Monday, 14 April 2014

Double Trouble - Caprice Nisei, NAPD Contract and... Morning Star?

Double Time is here, and with it comes yet another shot in the arm for Corporation decks with powerful new cards.  No longer can Corp cry foul at the power of Runner decks because the pendulum of power is swinging inexorably towards the men with suits and spreadsheets.

There are many powerful cards in Double Time but there are two in particular that I want to talk about because they're probably the most influential and game-changing in this data pack, and they work well in tandem: Caprice Nisei and NAPD Contract.

These cards combine to threaten widespread changes to the Netrunner metagame which has remained dominated by Fast Advance builds - Biotic Labor and SanSan City Grid - or the impending threat of flatline from aggressive Weyland builds - Scorched Earth.  Those three cards are all high-influence and high-impact cards that define the Corp strategies to a large extent, one representing Weyland, one NBN and one Haas-Bioroid.  In Caprice Nisei the Jinteki shareholders finally have a high influence powerhouse to rival the others, although she plays very differently and requires different tools to support her.

You can explain what Caprice Nisei does by going back to my blog about the different types of Ice.  Caprice sits behind your Ice defenses and adds an extra unbreakable End The Run effect, although one that you can't always rely on.  If you wanted to try and fit Caprice into one of the pigeon holes I used for classifying Ice (even though she's not Ice) then she would probably count as Analogue ETR in that she's designed to end runs, is certainly not Binary as she's unaffected by Icebreakers, and that quite how much she costs to get by her is entirely analogue - anywhere from 0 credits to infinity clicks and credits!  How long Caprice delays the runner for is largely random - it could be that they get in first time, or it could be at the twelfth attempt - but If the runner runs Caprice enough times they will eventually slip by your psychic detective and trash her.  For this reason Caprice works MUCH better with analogue Ice than with Binary Ice - if the Runner can plow through your Ice cheaply and quickly then Caprice can't hold them off for long, but if your Ice is big and expensive enough to break then the Runner will have to pay dearly for each Caprice lottery ticket they buy and may well decide it's simply not worth trying to get in at all.

The Ice that support Caprice Nisei decks are therefore almost the antithesis of the Ice that support Biotic Labor/SanSan decks.  Cheap Binary ETR Ice like Ice Wall and Wraparound are far less useful than Analog Ice like Eli v1.0, Heimdall v1.0 or the new Hive in Weyland.  Similarly the default Enigma and the new Quandary are less attractive than Viktor v2.0, and in Sentries Rototurrets and Neural Katana are weaker cousins to Ichi v1.0 or Tsurigi with their many subroutines.  You want big strength Ice and lots of subroutines so that the Runner has to bleed credits to get past even after their rig is established, and Caprice will be waiting to play Rock-Paper-Scissors at the end of their run... "you paid 7 credits and didn't access any cards.  Unlucky.  Want to try again?"

Rezzing a Heimdall instead of Ice Wall takes money, and money takes time.  These new decks are slower and greedier so the Ice defenses are typically supported by heavy duty economy Assets that will deliver huge cash benefits if left alone by the runner (with taxing Ice in front of them to deter the runner from trashing).  This is a second seismic change, after the impact on Ice choices, which is that these decks largely abandon the Operation-based economy (Beanstalk Royalties, Sweeps Week, Green Level Clearance) that we've seen from Corps in Spin Cycle and often return to the more old school cards like Melange Mining Corp, Adonis Campaign, Eve Campaign, Sundew in Jinteki and even PAD Campaign.

So far we've talked about how Caprice Nisei has created an opportunity for new deckbuilding strategies but where does NAPD Contract fit into all this?  It turns out that NAPD Contract fits perfectly into a deck that has a lot of taxing Ice but little Binary ETR.  Fighting through a bank of Ice and Caprice Nisei (and cards like Ash or Red Herrings as well) only to find yourself unable to pay 4 to steal NAPD Contract when you access it is an enormous kick in the teeth to the runner.  NAPD Contract joins Nisei MkII as the best possible Agendas for a taxation Ice strategy, not just safe in your remotes but also in R&D and HQ.  NAPD Contract also has fringe benefits with Caprice Nisei - if the Runner is on 5 credits when they break through your Ice you know you are safe to bid 2 credits with Caprice, even if the Runner matches your bid and access NAPD Contract they'll be a credit short of stealing it!  Finally, the downside on NAPD Contract is that you can't run Bad Publicity with it easily, but in a taxation/Caprice strategy you have already avoided Bad Publicity like the plague anyway (if you're smart)!

Let's pause now to give you a look at what these new decks might look like, one in Haas-Bioroid and one in Jinteki...

HB Redcoats Caprice NAPD

Haas-Bioroid: Engineering the Future (Core Set)

Agenda (9)
3x Accelerated Beta Test (Core Set)
3x NAPD Contract (Double Time)
2x Priority Requisition (Core Set)
1x Project Vitruvius (Cyber Exodus)

Asset (10)
3x Adonis Campaign (Core Set)
2x Aggressive Secretary (Core Set)
3x Eve Campaign (Humanity's Shadow)
1x Jackson Howard (Opening Moves) •
2x PAD Campaign (Core Set)

Upgrade (4)
2x Ash 2X3ZB9CY
2x Caprice Nisei (Double Time) ••••• •••

Operation (7)
3x Hedge Fund (Core Set)
2x Interns (Mala Tempora)
2x Restructure (Second Thoughts)

Barrier (8)
3x Eli 1.0 (Future Proof)
2x Heimdall 1.0 (Core Set)
2x Heimdall 2.0 (Creation and Control)
1x Wotan (Second Thoughts)

Code Gate (6)
2x Quandary (Double Time)
3x Tollbooth (Core Set) ••••• •
1x Viktor 2.0 (Creation and Control)

Sentry (5)
2x Ichi 1.0 (Core Set)
1x Ichi 2.0 (Creation and Control)
2x Rototurret (Core Set)

This is a variant of the upcoming 'Red Coats' Haas-Bioroid deck that has been picking up Store Championship wins at the end of the season, and you can see here many of the hallmarks of what I was talking about above - multiple economy Agendas, big Taxing Ice and upgrades like Caprice and Ash to protect their Agendas.


Jinteki: Replicating Perfection

Agenda (10)
1x Braintrust
3x Fetal AI
3x NAPD Contract
3x Nisei MK II

Asset (16)
2x Encryption Protocol ••
2x Jackson Howard ••
3x PAD Campaign
1x Ronin
3x Shock!
2x Snare!
3x Sundew

Upgrade (6)
3x Caprice Nisei
3x Hokusai Grid

Operation (3)
3x Celebrity Gift

Barrier (5)
3x Eli 1.0 •••
2x Wall of Thorns

Code Gate (4)
2x Chum
1x RSVP ••
1x Tollbooth ••

Sentry (5)
2x Ichi 1.0 ••••
3x Tsurugi

This Jinteki deck relies on the power of its identity, forcing runners to hit Centrals before coming to look at remote servers.  That alone wastes clicks and plays into the hands of Caprice Nisei, but on top of that ALL of the ice is intended to be expensive to break with the classic Icebreaker rig - there isn't a single Binary piece of Ice in the deck!  It's painfully expensive for the runner to get anything out of this deck, which then compounds the issue with long term drip feed economy from Sundew and PAD Campaign, and Encryption Protocols to make trashing even more painful.  When Honor & Profit arrives this deck will benefit from the addition of cards like Inazuma, Komainu and The Future Perfect to further tax and frustrate the runner.

These two decks are very different in cards but very similar in ultimate strategy - overload the runner's economy.  An initial layer of Ice is there purely to slow the early game bleeding of Agenda points and protect economy assets.  Those assets provide the Corp with the cash to install a second layer of defenses - Ice, Caprice, or Ash - and slow the game even further.  At this point the runner's short term economic gains from cards like Sure Gamble/Daily Casts/Dirty Laundry are probably a distant memory, and even top notch Desperado/Datasucker rigs can't make accesses cheaply enough to make runs economically.  Sucks for the runner, but the Corp's assets are still pulling in more money and laying down yet more Ice and then the runner is shut out.

So you fight the economy assets, right?  But that's expensive too.  If the runner trashes Eve Campaign and PAD Campaigns the Corp doesn't benefit but the runner is bankrupting themselves in the process which just helps the Corp anyway.  And all the while the Runner is having to worry about having money aside for Ash, Caprice or NAPD Contract.  Nothing comes cheap and most runners simply don't have the funds to pay for everything they need.

So, as the runner, how do you fight this?  I think Caprice Nisei triggers changes in Corp decks that have some surprising knock-on effects in how Runner cards are valued.  First of all, here are some Runner cards that we are used to seeing a lot of, but which I believe get worse as Caprice Nisei bleeds into the metagame:

One of the best Runner cards today, Corroder, is actually one of the biggest problems with facing Caprice Nisei taxing decks.  Corroder is perfect to face Ice Wall, Wraparound, Himitsu-Bako or Wall of Static but becomes incredibly expensive against cards like Heimdall v.1 (7 credits), Hive (6 credits at full strength) or Wall  of Thorns (5 credits).  As soon as you pay that sort of money and run into a Caprice Nisei on the far side the Corroder seems a lot less like value for money.  Datasucker and Desperado are two cards that suffer from the Corp giving you no cheap runs, they're still great cards (Datasucker in particular can really help with big Ice) but can no longer be relied upon to power you through time and again, paying you back more than you invested in making the run, because the taxing Ice is so expensive to hit.  If you're running the classic Mimic/Yog.0/Datasucker rig it's entirely possible that the Corp will be able to cover all their Centrals with sizeable taxing Ice you need Datasucker counters to break and then purge Viruses, effectively locking you out for good.  

Dirty Laundry is similar, although the effect is more pronounced - a taxing piece of Ice in place can quickly make Dirty Laundry a losing proposition and although you get valuable cash back that happens AFTER the run, meaning you're 2 credits down when facing Caprice or Ash, or trying to steal an NAPD Contract.  Inside Job is similar again - against a big taxing piece of Ice an Inside Job is going to be a money saver but the difference is that you can no longer rely on Inside Job as a cheap way to snipe Agendas in the early game - there are more cards that will be installed that look like Agendas, and Caprice Nisei loves randomly cancelling any Event runs and wasting your investment.

Finally, R&D Interface is less about either Caprice Nisei or NAPD Contract and more about the rise of Jinteki decks in general.  When Jinteki is around in the metagame you will have to be VERY careful about playing multi-access cards that could mean you access multiple Ambush cards at once and I think there is a swing between R&D Interface and Indexing on the cards.  Indexing allows runners to dig deep while avoiding accessing cards they don't want, although the downside to Indexing is having to plow through taxing R&D twice in order to steal any Agendas you see.

So much for cards that I think have got worse, here are some Runner cards that I think get better in a Caprice Nisei metagame:

*** Edit - in the original entry of this blog I had misremembered Morning Star as a STR 7 base breaker, and thus got a little overexcited about it's meta-busting potential.  I've amended the following paragraph to allow for that ***

Morning Star is a card that can have a big impact on the Caprice Nisei/taxing matchups because it changes the nature of what their Ice actually does.  If we go back to my article about Ice types for a second time I mentioned in my analysis that the the classification of each piece of Ice changes depending on the type of Icebreakers you play against and what Morning Star does is transform pretty much all the Analog Barriers in the game into Binary ice that you can crush with a single credit.  Eli, Bastion, Rainbow, Wall of Thorns and Hive - Corroder hates playing against all these cards but Morning Star doesn't care.  Throw in some help like a Datasucker or Personal Touch/Dinosaurus and the Morning Star smashes through the Heimdalls of this world too - only an advanced Hadrian's Wall or well-positioned Curtain Wall truly can stop the Mjolnir of Icebreakers!

Switching Corroder for Morning Star critically damages a key part of the taxing Corp's gameplan.  If you can get through the Ice cheaply then you can afford to run multiple times against Caprice.  If you can get through the Ice cheaply then you can afford to trash the economy assets behind them.  If you can get through the Ice cheaply then you can score NAPD Contract when you access it.

Joining Morning Star in hogging precious MU is Magnum Opus, which is the runner's best option for simply overpowering the Corp's taxation Ice by drowning you in credits.  Where other economy cards like Sure Gamble, Daily Casts and even Account Siphon are one-shot affairs that will soon see their credits hurled against a big piece of Ice in a single access, the Magnum Opus keeps paying out for the entire game.  Similarly Kati Jones increases in value for the same reason - she's the economy Resource that is reusable and forms a key part in ensuring that the Runner economy can stay strong enough for long enough to match the Corp's Eve Campaigns and PAD Campaigns in a longer game.

Indexing and Parasite are two cards that both gain and lose value at the same time.  I already discussed why I think Indexing becomes an attractive option to R&D Interface when Jinteki brings more Snare! and Shock! into the metagame, but that it requires multiple runs through taxing Ice to secure those Agendas, and in Parasite there's another double-edged sword.  If Corps are running Eli instead of Wall of Ice and Viktor 2.0 instead of Quandary then Parasite takes a big hit because Ice is that much bigger, but on the other hand the game is going to last longer and being able to remove an expensive piece of Ice with Parasite is probably the most efficient long term solution to many of the taxing pieces of Ice you'll meet.  What swings Parasite towards gaining more than it loses, in my eyes, is twofold - if your deck is focussed on breaking Heimdall and Tollbooth then you will benefit from a cheap answer to Wall of Ice and Quandary in the form of Parasite - and if Jinteki is coming to the party then cards like Tsurigi and Komainu are likely to be among their taxing Sentries of choice, and both are juicy Parasite targets due to their Strength/Subroutines imbalance.

The final card I want to highlight is Whizzard, and the Master Gamer has been waiting a long time for his moment in the sun.  For the longest time the go-to Anarch Identity was Noise, with many games won by simply flipping a dozen cards into the Corp's Archives over the course of the game then cashing in multiple agendas at once.  Jackson Howard spelled the end of that strategy when he was printed because the Corp could now shuffle the Agendas back into R&D.  It seemed as though Whizzard was primed to take over but in fact Jackson Howard also nerfed the gamer as well as the punk because by adding more draw power to Corp decks Jackson Howard played a key role in switching Corps away from asset-based economies into being able to reliably keep up a supply of Operation economy cards - just as Whizzard was rubbing his hands at trashing Adonis Campaign and PAD Campaign those cards got taken out of Corp decks.  Then partway through Spin Cycle Reina Roja came along, everyone got excited about playing with Caissa and Whizzard went for a lie down and a sulk.  But now might be his time.  If Caprice Nisei is bringing longer games back, and with it asset economies, then Whizzard could be the perfect man for the job of fighting the Corp's economy and keeping them poor.

I'm going to finish by showing you a sample Runner deck that I believe is well-equipped to fight Caprice Nisei.  I'm going to hold my hand up and admit that this deck is almost entirely untested, I simply pulled 45 cards out of my binder and threw them into combat, but the results were pretty much exactly as expected - Morning Star and Whizzard combined to shred the game plan of both the Replicating Perfection and Weyland Big Ice decks I played against.  The Replicating Perfection deck had repeatedly left my successful Andromeda deck gasping for air but with this Whizzard deck the matchup was for more comfortable.  

While I'm sure a lot is wrong with this deck as it is, I'm happy that it's heading in a direction that has real benefits to bring out as the deck is refined...

Magic Hammer

Whizzard - Master Gamer

Event (11)
2x Déjà Vu
3x Quality Time •••
3x Special Order ••••• •
3x Sure Gamble

Hardware (7)
2x Cyberfeeder
3x Grimoire
2x Spinal Modem

Resource (9)
2x Armitage Codebusting
3x Daily Casts
2x Kati Jones
2x Liberated Account

Icebreaker (7)
1x Corroder
2x Mimic
2x Morning Star
2x Yog.0

Program (11)
3x Datasucker
2x Imp
1x Medium
3x Parasite
2x Self-modifying Code ••••• •

All the Influence spent goes on improving consistency, which has long been the bane of Anarch decks I've seen, while the rest of the deck is quite familiar, I guess.  There is lots of economic resources and plenty of MU available for all the tricky viruses to sit alongside Morning Star.  Playing two banks of Consoles is something that looks pretty ropey but you HAVE to get that +2MU down if you want to support Morningstar + Datasucker + Parasite in your rig.  Having five cards to find (plus three Quality Time to help you power through and find them) means you should see a Console early in >75% of your games and while in some matchups the downside of Spinal Modem will prove horrible, in other games those 2 recurring credits will be a perfect compliment to your fighting a taxation Corp.

The real trick is combining a deck that can cope with Caprice Nisei with a deck that can still move quickly enough to threaten Fast Advance.  Anyway, as I said this is 100% a very rough draft, but indicative of what type of decks I think may arise to tackle Caprice Nisei, if she comes to be a large part of the metagame.  It could just as easily be built in Shaper, I guess, using Test Run/Scavenge to get Morning Star out (and then you've got that tempting Paintbrush/Morning Star combo to look at) but I wanted to run the Parasite package alongside Morning Star, which sent me down the road to Anarch and Whizzards ability.

The Bottom Line

All told, I think NAPD Contract and Caprice Nisei are going to make very real and sizeable changes to the Netrunner metagame.  A lot of people are exploring how to maximise them in Corp decks but I'm just as interested in how the Runners will respond, and I can see some fascinating possibilities opening up that may challenge the accepted wisdom about a lot of cards.  Until now competitive Runners have really only have to worry about variations on a single theme - quick Corp decks looking to get to 7 Agenda Points as quickly as possible by any means necessary.  If a genuinely different Corp deck style comes to the fore it is likely to lead to radical changes on the Runner side, and that could freshen things up considerably by challenging some well-established preconceptions.

Fingers crossed!