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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: War Powerhouse Powerhouse
February 5th, 2001

Direct Damage to the Fifth Power

Earlier this week, I noticed a combo that I'd never seen in play before. From there, I decided to explore a theme of the House of War, group damage, and take it to its logical extreme. The result is amusing, if nothing else, and has shown enough promise in unranked games that a tuned version of it could conceivably be competitive.

Basic Strategies Used

This is a Powerhouse deck. No, let me rephrase that. This is the Powerhouse deck. There are very, very few cards in this deck that are anything other than Powerhouse

Key Cards

If you're wondering what combo I was thinking of, it was casting Volcano in an enemy group's walking path and then casting Mountain Climb on the enemy group itself in the same turn. 4 Strife, 3 Clarity, 1 World is hardly a stretch for War, and it enables you to essentially have eight Fireballs in your deck.

To that, I added Salamanders (sort of a miniature Volcano combo of its own). I went ahead and increased the mana structure a bit to fit in four Fingle's Folly just to have even more Fireballs. A pair of Brimstone Dragons went in (on general principle), with a pair of Skirmishes to go on the Brimstones. And that's the core of the deck a full twenty cards that deal damage to an entire enemy group. If that's not something to build a deck around, I don't know what is.

There were several other important cards in the deck, which I only included one or two of, as a way to deal with various situations that might come up. Werewolf is a decent early-game monster to kill an enemy's second group; Dragon's Teeth would allow me to stall in a town (preferably with a large enemy group right outside, sitting on a Volcano); Armistice, Amok and Forced March to use together as a way of breaking through to capture an enemy town or Sanctum even if the opposition throws up recruits to stall me from entering; and some Source of World to get that second point of World mana (the first one will probably come from an early town). That's pretty much the deck.

Playing Hints

Two of your Powerhouse spells, of any variety, are able to kill off most enemy groups. You definitely want to kill the enemy Horde before it reaches center town, but between your early towns and Sanctum mana it's very possible to get off, say, a Salamander then Fireball. On Isolation or Unbalanced town layouts (where none of the towns on the board are on a direct walking path to center for your opponent), it may even be possible to cast a Volcano/Mountain Climb in the enemy Horde's walking path and then Fireball before center town!

Between Salamanders and Volcanoes, you can do a very good job in the mid-game of blocking off your opponent's first town or two, essentially preventing reinforcements from there to the enemy Sanctum. Work with the board terrain, and see if you can isolate a town completely, once the center town has been captured (if it was captured by the opponent, your Powerhouse spells should eliminate the group defending it, and then your hostile terrain should stop groups from other towns from reaching the center at all).

Once you secure the center town for yourself and eliminate all enemy groups on the board, push forward to victory. You can attack an enemy town, but often I've found it better to just isolate enemy towns with terrain and then attack the Sanctum directly (depending on the situation - in some cases it's better to capture a town, of course).

In any case, even though the deck is rather small, I've found myself discarding fairly heavily in the early game (there are a lot of expensive spells that I can't afford to clog my hand with any Folly or Brimstone in my opening hand goes straight to the whirlpool). Later on if one of my towns is under attack, discarding heavily may be necessary to draw something to help you as well.

Oh, one more thing having Initiative is extremely helpful. Being able to do direct damage on one turn and then Fireball the group on the next turn before the opponent has a chance to do anything about it will make your life much easier. Being able to cast monsters or Volcanoes in the enemy groups' walking paths without fear of squandering them to enemy spells is equally nice. The good news is, if things go your way you'll own the center town, and as soon as you do you'll have Init for most of the rest of the game (usually).


For the purposes of tuning for competitiveness, I might take out the Fingle's Folly cards, or else add in some more spells requiring 2 World (Disintegrate, Leechwood) to get more mileage out of that second World mana once I generate it.

Other things to do would be fiddling around with the number of copies of each non-Powerhouse spell, and perhaps adding more Monsters into the deck (for purposes of stalling enemy groups standing in Lava or Volcanoes.

You'll notice that I didn't mention any terrain-based spells (such as Plains) anywhere. Since you're creating a serious amount of adverse terrain, the ability to dispel it if needed (not to mention protection from a lousy terrain layout) is tempting. On the other hand, Plains doesn't exactly fit your theme of direct damage, and even if you have trouble getting to your nearest towns you're going to make it difficult for your opponent to get anywhere too. I actually made the rare decision to leave terrain-passing spells out of the first revision of this deck because I'd usually rather draw a Fireball than a Plains even on an unfriendly board, but others may very well disagree with that choice.

Finally, there's the question of adding Combat spells and focusing on an early-game Combat strategy with this massive Powerhouse rolling in around midgame. I decided against it in the original deck design because I figured that killing enemy groups meant I shouldn't have to worry about killing them in combat, but this variation of mixed strategies fits the deck's mana path well, so it might be worth considering as an alternative to “pure” War Powerhouse.


The deck is slow to start, and with a total lack of Combat spells, an enemy that rushes to the center town directly may be able to capture it without opposition. Worse, this deck has no way to cross its own Volcanoes and Lava (aside from Forced March, and perhaps casting Mountain Climb on its own groups), so a careful opponent with a number of hostile terrain spells could very well force a draw by closing off its Sanctum and towns, leaving War with no way in!

Terrain-passing spells, particularly Flight, Dracha's Sphere and Firewalking, put a serious crimp in this deck's ability to deal damage; a group enhanced by one of those forces a double-Fireball or Brimstone/Skirmish out of War's hand to deal with it, and those Fireballs run out quickly.

Ironically, this deck's worst enemy is probably Life. Life can grab and hold Lienna to keep Initiative, and then use Pyx, Healing Spring, Healing Hands, Regenerate and so on to undo War's damage. Flight gives it immunity to the adverse terrain, and then all Life need do is cast Allies on a town once or twice, build up a massive group of eight, enchant them with Flight and start marching across the board. If an opponent went so far as to cast Seelie Champion on an Archer, then piling on Healing Hands, Regenerate, Jaguar's Blood, Yeoman, Flight and several other spells with Lienna in play, this deck would have no answer.

Good luck!

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