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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: Life and Death
August 12, 1999

These two are an interesting match, partly because neither one is incredibly easy for most new players to learn.

Strategies for Life

Life has some excellent archer-based Combat spells, of course, but it has no way to speed up its recruit movement and no way to protect its groups, and as you may recall from the article on Combat strategy, you need one or the other to make a “pure” combat deck. So, Life cannot expect to live on combat alone; it needs to use another strategy as a base, and then (if it chooses) it can mix in a few combat spells.

What main strategy can Life use? It has some good mid-game Lockdown in the form of movement-denial, and also some good Powerhouse spells.

Basic Deck Concepts for Life

Life can put up a decent Attrition deck, using Settlement and Allies to gain minion superiority, Atonement to run the opponent out of cards, Sanctuary and Terrain Bind and Faerie Circle to slow down enemy groups, and a few Archer-based (or Swordsman-based...don't forget Bard, Spirit Sword and Redeemer's Sword!) combat spells to dominate the late game. Splashing in some Order mana gives you even more defensive options from Hope.

Another option is to focus on a Powerhouse-type strategy; this is more combo-based than most decks, so it can be tricky to pull off. Start with a base of Forestation (to create Forests) and Faerie Circle. Try to force enemy groups to walk through your Forests, then make them disappear. Now, splash in some Order and cast Tornado or Abatement on the square, and the enemy group will be gone for good! Or, play World-heavy and use Savannah to nuke the square (which also lets you play Ring of Light for lots of mana).

Use cheap monsters like Tree Man and Arboriads to eliminate any remaining smaller groups (perhaps after nailing the recruits with Pacifism), and with some luck you might be able to eliminate your opponent's main and secondary groups before they ever reach the center town. You can also use Settlements (Bursted, perhaps) to eliminate any troublesome enemy groups.

Fighting Against Life

Against an Attrition deck, as with all styles of Attrition, the best way to fight it is to attack early. Life doesn't have many town-targeting alterations, so town-dispel spells like Entropia and Ancestral Home can even the playing field a bit. Against Life's Powerhouse spells, the easy answer is to keep your groups out of Forests when possible, although this isn't always possible.

The next best thing is to pack some terrain-changing spells (often a good idea anyway, as it saves you from being cut off by a random Mountain on your way to the closest town), and use them to remove any Forests in your path. Scorched Earth is the best way to seriously hurt this kind of Life deck, although it's a bit specific for many players to use otherwise.

Strategies for Death

Death is, mostly, a Combat-based House. It does have some Powerhouse options as well, however, and the two strategies can also combine nicely.

Basic Deck Concepts for Death

For the basic Death Combat deck, start with Raven Shroud to protect your groups. Once you do that, your group will be relatively untouchable outside of combat, so the rest of your deck can be geared toward making it win combats–anything from death-triggered events like Reanimate, Necromancer and Gifts of the Fallen, to combat alterations like Vicious Strength and Venom'd Blade, to recruit advantage with Dark Minion (gives you more recruits) and Venom'd Arrow (gives the opponent fewer recruits).

Death's Powerhouse strategies revolve around Desert terrain, mostly. Wasteland can force enemy groups to take a bit of damage before they reach where they're going, and casting Plague first can weaken them to the point where walking across a patch of desert will kill them!

Shifting Sands can kill half of an enemy group (on average) every turn, which can be devastating (especially if you can then block that group's movement for another turn by casting monsters in their walking path). Sand Sphinx can create a single square of desert at least, and can be cast right in the walking path of a group; a Bursted Sphinx followed next turn by Shifting Sands (in the path of the enemy Horde) can almost guarantee you the center town.

Finally, you can combine the two, going for numerical superiority by harming or killing your opponent's groups with Desert and then killing off any other individual targets with Venom'd Arrow, Curse of Khobai and Dark Portent (the last two of which can be followed up nicely with a weak monster like Skeleton or Sand Sphinx, to get rid of the enemy recruit you cast it on).

Or, you could combine the two in a different way, by going mostly for combat superiority (including death-triggered spells, notably Necromancer and Reanimate) but using Plague and Apocalypse to cement your victories (moving a group with Necromancer or Reanimate into the enemy town or Sanctum on the turn you cast Apocalypse is nearly impossible to defend against, even if you can only do it once per game).

Fighting Against Death

Terrain-control or terrain-passing spells help a lot against Death Powerhouse, of course, by letting you wipe out its Deserts or bypass them without taking damage. Also, since this strategy is fairly slow to win, a late-game Attrition deck or an early-game speed deck could both act against it effectively.

Against Death Combat, you must find a way to stop a pumped group without using group-target spells. Any spell which will harm the enemy group during combat (Sword of Zana, Accursed Minion, Pyrrhic Victory) can help, although due to Necromancer you may need two such spells to get rid of your opponent's main group. That's okay though; you still lose fewer spells getting rid of the group than your opponent probably spent when building the group up in the first place. Also helpful are spells that target squares instead of groups, such as Void or Swamp Land or Inundate (Death has a difficult time getting through hostile terrain).

As for the Apocalypse/Necromancer (or Reanimate) combo, it's a bit of a one-trick pony; know that Death can do it to you once, and if it looks like your opponent is setting up for it, take some steps to prevent it if you can. (If you can't prevent it, then she probably would have taken your town/Sanctum away eventually anyway, whether she cast Apocalypse or not.)

Life Versus Death

This is an odd matchup for a number of reasons. Mostly, it's that these two Houses are just built to nullify each other's threats more than the other opposing-House pairs.

Also, the opposing-House spells (from Oppositions) in these two Houses are actually less effective than normal against each other (sometimes)! For example, Yeoman can make for a truly scary Elf Archer when enhanced further, but it goes away when you hit a Keeper; and while Dire Portent doesn't kill its Keeper host when it hits an Elf, that just makes it less versatile since you're less likely to want to cast it on your Monsters or on enemy recruits.

Life's most obvious strength is its archers in combat, but Death has access to three spells (Mark of Ulanoth, Skeleton, Skeletal Horror) that ignore missile damage. Death's most obvious strength is to create lots of deserts, but Life has access to three spells (Caravan, Flight, Healing Hands) that ignore damage from deserts. Life has a wonderful group dispel, Cleansing Light, but it can't be used to clear off a group of combat-enhanced Keepers with Raven Shroud; Death has a devastating spell to end the game with, Apocalypse, but it can be foiled by Adriel's Glamour.

Life can create lots of Settlements and try to win by Attrition, while Death can create one big, unstoppable group and try to steamroller Life before it gets a chance to build up. Life can build up some nice groups of Swordsmen with Bard and Allies, but those extra recruits can just be eliminated by Venom'd Arrow and Dire Portent.

In short, it turns into a contest of who can completely hose her enemy worse, and the entire balance of the game can swing with a single spell from either side, and may go back and forth several times over the course of the game. Because of this, and because both Houses have late-game options, the games tend to be long, but also exciting and close.

Good luck!

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