This article was written by Jake.
Often ignored, Embargo is considered by many a weak card. A lot of the time it is, but that’s to the extent that Dominion has strong cards and weak cards.
What Dominion really has are commonly applicable and rarely applicable cards, and the best players look out for all possible advantages available to them all the time.
First, Embargo’s limitations, why don’t you buy this more often?
- Embargo costs $2 and a buy, so it usually could have been a silver, and often could have been a more generally applicable $2-cost like Pawn or Raze.
- Even when gaining it instead of nothing, it has an opportunity cost for your shuffle and the turn you draw it– It doesn’t draw cards, and it costs an action to play (see Stop Card).
Symmetric Value for Asymmetric Cost:
- We’re operating under the assumption that Embargo isn’t the best card for your turn (it usually isn’t)– so you make a sub-optimal play to impact a pile equally for both yourself and your opponent. The idea that you gain a crucial card then Embargo the pile for an advantage implies that you gain the card, then draw your Embargo and play it BEFORE your opponent is able to gain a single copy. That’s assuming a lot from your draws (if your plan is to get lucky, you probably need a better plan).
When is Embargo Strong?
– When you want a silver, but only for like a minute: If there is a card at the $5-$6 price point you want to gain and play as many times as possible as quickly as possible (like Mountebank or Trading Post), you probably need better than coppers to get there. Often, once that card is in your deck, you’d rather not need to draw through a silver again so you can play the power card more often, potentially making Embargo’s disappearing act a benefit over Silver.
-When your opponent broadcasts their strategy with opening buys, AND there are other, similarly strong options.
Going for Embargo in this case is only a good idea if you can do something else that is about as strong or stronger if they get curses going for it.
Otherwise, positioning yourself to use said pile yourself is probably stronger than trying to Embargo it in time.
Potion Cards, Split Piles and alt VP are the most common examples of when this is a valid tactic.
-A card is strong and you have better means than your opponent of gaining it without buying it.
Note that this implies you Embargo the gainer as well so they can’t just do what you’re doing.
Getting the most out of Embargo:
The limiting factor on most strong Embargo plays is the amount of time between when you buy the Embargo and when you get to play it, so anything shortening that window increases its tactical viability.
-A thin deck/lots of draw (especially if you can gain it and play it that turn).
-Topdeck gaining (Royal Seal, Tracker, Develop, etc.)
Embargo and endgame play:
Two plays available in every Embargo game are worth noting as reasons it might be worth gaining one the shuffle before you or your opponent start Greening to win the game:
Embargo Provinces: A strong play when you see your opponent has built a lower-payload deck, such as one that gains one province per turn, while you’re building to do more than that. Putting the token on Provinces before your opponent gets one can give you some breathing room to build more or outscore with alt VP like Vineyard or Silk Road.
Embargo Duchies: A strong play when you have the “initiative” (a de facto lead from buying the
first one) on Provinces, and you think you and your opponent will buy them at a similar pace. Making Duchies worse makes it much harder and more punishing for an opponent to try to overcome a Province lead.
To bring this discussion away from theory and into practice, we examine the following game in which these concepts are applied to maximize one player’s advantage:
Screwyioux versus Opponent (who will remain unnamed):
The initial read on the board suggests that Familiar will be somewhat dominant, especially with Obelisk on it. There are thinning options with Dismantle and Exorcist, which also increase the quality of your deck to reward plus buy and draw. However, without Embargo, the ability to thin a single card per turn is normally too weak to pass on Familiar.
Opponent opens 3-4 and buys Silver Potion.
Screwyioux opens 2-5 and buys Embargo Exorcist, deciding that Familiar is weaker than his other options so long as he gets fewer curses from it than normal. Screwyioux draws and plays Embargo next turn. Not having gained Potion himself, he Embargoes the Familiar pile. The opponent gains a Familiar and a curse.
By the end of the game, the board looks like this (Screwyioux often picking up an Embargo instead of a Silver): Notable plays in between include Screwyioux Embargoing Shanty Town as soon as the opponent buys a Royal Blacksmith, Opponent Embargoing Farmer’s Market after Screwyioux gains one (debatable whether or not this was a good idea) and Screwyioux Embargoing Duchies once he’d established a province lead.
In the end despite having ignored Familiar, Screwyioux’s deck has fewer curses, more reliability and higher payload than the opponent’s due to Embargo restricting build options.