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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: Despair Shift to War
March 29, 2001

Last time, I explained what a Shift deck was: a deck with a mana path that starts with a small amount of Primary mana and then goes all Secondary, with perhaps a third type splashed in. I mentioned that Shifting could work in decks where the main House has a strong early game, and the shift makes some mid-game or late-game spells in reach. I promised some examples; what follows is but one.

When thinking of Houses that start strong, it's hard to not think of Despair. Despair tends to lose its oomph in mid-game though; this deck solves that problem by giving it some powerful mid-game spells from War to let it push home for victory after an early-game lead.

Basic Strategies Used

This deck starts out as standard Despair Lockdown, but after the shift it focuses on a combination of Combat and Powerhouse. The mana path will be two or three Mystery, followed by a lot of Strife, with one or two Clarity splashed in somewhere along the way (received either through Towns, or Point of Clarity spells).

Key Cards

Fear, Forsaken and Disorient are Despair's standard early-game fare; they work well at slowing the opponent down, and making sure that no one but you approaches the center town all that early.

Both Despair and War have some very nice, cheap Combat spells. Venom'd Blade, Flaming Sword, Vicious Strength, Carapace, Berserkers, Legionnaires, and Veteran are a sampling of what can be included here.

Pages to Dust is a major part of this deck; it's cast later in the game, but if you can cast it while in a superior position, it's pretty much a win for you.

Forced March is absolutely brutal due to the element of surprise. If you quietly produce one Clarity from your first town and all your early-game spells have been of the Lockdown variety, your opponent will often not expect you to attack their town early with Forced March; if you can capture a town this way by surprise, it can be devastating.

Finally, there's the big guns from War, for two Clarity each: Renegades and Fireball. Either of these is easily a game-breaker if your opponent is not expecting and planning for it.

Playing Hints

An ideal game with this deck might go as follows. Early on, a Lockdown spell can prevent the enemy Horde from approaching center town, and perhaps the second group can be slowed down a bit as well. Once you reach the center town, start dropping a lot of Combat spells on the Horde and even on individual recruits (a single recruit with H:7 A:3 is pretty frightening: just add Venom'd Blade, Flaming Sword, Carapace and Veteran). This will force the enemy to fall back further, or else confront you with some Powerhouse spells. Eventually, either through Forced March or just by pushing forward, you'll force a combat; a surprise Fireball makes it easy to eliminate a large enemy group, and then Pages to Dust locks in your advantage.

At any rate, don't be afraid to discard your late-game spells if you draw them early, or vice versa. Since you're looking for a relatively quick win, cast whatever will help you most immediately at any given time, and discard anything that can't help you for awhile.


The core deck concept itself is fairly rigid; you've got early-game Lockdown, mid-game Combat Speed and late-game Powerhouse (“late-game” being a relative term here, since you want to win before most “late-game” decks get started). So any variation in the deck style would just be in simple tuning: how many copies of each card to put in, and what mix of early, mid and late game spells to use.


This deck is pretty good at covering its own weaknesses; Despair's lack of mid-game strength is alleviated by War's Combat and Powerhouse spells, and Pages to Dust can turn an early lead into an eventual unstoppable victory. Also, the surprise factor of this deck makes it hard to plan for, unless you've seen it before.

On the other hand, this deck is highly focused, which means it expects everything to go its way. If you can shrug off the Despair Lockdown spells (via dispel) and approach the center town anyway, it may not have a good answer. If your focus is the mid-game, your Powerhouse spells may be able to prevent this deck's Combat from trouncing your groups. If you're playing an Attrition deck and you can build up a series of Colonies in your backfield before the Pages to Dust hits the board, you may be able to pull off a late-game victory.

Good luck!

Thanks to Sanctum player Merakon for sharing this deck concept with me, and getting me to start thinking about other Shift decks!

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