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Sanctum | Strategy, Sorcery, SubterfugeSanctum | Strategy, Sorcery, Subterfuge



Ngozi's Way

A periodic column on Sanctum strategy, theory, and fun, by Ian Schreiber, Sanctum player name Gannon. You can reach Ian at

Basic Strategy One: Lockdown
April 8, 1999

This next series of articles will cover the five basic strategic themes that are used in the vast majority of decks. Some decks concentrate on a single strategy, while others combine two or more for added versatility.

The first basic strategy, and probably the one that is easiest for a new player to lose to, is lockdown. In short, the idea is to prevent your opponent from entering towns early on. With the early advantage of having more mana and recruits from the towns that you take yourself, you can then overwhelm her before she has a chance to recover later in the game.

How It Works

Suppose that you can prevent your opponent from taking any towns for the first six turns of the game, and she isn't able to do the same to you. By turn 6, your main group can reach the center town, and usually take a second town along the way.

If you made a second group from your Sanctum, and it took another nearby town, then you'll have 3 towns to your opponent's zero. That means you have more mana and many more recruits than your opponent does.

From there, you simply press your advantage, by attacking in force and overwhelming her groups with superior numbers before she can recover.

Realize that being on the receiving end of a Lockdown deck can be frustrating, because your opponent stops your groups from doing anything useful (like reaching a town) until he simply kills off (or walks around) your groups and closes in on your Sanctum.

Required Cards

Obviously, a lockdown deck will need spells that prevent the opponent from getting into towns. These spells generally come in two flavors: the kind that mess up movement (by sending her groups in the wrong direction or freezing them in place, for example) and the kind that kill her groups outright.

Movement-altering spells tend to be cheaper than group-killing spells, but they are also more temporary. So if you try to kill your opponent's groups it will usually require more mana on your part, but fewer cards in your deck; keeping your opponent's groups at bay with movement spells, on the other hand, can start earlier in the game but is harder to keep going for extended periods of time. Your deck can also combine the two, preventing enemy group movement early on and then killing them off later when you have the mana for it.

It should also be noted that an entire class of cards, Monsters, can do both. Monsters can do damage and sometimes kill off an entire enemy group, but if summoned in the group's walking path it can also stall their movement for a turn.

Key Concepts

In order for a pure lockdown strategy to work, above all, it has to be consistent. Since it starts early on, you must draw the spells you need early; if you have to wait until turn 5 before you can stall enemy groups, you've already lost the early-game advantage. Because of the need for reliability, lockdown decks tend to be fairly small, close to 30 cards.

Since the goal of lockdown is to win quickly, before your opponent has the opportunity to build up her mana and minions, planning your deck for the long term is usually unnecessary. You might add a couple of expensive, strong spells to cement your victory once you're already ahead (by permanently cutting off a town from the enemy, for example) but if you place too many of these in your deck, you'll be drawing them early on, which will slow you down by giving you a smaller selection of spells you can actually cast.

Of course, you'll also need a generous helping of lockdown spells; as noted above, you have to guarantee that you'll draw enough of them early on.

One thing to keep in mind is that you will never be able to totally prevent every opponent from reaching even a single town; even with the best lockdown deck, the opponent often gets one town.

Occasionally there will be a town two squares from each player's Sanctum, for example. In that case, it's completely impossible, no matter how good your draw, to stop your opponent from taking that town. You should be able to stop her from taking a second town, however, and if you get the nearest three towns and she only has one, you should be able to turn that into a victory. Dealing with that one enemy town is often the very reason for the occasional expensive spell (see above).


Despair is known and feared forits early-game lockdown capability, using the early-game spells of Disorient, Forsaken, and Fear, and the late-game Changelings, Insurrection, or Bleak Isle to cut off the one town your opponent did manage to get to.

Mind is also known for its lockdown, with a combination of Mirage and Binding Cube for movement control and a host of medium-cost Monsters to stall and eventually kill the opponent's groups.

Body has a powerful lockdown option with Lycanthropy and Complacency, combined with the combat-enhancing alterations that allow it to beat its opponent's groups in combat once it reaches them.

Nature has enough monsters to flood the board with them, so it has the potential to kill off its enemies' groups with monster summonings en masse. It also has the lockdown spell of Will O' the Wisp, and the terrain-affecting spells of Inundate and Deluge which can be used to halt an enemy group's movement or even drown them!

Death has spells which can weaken or kill enemy groups, and a few Monsters which can kill off what's left. However, many of Death's spells are expensive enough that an early-game lockdown by killing the opponent's groups is difficult to do consistently.

Fighting Against Lockdown

What can you do when you think your opponent will try a lockdown strategy? Well, since lockdown has several forms, that depends on what you think her exact method of attack will be.

If you are afraid of excessive attacks on your groups from Monsters, putting extra recruits into your groups and enhancing them with combat alterations can help greatly; if you can kill off Monsters without taking casualties, your recruits will gain experience levels and be much stronger by the time you face your opponent's recruits in combat.

Adding an extra recruit from your Sanctum into your first or second group can also make a huge difference; many early-game Monsters will kill a single recruit but die to a pair of recruits. Of course, there's also a spell that specifically protects your group from Monster attacks too: Lienna's Sigil.

If, instead, you are afraid of movement-hindering spells, there are several options available to you. If you can increase your combat power sufficiently to dominate the board and you don't think your opponent can kill off a large group with spells, then you could build up your main group with spells, ignore the towns and head straight for her groups.

More commonly, you can put a few group-dispel cards like Cleansing Light, Circle of Wisdom, and Restoration in your deck, to clear a lockdown spell off your group. Don't forget, you can issue movement orders to a group even if it can't move because of a spell; if you can dispel the lockdown, your group will move that very turn.

Since your groups often get frozen outside of a town, a dispel plus ordering them to move will let you reach the town that turn, with nothing left for your opponent to do about it.

Yet another tactic to use against movement spells is to make a third group from your Sanctum; instead of having just your starting group and a second group with one or two recruits in it, use your starting group, a second group with one recruit and a third group with one recruit, and send the pair of small groups toward a nearby town.

Try to set it up so that one won't run into (and combine with) the other if a lockdown spell is cast on it; that is, have the groups walk side-by-side instead of in a “follow-the-leader” line. Most lockdown decks have enough spells to stop one or two groups, but chances are they will not have enough to stop three groups.

If you can reach even a single town, any spell that generates recruits or novices in that town (Dragon's Teeth, Allies, Spawn of Toganni, Fertility, and so on) will help you greatly against lockdown.

The more recruits and groups you have on the board, the more spells your opponent will need to keep you locked down, and eventually you'll reach the point where you just have too many groups for her to stop all of them.

We'll cover other strategies in future articles. Check back every two weeks. Our next strategies are Combat, Powerhouse, Attrition and Denial.

Good luck!

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