For this pro-file, I spoke with an awesome Vanguard member with lots of strategy info to share. Listen up, he’s the Summer Masters League champion, weiseguy!
Real Name: Daniel Weiser
Location: Minneapolis, MN, USA
Prismata in General
How did you find out about Prismata?
I saw the tournament on Twitch that featured a bunch of popular Hearthstone streamers (at least I think this is the first time I was exposed to it). I was really curious about this game, it looked strategically deep and interesting, so I found the Lunarch YouTube channel and starting watching a couple of the videos they had there).
Was the lack of RNG a big factor for you as it was for many others?
It was definitely a plus, and I definitely prefer Prismata over a lot of other games because of it, so I’d say that it wasn’t originally what drew me into the game, but it was a big factor in encouraging me to stick with it. I’m capable of enjoying other games that do have elements of chance/variance/RNG or whichever other term you’d like to use, but the absence of that in Prismata definitely makes it stand out from the surrounding crowd of ccgs, and actually tends to make it play out more like a board game than anything else. I know Elyot has talked about the comparison to Fischer random chess before, and I’d compare it to that before comparing it to something like Hearthstone or MtG (although it would definitely appeal to a large amount of those player bases).
Do you still play much MtG?
Yep! I don’t travel to that many tournaments (most recently was to the SCG Invi in NJ), but I do play the game still.
Are you much of a chess player?
I’d like to say yes, but an honest answer would be no. I’ve played with friends and my dad and stuff, and I used to attend a chess club after school, but I never took the game seriously. I certainly never got to the point where I had to memorize openings, if that puts things in perspective. Having to memorize openings was a big reason I never tried to compete seriously.
What do you think about Prismata openings?
I like that they’re very fluid and dynamic, and that few things are set in stone. It’s one thing to plan out an opening in Prismata and say “this is what I want to be doing this game,” but you may not be able to execute it because your opponent will typically have some form of counter-play available to them. There are probably a few openings and combinations of units which I’d view as problematic, but that’s generally not because they are inherently oppressive or overpowered, but because they both do something powerful or worth doing and then allow the user a great deal of flexibility afterwards.
An example of something I think is slightly problematic would be trinity drone, because it gives player 2’s natural conduit a great deal of flexibility (makes a “drone” 1 gold cheaper every turn if you want to buy trinities, lets you go breachproof if you want, allows you to produce 3 income-generating units per turn without buying a 3rd engineer). The ease of access to extra drones means the user will be able to invest in other tech structures and a variety of different game plans, so there is really no great approach to beating it — they will almost always have the ability to transition to a more appropriate build path if the need arises. Sorry, I just think flexibility is underrated in this game. I think there are a few improperly evaluated units with regards to openings, stuff like that.
Can you give an example?
Blood phage is the big one. People are too afraid to build turn 2 animus as player 1, but you can actually transition out of it really nicely. Something like DD/A/1D sets you up nicely for the next turn (1=blood phage here), since next turn you can 1B, or TDB, or RDB, or even RR or TTD. Those are just the ones you use most frequently, you can also do stuff like 1D or TDD depending on what the set calls for. People are just afraid of getting stuck on 8 income (which is what usually happens when you turn 2 animus as player 1), but that never actually happens when you buy blood phage there.
So you are a pretty good low econ player then?
How I originally improved and climbed ladder actually, was through a lot of low econ mirrors. I think people have also improved a lot at playing low econ mirrors in the past 6 months though, and being a 1-trick pony only gets you so far, so I’ve had to diversify my strategy since then. But yeah, I’d say that I am one of the better low econ players (I still lost 2 games yesterday in Masters League to grimbotch, so obviously not perfect).
Are you spending time practicing higher econ stuff now?
Not really… I think there are a lot less high econ sets than there used to be (the density of high absorb units used to be so painfully high)… honestly I don’t try to practice any one thing when I ladder, I usually try to determine what strategy the set calls for and apply it as best I can. I think that’s the more difficult and important part of the game anyways, and the one most worth focusing on. Although yeah, I do occasionally head into analyze mode and see how quickly I can turbo out xaetron —> gauss fab while maximizing my drones, as an example.
Do you have a pretty good process for set reading you could explain?
Well, unit balance is pretty good in this game overall, but I’d say that some units definitely warp the game more than others… usually you want to try to find the most powerful thing you can be doing in that set and see if you can actually accomplish that, so I try to look for the presence of units like shadowfang, amporilla, tatsu, cynestra, doomed mech, odin, usually just big powerful attackers (or sometimes deadeye if there’s a good absorber, apollo if there are a ton of good snipe targets, etc). If you can accomplish this goal of buying these most powerful units, by all means go for it!
However, if your amporilla is going to get denied 3 turns in a row by tia and you end up losing because you spent 6 gold on an animus that never did anything for you, then you need to look for a backup plan, which is usually just buying whatever the most efficient remaining attacker is in the set. The biggest absorber available in the set is also something that impacts the game, but I don’t see it as the focal point of your strategy (even though you almost always want to buy it), it’s more a way to determine how many drones will be required, and buy the random set drones 😛
Do you have a pretty good rule of thumb for how many drones to buy?
Not really, I think I operate on a very heuristic level for things like this. Obviously in some sets you want to hit a specific benchmark to maximize your resource usage, like 21 for asteri + wall, but it’s usually just as many as you can fit in without having to sacrifice other things. I know apooche has a spreadsheet for how many drones you want that depends on the biggest absorber in the set, and I think I usually end up buying around as many as his calculations would support, but I don’t consciously try to think about hitting a specific drone count, I think that building attack is more important.
Do you generally play pretty aggressively in most sets then?
I think playstyle is overrated in this game and that you should just play the best strategy available to you, but I do prefer to be the aggressor in most sets. I tend to like being ahead in tempo/attack and trying to figure out the best way to leverage my advantage and close out the game, so I really like units like grenade mech, even pre-buff. This is really interesting, because I know that synx (and I think to a lesser extent kurasu) prefer being behind a little in attack but up the 4-5 drone compensation.
Do you think that works out in his favor or is a mistake?
Depends on the set. I think that the balance of the game has shifted towards more mid-econ games with 12-17 econ per player recently, and in those types of games each point of attack is incredibly important because it’s hard to make up a deficit there. Then again, more drones means more forcefields in the late game, and a better chance of spending all your tech per turn, so it’s not a clear-cut thing one way or the other.
Do you think playing low econ does a better job teaching you how to be efficient with your resources?
Not necessarily. I think in low econ games you can’t treat energy as a resource the same way you would in big econ ones, but you have hard choices to make in all types of games, whether that’s because you can barely afford to spend your red in single animus low econ sets or because you bought odin and don’t have a good blue sink (and steelsplitters are just… ew). Or vai mauronax instead of odin, or whatever other tech-intensive unit.
What do you think of the recent huge balance change patch?
I do like pretty much all the changes, chieftain change wasn’t something I would have advocated for if Elyot hadn’t mentioned it, but I am one of what feels like few top-tier players that likes the change, although I think doomed mech was more of a problem anyways, so I’d prefer if that had been nerfed alongside or even instead. Grenade mech change is perfect for me, I love being in those situations where you’re ahead but need to prevent your opponent from catching up, so it was one of my favorite units before the buff, and I think it’s in a really good place right now.
The one change I’m iffy on was with doomed drone, as it was easily the strongest unit in the game imo, and I think it got the wrong nerf, I do like how it has less impact on games now and they are no longer decided by who can buy 20 of them, but I think I would have preferred to see it changed to either not being able to block, or back to lifespan 3, since I considered it one of the strongest units in the game at lifespan 3. As a magic player I can definitely say that free stuff is super powerful, and doomed drone is just the epitome of free stuff in prismata (gold and defense).
Yeah, I was a fan of this patch. People were up in arms over chieftain and it’s STILL super strong.
What do you think of the 3 new units, Savior/Ferritin Sac/Lancetooth?
I personally think savior is kinda stupid and awesome at the same time, still adjusting to it and not sure what to say. Ferritin sac is cool, it’s fairly low impact overall, but allows some cool plays and surprise double/triple blue units although it is a brick in a lot of sets. I really like the idea of lancetooth as a “bluerager,” but I’m just worried that it increases the number of sets where first blastforge is a huge advantage. I think it’s relatively low-impact enough that it’s fine, but I don’t want another flame animus or synth where first blastforge is a huge deal (leading to p1 being typically favored).
Is the p1/p2 advantage pretty balanced most games and only “autowin” level really rarely?
I think it is overall very minimal, yes, and autowins are practically nonexistant. However I think some units do cause problems here, and in the sets where a player is “favored” it’s not because they autowin, but because they have a relatively easy to play line, and their opponent has to do something complex or creative to beat it, which leaves more room for error. Maybe the game is just too early for players to be good enough for that type of thing just yet, I don’t know.
Also if there is a line that one player can take, and their opponent needs to know a very specific counter-line in order to win, potentially with multiple variations and different end-game positions depending on what the first player does, is that really healthy for the game? I think this type of memorization is ultimately not where we want to be.
Kind of like chess openings?
Exactly. They’re why I never got too into chess, and I think a lot of people feel the same way about openings in Prismata.
Do you think the inability to settle on a complete “solution” for BSO gives some hope to those seemingly autowin situations?
Actually, no. The random units are designed to be more powerful than the base set units, so they automatically cause the game to warp around them and invalidate a lot of things that would otherwise be viable in BSO. Unless you mean about the complexity issue of the game? In which case I’d basically say that if you need to play a perfect counter-line with separate sub-clauses depending on what precisely your opponent does, the line your opponent took was probably too strong in the first place.
Do you have any particular favorite units or combos at the moment?
Blood phage and grenade mech are probably 2 of my favorite units.
What makes blood phage fun?
It’s good in the type of games I like to play, where you get ahead on attack and it just helps when you’re looking for a way to turn your initial advantage into a solid game-winning position. It also allows all kinds of sweet tech transitions and unconventional builds.
Are there some specific types of units or mechanics you’d like to see that would make the game more fun?
I’d like to see more units that involve unconventional things to do with tech. I think perforator is an awesome design, but is hampered by the fact that it is just an efficient blocker, because you usually buy perfs to block. So you rarely get to take advantage of the way they let you efficiently use your red once you don’t want it anymore (spoiler alert: if I win the PAWC I will probably end up designing a unit that lets you click and pay red for attack).
So are you a big fan of Nitrocybes then?
Yeah, I love seeing nitrocybe in my games. The unit might be a tad on the strong side, but I don’t think it’s game-warpingly so.
What do you think about the experimentation with build times lately?
I like the fact that it gives Lunarch another dial to turn when balancing units. Other than that I don’t have a huge opinion on it (although it does allow for some sweet scorch tarsier timings, stuff like that).
Are there any units that you think probably still need quite a bit of balancing to get right?
I think another look could be taken at vivid drone and flame animus (because of player advantage), possibly deadeye (because of player advantage in sets where it’s a necessity to mirror), and probably thunderhead (first thunderhead is an easy win in too many sets for my liking). I also really dislike centrifuge as a unit, and would be happiest if it was just removed from the game, but I understand that a lot of people love it and I think it might need a slight nerf more than anything. Oh, also doomed mech and trinity drone. Trinity because of player advantage as-is, doomed mech because it’s the best attacking unit in the game imo.
What makes it the best attacking unit?
It’s just too good and overall efficient. It’s an efficient attacker, good source of health, gets good value when it dies on 1 lifespan on defense, and is ALSO a good absorber. Grimbotch is an efficient attacker and gets good value when it dies on 1 lifespan and is a fine unit imo. Doomed mech is like that but plus a ton more, and the absorb means it’s easier to buy multiples than it would appear.
What do you think would balance Doomed Mech then?
Just nerf the cost by 1 or 2 gold, make it slightly less efficient. Let’s put it this way, I would often prefer to have a doomed mech over a drake or a grenade mech in many games, and those are units that cost 2 or 4 more gold. That might be a bit of an overstatement now that I think about it, but I think it’s much closer than people think, and that doomed mech would probably be fairly priced at 10BB and would certainly still be strong at 9BB.
So how’d you pull off such a magnificent comeback to win the Summer Masters League?
I guess I just focused really hard on each set and each game as it came to me and didn’t get ahead of myself. I got 3-0’d by Arkanishu really early on and sent to losers bracket so I just had no room for error and I think that made me play better. I literally couldn’t lose another match from that point and that was the first match of the playoffs I think.
Do you think the format was good since you still managed to recover from that?
Yeah, I think I liked the format, although I’m not sure if I like having banned units or not. Sometimes I think in order to be the best you should really have to be able to play with every unit and not ban the ones you dislike as a cop-out (which I did with centrifuge and thunderhead). Celerity certainly did a great job hosting and organizing everything though, so big props to him!
Are you going to win the Fall Masters as well?
I’d certainly like to! I can’t promise anything though, all the players are really amazing and my fortune cookie hasn’t said anything about ML Fall yet.
How do you think ML compares with PAWC so far?
I’ve only played in 2 qualifiers for the PAWC, but I think they’re both really cool tournaments. I like the group style of ML for something that is going to take place over an entire season, but it does make sense for it to just be an elimination bracket for PAWC where we want to crown a champion in 1 tournament.
How does playing as part of Vanguard affect your play?
I think it exposes me to more different styles of play, because like I said earlier, I think synx and kurasu are 2 of the best big-econ players in the game, and often when we discuss replays different players advocate for different approaches to the set. Everyone on the team is a fantastic caliber player, so big shoutout to those guys! I do think that we all learn from being around each other though just talking about different option in different games, and I have been known on occasion to post huge walls of text about a unit (I remember recently I wrote a ton about tia). We also talk about lines that can work (I think a recent example is wild drone + shredder).
Do you think it would benefit the game as a whole if teams like Vanguard shared more of that info with the general player base, like how Granular does their youtube videos?
I mean, I’m talking it up to make it sound like we are hard at work all the time analyzing stuff, but a lot of playing this game well is more about practice and intuition than knowledge and memorization. I honestly don’t think it would change much either way, half of the reason I wrote so much about tia was because I wanted to verbalize my subconscious learning and opinions about the unit to myself, and I think that kind of learning is only at its most effective when done for oneself.
Any Final Thoughts?
Shoutout to team vanguard, our friends and rivals granular gaming, breach boys, the developers, and I’d like to especially thank Celerity and Alex Wice for organizing the first big tournaments of prismata! Good luck (to whatever extent that even exists in this game) to all the players in or trying to qualify for ML and the PAWC! Just everyone involved with prismata is amazing.