Hinterlands: Scheme

This is a revised version of a guest article by jonts26, originally posted in the forum. jonts26 was the overall #1 seed in the 2011 DominionStrategy.com Championships and unofficially holds the record for the highest legitimate level (48.965) ever attained on Isotropic.

Muwahahaha. Your nefarious plans are finally coming together. The pieces are in place and now it is time to execute them. But what’s this? Everything fails to come together at the right time? That contemptible hero has thwarted you yet again with nothing more than dumb luck and a stupid face. AND he gets the girl. Where is the justice in this world? If only your nefarious plans had been nefarious … schemes. Then your plans would be impervious to blind chance.


Dominion: Hinterlands

Scheme is, quite simply, awesome. It’s basically like the stage crew for a rock band. It’s never standing in the limelight, and really isn’t anything special on its own, but it works to let the main players do their job. Without it the band has much less time to rock out and compose killer riffs and snort coke and … I think this analogy got away from me. Anyway, Scheme is very often worth a pick up as it lends itself very well to most engines and can be used for several very clever plays.

The Reliable Engine

We’ve all had games where we play a Torturer only to draw 3 Villages you can’t use. Well Scheme gives you all the benefits of a complex engine, while reducing the variance of shuffle luck, sometimes to zero. Being able to top-deck a Village/Smithy pair or a couple of Hunting Parties or whatever else it is that makes your engine go is an amazingly useful ability. Almost any engine can benefit from the addition of some Schemes.

Of course, there is a balance to strike. Every time you buy a Scheme, you aren’t buying another engine component. So in a sense, Scheme sacrifices raw power for reliability. Normally this is a good thing, but it can be taken too far. If you find yourself returning way more actions than you need to draw your deck or the Schemes themselves because you don’t have enough other things to return, you’ve likely over-invested.

Scheme is therefore best when you drop to $3 and can’t afford an engine part.  It is easy to buy Scheme over Silver in most engine games, but more of a dilemma picking Scheme over Fishing Village.

The Non-Colliding Terminals

In Big Money type decks which only buy a few actions, Scheme can, essentially, act like a second copy of whatever flavor of terminal action you’re using.  Instead of Witch/Big Money, you can simulate Witch/Witch/Big Money without the risk that the second “copy” of Witch will collide with the first. This, however, comes at a price. Whenever you draw your Scheme after your terminal, you only get to play the terminal once that reshuffle. Had the Scheme been an actual second copy of the action, you’d have gotten two plays. Over the course of a game, the double terminal deck gets more plays of the terminal action than the Scheme/terminal deck. So typically, you favor a second terminal over a Scheme.

However, when a card is more important to play early, where the chance of collision is higher, Scheme/terminal becomes the better option. Specific examples of terminals which benefit from a Scheme include Jack of all Trades, Sea Hag, and Witch.

King’s Court Abuse

King’s Court is definitely the king of Scheme combos and deserves its own section.  Ordinary Schemes can be used for reliability, but King’s Court takes it to the next level and pushes Scheme to the point of abusiveness.  The key is that a KC Scheme lets you return three cards to the top of your deck, including the KC and the Scheme itself.  So technically, you don’t even need anything else: KC/KC/Scheme/Scheme/Scheme lets you start every turn with 9 cards, guaranteed.  But there’s no reason not to push the envelope.  Replace that third Scheme with just about anything, and you can create ridiculous games:

  • Possession: KC/KC/Scheme/Scheme/Possession is a war of attrition.  For every turn your opponent takes, you take three with his deck.  No matter how he builds his deck, there’s not much he can do to overcome the fact that you’re playing four times as many turns as he is.
  • Saboteur: Saboteur is a weak card normally, but KC/KC/Scheme/Scheme/Saboteur just obliterates your opponent’s deck far faster than they can replace it.  A triple Saboteur every turn can overcome quite a bit.
  • Most other attacks: KC/KC/Scheme/Scheme/Mountebank is not quite as deadly as Saboteur, but that will be of little comfort to your opponent.  The problem with such attacks, though, is that the attack’s presence makes the combo a bit more difficult to set up.
  • Bridge: We all know that KC/KC/Bridge/Bridge/Bridge is game over because it reduces costs by 9 and gives enough buys to buy out all the Provinces in one turn.  Adding Scheme both helps set up the engine and makes it easier to set up the final death blow.  This game by Mean Mr Mustard (with an Apothecary added in) is a good demonstration of how to set up a KC/Scheme engine.
  • Vault: KC/KC/Scheme/Scheme/Vault leads to a 12-card discard and a guaranteed Colony every turn.

Other Good Combos

Even without KC, almost any action in the game could find some benefit from Scheme in the right engine. I could spend all day listing them, but I’ve just highlighted a few particularly interesting or powerful uses.

  • Conspirator: Normally, the correct way to play Scheme is to top-deck your other actions. In a Scheme/Conspirator deck you want to put back 2 Schemes every turn. This guarantees that every Conspirator you play is activated, and basically lets you buy $4 Grand Markets.
  • Outpost – Scheme/Outpost needs a third card to work, but Scheme effectively neutralizes the typical drawback of Outpost by ensuring your 3 card hand has what you need in it.  Menagerie and Scrying Pool are particularly outstanding candidates.
  • Hunting Parties – Hunting Parties let you set up some really fast combos that can reliably get a Province per turn, until, of course you don’t draw a Hunting Party. Then your deck with a single gold and a ton of green can’t do much of anything. And since you really only need one silver in your deck, there is no lost opportunity cost for picking up a scheme when you fail to hit $5. Scheme turns the already reliable and fast Hunting Party stack into a true juggernaut nearly immune to greening.
  • Remake – open Remake/Scheme and trim your deck super fast while still building up economy by consistently turning Estates into Silvers. Then as you transition into an engine, you already have a Scheme to help smooth it out.
  • Double Tactician – These kinds of decks, when properly set up can do some amazing things and lead to extremely fast games. But if you fail to draw a Tactician to play, you can easily find yourself playing catch up. Scheme will thoughtfully place that old Tactician right back on top for you to keep it going.
  • Golem: Golem/Scheme/X, once set up, will, with high probability, allow you to play the same turn every game.  Replace X with a killer attack and this is a good substitute for the abusive KC combos described above.  Alternatively, Golem/Scheme/Counting House is a major improvement on just Golem/Counting House.
  • Scrying Pool: This card’s only weakness in an Action-heavy deck is that you might not  play it every turn.  Scheme solves that problem, and Scrying Pool returns the favor by drawing the Scheme back into hand.
  • Monument: Want free VP every turn?
  • Herbalist: Even the lowly Herbalist gets some use, because the Herbalist returns Treasure and the Scheme returns Actions.  Pair the two up: Gold/Remodel, Alchemist/Potion.
  • Trading Post: Trading Post is a uniquely nice early game trasher that benefits strongly from Scheme.  Ordinarily Trading Post drops precipitously in efficacy past the first few turns of the game, but Scheme can keep it relevant through the midgame.  And as you transition into another engine, the Schemes can be switched over to, say, Laboratories.

When Not to Buy

Scheme isn’t a card you always want to buy. It’s typically a great addition to any engine and can potentially boost a Big Money deck but there are some specific times when you might want to avoid them.

The one true counter: There is one card which absolutely destroys Scheme. I am referring of course to Minion. Not only does it force you discard the nice things you top-decked, but because you are discarding your good cards, the pool you have to draw your new 4 card hand is weaker. Double Ouch.

Discard attacks: While not enough to completely forgo scheme, discard attacks do discourage it a little. First, you don’t want to top-deck too many cards because you’ll just have to ditch them. This is in particular bad for KC/KC/Scheme/Scheme/X combos.  Second, you might want to hold on to Schemes when you get hit, but the blind draw on them could mean you end up discarding a better card from hand than what you draw, which creates a bit of a dilemma.

Already reliable engines: As I said before, Scheme sacrifices power for reliability. But when you have an already reliable engine, and particularly when you have engine components at the same price point, you can probably forgo Schemes altogether. Something like Wharf/Fishing Village is a good example.

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12 Responses to Hinterlands: Scheme

  1. chris says:

    Many Schemed attacks are quite powerful and nasty even without KC perpetual scheme; especially since many of them also fall into the category of terminals that will conflict with themselves if you just buy two of them, *and* most attacks are also more expensive than Scheme. Militia/Scheme and Sea Hag/Scheme are openings to watch out for — I bet you won’t forget the first time they are deployed against you. Young Witch/Scheme, too. More expensive attacks like Witch, Mountebank, Torturer, Margrave, Goons, and Familiar are also quite nasty when Schemed, and the ability to play the attack more often for only $3 can be very big. It’s true that Scheme/X is sometimes inferior to X/X in terms of how many Xs you will get to play per reshuffle, but it’s also quite often cheaper, which means you can deploy it faster.

    Also, with certain attacks like Margrave, Militia, and Goons, playing it on consecutive turns is more powerful than chaining it with villages, if you could do either.

    Schemed attacks can be such a game changer I sometimes wonder if it ever occurred to Donald to put a “non-attack action” restriction on Scheme, and if so, why he decided against it. As a rule, people who hate attacks are really really going to hate schemed attacks.

    • Anonymous says:

      You need to keep in mind that scheme always has to compete with silver. Opening with a scheme means you hurt your early game economy, which can have a snowballing effect later in the game.

      Simulations suggest that Militia/Silver is superior to Militia/Scheme. And this actually applies to all of the terminal $4 silvers, I think. There’s only about a 16.5% chance you get to play militia on turns 3 and 4 anyway. So even if you want more than 1 militia, and in BM you do, you’re better off getting the early economy from a silver and then buying a second actual militia before the next shuffle. For the next shuffle or so the scheme might be superior to a second copy of militia but it quickly becomes worse as the chance of collision drops.

      Sea Hag/scheme on the other hand is a very strong opening. Basically, you want to win that curse war so badly that you’re willing to sacrifice all early game economy to do so. Jack/Scheme is another strong opener because the jack basically makes up for lack of early game economy with multiple plays.

      You do bring up a good point with higher cost actions like Goons. In those cases it may well be worth it to buy scheme as an inferior copy of the card you want simply because it’s cheap and you can’t afford the real thing. But the scheme should always come after you’ve already set up your economy and gotten the first copy of the main action.

      • Bulb says:

        As far as openers go, Militia/Silver may be superior to Militia/Scheme, but does that mean you necessarily want a second copy of Militia over a Scheme later on? Assuming no +Actions, we can mathematically deduce which is better, by determining, for a given deck size, how many times will you get to play a Militia (averaged over 1,000 shuffles) with Militia/Scheme vs. Militia/Militia. My guess is that for smaller decks (<15?) Scheme is better, and for bigger decks, a second Militia is better. Anyone care to run the numbers? 🙂

  2. jonnyjack says:

    Great article! It explains very well some of the “what the $#%@?!” games I’ve had recently, when I didn’t understand how powerful this “dinky” cantrip was

  3. Anonymous says:

    The person in purple looks like the Dowager Countess from Downton Abbey… and she is a schemer.

  4. NinjaBus says:

    It’s a peculiar case, but for obvious reasons you should never go for a Young Witch when scheme is the bane card.

  5. SquashMonster says:

    Much like with Conspirator, Scheme can also be used to permanently reduce the cost of Peddler. In games where you would already consider Peddler, this is also a fantastic way to make an unstoppable engine then end the game on piles before it gets to do anything.

  6. yariv says:

    In case of Herbalist, Scheme doesn’t help you to return Alchemist/Potion to the top, simply because Alchemist does it itself. Also, for attacks that don’t draw (Mountebank, Militia), a scheme might be better than another copy, because it guarantees no conflicts. Of course, in Mountebank games there isn’t a high chance of conflict and in Militia/Goons they don’t hurt that much, but it might still be significant. I wonder how Jester/Scheme/BM compares to Jester/Jester/BM…

    • shmerker says:

      I think the idea is to return the Herbalist with the Scheme so that it can keep the Potion on top with the Alchemists that it’s supporting. It’s a little Goldbergian. It’s better than buying a second Herbalist because the Scheme isn’t terminal so there’s no chance of an Herbalist collision.

  7. J.Co. says:

    Ha ha, my Golem/Scheme/Counting House idea (from the forum) got mentioned. I knew it was pretty good when I stumbled upon it. I’ve tried it a couple times since and have dominated with it (not to say it would do that every time, of course, because it wouldn’t). But yes, I love this combo.

  8. vidicate says:

    Hmm. I
    this on the other post. Wouldn’t adding Scheme to the Golem/CH combo defeat the whole purpose? It seems like this would be a separate, new combo, or a variation at best, but not exactly a “major improvement”.

  9. Alex Zorach says:

    I recently played a game in which I saw good options for a powerful engine: scheme and conspirator were both on the board. But I took a gamble, instead opening scheme+bureaucrat. I ended up playing Bureaucrat nearly every turn for the second and third times through the deck. I lost count of how many times it hit…it hit every time until mid-game when I was already buying gold and my opponent had trashed his last estate using a remodel. My opponent stuck with his conspirator+scheme engine, and it took longer than normal for the conspirator chain to get going.

    Once he got the engine going, it was consistently getting much more buying power than my deck, but by then I had a large lead in provinces, so my opponent couldn’t buy the last province, and so couldn’t effectively utilize the extra buying power.

    I’d be curious if this sort of attack would work consistently, or if I got lucky (or if my opponent had a winning idea for an engine but just misplayed it).

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