This year, over 200 players entered to compete in the Dominion 2019 Online Championship. Only 8 players remain. This interview features Freaky, who will be playing Quarter Finals against elementmario222 this week.
Congratulations again on making it this far in the Championship!
xtruffles: How long have you been playing Dominion for and how did you discover the board game?
Freaky: I think I must have been playing for around 2 years. Originally, I started playing it when my mum bought it and then we played it offline, of course, with my family. Then, I discovered online Dominion and basically played way too much Dominion ever since.
xtruffles: Do ever play physical sets with your mum?
Freaky: I mean, it wouldn’t be very interesting to be honest. It would be very one-sided. I hardly ever play real life right now, though I did play with my brother a bit recently. But I don’t like losing, so not too much.
xtruffles: In terms of Dominion, what is your favorite and least favorite card?
Freaky: Oh, jeez. I think my favorite card would have to be Sculptor right now. Just because the flexibility is really nice and it always feels good to play when you have a lot of options. My least favorite card is probably cultist, but with banlists now, it’s hardly ever a concern nowadays. Cultist is just too centralizing, too easy to play.
xtruffles: Right. So, what do you find to be the most challenging card to play with in Dominion and why?
Freaky: I guess that depends on what you’re looking at. If you’re just looking at challenging, then I would probably pick Night’s Watchman. There’s a question of “Do I buy it?”, “How much do I discard?” and “When do I buy it?”. However, it’s not very game impactful decisions usually. Whether you do it or not, it’s not terribly impactful so if you take impact into consideration, I suppose I would choose Procession. Many players say that Procession is hard.
xtruffles: With the new Errata, do you think Procession is still just as challenging?
Freaky: Oh it’s way worse. It’s so frustrating because I used to just always buy Procession because it will just always work out somehow, not thinking too much. Now it’s like – Wait, I have an enchantress in hand. What do I do with my Procession now?! I think it’s a lot worse now, but obviously there are still boards where it is just as insane.
xtruffles: Yeah, I remember spectating a game of aku chi’s and hakha’s for their B League Match. Procession was pretty insane with experiments on board.
Freaky: Oh yeah, unfortunately he couldn’t procession Wharf.
xtruffles: Yeah, that made it a little more sad. So, what are your impressions on the new promo cards? Church and Captain.
Freaky: What I think of in terms of power, design? What do you mean?
xtruffles: I mean, it’s really up to you what you want to talk about. If you want to talk about the art that’s fine, as well.
Freaky: I don’t care too much about the art, but in terms of power level Church is pretty average, nothing too exciting. Captain is way too strong mostly due to it being annoying of whoever hitting 6 first, snowballs too hard out over control. Church has the small issue of the “Turn Three Syndrome”, where if you see your Church Turn 3, you’re much better off than someone who sees it Turn 4. However; Church is not as extreme as I originally thought. I guess I’m fine with Church, but a bit annoyed at Captain.
xtruffles: Yeah. I guess Cargo Ship is a card that has a stronger Turn 3 Syndrome.
Freaky: Yeah, quite a bit stronger. Being able to play a 5-cost card on Turn 4 and then also being able to shuffle your Cargo Ship and 5-cost into your next shuffle is a huge advantage.
xtruffles: What do you like the most and least about Dominion?
Freaky: I think what I like the most is that when you start playing the game, you have this phase where you learn new things and as long as you pick up new things, you keep progressively getting better and better. You feel how the choices you make differently, affect your win ratio. You win more games and you feel good, and it gets you hooked to the game. There’s a really nice curve until you hit higher levels of play for people improving. That’s what I like most about Dominion.
Freaky: What do I dislike most about the game? You can talk about first player advantage, shuffles, but ultimately it’s just another game of Poker so to speak. At least I treat it that way. If you reach higher levels of play, you can’t look at every game individually and be like “What did I do wrong this game if I lost?”. You just have to accept that sometimes you just lose to things out of your control. So I guess what I like least is the trend we have where cards become more and more centralizing, as we see with Captain and many renaissance cards. The board becomes less about what strategy you play and more about how we can abuse one card that stands out that’s so centralizing that everything revolves around it. We can look at Silk Merchant, Inventor, Recruiter – these cards that can make or break a board. The game becomes about who can abuse the card better, which is not as exciting for me. It might be better for others, since I know many people that like Renaissance.
When I compare Renaissance to Nocturne, which power level is below Renaissance (but not by that much), you have an expansion where every card is good but also requires to make thoughtful decisions. So it’s not just blatantly overpowered as Renaissance has come out to be.
xtruffles: Yeah, that’s really interesting. I definitely think with someone of the Renaissance cards it becomes “Who can hit that card first?”. Being able to see buy Recruiter Turn 1 is significantly nicer than Shuffle 2 or Shuffle 3.
Freaky: Yeah, you can look at the stats for Recruiter. It has a 70% win rate if you are the only player opening it, similar to Summon level.
xtruffles: You’re consistently on the top of the leaderboard on Ladder.
Freaky: If we discount Stef.
Freaky: That’s quite an important differentiation I think.
xtruffles: So what do you think has helped you improve the most to get there? I think it’s easier to go from level 40 to level 50. Or level 50 to level 55. But it becomes very difficult to hit level 60s. Between levels 63, 64, 65, there’s quite a bit of difference.
Freaky: I guess I can talk about how I got there in terms of how long it took me and how I felt about it. When I started climbing the ladder, it took me a long time to hit level 60. It took me an even longer time to get 2 mu. Even just playing a lot of games took me a very long time to get there. When I started to become better was when I started to think about the game differently in terms of not thinking about “What cards are best?”, “What cards I want to get?”, “What game plan I have”?
I focus more on “What is going on right now – in this game, in this shuffle?” “How do I want to change my deck depending on what my next shuffle looks like?” I think that’s when I started to gain a lot more rating and skill – when I did those considerations I hadn’t previously. So what helped me was just realizing the game in a different light. It was less something I did and more just a different approach.
xtruffles: Yeah, that makes sense. So, you’re very well known for being able to spot wins and pile-outs. What kind of approach do you have when solving these types of puzzles?
Freaky: I differentiate them between intuition-based wins and counting wins. You have wins where you have Procession and Develop and you look at your hand wondering “Can I win?” or “Can I not win?”. I don’t actually bother with the math and thinking about every line. I just trust my intuition with if it feels right or if it doesn’t feel right. You then develop some intuition for that. Most of time it works, sometimes it doesn’t but I’m not going to bother sitting there 20 minutes figuring it out.
The other possible wins are the wins where you actually count. For example, you have Inventor or Ironworks as a pile, which are typical piles. I like to think of “non-Ironwork gains” – gains that are not Ironworks, because Ironworks can gain itself. The only restriction for Ironworks pile-outs is draw, not gains itself, so I differentiate the gains between Ironworks and non-Ironworks. Then, when you have a card like Peasant, which gives buy itself, that you want to pile using Ironworks, you can consider it as two gains. One, because gaining it removes a card from the pile and two, because you get a buy. Just doing those simple things usually helps to simplify the situation and tells you if there is a win or not.
xtruffles: Nice. You’ve made it so far – other than yourself, who do you think will win the Championship and why? (Players left are: RTT, Freaky, Mercury444F, drsteelhammer, amoffett11, elementmario222 and JNails)
Freaky: Well the likeliest has to be RTT. I don’t know about Mercury444F too well. I don’t care too much about the seed, but just from skill level – I don’t know too much about Mercury since I haven’t seen him play much – it is either Mercury who I can’t really put into a category or RTT. But I think it’s probably RTT. Just most consistent, and highest ceiling for skill.
xtruffles: Yeah. So, the last question I have for you is: What advice do you have for Dominion players looking to improve at the game?
Freaky: The easiest advice is to of course, play a lot. But that’s not very efficient and claiming so would probably be wrong. So if you’re looking to improve fast, two different ways would be:
1. Spectate games that are commentated. It is important that they are commentated, so you can watch old YouTube videos of championships, or what not, where players actually talk about their plays. Because if you just look at the game and don’t understand the thought process, you’re not going to be able to derive much value.
2. I think what the community is failing to do is like what we had in doubles, where you practice with someone else against one or two people and talk about what you would do. Doing that with someone better than you gives you new insights and new perspectives, so I think that would be a great way for new players to get better faster. But so far, we haven’t accepted that as a way of learning so to speak. So until then, you’re stuck with playing games and watching other people.
xtruffles: Right. I really liked the doubles format, though I think the doubles tournament style was not as friendly for spectators. I was paired with ceviri and I learned a lot from him. It was a lot of fun. Cool, so thanks so much for doing the interview and best of luck going forward. I believe you’re playing against elementmario222 next.
xtruffles: Good luck and thanks for doing the interview!