Hinterlands: Develop

This is a featured forum article written by dondon151, the 2012 US Champion.


Dominion: Hinterlands

A quick perusal of Qvist’s Dominion card rankings will reveal the community’s general consensus that Develop among the worst $3 cards in the game. It is not immediately obvious why this is the case, as Develop is an exotic trash-for-benefit card that gets the player two cards at the cost of one and topdecks both for their immediate use on the subsequent turn. Less expert players will either blindly follow this consensus and ignore Develop where it is situationally useful or misjudge its power and use Develop in the wrong contexts.

It is helpful to first cover the main reasons why Develop is generally a weak card:

1. It’s terminal.
You wonder, should this count as a point against Develop? Most other trash-for-benefit cards (Salvager, Remodel, etc.) are terminal. However, one must consider that the opportunity cost of a dead Develop is a Silver or a non-terminal $3 that could have done something useful.

2. It doesn’t benefit the current hand.
Develop doesn’t produce $, nor does it draw cards, and it trashes a card from the player’s hand. Assuming no interference from the opponent, that leaves the player with 3 cards from a 5-card starting hand. Even if the player manages to increase his handsize beforehand, choosing to play Develop renders two cards in hand unusable for the buy phase. Opening with Develop sacrifices a lot of buying power on the turns where it appears in hand.

3. It slows deck cycling.
Develop gains cards to the top of the deck. Unless Develop topdecked cards that draw cards, this anti-cycling effect inhibits deck momentum by delaying the speed at which the player can get subsequent reshuffles.

4. It’s bad at gaining Victory cards.
In the final stages of the game, when the player’s deck is in its dying throes (or just choking on Victory cards), most TfB’s are useful because they can convert assets to points in some way. Develop can do this too; the problem is that topdecking a Victory card strongly hampers the subsequent turn, and Develop is fickle about what cards it can trash for points in the first place. And while Salvager, Apprentice, Forge, Remodel, and Expand can all perform some variant of trash Province -> gain Province, Develop lacks this function entirely.

5. It’s inconsistent between kingdoms.
Develop is unlike most traditional TfB’s in that its potential benefit is strongly dependent on the other cards in the kingdom. In particular, Develop benefits most from there being in the kingdom good $3 cards and/or synergistic cards that are exactly $2 apart. Some of the benefit from Develop is negated if, for example, you’re forced to topdeck a Silver that you don’t necessarily want. This also makes most $3 cards generally bad targets for Develop, as good $2s will not always be in the kingdom and Estates are ubiquitous.

Naturally, by examining Develop’s shortcomings, we can identify the conditions that make Develop much stronger than we normally perceive it.

1. When Develop is the best form of trashing in the kingdom.
Develop is a weak trasher, but it’s a trasher nonetheless. It provides no benefit at all upon trashing Coppers and Curses, but sometimes we use other TfB’s, such as Salvager, $0 Trade Route, or Trader for that purpose. In engine games in particular, Develop’s trashing is an important consideration, because there is potential to play Develop more often and the weak trashing goes a long way towards improving engine consistency.

Example: Menagerie typically synergizes with Develop because it trashes Estates for Menageries (or other $3s), and the Copper trashing is also beneficial to this type of deck by reducing the frequency of duplicate cards.

2. When cards of cost $2-$4 in the kingdom are abundant and strong.
This is an indicator for Develop in a few ways. First, hands with Develop on turns 3 and 4 will tend to hit $2-$4 depending on the opening, so being able to buy something useful with those hands is a boon. Second, Develop converts Estates into $3s. Third, it is not as bad to trash a Copper with Develop in the midgame and knock the player’s buying power from $5 to $4 if he doesn’t mind passing up the $5 in the first place.

Note that Develop is not always a must-have if there are kingdom cards at $3, nor should it always be ignored if there is only Silver at $3. Developing Estate to Silver substantially improves the deck’s economy in future shuffles, and the topdecked Silver may very likely let the next hand reach $5.

Example: a Fishing Village – Watchtower engine likes a Develop opening because both key cards are at $3 and Watchtower’s draw benefits from Develop’s trashing due to handsize reduction.

3. When there is a combination of surplus +action and +card.
There is no doubt that most terminal cards are significantly improved given the means to play them frequently and in large numbers. The question is whether this is even worth mentioning with regards to Develop. In these situations, not only is Develop an adequate trasher, but it can also be a potent gainer. Because Develop gains cards to the top of the deck, a drawing engine can easily play the gained cards on the same turn. Or, one can choose to leave the gained cards on top in order to kickstart the next turn.

Example: any variant of a village / terminal +3 cards drawer can work here. Several factors are preferable, though: a drawing village, a $3 village, supplementary nonterminal drawing, gainers (Workshop, Ironworks, etc.), and so on. Draw-to-X creates a mild synergy as well, because a play of Develop reduces handsize by 2 cards.

4. When important cards are exactly $2 apart.
If the player is forced to gain 2 cards that are $2 apart, then obviously the ideal situation is when both cards are important components of the deck. This is another reason why Develop likes kingdom cards at $3: power cards are most commonly at $5 but not as common at $6. $4 cards also tend to be weaker than $5 cards and are easier to gain, so there is less opportunity cost in trashing them instead of playing them.

– $3 villages and $5 terminal drawers make for synergistic pairs. These tend to be common.
– $4 villages or cantrips and Goons, Border Village, Grand Market, or Hunting Grounds at $6 are also pairs to watch out for.
– $5 drawers (both terminal and non-terminal) synergize exceptionally with King’s Court at $7.

The best case scenario is if there are good cards at all price points from $3-$6. In these circumstances, Develop can be used repeatedly to gain more cards at each of these price points. It is possible, for instance, to trash a $4 into Develop and a $5, and then to trash the $5 into a $4 and a $6. The flexibility offered here can prove to be extremely advantageous. A special mention goes to $7 kingdom cards, which can be trashed into a Province and a $6 if the situation calls for it – usually, near the end of a game.

Something to watch out for, though, is getting caught in the trap of only trashing your good cards and not playing them. Inexperienced players who get too Develop-crazy end up spinning their wheels instead of building an amazing engine. It is of paramount importance to keep in mind that, though the goal of Develop (in this context) is to gain new cards, the goal of the deck is to play those cards, preferably as often as possible.

In summary:

Indicators for Develop:
– Engines. There are a few exceptions (e.g., Estate and Silk Road rushes), but Develop is heavily reliant on kingdoms having engine potential in order for it to be worth using.
– Strong cards at $2-$4, particularly at $3. $3 is important because Estates can be trashed into $3s. Non-terminals are especially desirable here.
– Desirable cards that are $2 apart. Develop’s strength as a gainer is greatest in these circumstances. Even better is if there are good cards at all price points from $3-$6.

Counterindicators for Develop:
– Lack of surplus actions. In the absence of surplus actions, Develop will often be competing with stronger terminals. However, note that it is possible to transition from using Develop as the terminal to using a different card, particularly when there is no need to continue trashing.
– Lack of draw. Without drawing, newly gained cards will be played less often, and Develop’s anti-cycling effect becomes noticeably bad. Hands with Develop will always be burdened by the card slot that it occupies.
– Handsize attacks. This can swing both ways – a handsize attack doesn’t matter if someone can draw his deck, and handsize attacks promote engine-building, but hitting a 5-card hand that has Develop will usually deny the receiving player a buy or a Develop play.
– Fast engines and/or power $5s. Sometimes you just don’t need Develop. Picking up Develop increases the likelihood of being unable to hit $5 until turn 5.
– Stronger trashing. Whether it be Ambassador, Chapel, Jack of All Trades, or Remake, those cards can more or less do what Develop does, but better (or with a bonus). CR.com stats indicate that stronger trashers tend to lower Develop’s winrate to most (thanks DG!).
– Shelters. Even assuming that there are good $2s, trashing a Shelter forces the player to gain a Copper, Curse, or Ruins. Plus, most $2s aren’t good enough to be worth opening Develop for anyway.

Develop is a high-skill card, and even with the advice in this article in mind, it can be hard to see exactly when investing in Develop will pay off and when it will flop. One rule of thumb that I generally follow is to consider Develop first as a trasher, and to consider it second as a gainer. Its power is modest as a trasher on certain boards, but Develop’s power truly shows when it can be used effectively as a gainer. Hopefully this article has provided you a better understanding of this card.

Example games:

In this tournament game, -Stef-‘s Swindler wreaks havoc on my deck. However, the Develops that he gives me let me trash useless $4s and $5s for useful cards. Shanty Town and Council Room are gained together at $3 and $5 and help build a massive drawing engine in conjunction with Mining Village and Mint.

I (cbaka) use Develop to launch my deck into a Fishing Village – Watchtower engine.

Here I use Develop to build a Menagerie engine. Not much else to say about this game and the previous one.

Though some of my opponent’s choices were suspect, Develop helps me win the Fishing Village split and get my Torturer engine running faster.

-Stef- uses Develop to transition into a Grand Market deck supplemented by Farming Villages, Libraries, and Shanty Towns. Here, Library and Shanty Town is a modest $5/$3 combination, and Spice Merchant is an idea target for Develop once its role is done. With the surplus actions from Farming Village, Develop synergizes with Library by reducing handsize by 2 cards. The presence of Expand in this kingdom lets excess STs and Silvers be converted into GMs. Expand itself can be trashed into a Province.

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2 Responses to Hinterlands: Develop

  1. Anonymous says:

    Consider synergy with Ill-Gotten Gains.


  2. George Locke says:

    typically anti-synergizes with poor house for the same reason that upgrade and remake do.

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