A periodic column on Sanctum strategy, theory, and fun,
by Ian Schreiber, Sanctum player name Gannon. You can reach Ian at
Basic Strategy Five: Denial
June 24, 1999
The last article of this series will cover a strategy that is unique, in that
it must be combined with another strategy in order to win the game.
Denial simply means that you're stopping your opponent from doing what
he wanted to do, and runs the gamut from protective spells to spells that squander
your opponent's castings to dispel effects. Because you're constantly reacting
to or second-guessing your opponent's moves, this can be one of the trickiest
strategies to play. However, when played well, it can also be one of the strongest.
How It Works
Quite simply, you must try to prevent your opponent from doing whatever it
is that he relies on doing to win. That, alone, will put you on even footing.
Then you need something else to give yourself an advantage a strategy
that you can use to win. This other strategy can be any of the other four (Attrition,
or Lockdown) or a combination of
several of them, so long as you can use it to win if you and your opponent are
otherwise equally matched.
Because of this, two heavy-denial decks may act quite differently from each
other, if their secondary strategies are different. A combat-denial deck, for
example, might give its minions an early combat advantage and then stop the
opponent from using his powerful spells in the middle and late game; such a
deck would go for an early win still, but would use denial instead of expensive
combat alterations after the first few moves.
An attrition-denial deck, on the other hand, would hold back and defend itself
using a combination of slowing the game down, increasing board position, and
using denial to prevent the opponent from gaining the upper hand. Both decks
could use denial heavily, but they'd both be played differently.
So, there's no one way to build or play a denial deck, since it depends on
the secondary strategy. A pure denial deck, if one existed, would be worthless:
you could stop the opponent from doing anything, but you couldn't do anything
either, and the game would be a stalemate until one or the other of you cast
a spell to get an advantage in some way!
Denial comes in many flavors, mostly because any given denial spell will stop
one or more strategies but won't work against all of them. A friendly group
dispel (such as Restoration), for example, works great against Lockdown, but
is nearly useless against Powerhouse and most Combat strategies. Ostracize,
on the other hand, can really limit the potential of a Combat strategy, but
a Lockdown strategy wouldn't care one way of the other.
So, the spells you include in your denial deck depend a lot on how much denial
(and what kind) you want. If the only thing stopping your deck is a Lockdown
strategy, for example, you might include anti-Lockdown spells as your only form
of denial. If you want to base your entire deck around denial, you'll need spells
that cover as many possibilities as you can think of.
See the Fighting Against … sections of the previous articles to see what kinds
of spells and strategies work well against what. Dispel, for example, works
well against Lockdown. Invisibility helps against decks that target single minions.
Anything that you cast on the world that prevents your opponent's spells from
going off, especially if they can squander your opponent's spells later that
turn, will work wonders.
Preparing for everything will mean your deck may be larger than you'd normally
like it to be. To make up for this, you can discard heavily, especially at the
beginning of the game, based on what House your opponent plays. If your opponent
is playing War, for example, you can probably expect some combination of Combat
and Powerhouse, so ditch those anti-Lockdown spells. If your opponent is playing
Mind, which has no spells that target a single minion, you can probably toss
your single-minion dispels (and any anti-Combat stuff you might have lying around).
So, while your deck may be 5 to 15 cards larger than a typical deck that uses
your secondary strategy, you can counteract that disadvantage by burning through
your cards quickly.
Getting and keeping Initiative is key to denial, as many of its spells are
more effective if cast before the opponent has a chance to act. For example,
if you cast an invisibility spell on your single-minion group with Initiative,
your opponent's Venom'd Arrow will get squandered; if you cast Intercession,
then everything the opponent casts will be squandered… if you have Initiative.
So, in addition to the spells that you use for denial and for your secondary
strategy, if you can include some way to get the Initiative, then all the better.
If not, then you'll have to plan your moves carefully so that you can keep the
Initiative for as long as possible; if that means waiting a turn to enter a
town so that you're the last player to take a town (and thus gain Initiative),
then so be it.
Finally, denial requires a deep understanding of all other basic strategies,
and which Houses generally use which strategies. Many denial spells require
that you guess what your opponent will do next; with an invisibility spell,
for example, you'll help yourself more if you choose the same target that your
opponent does, so that you can squander his spell. Thus, knowing what to expect
from your opponent is key.
Justice has the heaviest amount of denial in the
game, including the ultimate denial spell of Intercession. It can also prevent
Monsters with Justicar's Reserve, and has access to no less than three dispel
cards with House mana only (Shell of Gold, Second Chance, Restoration, Winnowing
Sigil). It also has a mix of minor combat effects (Bow of Quickening, True Aim,
Retribution), powerhouse spells (Obsidian Dragon, Pyrrhic Victory), attrition
(Dracha), and lockdown (Sentinel), allowing it to focus or diversify with its
secondary strategy. By adding in some Will mana, it can take advantage of Making's
denial too (and vice versa, with Making splashing in Mystery).
Making plays second only to Justice in its denial.
Specifically, Making has several invisibility spells (Ogi's Gauntlet, Blinding
Orb) which can be used to squander enemy spells easily, and most of the same
dispel cards that Justice can use as well. Making also has the advantage of
being able to give itself Initiative (Adriel's Timepiece, Found City), where
Justice must somehow get 3 Will to throw those spells around.
No other Houses have so much denial that they could build an entire deck around
it, although some various minor denial spells are scattered everywhere, and
could make fine additions to many decks that need to cover their weaknesses.
Fighting Against Denial
There are three things you can do that will completely devastate denial:
Be unpredictable. If your deck is unoriginal
and your opponent can predict your every move, then you will most likely
lose the game. Use bizarre mana ratios and combinations of spells that your
opponent wouldn't expect in a deck of the House you're playing. More than
anything else, this will completely mess up a deck that relies on squandering
its opponent's best spells.
Get and keep Initiative. Without it, a denial
player cannot squander her opponent's spells, and she is of course at a
disadvantage in combat too. If you manage to keep Initiative against a denial-heavy
deck, then you'll probably win. On the downside, it is difficult to do so
if your opponent's deck is built around getting Initiative for herself.
If you're stuck with a predictable deck, this is the best thing you can
do to help yourself fight Denial.
Play against your opponent's secondary strategy as
you normally would. If your opponent is playing denial with secondary
attrition, then play as if you were playing an attrition deck. If you fail
at the above two tactics, this is your best shot … but realize that your
opponent's denial may cause your spells to fail just when you don't need
Beginning now, Ngozi's Way will appear here every Thursday. Check back next
week for the story on Deck Size. We'll discuss whether
deck size matters. :)