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: 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?