Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Dominion: The Good-Stuff Deck

I've written a lot about various different kinds of deck, generally lumping them into one of the following categories: Big Money, Engine, Combo, Rush, and Slog. These can in general be useful, though there are some serious limitations as well. As has been pointed out, Big Money and Slog often bleed together. Rush and slog can often do the same. Combo has never been terribly well-defined.

The subject I want to talk about today is very old, and one of my favorites. Generally I would classify it as Big Money, but it's not like the Terminal Draw-based decks which people usually think of with that term. Instead, these decks tend to pick up several terminals, and usually not much draw. They're even interested in Villages sometimes.

You might call this a "Good Stuff deck". In general, in this kind of deck, in your turn, you buy the card which most helps your deck. This is true in almost every deck, to some extent, but here, it's true in a much more straightforward, naive way. Essentially, you're looking to pick up the card which most helps your deck on your very next turn. There are few exceptions - most notably, of course, is that at some point you green, followed by considerations for shuffle timing.

Indeed, being able to anticipate what the rest of your shuffle will net you, in order to know whether to forgo a slightly better, cheaper card for a more expensive one, banking on picking the cheaper one up later, is probably the key subtle skill of playing this kind of deck.

The more straightforward strategy of this kind of deck consists of figuring out which terminals are best for your deck. Then you want to buy those, along with treasures, and you're good to go. Treasures are always good in this kind of deck (well, copper isn't, but I mean Silver+). Cantrips, including Peddler and Lab variants, are also nice in this kind of deck. Terminal draw is NOT good in these decks, as you will generally have a pretty high number of actions to draw dead, and you are going to get more mileage out of your other terminal effects. Indeed, I've toyed with calling this kind of deck a "drawless" deck, though that would probably be somewhat misleading, as you are still going to snap up Lab effects.

The question still remains, though: when do you want to go for this kind of deck? In general, this is based more on a lack of other options than it is on this deck being actively great itself. In particular, you want an engine to not be viable for some reason. Generally this means that it's not practical to build up enough draw for an engine to work - either because there aren't villages to pair with the smithies, there isn't enough trashing to get yourself thin, or sometimes just a combination of wonkiness - no +buy does a lot here, but it's not necessarily a dealbreaker.

On the other hand, this needs to be better than Big Money with Draw as well. And when the thing which holds the engine back is lack of draw, this is easy. But there are other cases where this beats that out as well - most often, when there are a good smattering of actions, especially cantrips, that you would like to play in your deck. These work well in this kind of strategy, but they don't play nicely with draw cards. In particular, non-drawing Villages, like Festival, and indeed most terminal Silvers feel most at home in this kind of deck, as they aren't very good to build an engine around, and they don't pair at all nicely with terminal draw. Junking attacks tend towards this kind of game as well (at least in the absence of strong trashing), but discard attacks do not (much preferring to be played in engines).

Example Games:
In this game, an engine is technically possible, with Villages and Hunting Grounds. However, there is no trashing whatsoever, which makes it pretty hard for the engine to get off the ground. Merchant Ship and Jester are both good for the Good-Stuff deck, but in particular Jester is very good against someone going for an engine without trashing.
Butcher and Lab are both good here, as in many such decks. Coin Tokens really excel in these kinds of decks which are all about hitting your price points at such times. In terms of the particular game, Butcher actually counters Possession reasonably well - you think it would be the other way around, because Possession hits both tokens and Trash For Benefit well, but Butcher just makes the game end so fast...
This is a very nice example of signs which point you to playing Good Stuff over an Engine. The draw here is Jack and Journeyman, and the village (Squire) doesn't draw - it's going to be way too difficult to maintain everything, especially with Mountebank pouring junk in on you. So it's better to just ignore it, at which point all these actions go very nicely together for a pretty smooth good-stuff deck. You're not expecting to get big turns, just fairly consistently decent ones.
Marauder is another card which excels in this kind of deck. The ruins clog them up, and the spoils stop you from being able to draw super well, though they do give you a pretty solid economic backbone, as well as now-or-later flexibility, which this deck is often looking for.
Doctor helps thin you down, which is nice, but it doesn't do a great job of keeping you clean against junk. There isn't much draw here. Ironmonger is always good, but most excels in good-stuff decks (where it's less often just a village). These are also definitely Harem's primary home.
Soothsayer is definitely most home in a good-stuff deck: gaining high-quality treasures is a definite boon, and the junk will really hamper them if they don't respond in kind here.
Again, here the only draw is Oracle, and Border Village + Oracle is pretty miserable without strong trashing and quite good payloads. On the other hand, Cartographer gives you nice selection without increasing handsize - basically the epitome of Good Stuff.
Another classic combination of simply good cards - in this case Butcher and Ironmonger - can lead to some VERY fast games...

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