Wednesday, 12 March 2014

The Chronos Protocol - Who Will You Vote For?

Store Championship Season is only halfway done and already attention is beginning to slip onto what is coming beyond that, which in Europe is the upcoming Chronos Protocol Tour.  At the end of last year the US players got their chance to vote on which runner Identity would be added to the game (correctly choosing to flip "The Collective" the finger) and now European players will get the chance to decide between two Corp identities who are vying for the Chronos Protocol. 

When the decision between The Collective and Laramy Fisk was being made there was a huge number of games being played on OCTGN that helped guide the decision that The Collective was simply too powerful, but so far there are less than 100 games being played with the two Chronos Protocol identities combined so this is still a decision that is up in the air. 

Whether you're wondering where to cast your vote, or looking on anxiously from across the Atlantic Ocean and hoping your pick will be the one given the nod, taking a look at the two Corp IDs that may shape the game in future is a worthwhile venture...


Haas-Bioroid received a bunch of new Identities in Creation and Control but none of those identities really helped with one of the Corp's key themes, which is Brain damage.  Brain damage isn't something we've really seen in competitive environments too often, but it's something that is very popular with non-competitive players and I know a lot of players would like an Identity that played towards that theme.

Permanently removing all copies of a card from the runner's deck is also a new and very attractive effect.  In Magic: The Gathering effects like this have a long-running place in the game, from the original Lobotomy through the staple spoiler Cranial Extraction.  Surgically removing a card from the opponent's deck has proven a useful control on abusive combo decks, and it's an effect we've not seen in Netrunner yet.

There are two key words in that last sentence that I want to address as I explain why Haas-Bioroid will not be gaining my vote.  

The first of those words is 'surgical'.  Randomly choosing a card from your opponent's hand is the opposite of a surgical strike - I wouldn't go into hospital knowing that the surgeon is going to use ippy-dippy to decide what vital organ he's going to remove!  Attaching such a powerful effect to a mechanic that is ultimately random is something that I am very wary of introducing to the game.  The difference between removing all copies of Daily Casts or removing all copies of Corroder is a huge one and it's one that neither player has much control over.  Hit Daily Casts and the runner frowns but carries on, hit Corroder and it could be effectively game over as early as the runner's first click.  Should that sort of swinginess really be attached to a random effect?

The second of those words is 'combo', and I would argue that to some extent every Runner deck is a combo deck, with the various parts of the rig representing the combo the runner is trying to assemble.  In Magic: The Gathering cards like Cranial Extraction dissuade many players from playing combo decks but in Netrunner the runner doesn't have much choice about the matter.  Yes, the runner can build a deck with backup breakers so they don't fall over if a particular Icebreaker is lost, and to some extent it would be desirable if Chronos Protocol became a reason why more Fracters than Corroder were played, but there are other cards where there aren't so many options available.  Plascrete Carapace comes to mind as a great example - do you want to drop down to a maximum hand size of 4 AND lose all your Plascrete Carapaces at the same time, just because of a unlucky card picked from your hand?

Ultimately, I feel the Haas-Bioroid version of Chronos Protocol introduces an undesirable element of luck into the game - games could easily by lost by receiving an early Brain damage that strips a vital component from your deck.  This impacts non-competitive decks attempting to do something cool as much as it does competitive decks (oops, I took Blackguard... good luck!).  It makes Brain damage so potentially unpleasant that runners will avoid running, making the game less interactive, and I think it would become a constraint on future cards being printed that deal Brain damage.


At the moment Jinteki only has two Identities but that is about to change, with three more coming in Honor & Profit in just a month or two.  The new Identities all support new play styles but the core Jinteki theme of sizzling the runner with Net damage will remain the domain of Personal Evolution.  The Chronos Protocol would give Jinteki players a new Identity to play with their core cards, and a whole new way of looking at Net damage.

One of my key reasons for disliking the Haas-Bioroid version of Chronos Protocol is that it over-emphasises a random effect, whereas for Jinteki my main reason for liking this ID is that it REMOVES a random effect and introduces a skill decision in its place.  This is a good thing, particularly for good players who are most likely to gain value from the information and decision they are being presented with.  Currently Net damage in Jinteki really only serves one purpose - kill the runner, or threaten to do so - but under the Chronos Protocol the nature of net damage changes completely and becomes pro-active disruption and control of the Runner's capabilities, with the Corp able to plan around the cards the runner is holding, and also work on a strategy to discard certain types of card (remove Icebreakers, remove economy).  

How will Chronos Protocol change how Jinteki is played?  Well, you only really need to think about one card to see how much it changes things - Neural EMP.  Neural EMP is commonly played in Jinteki decks but in Personal Evolution this card is virtually always held in hand until multiple copies are ready to flatline the runner after they hit an unfortunate Snare!.  In Chronos Protocol Neural EMP becomes a card that you play at the earliest opportunity to snipe the best card or Icebreaker from the runner's hand.  Not just EMP, any card that does only a single Net damage hugely gains in value - Swordsman, Shock! and even Data Mine become serious problems that the runner can't ignore.  Cards that deal multiple net damage, like Neural Katana, actually gain less from Chronos Protocol than Swordsman would - discarding 3 cards at random gives you a higher chance of taking the best cards anyway - and I really like that Chronos Protocol would flip the value weighting behind what net damage cards are good and which are bad.

Another point in the Jinteki favor, to my eyes, is the respective position of the Corps in competitive play.  Jinteki is a distant 4th in any rankings of Corp performance, while Haas-Bioroid already has an excellent ID in Engineering the Future and one of the most threatening new strategies in Cerebral Imaging.  By comparison Jinteki is in a very weak position (pre-Honor & Profit) and I'm not yet convinced that the cards coming in Honor & Profit will change that much for the better.  Moreover, if Nisei Division or Tenin Institute become the basis of a competitive new Jinteki deck I think that will be at the expense of Jinteki doing what Jinteki has always done best, which is dealing Net damage.  Regardless of whether Jinteki remains the runt of the litter I would like to see a new Identity give Jinteki players options around how to play with all the Net damage cards at their disposal.

The only downside I can see in the Jinteki version of the card is that it might just be a slightly TOO competitive.  In non-competitive play the surgical sniping of your best cards is going to rapidly piss players off and the way that strong players will use the identity to pick apart any misbuilt deck makes this an identity that is pretty merciless on inexperienced runners.  

However, to my mind the decision is clear - Jinteki vs Haas-Bioroid is really a decision between skill & creativity on one side and a random chaotic factor on the other.  As a player who enjoys Netrunner as a game, rather than as a coinflip to decide if we get to play a game or not, my vote is only going one way...

...but where would your vote go?

Friday, 7 March 2014

Brainbuster - the 'Purple' Jinteki deck

Just as I did during the Plugged In Tour I have been browsing the winning decklists from the Store Championships currently going on, always on the lookout for new and interesting deck ideas that I can put into the spotlight.  I found one such deck riding high on the 'Popular' rankings of, which proves it has also caught the eye of a lot of other players as well, and that was Brian 'x3r0h0ur' Cassidy's Haas-Bioroid deck, the delightfully-named "Brainbuster" - the winning Corp decklist from the Store Championship in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

I knew I was going to write about this deck so built it up and played a few games with it earlier this week then got in touch with Brian to see if he had a few words to say.  Brian kindly agreed to send me a few words over.  Normally I would describe this deck to you myself and slip in a few quotes from the creator but Brian did a lot better than just send me 'a few words' so for this edition of Satellite Uplink I'm pretty much going to hand the floor over to Brian completely and only chip in now and then.

First things first, the decklist...

HB Brainbuster - Store Champion Clem's Fort Wayne IN

Haas-Bioroid: Engineering the Future (Core Set)

Agenda (11)
3x Accelerated Beta Test (Core Set)
2x False Lead (A Study in Static)
3x Project Vitruvius (Cyber Exodus)
3x Sentinel Defense Program (Creation and Control)

Asset (12)
3x Adonis Campaign (Core Set)
2x Cerebral Overwriter (Creation and Control)
2x Edge of World (Cyber Exodus) ••••
2x Eve Campaign (Humanity's Shadow)
3x Jackson Howard (Opening Moves) •••

Operation (6)
3x Hedge Fund (Core Set)
3x Neural EMP (Core Set) ••••• •

Barrier (8)
3x Eli 1.0 (Future Proof)
2x Heimdall 2.0 (Creation and Control)
3x Paper Wall (Mala Tempora)

Code Gate (4)
2x Enigma (Core Set)
2x Viktor 2.0 (Creation and Control)

Sentry (8)
3x Fenris (True Colors)
2x Ichi 1.0 (Core Set)
1x Ichi 2.0 (Creation and Control)
2x Swordsman (Second Thoughts) ••

See this deck on NetrunnerDB

Where did the inspiration for the deck come from?

First let me get this out of the way. I completely stole this deck from this: and then adjusted for economy and ice differences, and agenda weaknesses. His was more of a rush deck mine is more of a Jinteki-style - a "play the game at whatever tempo works" type deck.

It seems to me to be almost a "Purple Jinteki"deck - replacing the Net threat with Brain damage and the deck also benefits from the stronger Agenda mix and Campaigns to create more uncertainty about what remotes actually are.  Is the Jinteki comparison fair?

Absolutely, it plays similar to a Jinteki in that the prickly ice work to dissuade the runner from making runs before the breaker suite is up, and anything that slows down criminal is very good. At the same time, it is prickly BECAUSE people tend to run early against HB thinking they can click through anything bad. This is where Fenris makes the deck sing. Keeping people guessing on remotes is a huge deal, so I don't mind seeing my traps go to the trash as long as my opponent doesn't know my exact deck composition. Like most trap decks, knowledge is the greatest weakness. I do acknowledge that Bad Publicity from Fenris it hurts the asset based economy, so typically I'll put a cheapy ice over it to offset the bad pub.

Brian's point about the Runner's expectations is a really good one.  When you sit down vs Jinteki one of the key cards on your mind is not running into a Neural Katana without having a Sentry breaker handy so runners can be quite cautious.  But when you sit down vs HB you're usually thinking about cards like SanSan City Grid and Biotic Labor - playing more aggressively because you can click by any nasty Bioroids, and until you've got programs installed you're not worried about Rototurret, Ichi or Grim.  Fenris is waiting to devour that sort of runner, though, a Jinteki-style piece of Ice when they're not expecting it.

What also works very well is that every agenda can be advanced any amount of times and still be scored and benefited from. This is why I don't run 3/5's. The deck that was the inspiration for this deck (nearly identical) did, but I felt like Sentinel Defense Program slotted so well with EMP and Overwriter, maybe even a stuck Fenris, that I had to take out 3/5's. Once you score a Sentinel, CO becomes more terrifying than Junebug because you get the extra 1 damage, and the 2 advancements typically on it are non-replaceable.  If the runner has seen EMP in my hand they know they are VERY limited on the damage they can take but vs Junebug you can just draw more cards beck.

Another key point is that every agenda can be played advanced to benefit. The least of which is Accelerated Beta Test, but you have Jackson Howard or can play an ice from hand on archives if you fail hard, or install the next 3/2 if you have a big scoring window (maybe an icebreaker trash with Ichi, or a bad runner play). A Project Vitruvious overscored by 2 allows a single neural EMP to become 3, so whenever that window comes up you automatically have all 3 of your 'combo pieces' in hand, and Vitruvius is also nice for Econ recovery (its taxing to trash eve several times) and refilling a small hand if the runner surprises you with a Sneakdoor.

Also another thing is that every card works together from agenda to asset. False Lead seems odd, but it works tremendously with the deck. First if an Overwriter is hit, with or without a Sentinel Defense scored, you can False Lead to keep the runner's hand size down, enabling the Neural EMP finish. You can also use it to sap the clicks the runner planned on using to click through Ichi or Heimdall (face down of course, no runner should be dumb enough to faceplant into it with a False Lead scored).

I think the Agendas in Brian's deck are one of the main reasons why the Jinteki style of play works here but doesn't work so well in Jinteki.  Jinteki decks frequently play A LOT of 3/1 Agendas to get to their 20 points and that's a really inefficient way of scoring Agenda points.  Compared to Jinteki the stronger mix of 3/2 Agendas in this deck means Brian's deck hits 4 or 5 Agenda Points in half the time of a standard Jinteki deck, which gives the runner less time to set up before they have to start tackling tricky remotes.  That's a critical point in the Jinteki-style game plan, because it's at that point that the runner has to start worrying that your next remote server is a game-winning Agenda - it's the stage of the game where you're most likely to hit them with an Edge of World or Cerebral Overwriter (or just get them to burn energy accessing Eve Campaign) - and it's a stage of the game that this deck reaches much more rapidly than Jinteki itself does.

As well as the Agenda points Brian is spot on that the deck benefits from the Agendas all working towards his key goal - spitting out more Ice with Accelerated Beta Test, recurring Neural EMP with Project Vitruvius, dealing more damage with Sentinel Defence Net and all the great tricks with False Lead that Brian already described.  Those sorts of Agenda synergies are at the heart of some of the best Corp decks but they've always been absent from Jinteki... not so in this "Purple Jinteki".

Compared to Jinteki, the Purple Jinteki deck's agendas are both better at winning via Agenda points AND better at winning via flatline.  IMHO they're the key reason to go purple. 

You ignored Green Level Clearance and Blue Level Clearance in favor of the Campaigns economy, how does that help?

Assets turn on no-advance play, especially behind an iceberg server. No one wants to run down a server of Ichi 2.0 and a few other friends only to have Jackson leave the building on them. Also assets pose an interesting tax and if you get good at knowing when to play them out and when to rez them then the runner can be strongly disincentivized from running the Centrals.  Also it works against handsize, forcing clicks to check remotes that are facedown. With 20 ice I can afford to make it semi-mildly taxing to run and trash an Adonis Campaign, and painful to trash an Eve Campaign.

Which is a nice segue into Eve. Eve is awesome. People always ignore her. Runners make the critical mistake of thinking "well he spent 5 and now he's made that back, so I'm losing the exchange if I go trash it".  This is a super-bad analysis that even good players can make. The problem isn't that you lose more than the corp makes, its that the corp has money at all. I would posit that sometimes its FINE to trash Eve with 4 credits on her, or Adonis with 3, if that means bettering your position and hurting the corp in the right way.  Also Eve's turn 1 siphon bait. She is best played alongside an Adonis. This is key if they hit the Adonis and trash it, then run Eve, they won't trash her too most likely. If they hit her first and trash her they're usually too broke to want to or even be able to trash Adonis. Lots of runners see these before they're rezzed and won't trash them too, which is a huge mistake. That is the cheapest shot you'll have at trashing that bad-boy, so you better do it before I put a Fenris or Ichi over it or something. Remove the whole notion of "well it costs him x and costs me x" from your thinking - runner to corp money means nothing unless you're being traced.

This is more a point about good play than this deck in particular, but it's one well worth making clear.  Boiling things down to "I spend 3 to stop you gaining 4" is a decent shorthand but it's only a small portion of the real story when it comes to deciding when to trash Assets.  Sometimes it's worth spending 6 breaking into a server to trash Adonis and stop them gaining 3, but other times it will be more important to hang onto your money than spend 3 trashing a full Adonis.  If the runner's economy is stronger than the Corp's then smashing down economy assets is a great strategy as it's critical to keep the Corp poor, but if you're in a weak position then it's not usually worth getting into a pissing contest with the Corp over money and saving what pennies you do have for when it really matters.

Ice construction was important, with lots of ETR ice to stick behind Bioroids and behind Ichis to ensure actual breakers have to come out. In fact, as posted on NR:DB, it's wrong, I actually run 2 Wall of Static over 2 Eli.  So how does it play?  Ideally you want a Fenris on HQ and an Eli, Viktor or Swordsman on R&D. You will get lots of face-plants into HQ so Fenris is well-positioned there, and you can suffer the bad pub just fine. Swordsman ensures no funky Crypsis or Knight play.  Then you begin layering ice on the remote because unrezzed ice keeps this deck horrifying. Play out assets only as protected and as you need based on the runner's money situation and breaker ability, and based on your needs. 

If your opponent is pensive or an identity that prefers to build up then feel free to install and advance 2 times, especially on Agendas like Sentinel Defense Grid. Once that's on the board the game changes - Edge of World gets more scary, so if they trash out 1 from archives, awesome. The psychological impact that card has is better than the effect it has in the game. You want 3 ice over your remote if they've seen it, for sure. Paper Wall is an odd call, but I use it for Knight-bait, and post Ichi stopping power, and to power up Edge of World. It's fantastic to be able to rez it on HQ first turn as well, to turn on a Fenris on R&D vs Shapers.

Even swordsman, my anti-Atman call, was chosen over Wraparound because even though it dies a little harder to a Mimic, and with Fenris, you'll probably see a Mimic, it still does a net damage before the breaker is out, and damage is the key theme.

Swordsman is maybe the one card in Brian's deck which I disagree on strongly because I just don't think 1 Net damage is worth paying for, but if Atman is around in your meta then it becomes a much stronger call.  I had considered it vs Gabe Knight but you don't really want to leave Swordsman over HQ because it can't end the run, so they still get in to land and Account Siphon.  Overall, though, the Ice does a good job of being awkward to break and threatening Brain damage (half of the Ice does Brain damage).

Any changes you would make after playing it at the champs?  Anything from Double Time or Honor & Profit you might include?

I have always been sitting on a next design Tyr's Hand brain damage deck based around EoW and Ronin but this just spoke to me as a much easier and faster flatline deck using brain damage. I don't think I can change a single card slot without being convinced, because it did EVERYTHING I told it to, except when it fed me 5 agendas in 9 cards...and 2 economy cards.  That led me to my only loss on the day. As for revisions, it was straight swapping cards from his style to mine that made me end up where I was at - I changed next to nothing after the first game I played with my revisions in.

I don't think H&P will impact this deck any because its not really Jinteki-style in that it does damage just to hurt your card access, it really looks to just kill you (2 flatline wins and 1 score-out in the Store Champs).  Maybe if AI breakers fall out some - Atman sees more hate or something - I'd swap to 2 Yagura or something cutesy, cheap, and effective with the deck, but again, thats card-access damage rather than flatline damage.

A good ending pitch for me is that if you like a deck no one is playing, and that it uses this fact to it's advantage (who expects an HB flatline deck??? especially one that WORKS??!?), then play it. Its a pretty good example of a deck that every single card works with every single other card.

I think Brian said it all.  To my mind this deck should appeal to a lot of players - I know there are a lot of HB players desperate to deal out those Brain damage counters reliably, I know there are a lot of frustrated Jinteki players who just want to flatline people any way possible, and I know there are a lot of players who just like trying out something different.  I don't think Brainbuster sits at the top table alongside NBN FA, HB Rush or Weyland Supermodernism - Brian himself admitted that the surprise factor was important - but what Brainbuster IS, is a functioning dark horse choice.  It's a deck that can flatline the unwary, but which also threatens to score 7 agenda points if you play too cautiously.  Getting the runner to walk that tightrope between ways of losing is always a great strategy and even more so when, as in this "Purple Jinteki" deck, they won't be ready for a couple of surprises along the way.

I hope you give this deck a try and enjoy it, meanwhile I will keep my eyes peeled for other oddities from the Store Championships!

Monday, 3 March 2014

[Spoiler] Quandary

A real quickie this one, but after I spent so long writing about the various types of Ice it seemed rude to ignore that a fantastic piece of Binary ETR Ice has just been spoiled for the next Data Pack.

Aww!  Look how cute the little Data Kitten is!

Quandary may look innocuous but for just a single credit you get to send the Runner scrambling for their Yog.0 or Gordian Blade and investing far more money in getting past.  

Many decks were playing a set of Enigma as basically their only Code Gates and to most intents and purposes Quandary is an improvement.  There are some situations where the lower Strength of Quandary is a definite downside (Parasite, Atman) but in most circumstances Quandary will give you 95% of the value you get from Enigma at just 33% of the cost and, unlike Paper Wall, if the runner's Icebreaker ever gets trashed the Quandary will switch back 'On' and return to blocking runs.

I expect to see Quandary cropping up in quite a few Corp decks, particularly the rush versions.