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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

Terraforming Part I: The Badlands
October 28, 1999

During the next few weeks we'll take a look at the different terrains on which Sanctum is played. You can select a terrain when you challenge someone to a duel, in addition to choosing ranked or unranked and the time limit for each turn. Today we'll look at the Badlands, and how the different terrain affects play strategy and deck building.

The Terrain

Most of the terrain is Barren Land which is similar to Plains, but there's a little Desert, a lot of Lava and a good amount of Volcanoes as well, plus the occasional Void.

Except for Barren Land, none of the terrain types are regularly clumped together (as Forests are in the Veldt). Void kills groups that enter it (unless they have Flight), while Desert and Lava (and Volcanoes) do damage to groups that enter them. Volcanoes also prohibit movement unless the group can cross Mountains.

Deck Building

Odds are, the walking path to most towns will either be partly or completely blocked by adverse terrain, which will require you to either take a long walk to get there (and hope your group won't be stopped before they reach the town) or else walk the group over Lava (taking damage in the process).

Neither of these is an attractive option, which leaves you with the possibility of having some sort of terrain-crossing spells. That includes spells that heal groups (Healing Hands, Pyx, Regeneration), spells that make groups immune to terrain effects (Flight, Justicars), spells that allow groups to cross Lava and Desert without taking damage (Fleetness, Forced March) or spells that remove adverse terrain (Plains, Nullify, Abatement, Forestation, etc). If you don't take along something to deal with the terrain hazards, you'll be at the mercy of the board, and a skillful opponent will be able to stop you cold.

On the bright side, your opponent will have to deal with the same terrain challenges. Planning your deck to take advantage of the terrain by turning it against your opponent will give your deck more punch to it. Including some extra spells that create Desert, Lava, Volcano or Void can block off the one safe route that your opponent had to that town. Spells like Fear or Complacency can really punish an enemy group for moving onto a Lava or Desert square. Random-movement spells like Fingle and Amok can send enemy groups walking into Lava or Void squares by accident! Direct-damage spells like Fireball and Belvario's Trap can kill most groups after they walk into Lava once. Using lots of Monsters can make even the “safe” routes hazardous. Overall, anything which makes the Badlands even more hazardous to your opponent is worth considering for your deck design.

What kinds of strategies are viable for Badlands? Combat Speed can work well, as the extra group movement spells can be used to bypass Lava and Desert squares (or send an enemy group into them unexpectedly), and you may be able to reach the enemy groups before they can prepare an adequate defense. Powerhouse decks can work, depending on the exact nature of the spells, but decks that kill enemy groups completely might not be as efficient in Badlands because the terrain is already slowing down or damaging enemy groups. Lockdown is an option, especially in cases where you can turn Lockdown spells into group-killers by sticking enemy groups on Lava. Terrain-control decks may do well here, since terrain is mainly an obstacle here and so exerting a greater influence on the terrain than your opponent will give you greater influence over the game.

During the Game

Obviously, you should be trying to stay out of damaging terrain while forcing the opponent into it. Your opponent will be trying to do the same thing to you. This is especially important if you or your opponent have direct-damage spells; if you know the enemy has access to Fireball and your recruits only start with 7 HP, then you can be sure it's a death sentence to march anyone over Lava!

What to Avoid in Deck Design

Attrition is not recommended, since it requires that you survive long enough to build an adequate defense, and the towns may be spread out far enough that you just won't be able to set up quickly enough. Group-protection based Combat is also not highly recommended, because there are so many non-combat ways for your group to get injured or killed (such as Lava and Void).


The above leaves a gap in potential decks that you'll face: you will probably not be playing an Attrition-style deck in Badlands, and if you do it will already be at a disadvantage. So, using decks that are strong against everything except Attrition may thrive in Badlands. This includes Powerhouse and Lockdown decks that suddenly don't have to worry about being shut down by an impossible defense. Both of these, then, would be particularly strong and it would be expected that they would be the overall dominant strategies in Badlands.

Of course, the true metagamer will take this into account and try to design a deck that is strong against both Powerhouse and Lockdown strategies yet has the tools to survive in Badlands, but that is an exercise best left to the reader.

Good luck!

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