This article was written by JakeTheZipper, with help from the Dominion Strategy Blog Editing Team. If you would like to contribute by writing your own articles, feel free to post them here.
Groundskeeper is a difficult card to evaluate and an essential one to understand. It has very high scoring potential, and the pile is often hotly contested. Boards which play to its strengths often see it deplete, and winning the split can be game-decisive.
To avoid burying the lede for anyone who has the question “should I go for Groundskeeper,” It’s a very strong card. You need a compelling reason to ignore it.
Yet, while Groundskeeper helps you win the game with your deck, it does not help you build it.
Let’s start by talking about two Dominion fundamentals that Groundskeeper challenges:
One: Taking longer to build your deck risks an opponent getting a points lead, and making that up usually means depleting key piles (like Province) yourself, further hastening the game end.
Groundskeeper scores points disproportionate to how much it lowers piles, enabling wider “catch-ups.”
Two: Points make your deck worse.
Adding Groundskeepers allows you to score more points per VP card, and the Groundskeepers themselves don’t hurt your deck. Though Groundskeepers don’t change the fact that scoring will eventually make your deck worse, they do delay it by being a source of points that doesn’t. In other words, Groundskeeper lets you add VP cards to your deck later (and fewer of them) without sacrificing overall score.
What does this card do and when should I buy it?
The key to timing Groundskeeper gains (outside of a mirror) is looking at the card as alt VP. A deck that has/plays more of them has a higher point ceiling, so around when you would start buying VP cards, you should consider Groundskeepers instead.
Essentially, it’s a cantrip worth VP equal to the number of VP cards you expect to gain (with it out) by the end of the game. On boards where you can gain only one VP card per turn, you can expect that to be 2-6 VP, depending how your draws go.
Reading Groundskeeper Kingdoms- Does the Split Matter and what do I do if I lose it?
Everything about Groundskeeper is contextual, so we can’t give you much in the way of hard-and-fast prescriptive advice that will always be helpful. Above all, knowing whether or not to get Groundskeepers and what to do once you have them requires good game sense and an accurate read on how/when the game will end.
Remembering that it’s essentially alt VP, it’s usually better to build your deck to best use Groundskeepers before getting them, but sometimes the split is important enough to make an exception.
How quickly Groundskeepers will/should deplete and whether or not you can afford to lose the split (and by how much) comes down to time, number of gains and reliability (being able to play your Groundskeepers consistently).
Firstly, given enough time, having/playing more Groundskeepers pretty much always wins because of how they raise your point ceiling, so the less control you have over when the game ends, the more important Groundskeepers are.
Number of gains per turn plays into this too. Obviously, multiple VP gains per turn scores more points, but being able to gain multiple Groundskeepers per turn also makes them more important (because they score more points before Provinces empty).
Finally, the more reliable the decks are, the more the split matters.
If both players play all their Groundskeepers every turn and Josephine gets 6 of them to Martin’s 4, her estates are worth as much as his Duchies and double-Duchy turns are worth almost as many points to her as double-Province turns are to him. Given that she has more total points available to her and that she has to spend less money (and possibly put fewer VP cards in her deck) to score as much as Martin, she is in a much stronger endgame position.
Playing with and against Groundskeeper: Point Ceiling and Pile Pressure
When deciding how to play around Groundskeeper and how to interpret your win condition at any given point, remember that time is usually on Groundskeeper’s side.
It should come as no surprise then that a Groundskeeper deck’s greatest threat is endgame pressure. In other words, Groundskeeper doesn’t have its usual advantages if the game is over (or close to it) by the time you have to put VP in the deck, or at least have it there for very long.
For example, when it’s possible to empty Provinces over the course of a couple of turns (a la a “megaturn” like with Bridge Trolls or Horn of Plentys), you can punish a player who goes for Groundskeepers by ending the game before they provide any value.
That said, it’s very difficult to catch up to a player with more Groundskeepers once they take their (inevitable) lead. It can certainly be the right move to start pressuring Provinces or a three-pile while your opponent has more Groundskeepers, but if you lose the split or don’t go for them, you’re on the clock.
How Many Groundskeepers do I want before I start greening?
Often you want as many as you can get, but It’s important to have an accurate read on how your opponent intends to win and how quickly they can end the game if they need to. Even when Groundskeepers are the best strategy, focusing on them in the wrong way can lose you games. Namely, if you play to them the same way you would in a mirror.
Outside of a mirror, it’s not necessarily a good idea to empty Groundskeepers when fewer than ten could outscore whatever the opponent is doing. There’s the obvious limitation of how much time it takes to empty them by yourself, but it can also be unwise because emptying the pile potentially hastens the game end, something Groundskeeper usually doesn’t want to do against non-Groundskeeper decks.
Bringing everything we’ve covered together, let’s go through an example of some decisions you may need to make in a Groundskeeper game:
Anna has no Groundskeepers, but bought the first Province last turn. Her opponent Destry hits $15 with three buys and considers his options.
If Destry only gets 3 Provinces to Anna’s 5 because he goes for Groundskeepers and she doesn’t, he needs 13 points in addition to the three Provinces to win. He probably needs at least 4 VP cards to have a chance anyway, so assuming 4 VP card gains he needs to have on average 2 or 3 (2.5) Groundskeepers in play across his VP gains to win with a Duchy, or an average of at least 4 in play per VP card to win with an Estate (again, assuming he gets those three Provinces).
So, what should he do? I have no idea, and neither do you.
Because it depends on a lot of context context in addition to the above– how likely either deck is to stall, which/how many VP cards he expects to gain before Provinces empty, could she 3-pile if he lets her start her turn with a points lead.
For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume he will gain one VP card every turn after this one (even though he could likely gain more given the circumstances).
Again, the minimum number he’ll probably need to gain is 4, so if he can play all of his Groundskeepers every turn and still do that, he should probably buy 3 of them, effectively gaining at least 12 points versus Province-Groundskeeper for 9 points (the Province plus 1 VP for each VP card he still needs to gain).
If he will miss out on playing one of his Groundskeepers once or twice, it’s closer, but still slightly in favor of triple Groundskeeper to maximize score, and Province plus Duchy gets closer to being best the less reliable/more “sloggy” his deck is (how unlikely he is to play the Groundskeepers).
If he gains multiple VP cards per turn, the Groundskeepers obviously look a lot better. We do some more Groundskeeper-favorable math, but again, always weigh the possible points against how much harder the extra VP cards make it to keep playing our Groundskeepers.
Signs not to Go for Groundskeeper
No single con makes Groundskeeper ignorable. Rather, these are factors that make the card weaker and steer you away from it.
As mentioned before, a “megaturn” deck that empties provinces over the course of one or two turns can often outpace Groundskeeper’s potentially higher but more gradual scoring. Note that adding Groundskeepers doesn’t hurt that deck, but it doesn’t help build it faster.
In an unreliable/”sloggy” deck or one with single VP gains per turn, buying Groundskeepers can be a waste of time. Slogs have trouble playing their Groundskeepers often enough and single-gain games often reward speed over point ceiling, playing away from Groundskeeper’s strengths.
Junking attacks. No deck likes being junked, but Groundskeeper strategies can suffer more, needing both reliability and multiple VP cards to maximize value. I would say Swamp Hag is particularly brutal, but honestly any junking cripples you about the same without strong trashing.
If you take nothing else from this section, understand that we’re talking about specific situations where Groundskeeper is weak, and you need to look for reasons not to buy it– most of the time it plays a pivotal role in the game’s outcome and shouldn’t be ignored.