This article was written by Puzzle Box in collaboration with the Dominion Strategy blog team.
Much has been written about Develop’s role as a mediocre trasher, while its more unwieldy, but more potent role as a gainer remains underdeveloped. Due to the strict and strange constraints on Develop’s gaining plus the fact that it topdecks what it gains, misuse of Develop can easily cause a player to lose control of their deck, making it one of the more difficult cards in Dominion to use effectively. However, when used well, Develop can gain cards very efficiently while bolstering your consistency, and tactical uses can save you from otherwise nasty situations. Additionally, sometimes it will be the only source of gains at all, and using it well in those scenarios will make or break you.
What To Gain With Develop
The best case for Develop is that there are two cards you are happy to add to your deck with a cost difference of 2, and something with a cost in-between theirs. Ideally, topdecking at least one, if not both, of those cards will improve your consistency. An example would be a board with Village, Wild Hunt, and any 4-cost card–you can buy or gain the 4-cost each turn, and end each turn by topdecking Village and Wild Hunt, massively bolstering your consistency while improving your deck. If there is only one card you want to topdeck, saving a cantrip until after your Develop to draw the other allows this.
If two cards you want to gain are separated by a cost of 3 rather than 2, you can still use Develop effectively if you hold onto a piece of Develop material that will resonate back and forth between the two intermediate costs as you alternate which pair you gain. For example, if you want to gain King’s Court and Advisor, you can alternate between Developing Duchy and Gold to do so. If you play with two Develops, you can even topdeck the cards you want to gain but not the others, by putting the card you want on the bottom each time and playing a cantrip to draw the other. In the given example, by doing this while Developing Gold into Duchy then back to Gold, you could even still play the Gold in your buy phase.
Cards with on-trash and on-gain benefits can also be very good to Develop. For instance, with Fortress, Develop can easily gain and topdeck a 3 and a 5 at no cost, or with Ill-Gotten Gains, you can gain one to deliver your opponent a curse, then Develop it into a more useful 4 and 6.
When To Gain With Develop
When Develop is the only gainer you either must make use of it or be limited to a single gain. I believe that on a majority of these boards, being able to use Develop well against an opponent who cannot will all but guarantee your victory.
When Develop is your trasher and you are done using it to trash, you can efficiently continue to employ it. Consider switching to gaining before you are done trashing your coppers. Develop is a horrible copper trasher, removing them one at a time terminally and for no benefit. If you can use it as a gainer in ways that improve your consistency, that allows your deck to carry more stop cards without failing, accomplishing many of the same things as copper trashing but with greater efficiency.
When the Develops are really good then using Develop just makes sense. Situations like the “best case” described above just make Develop into a high-quality gainer.
Pileouts are often enabled earlier than you’d expect by Develop-gaining, since it’s capable of disassembling your deck to lower 2 expensive cards at a time. Gaining Develop on a potentially-pentultimate turn can be a great way to establish pile control, and lines that involve using Develop to gain Develop can lead to some truly wacky victories.
If there are other useful cheap cards that can be effectively developed for gains, then opening Develop alongside them is often viable, even if these cards are terminal. For instance, Develop plus Moneylender will often be a powerful opener, since if they do not collide you’ll trash 2 cards for benefit, and if they do collide you can Develop the Moneylender to topdeck a Silver (or some other useful 3-cost) and a 5-cost of your choice. Be aware of the awesome strength of these openers.
- Develop is a situationally powerful gainer
- It is at its best when there are 2 cards you want to gain with a cost difference of 2
- Topdecking the gained cards for next turn can boost your consistency
- Gaining with Develop is often superior to trashing coppers
- Develop is good at enabling pileouts
- Opening Develop with a terminal that you are happy to Develop is safe and often potent