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Dominion is a game of widely varying strategies and paths toward victory. But the most important part of any winning strategy is a strong opening.

  • How can I tell if a kingdom card is a good opening card?
  • What are some of the best cards to buy in your first 4-6 turns?
  • What are some good tactics for getting to your later game strategy as soon as possible?

This question discusses evaluating kingdom sets in general., and this discusses general tactics. This is sort of a combination of both, focusing on openings. :D

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7 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Good cards to buy early:

  • Chapel: this is close to a must-buy if it is on the board.
  • Sea Hag: another almost must-buy so that you don't fall behind on curses. It's less valuable in a multiplayer game (because if everyone else is firing it, the curses will run out quickly, and then it just takes up space in your deck).
  • Ambassador: functionally trashing your deck while bloating your opponent with bad cards. Ambassador/Silver/Ambassador can be a devastating opening.
  • Militia: especially in 3+ player games, this is brutal. Less effective if a Library is on the board.
  • Moneylender: trashing + accelerating you to 5/6 coin cards. But, it can potentially clog your deck in the mid/endgame.
  • Envoy / Smithy: these cards accelerate the entire game. Big Money buys 4 provinces in 17 turns, on average. Purchasing one of these cards lowers that to 14.5 turns.
  • Cutpurse: also deadly in multiplayer games, but still great for slowing your opponent early. Less valuable as an attack late in the game, but it's still worth a Silver if you have actions to burn.
  • Trading Post: if you open 5/2, this is a great card because it trashes your junk into silvers, which also allows you to save your initial buys for non-treasure cards.
  • Mining Village: trash early for a 5/6 coin hand.
  • Baron: useful early for an easy 4 coin. Can clog a deck later in the game, but its ability to give you an extra Estate and an extra buy can sometimes tip the balance in a close game.
  • Loan: useful for trashing coppers without costing an action and can also be used to cycle your deck, getting new cards shuffled in faster.
  • Quarry: useful if there are expensive actions in the set (King's Court, Forge, Peddler, and game-changing 6 cost cards like Goons).
  • Pawn: there are many times where the +buy or +coin will be useful; in the worst case scenario, it's a self-replacing card (+1 card/+1 action). Because it only costs 2, you probably want to buy it earlier instead of wasting a 7 coin hand on it.
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It bugs me a bit that you're not mentioning any Prosperity cards here. While less useful at first, Watchtower is considerably better than Smithy for $1 less in the mid-late game. Likewise, Council Room and Library both cost exactly $1 more than Smithy, but are considerably more useful. –  Powerlord Feb 22 '11 at 1:06
    
I haven't seen any simulation data comparing Watchtower to Smithy/Envoy, so I can't speak to that. Council Room and Library are indeed both powerful, but a) they are 5 cost cards that I wouldn't likely buy with a 5/2 split, so I see them as more mid-game cards than starting cards, and b) they depend on the board more than many of the listed cards. The comment about Prosperity cards in general seems fair, though; I'll edit to add a few of those cards in. –  philosophyguy Feb 22 '11 at 1:47
    
That's interesting data on Big Money and Envoy/Smithy! Mind linking to the source? –  warbaker Feb 23 '11 at 17:59
    
@warbaker Simulation results are here. –  philosophyguy Feb 23 '11 at 23:10
    
The reason I mentioned Watchtower earlier is that it actually has three uses: 1. It's an action you can play to draw cards until you have 6 cards in hand. 2. It's a reaction card that can be used to trash cards that other players give you. 3. If you don't play it as an action card on your turn, you can use its Reaction ability to put cards you gain/buy on top of your deck. –  Powerlord Mar 2 '11 at 21:30
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The process I currently follow is:

  1. Scan for broken combos
  2. Scan for power cards (most of the list from philosophyguy's answer
  3. Look for a quick path to anything found in step 1 or 2 using your starting split
  4. Look for blocking strategies if step 3 failed or you are seated poorly
  5. If none of the above provide a good path to victory, fall to your default strategy (be it Big Money or other traditional buys)

As you get better at the game the combos you recognize in step 1 will increase and the number of cards you can juggle increases. A two-card combo is relatively easy to spot; three or four-card combos are a bit trickier.

There is probably room between steps 4 and 5 to look for solid combos that can enhance your preferred play style but are not game winners in themselves. Hoard + Salvager is a good example.

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A great strategy in dominion is to get rid of your bad cards so your better ones come up more often. At the beginning of the game you start off with a only a few weak cards, so if you can trash some of them and buy a stronger card it will come up very often and you'll have less weak cards later in the game.

Some of the strongest opening cards I've used:

  • Chapel. Trash as many copper and estates as possible, even if you don't get to buy much. If chapel is in play my first 2 buys are almost always a chapel and a silver.
  • Money Lender. Trash a copper from your hand to get +3$. Ideal for openings.
  • Coppersmith. Make all that copper crank out double!
  • Trading Post. Trash two cards and get a silver for free.
  • Treasure Map. If you have 2 in your hand, trash them to get 4 gold on top of your deck. Early game if the easiest time to do this usually. throw in a +cards card to get the most bang for your buck.

There are tons of cards that are good in openings, like most attacks and most cards that let you draw more than 2 cards, but I've found these are some of the absolute strongest that tend to dominate openings whenever they're in the cards being used.

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Treasure Maps are a high risk, high reward strategy. You need to buy at least two (usually 3 to have a good chance of drawing them together), which means that you are using a lot of early turns buying Treasure Maps and waiting for them to be shuffled into your deck. If they hit early, it can be hard for an opponent to overcome that advantage. But, if they don't hit, your odds plumet. Without +cards or substantial trashing, I would not suggest this strategy. –  philosophyguy Feb 21 '11 at 19:40
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IMO, neither Treasure Map nor Coppersmith are good general openers. councilroom.com/… In 400k online games, they underperform Silver overall, Coppersmith especially so. –  rrenaud Mar 2 '11 at 17:37
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Trash your cards! Get a trashing card, and max out its trashing capacity every time, even if you think, "Oh, but I might need that copper later".

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Thrash your opponents' decks. If there is a Curse-dealing card, be the first to get it, and get as many Curses in other people's decks as possible. This hurts them, and protects you.

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Can you merge your three answers into one? –  Sadly Not Apr 13 '11 at 20:31
    
Why would I do that? –  Andrew Vandever Apr 23 '11 at 23:15
    
Because one good answer with three suggestions is more likely to get you up-votes than three answers with one suggestion each. –  Mark Booth Oct 27 '11 at 17:35
    
I disagree. People are more likely to bump a good answer, not an omnibus. Besides, ultimately I'd rather have people vote on the individual ideas than on "my answer". Contributing valuable content is the way to get votes, and content, not reputation, is the point of a site like this. –  Andrew Vandever Oct 30 '11 at 15:45
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Various combos Big Money combined with a card-drawing strategy will usually beat out a plain Big Money, and of course there are tons of great combos or specific cards that can boost your ability to get to your mid-game very quickly. However, this answer is very supply-dependent, and what you really need to do is take a minute at the beginning of the game to decide what cards will play well with others.

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There are also some similar answers on early game strategy: Transitioning to Dominion late-game and Evaluating a Dominion Kingdom set.

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This should probably be a comment, as you are just linking to other questions. One of which was already linked to by the author. –  Colin D Aug 9 '13 at 20:31
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