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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

How to Win in Rock-Paper-Scissors
May 25, 2000

As we've gone over briefly before, one of the best ways to give your rating a boost is to identify a dominant deck in the game environment and build a nemesis deck for it (that is, a deck build specifically to take another deck type down).

Even if you aren't big into metagaming, occasionally you run into a streak of games against the same type of deck and you'd like to do something about it; how often have you played what seemed like the same deck more than five times in a row, ranked, against all different players? At some point or other, most Sanctum players have a thought in their mind that goes something like, “Gee, I wish I could just stomp a deck like that into the ground ... I'm tired of losing to it”.

This week, we'll go over the thought processes one might go through to create a nemesis deck. While I could hardly reduce the strategy of Sanctum to a game of rock-paper-scissors (there's far too many opportunities to use your cards to your advantage within the game, regardless of what decks you and your opponent are playing), it's often used as a metaphor for metagaming, since it's all about deciding what your opponent will do, and then doing something to counteract it (hence the title of this article).

Where to Start?

Obviously, you have some deck in mind that you want to do well against, probably because you've played one too many clones of it lately and you don't just want to be another sheep following the flock. The first thing to do is identify the target's weaknesses.

Know Thine Enemy

You may not want to hear this, but one of the best ways to identify a deck's weaknesses is to play that deck yourself. As we discussed when we talked about deck tuning, you'll want to take notes; in this case, focus on exactly what you don't want to happen; what is your deck afraid of? What spells might your opponent cast that would really set you back? Even if you walk all over your opponent with this dominant deck clone of yours, at least you'll have some idea of a few spells that the dominant deck should fear.

It may be that you simply don't have the cards in your collection to build a copy of the dominant deck, and you're unwilling or unable to trade for its components. In that case, generalize; decide which of the five basic strategies the deck relies on, and then build an entirely different deck using the same strategies. For example, if you're trying to clone an Abomination Cheap-Powerhouse deck, you might try Unmaking or Hope Powerhouse decks, and try to focus on fast mana generation to cast your spells faster.

Failing that, simply give some thought to the deck you wish to fight against, and try to come up with its basic strategies and think of what other strategies might work well against it. No matter what method you choose, though, ultimately try to come up with a list of spells (or overall strategies) that the dominant deck really doesn't want to see.

The Doom List

Now that you have a list, start grouping things together. If it's a list of spells, try and find a common theme (do they all support the same strategy?) and a common mana structure (are a lot of these spells in the same House? Could you build a reasonable two-mana or three-mana deck that has access to a good number of them?). If instead you have an overall strategy that strikes well against the dominant deck, go through your collection and start looking for cards that fit that strategy and seem as if they'd work well against the deck.

The Core of the Nemesis

Hopefully, you have a few cards that can go together in a single deck without much trouble, and some idea of an overall strategy. Consider that the core or foundation of your deck, and start building on top of it. You probably know what House and mana structure you'll be looking at, so start using those mana filters in the deckbuilder.

So, does your core suggest any overall strategy? Do the cards support each other well? Can you see any other cards that would provide support for your core, or for your general strategy? As with any deck, now that you've identified a few key cards and an overall strategy for winning, fill out the deck with support. By doing this, you guarantee yourself a deck that's playable against anything, but that will be particularly deadly against its intended target.

Test, Test, Test

Now it's time to tune the deck; see the article on deck tuning for more information. If you have a friend who can keep your secret, then start challenging each other to games and take turns playing the dominant and nemesis decks against each other. If you don't have that luxury, you might occasionally have some success by asking for a game against a specific deck type in Heroes' Gate, or you can simply take the deck straight into ranked play in the hopes of playing against the very deck you've been consistently faced with for the past ten games.

Either way, you can be happy. If the opponent plays the deck you're trying to beat, you start off with a nice edge and may finally get that overwhelming victory you've been looking for; if you play that deck and lose anyway, you've probably got some very good ideas on how to adjust your strategy further; and if you don't play the deck you're trying to counter, you'll get an idea of how playable your deck is on its own ... even if you get crushed, at least you don't have to see another clone of the same deck an eleventh time. :-)

Good luck!

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