This article was originally written by tracer, with some edits by the Dominion Strategy blog team. If you would like to contribute to the Dominion Strategy Blog, check out the Articles section of the forums, or send a PM to Chris is me.
“Silver is a bad card” is a common piece of advice given online these days, and yet many who take it to heart will turn around and tell you that Explorer is a fine card. While these ideas appear inconsistent at first, a closer look at how Treasure gainers like Explorer fit into a deck will clarify that contradiction.
What to Look For In a Treasure Gainer
While there is often no choice in Treasure gainers on a given board, evaluating the advantages of the ones present can help in determining whether the added pace from gaining treasures rather than buying Treasures is worth the cost of the extra Action card.
Most Treasure gainers do something else as well, such as trashing (Amulet), attacking (Bandit), providing other gains (Leprechaun), or general flexibility (Squire, Courtier). Determining how valuable the extra effect is – and at what time – should factor into the decision of if and when to buy the gainer. There are a few non-terminal Treasure gainers which are easier to fit into decks, and this qualification is more likely to determine whether or not the card is worth gaining.
While in many contexts you will take what you can get, whether the gainer provides Silver or Gold (or even kingdom Treasures) can make a difference. Obviously Gold is better in most cases – not only because it provides more coins, but also because the higher cost is beneficial for trash-for-benefit cards, particularly Remodel variants.
In Decks That Like Treasures
The more obvious use case for treasure gainers is those decks in which Silver is clearly not a bad card: you want to gain Treasures, and a Treasure gainer works just fine. Beyond this tautology, there are a few ways the presence of a Treasure gainer can change the thinking in a deck whose goal is to buy a Province each turn (e.g. a money deck).
For example, when you use a Treasure gainer, there are fewer pacing issues with aggressively trashing your cards. In decks that are attempting to buy a single Province, it is often inefficient to trash, since many trashers do not help directly with Province buying; this is especially true for Copper trashing as it hurts your early game economy. When playing with a Treasure gainer in these single-Province decks, the buys that otherwise would be going to Treasures rather than trashing can go to trashing. You avoid the momentum loss of skipping Treasure buys, and the loss of economy from Copper is more efficiently made up.
Terminal draw money plays awkwardly with Treasure gainers. Various terminal draw big money strategies are well known as speed baselines. However, most Treasure gainers are Action cards, which can be drawn dead. Draw cards such as Gear or Courtyard can allow a Treasure gainer to be played the next turn, and so are more effective with Treasure gainers. If your Treasure gainer is itself a Treasure, this problem is simply nonexistent. Being able to incorporate multiple increasers of pace tends to be what makes an effective money deck, so the synergy between terminal draw cards and Treasure gainers that are themselves Treasures is strong.
In Decks That Don’t Like Treasures
In decks which attempt to draw a large number of cards, Treasures tend to hamper consistency: Treasures do not draw, and so are harmful to this goal. However, many of these decks still require coins in order to buy things, and Treasures could be the main source of coins, whether due to a lack of alternatives or because there is enough draw to compensate. If available, Treasure gainers usually provide the best method of expanding these decks’ capacity to buy payload and components, as opposed to having to buy those Treasures.
The most prominent reason for this preference is efficiency. A single buy of a Treasure gainer provides those needed Treasures that would otherwise need to be purchased with a number of buys (and coins). Additionally, Treasures are expensive for the amount of value they give; being able to gain them during your action phase rather than having to buy them allows those coins (and buys) to be spent on cards which provide more for their cost, such as the draw cards needed to deal with Treasures.
While increasing economy sounds like something that one may want to do early, it is often not immediately useful, and those treasures get in the way of the goal of drawing the deck. Timing the addition of the Treasure gainer to the deck is key. The ideal timing is when additional stop cards will not impede your drawing, while still getting as much value as possible out of the presence of those Treasures over time. Ideally, the addition would be such that the gained treasure can be used the turn it is gained – as the deck reaches a state of drawing itself. Treasure gainers that also trash help get the deck into a controlled state, so they are often gained early for the secondary effect, transitioning into Treasure gaining later on. Either way, unlike in non-drawing decks, the presence of a treasure gainer does not change how to think about the deck’s goals.
Treasure gainers are an important tool to reduce the opportunity cost of adding economy to a deck, as long as you know the right ways in which to use them. With practice and context, timing the addition of a Treasure gainer to the deck will result in adding much needed economy exactly when you need it, without getting in the way of your other aims.