A periodic column on Sanctum strategy, theory, and fun,
by Ian Schreiber, Sanctum player name Gannon. You can reach Ian at
Opposing House Strategy: Hope and Despair
July 22, 1999
Next in our series on opposing Houses, we cover holy faith, and whether to
take it or leave it.
Strategies for Hope
Hope's main strategy is Attrition mixed with some Powerhouse options, although
with good terrain and a good draw it's possible to make a workable (if fragile)
early-game Lockdown. Hope doesn't have much in the way of Denial, and the few
Combat-based spells it has are generally only useful in the end game when its
Attrition is kicking in already.
Basic Deck Concepts for Hope
First and foremost, there's the standard come from behind Hope Attrition
deck, which takes its nearest two cities and then defends them as best it can,
putting up a virtual brick wall to prevent the opponent from passing beyond
them. Army of Light, Citizen's Militia, Valiant Stand, Sanctuary, and Settlement
all make excellent spells to defend your towns with, and Settlement also allows
you to create some colonies in strategic locations to halt enemy progress.
You can run your opponent's deck out faster using Atonement, which brings the
end-game Attrition phase faster, and fits in well with a deck where you'll
often be bringing up a single Vision to block enemy movement into your town
anyway. (Once the Atonement passes to the enemy, you can clear it away with
Cleansing Light, remove the host with Ascension, or simply take it back to reset
your hand at your convenience).
In a large deck (as Attrition styles of play are best suited for anyway), a
few Leap of Faiths can also be useful as a mulligan in case you draw all late-game
spells in your opening hand. Once your opponent runs out of spells, a small
number of combat-based spells (Leadership, Farm-Boys, Hero's Legacy, Faerie
Fire, and such) can allow you to dominate the board and give you an easy walk
A slight variation on the above focuses more on the spell Change of Heart.
Instead of taking both nearby towns with recruits, you only reach the first
town that way, and control the second town using Change of Heart. This allows
you to dedicate all of your Sanctum novices to mana production, which means
more mana for you than your opponent in mid-game, particularly if you combine
with Prophet. From there, the end game and overall deck structure are the same.
Another use of Change of Heart is to go for a relatively early-game win. Using
a small deck with lots of powerful monsters (Man of Iron, Centaurs) and fast
mana (Burst of Clarity, Prophet, Threshold of Order) you may be able to deny
the opponent their second-nearest town by killing her second group. After doing
this, you Change of Heart that town, cast a couple Army of Light, and storm
her Sanctum directly.
Fighting Against Hope
Against a Hope Attrition deck, there are many strategies that have proven themselves.
A strong early-game attack may catch him unprepared to defend sufficiently,
especially since most of his spells which you really have to watch out for won't
hit until later on in the game.
Also, spells that eliminate Colonies (or prevent spells from being cast on
a town) can seriously hurt Hope, since your opponent will rely heavily on such
spells to defend his own towns. Once they get to the point where he could cast
Settlement on you, don't even go near his towns, or you could lose your group
and give him a town at the same time! If you can maneuver your large group to
head straight for your opponent's Sanctum while ignoring his towns, you may
be able to catch him unprepared at home.
Against the early-game Lockdown, the deck itself is quite fragile. If your
nearest towns are close enough, your Hope opponent might be able to stop your
second group in time. Anything that prevents monster damage will allow you to
reach that second town (Immersion will stop anything; even a two-recruit group
with a single Barkskin or Carapace will take down a Man of Iron).
If you reach the town before your Hope opponent draws his Bursts, he's dead.
Since he's forced to play with a small deck in order to gain consistency, any
cards which force him to discard will likely run him out of cards before he
can win. Also, if you can manage to eliminate Forests and Mountains near the
second town (leaving Hope with only one monster that can be summoned near there,
Man of Iron), your group can be relatively safe.
Strategies for Despair
Despair's main strategy is early-game Lockdown. It can keep you out of your
nearest towns better than any other House. With Oppositions, it also gains an
additional strategy: Combat (but a rather unique and unorthodox combat, as we'll
Basic Deck Concepts for Despair
The stereotypical Despair deck starts with a base of Fear, Disorient and Forsaken
to prevent the opponent from entering his towns. Perhaps it uses a Gorgon to
kill off the second group, or maybe it just concentrates on stopping one of
the two initial enemy groups and concedes that the enemy will get one town (but
only one; later on, it can then use Insurrection to prevent that town from producing
recruits, and can use its Lockdown spells to prevent the enemy from re-entering
It also has the option of splashing in a little Will for Death spells like
Venom'd Arrow, to get rid of annoying small groups without wasting its Lockdown
spells on them. By the time it starts running low on spells and its opponent
has started to recover, Despair is already two thirds of the way across the
board, and either beats up or walks around the few enemy groups out there, and
walks into the enemy Sanctum unopposed.
The combat-Despair deck involves all of the Despair spells which aren't a staple
in the lockdown-Despair deck: Limbo, Harrowing Cry, Shadowmasque, Pantogar's
Curse and Body Rot, Changelings, and so on. The idea here is not to enhance
your own recruits' battle power, but rather to reduce the battle power of all
enemy recruits to the point where their damage is insignificant and your (unaltered)
recruits can walk over them.
Despair also has several high-level monsters which can be used to take care
of weakened groups. A more direct variation of this makes use of Phantom and
Jinx; Phantom is a very powerful monster that can kill even a moderately powerful
enemy group, while Jinx can drop the damage of a recruit by 2 but won't affect
the Phantom when it kills that recruit.
You can also combine the above two strategies and end up with a deck that slows
down enemy groups' movement early on and then reduces their battle power later
for a combat-based win.
Fighting Against Despair
The first rule of fighting against Despair is to take along some spells that
can dispel your group. This means Cleansing Light, Circle of Wisdom, or Restoration
if those spells are available to you. At the very least, include some way to
dispel or kill one of your own recruits; Forsaken lasts an extremely long 4
turns, and you want to have some way to get rid of it.
Walking under cover of Forests is a plus, although by no means does it make
you immune to everything Despair can throw at you. Remember also that you can
give a group movement orders that aren't legal, and it will try to follow them;
if your Feared group is right next to a town and you cast Restoration on it,
remember to order it to move into that town on the same turn! You'll dispel
the Fear and move into the town, taking the town by surprise without allowing
Despair to do anything to stop you.
The next rule is to have some way to deal with Phantom. It can kill your Horde
in short order if you don't enhance it at all, and protective spells like Ogi's
Armor won't help you in the least, so you'd do well to include at least a couple
of spells like Dragon Slayer or Lienna's Sigil to protect your main group.
Finally, expect the worst. Keep a recruit near your town in case your Despair
opponent decides to Insurrection it. If your main group is just about ready
to take another town, expect that it won't make it this turn, and plan for other
options. If you ignore towns altogether and head straight for your Despair opponent's
Sanctum, you might get her to waste some of her precious Lockdown spells to
keep you out of a town you weren't really trying to move to anyway (and better
yet, Disorient might force you into the town ... what a shame).
Hope Versus Despair
With the typical decks, this is the classic battle of early-game lockdown against
late-game attrition. Despair must try to keep Hope out of its towns, and slow
Hope down enough that Despair can move in and overpower it for an early win.
Hope, on the other hand, must take control of those nearby towns at all costs,
allowing it to mount a reasonable defense.
Hope's greatest tools against Despair are Cleansing Light and Change of Heart,
both of which allow it to bypass Despair's lockdown spells in order to take
Despair can counter Change of Heart to an extent using Insurrection, and a
combat-based Despair can use Despond to devastating effect (not to mention monsters,
such as Gorgon, Trolls and Phantom; Hope can be expected to be relatively weak
in combat until late in the game).
While I happen to think that Hope has a slight edge in this matchup, a skilled
Despair player can compensate for Hope's advantages to make for an even game,
if a potentially frustrating and difficult one for both sides.