From Peasant to Teacher, a traveler's guide
The traveler cards are some of the highest skill cards in Dominion and certainly some of the most explosive too. They radically change a kingdom and open up many imaginative possibilities. This article looks in detail at the peasant line.
So what's the point of these travelers anyway? The big plan is to call the teacher, put tokens onto action piles, and use these improved action cards to win the game.
When don't they work? The peasant line will generally fail with decks full of treasure and junk where it takes a long time to play the teacher and any tokens will have little impact.
What can go wrong? The game can be lost by the time a teacher is called from the mat, the tokens can't be used well enough to change the game, or the actions tokens are great but there are not enough of these actions in the deck. This shows that a deck without good focus will be unable to use travelers well. So lets look first at the heart of it all, the teacher.
Teacher – Teacher is a lot more cumbersome than its cousin, the champion. It needs a terminal action to play, it still doesn't do anything until called the following turn, and it needs to be played and called again to put down another token. This suggests the teacher needs to be played as early as possible in the game so it can have plenty of effect. Since it might not be called many times each token needs to be placed carefully. The first token placed is often used to boost drawing with either with the +1 card token or by improving a drawing card with the +1 action token. This is good for most action engines but it also draws the traveler cards and teacher more frequently. All tokens can be excellent however depending upon the deck and the kingdom. After one or two tokens are placed the teacher might become redundant and it is then fine to leave it on the mat or trash it for any benefit.
To get the most out of tokens, look ahead and decide which piles need tokens then prepare the deck with cards from those piles. This focus is often better than variety, especially if opponents are competing to collect the majority of these cards too. Looking ahead can also prevent running afoul of teacher's golden rule – teacher can't put a second token on a pile. Plans and ferries can get in the way. Use training and lost arts after calling the teacher to get a second token on a key pile.
Disciple – Disciples are not just a stepping stone towards the teacher. They are also the perfect way to both maximize the benefit from placed tokens and collect more cards from piles with tokens. Disciples can also help compete against opponents to claim a majority of cards in a pile. A well focused deck with good drawing will allow the disciple to be played on the best actions. Cards gained with disciples have the potential be drawn and played the same turn, helping a slow starting peasant-teacher strategy to accelerate very quickly.
Fugitive – Fugitives are generally just a stepping stone towards the disciples and offer little unique capability. With fugitives, and all other travelers, it is important to time the shuffling of the deck carefully so that the travelers spend as little time as possible in the discard pile (and draw deck).
Example – With fugitive and laboratory in hand and 3 cards in the draw deck you should generally play the fugitive and not play the laboratory. The fugitive can then be exchanged for a disciple and immediately shuffled into the next draw deck.
Soldier – At the start of the game soldiers are a rather transitory card. The income is moderate, the attack is mediocre, and they consume a valuable action when played. In the end game however they can change into an amazing income card. Once teacher tokens are on an attack pile it is sometimes possible to fill the deck with those attacks (helped by disciples), draw big hands using the token abilities, and then play soldiers for big income.
Peasant – At first it seems as if peasants are only a problem. They certainly seem to offer little at the start of the game when they hold up deck development just to get this traveler line started. Their redeeming feature is the +buy and this can be absolutely vital to engine decks that might want to buy in more travelers (peasants), cards from token piles, and green cards in the endgame. It can be easy to overlook their long term value. Tokens can be placed on the peasant pile and they will affect peasants only and not the travelers.
Building the deck
In most cases, buy a peasant in the first two turns and exchange it through to become the only teacher as soon as possible. This is usually aided by actions that will trash, draw, or cycle through the deck (the teacher might arrive late if there are no such actions in the kingdom). Disciples are a perfect card to use with token piles so often a second peasant can be bought early to become a permanent disciple. Further disciples, soldiers, and peasants should be put into the deck for a specific purpose as they will often arrive too late to be a general asset. Don't keep buying peasants just because they are cheap.
While doing all that the deck needs to be functional, probably a functional engine. It is still important to use strong attacks, defenses, trashing, and so on. Victory points can usually wait until after the teacher has been called. The deck will also need cards from the key piles (the piles which will get tokens). The deck will get immediate benefit if it has a number of these cards when the teacher is called. Ideally the first disciple can gain a key card before it is exchanged to be the teacher. There are exceptions to this, typically when the deck is enabled by placing a +1 action token and without that token the deck will be a mess of terminals. It is always worth remembering that the teacher needs an action to play as well.
If the key cards cost 5 or more then the first peasant will probably not provide enough income to buy one. The first soldier has a better chance but it will only be played once before it gets exchanged so special attention needs to be paid to income from individual hands, not just overall income.
There may not be many turns between the teacher being called and the end of game. This means the deck needs to be brought under control rapidly, usually by drawing the deck and then getting maximum advantage from every action. More key cards can be added to the deck quickly for extra growth using disciples. After deck control comes kingdom control. Play strong attacks repeatedly. Collect a majority of the key cards. Prepare for the endgame with powerful point scoring and secure control of any 3 pile ending. Easy!
Opponents will be competing for important cards such as the traveler upgrades and the key action piles. This can severely restrict some strategies in multiplayer games and games where traveler upgrades can be trashed out (there are only 5 of each upgrade). Competition for action cards can bring about early 3 pile endings. Attacks on decks can be more severe in multiplayer and this can add a lot more risk to a traveler strategy, particularly when travelers can get trashed.