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.


Hardware





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.


Resources




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.


Events




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.


EDIT
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.




Icebreakers

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.

EDIT
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.




Programs

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...


EDIT
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.