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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 Two, Paths
March 9, 2000

As if the list of mana structures weren't a mile long already, we're about to multiply it tenfold. First, another definition is in order: I will define a “mana path” as the order in which you build up to your maximum required mana for a deck.

Mana Paths

For example, let's suppose you're playing a Justice deck where your maximum mana is 6 Order + 4 Mystery.

You might start right off building up to 4 Order, use Rite of Mystery to gain your first Mystery (hopefully on turn 4), then generate another Order and use The Star Chamber to go up to 6+2, then build a third and fourth Mystery from your Sanctum.

Or, you might start out building up to 2 Order, then 2 Mystery (hoping for a Burst of Order to get a quick Sentinel or Tindelhunden), then a third Order and then a third Mystery, then a fourth and fifth Order, and then the final Star Chamber to reach your target of 6+4.

Both of these are perfectly valid ways of getting to 6+4, but they allow different spells to be cast in different order. The first method lets you cast Ogi's Armor and Ebon Guardian early on but you won't get Intercession and Pyrrhic Victory for a while; the second method gives you Intercession much earlier, but you can forget about casting Obsidian Dragon before the center town is occupied. Thus, both of these mana paths may be used for the same House, the same mana structure, perhaps even the same deck ... but they will play quite differently.

Since a mana path tells you which mana types you'll have first and which you'll only have access to later on, it defines which spells in your deck can be cast early and which cannot. A Justice deck that creates 4 Order before doing anything else will not be able to cast Sentinel on turn 4, so Sentinel is a mid-game spell at best; other Justice decks might be able to consider Sentinel an early-game spell using Burst of Order.

As you may have noticed, a single deck may have more than one viable mana path, and you may have to choose one of several mana paths during the game based on your hand, your board position and your expectations of your opponent. So, what good is it during deck design? Sometimes, you can design part or all of an expected mana path into your deck, giving it more efficiency as long as you follow your plan.

Taking our example above, let's suppose you already have 4 Burst of Order, 4 Sentinel and 2 Tindelhunden in your deck, suggesting a 2 Order >> 2 Mystery early-game mana path. In such a case, you should not add Obsidian Dragon with the expectation of casting it before center town; you might have a stronger deck design by removing the Dragons and adding something that can be cast in mid-game using that mana path that can help at the battle for center town, such as Obeisance (3+2) or City-State (3+3). Also, since you know you'll want 2+2 right away, adding a few spells to be cast before that point might give you an early-game advantage; Deflection or Chamberlain would be excellent choices for keeping your second group alive, while Ogi's Armor would take longer to cast using this mana path.

Mana paths are doubly important when designing three-mana (and more) decks; if you cannot reasonably expect to gain your third mana type before the battle for center town, do not include spells using that third mana if they will only be useful when cast early on. Likewise, if you rely on that third mana type from town mana only, be sure to set that first town you take to the required mana ... personally, I've lost too many games by saying “well, I don't have any spells requiring my third mana type in hand right now, and if I set the town to my Primary mana I can cast this nice spell a bit faster” and then having my main group wiped out by big monsters, and then drawing a hand full of spells I can't cast.

What about building multiple mana paths into a single deck? One might think that it provides more in-game versatility if you can let your hand dictate your mana path, rather than having it be predetermined and then just drawing the wrong spells. This can be true, to a point ... especially when generating those ninth and tenth mana, you can certainly let the spells in your hand choose your late-game path for you.

But early on, you will often have dilemmas where you want to cast two good early-game spells, but you must determine your mana path so that you cast one and exclude the other. And worse, if you guess wrong and then draw multiple copies of the other spell (or any spells on the other mana path) you'll have slowed yourself down, perhaps fatally. I'd say it's usually better to have a single mana path for the early game if you can help it, and the earlier in the game you are the more important this is. (This is why you almost never produce your Secondary mana on turn 1 unless your deck is reverse-mana.)

Mana Ramping

A well-defined mana path has another use: it can make sure you're always doing something useful with the spells in your hand, so that you're constantly gaining power and have good card flow. Optimally, you'd love use all of your mana on every single turn, because mana that you don't use is just wasted. If you include spells that you can be reasonably sure of casting as soon as you get the mana for them, your deck will seem more cohesive.

As an example, let's take two opening hands. Hand A has five spells that each cost 4 mana; hand B's spells cost 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 mana respectively. Assuming neither player discards, player A will be doing nothing on turn 3, and then have to make a choice from five possible choices on turn 4 (and again on turn 5, and again on turn 6, etc). Player B, on the other hand, will be casting spells every turn of the game (on turn 5 she'll cast the 6-mana spell if she got a town, or if the 4-mana spell was a Globe-target mana generator). So, by turn 5, player A will have 8 mana worth of spells in play, while player B will have double that! This difference will get even larger if player A keeps drawing 4-cost spells while player B draws spells that get progressively more expensive (but still castable).

Great, you may say, but that's an insanely good draw for player B. Let's suppose instead, that player A still draws 4-cost spells every turn, but player B starts with spells that cost 9, 8, 7, 6 and 5 (and the next spells in the deck will cost 4, 3, 2 and 1, in that order). On the first two turns, neither player will do anything (player B will likely discard some of the more expensive stuff, and on turn three B will have a 3-cost spell to cast). On turn four, both players get to cast their 4-cost spells. On turn 5, player B gets her 5-cost spell to player A's 4-cost spell; on turn 6, B might be able to cast both the 2-cost, 1-cost and another cheap spell to A's 4-cost spell. So even in this situation, player B is clearly ahead.

The method of deck building (and play) where you attempt to cast something every turn is called mana ramping.

Putting It All Together

Review time! What have we learned in this past two weeks?

  1. Look at mana structures that you haven't seen before. Some of them may suggest possible new deck designs.
  2. The opposite is also true: if you have a card, combo or theme that you'd like to try out, the first thing to do is identify your mana structure (and then use the deck builder's filters to get rid of cards that don't fit).
  3. Look for mana paths, especially early-game ones, when building your deck. Try to keep as few possible mana paths in a deck as you can, but you can leave yourself open for possibilities later in the game.
  4. Try to give yourself spells to cast at all points along your favored mana path, to give yourself optimal mana ramping.

Good luck!

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