The Five Best $4 Cards, 2011

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.

Qvist has started a community card ranking project.  The community’s $4 card ranking can be found here.

The $4 cards have been getting better and better, with quite a few cards on this list from the most recent expansions.  As a result, many fine cards are excluded: Envoy / Smithy, Caravan, Militia, Gardens, Horse Traders, Salvager, etc.  But then again, this is the best list, not the fine list.  Onto the Honorable Mention:

Young Witch

Dominion: Cornucopia

Honorable Mention: Young Witch

Young Witch is the ideal Honorable Mention, because its power level is entirely based on the bane.  Sometimes you’ll end up with Develop as the bane, in which case Young Witch is nearly a Sea Hag (and sometimes better), and you ignore it at your peril.  And sometimes Scheme is the bane, in which case the Young Witch instantly becomes the worst card in the game.

Young Witch is incidentally a convenient illustration of why so many fan-made reaction cards are terrible: when you have a great reaction, what actually ends up happening is that no one buys the Attack in the first place.

As a bonus, it has nice synergy with Tunnel, and even itself (since you’ll have Curses to be discarding).


Dominion: Prosperity

5. Monument

Consistently underrated, the quiet Monument isn’t sexy like Tournament or obvious like Sea Hag.  But the power of consistently earning 1VP makes it a monster in non-engine games: in an average money game, you might end up shuffling around 4-6 times, and once you get to that 4VP threshold you’re essentially forcing your opponent to split the Provinces 5-3 in his favor.  Add in some method of repeatedly playing Monuments, like Hunting Party or Fishing Village, and Monument experiences a quasi-Goons effect, where your engine has to be designed to keep up in both green cards and VP tokens.




Dominion: Cornucopia

4. Remake

We have already commented on how strong early game trashers are when they also improve your deck, and Remake is no exception.  It ranks along with Chapel as one of the premier early game trashers: not only does it turn your Estates into Silvers (or Fishing Villages), it also has the added benefit of upgrading your other early game utility cards (usually $4’s) into more useful cards (usually $5’s).  No other card is faster at improving your deck’s average card value than Remake.

Remake tends to work really well with the later expansions: it encourages diversity, which powers up Menagerie and Fairgrounds, and it works quite well with many of Hinterlands’ on-gain cards, like Ill-Gotten Gains.


Dominion: Cornucopia

3. Tournament

There are superb $4 cards (like Salvager), there are elite $4 cards (like Monument and Remake), and then there are transcendent $4 cards.  Tournament kicks off the A-list with probably the most unique power (however that may be defined) in the game.  It’s no coincidence that the five highest “Win Rate With” cards are all Prizes, since they are some of the best Actions in the game.  Winning a Tournament not only gets you one of these awesome Prizes, it denies it to your opponents, puts it on top of your deck, and heck, usually draws it for you to play right there.  Did I mention Tournament is usually also a $4 Peddler?  It’s like a Treasure Map that doesn’t suck when it doesn’t work.

The only thing that balances Tournament out is that its Prizes often come right around when you need to be buying green cards, so by the end you’ll just be taking the Duchy.  But winning an early Tournament is a massive advantage for someone who is probably already doing quite well.  You don’t always want to open with Tournament, but you ignore it at your peril if there is any kind of help for it.

Jack of All Trades

Dominion: Hinterlands

2. Jack of All Trades

Jack of All Trades debuts at #2 as the premier Big Money assistant.  DoubleJack reigns supreme over most other money strategies, especially when attacks are introduced.  Any set that doesn’t have a very strong engine setup is going to struggle to do much better than DoubleJack.  The fact that it trashes, sifts, fills you up to 5 cards, and gives you free Silvers makes it embarrassingly easy to do well playing just an algorithm.

The flip side is that, like most money strategies, it can be beaten by precisely constructed and executed engines.  And in those engines, you don’t want Jacks at all.  Smithy and Wharf and all the other Big Money assistants have some role to play in an engine; Jack actively hurts most engine setups.  It doesn’t integrate into an engine: it only works well on its own, in its one well-defined role.  Which is vaguely ironic for a card named Jack of All Trades.

Sea Hag

Dominion: Seaside

1. Sea Hag

Jack accelerates the game; Sea Hag sits on it.  It loses heads-up battles against Jack or Masquerade, but it’s a curser, and it’s the fastest cursing Action you can buy.  It really doesn’t get much meaner than slamming that Curse on top of your opponents’ decks.

$4 is as cheap as a cursing Action can probably get without leading to degenerate games, so Sea Hag looks like it will remain the primary early-game curser for quite a while.  It just goes to show how strong cursing attacks really are in Dominion: Sea Hag provides no benefit to your deck and is completely useless after the Curses are empty, but is nevertheless still one of the strongest cards in the game.

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32 Responses to The Five Best $4 Cards, 2011

  1. Geronimoo says:

    This is all very subjective. It’s clear Jack should be n°1. It’s a perfectly viable open in engines that need treasures to buy stuff and it destroys Sea Hag.

    I do like that Monument is in here because it’s criminally underrated, but Young Witch is even more underrated in my opinion.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yeah, theyre pretty subjective, and these are all good cards.

      Jack and Sea Hag seem hard to compare. SH gets hardcountered by a few things; Jack, Masq, etc. But otherwise, it takes over the game entirely; both players spend a few shuffles never getting above 4, and if you skip it youre completely screwed. Whereas Jack never really gets shut down by anything,

    • chwhite says:

      Naw, it’s clear Tournament should be #1… and Remake #2. 😛

      I actually do agree with Jack over Hag, they’re roughly equal power in most cases but the head-to-head is so dominant for Jack.

      I doubt I would have put Monument up here, but I’m hard pressed to argue with it, the other cards I would have considered for that slot (Salvager, Caravan, Bishop) are basically at the same power level. Young Witch is so underrated it’s overrated- I find it surprisingly situational.

    • DStu says:

      To defend the SeaHag>JoaT in BigMoney:
      It is true that Jack beats Hag, and JoaT also wins most BigMoney. But if you go BigMoney-X against DoubleJack, you are behind (unless Jack counters X, like Milita), but you usually can still win. If you go BM-X against BM-SeaHag you lost.

  2. cow says:

    This list shows just how dreary things are at the $4 level. You over rate tournament. The high win rates for the prizes are due to them being a ‘win more’ sort of thing. If you get a prize you already have a province and are getting a monster add to your engine. Winning is clearly in the future. I agree that monument is the sleeper. Young witch is underrated here. Yes if the bane card is great it isn’t as good, but the bane card isn’t silver which means that in most situations it’s a compromise to buy it. It’s amazing to think that there are a number of $3 cards that would beat cards on this list.

    • Anonymous says:

      How many of the 2s and 3s are cantrips?

      How fun are plain old BMX games?

      Where’s that article about “beyond Silver”?

  3. chogg says:

    I love the timing on this article, since I just played a game yesterday where I deliberately ignored Sea Hag, and won:
    (Of course, there were other power cards on the board.)

  4. Kirian says:

    “Tournament kicks off the A-list with probably the most unique power”

    Graaaaaaaah grammar Nazi smash!

    The word “unique” is binary. It is impossible to be somewhat unique, very unique, more unique, or most unique. Either something is one-of-a-kind or it isn’t.

    By that token, most kingdom cards have unique powers.

    • theory says:

      Depends on how you define unique. Merriam-Webster supports my view, which is that in practice no one uses ‘unique’ in that very narrow sense anyway, and so there is no particular harm to modifying it with “more” or “most”.

      Besides, there is no adequate replacement phrase. “Most different”? “Most one of a kind”? “Most unusual”? None of those capture quite the same meaning of all cards being different, but Tournament being the most different than others.

    • Chris Morrow says:

      By that token, most kingdom cards have unique powers.

      They all do, just like every single thing in the universe is (and is not) unique, which is exactly what’s wrong with the pointless prohibition of modifying “unique”. Here’s a longer rant on the subject by someone else.

      It’s okay to treat “unique” as binary if the set of things being considered is clearly defined. For example, Remake is unique as the only “double improver”, although other cards come close.

  5. hb says:

    I just noticed something in that simulation you linked. If you include Colonies but let DoubleJack play normally, going for the Provinces, it still wins in at least 80% of games. That’s amazing.

  6. LastFootnote says:

    It’s interesting that you use Develop as an example of a weak bane card. A board with Young Witch is one of the few situations where I’m likely to pick up a Develop or two, even when it’s not the bane card. If it is, I think I’d pick one up earlier, like on turn 3 or 4. It allows me to trash Curses and get good value from my Young Witches once the Curse pile has run out.

    Also, a minor nitpick: not all Prizes are Action cards.

  7. dondon151 says:

    I agree somewhat with Geronimoo; I think a single Jack can go well in an engine with no other trashing available – you don’t really have to buy Silvers and can spend your $3 buys on engine components instead while Jack trashes your most useless cards and gets you some money.

    I haven’t tried it in practice so I don’t know exactly how effective it is, but it sounds good on paper.

    • Jeff P says:

      It’s also (reaching here) a draw when no other draw is available. FV, FV, play Jack to draw back to 5. And you’ll likely be drawing silvers to boot.

    • DG says:

      The difficulty with fitting the jack into action card engines is that every time you play it you expand the deck with a silver. This makes it more difficult to draw your action cards together in hand to do engine things.

  8. Eric Herboso says:

    It is 2012, not 2011, by the way.

  9. Anonymous says:

    How is Monument better than Militia? It seems to me that Militia is better in both engine and big money games (with very few exceptions). Am I just wrong?

    • Anonymous says:

      read the article you play it 6 times its as good as an extra province

    • Anonymous says:

      I was doubtful too, so I checked the sims. It’s apparently true.

      Remember, that if your Militias don’t give you enough of an advantage to get a 5-3 province split, the monuments basically win outright. By the end of a game, you might play a single monument 4-6 times, or if you get multiple ones, then you might end up with 10-12 VP – almost enough to make up for a 5-3 split anyway!

  10. Anonymous says:

    Degenerate games are the best. You haven’t lived unless you’ve played a 6 player game with Ambassador, Mountebank, and Cutpurse. Even buying duchies is nearly impossible.

  11. Robby Soave says:

    This is a good list. It’s interesting that the $4 cards are certainly the weakest, though you’re correct to note that they’re getting better in newer editions. Still, Masquerade and Ambassador are better than just about every card on this list (and still would be if they both cost $4).

  12. Willvon says:

    It is interesting to see that each of the “Best” lists so far have at least one Cornucopia card in them for total of five. This one has three, including the Honorable Mention. So far, Seaside has the most in the “Best” lists, a total of 6. Still, that expansion also has double the number of cards in it that Cornucopia has. It really shows how strong that small expansion is. It will be interesting to see how the last small expansion stacks up in comparison when we get it next year. I remember somewhere that Donald X. made a comment about it when someone was saying they would like to see more duration cards in that expansion. Donald mentioned that if it had them, then it wouldn’t have the theme that it does, and he thought it was pretty exciting. (Can’t remember the exact wording he used, but I know he felt strongly that we would love it.)

    • chwhite says:

      This list is fully half Cornucopia, even! And the $5s are sure to have one representative, too. At least they won’t show up in the $6-plus cards, Fairgrounds isn’t that great.

      Easily the strongest expansion, pound-for-pound.

  13. hockeysemlan says:

    Ahem, When your finished bashing the fours I must remind you that cards like Bridge, Horse Trader, Throne Room, Caravan didn’t make it to the list. Bridge I’m _really_ surprised about, since it’s the main component in the “Most Epic Broken Combo” we have in this game. As a quite mediocre player I always fear when Bridge is on the board whilst I meet a more experienced player.. It’s a heavy card, much more interesting than the curse-giving cards you seem so attached to.

    I’m very sceptic to putting sea hag that high, in every game where you have a good trash it’s compeletely useless. Witch, even familiar still are quite useful even after curses are out. Can’t really get why you are so in love with it.

    Anyhow, love the lists, really makes you realize why you love the cards you love and vice versa.

    • thisisnotasmile says:

      I thought the main component in the “Most Epic Broken Combo” in the game was Masquerade? And in a vast majority of games, Bridge is only very slightly better than Woodcutter. Huge trap card.

    • Alex Zorach says:

      I like how you called Bridge a “heavy” card. I find it’s a card that can be hard to assess the usefulness of, and it often involves strategies with considerable risk; I’ve lost a lot of games by misjudging whether or not to buy it, or perhaps through luck.

      I think this is because Bridge on its own is pretty weak; it only thrives when played multiple times, which requires both multiple copies of the card, and King’s Court, or a lot of +Actions (and +cards).

      I think Caravan is a really different card, and personally, I’d be much more likely to put it on this list than Bridge, because it is not very situational. It helps most decks, and it helps at most times of the game. I never have regretted a Caravan buy, and there are relatively few cards that cost $4 or less that I think compete well against it. I also think that Caravan is one of those few cards that makes cards like Talisman or Worshop worth buying because in most cases you can’t have too many of them, and in some games (like if Caravan is the only source of +Cards and there is a good engine on the board), whoever wins the caravan race wins the game.

  14. pp says:

    I’d personally switch sea hag and Young Witch (Ok, I’d probably put monument at 1, followed by jack, followed by YW, but w/e). Young Witch simply outshines Sea Hag unless the bane card is an obvious buy. Young Witch actually helps your economy by letting you cycle faster and drop your estates and curses, while with Sea Hags, your own economy crashes even if you beat someone in a curse war.

    Young Witch is a great card for the same reason that JoAT beats Bureaucrat and Masquerade beats Ambassador (as well as 99% of other combos).

    Those three cards provide a huge amount of utility that Sea Hag simply does not. They are all fairly strong cards at their main function, but they provide the added bonus of being hugely resilient to cursing attacks.

    Meanwhile Monument is just awesome because “Free VP”.

    • thisisnotasmile says:

      The problem with Young Witch (other than the Bane issue) is that whenever YW is your curser, your opponent is guaranteed to have a Sifter available to get around the pain of the Curses.

      • Alex Zorach says:

        Agreed. But I think it says something that if YW is the only curser on the board, people usually buy it–so the fact that you can expect your opponent to buy it too points out that it is a powerful card.

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