The Five Best $3 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 objective.

Tunnel

Dominion: Hinterlands

Honorable Mention: Tunnel

Even if it had no Reaction ability, the fact that it’s $3 for 2VP is enough to make it a common late-game buy.  The Reaction doesn’t seem like much at first, until you realize just how many cards it comboes with.  Much like Menagerie, Tunnel’s strength is going to depend on what expansions you have; with all the expansions in play, you’ll almost never find a board without at least some kind of Tunnel synergy.

It’s still normally a dead card while in your hand, and usually not a good opener, but it is not hard to build a strategy around Tunnel that ends up emptying the Gold pile.

 

Warehouse

Dominion: Seaside

5. Warehouse

The ability to draw before you discard is why this card is on the Best list and Cellar was on the Worst list.  It makes combos like Treasure Map/Warehouse possible, and makes it a meaningful play even when your hand is already good (to clear out the top of your deck and cycle a bit faster).

About the only time you won’t want Warehouse is if you literally have no bad cards in your deck to discard.  It’s strong throughout the whole game: early on, it lets you keep playing your key Actions or combos by cycling and sifting your deck; in the late game, it bypasses your Victory cards and keeps your deck alive.  Warehouse thrives with high-variance decks and Action combos, when you want two good cards rather than four mediocre cards.

Menagerie

Dominion: Cornucopia

4. Menagerie

Menagerie takes a little work to set up.  The most obvious way of making it work is to buy tons of unique cards, but if you try that approach you’ll spend most of the game raging at your “bad luck”.  (Not to mention how a deck full of hodgepodge cards won’t get anywhere.)

A better option is to trash your duplicates, which in the early game, basically means Copper.  On the other hand, if your deck is that small, the Menagerie is not as meaningful.

The best option, and the reason it’s on this list, is to discard your duplicates as they come up.  There are many cards that now allow you to discard cards for some benefit: Warehouse, Hamlet, Vault, etc.  Even better, your opponent might discard your cards for you: Menagerie is a vicious counter to Militia and Goons.  With this many options, you’ll almost always be able to find some kind of Menagerie synergy on the board, and then it’s basically a double-Lab that costs $3.

Fishing Village

Dominion: Seaside

3. Fishing Village

Heavy Action chainers must have thought they died and went to heaven when they saw this card. +2 Actions this turn and the next? And money to boot? With good terminals, this is one of the few cards you’ll see people double up on on the first two turns, just to make sure they grab their share before it runs out.

If there aren’t good terminals, this card becomes quite useless; it’s essentially a Copper this turn and an extra Copper the next. But its sheer power in the presence of +Cards, Goons, Bridge, or any other good terminal makes it far and away the best +Actions card in the game. You feel almost guilty using it: it lets you indulge in massively over-investing in terminal Actions like we did when we first got the game and Big Money was a Wheel of Fortune catchphrase rather than a fun-destroying heuristic. Action chains are the most fun part about Dominion, and Fishing Village is all about accepting that fact. It is so wrong, and yet at the same time it is so very, very right.

Masquerade

Dominion: Intrigue

2. Masquerade

Time to eat crow.  The first Best $3 Cards list left this off entirely, and boy was that a mistake.  Masquerade is an elite opener, and a hard counter to all sorts of junking attacks.

What makes it so powerful is its ability to avoid the midgame slump so common to deck-thinners.  Cards like Chapel and Ambassador, though powerful, suffer from the fact that they don’t improve your buying power when you draw them.  By drawing 2 cards, Masquerade combines solid buying power with its deck-thinning, thus allowing you to improve your deck along two axes at once.

But unlike other elite openers, it keeps its power into the midgame.  The +2 Cards means that you’re almost always going to be passing a card equal to or worse than your opponent, and Masquerade is absolutely brutal when combined with discard attacks like Militia.

The fact that it’s the key component in the most powerful combo in Dominion doesn’t hurt either.

Ambassador

Dominion: Seaside

1. Ambassador

How good is this card? So good that with 5/2, I’d often rather open Ambassador/nothing than fall behind in Estate tennis. It “trashes” like a Steward, it attacks like a Jester that always hurts, and for the low low cost of $3! If you trim your deck enough, you can turn Ambassador into a Witch by buying a Curse. It’s one of the most brutal attacks in the game; the fact that it’s available on the very first turn dramatically alters the strategy space of any game it’s in.

But Ambassador suffers from one critical weakness: it’s too slow. Bizarre, considering that its primary function is to slow your opponent, but if you can’t transition out of Ambassador into an engine, you’re often left flailing with very little time left. Against cards like Jack of All Trades, or Vault, the Ambassador player will end up with a very thin deck and not enough green cards to buy. In other words, it’s the Chapel effect, only exacerbated: you trade early and mid-game power for a late-game surge, but an opponent that pushes Provinces quickly can survive the junk and get enough. This isn’t to say that Ambassador can be ignored on most boards, only that you need to have a plan afterwards that is better than just Big Money with a small deck.

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16 Responses to The Five Best $3 Cards, 2011

  1. Jason says:

    I’ve always felt that Masquerade was woefully underrated. Mucking the opponent’s deck, trimming yours and buying gold all at the same time just has to be good. Not to mention that sometimes the opponent is forced to give you a good card. And don’t forget that it is not an attack, so Moat, Lighthouse and the like are totally useless against it. Even Watchtower does not defend, since the card is not gained but simply placed in their hand.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yeah, glad to see it on there. I just liked the theme/feel of Masquerade so ended up using it a lot, and my regular players would often just leave it alone. I couldn’t quantify why very easily as I was inexperienced, but nonetheless it soon became apparent that it was helping me win a lot of games, and I had a really notable game with multiple labs and one masquerade where I just annihilated everyone that sealed its place for me.

      Pleased to see menagerie in there too. Regardless of raw power, I really like that card – it make me think about what I’m doing (rather than just playing the hand out) without causing any real AP like some decision-causing cards can.

  2. brokoli says:

    Interesting list. I agree about the cards, but I want to add some thoughts (I’m sorry for my bad english) :

    Ambassador : direct attack, faster than masquerade. But the coppers and estate you’ll receive can easily be counted : Coppers ? Spice merchant, moneylender, stables, coppersmith, counting house, bank… Estates ? Bishop, Island, Salvager, Apprentice, Baron, silk road… and for both cards : gardens.
    Ambassador is great against curse-givers. He don’t give benefit for you, and in general when you play it, you’ll not buy a good card. After a moment, ambassador is useless.

    Masquerade : Not really an attack. Often, you’ll don’t hurt your opponent. Great deck-thinner, and also good counter against curse-giving attacks. The +2 cards is pretty useful. I would take an ambassador instead of masquerade, in a game without village. But, great however.

    So I think Ambassador is overrated when masquerade is underrated. In my list, I put masquerade at 4# and Ambassador at 8#.

    • Kirian says:

      In the openings list, Ambassador appears in the top 50 more than any card other than Chapel and Mountebank. It is the only double-copy opening in the top 100. Masquerade is the best double-copy opening. I think they deserve their spots on the list.

      Quick hint: Not buying an Ambassador in an Ambassador game is generally setting yourself up for a loss.

      • Kirian says:

        Bah… Masq is the *next* best double-copy opening. Ambassador is the best.

        • brokoli says:

          The opening list means nothing, like the “win rate by card accumulation”. I don’t play Dominion according to council room. I think masquerade is better, simply because there are many ways to play against ambassador player. There are many games I win without buying ambassador.
          I don’t like when I give my opinion, based on my experience, and after anyone say “It’s false, see on council room”. My opinion is subjective, and I would know what is yours, rather than knowing “which card has the best win rate”.

  3. Mike Lewis says:

    I feel like warehouse ends up screwing me over then helping me. In a game with discarding attacking, it becomes far to dangerous of a card.

    On a related note, I never seem to have this problem with a card like Inn.

    • DG says:

      If you want to get more out of your warehouses you could try using them when you have larger hands, when there isn’t a discard attack (as you mentioned), and when you have key cards or key card combinations in your deck. If you’re using your warehouses with terminal drawing cards like smithy then they won’t seem good and inns will do that much better .

  4. chwhite says:

    I pretty much agree with this list 100 percent. Steward and Swindler are the only other cards that couple plausibly find a spot here, and my initial infatuation with Tunnel has cooled slightly, so I might actually put Swindler at HM instead of Tunnel. But other than that, no arguments: the top four in particular are obviously the best $3 cards, and more or less have to be in that order too. Menagerie is utterly bonkers when it works (twice a Lab for half the price!), and, well, you can get it to work most of the time.

    • brokoli says:

      Wait… do you really think swindler is that good ?
      Swindler can trash your copper and give you a curse instead… Ok, but trashing a copper is often good for your opponent. And when it hurts, it’s at the begin of the game, but after there are too little chances to give a curse.
      The swindler player can often help you (I won a game thanks to my opponent’s swindler). He can discard an estate for you, he can trash your province for another, ending the game this way… and losing. He also can replace (at the end of the game) a 5$ card for a duchy, because there aren’t more 5$ actions. And it’s even worse for the swindler when peddler is on the board.
      The effect of swindler is simple for me : “discard the top card of your opponent’s deck”.

      • chwhite says:

        Swindler can replace a $5 with a duchy early in the game too, and that’s a devastating hammer which even the best players are going to have a hard time recovering from. And turning Coppers into Curses does genuinely hurt. Yes, it’ll flop and discard Estates a quarter of the time, that’s why Swindler is merely fighting for HM where you’d expect a $3 card that can give Curses to be a slam dunk for the top 5.

        Swindler is swingy and lucktastic, and it’s nowhere near as powerful as Ambassador or the actual curse-givers, but it’s a card that will win you the game quite often.

        Editor’s note: fixed grammar upon poster’s request.

  5. Zen Yan says:

    I suppose it’s also nice to note that tunnel+venture is a pretty decent combo. Provided that you have enough discard-from-hand cards, and enough early trashing, your ventures will probably be worth on average 3.5-4 coins per play, due to the substantial number of Golds accumulated via venture and other such cards.

  6. Mr. Yoshi says:

    How could scheme miss this list?? That would be my 5th place.

  7. Duke Von Duchy says:

    masqurade should probably be number one; it is the singularity, it can beat almost any card head to head, makes big money a viable strat, makes engines hum like synthetic oil, and is used in almost all of the most brutal combos (like trashing your opponents entire deck). I know this ins’t conclusive but just try playing ambassador against masquerade heads up, masq will annihilite it. Oh and masq isn’t an attack so: blocks? nope just damage on the stack. the only caviate; masq will make your opponents deck better…eventually: sure they get your trash but then you get it back; STILL TOTALLY WORTH IT PLS DON’T MISUNDERSTAND, but yes after u pass them ur estates they will pass them back and eventually you will have trashed all of the estates, yours and theirs alike. ok maybe it can’t beat mountebank or witch heads up in BM but comeon we all play identical starting hands right? hmm actually maybe it would beat witch, the silver just might get there, but no way it beats mountbroke

    • DStu says:

      Geronimoo’s sim says: Masquerade vs.
      Witch: 46-51
      Mountebank: 45-51
      Wharf: 36-60
      Militia: tied
      Embassy: tied
      Margrave: 42-53
      Courtyyard: 38-57
      Ghost Ship: 30-69 (maybe not played optimal)
      Monument: tied

      It’s a nice little card, but it’s not the end of the world for BigMoney. And for being part of the pin, you can’t really give credit for Masquerade in “real” games, because the pin relies on something that the Masquerade usually does not do, namely passing your opponents less cards than you recive from them. This “power” of Masquerade is usually not seen.

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