Thursday, 2 January 2014

Worlds 2013 - Ice, Ice, Baby - Part II

In this blog I’m going to pick up where I left off in the first part of my analysis of the Ice played by the mostsuccessful decks at the World Championships 2013 and look at what that mix of Ice means for Runner decisions about what Icebreakers to run, and why.


The way I’m going to do this is by looking at how much it costs each Icebreaker to break all the subroutines on the Ice played in the Top 32.  You may have seen tables like this before, as they’re quite common, but what the Worlds decklists allow me to do is calculate an average cost for each Icebreaker based on the relative popularity of the Ice at Worlds.  Quite simply, it matters a lot more how efficient an Icebreaker is at breaking Ice Wall than it is at breaking Wall of Thorns because Ice Wall is over a third of all the Barriers being played!

On top of this I’m going to factor in the cost to install the Icebreaker in the first place, and also look at the strength of the Fixed Strength Icebreakers (eg. Yog.0, Mimic, Morning Star) to see how much you can rely on them to handle the most commonly played Ice.

For clarity many Ice and Icebreakers have special abilities that will affect these tables and frequently make it impossible to produce a definitive cost to break (eg. advanceable Ice can gain Strength, Snowball gains strength as it hits multiple Barriers).  In most cases I have ignored these abilities – I tell you the cost to break a Strength 7 Hadrian’s Wall, not a Strength 14 one.  Please bear that in mind for all these tables.


Barriers vs Fracters


The efficiency of Fracters really depends hugely on how cheap they are to break the four main Barriers (Ice Wall, Wall of Static, Bastion and Eli v1.0) as they made up nearly 90% of ALL Barriers played in the Top 32 decks at Worlds.  That Corroder is the champion Fracter should surprise almost nobody – Corroder has set the standard that other Fracters have failed to meet since the Core set – but I was personally surprised to find that Battering Ram was only slightly less efficient.  Comparing the two; the Battering Ram costs slightly more to use against Ice Wall (and the forthcoming Paper Wall and Wraparound) but is better against the medium-large Barriers and with Eli v1.0 quite common at Worlds it worked in Battering Ram’s favor. 


 The other Fracters all lag well behind Corroder and Battering Ram, with Snowball pretty much doomed to having to pay 1 more than Corroder to break any piece of Ice after costing more to install and Aurora and Inti considerably worse across the board.  I also included the spoiled Fracter Breach (due in Honor & Profit) and although it’s a better in-faction option for Criminals than Aurora, particularly at breaking the bigger obstacles, Breach is overkill on the more common smaller Barriers.  That doesn’t bode well if you expect to see Paper Wall, Ice Wall and Himitsu-Bako a lot in the future and that, combined with the Centrals-only limitation, makes Breach pretty unattractive while Corroder is still available.

The next table looks at the total cost of installing your chosen breaker and then breaking through X pieces of Ice, assuming the average break cost I worked out above.


When you factor in the cheap install cost of Corroder it’s clear why it’s by far the most common Fracter played – nothing comes close, regardless of how many times you have to break through Ice.  I was interested to see Battering Ram come so close – pretty much the only difference is the install cost (assuming the 2MU isn’t a problem).  However I think that it may be just a moment in time and if we see players using more Paper Wall, Wraparound and Himitsu-Bako (based on Jinteki decks getting stronger) in future tournaments the field will warp even more heavily towards Corroder being the #1 choice by a large margin.


Ok, it’s the elephant in the room.  Let’s talk about Knight.  In my set review of Mala Tempora I was relatively unkind towards Knight as I felt that you didn’t get enough of a discount for the restriction that it could only break one Ice at a time.  I still stand by that point but this analysis has made me upgrade my evaluation of the card because, as you’ll see shortly, Knight is competitive with the best breakers in each class.  Comparing Knight and Crypsis side-by-side like this really highlights how much more efficient it is for a breaker that can smash any type of Ice and I don’t think I really appreciated that fully at the time I wrote my initial review.  I know that some players are working hard to bring us a Reina Roja deck built around the Caissa and this makes me a little more confident that they’ll find a working deck down that design path.  Knight is a very effective breaker against virtually all Ice and particularly supports aggressive decks that want to be able to apply pressure while they wait to find their other breakers. 

I don’t think you can rely on Knight alone – at some point there has to be more than 3 Ice rezzed for your 3 Knights to break, and  Str>7 Ice like Janus v1.0 or Hadrian’s Wall just stops you dead – but Knight definitely has a role to play.



The fixed strength Fracter is the large and powerful Morning Star.  For 8 credits and 2 MU you would hope to get a pretty great Barrier breaker, and that’s exactly what you get.  Morning Star basically breaks through everything but Hadrian’s Wall - of the Ice in the Top 32 the Morning Star broke 94% of them for a single credit and if you include clicking past Heimdal v1.0 that rises to 96%.  Hadrian’s Wall is the Morning Star’s Kryptonite, though, and in case you’re wondering the reason I gave the Morning Star/Dinosaurus a fail vs Hadrian’s Wall is that a single advancement counter on Hadrian’s Wall will push it out of range of even a Strength 7 Morning Star.  Bottom Line on Morning Star: if you can afford it (both the credits and the MU) then you get a truly fearsome breaker and probably the only current Fracter that can persuade you to throw Corroder away.


Code Gates vs Decoders


The Fracter story was really just a demonstration of why nothing was as good as Corroder, but when you look at Decoders there is bit more to it than that.  Firstly, a good Decoder is a lot less than the important of a good Fracter because, as I discussed last week, there were far fewer Code Gates played than there were Barriers (if you exclude Pop-Up Window and Chum there were roughly half as many Code Gates).  Secondly the most commonly-played Decoder is Yog.0, which breaks all Str 3 or less Code Gates for 0 credits.  It’s pretty hard for any other Icebreaker to compete with “free”.

The Code Gate story is then a question of how often you can rely on Yog.0 to work for you, and if you can’t rely on it then a question how often are you actually going to hit a Code Gate that HAS to be broken anyway?  Let’s tackle those two questions in order…


 First of all, Yog.0 straight-up breaks 80% of all the Code Gates that were played in the Worlds Top 32 decks – there simply aren’t enough decent choices with Strength higher than 3 and that makes easy picking for Yog.0.  Worse yet is that you can click past Viktor 2.0 and potentially ignore Chum completely if you’ve got a breaker for the Ice behind it, meaning Yog.0 may only actually get stopped by Tollbooth, just 10% of Code Gates.  That puts Yog.0 in a similar position to Morning Star vs Barriers only it costs less to install and only takes up 1MU, which explains why we see Yog.0 much more frequently than we do it’s Barrier-busting brother.  Code Gates have it rough and until we see some decent ETR Code Gates at Strength 4+ (I'm looking at you, Inazuma) a lot of players will continue to both avoid playing Code Gates as Corps and put their faith in Yog.0 as Runners.

But let’s say you don’t want to run Yog.0 – either you know you will face a lot of Tollbooths in your local metagame or simply can’t fund the Influence cost, what are your options?  Well, interestingly, the answer is: it depends.


Three Shaper Decoders share the spoils as the most efficient answer to Code Gates, depending on how many times you think you’re going to have to break Ice with them.  At the top end of the price range is new arrival Torch, which costs a whopping 9 credits but then stomps all over virtually every Code Gate it meets.  If you’re going to be running past Code Gates frequently then your added investment in Torch will pay off – by the time you’re passing your tenth Code Gate you should be level with the cheaper Gordian Blade, which has been commonly considered the go-to Decoder alongside Yog.0.  Torch vs Gordian Blade is probably a straight question of how much Tollbooth you will meet – if the answer is “a lot” then Torch is worthwhile, but if you’re simply paying your way past Enigma and Pop-Up Window you’ll never recoup the added install cost.


In the budget aisle is Zu.13, who works out slightly cheaper than Gordian Blade if there are only a few Code Gates around but then always costs 1 more than the Blade to break pretty much anything but NEXT Bronze, and that extra credit adds up over time.  Because there are fewer Code Gates you need to break than there are any other type of Ice I think there’s a real case to be made for Zu.13 being desirable ahead of Gordian Blade, particularly for Anarchs and Criminals because Zu.13 costs 1 less influence.  Is Gordian Blade better than Zu in the Shaper versions of Andromeda we saw at Worlds?  Yes, probably.  Is it better than Zu and a Quality Time?  Maybe not.

The other three Decoders are all queuing up for the chance to look terrible, with none of them really looking better than the Shaper options at any point – they cost more and do less.  Peacock can at least break a few Code Gates and not feel entirely terrible, though it gets expensive quickly


Sentries vs Killers


The first thing that struck me about the Killers, compared to Decoders and Fracters, is that even the good ones aren’t that good – Femme Fatale and Ninja averaged about 5 credits per piece of Ice, compared to around half that much for Gordian Blade and Corroder.  The one-shot Faerie aside it seems like it’s simply not possible to bust through Sentries without spending a decent amount of cash.

Part of the reason for that is Archer, which is a monster.  If you can break all the subroutines on Archer without spending double digits then you’re doing very well.  The Corp had to sacrifice a precious Agenda to rez Archer so it’s only fair that they get something good, but still… it’s a horrible piece of Ice to have to get past.  It’s important to note that in this analysis I’ve ignored Femme Fatale’s ability to bypass Ice, which is probably the best answer to Archer.  If you weren’t fortunate enough to have Archer in the sights of your Femme then you’ll pay handsomely to get past, whatever your Killer of choice.


If you ignore the Archer question there are three Criminal Killers that head the list of efficient breakers, each of them very different.  Femme Fatale cost a lot to install but it breaks through smaller Ice like Shadow or Draco very quickly and easily, although larger Ice gets expensive.  One way to think of Femme is that she’s almost binary – you either pass something very cheaply or very expensively – while Ninja is more consistent and breaks pretty much any Ice for 4 or 5 credits, but only rarely for less than that.  One wrinkle in the comparison table – I assumed Draco was Strength 0 most of the time, but that Corps playing against Ninja would spend 1 credit to give it +1 Strength, forcing the Runner to spend 3 more to break it.  The spoiled Alias is the Killer equivalent of Breach but is actually much more attractive – where Breach is only as good as other options it looks as though Alias has a significant edge on the competition – breaking the cheap Sentries like Femme Fatale then pumping up for the big ones like Ninja.  Like Breach it can only be used on Central servers, but the numbers are solid and I think we’ll see Alias a lot more often.

Beyond the Criminal Killers it was interesting that Creeper wasn’t hugely worse than Ninja, though it’s an expensive way to break Rototurrets and Shadows.  There isn’t really a compelling reason to run Creeper over Ninja, and given the higher cost involved in breaking all the most common Ice I think Ninja is influence worth spending.


The analysis over time really serves to highlight the efficiency of Alias, once it arrives.  It also shows that the only reason to play Femme Fatale is her bypass ability – you have to break A LOT of Ice to make the added install cost pay off.  It’s impossible to evaluate Femme’s bypass ability in analysis like this, unfortunately – it’s going to have to remain a judgement call for yourself just how much Femme will save you.  If she’s going onto Archers then she’s an excellent choice.



So far we’ve seen two fixed strength breakers that beat the vast majority of Ice, but Mimic is a different story.  First of all, the good news – Mimic breaks most of the most common Sentries, and it breaks them much more efficiently than a Ninja would.  Now for the bad news – most of the Ice that Mimic DOESN’T break will trash programs, meaning that the gaps Mimic leaves won’t just see you failing to complete runs, but also putting valuable Icebreakers into the Heap.  More than either Yog.0 or Morning Star, Mimic really NEEDS the support of Datasucker to make it a viable choice and running naked with Mimic alone is risky.

BUT

Because there aren't any other particularly cheap Killers the efficiency rewards from Mimic over Ninja or Femme Fatale are huge, if you can only find some way to harness them.  We've seen that Mimic alone is very vulnerable because it doesn't help against program destruction but Mimic alongside a second Killer can become a potent combination.  The current Andromeda decks tend to play multiple Faeries, which are emergency escape chutes against Archers and Grims, and once you know the big Sentry is there you can go away and build Datasucker counters to go past them.  Along with Datasucker you can also pair Mimic with another Icebreaker…


I’ve left Ninja in as a comparison, but you can see immediately how combining Mimic’s efficient answer to the most popular Ice can combine profitably with another Icebreaker to fill in the gaps.

The Mimic & Faerie combination is clearly the most efficient, though unless you’ve got a ready supply of Clone Chips and Sacrificial Constructs you can’t rely on Faerie for more than one nasty piece of Ice.  The Mimic and Knight combination is surprisingly effective, and if you used a click or two on the two Ichi Sentries it would be even better.  As an in-faction solution for Anarchs I think this is a powerful combination that we’ll see frequently, with Mimic breaking the bulk of Sentries to share the load with Knight, and Knight taking out the occasional big hitter than Mimic can’t deal with.  The combination of Mimic and Femme Fatale makes sense if you assume that Femme will bypass Archer, but without that help the synergy between Mimic and Ninja is much better - Mimic breaks everything Strength 3 or less, and Ninja is efficient at getting up to Strength 5 for the bigger Ice.


With no single Killer proving an efficient answer to Sentries it looks as though “Mimic & ???” is the most attractive rig available for runners who are looking to settle in for a long game.


Conclusions

So, what did I learn from all this?  Well I can probably sum it up as:
  •      Knight is a lot better than I thought it was.
  •      Corroder is the best Fracter.  By far.
  •      Yog.0 is detrimental to Ice diversity.  Inazuma will be very important.
  •      Zu.13 is actually a decent option to Gordian Blade.
  •      Sentries are hard to break.  Period.
  •      Alias is going to be strong when it arrives.
  •      Mimic needs backup.


I hope you’ve all found my Ice/Icebreaker analysis as useful to read as it was for me to write, and may it bring you look in the upcoming Store Championships!


Until next time… adieu!


Edit:
Garotte has been spoiled in True Colors.  He trumps all current Sentry Breakers...