Treasure Map is, as Donald X. would say, a cute card. Gold is really good, right? And 4 Golds, that’s a lot of Gold. Right there, on top of your deck.
The problem is that Treasure Map costs $4. Because you can’t open with a pair of Treasure Maps, at a minimum, it will take at least three turns to get 2 Maps, another 2 to hit a reshuffle, and at that point you have to rely on luck to get 2 of your 12 cards together in a hand (and that’s assuming you open Treasure Map/nothing). Here is a good graph of those probabilities:
Your odds of hitting before the third reshuffle without help are a mere 29 percent. The odds get better if you buy more Maps, but that’s time your opponents could be spending building up an engine or just buying those Golds the easy way. And the probabilities may not be relevant to you in a game where your opponent cashes in on Turn 5 and you’re still floundering on Turn 15. Treasure Map is a notoriously luck-dependent card, and simulators prove that no Treasure Map-only strategy consistently beats Big Money.
Now, 29% is pretty bad in a 2-player game. But Treasure Map is one of those cards that subtly gets better with more players: you don’t want to be winning just 29% in a two-player game, but 29% looks pretty darn good when you’re sitting in fourth position in a 4-player game against three people who are all better than you.
So you don’t buy Treasure Map if you don’t have help in 2-player, or if you think you’re better at Dominion than your opponents. What help should you be looking for? Note that you have to play one Treasure Map and have the other in hand to get the Golds, so, promising as they might sound at first, Scheme, Golem, and Throne Room are of no help to you (well, Scheme actually can be helpful, but not in such an obvious way).
The single best help you can find is Warehouse. Cellar is an OK substitute, but Warehouse is just ridiculously tailor-made for Treasure Map. Even better, it’s the ideal card for your post-Treasure Map deck, since your deck’s power will be distilled into a few cards amidst a sea of green. Warehouse likes concentrated power.
Trashers are also a big help, especially mass-trashers like Chapel. Get your deck down to 5 cards and your Treasure Maps are guaranteed to hit, plus once they do, your deck will be more than half Gold. This takes slightly longer than Warehouse, however, since you have to balance trashing with making sure you still have enough money left in your deck to get the second Treasure Map.
Haven is a natural fit with Treasure Maps – save that Map until next turn. Courtyard is a decent substitute: it’s better for your deck in the long-term, but you might draw two Treasure Maps together with no Actions to play them.
When trying to set up Maps without a trasher, be careful how much else you buy. Cantrips are best as they don’t really take up space in your deck. One Silver might be helpful to get the Maps quickly, but too many will be a liability. Terminal cyclers and drawers are no good – there’s nothing worse than drawing two Treasure Maps together, with no Actions left to activate them.
These are mostly early-game approaches to Treasure Map. The key to all of these approaches is that they are fast, and they rely on self-replacing cards that cost less than Treasure Map.
It is also possible to quickly build a small engine that draws your deck, and then use Treasure Maps to get all the money you’ve missed out on while building that engine. The most obvious way is Tactician, which also gives you some +Buy for those Golds. Talisman can let you get two Maps at once, which isn’t all that helpful until you throw in Royal Seal or Watchtower. Scrying Pool decks in the midgame can often take advantage of a pair of Treasure Maps to stock up on Gold.
Midgame Treasure Map strategy is more vulnerable to counters by your opponent. Warehouse/Treasure Map is fast enough so that you can’t really counter it effectively (except maybe with Sea Hag or Young Witch), but if you wait for the midgame then you run into Minions, Possession, and the $5 cursers.
So I’ve managed to get four Gold onto my deck, what do I do with it? Well, the obvious answer is “buy a Province.” And a lot of the time that is the right buy. In particular the Province buy. But four Golds and seven Copper is not going to power you through 5 Colonies, and your second set of Maps is going to be a lot harder to activate than your first. (Trying for a second set is almost certainly going to fail, unless you have a very specific plan for it.) So in a Colony game, a Platinum is usually the right choice. You’ll have to judge based on the efficiency of your opponent’s deck.
If you can do it without a lot of extra trouble, and without making it harder for your Maps to hit, it’s nice to be able to exert some control over what the fifth card will be on our Gold x4 hand. Scheme is a good way to do this, stocking up on Schemes and Pawns (or another cantrip +Buy, so as not to hurt the chances of hitting the Maps in the first place). Return your +Buy card to the top of your deck after you activate your Maps and you’ll find yourself with 13 and 2 buys, much more helpful than 12 and one buy.
Wharf is even better than a Schemed Pawn (though you have to love the thematic synergy there), giving you the +Buy and another 2 cards, but Wharf is a terminal drawer, so getting it set up might not be worth it. On the other hand, it’s a non-terminal draw on your next turn, so it could help you set up the Maps if played carefully.
By far the easiest to set up is Nomad Camp, since it goes to your top-deck when you buy it, assuming you can muster $4 after trashing your Maps. This means at least having one Silver floating around.
Remember, of course, that your primary goal is colliding your Maps! Time is of the essence with Treasure Maps, and every non-drawing card that you add to your deck is another card in the way between your Maps. So as nice as it is to get an extra 5th card into that Gold x4 hand, you shouldn’t do it at the cost of ruining your Treasure Map collision.
If you don’t see an enabler for Treasure Maps on the board, just say no. Treasure Maps are a shiny trap. Even if there are good enablers, think seriously about whether Maps are going to be faster than the next best alternative. Playing Treasure Maps does tend to involve committing to them, at least until you get them activated. Trying to pursue another strategy with Treasure Maps on the side is a losing proposition. Plan on the worst luck scenario, not the best one.
When you actually get those Maps to hit, it’s a nice feeling, and it can certainly decide the game. But be smart with them – they’re not nearly as cute as they look.
- Early game:
- Warehouse, Cellar
- Early trashing
- Lack of the above
- Cursing attacks
- Deck-inspection attacks like Bureaucrat, Spy, Fortune Teller, Rabble, Minion.