Intro: What does Bureaucrat really do?
Bureaucrat does three things:
- It slows down your opponent
- It gives you a Silver on your next turn
- It makes your deck bigger, and increases the money-to-other-cards ratio
In my experience, for Bureaucrat to be shine your game plan has to account for and benefit from all three of the above elements.
Analysis: slowing down the opponent
This only happens if the opponent will be drawing victory cards. At game start this will happen very often, but you have to foresee what course the game will take later on as well. Some factors that will help you decide are:
- If there are good trashing cards in the pool (e.g. Chapel, Remodel, Upgrade) that will be seeing use (you can judge this yourself taking into account the number of non-terminal action cards and the pool composition in general) then the opponent will trash their victory cards and Bureaucrat's attack will be neutralized.
- If the pool does not suit itself to chaining combos and there aren't many worthwhile game plans involving action cards (e.g. when all action cards are terminal, especially if there is no card that gives +2 actions), then going the money/victory route is tempting. Bureaucrat's attack will remain relevant in the late game if this happens.
- If the pool contains victory cards that will be very desirable to both players (Nobles is the most prominent, but also consider Great Hall, Harem, Island) then Bureaucrat will be hindering the opponent quite heavily throughout the game.
- The presence of cards that will let your opponent skip the victory cards they put on top of the deck also matters. There are cards (e.g. Library, Watchtower, Farming Village, Menagerie) that can nullify or even benefit from the fact that your opponent puts a useless card on top of their deck. If the opponent's game plan might go this way, Bureaucrat will usually not be a good choice.
Analysis: Getting more money
Although getting more money in your deck is usually the way to go, you also don't want to get too many money cards, and those that you do get should preferably be Gold (or even Platinum, if it's in the pool). This, in turn, limits the number of times you 'd ideally want to play Bureaucrat. On the other hand, getting free Silver in the beginning can be a pretty significant advantage. These two factors can be harmoniously combined if you take the other available cards into account:
- If you plan on a heavy trashing strategy (Chapel, anyone?), one of the problems to be solved is how to transition from Copper/Estate to more desirable cards without gutting yourself in the process by leaving too little money in the deck (I believe I 'm not the only one who has drawn all their deck and realized that all their money is just 3 or 4 coppers). Bureaucrat can help with this by giving you the Silver that you need to trash all Coppers on sight with impunity. After the deck has been cut down to taste, you can also trash the Bureaucrat (even better, Remodel or Upgrade it).
Analysis: Making the deck grow
Making your deck larger is a disadvantage because you get to draw your expensive and powerful cards less often. This is not relevant in the beginning, when Silver will actually be one of your most powerful cards, but as long as the game progresses it will become more and more apparent. Also, playing Bureaucrat will increase the number of money cards in the deck. This can also be detrimental if you are planning on an action-heavy strategy.
However, both of the above effects can become irrelevant or even beneficial under certain circumstances, thereby increasing Bureaucrat's usefulness:
- If the pool includes cards like Remodel or Upgrade, then you can plan on exchanging the Silver for more desirable cards (usually actions that help you combo). If you carefully balance the amount of Bureaucrats with your trashing-and-exchanging capacity (so that you don't drown yourself in Silver) then you can begin to look at Bureaucrat's effect as indirectly giving you a 4 or 5 cost action card for free, which is a very powerful effect. This is especially good if there are no +Buy cards in the pool, when a combo like Bureaucrat/Upgrade gives you a free buy in addition to the card you get to buy normally. Later on you will have the opportunity of exchanging this Silver for a 4, 5, or even 6 cost one.
- If the pool is such that you plan on or foresee the possibility of going into turbo-Victory-buy mode (this might easily happen if one or both players goes for Big Money, or piles start running out and it becomes a race for the most Duchies and Provinces), adding money and victory cards in your deck is more beneficial than adding just victory cards. Sure, it's "just" a Silver, but the extra money in the deck might be just enough to offset the dilution you suffer due to buying victory cards. If these Silver make the difference between buying a Duchy and a Provice, or nothing and a Duchy, Bureaucrat can really shine. For maximum utilizations, consider the synergy with cards like Cellar or Warehouse that let you discard useless cards (victory cards most probably) and give you a chance of replacing them with more money to score a touchdown.
- If the pool includes cards with a variable effect magnitude dependent on the size of your deck (e.g. Gardens, Philosopher's Stone), and the strongest strategy revolves around utilizing these cards to maximum effect, then adding more cards to your deck faster than the opponent can do the same should give you a sizable advantage.
J.R. Capablanca once said:
The weaker the player the more terrible the Knight is to him, but as a
player increases in strength the value of the Bishop becomes more
evident to him, and of course there is, or should be, a corresponding
decrease in his estimation of the value of the Knight as compared to
I would connect this to Bureaucrat by saying that the weaker a player is in Dominion, the better cards like Bureaucrat seem to him; as the player grows stronger, the power of other cards becomes evident (Chapel is a good example) and thus the relative value of Bureaucrat decreases even more.
However, Bureaucrat can be put to good use under favorable circumstances as long as you keep the balance regarding your deck's composition. It's very useful to be able to recognize card pools where multiple of the above scenarios are applicable, thereby allowing Bureaucrat to operate at full power; and when it manages to do so, it can make the difference between two otherwise evenly matched players.