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Dominion Articles / How Do I Hit $5? An Opening Principle
« on: October 11, 2017, 03:39:47 am »
Stream of consciousness article. Might polish this later if I have time. I was just in an article-writing mood.

Costs in Dominion work out roughly like this.
$2: Always openable, players might want a lot of these, competes with Silver.
$3: Always openable, can open with 2 of these on 4/3, competes with Silver.
$4: Always openable, competes with Silver.
$5: Openable only if you get lucky, competes with Gold.
$6: Not openable except for weird edge cases, competes with Gold.

In practice, because $5 cost Actions compete with Gold, the gap in power between $4 cost Actions and $5 cost Actions is big. Big enough that on several boards, figuring out how you buy a $5 cost is one of the biggest considerations in the opening.

Not all boards are ruled by their $5 cost Actions, but on boards where the $5 costs are important, you need to have a plan for how you're going to buy those $5 costs early. By early, I mean the first 4 turns.

Why the first 4 turns? Barring weird shenanigans, your first reshuffle is right after turn 2, and your 2nd reshuffle is right after turn 4. If you want a $5 cost, you want it by the 2nd reshuffle, just because of how much more powerful they can be. You want them by then because of the cascading effect of Dominion: the better your deck, the better cards you can buy, and in practice $5 cost Actions are often very good at helping you buy more $5 Cost Actions.

Why $5 in particular? In practice it's difficult to get good guarantees of hitting $6+ before turn 4. There also simply aren't that many $6 cost Actions in the game.


In the first 4 turns of the game, it's tricky to get more than 5 cards in your hand, and most of your sources of money are Copper. This limits how many ways you have to get to $5. Here are the broad ways you can get there.

1. Draw 5 Coppers

With 3 Estates in your starting deck, it's hard to draw 5 Copper. Usually, this happens by pure luck. Sometimes, you open a card like Smithy or Oracle, to get more than 5 cards in your hand.

2. Draw 3 Coppers and a card that gives $2

The "card that gives $2" can be Silver, or a terminal Silver like Fortune Teller or Swindler, or Mill discarding 2 cards, or even Salvager + Estate. This is a common way people aim for $5, because it's fairly safe and flexible.

3. Draw 1 Copper, 1 Silver, and a card that gives $2 (Silver or terminal Silver)
This is the safest option, because if you don't hit this option, you have good odds of hitting Silver + 3 Copper anyways.

3. Draw 4 Coppers, get $1 from something else

The "something else" could be the +$1 from Poacher, or the Duration effect of Lighthouse, or a saved coin token from Candlestick Maker. Note the last 2 options require drawing Lighthouse / Candlestick Maker on turn 3, so that the +$1 effect happens on turn 4. So again, not something you can count on. Poacher/Silver and Tournament/Silver, however, are tried-and-tested openings. Compared to Silver/Silver or Silver/terminal-Silver, they trade off a slightly lower chance of hitting $5 for the upside of having 1 fewer Silver / terminal in the deck.

4. Horse Traders

Horse Traders + 2 Copper = $5. Opening Horse Traders almost always guarantees hitting $5, except for exceptionally unlucky scenarios.

5. Expedition

An early Expedition can be worth it over buying a Silver when it comes to hitting $5.

I'm most likely forgetting a few cases, but the key principle is figuring out how to count to $5 when most of your deck is Coppers and Estates. Everything else follows from that.

The cards you buy on turns 1 and 2 influence which paths you can take. If you don't buy a Silver, or a terminal Silver, and don't buy a +Cards action either, then you're stuck with hoping you just draw 5 Copper, which isn't great odds. If you open 1 Silver + a card that doesn't give money (like Silver/Sea Hag or Silver/Remodel), you're hoping you draw Silver + 3 Copper. If you open Silver/terminal-Silver, you get more safety. If you open Silver/Warehouse, you're aiming for Silver + 3 Copper, but can use Warehouse to set it up.

I'm not here to enumerate all the variations, so stepping back a bit, this is roughly how the opening goes.

1. There are some cards you want as early as possible. Trashing effects like Chapel and Steward top this list. Gaining effects like Workshop and Ironworks can also be important if there are important cards that cost $4 or less. Trash-for-benefits like Remodel, Salvager, and Remake are nice to open with because it's easier to collide them with Estate.
2. Those cards usually don't help you hit $5. This pulls you in 2 different directions and forces you to guess at the correct trade-off. A bit of payload now to hit $5, or accept higher risk and buy a card that helps me sculpt my deck?
3. Furthermore, the cards you open with are going to matter for the rest of game. Maybe I don't want 2 Silvers so early! But on the other hand, maybe I really don't want to miss $5! AHHHHH DECISIONS.
3. The correct answer depends on just how important hitting $5 is, the risk-reward of openings with less chance of hitting $5, and your personal risk tolerance.
4. No one has all the answers, so it's on you to make the call.
5. Welcome to Dominion.



I generated these by picking a few random boards. Assume I always open 3/4.

It's hard to care a lot about hitting $5 if there are no $5 costs to buy.

Governor, Cultist, and Upgrade are all great $5 costs. Workshop has lots of great targets (Scheme, Conspirator, Magpie). No +Actions means you need to be pretty careful. This is a tricky board and I'm not sure what I'd open, but for sure I'm buying at least one of Silver, a Conspirator, or Horse Traders. Missing $5 is pretty bad here. You can definitely still win if you don't hit $5, but it gets a lot harder.

Here, $5 is pretty important, because it gets you Council Room, Bridge Troll, and Crowns. The end-goal is to play a ton of Bridge Trolls. I would open Ironmonger/Silver or Transmogrify/Silver, more likely on Ironmonger. Transmogrify is secretly a way to get $5 if you're lucky, because you can transform Estate into Silver in your hand which gets you $2. That being said, it takes a bit of time to do this, and given that I want $5 early, I think Ironmonger is the better open.

Here, you want Giants eventually, but you don't need it right away. Your main draw is going to be Rangers and Masquerade backed up by Fishing Village, so you can focus on the $3 and $4 costs and pick up a Giant or 2 later. (This is in some ways similar to the First Game engine: you mostly want Village + Smithy, want to pick up a Mine at some point, but don't want to go too far out of your way to get that Mine ASAP.)

This is easily Ironmonger/Silver for me.

Ironmonger/Candlestick Maker: too easy to miss $5.
Silver/Silver: doesn't hit $5 that much more often than Ironmonger/Silver and having an Ironmonger instead of a Silver is way better long run.

Dominion Articles / How to Win at Dominion, With Minimal Jargon
« on: September 25, 2017, 02:30:29 am »
This is intended to be a newb-friendly article.

How do you win a game of Dominion?

You win by ending the game with more points than your opponent.

How do you do that?

You do it by buying cards that let you win the game, and playing those cards more often than your opponent does.

How do I identify which cards let me win the game?

Generally, you want to look for cards that either give you lots of coins, give you lots of VP, or let you quickly end the game while getting a small amount of VP. You want to combine these cards with a story for how it's going to come together.

Here are some examples.
  • I'm going to play Golds and Silvers to get lots of coins.
  • I'm going to play a lot of Bridges in one turn, to get lots of Buys while making cards very cheap to buy.
  • I'm going to play Ironworks to gain Ironworks and Gardens, aiming for a 3-pile ending.
  • I'm going to play a lot of Goons to get VP tokens.
Sometimes, it's enough to look for cards that stop your opponent from winning the game. Examples:
  • I'm going to play Militia every turn, to force my opponent to start their turns with 3 cards instead of 5.
  • I'm going to play Witch to drown my opponent in Curses.
The avenues-to-victory aren't mutually exclusive. In a given game, your plan might be to play Festival/Library, but also with some Bridges and 1 Militia thrown in. Or, your plan could be to play Witch, while buying Golds and Silvers to hit $8 for Province. The strategy comes in figuring out which avenues-to-victory are fastest, strongest, and most complementary to one another.

Most games are decided by the person who makes the most coins each turn, and that's the case I'll be implicitly talking about for the rest of the article, but there are exceptions where having more Buys or more VP-giving cards is more important, and it's worth keeping those exceptions in mind.

Before continuing to the next section, an important distinction. Cards like Smithy, Village, and Council Room are not winning cards. They are cards that let you draw your winning cards, but they don't win games by themselves. Nobody wins just by drawing lots of cards. They win by drawing lots of winning cards. And again, an important clarification: this doesn't mean buying Smithy, Village, etc. can't help you win. In fact, they often do help you win, just in a different way.

I've identified my winning cards. How do I play them more often?

Broadly, there are two approaches.
  • Buy lots of winning cards and try to win on pure quantity.
  • Buy Actions that let you cycle through your deck quickly, then play a few winning cards very often.
Let's bring this back to the terms commonly used in the community. Cards that directly win you the game are payload cards. Generally, these are the cards that give you coins, or buys, or gains, or some other resource that lets you obtain VP cards or stops your opponent from getting VP. Cards that help you draw your payload more often are cycling cards. Smithy and Village are cycling cards because they draw more cards. Cellar is a cycling card because it lets you discard bad cards to draw better ones. Chapel is a cycling card because it trashes away your low quality cards, which makes it easier to draw your winning cards more frequently and to shuffle more often. Cards like Chapel are called trashers, and they are often the first cards top players look for when deciding how to approach a Kingdom. Although trashers don't directly draw cards, their effects are among the strongest in the game.

Again, repeating for emphasis: Payload cards directly give you what you need to win. Cycling cards help you play your payload more often.

Some cards straddle the line between both categories. Poacher and Market both draw cards and give some coins. Minion also straddles the line, because you can either play it for +$2 (payload) or discard and draw 4 (cycling). The one truth of Dominion is that the categories are always a bit loose.

When it comes to overarching strategy, there are usually two broad approaches: buy mostly payload cards, or buy mostly cycling cards. A payload-focused strategy is historically called Big Money, since it usually applies to decks where your payload is Gold and Silver. More recently, some people have called payload-heavy strategies "the good stuff deck", to indicate that the payload isn't always a Treasure card. For example, Haggler is a perfectly fine payload card. A cycling-focused strategy is historically called the engine, because it focuses on buying Actions and combining their effects to make something bigger than the sum of its parts.

Let's say I want to play the "good stuff" approach. How should I do so?

Buy payload cards instead of cycling cards.

Let's say I want to play the "engine" approach. What should I do?

Buy cycling cards instead of payload cards.

That didn't really help, you're just repeating the definition! Which approach is best?

Trick question! In most games, you do both.

...say what?

Whenever you gain a card in Dominion, you have to make a choice: payload or cycling? Sometimes you can buy a card that does a bit of both, like Market. But usually, you have to make a choice between a card that will give you more money / attacking power / VP, or a card that helps you draw other cards more often. Each choice has trade-offs. A payload card increases what your deck can potentially do, but it doesn't help you play your existing payload more often. A cycling card lets you play your existing payload more often, but may not increase what your deck can do.

A good stuff approach focuses mostly on buying payload, but may buy Cellar over Silver because it wants to cycle a bit faster. An engine approach focuses mostly on cycling, but may pick up an early Silver or Gold because it lets the engine buy more powerful cycling Actions. Focusing on only one kind of card or the other is overly simplistic and can lead to bad play - I have lost several engine games because of underestimating the value of an early Silver.

Okay, okay, I get it. Which is the better approach on average?

With the caveat that there are very few 100% truths in Dominion, most new players overestimate payload. On many boards, it's better to focus on cycling cards, and a properly built engine will beat everything else.

Why is the engine often better?

It's more efficient.

Here's one way to think about Dominion: after buying a card, you get to play that card at most once per shuffle. (There are cards that get around this, like Harbinger, but let's ignore those for now.) Given this, if you want to get as much value out of each buy that you can, it helps if you can shuffle your deck more often. And how do you shuffle your deck more often? You do so by buying cycling cards! Cycling cards let you get through more of your deck each turn, which lets you reach the end of your shuffle faster. Again, this is why trashing cards is good - a small deck shuffles itself much faster than a big deck.

Another reason to favor the engine is that there's a higher ceiling on what an engine can do. Let's say you want to play Witch every turn. You buy lots of Witches. Okay, cool. But what if you also want to play Militia every turn? Ignoring Action constraints for a second, if your deck can't draw lots of cards, you have to buy lots of Militias too. Buying both a lot of Witches and a lot of Militias is a lot of buys to spend, and often Buys are the limiting resource in Dominion. Add back the action constraints, and it quickly becomes infeasible. In contrast, if you can set-up an engine that draws itself every turn, you can buy 1 Witch and 1 Militia, and then draw and play them every turn.

Engines are like an investment. You invest your early buys on cycling cards, even though the only payload you have is Coppers, because it will pay off in the long term when your payload is higher quality.

Is the engine always better?

No. It isn't better when the investment takes too long to pay off. In those games, if you try to go for the engine, you durdle around for a long time, your opponent Keeps Calm and Buys Provinces while you're still building, and you lose while feeling really silly. This has happened to everyone - don't feel too bad when it happens to you, and don't let it stop you from trying. Because every now and then, you'll identify an engine that's just barely better than the payload-focused deck, win the game by 1 VP on your final turn, and feel like a legend.

Cool. How do I actually implement any of this?

Like most things, practice and experience.

At lower skill levels, games are won and lost by whether you correctly identify when to go for a cycling-light approach or a cycling-heavy approach. This is the level where boring strategies like Smithy-Big Money tend to dominate, since it's harder to play those strategies badly.

At higher skill levels, players will often agree on the broad approach of a board. Top players will certainly still disagree on whether the engine is good enough, but the main differentiator between players is the execution of an overarching strategy.

This, to me, is where the depth of Dominion really expands. Remember earlier, where I said you have to choose between payload and cycling on each buy? Those choices are where games are won and lost. If you buy cards in a more optimal order, it's common to hit the deck you want 1-2 turns faster than a worse order. Dominion is all about snowballing incremental advantages. Small mistakes add up, and proper sequencing is just ridiculously hard to do consistently, especially when you factor in the inherent randomness of card games.

Dominion isn't like Chess or Starcraft, where a new player can memorize a well-studied opening and copy it until they understand how it works. The random Kingdom prevents this - you have to learn good game intuitions to do anything productive improvement-wise.

If you're new to the game, like it so far, and want to get better, here is what I would recommend.
  • Play whatever you want. Over time, you'll naturally notice which cards tend to be more important. (Reading the Qvist card rankings can shortcut this step, but it helps to experience the strength of cards firsthand. I didn't understand Ambassador until somebody destroyed me with it.)
  • During that period, play a few Big Money decks. I'd recommend Smithy + treasures, Council Room + treasures, Courtyard + treasures, and Witch + treasures. These are all surprisingly effective, and it helps remind you what you're racing against if you decide to go for an engine.
  • Once you get a handle on the cards, practice making judgments on whether you would play an engine. Err on the side of playing engines more than you think you should. They're often better, and cycling-based decks usually have more decisions than payload-based decks. It's hard to practice engine decision-making if you're only willing to play the obvious engines.

Finally, when your opponent beats you, don't look just at what their deck did at the end. Look at how they built their deck, what cards they bought on which turns, and try to spot what made their deck work when your deck didn't. You will certainly have games where your opponent plays poorly and wins because of luck, but that doesn't mean there's no lessons to learn from the game.

Dominion Articles / Occasionally Relevent Rule Edge-Cases
« on: September 10, 2017, 04:26:11 am »
EDIT: with the September 2019 errata, many of these edge-cases are no longer relevant. See the update post later in the thread.

Sometimes, Dominion rules can get complicated. Most of the time, they don't matter. In a few scenarios, they matter a lot. Those scenarios are overwhelmingly "gotcha" scenarios: they make sense when you think about them, you always remember them after the first time, but they can be hard to notice on the fly.

I think people shouldn't be unreasonably rewarded for knowing more rules minutiae than the other person, so here are some edge cases. This list certainly isn't complete, but I believe most things off the list are too close to rules trivia - interesting to think about, but not powerful enough to keep in mind. (Several things in this list are already near or past that threshold.)

These are ordered roughly by relevance.

Fundamental Rules Principles

When you play a card, you do exactly what it says, in order. If you can't do something, you do as much as you can. This happens even if the card leaves play for some reason.

If multiple effects trigger at the same time, you choose what order they resolve in. Sometimes the order matter. For the online client in particular, be careful you do things in the right order. For example, if you play Alchemists + Herbalist, you should topdeck all your Alchemists before using Herbalist to put the Potion back.

When buying a card, first you trigger all on-buy events, then you gain the card, then you trigger all on-gain events.

Card Costs

Dominion cards have 3 axes of cost: coins, Potion, and debt. A card costs more than another one if it is greater than or equal on all those axes. So for example, $4P > $3P > $3, and 8 debt > 4 debt, What about $3P vs $4? You can't compare them, neither costs more than the other.

This lets you do several neat things, like

* Remodel Familiar into Golem.
* With Haggler in play, buy City Quarter and gain Engineer off Haggler.
* Play Stonemason, trashing University to gain 2 Vineyards.

If you play Salvager and trash a Familiar, you get +$3, not +$3P, because Salvager specifically says "+$1 per $1 it costs" - it ignores the Potion and debt axes.

Stonemason Overpay

If an action costs $0 (because of Bridge or Highway, for example), you cannot overpay by $0 to gain two copies of that action. You also cannot overpay by debt to gain two copies of an Action that costs debt. You are, however, allowed to overpay by Potion, so with $5P you can buy Stonemason and gain 2 Alchemists.

Prince + Durations

Prince does not work with Durations. When you play the Duration, it stays in play past the end of the turn. Because you didn't discard it the turn you played it, it doesn't go back to the Prince when it finishes resolving.

There is an exception. If you Prince a Gear, and don't set aside any cards with Gear, the Gear won't stay in play and will successfully get Princed next turn. But normally, you should assume it won't work, and Prince something else instead.

Procession + Reserve cards

If you Procession a Reserve card, the Reserve card goes to the Tavern mat. Procession loses track of the Reserve card, so it can't trash it. However, you still get to gain an Action costing $1 more. This also applies to Island.

Band of Misfits / Overlord + Reserve cards

If you play Band of Misfits or Overlord as a Reserve card, you're going to have a bad time. Both cards say "This is that card until it leaves play." Moving to the Tavern mat counts as leaving play. Once it's on the mat, the card doesn't remember what it used to be, so you can't call it and it'll be stuck on the mat forever. Just don't do it.


Buying an event doesn't count as buying a card. Some side effects of this:

1. You can turn Hermits into Madmen while spending your Buys on events.
2. You can buy events on Mission turns.
3. Haggler, Goons, and Swamp Hag will not trigger on buying an event.

Buying an event doesn't count as buying a card, which can make it easier to gain Madmen.

Hermit + Scheme

If you don't buy a card and topdeck Hermit with your Scheme, you can gain a Madman without trashing the Hermit. From the wiki:

In this scenario, two things happen simultaneously, and you get to choose the order :

    (Hermit) Trash the Hermit and gain a Madman.
    (Scheme) Hermit goes on top of your deck.

If you resolve (1) then (2), you gain a Madman, the Hermit goes to the Trash, and then (2) doesn't do anything because Scheme lost track of the Hermit.
If you resolve (2) then (1), you put the Hermit on top of your deck, then Hermit attempts to trash itself but fails because it lost track of itself, then you still gain a Madman because you do as much as you can of the Hermit statement.

Capital Tricks

Capital gives you debt only when you discard it from play. If you can avoid discarding it from play, you don't take debt. You can topdeck it with Herbalist, or trash it with Counterfeit / Bonfire / Mint on-buy. If you Crown it, you get $12 + 2 buys and only take the 6 debt once. Of special note is the Mandarin on-gain. If you play Capital + 4 other Treasures that give at least $7, you can buy Mandarin + Province every turn until the Provinces or Mandarins run out.

Throne Room variants + Durations

The official ruling is that if a Throne Room variant directly applies to a Duration card, that Throne Room stays out until the Duration leaves play.

* You play Throne Room on a Fishing Village. The Throne Room stays out until the Fishing Village gets discarded next turn.
* You play Throne Room on Throne Room, using the doubled-Throne Room to play 2 Caravans twice. The first Throne Room was applied to the 2nd Throne Room, and gets discarded at end of turn. The 2nd Throne Room was applied to both Caravans, so it stays out until next turn.
* You play Throne Room on Hireling. The Throne Room stays out for the rest of the game.

The rule works this way because for IRL play, it's easier to track which Durations are modified. In practice, if you're playing a big King's Court stack, you want to bunch all the Durations under the same King's Court if possible.

The rule gets trickier is with Procession. Because Procession trashes the discarded Duration, it always gets discarded at end of turn. But, you still get the Duration card's effect next turn.

* You play Procession on Caravan. You trash Caravan and gain a $5 cost Action. Procession is discarded at end of turn. On your next turn, you draw 2 cards.
* You play Procession on Hireling. You trash Hireling and gain a $7 cost Action (if one exists). Procession is discarded at end of turn. For the rest of the game, you draw an extra 2 cards.

Adventures Tokens + Travellers

If you have a token on Page, only Page will get that bonus. The other Travellers in the Page line won't. Similarly for Peasant. This is because the other cards in the line are not in the Supply, and didn't come from the Page pile.

Band of Misfits / Overlord + Conspirator

When you play Band of Misfits as another action card, it counts as two action plays for Conspirator. The first action is the Band of Misfits, and the second is the card you copy.

Yes, this means that if all 3 are in the Kingdom, you can play Overlord as Band of Misfits as Conspirator for your first action, and the Conspirator will be activated. Let me know if this ever happens to you.

Band of Misfits / Overlord + Adventures Tokens

Band of Misfits gets the bonuses of both the Band of Misfits pile and the pile it's copying. This happens for the same reason as the Conspirator case.


When you inherit an action, your Estates gain the types and the card text of that action, but they're still called Estate and still cost $2. This has a bunch of follow-on effects. Among them are:

* If an Adventures token is on the pile you inherit, your Estates will not gain those effects, because your Estates did not come from that pile.
* You cannot put Adventures tokens on the Estate pile, because the Estates in the supply are not actions - they aren't your Estates.
* Estate as Crossroads can never give +Actions, because Estate keeps its name. When you play an Estate, it can never be "the first time you played Crossroads this turn". For similar reasons, Estate as Treasure Map doesn't work.

Charm + Knights

If you play Charm in gain mode, you cannot buy a Knight, then gain the Knight underneath it with Charm. The on-buy happens first, and at the time you're picking a card to gain with Charm, the top Knight hasn't been gained yet.

Split Piles + Adventures Tokens

The official ruling is that if a token is on a split pile, it applies to all cards in that pile. When deciding whether you can put a token on that pile, you decide based on the card type of the randomizer. For Castles, the randomizer is a Victory card, and for everything else it's an action.

What that means in practice:

* You can place a +Card token on the Encampment/Plunder pile, even if the top card is a Plunder. Both your Encampments and Plunders will draw you one card.
* You cannot place a +Card token on the Castles pile, even if the top Castle is an Action.

The one way a token can get on the Castles pile is if the top Castle is an Action, it costs $4 or less through cost reduction, and you gain it with Seaway.

Playing Treasures During the Action Phase

So far, you can do this with Black Market and Storyteller.

* If you play a Silver, then play a Merchant after, the Merchant will not give $1 if you play another Silver. Merchant only triggers the first time you play a Silver, and a Silver was already played.
* If you play a Crown during Black Market / Storyteller, it's played as a Throne Room because it's still the Action phase. You resolve the Crown in the middle of Black Market / Storyteller.
* If you gain a Mandarin during your Action phase, treasures played by Black Market or Storyteller go on top of your deck.

Summon + Cards that Gain Other Cards on Gain

(I learned about this interaction very recently.)

If you Summon Border Village or Death Cart, Summon won't play it next turn.

Wait, what?

Here's how Summon works, if you spell it all out.
* Gain an Action card costing up to $4.
* (The gained card goes to discard, or on top of the deck if you gain Nomad Camp.)
* (Summon looks for the card where it expects it to be, the discard or top of the deck for Nomad Camp.)
* It sets it aside, and if it did, it sets it aside next turn.

So what happens with the cards above? To quote the wiki:

Summoning a card that gains other cards when gained (such as Border Village or Death Cart) will cause the Summoned card to not be set aside, and thus not played at the start of your next turn. This is because the extra cards gained cover up the Summoned card in the discard pile (since the Summoned card is not set aside immediately), causing the Summoned card to be lost track of.

What you can do, however, is Summon a Border Village, then reveal Watchtower to topdeck the card gained from Border Village. Then Summon will successfully find the Border Village and set it aside.

Game Reports / Here's a surprisingly tricky Base-only board.
« on: September 08, 2017, 02:06:44 am »

The numbers spoil what I went for - a Village/Moat/Witch engine. I was mostly uncontested, I got 7 of the Villages.

I thought this board was neat because it has a lot of subtleties to it. I think Festival and Bandit are both traps, you really don't want to lose any draw on your +Actions card and gaining Gold makes it too difficult to draw your actions.

Without Moat I wouldn't go for engine, because the Curses will slow you down too much. If Remodel was Workshop I wouldn't go for engine, because you couldn't get rid of your Estates. But with both, it's just barely past the bar where I go for it. The way it plays out is that you use mostly Village + Moat for draw, laugh as your Moats block any attacks your opponent plays, then you play a Witch every turn and drown them in Curses. Remodel turns Estate --> Village or Harbinger and Copper/Curse --> Moat.

I wanted to pick up Mine but by the time my deck felt consistent enough for it I had to worry about 3 piles.

Dominion General Discussion / Dominion Strategy: Then, Now, and the Future
« on: September 04, 2017, 05:02:08 am »
(This is part history, part strategy advice, and part opinion piece. Although I intended it to be an article's worth of content, I don't feel like it fits in Articles or Feedback. So I'm putting it here.)

I've been around Dominion for over 7 years. In those 7 years, Dominion discussion has changed a lot.

Let's start at 2010, back when the main DominionStrategy blog had regular updates. There was a heavy focus on understanding Big Money play. People knew that on average, Smithy-BM got 4 Provinces in 14-16 turns, Masquerade-BM could do it in 13 turns, and Courtyard-BM was similarly quick. The Big Money rule-of-thumbs were known by heart: buy Gold over the first Province, Duchy over Gold when there are 5 Provinces left, and Estate over Silver when there are 2-3 Provinces left. This was also the heyday of people using simulators to guide decision making.

Of course, people didn't only talk about Big Money. There was plenty of discussion about things we now call engines. But when you re-read many of the articles from the main site, they follow a similar format: a few paragraphs about the card's objective power level, and then a list of relevant synergies and anti-synergies at the end. Take the Cutpurse article, for example. It focuses mostly on the strength of its opening attack, then gives some token references to cards that make Copper discard more relevant.

I claim this is representative of a larger trend: strategy discussion was focused primarily on explaining cards in isolation. It turns out that's good enough to beat a lot of players! Telling players not to buy Pirate Ship in 2 player is actually pretty effective advice when people are still usually bad at the game, and showing Courtyard-BM is faster than Smithy-BM ended up giving people (including me) a few free wins over people who bought the "Smithy-BM is unbeatable" meme. Engine play was a lot worse, and Silver was better than many of the removed cards from Base + Intrigue 1st edition.

Then, things changed. More expansions came out. Cards got more complicated. Compare the Cutpurse article to the one about Procession about 2 years later. Although the article still talks about specific pairs, like Procession-Ironworks, it mostly talks in more abstract terms. In the Cutpurse article, interactions are listed at the end, but for Procession they're the focus of the entire article.

It's like starting chess discussion by pointing out that knights can attack queens without getting attacked back, and then the discussion evolves into one about material and position. Concrete pieces --> abstract generalizations.

This eventually came to a head with the most influential Dominion articles of all time: The Five Fundamental Deck Types, written by WanderingWinder. This codified strategy discussion for years. It's a framework for thinking about the game, that everything else can be funneled through, and soon it became expected that everybody knew what engine, slog, and rush meant.

It's probably a heavy case of nostalgia, but I consider those years to be a Golden Age of Dominion discussion. It was a wonderful time to get into the game, if you were looking to play competitively. And I'm no longer sure that's true. Everything's been on a gradual decline since those days.

There were a few catalysts for this (the biggest one being the end of Isotropic), but in retrospect I blame the decline on two things. The first:

It depends on the kingdom.

This meme took over the forums for a while. It's true, but it's also supremely unhelpful advice. People would say that Dominion is too big to describe all the nuances, and the best way to get better at Dominion is to just play more Dominion, watch more Dominion, and get better at reviewing your old matches. Again, very true, but people don't want to read forum posts that state the obvious. For all that the early card articles get wrong, they still form a helpful flotation device for novice players to hold on to before jumping into the deep, seemingly endless strategy pool.

I'm very glad that the "depends on the kingdom" meme has mostly died, because the joke got old fast, and any strategic value in the statement shriveled away long ago.

The second thing I'd like to blame doesn't have as pithy of a quote. I think people spent a long time getting hung up on classification and categorization, at the cost of doing useful things.

First off, why categorize in the first place? If we categorize things, it helps offset mental load. The single word "slog" represents several concepts, like a large deck that wants the game to go long to accumulate more points. It's very useful to have these definitions! But I feel like there was a point where people started to overcategorize and overgeneralize, and would only talk about Dominion within the Five Deck Types framework. That led to debates over whether a deck was Big Money or Engine, whether something was a combo or just a synergy, and all sorts of other arguments. The distinctions between the labels matter a bit, but what matters overwhelmingly more is your opponent buying lots of Provinces or drawing lots of cards. Deciding on a True Name for what they're doing doesn't always help you understand why it's working, and I think arguing about the definitions too much distracts from actually understanding the game.

Dominion players are a group predisposed to pedantry, and these arguments gave plenty of topics people could be pedantic about. I participated in my fair share of this - pedantry can be eerily fun. But in retrospect, it messed with strategy discussion in surprising ways. I once played a game shortly after writing the Beatdown vs Control article. It was a ridiculously fast rush, where the game ended in 10 turns. At the end, my opponent asked who was beatdown and who was control. Although I tried to answer, in retrospect the correct answer was that the game was so weird that Beatdown vs Control didn't apply, and trying to make it apply was a waste of time. Frameworks are great, right up until they stop working.

(To forestall some obvious complaints: I think pedantry is part of f.ds culture, and I don't think the forums need heavier moderation. If the forums were meant to discuss just strategy for Dominion, then they would need heavier moderation. But they aren't. Your off-topic derailment is my community building. I'm just calling for people to stop taking the pedantry arguments so seriously.)

* * *

Let's assume you buy my argument that we're no longer in a Golden Age of discussion. If you don't, treat it as an assumption that everything after this depends on.

The natural question is: can we bring the Golden Age back?

Well, what is the Golden Age? Is it the concentration of Dominion discussion in a single place? Is it the rapid production of content? I think those are elements of it, but the most important one is the experience of the new player. Can we make it easier for new players to get into the game, and grow the Dominion community?

I think that the answer is yes, but it's going to require explaining a bunch more Dominion theory.

Dominion is simply a very different game from what it used to be. I now view Dominion like a bag of interactions. Each card has certain properties, which interact with other properties in positive or negative ways. The strategy comes from identifying which interactions are most important to the game, and from doing small optimizations that make the interactions point in similar directions.

I know this is very abstract. so let me give an example. Take Marauder.

Marauder gives you Spoils and gives your opponents Ruins. So far all we've done is read the card text. How does Marauder interact with the rest of the game?

  • Marauders give Spoils. Spoils give $3. Thus your money distribution is naturally a bit spikier - it's a bit more likely you'll hit $6 or $7 early.
  • Marauders give Ruins as junk, which interacts with things that care about actions, like Vineyard and Library.
  • There are several different Ruins, which makes them interact with things that care about names, like Fairgrounds and Wishing Well.

How have I used these interactions?

  • I've once chosen to open Marauder specifically because I wanted to spike an early Forge.
  • I've considered not picking up Marauder because I knew we were both going to go for Vineyards, or for Fairgrounds.
  • In a game with Wolf Den and no trashing, I opened Marauder and carefully making sure my opponent only got unique Ruins. I got lucky and gave out -12 VP before my opponent resigned.

Ruins weren't designed with Wolf Den in mind, and I assume Wolf Den wasn't designed specifically to make Ruins stronger. It's emergent gameplay that arises from the interactions between different game components.

In this view, the way you become a better player is by

  • Memorizing the very powerful interactions.
  • Getting a deep understanding of the remaining interactions.
  • Use that understanding to devise an argument for what to do on the current board.

In GokoDom III (the finals between JOG and Andrew Iannaconne), Stef submitted this designed kingdom.

Kingdom Cards: Scheme, Storeroom, Trade Route, Gardens, Plaza, Throne Room, Counting House, Festival, Inn, Mountebank, with Platinum/Colony

Everybody loves this kingdom, because it turns out there's actually an engine here. You use Counting House to draw lots of Copper, Storeroom to discard the Coppers for $$$, then play Counting House again and repeat. To make the deck work despite having all those Coppers, you use TR-Scheme and Inn to avoid ever shuffling the Coppers back into your draw pile. It only works because of all the pieces working together perfectly - Storeroom turning cards into money, and Counting House letting you draw lots of cards, and Scheme/Inn to let you skip shuffling. In the stream, there was a magical moment where you can see Andrew literally figure out on the fly that this deck is possible. Those are the moments that make Dominion such an interesting game - seeing a web of interactions come together so elegantly and beautifully. And that board certainly isn't something you could base a whole article about.

To a lesser degree, the same is true of Marauder. Sure, the things I said apply to Marauder, but parts also apply to any Spoils giving card and any Ruins giving card. The only unique part is that Marauder does both, but that's a pretty minor distinction. If I was trying to write an article about Marauder, I could repeat what I said...but it wouldn't really be an article about Marauder. It would be an article about Spoils and Ruins.

Unless a card does something super, super unique, I don't think there's a point in writing an article about it, and most cards just aren't unique enough to justify an entire article.

So instead, it would make more sense to explain how you find these interactions, what the most common ones are, how you decide on a plan and adapt to new scenarios and avoid treating the game as a memorization of all two-card combos. If I had the time, I'd write more content from this angle, and would point players looking to get better in that direction...except I don't have the time.

It feels like the same is true of f.ds in general. People are less interested in talking about principles they find obvious, because obvious things aren't interesting. Unfortunately, those principles are the most important for new players. The end result is that f.ds has turned into a place where experienced players talk to other experienced players, useful ideas get scattered across 10 threads in 3 subforums, and no one bothers condensing them into useful Dominion lessons, because again, who's got time for that?

* * *

Please don't mistake this as me declaring that Dominion is dying. The community has been through a lot and the game is still going fine. I just think it could be more than it is. I do think there's cause for optimism. Intentionally or not, there's been some really good recent articles in this direction. (For example, Dan's 20 questions post and Adam's blog post about openings.)

Consider this more as a call to action. The game doesn't flourish unless new blood joins the scene, and I don't think we're doing a good job at making that easy.

Feel free to prove me wrong.

(Edited September 5, 2017 to fix minor typos and some poor phrasing.)

Dominion Articles / Stop buying Duchy over Gardens
« on: August 29, 2017, 03:32:02 am »
I've been playing a decent amount of Base-only games, and I'm surprised at how often people are messing this up.

It's okay to buy Gardens over Duchy when your deck has fewer than 30 cards. As long as your deck is 30 cards [by the end of the game, you'll break even. And on the off-chance the game turns into an endgame slog, your Gardens could tick up to 4 VP. If you know you'll hit 30 cards, buy the Gardens instead.

You judge cards not by how good they are right now, but by how much value they'll give you over the course of the game. It's easiest to get an appreciation for this by opening Monument. The 1st Monument play only gives 1 VP, which is okay but not great. By the end of the game, that Monument is usually worth 4-5 VP in money-based games and potentially more in engines.

Figuring out when to buy one card over the other is hard, but for Duchy vs Gardens it shouldn't be hard to make the right choice.

(In similar veins: it's okay to buy Silk Road before you have 12 Victory cards, and it's okay to buy Fairgrounds when they're worth 2 VP, as long as you have a plan to meet the requirements in time.)


(This article is pretty casual and assumes 2 player games.)

All these Landmarks have similar play patterns, so I think it makes sense to have 1 article for all of them.

At most, these can give you 12 VP. This isn't enough to wildly change how you approach a board, which makes them have lower impact than other Landmarks. However, like other Landmarks, it's important to at least stay even in the subgame they create.

You can divide the conditions into ones that are easy to satisfy, and ones that are hard. What exactly does that mean? I think of a condition as easy if you're guaranteed to move all 12 VP off the Landmark by the end of the game, and hard if that isn't going to happen. It's going to depend on the game, but Colonnade, Labyrinth, and Battlefield are often easy, and Baths is usually hard.

If the condition is easy:
It's pretty important to get 6 VP from the Landmark. If you only get 4 VP, and they get 8 VP, it's a 4 VP difference, and you need a Province to make up the difference. That can be a tall order on some boards, especially if the Landmark VP was easy to acquire.

To get to 6 VP you need to meet the condition 3 times. This doesn't mean you always go for the condition at every opportunity - it means you play in a way that makes it easy to meet the condition early in the game. The way this pans out in practice:

Arena: Overbuy terminals (but not too much), think a bit before playing your last Action.
Basilica: Get +Buy early and use it. (Note it triggers on every buy, so if you buy two $3s, you'll get 2 VP on your 1st buy.) If you can't do this, buying a $5 cost when you have $7 is the best case.
Battlefield: It's hard to balance this one, but roughly, a money-ish deck should buy Duchies over Gold after the 1st Gold. In engine vs BM, engine can afford to contest about 4 VP and try to make up the rest of the diff through a better deck. In engine vs engine it's very hard to judge.
Colonnade: Identify 2 key actions and focus on those in the early game. If you can get away with focusing on just 1 Action, even better, but you normally can't.
Labyrinth: Get +Buy or a gainer early and use them.

Baths is almost never easy to satisfy, so it doesn't get a section. Sometimes you have cards like Tactician to make it easier.

If the condition is hard:
Ignore it for most of the game, and treat it as an alternate source of VP in endgame. For example, gain Baths VP instead of buying Estate in late game. Same for Basilica.

Help! / Not sure how I fell so behind here
« on: June 23, 2017, 12:48:15 am »
1 game from a big losing streak I just went on.


I missed $2P for Apothecary but my opponent did too. I thought Swamp Hag was skippable but maybe it wasn't? Feels like it shouldn't have been that big - I thought you could hit enough money by playing enough Apothecaries, and then you can dip into Goons / Swamp Hag, but I never seemed to draw my Potion often enough, and when I did I never hit $4P for Stonemason-Apothecary.

Game Reports / Fun with 3 piles and Market Square
« on: May 22, 2017, 03:28:15 am »
Game #3794120

This game was pretty neat. The whole game, I never hit more than $5, and then I hit $24 on my final turn, because Market Square is nuts with the right setup. I committed to the 3-pile without knowing if I could get enough money to make it work, which is always a nerve-wracking thing to do.

Features Silver as a $3 cost Duchy, because of Palace (and me not trashing enough Coppers in mid-game.)

My mistake was not gaining enough Gold early to hit the good $6 costs, and my opponent's mistake was gaining too much Gold, IMO.

I wrote this pretty quickly, I'm not as sure of these claims as I am of the $2-$3 cost thread. I intend to get to the rest of the Adventures cards and events when I have time to.

I've had trouble using this card well, but I think it's better than my experience would suggest. Buying the Duplicate and spending the action to get it on your Tavern mat is so clunky. That being said, it's very useful to have it ready to call in endgames, because threatening a Duchy duplicate is quite hard to play around. In my experience, I buy it and lose, or skip it and also lose. I don't think you should open Duplicate, but you may want to buy it 2nd shuffle.

Magpie: At preview time, people held Magpie up as really really good. It's good, and I usually open 1, but if you want to gain more Magpies you really want to buy 2 Magpies - buying one just isn't consistent enough. The problem is that you can get baited into buying the 2nd Magpie in your 2nd shuffle, and other $4 costs can be more important. Note that once Magpies run out, they're only better than cantrips if you reveal a Treasure. You can't ignore Magpie, but if you get other actions in exchange for losing Magpies 4-6 or 3-7, it's not the end of the world. Becomes very important if card tokens (+1 Card, +$1) are in the Kingdom.

A card you buy because you need the +Buy. On-buy is important for 3 piles. It turns out you can't do too many cute things with the on-buy effect, because any cute things you could do get offset by having to pick up this Woodcutter-Chancellor as well.

Miser: I have nothing to say about this card, because I've only bought it once, and I've only had someone buy it against me once. Weird, right? But it's true.

Port: A really nice village for engines. If it's the only +Actions in the kingdom, remember that you either do a 6-6 split or a 8-4 split, and it only takes 3 or 4 buys to get there. If you think you'll want more than 4 Ports, you need to buy them fast. Like Magpie, becomes very important if there are card tokens.

Ranger: Try to start your turn with the Journey token face down, to make your first Ranger give +5 Cards, because this helps a lot of reliability. You might think that means you should target buying an even number of Rangers, because if you play all the Rangers you'll always end back at face down. In practice you should just think of them as Smithies, because you'll inevitably fail to draw all the Rangers in your deck. If you ignore the Journey token, and pretend their Smithies with free +Buy, you'll be 80% of the way there. (Also, remember Ranger, Giant, and Pilgrimage all share the same Journey token! This is surprisingly easy to forget.)

Transmogrify: I like this card a lot. I think people weren't impressed with it at preview time, but I at least have turned around. Early game Estate -> Silver in hand is really useful. In one game, someone opened Transmogrify/Urchin, played Transmogrify T3, then did Estate -> Urchin to gain Merc turn 4 without having to open Urchin/Urchin, which actually blew my mind. Late game you can trash any card into itself to run down the pile, and much like Duplicate, it's hard to play against an opponent that could empty 3 Provinces in a single turn by calling 2 Transmogrifies. That being said, the 1 turn delay does matter, and it's really only good at trashing Estates. I basically always open 1, pick up a 2nd pretty often in engine games, and sometimes buy a 3rd as well. If the card weren't so hard to play well, I'd have written a full article about Transmogrify.

Artificer: The gaining effect isn't as good as it looks, because in many games you can only do the discard once before you run out of cards. But the worst case is still a Peddler. Don't buy a lot of them unless you plan to use the discard-for-gain effect a lot. Works well with draw-to-X and Scrying Pool. Remember you topdeck the gained card!

Bridge Troll: Because it's a Duration, you only need 1 +Actions for every 2 Bridge Trolls. At least in theory. In practice, you want a bit more than that for consistencies sake. Because you don't get the +$1 that Bridge would give you, and because your opponent's Bridge Trolls are giving you -$1 each turn, you can't neglect money entirely. You want just enough coins to use all your Bridge Troll buys.

Distant Lands: Very good. In money games, you buy this over Gold pretty quickly. In engine games, these should be your preferred source of VP, and you should start buying them earlier than you would normally green to give time to get them onto your Tavern mat. In engine games, it can be very hard to win if you lose Distant Lands 3-5 and they get all 5 Distant Lands onto their mat.

Dominion Articles / A short blurb on each $2-$3 cost Adventures card
« on: March 05, 2017, 10:03:53 pm »
I think people should be writing more articles about Adventures and Empires cards, instead of advice getting scattered in singleton posts across 20 different threads. I haven't played much Empires yet, so I figured I'd try to spark discussion around Adventures first. (I was planning to cover every card and event, but there are a lot of Adventures cards.)

Reasonably confident in these claims, but there's definitely room for these opinions to move around.

Coin of the Realm: Very good +Actions card for engines. The 1 turn delay on the first CotR is a little annoying, but between CotR acting like +3 Actions and only needed to take the actions when you need them, you should definitely pick up a few early if you need the actions. CotR staying out of your deck until you need it is a big help. Even if you're overdrawing, you shouldn't call excess CotR to get the extra $1 coin you get from playing it, it's not worth the inconsistency.

Travellers in general: Look, just go read DG's article instead, it's better than these blurbs.

Page Line: By themselves, they enable a plan of getting 1 Champion to turn all your Warriors into attacking Labs. I've never seen that plan vs a deck that didn't go for Champion, because Champion is so good that it enables a bunch of ridiculous things. Opening 1 Page almost always right, opening 2 Pages is insane, never getting the 2nd Page at all is ballsy because Warrior trashing Warrior kills you completely in that case.

  • Page: Cheap cantrip, easy to pick up if you have extra buys later on, okay Silver replacement on engine boards if you don't have extra buys, and Champion boards are basically always engine boards. Keep extra Pages as Pages and move them towards Warrior when you're about to get Champion out.
  • Treasure Hunter: The middle child of the Page line. The first play is good to get some early Silvers in, letting you focus buys on the Action cards, but past that not so much. Upgrade to Warrior ASAP. Occasionally you can try to do something goofy with alt-VP like Feodum or Gardens, but that's usually a sign of desperation, not a game plan.
  • Warrior: Most Pages end here. You don't want too many of these until you get Champion out, at most 1 or 2. Remember the attack scales on Travellers you have in play, play Pages before Warrior if the attack's still relevant.
  • Hero: The other middle child. The problem is that this usually caps at +$2, gain a Gold, which isn't good enough in most Champion games. If Platinum is in the game, maybe it could be okay.
  • Champion: Get one, then make sure you can't draw it dead. Drawing it dead is often a 2-5 turn delay on playing it. For the lower rank Travellers, you can often risk it because you have more than 1, but that stops holding true for Champion.

Peasant Line: Still don't have a good handle on these, but also very good. Really you should just read DG's article instead. Almost always open 1, almost always pick up a 2nd so that you can keep a Disciple around, 3rd and up can be worth gaining in some games but 2 Peasants is a good baseline.

  • Peasant: Gives +Buy, which can be surprisingly relevant early when picking up the 2nd Peasant. Sometimes there's no other +Buy source and that's good enough. (Teacher is only kind of a +Buy source, because even though it has a +Buy token, the +Card or +Action token need to be placed first.)
  • Soldier: Can be a massive source of income if there are Attacks in the kingdom, or if you can play a ton of Soldiers in the same turn.
  • Fugitive: The middle child of the Peasant line, never really does much.
  • Disciple: Can snowball pretty hard - a deck that draws reliably can gain the Action card it want, a deck that can't doesn't always have a choice. You really want to have a Disciple and a Teacher at about the same time.
  • Teacher: Playing Teacher is straightforward, in that the choice of token and card isn't too hard at the time you call it, but building your deck up to that point is where the card gets very hard. Tokens encourage getting a lot of a specific action, and you need to keep this in mind as you're going for Teacher - it affects your deckbuilding decisions throughout the entire game.

Ratcatcher: Nice opener. Don't try to keep it on your Tavern Mat until you hit Estate. Calling it to trash Copper (and getting the Ratcatcher into your next reshuffle) is a lot better. Doesn't really do much late game. A Ratcatcher's value is based solely on how many rats it catches (how many cards it trashes), has no benefit outside of trashing so blindly buy a bunch of them.

Raze: Another $2 cost trasher that's worth opening. It's hard to get punished for buying too many Razes because you can always trash the Raze itself.

Amulet: Often worth opening. It's either 1 or 2 Amulets in most games and I don't have a good handle on when the 2nd is bad, because it does take up terminal space. Silver gain is a surprisingly relevant way to get more economy into your engine without spending a buy.

Caravan Guard: One of those cards you pick up when you don't want to buy Silver. The reaction matters a bit, but not a lot. In strong engine games, you need to remember that you only get Caravan Guard money every other turn at best.

Dungeon: Really good at digging for the card you want, I think even better than Warehouse, which is already a pretty good card for this. Generally want 2-3, past the 3rd is often a bit much but can be right in junkier games. Has a bit of a Cartographer effect - a few Dungeons let you pretend like your deck is thinner. Not as good as trashing, of course, but sometimes you don't have trashers in the game.

Gear: There was a lot of buzz about Gear-BM during preview time, but I haven't played a lot of those games. Maybe I've been playing too many engine-happy players. Very tricky card to play correctly, but it's a very good opener. You can be a bit looser about buying more terminals with Gear, but note that if you set aside terminals too often with Gear you'll make cards miss the reshuffle more often.

Guide: Guides are insurance. Guides are not a strategy by themselves. Don't buy too many of them, and don't be afraid to call Guide aggressively. If you're borderline on whether to call Guide, you should just call Guide.

Dominion Articles / Sentry
« on: January 28, 2017, 10:57:05 pm »

This is a short article for a simple card.

Sentry is very powerful. Why?
  • Like Masquerade and Junk Dealer, it can trash without hurting your buying power this turn.
  • Because it trashes cards from the top of your deck, you don't lose a draw on drawing a card you don't want in your deck. The extra cycling is deceptively powerful. Compare to Lookout. It doesn't replace itself, but the cycling / filtering aspect makes it a strong $3 cost trasher.

Unlike Masquerade, Junk Dealer, and Lookout, Sentry can trash 2 cards at a time. In exchange for all these upsides, the pool of cards you choose to trash from is only the top 2 cards of your deck, compared to every card in your hand. That can make Sentry a high variance card. The difference between revealing 2 trashable cards and 0 trashable cards is pretty stark. Other trashers don't have this issue as much, because when you get to choose from your entire hand, you'll often have something you want to get rid of.

Because of all these factors, hitting $5 early is especially important in Sentry games. You want Sentry as early as possible, which is true of most trashers, but in Sentry's case it's because your odds of revealing 2 bad cards is highest at the start of the game. Missing $5 doesn't just delay your Sentry by a shuffle, it makes your Sentry materially worse than it could have been. And again, this is true of other trashers, but the trash-only-from-the-top mechanic magnifies how much worse it gets. That warps the opening by a lot - don't disregard the usefulness of opening Silver.

If you can, you want to get 2 Sentries, but because Sentry's power decays as the game goes on, it loses to other $5 costs pretty quickly, and you often run out of time to buy the 2nd.

All the standard Cartographer synergies (Wishing Well, Herald, Mystic, Vassal) continue to apply with Sentry, but the trashing is the most important aspect of the card, and its what you should be keeping in mind when evaluating it.

Dominion Videos and Streams / Titandrake records a few games
« on: November 13, 2016, 05:01:17 am »
I decided to try recording a few games, with the goal of explaining my thought process as I play. That falls through pretty quickly but maybe it'll still be helpful to people.

Help! / Expected consistency or surprising consistency?
« on: November 05, 2016, 09:03:15 pm »

1. I'm not sure how I fell behind. The only thing I can point to is my Crossroads buy and Doctor buy, but the Doctor buy was later - was CR buy really that bad?
2. Starting turn 15, my opponent hits Province every single turn, despite occasional Knight attacks. Is that expected given their deck?

Game Reports / Double Tact + Vineyards
« on: October 23, 2016, 04:01:58 am »

Code: [Select]
Vineyard, Dungeon, Oasis, Oracle, Smugglers, Wishing Well, Workshop, Storyteller, Tactician, Wine Merchant
Normally, Double Tact + Vineyards is a bit of a nombo. You get big hands, but you can't buy Vineyard because you're always discarding treasures. In this kingdom, I stumbled upon the solution by accident: Storyteller. Storyteller lets you play Potions during the action phase, letting you buy Vineyard on turns where you play Tactician. It also gives you a use for the treasures that are normally useless in a Double Tact deck.

If I had noticed this during the game, I imagine it would have gone much faster. I'd probably even open Silver here, to make sure I hit $5 early.

Introductions / Total time logged in: 82 days, 11 hours and 2 minutes
« on: June 25, 2016, 03:24:08 am »
I hear introducing yourself after 5 years is all the rage these days.

I joined the forums 5 years and 4 days ago, when I was still in high school. Sometimes I write a post. Occasionally I'll write an article. Writing articles is great. You get all this respect, and then no one recognizes you when you play online to put things into perspective.

I'm currently taking a break from Dominion because I realized I was caring about my rating too much. After a particularly bad losing streak, I took a step back and realized Dominion was too familiar and too easy to sink hours into, and it was getting in the way of trying other things and meeting other people. It doesn't help that my personality already makes both those things difficult. I just started a full-time job too. Now that my free time is at more of a premium, I don't want all of it to go into Dominion.

It's not a permanent leave, I'll be back sometime soon. Definitely in time for the 2016 Championships, where I'll probably scrub out round 1 because I'm really bad with Adventures and everyone else is only going to get better at it. Dominion is too closely tied to my life for me to leave it forever. It's still fun, after all these years. But for now, it's too tricky to play in moderation, and if I can't do that I shouldn't play at all.

I'll be on the forums. See you around.


Code: [Select]
Woodcutter, Workshop, Feast, Militia, Moneylender, Remodel, Spy, Thief, Library, Mine

---------- DarkCharizard: turn 1 ----------
DarkCharizard - plays 2 Copper
DarkCharizard - buys Estate
---------- Titandrake: turn 1 ----------
Titandrake - plays 4 Copper
Titandrake - buys Moneylender
---------- DarkCharizard: turn 2 ----------
DarkCharizard - plays 5 Copper
DarkCharizard - buys Mine
---------- Titandrake: turn 2 ----------
Titandrake - plays 3 Copper
Titandrake - buys Silver


------------ Game Over ------------
DarkCharizard - cards: 2 Remodel, 1 Militia, 1 Library, 5 Copper, 4 Gold, 2 Silver, 8 Estate, 5 Duchy, 4 Province
DarkCharizard - total victory points: 47
DarkCharizard - turns: 23
Titandrake - cards: 2 Library, 1 Moneylender, 1 Remodel, 7 Silver, 3 Copper, 2 Gold, 6 Estate, 4 Province, 3 Duchy
Titandrake - total victory points: 39
Titandrake - turns: 22

(Not looking for advice, I have a decent idea of what mistakes I made. This is more of a "that just happened" post.)

Game Reports / Try out this kingdom, it's pretty neat
« on: June 09, 2016, 01:55:39 am »

Code: [Select]
Expedition, Lost Arts, Amulet, Caravan Guard, Wishing Well, Cutpurse, Island, Remake, Cartographer, Lost City, Fairgrounds, Expand
Comments on strategy I played in spoilers.

Fairgrounds and weak money support push you towards an engine-y thing. Many cantrips makes hitting 6 VP Fairgrounds feasible. Lost City is a key card, since it's the only way to increase handsize, although Cartographer + WW is a plausible backup. No +Buy means you need to get creative to gain more than 1 card a turn. In this case, you do so by using Amulet to gain Silvers (only way to increase raw deck size). Silvers then get fed into Remake/Expand to get actions you want.

It's hard to play and I'm certain I didn't play it very well, but I believe it beats the alternative strategies.

Dominion Articles / Who's The Beatdown? The Dominion Version
« on: May 21, 2016, 04:09:02 pm »
Who's The Beatdown is one of the most influential Magic: the Gathering strategy articles of all time. Who's The Beatdown was written over 17 years ago, but its core principles are still applicable today, not just in MtG, but in gaming communities the world over. I highly recommend reading it if you're familiar with MtG terminology.

I don't expect to write a good article the first time through, so I'll post a draft now, and edit it when I have time to.

Version history: last updated May 21, 2016

There's a saying in the Dominion community: when in doubt between a money strategy and an engine strategy, build the engine. In practice, players who practice this philosophy have been among the strongest players of the game. Why?

The reason given by SCSN for this philosophy is that engine games are harder to play optimally than money games. Engine games simply have more decisions - what actions to buy, how and when to buy VP, what order to play actions, and so on. In other words, the skill ceiling of engine play is much, much higher than BM games. By trying to go for the engine, you get more experience in engine building, which is key to climbing the ladder. This is a fine argument, but I want to focus on arguments for winning the current game, not meta-arguments about improvement strategies.

My reason for preferring the engine is simple. Playing an engine gives you more control over the game. When properly built, an engine has more control over when the game ends than a BM deck. The engine dictates which piles get low at what times. The engine can limit the other player's options, by playing an attack every turn. An engine is always, always favored long term. If the Province pile was 16 or 20 Provinces instead of 8, even the most absurd engines would beat a BM strategy.

The reason, then, that BM is still relevant is because engines are not always easy to build. In games with hard engines, a money strategy can often race down enough Provinces to stop the engine from catching up in VP. This is what makes Rebuild-BM so monolithic - it grabs Provinces fairly quickly, while destroying the catch-up mechanism of buying Duchies, and can accelerate the game end by trashing Province -> Province. By itself, Rebuild gives an unprecedented amount of control over the game, and because it does so by itself, it's hard to justify adding too much to Rebuild-BM.

In short, in the classical BM vs engine question, BM is the beatdown player, and the engine is the control player. The BM player wants to end the game as quickly as possible, while the control player wants to prolong the game end to give time to build. This heavily influences how both players should play. When playing against an engine, the BM player buys Gold over Duchy much longer than they would in a BM mirror, because their win condition is emptying Provinces; little else matters. When playing against BM, the engine player can empty action piles much lower than in an engine mirror, because the BM player has fewer buys, and cannot easily contest actions without slowing down their deck.

The key realization here is that the beatdown vs control dichotomy appears in every game. In BM mirrors, in engine mirrors, there is always a player who wants the game to end quickly, and a player who wants the game to end slowly. Furthermore, a BM player is not always beatdown, and an engine player is not always control.

Consider the following scenario: in an engine mirror, the key action split is the Villages, and the split happens 4-6. The player with 6 Villages is now favored long term. If they have time to do so, the max capacity of their deck is bigger. Thus, the player with 4 Villages is now the beatdown, even though they're building an engine. Their goal is to end the game before the 6 Village player has time to build. The beatdown will still buy actions for their Villages, but will buy Treasures and Victory cards sooner. The 6 Village player, in turn, will try to stall the game by buying more actions, because their deck can afford to and will win long term if given the chance.

Here's a generalization of the same scenario: both players are playing an engine mirror. One player is ahead on building. This player is now the beatdown - they want to continue pressing their advantage, eventually buying VP at a time when the other engine both cannot afford to ignore VP and cannot afford to stop building.

What makes Dominion so interesting to me is that unlike MtG, the deck is created during the game itself. This tests your ability to recognize game flow more than any other game. An engine could be the beatdown in an engine mirror, dud for a turn, then have to be the control player.

These beatdown vs control decisions are not always overarching strategy decisions - they are implicitly baked into the cards each player decides to buy. If you open with a trashing card, you're implicitly making the following bet: "the short term economy loss I'll get from trashing cards is worth the long term improvements to my deck". Trashing is fundamentally a control player move, because trashing is only worth it if the game lasts long enough to make the short term loss worth it. This is why Chapel is so strong - it trashes so quickly that the long term is almost always going to come fast enough.

A single Herald is awful, but many Heralds are amazing. When a player buys a Herald, they're staking a claim. "I believe I can buy enough actions in time to make this cantrip for $4 worth it down the line." If you believe Herald isn't worth it, you're now the beatdown player - you need, absolutely need, to end the game before you die to a Herald stack.

A player who starts playing BM, then tries to switch to engine is going to lose, because they started out with a beatdown strategy, and tried switching to a control strategy. If you plan to take short term losses for long term gains, you should do so as early as possible, to make sure there's enough game left to reap your reward. Similarly, an engine player that tries switching to BM will often fizzle out, because they didn't finish their plan of buying enough actions to make their short term losses pay off. It can be scary, and it's not always right, but sometimes you have to have faith that your engine will come together in time, and not be intimidated when the BM player has 4 Provinces before you've bought one.

If you're playing engine or BM against a Gardens rush, you are the control player. The BM deck should not contest many Gardens, and neither should the engine, because it forces the game to end sooner. It is only worth doing so if you believe you can both deny enough VP and gain enough catchup VP to have more by the game end, while the Gardens player is ending the game ASAP. This is usually not true.

The greatest position you can be in is forcing the beatdown player to play like a control player, or vice versa. Gain enough VP to make the Gardens rush forced to stall and try to buy Duchies. Get action piles low enough to force the other engine player to buy VP for fear of a 3-pile. If you can get in a scenario where your opponent has to play against type, they'll do a bad job at it, because everything about their deck is pulling them the other way.

And, in turn, the greatest mistake you can make is playing against your role. Picking up VP when your engine has control and still has time to build. Contesting Duchies against Duchy-Duke as an engine player, instead of trying to rush down Provinces before the Duke player can buy 6 VP Dukes for $5.

If you do not identify whether you want the game to go long or short, and play against your best interests, you will lose, unless you have a big enough advantage to cover for your mistakes.

Game Reports / Bad luck into perfect luck
« on: May 04, 2016, 05:18:59 am »

Code: [Select]
Vineyard, Storeroom, Urchin, Herald, Mining Village, Nomad Camp, Tournament, Cache, Festival, Torturer
Played a game against HvB today. I wish I recorded this game, because it's hard to show how far behind I was, and how quickly it turned around. I repeatedly bet the game on drawing the right cards at the right time, and won every time.

T1 + T2: both open Urchin/Urchin
T3 + T4: bottom two cards are my two Urchins. This isn't that bad, but Urchin hits a 5 Copper hand. I hit $4 and $2 this shuffle, so I only get one Herald.
T5: I get my Merc, but draw into 2 Copper + 3 Estate, so again I can't buy anything. Meanwhile HvB is up 1 Herald and 1 Torturer on me.
T6: Forced to discard 2 Coppers to Merc. I hit $3. Normally you buy a 3rd Urchin to increase your chances of gaining a 2nd Merc, but I decide, screw it, I'm stupidly far behind. I'm going to buy a Silver for economy, and my Urchin is going to collide with Merc. If it doesn't I lose anyways.
T7: Urchin collides with Merc, I get to trash 2 Estates, gain a 2nd Merc, and hit $4 to buy something useful.
T8: Draw all my junk, buy nothing because an Urchin or Silver isn't worth a Curse from Torturer.
T9: I am down by: 1 Herald, 1 Torturer, 2 Tournaments, 1 Urchin. Also I have 7 Copper + Estate + Curse as junk, compared to 3 Coppers for junk. Against all odds, I get to play both Mercs and hit $8, buying Province. (I don't have Tournament yet, but this lets me block HvB's Tournaments, and it's a lot easier to hit $4 than $8.)
T10: Still horribly behind on actions. I keep Herald + Estate + Curse for my 3 card hand, hoping I hit Merc. I hit both. Trash 4 junk cards, buy that Tournament.

At this point, I'm actually thinner than my opponent. By the time HvB hits $8 again, I've gained both Trusty Steed and Princess. At that point, it's a matter of using Herald overpay to topdeck Province every turn and Steed + Princess to catch up on my action deficit. By T14 my deck is basically HvB's deck with extra Prizes; on T15 HvB duds and resigns.

General Discussion / The Bracket Bracket
« on: April 08, 2016, 07:18:17 pm »
But what's the best bracket?  Can somebody make a bracket for that?

You're telling me I have a chance to meme on f.DS? LET'S GO.

I decided to be a bit loose with regards to activity/seriousness to get up to 8 total brackets.

1 The Village Bracket
8 The Token Bracket

4 The Alt-VP Bracket
5 The Action-Reaction Bracket

3 This Bracket
6 The Basic Treasure Bracket

2 The Random Things Bracket
7 Bracket Wars

Seeding is my personal preference. I will not vote unless I have to break a tie, and will always vote for the higher seed.

(If people actually vote on this I'll mod it, but I fully expect this to die.)

Game Reports / A surprising comeback
« on: March 25, 2016, 12:09:54 am »
This is a game where my opponent gets Followers + Steed + Princess before I gain my first Prize, and I win.

A lot of things had to go right here - I was allowed to win the Hunting Party split, and my Swindler hit Trusty Steed in midgame, but with no trashing and no +Actions besides Steed, it's very surprising I managed to make up such a huge deficit.

Dominion Articles / Concealing Information
« on: March 01, 2016, 08:16:25 pm »
I briefly talked about this in the last 2 streams I did, so maybe I should actually write about it. I don't think anyone's actually talked about it before, and it's a great way for me to procrastinate on my essays.

To people who are new to the game, Dominion often looks like multiplayer solitaire, where everyone races to the best deck with little interaction. Of course, once you play for a while, you realize this isn't true. The right cards to buy and right cards to play can depend heavily on your opponent's deck, even in games with no attacks.

When you're playing Dominion, you're not playing a wall, you're playing a person. So, you shouldn't do anything that makes it easier for your opponent to win the game. This article focuses on a small aspect of this: minimizing information.

(As a foreword, this applies only to Dominion Online. Information in face to face Dominion is very different.)


Here's a simple example. Suppose you have 6 Coppers in hand. You would prefer buying Lab over Gold. What most people would do (and what I would do) is click the play all treasures button, and buy a Lab. If you do this, you're actually leaking information: your opponent now knows you value Lab more than Gold. You had the money for Gold, but bought Lab instead. Depending on your opponent, this might not help them. If they agree that Lab > Gold for you, they didn't learn anything new. But, if they disagree, you've given them a reason to reassess their beliefs. If Lab > Gold for you, is Lab > Gold for them? Maybe it is, and if they decide that's true, they're going to play a bit better going forward.

Here's a more extreme example. You draw a starting hand of 5 Platinums. You play your hand and buy a Colony. Now, your opponent knows all 5 of your Platinums collided, and you're much less likely to hit $11 in later hands this shuffle.

In Dominion, every card you play, every card you discard, every card you gain, and every card you buy is public information. This will all show up in the text log. If you buy Herbalist for $11, your opponent knows you've just bought Herbalist for $11.

That realization comes with a corollary: if you can hide information about your deck and/or strategy, you should do so. Giving your opponent more information can only help them play better, so you should give off as little information as possible.

Now, this comes with limits. Take the 6 Copper example. If I planned to buy Lab over Gold, I wouldn't play 5 Coppers one by one, because I don't want to play treasures one by one until I hit exactly how much I need. For me, getting a faster game by always clicking "Play All Treasures" is worth whatever information I leak about myself. Even in the 5 Platinum case, I'd play all 5 Platinum. The only times I put information hiding into practice is when it's around as fast as "normal" play.

(This is the big reason this applies mostly to online play. In real life, playing 5 Coppers is no slower than playing 6 Coppers, and I'll hold back treasures with no hesitation.)

Here are the scenarios where I explicitly do things to hide information about my deck.  I won't share logs, because this is something that's best visible in streams and videos. For what it's worth, a lot of high-level streamers do this already. It's something a lot of people teach themselves.

  • A player has 1 buy, more than enough to buy a Province, and only needs to play 1 Treasure to hit $8. For example, they have $5 from actions, and their hand has 1 Gold and 2 Silvers. Instead of clicking "Play All Treasures", they should click just the Gold and buy Province. Same speed, but they reveal fewer cards from their hand. (Aside: in the Making Fun implementation, you can tell if people are doing this from the text log. Clicking just the Gold logs "plays a Gold". Clicking "Play All Treasures" with 1 Gold in hand logs "plays 1 Gold".)
  • A player is building an engine. They've drawn their deck, have actions left over, and none of them have any benefit. (For example, they're all Villages, but there's no more cards to draw.) They should end the action phase and go to buys, because it hides that they have leftover actions. It takes longer to play all the extra actions anyways - why bother? Note this also means you should never play Ruined Village, unless you need it for Conspirator or Horn of Plenty. (Or you're trying to make it miss a reshuffle, but let's not get into edgecase land.)

The last scenario is big enough to deserve it's own section, and in fact is the reason why I wrote this in the first place. In many scenarios, you can hide information in the opening.

First, here's an example without a board. Suppose Ambassador is on the board, and these are the only openings on 3/4 that you think are reasonable.
  • Amb/Amb
  • Amb/Silver
Let's further say you think Amb/Silver is better than Amb/Amb, and you think your opponent is good enough to open Ambassador. Then on 3/4, the correct turn 1 buy is always Ambassador, not Silver. If you buy Silver, and your opponent models you as someone who will buy an Ambassador, then they know you're going to open Amb/Silver. Whereas if you had bought Ambassador, your opponent still doesn't know if you plan for Amb/Amb or Amb/Silver. This is one of the rare cases where being player 2 is helpful - if you buy your Silver after your opponent commits to opening Amb/Amb, it's too late for them to change their mind.

If you have 3/4, and your opening is two cards costing $3 or less, you should think briefly about which card appears in more openings and buy that card first. This maximizes your opponent's uncertainty about you.

Here's another example: Chapel/Silver vs Chapel/Workshop. The first is better at hitting $5 early on, the second could gain more engine pieces. You should always buy Chapel turn 1, to hide how much you value an early $5. (If Witch is in the game, Chapel/Silver has a lot of merit.)

Finally, here's the most recent example I have, from a Base-only game.

Code: [Select]
Cellar, Chapel, Chancellor, Village, Workshop, Feast, Gardens, Moneylender, Smithy, Market
The reasonable openings are
  • Chapel/Silver, with the plan to trash down and get some early economy (and possibly get an early +Buy source from Market)
  • Chapel/Workshop, with the plan to trash down and gain Villages + Smithies before buying treasures
  • Workshop/Workshop, with the plan for a Workshop/Gardens rush

I judged the engine as stronger than the rush, and Chapel/Workshop as the clear best opening. Accordingly, I bought Chapel turn 1 and Workshop turn 2.

But, this was actually the wrong opening order. Anyone who thinks the engine is best is going to open Chapel/Workshop, because they'll be a good enough player to immediately write off Chapel/Moneylender or Chapel/Silver as good openings. The correct turn 1 buy is Workshop, because this hides whether you're going for the engine or going for Gardens.

Finally, if you're patient enough, you can see information hiding in the linked logs. On my turn 8, I draw my deck and don't play Chapel because I want to keep all my treasures. On turn 10, I draw my deck, play Workshop gaining Smithy, played Village to draw it, then Chapelled away a Copper. This is a mistake. I had no reason to play Village, and should have played only Workshop and Chapel.

(Feel free to share any notable examples from your games. I'll stop here, I've procrastinated enough.)

Game Reports / If you want Thief to be relevant, try Base only
« on: January 02, 2016, 04:07:38 am »

Code: [Select]
Chapel, Moat, Village, Workshop, Moneylender, Remodel, Spy, Thief, Throne Room, Library

I'm a cheapskate who hasn't bought any expansions. That means that I've been playing a lot of Base only games recently. They're usually a bit dull, but it's not as boring as you would think.

Case in point:

I've actually been burned by Thief in Base-only games a few times. It's only relevant with Chapel, but when both are in the game you do need to keep it in mind, as Thief will relentlessly punish a deck if you trash too thin.

My plan in this game is to trash down while using Workshop to gain Village, Throne Room, and Remodel. I pick up an early Silver to hit $5 for Library. For there, the ideal plan is to get actions from Throne Room, play Library, then play Workshops to gain pieces and Remodels to trash things up towards Provinces. That decreases the handsize for the next Library.

This is a bit convoluted, but with Chapel you can set it up pretty quickly. More importantly, this will completely demolish any deck that tries to get to $8 through treasures. All I have to do is gain a Thief from Workshop and it'll tear through those treasures. And, since my deck is so thin, I'll be able to draw the stolen treasures on the same turn. My opponent goes for Chapel as well, but overtrashes and buys more treasures than he should. I accordingly pick up a Thief, steal some Silver and Gold that I find through Spy attack, and use the swing to walk away with the game. My opponent's Moat helps stem the tide (and I pick one up too in case my opponent tries to go for Thief as well), but it doesn't help enough. Conceivably, picking up enough Moats lets you counter Thief, but if that ever happened I would just Remodel Thief into Library or Gold.

So, what do I want to get across?
- This was a surprisingly cool board. I picked up every action except Moneylender, and every single one served an important purpose. Even Spy - it gave me a quick way to check for Moat, and set up Thief steals. If I find out my opponent has Moat, I can skip Thief when playing Library.
- I picked my strategy in part because it gave lots of flexibility and countered other strategies well. The strength of cards like Workshop and Remodel is that they let you transform your deck when you need them to. I don't have to pick up Thief until I know it'll be good, and I can do so almost the same turn I play it.
- Base can often be boring, but that doesn't mean it always is.
- Yes, every card has a board that can make it shine.

Finally, now that I'm making this post, I see something that could be better than what I did, which I didn't even see in the game itself. Do you?

TR + Moat as main draw. All the Moats you need will protect against Thief, and the draw lets you play a Thief of your own if you want. To do this right you probably want a second Workshop, you need a lot more pieces to hit critical mass and there's no +Buy to pick up Moats easily.

Forum Games / A paper about Mafia
« on: September 02, 2015, 11:32:28 pm »
Analysis of Mafia assuming perfectly intelligent players, with no power roles or with 1 cop. Open access paper, so anyone can download it.

The proofs to show the strategies work are harder to read, but you can skip over it if you don't want to deal with all the probability.

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