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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

Deck Concept: Waterless Nature
September 14, 2000

Normally, when someone sees a Horde of Satyrs standing in a tree-shaped Sanctum opposite them on turn 1, the expectation is to see water. And lots of it. Inundate, Jade Dragon, Deluge, with some Will o' the Wisps thrown in for good measure But what if I were to tell you that there's a perfectly viable concept for a Nature deck that didn't have anything to do with Water, and in fact didn't use terrain control more than any other House? Read on, unbeliever, and see for yourself

Basic Strategies Used

This is a Protective Combat strategy, which uses a combination of group-protection and individual-protection spells, combat pumps for your own groups and combat penalties for enemy groups.

Key Cards

The deck revolves mainly around Bellwether for group protection, and forests (Forestation, Seed on the Wind) for individual-recruit protection.

To gain combat advantage, you have plenty of spells (and approaches) to choose from. You can try to build an uber-recruit (Barkskin, Jaguar's Blood, Strength of Body, Mask of Woad, Regeneration, and so on). You can go for subtle recruit advantage (Lightning Bolt and Dryad's Favors). You can seriously reduce the combat power of enemy groups (Revelers, Diomesia, Pixie Dust). You can give your own large groups some combat boosts (Fortitude, Goldcaps, Stone Circle). You can include a few monsters to either soften up larger enemy groups or kill smaller ones (Wolf Pack, Simian Warriors, Huntsman, Tree Man). Look carefully and you should be able to find several other spells which will be generally useful, if not directly supportive of your main strategy.

Playing Hints

You don't have a particularly expensive mana structure, so there's more than a little bit of temptation to train more than just one Sanctum novice into a recruit. Against houses that can kill a single recruit easily, you can be comfortable making a second group of two. Against houses that have a lot of early-game Lockdown, you can create a single-recruit second group and a single-recruit third group. Against houses that have very powerful early-game and mid-game monsters, you can put an extra recruit in your Horde on turn 1, and make a single-recruit second group on turn 2 to draw the opponent's attention away from your Horde.

Your play strategy depends largely on what varieties of Combat you've decided to concentrate on. My own deck had a little bit of everything, so I would be very liberal about casting Combat spells; as soon as I drew something I could cast, I'd cast it (although more often than not, decisions involved which of several spells to cast, rather than simply whether or not to cast something). Part of the decision involves your own experience; given the choice between casting Lightning Bolt on a member of the enemy Horde and casting Karillian Arrows on a member of your own Horde, which one would you go for on turn 3 and would you save or discard the other spell? Such judgment calls depend partly on what the opponent is playing, and partly what else is in your hand; after playing the deck enough times, you'll start to get a feeling for what spells are most important in the early game.

Unless your opponent has a Powerhouse spell available on turn 6, you stand a fair chance of winning the combat at center town. By that time you can give your Horde a fair amount of combat power and you can certainly wear down the enemy Horde's power by then, even if the enemy is using a Combat strategy. With passable terrain or a decent draw, you can keep your Horde under the cover of Forests, making it more difficult for a Lockdown deck to stall you. And once you take the center town, you should be able to push forward with powerful protective spells like Seed on the Wind and Bellwether and other disruptions such as Will o' the Wisp.

If you fail to take the center town, do not give up; you should have enough helpful Combat spells to take it by force later, especially if you supplement your attack with powerful monsters or spells to cut off the reserve forces from your enemy's first town while you keep up your attack at center.


Aside from the various ways to produce the Combat part of your strategy, there are some other possibilities to consider.

One notable advantage that you lack by restricting yourself to only World and Order mana is the ability to produce more recruits; producing recruits from spells would certainly give you an edge by letting you reinforce a town and make larger groups, which gives your Bellwethers more of a kick to them. One possibility to go for would be to try reverse-mana Nature, using an Order-heavy mana path and World Dance to reach your total mana structure more quickly. This changes your early-game spells a bit but you get essentially the same functions. More importantly, you have access to Rite of Mystery, Pact of Mystery and Star Chamber, and these can eventually let you cast Spawn of Toganni (not to mention Pyrrhic Victory and Sentinel).

You could also look to Clarity for solutions, using a regular mana structure and Ring of Light. Two of that spell will give you enough mana for both Army of Light and Allies, which is quite a bit of extra recruit generation indeed. This may be impractical though, for there is no guarantee that you will be in control of two towns early in the game, and putting in a large number of spells requiring four out-of-House mana is usually a bit too optimistic.

Of course, by casting mana-generating spells you're broadcasting your intentions to your opponent. A more subtle approach is to add some speed into your combat mix, with Fleetness. Simply dedicating an early town to Mystery is sufficient, and you may be able to capture a town from an unsuspecting opponent by surprise, or bypass a single square on the board that isn't Forest while this wouldn't give you any extra recruits, it might gain you extra time.


There are a lot of holes for a deck like this to cover, and you can bet that any given deck will not cover them all. Try to put in a little of everything and the deck may be too bloated to draw what is needed to survive early on. Leave out early group-dispels and you could be tormented by early-game Lockdown on your Horde. Leave out protection from Monsters and your Horde and smaller groups could get stalled and eventually torn to pieces before the center town. Rely on too much out-of-House mana, and you'll eventually run into an Abomination deck that uses Accursed Minion to capture the center town and False Prophet to deny you the mana of your own towns, or a similar Justice deck using Pyrrhic Victory and Dracha's Trade.

This deck's worst enemy, though, is a Powerhouse deck that uses spells that do not target enemy groups directly. Spells like Accursed Minion, Pyrrhic Victory, Sword of Zana and Void can destroy a large group in spite of the sacred cow protecting it. You might be able to guard against Void and the like by splashing in Mystery and using Justicars (or making liberal use of Stone Circles), but the rest must be handled by careful choices during the game, regardless of what's in the deck. I would therefore not recommend this deck for those who are just beginning to learn the game; rather, it is better for a skilled player who wishes to challenge him- or herself to make the best choices possible within a game.

Good luck!

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