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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: Despair with Denial
February 24, 2000

With the recosting of Intercession from 5+1 to 3+3, it was brought further away from Order-based Making, but closer to Mystery-based Houses. Together with the spell Citadel (generating Order from Mystery), both Death and Despair now have plenty of opportunity to include Intercession (and other Justice fare) in their decks. This week we'll look at adding Justice to Despair, since the strategies of Lockdown and Denial mutually support each other.

Basic Strategies Used

In the early game we'll open with Despair's standard heavy Lockdown, but in mid-game we'll shift strategies to Denial, in order to lock in an early lead and prevent the opponent from coming back from behind.

Key Cards

Your standard Disorient, Fear and Forsaken form the basis for your early game; Citadel and Intercession are your main mid-game strengths.

Build on this base however you see fit; I might recommend a couple of combat spells that penalize large groups (Albatross, Obeisance, Harrowing Cry), some spells that harm your opponent's recruit production (Insurrection, Changelings, Ostracize), perhaps some additional Lockdown from Justice (Sentinel, City-State), and perhaps some filler spells for the early game or big monsters for later on.

Since you still need good control over what you draw, your deck should be fairly small; I wouldn't go above 40 cards at the maximum. Any more and you run the risk of drawing too many Justice spells in your opening hand, and being unable to slow your opponent down enough to take an early lead at all.

Playing Hints

Your primary goals at the beginning are to slow down your opponent and keep her from taking more than one town, to reach a town or two yourself, and to generate three Order mana (typically from Citadel and your first town). This means you may have to discard some Justice spells early on, so don't be afraid to cycle through your deck quickly even though your deck is small.

If you manage to accomplish all of that, you'll probably have the Initiative from taking your second town (or the center town), and you can start ditching your early-game Despair spells in favor of the Justice spells (particularly Intercession). If you manage to cast a string of three or four Intercessions after your Horde reaches the center town, that should be nearly enough time for you to reach the enemy Sanctum and just win, without giving your opponent a chance. If you don't draw your Intercessions in time, your remaining Lockdown spells from both Despair and Justice may be able to buy you the time that you need.


Since this is a highly general deck concept, there is a lot of room for customization depending on what you want the mid-game to focus on. You can put in some of the big Despair monsters and play just like a normal Despair deck (aside from the lone Intercessions in your deck) or you can include more Lockdown from Justice in order to keep your opponent locked out of their towns for much longer than a conventional Despair deck is capable of.

One huge choice to make is whether to set your maximum Order mana at three or four. Three is required for Intercession, and is relatively easy (Citadel, and the town it's cast on). Four Order gives you access to a lot of heavy Justice spells, like Sentinel, Pyrrhic Victory, and Dracha (to name a few), giving your deck far more options and greater depth, but getting four Order requires two towns so you will take longer to reach there.

This tradeoff particularly hurts because you'll need more early-game Despair Lockdown spells in order to stall the game (which also requires a tighter, smaller deck) but once you achieve four Order mana you really want to have a lot of powerful spells at your disposal (which means a larger deck).

Finding a balance between the two is tricky, and will probably result in keeping a smaller number of four-Order spells in your deck; if you go this way, try to pick one or two spells that support the rest of your deck really well.

Of course, a slightly similar deck is available in Death, but using Death's recruit-killing spells to gain the early board advantage (rather than Despair's town denial spells). This deck would play similarly (go for the early lead, then lock in your victory with multiple Intercessions) but would probably have to be a little smaller and faster since it doesn't slow down the opponent to buy itself additional time.

Yet another option in Death would be to concentrate on Deserts (Wasteland, Sand Sphinx, Shifting Sands) to buy some time and maybe even stall enemy groups, as a prelude to the Justice spells. This might go well with Sentinel to keep enemy groups in your Desert squares, if you're willing to take it to 4 Order mana for that little extra surprise.


The most glaring weakness of this deck is its reliance on drawing half of its deck early on and the other half later, which puts you at the mercy of the draw (to some extent). You can reduce this problem with careful deck design, but no matter what you'll still run the risk of drawing two Citadels and three Intercessions in your opening hand, or having all your Forsakens shuffled to the bottom of your deck.

You also rely heavily on your Citadels; a Body or Unmaking Lockdown deck could conceivably slow you down a bit, hold you to one town, then hit that town with Ancestral Home or Entropia to pretty much destroy your chances of a mid-game win via Justice.

Finally, you have very little in the way of late-game options. You need to take an early lead, and you need to press that lead home to a victory in the mid-game. If your opponent manages to stall you or slow you down, you probably won't have the endurance to compete and you'll go down horribly. In short, this deck does one thing very well, but it doesn't do much else, so it's highly fragile and must be played with care.

Good luck!

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