Tuesday, 19 May 2015

In At The Deep End - Sheffield Regionals Report

This past weekend offered an excellent opportunity to accelerate my Netrunner rehabilitation by hurling myself in at the deep end with a Regionals tournament in Sheffield, UK.  I made a conscious decision not to worry too much about the decks I was playing and simply take what I had been dabbling with over the last couple of weeks, namely a Maxx deck that I was pretty sure was good, and the 'Waldemar' Haas-Bioroid deck that I was pretty sure wasn't good.

The Regionals was 58 players and had attracted many of the best players in England so the field was ripe with talent including the 2014 National Champion, Dave 'Cerberus' Hoyland.  Normally I would enter something like this expecting to have a good shot at Top 8 but plunging myself deep into such a competitive environment when I literally had no idea what most of the recent cards did meant that I tempered my expectations.  I believed in the Maxx deck and thought I could go 4-2 with it over the six rounds of Swiss, and while the Waldemar HB deck had done well in my practice games with it I thought it would be badly exposed in top competition and would likely go 2-4, leaving me with a total target of 12pts from the Swiss.

As it turns out both my decks exceeded those expectations with Maxx going 6-0 in the Swiss portion and the experimental Waldemar deck holding its own at 3-3.  That record was enough to earn 18pts and seed me 4th in the Top 8, where I was lucky enough with coin flips to wind up running three times.  Maxx won the first Top 8 game comfortably, lost the second very narrowly, and then I made a chump play and lost spectacularly in the third game (more on this later).

I'm not a big fan of tournament reports so I won't bore you with the full details but I would like to share the decks that I played, and a few key moments from my day...

The Good

Playing in the Swiss against Laurie Poulter, a tough competitor who wound up losing the final, I managed to rip two Agendas with blind Spooned runs against an unrezzed piece of Ice.  

Laurie was playing Haas-Bioroid and we were midway through the game - he'd set up on his central servers and I'd seen a few pieces of Ice, and now Laurie pushed to score an Agenda through an apparent scoring window where I only had an Eater and Femme installed.  He installed an Ice, then installed and advanced a card behind it.  I looked at the board and weighed my options... 

I'd seen an Eli which told me a little about his Ice strategy as it was taxing rather than hard ETR, so maybe there was Heimdal's to support it and probably not much else in Barriers.. I could probably click past most of his Barriers if need be.  Any Sentries he was playing were likely Architects (I'd seen one already), maybe an Ichi or something, and with Femme installed I could break them and get through to the Agenda.  What I couldn't deal with was an ETR Code Gate like Quandary, Viper, IQ or Enigma - I could Eater through them but wouldn't steal the Agenda.

But I did have Spooned.  So if I Spooned the server I thought I had a pretty good chance of getting in - I could probably click most of his Barriers, I could break Sentries, and now I could trash Code Gates with Eater/Spooned and come back for more.  Laurie didn't like the unexpected Spooned and thought long and hard before he decided not to rez his Ice, handing me an advanced Vitruvius.  I felt pretty clever, I can tell you.

Laurie followed up by installing a second Agenda into the server on his next turn.  This actually made perfect sense from his point of view - a turn ago he believed the server was secure from looking at the board state, and although he'd been sniped by a surprise Event the server still looked just as secure this turn.  Unfortunately for Laurie a second copy of Spooned was in my hand and I repeated the play to steal another Agenda!

It was a bad break for Laurie, with 4 Agenda points lost to Spooned.  For those interested I'd called the Ice over that server pretty well - I'd expected Viper but in fact it was a Tollbooth, and understandably he hadn't wanted to sacrifice that to a Spooned.

The Bad

Architect is a very good card.  A very attractively costed Sentry, it lets you play cards out of R&D, and also out of HQ or Archives.  As a sweet added bonus it also doesn't get trashed once it's been installed.

Which is why it was a pretty stupid of me to put a Parasite on it, really.

The Ugly

I'd gone into Regionals with very low expectations of success but somewhere long the way to a 7-1 record with my Runner the ego monster had run out of control and I thought it was easy.

After losing (very) narrowly in my second game of the Top 8 I was drawn into the losers bracket against Near Earth Hub.  I'd played against Near Earth Hub three times in the Swiss I'd beaten them all pretty comfortably.  My opening hand was strong with a couple of breakers, an Account Siphon and a Same Old Thing while my opponent was clearly struggling to find Ice or economy.  I smelled blood in the water and went in for the kill, hitting him with a Siphon on my second turn and floating the tags.

Traffic Accident, Scorched Earth, thanks for playing.

A very useful lesson in humility.  I'd become so sure of my runner's success that I genuinely thought I had the game in the bag on turn two and then completely switched off to how I could lose.  Respect your opponents, folks!

At first I was like...                    but then I was like....

Maxx Hacktivism
(6-0 Swiss UK Regionals Sheffield)

MaxX: Maximum Punk Rock

Event (25)

2x Account Siphon   ••••• •••
3x Day Job
3x Déjà Vu
1x Forked
2x Hacktivist Meeting
3x I've Had Worse
1x Knifed
1x Levy AR Lab Access   •••
2x Retrieval Run
2x Spooned
3x Sure Gamble
2x Wanton Destruction

Resource (10)
1x Hades Shard   •
3x Joshua B.
3x Liberated Account
3x Same Old Thing

Icebreaker (8)
3x Eater
2x Femme Fatale   ••
3x Knight

Program (4)
2x Keyhole
2x Parasite

14 influence spent (max 15) 

47 cards (min 45)

This is the Maxx deck I played to 6-0 as the Runner, which is based on a direct copy of Slysquid's Maxx deck.  In playing this deck a lot over the last couple of weeks I'd grown comfortable enough to be able to make some changes and I added Parasite and Hacktivist Meeting, dropping Amped Up from the deck.

Both Parasite and Hacktivist Meeting fit this deck perfectly, Parasite is a quick and easy way to remove cheap Ice that might otherwise force you into awkward Knight/Eater plays just to get by a Quandary or Pup. Parasite also matches the deck's objective of keeping the Corp poor by forcing them to reinstall replacement Ice.

Hacktivist Meeting is one of the best Anarch cards printed in a long time and is brutal in this current metagame.  It seems like all the key decks are big on Assets and Upgrades (Daily Business Show, Jackson Howard, Pad Campaign, Sundew, Mental Health Clinic, Adonis Campaign, Ash, Caprice Nisei, Crisium Grid... the list is a long one) and Hacktivist Meeting hits them all pretty hard.  Again, like Parasite, the Hacktivist Meeting suits my overall aims of restricting the Corp's money by deterring them from rezzing Asset economy cards.  A perfect fit for a great card.

One word on how Maxx is played, because I think most people are doing it wrong.  I constantly hear Maxx referred to as a Keyhole deck or a Recursion deck but she's neither of those things.  Maxx is a pressure deck - you aim to keep the Corp poor by constantly running and threatening servers, trashing economy and Ice, demanding they trash your Assets, demanding they rez Ice or get Keyholed.  To use my three Runner definitions she's a pure Harvester with Keyhole as the secondary objective.  Yes Maxx has recursion, and yes if I get to hit you with five Account Siphons I will, but stopping the recursion does not stop this deck.

Pretty much everyone I played against knew about the Maxx deck and was prepared for it, but pretty much everyone also misplayed badly because they misunderstood what I was trying to do, either protecting R&D as though I was a Keyhole deck or throwing down cards like Blacklist or Chronos Protocol as though they were silver bullets.  I've been told that Maxx has been given a bit of a bad name after her initial success, like she's a gimmick deck who had her time.  I think a lot of that opinion has come from people who've made the deck and put it into their testing gauntlet but then played it wrongly and thus come to a wrong conclusion about how easy she is to beat.

Waldemar HB - Caprice 1.0
(3-3 Swiss UK Regionals Sheffield)

Haas-Bioroid: Engineering the Future

Agenda (10)
2x Accelerated Beta Test
2x Mandatory Upgrades
3x NAPD Contract
3x Project Vitruvius

Asset (14)
3x Adonis Campaign
3x Encryption Protocol
2x Eve Campaign
2x Jackson Howard   ••
2x PAD Campaign
2x Rex Campaign

Upgrade (7)
2x Ash 2X3ZB9CY
1x Caprice Nisei   ••••
2x Crisium Grid   ••
2x Red Herrings   ••••

Operation (3)
3x Hedge Fund

Barrier (6)
2x Bastion
2x Heimdall 2.0
1x Wall of Static
1x Wraparound   •

Code Gate (6)
1x Datapike
2x IQ
1x Tollbooth   ••
2x Viper

Sentry (3)
3x Architect

15 influence spent (max 15) 
20 agenda points (between 20 and 21)

49 cards (min 45)

The version of the Waldemar HB deck that I took to Regionals had been tuned a little away from the original.  The main changes were scraping together the Influence for Caprice Nisei (mainly dropping a Tollbooth) and speeding the deck up slightly by dropping to two Mandatory Upgrades and faster economy in Rex Campaign.  Rex Campaign is a weak card generally but fits this deck very well and the added value of being able to remove Bad Publicity vs Valencia is very helpful.  I played Valencia once on the day and my opening turn was Hedge Fund, Rex Campaign, Datapike in front of Rex Campaign.  Two turns later, after Valencia had bounced off the Datapike, I cleared the Bad Publicity and walked to victory.

On Waldemar HB in general I think I make most of the valid comments on the NetrunnerDB list I posted, but I think it's worth repeating that I like this deck.  The Mandatory Upgrades are a little gimmicky but this deck is very good at scoring them, and importantly I think there's still room for improvement in this list.  The Encryption Protocols are very lightweight, only good in matches where the Runner is right in a sweet spot where they weren't so cash-strapped that they'd already decided to leave your economy alone but weren't so rich that they could afford to pay a few credits more and still get by.  I think they're rarely bad, but equally rarely do they make a critical impact on the game and are ripe for upgrade to another card (perhaps Enhanced Login Protocol to fight Hacktivist Meeting).

I went into Regional expecting to go 2-4 with this deck.  I managed to go 3-3 and I think that in the next tournament I'd be disappointed not to manage 4-2 with an improved list.  Waldemar is not Near Earth Hub or Replicating Perfection, but it might be one of the best decks that people aren't actively prioritising their chances to defeat.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

The Three Runners - Hunter, Digger and Harvester

How do you win games as a Runner?  

Well, you need to get some economy together so you can pay for stuff, and then you need to assemble your rig of Hardware and Programs so that you can evade the Corporation's Ice and steal Agendas.

It sounds pretty obvious but we all know that there are many different routes of going about all of this - is your economy dripfed by the likes of Daily Casts, Pre-Paid Voicepad, Cyberfeeder, Desperado?  That's a slow way of gaining cash but quite efficient as it's low on clicks.  Is it click-intensive like Armitage Codebusting, Kati Jones, Magnum Opus, more effort but more cash?  Is it trying to 'surf' from one efficient one-off economy card to another, like Sure Gamble, Modded, Dirty Laundry or Cache, great so long as the supply remains steady but prone to breaking down?

And your rig can be built any number of different ways - using Datasucker and fixed strength breakers, flexible breakers like Corroder/Gordian Blade and lots of cash, finding ways of 'cheating' big breakers into play like Femme Fatale/Morningstar.  Beyond that do you run one of the AI suites instead - Knights, Eaters, Atman etc - or do you plan on just trying to avoid the Ice entirely by either destroying it with Parasite/Knifed or slipping past it with Inside Job, Escher and Blackmail?

A lot of the time it's going to be a combination of the above option - some economy, some breakers, some frustrating Events.  Whatever the combination you choose, usually the vast majority of a Runner's deck will be dedicated to making sure that all of the above happens.

But that's not how you win games as a Runner.  

That's all the stuff that you're doing just to get you to the position where you can execute your strategy, steal Agendas and win the game.  If 90% of a runner's deck is dedicated to getting the runner into the position where they can break Ice and successfully complete runs then I'm interested in the remaining 10%... the 10% that says "right, I've got my rig and some money... what happens next?"

Once you've got your rig I think there's three main routes to Runner victory, depending on where you go looking for those game-winning agendas.

Remote Servers - "The Hunter"

Signature Cards: Femme Fatale, Blackmail, Inside Job, Test Run, Knight, Stimhack

The Hunter is perhaps the most passive of the three strategies because a lot of this strategy just involves waiting around for the Corporation to give you something to hunt.  The main aim of the Hunter strategy is to ensure that, when the Corporation thinks it is position to score an Agenda and puts it on the line in a remote server, the Runner has the tools to burn through the Corp's defences and steal it.

There are two common approaches to playing the Hunter: either building a powerful rig with A LOT of credits behind it so you can break through several layers of even the biggest Ice, or using cards like Femme Fatale, Inside Job, Blackmail etc to skip past as much of the Ice as possible.  The recent hound Icebreakers like Lady or Cuj.0 also help a Hunter plan, fittingly, as the power counters are perfect for breaking through big Ice relatively cheaply and the Hunter doesn't need to use them so often.

A lot of time it's helpful for the Hunter to APPEAR to be in a weaker position than they really are so that the Corp thinks they have a scoring window that isn't really there.  Once the Corp has installed an Agenda (ideally advancing it a couple of times for good measure) the Hunter can then spring their trap with a Test Run/Scavenge for Femme Fatale, or a Stimhack/Running Interference that dramatically swings the odds in their favour just long enough to steal the Agenda.  A key distinction here is that long term power isn't the objective of the Hunter because he doesn't need to be able to run every turn, he just needs to be able to run big when there's an Agenda on the line.

A real benefit of the Hunter plan is that it doesn't require anything that the Runner wasn't already playing - ways of beating Ice, and economy to pay for it - but there are also a few key weakness to the Hunter strategy: 
  • A Corporation that plans to fast advance its Agendas need not ever give the Runner a target to shoot at.  A lot of Corporations fast advance.
  • The strategy as a whole allows the Corporation to decide when the battles are fought, with the Runner relying on the Corp misjudging what the Runner is capable of.
  • Because the Hunter's rig maximises the ability to produce a short term 'burst' of power over long term efficiency any wasted run (either unsuccessful, or suckered into hitting a taxing ambush or decoy) is bad news.

Of these it's perhaps the first point that has historically played strongest against the Hunter strategy, and there are few tools available for the Hunter to avoid a Corporation that simply wants to score its Agendas directly out of HQ.  Until recently the best weapons were either Chakana or The Source but the addition of Clot gives Hunters a whole new weapon by forcing the Corp to leave their Agendas dangling in a remote server for at least one turn.  

I don't want to dedicate too much space to talking about a single card but it's worth saying the best way to maximise the irritant of Clot is to have ways of installing on the Corporation's turn, just before they stick the final Advancement counter onto their Agenda, so having something like Self-Modifying Code or Clone Chip in your rig makes Clot MUCH better at spoiling the Corporation's party, and thus much better for the Hunter style of play.

R&D - "The Digger"

Signature Cards: Medium, Maker's Eye, R&D Interface, Keyhole, Indexing

Where the Hunter is all about waiting for the Corporation to decide when they want to fight the Digger strategy puts the Runner into the driver's seat.  The plan is to hit R&D hard and often, at least once per turn and ideally accessing multiple cards every time.  The logic behind this plan is that the Agenda's are in there somewhere and so long as you keep digging you're going to find them eventually.  Whatever else the Corporation is up to doesn't bother you too much, you just want to get your head down and dig for victory.

Unfortunately the Digger plan is quite a common one and also quite predictable so often the Corporation will lay defences down against it by default, then will be quick to reinforce those defences when you show your hand and install something like a Keyhole or R&D Interface.  

As a Digger you can expect to have to punch your way through a few layers of Ice every time you want to access R&D, and unlike the Hunter you know you're going to want to run much more frequently if you're going to find enough Agendas to win.  This requires a strong but efficient rig to be built that can stand up to the hard work of bashing the Corp's defences down time after time.  The classic Andromeda deck used the Datasucker/Desperado engine to make it cheap to break most Ice, for example, a mode which has been commonly replaced by a Stealth breakers combination in many modern Criminals.  The Runner can also gain strength from knowing they're going to be focussed on R&D in the game, which is the theory behind the Breach/Alias/Passport Icebreakers that trade power for flexibility, or the recent crop of Eater/Knight Anarch decks using Keyhole.

The ultimate endgame of the Digger is the 'R&D lock', which is the point at which the Runner is able to dig so deep into R&D every turn that they'll always see an Agenda before the Corp has the chance to draw it.  Establishing an R&D lock is not a guarantee of victory but unless the Corp has the Agends he needs already stashed away in HQ then it's pretty close.

The reason that Corporations know to prepare for R&D dig is precisely because it's proven to be a hugely effective way of winning games, but it certainly doesn't mean that it's infallible.

  • The Digger is in a race with the Corporation, gambling that they can find and score Agendas from R&D before the Corporation can score Agendas from HQ.  If the digging start early then the odds are firmly in the runner's favour, but if the Corporation has already scored a few Agendas before the Digger really gets going then it could all be too late.
  • Against Jinteki net damage decks the Digger strategy becomes a liability as it's all too easy to hit two Snare! at once and be ending your run in a body bag.  Although Keyhole can't force an R&D lock like Medium it at least retains usefulness against Jinteki.
  • Corporations are getting more and more tools to evade the R&D lock such as Jackson Howard, Daily Business Show and Fast Track, and there are more Agendas that are tricky to steal out of R&D like The Future Perfect or NAPD Contract.

All that said, there's a reason why Diggers have been among the most popular runner strategies - it's hard to ignore the near-inevitability that Diggers will score Agendas if they can just keep digging.

One special case is worth mentioning: I think a lot of players might read this and wonder where Noise fits into these strategies, with his virus-led trashing effect.  

I would argue that to most intents and purposes Noise is a Digger, he's just using viruses to dig through R&D rather than the traditional options.

HQ - "The Harvester"

Signature Cards: R&D Interface, Nerve Agent, Legwork, Wanton Destruction, Utopia Shard

Hunting for Agendas in HQ is traditionally one of the least rewarding ways of playing the game: many Agendas will pass through HQ only briefly on their way from R&D to remote server, and unless the Corporation is flooded for Agendas you've frequently only got a 20% chance of any HQ run ending in a score.  If all there was to the Harvester's gameplan was randomly accessing cards from HQ then it would be called 'The Fisher' instead', and would be just as slow, boring and pointless as it's real life counterpart.  The Harvester has bigger plans than that and wants to improve the odds of their HQ runs paying off in scored Agendas.

Agendas are on a conveyor belt out of R&D into HQ.  In the natural scheme of things they then pass on into remote servers to be advanced and completed.  But if a runner can prevent the Corp from moving those Agendas on into remotes then they will start to gather up in HQ and make it a juicier target.  The first step of the Harvester strategy is to do this, keeping pressure on the Corporation as much as possible so that they never feel like they can risk trying to score an Agenda.  

The tool for achieving this is usually waging economic warfare.  This might sound similar to what the Hunter is doing in building a strong economy but while the Hunter relies on looking weaker than the are, the Harvester wants to look strong so that the Corporation doesn't even try to score something.  Another contrast is that where the Hunter watches and waits, the Harvester harasses and harries.

Keep the Corporation spending money, keep trashing their Sundews and Adonis Campaigns, keep making them rez ice, keep draining their economy whenever possible while building yours.  The longer the game goes on the more Agendas are herded into HQ, and that's what you want - that's why you're the Harvester.  Account Siphon/Vamp are fantastic cards for the Herder as it's the best way of keeping the Corporation on its knees, economically, but often the key for the Harvester is to just keep pestering the Corp in a form of guerrilla warfare by constantly pecking at their defenses and demanding they spend money.  

Finally, when you judge that the time is right and HQ is ripe for the picking you turn your attention to HQ and harvest the rewards of your hard work with multi-access/trashing cards like Legwork or Wanton Destruction.

Like the Hunters and Diggers life isn't plain sailing for Harvesters, and the Harvester plan has some definite weaknesses.

  • If the Corporation's economy is too strong then you won't be able to contain the Corp.  In the worst case you could burn yourself out trying.
  • Cards like Daily Business Show and Jackson Howard give Corporations a way of filtering excess Agendas out of HQ, meaning the HQ 'fruit' never ripens.
  • The theory of the Harvester is that eventually the Agendas will arrive in HQ, but while the Digger is almost certain to find Agendas in R&D there's less certainty for the Harvester.  You could keep the Corp helpless for a dozen turns only for your coup de grace Wanton Destruction to reveal they hadn't drawn a single Agenda in that time.

That said, the Harvester also has two big natural advantages - waging economic warfare on the Corporation is obviously a good thing to be doing anyway, and in constantly probing the Corp's defences you might pick up a couple of Agendas along the way when they are stretched to breaking point.  

Split Personalities

These are the three routes that I think most Runners use to win games - there are exceptions, of course, but I think this explains the vast majority of successful decks.  

Having laid out the three distinct strategies I think it's essential to admit that it's actually relatively common for a Runner deck include elements of more than one of these strategies!  A cyclopean focus on a single gameplan is asking for the Corp to focus all their defensive efforts against it so having a Plan B is often an important part of being a runner.  But while a successful runner deck might carry an element of more than one strategy there is almost always a heavy weighting towards one over the other because it's difficult to fully support two of these plans.

You might see a deck running some Mediums and a copy of Nerve Agent, so are they are a Digger or a Harvester?  Well usually there will be more copies of one than the other, with the runner intending to have one as Plan A and the other as a Plan B in case HQ/R&D becomes too heavily defended.  Similarly you can often find Makers Eye and Legwork in the same deck, or a Hunter deck might carry some Makers Eyes so that they can go hunting for Agendas in R&D if the Corporation is slow in installing their Agendas.  But while you might find two strategies in one deck there will always be a clear main objective, which is what the Runner's economy and rig is set up to support.

Know Your Role

What is most important is that you pick at least one of these strategies when you're building your deck.  Time and again I see Runner decks that tick all the boxes aside from having a gameplan as players get so sucked into the joys of designing and crafting a rig that they never consider what that rig is actually going to be for!  If you fall into that trap then you'll never take the initiative away from the Corporation and however good your rig is you'll be fighting uphill in every game, with the Corporation secure in their central servers and waiting for you in their remotes.

The second lesson is to bear in mind what your final gameplan is when you're building your deck.  Try to make sure that everything is pulling in the same direction, from the 1st card to the 45th, and know why everything is in your deck.  If you're a Hunter you need burst economy and surprise attacks, if you're a Digger you need steady efficiency, if you're a Harvester you need to be aggressive from the outset.  Mismatching elements of those strategies is one of the most common mistakes that new players make, but also one of the easiest to avoid once you learn to think about your deck in the right way from top to bottom.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Cyber Threat: Replicating Perfection

Since returning to Netrunner I've had my work cut out of me trying to catch up on over a year of new Data Packs.  New cards have created new decks and shunted the old favourites I'm used to into the sidelines.  My new 'Cyber Threat' series will be focused on trying to understand some of the current big decks - the cards they play, why they play them, and why together form a killer deck.  

First up is the Jinteki juggernaut of Replicating Perfection.  I've picked six decks posted over the last couple of months (five from NetrunnerDB, one from Reddit), all of which were winners of either a Store Championships or a Regional Championships, and I'll be comparing them to each other to find the common threads and the differences.  Interestingly this also gives me three decks from before SanSan Cycle arrived, and three decks from after SanSan Cycle, so we can look at how things have changed.


Any discussion of Replicating Perfection decks has to start with one card: Replicating Perfection itself.  This corp ID is one of the most powerful we've seen printed to date because it puts such a frustrating restriction onto the runner's freedom.  

For a long time Jinteki was the whipping boy of Corporations and the few Jinteki decks that did work were based in net damage and killing the runner using the Personal Evolution identity as there simply weren't enough cards printed that supported Replicating Perfection.  By contrast Replicating Perfection has now had 18 months of consistent improvement and love as Jinteki was given a real boost throughout Spin and Lunar Cycles, including Honor & Profit, and the strong ability on this ID is fully able to shine.

Every Replicating Perfection deck is built around maximising the ability on the ID.  At its very least the runner is forced to waste a click on running a Central server before going to hit a troublesome Asset or steal an Agenda, but Replicating Perfection decks are looking for more than that.  The objective is to put threatening Ice over all three Central servers so that the Runner has to do more than waste a click, they also have to spend credits or cards before they can jack out of the Central server to attack a Remote.  This pushes Replicating Perfection decks towards a taxing strategy, constantly draining the runner of clicks and credits for everything they want to do, and it also produces a deck that gains additional value out of protecting Central servers, making you a more troublesome target for the classic Account Siphon/R&D type of assaults from runners.

Let's look at how players are maximising the impact of the powerful Replicating Perfection ability, and using that to wage economic warfare on the runner.


There is such a strong consensus on Agendas for Replicating Perfection that out of the six decks only ONE card differs, with Cerberus daring to break ranks to play a single copy of Chronos Protocol (presumably for its Maxx-busting powers).  To all intents and purposes though, every RP deck starts with the same 9 cards.

NAPD Contract and The Future Perfect share something very obvious in common - they're Agendas that are difficult for the runner to steal - and this fits perfectly into the RP gameplan of taxing and draining the runner.  Even if the runner is able to pay to score their agenda you know that it's taxed them further and possibly created a window for the Corp to push a second agenda through.

Nisei MkII is a different story - it doesn't defend itself, but once scored it defends all your other agendas.  In a deck like RP, with it's horrible taxation and frustrating multi-run ability, a scored Nisei MKII can be utterly devastating, rendering a dozen clicks worth of the runner's effort worthless with a single Agenda Counter.  

"Did you run through HQ?  Did it cost you credits?  Ok, did you run on my Agenda?  Did it cost you more credits?  Well guess what, you need to do it again.  Twice.  Hugs & Kisses xx."

We've long thought of Astroscript Pilot Program as perhaps the best Agenda in the game, and while Nisei MkII is harder to score as a 4/2 Agenda, once it's in your scoring area the impact of a scored Nisei can easily match that of Astroscript, especially in Replicating Perfection.

One final comment on the Agendas is that there's a common theme here.  Where most Corporation decks look for Agendas that are the easiest to score (Astroscript, Project Atlas, Accelerated Beta Test) or on Agendas that help the deck once scored (Geothermal Fracking, Efficiency Committee, Priority Requisition) the RP agendas are about being difficult to score.  RP could play with four 3/2 Agendas if it wanted to but instead it's all about making the runner's life difficult, not the Corp's life easier.


The consensus on Agendas carries through into Assets as well, with Mental Health Clinic and Sundew forming the beating heart of Replicating Perfection's economy.  These are both great cards in their own right, but also both fit absolutely perfectly with RP's ability.  Replicating Perfection makes it impossible for the runner to trash Sundew before you get your 2 credits back, so at its very worst Sundew is a direct tax of two clicks and two credits from the runner, but more often it will sit there over at least a couple of turns generating cash before the runner is in a position to trash it.  Mental Health Clinic is very similar to PAD Campaign, but with its 0 rez cost it becomes a low-risk alternative to the PAD Campaign that again, at its very worse, taxed the runner for two clicks and three credits.

I think we're long past explaining why Jackson Howard is in Corp decks, and these days Daily Business Show has become another popular card for Corp decks who want to have more control over the cards they draw, and avoid Agenda flood by pushing unwanted Agendas to the bottom of R&D.  Replicating Perfection makes a particularly good home for Assets with a high trash cost that the Runner will want to trash, and Daily Business Show ticks that box, but I think there's another important reason why RP wants this asset in particular: Replicating Perfection is slow as hell.

You're playing a deck based around dragging the game out, with taxing Ice, clicks drained from the runner, dripfeed economic assets and Agendas that are difficult to score.  None of this helps you to actually finish games but Jackson Howard and Daily Business Show do at least help the Corp to maximise their draws, finding a critical mass of economy to install Ice, and find Agendas to score and actually win the game.


Oh yeah.  Her.

Caprice Nisei can be horrible to play against, and once again she's a card that gets even more horrible in Replicating Perfection. Caprice is the final raised middle finger at the bottom of a remote server once the runner has committed huge resources to getting that far, much the same way a scored Nisei MkII might do.  Caprice underlines that the whole strategy of Replicating Perfection is on wasting as much of the runner's effort as possible, which is very different to most Corp strategies of maximising the Corp's efforts.

Most decks also found room (and Influence) for either Crisium Grid or Ash 2X3ZB9CY, which are similar in that they both further frustrate the runner's efforts once they have broken through Ice on a server, with Ash better at defending Agendas as a Caprice alternative, while Crisium Grid is more commonly placed on Central servers to defend against damaging runs like Maker's Eye, Account Siphon, Wanton Destruction, Keyhole, Legwork etc.


Partly because Replicating Perfection works so perfectly with Assets there's actually relatively few Operations being played in these decks, especially when you look outside the staple six economy Operations: 3x Hedge Fund, 3x Celebrity Gift.  Cereberus was one player to differ from the accepted wisdom around Celebrity Gift, and if you read the comments he makes about his deck he says he playtested both Celebrity Gift and Medical Research Fundraiser and found that it was better to give the runner credits rather than information.  It's not been a popular decision, but it's interesting that the option to remove Celebrity Gift is there if you agree with him.

Outside of those cards the Corp pretty much always finds space for a copy of Interns to reinstall trashed Sundews/Caprices, and then most recently we've seen players trying to find Influence to play Enhanced Login Protocol.  The synergy of Enhanced Login Protocol with a Replicating Perfection plan of taxing clicks from the runner is obvious, and so it's obvious why players have been trying to find space for it.  The reason that Enhanced Login Protocol isn't being played more heavily appears to be that it is competing for card slots and Influence with some of the better cards in the deck... arguably Alex White (who ignored Login Protocol) got to play a Tollbooth and an Ash in it's place, and they are both strong cards in their own right, and both also fit perfectly into Replicating Perfection.


Before we look at the Ice makeup of Replicating Perfection I think it's really useful to stop and take stock of what we've seen so far.  We've got six different decks, winners all, and you have to say that at this point the differences between them are few and far between.  They play the same Agendas, the same economy Assets and Operations, the same card draw Assets, and the same Upgrades.  This is what a Replicating Perfection deck is, and all these players pretty much entirely agree on how to build it best.  The consistency is remarkable.

But also look at just how single-minded these decks are.  Economy aside, virtually the entire deck is focussed on hating the runner.

  • Agendas that are hard to score
  • Assets that are powerful and hard to trash
  • Upgrades that make runs hard to complete
Where other decks might split focus a little, with some cards that help the Corp and other cards that punish the Runner, Replicating Perfection is all hate.  Slow the runner down.  Slow them down some more.  Then when they're slowed right down... slow them down even further or send them back to the start.  It's the Replicating Perfection obsession.


To Grail or not to Grail, that is the question...

It should be immediately apparent that what we're dealing with here are two very different blocks of Ice, which happen to coincide neatly with Pre/Post SanSan Cycle coming out.  The three Store Champs decks all played a Grail Ice layout, while the later Regionals winners all played with more traditional taxing Ice, with the Influence spent on the Grail Ice converted into Influence spent on Eli v1.0 and Tollbooths.  The shift away from Grail Ice appears to have come about because of wider changes in the Netrunner metagame, rather than because of any particular cards being printed in SanSan Cycle that have led to the change.

1) Grail Ice is less effective against Pre-Paid Kate McCaffrey decks because it takes time to build a hand of Grail Ice to attach to those installed, and you need to be hurting Kate early in the game.

2) Kate brings Self-Modifying Code, and new Anarch decks in Order & Chaos bring Parasites back into the fray, both of which hurt Grail Ice.  It's harder to surprise the runner with program trashing with SMC around, and both Lancelot and Galahad are easy targets for Parasite destruction (not to mention each Grail you kill probably pulls a Grail out of hand to be installed, making all Grail worse).

It's combined to mean that Grail Ice, the post-World Championships flavour of the month, has been replaced by the old stalwart taxing Ices.  Although the Grail/traditional difference is very real, affecting more half of the Ice played in these decks, the roles that the Ice play are really quite similar - this is demonstrated in the table below which divides the Ice up according to the definitions I laid out in Shields Up!.

Look at how much these decks lean on Ice that taxes the Runner, and also on 'Analogue' Ice that retains it's value once Icebreakers are installed.  Binary ETR Ice, the cornerstone of so many Corp decks as they're the cheapest way of stopping Runners from completing runs, are given only a minor sideline role.  In Replicating Perfection those Ice are perhaps the least desirable, and ideally saved only for Remote servers - RP wants to layer annoying taxing Ice over Archives/R&D and HQ in order to maximise the fact their ID ability forces the runner to go there.  If you put an Ice Wall over HQ the runner can just bounce of it at the cost of a click, but if you put a Tsurugi over it then the runner has to pay credits to avoid damage before they can jack out.

The core taxing Ice that is being used here is Tollbooths, Pups, and the net damage sentries like Tsurugi and Cortex Lock.  Since Cortex Lock became available it has replaced a lot of the Tsurugi that were previously being played - although the taxation effect of Cortex Lock is often less than it was for Tsurugi the card is cheaper to rez and, critically, a lot harder to dispose of with the likes of Parasite.  Pup is one of the cards that I think does the most to make Replicating Perfection work - for the super-low cost of a single credit the RP deck drop a Pup over a Central server and immediately begin taxing the runner two credits or two cards.  Being able to make a server unpleasant to run on WITHOUT costing the earth is a big help for Replicating Perfection as it tries to secure all three Centrals with something nasty. 

Even then on the remote servers you don't really want binary ETR Ice, because you want the runner to have to invest more credits to get through the Agenda behind, making it even more frustrating for them hit a Caprice Nisei or a Future Perfect, lose a Psi game and have to go back to the start.

After throwing the tricky taxing Ices over Central servers the next step for RP is to add build a taxing remote server and begin pushing Agendas, and that's where Lotus Field, Eli v1.0 and, once again, the trust Tollbooth come in, sometimes supported by the likes of the expensive Ashigaru or worldbending Susanoo-No-Mikoto.  Even on remote servers the likes of Quandary, Wraparound or Himitsu-Bako are only sparingly used... it's simply not in Replicating Perfection's interests to give the runner an easy ride through any of its Ice.
Again, look at how single-minded the Ice is, here.  Outside of the Grail Ice variants there's pretty much no threat to trash programs, just layer upon layer of credit/card taxation and mid-sized ETR Ice that can't be easily brushed aside.  As I discussed in Shields Up! trashing programs is a great support for Binary ETR Ice, because killing an Icebreaker effectively turns your Ice back 'on', but in Replicating Perfection the Ice is tough and can look after itself, still successfully taxing the runner once their rig is assembled.  Simply carrying more strength and more subroutines is more important than attempting to kill the runner, or the runner's rig.  

Replicating Perfection remains super-focused on its goals through almost every card in the deck and, like all good decks, it picks the Ice that works best to it's goals, not 'the best Ice'.

Beating Perfection

So, that's what Replicating Perfection look like.  It's a deck designed to tie the runner in knots, drain them economically while keeping the rewards just out of reach - it's like playing at a bent casino where the house never lets you win.  How do you beat Replicating Perfection?  Well as I'm just returning to the game I'm afraid that's a question I'm not best placed to answer, but from looking at what I've learned from this analysis I have a few theories about how to go about it.

1) Be an economic powerhouse.  RP wants to force you into poverty and keep you there, but if you can secure a guaranteed supply of credits then you can turn the tables, trash the Corp's dripfeed economy and leave them in the poorhouse instead.  Recurring credits of some form will be particularly valuable - RP is setting up for a long game so short term economic boosts may not be enough, but you also know that RP isn't going to come after your rig in any meaningful way.  This means you've got time to build up a powerful economic engine, and can be pretty sure that the Corp isn't going to come and blow it up.

2) Avoid running until you need to.  RP taxes you every time you leave the house, so stay home and choose your moments, don't keep throwing away clicks and credits just to take a shot at accessing cards from R&D or HQ - with a deck of The Future Perfect and NAPD contract, and only 9 Agendas to shoot for, you're not going to win fast anyway so don't rush.  You've got to make every run count, and use the downtime to prepare correctly for the next one.  

3)  Play efficient breakers.  Against RP finding a way to play Torch over Gordian Blade is great value, the same for Battering Ram over Corroder.  You'll be up against big Ice a lot, you'll be running against it a lot... pay the upfront cost (or cheat it in with Scavenge) and you'll make a big saving in the long run.  RP will give you the time to install that rig, and it won't try and trash you big guns once they're out.  Have them ready.

4) Kill the Ice.  Replicating Perfection is one of the best decks for squeezing value out of their Ice, both by having their ability force you to interact with it when you don't want to and by playing a slower game where you'll make more runs against it.  In the long run it's often better to kill the Ice outright rather than tangle with it multiple times.  Parasite the small stuff, Femme the big stuff, do whatever you can to avoid breaking the Ice on the Corp's terms.

Those are some of the ideas that immediately occur to me, but I know there is a wealth of knowledge out there of how best to take on Replicating Perfection so please feel free to enlighten me about the ways you've found to take it on by leaving it on the Comments section.

Appendix - Influence