A periodic column on Sanctum strategy, theory, and fun,
by Ian Schreiber, Sanctum player name Gannon. You can reach Ian at
Terraforming Part II: The Great Frost
November 4, 1999
Continuing in our series of map-based strategy, today we look at The Great
Frost, a realm that is part speed and part logic puzzle.
There are about equal parts of Plains and Ice, both of which tend to be clumped
together; there are also a few Forests and Volcanoes scattered about. Ice is
certainly the major feature of this map, so it is best to learn how it works;
when a group enters an Ice square it will continue on in the same direction
until it either reaches a non-Ice square or an obstruction (such as uncrossable
terrain or the side of the board).
The extra movement happens during the movement phase of the turn, and not during
the extra movement phase when effects like Forced March happen.
Speaking of which, Forced March and other spells of the same kind will work
together with Ice: if you cast Forced March on a group that is moving onto an
Ice square, it will cross the Ice and then move an extra space due to Forced
March. You can cover huge amounts of territory in this way.
Unlike the Badlands that we talked about last week, the terrain in Frost is
mostly beneficial; it speeds up your groups, which means you'll reach towns
(and the enemy Sanctum) much faster. The temptation is there to remove all terrain-crossing
spells from your deck to make it more efficient. However, you can put some of
these to work against your opponent; by turning an Ice square into Plains, for
example, you might slow down an enemy group while your own groups slide forward.
Because you'll usually start out only two or three turns away from the nearby
towns and maybe only eight steps away from the enemy Sanctum, the typical deck
plans for a short game. This means your deck should be small, fast, and prepared
to cast a lot of spells quickly. You should probably have very few spells of
high casting cost unless you have some way to slow the game down considerably;
the game may not last long enough for you to get the mana to cast them!
So, the most obvious deck idea is one that gives you a lot of power early on
in the game. Combat Speed decks are an excellent choice, but Cheap Powerhouse
can work too.
During the Game
The game flow will depend a lot on the exact layout of Ice. If you see a long
patch of Ice that separates your Sanctum from the opponent's by four to six
moves, then consider moving your main group that way and going for a quick finish;
if you choose not to, at least realize that your opponent will have the same
option, and prepare a defense of some kind should he attempt a blitzkrieg.
The terrain may also suggest optimal paths to the nearest towns, or even to
the center town. Consider both your own routes and that of your opponent. If
the enemy can reach two towns by turn three, you'll have to prepare for a high
casting-cost spell on turn four while you're still a bit short. And if you can
take measures to speed up your own progress or slow down your opponent's, then
all the better.
Plan out your route carefully; it's easy to get a group into a situation where
it has trouble entering a town because the Ice causes it to slide too far in
one direction. This is another reason I like to use some spells like Plains
or Forestation; I can control the movement of my groups better by turning some
Ice into Plains in order to have a friendly group slide less than the distance
they would have before very helpful in reaching specific destinations
What to Avoid in Deck Design
Lockdown is risky, since the opponent may very well reach two towns before
you're capable of casting a single Lockdown spell. Attrition is probably not
usable here; it's hard enough to slow the game down to the point where you can
run the opponent out of cards in the Veldt, but in a fast realm like Frost you
have to work twice as hard. Group-protection based combat is slower to start
than Combat Speed, so you'd be at a disadvantage to those opponents who use
obvious strategies. Most Powerhouse decks are just too expensive to use here;
you wouldn't get the mana you need before the game was already decided. This
is not to say that it is impossible to do any of these, but simply that any
deck attempting them would need to plan for a way to slow the opponent down
At first glance, then, it seems as if there are only a small number of decks
capable of competing in the Frost. Combat Speed is easy to build and can almost
be played using an identical deck on any map, so these will probably dominate.
Cheap Powerhouse decks are the metagamer's answer to Combat Speed; they can
use spells to defeat Combat's big, fast groups quickly, and march on for a fast
victory before Combat can recover.
But is there an answer to Cheap Powerhouse? Think of how you might plan to
defeat a typical Abomination or Unmaking deck in Veldt; a Monster-heavy deck
could work against Abom, defeating cards like Sawbones and Accursed Minion,
while a Group-protection Combat deck could give Unmaking serious problems. The
problem here is that Group-protection is a bit slow against Speed Combat, and
Monsters are just really hard to aim right in Frost. A hybrid of the two, such
as a Nature deck that started off with a Monster barrage and followed up with
Bellwether Combat could potentially make a strong showing against both Combat
Speed and Cheap Powerhouse. Likewise, a Making Combat deck could potentially
pile on the combat alterations fast enough to make a strong showing against
Speed Combat decks while keeping Beobagh's Helm in hand to fight against Cheap