This year, over 200 players entered to compete in the Dominion 2019 Online Championship. Only 8 players remain. This interview features JNails who will be playing Quarter Finals against Mercury444F this Thursday, October 24 at 15UTC.
Congratulations again on making it this far in the Championship!
xtruffles: Can you tell me a bit about yourself? (Ie. where are you from? What do you do?)
JNails: I’m from the United States – the Southeast specifically – I grew up in Louisiana and Georgia. I noticed how everyone else in this competition seems to be a Computer Science major or in the field one way or the other. I actually just got a degree in Business Economics recently – I’m in my mid-twenties – and most of what I do is related to High School debate, coaching and teaching that.
xtruffles: Oh wow, that’s really cool. Yeah, a lot of people in the community are Computer Science majors, but I’ve definitely come across people in Liberal Arts or studied Economics. It’s nice to see some diversity. So how long have you been playing Dominion and how did you discover the board game?
JNails: I think first discovered it two years ago. My friend and I were on Tabletop Simulator from Steam and we were just looking at random games. He saw Dominion and said “Oh hey, I’ve played that like once before and it was kind of fun”. So we played the game and tested it out. It was like the blind leading the blind – neither of us had any idea what were doing. I remember seeing chapel in the kingdom thinking “Why the hell would anyone want that card? It looks so terrible.” Then he said, “Well there’s this card named Witch, that’s not here, that gives you curses and you might want to get rid of that.” I thought, “That makes sense, but nah, I don’t want chapel.” Mm, obviously we were horribly wrong.
xtruffles: Wow, so what is your favorite and least favorite card in Dominion?
JNails: Least favourite, well that’s easy, is Swindler. Yeah, anyone that likes the card has got to be a psychopath. Beyond that, I dislike the other cards that most people dislike: Cultist, Mountebank and so forth. So like, really strong, centralizing attack cards. The one that I dislike that doesn’t get a lot mention is Salt the Earth. I feel like that card takes out everything that I enjoy in a Kingdom. Instead of building a big deck, or coming back from behind, you just build the minimal deck possible and go straight for provinces and just start destroying the rest of the game. So I’d say Salt the Earth as well.
xtruffles: I can definitely see that Salt the Earths really discourages building too big of an engine. What is your favorite card?
JNails: That one is hard because I feel like there are a lot more good cards than bad cards in the game. There’s a lot more that enjoy. In no particular order, just ones that come into my mind are: Exorcist, Black Market, Recruiter. I really enjoy, in general, Events and recently, the new Projects from Renaissance. I think those, more often than not, are some of my favourite things that drastically improve the quality of the game. Donate, Dominate, Innovation, Summon, Captialism – They all add a lot of interesting and unique dynamics that goes well with the Kingdoms we play.
xtruffles: Yeah, for sure. So what do you find to be the most challenging card to play with in Dominion?
JNails: Um, I’m not sure if they are objectively hard but the cards I suck at are: Haggler and Jester. Cards that are usually pretty good, but seem awkward to get, so I don’t get them and usually lose. I think that’s more commentary on myself than cards. I think the cards that have the highest skill ceiling are usually the ones that have interesting interactions with your deck – because it requires you knowing what cards are in your deck and having a good overall concept of what your deck is doing. Develop, for example: the cards go on top of your deck. Or Graverobber. They usually involve more nuanced interactions, which lead to really nice plays or drastically messes things up.
xtruffles: That makes sense. What are your impressions of the new promos? Church and Captain.
JNails: I like both of them a lot. I think they’re both really well designed. They both seem like on the strong side of cards, especially Captain in a lot of kingdoms. But they also are on the fun side of cards because they have nice interesting choices – with Captain it’s thinking about which card do I play with? With Church it’s about do I buy something now or set aside my coins to buy something really nice next turn? I like the element of choice.
xtruffles: Yeah, for sure. Moving away from cards and onto games, what has been the most memorable game you played? It doesn’t necessarily have to be from the Championship.
JNails: From the championship, it has to be the first game from Double Octofinals [Double Octofinals refers to Round of 32 versus hakha3] where there was a lot of interesting things from the kingdom – like vineyards, minions. I don’t remember why I felt that but I just said I’m not feeling it right now. So I bought a Trading Post and Courtyard and played straight money. It ended up working out. It normally goes against every fibre of my being to ignore the interesting cards and play money, but it won at the end. Besides the Championship, there’s probably too many to count, but one that comes to mind was a Kingdom that had: Rebuild, Knights, Wolf Den etc. If I have any excuse to not go for Rebuild, I’m going to do it. So I started going for the Knights. I was only 4 Knights in when I realized that Knights and Wolf Den do not really go well together. That’s when I was like “I’m too committed to this to back out”. At one point of the game, I had all 10 Knights and my opponent had 6 of the provinces, so it was like -40VP to 30VP. But it was about time that the Knights finally kicked in and trashed every single card in my opponent’s deck except for Coppers and Provinces. Then I spent the next 20 turns slowly building back out of the hole that I dug myself in and trashing the knights to slowly get my points back, while my opponent spent his turns buying coppers, buying silvers, losing his silvers and buying coppers again. Just a slow grind. I just really enjoyed that game.
xtrufffles: Yeah, that sounds like a lot of fun. One of my favourite cards is Black Market, so whenever I see Black Market and Wolf Den on the same board, I’m always really sad. Every card you buy from the Black Market is negative VP.
JNails: I know that feeling. I usually go for it anyways – I enjoy Black Market a lot.
xtruffles: Talking more about the championship, who do you think will win and why?
JNails: I don’t know many of the other players well enough to evaluate their relative skill – I assume they’re all very good because they’re in the finals. I think I have to root for anybody except for drsteelhammer though, because I obviously view drsteelhammer as my natural nemesis in this event.
[xtruffles here. It wasn’t until I transcribed this interview that I understood that this was a reference between hammer and nail. That’s why JNails sees drsteelhammer as his natural nemesis. I know, I know. I’m slow.]
xtruffles: Yeah, I can see that. So what do you enjoy doing in your spare time outside of Dominion?
JNails: The other big board game I really enjoy is Chess; more accurately, chess variants. I really like Bughouse – it’s like 2 on 2 chess. If I had to pick, I’d say that one.
xtruffles: Yeah, Bughouse is a lot of fun. I don’t really know how to play Chess that well, but a lot of my friends play Bughouse all the time.
JNails: Bughouse is all of what I like about Chess and none of what I don’t like. There’s a lot more crazy tactical plays – sacrificing your Queen and stuff like that – and none of the boring like memorizing the opening and end games. Just because the game is way too much craziness for that to matter anymore.
xtruffles: You’ve had quite an impressive run, beating a lot of well known players. Have you thought about playing competitively in the Dominion League?
JNails: I did do the League once. I didn’t rejoin since I didn’t have time in the Summer. Maybe I’ll rejoin again. I was in C League and I didn’t promote or demote, but it seemed pretty fun and I liked it.
xtruffles: So I have one last question for you: What advice do you have for Dominion players looking to improve at the game?
JNails: There’s a lot. If I had to pick one piece of advice, it’s that you have to think of cards as having compound interest of sorts. Where a card that’s good for your deck now, is just going to be a lot better long term than a card that’s only good for your deck later. So especially for your opening, you have to buy cards that immediately help your deck and get you jumpstarted – instead of the cards you want long term. I see a lot of times – and I definitely did this when I started – players buy cards that look good in their general decks. They’ll hit 8 on turn 5 and buy a province – they think that “A province is 8 points, oh, 6 points – I knew that – and that card is good for my deck”. Or they’ll buy defiled shrine when it reaches a whole 5 points. But they have to realize that buying a green card or a curse is just slowing down your deck a ton – and that’s going to cost you way more than 6 points in the long run because you’re going to get outbuild. Always buy the best card. Even if you have $6 and the best card for your deck is Herbalist because you need the +buy, you buy the 6 dollar Herbalist, because it’s going to pay back in the long run since you’ll get more buys and those cards do things and so forth. So I always think about the short term and long term. “What’s the card, if it goes into my deck right now, improves my deck the most?” Rather than thinking about the card I really want in the long term. I think my big problem that I really struggled with for a while – a huge learning block for me to overcome – is that in kingdoms where you don’t really want silver, I’ll never buy silvers. But then it frustrates me because I’ll never hit 5. I eventually realized that I have to buy at least one silver to get that Junk Dealer and Sentry and I can get stuff cleaned out. Then in the long term, I can trash that silver later. So my advice is to avoid that sort of mindset.
xtruffles: Right. I feel like when you used the “compound interest” analogy, I was like this guy is probably from a Business Economics background. It’s a very good way to describe the situation. Definitely I’ve seen a lot of players take defiled shrine way too early which slows down their deck to a point that allows their opponent to catch up or outbuild you at some point.
JNails: The one I still haven’t taught myself is: I still buy temple like a madman. I’ve had way too many temple games where I buy like 8 of the temples at 2 points. I really shouldn’t, but I enjoy that card as well.
xtruffles: Yeah, it’s kind of tempting to see the VP in front of you. But sometimes, you have to think if I could get a province, would I buy it now? If I wouldn’t buy the province, it might mean that I shouldn’t buy the defiled shrine. It’s also really hard to say because you can also just trash your curse at some point. It’s definitely very challenging to figure that part out.
xtruffles: Well, thank you so much for doing the interview. I think you’re facing Mercury444F tomorrow at 15UTC. Best of luck!
JNails: No problem!