Lurker is a high skill card that is often mistaken for being a more powerful card than it really is. While Lurker does have many amazing combos with nearly all of Dark Ages and Mining Village, by itself the card is usually underwhelming. The primary problem with Lurker is not the ability, which is a fantastic one, but rather the actual card in your deck. Oftentimes, players from across the experience spectrum open with a Lurker, and it’s not always the right play! Here is a likely familiar example to those who have played a couple of Lurker games.
A Common Hypothetical
- Turn 1: Player 1 buys X
- Turn 1: Player 2 buys X
- Turn 2: P1 buys Lurker
- Turn 2: …
It is Player 2 to move. Does Player 2 buy Lurker or not?
Usually Player 2 feels obligated to pick one up, just to deny Player 1 from getting his hands on a potential free card. From there, the game devolves into a Lurker game of chicken, where neither player plays the Lurker. Both players feel like they have to justify the Lurker buy, so they pick up other Lurkers. It is understandable that someone would want two Lurkers. Two Lurkers go together as well as peanut butter and jelly. But it is also potentially the wrong play.
There is a better solution out there that people don’t contemplate when playing in this scenario, and that is to delay the Lurker buy. Instead of Lurker on Turn 2, buy a better card. Player 2 can gain the Lurker on the second shuffle, and Player 1 still has to keep in mind the Lurker game of chicken. He may go for it, in which case perhaps he gets a second Lurker to increase his chances of landing it upon the next shuffle. This may or may not work, and Player 2’s deck should be slightly the better for it either way. Player 1’s deck will still have at least one glorified Ruined Village inside no matter what the outcome.
The trick with Lurker
If you are not going to use the Lurker you gained, there had best be a good reason. Lurkers in hand make it harder to hit price points early game, and there’s no incentive to play it if you do not benefit. A good maxim to remember: Decks that use Lurker are good, but decks that have Lurkers are bad. Do not pick one up blindly, since its presence can hurt an early hand without proper building.
Like University, Lurkers are an investment, and so there should be something worth investing in. Usually these investments are pricey cards like King’s Court, Possession, Forge, or Prince. Other fantastic scenarios are anything with Donate, deep quick trashing, Cultist or Fortress combos, etc. Outside of these scenarios, it is a lot harder to justify opening Lurker. The investment put in might very well not be worth it.
As the game progresses, Lurker can become less of a gainer and more of a threat of a three pile ending. Always be aware of potential three piles and how many cards your opponent can drain. In particular, Throned or Kinged Lurkers can make games end incredibly quickly, and King’s Court is one of the potential triggers for aggressive early Lurker openings. Lurker is also much stronger with sifters such as Forum. Lurker can gain Actions with Potion cost cards, and the incredibly oppressive one to look out for is Possession. Lurker can also pile incredibly fast with Hunting Grounds!
Of course, talking about hypotheticals is fine, but what about actual games? Here are four different boards. Your goal is to analyze the board and assess the use of Lurker (if any).
Playing against multiple Torturers a turn will be a slight nuisance despite Masquerade and Lurker doesn’t seem to be doing that many special things here. There’s nothing to invest in. There are cute tricks with trashing Mining Village and Lurker but Conspirator already provides the money. The game looks primed to end on a three pile with Vineyards being prime VP. Lurker seems to be best here as a cheap action and to threaten piles towards the end of the game.
This game looks to go on much longer. This is a prime Lurker game. There is an amazing sifter in Forum and good cards to gain in Scrying Pool/Baker/Mill. The engine will be double Province a turn in the ideal world and Mills will help provide points and economy. Lurkers will add cards to make Scrying Pool even better. The game will possibly end on some sort of three pile before the engine can be fully realized, mostly due to Lurker.
This board is a Lurker trap. A Vineyard rush with Talisman, Death Cart and Lurker is not even remotely competitive with Colony on the board. The only thing to do here is Council Room Big Money. Pilgrimage on a bad off turn can net a freebie Platinum later on for even faster building. Masterpiece overpay once on an $8 or $7 is a good investment, as Council Room doesn’t mind Silver flood. Lurker needs more support to pull off any sort of rush.
Enchantress is easily the most important card here, as it is the only draw, and a good Courtier target as a fancy bonus. Certainly this is not a board where you will get a Lurker on a buy, but rather a wonky turn where you can only get one from trashing an Estate and Coppers with Forge. Lurkers are not terribly important here, although they are nice to get a University which gets Enchantresses and a Courtier. While Forges and Expands are high cost cards and that is a prerequisite for Lurker investing, Baron/Silver or Baron/Enchantress are fine openings to potentially spike $7 already. The draw/sifting is also subpar, although Wandering Minstrel might help to connect two Lurkers. The endgame here seems to be Expanding/Forging things into Colonies.
Lurker is a card that a lot of people overbuy, especially in the opening. It is a somewhat mediocre card with a lot of interesting combos. With that being said, it is also a high skill card. That being said, when Lurker is good, it is very good and commands respect. Ignore Lurker at your own peril.