A periodic column on Sanctum strategy, theory, and fun,
by Ian Schreiber, Sanctum player name Gannon. You can reach Ian at
Deck Concept: Will Stall for Shrouds
June 8, 2000
When the Raven Shroud spell first entered circulation, the reaction of many
players was that this gave them a free ticket to build up a single, large, pumped
Horde and march it across the map without holding back. And most of these players
learned the painful lesson that a Shroud speed deck simply doesn't
work: you can't pump up your Horde fast enough to compete with War's combat
capability, and you can't drop a Shroud fast enough to protect you from an early
Bursted Fireball, Lycanthropy, Bolt of Somersaults, etc. At best you could cast
a Vicious Strength on turn 1, Venom'd Blade on turn 2, Gifts of the Fallen on
turn 3, Reanimate on turn 4, Necromancer on turn 5 and Raven Shroud on turn
6 … and an equally good (and unlikely) draw from most other Houses would leave
you in the cold. With an easy, brainless victory impossible, Death was largely
This week we'll look into one possible way to take the basic concept of an
uber-group", that is, a large fully-pumped group that should be able to
crush the opposition in combat, and make it playable … Keeper style.
Basic Strategies Used
Obviously, this is Protective Combat. It does have an element of Powerhouse
in it, but as we will see, that Powerhouse component is mostly to slow the opponent's
progress so that you have time to build your uber-group … not to win the game
for you on its own. At first glance, there also appears to be an element of
Attrition in this deck; the idea is to slow the game down (something that Death
is very good at) while you slowly build up your uber-group. This isn't strictly
Attrition though, since you do not plan to win by outlasting your opponent.
Instead, you seek to build an unbeatable group, and you plan to stall the game
until you have that group ready.
That is the entire concept of this deck: if you can build an uber-group and protect it then you will probably be able to win, but it takes a lot of time to build that group. You solve the problem of time by gearing most of your deck towards slowing the game down to give yourself the extra time you need. When you eventually do build that uber-group, you simply march it forward for the win.
You might expect me to say 4 each of Shroud, Necromancer, Gifts, and
every combat spell that you can think of. Nope. See, it only takes one
uber-group (maybe two in extreme circumstances) to win the game for you; once
you draw one Shroud, you have no use for additional copies. Ditto for other
group-target combat spells; your uber-group can only handle one Gifts of the
only gets use out of one Necromancer,
and so on. If you can build a sufficiently large group and drop these and some
incidental Combat spells on it, you can probably win. However, provided you
can stall the game for a long time, it doesn't really matter WHEN you draw those
spells. If you draw them on turn 5, great; if you draw them on turn 30, that's
fine too. Either way you can start your march to victory, so it doesn't hurt
you to use fewer copies of your group combat spells. It can hurt you to use
more copies though; you increase the chances of clogging your opening hand with
spells you can't yet use, and you risk not drawing enough slowdown spells to
keep your opponent at bay.
How do you slow the game down, then? This is what Death is built for; Wasteland,
Sand Sphinx and Shifting Sands can seriously slow the progress of most opponents,
and your monsters can eliminate most groups of recruits (low-end monsters like
Skeleton and Revenants and spells like Venom'd Arrow are good for eliminating
single-recruit groups, while high-end monsters like Master Vampire, Legion of
the Dead and Skeletal Horror work well against larger groups). Your opponent
may very well have more towns than you, but you can make up for the recruit
disadvantage (for awhile, at least) with your monsters, recruit-kill and Desert
spells. If your opponent goes on the offensive, they'll be marching over Desert
and weakening their own groups (not to mention making themselves vulnerable
to all of your spells!). If your opponent plays defensively instead, then you
have the time you need to build your uber-group.
Your highest priorities are to take one town, and to slow the opponent's advance.
If your opponent has three towns (including center) to your one, but they cannot
press forward for fear of losing their groups, then you're still very much in
the game and can pull off a win (given enough time). Early on, you may have
the chance to take a second town, prevent the opponent from reaching second
town, or even (maybe) reaching the center town yourself; if an opportunity presents
itself then take it, but don't press on blindly if it could spell disaster.
In the mid-game, you may very well reach a point where your opponent has no
recruits on the board. Feel free to cast or discard additional slowdown spells
on a whim to increase your card flow; if you're that much in control of the
game, you'd like to start drawing some of your uber-group spells so you can
start to actually win.
Try not to train recruits from your towns unless you absolutely have to unless
they're protected. A common useful tactic is to sit with your Horde at a town,
packing a Raven Shroud as soon as you can draw and cast it, until there's enough
novices in the town to turn your Horde into a group of 8. Then you train them
all and march forward. Compare that with training recruits one at a time, and
having them killed off by enemy Monsters or spells!
Even with the rigid deck theme, there are a surprising number of variations.
The default deck might be somewhere around 50-60 cards with a 5 Mystery 3
Will mana structure.
You can add 1 Clarity for access to Caravan (to let your uber-group cross your
own Deserts) and Inscrutability (to make a group with Shroud untargetable by
anything, period). To get the Clarity, you can either use Focus of Clarity or
simply dedicate your first town to producing it.
Or, you could add Order using towns and Citadel spells to get access to Justicars
(protection from your Deserts and also enemy Voids and Changing Lands, among
other things), Retribution (more recruit-kill), Chamberlain (protection for
your second group against Monsters), City-State and Intercession (more stalling)
and so on.
Or, you can add 1 Strife for additional slowdown spells. Forsaken can stall
an opponent at center town (giving you time to start casting Wasteland spells),
Nihil's Minion can soften up a recruit for your Monsters to pick apart, and
Cruel Whim on an enemy Swordsman makes an amusing combo with Mark of Ulanoth,
Skeleton and/or Skeletal Horror. You also have some nice Abomination spells
for 1 Strife; Accursed Minion is nice if you're willing to generate the extra
Will, Rogue Monster can be situationally useful, and Demon's Tongue has a definite
place somewhere in your uber-group. If you want to dedicate yourself to additional
Strife through spells, you can slow the game even further with Fear and Disorient,
more monsters like Banshee and Trolls, and (if you're truly daring) Insurrection
to shut down an entire enemy town. For that matter, Insurrection could be a
late-game alternative to your uber-group since it serves the same basic purpose:
allowing a friendly group to simply walk across the board unhindered and win.
Even within House mana, there are some spells that are subject to taste. Dire
Portent is one that I like because it has a lot of applications, but others
prefer to leave it out since trading a recruit for a recruit is often to your
disadvantage when you have fewer recruits than the opponent. Khobai requires
that you go up to 4 Will, which is a nontrivial cost for a single one-shot spell,
but lots of things do tend to die over the course of a game and Khobai will
tend to get frighteningly big quickly (he thus makes an excellent Necromancer).
Freeze is usually inconsequential, but can occasionally give you a burst of
speed and let you past hazardous terrain; might be worth a discard most of the
time for an incredibly good early-game spell occasionally. Touch of Death and
Plague are useful against large groups, but too many of them in your hand usually
means too few targets on the board. Slay Monster is sometimes useful against
enemy Monsters, sometimes not, so it's up to you whether to use it for protection.
Winnowing Sigil is a useful and overlooked minion-dispel, but not always worth
displacing something else in your deck.
The most glaring weakness is the uber-group itself. No matter how many defensive
spells you pile on the thing, your opponent can still find ways to kill it:
hazardous terrain (Void, Inundate/Deluge), combat-triggered group-kill (Sword
of Zana, Accursed Minion, Pyrrhic Victory), a barrage of recruit-dispel and
recruit-kill spells (Disintegrate, Ascension), to name a few. Some of these
can be protected against: terrain loses to Justicars, combat spells can be absorbed
(somewhat) by Necromancer and Reanimate, recruit spells can be prevented by
Inscrutability. You can't protect against everything and still have a cohesive
deck, however; pick your poison and hope you don't play against the wrong deck.
Even if your uber-group is safe from harm, there are other weaknesses, by virtue
of this deck being defensive yet not true Attrition. Combat Speed decks might
be able to overpower it early, before it can start slowing down the game; Attrition
decks are automatically given the time they need to build their Colonies, making
it that much harder for your uber-group to break through for a win; other Combat
Protection decks, working under the same stall the game while you build an
uber-group premise that you are, turn the game into a bit of a race to see
who gets their uber-group first or biggest.