Saturday, 6 February 2016

Dominion: The Aggro Pile Deck

Aggro Pile:

One of my favourite strategies is to go for speed. To end the game on my terms. To take hold and bring it to an end before the opponent can really deploy their long-term strategy. Speed, not power.

This means three-piling. You need a few things for this to go right: the ability to get piles out, the ability to control when they empty, score enough points (and know how many that is), in the process. Usually, it also means doing something to slow your opponent down, as even mediocre Big Money decks are capable of scoring a reasonable number of points fairly quickly.

But WW, isn't this just a slog?
No. In a slog, at least how I'm thinking about it, you’re trying to get a matrix of VP points that is insurmountable. Your win condition is to get so many VP the opponent can never come back. In, contrast, aggro-pile decks aim to get the piles out and end the game before your opponent’s (typically superior) deck can get going enough to catch up with you. Your deck is not about scoring all the points possible, but rather about having all the pile control you can get, and having just enough pop to score a little more than the opponent.

Typically, you’re going to want your opponent to help you out in emptying at least one of the piles. Most often this comes from junking attacks (where, if they skip it, you’re going to crush them anyway - this is weakened significantly by the very strongest thinning). However, there are also some piles that just naturally you want to empty pretty fast - Fishing Village is a classic example.

Indeed, you generally need a combination of 2 enablers and/or naturally-emptying piles, and you will have time to knock the last one out by yourself. So Ruins AND curses works well, or a card like Fishing Village with either kind of junk, or some decent to nice gainer with a fast-emptying pile or junk.

Most often, you’ll be piling out with Duchies as that third pile. And you tend to start just hacking away at them near when there are a few gains left to 2 empty piles, and simply ride them hard until they’re gone.

It’s also possible to actually just blitz out piles, though this is quite a bit rarer. Ironworks is a key enabler for the rush, particularly with some Kingdom VP pile it can gain, since actually having 2 of your 3 piles be VP gives you obviously more points, which translates to a little more time. Stonemason is another big card here, as it can get rid of piles very fast. Same goes with Procession.

When playing against this kind of strategy, you typically want to not do something too fancy - that tends to be the number one way that Aggro Piles actually gets the time it needs. At the same time, you don’t want to touch Duchies at all, unless you’re either winning on the spot, completely locking them out (e.g. taking the penultimate Duchy with a substantial lead), or just contesting full bore in a mirror. 

Big Money tends to be a pretty bad matchup for this kind of deck, so you need to have a plan of defeating that as well. Indeed, Aggro Pile is a deck style which must always be very reactive to what your opponent is doing, and in most cases actually needs to have some kind of bailout plan as well - either you are an engine with an eye towards clamping down on the piles, or you have some kind of reasonable Big Money/Slog game-plan in case they go for points straightforwardly. It tends to be important to develop these fallback plans before comitting too hard to Aggro Pile.

Key Enablers in rough order from best to worst:
Junk: Ill-Gotten Gains (two piles by itself), Marauder, Young Witch, Cultist (which can sometimes be a second pile, but being this expensive is very risky), Mountebank, Sea Hag, Familiar, Soothsayer (though this is often more suited to Slogs)

Gainers: Stonemason, Procession, Ironworks, Border Village, Armory, Death Cart, Squire, Salvager, Workshop, etc. I want to point out City, as well, because if you can turn the corner on them at the right moment, it's often possible to slam down e.g. the Estate pile.

Empty-able Piles: Ruin, Curse, Stonemason, Fool's Gold, Squire, Hamlet, Duchess, Pawn, Pearl Diver (etc), often board-dependent, but things like Fishing Village, Ironmonger, etc that people just snap up at every chance because the cost is so low (and they’re so good)....

Example Games:
Marauder, Cultist, Familiar - junk is flowing, you have multiple piles that are going to fall, so you can really start playing for the 3rd pile. I think Marauder over Cultist is very important here, since the spoils are good, drawing is less good (with a deck full of junk), and chaining is quite unlikely (and also has a chance to skip your Familiars. The important point is that treasures are good, which is very common in these kinds of games. My opponent shouldn't have bought the Duchy, but it's very unlikely they can get to 2 Colony and a Province in time, anyway.
Here we have IGG. Trader provides some defense, but also a combo. Jester helps, and FV isn't too bad, either. Notably, Duchess provides a great 3rd pile as well.
Young Witch can make both Curses and Banes empty, and with Familiar available, this is a good bit more likely. Hamlet is another third pile, and so some jockeying for positions should have happened. Pile awareness here allowed me to steal this one.
Again, Curses and Ruins both running, Hunting Party is one of those stacks that tend to run, and we even have Stonemason for more shenanigans.
This one is all about piles that want to run (Highway, Market Square, Minion), plus the obscene power of Stonemason. In these kinds of games, you need to be very aware of what you need to do to run the game out, as well as what your opponents can do for the same. 
Another example in the same vein as the previous.
An example of the Procession style here. Very often you can process into process into mroe stuff into more stuff, emptying out LOTS of cards in a single turn. Note that you need to green pretty early to defend against your opponent doing do.
You didn't expect me to leave you without an example of a classic Ironworks rush, did you? The raw speed and power is on display here, since even facing down Goons on a Colony board, and totally uncontested (which is correct unless you want to mirror and contest fully), I'm able to knock out all the piles (and even nab a duchy) for a blistering 54 points and end the game in a mere 16 turns.

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