A periodic column on Sanctum strategy, theory, and fun,
by Ian Schreiber, Sanctum player name Gannon. You can reach Ian at
Tournament Strategy: What If?
June 29, 2000
So, you've got your killer deck. You're racking up the wins in the unrestricted
Ranked environment, and you feel as if you can handle anything. And then, Fate
throws you a curve ball: a tournament, with real cards at stake. And not just
any tournament … but a tournament with some sort of odd deck-building restriction.
Now your killer deck is worthless because half the cards are illegal, and you've
got anywhere from a few days to a few minutes to create a killer deck within
a set of restrictions! What now?
The first thing to do, of course, is to start thinking of deck concepts that
will be playable! The five basic strategies still apply, so see if you can find
a deck that's playable in an unrestricted environment that also fits the tournament's
restrictions (or at least comes very close). Failing that, start heading through
your deck builder (using filters if you can) and look for useful cards that
fit the restrictions, and write them down; then start looking through them to
see if you can find a few that support each other and might make a decent core
for a deck concept.
As an example, let's say the restriction is that you must have five spells
of each mana cost from 1 to 9 (that is, five one-cost spells; five two-cost
spells; five nine-cost spells; and so on). Looking through your existing decks,
you might find several decks that have a nice spread of mana; for example, you
might have an Unmaking deck with Carapace, Flaming Sword, Boggart, Disintegrate,
Bedlam, Cockatrice, Manticore, Bolt of Somersaults and Void already. It wouldn't
take much to modify it to this format.
For another example, let's suppose the format is single-mana: that is, all
of your spells can only come from the same single mana type. This format is
restrictive enough that you can throw all your competitive decks out the window.
Looking through the deck builder by filtering for each mana type, you might
make a list of interesting spells in each mana type that you feel you could
use competitively. Maybe you like World mana for its combination of terrain
and board control (Forestation, Stone Circle, Savannah), direct damage (Lightning
Bolt), and protective spells (Circle of Wisdom, Immersion, Ritual Cleansing).
Or maybe you're tempted by Will mana for its monsters (Stalking Blyk, Maloch
Horror) and combat alterations (Mirrored Armor, Power, Mark of Ulanoth, Beast's
Embrace). Whichever one you choose, you have some idea of what your options
were, and also what sorts of decks you're likely to go up against as well.
Now, that last point may have got you thinking: if you know what strategy and/or
cards your opponent is likely to play with, is it worth it to metagame (that
is, to select certain cards in your deck that are meant to be particularly harmful
to that given strategy)? The same rule you'd use in the ranked (unrestricted)
environment applies to tournaments with deck restrictions: if including the
card is likely to win you more games than it loses you, by all means use it.
Otherwise, don't. If you need to keep your deck size constant, then find something
to remove that won't be as useful as the card you want to include; if you can't
find anything that's less useful, don't include the card itself.
Looking at our first example tournament restriction above, metagaming might
be hard, since a lot of Houses have some decent deck they could build to those
restrictions, so you're likely to run into too many varied opponents to do much
In the second example, suppose you decide to play with World mana, and let's
say you're expecting most of your opponents to be playing monster-heavy Will.
You might choose to include four Ritual Cleansing to wipe out their recruit
alterations, and four Immersion to protect yourself from Will's powerful monsters.
Gaming Versus Metagaming
What should be the overall factor in your deck design, though? Should you set
out to build the deck you're most comfortable playing, or the deck that you
think is the most powerful, or do you build a deck specifically to stop the
other decks that you expect to see?
From the experiences of myself and those I've talked to, the consensus seems
to be that finding a play style you're comfortable with is the key to success.
If you play something that you're not used to or that seems counterintuitive
when you play it, you're more likely to make mistakes and less likely to spot
clever game-winning moves. In addition, no matter how single-minded you expect
your opponents to be, very rarely do you truly run up against the same deck
throughout the entire tournament; some players might try the most obvious strategy
to get an easy win, others might attempt to metagame against them, and still
others might not be experienced enough to see the obvious strategy and will
try something that seems completely off the wall to you. So even if you choose
to build your deck to stop one specific deck, you might only see one nemesis
deck in every three or four games; so it's usually not worth your while to try
to outguess your opponents (they're annoyingly unpredictable).
Of course, fitting the occasional counter-card into a deck or strategy that
you're already comfortable with is another thing entirely. In this case you
can probably use the card to its fullest, even when you're not playing against
the nemesis deck (i.e. the thing you're trying to counteract). You're also more
likely to notice interesting combos with a card that you might not normally
play with, since you're in your element.
Good luck in your next tournament!
Thanks to Merakon for suggesting this topic. Thanks to Seth Immell for giving
the single-mana format as an example.