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
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
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
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
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
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
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!