Secret Passage: Cute Tricks and Creativity in Dominion
Original Article by 4est
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Secret Passage is a nifty, yet subtle card. At first glance, it can seem mediocre, but then you start realizing all the creative “tricks” you can do with it—“Oh, Secret Passage would be nice with ________!” It’s by no means a power card and is often a bit weak in isolation, but Secret Passage is unique in that the “cute” synergies are often what make it worth getting.
Secret Passage is not Laboratory
First, things first: despite the “+2 Cards, +1 Action” smiling innocently at you, Secret Passage is NOT Laboratory. It does NOT increase your handsize.
It seems obvious, but sometimes players forget this simple point and overbuy Secret Passage, without realizing that a stack of them doesn’t really do much for you. Since you always have to put a card back into your deck, you’re just going to have to draw through that card again later. Secret Passage alone will never draw your deck, and too many of them can leave you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.
Secret Passage as a Sifter
The primary purpose of sifters in general is to cycle through your deck, to get to the cards you want more quickly. However, unlike most sifters which discard cards you don’t want, Secret Passage puts them back in your deck, which is usually worse with Estates or Coppers that you’d rather not have to draw again (for this reason, it’s usually not a great card to open with). The best case scenario here is to use Secret Passage to put junk at the bottom of your deck where it will likely miss the shuffle. With all this in mind, Secret Passage is actually very bad at cycling through your deck, and gets worse when there’s little or no trashing, or if you’re getting junked. In these cases, more traditional sifters such as Cellar or Warehouse are superior.
The other main use for sifters in general is to try and connect certain cards together. Some examples might include using Warehouse to connect: a Smithy with a Village, Tournament with a Province, 2 Treasure Maps, or 2 Lurkers. While Secret Passage’s reach of 2 cards is smaller than other sifters, it has the unique ability to help facilitate connections on later hands (e.g. putting the single Lurker back in your deck and hope to draw two together next turn). In this respect, Secret Passage can function sort of like Courtyard or Haven, smoothing out your turns by stashing away a colliding terminal for use next turn, or saving an extra Gold for later if you can already hit $8 this turn.
Even better, Secret Passage is excellent for setting up your next turn. In many engines, the most common time that your deck can stall is at the very beginning of your turn (e.g. you draw a hand with three Smithies and no Village). With Secret Passage, you can drop extra Villages and/or draw cards back onto your deck to guarantee that you can kick off your next turn. Especially, in deck-drawing engines, Secret Passage can provide powerful deck control and minimize stall turns.
Cute Little Tricks
While Secret Passage is good for bottom-decking junk or smoothing/setting up turns, where it really shines is in all the little synergies its unique sifting ability enables. Wishing Well is the most well-known: if you play Secret Passage first and put a card below the top card of your deck, you’ll know exactly what to wish for with Wishing Well. Similarly, Secret Passage works nicely with all sorts of cards that care about where certain cards are in your deck. Here are just a handful of them:
- Wish well with Wishing Well and Mystic
- Set up an action to play with Vassal or Herald
- Place junk for Sentry or Lookout to trash (or Native Village to stash away)
- Put Estates back to sift past with Farming Village, Ironmonger, or Sage
- Toss a Copper or Estate a few cards down to pick up again with Apothecary or Patrol
- Put Victory cards or $5-cost cards below the top of your deck to activate Vagrant or Patrician
- Defend against your opponent’s Swindler by putting an Estate sixth from the top
- Increase the chances of getting VP from Chariot Race by topdecking an expensive card
This is not an exhaustive list—players are constantly discovering new ways to use Secret Passage to interact beneficially with other cards.
It’s important to note that these synergies, while neat, will not usually win you games on their own—however, when incorporated into a good strategy, they can be a great asset. Using Secret Passage to draw an extra card with Wishing Well a few times isn’t a victory by itself, though it can certainly help get you there. With all of the above tricks, Secret Passage grants the other card a boost which can give you a powerful edge in close games. In some cases (e.g. pseudotrashing with Native Village on a board with no trashing), using these interactions might even allow for decks that would normally never be reliable without it. Secret Passage is at its best when it can maximize other cards by eliminating randomness, put things exactly where you need them to be, or turn sometimes-Laboratories into always-Laboratories.
All this to say: don’t take this section to mean that Secret Passage isn’t worth going for if there’s not a “cute trick” available—to the contrary, it’s still a fine utility card that can fit nicely in most engines for its sifting and smoothing abilities discusses earlier, as well as its use for setting up your next turn. And if ever you play it and aren’t sure what to do, putting your worst card on the bottom of your deck is usually a safe bet.
Secret Passage and Creativity in Dominion
This is true of many cards, but Secret Passage especially is a card that often rewards creativity. You can play it mindlessly, always just dumping a bad card on the bottom, but it usually gives you a little more if you can notice ways to make the ability work with other cards or techniques. When playing with Secret Passage, always to scan the board for any unique interactions, and don’t be afraid to try something new (just be aware that some “creative” interactions are more helpful than others).
Just as Secret Passage emphasizes creativity, I’ll end with this: Dominion is an incredibly creative game, and I don’t just mean in its design. With every single kingdom comes a new set of cards and potential decks, complete with unique synergies, obstacles, interactions, and traps. By its very nature, Dominion requires its players to be creative as they construct a deck that has likely never been built before and will probably never be built again. Every game is a new puzzle, and Dominion is all about figuring out what will work together here, and what won’t—and then trying it and making adjustments as you go. No amount of card articles, power rankings, or strategy discussion will ever prepare you perfectly for your next game—at the end of the day, it’s up to you to look over the new kingdom and start creating.