The Five Worst $3 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.

Black Market

Promotional Dominion Cards

Honorable Mention: Black Market

Sometimes cards end up on this a “Worst” list because they are genuinely bad, and sometimes they end up here out of spite, because of how annoying they are.

Black Market qualifies for both.  It’s bad in that you can’t really assemble a coherent strategy when you don’t know what cards you’re going to get, and a hodgepodge of random cards (1 copy of each) is not really going to get you anywhere unless Fairgrounds is in play.  Not to mention the fact that even when you draw good cards, they don’t always come out at the right time.  You can get a Turn 3 Chapel, but as it turns out, Turn 3 Chapels are pretty terrible.  Or you might get a Turn 3 Grand Market, which you are totally unable to afford.

But when everything does line up, oh how annoying it can be.  Your opponent grabs a Mountebank on Turn 3, and a King’s Court on Turn 5, and then on your turn you get to choose from Treasure Map, Peddler, and Fool’s Gold.  It’s like a stark reminder of why you stopped playing Ascension.

If you can be disciplined, and buy from it sparingly, Black Market is really not that bad.  It’s just a terminal Silver with some fun tricks (e.g., Black Market/Tactician), and can sometimes give you a leg up by giving you access to a card no one else has.  But it tempts us all into bad decisions.

Fortune Teller

Dominion: Cornucopia

5. Fortune Teller

Hello, players.  Look at your Fortune Teller.  Now to Ambassador.  Look at your Fortune Teller, now back to Swindler, now back at Fortune Teller, now back to Ambassador. Sadly, your Fortune Teller is nothing like Swindler or Ambassador.  Look down, back up, where are you?  You’re winning a Tournament thanks to your opponent’s Fortune Teller.  What’s in your hand, back to me.  I have it, it’s your Coppers, now they’re in my deck.  Look again, the Coppers are now Curses.  Anything is possible when your $3 attack actually does damage instead of just cycling your opponent’s deck.  I’m on a Trusty Steed.




4. Workshop

University can be amazing, Workshop can’t.  The difference?  $5 Actions are actually useful, to the point where you probably want as many of them as you can in your deck because of how much they boost your deck quality.  That just doesn’t hold true for $3 and $4 Actions.  Most of them are terminal and intended strictly for early-game use.  And few of the non-terminals actually improve your deck in a meaningful way.  About its best use is for Great Halls and Caravans, but even then, it’s far outclassed by Ironworks. Of course, it’s good for Gardens, and if in a Cursy game, or in a game overflowing with Actions but without +Buy, Workshop might be worth it to pick up some Caravans or Great Halls if Ironworks isn’t around.  But that’s a lot of if’s.  90% of the time, it’s far more important to ramp up your engine instead of dilly-dallying at the $3/$4 level.  Even if you gain every Great Hall and every Spy with your Workshop, you still haven’t made any progress whatsoever towards reaching $8, or even $6 per hand.

One of the ways you can tell someone is getting better at Dominion is when they stop buying Workshops and start appreciating the importance of tempo.  A deck built on Workshopping $3’s and $4’s is usually just too slow to compete with someone who ramped up their engine with Silvers instead of Workshops.



3. Woodcutter

No one purchases a Woodcutter unless they have no other choice.  If you’re very prescient, I can see the appeal of opening with Woodcutter if you know you’ll be setting up long Laboratory chains.  But you’re never happy to do it, and there better be basically no other terminal on the board to justify such a move. Woodcutter ranks worse than Workshop because it’s not even the best card in the one situation where Woodcutter shines.  (Though I concede this is a debatable point.)

Plus, even the Woodcutters in the picture give you a hint as to how bad they are.  Look at poorly they’re sawing that tree!  Of what use could such incompetent Woodcutters be to your glorious Dominion?



2. Chancellor

Most players’ first impression of Chancellor is that it’s crap.  Then you start second-guessing yourself; you wonder whether or not you’re giving it short shrift.  Maybe this is one of those “expert-level” cards that only good players can appreciate, you think to yourself.  You start trying it out, faithfully trying to manipulate deck variance in your favor.

Then you realize it’s still crap.

Nevertheless, Chancellor holds the unique title of “most overrated underrated card”.  That is, you will continue to see people extolling its virtues, coming up with exotic scenarios that justify using a terminal Action on deck reshuffling. The long and short of it is that although Chancellor offers a benefit, it’s a marginal and uncertain one.  If you really want, you can get most of its benefit (and then some) from Watchtower/Royal Seal/Navigator anyway.  And unlike just about every other card, there is never a board where you need a Chancellor in order to succeed.  Yeah, it works nicely with Stash and Counting House, but the fact that Chancellor’s best combos involves investing in other bad cards really should end up counting against it.


Dominion: Hinterlands

1. Develop

Welcome to the worst early-game trasher yet.  Trashing one at a time is so painfully slow that Develop is just not worth opening with, even with the possibility of top-decking Silvers.  At least Trade Route turns into a juggernaut in the late game; Develop is so awful at deck-thinning you’re better just sifting with Warehouse and the like.

But wait, you say.  Couldn’t you use Develop for awesome mid-to-late-game interactions?  Develop an Ill-Gotten Gains into a Caravan and Border Village, gain another Ill-Gotten Gains!  Develop a $5 into Goons/Throne Room!

Yes.  But — and it’s a huge but — how often are those combinations actually on the board?  How often are you going to draw the right card with your Develop?  And realistically, you’re going to need some +Buy too, or else where do you find the time to get a spare $3, then wait for it to come back around?  In the time you spend setting this up, why not just buy Provinces instead?

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52 Responses to The Five Worst $3 Cards, 2011

  1. Jambalaya Hut says:

    The fortunate teller paragraph was well done.

    • Jambalaya Hut says:

      I’m actually really partial to black market though, especially if you’re fishing for a cursing attack, or trasher, or a +actions card that the board lacks. I would put great hall in part of the worst $3 cards list, very rarely do great halls make a big difference in games

  2. sherwinpr says:

    Is it just fairgrounds that combos with the “buying random singletons” aspect of Black Market? I really think Horn of Plenty works with it too (if the Black Market deck contains a good number of cheap nonterminals, especially if you can throne or KC it) on boards with heavy drawing. This could allow HoP to realistically net some colonies on a mega turn.

    • LastFootnote says:

      Usually I’ll pick up the Black Market if it’s the only way to get a Curse-giving Action or the only way to get a decent mid-to-late game trasher.

  3. LastFootnote says:

    Although I’m generally not a big fan of these “Top and Bottom 5” lists, I love the humor in this one! Twas quite an enjoyable read.

    The first nitpick that jumps to my mind is that, for Workshop, you talk about $3 and $4 Actions being worse than Silver while completely ignoring that Workshop can gain Silver as well. If I were playing a 3- or 4-player game and I knew that I was going to be mired in Curses, I’d strongly consider picking up a couple of Workshops if – and this is a big if – there were no good Curse trashers on the board. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Dominion base set has zero effective Curse trashing cards.

    • Perd Hapley says:

      “Perhaps not coincidentally, the Dominion base set has zero effective Curse trashing cards.”

      …well, aside from the best one in the game 🙂

      • LastFootnote says:

        Although Chapel is certainly very effective at trashing Coppers and Estates, I have found it to be a less-than-satisfactory Curse trasher. The problem is that, unless you’re drawing your deck every turn, it’s hard to line up your Chapel with your Curses. Even when you do, you’re using a terminal Action to trash one, maybe two cards at a time. Building up to such a deck also becomes more difficult in the face of all the Curses coming in. The more players in the game, the more quickly your deck fills with Curses and the less practical Chapel becomes.

        Overall, I’d much rather have Lookout, Trade Route, Upgrade, Trading Post, Masquerade, Ambassador, Remake, or Jack of all Trades for trashing existing Curses in my deck.

      • Duke Von Duchy says:

        pretty sure masq is in intrigue

  4. brokoli says:

    I think this is the list for which I am less in agreement. Fortune teller is IMO one of the most underestimated card, while Workshop is one of the most useless – there are many alternative for a garden / silk road / vineyard deck. Also, the top-deck ability of develop is great, so I think develop not deserve his spot.

    • captainfrisk says:

      I would love to see some game logs in which fortune teller was a legitimately good buy – apart from “its the only terminal card on the board, so its strictly better than silver”

      • chwhite says:

        Here’s one where I used Fortune Teller to make Jester a guaranteed Curse machine in the endgame:

        Don’t sleep on the dreaded Bureaucrat/Fortune Teller opening!

        While looking through my old games for good examples of Fortune Teller, I found this one, which was a bad example of Fortune Teller but a good example of Chancellor! Besides those two terminals it was an IGG mirror match, and with all that cruft terminal silver is as good as silver.

        And here’s a game where I lost in large part because Fortune Teller’s attack hit my Platinums three turns in a row: and it was an Envoy game, so terminal space was at a premium. Which is why I ignored it, whoops.

        • chris says:

          Doesn’t Envoy conflict with Platinum? I can’t think of a card with a bigger PICK ME sign on it. ISTM that a mix of weak cards and great cards makes Envoy worse than Smithy; what you really need to make it good is a Province game with good Copper trashing so that most of what you draw is at least Silver, even after discarding your best card.

          As for Fortune Teller, I’m curious to know if theory has an equally low opinion of Rabble; the first thing I thought when I saw Fortune Teller was that it’s a cheaper Rabble that gives you money instead of cards (and therefore doesn’t conflict quite as much with other actions, although it is still terminal). The attack doesn’t work quite the same — for example, it’s guaranteed to leave the opponents no better off, except for the odd Tournament or Baron interactions, whereas Rabble occasionally discards three Copper and leaves the Gold on top — but it’s generally similar for $2 less. (You are likely to benefit more from Rabble’s draw, assuming a good deck design, but that’s why it’s a significantly more expensive card.)

          Giving your opponents a worse hand *does* do long-term damage — they buy a worse card that turn instead of a better one. In many situations forcing them to draw a victory card is as good as forcing them to have a smaller hand. And that’s not even counting the possibility of cycling their deck past their Gold or high-powered Actions and delaying them for a whole reshuffle.

          I think the biggest problem with FT is just that it’s a $3 terminal (unsurprisingly, so is everything else on the list). Almost all cheap terminals become obsolete rapidly once you can start affording more expensive, powerful terminals and don’t want to use your action on a cheap card, and even if they’re not obsolete you still don’t want very many — I can’t think of any terminal that can be spammed to take over your whole deck like Minion.

          Even quite decent cards like Courtyard fall prey to this, whereas a nonterminal like Warehouse, Scheme or Oasis will continue to have some use even after you’re picking up high-powered terminals like Witch, Mountebank, Embassy or Forge.

          • chwhite says:

            What Rabble has going for it that Fortune Teller doesn’t is stackability: if you can build a draw-your-deck Rabble chain, you can force your opponent to top-deck multiple Victory cards and really punish early greening. Single Rabble is underwhelming, much like a single Torturer.

            And yeah, Envoy and Platinum don’t mix very well. But there wasn’t really a good alternative on that board.

      • oxeador says:

        I could not find the game log, but I played once a fortune teller + saboteur attack that made all the provinces easy to trash.

  5. Ahmet Ilpars says:

    I totaly agree with the worst 5. I especially dislike develop. I never won a single game with that card. On the other hand, I am big fan of Black Market. Some cards are still very useful even when you have only 1 in your hand (Tournament, Forge, Tactician, a curse giver when there is none). It is also better in multi-player games in which there is more rivalry for the good cards.

  6. Schneau says:

    One recent use I have found for Chancellor is in Tunnel decks. If you can discard your whole deck a few times with a few tunnels in it, you will soon have more gold than you know what to do with.

    • chwhite says:

      Chancellor doesn’t work with Tunnel. Since you’re “putting the deck in the discard pile” rather than discarding the cards, you don’t actually see the cards you’re flipping and can’t reveal any Tunnels.

      It does work well with Inn, though!

  7. chwhite says:

    I’m torn. I want to say that the ever-so-slightly underrated Fortune Teller doesn’t belong on this list: at a minimum Smugglers, which I’d call the second-worst $3, should displace it. But then we’d miss out on an excellent write-up.

    Fortune Teller is often worth picking up in games without trashing or Tournament; its quasi-Rabble effect doesn’t stack but the potential your opponent miss their early buys (and increase the sting of greening) is occasionally worth a terminal silver. No, it’s not great, but it’s better than most people give it credit for.

    • Anonymous says:

      First, smuggler does an excellent job at giving you a second chance in games where you start with a handicap (second position, or 2/5 split, nothing is worse than a 2/5 opening against double smuggler).

      It also happens to be the card that single-handedly wrecks one of the most powerful cards of the game: grand market. Smuggler might often be a trap, but the same way city is a trap. There are clear boards where it is your optimal bet, though often only for one player, which is imo why it is such an interesting card.

      Chapel+smuggler is also probably one of the most solid openings ever.

      As for the fortune teller opening. I do that, and am still unconvinced. Sure,cycling that first chapel will give you easily a 10-15% edge… 25% of the time the other 75%, you just made sure your opponent hits his 5$ a cycle earlier. I think there is definitely a way to play this correctly, and it probably has a good chance of being related to 5/2 openings, the relative strength of 5s and 3s, and whether that estate is really toxic or not.

      also, Inn+chancellor is fun.

      • chwhite says:

        Yes, Smugglers is great on Grand Market boards (though I wouldn’t say it “wrecks” GM- it does encourage hitting the Provinces quicker); I also frequently buy it when Minions are around. But it’s pretty common that really bad cards will “turn on” and work as a counter against/supplement to one or two specific power cards: King’s Court and Minion both turn Saboteur into a beast; Gardens transforms Workshop; Coppersmith is a great supplement to Apothecary and Tactician, even the lowly Counting House is great against Mountebanks. That doesn’t mean these are good cards in general. 🙂

        And it is true that there are boards where it’s likely the correct move for one person to buy Smugglers but not the other; and it’s also probably true that it’s a better play for the weaker player, since they’ll stand a better chance of benefiting from their opponent’s decisions. Whereas I’m in the position where I figure I’ll usually have more success building an engine myself. You don’t really ever want Smugglers when strong (non-Minion) attacks are around, because you’d be better off wrecking your opponent and making it so there’s nothing you’d want to Smuggle anyway, and you don’t really want it in BM games either. It’s really only worth buying when there’s an obvious mirror match engine to be built, and when you’re confident your opponent is good enough to go for said engine.

        Smugglers is not the worst of cards, to be sure. I really think that the low end of the $3 cards is way more respectable than the low end at any other price point save 6-plus: when I say that Smugglers is the second-worst $3, I do think it’s bad, but that’s more a compliment to Chancellor and Woodcutter than it is a slam against Smugglers. All of them save Develop are worth buying at least 20 percent or so of the time IMO.

        • Empathy says:

          Agreed. the 3$ have a lighter lower tail than others.

          I still think smuggler is at least as good as workshop, and therefore disagree with the “second worst” comment. More often than not, against good players there will be a mirror match (gardens, caravans, bridge…) and in that situation smuggler is almost strictly better than workshop. Of course the lack of flexibility hurts but being able to steal expensive stuff should compensate.

          It’s still a trap card, but so is workshop.

          • chwhite says:

            It’s certainly possible I’ve underestimated Smugglers’ utility in Gardens games; I could see that pushing it ahead of Workshop for most people. I think it would still be a bottom 5 card for sure, even if #2 is overstating my case a bit.

            • Empathy says:

              I agree. Probably push woodcutter or chancellor up a few notches and put down workshop and smuggler as #2 and #3? Woodcutter definitely is quite useful as a cheap, ok source of +buy. Opening woodcutter/fools gold sounds like a good plan, for example.

              I personally like finding very marginal uses of chancellor, as a way to get a witch played more often, even if the terminal collision hurts. And yeah, Chancellor/Inn should get mentioned. Pretty sure its dominant on a lot of boards.

            • jimjam says:

              I would not take smugglers over workshop in garden vs garden strategies (though perhaps that’s not what you’re talking about*). If your opponent fails to buy a gardens on a given turn you need to punish them by getting a gardens the next turn, which you can’t do with smugglers. What it has going for it is Duchy and $6s. Duchies are less important than Gardens so it’s only an advantage after the Gardens run out, and then the consideration swings towards 3 piling rather than marginal benefits. And a workshops player will never be getting $6 (and rarely even $5) since they won’t even have a single silver.

              *In any case I would still be wary of smugglers since I’d rather be grabbing gardens fast rather than getting random engine components or Golds.

              • Werothegreat says:

                I have four words for you: Highway, Highway, Smugglers, Province.

                • jimjam says:

                  You must be referring to a gardens vs non-gardens strategy, since workshop/gardens won’t be getting provinces. In which case I would rather be ending the game quicker with workshop than try to pick up enough highways by having smuggler in hand when they buy highways, and then somehow managing to put them together in the same hand in a bloated deck, just when they bought a province, but they aren’t buying provinces so fast that I’m going to lose regardless.
                  Heck, Gold Gold Copper Copper is a much more likely combo than that.

  8. jtotheonah says:

    One note about Develop. It’s the only trasher* I will pick up in a Gardens game, because using it still gived you a net gain of cards (though only if you trash a $3 or up). It’s a pretty crumby engine to set up, but if the board has the right distribution it can be worth it, I think.

    *That’s a lie. Trader can be excellent in a Gardens game.

    • chwhite says:

      I can’t imagine Develop adding anything worthwhile to a Gardens deck: sure, you can turn that Silver into a Gardens and an Estate, but only in the most inconvenient way possible.

      Trade Route has potential in some Gardens games, though.

      • Anonymous says:

        I played a live game with Develop, Gardens, Trader, Cache, and Border Village (along with Chancellor, Thief, Chapel, Throne Room and Scheme). I definitely at one point Developed a Cache into a Gardens and Border Village, which gained me a Cache, then revealed Trader to gain Silvers instead of Coppers. I still think it was a terrible idea to buy, as hands like 4 Copper + Develop would have been much better served with a Silver instead.

  9. Taco Lobster says:

    I’ll pile in on the Fortunte Teller hate. Another problem as compared to Swindler and Ambassador is that those cards are at their best when purchased with you first two buys. Fortune Teller is horrible on the first few buys – playing it on the 3rd or 4th hand can put a minor speedbump in your opponent’s next hand, but there’s a larger risk that you accelerate them into their 2nd reshuffle, thus putting more of the cards they purchased into their deck and available for play.

    Maybe it’s a house in the late game, but I can’t imagine a scenario where I’d buy it with my opening hands.

    • Anonymous says:

      it also helps your opponent if he has farming village or even tournament (with a draw card in hand) by allowing for the chance that a province may come up to the top of the deck. My friend helped me with that attack.

  10. DrHades says:

    The Fortune Teller joke is actually SO HILARIOUS I had to congrats you, thoery, before I even finish reading the rest of the article 😀

    PS: I love the rankings of cards, keep them coming 😉

  11. Jeff Price says:

    Chancellor is really horrid, but sometimes it’s so very nice to cycle your deck. When building an alchemist engine that can’t quite cycle your entire deck it’s nice to put that potion right back into the draw. I’m sure I’ve found one other use for it, but it’s so obscure and rare I can’t remember what it is.

    • chwhite says:

      I think the most straightforward use for Chancellor is as an opening with Potion in Familiar games, that gives you a chance of playing Familiar as soon as Turn 4. It’s also a decent open when Mountebanks are around (Witches less so, because the +2 Cards and lack of Copper spam increase the chance of terminal collision). In general, Chancellor is pretty good in junkball decks and pretty bad whenever early trashing is a possibility. And it combos well with Stash and Inn.

      It’s a little better than people give it credit for, but it’s also going to always have a bad win rate because it’s particularly useful in situations where you’re likely to lose, for example Chancellor/Silver is often going to be the best percentage play against someone who got to open that Mountebank, but it’s still not good odds.

  12. Mean Mr Mustard says:

    i agree that Develop is terrible. I have tried to make it work. One use I have discovered is to pair it with Vineyards, if the board is friendly.

    But, yeah. Awful.

  13. olneyce says:

    Develop + Ill-Gotten Gains is pretty solid if there are 4s that are even remotely worth having. Open Develop and the 4, then any time you draw it together you turn the 4 into an IGG and a Develop – which are then in your next hand for you to Develop the IGG into a gold and back into the 4 – which are then ready to play in your next hand.

    And it resolves the problem of when to buy these Develops, because they multiply on their own as the remainder.

    I’ve only played it a couple times, but it seems to work pretty well. It is, admittedly, a very specific circumstance, though – and doesn’t change the larger point that Develop is very very weak.

  14. Werothegreat says:

    I actually agree with you on Develop. I used it on a Gold without thinking once, assuming I could turn it into a Grand Market. That lost me the game. I spent the next half hour screaming “Dammit, why weren’t you a Remodel!?!?!”

  15. nemryn says:

    Wait, where’s Lookout?

    • Deremann says:

      Being a non-terminal trasher that speeds up reshuffling and (most likely) boosts your next turn, I don’t think it deserves a spot here. Yes,you can’t control that well what to trash, but it’s still a card that is definitely not one of the worst.

      That’s my opinion, at least.

      • Anonymous says:

        And it’s an excellent counter to sea hag, the second most hated dominion attack card second to only saboteur.

    • michaeljb says:

      Busy being awesome. Or at least, closer to the top 5 list than the bottom 5 list.

  16. guided says:

    Woodcutter, while it still belongs on this list, is a lot better than Workshop. Not in remotely the same league of badness. I think I complained about this on the original Worst $3 article too. 😛 Workshop is arguably like 1% better in Gardens games, but in non-Gardens games Woodcutter is useful probably an order of magnitude more often than Workshop.

    Bravo on the Fortune Teller bit, though. 😀

  17. stephen says:

    Nice article, but I wish some of the old descriptions also got an update. Chancellor now also combos well with Inn, which is far from being one of the other worst cards.

  18. JB says:

    I just don’t see how Chancellor failed to bottom out your list. Develop can be quite useful in the early game (top-decking silver for estates, as you mentioned) in many game environments.

    The only thing Chancellor is good for is swindling it to your opponents.

  19. ycz6 says:

    Develop probably gets a bit better in an in-person setting where you’re more likely to be playing with lots of HInterlands cards. Among other things, it combos well with Ill-Gotten Gains, Border Village, and in general cards with on-gain effects.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I played cornucopia pack with a friend of mine, and his Fortuneteller card actually made it easier on me, since I had Farming village which just discards it when drawn, and he also made me put a province on top, so that I could draw the province, then play tournament to get my prize cards. On many occasions, it actually helps your opponent more than it hurts them.

    • brokoli says:

      Disagree. Tournament is an exception along with baron or lookout. Otherwise, FT hurt more than help your opponent.

  21. treasuremapisforcretins says:

    Woodcutter? Not that it’s always (or often) good, but a reasonable amount of the time it’s exactly what you need- a lot of good players beat mediocre ones by picking one of these up on turn one when they know they’ll need the buy and have the action to spare later. If you’re already loaded up on fishing villages or some other action generator it may even be strictly better than silver. By no means is it one of the 5 worst cards; it can be a very important role player.

  22. Duke Von Duchy says:

    i predict fortune teller will actually be even closer to first on the 2012 list; i’m pretty sure that cycling your opponent’s deck, even if it garuntees them a vic, is, in most cases, actually helping them.

  23. ianthecool says:

    Yeah, but Black Market is so much fun…

  24. Bruno Coutinho says:

    Workshop. I fairly good player and a lost a game once because someone used the workshop beautifully.

    They use it for a place to rush in a game with gardens. Before I was able to buy more than a couple of provinces he bought all gardens.

    The game ended because the pipes of gardens, workshops and village were deployed late.

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