Saturday, 28 September 2013

Winning Decklists // NBN "Tag & Bag" and Chaos Theory

I’ve just returned from a local Manchester Netrunner tournament which I (happily) won.  I probably would have written a blog introducing my two decks anyway but it’s always much more convincing to be providing decklists that just won a tournament!

I’ll do a little write up about the games later but here is the juicy bit – the decklists.  After spending a couple of weeks blogging about OCTGN data that told us that Kate McCaffrey was the best Shaper ID, NBN: The World Is Yours is outperforming Making News and 45 card decks are doing well I can proudly announce that I… completely ignored all that advice and played a 49 card NBN: Making News deck and Chaos Theory.  Make of that what you will...

NBN: Making News (49 cards)

Agendas (11)
2 Breaking News
3 Astroscript Pilot Program
3 Project Beale
3 Private Security Force

Assets (7)
3 PAD Campaign
2 Private Contracts
2 Melange Mining Corp

2 Closed Accounts
2 SEA Source
3 Scorched Earth (****)
3 Midseason Replacements
3 Hedge Fund

Ice (18)
3 Pop-Up Window
3 Draco
3 Ice Wall (*)
2 Enigma
2 Wall of Static
3 Data Raven
2 Tollbooth

At the last minute I made a late change to the deck and added the Tollbooth, which previously had been Datapike.  Sitting down for my first round I was still wavering about which I wanted, eventually settling on Tollbooth primarily because it was already in my deck sleeves.  It's definitely the right decision, and I'll talk about that in a minute.

Unashamedly “Tag & Bag” the keys to this deck are Private Security Force, Scorched Earth and Midseason Replacements.  Combined they become a virtual lock on the Runner, with the Private Security Force demanding the Runner spends his turn drawing cards instead of clearing tags – they’ll have drawn their entire deck and died by the time they can clear 6 or 7 tags that Midseason Replacements gave them.   The strongest start you can make is to score Private Security Force on the second turn (so install Ice and PSF, then advance it on the first turn).  If you’ve done that then you’ve come really close to winning – all you need to do now is find Midseason Replacements ASAP and make sure you’ve got more cash than the Runner, from there you either grind out the win with PSF alone, or immediately win with Scorched Earth.


The threat of deadly meat damage acts like a lethal sting in the tail for the unwary Runner but the rest of the deck is a tight agenda-scoring machine with lots of robust ETR Ice and some efficient Agendas (Astroscript and Project Beale are both very good Agendas if you’re hoping to win via scoring Agenda points).  Whether you’re hoping to win with Private Security Force or Astroscript Pilot Program the method is the same – be aggressive and score Agendas as early as possible, while your cheap Ice is holding up the Runner.

The core building blocks of this deck are being solid and consistent in going after your game plan, namely:

1)  Solid early game ETR Ice.  By bringing in Draco and Ice Wall I add a very strong early game defense to NBN’s typically porous Ice mix.  The only Ice that doesn’t really function as early game Ice is Tollbooth, and as I mentioned above they were the last cards to go in – replacing Datapike at the 11th hour.

2) Varied Tag threat.  13 cards in my deck can tag the runner (Breaking News, SEA Source, Midseason Replacements, Draco, Data Raven).  Of these by FAR the most important is Midseason Replacements.  I’d go so far as to say this is a Midseason Replacements deck, with the ability to give the Runner so many tags that he can’t clear them the pivotal moment in many games.  SEA Source is more flexible but unless you win the turn you play it the Runner will usually clear the tag straight away and absorb the damage you did in that turn.  When you nail Midseason Replacements it’s often just a matter of time until you win.

3) Strong(ish) Economy.  Let’s be clear – Tag & Bag is a numbers game.  The formula you’re looking for is having Credits enough to ensure your Trace succeeds, and then to be able to play one or two Scorched Earth immediately afterwards.  That requires deep pockets.  Tag & Bag doesn’t really work unless you have cash, and that’s why I dig deep into Neutral for the rarely played Private Contracts.  Private Contracts is not an exciting card by any means but it IS a fundamental building block that helps you keep up with the Runner’s economy, sort of a stepping stone between the burst economy of Melange Mining Corp and the hard-to-trash persistent benefit from PAD Campaign.

Let's talk about a few specific card choices:

PAD Campaign vs Marked Accounts


I’ll get to the point: I don’t understand the appeal of Marked Accounts.  As you have to spend a click to charge it up it costs pretty much the same as PAD Campaign, and it’s only 1 more for the Runner to trash.  Those minor benefits don’t (to my mind) offset the fact that it’s only giving you 2/3rds of the cash back when it’s actually active because it demands you spend a click every third turn.  While I don’t like Marked Accounts there are clear benefits to PAD Campaign in a deck of 3/2 Agendas because you get the credit each turn without having to spend a click, meaning you’ve got all three clicks spare to advance and score an Astroscript Pilot Program.  As if that wasn’t enough I believe the added rez cost of PAD Campaign actually makes it better against Account Syphon – playing a PAD Campaign or Private Contracts on the first turn often means you can leave HQ undefended as you’ve something to do with the credits in your bank if the runner comes knocking.

Scorched Earth to the max!

I don’t understand the ‘just play one Scorched Earth in case I need it’ mentality.  If you’re trying to kill people then 3 is the right number, not least because a single Scorched Earth is rarely enough to win anyway – you need two in hand, or a Private Security Force already scored.  Runners seem to consistently underestimate the number of Scorched Earth in my deck, and they consistently pay the price for doing so.  Probably the card I would replace the third Scorched Earth for would be a pair of Snare! (which do damage and Tag, so fit the deck) but Snare! is so reactive and the Runner can play around it if they need to – while Snare! into Scorched Earth is a dream play it’s a dream that becomes a reality less often than simply smashing the opponent with two copies of Scorched Earth after a Midseason Replacements or Breaking News.

Tollbooth vs Datapike

As I mentioned this was the last thing I changed, and I think it’s right.  While Datapike suits  my aggressive Agenda-scoring rush strategy it rapidly becomes worthless in mid-late game.  Tollbooth is the opposite – rarely good in the opening hand but sometimes the only thing in my deck that will actually bother a Runner once their rig is set up.  I swerved from Datapike at the last minute because it felt like I was becoming too dependent on the game going the way I wanted, while Tollbooth could help me win games I was ‘losing’.   As a secondary consideration the Tollbooth is also much better than Datapike when Atman/Datasucker is around in the metagame.

And now for my Runner deck, the Wunderkind...

Shaper: Chaos Theory (40 cards)

Programs (11)
3 Datasucker (*)
1 Corroder (**)
2 Parasite (**)
2 Mimic (*)
2 Gordian Blade
1 Snowball

Hardware (5)
2 Omni-Drive
3 R&D Interface

Resources (5)
2 Kati Jones
3 Professional Contacts

Events (19)
3 Diesel
3 Easy Mark (*)
3 Modded
3 Dirty Laundry
3 Test Run
3 Sure Gamble
1 Levy AR Lab Access

This is the same Shaper deck that I’ve been plugging away with since Creation & Control arrived and over times it has developed and matured into a list of 40 cards that I think are as good as it gets (until Opening Moves lands, at least).

The central Professional Contacts/Events engine has remained virtually intact in all versions and it’s been the Programs that have changed.  The first version I played was based in Criminal for cards like Ninja and Crescentus - I managed to scrape through and win my first tournament with that setup but I definitely noticed conflicts between the relatively drip-drip economy from Professional Contacts and the cash-hungry Ninja that was very greedy if it faced two or more Sentries.  The next step was to switch out Ninja for Mimic and to replace Crescentus with Parasite but I then hit MU issues as my rig ideally had Mimic-Corroder-Gordian Blade-Datasucker-Datasucker, which left no room for installing the Parasites.  This final evolution replaced a set of Daily Casts and a Dinosaurus with 2 Kati Jones and 2 Omni-Drives, with Omni-Drive giving me both critical MU and long term running economy.

Shapers tend not to have many tricks (both Indexing and Escher are missing from my deck), and with most Shaper decks your objective is to plant Professional Contacts ASAP and assemble your rig as rapidly as possible.  Test Run is a valuable asset because it can return Parasite to the game from your Heap, but otherwise there’s not much to talk about in terms of game plan beyond simply setting your rig up and busting through Ice.  There are some key card choices to discuss where this differs from other Shaper builds, though.

I can’t help but notice you’re not Kate McCaffrey?

I’m not 100% about this decision but this deck started out as Chaos Theory and I've never wanted to change.  I understand that Kate is the ‘best’ Shaper ID but when I look at this deck I think I benefit noticeably from both the 40 card deck size and the extra MU.  If I translated this deck into Kate I would have to put 5 extra card in, diluting the essential cards in my deck (especially Professional Contacts, which you want on turn 1 as often as possible).  More than that, the extra cards I put in would need to include a bunch of +MU cards to support my rig.  I think this is bound up into the next point as well – Kate decks at the moment can fit Datasucker into their rig because they have Atman to save MU on icebreakers.

Ok, so… no Atman?

Atman/Datasucker is powerful, no doubt.  But a lot of strength of Atman is the ability to bring it in during a run with Self-Modifying Code and Clone Chip and I’m using neither of those cards.  In place of Self-Modifying Code as my search engine I’ve gone with Test Run.  Self-Modifying Code (SMC) combos best with cards that help you install the card you go and get (so Kate’s ID, Sahasrara, Stimhack) – you don’t just put SMC into a deck, it needs an economic support network that I’m not playing.  So that’s why I’m not playing SMC, and one of the reasons why I AM playing Test Run is that it’s dual purpose and can function as either SMC or Clone Chip – finding a breaker from my deck when I need it, or returning a Parasite from my Heap to play.  Once your rig is set up both SMC and Clone Chip become fairly redundant, while there’s always something you can do with Test Run.

And Levy AR Lab Access…

It’s pretty common for this deck to power through so strongly with Professional Contacts that you draw every card.  At that point your Event-based economy dries up and you’re reduced to clicking for 1 credit forever more.  Levy AR Lab Access reshuffles all your Sure Gambles and Easy Marks back into your deck to start again, and also gives you a new stack of Parasites and Test Runs should the game be going really long.  In most games you don’t need the Levy, but in some games it’s the only card in the game that will help.

All in all what I think you come out with a different deck to Kate/Atman.  If you try to change any one piece of the deck towards the standard Kate/Atman build I believe it sets off a chain reaction of synergies that alter 20 cards into a fairly stock ‘Katman’ deck.  I’m having good success with Chaos Theory as a different breed of Shaper and would certainly recommend giving the little girl as try before you dismiss her.  I’ve played this deck in two tournaments and won both so I must be doing something right.

I’m always trying to improve decks so would like to know what you think, and if you give these decks a try then I’d love to hear how you get on!



As promised here’s a brief summary of how the games went in my tournament win.

Round One – Raymond – Kate McCaffrey & Jinteki: Personal Evolution

Playing as Kate, Raymond makes a good start by playing Professional Contacts on his first turn then running to steal Astroscript Pilot Program from my undefended hand (I mulliganed into a hand with very little Ice).  Unfortunately for Raymond his good start only seals his demise as I play Midseason Replacements on my second turn to ensure he stays tagged for the rest of the game, then trash his Professional Contacts.  He spends a couple of turns grinding up cash the hard way but I hit him with a Closed Accounts and that puts him back into the gutter long enough for me to score Private Security Force and finish the game with Scorched Earth.

It’s now my turn to play Shaper and Raymond reveals he is Jinteki.  That’s interesting and it becomes a great opportunity for me to put to use what I learnt from the OCTGNdata about Jinteki’s weaknesses - if I can avoid killing myself by running too rashly in the early game I should be able to pick Jinteki apart in the mid-late game.  I probe his defences cautiously, all the while digging deep into my deck and waiting for Gordian Blade (for Chum) and Mimic (for Neural Katana).  Raymond manages to score a couple of Agendas while I wait but with my rig assembled I plunder his R&D for a comfortable win.


Round Two – Dan – Whizzard & Jinteki: Personal Evolution

I’ve only rarely played against Whizzard and I have to admit that his ability was a real pain.  My economy cards like PAD Campaign and Private Contracts and a valuable part of my gameplan but against Whizzard I’m forced to play Ice to defend them rather than relying on their high trash cost making them unappealing for the runner to trash.  I make what seems like a great first turn – Ice Wall in front of Private Security Force, which I advance – but he crushes my dreams with a Hedge Fund/Vamp combination then walks past the Ice Wall I can no longer afford to rez to steal my PSF.  Damn.  Forced to start again with no cash the game goes longer than I would like as I defend my Central Servers and stabilise but I score a Private Security Force then finally win by using Breaking News to tag him and Scorched/PSF adds up to 6 meat damage.

A second game against Jinteki: Personal Evolution means a second chance to test the OCTGN results.  They prove correct again.  That only tells part of the truth, though, and this game was incredibly tight.  In early probing of Dan’s defences I hit a Snare! and the net damage takes all THREE copies of Test Run from my hand.  Without Test Run my ‘build rig then run’ plan meant I was left digging down to my last 7 cards to complete my rig.  By the time I’d got set up Dan was 5-0 ahead on Agenda points, but after shuffling my Heap back with Levy AR Lab Access I go to town and rapidly level the scores at 5-5.  At that point time is called on the round and I have one last turn to either win or lose the game – I play a second R&D Interface and take my punt by hitting R&D.  The game is simple – if I access an Agenda I win, if I access Dan’s third Snare! I lose, and if neither happens it’s a draw.

Three cards will decide the game.  Agenda to win, Snare! to lose…

Access 1: Chimera
Access 2: Neural Katana
Access 3: (drumroll) Braintrust!

A close run thing but I think if I hadn’t lost all three Test Run it would have been much easier.


Round Three – Jacob – Weyland: Building A Better World & Andromeda

I’m never in this.  Jacob’s Weyland deck is very quick and focussed, pulling in Anonymous Tip and Green Level Clearance with his Influence to keep the cards flowing.  He sees a constant stream of Agendas and the threat of Archer means I can’t run until I’m ready to Datasucker/Mimic Archer down to size.  I never get there.  I’ve played my Chaos Theory runner deck for two months and never been taken to school like this. 

After an ugly beating for my Runner I need a result from NBN and unfortunately for Jacob he hands me one on a plate.  First turn he goes for Account Syphon but gets bounced out by Draco – Jacob accepts the Tag then completely forgets it’s there!  Six turns later he finally ends a turn with less than four cards and I hit him with a Scorched Earth, much to his disbelief.  Really unfortunate for Jacob but I was well ahead in the game and I’m pretty sure I would have won anyway – it just came a few turns early.


Round Four – Henry – Kate McCaffrey & Haas-Bioroid: NEXT Design

Henry has been playing his Atman/Datasucker deck for as long as I’ve been playing Chaos Theory so I know exactly what to expect.  It’s a game where Tollbooth should be a key card, and so it proves as I make a quick start, scoring Astroscript Pilot Program on turn 2, then use the hefty Tollbooth to secure a server long enough to score Project Beale for 3 Agenda Points.  Very quickly Henry is in a pretty unwinnable position – I’ve got 5 Agenda Points and an Astroscript Pilot Program ready to fast advance my next Agenda for the win.  Henry’s slow start means he can’t get into my R&D fast enough to cut off the flow of Agendas and I draw a Project Beale to win.

I haven’t played against NEXT Design often but Henry’s pre-game analysis that it makes for a deck that scores two Agendas very quickly then struggles to get the third proves exactly right.  He gets two free Ice installs before the game begins then another two Ice on his first turn.  That’s plenty to keep me from getting to Priority Requisition and while I’m setting up he adds a Project Vitrivius and races onto 5 points.  Unfortunately for Henry the stretch for Vitruvius left him without cash to rez any Ice on R&D – I use Parasite/Datasucker to remove the Viktor 2.0 from R&D that was he had rezed with Priority Requisiton then go to town with a pair of R&D Interfaces.  Henry throws down more Ice on R&D but it’s more Bioroids and he can’t get enough rezed to prevent me from simply clicking past his Bioroids time and again and I quickly collect 7 points of Agendas from his R&D.


Top 2 Playoff for Glory (and playmats) – Javier – Kate McCaffrey & NBN: Making News

The final playoff between the top 2 players is played using the old tournament rules, so Agenda Points scored by the losing side matter again.  I make an aggressive start in the first game, scoring Private Security Force and another Project Beale for 3 Agenda Points.  That forced Javier into a tough spot between a rock and a hard place while his rig was only partially assembled – anything I installed in a remote server was a threat to win on Agenda Points, but any risky run opened him up to death by meat damage.  In the end I nail him with SEA Source to set up a Scorched Earth/PSF win, but would have won with Astroscript Pilot Program anyway.

The first game had been so quick that Javier only had time to score Breaking News for 1 Agenda Point.  Switching to Chaos Theory I very quickly pull an Astroscript Pilot Program from his HQ for 2 Agenda Points to make the second game irrelevant and seal my victory.


W00t!  Prizes!

Many thanks to Michael Coop for organising the event, and the Fanboy 3 players for another great few hours of Netrunning!