Hermit (and by extension Madman) seems to continue being undervalued. Every month brings a new tale of the exploits of Madmen taking opposing decks from seemingly behind to rapidly ahead. This is because Hermit is seen primarily as a trasher and gainer, but not as a deck accelerator. It’s time to change that outlook.
The single strongest thing about Hermit is the ability to get Madmen. Doubling handsize (after playing Madman of course) with a +Action is one of the strongest effects in the entire game, on par with Donate, City Quarter and King’s Court. It’s no wonder that Madman is a one shot. The strength of the effect largely depends on the amount of cards in hand. If a hand gets discard attacked to three cards, Madman will only be as good as an Encampment. If a Laboratory is played, the Madman will draw 5 cards. Madman play typically starts with at least a single Hermit open, although Double Hermit isn’t uncommon either.
Play continues and once the Hermit is found, it often is the time to gain a Hermit, buy nothing and gain a Madman. Buying a Silver or even a shiny Action card isn’t usually worth the deck acceleration Madman provides, which might feel counter-intuitive. The trick is, Madman does a number of things well all at once. Firstly, Madman allows for a multitude of options and ideas with the sheer amount of draw it provides, especially when there are multiple Madmen played. Secondly, it gets the deck closer to the shuffle, allowing for quicker access to those same powerful cards gained on the previous turn. In short, Madman accelerates the deck.
The single greatest gift with Madman is gain and play abuse, and Madman already comes prepackaged with a gainer in Hermit. Abusing gain and play is exactly why combos such as Hermit/Market Square work so well, which will be discussed shortly. Any time Madman is on the board, always look for opportunities to gain and play cards. Even in the absence of gain and play, having things to do on the Madman turn is crucial. Maybe there’s some trashing or remodeling to do. Maybe a second buy could be thrown in there. Always have a reason to get Madman.
In addition, the cost to get Madman isn’t even that high. Skipping a buy is already what Tactician does. Just be sure to draw Madman at the top of the shuffle. If the Madman bottomdecks and the opposing player draws it at the top of his shuffle, he’s way ahead, just because he got to blow up sooner. That is a real risk with Madman, but the alternative is instantly losing. However, there are some ways to mitigate this.
With Watchtower in hand, or buying Traveling Fair, topdecking Madman becomes viable, and a player won’t risk simply losing to Bottomdeck Syndrome. In addition, gainers such as Horn of Plenty and Alms allow for a Madman gain while getting cards like normal. Both of these specific situations quickly lead to some pretty fast game states, and it is often losing to ignore. Scheme works in an interesting way, to where if Scheme topdecks a Hermit after not buying anything, a Madman is gained without losing the Hermit. Events and Projects also combo well with Hermit and Madman gaining, due to Landscapes not being cards.
The next question is a much trickier one, and that is how often is Madman gained? Usually the safe answer is just one, but that isn’t always the case. I’ve built decks with Monastery and Banquet (Monastery killing the Coppers gained in play), getting multiple Madmen and drawing deck where it wasn’t ordinarily possible every turn as a result. I didn’t keep going until the Hermits were empty. At a certain point, I made the call that buying cards normally was worth more than the one shot of Madman without the flexibility of buys. That call was made way later, but that is the call that has to be made every time a new Madman is considered. Maybe there’s a megaturn, or maybe there’s just that much stuff to do, or maybe the cost opportunity is low to keep Madmen around. But always have a reason to get Madman. A useless Madman is an expensive one, and inefficiencies lose games.
Hermit/Market Square Combo
The classic combo with Madman is Market Square, and it is very deadly when executed correctly. Playing it well requires precise play, deck tracking knowledge and a good memory. The open is Hermit/Hermit, and the goal is to try to both win the Hermit split and get an odd number of Hermits in the deck. Nine Hermits is the dream, and also impossible to realistically ever pull off in today’s meta. Seven Hermits is a good goal, but also not likely realistic. After all, the opponent is going to try for the same ideas. Also, do not trash every single junk card in the deck. Those are needed for later.
After the Hermit pile is empty or someone has nine/seven Hermits, go for gaining Madmen (sometimes you’ll start on this even sooner) and Market Squares. The goal is to get exactly three more Madmen than Hermits, so the dream combination (as an example for 7 Hermits) is five Madmen and two Hermits. After a bunch of Market Squares are gained and the Madman count is where it should be, pull the trigger on the Madmen. It needs to be timed to where you know you will draw deck when you blow the Madman up. The safest way to do this is to not blow up unless there are two in hand, but with deck tracking it’s possible to know what’s coming up.
Once the deck is drawn, blow up the junk card with Hermit (and depending on the deck, either gain more junk to blow up with the next hermit or gain something that helps toward winning), react all of the Market Squares, draw back up with a Madman, and repeat over and over until it’s not possible to. Usually even if Provinces can’t be piled there’s a three pile available, which is something to watch for with the 5/5 Hermit split. Quite often it’s Estates, simple enough with two Hermit gains and 6 buys.
All in all, the combo requires a lot of finesse and has a lot of moving parts. It is recommended to practice it multiple times solo before ever trying it in a real scenario. This is also without more complicated aspects, such as dealing with junkers, other $3 trashing cards, and other strange scenarios. As always, if you find something good, look for something even better.
Of course, there are still things Hermit does well enough on its own. After all, it does trash and gain. Paired with a treasure trasher, Hermit does plenty of work killing Estates and replacing them with Hermits, Silvers or whatever $3 cost is desired. Hermit helps with pile control. In the rare instance where it matters, Hermit works really well with cost reduction.
At the end of the day though, the main strength of Hermit lies in Madman, and mastery of that aspect of Hermit will go a long way towards winning games. Always remember: Hermit is primarily a deck accelerator, and the trash/gain effect is secondary.