Monday, 22 June 2015

Keeping up with Current events

I was just leaving Netrunner for my sabbatical as Lunar Cycle loomed but I have strong memory of reading an article, as I left, that introduced the forthcoming Current keyword and thinking: "hmm, that sounds like it could be interesting".  One of my frustrations with the structure of Netrunner is how much almost every interaction is forced through the medium of runs, meaning that at heart the game is quite non-interactive - you can never choose to interact with your opponent's strategy directly, you have to use a run.  What I liked about Currents, and the way they cancelled each other out, was that here was another angle of attack and counterattack that didn't require runs.

And then I went away, and it seems like for most of that time I've been away Current have, by and large, sucked.  They simply weren't good enough to justify playing, and if your opponent wasn't playing Currents then you sure as hell weren't going to play your crappy Currents just to counter his crappy Currents that he wasn't even bothering to play!

Well, it's been a long time coming for those who stuck with the game but I think Currents are finally starting to come of age and it's virtually entirely down to one card: Hacktivist Meeting.  This Anarch Current arrived in Breaker Bay and pretty much immediately found a home in a metagame dominated by two Corp IDs thriving on remote Assets: Near-Earth Hub and Replicating Perfection.  

I mentioned this when I discussed the changes I'd made for my Maxx deck, but to repeat myself the Hacktivist Meeting hurts so many of the common cards in this metagame, including Jackson Howard, Daily Business Show, Marked Accounts, PAD Campaign, Eve Campaign, Adonis Campaign, Sundew, Mental Health Clinic, Crysium Grid, Ash, Caprice, Red Herrings... the list is huge.

That was the first blow struck for real competitive currents.  Prior to Hacktivist Meeting the only Current you were likely to see were Enhanced Login Protocols, but although annoying the impact of Enhanced Login Protocol wasn't strong enough to force Runners into playing their own bad Currents to fight it.   It took Hacktivist Meetings to really flip things up a gear and make Currents really matter, and now we've had Surveillance Sweep spoiled from Data & Destiny, potentially delivering a Corp Current that Runner's also can't ignore.

Every good Current that gets printed makes every other Current better, as having a counter to Currents becomes more and more important.  I think we're starting to see a cascade effect bringing more  and more Currents into decks, so it's worth revisiting  what the Currents are to see what you should be re-evaluating.

Runner Currents

Currently there are only six Runner Currents available, and realistically there are only two and a half you'd consider playing outside of very niche decks.  We've already discussed Hacktivist Meeting but I'm also a big fan of Net Celebrity, which is ongoing efficiency economy in the vain of Lockpick/Silencer/Cloak but which you can also use to trash assets or resolve effects like Self-Modifying Code - Net Celebrity is almost like a mini Bad Publicity counter, which is no bad thing.

The half card I mentioned is Traffic Jam, which is a card that fits the old Current template perfectly - it does something good but not good enough to really justify a card slot on its own.  However as Corp Currents become more prevalent I think Traffic Jam might just creep into use here and there among Criminals who want to counter annoying Currents but can't spare Influence for Net Celebrity.

The reason Criminals would use Traffic Jam is because their own Current, Unscheduled Maintenance, largely sucks balls - restricting Corps to only installing Ice about as often as they probably wanted to in the first place!  It's got some added value in Leela decks, maybe tutored up with Logos in a particular situation of extreme value.  That's about it.

The remaining Runner Currents are both Anarch backup to Hacktivist Meeting, and they both suffer from being nowhere near as good as their big brother.  Itinerant Protesters is kind of the kill card in a particularly self-contained Bad Publicity-obsessed Valencia deck, and Scrubbed is simply not very good.

You Are Using: Hacktivist Meeting

You Should Start Using: Net Celebrity, IMHO sometimes even in Criminal

Corp Currents

Where the Runner only has six Currents available the Corporation has ten, and more of them are playable.  It's Hacktivist Meeting that has triggered the Current arms race, but it's the Corps who are best prepared for it.

Starting with one you're most familiar with, Enhanced Login Protocol is a solid taxation card for the Runner that particularly punishes those who run frequently, and as such it's a good support card for a horizontal Corp strategy where you can tax the Runner additional clicks for coming to investigate your remote servers. You see it played for this element in Replicating Perfection, where it fits very well, but it would suit any similar horizontal deck such as Gagarin in Weyland, or Industrial Genomics in Jinteki.  You'll also see it support the Bioroids and asset economy in a lot of the slower glacier-style Haas Bioroid decks.

Fulfilling a slightly similar role is Paywall Implementation, but instead of taxing the runner a click for running like Enhanced Login Protocol does, Paywall Implementation sees the Corp get paid for each successful run.  I've seen Paywall used in a lot of the same type of decks as Enhanced Login Protocol and one clear advantage is the way that it counters the Lamprey in Reina Roja's deadly 'Headlock' style of deck.

Those are probably the Currents that have seen most use on the Corp side until now but there's one clear contender that I think is about to become a big deal, and that is Cerebral Static.  The dominant Replicating Perfection archetype is facing a triple threat in the shape of the rise of new Whizzard decks that use the Yog.0/Net-Ready Eyes combination, and Hacktivist Meeting.  This is a trifecta of bad times for Replicating Perfection, with Yog.0/Net-Ready Eyes shutting down some of their strongest Ice in Lotus Field, and both Whizzard and Hacktivist Meeting targetting all of their precious asset economy pieces.  The answer to two of those problems is in one card: Cerebral Static, which shuts of Whizzard's ability and trashes Hacktivist Meeting!  As well as countering Whizzard, the Cerebral Static is crippling in Noise, Kit and Maxx matchups and still valuable in matchups against Leela, Quetzal, Kate, and Chaos Theory.  It's a card that is about to have its moment as the best way for the dominant Corporation deck to answer a huge new threat.

A Current that I probably like a little bit more than I really should is Lag Time, which I consider a genuine alternative to Enhanced Login Protocol in my Haas-Bioroid decks.  They do similar but slightly different things: where ELP taxes clicks from the runner for checking out unprotected servers Lag Time taxes credits for ploughing through my protected servers.  When I've got cards like Ash, Caprice or Red Herrings sat at the base of those servers any extra costs to penetrate the Ice is welcome, and Lag Time shines here.  An added bonus for Lag Time, to my mind, is that against the fixed strength Anarch breakers it crucially makes Architect tough for Mimic to deal with, and also makes my Vipers tough for Yog.0, even with Net-Ready Eyes.  Lag Time is, to my mind, the perfect example of a Current that didn't do quite enough to justify a deck slot until there were Runner currents that I had to kill, and right now I think it's just about knocking on the door of being ready for serious play.  Caveat: I did say at the top of this paragraph that I might like this card more than I really should, so if you play it and it turns out be rubbish then don't blame me!

There's a couple of really powerful Corp currents that, for whatever reason, haven't really found a home yet: Manhunt and Housekeeping.  I think the biggest problem for Manhunt is that Near-Earth Hub is so good nobody is using Making News anymore as their NBN identity, and the second biggest problem for Manhunt is that Kate McCaffrey is so ubiquitous and comes with a base link of 1, halving the tax of Manhunt outside of Making News decks.  At some point this card is going to be huge, though, take my word for it.  It's a real sleeping powerhouse just waiting for the right deck to unlock it - taxing the runner 2 credits or a tag for every run is nuts.  

Housekeeping is like the Corp's version of Hacktivist Meeting and it's a powerful effect, though perhaps one that is easy to overrate - Housekeeping will rarely help you to flatline the Runner as they can choose when to take damage and can ensure they recover, instead Housekeeping is more like the disruptive drip of damage runner previously had to take from Personal Evolution decks.  It's actually better support for a deck intent on trashing the runner's rig with Power Shutdown and Taurus than it for a deck trying to blow the Runner to kingdom come with Scorched Earth.  Beware when that deck appears though, for Housekeeping is a painful card to play against.

I don't have much time for Predictive Algorithm or Targeted Marketing.  Compared to the other taxation Currents like Enhanced Login Protocol the 2 credits for an Agenda tax of Predictive Algorithm is almost nothing, and Targeted Marketing frequently misses the Runner's deck completely if you misread their intentions, or they simply wait until they clear the Current and then play their big card if you called it right.  I do like Surveillance Sweep, though, and I think it will join the ranks of the strongest Currents when Data & Destiny is printed.  At the moment trace effects are a bit of a gamble on the Corp's part - pay too much and the Runner will shrug and be happy at how much you spent, pay too little and the Runner will decide to match it.  Surveillance Sweep switches that relationship onto its head and will have a big impact on the strength of a TON of tracing cards, making good cards better (Ash, Caduceus, Viper) and bad cards good (Searchlight, TMI, Shinobi).

That leaves Defective Brainchips as the only card I haven't talked about.  I don't see Brain damage as a viable strategy yet so this sits as casual-only for now.  It's the Corp's version of Itinerant Protesters, probably.

You Are Using: Enhanced Login Protocol, maybe Paywall Implementation

You Should Start Using: Cerebral Static, Lag Time (maybe?)

And Watch Out For: Manhunt, Surveillance Sweep, Housekeeping.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Cyber Threat: Prepaid Kate

After the dominance of Kate McCaffrey at the UK National Championships the next stop in my Cyber Threat series was pretty obvious.  Cyber Threat is a series analysing the top decks in the metagame and learning precisely what makes them tick, the first deck I looked at was the Jinteki threat of Replicating Perfection and now it's time for my first runner.

I've picked six Prepaid VoicePAD decks recently posted onto NetrunnerDB and Acoo, all of them proven success stories from recent Regional or National Championships.  I don't mind spoiling the punchline a little by saying that we're going to look at six decklists that are HUGELY similar.  Prepaid VoicePAD is a deck where the players have all settled on a list that's pretty close to what they believe is optimal, and any changes are largely minor or around the fringes.  We can still look at what those differences are, and it's also extremely interesting to see just how much consensus there is on the deck.

The Master Plan

In case you've been living under a rock recently you probably know how a Prepaid Kate deck works but I'll give you a summary anyway.

Prepaid refers to Prepaid VoicePAD, and the recurring credits to play Events lies at the heart of a deck that is all about snowballing an economic advantage as it powers through the Stack, before using Levy AR Lab Access to reshuffle everything back in for a second run through.  The deck is hugely consistent with a lot of card drawing and program-searching effects, and also benefits from the ability to maximise the impact of 1-of splash cards like Clot or Parasite using Clone Chip.  Kate's ability to reduce the cost of Programs and Hardware isn't essential to the playstyle but it's better than any other Shaper identity and ever credit helps.

The success and popularity of Prepaid Kate, therefore, shouldn't be much of a surprise.  It's powerful, it's consistent, and just as importantly the all-star Self-Modifying Code makes the deck both quick to threaten servers and flexible against a range of Corp strategies.


If you're building a Prepaid Kate deck then here are 8 cards you can sort out straight away - you'll want full sets of Clone Chip and the signature Prepaid VoicePAD, and a pair of Astrolabe.  Most of the decks then went on to round out their hardware with the old stalwarts of Plascrete Carapace and R&D Interface

The three Hardware listed here really lie at the heart of what Prepaid Kate is trying to do, and almost encapsulate the deck's concept in microcosm.  

  • Prepaid VoicePAD is your incremental economic advantage - as the game goes on your deck gets stronger and more efficient as your rig builds up, giving Kate a huge amount of mid-late game power.  

  • Clone Chip is a key to how flexible and responsive the deck can be, allowing it to reuse Self-Modifying Code, block fast advancing Corps with Clot, destroy Ice with Parasite, or pull back lost Icebreakers as the situation demands.  

  • Finally Astrolabe is a deliciously cheap Console for the +1MU and also comes with free draw effects attached.  As we'll see Prepaid Kate LOVES to draw cards - it's precisely those cards that feed into the snowballing economic buildup and provide a steady flow of Events to play with your Prepaid VoicePAD credits.


Prepaid Kate doesn't like Resources much as they're basically the only card type that they don't get a discount for.  The Resources are dedicated to more of Kate's core strengths, card drawing and economy from Symmetrical Visage or Professional Contacts, and replaying key cards with Same Old Thing (which also doubles as essential backup protection for Levy AR Lab Access in case you take damage).

The only real debate here was the clear decision to be made between Professional Contacts and its low fat alternative, Symmetrical Visage.  The players in the UK Nationals all placed their faith in Professional Contacts while the others played a little more fast and loose with Symmetrical Visage.  The key thing to note here, I think, is that nobody was actually using Symmetrical Visage to directly replace Professional Contacts alone, because they also chose to play Quality Time as well.

It's a close decision to make between the two options.  Professional Contacts alone certainly outclasses the Visage, but with Prepaid VoicePAD cutting the cost of Quality Time there's a real power rush there.  My instincts as a neutral observer is that I'd probably prefer the steadier benefit of ProCon over the burst drawing of Quality Time, but there's no getting away from the tempo hit you get when you first put Professional Contacts down.


Well, almost half the entire deck is Events!  That fits with the theme of using Prepaid VoicePAD and you can also see just how must consistency there is here, first and foremost with a trio of burst economy cards - Dirty Laundry, Sure Gamble and even the influence-hungry Lucky Find.

When you base your deck around burst economy cards it's essential to ensure a steady supply of cards so you keep seeing more of them.  We've already found plenty of draw effects in the Hardware and Resources but we also find it here in Diesel and Quality Time.

There's then also a selection of general utility Events like Scavenge (for resetting Atman), Stimhack (for running those servers that other runs just can't breach), and the multi-access threats of Legwork, Makers Eye and Indexing.

One of the weaknesses of writing these pieces from the perspective of the returning player who is still learning the metagame is that I can miss subtleties about why cards are chosen.  I deliberately didn't write about the Vamp in Alex White's UK Nats winning deck because I wasn't sure why he had broken from protocol to play it over Parasite.  I've since been told that Vamp was included largely as anti-Psi tech, allowing him to bankrupt the Corp and be 100% certain of winning a Psi game when it really mattered.


You might have thought that so far the decks have been almost identical so we're due some differences in the Icebreaker suites...

You'd be wrong.

Basically the ONLY decision to be made is whether you want to take two Codebreakers into the shower (Zu.13 and Cyber Cypher), or just one (Gordian Blade).  Although "Lady" is only a short-termed Barrier breaker it gains more longevity in Kate thanks to the Clone Chips and Levy AR Lab Access to replay everything a second time, meaning that Kate can benefit from the huge efficiency that "Lady" brings against the big barriers without worrying too much about her loyal puppy lying down to die at the wrong time.

I was originally a little surprised to see that they had opted for Mimic as their only core Killer, but then I quickly searched for frequently-played Sentries that are Strength 5 or above (so would need more than a single Datasucker counter to break, or an Atman more than 4) and there are very few.  VERY few.  More than that, of the Sentries that are that big, such as Archer or Ichi 2.0, the Sharpshooter will deal with most of them.  Further supporting the Mimic in matchups where big Sentries are a problem is the old friend of Kate's: Atman, who brings the efficient AI solution that can make every the most ornery of Ice a relatively easy obstacle to bypass.

The relative weakness of Kate against big Sentries is one of the reasons why Susanoo-No-Mikoto has become a strong option in many of the RP decks.


At last, some real differences between these decks.... oh.

The biggest shock here is that two of the top UK players felt like that could afford to run only two copies of Self-Modifying Code.  Otherwise the rest of the deck is pretty much prescribed, with the only difference among these six decks being the two influence that Alex White transferred into Vamp from Parasite.

Card Types

One of my favourite tools when comparing decks is to break down the cards into what they're trying to do, which can often help you to find similarities between decks that otherwise seem very different.

You don't really need to do that with these decks because of how obvious the similarities are but I do think this summary really tells you a huge amount about what this deck's strengths really are: Economy and Card Draw.  Fully 2/3rds of the deck are either Economy or Card Draw with actual Icebreakers or offensive rig pieces actually treated as an afterthought: what's the bare minimum of Icebreakers I can run?  What's the bare minimum of offensive cards?

It's a very different approach to how many Runner decks are made, which often put the offensive rig in first and then worry about how to make it work.  That's backwards in Kate, and really presses home just how much the deck's greatest weapons are the brute force of having all the cards and credits you need.

Fighting Back

So, that's Prepaid Kate.  It's consistent at seeing the cards it needs, flexible in responding to threats, and a long term economic powerhouse fuelled by Lucky Finds and Sure Gambles all day long.  It's clear from these decks that the formula for Kate success is well worn by now, and well proven as well.  These players were able to pick up a deck that pretty much everyone knew and prepared for, and still found great success with it.

That's a hallmark of a really powerful deck.  There's a lot of value in doing something unexpected, and especially so in Netrunner where hidden strategies can reap huge rewards, but this deck doesn't need that.  Kate doesn't sneak around, she doesn't try to dodge defences with trickery or blackmail, she doesn't rely on Siphoning the Corp into the ground.  Kate starts the game in the three-point stance and takes the Corp down head-on.  

Kate is a fighter.  A smart fighter, for sure, and certainly a technical and flexible fighter, but at heart she's about simply muscling through defences and stealing Agendas with brute force multi-access attacks.  And right now she's the #1 threat that Corps need to be prepared for.

Good luck!  I think you might need it...

Apologies for the relative lightness of the 'how to beat Kate' section.  I've deliberately skirted around this because I feel that at the moment my inexperience in the metagame makes me a pretty poor choice to write that sort of detailed strategy piece.  There are dozens of people who know much more about how to edge Kate out than I do. 

If I had to pick some targets I think that it's going to be difficult to fight the core economy, that's way too strong.  The weak points are where the deck got stretched thin to fit all the economy in.  The icebreaker suite is bare minimum so you can attack the weakness vs big Sentries, and you might even be able to attack "Lady" if you play A LOT of barriers and drain those power counters quickly enough.  I also think that while Kate is flexible with SMC to find Clot/Parasite/Atman etc when she needs it, and can then replay them with Clone Chips, she might struggle to flex in multiple directions at once - if you can overload her search/recursion engine with the need to do two things at once she might not cope.

Monday, 1 June 2015

UK Nationals 2015 - Results Summary

The UK National Championships were this weekend (I think the first Nationals of 2015?) and the results are in - congratulations to Alex White who will be flying the UK flag at Worlds!
As a 150+ player tournament the Nationals are a big tournament to evaluate the meta at the moment.  I'm going to throw some tables on here right now and then come back and add in some notes and observerations later.
Corporation Identities
Overperformance of Blue Sun (highest % of players in Top 16)
Blue Sun was only 10% of Corp decks but made up 25% of the decks in the Top 16.  It's also unique in that it has a top-heavy distribution of performance (more people did well with the deck than did badly).  Although Replicating Perfection took up more slots in the Top 16, and ultimately Alex White's winning deck was Replicating Perfection, the strongest performance appears to have come from Weyland.
Some example Blue Sun decks from UK Nationals...
And the Sunday of UK Nationals also saw another big tournament (70+ players), which was won by Blue Sun...
Weakness of Haas-Bioroid (lowest % of players in Top 6 despite good representation)
Although none of the big four identities did badly Engineering The Future was clearly the worst of the bunch, collecting players in the 33-64 bracket more often than its peers.  That's only a win or two away from the top of the tournament and I suspect that many of the elite players had avoided Engineering The Future so there may be some selection bias creeping into this evaluation.  Nevertheless, right now HB is clearly the runt of the Corporation litter as the other HB identities also performed (marginally) the worst outside the big four.

The Desert of Alternatives

If you're not playing the big four identities (and arguably even if you're playing Engineering The Future) then you're doing it wrong.  80% of all players who played any other identity finishing outside the Top 64, and only two players made it within the Top 32!
The strong Corp decks are the strong Corp decks.

The New Face of Supermodernism

The one Identity that really bucked the trend was Gagarin Deep Space, which was played by one player and was strong enough to take 100% of that one player into the Top 8!  That player was the well known Quintin Smith, who has managed to get Netrunner into actual real print in a real newspaper recently.

I know a lot of people have been trying to get a Gagarin deck to work but it was Quintin who had the courage enough in his convictions to actually take the deck to Nationals and go on to great things with it.

I won't do a full breakdown of his Gagarin deck but I can summarise by saying that I think it's actually an elegant evolution of the Supermodernism deck style.  Gagarin decks have tended to go really heavy on Asset economy to tax that 1 credit for accessing cards but there's only a few Assets in Quintin's deck, instead he's playing a more subtle blend of Asset and Operation economy cards to support an Ice mix that's actually quite aggressive at throwing ETR routines at the runner.  Ice Wall, Enigma and Caduceus are the hallmarks of a deck trying to rush Agenda scores in the early game, and it still packs the SEA Source/Scorched Earth threat from Supermodernism to trip the unwary runner.  What's absent from Supermodernism is the Archers and the Hostile Takeovers that powered him, but there's still threatening Ice here and the Gagarin's ability stretches the runner's early economy just enough to force Agendas through.

In short I like the deck a lot, and I think it could provide an alternative Weyland route to Blue Sun.  A lot of players have suggested that Weyland is on the wane, but Blue Sun and this deck suggest we shouldn't be waving goodbye to the bad guys just yet.

Runner Identities
Kate McCaffrey was utterly dominant
The most popular runner by far, Kate McCaffrey also outperformed the rest of the pack comfortably - 33% of players used her and she was 56% of the Top 16 and another 42% of the decks that finished 17-64th.
There's a discussion to be had about whether it's Kate winning games or just Shaper cards, and Kate is just that much better than any of the specialist Shaper IDs and so takes all the glory.  I would lean towards Kate's ability actually being a key part of her success as on top of the near-guaranteed 1c discount per turn I think she combos through quite well with the key cards Clone Chip and Self-Modifying Code to generate even more value.  The economic power of Prepaid Voice Pad is also much greater in Kate as she buys her Pads at a 50% discount.
In the end more players chose Kate than any other runner, and they were right to do so.  Among those players were the eventual winner, Alex White...
And, because I didn't list it above, his Replicating Perfection deck that was paired with Kate.
Are Anarch's hard to play or just inconsistent?
The big problem that Anarchs always faced is that they wind up clicking to draw cards while Shapers and Criminals enjoy searching through their decks for the cards they want with Special Order, Hostage, Test Run, Diesel, Self-Modifying Code etc.  They've been given a helping hand in that respect with Inject and I've Had Worse but perhaps it's not been enough.
What we see in these results is a really clear break in the results of both Reina and Noise - a few players did very well but the majority did very badly, with Anarch's having the highest likelihood of finishing outside the Top 64 of any of the main IDs.

Were just a few players doing it right and everyone else playing Anarch was making mistakes?  Well my personal anecdotal experience with MaxX is that I think she is quite unforgiving to mistakes, but underlying all that I think one of the main reasons that's the case is because even MaxX, with her free drawing ability, is only on the borderline of being good enough to win the tough games.  I fear Anarchs still need some love.

Andromeda is still (just) the Queen of Crime 
There was close competition from Leela but Andromeda did just enough to edge the young pretender into second place.  Although they were both played the same number of people, and both took the same number of Top 16 slots, Andromeda's consistency saw very few Andromeda players fall outside the Top 64.  The pattern of Andromeda players ranking's was actually quite strong (only 36% outside Top 64) and although many fell just outside the Top 16 it could be that the 'Stealth Andy' deck remains the best Criminal structure.
Izzy Whizzy, let's get busy?
Much like Gagarin for the Corp there was a runner anomaly, with two Whizzard decks placing strongly - Marc Valles taking it to the Top 16 while Joey McMillan was only one win away from joining him.
I haven't seen decklists for either of the Whizzard decks yet but it's easy to see how his Asset-trashing ability is well-positioned against the metagame.  I'll look out for those decks and add them here once they crop up.
Chaos Disproves The Theory?
If I argued that Kate is good because she's Kate not just because she's a Shaper (as I did above) then Chaos Theory is doing her best to disprove that hypothesis.  She was only played by 9 players but her distribution through the field is quite similar to Kate's.  This has often been the play-off between Kate and Chaos Theory - is it better to have Kate's money or Chaos' consistency?

It appears as though simply playing Shaper cards is a good start, and the argument pro-con Kate McCaffrey being a key part of Shaper success will continue, I feel.
In Summary: Play Green Cards.

Play Green cards.  Less than 50% OF ALL PLAYERS TO PLAY ANY SHAPER ID finished outside the Top 64.  70% of Anarch did, and 62% of Criminals.

Play Green cards.