-Stef-‘s Dominion Academy

This is a guest article by -Stef-, the current #1 on the Isotropic leaderboard and the top seed in the 2012 DominionStrategy.com Championships.  It was originally posted on the forum, and this article incorporates further playtesting from the rest of the forum.

Welcome to the Dominion Academy, something new I’m trying out. The idea is that you look at the kingdom for a while and try to come up with an answer to the first question. Then compare to my answer and go on with the next question. How extensive your own answer is, is all up to you. My hope is to bring this beyond the actual game and more about the set.

Without further ado, this is the Kingdom for Game #1:

Cellar, Scheme, Farming Village, Mining Village, Fairgrounds
Courtyard, Woodcutter, Ironworks, Mine, Grand Market

Click for enlarged link dominiondeck.com

Click for enlarged link at dominiondeck.com

Remember, before looking at the answers to the questions, take some time to think through your own answer!

Question 1

Looking at these cards, two possible strategies come to mind: engine or BigMoney. Why would you play BigMoney and not engine?

Click for enlarged link dominiondeck.com

Click for enlarged link at dominiondeck.com


  1. Courtyard. Courtyard-BM is a very strong BM variant.
  2. The engine player may have some fancy cards, but nothing that hurts you, no attacks or even pseudo-attacks.
  3. No possibility to get rid of the initial 10 cards.
  4. Courtyard is the only card increasing handsize, netting only +1 card.

Question 2

Why would you play engine and not BigMoney?

Click for enlarged link dominiondeck.com

Click for enlarged link at dominiondeck.com


  1. Mine into Grand Market. It will take a while, but eventually this will have incredible power. This time is provided by:
  2. Fairgrounds. Fairgrounds implies you have time until they pick up province #8 in stead of #5, which should be about 7 extra turns. Really huge.
  3. Ironworks allows you to pick up components easily
  4. Scheme. Scheme is very helpful in ‘village/smithy’ variant draw decks (cheaper), opposed to ‘lab/lab’ variants (more expensive but reliable all by itself).
  5. Farming Village. Courtyard is lousy for draw in engines, but farming village compensates a little bit (put back your estate and continue with the village)
  6. Two piles of villages. You’ll need lots of villages, but because you have two piles you won’t have to get a pile dangerously low.
  7. Cellar. Handle with care, because this card can easily destroy you if you overbuy it. A single Cellar can be strong though.

Question 3

Which strategy do you expect to be better on this board?

Click for enlarged link dominiondeck.com

Click for enlarged link at dominiondeck.com


Courtyard-BM. It hurts a bit to say this, but the engine is probably too weak. No destruction and no attacks is really bad.  [Editor’s note: but see the forum thread.  This is probably a lot closer call than -Stef- indicates here.  In particular, a lot of tweaks you’ll want to make to the BigMoney deck makes it turn into a quasi-engine…]

Question 4

When playing Courtyard-BigMoney, are any other cards in the kingdom of interest? How does this depend on your opponents strategy?

Click for enlarged link dominiondeck.com

Click for enlarged link at dominiondeck.com


Yes. A single Ironworks is at the very least interesting. In the mirror it’s doubtful because the game will be very fast and getting early golds is important. The game against the engine will be longer and unless your start is very lucky it will be worth it for sure. If you draw it together with a Courtyard you can either gain another Courtyard or place the Ironworks back. Gaining a Silver still nets you $1. By the time you need to buy out the last (or two) provinces, maybe even a mining village is worth it for the sacrificing option.

Question 5

When playing the engine, how many Ironworks do you want? How many Mines? Does it depend on the opponents strategy?

Click for enlarged link dominiondeck.com

Click for enlarged link at dominiondeck.com


At the very least you want one of both, and you want them asap. In the mirror match I think I want a second Ironworks and stick with the single Mine. This game will be much shorter, piles will run out anyway, and I’d better make sure I have the majority share. In the matchup against BigMoney, I think I prefer only one Ironworks and a second Mine. My objective is quite the opposite: I need to prevent a 3-pile at all costs, and as long as I’m not too greedy myself I can do that. Instead I need to prepare for taking a lot of points in the endgame. If I can get to Grand Markets a little sooner this way, they will be at least as effective in picking up components as multiple Ironworks.

Question 6

So… the game starts and your opponent just bought a Silver for $3. You expect him to go BigMoney. What strategy do you choose? And what do you open with?

Click for enlarged link dominiondeck.com

Click for enlarged link at dominiondeck.com


No. No No No. You don’t have to choose now at all. I’d open Silver/Courtyard both in BigMoney and the engine. In BigMoney this should be obvious, getting $6 is your first priority and an early Ironworks doesn’t help that at all. But even in the engine I want the extra Silver. Because draw is so bad here, and I can’t destroy any cards, it will take a long time before I start drawing my deck anyway. Until then I’ll just have to do with some power cards. So getting a Mine quick is super important. Praying for $5 without buying any silvers is really asking for trouble. Plus delaying the choice on the strategy is very helpful. I may really want to play an engine, but secretly I also know courtyard-BM is probably better. If my turn 3 draws are much better then my opponents, I can still switch back to grabbing the gold and play Courtyard-BigMoney mirror. A year ago I would have opened Ironworks/Courtyard on boards like this for sure, and I can still respect that, but now I’m more into the metagame.

Question 7

You went first, opened Silver/Courtyard planning to go BigMoney, and get the perfect draw: $6 on turn 3 without even using the Courtyard. That’s a gold for sure. On turn 4 you play the Courtyard and draw all 3 Estates, 3 Coppers and your Silver. What do you put back? What do you buy?

Click for enlarged link dominiondeck.com

Click for enlarged link at dominiondeck.com


You put the silver back and buy another Courtyard. Don’t buy Silver or Ironworks now. At this point your deck contains only treasuries, so by putting back the Silver you’ll get at least $6 on turn 5 for another Gold.

Question 8

You started out playing Courtyard-BigMoney, and notices your opponent going engine. How do you respond? If you hit $6 or $7 without coppers, do you get a Grand Market? Do you contest Fairgrounds?

Click for enlarged link dominiondeck.com

Click for enlarged link at dominiondeck.com


If your opponent goes engine, you should realize you need to buy 8 provinces in stead of the usual 4 (5). So you continue getting golds quite a bit longer then usual. Maybe pick up 5-6 golds first, and I guess a Grand Market won’t hurt in this stage. Buying Fairgrounds or Duchies is pointless (in every but the literal meaning). The only thing you need to worry about is ending the game before the engine kicks into fifth gear, and your only hope to do so is depleting the Provinces. If you’re in time you win, if you’re not you lose.

Actual Game

In the actual game… my opponent got the perfect draw I described above. That also robbed (pun intended) me of all plans of playing Courtyard-BM myself. By turn 5 it was clear I went engine but “unfortunately” he didn’t adapt properly. He bought a Province on turn 5 in stead of a second Gold, an Ironworks on turn 6 in stead of a third Gold, and a Mining Village on turn 8 in stead of a fifth Gold. After that he didn’t focus on the Provinces, and by the time I decided it was time to green I was only 0-3 provinces behind. That didn’t take long to overcome. It requires a bit of discipline to follow the much simpler ‘lots of Golds into lots of Provinces’ plan, ignoring all the shiny engine parts. But that’s the kind of discipline that can make a great BigMoney player, and on these early draws I’m convinced it would have been winning.

Forum thoughts

After some further play by the community, the following points were agreed upon:

  • The engine is extremely vulnerable to three-pile endings, especially since it is so focused on Fairgrounds.  It is very easy for it to lose prematurely, before it builds up its Fairgrounds.
  • In reality, the best BigMoney strategy here tends to be closer to an engine than a pure money game.  You want Grand Markets, and though you can skimp on the Villages, the Schemes are good for your Grand Markets.
  • Especially in a “mirror match”, where both of you pursue similar strategies, the Grand Market split can often decide the winner.
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13 Responses to -Stef-‘s Dominion Academy

  1. GwinnR says:

    Very nice idea. I think it can help a lot for analysing our own setups.

    I think even for the big-money-player the Grand Market is more interesting than a Gold. When the averange worth of a card in your deck is more than 1$ (what should it be very fast), the Grand Market generates more $ than a Gold and gives you a +buy.

    • George Locke says:

      GM is clearly awesome, but it’s not obvious that it’s so much better than gold in terminal draw big money. With CY, it’s less of a big deal than, say, Envoy. Especially surprising to me is the addition of schemes into the CY strategy…

      • ftl says:

        The addition of those things is only helpful against an engine. As it turned out in that forum thread (based on other people’s Science, not mine…):

        1) Going for a pure engine, and doing it well, beats Courtyard+Big Money. Courtyard+BM just can’t get 8 provinces before the engine takes off and buys six-point fairgrounds plus more duchies and things. It’s tricky and finicky, but if you do it just right it should work.

        2) HOWEVER! If the Big Money strategy takes some Grand Markets, that seriously hobbles the engine because of two things – denial of grand markets (which are epic for the engine) AND puts out a genuine threat of a three-pile ending, with those +Buys. And then you add some schemes to make use of those GMs better, since then you can top-deck them. And soon you’ve got some half-engine-thing. But then the engine simply doesn’t have the extra time it needs, because three-pile.

        3) And, of course, standard BM+Courtyard will beat BM+Courtyard+GM/scheme tricks in a race to 4 provinces instead of 8.

        So it’s a rock-paper-scissors thing where to play it optimally, you have to be responsive to what your opponent’s doing. Engine-BM-hybrid beats Engine beats CY-BM beats hybrid.

  2. BB says:

    REALLY nice. I got most of the questions right too!

    Hope this becomes a regular series

  3. Michael Waddell says:

    This series is wonderfully useful! I can’t wait for the next one.

  4. Anonymous says:

    this is awesome

    please continue doing these

  5. Vidyaraja says:

    After all that analyzing, did you really have to end the article with “Who has more GMs wins?” XD

    • dondon151 says:

      That’s also not necessarily true. Only in a full mirror will a GM split determine the winner, but superior tactical decisions can let you steal the win if you lose the GM split but 3-pile with a lead.

      I think the article doesn’t accurately qualify the type of deck needed to win against a full engine. Big Money is not really the term that I’d use for the kind of deck that gets an Ironworks and 4 each of Courtyard and Farming Village (which is what WW got in an experimental match against jonts26 using this kingdom). Rather, it’s an engine that peaks early as opposed to a Mine-GM engine that peaks late. You get ahead on points and hope to pile out before the opponent gets consecutive ridiculous 4-Fairgrounds turns.

  6. allhon says:

    I am curious if my findings are valid:

    Shouldn’t you take into account the fact that you are going 1’st or second? Having 1 extra turn for engine is huge! (All the trial matches linked in forum could have gone either way. First player always won).

    Secondly, starting hand is important! If you get 5-2 you have your perfect engine startup so you should go the engine way no matter what. (Or get a mine in “Big Money” and 1 Workers Village. First one helps you contest 1-2 Grand Markets and the other one helps you mine more and/or get some extra 2$ when badly needed => 18-19 turns 8 provinces).

  7. Anonymous says:

    Really enjoyed this article even though I am late to the party. Hope I can find more of these. Thanks.

  8. How would you play the game:

    The initial strategy that seems obvious is beggar/squire/gardens, but I think remake/sage is a really good opening too. That strategy should be able to get 6 point fairgrounds and provinces eventually, and possibly could have a highway mega turn. Everything in here is interesting, and I don’t know what the strongest strategy would be. Ideas?

  9. Erin says:

    There is no word for how much I liked this format and how much I learned. SO helpful. A huge thank you for sharing your time and expertise.

    If I could put in a request: would you consider doing a series where each lesson utilizes cards from just one set? (Eg just base first, or just prosperity?). That way folks who are trying to learn at home but who may not already own everything can try out the different routes you review and experience how they play out, even if they are just starting out and don’t own all the cards.

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