This article was adapted from a forum post, originally by markusin.
Being able to draw and subsequently play every card in your deck in a single turn lets you reach your deck’s full potential, maximizing your capability to gain cards and letting you play whatever attack cards you might have. However, guaranteeing that you will be able to draw your deck puts tough restrictions on your deck building.
If you want to guarantee you draw your deck, then you want to make sure there is no possible deck ordering that will prevent you from drawing your deck. You can ensure this by restricting the number of non-drawing cards you include in your deck to a number below your starting handsize. If your starting handsize is the default five, this really doesn’t give much room for adding non-drawing cards to your deck while still being sure you’ll draw your deck next turn.
Fortunately, you can get around this restriction by using “duration draw” effects that will increase your starting handsize, thereby leaving more room in your hand for the cards that don’t draw.
“Stop cards” are cards which do not draw cards from your deck when played. Gold, Province, and Workshop are examples of stop cards.
“Duration draw” are cards which set up card draw that will be available to you at the start of a future turn. This includes but is not limited to duration cards that give card draw at the start of your turn like Caravan and Hireling.
Your “stop card capacity” (SCC) is the number of stop cards your entire deck can contain before you risk not drawing your entire deck in a turn. Even if you have 10 draw cards like Laboratory or Market in your deck and you only need one of them in your starting hand to draw your entire deck, so long as you have at least 5 non-drawing cards, or stop cards as I will call them throughout the rest of this article, you might end up having a starting hand of all 5 of them, unlikely though this may be. So long as there is a possible starting hand and deck ordering that prevents you from playing every other cards in your deck that turn, then you’ve exceeded your stop card capacity.
Impact of Duration Draw
You start the game with a starting handsize of 5 and a SCC of 4. You also start the game with 10 stop cards. So without deck thinning, realistically you will never get your number of stop cards to be within your SCC, which guarantees you draw your deck, without deck thinning.
A simple example of when you should be mindful of SCC is in a Bishop/Fortress game where you want to do nothing but trash Fortress with Bishop for the VP chips. With an SCC of 4, you can have up to 4 Bishops (which are stop cards) in your deck and still be guaranteed to draw and play them all. The moment you add a 5th Bishop, you run the risk of having a starting hand of all Bishops with no Fortresses to trash. If you and your opponent’s VP score were equal up to this point, then this opening hand of 5 Bishops pretty much makes you lose the game on the spot!
But duration draw changes this math by increasing your starting hand size and hence your SCC. Now imagine you have the same deck, but you have a Hireling in play. Now you have a starting hand of 6, and an SCC of 5. Hence, you can now gain a 5th Bishop and still be guaranteed to play all 5 Bishops, eventually overtaking the VP count of a player that can only support playing 4 Bishops a turn. So we see here that duration draw is a boost to the maximum potential of what your deck can do while not being at risk of failing to drawing every card. Being within your SCC can matter for less extreme examples as well, such as when you want to be sure you can play all your Grand Markets each turn, or even when you just want to be sure you find your single source of +buy in your deck.
When you reach a point where you have drawn your deck, pay attention to your SCC. If your number of stop cards is below your SCC, then you don’t have to hold back on gaining more stop cards out of fear that you won’t draw your deck next turn. If gaining a extra stop card or two like Gold will help you buy more cards next turn without impacting your deck’s perfect reliability in any way, then it’s likely that you should get that card. Investing in duration draw cards will let you stuff your deck with more stop cards before you sacrifice perfect reliability.
If you have already reached your SCC, you can still choose to nevertheless exceed your SCC by gaining more stop cards and risk not drawing your entire deck in order for a potentially bigger payoff. You however need to keep in mind that the likelihood of you failing to draw your deck increases the more stop cards you add relative to the size of your whole deck and your SCC
Hireling is probably the simplest example of a card increasing your SCC, but it is by no means the only example. Playing Haunted Woods increases your next starting handsize to 8, and you can maintain this starting handsize by playing one copy of Haunted Woods each turn. Staggering Haunted Woods in this way increases your starting handsize by 3, but Haunted Woods is itself a stop card the turn it’s played that you’d have to draw in order to draw your entire deck. So effectively, staggering two copies of Haunted Woods gives you a net increase in SCC by 2. Playing more copies amplifies the effect. Staggering two copies of Wharf also gives a net increase of SCC by two, since Wharf is a draw card the turn it is played and doesn’t increase the raw number of stop cards in your deck.
The duration draw effect is not limited to Duration cards. Alchemists that you topdeck act as duration draw as well, with each topdecked Alchemist increasing your SCC by one. With Alchemist, it is especially important that you are mindful about your SCC because failing to draw your entire deck could mean you fail to draw your Potion, scattering your Alchemists and making you lose control of your deck. A Laboratory topdecked with Scheme works exactly the same way, and again you have high incentive to want to draw your entire deck in this scenario so that you find the Scheme that will topdeck the Laboratory again for the next turn. And of course, paying for the Expedition event increases your starting handsize and thus SCC.
Why Stop Card Capacity Matters
Stop cards can be very important towards winning the game, as they are often the most effective sources of money and VP. The more stop cards you can draw in a turn, the more your deck can accomplish that turn. You want to be drawing as many stop cards as you can each turn, and being within your SCC lets you draw them all without fail. By increasing that SCC with duration draw effects, you increase the number stop cards you can play on your turn while still being certain that you’ll draw your entire deck.
Games where players slowly drain Provinces are likely to have players eventually exceed their SCC, so you’ll have to be aware of your risk of stalling once that point of the game is reached. However, games where you gain a Province or two then pile out the next turn, or at least threaten to, may never require that you exceed your SCC. Even if you have to exceed your SCC, that’s okay! Duration draw is still a big boost to your deck’s reliability even when they aren’t quite giving your deck perfect reliability.
More than just making it easier to line up your engine components, playing cards that let you start with a larger handsize increases the hard limit on the number of stop cards you can have in your deck before you aren’t guaranteed to draw your deck. Use this to your advantage towards building more powerful decks that maintain their reliability even as they add more stop cards.