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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

Deck Strategy: Playing with Reverse Mana
August 26, 1999

One of the things that all beginners should know is that each House doesn't just have two mana types; one of those types is “Primary” and the other is “Secondary”.

For all spells in every House, the cost in Primary mana will be greater than or equal to the cost in Secondary mana. For example, Unmaking's Primary mana is Strife and its Secondary is World; so, an Unmaking spell might cost 3 Strife + 2 World or 4 Strife + 4 World but it will never have a spell that costs 1 Strife + 3 World. (There's only a handful of exceptions to this rule, which we'll get into later.)

Because of this, the Primary mana type of your House will almost always be the most important type for you to generate early on, and you will almost always want to have more Primary mana than any other type. But there are a few decks which, when built properly, can concentrate more on the Secondary mana and still remain competitive. These are called “Reverse Mana” decks, or sometimes just “Reverse”, because the role of Primary and Secondary mana has been reversed.

The three traits that make it possible to go in reverse:

  1. You must be able to cast some good spells using only the secondary mana type, i.e. the one that is most important in your deck.
  2. You must have a way to generate primary mana using only secondary.
  3. Your deck must have a strong focus that makes it worth the trouble.

Let's take a look at these one at a time.

First, you must be able to cast spells using secondary mana only. This is because you'll be generating secondary mana from the beginning, and it may be a while before you can afford to generate primary or non-House mana, so you will need enough secondary-only spells to keep yourself alive in the early game.

For a Reverse Unmaking deck, this would mean you'd need a good selection of spells that require only World mana (and no other mana types); as World doesn't have a huge selection of good early-game spells to offer, Reverse Unmaking would not be a great idea. Will mana, on the other hand, has some good Monsters (Stalking Blyk, Maloch Horror) as well as some Lockdown (Mirage) and some minor Combat spells (Power, Beast's Embrace) so a Reverse Death or Reverse Making deck might fit the bill, so far.

The second trait is that you should generate your primary mana using secondary mana. The reason for this is simple: You should still have a fair number of spells that use your primary mana. If you don't use your primary mana at all, then maybe you should select a different House. (For example, a deck that used only Will mana would be better suited to Abomination or Mind which have Will as its Primary mana, rather than Making or Death. A Reverse Making deck that used Will and Clarity but no Order at all would be better off as a Mind deck instead.)

Assuming you do use some amount of Primary mana, then, being able to generate it using your Secondary mana will let you generate Secondary at the beginning of the game and make up for it later.

The most obvious spells to do this happen to be the only spells in all of Sanctum that use more Secondary than Primary mana: Will to Power, Ring of Light, World Dance, Citadel, Necropolis and Call to Arms. Taking Necropolis as an example, this costs Will mana to cast and produces two Mystery – a perfect way to get a lot of Mystery in a Reverse Death deck. Making does not have a spell like this, so Reverse Making can be a bit more tricky; however, Making can cast Xin Shian Alcoves with its Secondary mana, which does leave the possibility open.

The third trait simply requires that your overall deck should be strong enough to compete, which is really something that should apply to all decks. In this case, though, it also means that your focus should be something you could not get in a similar deck that isn't reverse.

For example, suppose your Reverse Death deck used Will mainly to cast Stalking Blyk and Maloch Horror, and then later on with extra Mystery (from Necropolis) went on to cast more Monsters (Skeleton, Skeletal Horror, Legion of the Dead) and the occasional recruit-kill spell (Venom'd Arrow, and maybe Dire Portent).

What we would have is essentially a monster-flood deck with a little bit of Combat manifestations to back it up; but you could do the same thing, and probably better, by instead choosing Mind and using Blyk and Maloch as well as Celestial Sphere, Itrokos Gate and Rakshasa for even more powerful Monsters, and including Necropolis to gain access to the recruit-killing Death spells instead. So for a deck concept as described above, a reverse mana deck is not the best way to go.

So, what kinds of reverse decks are worth building? In the past, players have had the most success with Reverse War and Reverse Death, although Reverse Making (with Xin Shian Alcoves) is beginning to be tinkered with by a few innovative players. I think that Reverse Justice has promise (since Mystery can be used to generate both Order and Will, giving Justice a Combat option similar to Death but with the addition of Combat spells from Making).

Also, a Reverse Abomination with Pages To Dust to add to its cheap Powerhouse strategy could gain a devastating early lead and run the opponent out of cards before giving a chance to recover. Reverse Nature (played like Making in the early game) is largely untouched, so there may very well be options there that no one has found yet.

One final note: the “5 for 2” mana spells (like Citadel) are by no means useful only in reverse decks. You can use them in decks where their casting cost is Primary to your chosen House (for example, using Citadel in a Death deck to generate Order as a third mana type, or using Call to Arms in a Life deck to add Strife).

Good luck!

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