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.