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

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.


Jinteki

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?