In part IV, we talked about defending against threat, and how the problem with defending Chill fully is that they will just hold their Chill. When they do this, they’re using the threat from their Chill to force out a bunch of useless defense that doesn’t do anything. But, what if you made defense that does do something?
Units that can block, while also doing something else, like attacking or making Gold, are said to have “vigilance”, as a reference to the Magic: The Gathering ability. In Prismata, vigilance is not written into the game – vigilant units don’t have “vigilance” on their unit box. Any unit that can block while also doing something else useful is vigilant.
The useful part of that sentence is key. Engineers would be vigilant, since they can make Energy while they block, except for the fact that by the time you’re using Engineers for defense, Energy is useless because at that point in the game you no longer want to make Drones. However, units that let you spend Energy, like Cauterizer or Galvani Drone, allow Engineers to be vigilant, because they make Energy useful.
Surprisingly, vigilant units are not that much more expensive than regular soak units with the same health. This is because taking advantage of both abilities at the same time is usually impossible, because blocking with the unit means that it dies. So, for example, with Xeno Guardian, you can either have it as an attacker, or have it as four soak, but not both. So it costs a bit more than four soak usually would (it costs BG more than Infusion Grid), because even if you use it as soak right away it does get one damage in, but it doesn’t cost much more.
However, when you’re defending against threat, your vigilant units can absolutely be both blocking and attacking (or making Gold, or threatening damage) at the same time. Remember – when you’re defending against high activation cost (AC) Chill like Frostbite, you’re making defense that is going to have a staring contest with it. If you make a Wall to defend a Frostbite, they will just not use the Frostbite and your Wall won’t do anything. If you make a Xeno Guardian to defend a Frostbite and they don’t use the Frostbite, your Xeno Guardian gets to work doing damage. And if they do use their Frostbite, they can force you to lose the Xeno Guardian on defense, but this isn’t four damage coming out of nowhere – the four damage done to the Xeno Guardian comes out of their regular attack. So basically, they have to sacrifice their Frostbite to force you to use your Xeno Guardian as soak, which is something you don’t mind doing anyway – as I mentioned above, 5BBG is not a bad price for four soak plus a damage. Both of these situations – holding it or using it – are terrible for a Frostbite, which is why vigilance hard-counters high-AC Chill like Frostbite.
So, how big a difference does vigilance help in defending against Chill? Let’s do our best to defend against an Endotherm Kit, first without Vigilant units, and then with them.
Here we see that the player has shaved off 2 defense by offering a gambit, meaning the Endokit is forcing out 14 useless defense. The gambit here has to be pretty small because the Energy Matrix has a lot of absorb (so getting breached causes more damage) and the one-health Tantalum Rays are very breach-vulnerable.
Next up, vigilance:
The player is fully defending the Endotherm Kit, using three Xeno Guardians as well as four regular soak. However, for the relatively little cost of defending more and using vigilant defenders, you get a huge payoff – three permanent attackers. The opponent can’t kill the Xeno Guardians without using Frostbites, which is a poor trade – you’re not doing any extra damage by doing this, you’re just making them block with Xeno Guardian instead of Forcefields and Engineers.
I can’t overemphasize enough how hard vigilant units counter threat. If there’s vigilant defense in the set and your opponent is stacking up Frostbites, then go for the vigilant defense and you will see for yourself how effective it is.