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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

Mana Structures and Mana Paths: Part One, Structures
March 2, 2000

What defines a deck? The spells that are in it, of course, but Sanctum decks are usually theme-based: they don't center around a single card or combo, but rather all of the spells in a deck fit one general theme. But there's more to a deck than just the theme, there's also the mana involved. These two things together, then, are often used to describe most decks in informal conversation.

For example, you might describe a deck to your friend as “Reverse Nature Waterworld” instead of describing the same deck as “a Nature deck with Deluge, Inundate, Jade Dragon, Will o' the Wisp and centered around World Dance for faster mana”. To an experienced Sanctum player, these two descriptions mean the same thing, and the first one is easier to type.

I will define the term “mana structure”, then, as a description of the maximum mana required for a deck, while making it clear what the Primary and Secondary mana types are for you during the game. This is usually accomplished by giving the House, whether the mana is normal or Reverse, and adding any additional mana types (for example, Making + Mystery; Body + Order; Reverse Death + Strife).

Aside from making it more efficient to describe your deck in an email to your friends (or in a weekly column), looking at various mana structures is useful in that it might suggest deck concepts that you haven't thought of before. Sometimes a particular strategy or card combo will suggest a specific mana structure; other times, though, a given mana structure will suggest an entirely new deck concept. And as we've said before, discovering a new deck concept that works is one of the best ways to give your rating a huge boost.

Of course, with only six mana types, there's a limit to the number of mana structures there are. I'll list all possible structures here, so that you can use it as a checklist. Maybe you can look through the list to find something that you'd like to try. (Keep in mind that not all mana structures may be competitive at this point, although the ones that aren't now are good places to look for new decks after an expansion set is released.)

Two-mana Decks

Your only real options here are the twelve Houses, both natural and reverse (twenty-four mana structures in all, although the six reverse-mana structures in Houses that do not have an appropriate town-target mana gaining spell are probably not feasible for serious play).

In theory you could design a two-mana deck with opposing mana types only (e.g. a Clarity and Mystery deck with no other mana at all) but this will probably not be feasible for quite some time in competitive play. You could also use two mana types and an entirely different House (say, Order and Will mana only but using House Justice), but the gains of surprise and better racial abilities are usually outweighed by the inefficiency of having to rely on out-of-House mana.

One-mana decks are normally not used in open play either, both because of the severe restrictions and the fact that it's exceedingly easy to add your House's second mana type (using mana-gaining spells if need be), which gets you a lot of added versatility for the negligible opportunity cost.

Three-mana Decks

Among the easiest three-mana decks to design are those that use the spells in the House that shares primary mana with the House you're using. For example, both Hope and Life have the same primary mana type (Clarity); so Hope+World and Life+Order are natural places to look for a three-mana structure within those Houses. You can always gain assistance by the Globe-target mana spells to generate the secondary mana of one House using the primary mana of the other in this way (Aura of World and Threshold of Order both cost Clarity mana). There are twelve such mana structures.

You can also use the town-target mana spells to splash in a third mana, where the cost of such a spell uses your primary mana type. Necropolis produces Mystery mana and requires Will to cast; Will is the primary mana type of Abomination and Mind, so Abom+Mystery and Mind+Mystery are both potential three-mana structures. There's twelve of these, too.

Reverse decks can also splash in a third mana type in the same way, using Globe-target or town-target spells. Reverse Death can use Necropolis to produce Mystery, and it can also use Focus of Clarity or Cauldron of Strife to produce those mana types as well. Reverse Body can use Citadel to gain Order mana, and it can use Augur of Strife or Cenotaph of Will to produce those mana types (although it doesn't have a way to produce World using Mystery, so in this case a reverse deck might not be the best choice). Each House has two mana types it can splash in this way, but only six of the Houses can realistically do reverse mana structures (so there are either twelve or twenty-four mana structures here, depending on how you look at it).

Finally, you can realistically add one mana point of any type to nearly any deck, just by producing it from your first town. Death may want to add in one Clarity mana in order to cast Caravan or Inscrutability, even though it may not include any spells that actually produce Clarity. Be careful not to rely on that third mana type without spell support, however; a single False Prophet or Dracha's Trade could shut off that portion of your deck on a permanent basis, so make sure you can afford to lose it (or, make sure you can dispel town alterations). Not including the mana structures above, there are twelve potential ones in this category from “normal” House mana, and another six for reverse (in the Houses that have town mana generation spells).

Xin Shian Alcoves Decks

Four-mana and higher decks are normally not used in serious play. They simply take too long to reach their maximum required mana, and by that time the game is decided already. They also run a great risk of becoming sitting ducks early on, if they manage to draw all of their out-of-House spells in their opening hand with no way to cast them. However, Xin Shian Alcoves provides several new mana paths that were previously impossible.

Firstly, it allows an additional reverse two-mana deck in Making that isn't mentioned above. It also allows for normal and reverse three-mana decks in Death, Mind, Making and Abomination (and for each House, any third mana type outside of the House, for a total of sixteen possible three-mana Alcoves-based mana structures). Note that these are quite different from the decks above that rely on town mana; a Mind deck that wants to splash in one World from its first town can realistically expect to reach two World (one from Alcoves and one from its first town) which opens up lots of new possibilities. If you keep the spells sufficiently cheap, you can even do a six-mana deck using Alcoves ...

Adding It All Up

Leaving out certain mana structures that need (but don't have) spell support, such as two-mana reverse Body, we get a whopping total of 89 distinct mana structures. If that isn't enough room for innovation, I don't know what is.

Next week, we'll talk about mana paths, and how the 89 mana structures are just the beginning when it comes to possible deck designs.

Good luck!

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