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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

All About Initiative (Part Two)
May 4, 2000

Part two of our series on Initiative. (To review: in Sanctum the turns are simultaneous and yet there is an order to how all effects are resolved, such that it ends up acting like a turn-based game in some respects. Initiative determines whose “turn” it is.)

What Do I Do With Initiative?

This is actually a question you should have considered before you manage to gain Initiative, unless it's turn 1 of the game and it was randomly handed to you. Some spells are naturally more effective if you have Initiative, so if you have a plan to get Initiative in the next turn or two you might hold on to those spells rather than casting or discarding them earlier.

What spells work better if you have Initiative? The first thing that comes to mind is any spell that might squander an opponent's spell, by rendering a target ineffective. Aside from Intercession, this also includes spells that grant spell protection (Beobogh's Helm, Kumatru Trance, Chaos Fog, etc.), and spells which remove enemy minions from play (Venom'd Arrow, Will o' the Wisp, etc.). Any spell you cast that has a game effect and manages to squander an enemy spell is usually well in your favor.

The other class of spells that work well with Initiative are those that the opponent might squander if her spells would go off first. Casting a Monster is sometimes preferable with Initiative, for example, because if the opponent went first and cast her own Monster there, yours would be squandered. Minion removal spells (as above) fall into this category as well. If you cast Rain of Blood with Initiative on an unaltered enemy group, you can be sure to kill the entire group; if you cast without Initiative, your opponent might cast a group Alteration on the target, which would make your spell ineffective (the fact that your Rain of Blood may also squander an enemy spell is an added bonus, and just makes Initiative doubly important when casting it and similar spells).

If you want to force a combat with an enemy group using a Monster you're about to cast (and you have Initiative), try casting it in the group's expected walking path. Your Monster will move first, the enemy group will then move into the target square, and they'll fight. If you're not sure which way the enemy group will move, sometimes you can cast the monster three squares away from the group (two squares in one direction and one square at right angles); the monster will often walk closer to the enemy group so that it ends up diagonally adjacent to the enemy group, so that when the enemy finally moves it'll end up next to the monster if it goes in either of two directions.

If you want to block an enemy group's movement using a Monster and you have Initiative, the task is often a bit harder. Sometimes you can simply cast it two squares in a line away from the enemy group, in the direction of its expected walking path; the Monster will move next to the group, the group will try (and fail) to walk into the Monster, and then the groups will fight. But all too often, the square you'd want to summon the Monster into is occupied by your own group or a town; in this case, the best you can do is summon the monster diagonally adjacent to the enemy group and hope it picks the right place to move to ... or, don't summon the monster at all, and wait for a better time.

If you have Initiative and you know you're about to lose it, spells that require Initiative for optimal effect should generally take priority, so that you can make the most of them.

What Do I Do Without Initiative?

The opposite of the above is also true: some spells naturally work better if you do not have Initiative. While you typically do not actively plan to lose Initiative to your opponent, you can sometimes take advantage of a period of time where you do not have it anyway, and it is often best to save certain types of spells for such an occasion.

What spells work better if the enemy has Initiative? Generally, anything that can undo whatever the opponent did on that same turn if cast afterwards. As mentioned before, this includes cards that dispel and cards that change terrain (or give or take away terrain-walking abilities).

Movement-affecting tactics also often work better if you move second. This makes it far easier to block enemy movement with your Monsters, and it also makes it easier to defend your towns (and capture enemy towns!). More on this presently.

If you want to block enemy movement with a Monster, it's as simple as summoning the Monster in the expected walking path of the group. The Monster will also likely move away after the enemy's movement is denied, leaving it on the board for the future; this is very useful if you're summoning very weak Monsters against a very strong enemy group, and especially if you plan to follow up with a spell to make the Monster stronger on the next turn (casting Pyrrhic Victory on those Homunculi from last turn comes to mind ...).

If instead you want to force a combat between your Monster and an enemy group, as stated before, it's as simple as summoning the Monster behind the enemy group. The group will move, the Monster will follow and combat will take place. Alternatively, you can try casting it two squares in one direction and one square at right angles, as you would with Initiative, and the Monster will probably move toward the enemy group no matter which way it moves. Admittedly, since Initiative gives something of an advantage in combat, forcing a combat requires a slightly stronger Monster than it would otherwise.

If you do not have Initiative and your town is under attack, you can often extend your defense by a turn by training a Novice and moving it outside of the town that same turn. The enemy group will try (and fail) to enter your town, and then your Novice will move away rather than getting slaughtered immediately in combat. As with Monsters that block enemy groups, this will give you an extra turn to beef up your recruit somehow. Granted, your opponent may target your recruit with an instant-kill spell in the mean time ... but then you have not lost anything, as your recruit would have died in combat anyway. (If the recruit would have won the combat, then needless to say, you should not have moved it away but rather moved it toward the enemy group, so as to force a combat.)

Even more importantly, your opponent with Initiative does not have this option. If you attempt to move a group into the enemy's town, they must either train a Novice and watch helplessly as you slay it, or let you move into the town. If they try to train a Novice and move it away, of course, it will move before your group and you'll get a free ride into the town!

You can take further advantage of this by making use of spells that stall or prevent combat for a turn, such as Skirmish, Chamberlain and Protective Cover; by using these, you set up a situation where your group is adjacent to an enemy town and the opponent has at least one surviving recruit inside that town. This is a very dangerous situation for your opponent to be in, for on the next turn you can target the enemy group with any sort of group-removal spell (Will o' the Wisp, Bolt of Somersaults, etc.) and move your group in, and the opponent will be able to do very little! Your spell will go off and remove the group (including any additional Novices that were trained this turn), and your group will move into the town unopposed.

The down side to this, of course, is that it's a trick that only works once: after you capture the town, you'll likely gain Initiative and be unable to repeat it immediately.

There are several variations on the above town-taking trick, involving group movement control rather than outright group removal. If the enemy group moves out of the town for any reason and the opponent has Initiative, your group can still move in on that same turn and capture the town (provided they can win the combat). This allows for spells such as Disorient and Mirage to be used to capture enemy towns (after stalling a combat the previous turn), in addition to direct group removal. Consider the possibilities and you'll realize that quite a few Houses can use tactics such as this on an unsuspecting opponent.

Metagaming with Initiative

Since you can usually count on your opponent to try to keep Initiative away from you, you can sometimes enjoy a surprise victory by building a deck specifically to take advantage of not having Initiative. Using lots of Monsters that are either very strong or very weak, including ways to stall combats without actually winning them (and then ways to follow up by forcing an enemy group out of a town), and using dispels and movement-affecting cards all lend themselves to nullifying any advantage your opponent might get from having Initiative, and even turning it into a liability. Optimally, you'll also want a few cards that reward you for having Initiative, so that when you do manage to capture an enemy town you'll have some way to really drive home your victory.

Want an example? There's plenty, but I'll just include one here because we're running out of space. Consider the House of Justice. Use Homunculi for annoying roadblocks (and Pyrrhic Victory as a follow-up, as well as friendly-town defense), Obsidian Dragon for a super-strong Monster that you can force a combat with, and Restoration, Shell of Gold and Second Chance for dispels. Try Ebon Guardian since it's equally good as a roadblock with and without Initiative, and so far it looks like it fits the Order-heavy mana structure well. Chamberlain and Ogi's Armor can be used to stall a combat (Ogi's Armor might actually win it for you too, so consider the surprising addition of Body Rot to weaken your own recruit!), and all you need to add to that is some way to force an enemy group out of a town ... except you don't have anything immediately available. So, let's look in related Houses to see what pops up ... let's say you decide on adding two Strife for Disorient, perhaps with Burst of Mystery followed by Augur of Strife in order to keep your Mystery requirement down to 2 in the early game. Finally, let's add a card that gives you Initiative (Dracha) and one card that lets you take major advantage of having it (Intercession). The idea will be to allow the opponent to “steal” Initiative away from you in the early game, then use it to your advantage to capture an enemy town, and finally drive home a victory with a string of Intercessions. Round it out with a few extra support spells – Dracha's Sphere for terrain-crossing, Codex of Order and/or The Star Chamber to support your Order-heavy mana structure, Spawn of Toganni to cast on that captured town to make a larger group – and you've got something that's playable, if not ultra-competitive, and most importantly something that's likely to pull off some very unexpected surprise moves.


Even if you don't want to create a deck entirely around the concept of Initiative, you should at least be aware of what it is, what it does, when you want it and when you don't. Try looking at some of those old decks of yours and deciding which cards in each deck really help you with Initiative and which ones really help you without it, and keep it in mind the next time you play a game with those decks. You might be surprised at how much more effectively you use your spells, and by extension, how much stronger your game becomes!

Good luck!

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