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...