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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 Concept: Despair Game Lock
October 21, 1999

There aren't many decks that rely on a single card, let alone a three-card combination, to win the game. That's because there aren't very many combinations of three cards that can turn the game into a win even if you're behind. However, there is at least one such deck, and we will examine it here today.

The combo is Pestilence + Apocalypse + Insurrection, and in that order. First destroy your opponent's recruit supply, then kill all recruits on the board, and then (before they are able to recover) prevent their towns from producing another recruit ever again.

If you manage to hit all enemy towns with Insurrection, your opponent will only have their Sanctum recruits left, and even then only one every four turns after the first Pestilence hits. If you can manage to do all that, it doesn't matter how far ahead your opponent was; you produce recruits and your enemy doesn't so you win eventually. This allows Despair to go for a late-game win, something which it does not normally get to do.

Basic Strategies Used

This is the extreme end of Powerhouse; you don't just kill individual groups, you affect every group or town on the board at once. You can supplement it with some Lockdown in the early game, to slow the opponent down so that you don't have too many towns to deal with.

Key Cards

Obviously the key cards are Pestilence, Apocalypse and Insurrection. You'll need at least one Pestilence and one Apocalypse, and probably four Insurrection.

Note the required mana here: 6 Mystery, 4 Will, 3 Strife. A hefty price to pay, so you'll need some spells to handle the non-House mana (you'll also probably want to dedicate your town mana to non-House as well). For a Despair deck, this means Cenotaph of Will and, if you're daring, Will to Power; this will effectively change your mana structure to requiring 6 Mystery + 5 Strife. Augur of Strife will help too, of course.

It is also possible to rely solely on Augur of Strife and Cauldron of Strife using Death instead of Despair, with the same overall concept. Either way you'll need a lot of mana-gaining spells which will slow you down (but don't worry, you can afford to come from behind; if your opponent is busy slinging spells while you're using your time just gaining mana, you might appear to be losing but you'll get the chance to turn it around once you get enough mana and the right spells in your hand).

Some way to slow down the opponent while you're building up helps greatly. This can be Despair's standard Fear or Forsaken or Disorient, or Death's mid-game monsters. This will give you more time to build up, and if you can stop the opponent from reaching either their second nearest town or the center then you'll only need two Insurrection to win.

Playing Hints

A lot depends on how many copies each of Apocalypse and Pestilence you used; if you only use one of each then you'll want to keep it in your hand until you draw both, which can end up really restricting your card flow. If you use more then you can afford to discard them if you draw them too soon. Either way, you probably won't want to discard Insurrections because they are your key to victory.

In the early game, play your standard Lockdown, using delaying tactics to slow your opponent. Try your best to prevent the enemy from taking more than two towns, and if you can restrict her to one town then things will be far easier for you later on.

Since your deck is mana-heavy, you will not want to make very many recruits from your Sanctum; rather, save them for mana. If you think your second group can take a town, then go for it, but if there's any doubt then just train them to make mana and don't even bother with a second group.

Your Horde should take a town at all costs, so that you'll have a source of recruits other than your Sanctum (or else you'll be in the same position as your opponent when you Pestilence/Apocalypse!). However, don't even bother trying for the center town, unless you feel it appropriate to sacrifice your main group just to slow the opponent down for a turn. You might be better trying to pick up the second nearest town using your Horde instead.

Gain mana like crazy. If you have less than the total amount of mana you'll eventually need, cast spells to gain mana with the highest priority. While you'll be able to come back from behind once your combo hits the table, if you let your opponent get too far ahead you might end up losing your Sanctum before you can cast your precious combo. So, get up to your required mana as fast as you can manage, and once you're there discard any extra mana spells like crazy so that you can get your combo into your hand and cast it.

Once the combo is cast, be patient. Your opponent might not be able to make any progress, but she will probably have plenty of ways to hinder or kill your recruit groups, so you won't be making much progress for awhile either (at least until your opponent runs out of spells that can hurt you).

You'll have to deal with the occasional enemy Sanctum recruit with spells as well, so if you don't have any in your hand then discard a bit until you get some, and don't use them if you don't need to (for example, hold onto your monsters instead of casting them right away). In this way you can force your opponent to reveal her recruits before you reveal your recruit-stopping spells.


Aside from the choice of Death or Despair, you have a lot of possibilities for what to include. You can range from a little bit of mana-gaining spells to a lot, and make up the difference with early-game Despair Lockdown spells to slow the opponent.

You can have either a small or large number of Pestilence/Apocalypse cards; with a small number you run the risk of restricting your card flow but also have a better chance of not drawing it too early.

Finally, you'll need some spells to stop enemy Sanctum recruits in the late game, which can range from more Lockdown to Monsters to recruit-kill spells. A variety is best so that you'll usually get at least one spell that will help you, but you can focus more on one area than another.

You might consider putting in cards to protect individual minions from Apocalypse (Reanimate, Necromancer, Larval Imp) to give you an even larger advantage when you wipe the board clean except for your own recruits! If you don't use monsters heavily, Putrefaction can help clear the way for your own recruit groups.


Most of this deck's weaknesses involve individual cards, which means that you can be thoroughly ruined if your opponent put the right cards in her deck but nearly unstoppable if she didn't. Forcing the battle from the gameboard into the deckbuilder is part of the power of this deck: if your opponent doesn't know what you're playing before choosing a deck, you have an advantage.

Cards that can stop this include Adriel's Glamour and Intercession (if they squander your Pestilence or Apocalypse), Pages to Dust (which might cause you to cycle through all of your cards before you can cast them, and makes saving up a combo in your hand impossible), Atonement and Tan'u'zhadhi Ploy (which also make it difficult to save up a combo in your hand), Entropia and Ancestral Home (free your town from Insurrection), and of course The Unmagicking (gets rid of all Insurrections and extra mana, although it does allow you to cast Apocalypse a second time if you rebuild the mana for it).

Incarnate, Larval Imp, Reanimate and Necromancer can cause enemy recruits to survive the Apocalypse, which can of course ruin your entire plan unless you can deal with the survivors quickly. Found City and Settlement can be very painful; if your opponent manages to get 5 towns or more before you cast your combo then it will be impossible for you to win.

Of the strategy-based weaknesses, the most glaring is Combat Speed; you have little if any room for combat in this deck, and a fast deck may very well reach you before you're prepared to defend yourself. Denial can hurt you if you rely on early-game Lockdown, as well; in both cases, your opponent stands a good chance of capturing more cities than you'll be able to Insurrection later on.

Good luck!

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