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
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).
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
Both Despair and War have some very nice, cheap Combat spells.
are a sampling of what can be included here.
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.
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:
Either of these is easily a game-breaker if your opponent is not expecting and
planning for it.
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
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
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.
Thanks to Sanctum player Merakon for sharing this deck concept with me,
and getting me to start thinking about other Shift decks!