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Mean Mr Mustard

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Alchemy: Apothecary
« on: January 07, 2012, 01:38:13 am »
+7

Apothecary is an elite, tricky engine card.  It can contribute to strategies that end games extremely quickly, rivaling Governor, Apprentice and even Chapel.

<b>Functions and Shortcomings of Apothecary</b>

Apothecary is a non-terminal action that allows the user to draw a card, reveal the top four cards in the deck, put all revealed Coppers and Potions into the hand and rearrange the remaining cards on top of the deck in any order, for the low cost of 2P.  A deck with a high proportion of copper and Apothecaries cycles quickly and can produce great buying power but as the deck fills with other types of cards, notably VP, the pure Apothecary engine slows and later will stall out once a critical mass of green cards populate the deck.  Eventually, playing Apothecaries multiple times per turn will leave a clump of useless victory cards on top of the deck in a sort of Rabble effect and the starting Copper will be far too spread out to constitute, by itself, a working economy.   Without some other Kingdom support this scenario will develop in almost any game long before the winning amount of VP can be achieved.

<b>Apothecary Deck Styles</b>

There are a multitude of ways to play Apothecary, and as every Kingdom is virtually unique it is impossible to incorporate every possible Apothecary strategy into one definitive article.  This article will instead define and discuss three broad and somewhat overlapping Apothecary-based strategies: the Fast Cash Deck, the Cycling Deck and the Engine Support Deck.  Each of the deck styles plays upon different aspects of Apothecary and the rest of the Kingdom.

The purpose of the Fast Cash deck is to generate $6 and $7 quickly in order to buy important high cost cards like <a href=http://councilroom.com/game?game_id=game-20110924-223522-c4c601ac.html>Goons</a>, <a href=http://councilroom.com/game?game_id=game-20120106-111407-0114b461.html>King's Court</a>, and <a href=http://councilroom.com/game?game_id=game-20110628-185408-c3b0d914.html>Mint</a>.  The Apothecary is not necessarily the driving engine for the long game, but rather a means to an end.  The better cards become the focus of the deck, with Apothecary in a secondary role of cycling out weaker cards and forcing reshuffles.  This deck can open Potion/Silver but usually harmed by adding additional Silver. Get in, get out and use powerful early purchases to accelerate the end game.

The Cycling Deck is a Copper engine strategy that uses high Apothecary density and anti-Rabble techniques to plow through accumulating piles of clutter that naturally form during heavy Apothecary use.  The <a href=http://forum.dominionstrategy.com/index.php?topic=884.msg14154>Native Village strategy</a> is an example of this style of deck, but using a mix of other Kingdom cards like <a href=http://councilroom.com/game?game_id=game-20111229-014910-40bcf843.html>Warehouse</a>, <a href=http://councilroom.com/game?game_id=game-20110924-220929-8995ad85.html>Wishing Well</a>, Salvager, Farming Village, <a href=http://councilroom.com/game?game_id=game-20110926-000849-4e3fc408.html>Golem</a>, <a href=http://councilroom.com/game?game_id=game-20110901-003205-d7d0f892.html>Vault</a>, <a href=http://councilroom.com/game?game_id=game-20111119-033835-2dbffb61.html>Coppersmith</a> and Cartographer can work just as well.  Any Kingdom that can effectively deal with Rabble or Ghost ship should be fertile Apothecary ground.  This deck opens Potion/- rather than Potion/Silver but prefers to open Potion/Cantrip.

The Engine Support deck uses Apothecaries to prepare the way for important powerful combinations like <a href=http://councilroom.com/game?game_id=game-20111213-044649-1cd08e0f.html>Village/Torturer</a> or <a href=http://councilroom.com/game?game_id=game-20110807-212824-4d7c44f4.html>King's Court/King's Court/X</a>.  Village and King's Court-based engines can be a bit unreliable and Apothecary can help stabilize a deck by removing unwanted coppers and rearranging the deck order to better serve current and future needs.  This deck may open Potion/Silver or not open with Potion; buying key trashing or engine cards may take precedence.  Buy the Potion before the second reshuffle or not at all.

<b>Apothecary Openers</b>

Though not always true, in many cases it is not overly beneficial to buy silver while building an Apothecary-based deck.  There are terminal and non-terminal actions that can be much better.  Apothecary pairs very well with <a href=http://councilroom.com/game?game_id=game-20110908-055830-6175c2d2.html>Ambassador</a> and should probably be considered the dominant strategy in most Kingdoms.  Other good $3 openers are <a href=http://councilroom.com/game?game_id=game-20111221-122915-ce74de25.html>Shanty Town</a>, <a href=http://councilroom.com/game?game_id=game-20111211-230604-9cee4f16.html>Lookout</a>, Scheme, and <a href=http://councilroom.com/game?game_id=game-20110811-132335-48a62e27.html>Steward</a>.  Opening Potion/Copper is suspect at best.

<b>Apothecary Within Alchemy</b>

Apothecary functions well in an Alchemy-heavy Kingdom, supporting other powerful Potion-cost cards.  <a href=http://councilroom.com/game?game_id=game-20110905-195321-0f340b0c.html>Scrying Pool</a> benefits from Apothecary in a couple of important ways.  Apothecary allows the user to rearrange the actions for a strong Scrying Pool draw while removing the Copper that will block the draw.  With an Apothecary or two it becomes fairly easy to buy both Golem and <a href=http://councilroom.com/game?game_id=game-20111224-194741-4249e2ab.html>Possession</a>; Golem can in turn help Apothecary by clearing out unwanted cards left on the deck and by keeping the chain going.  A few Apothecaries will help an <a href=http://councilroom.com/game?game_id=game-20110622-085248-cc9df22d.html>Alchemist engine</a> by seeking out the important Potion needed to top-deck Alchemists and by making it easier to draw the whole deck.  Apothecary, through superior cycling, may also help <a href=http://councilroom.com/game?game_id=game-20110413-191451-013248a7.html> win the Familiar curse war</a> and get more uses out of University early in the game.


<b>When to Avoid Apothecary</b>

The number one reason to not play Apothecary is when there is a dominant strategy that does not require or want Apothecary.  There are some very solid engine strategies involving cards like Menagerie, Chapel, Grand Market, Embassy, Spice Merchants or Fool's Gold that, depending on the Kingdom, may conflict with or be too fast for Apothecary to deal with.  This is a board by board judgement call, and the ability to correctly size up a Kingdom is a distinguishing mark of the better player.

There are some hard counters that should be taken into account as well.  Embargo can make a Potion buy dangerous.  Swindler may strip out Coppers and replace them with Curses, Rabble can complicate matters and Possession can punish a heavy Apothecary user by using the tactical advantage Apothecary grants against the Possessed by stripping out good cards while leaving behind a pile of junk for the next draw.  By doing so the Possessor effectively gains a second free turn.

<b>In Conclusion</b>

While learning to master this card be prepared to lose some games.  It is very easy to gain three Provinces with Apothecary but that is often enough to stop an Apothecary deck in its tracks.  Being able to spot ways to overcome Apothecary's shortcomings and maximizing the tactical potential of Apothecary's multiple abilities and characteristics is the key to building solid, fast Apothecary-based decks.
« Last Edit: January 09, 2012, 01:37:11 pm by Mean Mr Mustard »
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timchen

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Re: Alchemy: Apothecary
« Reply #1 on: January 07, 2012, 03:27:38 am »
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Great article! I have been struggling with the Apothecary for a long time. Seeing some general and definite uses and setups is great.

To ask a strict question: what do you open with Salvager and no other cantrip? Do you take potion+silver or no silver? With a $3 cantrip do you take it over silver?
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ackack

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Re: Alchemy: Apothecary
« Reply #2 on: January 07, 2012, 01:35:07 pm »
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I actually find zero trashing situations to be among the best for Apothecary, simply because that's where its comparative advantage is highest. While I'd agree Salvager is a nice Apothecary complement, in some sense I think it makes Apothecary less powerful relative to what else will likely be possible on the board.

I think a key question about true Apothecary-centric strategies is how much you should be buying Copper along the way. I played an Apothecary/Bank/Worker's Village game once that started out absolutely phenomenal, but while it still won pretty easily it choked most likely because of too many Apothecaries, Banks and WVs and not enough actual draw power being given by the Apothecaries I did have. Towards the end of the game I realized that buying Copper along the way would have been quite powerful for that engine, almost certainly better than what I was doing.
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Davio

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Re: Alchemy: Apothecary
« Reply #3 on: January 07, 2012, 04:13:28 pm »
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I find that Apothecary works well with other specialized drawers like Scrying Pool or even Scout.
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Young Nick

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Re: Alchemy: Apothecary
« Reply #4 on: January 07, 2012, 04:17:22 pm »
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This article is not complete if there is not a link to the Native Village/Apothecary Combo (that you, MMM, if I am not mistaken, wrote).
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mischiefmaker

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Re: Alchemy: Apothecary
« Reply #5 on: January 07, 2012, 06:35:50 pm »
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I played a couple hours' worth of Apothecary-Wishing Well, Apothecary-Warehouse, Apothecary-Salvager, and Apothecary-Coppersmith solitaire games to get a feel for these decks, and I have to say, they're fun to play and put a lot more emphasis on tactics (controlling your reshuffle and the top of your deck, primarily) than most strategies.

Also it seems to me that any of these combos on their own are not blazing fast -- I didn't sim them because of the decision points I mention above but with no other help on the board they usually clock in around 15-16 turns. If you green early you can get to 3 provinces around 12 turns but then the deck stalls pretty hard (Salvager of course being the exception) and you can flail for several turns without even being able to buy Duchies. I suspect that these combos tend to be like King's Court-Scheme (just to pick an example that comes to mind); if you just play KC-Scheme-BM, you're not really doing it right. Same with Apothecary-Warehouse-BM: reasonably fast, maybe good enough to stand on its own if the rest of the board is meh, but will really shine as the core of your engine.

While I was messing around, I discovered a high-variance combo that is a ton of fun to play: Apothecary/Chancellor. It's not great; a lot of times it doesn't get going until late and then stalls early, but when it clicks, it is VERY fast (4 provinces in 12-14 turns). I would totally play this deck in a home game where I don't as much care about winning.
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HiveMindEmulator

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Re: Alchemy: Apothecary
« Reply #6 on: January 08, 2012, 01:52:02 am »
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I don't think apothecary conflicts with possession. You may not want an apothecary deck in a possession game, but an early apothecary can lead to a very early possession. Then just stop with the apothecaries, and even trash your first one if you can.
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Razzishi

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Re: Alchemy: Apothecary
« Reply #7 on: January 08, 2012, 03:37:34 pm »
+1

I think this is the great start of an article, but it needs a bit more fleshing out.  It pretty much tells people that making an Apothecary deck is a good idea, but doesn't really provide them with any information about how about to go putting it together.  For instance, you need a Potion for Apothecary and mention Salvager is an elite companion, but you don't say which to open with.  You say that Silver has no place in such a deck, but don't mention whether you should be buying Copper instead on your opener when there's no good $3 (or to abandon the idea of playing it when there's no good $3).
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DG

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Re: Alchemy: Apothecary
« Reply #8 on: January 08, 2012, 04:44:54 pm »
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There could be something included about cluttering the deck. Each extra card added reduces the chances of the apothecaries drawing through the copper. This means that you really need to be able win with 5 provinces/colonies or be able to transition out from copper, but transitioning away from copper can be tricky.
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Mean Mr Mustard

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Re: Alchemy: Apothecary 2.0
« Reply #9 on: January 09, 2012, 02:18:27 am »
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First rewrite in.  Comments, critiques  and suggestions appreciated.
« Last Edit: January 09, 2012, 02:35:48 am by Mean Mr Mustard »
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Re: Alchemy: Apothecary 2.0
« Reply #10 on: January 09, 2012, 02:45:26 am »
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add an example game for each style!?
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Mean Mr Mustard

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Re: Alchemy: Apothecary 2.0
« Reply #11 on: January 09, 2012, 03:34:33 am »
+1

Okay, added some game samples and a couple more sections.
« Last Edit: January 09, 2012, 06:46:13 am by Mean Mr Mustard »
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jomini

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Re: Alchemy: Apothecary 2.2
« Reply #12 on: January 09, 2012, 09:28:53 am »
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I'm not sure I'd call swindler the silver bullet.

Sure, you lose coppers and gain curses, but: unlike a lot of action cards apothecary is immune to being swindled itself. We all know how much it hurts to have engine cards get swindled into something useless (duchy, garden, chancellor), but apothecary can only be swindled into a university. This leaves you immune (up until the apothecaries run out of the supply) to losing engine cards.

As far as the actual damage from swindled cards there are three responses - buy more copper, deplete the curse pile yourself, and use the top deck control to deal with the curses. If you have +buy, coppers can be bought to keep the engine alive. Once the curses are gone, swindler will very kindly force them back into coppers; for this reason I like going swindler/potion - we most likely split the curses, but if my opponent doesn't have apothecaries I can muck up his engine cards (or duchies) pretty much the whole game while he eventually risks a 1 VP swing every time he swindles me. Better still you can play much safer with things like witch when running apothecary. The odds of dead drawing a second witch are pretty low and you can often set up when to pull through rabble-junk and when to draw terminals. Also, top deck control lets you deal with curses in a surprisingly effective manner - NV, assured draw off an upgrade, and easy mass forge of doom.

I'd also consider expanding to 4 types of engines, the fourth being megaturn play. Coppersmith + apothecary + buy can be strong with no other engine components, with a cheap village, like hamlet/CS/Apoth, CS/Apoth can set up some amazing megaturns with just copper. Secret chamber and vault can allow individual coppers to be drawn/discarded multiple times (e.g. apoth/village/sc/apoth can use just 6 coppers to hit 12 coin). Because this is setting up for multiple province or colony buys, deck clogging is not as much of an issue and the tempo is very different from a cycling deck.
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DG

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Re: Alchemy: Apothecary 2.2
« Reply #13 on: January 09, 2012, 11:37:42 am »
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Markets and stables can also be good partner cards. There are also some interactions with other alchemy cards, such as taking an apothecary before scrying pools or alchemists.
« Last Edit: January 09, 2012, 11:41:46 am by DG »
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WanderingWinder

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Re: Alchemy: Apothecary 2.2
« Reply #14 on: January 09, 2012, 11:57:46 am »
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@jomini: Swindler hitting copper is hugely deadly for an apothecary deck, and more likely to boot. Potentially the potion can get hit too. The big thing apothecary has going for it here, though, is that you're fairly likely to have an estate lying on top of your deck, leftover from an apothecary.
http://councilroom.com/game?game_id=game-20120108-140823-d7ca72e1.html is a pretty nice game where apothecary/wishing well with market support powered me home. Wishing Well can get massive percentages in apothecary decks.

DStu

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Re: Alchemy: Apothecary 2.2
« Reply #15 on: January 09, 2012, 12:08:22 pm »
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@jomini: Swindler hitting copper is hugely deadly for an apothecary deck, and more likely to boot. Potentially the potion can get hit too. The big thing apothecary has going for it here, though, is that you're fairly likely to have an estate lying on top of your deck, leftover from an apothecary.
The left-over Estate should be in your hand and not on your deck. As the cards that are on your deck are never* observed by these inspection-actions, they should be just unbiased random.
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Deadlock39

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Re: Alchemy: Apothecary 2.2
« Reply #16 on: January 09, 2012, 12:13:55 pm »
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Ditto/Ninja'd

Now if you are already in your second turn from Outpost, arrange 4 cards from Apothecary with an Estate at the bottom, and then play another Outpost even though it can't give you an extra turn...  well, your deck is terrible, and you are probably going to lose despite blocking the Swindler.

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Re: Alchemy: Apothecary 2.2
« Reply #17 on: January 09, 2012, 12:16:42 pm »
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Now if you are already in your second turn from Outpost, arrange 4 cards from Apothecary with an Estate at the bottom, and then play another Outpost even though it can't give you an extra turn...  well, your deck is terrible, and you are probably going to lose despite blocking the Swindler.

I knew why I put the star behind never...
edit: Actually, I didn't knew why , just that I better put it there...
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WanderingWinder

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Re: Alchemy: Apothecary 2.2
« Reply #18 on: January 09, 2012, 12:19:01 pm »
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@jomini: Swindler hitting copper is hugely deadly for an apothecary deck, and more likely to boot. Potentially the potion can get hit too. The big thing apothecary has going for it here, though, is that you're fairly likely to have an estate lying on top of your deck, leftover from an apothecary.
The left-over Estate should be in your hand and not on your deck. As the cards that are on your deck are never* observed by these inspection-actions, they should be just unbiased random.
I'm stupid. People make this mistake all the time... I really oughta know better
Though I imagine the apothecaries still do mess with what's on top more often... but I'm not sure how.

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Re: Alchemy: Apothecary 2.2
« Reply #19 on: January 09, 2012, 12:22:04 pm »
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I'm stupid. People make this mistake all the time... I really oughta know better
Though I imagine the apothecaries still do mess with what's on top more often... but I'm not sure how.

Maybe it's that you trigger a reshuffle more often and/or have more Coppers in hand while you trigger these reshuffles, which will cause your average draw-pile to consist of less Coppers than usual.
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Re: Alchemy: Apothecary 2.2
« Reply #20 on: January 09, 2012, 01:05:35 pm »
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I had never had any great love for Apothecary, but just yesterday played a game where I got absolutely schooled by someone who didn't ship the Coppers back in an Ambassador game with Apothecary on board.  By the time I realized what was happening, he had an absolutely huge number of Coppers, and so he didn't really stall out.  Having Golem to help draw the Apothecaries didn't hurt either...
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jomini

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Re: Alchemy: Apothecary 2.2
« Reply #21 on: January 09, 2012, 01:07:39 pm »
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WW: I realize that apothecary may more likely to be hit due to reshuffle dynamics, but I also see where you can swindle an awful lot more if you can churn with apothecaries, I mean you are starting on off with an expected +3.66 cards per apothecary (1 native and 4 chances at 8/12). I also realize that curses aren't so nasty in an apothecary deck if you can deal with them at all. Apothecaries greatly increase the odds that you can chain actions, draw curses when you already have 8 coin, etc. This ignores options like farming village which also make it more resiliant.

Is apothecary more vulnerable to swindler than other attacks? Yes. Is it the best attack against apothecary? Probably (sea hag is also pretty vicious in its placement). Is swindler more damaging to apothecary decks than others? Some, yes losing coppers (the most likely hit early game) hurts more, but once the curse stack is gone there are very few cards that swindling will hurt. Compare that to chapel/action decks and it tends not to look so bad.  Will it stop an apothecary deck cold? Not so much.  Apothecary decks are among the best for dealing with curses and also allow quick cycling of your own swindlers.
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Mean Mr Mustard

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Re: Alchemy: Apothecary 2.2
« Reply #22 on: January 09, 2012, 01:21:00 pm »
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Edit: added a bit about Apothecary within the Alchemy set and softened the language about Swindler.  Also, someone please PM me about how to add the card graphic?  My html is limited.
« Last Edit: January 09, 2012, 01:51:05 pm by Mean Mr Mustard »
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dondon151

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Re: Alchemy: Apothecary
« Reply #23 on: January 09, 2012, 02:37:45 pm »
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Would Herbalist work as an opening given the lack of any other good $3 openers? With good luck, you can buy Apothecaries on turns 3 and 4 (Herbalist, put Potion back on top), and one thing that I noticed about a lot of Apothecary decks is that players tend to do something like buying Apothecary with $6P, which a +buy helps to resolve.
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Anon79

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Re: Alchemy: Apothecary
« Reply #24 on: January 09, 2012, 09:01:17 pm »
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We all know how much it hurts to have engine cards get swindled into something useless (duchy, garden, chancellor), but apothecary can only be swindled into a university. This leaves you immune (up until the apothecaries run out of the supply) to losing engine cards.
Scrying pool too.
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