A periodic column on Sanctum strategy, theory, and fun,
by Ian Schreiber, Sanctum player name Gannon. You can reach Ian at
In Spite Of What Your Mom Said, Size Really Does Matter
July 8, 1999
We'll take a short break from our exploration of the houses to cover a topic
that almost every new player asks after they play a few games:
How many cards do I put in my deck?
According to the basic game rules, your deck cannot have less than 30 cards,
but there is no upper limit. If you've played a lot of other CCGs, your first
reaction might be that all decks should be 30 cards exactly; in many CCGs this
would be valid, but in Sanctum the rules are different, as we will see. Let's
start by laying down some basic rules first …
Rule 1: The larger your deck, the more unreliable your deck will be.
This is because, at any point in the game, there will be one card which would
be the one you'd most want to have in your hand at that point. In a smaller
deck, the odds of drawing such a card are pretty good. But if your deck is large,
you might not be able to draw the card you need when you need it. This leads
to the obvious corollary …
Rule 1.1: Don't make your deck larger than it has to be.
This means that if, for some reason, you cannot go below 60 cards for your
deck, make it a 60-card deck and not a 70-card or 80-card deck. If your deck
does as well as it can do with 30 cards, don't add more.
Rule 2: Any card that is left in your deck at the end of the game is useless.
If the game is over, then any cards that are still in your deck are cards you
didn't draw. That means you never saw them during the game, and never even had
an opportunity to discard any of them, let alone play them. These cards provided
you absolutely no benefit, and in fact they did you harm (because of rule 1).
Everything we have shown so far leads to the following golden rule of deck size
Golden Rule of Deck Size: Find out how many cards you will cast
or discard through the course of a typical game. Your deck should be that many
cards; no more, no less.
And, since every rule has an exception:
Exception to the Golden Rule: If you use less than 30 cards during
a game, your deck should have 30 cards exactly.
Obviously, even if you only use 25 cards during a game, you aren't allowed
to build a 25-card deck. So, you get as close to your target number as possible.
Other than that, the Golden Rule is pretty clear. If you have too many cards
in your deck, you won't be able to draw what you need when you need it; if you
have too few cards in your deck, you might run out of spells before the game
is over, and your opponent would then be able to make a comeback without worrying
about you casting anything to oppose them.
Now, actually figuring out how many cards you'll use in a typical game takes
some work. The best way is just to play a lot of unranked games with your new
deck and keep a count of how many spells you use, of course, but you can get
in the ballpark by estimating about how long the game will take, which in turn
is based on your overall strategy.
Clearly, if you're playing a fast deck that goes for an early win, you won't
be going through very many cards in your deck, and you'll probably do well to
keep it at or near 30. If you choose to go for a strategy that is slow to start
but picks up steam in mid-game (like some kinds of Powerhouse decks), then you
might increase your size to 40 or so. In an Attrition deck, you'll probably
be most comfortable around 50 or 60. Of course, all of these numbers are rough
estimates, and depend in part on your play style; if you discard a lot throughout
the game, then your deck might be a little larger than if you only discard when
Rule 3: As the game lasts longer, you use progressively more cards per turn.
As time goes on, you generate more and more mana from your Sanctum and from
spells that you cast, which in turn let you cast more spells per turn. This
means that you won't cast (or discard) as many spells in the first ten turns
of the game as you do in turns 11 to 20; and you'll use fewer spells in turns
11 to 20 than you will from turns 21 to 30, and so on. This means that expecting
a late-game win may require a lot more cards than one would think at first.
One final piece of advice, then, is to keep track of your games. Keep count
of how many spells you cast, how often you discard, whether you discard more
frequently early or late in the game, and how many turns your games generally
Pay particular attention to the games you win; if you always win before turn
20 after casting a maximum of 35 spells but you always lose games that last
longer, adding spells may not be the answer if the game was decided early
on, for example, then adding extra spells to your deck just so you take slightly
longer to lose will not help you when you're winning.
If you know about how many turns it takes a deck of yours to complete a game,
and how many spells you burn through in that game, then it will help you when
you're tuning not only that deck, but also any other deck that uses a similar
Next week, I'll resume my study of each of the twelve Houses, including which
basic strategies and basic deck concepts will work for each.