The author of this guest article is Donald X. Vaccarino, who probably knows a thing or two about Dominion. It’s an excellent overview of the major different attack types in Dominion, and how to counter them without simply buying up all the Moats. Originally published over a year ago, it’s still relevant today.
Some people play with Moat in every game. Gotta have some defense! Is what they’re thinking. Otherwise, what do you do about attacks? Well there’s a ton you can do. Moat usually isn’t even the best option. It’s an option though. I better mention it. You can Moat attacks! And Lighthouse them. And sometimes Secret Chamber them or Watchtower them or Trader them.
Now let’s consider every attack.
1. Attacks that make you discard
Militia, Goons, Cutpurse, and Minion all put you down cards in hand. Your turn ends up not playing out as well as you thought it was going to.
The first thing is, a few cards draw you up to a particular hand size – Library to seven, Watchtower to six. These can make you actually happy that the attack was played against you – you tossed your worst cards and got well perhaps better ones. Menagerie is a special case solution, as is Tunnel.
These attacks make you need to have good hands consisting of not many cards. One approach is to have good cards and weak cards but not cards that are in-between. A hand of five silvers turns into a hand of three silvers when they play Militia, but a hand of two Golds a Silver and two Duchies keeps the cash and still buys Province. Well it’s easier said than done to get those Golds in the face of Militias beating down on you, but it’s a plan.
Getting the good cards may be work, but it’s easy getting the bad ones. Strategies that involve having lots of junk in your deck, i.e. Gardens, are fine vs. Militias.
Another thing is, sometimes playing a single action can be enough to have a decent turn. Workshop a Gardens, buy a Copper, that’s good enough. Expand is another good example, for the late game at least.
Minion is a special case in that it’s essentially a random discard. You’re just as likely to toss good cards as bad ones. Secret Chamber can send cards down the line for you, though you have to guess which way they’ll use the Minion. Cutpurse is also special, since it only hits Copper. You can fight it by trashing your Coppers.
What you don’t want vs. these attacks is well cards that get worse with a smaller hand. You probably just discard that Cellar when they Militia you; it’s not doing much. Cards that require a combo, like Remodel, are worse early on – a turn of “Remodel an Estate, buy Silver” becomes “Remodel Estate, done.” Even Chapel gets weaker vs. Militia.
2. Attacks that trash your cards
Thief, Pirate Ship, and Saboteur all trash your cards. Your precious cards!
The first thing you can do is, you can gain cards – Ironworks, Talisman, etc. You break even vs. just one other player; with multiple people trashing your cards, it may not be enough. When multiple people are trashing cards though, they are sometimes trashing the cards that trash cards, so gaining extra cards can still be good. +Buys are another way to gain extra cards, but since you also have to have that extra money, they don’t typically work fast enough.
Thief and Pirate Ship only trash treasures, so the easy out there is to do without ’em. There will often be an action out that makes money, and that will do. If Thief isn’t being played too often, you can sometimes just ignore it. It will steal some good cards from you eventually; oh well, they are down money in hand the turn they play Thief and you have no such burden. It’s not so bad. If lots of Thieves are being played though, you can just run out of cash. In the unusual situations where you can’t make up the difference in actions, you’ll want to fall back on gaining extra cards, even with +Buys. Also, end the game before they can get the upper hand this way.
Now when Thief hits Copper, you’re glad and they aren’t and that’s that. When Pirate Ship hits Copper though, everyone’s happy. You don’t want the Copper and they want the token. You don’t want them to get the token. In a two player game, trashing your Coppers first can help here. With more players, you probably can’t get everyone to slow down the Pirate Ship enough. Instead, just coast to victory by building your own efficient Copper-free deck, courtesy of them stealing those Coppers for you. Pirate Ship can cause some groups problems, I think because it’s an answer to itself – Pirate Ship makes you want an action that makes money, and hey Pirate Ship is one of those. So everyone plays Pirate Ships and Pirate Ship seems unbeatable. It is so beatable though. Trashing your Coppers is normally something you give up several turns to do; having it done for you leaves you in fine shape. And you don’t even have to do without money – eventually the Pirate Ships will stop attacking. You can even feed Pirate Ships by gaining Silver – say, with Explorer – and it can all work out.
Saboteur is the anti-Remodel – it turns a card into a worse one. One general approach to fighting it is to spend all of your money each turn. Normally when you have $6, it may be a decision as to whether to buy Gold or some strong action for $5. Get the Gold! And when you have $8, get that Province, don’t wait. You want the more expensive cards because they devolve into better cards. It takes multiple hits to wipe expensive cards clean out of your deck, so it’s no trouble staying ahead with card-gainers. You can even fight it with Remodel. When they do trash a Province late in the game, take a Duchy, you’ll be sorry if you don’t. Peddler provides a unique defense against Saboteur; you probably paid from $0-$4 for it, but you get something for $6 when it gets hit. Cards that are mostly just good in the early game, like Moneylender, are nice in that Saboteur will clear them away for you.
Deck-thinning cards get worse when your stuff is being trashed. You only have so much stuff. How much you care really depends on how much attacking is going on though. Deck-thinning is of course fine vs. Saboteur, since it was just skipping past those Coppers and Estates anyway.
3. Attacks that give you junk
Witch, Ambassador, Familiar, and Mountebank all directly give you Curses or other junk. Your turns become bad and you sit there trying to claw your way up to Duchies.
The first thing you think is, how about trashing those Curses? This is almost a sucker bet. It can be okay, depending on what it’s costing you on those turns. Masquerade and Ambassador are great ways of getting rid of a Curse. Steward, for example, not so great. You spend your turn just trashing junk, and they spend their turn giving you more junk and also buying something. I mean if you bought Steward for some other reason and then draw it with two Curses, man, why not trash them. Just don’t make it your game plan.
Alternatively, maybe you trash it before it even gets to you. Watchtower and Trader will do this for you. Trader especially can be scary for people playing Mountebanks: I get $2, you get two Silvers.
Some cards let you just deal with having a bad deck. Vault lets you toss those Curses for $1 each; in fact a hand with Vault and four random cards will get you at least $6.
A few cards reward you for having junk. A Gardens deck wants as much junk as it can get, and is already expecting lots of cash-poor hands; it’s not like you want to buy Curses for it, but it’s not so bad getting handed them. Counting House puts any Coppers you got from Mountebank or Ambassador to good use.
And of course you want to set your sights lower. You may simply not be able to get to Province this game (let alone Colony). And hey that Witch is already running out the Curse pile; run out the Duchies and there’s just one more empty pile needed to end the game.
Since Curses are limited, you can fight fire with fire. Every Curse I give you is a Curse you aren’t giving me. This is more relevant when fewer people buy the Witches.
And finally, Witches are the attacks that most reward you for actually going for Moats. The attack is pretty significant in how much it hurts you, and if you are actually leaving the Curse in the pile (rather than trashing it with Watchtower), that’s a Curse someone else may end up getting.
Card-drawing gets a lot worse in the land of Witches. Except for things that skip past those Curses, like Adventurer. Villages also get worse, since you don’t draw your actions and Villages together as often. What, all combos get worse.
4. Attacks that muck with your deck order
Man these don’t sound too scary. Spy, Scrying Pool, Rabble, and Bureaucrat do this.
The main effect of a Spy is to make your top card weak. It also may make your good cards go by. That’s annoying but people tend to overrate how much that hurts them. Anyway there’s not much you can do about that. You can get through your deck faster, such as with Chancellor.
The basic defense is to change the top of your deck yourself, without drawing that top card. Spy doesn’t fight Spy, because you draw that weak card they left for you. Well you might see their Spy and make them discard it. But you know. However there are ways to just get rid of that top card. Venture, Loan, and Adventurer dig for treasures, meaning any victory card left on top just goes by. Chancellor flips your deck, getting rid of even a multiple-card pile-up, such as from Rabble or multiple Bureaucrats. Farming Village skips Victory cards. Golem digs for actions. Scrying Pool has you Spy before drawing, so it does actually fight itself and Spy. Lookout trashes cards directly from the top of your deck, or flips them over. Scout draws the victory cards from the top four, although you need another piece to that combo to make that worthwhile.
Spies prey on the tendency of decks to have both weak cards and strong cards. If your deck is more medium, that’s a defense of sorts. You are going to have victory cards in the long run, but in the short run you can trash your junk in order to weaken Spies, especially Rabble and Bureaucrat. You can also play one of those Gardens decks you hear so much about; they leave a Gardens on top and well whatever, your hand wasn’t going to be good anyway.
Sometimes you will be able to draw your whole deck on most of your turns. In those cases you are not too hurt by the top card being a victory card, or by seeing your good cards get flipped over. You’re drawing them anyway.
I included Bureaucrat in this category even though it’s also discard-based. The discard part just isn’t that relevant normally. Sure it makes Cellars worse. You can fight it with Library or Watchtower, although it’s not like you’re so thrilled to draw those victory cards again.
These attacks are on the weak side (the attack part I mean), so you won’t always feel obligated to put up much of a fight. You’ll just do whatever you were doing. Still, every little bit counts. Maybe you were eyeing that Venture already; now you definitely get it.
Chaining actions are especially hurt by Spies. That Village that was at least getting you the next card down, now gets you an Estate they left for you. You would have been better off with Silver.
5. Combination attacks
Fighting one attack is usually straightforward. Fighting multiple attacks is a lot harder. What if they’re playing both Thief and Witch? Man. It’s a tough spot. So naturally some attacks are packages of two different kinds of attacks. Let’s see you get out of this one.
Swindler is a trasher and a junker. It turns a card into a worse one at the same cost. Some games there’s only one card at a particular cost – especially, only Gold at $6 or only Province at $8 – so those cards become more desirable. Cards from Alchemy with potion in the cost often fall into this category. The junk you are getting isn’t all cheap, so cards in the Remodel / Salvager families are good defenses. They turn your $5 into a Duchy; you Bishop it away. Peddler is a ridiculous defense if the Peddler pile sells out; they have to give you a Province.
Sea Hag is a junker and a mucker. That Curse goes on your deck, ready to be drawn. Lookout is a special-case solution; otherwise, just use a mix of anti-Witch and anti-Spy tactics, heavy on the anti-Witch.
Torturer either makes you discard or gives you a Curse in hand. The fact that the Curse goes to your hand makes it easier than usual to fight with ways to trash Curses. With Trading Post in hand, you could actually be happy to get that Curse to trash. The big thing though is, since the choice is yours, you can fight the side of Torturer you’d rather fight. If Torturer gets played a lot then okay, you can’t just discard to nothing, you’re gonna have to fight the Curses. But you know, sometimes there’s just one here and there.
Ghost Ship is a discard mucker. So was Bureaucrat, but again, that only made you discard stuff that’s usually dead anyway. Ghost Ship gets rid of whatever. The fun way to fight Ghost Ship is with combos. Cards like Throne Room and Fool’s Gold and Treasure Map are no good without a partner, but if you get Ghost Ship’d and don’t have the combo, just save the combo card for next turn. If you do have the combo, keep it. Since you’ll be putting bad cards on top a lot, anti-Spy cards are good here.
6. Attacks, any attacks at all
However you’re getting attacked, you want to fight it from turn one. Sometimes there’s that guy in your group who always attacks if it’s at all possible; sometimes you just know, you are dealing with some Goons fans, or whatever it is. Sometimes you don’t really know of course. But as soon as you can, get to beating that deck.
Attacks slow the game down, while also making 3-pile endings more common. Don’t be the last one to sigh and go for Duchies. Get in there.
Attacks can fight attacks. Muckers like Spy can flip over attacks, stopping you from getting hit by them as often. Card trashers like Saboteur and Swindler will sometimes get to trash attacks. Junkers like Mountebank slow down the pace of opposing attacks, as they have to wade through the Curses and Coppers to draw their attacks. And discard-based attacks can slow down the attacks that don’t produce immediate resources – such as Sea Hag, Thief, and Saboteur – since if they hold onto the attack, they now only have two cards left to actually buy stuff with.
Sometimes, the guy with the attacks is just not going to beat you. You know. He went heavy into Thieves and it’s a bad board for it; so much for him. If it’s a two player game, that’s that; if it isn’t, there are still those other guys. Fighting the attacks better than they do may make all the difference.