Introduction to Set Reading

A base+5 game. How should you play it?

We looked at small-picture stuff in Common Openings: exactly what units to buy, in what order. So now it’s time to look at big-picture stuff: reading the random set and coming up with a strategy. The random set is the defining feature of Prismata – it forces players to come up with new strategies at the start of every game on the fly. In this post I’m going to show you a simple method you can use to read the set and come up with a good strategy at the start of the game. We’ll use the set above as our example set.

Step 1: Look for the Best Absorber

In this case, that’s Energy Matrix. This step comes first because going for the best absorber is the closest to a sure thing that you’ll get in Prismata – it’s almost always a good idea. On top of that, knowing the best absorber helps us a lot with filling out the rest of our strategy. It gets us started knowing what tech we need, and also it helps us figure out what size of economy to go for.

Step 2: Decide on Economy Size

As covered in The Standard Style, absorb is Prismata’s defender’s advantage, and so, the bigger the defender’s advantage, the bigger an economy you want before you switch to making attack. Energy Matrix has 5 health – meaning we’ll get 4 absorb per turn – and is also cheap and Prompt, so there’s a big defender’s advantage in this set. There are other factors that affect economy size – for example, strong attackers (like Cynestra in this set) mean you want to switch to attack faster, which means you want a lower economy.

However, absorb has the biggest impact on economy size, and so we’ll aim for a high economy – around 22 Drones. Having an exact number in mind isn’t important – just thinking that you want a high economy, medium economy, or low economy is plenty – but I’m giving a number here for the sake of players who don’t have an intuition of what a high economy looks like.

Step 3: Check The Tech Setup

We know we want Energy Matrix, so we know we’ll need two Blastforges. Powering two Blastforges costs around 10 Gold per turn. We’re going to have 22 income, so we have around 12 income that’s still unaccounted for. This means we have quite a bit of room to add on more tech. Again, you don’t need to think of exact numbers when doing this step, but I’m providing them here to help people get a feel for things.

The parts of our strategy we haven’t decided on are attack and soak. Soak is already covered because we have two Blastforges that can make Walls, so we’ll go to attack.

Step 4: Plan For Attack

Alright, now it’s time to look for attackers in the set that we can incorporate into our strategy. In the base set, the best attacker is Tarsier. In the random set, the best attacker is Cynestra. In general, random set units are stronger than base set ones, especially when they’re expensive, like Cynestra is, so we want to base our attack around Cynestra if we can. Luckily, we have enough room in our tech setup for it. It is possible that we’ll end up wasting a Blue or a Red on one or two turns, depending on how things pan out, but a small amount of waste is acceptable when you’re getting a big payoff, like a Cynestra. So, we’ll add two Conduits (you don’t need three Conduits with Cynestra, since Green sticks around and you’re not going to be buying one Cynestra/turn for the whole game) and an Animus to our tech setup. Notice we can use a Perforator to spend unwanted Red, and we can add on Frostbites to help us pressure our opponent. We’ll also be filling out our attack with Tarsiers.

Step 5: Soak

Soak is any defense you use that isn’t absorbing. It’s not something you have to worry about too much when coming up with a strategy, because most absorbers require at least one Blue, so you’ll have a Blastforge, and Blastforges can make Walls for soak. That said, it’s worth thinking about, especially once you get better. In this set, the soak in the random set is Aegis. Random set soak will be stronger than base set soak, just like random set attackers will be stronger than base set attackers. We’ll have two Blastforges anyway, so early on we can just defend with Walls, but later on, as pressure ramps up, it would make sense to try to make Aegises for soak. Luckily, we’ll already have Green from when we were making Cynestras, and in the late game when pressure is high, we won’t be making Cynestras anymore, so it shouldn’t be too hard to shift into making Aegises for soak. We might consider adding on a third Conduit in the mid-late game to start making an Aegis per turn.

In this step, if you think there’s a good chance your opponent is going to go for high-activation cost Chill (like Frostbite), it’s also worth looking for vigilant units you can use to counter that. But, in this set, there aren’t any vigilant units, so we’ll just have to tough it out. On the plus side, this means our own Frostbites will be more effective too.

Step 6: Review, and Choose an Opening

Alright, you have your plan. You want a high economy, with two Conduits, two Blastforges, and an Animus. You’ll be using Tarsiers and Cynestras for attack, with Perforators and Frostbites also being a possibility. You might make some Steelsplitters for attack too, if you find that you have nothing better to do with your Blue. You’ll be using Energy Matrix for absorb, and Walls/Energy Matrices for soak, as well as Aegises later.

What openings would fit well with this plan? As player 1, Third Engineer Conduit (1. DD 2. DDE 3. DDD 4. DDDC) would be good. As player 2, Third Engineer Natural Conduit (1. DD 2. DDE 3. DDDC 4. DDDB) would be good, although making the Blastforge so early is unfortunate since you won’t need defense, so you could consider replacing the Blastforge with a second Conduit (4. DDDC). You could also go for Fourth Engineer Natural Conduit (1. DD 2. DDE 3. DDDE 4. DDDDC 5. DDDDA).


Here’s the method for reading a set and coming up with a strategy, in short:

  1. Look for the best absorber, and plan on getting that
  2. Base your economy size off of how big the absorber is
  3. Tech check: What tech do you need to get the absorber? How much room do you have to add on more tech?
  4. Decide on what attackers you want to get with your remaining room for tech. Add the tech buildings required to make those attackers to your setup.
  5. Think about soak, although you don’t need to worry too much about it since the tech you make for your absorber will usually have this covered
  6. Decide on an opening that fits your gameplan

Set reading is a skill with no ceiling; you can always find a way to think one step further ahead or plan one level deeper in detail. When learning difficult skills, it’s good to start out with a simple system, like the one above, that you can follow to get the basics right, and as you get better you can move beyond the rigid system and start thinking more fluidly.


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