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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 Two: Combat
April 22, 1999

Continuing with the series of columns on basic strategy, we come to the most straightforward and easy to understand of the five, and also the most vulnerable.

The second basic strategy is Combat. The idea is to pump the combat power of your recruits on the board, either with alterations that increase their stats, or with spells that give you more recruits (or to do the opposite to your opponent, killing her recruits or weakening her combat power) and then simply getting into combat and killing off her groups.

How It Works

Ultimately, the goal is to reach the enemy Sanctum, but the game is usually won long before that. If you can eliminate most or all of the opponent's minions on the board while having several large groups on your side, it's simple to just march toward her Sanctum and win the game, leaving her powerless to stop you through regular means.

Nearly all strategies have some way to dispose of enemy groups. Lockdown just keeps them in place so they can't do anything important, while Powerhouse kills them with spells. Combat strategies remove them in combat. Realize that the goal of killing off all or most enemy groups is a common one, though, and combat is just one more way for you to accomplish it.

Required Cards

Of course, you must start with a good assortment of combat cards. Any card that increases the damage, armor, HP or level of your minions, or decreases those stats of enemy minions, is fair game. So is any card which creates new minions for you or removes enemy minions from the board.

You will also need some way to deal with the intrinsic weakness of the combat strategy: that your opponent may cast spells that kill or get in the way of your groups, which would prevent you from killing their minions in combat.

There are two ways to get around this: add some denial or protection spells that stop the opponent from messing with your groups too much, or else add some cards that increase the speed of your deck so that you can engage the enemy in combat before she has the mana to do anything devastating to you.

Key Concepts

In order for combat to work, you have to get into combat, and you have to win the fights you get into. Getting into combat involves either speed or protection (as above), while winning requires cards that let you deal or receive more damage.

In the case of using speed to get into combat, you'll be going for an early win. Because of this, your deck must be reliable and consistent, which means it must be small.

Any extra cards in your deck would be cards you don't even use during the game; if the game drags on then your speed attack has failed and you'll lose, and if your attack succeeds then it will be early on (so you wouldn't have seen all that much of your deck by the time the game is decided, either way).

By “speed”, I'm referring to spells which move your groups more quickly (Forced March, Fleetness, etc).

For a protective strategy you can afford to be a little slower; the important thing is to get one or more large groups that are unbeatable in combat, and protected from any major spells. Then you just start a march of death across the board as soon as you reach that point.

These decks still can't be too large since you must draw your protection/denial spells when you need them, but they can be slightly larger than combat-speed decks. You can use the extra space for some minor combat alterations to increase your battle power further, or else use it for “just in case” spells to protect against any nasty surprises you might be afraid of.

Either way, you'll want some way to generate extra recruits. Every now and then a group of yours will die to an unexpected enemy spell, but thatis okay if you can out-produce her in recruits by making more recruits than she does. This includes spells that generate extra novices like Allies and Fertility, in addition to spells that create recruits like Dragon's Teeth and Bard.


War, not surprisingly, is known for its devastating combat-speed attacks. It has excellent damage capability with Flaming Sword and Legionnaires (among others), two spells that create extra minions (Dragon's Teeth and Warlord), speed (Forced March), and enough direct damage to supplement combat (Fireball, Salamander).

Body can do quite well for itself, too, in the combat-speed arena. With a ton of minor combat alterations (the best of which is probably Rite of Growth) it can dish out a lot of damage, and unlike War it also has several ways to gain HP (Jaguar's Blood, Fortitude) and heal (Healing Balm, Healing Spring). It can mass-produce recruits with Fertility and Nomadic Tribe, and it has some speed (Fleetness). While it doesn't have direct damage like War does, it has denial with the infamous Complacency and Lycanthropy. Also, its hero (Olotus) gives a combat bonus to all of your minions, in addition to giving you an extra recruit on the board.

Unmaking is somewhere between War and Body; with just one Mystery it can use both Forced March and Fleetness for a total of eight speed spells, and it can use some minor combat alterations from both Houses. It also has a few denial spells like Bolt of Somersaults, and the occasional Monster to kill off small enemy groups, which gives it some definite combat-speed possibilities.

Making has quite a few Archer-based damage spells (Bow of Quickening, True Aim, Ogi's Arrows), good Armor bonuses (Shieldbearers, Ogi's Armor) and some good Invisibility for protection as well (Ogi's Gauntlet, Blinding Orb). It also has a spell which creates new recruits (Ancient King) and with one Mystery it gets a little denial (Intercession). This allows Making to build an effective strategy focused on combat-protection.

Life and Nature both have a good selection of Archer spells too, but both of them handle combat a bit differently than most. Rather than speed or protection, they both concentrate on denial (Life has Faerie Circle and Terrain Bind, Nature has Inundate, Deluge and Will O' the Wisp). The idea here would be to slow down the opponent rather than speeding up yourself (although either House could add one Mystery to get Fleetness, too).

Death is rather odd. On the one hand, it has many combat-based spells, and a lot of resurrection effects that make its minions notoriously hard to kill (either in or out of combat!). On the other hand, it doesn't really have much in the way of slowdown, protection or speed, so it cannot use a pure combat strategy. Still, it has some group-based damage spells (Plague, Wasteland) that give it a further edge in combat, and its monsters can help it wear down a large enemy group. It also has Dark Minion for extra recruits and Venom'd Arrow to remove enemy recruits. Death is currently best used with a partial Combat strategy, combined with something else. If, in a future expansion, Death gets good protection spells, then it will be able to do an excellent combat-protection focus.

Despair, too, has many combat-based spells. In this case, the spells focus on weakening enemy groups rather than increasing the battle strength of your own, but the result is still the same: you win combats. Like Life and Nature, Despair can use this strategy in combination with spells that slow down the opponent (Lockdown spells, in this case, are Despair's specialty). Should Despair ever get any good speed or protection spells, it would be able to focus entirely on combat if it chose to.

Finally, there are two Houses which may have potential for at least a partial combat focus, but that are seldom used as such. The first is Mind, which has several good Archer-based spells (Kumatru Archer, Kumatru Academy, Faerie Fire) and also the speed spell of Flying Carpet, suggesting the potential for a combat-speed Mind deck with Archers. The second is Justice, which can borrow many good combat spells from Making; Justice specializes in Denial, so it could pump its minions for combat and use the denial spells to make sure it gets into combat without enemy interference.

Fighting Against Combat

Combat may be very strong in practice, but it is also highly vulnerable because of its built-in weaknesses.

First, of course, if you can avoid combat or use spells to eliminate its minions without entering regular combat, you can win easily.

Second, combat decks tend to be predictable; they want to get into combat, so you know exactly where they're going to move, and you can plan accordingly.

If you are trying to design your deck to deal with a Combat strategy, probably the easiest thing to start with is spells that kill entire enemy groups.

Pyrrhic Victory, Void, Sword of Zana, Accursed Minion and the like can remove large enemy groups from the board without engaging them in combat, and since most of these spells happen upon entering combat in the first place, your opponent really has no choice but to suffer the damage of your spell.

To take care of enemy minions that are heavily enhanced for combat by spells, any number of dispel cards can remove their bonuses, evening the playing field. Group dispels, in particular, can be devastating against a combat deck.

Against combat-speed, Lockdown hurts more than anything. Your opponent's entire goal is to engage you in combat early in the game, so if you prevent her from moving forward with movement-controlling spells then you can drag the game on and force her to face you when you're at your most powerful.

Against combat-protection or combat-slowdown strategies, however, Lockdown doesn't hurt nearly as much (since she's expecting a long game to begin with). Instead, ironically, a speed deck that can reach her before she starts slowing down the game would be the most effective method of attack.

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

Good luck!

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