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WanderingWinder

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Ambassador
« on: January 31, 2013, 06:27:04 pm »
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I know there's already an article on the blog on ambassador, and I'm not trying to say it's a bad article in writing this. Only, Ambassador is an extraordinarily complicated card, and I wanted to add some beef to its analysis. In fact, if you are newer, you should go read it now, because I'm assuming you already have some basic familiarity with the card throughout this article.

I used to hate ambassador, but now, even in second position (and it has MASSIVE first player advantage), I'm pretty unlikely to veto it.

I should note that I don't think this is a definitive article on the card that will stand up to the test of time - it's too complicated for that. But I do hope that it will be found mostly insightful, if not all-encompassing, on down the line. For one thing, this has only the barest treatment of Dark Ages, since I've yet to play a game with ambassador and DA cards together. Further, this is entirely dedicated to the 2-player version of Dominion; ambassador plays entirely differently with more players, probably most significantly out of all the cards.

Strategy
What does Ambassador want?
The absolute number one thing to understand about making an ambassador is that you desperately want card draw - some way to increase your hand size (whilst still having an action left). Look at it this way - if you return two cards from your hand, and you haven't drawn anything, then that leaves you with a two card hand. Well, even the best two card hands are generally pretty lousy (unless you have card draw to increase them!). This can actually work sometimes, ambassador is that powerful, but you don't want to have to make it work if you don't absolutely have to (and more on that subject later on).

Looking at it another way, why are you thinning your deck out in the first place? Answer - to get rid of bad cards (and/or give them to your opponent). Right? Okay, but why? What makes them bad cards? Virtually every card actually gives you some kind of benefit over having no cards (exceptions being curse and some of the ruins and such); terminal actions can be worthless if you have too many, but generally why these things are bad is because they get in the way of more important cards. You draw them instead of drawing a better card. But of course, this is only a problem because you are limited in your draw. If you had unlimited drawing, you'd have no problem at all. So to the extent that you can be drawing through your whole deck even with things like copper and even estate in them, then they are actually good cards rather than bad. Of course, this comes with the caveat that you need to be able to keep drawing your deck through them, and its rare that you can do this indefinitely with lots of them. But if you can, then so much the better.

And here's where we come to a really important point about ambassador wars: one ambassador can counter two, over the long haul. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The Ambassador War
Very often, both players go for ambassador, and take turns (often very many turns) flinging junk at each other in an attempt to win what is known as an 'ambassador war'. In such a situation, the thing which is in the foremost of your mind strategically is what I call one player getting 'snowballed under' - getting so flooded with junk, having such a high percentage of your deck be junk, that you basically can't do much of anything. You play maybe one action (usually none) in a turn, make maybe $4 or so on average, and buy something. For the whole game. It can be pretty depressing. Anyway, this is where the property of one ambassador countering two comes into play. Playing two ambassadors can only give two cards' worth of junk, which is the same amount which can be gotten rid of by a single ambassador. So a deck playing one ambassador consistently won't need to be taking on any water against one which can play two. Flinging different kinds of junk can make more of a problem, but over the course of two turns, you can get into a syncopated rhythm where you return two of one on one turn, then two of the other, then two of the first again, and keep yourself almost as clean anyway - just with one extra card of junk all the time. Actually this generalizes - for every different kind of junk card past the first, they can make you keep one extra junk in the deck all the time. But generally, there aren't very many different kinds of junk.

Of course, it's important to note that for this defense to be able to work, you need to be playing the ambassador every turn, which generally means drawing at least most of your deck. This underscores the importance of being able to draw cards, and it also means that at the beginning of the game, where you can't draw a super high proportion, you're vulnerable - hence the reason you very often want two ambassadors early on.

But the upshot of all this is, it's quite possible for nobody to get snowballed under, for neither player to lose the ambassador war, and for the game to just continue to go on, with an eventually more or less steady state, usually with some estate tennis going on. Now, you can try grabbing lots of extra ambassadors to really force through the snowballing, but it's basically just a losing proposition. On the one hand, to defend themselves, they only need to have half as many ambassadors as you need to attack with, but more important even than this is that once they get themselves thinned enough, it's just going to be more cost efficient to build up their draw in most cases.

Thus, in the ambassador war, you'd like to keep your deck squeaky clean, but you really need to work towards getting your engine up whilst of course all the time making sure you don't get snowballed under. Once that happens, you've generally just lost.

Villages
Still talking about what ambassador wants, well it is obviously a terminal action, and it's a card that wants to have an engine. So generally it needs sources of +actions - some kind of village. This will help you get two ambassadors played on a turn, which is often important in the early going, it will help you play draw cards most usually, and it will let you play the other juicy terminals you want to. You very often want LOTS of actions, so lots of villages can well be in order. The nice thing about ambassador is it makes the game long enough that you have the time to accumulate them.

Draw-to-X
Cards which draw to a fixed handsize can work really well with ambassador, because ambassador makes lots of cards disappear from your hand. The big thing to note, though, is that you're going to need just tons and tons of actions in order for that to work.

Cantrips
So, with ambassador, you're trying to thin your deck, and the clog problem is the reason you want to get rid of your junk. But cards with the cantrip property - at least +1 card, +1 action - are essentially 'free' cards; unlike treasures, victory cards, and actions that don't draw, they don't count against your effective deck size. So they go really well with ambassador. The best variants are those which give lab-like bonuses - that draw is really nice, as described above. Villages which draw, again like talked about above, are also quite beneficial.

But it's also worth talking about the third big category (there are some cantrips that fit into none of the three) of cantrip, which is some kind of peddler-variant. These help you build money while keeping card neutral, and so it's actually possible to build a deck from these and ambassador with no card draw, and have it be decently strong. If you ambassador your deck thin enough, you can play a big chain, make a bunch of money, and get some nice things. The best card here is unsurprisingly grand market, if you can get to it. Conspirator also gives good cash for the card, but it is a little risky in that you definitely need to get it in the right order with other cantrips to make sure it is activated.
Bad engines can work in the same way as this kind of deck; specifically, I'm referring to those where the drawing power is equal to moat's (and terminal) and the village nets no cards, such as festival or importantly, hamlet (hamlet can be cantrip, but not while also a village). If you can pick something up along the way with these, they work like cantrips that you need to get in the right order. Of course, with no other ancillary benefits, they wouldn't be worth it at all.
In either case, the biggest problem this kind of deck runs into is that it needs to be very thin to work right, which means that when it starts greening, it's very liable to falling apart pretty quickly. This makes it particularly vulnerable to things like slogs, but just not terribly strong overall anyway, considering its slow set-up - decently strong big money can usually beat it.

Fighting Ambassador Entirely
Few decks can beat ambassador when it has all its toys, but when its missing something, there are a number that can. And this is more of a sliding scale thing - the more things the amb deck is missing, the less strong the counter has to be.

Pseudo-Counters
It's very easy to look at a number of cards and think that, because ambassador tends to sink us in a bunch of a particular kind of card, other cards which make those cards useful can counter it. That is not a very clear sentence, so let me give examples. Counting house, we might expect to be great, because our deck will be huge and full of copper. Similarly, we might think apothecary or crossroads or baron will counter it nicely. But one of the big problems in trying to do this is that ambassador players don't have to pump you full of coppers for your counting house - they will start giving you estates; or if you have barons, they'll flood with copper.
The more of the pseudo-counters you have available, though, you can more get away with it - if you have something to deal with copper AND something that uses estates, it might work. But the tricky bit is that if you need some of them to collide right, the bigger your deck, the less likely this will happen.
Some of them, though, particularly the more engine-oriented ones, can help WITH the ambassador to get your deck up and running in the middle of the war, as they will defray the pain of what your opponent is flinging.

Slogs
One way to fight ambassador entirely is to go for a slog. Estates aren't so bad for you in a slog as in most other decks, and coppers are downright helpful. Horse traders is particularly noteworthy here, as it will trigger almost always, giving you nice six card hands to work with. Gardens of course benefits no matter what they give you, and so can be quite nice. Silk road will like the extra estates and can grow VERY powerful. And duke gives a long potential for points and forces them in some cases to get all the province quite quickly, or quickly for an ambassador game at any rate. In any of these cases, though, the ambassador deck should win if it has decent enough support; you definitely need to watch for slogs, though, with ambassador, particularly on the weaker boards for it, like those cantrip-centred decks discussed above.

The Rush
Ambassador is a very slow card, so Rushes tend to just float by it without noticing all that much, particularly as the extra cards here, like the slog, give extra points; and the speed at which rushes go helps out even moreso. Furthermore, lots of the engines that ambassador wants to go into are going to be curtailed against a rush, because they'll have to worry about getting 3-piled.

Combos
Nothing is safe from a really good combo deck, and ambassador is no exception. The attack can give you leverage against some of the more precarious ones, like the Golden Deck, and give you enough time to get an engine up to outrace others, but there are some decks - like chancellor/stash, or various other decks which have a way of manipulating their start hand (mega-scheme comes to mind) - which will be able to withstand you, no problem. Your best recourse here is either some kind of hand-size attack, or sometimes just to join them, and not go with ambassador.

Big Money
Big Money can blast right though ambassador under the right circumstances. Mostly this means that the money deck needs very good longevity. Jack can of course give this. Trader is good here, too, better than normal since it can turn the attack into quite a nice positive. Wharf can blow past, but then, if there's almost any village (in some cases not city or golem), you'll want to go engine with wharf and amb. Courtyard can sometimes get through, but it needs to be a weakish ambassador board. And the number one candidate is Vault. Vault only needs to be able to hit one gold or two silvers, and it doesn't matter what other junk is there, it's got a province. It's fast. And the drawback does not hurt it very much at all against an ambassador deck, which desperately needs more cards rather than quality. It can also guarantee at least a duchy on every vault play, and it gives very little to most ambassador decks.

Other Junking Attacks
Generally, trying to fight ambassador with junking attacks is a losing proposition - you give one junk, they return two and give you one. When playing the ambassador side, you will usually be able to get ahead, as though ambassador is pretty slow, the game will most often last more than long enough for the ambassador to come back. It's possible to use another junking attack in conjunction with ambassador, but generally if you do this, it should be largely because you want the ancillary benefit of the junker, more than the actual junking attack itself. The big exception here is mountebank, which actually gives two bits of junk rather than one, and of different kinds. This makes it hard for ambassador to deal with, and although it should *eventually* be able to, if the mountebank player can make the game end with halfway reasonable speed, it might not last long enough for this to matter.

Tactics
Trashing
Trashing can work against ambassador, but generally, if you are trying to thin, it's better to go with ambassador to do it, as it will keep on giving that persistent peppering and is generally stronger over the long haul. Of course, there are some exceptions to this, if the trasher is strong enough, and in the right circumstances. Masquerade has already been noted. Remake can work occasionally, but it's a little sketchy if there aren't gobs of great 3 and 4 cost cards you really really want. Steward gives you cards or money down the road, and so can be an option. And chapel has the virtue of costing 2 (if you get that split), and is generally a little faster to get off the ground, so if you can get your other components up lightning fast, it can be the way.

Let's look at the chapel case specifically to get a picture of what I'm talking about. Ambassador will sooner or later pass all of its starting cards to the chapel player. This will take at least 6, but often will be 7 plays. This means chapel will have to trash 16-17 cards, which would ideally be 4-5 plays, but more likely will be at least 6, given the fallout. All of which means that in terms of thinning, they look fairly similar. The advantage of chapel is that it's usually a little faster. But ambassador can be useful on down the line, which means that it's a pretty close call - and often dependent on whether there are nice cards for ambassador player to pick up while trashing down, or whether the speed of chapel will give it a decisive head-start on the engine building. Or if it's a 5-2 split.

Forge can of course take care of everything at once, but it will be hard to set this up. And everything else will markedly fail to ambassador in terms of deck thinning - if they are to make up for this, they have to do it in other ways (and sometimes this is possible).

Playing against the thin deck
Most of the methods that generally work against thin decks are good here, too. Handsize attacks are powerful (but not torturer!), even moreso than normal - but less potent in the early stages than they are against something like chapel. Council Room's downside isn't a big deal if they're drawing their deck anyway. Ditto on Governor for the cards. Governor for trashing is generally not so bad, either, as they won't be trashing copper or estate with it so much, but if there is something they might want to upgrade, you need to watch out. Bishop's drawback is almost entirely negated, though with the thin deck, ambassador will sometimes be able to get better use out of it than you. But actually the magic bullet here is masquerade. It gets you the drawing right there, and it's definitely faster at getting up to speed than ambassador. And against a thin deck, the passing can be downright attack-like. It isn't foolproof of course, so it still needs to watch out for getting snowballed under.

Ambassador's Recourse
The Curse Trick
If your opponent isn't fighting you at all, you can pull the trick where you buy a curse and then over some number of turns, pump all of the curses in the supply over to the opponent. This can clog them in a way that can't be pseudo-countered, and perhaps more importantly, give them a big stack of negative points.

It's important to know not to go for this too early. You want to really be snowballing them under, drawing your whole deck very reliably, before you go for this. And you almost never want to do this out of an ambassador war, unless you really really have it lock-down won. Because you're voluntarily grabbing extra bloat, and if you aren't very careful, and their deck is at all thin, it can let them right back in. In an ambassador war, to slam the door, you usually just want to build your engine and do something big for yourself with it.

It's also worth noting that due to three pile ending concerns, you should not give them the WHOLE stack all the time; often you want to leave one, and if one then usually two or three, so that they can't snap the game over before you are ready.

The Province Trick
On the last turn of the game, you often ambassador to reveal a province, returning none, so as to make sure the pile is empty at the end of a turn. Now it's true that you are usually going to win anyway if you're in a position to do this, but it can be important in some cases, particularly if your deck is getting to the point where it is going to start having trouble maintaining a running engine and/or the game is close (though, obviously it's not THAT close if you can spot a province).
This can also be done, of course, with colonies, but more important, with any pile which is going to end the game. So watch out for being able to force a three pile ending this way, it can actually win a decently high number of games.

Possession
I want to look specifically at possession for a second, as something which looks like it counters ambassador, and sometimes does, but actually usually ends up supporting it, but in a weird way. If you can possess a player who has ambassador and get their ambassador in a hand with, say province, you can have them make very generous diplomacy toward you by forcing them to gift you that province. This is an enormous point swing - but think about the case with 2 colonies - this is effectively a 30 point swing. But, usually a deck with ambassador is going to be able to play possession faster and more often than a deck without it, so it's not like you can just ignore amb. And this is particularly true in that you can ambassador them an ambassador. If possible, the answer to this dilemma is trashing - trash that ambassador, and trash to thin. But it's tough - you are almost never totally safe until the game is over.

Playing with Ambassador
Stop Cards
As alluded to above, the reason you have ambassador is to get rid or bad cards. More explicitly, you are thinning your deck to build up an engine. Until you have such an engine going, you want to have as few stop cards as possible. A stop card is any card which doesn't help you get through your deck any more - basically anything that doesn't draw. Now, ambassador itself is a stop card, but it helps you get rid of others so it's okay (but not too many! Three is almost always overkill, and I've never seen four or more be optimal). But anything else, you want to ask yourself, do you really need it? Because until you get to drawing most of your deck, most of these cards are poison to you. Now, sometimes you will need some - a silver or two, some kind of economy is necessary to get that engine up in the first place. But you really want to keep this as minimal as possible until your engine is up and you can handle them - even platinum could be an annoyance to you, because it can get in your way. So you want to keep your deck very tight, and then, once you've built up to where you can draw your whole deck, you start adding in some cards to help you build up your buying power and such, adding in extra drawing components at the same time to make sure you can keep drawing your deck. Eventually, you will almost always HAVE to go for some stop cards, which will risk your engine not firing some times, if for no other reason than most of the victory cards fit this criteria, and you almost always need them to win. But time your push towards these, particularly if it makes it reasonably likely for your engine to break sometimes, as late as you can get away with. Still, be cautious of three pile endings, as with any engine.

Two Copper or One Estate?
This question of what to return is an oft-asked one by ambassador players; if you have the same number of either card, you usually want to return the estate over the coppers, as copper do stuff for you (you can buy things, huzzah!), which while not great, is better than estate until very very very late in the game. But what about returning TWO coppers vs estate? Perhaps most important is when this question comes up on an early hand of A/C/C/C/E.
Long story short, in an ambassador war, you usually want to return two coppers, unless you have a good reason to go the other way. The reason being, two cards is one more than one, and your goal is to get thinner faster than the other guy, really; one fewer card is one fewer card to cycle through, which gets you through your deck and back to your important cards faster. It's also a more efficient use of the ambassador - you're getting your whole money's worth, which is important because you're probably going to have the chance to return the estate with a partner later on.
But okay, what's 'a good reason'? First and foremost, if returning the coppers leaves with insufficient money in your deck to buy anything meaningful down the line - i.e. if it will leave you with 1, or most often also 2, coppers in your deck total. You don't want to be in the position to have to buy coppers up, that defeats the purpose. Beyond this, you want to look at engine construction - if returning the estate lets you buy something which immediately helps you get your drawing up (Lab, maybe caravan, a smithy variant if - and only if - you have a high enough number of villages already) - then that looks much more attractive. You want to get that draw up. Basically, this means that you're more likely to return the estate in the midgame than the opening, where you're all about number of junk cards all the time - if you're already drawing your whole deck, the coppers are often even an advantage. Finally, if there are engine components which key off of one or the other, for one of you or more likely both, then return the thing which doesn't help the engine. Prime examples here are apothecary, which shoves you toward returning estates, and crossroads, which makes you really want to return coppers.
If you're not in an ambassador war, some of the same concerns apply, but you're much more likely to want to return the estate. The reason for this is that you will eventually clear your stuff out anyway, but you want to have something good going on when you do, since you don't have much impediment, so it's a little more important to be able to get to those key cards (usually 5-costs) a little faster; you often want to get not only the key card itself, but one step further, the card which will allow you to get the key card. Also, in such situations, usually either a) you're just going to destroy them, because they aren't going ambassador; or b) they are playing some kind of deck that doesn't mind coppers NEARLY so much as estates. Of course, use some sense - if they are mountebanking you, thinness is way important again, and you do still want a thin deck quickly, so if you're likely to be able to get up to your key cards as quickly returning the coppers anyway, go for it.

How should you open?
Depends on the board.


Okay, I'll give you more than that. You need to look at what's available, more precisely what you'd want, at each of the price points. I'm a fan, in general, of going Ambassador/Ambassador (hereafter A/A), particularly on a board with a village, which will eventually let you play both. But different things can pull you different ways. Strong 2-costs for your deck (say, native village, crossroads, hamlet) are going to pull you toward A/A, as often you'll get early hands of A/C/C/E/E or A/C/C/C/C and be able to grab a 2-cost. Good early 5s (Lab and variants, mostly) will pull your toward A/Silver (/A), as the silver will help you get there faster. Only, here you have to be careful and really think about what you're doing. You probably aren't going to get the $5 on the first shuffle anyway (though you nicely have no collision). If you draw A/S/C/C/C here, you basically always want to return 2 coppers (and buy an ambassador) over returning 0, because while a nice draw card is nice and can compensate for a little missed thinning, 2 cards' worth is almost always too much (in a war, anyway; you can consider 0 if not in a war). If it's a really nice early 5, though, you can roll those dice - and take a little comfort in that you won't have any collision right away.

4-cost cantrips make excellent partners for ambassador, in general. Caravan gets you started on that draw you want; tournament gives you a little economy; and spice merchant, while not *strictly* a cantrip, might be best of all, since it helps in on the trashing. (Ironmonger from DA, one presumes, should be EXCELLENT here). Sometimes, though, you'll want to open A/A anyway. In these matchups, A/A usually gets a little advantage if they can get through early without colliding, but the cantrip gets a somewhat bigger advantage if there is a collision from the opponent. This balance usually is on the side of the cantrip, which is safer, by a little bit, but with sufficiently strong 2s, and depending on the exact cards available, the exact cantrip, etc., A/A is sometimes the way to go. Even wishing well can sometimes work here as a cantrip to pair with Ambassador on the opening.

Pairing Ambassador with another trasher is certainly a viable option on many boards. Chiefly, we're looking at remake and steward here - chapel is overkill, and most of the other trashers just don't cut the mustard, and a second amb should be preferred. To want to go with remake, you will generally want to have useful 3-cost cards - just silver doesn't really cut it, because that's a stop card; generally you want some kind of cantrip and/or village, but sometimes you can get away with a draw card, like watchtower or oracle, with good villages elsewhere. Steward is nice in that it turns into a component after a couple of shuffles, and has very good flexibility; since you eventually don't need two ambassadors anyway, steward can be a nice replacement for the second ambassador. You still want to thin early, preferring ambassador to thin rather than steward, if you can get 2 cards back with ambassador anyway.

Finally, I'd like to look at quarry. It's an interesting card here, and I don't have tons of experience, but the principles ought to hold - if you have 4-, 6-, and especially 5-cost actions you want to get quickly, it can be very nice. The better the 2-costs, once again, the more you want to go A/A - Quarry can always pick up 3-cost actions as well as 2-costers, so there's no advantage there. It is a stop card, but almost any time you'd want to get a silver, plus other times with pretty juicy 5s, you'll want to go quarry. A/A vs A/S/A is close, so it's natural for A/Q/A to be a little better than A/A most of the time, though again, it is a fairly close-run thing.

What if there aren't any villages (or any gettable villages within a reasonable amount of time?)
If there's no villages at all, I would strongly consider going without ambassador. If you think it's necessary anyway, though, go more heavily for A/S than normal, as the collision will hurt you at some point. If you think ambassador is still important though, you want to try to get a thinner deck (well, you wanted it for some reason), which means that you want 2 ambassadors usually (though more apt, again, for A/S/A than normally), unless your opponent is going Amb-less, in which case you're likely safe with one. This can be a bit hard to judge sometimes though. This also makes the ambassador/cantrip openings no-brainers.


Example Games
http://councilroom.com/game?game_id=game-20130110-192703-46d1ff42.html
Now, my play here, especially early, is no paragon of perfect play, but there are some important points to make. First, the only village is throne room, which especially early on, isn't so hot as far as villages go, particularly for getting an engine up. Wharf is an EXCELLENT drawing card, and cellar helps me get around to my ambassador as often as can be, providing really nice cycling here - this all contributes to the A/S/A opening choice. The cellar gets used liberally, and this is really important - the deck is mostly junk, we want to get to the important two to three cards as much as we can. But the bigger point is that my esteemed opponent focuses too much on getting silvers into grand markets. Now, don't get me wrong, GM is really nice. But getting reliable drawing up is the biggest factor, and with throne room to give you the big chains eventually, that really needs to be the focus - everything else comes later. I am able to do this, and it gives me control of the game. In fact, I hardly care about GM at all here, as it's a nice card to have, but not essential to the deck - and I can always HoP into it later.

http://councilroom.com/game?game_id=game-20130128-151239-44c16fe3.html
Here we see a classic Ambassador/Cantrip opening, with a second ambassador picked up later on. I prioritize apprentice as the first 5-cost, as villages will take a while to come by, and it can plow through estates. Fool's Gold is important here, as I anticipate eventually having a very thin deck. And then the focus goes to overbuilding a strong engine, making myself unbustable. We also see the three ambassador plan as ineffectual.

http://councilroom.com/game?game_id=game-20130130-112807-293d0abf.html
This one shows how moutnebank can be effective as a junk-dealer as well as the importance of getting the drawing up quick, with hunting party - which also helps a lot in a junked deck.

http://councilroom.com/game?game_id=game-20130110-135942-84701763.html
Here, there are LOTS of psuedo-counters, and so I go for that route. Counting house, horse traders, and silk road all come up very big for me, but of course ambassador is nice and strong itself, and with island, menagerie, pawn, and far-and-away most importantly colonies to support, even despite my pretty good luck, -Stef- is able to eek it out.

http://councilroom.com/game?game_id=game-20130126-160124-3e5bb9c0.html
Here I go for A/S/A against Obi Wan Bonogi's A/A, looking for an early stables. This, with not the best shuffle luck (look at the differences in turns 3/4), get me behind. However, the really interesting bit here is the midgame. He has $5 in coins in his deck. I am fairly swamped with little junk, but I do have enough stables to draw most of my deck, and about a turn and a half lead when we do start greening. He wisely keeps his course and just pounds the stables - the important thing is to keep his engine from breaking. I follow him down the path all the way until they're out, and then the race is on. Basically he needs my deck to fail to produce province twice more than his before they all run out. As his deck is in quite a bit better shape than mine AND he invested enough time picking up stables to stabilize it, this is a high-percentage play, and it pays off for him.

http://councilroom.com/game?game_id=game-20130131-154825-fea21e40.html
Here I hedge my bets a little with the opening (and my ambassador serves to slow him down a good bit), but mostly ride trader and gardens as effective counters, particularly with the engine not being particularly great shakes.

http://councilroom.com/game?game_id=game-20130201-130943-859bad7e.html
Here I use ambassadors, cities, and smithies to build up a strong engine. This gives me a very powerful lead, but I am careless in grabbing too many duchies, and a little bad luck on not being able to connect things then totally kills me. I could have had this easily if I'd held off and made sure my engine was in better shape before plowing through the embargoed duchies so far.
« Last Edit: February 05, 2013, 02:35:04 pm by WanderingWinder »
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dondon151

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Re: Ambassador
« Reply #1 on: January 31, 2013, 07:51:52 pm »
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This is a very thorough, excellent article. I'd consider going through some of the best openings in detail, as well. I also noticed that you didn't go into a tactical discussion of when to open Amb/Amb and whether or why to return 2x Copper over 1x Estate, which could be helpful.

I'll also add that you really cannot simply ignore Amb in a Possession board, or vice versa. If you get rid of your Ambs, you opponent can just give you one and possess you. I'm sure there are boards where it is neither prudent to go Amb nor Possession, but, in summary: you cannot pretend like you're safe against Possession even if you get rid of your Amb.

I don't know if you're asking for example games from anyone, but this one from the tournament I feel is a great choice for several reasons:
http://dominion.isotropic.org/gamelog/201301/03/game-20130103-193234-02b55098.html

1. The players chose different openings
2. The kingdom has Highways and Cities, which fulfill the Amb indicators of cantrip economy, village, and non-terminal net draw
3. Neither player loses the Amb war (until, debatably, the very end)
4. It highlights the benefit of having a good $2 cost card. In Amb mirrors in particular (especially without a card like Quarry), you're often left with $2 to spend after using an Amb to return 2 Estates or 2 Coppers, and the $2s could make a big difference. Here the Moat keeps my deck trim, which gives me just enough longevity to sustain greening whereas my opponent's deck stalls even with 5 Cities.
« Last Edit: January 31, 2013, 08:13:01 pm by dondon151 »
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WanderingWinder

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Re: Ambassador
« Reply #2 on: January 31, 2013, 08:20:06 pm »
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Yeah, I hear you dondon. I want to go into a lot of that stuff in some more detail, particularly the openings and whether to do 2 copper vs 1 estate.
I was trying to make that point on possession, but probably I can do it more thoroughly.

Of course feel free to post any logs or games you want, but I do have 5 logs pulled out to go for this, and some others I have already posted that I can go look for.

DG

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Re: Ambassador
« Reply #3 on: January 31, 2013, 09:46:40 pm »
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Things could be added.
- Ambassadors want 2 cost cards. Often when you play an ambassador you have two coppers left to spend. Havens and secret chambers can be good when starting with two ambassadors since they can help ensure you have one ambassador in each hand.
- Ambassadors often spend a lot of time gifting copper in particular. This can be a particularly ineffective attack if an opponent can harness that copper to buy vp.
- Playing one of a card each turn is better than having two copies of the card in a larger deck and hoping to have exactly one in hand each turn. This is the point you make in the article but it actually applies to all terminal actions. The ambassador is a special case because the ambassador always offers the opportunity to shrink the deck and make it possible.
- You mention all the good card partners for ambassador and the reader is left to infer that silver isn't one of them. Perhaps it could be made more explicit since silver is usually the problem.
- Once you lose an ambassador war the war can be irrevocably lost. Buying more ambassadors or other cards to defend will rarely work once a deck's size is out of control (This is true when trying to defend against any attack but particularly ambassadors).
- Ambassadors don't score victory points. They help trim your deck, junk your opponent's deck, but can derail your starting economy doing so. When you get into an ambassador war you need an exit strategy to build a deck capable of scoring vp. However the exit strategy needs to be ride out the final salvos of the war without seeing the deck spin out of control.
- Card gaining can be important to an ambassador deck since too few coins are often generated for strong buying.
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Re: Ambassador
« Reply #4 on: February 01, 2013, 12:49:59 am »
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Could you talk about more about the Chap/Amb pair up? Why isn't Chap an assured win (I mean it is net -4 cards vs net -3 card and neither provide cash; Chap is more flexible to boot)? My thought is that it is because too soon you run into "I can't trash more than two cards ... but I can't draw my deck yet." If so, why is that? I don't have a great basis for my valuation of Chap vs Amb, but I think I'm in line with yours.

A couple of other random things, if this is meant to be a more exhaustive article you might want to mention a few of the following:
1. Ambassador/Golem has a weird interaction. Golem can be enough to get two really important cards going and is one of the few cards that doesn't care what type of junk (even curses) Amb is dishing out. I ran Golem/Count  and picked up a few provinces off gain a copper/+3 coin x2 and, of course, spamming out duchies. Golem can also be the only way to get +action, but Amb/Golem, even coupled with something strong like Lab, Apothecary, or University, is really risky if you have to give out a mandatory duchy/golem/province/etc.
2. Sage. So here is a card that sets back your engine ramp-up, becomes useless in a lot of engine setups ... but you see Amb all the time, often with a Silver or something that let's you build higher. I like opening Amb/Sage but I'm torn if I should pile on Sages at 3 if all my components are at 4 or above; I really don't want to choke on Silver in an Amb war ... but insufficient silver kills 5 component buying.
3. Scheme. Who needs a second Amb? Should you ever not open Amb/Scheme if it is possible?
4. Trader. Okay, so the classic Trader deck doesn't work in my experience, but say they opt for Amb/Trader. That thins them down, lets them buy silver on Amb hands ... and convert inbound crap into silvers (with a double shot if you through estates). Maybe I'm just playing Trader wrong, but do you want Amb/Trader or just Trader?


A number of things seem like they can be fairly hard counters to Amb:
1. Scheme/Scavanger setups. Golem/Scheme/X is pretty good for a strong enough X. You can either just pile duchies, with the odd province from when you hit a bunch of copper and a strong play of X or you can play the odds to play Golem/Golem/Scheme/Scheme/X/Y (only 75% as reliable, but a lot easier to hit provinces).
add in more Golems and Xs.
2. Chancellor/Stash. Here is another really nice deck that I've found can laugh off Amb. I am right in thinking this dominates just about any Amb setup that doesn't have discard?
3. P.stone. Like with Gardens, no matter what you send, this can turn P.stones into juggernauts. Particularly if colonies are out or you have something strong (e.g. Herbalist, Sage, Counterfeit, etc.) it comes fairly close to be a general counter.
4. Cultist/Marauder. I know you don't have much Dark Ages experience, but Amb does poorly with Looting attacks. Yeah you can return the junk ... but it is awfully hard to return 2, you can't return 0 most of the time, and they get either +cards (with potential chain play) or a Spoils for their troubles, you get nothing.
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ednever

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Re: Ambassador
« Reply #5 on: February 01, 2013, 01:34:17 am »
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Great article. A few more thoughts:

1- if you play Ambassador you want to keep very close track of your deck composition. It's entirely possible to win the Ambassador war, and then have to buy a copper in order to buy a silver...

2- The existence of village can make a big difference on if you go 1 vs 2 Ambassadors. Without a village it's often better to get a single Ambassador and then find a way to play it as often as possible (scheme, caravan, and especially warehouse are good options)

3- Amb, silver, 3 coppers. It's a tough hand. Sometimes you want to return two coppers, sometimes you want to buy that key $5 card. "it depends" on what the $5 is, and both your deck and his deck composition.

4- There is another question about, when, if you open 5/2 you should open with Ambasador/nothing vs $5 card/nothing. Likely worth a discussion. Hard to answer in generalities though. (witch bad, but mountebank likely good. Treasury good (I think), maybe lab. Bazaar maybe too. Anything without at least +1 card likely bad. Anything without +1 action also bad... I think...)


Ed

Ed
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WanderingWinder

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Re: Ambassador
« Reply #6 on: February 02, 2013, 12:08:51 am »
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I've gone through and made several changes and a bunch of additions. It's still a bit of a work in progress, though, and I haven't gotten to the example games yet. I think I've addressed most of the points brought up here, though there are a couple that I can't (dark ages stuff), and some that I need to get to yet.

Anyway, go back through, I've added something in many places - before the first headed section, when talking about trashers, a whole section on combos, a little about possession, as well as a handful of new sections at the end, and I think one or two things I can't even remember off the top of my head right now. And let me know what you think.

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Re: Ambassador
« Reply #7 on: February 02, 2013, 01:19:11 pm »
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Very helpful article.  I wish I'd read it before getting destroyed by you in an Ambassador game earlier today ;)

I've always liked trying to find boards where Ambassador can be skipped (which usually leads to me losing).  Along those lines, I just finished a game that illustrates both the Gardens counter and the Curse trick.  Of course, it is not entirely generalizable (the other cards in the Kingdom helped me juice up my Gardens), but I think it shows how strong Gardens can be against Ambassador.  Here's the link to the log:

http://dominion.isotropic.org/gamelog/201302/02/game-20130202-100756-f64f7757.html
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SirPeebles

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Re: Ambassador
« Reply #8 on: February 02, 2013, 01:32:09 pm »
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Very helpful article.  I wish I'd read it before getting destroyed by you in an Ambassador game earlier today ;)

I've always liked trying to find boards where Ambassador can be skipped (which usually leads to me losing).  Along those lines, I just finished a game that illustrates both the Gardens counter and the Curse trick.  Of course, it is not entirely generalizable (the other cards in the Kingdom helped me juice up my Gardens), but I think it shows how strong Gardens can be against Ambassador.  Here's the link to the log:

http://dominion.isotropic.org/gamelog/201302/02/game-20130202-100756-f64f7757.html

Why did you open Farming Village?  Did you foresee it being one of the piles you run out?
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Re: Ambassador
« Reply #9 on: February 02, 2013, 01:58:22 pm »
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Very nice!

I would add a sentence about Secret Chamber, mostly because it's actually pretty good for an Ambassador deck--and it helps with A/A collision. But people are so used to avoiding Secret Chamber, because it's a weak card most of the time.
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Awaclus

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Re: Ambassador
« Reply #10 on: February 02, 2013, 02:12:22 pm »
+1

Very nice!

I would add a sentence about Secret Chamber, mostly because it's actually pretty good for an Ambassador deck--and it helps with A/A collision. But people are so used to avoiding Secret Chamber, because it's a weak card most of the time.
What do you mean with "pretty good"? There are tons of ways to interpret that, being that we're talking about a $2 card and that most of the time the said card isn't very good. I think SC in Ambassador games is "sometimes worth it when you have only $2 and you don't have one yet", but not really much more than that; it would be great to hear a more experienced player's view on this if I'm not correct.
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Re: Ambassador
« Reply #11 on: February 02, 2013, 02:16:18 pm »
+1

Very nice!

I would add a sentence about Secret Chamber, mostly because it's actually pretty good for an Ambassador deck--and it helps with A/A collision. But people are so used to avoiding Secret Chamber, because it's a weak card most of the time.
What do you mean with "pretty good"? There are tons of ways to interpret that, being that we're talking about a $2 card and that most of the time the said card isn't very good. I think SC in Ambassador games is "sometimes worth it when you have only $2 and you don't have one yet", but not really much more than that; it would be great to hear a more experienced player's view on this if I'm not correct.

Well, the thing is, in an Ambassador game, you're getting attacked quite a bit, so your Chamber activates constantly, so then you can re-order your deck to make sure you have one Ambassador plus 2 of Estate or Copper THIS turn, and save an Ambassador (and the Secret Chamber again) for next turn. So it really smooths out your Ambassador collisions and lines them up with 2 Coppers and 2 Estates.

Also, since as WW noted, when you open A/A, you are going to have hands of $2, so picking up Secret Chamber is actually like a no brainer. Except it isn't, because Dominion players are fairly conditioned to not pick up Secret Chamber, even when they only have $2 in hand, because Secret Chamber is a poor card. It's a nice combo card with Ambassador though, and I would say it's very much usually well worth picking up in any game where you are going to play Double Ambassador.
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Robz888

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Re: Ambassador
« Reply #12 on: February 02, 2013, 02:17:24 pm »
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Oh, and one more thing: If you over-Ambassador and get ride of ALL your money, Secret Chamber actually saves you. Because it produces at least $4 money automatically (just discard your whole hand), so you can buy a Silver.
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Re: Ambassador
« Reply #13 on: February 02, 2013, 02:17:53 pm »
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I'm in between you guys here, but closer to Awaclus's side. The reaction is useful for setting up exactly the hands you want, maximizing ambassador efficiency, which is nice, and that it costs 2 is a plus for it in ambassador games, and of course you can always punt it away as another piece of junk later on. Having said that, the action gets you very little, and it's voluntarily picking up a piece of junk, which you'd prefer to avoid. Which is all to say, I guess it's generally slightly better than nothing, but most other 2-costs should be preferred. And certainly not worthy of its own special mention (especially as I talk about 2s being nice all over the place). Or at least, that's my feeling. Do you have anything to back this up Rob (like a log)? I am certainly not married to my position here.

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Re: Ambassador
« Reply #14 on: February 02, 2013, 02:20:08 pm »
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Hmm, I will take a look at CR and get back to you.
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Re: Ambassador
« Reply #15 on: February 02, 2013, 03:50:49 pm »
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Added a section on other junking attacks - nothing about looters - and a brief bit on several games.

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Re: Ambassador
« Reply #16 on: February 02, 2013, 04:06:40 pm »
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Very helpful article.  I wish I'd read it before getting destroyed by you in an Ambassador game earlier today ;)

I've always liked trying to find boards where Ambassador can be skipped (which usually leads to me losing).  Along those lines, I just finished a game that illustrates both the Gardens counter and the Curse trick.  Of course, it is not entirely generalizable (the other cards in the Kingdom helped me juice up my Gardens), but I think it shows how strong Gardens can be against Ambassador.  Here's the link to the log:

http://dominion.isotropic.org/gamelog/201302/02/game-20130202-100756-f64f7757.html

Why did you open Farming Village?  Did you foresee it being one of the piles you run out?

In addition to thinking it was one of the three piles, I anticipated having at least 5 Estates after my opponent finished getting rid of the initial 3 in their deck, and then however many Gardens I could get later.  I also figured that he would move into dishing out curses once he found me not retaliating.  So I wanted its ability to cycle through Curses and VP cards.  Furthermore, I wanted the actions for the Jesters and Noble Brigands I intended to get.
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SirPeebles

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Re: Ambassador
« Reply #17 on: February 02, 2013, 04:15:58 pm »
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In addition to thinking it was one of the three piles, I anticipated having at least 5 Estates after my opponent finished getting rid of the initial 3 in their deck, and then however many Gardens I could get later.  I also figured that he would move into dishing out curses once he found me not retaliating.  So I wanted its ability to cycle through Curses and VP cards.  Furthermore, I wanted the actions for the Jesters and Noble Brigands I intended to get.

So I was thinking about the "junk jumping" that Farming Village performs.  Basically, it just guarantees that you draw a useful card, and provides cycling.  I mean, the chance of a purple green string coming next is essentially the same as it being after the next useful card.  So it really just teleports you forward to the next card (a lot like Sage, only it skips Gardens instead of Copper).  However, you'll have so much Copper that it will probably be Copper, and you would have been better off having opened Silver.  As for cycling, that could be nice, but is playing Jester or Noble Brigand more frequently that crucial?  I suppose it might be.  The last benefit then is the village, but I guess I don't see terminal collision happening much at all in this bloated Gardens deck.
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HiveMindEmulator

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Re: Ambassador
« Reply #18 on: February 02, 2013, 06:04:09 pm »
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If there's no villages at all, I would strongly consider going without ambassador. If you think it's necessary anyway, though, go more heavily for A/S than normal, as the collision will hurt you at some point. If you think ambassador is still important though, you want to try to get a thinner deck (well, you wanted it for some reason), which means that you want 2 ambassadors usually (though more apt, again, for A/S/A than normally), unless your opponent is going Amb-less, in which case you're likely safe with one. This can be a bit hard to judge sometimes though. This also makes the ambassador/cantrip openings no-brainers.

There's probably more to say about this. I'd actually say if there's no villages at all, you probably don't want to go for an Ambassador-focused engine, but much of the time you want an Ambassador anyway as an opener. Really Ambassador has 2 major roles:
1. Early game trasher/attack
2. Brutal repeated attack

When there are villages, you can really maximize both of these aspects. But without villages, you are going to have a harder time building the full-draw engine and probably have some other terminal you want to play. However, role 1 is still pretty decent. "Trashing" 2 cards and giving a mild attack is good for an opener for a lot of strategies -- not just Ambassador-centric strategies.
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SirPeebles

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Re: Ambassador
« Reply #19 on: February 02, 2013, 06:21:52 pm »
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It could work for cantrip megaturn strategies like Market+Highway.  Possibly for paring down to the Golden Deck?
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Re: Ambassador
« Reply #20 on: February 02, 2013, 07:24:00 pm »
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It could work for cantrip megaturn strategies like Market+Highway.  Possibly for paring down to the Golden Deck?

If Ambassador's on the board, going for Golden Deck is risky (unless it's a 2-Lighthouse Golden Deck), since you don't have control over your deck composition.
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Re: Ambassador
« Reply #21 on: February 03, 2013, 07:28:06 pm »
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I agree with most of the article, but I will quibble on some minor points. I haven't read the replies yet, so sorry if I duplicate something.

Re: vetoing, I also rarely veto ambassador even as second player, but that's because a lot of players don't play ambassador well. I'm confident having amb available gives me an advantage against most players I'm auto-matched against, even when I'm p2. On the other hand, playing p2 against a good amb player is really, really hard.

Regarding what Amb likes in the kingdom, I feel a lot of it can be summarized by saying that Amb is essentially an "attack chapel". Like chapel, amb likes engines. Like other attacks, amb slows down the game, which can help engines. (This double-whammy is why amb is so strong.) But like both chapel and attacks, amb is weak against rushes, and like chapel, weak in pure BM+X kingdoms. The section "Stop Cards" is mostly true for chapel too.

Amb has a weird interaction with cursers and lack-of-trashing that you didn't mention. Some players think that if Amb is available, Familiar can be skipped. This is only half true. Yes, you don't want to open Potion (unless for some other reason). But if there is no trasher in the kingdom, in the strict sense of sending cards to the trash, then the 10 curses are going to either be in the supply or somebody's deck. Playing a combination of Familiar and Amb(s) is an efficient way to ensure all those curses are in your opponent's deck. This also goes for Torturer to some extent, provided terminal draw is useful in your engine.

To expand on the previous paragraph, as an additional point to "The Curse Trick", Amb+curse is an absolutely horrible curser. It's like a Sea Hag, except the curse is not top-decked, and you need a curse in your deck to play it. The only reason Amb+curse is good is that cursers are generally strong cards anyway. If there is another way to deliver curses, use that instead of Amb.

For openings, in my opinion, Quarry/Amb is nearly always better than Amb/Amb. Whenever you draw the Quarry into hand, you are guaranteed to be able to buy an Amb that turn, so there's no difficulty picking up an Amb on T3/T4. More importantly, if you open Amb/Amb, it can sometimes be difficult to hit the $4 you need for Quarry, and in most Amb kingdoms, you will want a Quarry eventually.

Edit: Edited to clarify that attacks aren't (usually) weak in BM+X kingdoms.
« Last Edit: February 03, 2013, 07:37:11 pm by blueblimp »
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Emeric

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Re: Ambassador
« Reply #22 on: February 05, 2013, 08:26:56 am »
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Very helpful article.  I wish I'd read it before getting destroyed by you in an Ambassador game earlier today ;)

I've always liked trying to find boards where Ambassador can be skipped (which usually leads to me losing).  Along those lines, I just finished a game that illustrates both the Gardens counter and the Curse trick.  Of course, it is not entirely generalizable (the other cards in the Kingdom helped me juice up my Gardens), but I think it shows how strong Gardens can be against Ambassador.  Here's the link to the log:

http://dominion.isotropic.org/gamelog/201302/02/game-20130202-100756-f64f7757.html

I remember this game and I know it was a choice to continue to play ambassador when you got gardens and gardens. At the end, I was not so far of you specially if your jester haven't hit one of my farming village ;)
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WanderingWinder

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Re: Ambassador
« Reply #23 on: February 05, 2013, 01:59:47 pm »
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Amb has a weird interaction with cursers and lack-of-trashing that you didn't mention. Some players think that if Amb is available, Familiar can be skipped. This is only half true. Yes, you don't want to open Potion (unless for some other reason). But if there is no trasher in the kingdom, in the strict sense of sending cards to the trash, then the 10 curses are going to either be in the supply or somebody's deck. Playing a combination of Familiar and Amb(s) is an efficient way to ensure all those curses are in your opponent's deck. This also goes for Torturer to some extent, provided terminal draw is useful in your engine.

To expand on the previous paragraph, as an additional point to "The Curse Trick", Amb+curse is an absolutely horrible curser. It's like a Sea Hag, except the curse is not top-decked, and you need a curse in your deck to play it. The only reason Amb+curse is good is that cursers are generally strong cards anyway. If there is another way to deliver curses, use that instead of Amb.
Well, sorta agree sorta not here. Other cursers are more efficient, generally, at delivering curses, but you don't want to get them usually, for one of the following reasons:

1. There aren't any in the kingdom.
2. It's a waste of time/resources. I don't want to spend the time buying a potion and a familiar just to give them some curses, that is way too much time. If I already have the potion for another reason, okay maybe. But even other cursers, I usually want to spend my coin on engine components. Picking up a curse with a spare buy is low opportunity cost.
3. Some other cursers are less reliable at delivering a curse - mountebank can be blocked, as can young witch, in ways that ambassador can't. And if we're counting things like swindler or jester, they're inherently unreliable.
4. Mountebank's copper might be useful to opponent, as might torturer's discard.
Additionally, if you haven't yet secured yourself against losing the ambassador war, if there is one, then you usually want to prioritize the engine building over curse-giving, for reasons laid out in the article.

Quote
For openings, in my opinion, Quarry/Amb is nearly always better than Amb/Amb. Whenever you draw the Quarry into hand, you are guaranteed to be able to buy an Amb that turn, so there's no difficulty picking up an Amb on T3/T4. More importantly, if you open Amb/Amb, it can sometimes be difficult to hit the $4 you need for Quarry, and in most Amb kingdoms, you will want a Quarry eventually.
But you have to look at the war, and getting snowballed under. If they snowball you under, you're usually just toast. And if you're using quarry to buy an Amb on turn 3-4, then it really isn't any better than silver... (yeah yeah, if you draw A/Q/E/E/E, most unlikely hand there is).

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Re: Ambassador
« Reply #24 on: February 05, 2013, 02:30:33 pm »
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Great article, and I feel bad that the only thing I have to add to the conversation is a minor nit.  The second sentence in the section "Other Junking Attacks" has some verb problems.  I've copied it below:

"You will be able to get ahead, usually, as ambassador is pretty slow, but most often, the game well last well over long enough for the ambassador to come back. "
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