Interview: Viscant on Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3

By on August 26, 2013 at 9:46 am

Don’t be fooled by his outbursts on anime, “purity”, or, uh, Celine Dion: When it comes to intelligent Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 play, Jay “Viscant” Snyder is arguably the smartest guy in the room. Recently, Snyder has been dropping knowledge on the BROKENTIER blog (a must-read for Marvel game design enthusiasts), so I asked him about where he sees UMvC3 evolving over the next few years.

(Image courtesy of Kara Leung)
(Image courtesy of Kara Leung)

Patrick Miller: Three Zeroes in Evo 2013’s Marvel top 8, and one of them (Flocker) wins it all. Is it safe to say we’re in a New Age of Zeroes? Why do you think it has taken so long for Zero to see high-level competitive success? What do you think players will need to do to take Zero teams out?

Jay Snyder:I think Zero’s stock is improving, but that was bound to happen as the game matures and the better characters with more options and more firepower start slowly pushing their advantages and forcing the weaker characters out. And while he takes a lot of practice, Zero’s execution barrier is more myth than reality. He has an execution barrier, but he’’s not Morrigan or anything. I think in some ways the perception that Zero is a high execution character stopped people from giving him a chance.

And it’s not like Zero was languishing away and never showing up late in tournaments. Flocker would have won multiple majors before he broke through earlier this year if not for Chris G standing in his way. Although Flocker has a couple wins over Chris G in the past, not having to play Chris was a big factor in his Evo win this year. Morrigan vs. Zero is easily Zero’s worst matchup and I’m sure Flocker was thrilled to see Justin take him out.

Aside from more players picking up Morrigan (which will happen in time) the only real way to stop Zero is to avoid getting hit in the first place. It’s not just that Zero kills you in one touch; you tend to die in one touch from any character these days. It’s that his incoming mixups are so good. The initial incoming is designed to be as random as possible and jam session, missiles, vajra or rapid slash all allow for chaining multiple 50/50s together leading to another lightning loop. Since the mixups are random by design it’s hard to be good at blocking them. Really, the only solution is to avoid the situation in the first place and frontload your team as much as possible so as not to have to deal with him in the first place.

It’s also possible that point/Sentinel/anchor (Vergil) will become a more popular combination and alternative to point/Doom/Vergil as a response to Zero/Dante. It’s not that drones are a spectacular assist against Zero or that Sentinel does anything on point, but hard drive is a get-out-of-mixups-free card, and will at least give you a second chance to play.

PM: For a while, it seemed as though Magneto’s stock was rising significantly (both as a point in a Magneto/Doom shell, and as an anchor), though only two Magneto players made it into top 8 (Ranmasama and FChamp) and neither of them won it. What’s your take on Magneto as a character and do you think he’ll grow to be more or less useful over the next year of UMvC3?

JS: Magneto is hard to classify. I’m not sure if he’s the weakest of the top group (with Vergil, Zero, Doom and Morrigan) or the strongest of the next group (Spencer, Viper, Wolverine) but he kind of defies classification as an individual character. He’s good at all roles, but not the best at anything. He’s a strong point character but not as good as Zero or Morrigan. He’s a credible support character with a good assist and an easy infinite, but he’s not as good a support character as Doom. And he’s a passable anchor character, but not on the level of Vergil, Phoenix or Strider. Is it better to be good at all roles or the best at one? This is why individual character tiering in Marvel is an exercise in frustration.

That’s not to say that Magneto shouldn’t be picked or isn’t a good character. Magneto’s clearly good enough to be on strong teams, and teams like Magneto/Doom/Vergil are among the best in the game. I think he’ll stay about where he is now: He’s a popular character who will stay popular. There’s still potential for him to improve also; other than Morrigan, nobody really blows Magneto out. A Magneto player doesn’t have to worry about picking counter teams or going away from their main character for too long; you always have the option of just getting better. Characters like that will always have a place in the game.

PM: Let’s talk about Vergil for a bit — correct me if you disagree, but it seems to me that players are getting used to anchor Vergil and are either A) more willing to snap him in and kill him, or B) more able to block his mixups when he doesn’t have an assist. How do you see Vergil’s tournament viability changing over the next year?

JS: I don’t see any changes in Vergil’s future status. If anything, I see him possibly becoming more prevalent. He’s the best anchor in the game, and he hard counters the other two dominant anchors (Strider and Phoenix) in addition to soft countering the X-Factor mechanic in general thanks to Spiral Swords.

I agree that players are getting better at fighting him, so a lot of Vergil players have a plan B if they don’t think they can get it done with just Dark Vergil. Flocker and Yipes use Vergil and Hawkeye. They can have Vergil as anchor or have Vergil use Hawkeye assist to set up mixups. Vergil and Magneto is common for the same reason. Vergil/Strider is a popular combo. Both are dominant anchors, but you could also have Vergil use Strider assist to set up RT glitch shenanigans or teleport mixups.

PM: On a related note, I wanted to ask about team composition patterns.

Let’s start with an example: both you and Justin Wong have identified Zero/Doom/Vergil to be a powerful team (you wrote about it on the BROKENTIER blog) — but I believe you prefer Vergil anchor with Doom as beam or missiles depending on the matchup, while I believe Justin put Vergil in second with Doom as anchor/beam assist.

It seems to me that these are two different approaches in designing teams — Justin more front-loaded and depending on Vergil with Doom to do the work, but a weaker anchor, and yours with Vergil anchor but without as much opportunity for Vergil to land mixups with the Doom assist. (Certainly, when you look at Justin’s other teams, they’re definitely much more front-loaded and MvC2-style than most other UMvC3 teams.)

Given that: Do you think that ideal team composition patterns (front-loaded teams vs. back-loaded teams vs. relatively even teams) are changing? Do you think we’re going to see players following different team comp trends over the next year? Are players getting better at picking off teams dependent on an anchor? Do you think we’ll start seeing more teams built around dedicated assist characters that make crappy anchors?

JS: This kind of ties into what I was talking about above. Some players will prefer to save Vergil for last, some will try to get him in early so he can use Doom assist for either RT glitch patterns or teleport mixups. I think that either way you want to play it putting Doom second and Vergil last is the best play. The Zero/Vergil/Doom team can essentially lose the match on the first hit. Doom at least gives you a better option to avoid the incoming and make sure you can DHC or tag Vergil in and get a chance to play.

I don’t think there’s a right answer to the front-loaded vs. back-loaded question. I’m a strong believer in the point/support/anchor team building formula, but other players like Justin, Dios X, and Filipino Champ (with his Dorm team) prove that you can do just fine without following that pattern. But even if you’re going to play a pure support character in the anchor position you have to perform at an elite level with them. Angelic picks Shuma last, and nobody would confuse Shuma with Vergil or anything, but in order to make his team work, his Shuma has to be good enough to win a few fights on his own. Same with Justin’s Akuma, or Dios X and RayRay’s Sentinel, etc. Even if you’re playing an assist character last, you can’t be like MvC2 and just roll over and play dead if it comes down to just them solo. You have to have a plan for making a full comeback with any character you play.

PM: Nemo barely made an impact in the Evo tournament proper, but he won some high-profile money matches afterwards against Chris G and Filipino Champ. What do you think that says about his team? Do you think that his team is more matchup-dependent than others? Is there something you think he’s doing that other players aren’t — either with the team or with the tech — that is leading him to a certain kind of competitive success?

I’m not sure if it’s an indictment of Nemo’s team — he may just not be a very good tournament player. The guy I saw almost losing to Mike Ross in tournament was not the guy I saw beat Chris G decisively. Some people just aren’t good at playing tournaments. I should know, I’m a notoriously bad tournament player, especially with my reset teams. If you’re a reset player, sometimes you don’t choose to maximize your EV (“Expected Value”) on a reset decision, you play to minimize your risk. There’s mathematical proof that you’re leaving damage on the table, but the risk just may not be palatable to go for higher variance options in a 2/3 or 3/5 set.

That doesn’t really apply to Nemo — he may just be the type of player who plays with greater freedom if he has more games to work with. Some of the things he was doing to Chris G, like going for semi-high-risk air throws on Morrigan, maybe he wouldn’t have gone for if it’s 3/5 and he’s down 2 games to 1, for example. Maybe he’d be looking for a safer spot before putting his tournament life on the line. It’s all just speculation though. I will say that he played Chris with more aggression and less fear than US players do, and this played a big part in his success in that money match.

PM: What characters do you think are the most slept-on right now? Which characters and what tech do you think we’ll see dominating Evo 2014?

JS: X-23 is completely invisible from the tournament scene, and I still think there’s something there with her. Trish and Frank are underplayed given how strong they are. It seems like every few majors someone will blow up some big name players with Trish, like Green Ace did at CEO, and people will be like “oh yeah, Trish is really good” but nobody ever picks her.

Having said that, I think the trend (unless the game gets patched) is more Zero, more Vergil, but especially more Morrigan. Everyone knows that Morrigan is a dominant character, but her execution is holding her back. Given another year and maybe instead of 2 or 3 strong Morrigan players we’ll have 20. The longer a game stays out, the more likely it is for the cream to rise to the top and those characters are the cream of UMvC3.

PM: I’ve seen an influx of newly-interested MvC3 players who don’t know where to start. I know you’ve spoken about how Mag/Doom/Sentinel is a good team for newbies to start with — why is that? How would you recommend a new player pick up MvC3 if he/she only has relatively standard Street Fighter experience?

JS: Let me clear up a misconception here. Most of the time when I talk about the Magneto/Doom/Sentinel team people will push back saying that it’s too hard for a newbie or even someone who has fighting game experience but not specific Marvel experience. They recommend an easier team, something like Wolverine/Wesker/Akuma or Wesker/Vergil related teams. Let me explain this team in more detail.

Yes, Magneto/Doom/Sentinel is a pretty hard team to play. But that’s why I think beginners should play that team. Just like learning Ryu is important to making you a better Street Fighter player, learning Magneto is important to making you a better Marvel player. The fundamentals that make a strong Magneto player are the fundamentals that will help you win no matter what characters you choose to eventually pursue. Magneto can win matches on pure zoning. He can win matches on pure offense. He can turn zoning into offense through the magnetic blast. He can rush hard then switch to zoning on the fly on a pushblock. These are all useful skills to have as a player.

Playing this team will teach you how to call assists safely, how to triangle jump, how to fly, the instincts on when to attack versus when to defend, how to TAC, how to fake TAC. These aren’t just skills relative to this team, these are MARVEL skills. The only important MvC3 skill this team doesn’t have is learning how to teleport behind an assist.

Yes, you’re going to have to work really hard in training mode. Doom is an awkward character; you have to invest time in training mode just to move around the screen. Learning the important combos on this team will take a long time. But that’s an important Marvel skill also. This game is billed as a low-skill game but that’s not true. This game is hard to play at a high level. You WILL spend a lot of time in training mode in this game. You might as well get started now.

Will you win more and win faster with a Wesker based team? Yes, of course! But will you LEARN as much? No. If you want to begin playing a game wins and losses have to be the furthest thing from your mind. You should want to learn as much about the game as possible so you can know what styles you like and what’s important to the game at a high level. This team is the quickest way to get there.

PM: Besides Morrigan, what’s on your radar as far as execution barriers that will be coming down over time? TAC infinites? Any other tech stand out in your mind as something that’ll be dominant in a year or two?

JS:I feel like TAC infinites are extremely important. If you’re playing Doom as a support character and don’t have TAC infinites down then you’re leaving damage–and wins–on the table. TAC infinites aren’t the hardest thing in the world. They can be mastered, I don’t really compare them to Morrigan as an overall character who presents many difficult execution challenges at the same time as many difficult strategic challenges. Morrigan is by far the hardest character to play well in UMvC3. People don’t give Chris G enough credit for his Morrigan mastery; any time I hear people say things like “oh he only wins because of scrubby Morrigan” I just instantly discount their opinion on games from that point forward.

As far as the overall game goes I think characters like Morrigan, Zero, Vergil and Doom are just extending their lead over the field. Theoretically these characters (Doom for his support more than his point abilities) are the best characters in the game and everyone’s known that for some time. But as people are improving their games these characters are just getting better.

For characters that aren’t super popular now but might get better as time goes on, I think Trish and Frank have a lot to show people. Green Ace is adamant that Trish is a top 10 character and after his string of performances against big names lately, maybe people should listen. And I feel like high level Frank is a completely misunderstood character. Frank with top level support (Doom, Dante) is clearly on the level of other power characters. You don’t have to give up enough to get to him, all you need is 1 hit and he becomes a top tier character; very close to a win button against even top tier combinations. By comparison, at least you need 2 or 3 hits to get Dark Phoenix, and level 5 Frank is better than Dark Phoenix without any of the natural counters she has. He doesn’t need x-factor to dominate, his air and ground B attacks are better than Phoenix feathers, and his incoming setups with Jam Session are better and more multi-layered than anything Phoenix has. I don’t think people realize how dangerous this character is from a pure game theory standpoint. Someone new will expose him, or Bee and Apologyman will get more attention, and then he’ll become a more popular character.

PM: What’s your take on the “big bodies”? Players like Kane Blueriver manage to get them stream time; do you think they’re capable of winning a major?

JS: Here’s the thing about the big bodies team: Because of Hulk’s natural advantage at the beginning of a round and on incoming, and because of how Haggar assist works in general, this team makes you make hard decisions at multiple points. Making hard decisions is what Marvel is about, but this team makes it very clear: If you choose wrong you will die. Every time. And you will have to choose at least twice before the neutral game happens.

The neutral game is a weakness for this team; the prevailing wisdom is that if you make the right choices early you can lock the big bodies out and wear them down. It makes it harder to win a big tournament with this kind of team, when there’s such a simple-to-understand strategy to beat it, but what sets KBR apart is his talent for creating openings where other big body players can’t. It’s simple to understand; if you’re pushed out, you have to get back in at all costs, but others just aren’t as skilled as he is at creating a threat then capitalizing on it. This team is at a huge handicap against the best teams in the game, like optimized Zero teams or Morrigan teams, but there’s always a chance; the other side will always have to play Hulk’s game at first.

PM: Last one (couldn’t resist): How can you reconcile your hatred of anime with the fact that Zero is hands-down the most anime character in MvC3?

JS: Are you kidding? Dante and Vergil are WAY more anime than Zero! Plus Phoenix makes it all better for me. She makes it okay for me to play Marvel. Phoenix and I will burn all the anime people together. Yes we will…