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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

Opposing House Strategy: Justice and War
July 15, 1999

This week, we look at the opposing strategies of denial and brute force.

Strategies for Justice

Justice has more Denial spells than any other House, and it has a little bit of every other strategy to allow for a lot of strategic combinations. However, it does not have enough spells in any single strategy to allow it to focus entirely on that strategy, so it will probably need to mix some Denial with two or three others. The result is something that can either be the ultimate in versatility, or something totally lacking in focus and organization...depending on how you play it.

Basic Deck Concepts for Justice

One deck concept that has some promise is a Combat/Denial combo with some combat-based Powerhouse spells thrown in for support. Your Denial in this case is Intercession, with perhaps a little bit of dispel (Restoration, Shell of Gold, Second Chance) mixed in to let you survive the early game against Lockdown. The rest of your deck can be geared toward winning combat, either with minor combat alterations (Ogi's Armor, True Aim, Venom'd Blade) or, more likely, by softening up the enemy groups with powerful monsters (Tindelhunden, Ebon Guardian, Obsidian Dragon). The occasional Powerhouse spell (notably, Pyrrhic Victory) can help you keep your ground, too. Once you have a definite combat advantage (and Initiative, hopefully) let loose with a string of Intercessions to prevent the opponent from doing anything at all, and march to an unopposed victory in mid-game.

Attrition/Denial is a natural combination as well; if you continue to squander or dispel everything your opponent casts and your deck is larger, then eventually you can let your opponent run out of spells while you still have plenty left! However, Justice doesn't have access to a huge number of Attrition-style spells...but Making does. So, this deck will typically splash in several Will mana (using towns, Oculus of Will, and Astronomic Clock) to gain access to some of Making's key spells. Of particular interest are Blinding Orb (more Denial for you), Shieldbearers (excellent Combat protection), Mountain (can slow down enemy progress, while it can be crossed using your Dracha's Sphere spell), Belvario's Trap (a good general-purpose Powerhouse spell), Beobagh's Helm (allows you to build up a large combat group and use it defensively), Found City (gives you more mana, gives you Initiative to make your Denial spells count, and gives you extra recruits to win the Attrition war). Before you have a huge amount of will, you can still slow your opponent's progress using Intercession, Sentinel, or the Monsters listed above.

One odd meta-strategy is that of mana superiority. Justice has a lot of ways to increase its mana output, and once it does it can win through an expensive-Powerhouse style. Codex of Order can effectively give Justice up to 5 extra Order mana per turn (one for each spell it casts), while The Star Chamber gives it one of each of its main types of mana. Dracha's Trade can be used to get nine extra mana on the following turn. You can also use Dracha's Trade as a form of mana denial, by casting it on an enemy town and following the next turn with Intercession (which will hopefully squander a few spells in addition to killing their mana supply from that town...provided you have Initiative!).

Of course, having a lot of mana doesn't help you unless you do something with it. So, include a good number of big, powerful spells to take advantage of it. When you're casting a Pyrrhic Victory, Spawn of Toganni, and following with Intercession in a single turn, your opponent shouldn't be able to stand up to that kind of assault for long. Of course, this requires that you have a lot of spells since you'll be casting a lot every turn, so your deck will be fairly large. Since a lot of your spells will be expensive, you'll also require something to keep you alive in the early game...the occasional Ogi's Armor (to protect against monsters) or Restoration (to stop Lockdown) will go a long way towards making sure you live long enough to get to a mana level sufficient to turn things around.

Fighting Against Justice

Rule number one is to never let Justice get the Initiative, unless you're prepared to go for up to 8 turns without being able to cast a single spell (while your opponent can still get in the occasional minor spell, at least, every other turn). Be aware that taking Initiative at the right time may not be permanent, however, as Justice usually included some way to reclaim it later on. An early attack is what most Justice decks fear most; Justice is slow to set up, so hitting early (or, if you get Initiative and keep it for the first part of the game, hitting them hard in mid-game) is your best chance. The longer you let the game go, the harder Justice will be to stop.

Since Justice uses a lot of World-target spells, something which can prevent that (Adriel's Glamour, The Unmagicking) can really be a major pain to Justice.

Strategies for War

War has two major strengths: Combat and Powerhouse. Its Combat spells range from cheap to medium cost and can give either a single recruit or an entire group a decent bonus, while its Powerhouse spells all tend to be expensive.

Basic Deck Concepts for War

Your standard War Combat deck is a speed deck; since you have no real way to protect your groups, you must hit fast and hard early on. This means Forced March, and your choice of the plethora of combat spells in War. Definitely don't overlook Dragon's Teeth and Warlord; one of your bonuses against Powerhouse-style decks is that you can afford to lose a group without being devastated; even if you lose your Horde, you can still get another comparable group with one or two spells that create recruits. You can also use these spells to defend your towns if they come under enemy attack and you don't have any novices to defend the town with. Encampment is useful, as it allows you to take Initiative which gives you yet one more edge in combat; use it on groups that won't reach the front lines for awhile anyway, so that you won't be in danger of losing the group.

By contrast, War Powerhouse generally focuses on damaging entire groups. Salamander is a good start; cast it in the enemy's walking path (if you have Initiative) and it will move out of the way, allowing the enemy group to enter the Lava square it leaves behind, which does 3 damage to each member of the group. Fireball does 5 damage to a group. Volcano can block a group's walking path, or (even better) if they have mountainwalking, it does 5 damage to them. Brimstone Dragon also does 5 damage at the start of its combats, in addition to being a seriously powerful monster. Renegades turns a small enemy group against its owners, removing it from the opponent's control. Again, Encampment is useful to gain Initiative, as well as gaining mana (since many of your spells are on the expensive side). Point of Clarity is an obvious choice too, so that you can build up to your target mana range as fast as possible.

Finally, there's the Combat/Powerhouse hybrid deck, which uses elements of both strategies. Some direct damage can soften up an enemy group to allow your minions to defeat it easily and quickly in combat, for example; also, Volcanoes can either be used to summon the Brimstone Dragon which damages or kills enemy groups, or it can summon Wyrmling which your own group can kill for a huge combat bonus.

Fighting Against War

Since War is so fast to attack, being able to defend effectively is difficult. Against Combat, using group-dispel or cheap Powerhouse spells can allow you to kill the group, while Lockdown spells may slow War down enough for it to be more manageable. Against War's Powerhouse spells, the obvious thing to do is to protect your groups with Bellwether, Raven Shroud or Beobagh's Helm, or heal them with Healing Spring or Pyx, or giving them extra HP with Fortitude. Failing any of that, make sure that you aren't relying too much on a single group, and count on losing at least one to direct damage...just spread out your troops, and find some way to deal with War's combat ability (by bringing your individuals together right before a battle, or by using Powerhouse or Denial spells to deal with their most deadly groups).

Justice Versus War

This can be highly challenging for both sides. War must attack early, before Justice gets its guard up, or Justice will be nearly unstoppable; Justice, meanwhile, must find some way to deal with a powerful, fast assault. Hellion is a powerful monster that can really devastate the ranks of Gargoyles if they're unprepared, while Tindelhunden can do the same to Humans. War can increase its experience levels with Ngozi's Way, while Justice can nullify the effect with Obeisance. War can make its groups nearly unbeatable in combat, but a single Chamberlain can even the odds. Forced March can move a group ahead, while Sentinel can keep it locked down. Because of all of this, each side can feel as if the other side has too many advantages; in the end, it can be fairly even, and will come down to whether Justice can survive against War's early onslaught for long enough to become a threat.

Good luck!

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