Monday, 30 December 2013

Worlds 2013 - Ice, Ice, Baby - Part I

In my last post I looked at the many successful Andromeda decklists we have from the Netrunner World Championships, analysing how the various players had approached making their decks and the subtle variants between them.

Maybe I advanced Hadrian's Wall a few too many times, thought Jon.

As well as looking at Andromeda decks on the Runner side, the 25 decklists we have from the Top 32 of the World Championships are a great data source for number crunching the way that the various Corporation decks had set up their ICE defences.  In this first part I’m going to break down which were the most commonly played Ice, and in particular which Ice was worth bringing on for precious Influence.  In the second part, coming shortly, I’m going to flip the Corp defences on their head and look at what the range of Ice from Worlds tells us about which Icebreakers the Runners should be using.

First of all let’s have a quick look at the Identities that made up the 25 known decks from the Top 32 of Worlds.  Regular readers will not be surprised to find that Andromeda dominated the Runner identities in the Top 32, but it’s also worth noting that only Andromeda and Kate McCaffrey were represented more than once, with a gaggle of other Runner IDs cropping up once.  There’s two ways to read this data – you can either feel it’s a shame that >75% of all Runners played two Identities, or feel encouraged that players were able to carve a niche for themselves as IDs like Exile or Rielle ‘Kit’ Peddler.  There’s probably some truth to both these points of view and it’s not for me to tell you what to think, so go ahead and make your own mind up about how you feel.

On the Corp side the picture is very different – there’s no two dominant IDs, but there’s also less variation overall, with only 5 Identities represented at all and NBN the only faction able to put two different identities into the Top 32.  The picture for the Corp appears to be that Weyland, Haas-Bioroid and NBN all look equally viable, but each faction only has one dominant Identity.  The picture for Jinteki is bleaker, only managing to place two decks in the Top 32 and none making it into the Top 16.  I intend to talk about Jinteki’s woes (and hopes for the future) in an upcoming blog so I won’t dwell on it much here, only staying long enough to offer the faithful Jinteki players a quick hug and a pep talk: hang on in there, kids, help is coming.

Right, enough about the Factions that were successful, let’s talk ICE...


Barriers were the single most common type of Ice among the Worlds Top 32 decks, although they only narrowly outnumbered Sentries, and 37% of all Ice played was a Barrier.  Not just were Barriers common, but just four cards made up close to 90% of all Barriers, with Ice Wall, Wall of Static, Bastion and Eli v1.0 leaving all other Barriers trailing in their wake.

The King of Barriers is undoubtedly Ice Wall, with 22 out of 25 players choosing to bring in AT LEAST 2 copies, whether it cost them Influence or not.  Just think on that for a second – whatever faction, whatever deck style, Ice Wall found a home in virtually every Corp deck.  For those newer players puzzled by the popularity of a fairly innocuous piece of ICE the value of Ice Wall is that it brings an End The Run subroutine for just about the lowest possible rez cost.  That you can choose to advance the Ice Wall is an ability that is frequently unused but occasionally vital, and the real reason for Ice Wall’s popularity is the simple virtue of stopping a Runner for 1 credit and forcing them to go away and find a Breaker.

Wall of Static and Bastion are neutral Barriers that find their way into most decks, with almost every deck playing at least three copies between the two cards.  The two cards often compete directly for attention, with Wall of Static better for decks that want cheap Ice and cheap ETR effects while the added +1 Strength of Bastion makes good sense in decks playing a longer game – you pay 1 more to rez Bastion and then Runner pays 1 more every time he wants to bust through with his Fracter.

Eli v1.0 is a Bioroid who sits somewhere between Wall of Static and Bastion, costing the same to rez as Wall of Static but with both +1 Strength and +1 Subroutine making him tougher than Bastion.  It’s often difficult to evaluate the worth of Bioroids because they can’t ever stop a determined Runner with clicks to spare, but while Eli can always be passed clicks he offers the Corp the promise that the Runner will never be able to get past cheaply.  Be it in clicks or credits, Eli always extracts a steep cost from the Runner for its low rez cost and it’s that which makes Eli a common addition even outside of Haas-Bioroid decks – when Ice Wall and Wall of Static have long since become little more than irritations Eli v1.0 will continue to tax the Runner each time he is encountered.

The other Barriers played were almost entirely played in-Faction as the most expensive and taxing Barriers available, although I was personally surprised to see Himitsu-Bako ignored by the two Jinteki decks that made the cut.

Code Gates

Code Gates were under-represented in the Top 32 decks, making up just 26% of all Ice.  Worse yet, the purely taxing Pop-Up Window made up 7% of that figure, so only 19% of Ice was Code Gates that could end a run!  The culprit behind the relative demise of Code Gates is surely Yog.0, who is easily added to decks (just 1 Influence cost) and renders the majority of Code Gates obsolete – among the most common Code Gates only Tollbooth resists a Yog.0, and rezzing Tollbooth is a heavy price to pay in both credits and Influence.

The humble Enigma dominated the Code Gates being played at Worlds – it might get destroyed by Yog.0 but paying 3 credits to force the Runner to find and install Yog.0 for 5 credits isn’t a terrible bargain, nor is facing off Gordian Blade at the cost of 4 credits to install.  Only Haas-Bioroid had better options to Enigma, with Haas players able to bring in NEXT Bronze for a cheaper ETR Code Gate, or Viktor 2.0 for a Code Gate that couldn’t be broken with Yog.0.  Datapike has a similar relationship to Enigma as Bastion has to Wall of Static – you pay one more credit for a piece of Ice with an additional subroutine that cannot be ignored by running one your last clicks.  Unfortunately for Datapike the subroutine it brings is devalued by the prevalence of Yog.0, which is why it plays such a junior role to Enigma while Bastion and Wall of Static are more evenly matched.

Pop-Up Window is a piece of Ice that barely qualifies for the term as it plays little role in actually stopping runs.  Pop-Up Window is really an economy card in disguise, slowly siphoning funds into the Corp’s account at the expense of the Runner.  Popular in NBN and cash-strapped Jinteki decks the Pop-Up Window was rarely played out of faction simply because it doesn’t actually do very much and other factions have better economy options – it probably competes for deck space with Beanstalk Royalties or Green Level Clearance more than it does with a piece of Ice.

The popularity of Tollbooth cross-faction (it was actually played more heavily by HB decks than by NBN!) really represents that it is the only Code Gate to put up a fight against Yog.0, and even taxes 3 credits from the Runner when Yog.0 finds a Datasucker to help out.  I think the reason it was more popular in HB is that the NBN decks tended to be quite quick or wanted to save credits for a Midseason Replacements of SanSan City Grid, while the HB decks played a little more slowly and had stronger economy to be able to spare 8 credits to rez something like Tollbooth.


What we’ve seen so far is two or three pieces of Ice in each class being the most popular – Ice Wall was 35% of Barriers, Enigma was 37% of Code Gates – but the Sentries are a bit more evenly spread out over five or six cards.  Weyland Sentries dominated the Top 25 decks, but there are two main reasons for that result: with three Grade A Sentries in faction the Weyland decks played more Sentries, on average, than any other faction, and secondly both Caduceus and Shadow were common additions to the many NBN decks.

For Barriers and Code Gates I’ve talked about the cards, but for Sentries let’s talk about the factions individually…

NBN was the most popular faction but it’s interesting that although NBN decks made good use of Sentries there were actually very few in-faction Sentries played at all – there were more Archers than there were Data Ravens!  The downfall of Data Raven is surely the rise of the ‘Tag Me’ style of Andromeda decks who can completely ignore the tags that make the Raven so feared.  In the place of Data Raven the NBN decks have fallen back on Draco and Shadow, which offer tags but also have a secondary purpose against the Tag Me decks, and Caduceus – one of the cheapest ways to End The Run.

In Haas-Bioroid the theme of Sentries was devoted to Program destruction – Rototurrets, Grims, Archers and Ichis add up to an awful lot of firepower aimed at the Runner’s icebreakers.  This follows the template for Haas-Bioroid fast advance decks that was laid down at the Plugged In Tour, with cheap ETR Barriers and Code Gates like NEXT Bronze and Ice Wall setting the Runner up to run into Sentries that destroy their Fracters and Decoders.

Weyland Corporation decks played more Sentries than any other faction because they had three of the best Sentries in-faction – Caduceus and Shadow are cheap annoyances for the Runner, and Archer is almost certainly the toughest piece of Ice in the game.  With such strong choices in-faction Weyland didn’t have much cause to bring in Ice from other factions – a few decks brought in one or two Rototurrets but it’s worth me revealing that most of the Grims you see making up that 0.8 per deck came in one unusual version that played 3 copies alongside 3 Archer as their only Sentries.

There were only two Jinteki decks in the Top 32 decklists we have so this isn’t really much of a sample to choose from, but it’s hardly surprising that Neural Katana was by far the most common Sentry, and with Jinteki often bringing in economy with Influence there wasn’t much spare to spend on out of faction Ice to help out – a lone Archer made the cut in one of the decks.

The Rest

Once upon a time Chimera was a card, but those days seem to be behind us now; as more quality pieces of Ice are printed the fallback cheap ETR of Chimera becomes less and less valuable, and it can't help that it dies instantly to Parasite.  Some Weyland decks picked one or two copies but nobody relied on it.

Data Mine saw some play in the Jinteki decks as cheap Net damage but there was no sign of anything like Minelayer.


"So, if I'm making a deck are these the Ice I should be playing?"

Well, it's the Ice that successful players used.  It was right for them, in their decks, in their tournament.  It's definitely a good guide to what the strongest Ice are (and hopefully I've shed some light on why they're strong, if you didn't already know) but it's not to say that they're the only Ice you should be thinking about using - you know the players and decks you're most likely to be playing against better than these guys do and if Chimera makes a whole load of sense for you then go ahead and rock a playset every time!

What I would say, though, is that if you're using completely different Ice to this then you should take this as a pretty big hint that maybe you're heading in the wrong direction.  The best players with the best decks put a lot of man hours into working out what the best Ice are and it can't hurt to pay attention to what they came up with.

Since Worlds

Ice doesn't stand still, it evolves as new Data Packs are added.  Since the World Championships we've had two more Data Packs released - Second Thoughts and Mala Tempora - and there are a couple of pieces of Ice that really make a difference.

Paper Wall

If you look at how many decks brought in Ice Wall there will surely be plenty of players happy to try out Paper Wall as a neutral alternative.  You get the cheap ETR effect that brought you to Ice Wall in the first place, and although the Paper Wall is flimsy once a Corroder is down, the Ice Wall only costs 1 to break anyway and isn't a significant obstacle.  Yes, Paper Wall is worse than Ice Wall but players will want to explore what those extra two or three Influence will allow them to bring in.  

I think you will see Paper Wall A LOT.

Hudson v1.0

I'm not a big fan of Hudson, but many people are so happy to see it that I assume it must find a home somewhere and you'll see it played.  Hudson's big strength is it's, uh, Strength.  At Strength 5 for just 3 to rez Hudson is even a pain for Yog.0 players to break.


You won't see it outside Jinteki decks, and on this showing you won't be seeing many JInteki decks either, but as a threat to the Atman and Crypsis decks Swordsman may do enough to shake things up.  As Jinteki decks pick up strong new cards Swordsman may appear, though I suspect he's just not quite good enough - he solves an Atman problem that doesn't really exist any more, and dies horribly to Femme Fatale or Mimic, which are far more commonly played.

I'll be back in the next couple of days with the flip side of this, and look at how the Worlds distribution of Ice helps Runners to plan their Icebreakers better for the Ice that really matter.  

Until then... stay cool!

Edit: You'll probably regret enlarging it but this is all the Ice from the 25 decks, for your viewing pleasure...

Friday, 27 December 2013

Worlds 2013 - Andromeda Analysis

It’s been nearly two months since FFG’s World Championship Weekend crowned seven ‘world’ champs of their many LCG and Miniatures card games, including the Netrunner champion Jens Erickson, who won the day playing Andromeda and a fast advancing Haas-Bioroid deck.  It wasn’t the first success that Jens has had from flopping cards – five minutes of internet research revealed that the same Jens Erickson has previously torn it up at some large Yu-Gi-Oh tournaments, and has made the odd foray into Magic: The Gathering’s Pro Tour, winning money at Pro Tour Kyoto in 2009, which is no mean feat.

2013 World Champion - Jens Erickson

So we can be relatively confident that Jens knows his way around card games and that his success wasn’t a random fluke result.  It was also another win for Andromeda after we watched the Dispossessed Ristie pick up more than her fair share of wins from the Plugged In Tour a few months back.  While many people saw the Plugged In Tour wins as a further sign of Andromeda being unfairly powerful (along with the highest win % of any ID on OCTGN), there were just as many prepared to defend Andromeda, correctly claiming that focussing only on the winners was less useful than looking at the Top 8 and which other decks had come within a hairs-breadth of winning. 

Well, from Worlds we CAN look deeper than just the champion, thanks to the excellent work of reddit and boardgamegeek stalwart “mplain”, who compiled 25 of the Top 32 decklists from the World Championships!  Here were the Top 8 from Worlds 2013:

1st) Jens Erickson - Andromeda  /  HB:ETF (Fast Advance)
2nd) Andrew Veen - Kate (Atman) / NBN:MN (Never Advance)

SF) Aaron Andrias - Andromeda / Weyland:BABW (Tag n Bag)
SF) Jesse Vandover - Andromeda / NBN:MN (Psychographics)

QF) Sam McKnight - Andromeda / NBN:TWIY (Fast Advance)
QF) Brad Wildenborg - Andromeda / NBN:MN (Never Advance)
QF) Niles Stanley - Andromeda / NBN:MN (Psychographics)
QF) Pat McGregor - Andromeda / NBN:MN (Never Advance)

BOOM!  7 out of the Top 8 players were running Andromeda, and on the Corp side there were 6 NBN players, although really they represented three noticeably different decks within the NBN faction.

7 out of 8 of the most successful decks were Andromeda, which is a very strong result, and in fact there were another 6 Andromeda decks in the other 17 decklists we have from places #9-32.  When you stack this alongside Andromeda’s dominance during the Plugged In Tour and her dominant win rate on OCTGN in non-competitive play, the argument that there is one best Runner deck seems very hard to refute.

So, if Andromeda locked up nearly the whole of the Top 8 does that mean it’s the only identity that can win?  No, absolutely not, although she IS the only Runner ID with an OCTGN win percentage much above 50% (59% from the last data pull).  The dominance of Andromeda at Worlds almost certainly came from a feedback loop of success: Andromeda wins more than other runners, the better players want to maximise their chances of winning so play Andromeda and then it’s the combination of the best players wielding the best Identity that locks pretty much everybody else out of the Top 8.

Playing Andromeda is certainly not a guarantee of victory, and for a great many Netrunner players there are better reasons for choosing your Identity than the cold hard truth of wanting to win as much as possible (eg. fun, variety, creativity, wacky combos, personal favourites).  But, if you are serious about wanting to win a game of Netrunner, you need a very good reason to play any Runner ID other than Andromeda.

Anatomy of an Andromeda

As well as cementing Andromeda’s place as queen of the Runners, the fact that we got so many decklists from the World Championships gives us a great opportunity to look at the makeup of a successful Andromeda deck.  What cards are the staples for this Identity?  What are the common differences between decks?  And are there are any significant differences between the way Andromeda decks are put together?  I’ve pulled together the seven decklists from Worlds Top 8 to help us understand how Andromeda decks are put together.

Events are the lifeblood of pretty much any Criminal deck, and Andromeda in particular – you can see this right here in the way that most of these decks are running over 20 Events, with nearly 50% of the average Andromeda deck being a one-off Event.

The first striking thing is that there are six events which appear to be almost compulsory – Sure Gamble and the dreaded Account Siphon, of course, but also Emergency Shutdown and Special Order to help assemble your rig of Icebreakers, then Dirty Laundry and Inside Job.  The eventual Champion, Erickson, found room for a full 3 copies of each of these six cards while most other players cut a copy or two here and there.  Pat McGregor left Inside Job out of his deck altogether, and it looks as though he chose to play more economy resources instead – simply punching through the Ice with credits rather than avoiding it with Inside Job.

Beyond those six essentials for Andromeda the selection of other Events becomes a bit more a matter of personal taste.  The humble Easy Mark surprised me with its popularity in the Top 8 as 4 players brought it along, while the three that didn’t all had strong reasons to avoid it – McKnight and Wildenborg were both playing the full 3 copies of Kati Jones, allowing them to click for 3 credits through their trusty courier resource, while Aaron Andrias was playing a very different sort of Andromeda deck entirely (more on him later!).  Forged Activation Orders was another common Criminal Event that Andrias’ unusual take on Andromeda left out of his deck, along with Vandover and Stanley.  The latter two players had another plan for removing problematic Ice than Forged Activation Orders, preferring to find Influence for Parasite by taking out their R&D Interfaces.

Jens Erickson’s winning deck made a feature of the new Opening Moves card Hostage, which gave him some flexibility in his Resource economy and allowed him to consistently force the excellent Professional Contacts into play without having to spend Influence on multiple copies.  Professional Contacts is a good fit for a completed Criminal deck as it provides a steady stream of Events for the Criminal mind to play with, and in matches against damaging decks it makes it less painful to keep topping up your hand to avoid a flatline.  Infiltration was a card often associated with Criminals, but was actually rarely played in the Top 8, although I note that for the decks in positions 9-32 it was much more common, with those players packing an average of two copies.

A final note on Events must go to Sam McKnight, whose whole deck was set out to take maximum value from his Events at the expense of other cards.  Where other decks packed R&D Interface, McKnight had chosen to run a set of Maker’s Eye instead, and then added a couple of Quality Time to help him ensure a constant flow of Events, which he could then replay with Same Old Thing.  Switching R&D Interface for Maker’s Eye cuts costs but at the expense of the late-game ‘R&D lock’ threat.  It wasn’t a popular switch among the top Andromeda decks, although there was another player in the Top 32 who made a similar change.

If the Events in the Top 8 decks were quite consistent then that’s nothing next to their use of Hardware, where pretty much everyone was of the same mind. 

Three copies of Desperado is an auto-include, it seems (which is painful as the only way to get three Desperado is to buy three core sets!), and in fact the only non-Andromeda deck in the Top 8 found 9 Influence to spend on bringing in three copies of Desperado to its Shaper deck!  Desperado is just as essential to the dominance of Criminal decks as the more obvious culprit, Account Siphon.  The credit you get from Desperado is often a sizeable ‘cashback’ bonus to the cost of making a successful run, and in decks that also run Datasucker and/or Jon Masanori the synergies of making successful runs start to add up.  Corps rightly fear the Account Siphon but often it’s the inexorable economic gains of Desperado runs that put the Runner in the driving seat in the first place.

All players ran at least two copies of their trusty Plascrete Carapace, with Andromeda decks frequently choosing to remain tagged from Account Siphon, or breezing past cards like Data Raven and relying on their Carapace to keep the roof from collapsing on their heads.  Finally, most of the Top 8 ran two or three copies of R&D Interface as the card that, ultimately, grinds out the Agenda points from the Corp’s deck once the Runner has established economic dominance.  Three of the Top 8 didn’t play any R&D Interfaces – Sam McKnight switched his like-for-like with Maker’s Eye (as previously discussed) while Vandover and Stanley sacrificed their R&D Interfaces to the altar of Influence in order to bring in Parasites for their ice destruction plan.

Datasucker, Corroder, Yog.0, Mimic.  The Criminal rig is brutally efficient and almost entirely Anarch, with Criminals profiting from the criminally-low Influence cost on the best Anarch breakers and programs.  Should Yog.0, Mimic and Datasucker be just 1 influence apiece?  Probably not, but you won’t find many Andromeda players arguing with the value they get from that deal, especially when they get their breakers sent to them via Fed-Ex with Special Order.  Once assembled, the Anarch rig is incredibly efficient at breaking through all but a select few pieces of Ice (Archer, Tollbooth, Hadrian’s Wall are perhaps the most common stumbling blocks) and Mimic alone disables many of the common Sentries you will meet (Draco, Caduceus, Shadow, Rototurret, Neural Katana) for some risk-free running.

Playing against the Criminal rig can be incredibly disheartening for the Corp.  Early on you feel as though you have a chance as their fixed strength Icebreakers bump up against bigger problems, but once the supporting elements of Desperado and Datasucker arrive you will rapidly find that your Ice becomes a mere distraction for the Runner and they can bypass it at very little cost.  If you can land Program destruction on a Criminal then the game swings hugely – they’re dependent on those Anarch imports and can’t rebuild them once they’re gone, like a Shaper can – but if the Criminal gets to make his rig and keep it… it’s pretty much game over.

Supporting the ubiquitous Anarch rig usually a couple of Faerie, which act as a Get Out Of Jail Free card should any particularly big and ugly Sentry be rezzed unexpectedly, and usually Andromeda will play a Crypsis or two as backup should anything unfortunate happen to their precious imported Icebreakers.  Get past those two cards though and it’s rare to find anything else – maybe the odd Femme Fatale or Ninja.  The Criminal icebreakers are simply too inefficient to justify a place in the deck, and there is no spare Influence to bring in the best Shaper breakers.

The only exceptions to the Anarch icebreaker rig were the two players who brought Parasite in, and Aaron Andrias’ completely different Icebreaker rig which abandoned the Anarch cards entirely for something else.  I’ll talk about that version of Andromeda in more detail a little later.

All the way through the analysis of these decks from the Top 8 of Worlds it has been, largely, a case of highlighting the similarities.  The decks finally diverge hugely in their approach to Resources, and the amount that they lean on their back row for economy.

A key consideration to bear in mind is that Andromeda decks often play ‘Tag Me’, meaning they are happy to ride through the game with tags and choose not to spend precious credits on avoiding receiving them.  When you switch into ‘Tag Me’ mode you can’t rely on your Resources so much because the Corp can always spend a click two credits to trash them, but in Andromeda that threat is lessened because the whole deck is hoping to keep the Corp poor – if the Corp wants to spend a click and some credits to trash a Resource then often Andromeda isn’t too sorry to see that happen!

That aside, lets look at some of the different approaches to Resources in the Top 8 decks…

Jens Erickson plays the minimum Resources possible – just three cards – although it’s probably best to remember he’s also playing two copies of Hostage, so he’s really dedicated 5 cards in his deck to Resources.  That reduces Erickson’s vulnerability to resource destruction and allows him to be flexible in his response.  Against decks that are unlikely to tag him Erickson can invest in keeping some Professional Contacts hostage, or otherwise turn to the trusty Kati Jones or the synergetic Jon Masanori.

McGregor and Wildenborg played very similar Resource lineups – Kati Jones, Daily Casts and Jon Masanori are really the ‘classic’ lineup for Criminal decks, offering strong economy and great synergy with Desperado/Datasucker runs.  There’s little more depressing about playing against Criminals than when they make a run and finish up with “and I gain a credit from Desperado, put a Virus counter on my Datasucker, and draw a card from Jon Masanori”.  That’s a lot of little benefits from a single click!

Vandover and Stanley played a very different Resource base to the classic lineup, though, putting all their eggs into the combination of Compromised Employee and Mr Li.  Both brought a couple of Same Old Thing then one played two copies of Daily Casts and the other two copies of Kati Jones.  Compromised Employee is a great metagame call when you expect to face a lot of NBN, as with Andromeda’s natural +1 Link it quickly adds up to great resilience to tags from cards like Shadow, Draco and Midseason Replacements, and also helps frustrate cards like Caduceus that also rely on successful traces.  Combining the recurring trace credit with the credit gained whenever the Corp rezzes Ice means the Compromised Employee quickly repays the 2 credits invested in getting him onside.  Mr Li is a powerful card-searching resource who helps you power through your deck and look for specific things, which fits extremely well in a deck full of powerful one-off effects.  The thing that both Compromised Employee and Mr Li have in common is that they need to stick around a while to really pay off, and that means these variants of Andromeda have to be much more careful about allowing tags to accumulate.

The last two players used a card that has come in and out of fashion in Criminal decks over time – the Bank Job.  When you can bust into a remote server cheaply the Bank Job is a great way to boost your funds, and both Andrias and McKnight paired the Bank Job with a good number of Same Old Thing to recur their best Events and keep the Corp under control.

Average Andromeda

So that’s a bunch of different takes on Andromeda decks to mull over.  They’re virtually all the same deck, just with minor subtleties and tweaks that focus strengths and weaknesses in one direction or the other.  Erickson brought a small but flexible economy package that was resistant to tags, while other players invested more heavily in Daily Casts, or even more heavily in the slow but powerful advantage gained from Mr Li and Compromised Employee.  Underneath all the minor differences, though, the common thread of powerful Criminal Events and an ultra-efficient Anarch rig remains a constant.

If you take all those decks and mash them together, what do you get?

by The Top 8 Players at Worlds 2013

3 Account Siphon
3 Sure Gamble
3 Emergency Shutdown
3 Special Order
2 Dirty Laundry
2 Inside Job
2 Easy Mark
2 Forged Activation Orders

3 Desperado
2 Plascrete Carapace
2 R&D Interface

3 Datasucker
2 Corroder
2 Faerie
1 Crypsis
1 Yog.0
1 Mimic
1 Femme Fatale

2 Kati Jones
1 Same Old Thing
1 Daily Casts
1 Compromised Employee
1 Jon Masanori
1 Mr Li

You know what that looks a lot like (aside from the Resources)?  That’s pretty much Jens Erickson’s winning decklist, which is a bit of a coincidence but also interesting.  The Resources look like a bit of a mess as they come from a bunch of different styles of deck, but as a starting decklist for working out how Andromeda works this is a great jumping-on point for players new to Andromeda.

The Other Andromeda

All the way through this piece I’ve been talking primarily about six of the seven Andromeda decks in the Top 8, stopping occasionally to point out that Aaron Andrias’ deck was different in many regards.  All the other Andromeda decks rely on assembling an efficient rig of Anarch icebreakers, but Andrias went in another direction and turned to Shapers, bringing in Magnum Opus to help him fund more expensive runs with Ninjas and Gordian Blades rather than Mimics, Yog.0s and Datasuckers.  And Aaron Andrias wasn’t alone, with two of the other Andromeda decks in the Top 16 playing very similar decklists. 

Let’s take a look at ‘The Other Andromeda’…

Before you go cross-eyed trying to work it out, Myron Michal and Brad Emon played card-for-card identical decklists into the Top 16, while Aaron Andrias arrived at a similar solution through a slightly different route.

Where the other Andromeda decks just tweak their strengths and weaknesses slightly this deck wrenches the wheel over to one side and makes something very different.  The key inclusion is Magnum Opus and everything in the deck warps around that.  Got credits but not Datasucker?  You’ll want Gordian Blade not Yog.0 then, and the Influence you spend on two Magnum Opus and a copy of Gordian Blade is what you traded for 3 Datasucker, 1 Mimic, 1 Yog.0 and a Corroder. 

So what does these Shaper versions of Andromeda gain for switching over?  Well in Magnum Opus they gain perhaps the best pure credits economy engine in the game, and that gives them a big edge in the NBN matches.  Magnum Opus allows you to build up a stash of credits very rapidly to fight off traces and big Midseason Replacement attempts, and it also allows you to recover much more quickly from Closed Accounts.  Because your economy is based in Programs rather than Resources it’s also a lot less trashable from Character Assassination or Breaking News tags.

Where Michal and Emon stick with the original flimsiness of the Criminal rig – singleton copies of Gordian Blade and Ninja, for example – Aaron Andrias also adds a lot more resilience to his rig by playing multiple copies of Ninja and Corroder with Crypsis backup.

That’s what you gain, but what have these decks traded in to gain those strengths?  Well, to my mind they’ve traded in one of the core reasons why Andromeda is great in the first place – the ultra-efficient rig.  In trading out Yog.0/Mimic/Datasucker for Gordian Blades and Ninjas you lose a ton of efficiency in your breaking, particularly of Sentries.  The number of pieces of Ice that Mimic wanders past for minimal cost while Ninja has to pay 3 to pump up to 5 strength is eyewatering… Draco, Caduceus, Katana, Shadow were all among the most common Sentries played in the Top 8, and paying 10 (TEN!) to break Archer is horrible.  So yes, Magnum Opus gives you a ton of credits, but then your icebreaker rig takes those credits right back and throws them at the Corp.   

The Ninja/Opus Icebreaker rig in action

I’m not sure the other Andromeda is the right build, but in a metagame dominated by NBN I can see that the ability to rack up Scrooge McDuck levels of cash in double-quick time could be essential.

The Future of Andromeda

Since the Worlds decks landed we’ve had two new data packs – Second Thoughts and Mala Tempora – so the question of what comes next for Andromeda is a valid one.  What new toys have FFG given the most popular girl in school?

None.  Nada.  Zip.

Some cards look slightly tempting – Grifter, Pre-Paid Voice Pad, Running Interference – but the existing Andromeda decklists are so strong that the bar to entry is EXTREMELY high, and I don’t think any cards have proven that they meet that requirement.

But new Runner cards is only one impetus towards changing decks – as we’ve seen from the Magnum Opus variants the Runner has to stay aware of changes in the Corporation decks and respond if necessary.  In Power Shutdown the Corps have been given a tool that very squarely targets Andromeda, not in a crippling way but at least enough for Runners to sit up and pay attention.

As we talked through the cards played at Worlds I hope I imprinted on you just how crucial the Anarch breakers were to Andromeda’s success.  Bringing in such fundamental cards with precious Influence is a weak point that Power Shutdown aims to exploit – trash a Datasucker or a Corroder and can Andromeda keep going?  Suddenly the Runner has to be really careful about the order in which they play their icebreakers, because you can never afford to have Yog.0 trashed can it ever be the first thing you install?  Can you afford to sit Desperado out naked and let the Corp shoot at it?

We’ve yet to see how much Power Shutdown will get played but I suspect that the answer will be ‘a lot’ and that will force a change in Andromeda.  The most obvious and easiest solution is to simply play more copies of Faerie, which is a card that already fits into the deck and can be sacrificed easily in place of another Program or Hardware.  Beyond that the Shaper tools of Sacrificial Construct and Clone Chip offer suitable protection but would probably require the loss of R&D Interface in order to gain Influence for them.  Alternatively, Runners could look to cheap Criminal Hardware for fodder to throw under a Power Shutdown – Cortez Chip or Pre-Paid Voice Pad have some utility in Criminal’s theme and can be happily lost in a power cut.

The other possibility is that, if Corps switch to aggressively destroying programs and hardware, it could be the Shaper version of Andromeda that becomes the dominant version with the more expensive breakers and more redundant copies making a Power Shutdown less traumatic.  One thing playing in favour of the more expensive breakers in the Shaper version is that, as Bad Publicity becomes more and more common, cards like Ninja will become easier and easier to support. 

The future for Criminal could well be Green, but for now I'm going to be sticking with Orange.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Mala Tempora Set Review - Runner Cards

Yesterday I looked through the spoilers released from Mala Tempora of the Corporation cards, and I'm following up with the Runner cards today.

Colour me several shades of unimpressed but you may find that my naturally curmudgeonly outlook gets even more of an airing than usual as I look at what Runners have been given to combat the Power Shutdowns and Accelerated Developments of this world...

Reina Roja

Reina Roja has been printed specifically to be the best Anarch ID.  That's her function.  Unless you have a really good reason to play Noise or Whizzard then Roja should be your default choice.  Her ability is a very solid economic benefit which can be further turned into a deck strategy with cards such as Rook or Xanadu, taxing the Corp for rezzing Ice to keep her out, but really what matters is that she’s just better than the other options (including coming with 1 link).

Anarch as a faction still needs help – I’m not buying Caissa as a serious thing – but Reina Roja will be played a lot.



Most of the Caissa are pretty uninspiring and while Knight has it’s uses it also has plenty of limitations.  In the early game having an Icebreaker that can tutor onto a specific piece of Ice to ensure access, no matter the Ice type, helps you to get through with your first few runs.  Ultimately, though, I feel like diverting to Knight in the early game probably just distracts you from setting up your final desired rig.  I think I can see where decks would play a single Knight to search up with Test Run/SMC to break specific problem pieces of Ice, but with 2 to break each subroutine the Knight isn’t actually that efficient at breaking any decently sized piece of Ice – 8 for an Archer, 4 for an Eli – it’s not like Knight presents an efficient breaker for the fact it only works on one piece of Ice, and you have to admit that trading 1MU for a single piece of Ice being broken isn’t terribly efficient either.


Deep Red

Deep Red’s usefulness depends 100% on whether a deck with a ton of Caissa will actually be any good.  I’m pretty sure that it won’t be, although there could be a killer Caissa that we haven’t see yet.  Anarchs already have Grimoire to support virus decks in a similar way and that’s hardly set the world ablaze.  I may be downselling the Caissa as a whole but so far the only one I really like is Rook, so the idea of playing enough of them to make it necessary to rely on something like Deep Red to provide the MU to install them all… sounds pretty horrible.  Shouldn’t you just have played Mimic and Datasucker instead?


Running Interference

Running Interference is an expensive way of running but adds another strong tool to the Criminal’s already-bulging toolbox of ways to invalidate and frustrate the Corp’s defences.  I’m not sure there’s much space for this alongside the Inside Jobs and Emergency Shutdowns already played but I think we can expect to see 1 or 2 copies crop up for when the Criminals absolutely want to make sure they break into a server.  What I keep having in the back of my mind is that pretty soon we’re also going to have Blackmail available, which is both 75% cheaper than Running Interference and much more effective.  It’s hard to rate this card too highly when you know it’s about to get severely outclassed.


Expert Schedule Analyser

No.  Just no.  I’m kind of onboard with the effect, but making it take up precious MU and then make it an effect that you have to click for, so you can’t overlay this effect with a Sneakdoor Beta, or Dirty Laundry, or Inside Job, or anything interesting.  No, you can only use this effect if you announced in advance that you weren’t interested in scoring Agendas or anything like that, and just wanted a look 


Criminals don’t need much help at the moment, which is good because Grifter really doesn’t offer much by way of help.  Compared to existing cards like Compromised Employee or Desperado the Grifter gives you cash back much more slowly, offers no secondary benefits and will trash itself the second you don’t manage a successful run that turn.

The Woman In The Red Dress

This is a card that is pretty hard to judge the usefulness of.  Each turn you get to see the top card of R&D and the Corp can choose to draw it.  You gain information about what is coming but the Corp has control over that information.  If they’re worried about R&D dig and you reveal an untrashable piece of Ice they will be happy to leave it there, but if it’s an Agenda they can choose to pull it into HQ.  Yes, you now know there’s an Agenda in HQ but Shapers tend to be more focussed on R&D accesses.  On the surface I don’t think there’s much use for this but that it’s unique and comes with a high Influence cost makes me think I may be misunderstanding this card or missing a key interaction – why else would it come with those restrictions attached?

If you know what I’m missing let me know, please!


Torch is a really expensive alternative to Gordian Blade, asking you to pay just over twice as much for a Decoder a lot less than twice as good.   Most players and decks will correctly forget about Torch but there are a couple of examples of occasions where you’re going to want to pack a Torch as an option.  The first is Kit decks, which will get much more value out of that initial investment in a big Decoder, and the second is decks that have some way of ‘cheating’ install costs on Icebreakers (eg. Retrieval Run, Stimhack/Self-Modifying Code or Test Run/Scavenge).  Once in play Torch is very good, and if the additional cost over Gordian Blade isn’t a real obstacle then… why not?

My Kit deck currently uses Stimhack/Self-Modifying Code and I will be packing 1 copy of Torch as a search target.  Once it’s in play I’ll quickly reap the rewards of increasingly efficient running from all the Code Gates I give to the Corp.


Raymond Flint

I’m not sure about Raymond.  If Bad Publicity becomes a thing he might be semi-ok but even then you’re going to be giving the Corp advance warning of your HQ access and they can probably choose to gain Bad Publicity at a time that minimises the risk of the access hurting them.  Outside of that he’s a bad alternative to Infiltration and not many people even play that any more.

Nice hat.


And that's Mala Tempora.  Aside from the arrival of Reina Roja I don't think we find much here for the Runner, certainly nothing as fundamental as Power Shutdown or Ppaper Wall, or as potentially devastating as Accelerated Development.  Still, for most players Roja alone will be justification enough for Mala Tempora existing.