Sentry: How to Play it and What it Teaches us About Dominion
Original Article by 4est
When we first saw Sentry, here is how many of us reacted (myself included):
- First reads it: “Whoa, what a powerful trasher!”
- Actually plays with it: “Well, that was a bit disappointing…”
As it turns out, Sentry isn’t the most powerful trasher ever (see Donate). But it is very powerful nonetheless, and is usually the first $5 you should buy on many boards, especially on 5-2 openings.
What does it do and how do I use it?
Sentry does two things: it trashes and it sifts.
In case you haven’t heard, trashing is very, very good. And Sentry has the ability to nonterminally trash two cards, without reducing your handsize or buying power the turn you play it. Unlike other trashers such as Masquerade, Upgrade, or Junk Dealer which trash cards from your hand, Sentry trashes cards from the top of your deck (similar to Lookout). Sentry’s main advantage over cards like Lookout, Upgrade, and Junk Dealer is its potential to trash two cards instead of one. In the first few shuffles, your deck is mostly bad cards, giving Sentry’s narrow window of two targets a much greater chance of hitting two Coppers or Estates. But as you add more good cards to your deck and move into midgame, Sentry tends to struggle to hit cards you want to trash. For these reasons, it’s critical to start trashing with Sentry quickly.
While Sentry’s trashing is by far the most important aspect of the card in the early game, its sifting ability shouldn’t be forgotten. In the endgame especially, Sentry helps you sift through Victory cards to keep your deck reliable. Sentry is perhaps weakest in the midgame, when it slows down trashing (outside of the occasional Copper or Curse), but doesn’t have much green to discard either. That said, it can still be useful for controlling which cards you draw next; especially once you’ve started adding draw or other power cards like King’s Court to your deck, it’s usually better to discard treasures like Silver or Gold instead of leaving them on top, to give yourself a better chance of keeping your turn going.
When should I get it?
Short answer: ASAP.
Since Sentry trashes most efficiently in the early game, you’ll want to hit $5 as quickly as you can. If you’re lucky enough to open 5-2, do not hesitate to pick up a Sentry, even over powerful junkers like Witch or Cultist (by prioritizing trashing first, you’ll be able to play your junker more frequently later). If you open 4-3, then you want to make sure that your opening buys maximize your chances of hitting $5 on your next shuffle, so consider getting at least one Silver or an Action which can produce economy like Militia, Poacher, or Mill.
After getting your first Sentry, it is often worth aiming to get a second one as well to speed up your trashing in the early game, though on some boards it’s more important to pick up other powerful $5s first. Unlike some mandatory trashers like Junk Dealer which can become dead cards later, Sentry will never harm your deck and it’s usually good to have several. When available, it’s sometimes better to pick up a different trasher instead of a second Sentry since Sentry struggles to hit the last few junk cards in your deck..
It’s very rare that you skip Sentry altogether—if you do, it’s either because stronger trashing is available (such as Donate) or it’s an extremely weak board without any engine potential or with much faster rush or money enablers. But most often, Sentry is a must buy.
How does it compare to Upgrade and Junk Dealer?
Many have noticed Sentry’s similarities to Upgrade and Junk Dealer. All three are $5-cost cantrips which are powerful early game trashers, and have different pros and cons. Upgrade of course can turn Estates into $3s and function as a gainer, while Junk Dealer provides economy while trashing. Both trash from hand and can provide greater chances of hitting trash targets than Sentry’s two-card range. However, Sentry’s potential to trash two cards, sifting flexibility, and non-mandatory trashing are major advantages. Additionally, the fact that Sentry doesn’t reduce your handsize or buying power the turn you play it is a huge plus. On boards with Sentry and Junk Dealer/Upgrade, Sentry should usually be your first priority, while still aiming to get the other trasher for support.
What does Sentry teach us about playing Dominion?
Perhaps more than any other trasher besides Chapel, Sentry vividly demonstrates how critical it is to start trashing early, since it’s easiest to line up your trashers with targets when your deck is mostly bad cards. The difference in trashing effectiveness between opening Sentry vs. getting Sentry after the first shuffle can be significant, and even more so if you miss getting Sentry until after the second shuffle. The same is true of many trashers—the earlier you get them, the sooner you’ll clean out your starting cards, get control over your deck, and start making more use of your better cards and playing them more often.
In general, when building an engine, trashing your starting cards should be your first priority—before adding draw or payload. It’s painful to watch players open Lab or Festival instead of Sentry on a 5-2, or draw a lucky $6 on turn 3 and get Gold instead of Sentry. By not trashing first, your Lab will draw mostly junk and you will see your Gold and Festival less frequently amid the sea of Coppers. And then if you get your trasher afterwards, you’ll have a harder time lining it up with junk, than if you had gotten it first.
On a grander scale, Sentry teaches us the importance of gaining control over your deck. If you’ve ever watched a good player build an engine, you’ll notice that they not only know exactly what’s in their deck, but often where things are in their deck. They are meticulous in what order they buy and play cards, and their deck seems to flow so smoothly, rarely getting stuck or disordered. Sentry’s early trashing will quickly reduce the chances of your deck stalling, and its sifting keeps things reliable, so you know that your next Village will draw a Smithy and not a Province or a Gold. Dominion is a game that rewards control and precision and learning to use Sentry effectively will help grow these skills, even on boards without Sentry.
If you want to see how powerful Sentry can be when played well, check out Burning Skull’s How to Base Dominion videos (especially videos #1, 5, 11, 15, and 17).