A periodic column on Sanctum strategy, theory, and fun,
by Ian Schreiber, Sanctum player name Gannon. You can reach Ian at
Deck Concept: Reverse Combat / Monsters (Despair)
October 14, 1999
Most decks that concentrate on the basic strategy of Combat do so by increasing
the battle power of their own recruits. Despair is nearly the only House that
can weaken enemy recruits instead, while leaving its own mostly unaltered. For
this deck concept, however, Despair will go one step beyond weakening, by using
Monsters to kill the weakened group. The biggest surprise in this deck is that
it doesn't use any of Despair's staple cards (Fear, Forsaken, Disorient).
Basic Strategies Used
This is primarily a Combat deck, but it uses Monsters to kill the enemy groups
(rather than just slowing them down), so the Monsters can be thought of as Powerhouse
(group-killing) spells. Thus, this is actually a combination of Combat and Powerhouse.
There's really three kinds of cards that will go in this deck. The first is
Combat cards, which can range from dirt cheap to medium cost. There's a lot
of cheap weakening spells, such as Body Rot, Pantogar's Curse, Weakness and
Stupefy. After you build up mana for a few turns, you'll gain access to Nihil's
Minion (turns a recruit into a Shadow with 0 damage and 0 armor for turn of
casting + 1), then Haunted Forest (reduces enemy groups by 1 level if they stand
in the Forest you cast it on, or any contiguous Forests), then Despond (their
group takes 1 extra damage from your Shadows), then Harrowing Cry (reduces the
group by 1 level, permanently).
At the high end, you should have some way to deal with enemy towns. If you
anticipate killing or hopelessly weakening all of your opponent's beginning
recruits and flooding her half of the board with Monsters, then she'll be forced
to build up a large group in herr towns in order to survive; in this case, Insurrection
is your nail in their coffin, for you can prevent her from building up any recruits
On the other hand, if you fear a lot of small enemy groups instead of a few
large ones, then Changelings will be better for you by reducing the battle power
of all enemy recruits emerging from the town (Changelings is also 1 mana cheaper
The second type of card that will go in this deck is the Monster. Each Monster
you choose should have a purpose, but realize that they will be fighting weakened
enemy recruits that may be at level 0 and only 1 hand damage.
The level makes a huge difference: all of a sudden, your level 2 and 3 Monsters
will take very little damage because the enemy recruits keep missing them! A
level 3 Monster will only be hit twice by a level 0 recruit in an entire turn
of combat, so your monsters don't even have to be particularly powerful
as long as the enemies are weak.
Even better are Monsters who have special effects that go off during combat;
Gorgon is cheap and kills an enemy recruit every three turns, and Banshee instantly
kills one enemy at the beginning of each combat. Makva has the privilege of
being level 3, making her really hard for a weakened group to kill, while Trolls
and Phantom are powerful enough that they will probably kill anything your opponent
manages to throw at them.
Finally, the third type of card to be included in this deck is the just in
case card. Prepare for situations that you are likely to run into, or cover
Adding a cheap friendly group alteration like Gifts of the Fallen will allow
your recruits to avoid getting slaughtered by Sylph, Rain of Blood and such;
Freeze will let you cross water squares; Scorched Earth will let you burn down
that Haunted Forest before your group enters it, or it can get rid of the Forests
that your opponent was using for protection against your cheap combat-weakening
Since this deck has a lot of low-cost cards, it will probably be somewhat large;
however, because of the low costs, you can burn through it at a very quick rate.
Cast your cheap combat-weakening spells right away, and keep weakening your
opponent's main and secondary groups over the first few turns (discarding extras
if need be), until you start drawing some Monsters. Then, if you can use the
Monster to kill her Horde, do it; otherwise, kill her second group, continue
to weaken her Horde, and eventually toss a Monster or two in its path to finish
it off. By the time you're done with her groups, she should have one (or at
most, two) towns.
If you decided to use Changelings, your next priority is to drop it on all
enemy towns as fast as you can; that way, it can have the maximum effect over
the course of the game.
If you use Insurrection instead, your next goal is to drop a lot of powerful
Monsters near the enemy towns, to prevent the opponent from making more small
groups and marching forward to the center town ... and then hit them with Insurrection,
hopefully cutting off her supply of novices completely.
If you reach that point, you've pretty much eliminated any hope of your opponent
coming back; just continue to weaken enemy groups as they're created, and march
your Shadows slowly forward. You should have such a huge advantage by the middle
of the game that you'll have little trouble turning it into a win.
Instead of going with straight Mystery/Strife, you can add some Will to the
mix. One Will gives you access to Skeleton (a good, cheap Monster that can be
used to kill an enemy Horde if you deal with the Swordsmen first) and Venom'd
Arrow (a good way to take care of troublesome individual enemy recruits). Two
Will gets you Raven Shroud to protect your groups, as well as the powerful Skeletal
Dire Portent is a possibility for inclusion; using it on your own recruits
can help protect them from powerful enemy Monsters, while putting it on a powerful
enemy recruit can cause it to die as soon as it enters combat and attacks (you
can also put it on a Gorgon that's about to die, to prevent the opponent from
taking her head).
While using all of the standard Despair Denial spells isn't recommended (it
would bloat this deck and cause it to lose its main focus), the occasional well-placed
Forsaken can give you a few extra turns.
The most serious weakness of this deck is that it places a large number of
spells on enemy recruit groups; any sort of group dispel (Circle of Wisdom,
Restoration, Cleansing Light, etc.) can wipe away all of your hard work, and
most of your Monsters aren't strong enough to go up against an enemy group that
hasn't already been softened up by your Combat spells.
Also, because you rely largely on weakening individual enemies, your opponent
can undo your spells by casting lots of combat enhancement (War or Body might
do this to you, for example).
A large part of this strategy involves zapping enemy towns with spells after
eliminating the opponent's main groups, so any sort of town-targeting dispel
(Ancestral Home, Entropia, The Unmagicking) will make it harder for you to capture
enemy towns. If you run up against these, then, you will be forced to attack
quickly before your opponent can build up a large enough group to kill your
monsters and recruit groups.
You also have very little defense or enhancement for your own groups. Spells
that will harm your minions unless they have spells cast on them will probably
give you a really hard time, and your recruits aren't very powerful in direct
combat so enemy Monsters may seriously harm or kill your own groups. You'll
need to put at least a few spells in your deck to cast on your own groups, and
hope that you draw them when you need them.