This article was written by Jake.
Often, the presence of Knights in a Kingdom becomes the board’s central focus. This is because the Knights attack is potentially one of the most devastating in the game. Its potency revolves around something I’m going to call Knightmare.
The threat is of Knights attacks being played on you in excess of your capability to replace what they’re trashing. Unchecked, this faces us with a fundamental truth both of Dominion, and of life– almost everything that does anything for your turn costs between $3 and $6.
The concept of a Knightmare scenario is that you lose capability to deckbuild or score points in any relevant capacity, as you’re devoid of anything at that price point. In other words, your deck gets torn down faster than you can build it back up.
It’s also worth noting that Knightmare doesn’t necessarily happen to either player. It doesn’t need to for Knights to dictate the flow of the game. More often, Knights don’t actually force your opponent into a headlock, but apply pressure, pressure backed by the threat of Knightmare.
That threat requires counterplay, and the more real the threat is, the greater the pressure applied. In fact, deciding how Knights-Focused your buys and play need to be be should hinge on how feasible it is to force a player into a Knightmare, as this determines how oppressive Knights will be, regardless of whether or not it actually happens.
Here are a few considerations to that end:
How many Knights is it possible to play per turn?
Getting hit by one or two Knights attacks per turn is annoying, but usually not disruptive enough to require counterplay (though that certainly doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing to your opponent). Often, it’s sufficient to buy back important cards if they get trashed, or have some redundancy in your deck in the first place (like you would against Swindler).
Any way to exceed that signals that both players should focus their play on Knights, as Knightmare is probably a viable threat. If it’s possible to play three or more Knights in a turn (or just two, but reliably play them every turn), then it’s probably possible to lose cards faster than you can gain them.
Assuming it’s possible to play three or more per turn:
The Knights war is on, and the best defense is a good offense.
Keeping your deck able to hit $5 is a priority as long as there are Knights in the pile, as you’d like to both have Knights in your deck, and play Knights on your opponent.
Studies suggest that playing Knights is the most common cause of Knight death (next to smoking), so it’s normally advisable to keep track of how many Knights each player has left.
If your opponent has more Knights than you do, your priority is to keep them “in check” with Knights in your deck to keep them from snowballing an advantage. In that situation, choosing to trash your Knight to trash an opponent’s is almost always worth it.
If you have more Knights than your opponent, then playing them to do the snowballing yourself becomes more important.
It’s rare that your behavior would be significantly different in either situation (after all, the best defense to Knights is Knights), but those are your priorities for when it would be (like buying a Royal Carriage over another Knight) and for your general reading of the game state.
If one player does ease up on buying and playing Knights (usually a mistake), the other player should look to capitalize on this, pushing their opponent closer to Knightmare. In other words, you should only stop playing around Knights when they’re gone and you’ve done all you can, or when the game nears its final shuffle.
Knights opportunities to look out for:
-Any way at all to play more than two or more per turn. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but it’s normally the level of Knights pressure required to meet or exceed an opponent’s ability to repair the damage.
Doublers like Royal Carriage and Throne Room are particularly powerful in this respect because of their ability to turn a single copy of a Knight into multiple attacks.
-An opponent who has thinned aggressively. They did almost ALL the thinning! But they missed a spot! Never fear, Dame Sylvia will help them get rid of that one pesky Gold they left in their deck! Then they have to buy coppers and you can laugh at them.
-Any way to gain or play Knights from the trash. The presence of anything resembling Lurker, Graverobber or Rogue significantly extends the period of the game when both players are required to play around Knights, as Knightmare is always a threat.
Necromancer is an interesting example as, in a Knights war, as it essentially functions as a second Knights pile.
Reasons the Knights attack will be weaker than normal, and possibly even ignorable:
-No draw. Without the ability to increase your hand size and still be able to play actions, your only options to see your Knights often enough to have an impact usually involve aggressive thinning, which we’ve addressed can be dangerous in a Knights game.
-No Village effect. Most of the Knights are terminal. Yes, there’s a village knight, but with any degree of counterplay, no single Knight should stay alive for very long, so she alone doesn’t enable a sustained Knights assault.
-Ability to ignore them (Guardian, Moat, Lighthouse, etc.). Obviously, that’s true of any attack, but as Knights relies on quantity of plays, even a single turn of immunity is a pretty big setback for the pressure Knights want to apply.
-Access to gainers like Workshop or Amulet. This is a soft defense, but if the name of a Knights game is trashing in excess of your opponent’s gaining potential, extra gains obviously slow that down (note this makes Dame Natalie fairly valuable in the thick of a Knights war). The most effective of these is probably Market Square.
-”Knightproof” payload. Cards outside their trash range like Fool’s Gold or Platinum can keep your deck viable in the face of Knights.
-Note on Fortress: Though a good card to pick up in a Knights game, it alone isn’t sufficient protection to justify ignoring Knights. It’s simply not reliable enough that you’ll have the option to trash Fortress whenever your opponent plays a Knight. Once your payload does get trashed, you’ve got this deck full of fortresses that don’t do anything and you have to buy coppers and everyone will laugh at you.
Notes on the Individual Knights:
At the risk of the remainder of this article reading like a Pokédex, a few words on the unique uses for each Knight, with one caveat: Knights tend not to stick around very long, so the only time which Knights you gain and play is significant is if that unique effect is likely to provide you an advantage after just one or two plays. There’s only one Knight that’s normally true for, so we’ll start with her:
-Dame Anna: On a board with no other way to thin cards, a couple of plays of Dame Anna gives that player a significant advantage. If she’s still in the pile, it’s often worth not removing a Knight from the top of the pile unless you have the ability to gain or trash the one beneath it too (though if there are other thinning options, then she’s much less valuable).
-Dame Molly and Sir Bailey: Fantastic on boards with a Knightmare threat, as they, enable playing more than one Knight a turn with no external support required (note that gaining them doesn’t single-handedly pose a Knightmare threat, as they will eventually die).
-Sir Michael: Better the earlier in the game you get him. The reason being that any discard attack costing $5 potentially robs your opponent of a hand that could gain from that pile, particularly early on.
-Sir Martin: Sir Martin is a Knight. When Knights are good cards, Sir Martin is a good card. Sir Martin costs $4 instead of $5 because he has low self-esteem.
-Dame Josephine: Dame Josephine is a Knight. When Knights are good cards, Dame Josephine is a good card. There is other text on her card, but you probably won’t still have her by the end of the game, so it’s usually irrelevant.
-Sir Vander: He wants to die, so in a vacuum, he’s usually the Knight you choose to play if you know you might reveal an opponent’s Knight.
-Dame Natalie: As noted previously, she’s quite valuable in a proper Knights war due to her ability to gain fodder to slow down your opponent’s trashing attacks (as well as the extra economy a Workshop variant inherently provides).
-Sir Destry and Dame Sylvia: I’m lumping these two together because their benefits are fairly generic and self-explanatory. You’ll know when you want them.