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.)
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
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.
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.