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.