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Almost every strategy I have ever read on Dominion, although disparate in many ways, unanimously agree that not only is buying copper a bad thing, but that you should do whatever is in your power to utterly destroy any that you already have in your deck.

One would think that, being both the cheapest and the most plentiful stack in the game, it would be more useful. Or useful at all, really.

With the exception of a Gardens deck, wherein stuffing your deck with as many cards as it can physically hold is considered advantageous, are there any situations where buying copper is more help than hindrance?

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I've played so many games where inexperienced players are continuously in the mindset "great, I've got an extra buy, I'll use it to take a copper". I've never seen one of these people win. I don't doubt there are some viable Copper-based strategies, but you have to really think through what you're doing. The first lesson to learn in Dominion is that a card can have more of a negative effect just by taking up space in hands you draw than the positive effect it provides, and Coppers pretty rapidly become one of those cards. –  thesunneversets Oct 20 '11 at 9:23

8 Answers 8

up vote 20 down vote accepted

Never. (Note: new edits. As many more expansions have been released since I first wrote this answer, there's a lot more exceptions.)

Well, almost never. Don't buy copper unless you've got a strategy that will do well with it. Silver is almost always better than Copper, and most of the time, buying nothing is better than buying Copper.

You've got the Gardens exception in your question, actions that can be used effectively with Copper include Goons and Forager (thanks @John Robertson). As @Gendolkari comments, if your target buys aren't too expensive (say $5 or less), then Coppers can help you get there; this applies to Duke/Duchy, Gardens, Ill-Gotten Gains, etc.

I've seen new players make the mistake of thinking more money is better, so they'll buy a Copper with a left-over buy. This is obviously bad because it's the money in your typical hand that matters, not the money in your deck. If your hand size is 5, adding Coppers is going to reduce your buying power unless your deck is really bloated (maybe with Curses and Ruins). Players quickly learn to hate a hand full of Coppers when they want to buy a Province, and stop making this mistake.

It's much more common for somewhat more experience players to overestimate how good a Copper-using card is. Examples below: Moneylender, Coppersmith, Bishop, Mine.

Moneylender can be a great card, but some players will think it's a great card because of the $3: Moneylender shines in the absence of other trashers because it cleans your deck of Copper. Especially since Moneylender is a terminal action, buying several Moneylenders and then buying Coppers to feed them is not a viable strategy by itself. It requires 2 cards and an action to get $3; if you had two Silvers instead you'd have an extra $1 and an extra action to use. Spice Merchant is very similar.

With Coppersmith, there are decks in which it can work very well (@BlairHippo brings up Apothecary/Coppersmith), but it takes more than just Coppersmith. You need a lot of card draw for Coppersmith to work well, but card draw helps most everything so there are often more viable strategies on the board.

Bishop can convert Copper to VP, which is great. But anything costing $2 or more gets you more VP. You'd be better off buying Estates to feed to a Bishop than buying Coppers.

Mine falls in this category as well. What makes Mine a good action is that it gets rid of bad treasure, replacing it better treasure. If you then go and buy more Copper to feed to a Mine, you're missing the point.

Of course, if you have a bunch of activated Cities (lots of actions and cards) and a few Goons (lots of buys, rewards for buying), go ahead and buy some Coppers and Moneylenders/Coppersmiths/Spice Merchants etc., but if you've got a good Goon engine going your probably don't need much advice.

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Adding to your contrived example: if I'm playing a Pirate Ship strategy, I might Ambassador some Coppers over to my opponent in order to give my Ship another target and might eventually need to buy a Copper in order to give my Ambassador more fodder. This is almost certainly not the optimal way to play an Ambassador/Ship strategy, but it's possible. –  philosophyguy Oct 20 '11 at 19:26
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GOONS! +1 Nothing quite like throne rooming Goons... –  Malachi Feb 20 '12 at 21:12
    
@Malachi Throne-rooming Goons is nice for extra money and extra buys, but doesn't work for extra VP. (The Prosperity rule book states this explicitly, it's due to the wording on Goons "While this card is in play," with Throne Room or King's Court you can play the card multiple times, but at the time you buy there is only one copy of the card in play. Contrast with Bridge, which has no such caveat.) Playing multiple Goons cards is the only way to make things truly ridiculous. –  Gregor Feb 20 '12 at 23:01
    
But the extra money and extra buys does give you more VP, despite being only 1 VP per buy per Goons in play. Maybe I just find that more fun than most. –  Malachi Feb 22 '12 at 22:11
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"If you have to ask, the answer is 'never'" –  Ryan Cavanaugh Feb 21 at 17:24

Rarely. The problem with having Copper in the deck is that it takes up space and only produces $1. In a Province game, you need to generate $8 and you only start each turn with 5 cards, which means that each card needs to result in an average of $1.6 in order to afford Provinces. Figuring out the value of action cards requires a lot of math dealing with what else is in the deck, but Treasures are easy, and Copper is well below the $1.6 average.

There are exceptions. Gardens is the obvious one, although most Garden strategies will only buy Copper if they can't afford a $2 card, since the Gardens slows you down in drawing to the cards that give you extra gains/buys (like Workshop or Ironworks).

Goons is an exception. When you have multiple Goons in play, buying a Copper is worth at least 2VP. Compare that with Harem, which is worth $2 and 2VP, and costs $6 to purchase. 2 VP + $1 is a steal. Buying Copper when you only have 1 Goons in play is more situational. If you have a Watchtower in hand so you can trash the Copper, you definitely want to because it's a free VP; if you aren't going to finish cycling through your deck, you definitely buy Copper; if it's early in the game, you probably don't because buying Copper decreases the chance of being able to put together a multi-Goons turn, which is where the real VP explosion happens.

Other exceptions: Apothecary decks will usually want to buy a couple of Coppers throughout the game. Horse Traders + Duke decks only need to produce $5 consistently, which can be done with HT + 2 Coppers + whatever else, so Coppers can help that deck (although no one is certain of when the optimal time is to start purchasing Coppers). If you have a Trader in your hand (from the new Hinterlands expansion), you might choose to buy a Copper so you can trade it into a Silver, although you might not if you are trying to build a crazy engine and need your engine cards to be drawn together. Coppersmith obviously benefits from Copper, but that's a really tough engine to put together for lots of reasons.

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shujaa's answer is quite good, and I'd chime in with a few other things:

The Apothecary/Coppersmith combo is quite dangerous, and can give you some damn big turns if you can get some other card draws and +buys into the mix.

If you're pulling most of your deck and have Moneylender or Spice Merchant, it may be worthwhile to use stray +buys on Copper just to keep them fed. Bishop too, but shujaa is right that you're better off tossing Estates or other $2 cards into that wood chipper.

If your deck is utterly polluted with Curses and Estates that you can't get rid of, it may be worth buying Coppers just to make the ghastly suck less dense. Of course, you're probably going to lose pretty hard anyway, but I prefer to go down swinging.

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One strategy that sees a lot of play in our group when Goons is around is to use any extra buys for Coppers to get the extra points. This works best when you have other things in your deck to clear the Coppers out afterward.

We've also seen Chancellor/Counting House used rather effectively once or twice.

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I am the furthest thing from a Dominion expert. I have no simulators, no statistical analyses, and no desire to play thousands of games just to answer this question.

But I have played more than a couple of games and I sometimes find it advantageous to buy copper. In situations where there is something consuming copper - like a Mine, or even better - a Moneylender, I frequently find myself taking a copper as the second Buy on a turn when an action has yielded an additional buy. Because I know that later on, I'll be able to use the copper to power a good ability.

It doesn't mean I take the free copper every time, but especially when the Moneylender is in the mix, I try not to run too low on them.

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If you're playing the Golem/Counting House combo you'll want to buy 1 Copper (or 4 in a Colony game). It works like this:

Play Golem, find your single Counting House, but you find no other actions and discard the entire deck after which Counting House puts all Coppers in your hand and you buy a Province/Colony. This strategy is actually quite weak because it needs too much time to set up on average.

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I'm not sure promoting a weak answer is very helpful. Are there situations where this would be useful? –  Pat Ludwig Nov 10 '11 at 4:52
    
The Golem/Counting House combo is weak in competitive environments, but if you're playing casually, it has a good chance to win and it's a lot of fun... –  Geronimoo Nov 10 '11 at 10:17

The problem is that people think of copper as representing "more money". Instead it represents "one of my five cards will only be $1 more frequently than before".

That might still have made it OK, except most cards, in fact, practically all of them, are of more value to you than $1. So you are ensuring you get LESS ACTUAL VALUE in your hand on average when you buy a copper.

That is also why people will turn down buying a card at all even with plenty to spend. It may not combine well, or it may dilute, the typical hand of cards they are getting from their deck.

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This doesn't really answer my question. I already understand the reasoning behind not buying coppers in general; the question is about determining situations in which buying copper is actually useful. –  goldPseudo Feb 21 at 0:02
    
Sorry, only slept a few hours last night. As I mentioned in another comment it can be useful combined with a deck of Foragers as they will need a lot of trashing fuel. –  John Robertson Feb 21 at 0:07

I sometimes buy coppers to replace ones I've trashed when using the moneylender card. I generally only do this in early to mid game play in order to build up my gold supply. Once your deck starts building, however, the chances that your moneylender will be in the same hand as your coppers are slim, so I'd stop getting them and try to rid yourself of the money lender for a more useful card (mining if you can is not bad)

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