Combo of the Day #30: Hermit/Market Square

This Dark Ages combo was first identified and discussed at length by Herowannabe, whose article is reprinted below.  The comments to that article further elaborate on additional combo interactions.

We don’t do a lot of combo articles lately, since the increasing number of Kingdom cards has lowered the chances of seeing any given combo.  But we make an exception for combos within a single expansion, especially when they are as powerful as this one.

I want to preface this by saying that this is probably a combo for advanced players. It requires a careful balance, a knowledge of exactly what’s in your deck, as well precise timing to pull off correctly, without which your deck could easily flop.

The gist of the combo is this: grab as many Hermits as you can, then grab as many Market Squares as you can while you turn most of your Hermits into Madmen. Then, in one explosive mega-turn, use the Madmen to draw your whole deck then use the Market Squares and remaining Hermits and Madmen to simultaneously gain a whole bunch of golds and draw them into your hand, then buy a bunch of Victory cards and end the game. Sound far fetched? Let me explain.

STEP 1 – Grab the Hermits

Ideally you should open Hermit-Hermit, then on your next turns, use the hermits to gain more hermits in addition to buying any hermits you can afford. If you can’t afford to buy a Hermit then don’t buy anything that turn and let the Hermit you played change into a Madman. (Note, if you draw any of your Madmen then resist the temptation to use them! You’ll need them later.) If you use the Hermits’ trashing ability, make sure you leave at least 1 estate/shelter/useless card in your deck to trash later.

Ideally you should aim to grab 9 of the Hermits, but if you can’t grab 9 then 7 will work (5 is less useful, but maybe not completely disastrous). There isn’t much use in gaining an even number of Hermits, so if you can’t get the 9th or 7th Hermit, don’t bother with the 8th or 6th. Move on to step 2 instead.

Step 2 – Turn Hermits into Madmen while grabbing Market Squares.

Start grabbing as many Market Squares as you can. You do not need to empty the market square pile completely- it’s a good idea to leave a few behind to pick up with your hermits on your megaturn if you think your opponent will leave them there.

At the same time start turning more Hermits into Madmen. Your goal should be to have exactly 3 more Madmen then you have Hermits (ie: 6 Madmen and 3 Hermits, or 5 and 2).

Also, beware of letting your deck grow too big (i.e., if your opponent is filling it with Curses/Ruins and you are Hermit/MSing them into golds). The ideal deck size is 29 cards or less. You’ll see why in the next step.

Step 3 – Determining when to pull the trigger

I made this its own step because sometimes even when your deck is ready you will want to wait a few turns before pulling the trigger.

There are many things to consider when deciding when to pull the trigger, but here are the most crucial ones:

  • Your deck: it should be 29 cards or less, and is composed of your starting 7 coppers, 1-3 Estates/Shelters, exactly 3 more Madmen than you have Hermits, as many Market Squares as possible, and maybe a gold or two.
  • Your hand: it should have at least 2 Madmen in it, and you haven’t been hit by any hand-size reduction attacks this turn. Pulling the trigger with only 1 Madman in hand is risky- you might miss drawing a second one.
  • The kingdom: There should probably be enough nearly-empty piles that you can end the game quickly, and you want to make sure you don’t wait too long and give your opponent(s) enough time to snatch up too many provinces.

Beyond this I don’t know what else to tell you about deciding when to pull the trigger. At the very least I suggest that you practice this combo a few times solo or against a computer before trying it against a live opponent.

Step 4 – KaBOOM!

Pulling the trigger should go something like this:

  1. Play your first Madman, drawing 4 cards.
  2. Play your second Madman, drawing 7 cards.
  3. Play your third Madman, drawing 13 cards. Assuming you kept your deck 29 cards or smaller, you should now have your whole deck in your hand.

Play your first Hermit, and trash that useless non-treasure card you have been holding on to this whole time. If you need more junk cards for your other hermit(s) to trash, make sure to pick one up now. Or if you can pick up those market squares you left behind to use later in the turn.

As a reaction to your trashed card, discard all of those Market Squares in your hand and gain a fistful of gold.

Play your fourth Madman, drawing all those Golds and Market Squares.

Repeat with each Hermit/Madman pair that you have, using the last Hermit to pick up a silver, or maybe a card from a pile you want to empty.

Now you should have a giant hand full of Gold and Market Squares, with a spattering of copper. Play all of your Market Squares to get all the +buys that you need.

Now just buy up a bunch of Provinces and any cards you need to 3-pile the game (if needed).

Strengths

This combo/engine has a lot going for it.

  • It’s very fast. It may not seem like it, seeing as it takes around 10+ turns to build it up, but unlike most other engines, the “mid game” and “end game” phases happen entirely on one turn. This also makes it rather surprising for your opponent if they haven’t seen it before.
  • It isn’t really affected by most attacks, with one or two exceptions (see below). Since you really only need to be able to play one Hermit each turn, hand size reduction attacks are pretty much moot. They will still slow you down a little, but likely not enough to matter. Cursers or Junkers don’t do much either, since (unless they are giving you coppers) you can use your Hermits to trash them out of your hand or discard pile.
  • You only need to buy two cards (Hermit and Market Square) to pull this combo off, and both of them only cost $3. No need to build up to get the $5s or $6s or $7s.
  • Both of the cards you need are from the same expansion, meaning that this combo should show up fairly often when you’re playing with Dark Ages.
  • Also, thematically, you have to admit this is one of the coolest/wackiest combos to play. You have droves of hermits wandering around outside of town, gradually going mad. Meanwhile you spend all your efforts building the largest grandest market square in the world, and then, on opening day, all of those insane hermits rush into town and run amok… And somehow you end up filthy rich and reigning over a massive kingdom.  ;D

Weaknesses

  • While this combo resists most attacks, Trashers (such as Knights or Saboteur) can destroy it, as you need a lot of the right cards to pull it off. Also, being hit by a hand-size reducer attack on the turn when you’re ready to pull the trigger will stop it dead. If your opponent has built up an engine where he is Militia-ing you every turn it can be devastating.
  • Possession, as it does to most combo decks, completely destroys it
  • While you only need two types of cards, you need a LOT of those two cards. If your opponents are snatching them up as fast as you are it will sap a lot of the strength out of your deck (However, in my experience, Hermit and Market Square don’t tend to be very popular, so unless another opponent is going after the same combo you’re probably fine).
  • It is a high-skill combo, demanding a lot of attention to detail, and also requires a lot of buying restraint. It can be really hard to fight the temptation to buy that really awesome $5 card when you get a lucky hand of coppers, but don’t do it!

Works well with:

  • Scheme: which will let you turn your hermits into madmen without having to trash them, and will help you line up your madmen when you’re ready to pull the trigger. Also, at $3 it’s perfectly priced for this combo.
  • Versus Cursers/Looters: all they do is give you fuel for your hermits and market squares to turn into gold.
  • Other Cheap Trashers: can possibly be substituted for Hermits during your megaturn if you weren’t able to get as many as you wanted.
  • Talisman: as an opener it can help you pick up components faster.
  • Tactician/Haven allow you to start your turn with a slightly larger handsize
  • Bank has an insane effect on your Golds

Sample Games:

(Unfortunately I haven’t played on any of the computerized versions of Dominion, so I don’t have any records of games I have played to show you.)

In solo play I was able to set it up and was ready to pull the trigger by turn 12, but didn’t have any Madmen in my hand so I had to wait until turn 13. With 9 Hermits/Madmen and 9 Market Squares I ended up with over $70 to spend and 10 buys. Of course that would be the perfect situation, and not very likely in a real game.

I finally got a chance to try this against real opponents: it was a 3 player game, and I was able to snatch 9 Hermits and 5 Market Squares, and then I pulled the trigger around turn 12 (I lost track exactly) which was actually too early- I miscounted, and only had 5 madmen to my 4 Hermits (instead of 6-3) and the Kingdom wasn’t to the point where I could immediately end the game, but it still worked beautifully. I ended up with $35 and 6 buys, netting me 4 provinces and several Estates from my Hermits. Over the next several turns I was able to use all that gold to grab 2 more provinces and empty the estate pile to end the game well in the lead.)

Some Goko sample logs of this combo:Game 1, Game 2, Game 3

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18 Responses to Combo of the Day #30: Hermit/Market Square

  1. Anonymous says:

    “Scheme: which will let you turn your hermits into madmen without having to trash them”
    Does Scheme actually do this, or just let top-deck a hermit and prevent it from turning into a madman if you didn’t buy anything that turn but don’t want to transform the hermit yet?

    • joel88s says:

      This interesting question was discussed at some length when Dark Ages came out. The ruling from above, including from Pope Donald XV (who shows no signs of retiring any time soon), as seen for example here http://forum.dominionstrategy.com/index.php?topic=6374.msg171262#msg171262 is that in fact you can gain the Madman without trashing the Hermit.

      I remember I suggested at the time that the phrase ‘trash the Hermit and gain a Madman’ in normal English carries an implication of conditionality, rather like the instruction ‘go to the store and buy some milk’. However in the strict flow-chart logic with which Dominion cards are to be read, lacking the qualifier ‘if you do’ it does not.

    • SirPeebles says:

      At the beginning of your clean-up phase, Scheme allows you to name an Action card you have in-play. Name your Hermit. Now, when you discard your Hermit during clean-up, two effects are triggered simultaneously: Scheme wants to move Hermit to the top of your deck, while Hermit wants to trash itself and gain you a Madman. You get to choose the order. If you resolve Scheme first you’ll topdeck the Hermit. Then we you resolve Hermit, Hermit tries to trash itself but can’t by the Lose Track rule. Then it gains you a Madman. Of course, you could have chosen to resolve Hermit first, and then Scheme wouldn’t be able to move Hermit from the Trash pile to the top of your deck, again because of the Lose Track rule.

  2. Anonymous says:

    You actually have to trash the hermit to get a madman. The rules explicitly state that scheme negates the turn end effects of hermit.

  3. Andrew Meade says:

    You don’t play it like this in your sample games, but “gain all the hermits, then gain all the market squares” is wrong. Especially if you aren’t playing with shelters (and even if you are), your ideal goal is to draw 3 copper and a hermit every turn. So you want to get roughly 4 hermits first (possibly this number could be revised up or down by one). After you have the ideal number of hermits, you want to switch completely to market squares, because as cantrips, they don’t change your deck composition. Whenever you make madmen, you should get hermits to revitalize your numbers. Of course, if someone is contesting one component or other, this can change your choices.

    Obviously this is a fair bit slower without shelters, I would imagine I might want a village or two, if the necropolis wasn’t there. (I’ve only played this with shelters)

    • Anonymous says:

      I didn’t try this, but it seems you are better off just living with Hermit collisions and not waste time on buying a village. At the end, the Madmen will give you the actions you need to play the Hermit.

    • joel88s says:

      Also drawing 3 coppers consistently is not that important since many turns you’re not going to be buying anyway in order to convert your Hermit into a Madman.

      • Andrew Meade says:

        Have you ever actually played this combo? Its actually important to pick up the combo pieces as fast as possible, and so on early turns, you definitely want 3 copper a turn, because its twice as fast. Not that it will happen every turn, but you want it to often. At least with shelters, you can mostly count on using necropolis+two-hermit turns to gain the bulk of your madmen.

  4. Colin Souva says:

    Can’t you execute this combo with only a single hermit in your final composition? Rather than needing 6 madmen + 3 hermits, you should be able to use 6 madmen + 1 hermit and use that hermit to gain the next one you will play, and draw it along with the gold and market squares.

    It seems like it can save you some setup to do it this way.

    • Andrew Meade says:

      In general, I usually use the hermit gains to gain stuff to trash for later madmen, not for the hermits. The hermits themselves are useful for gaining stuff so you want lots/all anyways. Also, your opponent might take the last few hermits and spoil things.

  5. linger says:

    I was lucky enough to play this combo in a real life game tonight. It was awesome.

  6. Iluvatar says:

    I was able use this combo in a 5-player game. I was able to get 9 hermits, and 5 market squares. Due to junkers, I wasn’t able to draw my entire deck with the first 3 hermits, so I only had 4 of the market squares trigger on the first of the three hermits, during the megaturn. That being said, I ended up with 7 buys and $63 (ruined markets and mines helped a bit), so I was able to buy 7 provinces. The other players gave up, because there wasn’t really any way for them to win at that point.

  7. cat says rawr says:

    Hey, I want to say that I really like the combo articles, even when there’s so many cards you don’t see any particular combo very often.
    They help you think about how cards fit together, which is a skill that I think you can generalize across the game.

  8. JdGordon says:

    Misread the hermit card first time tring it out and missed that it trashes *from your hand* – wondered why the stupid thing didnt work… 2nd game worked great but was beaten by the wife buying out the 3rd cheap pile. This strat is very difficult if there is cheap good cards that are likely to be bought (i.e candlestick maker was our one). fun when it works.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Why exactly 3 more madmen than hermits? What if I have 7 madmen and 3 hermits? Why won’t that work?

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