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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 Four: Attrition
June 10, 1999

One of the hardest strategies to pull off – but one of the most rewarding when you do – is Attrition. This is generally a defensive strategy, and as such it's not suited to those types looking for a quick victory (or even a quick game). The basic idea is to run your opponent out of cards and still have some cards left yourself; when you're casting spells and your opponent can't, you know you can rely on everything you cast to work exactly as you planned it.

How It Works

Normally, the way to pull this off is to play defensively. Slow the game down, make it really difficult for your opponent to get anywhere, and sit. For every attack that your opponent tries to make, find some way to repel it. Eventually, he'll run out of cards. By that time, you must make sure that at least one of three things is true:

  1. You have enough spells of your own left. Then, you can use them to win the game from that point, when you know you'll have no magical opposition.
  2. You have a military advantage. That is, you have a majority of minions on the board, and can use them to win any combats they might encounter.
  3. You have a recruit-production advantage. That is, you control more ways of producing recruits (i.e. more towns) than your opponent does, so that eventually you can build up enough military might to break through and win.

Any of those advantages can allow you to get a victory after the opponent has no cards left. Achieving several or all of the above makes your job even easier.

Required Cards

You will need to run your opponent out of cards, first of all. That either means including spells that force them to use their cards faster (like Pages to Dust), or just waiting for him to cast everything on his own (and work to survive until that time). Decks that use spells to run the opponent out of cards may be able to get a slightly faster victory, since the opponent would run out of cards faster. However, such a deck also requires ways to survive its own spells, though; for example, if you use Pages to Dust, you'll need some way to turn it off (The Unmagicking) once your opponent is out of cards! Or you'll be out of cards soon yourself.

If, instead, you plan to win without using spells to deplete your opponent's deck, you will first need to keep yourself alive. That means including in your deck spells which slow the game down early on to give yourself time to build up, and spells to defend your towns and your minions (such as extra armor or extra minions, or spells that make it difficult for the opponent to enter your towns). Finally, you'll need some spells to create more minions (or better yet, more towns) so that you can turn the stalemate into a victory in the late game.

Key Concepts

For every spell your opponent casts, you'll likely have to cast something to keep up. So for any method of running the opponent out of cards that you can think of, you'll need to burn the same number of cards yourself to keep yourself alive. That means that your deck must be larger than your opponent's, by enough of a margin to make a difference in the late game. However, if your deck is too large, then it will be inconsistent (and worse, you may never draw the key cards you need!). Attrition decks typically have from 55 to 65 spells, although it is possible to go higher if you can cycle through your own deck quickly (for example, by including a lot of cheap spells that you can cast or discard early on).

Attrition decks take some discipline to play. Sometimes you get a good draw and manage to get a large advantage early on, and it's tempting to try and forge ahead for a fast victory. My advice would be not to try that, unless your deck is specifically designed to take advantage of something like that. Too often, your opponent may have a spell up his sleeve that will crush your main group and nullify your advantage, and you'll find yourself losing ground. Have patience and wait for your chance in the late game to win by, well, attrition!

On the bright side, with a larger deck size, you have more room for special “just in case” cards to deal with situations that might come up. You can include a few anti-Lockdown spells to protect yourself in the early game, some terrain-pass spells in case the board doesn't start in your favor, maybe some movement denial to slow down the combat-speed decks, and so on.

Speaking of denial, that's one strategy that goes hand in hand with many Attrition strategies. Spells that prevent the opponent from casting what he wants will slow the game down, and if you can actually squander some enemy spells in the process, then you reduce the total threat you'll need to face.


Making is just made for attrition. Found City and Ancient King give it the numbers to completely dominate the late game. Blinding Orb and (with 1 Mystery) Intercession provide excellent denial, and Mountains can further slow the game down. Making has more spells that increase armor than any other House, which makes your Dwarves really tough to kill. All the elements of a classic “slow” attrition deck are there.

Justice, while more focused on denial than attrition, can still make an excellent attrition deck. It can gain access to most of Making's spells using Oculus of Will and Astronomic Clock, and it has a few powerhouse spells to keep itself in the game.

Unmaking, the House that is known for its speed in both combat and powerhouse strategies, isn't what you'd normally expect for an Attrition deck. Yet, it has Pages to Dust (and The Unmagicking to remove it) which does give it the option to play a faster version of an attrition strategy, by running its opponent out of cards and stocking its own deck with cheap, useful spells that it can burn early on for good card flow. As with many Unmaking decks, however, it does rely on getting Pages to Dust relatively early (and The Unmagicking relatively late), so on a really bad shuffle the deck can end up defeating its user through bad luck.

Hope and Life both have some of the classic elements of attrition. Specifically, both can cast Settlement (for extra cities) and Sanctuary (to slow the opponent's progress and protect their own cities) with primary mana, and both have spells that will summon extra recruits (Army of Light, Allies). Hope can usually manage to slow the game down further just on the intimidation factor (send a single kamikaze unit towards their big group and see if they scatter to avoid a Sword of Zana that you didn't cast!), while Life can give the opponent all kinds of trouble in a Forest (Faerie Circle will slow down their opponent's progress, made even better if they manage to remove the Forest and thus remove that group from the game!). Of course, Hope has a ton of powerhouse spells, so it is usually not played with an attrition style, and Life tends to attract people who want its combat power ... so while neither of these is typically used to build an attrition deck, it's certainly possible.

Fighting Against Attrition

Since an attrition strategy relies on being prepared for everything, it can be really difficult to fight against. When faced with a slower attrition strategy, the best thing to do is go for an early win. If you manage to break through your opponent's minimal defenses early on, before she can get the mana to do some serious building up, you may be able to overrun her. Letting the game drag on simply plays right into her hands.

Alternatively, if you're playing a powerhouse deck, you can try to steamroller your opponent in the mid-game, before she starts to get minion superiority and when destroying her biggest group still means something.

Of course, a good attrition deck will try to stop you from doing either one of those things, so it really becomes a battle of your power versus her stubbornness, and you'll just have to try to be better at what you do than she is at defending against it! To your credit, a focused 30-card deck is more reliable than a 60-card attrition monster, so you will be more likely to draw what you need than an attrition player.

Check back every week. Our next strategy is Denial.

Good luck!

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