A periodic column on Sanctum strategy, theory, and fun,
by Ian Schreiber, Sanctum player name Gannon. You can reach Ian at
Deck Building 301
February 17, 2000
Last week, we went over typical requirements for decks. In most cases, you
want to prevent the opponent's second group from surviving to capture its town,
and you want to prevent the enemy Horde from reaching the center town alive.
The most common way to do this is some combination of Monsters, Lockdown and
Powerhouse spells. Even if you don't have such a strategy in your own deck,
you can bet that most of your opponents will.
But most of this game is about anticipating what the opponent will do, and
planning for it; if you know what your opponent will probably try to do to you,
you can plan for it to minimize its effect.
Reaching the Second Town
There are a number of ways for your opponent to prevent you from using your
second group to capture a town, and there are ways for you to guard against
your opponent's attacks. Your defensive methods will largely depend on what
you think your opponent is capable of, which in turn depends on what House they
First, there are Lockdown spells. Those that target only a single recruit can
be guarded against by Invisibility (Xia's Walk, Ogi's Gauntlet, Kumatru Trance).
If your opponent can target an entire group, you can't protect against that
so easily, but you can create multiple groups. That is, instead of creating
a secondary group of two, create two groups with one recruit each. Move them
in such a way as to minimize the effects of Lockdown spells. For example, if
you march them single-file toward a town and the first is hit with Fear, the
second will walk right into it and merge, and you'll end up with one locked-down
group; but if you separate them so they attempt to enter the town from different
sides, your opponent will need to burn twice the number of spells to deal with
both of them!
Unfortunately, Monsters are your other major threat, and making two separate
groups can often just make an enemy Monster's job easier by letting it devour
two small groups instead of one larger group. (This is why it's important for
you to decide which will be the larger threat from your opponent, Monsters or
Against Monsters, there are some spells that specifically protect you (Lienna's
Sigil, Immersion). There are also some Combat spells which can allow a group
of two (or even one!) to beat an early-game Monster or two in direct combat;
two Cyclopes plus a Rite of Growth can survive just about any enemy monster
of 4 mana or less, while a single Dwarf with Ogi's Armor can't even be injured
by the vast majority of Monsters.
Another way to reach that elusive second town is with spells that give you
extra movement (Fleetness, Forced March). This often requires a bit of second-guessing
on your part; if you Fleetness on the turn that your opponent uses Mirage on
the same group, you'll have hurt your chances considerably. But if you let the
Mirage fall first and then Fleetness on the next turn, you can sometimes make
up for lost ground. Of course, you may be able to Fleetness directly into a
town (especially if it's turn 3, and your opponent doesn't have enough mana
to cast anything to stop you be especially wary of Burst spells on turn
Reaching the Center Town
As many ways as there are for your opponent to stop your second group from
reaching their town, he will have even more ways to stop your Horde from reaching
center. You'll probably find that some decks can guard against some of these
tactics, but most decks will not be able to prevent everything. Again, keep
in mind what House your opponent is playing and what he's capable of, and play
to stop his most likely tactics.
Again we have to deal with Lockdown spells, but in this case the spells may
be more powerful and last longer. The spells may target your entire group as
well. The obvious countermeasure is to include some way to dispel friendly groups
in your deck (Circle of Wisdom, Restoration, Cleansing Light). If you have some
movement control of your own and some decent Combat spells on your Horde, it
is occasionally possible to force the enemy Horde to take a detour and fight
you instead of having it reach the center town.
You will also have to deal with Monsters, and in this case they may be quite
powerful (H:4 A:1 HP:15 L:2 would be typical stats for a 6-mana Monster, enough
to take down an unaltered Horde over the course of two turns). Again you can
use some anti-Monster spells, although in this case they're more likely to work
against you: Immersion only protects one recruit so several others may die before
you defeat the Monster, and Lienna's Sigil doesn't get rid of the Monster so
you may still have a roadblock to get past.
Adding some Combat power to your Horde will help it against most Monsters,
of course. Spells that can squander the enemy's Monster are even better. Justicar's
Reserve can prevent Monsters for a long time; casting a Monster on the same
square you expect an enemy Monster to be summoned in can squander the enemy
spell if you have Initiative. Even adding a fifth recruit to your Horde at the
beginning of the game can often give you the boost you need to handle a Monster
Enemy Powerhouse spells are another threat, and a harder one (as a group) to
deal with, since each one is different and must be counteracted individually.
Rain of Blood can devastate an unprepared Horde, but is worthless if you have
even a single cheap group spell like Caravan or Berserkers on the group. Accursed
Minion can destroy your group, but if you manage to have a friendly Monster
fight the enemy group first it can weaken the enemy enough for your Horde to
clean up the leftovers; likewise, your own Lockdown on the enemy group followed
by a Dispel of Accursed Minion can remove the threat safely and effectively.
Fireball can harm your group, but you can compensate by making sure the enemy
group is destroyed or stalled so that you don't have to worry about combat yet,
or casting Pyx or Healing Spring to undo the damage.
Taking the First Town
Of course, all of the above is moot if you're entirely blocked off from any
towns by hazardous terrain. You have two equally good (or equally bad) choices
to make: accept an occasional loss due to bad luck, or accept an occasional
loss due to drawing spells that don't help you enough.
In favor of terrain-crossing spells, they can be pitched early without too
much damage being done (usually) and they can also sometimes come in handy later
in the game if the enemy is using terrain-modifying spells to slow your groups.
Some spells, like Mountain Climb and Dracha's Sphere, also cover a friendly
group with a spell (making them immune to Rain of Blood and such). I happen
to like including enough terrain-crossing spells in most decks, that I can be
sure of not getting hosed immediately in at least 99% of my games, but that's
By incorporating some of these counter-tactics into a deck that already fits
the requirements discussed last week, you'll have an edge over a deck that doesn't
have the appropriate countermeasures for your own attacks. Of course, you can
take this back and forth as far as you want; if you build a deck with an offense
that can't be stopped by the more conventional counters then your opponent's
strategy will fall apart more easily, but if you use counters to these counters
to these counters well, you get the idea. In a nutshell, that's one of
the basic premises behind what is called metagaming, and it's up
to each individual player how much he or she wants to game versus metagame.