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.
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
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.
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
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
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.