The following is a guest post by Geronimoo, one of the top-ranked players on the Isotropic leaderboard, and author of the first Dominion simulator.
What happens when you combine one of the worst Potion cards with one of the worst $2 cards? Most of the time not so much, but if you find yourself in a slow and ugly game with lots of junk flying your deck’s way, this little combo could be a life saver.
Slow games happen when there are no engines to be built and there’s an attack card in the Kingdom like Mountebank or Militia. The Curses will clog up your hand, reducing your ability to buy Golds and later Provinces and the discard attack will have a similar effect.
Philosopher’s Stone alone will not help much in this case because there’s the opportunity cost of buying a Potion (which could have been a Silver or another Militia) and you might not draw the Potion/Philosopher’s Stone often enough to make up for it because of the bloated deck size. On top of that, the Potion will hurt your buying power just as much in the greening stage as a Curse would. This is where Herbalist comes in. In the early game it will put the Potion back on your deck so you can buy multiple Phil Stones in a single deck cycle and it will put the Stones back on your deck in the greening stage when they will be massive (+$5 or more).
In other words, Philosopher’s Stone is usually only for really big decks, and in those decks, Philosopher’s Stones are hard to buy (because of the Potion), hard to find, and hard to play often. Herbalist addresses all three of those issues, and then some, by adding a +Buy to both fatten your deck and also get value out of multiple Philosopher’s Stones in one hand.
So we’ve established where you might want to try this combo. It’s somewhat easy to spot because the two cards are paired together in Alchemy for a reason. The real point of the article is how to play this strategy, because optimal use of this combo is quite counter-intuitive. Let’s break it down:
Use Herbalist to put back Potion early, and Stones later
When you play the Herbalist in the early game, you can put the Potion back on top to buy another Philosopher’s Stone next turn. If you tracked your deck and know the Potion won’t allow you to buy a Stone next turn, don’t put the Potion back. In the late game the Herbalist will put the Stone back on top.
Buy only one Potion and buy it on the first turn
If you want to give this combo a go, you’ll need to buy those Phil Stones early and often. They won’t be worth much in the early game, but getting them later means you’ll get less of them. And yes, you only need 1 Potion! Most people will get a second if they hit an early $4, but this is a big mistake. The extra Potion will hurt you a lot in the greening stage and a Herbalist putting the Potion back on top will work just as well.
Buy all the Herbalists you can get
Another trap players fall into is buying a few Silvers or Golds or other stuff because Herbalist is awful and “I’ll get them when I hit $2”. WRONG!!! The turns you’re not buying Philosopher’s Stones should be spent buying Herbalists, more Herbalists and then some. It’s invaluable in the greening stage to put back the Stone each turn and the +buy will bloat your deck to make those Stones truly massive.
Buy Coppers with extra buys
The Herbalist will always give you an extra buy so if you can’t buy an extra Herbalist, buy a Copper! Yes, they will bloat your deck, yes that’s exactly what you want.
Start greening very early
Another quirk of this strategy is that greening early doesn’t really hurt it. Most decks will grind to a halt when they start buying Duchies too early and never reach $8 again. This deck doesn’t mind a few Duchies or Estates clogging up a hand, as long as it contains a Herbalist and a Philosopher’s Stone which will provide all the buying power you need. I’d suggest buying Duchies as soon as one of the Provinces is gone and Estates when half are gone (and you have most of the Herbalists already)
So how good is this strategy really? According to simulations it should beat most attacking strategies in a 2-player game by a small margin (Ill-Gotten Gains rush, Sea Hag, Militia, Mountebank, but not Witch). But it’s the multi-player games where this strategy really shines. Anytime your opponents are choosing an attacking strategy slowing everybody down you’re going to crush them because you have the added advantage over 2-player games that the attacker is being attacked himself.
Here‘s a textbook example where I use this combo to its full effect to beat a Sea Hag player.
And here’s a video of WanderingWinder who despite some early game terrible luck pulls it out in the end.
Just don’t try this in a Fishing Village/Wharf game…