The Value of Building

written by topher1588

In Dominion, there is a perpetual conflict between building and greening. Building involves adding draw, villages, and payload to allow your deck to do more in a single turn, while greening involves adding victory cards that score you points. In this article I’m going to highlight the benefits of building, and why you should err on the side of building too much versus too little. 

I recently played this board against Stef, one of the top rated players on ShuffleIT:

Even though I built pretty big, I greened a turn too early, and ultimately Stef had a nearly deterministic win. This article will be a case study on this board, where I describe various plausible decks and then describe how they can be beaten by building more. This trend is certainly not universal among Dominion boards, but tends to describe boards with high complexity fairly well. 

Journeyman Money

The idea: Okay, so I see that this board has no +buy. There’s Cathedral which lets you trash while still buying cards. So all I need to do is buy a bunch of treasures and a few Journeymen and I should be able to start hitting $8 reliably

How I built this deck: I opened Exploration/Cathedral which got me 2 Coffers and 2 Villagers, bought a Silver, two Journeymen and two Golds on successive turns and started provincing turn 8. I then bought Province for 6 straight turns. 

The Punish: This deck will punish itself. It will get to 5 or 6 Provinces fairly quickly but soon will have trouble hitting $8. Once the starting cards are trashed the player will have to decide between trashing higher value treasures, Journeymen and green cards. This deck will be outlasted by a player with an Artisan or two who can add villages and Journeymen throughout the game and take Duchies towards the end.

Adding some Artisans

The idea: Well, maybe I need a few Artisans, but I still don’t see the point in building big. After all, I just need to hit $8 every turn and contest the Duchy pile a little bit. 5 Provinces and 2 Duchies is ½ vp excluding the estates and curses which usually aren’t significant. Let’s build a little less and then green first. 

How I built this deck: I opened Exploration/Cathedral again, but this time I bought an Artisan when I had $6 or more. I ended up buying two Fishing Villages, an Artisan and passing a Buy phase for Coffers by turn 7. I started buying Provinces turn 8, this time with much more deck control. Artisan lets you topdeck Coppers so I was able to avoid the downside of Cathedral.

The Punish: Where’d my Coppers go?! Cutpurse is one of the rare discard attacks that stacks indefinitely and can be used to devastating effect here. Every turn your opponent plays Mastermind on a Cutpurse you either a) have to trash a good card or b) you have at least 4 Coppers in your starting hand and start with a 1 card hand. It’s easy to reliably play Mastermind on Cutpurse here, so the non-Mastermind player will quickly see their deck destroyed. The Cutpurse doesn’t hurt the Mastermind player as much because they can draw into the Coppers during the “start of the turn” phase and trash them after with Cathedral.

Start with Two Masterminds Each Turn

The idea: Fine, I’ll build here but I’m stopping with 4 Masterminds, with 2 in play at the start of each turn. That will let me play Mastermind on Journeyman (which I will have topdecked using Artisan on the previous turn), find my Artisan each turn and play it three times. So at least for a few turns I can gain Province and 3 Duchies comfortably. After Duchies are gone, either the piles will be low, or I can go back to adding engine components and hitting $8.

How I built this deck: I opened the same way, except this time I used artisan to gain masterminds. I had a pretty lucky shuffle where I got to play Artisan 3 times early on and quickly was able to play 2 Masterminds per turn. I picked up a second Artisan turn 7 and started greening turn 9. By turn 11 I had emptied Duchies and bought 3 Provinces. This seems unbeatable!

The Punish: I’ll be honest, the deck I built was pretty good. In the real game against Stef I had a chance to buy the final Mastermind (I had 4 and he had 5) or buy Province, and I chose to be the first mover in the hopes of gaining an insurmountable VP advantage. Since I greened first, I ended up getting 5 out of 8 Duchies. Stef instead built a tiny bit more and loaded up for a big final turn by playing Mastermind on Mastermind on the penultimate turn. He ended up with 6 Masterminds at the start of his final turn. Although I made a blunder and gave him an Estate pileout, he could have also comfortably given me 10 Curses by using the second Mastermind on Artisan (after drawing with journeyman) for three copies of Young Witch and then Masterminding the Young Witches with the 3 of the remainingthird-fifth Mastermind plays. Even after giving me 9 curses, he would have still been able to mastermind an artisan, which he could use to give me the final curse, take more engine pieces, or gain estates. While the Journeyman could have kept my deck functioning in the face of the Curses, he had all of the pile control and could easily play around letting me end the game, while eventually outscoring me. 

Conclusion: Look, I don’t think any of you good players are going to play Journeyman money. But I do think it’s hard to look at the board and notice every possible form of payload instantly. If you build more, you always have the option to implement ideas when you notice them later, or steal ideas from your opponent. In my case, I didn’t notice the Curse pile as another source of VP, and by the time I noticed, I hadn’t built enough to take advantage of it. And for those of you who think that good players figure out the board every time, pay attention to spectator chat when two A-league players face off. 

The paradox of Dominion is that building big is often safer than greening early, as it allows you to react to new information about the board more gracefully. Build big and ambitious decks, and learn when they fail to beat a more streamlined strategy. Once you understand the value of building complex decks, you’ll know when you can get an advantage by greening early.

About Dominion Blogger

This account posts work of various authors to the dominion strategy blog.
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