written by Freaky
This will be a review of the fundamentals I have been using for the past year when playing engines; I will attempt to keep it as widely applicable as possible and as such will not cover specific kingdoms.
The following topics will be covered
- Evaluating the kingdom
- Draw is the best payload
- Shuffle management
Evaluating the kingdom
You can start out by picturing what your final deck might look like here but in truth I don’t hold a high opinion of that approach. The very first thing I do on a given kingdom is look for the ‘power cards’, this is usually but by no means exclusively the $5 cards. As fun as using bad cards can be, on the vast majority of kingdoms the path to victory does not include them.
Once you figure out what cards you want to obtain, the next step is to look for support cards: for terminals you want villages, for payload you want draw, you get the gist. Now you want to ask yourself how do you play as many of those as quickly as possible, so you look for early acceleration and then you’re already at the opening.
If you can already open a power card, do so. If not, figure out how you get there. Don’t be afraid of Silver; it gets its fair share of hatred for good reasons, but for both the opening, as well as once you have deck control, Silver is a perfectly good card. Cards that cycle (usually cantrips with some major benefit) will get you to play your cards faster, while also not hurting your chances at buying power cards significantly (read Poacher/Ironmonger etc.). If the important cards cost at least $5 DO NOT open slow trashing cards if trashing is better done by a $5 card, this means not opening the likes of Forager/Temple. If there is a strong card costing at most $4, strongly consider gainers in your open over the card you truly want; this is especially true for the $4 Workshop variants! If there is no strong card to get or the card just needs a sufficient amount of deck control to shine (best example: Governor), opening a trasher is your best bet.
When considering opening a trasher that does not produce economy on play, it is important to consider the quality of the $2 cards. The better they are, the stronger the trasher becomes as you can still buy them after playing it and the downside to taking a slow turn is mitigated by a significant degree.
A rough priority list for your opening
- Cards that enable you to hit important price points for power cards/card shaped things like e.g. Recruiter, Wharf
- Multicard trashers, especially in the presence of a strong $2 card
- Workshop variants in the presence of a good $4 card
- Single card trashers that preserve some amount of economy (such as Scrap)
- Single card trashers
Draw is the best payload
When playing an engine, draw isn’t just your friend, it’s your lifeboat. Without draw you can have all the best payload cards and well, you won’t see them more than once per shuffle. Draw not only makes you hit your price points almost as well as pure payload cards, it also lets you play them much sooner while running a lower risk of having them miss long shuffles.
Unless the payload cards come with a strong attack like Mountebank, focus foremost on draw and payload second.
This is a big topic that I can’t possibly cover in its entirety, so I will focus on the very basic principle of it. I like to divide shuffle management into two different categories: the first being situational overterminaling and the second being next shuffle philosophy.
This comes up most games, especially in the early turns: you bottomdeck one of your terminals with a draw pile of at most four cards. What this means is that your next hand will contain the bottomdecked terminal and all the other cards topdecked, so adding yet another terminal to your deck has a much lower chance of colliding with your the bottomdecked terminal given the only case this happens is if you draw it as a new card from your discard. Having this in mind allows you to run your deck with more terminals than you would otherwise have, which is a great way to mitigate bad draws and can sometimes even be an outright advantage.
This principle also applies to when your terminal is a draw card that triggers a shuffle. A notable example of this is opening Masquerade/cantrip or Masquerade/Project. If you do not see your Masquerade turn 3, then turn 4 Masquerade will trigger a shuffle and draw exactly one card from the new shuffle. If you bought a terminal T3 (often just another Masquerade) you are a big favourite to not draw it, meaning you will play another Masquerade T4, which is again unlikely to find your Masq. you played T3.
Next shuffle philosophy
This approach tries to ignore the bigger picture of what the endgame will look like and instead focus merely on your very next shuffle, has you gain cards and in general, make any decision with only your next shuffle in mind. The justification of such a simplification is that Dominion is a very snowbally game; getting an advantage now translates into an even bigger one down the line and focusing only on what helps you now drastically reduces decisions that have an end state of your deck in mind but do not help you get there the fastest.
This is only applicable before piles/provinces piling becomes a serious concern and is meant to accelerate your building phase.
To summarize my approach is to spend less time thinking about what I want my deck to do eventually and more time thinking about how to best use my decks in the very short term, thinking more about how my shuffles influence my gains rather than some eventual goal. Do note that this comes after having played tens of thousands of games and requires a certain kind of intuition to be utilized to its fullest extent.