A periodic column on Sanctum strategy, theory, and fun,
by Ian Schreiber, Sanctum player name Gannon. You can reach Ian at
Object Lessons in Play: More Large Deck Strategy
February 3, 2000
While helping someone practice for a tournament that required a deck with two
Heroes and the mana to cast them, I built a 78-card Ogi + Dracha deck in Making,
relying on Star Chambers and Rites and Pacts of Mystery to get the mana for
Since I was building up to 4 Mystery anyway, I figured it was worth the trouble
to toss in some Pyrrhic Victories, Sentinels, and Codex of Order spells, in
addition to the standard Making Attrition fare.
The Opening Game
We played in Veldt, and my opponent was playing Hope. I start to think of what
to expect ... since Hope shares its primary mana with Life, a Hope deck with World
splashed in for either Lienna or Diomesia sounds reasonable to expect. From
turn one, then, I expect to see a defensive Attrition deck with a fair amount
of Archer-based combat spells.
The terrain wasn't the best I could hope for but it was usable. The first town
was three steps from each of our Sancta, with the center town three steps from
that. There were two more towns on the edge of the board, six steps from the
nearest Sanctum. There were no notable terrain barriers to any towns, but there
were not very many Forests around.
I look at my opening hand and I'm pleased: Astronomic Clock, Deflection, Codex
of Order, Rite of Mystery, Found City. If you were in this situation, what would
your plan be? Think about what you would play, where you would move, and what
you would discard before reading on.
I threw that discard bit in there as a bit of a trick question; don't discard
anything! This is practically the best opening hand one could ever hope to see,
and anything you draw to replace any of these spells is unlikely to be better
than the spell itself.
Some players might be tempted to discard Found City since it's so expensive
and you can't afford it immediately when you draw it on the first turn, but
consider this: your opponent has absolutely no way to stop your Horde from taking
the nearest town; it's impossible for Hope to delay a group before turn 4 in
My plan was to cast Clock on the town on turn 3, Rite of Mystery on turn 4,
and Codex of Order on turn 5. On turn 6, I'll have six mana from my Sanctum
(four Order and two of my choice), one mana from my town (any type, my choice),
one Will and one Mystery from spells, and Found City will only cost 5+3 mana
due to Codex.
Adding that up, we have 4 Order, 1 Will, 1 Mystery and three of my choice;
if I assign those three as 1 Order and 2 Will, I'll have just enough for FoundCity
on my sixth turn. Since I'll be casting a spell every turn but the first, there's
absolutely no need to discard Found City when it will be of use so soon.
The only thing that remains is movement; the Horde obviously takes the nearest
town and will then probably march to the center (depending on what else I draw).
What about a second group to take the second nearest town? In the actual game
I did make a second group, one recruit, and dropped Deflection on it to protect
from monsters (and I was reminded the hard way that Hope had a spell called
A better move would have been to not make a second group at all, and use all
of my Sanctum novices for mana; hindsight is 20/20.
Changing the Plan
My opponent was wise enough to not make a second group at all, and we both
took our nearest town on turn 3.
On turn 4, we both moved our Hordes one step closer to the center town (I was
diagonally across from it, he was two squares away in a straight line).
By turn 5, I had drawn some more interesting spells; I had cast Astronomic
Clock and Rite of Mystery as expected, and my hand now looked like this: Shieldbearers,
Belvario's Trap, Mountain, Codex of Order, Found City. I had 5 Order, 1 Will
and 1 Mystery so far, plus whatever I would generate in my Sanctum this turn.
Remember, my original plan was to cast Codex of Order this turn and Found City
next; would you stick to that plan, or do something else instead?
The best line of play in this case was to adapt your plan to the new circumstances.
If you could deny Hope the center town and take it for yourself, and then cast
Found City next to it, you would have a significant advantage in play.
If you avoid the center town and stick to Codex/Found, you'll be tied at 2
towns to 2, with your opponent probably having the better board position. Best
to be more aggressive. But how?
With two turns until a conflict, hitting the enemy horde with Belvario's Trap
would give him the ability to cast Pyx next turn (he may have generated 1 World
mana in his first town, after all); meanwhile, Shieldbearers on your group might
get hit with Cleansing Light if you cast it this turn. You can't cast both next
turn, unfortunately. Worse, remember that your opponent is playing a House that
is notorious for turning a combat loss into a win with a last-minute spell;
Faerie Fire this turn followed by Zana's Blessing might allow him to destroy
your Horde, whether you cast Belvario's Trap or not.
Instead, play it safe: drop a Mountain in the enemy group's walking path and
you're virtually guaranteed to delay his march to the center town for at least
a turn, and maybe more. Meanwhile, march your Horde forward, and generate a
second Will in your Sanctum in preparation for next turn.
On the next turn you can move in to take the center town. There is still a
potential threat from your opponent of Mountain Pass + some nasty Combat spell,
but the odds of him having both available right now can allow you to safely
You drew a second Belvario's Trap this turn, putting you in excellent shape
for the mid-game. You probably want to generate that third Will mana from your
Sanctum this turn, letting you drop a Found City next turn, but what else do
Looking back, the best line of play would have been to cover the Horde with
Shieldbearers; in the event that the opponent had Mountain Pass, your group
would be seriously injured at best, and if the opponent cast a nasty monster
you would be in major trouble.
In the actual game, I decided to cast Codex of Order on one of the Swordsmen
in my Horde instead, and was surprised by a group of Centaurs that attacked
that turn. Luck (and Initiative) were on my side though, and everyone in my
Horde made it out injured but alive.
Next turn I tried a successful Found City next to the center town, marching
my Horde in, as the enemy Horde started heading for the side town I had failed
to take. In the interim, I managed to draw Dracha and The Star Chamber, so I
chose Mystery for the Found City.
With no immediate threat to my Horde, this was the time to take advantage of
the Codex by blasting out spells to gain even more mana, or else to stop the
opponent from reaching that side town (3 turns away).
With Initiative I could cast Trap on the enemy Horde twice, but it was being
followed by a smaller group from his first town and I had no other threats for
it. Because of this, I decided to cast The Star Chamber (putting myself up to
3 Mystery) and was pleased to see it replaced with another Star Chamber next
turn. It got better; next turn I cast the other Star Chamber and drew Pyrrhic
Victory, while my opponent cast Change of Heart on the remaining side town,
putting him at 2 towns (with a third next turn) to my 3 towns.
So, now there's a Shieldbearers, Pyrrhic Victory, Dracha, Belvario's Trap and
another Belvario's Trap in hand, a Codex of Order in play, and 7 Order, 3 Will,
4 Mystery mana to use up.
My Horde is two turns away from the side town that the enemy just cast Change
of Heart on (so there's no defense for it, yet) and two enemy groups about six
or seven turns from my Sanctum with no towns or hazardous terrain in between.
How would you play from this position?
Two Belvario's Traps on the main group would leave the second one as a threat
(think Sword of Zana or Zana's Blessing), not to mention the possibility of
Pyx. Sending the Horde after the nearby town would be risky as well; since the
enemy cast Centaurs a few turns ago, we can be reasonably sure that he can cast
both Citizen's Militia and Valiant Stand in the same turn, and with Initiative
that would destroy the Horde.
The actual line of play I followed was to have the Horde detour to make a straight
shot for the enemy Sanctum as a diversion to draw out some defensive spells;
and cast Dracha in one of the center towns and start moving him forward, with
intent to cast Pyrrhic Victory on him (or use it defensively if the enemy groups
looked like they would start heading for my Sanctum).
Incidentally, I also made the mistake of trying to march Dracha's group through
the Mountain I created near the center town; Dwarves may have Mountainwalk,
but Gargoyles do not. Shieldbearers could be used in a number of ways, from
making the Horde a bigger threat to making a medium-sized group from the center
town and turning it into an offensive weapon.
The End of Hope
With the Horde, another group of 3 from the first town, and a group of 3 including
Dracha from the center town, the opponent conceded. I can only assume that he
had nothing to stop my Horde from taking his Sanctum. His final words were,
Hey, can I have that deck?
So, what did we learn here?
- Even though large decks tend to discard heavily early on, don't discard
at all if your hand is so good that you can't improve it.
- Know what your opponent is capable of. I made several mistakes in the actual
play which could have cost me the game if my opponent's draw had been just
a little different.
- Decks that splash in a third type of mana can sometimes be faster to mature
than decks that use House mana only. In this case, the Mystery mana that allowed
Codex and Star Chamber to be cast would have let me drop Found City faster
than a conventional Order-and-Will-only Making deck could expect to. Don't
dismiss three-mana decks just because you think they're too slow.