.
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 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.
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.)
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.
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.