The Five Best $2 Cards, 2011

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.

Pawn

Dominion: Intrigue

Honorable Mention: Pawn

This is one of the most all-around useful cards in the game.  It’s great early when you can afford to blind draw (e.g., +1 Card / +$1), it’s an easy way to get a non-terminal Buy, it’s ridiculously cheap, it’s a great disappearing source of money (good for Library, Minion, Grand Market), and yes, if all else fails, it’s +1 Action / +1 Card…

It’s lost a bit of its luster now that there are more cheap ways of getting +Buy, but rarely is a deck actually hurt by including a Pawn or two.  Unless, of course, you’re playing on Isotropic, in which case your opponent will probably die of old age before you finish playing every single one of your King’s Courted Pawns.

Courtyard

Dominion: Intrigue

5. Courtyard

I considered placing this above Haven, but ended up ranking it just below. It’s decent (but not great) in a +Actions/+Cards chain (as befitting a $2 card), but it’s really nice even when you don’t have any +Actions.  In many ways it’s actually superior to Smithy, since placing a card back on top is like a mini-Haven, and it saves you from drawing dead Actions.

But it ranks below Haven simply because it doesn’t feed on itself well: you can’t play multiple Courtyards since it’s terminal, and even if you have +Actions, playing multiple Courtyards on top of each other is not that great, since it misses out on the true point of Courtyard.  And not every deck is improved by a Courtyard.

Haven

Dominion: Seaside

4. Haven

I really, really like this card. Probably more than it deserves. But it’s saved my bacon many times: literally every engine combo benefits from a Haven, making those lovely massive Action chains that much easier to put together. In particular, it gets rid of those situations when you draw your King’s Court all by itself, even though you have like a million other Actions in the deck, but your stupid opponent lucked into his stupid King’s Court with his stupid Mountebank and now you’re pretty much dead on arrival because of a random number generator.

In other words, Haven is great.  It’s like a poor man’s Scheme, except it increases your hand next turn and works on Treasures too, helping you smooth out your late game $7’s and $9’s.

Lighthouse

Dominion: Seaside

3. Lighthouse

We like to casually use “Reaction” to mean “Reaction to attack”, but it’s worth remembering that the best defense against attacks doesn’t even say “Reaction” on the card. Lighthouse is the only “Reaction” worthwhile in a 2-player game, since you’re basically unattackable once you’re able to keep a Lighthouse in front of you consistently every turn.

The key is really that it’s non-terminal, so when you draw your Lighthouses with your Mountebank you aren’t just forced to play one and not the other.  Its benefit is not too shabby either; obviously it’s not as good as a Silver, but it’s good enough for a spammable Reaction, and heck, I’ll take +1 Action / +$1 with $1 next turn over +2 Cards any day.

Hamlet

Dominion: Cornucopia

2. Hamlet

A strong contender with Fishing Village and Border Village for the best “Village” in the game. It doesn’t have Fishing Village’s crazy Actions, or Border Village’s free $5 card, or even the word “Village” in its name, but it does offer +Buy, a critically underrated component of an +Action/+Cards engine.

The fact that you have to discard means that Worker’s Village is technically usually better, but since you’re mostly building an engine around Actions, the forced discard is rarely an issue: the whole point of Action combo engines is that you don’t need all the cards in your hand — just a few key ones.  Sometimes it even works to your benefit (e.g., Tunnel, Library).  The key, though, is the price: Hamlet’s price makes it easy to grab two with $4 and two buys. And where do you get those buys from?  Oh, right, the Hamlets.  Self-synergy is generally a surefire recipe to the top of these rankings.

Chapel

Dominion

1. Chapel

Six expansions later, Chapel is still the best card in the game.  In fact, it is likely the most powerful Dominion card that will ever be printed relative to its cost.

That’s not the same as it being bad for the game, though. On the contrary: Chapel enables players to explore an entirely different kind of Dominion: a Dominion where card combos are free to run wild, without getting gummed up by Coppers and Estates.  A game where engines thrive and Big Money stumbles, where you get to immediately reshuffle in your new purchases instead of waiting many agonizing turns to see your cards again.

As more and more trashing options are introduced with each expansion, Chapel’s uniqueness has faded.  In some games, it’s arguably no longer even worth purchasing.  But Chapel remains the defining card of small-deck Dominion, a card whose legacy speaks for itself.

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26 Responses to The Five Best $2 Cards, 2011

  1. chwhite says:

    Even ignoring the Reaction effect, Lighthouse can often be better than Silver. $1 this turn and $1 next turn is very similar when it’s not likely to miss the reshuffle, and Lighthouse is especially stronger in the presence of cards that specifically prefer cash to come from disappearing Actions: Minion, Scrying Pool, Tactician, Library/Watchtower, and Menagerie all come to mind.

    • kn1tt3r says:

      Dumb question: In a game with whatever attack you have 4 Lighthouses in total and draw a hand with 3 of them. Your about halfway through your deck. Without considering what you could buy or not, do you play them all? Or just two of them to draw other LHs more likely in future turns?

      • Sprocket says:

        I could see myself not playing one of them if you know that you’re likely to reshuffle before they’re cleaned up, especially in a heavy attack game. As long as they’ll get shuffled in though, no point not to get the extra cash, right?

      • chwhite says:

        I’d say it depends on what sort of draw/cycling you have. If you don’t have any of either, just play ’em all because they’ll get back in your deck for the next reshuffle. If you have some sort of engine that can draw your entire deck (hello Minion), you can probably also play them all, just so long as there’ll be one left in your deck to play next turn. If you have a little bit of draw… then it gets tricky. Most of the time I’ll just play them all anyway, because it’s hard to pass up the Duration cash even if I don’t need to spend it all now, but you could make a case for holding one or two back if defense is super-important.

  2. Hunting Party of One says:

    I’ve always contended that Chapel, as powerful as it is, should be a 6$ or $7 card. It’s certainly that good!

    • kn1tt3r says:

      There’ve been endless discussions about this, but just one comment: Without the ability to buy it with whatever opening in turn 1/2, Chapel would be A LOT weaker and certainly not worth 6 or 7.

      • rrenaud says:

        I think I’d buy a Chapel @ 6 more often than I’d buy a Counting House @ 5.

        Forge is sometimes a crappy chapel, turning 3 coppers into a copper, or turning 3 coppers and a village into a village, but having the opportunity cost of a village for that turn.

        • LastFootnote says:

          In other words, you’d buy Chapel on turn 3 or later. Not a good move.

          • rrenaud says:

            I don’t think that intuition with Chapel @ 2 carries over well to Chapel @ 6. Sure, I’d basically never buy a chapel after turn 2 in Dominion as is. But I don’t think Chapel would be terrible at 6. It would combo well with things like Tactician, Bridge mega turns, Peddler spam, Grand Market decks.

            It’s definitely not going to purchased in 90% of games, but it would probably be worth it 25% of games.

            • LastFootnote says:

              Hm, I suppose so. I guess I’d still like to believe Counting House is more valuable than a $6 Chapel, but in 2-player games that may not be the case.

    • chris says:

      Chapel’s power depends heavily on the fact that you can get it early, when you’re still likely to draw it with 3-4 of your initial cards. Otherwise it would be strictly inferior to Steward, let alone trash-for-benefit cards like Remake.

      So if you make it more expensive, so that you have to buy other things first and work up to it, it won’t be worth reaching when you do get there.

      In order for a $6 or $7 Chapel to be worth having, it would also have to have its own built-in Warehouse or something like that, so you could get enough trash-worthy cards into your hand at once that you would want to trash 3+ of them.

  3. hockeysemlan says:

    Hrm? A new list without even mentioning the Fools Gold and Crossroads? Ain’t saying they really should be on this list, but in my world, right now, Fool is worth an honorable mention and Crossroad is a clear second. I’m surely overrating them as a whole, new as they are and all, but in which way is that so?

    (pardon my bad language, perhaps, not a native)

    • brokoli says:

      I totally agree with you.

    • chwhite says:

      I would have put Crossroads on here instead of Haven, but probably only in the Honorable Mention spot. Fool’s Gold I’m less a fan of than most; I’ve won a bunch of games avoiding it.

      • brokoli says:

        Fool’s gold is difficult to rate, because one single fool’s gold is weak, but when you have 3 or more, it’s a so good card… (even if you can win without).
        That’s why I would put it as a Honorable mention.

  4. I love how at least 5 out of the mentioned 6 cards combo well with Menagerie. I pointed out how Hamlet and Menagerie love each other, but Pawn, Lighthouse and Haven also help you define your hand. Not to mention Chapel for sifting out duplicates.

    Oh, how I love Menagerie.

    • brokoli says:

      Yes, I hope Menagerie will be in the next “best 3$ cards” list.

    • BookS says:

      Menagerie is a beautiful card that responds well to handsize reduction attacks (Militia, Torturer, Ghost Ship), takes full advantage of hand manipulation (the underrated Secret Chamber, Spy, Oracle / Tunnel), and proper hand play (Hamlet and Oracle help quite a bit, Spice Merchant, Hunting Party).

    • chris says:

      Menagerie can be a strong card, but it suffers from a serious weakness: you start the game with seven of the same card in your deck. For the first couple reshuffles you are mathematically guaranteed to have 2+ Copper in EVERY hand and even after that it’s awfully likely. If you don’t have a plan for dealing with that, don’t buy Menagerie.

      On some boards you *can’t* have an effective plan for dealing with the massive amount of duplicates in your starting deck, and even when you can, you probably shouldn’t *open* Menagerie because most plans for getting rid of Copper take time. But the longer you wait to buy it, the more likely you are down-buying it, so it isn’t really as cheap as it looks.

      IMO the value of Menagerie depends heavily on the board, so I wouldn’t expect it to make the best lists.

      • brokoli says:

        Yes, you should almost never open with menagerie. But in the middle / late game, Menagerie is so powerful that you can’t ignore it completely. For instance, all trashers (especially for copper) are really good : Chapel of course, but also Moneylender, Spice merchant, remake, etc. But even without that, menagerie is worth it.

  5. Axxle says:

    “Unless, of course, you’re playing on Isotropic, in which case your opponent will probably die of old age before you finish playing every single one of your King’s Courted Pawns.”

    Sounds like a benefit to me!😀

  6. jonts26 says:

    Courtyard at #5!? Behind haven? I am outraged and have lost faith in humanity.

    Ok, hyperbole aside. Courtyard, is at least close to haven in engine games but it SO SO SO good in big money games that there’s no question its above haven. Consider courtyard/BM is better than envoy, smithy, masquerade, JoaT and many others. And it works better with a secondary action in these types of games too. It’s too hard to ignore.

    I’d put it above lighthouse, though I can see the argument against that. Where CY is so good in big money, Lighthouse is so good against attacks. I’d consider putting it above hamlet too, but i think it just misses the cut there.

    • chris says:

      Courtyard is terminal, so you really have to be sparing with how many of them you pick up, especially in a +Action-poor environment. Notice that the only other terminal to make the list at all is Chapel, whose effect is so strong you really only need one in the deck anyway (especially since it’s also a thinner).

  7. GwinnR says:

    And in some cases it doesn’t matter if i discard any cards, because i’ll get them anyway with my enginge.

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