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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 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.

The Terrain

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.

Deck Building

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 like towns.

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 a bit.


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 Powerhouse.

Good luck!

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