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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: The Few, The Proud, The Unappreciated (Part One)
December 30, 1999

Editor's Note: Due to a thwarted Year 2000 test, in which our webmaster proved her ability to be forgetful for the next millennia, Ngozi's Way did not appear as scheduled on December 23. We bring this fabulous year-end column late, with apologies. Enjoy.

Looking through the trading boards, it occurred to me that there's a lot of cards out there that just aren't used in games. In many cases, it isn't even that the cards are weak; they just aren't fully understood. People either don't understand the true power of the spell, haven't experimented with it, or read the card but think it does something other than what it really does.

As a result, there's a lot of cards floating around out there that no one ever seems to play with, even though they can really be powerful in the right decks. My intent with this next series of articles, then, is to take a good look at some of the unused, underused and misunderstood spells in Sanctum ... and see how they can enhance your existing decks.

BEDLAM I like this spell, because it's the cheapest terrain alteration available to Unmaking that can mess with an enemy group. If a large group walks onto a Bedlam square, they will probably be hit with at least one nasty spell, such as Forsaken, Cannibalism or Obeisance.

In the early game, casting this in the walking path of the enemy Horde will usually do them more harm than good (and if a single enemy recruit gets too much good stuff, you can Wrack or Disintegrate or Ritual Cleansing it, leaving a very weak group indeed). Casting additional monsters to stop the enemy group from moving off of the Bedlam can make matters worse for your hapless opponent; spells like Dire Portent or Curse of Khobai may cause their recruits to die off, and the monster will force the rest of the group to stay on the Bedlam for even more mayhem.

Bedlam also gives Unmaking a few late-game options; parking a small group on a Bedlam square and hoping for a few good spells is a reasonable risk, since at worst you lose one or two recruits and at best you get an unstoppable combat machine (if Beast's Embrace is one of the first alterations dropped on the recruit for example). In a deck that uses Pages to Dust, for example, Bedlam can be a source of late-game spells after your deck and your opponent's are depleted.

BERSERKERS Consider that Legionnaires cost one mana more than Berserkers, yet Berserkers can give up to +3 hand damage in combat while Legionnaires “only” gives a flat +1.

The thing that stops most War players from including Berserkers, I believe, is that a friendly recruit has to die for it to give the bonus. But think of how this fits in a typical War Combat deck; you have a lot of spells that create extra recruits (Dragon's Teeth, Warlord) and plenty of damage bonuses, but very little healing or armor. So, you can expect a few recruits to die in combat; you don't even care if they do because you'll just make more of them.

Berserkers lets you take advantage of the nature of War Combat and it's dirt cheap to boot. It's also the cheapest Strife-based spell that targets an entire group (protecting from spells such as Rain of Blood and Unholy Aura).

BLINDING ORB One of the best Invisibility spells in the game, if you ask me. Something that most people don't see when they read the card is that it makes ALL minions invisible to the caster's opponent… friendly monsters and recruits and enemy monsters and recruits. In other words, it completely invalidates all single-recruit, single-monster and single-minion spells while in effect, no matter what the target. Not bad.

CHALICE OF HOPE For the high price this fetches on the trading board, one would think this spell would be used more often. This has so many uses that it's not even funny.

Use it in the early game to boost your mana supply; a Sanctum generates one more recruit per turn while this spell is in effect as well, so even one of these lets you generate three extra mana from your Sanctum! In a mana-heavy Hope deck, that's just what you need – those extra mana will probably help you more than your opponent.

In the mid-game, you can use Chalice of Hope to defend your towns for three or four turns, keeping you alive for longer; you may give your opponent a slight recruit advantage, but it allows you to drag the game on by playing defensively, which is just what Hope is normally trying to do anyway!

Finally, in the late game once you have several Settlements on your side and the Attrition strategy is winning for you, Chalice of Hope can give you an overwhelming recruit advantage and often cause the opponent to concede right then! Definitely a spell that belongs in most Hope decks, and even a few Life decks that splash in Order.

DIRE PORTENT This is another spell that has a ton of uses ...

Drop it on a friendly Archer before the combat at center town and if it attacks an enemy Swordsman you'll have a slight combat advantage.

Cast it on an enemy recruit that has really high damage or armor or is otherwise dangerous in combat, and that recruit will kill itself off at minimal cost to you.

Place it on a friendly recruit in a group with Necromancer and you get an easy and cheap kill for “free”.

Drop it on a friendly recruit in a medium-size group and you'll never fear enemy monsters – at worst you'll lose one recruit but some monsters can do much worse than that!

Put it on an enemy monster and send a single recruit at it for an easy monster kill.

Put it on an enemy recruit and then send a monster at the recruit and you've got a slightly expensive but reliable kill.

Drop it on a friendly monster just before it dies to have it go out in a blaze of glory (better yet, drop it on a monster like Gorgon to prevent it from giving the opponent any advantage).

The only reason I can think of why this spell isn't used much is that the many uses are not immediately obvious until they're used against you.

ENCAMPMENT Strangely, I don't see this in War nearly as often as I think I should. Perhaps not everyone realizes that it gives you Initiative and an extra mana for a few turns of any type, making it an incredible bargain.

The down side is that you can only use it on a friendly group and that group is pretty much locked in place for a few turns – but then, in the middle of a game when your front lines are beating down the enemy, you really didn't need those two people way back at your first town anyway, and even if you did, you can't get them to the front lines very fast even if you wanted to. Better to turn the liability into an advantage by giving yourself Initiative, letting your front-line soldiers dish out the damage.

FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH I've heard an astounding number of people say, “This spell is horrible – it's more expensive than Pyx or Healing Spring and it decreases your recruits a level!” I'm here to tell you that this spell rocks ... if you cast it in front of the opponent's group! You won't find a cheaper way to decrease a Horde to level zero than this spell, which will pretty much guarantee you the center town if you're allowed to just fight a straight combat.

GOLDCAPS Another misunderstood spell. The first reaction is often, “Why would I attack the opponent with this? It's weak, so it basically just gives away experience levels!” Yes it does – and that's precisely why you should use it. This is a neutral monster; it will attack your group as well. Drop it in the walking path of your own Horde and you get a very reasonably priced way to give your Horde three experience levels. In a pinch, it also doubles as a cheap speedbump for an enemy group, and with Primeval Forest these little guys can actually stop a small enemy group!

HARROWING CRY The one thing that a lot of people don't realize about this spell is that it is a Manifestation, not an Alteration. That means you can cast multiples on a single enemy group if you want (just not in the same turn) to lower it multiple levels. But more importantly, it means that this cannot be dispelled; the effect is permanent and nonreversible. In the House of Despair where nearly every spell that weakens enemy groups can be wiped away with a simple Restoration, this spell is a welcome way to give you a powerful combat advantage that's guaranteed.

HAUNTED FOREST Okay, I'm not so naïve as to expect to see this spell in Abomination decks, but Death certainly has ample use for it.

For one thing, it punishes enemy groups for ducking into Forests, creating a no-win situation for them; either they're vulnerable to Venom'd Arrow and other single-recruit spells, or they're vulnerable to a powerful monster that will just slaughter their +1 level group.

The only explanation I have for why I've not heard of this being used in play is that experienced players have just forgotten about it – or I've just been playing the wrong people.

KARKARA Look at the combat stats on this thing; it's more powerful than just about any other monster in the game.

Karkara can bring down a pair of Hordes and still have room for more, and if you have Initiative and are lucky it can take out an unaltered Horde and only take 2 damage (out of 25 HP) in the process!

Making (and Hope and Justice if you splash in some Will) can easily take advantage of this, and all three Houses have reason to drag the game out and slow the opponent's progress down early; what better way than to trade your Horde for theirs (and still have a big tin crab when you're done with it all)? Hope and Justice have the added benefit of having spells that create extra recruits in towns (Army of Light, Spawn of Toganni), which make easy fodder for mid-game Karkara. No doubt, there's big risk here – you're giving up a recruit group, and a single minion-kill or monster-kill spell can cost you – but if you compare the battle power of Karkara with, say, three wimpy Visions, you'll still come out on top more often than not. And the price is about as cheap as you'll ever see, especially for a monster this big.

LEAP OF FAITH This fits the large-deck Hope Attrition style perfectly, allowing for a massive multi-discard early on if you get stuck with all expensive stuff and need to cycle through your deck faster. The one problem faced by all large-size decks is the possibility of drawing all your expensive stuff in your opening hand and not being able to defend yourself early on; this spell solves that problem perfectly, and if you're already drawing what you need then you shouldn't mind discarding Leap of Faith itself.

LEECHWOOD It's a minion-group dispel. It's reusable. It works even on groups that can't be targeted directly (for example, those using Beobagh's Helm or Raven Shroud). And it costs less than Cleansing Light. This is the bargain of the century, yet I only see it in the occasional Unmaking deck – and I've no idea why.

LODE STAR Aside from being fun to watch, this can seriously mess up your side of the board. Why would you want to do that? Protection from enemy groups, of course. Suppose you manage to create a situation where an enemy group must walk over lava to reach the towns nearest your Sanctum; Making couldn't ask for a better defense. If they try, you kill the group with Belvario's Trap. If they don't, you just sit back and generate mana, then build up your metropolis and drift into the Attrition stage of the game where you wanted to end up anyway. And if there's any walking paths available after a few Lode Star spells, you can block them off with Mountains.

As you can see, I've made it halfway through the alphabet – halfway through my list of incredible “hidden” cards. Next week, greet the new millennium with even more of these great spells. In the meantime, good luck!

Good luck!

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