A periodic column on Sanctum strategy, theory, and fun,
by Ian Schreiber, Sanctum player name Gannon. You can reach Ian at
Back to the Basics
The first time they encounter Sanctum, most people ask one of two questions:
- What is a CCG?
- Is this like Magic?
I'll go ahead and answer these, probably in much more detail than you'd ever
To answer the first: CCG stands for Collectible (or Customizable)
Card Game. It is a relatively new genre of game, where every player has his
or her own personal collection of cards, builds a deck
using cards from that collection, and plays a game using that deck.
Cards can be traded with other players, like baseball cards; you might, for
example, trade away a card you don't use for one that would enhance a deck you're
working on. Decks are completely customizable, so if you play against three
different players you'll probably have three completely different games against
three completely different decks. The customizability and variety are much of
what makes the CCG genre so popular.
CCGs are customizable in the sense that you can build a deck. You generally
don't use every single card in your collection; you pick a set of cards which
you think will go well together. In this sense, you can build many different
decks, and you can alter an existing deck by taking something out or putting
something else in.
A typical game in a CCG will have both players shuffle their decks, draw a
hand of cards from their own deck, and put those cards into play. Each card
has some effect on it which alters game play in some way or other.
One of the first CCGs to enter the world, and certainly the one that made this
type of game popular in the first place, is Magic: the Gathering. Because
of this, most people who encounter a new CCG will be quick to compare it with
So, to answer the second question (Is this like Magic?): in a word, no. There
are quite a few CCGs out there which are popular, so it is a natural instinct
to try and compare Sanctum with other games of the same genre. However, Sanctum
is not a traditional CCG; many of the concepts and game mechanics that are
widely used in CCGs are not used at all in Sanctum, and most of Sanctum's gameplay
is unique, so comparisons with other CCGs are tricky. First, let's look at some
of the more widely-used game mechanics of a typical CCG and discuss how Sanctum
Basic resource cards. Most CCGs have costs associated
with the cards that have game effects (Sanctum does too; every spell has a mana
cost). However, most CCGs have you generate those costs using additional cards
in your deck, so much of your deck will be taken up by cards that produce the
basic resources (call them mana, bits, gold or what have you) used to pay for
the rest of the cards in your deck. Sanctum, on the other hand, has no such
thing; while there are some spells that give you extra mana, they cost mana
to cast themselves. Your primary source of mana is from your Sanctum recruits,
and from towns, neither of which are things that go in your deck.
Tapping. Most cards in play in a typical CCG have
two states: tapped and untapped. That is, usable and
unusable. You normally tap a card to use it in some way, and it untaps once
per turn. There's no such thing in Sanctum; anything in play is in play.
Discard pile. Most CCGs have some place where the
cards that leave play, or that you discard from your hand, go to. There are
also cards which then access this pile of used cards. In Sanctum, once you play
or discard a card, it's gone.
Win by decking. In many CCGs, you lose
if you run out of cards in your deck, and occasionally someone will even build
a deck that tries to win by running its opponent out of cards on purpose. In
Sanctum, you can play on after you run out of cards in your deck, although you
don't draw any more.
Combat is not area-based.
Most CCGs do not have a gameboard with squares on it like Sanctum does; cards
in play are in play, and can do whatever it is that they do once there. Sanctum
actually has a concept of board position and maneuvering/coordination of separate
units, much like Chess ... a concept that is absent in almost all other CCGs.
Function-based decks. In most CCGs, a good deck
is a deck that's focused on performing a single task and performing it well;
you have one main way that you attempt to win the game, and your entire deck
will be geared towards getting that win in the way you want. Tossing in a few
spells just in case will usually water down a deck and make it less reliable.
In Sanctum, however, the decks are theme-based rather than function-based: because
of the ability to cycle through your deck quickly by casting cheap spells and
discarding what you don't use, a deck in Sanctum can be consistently good without
being ultra-focused. In fact, most Sanctum decks are made stronger by the occasional
just in case card: it can prepare for nasty scenarios, and can just be discarded
or cast randomly if the situation it is needed for doesn't happen. Decks that
don't use such cards, in Sanctum, are at the mercy of good luck and good terrain,
which are hardly reliable.
Best deck size equals minimum
deck size. In part because the decks in most CCGs are function-based,
and in part because you usually only draw 1 card per turn, the decks need to
be as small as possible; the smaller the deck, the better the chance of drawing
what you need early on. In Sanctum this is not always the case; a deck that
is designed to discard every turn, or that expects to drag the game on until
the opponent runs out of steam, may very well benefit from being much larger
than the minimum. Although the minimum deck size in Sanctum is 30 cards, many
competitive decks are 40-45 cards, and some are even upwards of 60!
Game strategy. Most of all, Sanctum has a strategy
all its own. Because you must take into consideration both the spells in your
hand, the spells that your opponent might cast, and the position of groups,
towns and terrain on the board, there is very little comparison between the
strategy you use during a game of Sanctum and most other CCGs.
So, while certain elements may carry over from your favorite other CCG to Sanctum,
the majority will not. So let go of what you already know from other games,
and think of Sanctum as its own unique entity; it will make it far easier to
learn the best Sanctum strategies.