A periodic column on Sanctum strategy, theory, and fun,
by Ian Schreiber, Sanctum player name Gannon. You can reach Ian at
Game Strategy: The Mana Shift
March 15, 2001
By now, you should know about normal and reverse mana decks, and the difference
between them. Today, I'd like to introduce a third classification of deck. The
idea is to start with a normal mana path in the early game, then shift to a
reverse mana path in mid-game. As such, it behaves like neither a standard normal
mana nor reverse mana path, since it's partly both and partly neither. After
talking with those in Hero's Gate, I've decided to call this a mana shift
deck, since there wasn't a term to describe it before now.
Advantages of Shifting
Why would you build a deck around a mana shift? Well, as with any other new
or unexpected deck concept, you automatically gain an element of surprise, which
is key. But beyond that, you gain the early-game capabilities of your native
House, while getting some mid-game strength from the reverse mana. So, the deck
concepts that can gain the most from a mana shift are those where their House
has a strong early game, and a House that uses their secondary mana as its primary
can provide an equally strong mid-game and late game.
This can be done for a number of reasons. One is if you're using a House that's
notorious for having a very weak mid-game and late game; making a mana shift
can allow you to take an early-game advantage and drive it home easier than
you might be able to if you continued with a regular mana path. Another is if
you simply notice that one House's early-game strategy and another House's mid-game
strategy work well together, or even just a single progression of cards that
seem particularly powerful.
Mana Structures and Paths
A typical mana path for a shift deck involves generating two or three Primary
mana, then shifting to Secondary for the rest of the game. It's common to see
the Secondary mana used to generate a third mana type (using Globe-target mana
generating spells), and it will sometimes use a town-target mana spell to generate
more Primary mana for the late game.
The final mana structure will look similar to a reverse mana deck: typically
a small amount of Primary (2 to 4), a large amount of Secondary (5 to 8), and
some other mana splashed in.
Disadvantages of Shifting
Clearly, by shifting, you're giving up a lot. By not going with a normal mana
path, you deny yourself any spells requiring 4 or more Primary, at least until
the late game, when they might otherwise be available in mid-game. By not committing
entirely to a reverse mana deck, you slow yourself down in your Secondary mana
generation, which means that your early-game spells had better be worth it (typically,
either by speeding you up or slowing your opponent down, to make up for lost
time in this way).
The following traits make it possible for a deck to perform a Shift. You'll
note that these are highly similar to the traits I've mentioned in the past
that are required for a deck to go Reverse.
- You must be able to cast some good early-game spells with a small amount
of Primary mana (no more than 3). By early-game, I mean that they
should support an early-game strategy, for example Lockdown or Combat Speed.
- You must be able to cast some good spells using the Secondary mana type,
along with a small amount of a third mana type (no more than 2).
- Your deck must have a strong focus that makes it worth the trouble.
So, for example, a Hope Shift deck would probably not work, since Hope has
a weak early game; your early Clarity would not help you gain a quick advantage,
so you would gain nothing from starting out that way only to shift later.
Ah, but what deck concepts would work? A surprising number of them, considering
that many players have never seen a shift deck in play at all. In the next few
articles I'll go over several shift decks in detail. Until then, here's some
things for you to think about:
Is it possible to have a Reverse Shift deck, that is, one that starts with
a small amount of Secondary mana and then generates Primary?
What Houses have the strongest opening games and weakest relative mid-games,
and are therefore most likely to consider a Shift strategy?