Saturday, 20 September 2014

Discursions with Divadus - First Contact

Like any sane Netrunner aficionado, I salivate in Pavlovian fashion whenever shiny, new cards are presented before me. The third data pack of the Lunar Cycle, First Contact, certainly elicited such a reaction. Thus, being an avid lucubrator, I decided to scrawl some of my thoughts about the pack's contents. Sorry, just grabbing a napkin - won't be a moment. 

Before we dive into analysis, I first wish to make some comment on the rating system I will be using. As an individual, I am hesitant to give things a numerical rating. In my more lofty, idealistic moments, I aspire to ascend beyond such pettiness as largely arbitrary, number-based assignments. 'X-out-of-Y' is far too simplistic as a means of assessment! It does not begin to summarize the complex thought process that surrounds subject appraisal! Let the words speak for themselves! All that pretentious, writer-y, good stuff. 

Sadly, being reasonably grounded in reality, I am aware that many people simply skim through text in order to get to the rating at the end. And I don't fault them for it. Consequently, the ratings out of five are a concession - basically, "I'm not really a 'ratings' person, but if pressed to assign a number to this card that would signify something of what I view to be its comparative utility within the current card pool, this is what I would give it." As a point of reference, we'll say that I view Jackson Howard as a 5/5 (meta-defining, closest thing to an auto-include, effective across a wide range of scenarios, etc.), and Force of Nature as a 1/5 (I suffer severe internal bruising when I look at this card).

Get on with it? Okay, fair enough.

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 41: IQ


And we kick off the set with a doozy. Now, I know what you're all thinking. Research Station, am I right? (I'm right, though). Anyhow, Cerebral Imaging is likely going to be the first card to spring to people's minds, for obvious reasons. The CI-IQ relationship/symbiosis is certainly interesting. In some senses, IQ's rez cost/cards in HQ correspondence is highly deleterious for CI - with great hand size comes great expenditure. However, finding and rezzing this card early on for, say 5-6 credits, only to have it continuously grow in strength, as you spam Clearances willy-nilly? - IQ has enormous potential. In order for this ideal scenario to arise though, you probably have to be running three copies, despite the fact that you are unlikely to ever rez all three.

I would worry that CI-IQ has too much potential to shut Anarchs out, if it weren't for the arrival of the beautiful D4V1D last pack (my word, that card is such a boon for Orange). For Criminals (and many Shapers), Femme Fatale is almost certainly the correct approach to take against CI-IQ, assuming you ever want to get through the server again, without paying through the nose. 

Outside of CI, IQ is not quite so impressive, but it is still solid in standard HB. Maximum 5 rez cost (outside of dirty 'Xanadu/Reina' Runner roguery) for an 'End the run' code gate that will typically sit between 4 and 5 strength is solid - swapping the popular Viktor 2.0 for IQ does not seem entirely outlandish. Perhaps the biggest advantage of IQ is its variable strength which makes it especially effective against Atman, a card that currently sees a ton of play.

Outside of HB? Doubtful that it will see play. If you have some spare influence and are looking for a hefty ETR code gate, you probably want Tollbooth. Or you could save a little influence and go for the unsuckerable Lotus Field. IQ isn't terrible out of faction by any means, but it probably isn't worth the influence.

3.5/5

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42: ♦ Eliza’s Toybox


This card was among the first officially spoiled cards, and generated considerable hub-bub at the time of its reveal. And honestly, I understand the hype - this card is extremely potent. The most immediate comparison to Toybox is Melange Mining Corp. Both are Corp assets which provide considerable economic gain, assuming the Corp spends consecutive turns using them, and are hence likely to be well-defended. However, there are several notable differences. In Melange’s favour, Toybox requires the Corp to have a number of high rez cost ice installed before it actually serves a purpose; Melange, by contrast, directly supplies the Corp with credits, and hence, does not require a specific board state to be effective.

With that said, there is a very strong point in Eliza’s Toybox’s favour: 4 trash cost is not insignificant. When Melange is accessed from R&D or HQ (as it frequently is), its 1 trash cost relegates it to ‘instant trash status’; Toybox’s decent trash cost makes the trash decision considerably more difficult for the Runner. In this sense, SanSan City Grid may be a more apt comparison to Toybox - both present the Runner with a dilemma. If either card is ever rezzed (and hence used) by the Corp, the Corp has already gained a sizable, immediate advantage (fast-advanced out an agenda or cheated out a troublesome ice); however, if the Runner trashes either card before it’s rezzed (particularly out of HQ or R&D), the Corp loses nothing, while the Runner is set back a fair way economically.

Toybox definitely requires building around (putting in more large ice than one typically would), but has the potential to really lock out a Runner if allowed to live for more than a few turns. It is definitely most synergistic in-faction, but likely would be pretty effective in glacier Weyland (which isn’t really a thing yet, but just you wait). Very strong card.

4/5

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43: Kitsune


I really like this card, and not just because I think the art is downright phenomenal. Kitsune serves a similar function to Data Mine, albeit contingent on holding ambushes in HQ. To make up for its situational nature, however, Kitsune is also more versatile than its Core Set cousin, and possesses a much higher power threshold (as well as drastically better art). Unbroken Chum into Kitsune into Snare is 6 net damage and a tag - unless you’re up against a Jinteki-hate Shaper with recurring Deus X, that’s a good chance at a 7-credit killshot. 

And the idea of a ‘killshot’ is perhaps the best way to look at Kitsune. Given its self-trashing nature, Kitsune really only serves a role in a deck designed to overwhelm the Runner with net damage - one does not create secure centrals or scoring remotes with cards such as this. Moreover, as evidenced by the example, Kitsune’s major advantage over Data Mine is also its downfall - it is inherently a combo card, requiring at least one supplementary piece in order to execute its subroutine.

Hence, despite my not inconsiderable appreciation of Kitsune (admittedly, the outstanding art plays a fairly major role here) and its potential for fun shenanigans, I don’t think the card is going to make waves. Nonetheless, it fulfils its role quite nicely in a very specific flatline-oriented Jinteki deck, and I will be sure to toy around with it.

3/5  (The art is a clear 5/5 though.)

 ………………

 Damn, that is some good-ass art.

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44: Port Anson Grid


2-to-rez, 5-to-trash Jinteki upgrade, you say? Here we have Neo-Tokyo Grid's lunar cousin, though their actual functions differ considerably. Unlike Neo-Tokyo Grid, which should almost exclusively be played in a remote server (probably in Tennin Institute, if anywhere), Port Anson Grid lends itself more to central server placement in Replicating Perfection. 

In the optimal scenario, Jinteki: RP puts Anson Grid in the root of a central server with a few nasty ice protecting it, and springs it on a hapless Runner simply hoping to bounce off the server and fulfill Replicating Perfection's central server stipulation. The Runner is now forced to endure the gauntlet of Jinteki's server of great violence, bleeding credits and/or cards, or face program destruction. Maybe even leading into a Snare! at the end of the ordeal. Juicy. Sadly, while such an ideal scenario sounds dandy, it is in fact predicated on a large number of variables working in the Corp's favour:

  • The Runner runs on the central server with the unrezzed upgrade at the end of it. Not guaranteed, to say the least.
  • You had great ice draw, and all of your scary, non-ETR ice happen to be protecting your Anson Grid server (and are unrezzed, otherwise why would the Runner run this server over another central?). This is especially important as 'letting an "End the run" subroutine fire' and 'jacking out while running on a server' are two separate things entirely.
  • You have sufficient economy to rez all of your meanest central ice without compromising your scoring remote. While RP players are often flush with credits late game, each non-economy, non-ice card like Port Anson Grid that they include in their decks, will reduce their income and defensive capabilities.
  • All of the Runner's programs are utterly integral to their suite. This will definitely hurt some Criminals when it fires but, with the rise of Noise, Lampreys and empty Imps are often easily disposable members of a Runner's rig.

I will readily admit to being inordinately excited about Port Anson Grid when it was first spoiled, but the more I hypothesized and toyed with ideas, the more its highly situational nature became apparent to me. Perhaps the biggest problem I have with the card is simply that there are so many 'unequivocally strong' cards for Jinteki right now (particularly for taxing Replicating Perfection variants) that 'conditionally strong' cards just don't quite cut it. 

At this point, I am more inclined to think that Port Anson Grid will see use in glacier Haas-Bioroid, with their Ichis and Heimdalls, but I definitely intend to give PA Grid some more testing in-faction before I write it off entirely. At the very least, the aforementioned rez-to-trash ratio is indeed exceptional.

2.5/5

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45: The News Now Hour


The News Now Hour is to currents what Zaibatsu Loyalty is to expose. Unlike Zaibatsu Loyalty, however, The News Now Hour (furthermore to be referred to as TNNH, because screw that) cannot be rezzed in response to the Runner playing a card. With that said, Zaibatsu has to pay to prevent repeated exposure of his assets (I apologize for how wrong that sounds, but not really). Both function effectively as high trash cost, ‘hate’ assets. Consequently, both cards suffer from the same issue - if your opponent is not using the ‘hated’ effect, your ‘hate’ card is dead on arrival. If the Runner doesn’t play currents (and I can guarantee a fair slew of Criminal decks won’t), TNNH is utterly useless. If the Runner does play currents, you'll be thrilled that you are running TNNH (assuming it arrived in time) - granted the Runner can still steal agendas to turn off your currents, but that's substantially more difficult.

In defence of the card, TNNH appears to be pushing something of a 'current control' deck - an NBN which controls the tempo of the game, and manipulates what the Runner is permitted to do. Supporting cards for such an archetype certainly do exist - Invasion of Privacy, Snoop, Data Hound (heck, I didn’t say they were all good). Both NBN currents - Manhunt and especially Targeted Marketing - seem very much tailored toward this idea of controlling the Runner’s actions. Honestly though, I don’t believe the specific deck TNNH appears to be promoting is there yet - in fact, I think it’s still in need of some major power pieces in order to really be consistent, let alone comparable to current, popular NBN archetypes.* I do look forward to seeing its arrival (I quietly reserve some loathing for ye olde NBN Fast Advance - I realize I am not alone in this), but I think we’ll be waiting some time yet. 

Sadly, even within this as-yet-non-viable control archetype, I am not sure TNNH would really warrant inclusion. Its effect is just too narrow to be consistently useful. Basically, TNNH seems to be the type of card that you include as your concept piece, but which ultimately disappears after the first few (failed) iterations of the deck, having never pulled its weight. I would love to be proven wrong about this card, but I’m just not seeing it. It goes without saying, but its potency is heavily influenced by the popularity of currents in one's meta - YMMV** and all. 

1.5/5

*This said, if you want to try something a little different with NBN, do check out Toomin's control-oriented N.E.A.R.P.A.D. deck - remarkably impressive, innovative use of City Surveillance and Dedicated Response Team to create a fairly backbreaking 'must remove tags' situation. Deck packs a wallop.

**Your Meta May Vary.

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46: Manhunt


The most expensive current currently available (sorry), at 3 cost and 3 influence, Manhunt (unlike TNNH) is a card that I think you could work a deck around. For the longest time, the tag-me archetype for Runners was enormously popular, as tags were simply not perceived to be a significant enough threat to warrant removing. The Lunar Cycle is definitely putting the threat back in tags - Bad Times, Information Overload, and the influx of powerful Runner card effects, predicated on not being tagged. 

Manhunt has obvious synergy with Data Raven, potentially giving the Runner three tags for a single run, which in turn, has obvious synergy with Dedicated Response Team (I would hazard a guess that N.E.A.R.P.A.D. could make use of this card). Even outside of DiRTy Raven combo fun-times though, Manhunt is basically a Hunter-lite on the first successful run each turn - taxing is the name of the game. Games where the Runner immediately steals an agenda on their next successful run will certainly make you feel sad for spending 3 credits on this card, however. Sadly, Manhunt is also much worse against Runners with even a single link.

Although Near-Earth Hub is the new hotness right now, Manhunt is clearly optimized in Making News. On its own, Manhunt ain't the card to bring about a resurgence of Making News, akin to Cache in Pawnshop Noise, but having more useful, non-ice trace effects definitely helps.

3/5

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47: Wendigo

Weyland’s take on Chum. Well, not quite, but the principle is similar - cheap, positional ice, whose basic purpose is to make the following ice more difficult to get past. Admittedly, Chum’s stopping power is predicated on its ability to instill fear of the unknown, while Wendigo simply prevents you from breaking the ice behind it, hence possessing more ‘actual’ stopping power (in typical Weyland fashion).* 

To elaborate: Running into a Chum with an unrezzed ice behind it is cause for alarm - continuing the run without breaking Chum’s subroutine means you will be running into an unknown +2 strength ice, and will suffer 3 net damage if unable to break the subs, on top of whatever nasty effect the unbroken ice itself has (‘↳Make derisive comment about Runner’s appearance’ is brutal). Hence, assuming the runner cannot break Chum, they will typically jack out. The same scenario with Wendigo, by comparison, is not a worrying prospect - assuming the subroutine fires, the Corp chooses whatever icebreaker/program is needed to break the following ice. This likely gives the Runner information about the following ice, e.g. barrier/code gate, and unless the Corp chooses the Runner’s sentry breaker (more on this shortly), the Runner can likely continue the run without fear of anything particularly unpleasant occurring, thus forcing the Corp to spend money rezzing both Wendigo and the following ice. 

In Wendigo’s favour, it can be advanced to become a barrier instead - the first of the Morph ice coming out this cycle. This interaction allows for Wendigo to amplify its taxing ability, depending on the Runner’s breaker suite - e.g. if the Runner has a Torch and Corroder out, Wendigo can be advanced to increase its taxation from 1 to 3 credits. Furthermore, Wendigo’s ‘code gate or barrier’ nature makes it extremely effective when placed in front of a beefy sentry ice. For instance, a Wendigo in front of a Grim or Archer forces the Runner to locate their code gate, barrier, and sentry breaker in order to get through the server. Of note, Wendigo can also prevent the use of impactful, non-icebreaker programs, such as Imp and Self-Modifying Code and Disrupter.

All this is to say, Wendigo is pretty solid, but at 2 influence, is unlikely to be splashed elsewhere. However, when compared to Weyland’s other unsavoury, native code gates (the much-maligned Ireress and the truly execrable Salvage), Wendigo is extremely welcome in-faction. Inazuma is a frequent splash when I play Weyland (as is the occasional Chum), but I may just give this kid a shot instead.

3/5

*As a tangentially related aside, I feel the fearsome art on Wendigo, while fantastic, seems to run at odds with its decidedly non-threatening subroutine.

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48: Crisium Grid


So, Crisium Grid is, uhh, really good. For a vast multitude of reasons. Use it and stuff. 

……………

Okay, fine. Here is a list of cards that trigger off successful or unsuccessful runs (and may the link live on). In case you are a lazy bastard like me (the struggle is real), basically, Crisium Grid, when placed on the appropriate server, shuts off a metric assload of Runner cards, many of which are seriously good (Account Siphon, Desperado, Dirty Laundry, Emergency Shutdown, Gabriel Santiago’s ID ability, Indexing, Legwork, The Maker’s Eye, Vamp, to name but a few). Unlike last pack’s dedicated Siphon/Vamp silver bullet, Sealed Vault, Crisium Grid is also immensely useful across a wide range of matchups, as detailed above. And to rub salt in the Runner’s proverbial wound, this high power upgrade has a painfully high trash cost of 5. Long gone are the days of Amazon Industrial Zone and Net Police (I shudder to recall such dark times). 

That last paragraph had a lot of card names in it. Anyhow, Crisium Grid is a major woot for Weyland, but its singular dot of influence means it certainly will see use in other factions. Is Crisium Grid the card that marks the end of 'ALL THE SUCCESSFUL RUN EFFECTS' Criminal decks? Unlikely - but it may well just be enough of a push to encourage the use of HQ Interface over Legwork.

Now, notably, Crisium Grid is not the most synergistic card ever. It does not work in conjunction with some noteworthy Corp cards, such as ASH 53X3FNTYMZ or SEA Source. And, assuming it is already rezzed on HQ, Crisium has a hilarious interaction with Feint (Runner gets to bypass the first two pieces of HQ ice and still access cards). 

Speaking of hilarious interactions though: Crisium Grid and Off the Grid. Two obligatory HQ runs to get at my remote? That is some wonderful devilry right there. Blue Sun is gonna f*** Runners up. Hard.

So, yeah. Crisium Grid. Really good card.

4/5

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49: Chronos Project


It seems that everyone and their mother (and possibly extended family) has basically said everything that needs to be said about this divisive card, so I am almost tempted to simply abstain from commenting. What's one more untested opinion amidst the virtual sea of others? Perhaps against my better judgment, I shall toss in my thoughts, all the same.

On the surface, the effect of Chronos Project is outright ludicrous. The fact that we have never seen an effect similar to this before in Netrunner merely bolsters this. However, the truth is, this card is very much dependent on both the Runner's game state and deck type. If scored late game against a Test Running, Clone Chipping, Same Old Thinging Shaper, Parasites in heap, waiting to draw their last Lucky Find before using Levy AR Lab Access, then yes, Chronos Project will absolutely win you the game. Suffice to say though, said scenario will not occur terribly often. 

Chronos Project will arrive precisely when it means to - which is not necessarily when you want it. A large proportion of the time, Chronos Project will enter HQ at such a time when the Runner has a minimal heap, and you will be forced to house it until the optimal opportunity arises. Needless to say, being forced to hold agendas in HQ, waiting upon a precise set of circumstances, is not something that any Corp deck wants. In this way, Chronos Project can be seen as an inverse of Posted Bounty, which requires a specific set of circumstances for the Corp, instead of for the Runner. When the scenario arises for Posted Bounty, however, it's GG; for Chronos Project, it merely gives you a substantial advantage.

That said, heap recursion is huge right now - PPVP Shaper (see scenario above), Clone Chip & Deja Vu Noise, Same Old Thing in Criminal. Chronos Project is thus situated very well in the current Runner meta, serving a purpose across a wide range of matchups. The fact that heap recursion is so ubiquitous presently means that even in games where Chronos Project doesn't wreck everything like you might hope, it will likely have a pronounced effect from the mid-game onward, limiting the Runner's options considerably.

Even having determined the Project's potential to advance one's game plan though, the opportunity cost of running a 3/1 agenda in one's deck must be considered. More 1-point agendas means higher agenda density, and thus, less room for other useful cards. Furthermore, as a 3/1 agenda, Chronos Project has competition with Gila Hands Arcology, False Lead, and Profiteering. These three neutral agendas vie for the coveted 3/1 slot in a deck, each possessing a potent effect (long game economy, kill/scoring windows and burst economy, respectively), tailored for a specific type of deck. To make the inclusion of the Project even harder, factions already have their own powerhouse 1-pointers - would you run Chronos Project over Breaking News in NBN? Or Hostile Takeover in Weyland? House of Knives in Jinteki? For some fast-rolling decks, not being able to score their native 2/1s out of hand for the clutch final point will be enough to dissuade them from using Chronos Project.

Chronos Project is not an auto-include in all Corp decks. It is not going to bring about the end of Netrunner as we know it. It is, however, going to give the Corp new, powerful options for disrupting the Runner's game plan. And I like that. In some decks, particularly those good at putting cards in the Runner's heap, Chronos Project will supply some much-desired permanence to damage. Any damage-based Jinteki decks (especially those based on slow attrition, as opposed to killshots) should definitely give the Project consideration, and some Haas-Bioroid decks may replace Gila Hands with it. 

Also, if you hate Exile for some reason, you should run this card. 

3/5

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50: Shattered Remains


That image just cuts to the bone. Poor, poor Dinosaurus. CT’s eyes welling up with twinkles of sorrow. S*** is tragic. Oh right - Shattered Remains, the card. So, being an avid Scorcher (and by extension, a proponent of the ‘Screw Plascrete’ initiative), I really want to like this card. Unlike some, I am an active advocate of having a couple of advanceable ambushes in one’s deck, regardless of whether it’s a ‘dedicated kill/bluff’ deck. Although it may require successful reads in order to pull off, and is often game-state contingent, when a doubly-advanced Aggressive Secretary hits, a scoring window is typically ensured. 

Sadly though, an effective Shattered Remains is FAR more game-state and matchup dependent than Aggressive Secretary. Aside from some crazy Blackmail-recursion decks, basically every Runner deck runs some key programs; however, not all Runner decks run key pieces of hardware - Consoles are probably the best hit for Shattered Remains. Admittedly, shattering a Dinosaurus hosting a big breaker with this card will undoubtedly feel awesome - but it’s not going to happen very often. And having to hold onto Shattered Remains and wait until the optimal situation arises really just increases the chances of it being sniped from your HQ. 

I think the best thing I can really say about Shattered Remains is that it’s neutral - which really just reinforces the idea that this card is primarily meant for Scorch-centric Weyland, given their lack of any in-faction advanceable ambushes. The other factions just have stronger, more reliable traps available to them. Those rare games where you crack some Plascretes and Scorch away unabated are going to be fantastic, though.

2/5

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51: Lancelot


On its own, Lancelot is altogether unimpressive. Rototurret achieves the same thing, at a similarly low strength, whilst also ending the run. But we all know that Lancelot was never meant to be used by its lonesome. While we are still missing the third piece of the grail ice suite, Lancelot is already usable alongside its bro Galahad. You will have to dedicate 6 influence and 6 card slots to best use it, but it seems worth it, in the right deck. With the mere existence of Lancelot, barriers can now trash programs. And Sharpshooter won't be able to do jack about it. S*** is real.

Despite the fact that they are neutral, I definitely think that the grail ice are best in Haas-Bioroid by a sizable margin, as it is the faction with the most grail support. The Foundry is the most obvious synergy, with its ability to conjure up a second copy of your grail ice upon rez, thus ensuring the Runner will always have at least two subroutines to deal with. Cerebral Imaging is also able to make fantastic use of grail ice, if they decide to do so - given that one has to hold the ice in HQ, increased Corp hand size is incredibly valuable with the grail suite. Furthermore, the 3-of Blue and Green Level Clearances CI often plays will ensure that you acquire your grail pieces rapidly, whilst also having the money to rez them. And then you've got Custom Biotics - while not quite so relevant until we get the third grail ice, 22 influence means that you can comfortably run the entire grail suite, and still have influence leftover for other fun stuff, like ol' J-How and Research Station (I'm serious, you guys!). And finally, HB has Corporate Troubleshooter in faction which has potential for considerable devastation, once you have a few Lancelots in HQ.

Once we get Merlin, the grail ice are going to instill fear in the Runner - running without your entire breaker suite will be a dangerous prospect. Perhaps AI breakers will become more highly valued. Until then, I don't think Lancelot and Galahad will be especially prominent (probably not worth it outside of HB), but a Lancelot-empowered Galahad is still a palpable threat worth considering.

3/5  (for now)

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52: Quetzal


That's some fine plumage you've got going on there, Ms. Quetzal. We've known about Birdlady for a while now, and I'm sure many of you have already concocted deck ideas around her ability. I have certainly done my fair share of tinkering.

It is exceedingly difficult to try to assess the relative strength of an ID, particularly one with such a previously-unexplored ability, one which subverts the standard paradigm that only programs may break subroutines. Where does Quetzal get off, thinking that she is at liberty to circumvent the rules like that? Methinks her verdant tufts are to blame. I will definitely say that I think Quetzal's ability is exceedingly potent, and tends to encourage early aggression, whilst late game functioning more as economy. Being able to walk through a single-sub barrier once per turn really messes with the stopping power of cheap barriers, such as Wraparounds and Ice Walls. Add an E3 Feedback Implants and you can get past the most hefty multi-sub barriers with naught but a few credits. The ever-popular Eli can be passed for a single credit. Oversight Curtain Wall becomes mere child's play to deal with at 2 credits (in this way, Quetzal serves as a nice check against the upcoming juggernaut Blue Sun). Given you'll already be using E3, the in-faction D4V1D slots in perfectly to deal with strong, non-barrier ice. Tons of synergy to be had.

I am wholly convinced that a substantial amount more testing is yet to be done in order to fully maximize Quetzal's ability. I'm not sure if the likes of Tinkering and Paintbrush really serve as part of this equation, like some may suggest - seems a little too influence heavy to include multiple copies (which you will undoubtedly need if you want said pieces to appear when you need them). While shenanigans are definitely to be had, I do not think her ability is one that necessitates all the combos that people have been trying. Again, I am nigh-on certain that the utility that E3 provides is simply too good to pass up (on top of making the glacier HB match-up substantially easier, one which is frequently hell for aggressive Anarchs), and consequently, think that she may play well with AIs such as Knight and/or Darwin, but from there, things are still up in the air. Definitely think she is the most straightforwardly powerful of the Lunar Cycle Runners though.

4/5

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53: BlacKat


If Corroder did not exist, people would be going nutballs about BlacKat. The alternate universe where Corroder does not exist, however, is not the one in which we find ourselves situated. Hence, said hypothetical is irrelevant. Ahem. Moving on.

BlacKat is a very respectable, well-costed barrier fracter. Being the only stealth breaker capable of pumping its strength devoid of stealth credits, BlacKat can be used to good effect, even before its support arrives. Its base 3 strength ensures that it will have very few problems with the majority of common barriers (though Eli and most other Bioroids sit at an unfortunate strength for it, but hey, that's what Datasuckers and Ice Carver are for). To compensate for its ability to be pumped without stealth credits though, BlacKat's strength-pumping is sub-par even with stealth support, especially when compared to the incredible efficiency of the other stealth breakers. Amusingly, BlacKat sits at 3 influence, while all the other stealth breakers thus far revealed (Dagger, Refractor, and Switchblade) are 2 influence - I accept your latent apology for Datasucker and Corroder, FFG.

In order to best use this aphotic feline, Dyson Fractal Generators and Ghost Runners should be employed. However, unlike with Refractor and Switchblade, BlacKat does not strictly require stealth support, and so, involves the least deck alteration to make work. It serves as a neat middle-ground between the ever-versatile Corroder and the majestic-yet-restrictive Morning Star, in terms of its base strength, strengthening ability and influence, and should be built around accordingly.

3.5/5  

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54: ♦ Duggar’s


Embrace the jank. Caress it lovingly. Never leave it or forsake it. For serious though, Duggar’s is one of those Anarch cards that many will attempt to craft decks around (myself very much included), solely in the hope of perfectly executing some wacky multi-card combo, alongside some combination of Joshua B, NACH, Public Sympathy, Theophilius Bagbiter, and Freelance Coding Contract (and Origami when it comes out).

The issue lies therein: if you are required to play an entire support network of cards in order to mitigate the negative effects of a card, then unless the card’s effect is truly extraordinary… you probably shouldn’t be playing the card. To be sure, drawing 10 cards for 4 clicks is certainly a powerful effect. Personally, I feel that perhaps the most effective use of Duggar’s is to simply use it, as is: draw a ton of cards (well, 10 to be precise) and keep only the most relevant cards, throwing away the rest (maybe include a Public Sympathy or two in the deck, just to keep some extra options). That said, if your deck can really afford to dispose of in excess of five cards at the end of a turn, then your deck likely has too many situational cards in it. Heap recursion is certainly a thing (and most Anarchs do make use of it), but aside from Retrieval Run (and the Caissa-restricted Pawn), it costs precious influence. If you can make this card work for you to great effect, I salute you.

I will be very impressed if, by the end of the Lunar cycle, Duggar’s has superseded Wyldside as an Anarch draw tool, let alone become an Anarch staple. But I highly doubt that such an eventuality will come to pass. In fact, I don’t think that Duggar’s was ever intended to be especially ‘viable’ or ‘consistent’. Duggar’s really just wants to nom your deck. Let it feed.

2.5/5

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55: ♦ Box-E


I hope the significance of this console's name becomes apparent at some point, because presently, we're looking at a card without any discernible flavour and a stupid name. Yeah, I said it. True to its bland title and apparent theme deficiency, Box-E is an entirely straightforward Criminal console: +2 MU and +2 maximum hand size. For the very reason that it offers no underhanded tricks or subterfuge of any sort, I question why this is in fact a Criminal console at all. But I digress. 

Pointless railing aside, Box-E is probably the most directly powerful Criminal console since Desperado. Refusing to be bogged down by meaningless things such as theme-gameplay tie-ins (okay, I'll stop now), Box-E simply has two uncomplicated, useful effects. It combines the effects of Cybersolutions Mem Chip and Public Sympathy into a single card and in doing so, proves its ultimate worth - it saves card slots on things that would benefit your deck (increased hand size and especially extra memory), but that your deck lacks the space for and, at 1 influence per copy, is easy to slot into non-Criminal decks. Basically, if any of the below statements apply to your deck, Box-E is worthy of consideration as your console: 

  • Your deck's current console does not serve an integral function to your deck's game plan.
  • You value increased hand size at a premium, as you appreciate being able to hold onto more of your tricks. 
  • You run a slower, control-based Criminal deck that doesn't run every turn, but could certainly use more memory. 
  • You play Shaper and consider installing The Toolbox to be too much of a tempo hit.
  • You currently use Monolith.

So yeah, boring-ass console is actually extremely solid. Feel free to use it unsarcastically. Grumble grumble.

3.5/5

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56: ♦ The Supplier


I have been looking forward to seeing more support for slower Connection-building Criminal decks and, boy oh boy, is this guy good. Firstly, however, being the incorrigible pessimist that I am, let me list his problems (of which there are indeed a few). Off the bat, the moderate install cost of 3 is undoubtedly going to be a hiccup. The fact that he is unique means that, unlike Personal Workshop, you can only have one Supplier working for you at any one time. Finally, as I understand, The Supplier is somewhat anti-synergistic with "when your turn begins"-triggered resources, as he cannot install a hosted resource and have the resource's "when your turn begins" effect trigger on the same turn (this is following the Personal Workshop & Parasite ruling, which I see to be analogous). Consequently, 'Supplied' (this will totally catch on) economy resources, despite their discount, are delayed a turn. Now for the good stuff.

A huge point in The Supplier's favour is that, being a Connection resource, he is able to be tutored via Hostage. This point really cannot be overstated (I do not apologize for my blatant hyperbole) as Hostage ensures that you can get The Supplier out extremely early on, thus maximizing the profits you reap from him. With this guy out in play, all of your economic resources become substantially better, assuming you can afford to wait an extra turn to use them - Kati Jones, John Masanori, Underworld Contact, Compromised Employee, Crash Space, Scrubber; all of these install for free when 'Supplied', making them substantially better. The well-loved Daily Casts now nets 7 credits for a single click. And how about that hardware discount? Despite the card's present unpopularity, Inside Man pairs exquisitely with The Supplier to make expensive hardware much more affordable. Example: with Inside Man installed, you can 'Supply' an R&D/HQ Interface for free each turn. Logos certainly isn't much of a tempo loss when you don't have to pay for it. Disgusting levels of synergy. Beautiful.

The Supplier is unquestionably a card best suited to a less aggressive, all-the-answers Criminal deck - hence, we're likely looking at Iain or Andy. Of note, The Supplier is likely a high-priority trash target, and hence, running Fall Guys alongside him is probably a good idea. Even outside of Criminal, two influence per Supplier is far from exorbitant - decks packing an abundance of resources and/or hardware will find use for him. 

4/5

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57: Refractor


Refractor is maaad nice. Devoid of any stealth credits, for a single-credit’s install cost (free for Kate), you get a code gate breaker that can break your standard Enigma/Quandary for 2 credits/1 credit, respectively. That is to say, the absolute benchmark of efficiency. With a single stealth credit, Refractor breaks a Tollbooth with the same efficiency as Torch (1 to boost, 1 to break, plus the toll). Once you have a few Lockpicks and some supplementary Ghost Runners set up, Refractor just laughs at code gates. Mad. Nice.

While certainly most effective in faction, at only two influence (the same as ZU.13 Key Master), Refractor is an easy splash into Criminal and even worthy of consideration in Anarch. Running Refractor as one's primary code gate breaker virtually necessitates use of Ghost Runner, however (Lockpick is just too influence-consumptive, and Cloak eats MU), so a bit of deck reworking would be required.

Even when Criminals acquire their dedicated stealth breaker, I think Shaper is the only deck capable of running a purely stealth-based breaker suite (considering Shaper has Cloak in faction). Full stealth or not though, Refractor is the shiznit.

4.5/5

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58: ♦ Order of Sol


To preface my discussion of this card, I must be entirely honest here. While I have played many a game against all manner of Nasir Meidan variants, I have not used Nasir once. Hence, I do not feel that I am equipped to make any remotely authoritative statements about the effectiveness of this card. As interesting as Nasir’s playstyle is, I suppose it always just felt a little gimmicky to me. That isn’t to say that all Nasir players are obliged to run Blackguard/Rook/Snitch/Xanadu and whatever else; it just seems that whenever I play against Nasir, I am virtually always able to turn his ID ability into a crutch with my ice arrangement, a tool to leverage to my own advantage. Nonetheless, I shall share my thoughts, so as not to leave a palpable gap in this discussion.

Order of Sol, for all of its potential for janktastic antics elsewhere, is clearly intended to be used primarily with Nasir, akin to Sundew in Replicating Perfection. For Nasir, this is basically an influence-free Compromised Employee that actually synergizes with his ability (though it doesn’t help with traces), but only once per turn. No silly combos needed (we’ll get onto those shortly) - just install this and you gain an additional credit once per turn, assuming you make the Corp rez a piece of ice. Economically, for Nasir, it serves a functionally similar role to Xanadu (a card that already sees use in certain Nasir builds); Xanadu also taxes the Corp in the process and can trigger multiple times per turn, while Order of Sol is in faction. Personally, Xanadu seems like the stronger option to me, but 2 influence per copy does indeed add up. Admittedly though, there is nothing stopping you from running both (except perhaps capacity for reason - I kid, I kid!).

Now - silly combo time. Like Kate’s ability, Order of Sol can be used ‘each turn’ and so, if you feel like bankrupting yourself on the Corp’s turn (via Personal Workshop expenditure), this card can actually net you a credit on the Corp’s turn and a credit on your turn (plus an effective additional credit for each Personal Workshop!). As janky as this strategy is, that is a whole lot of clickless economy. And considering how frequently I see Nasir players sitting at next-to-no credits for the majority of the game (again, readily admitting to having not played with dude), I genuinely believe this might just be ridiculous enough to work, at least in the early game before you have a more readily available source of economy. Midseasons/SEA Source will wreck you though. So probably not. Hey, it’ll be fun though.

Nasir/5

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59: ♦ Hades Shard

Say it with me now: 1, 2, 3, NOISE! Yeah, so this card has Noise written all over it (well, it doesn’t actually, as that would make for grotesque textual clutter - it’s a figure of speech, you see). The ‘Limit 1 per deck’ clause does definitely hurt Hades Shard (as it does all the Shards), ensuring that the Runner is unlikely to be able to cheat the Shard out for free by exploiting a vulnerable Corp’s archives in the early game, unless they are very lucky - reliability is not what the Shards provide. Even without being able to cheat it out though, paying the full 7 to install Hades Shard and then immediately triggering it in the late game (thus disallowing the Corp from using Jackson) is almost certainly worth it, if it nabs you 2-4 points. 

Truthfully, Hades Shard is not simply a Noise card - it’s a soft counter to Jackson. I should clarify - once Hades Shard is installed, it ensures that the Corp can never overdraw with Jackson and subsequently leave agendas in archives (given that the Runner can instantly access them at any time), and is instead forced to immediately shuffle said agendas back into R&D (either that, or grow gigantic testicles). Seems niche, but given that the overwhelming majority of Corps run Jackson in triplicate, the scenario is probably going to occur more frequently than you think.

The single point of influence does mean that you will likely have to eschew another strong card for Hades Shard (again, probably losing some consistency in the process), but in many instances, the potency of the Shard’s effect will more than compensate for the slight drop in consistency. 

3.5/5

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60: ♦ Rachel Beckman


I liked you better when your surname had two 'n's and you looked completely different, Rachel. Interesting point to note about Rachel is that, akin to scoring Mandatory Upgrades, you get the extra click as soon as she is installed. Which is nifty, as it means she offsets her click-to-install cost immediately. Sadly, this is not the upfront cost that Runners are going to have a problem with. 

Anyone who has played Joshua B is no doubt acutely aware of just how potent having an extra click to spend each turn as the Runner is. And yet, a major reason why Joshua B is so useful is his install cost of 1. From this, we can reasonably deduce that Rachel Beckman and Joshua B are two very different entities. Joshua B is frequently used in a tag-me style deck to briefly leverage a click advantage over the Corp (typically alongside some form of credit denial), further taxing the Corp when they are forced to pay and trash him. Rachel Beckman, on the other hand, is clearly meant to stick around for as long as possible (so as to justify her monstrous install cost) and thus, only belongs in a deck with considerable tag-preventative measures. I'm thinking a Connected Iain, with Decoys (and New Angeles City Hall).

The issue lies in that, against NBN, Rachel Beckman is practically unplayable. Breaking News is a 2-of in the overwhelming majority of NBN decks (for good reason), and this seems unlikely to change all of a sudden. Even with a New Angeles City Hall out, you have to pay 4 credits just to prevent Rachel from being trashed - after having already spent 8 credits installing her, and a credit installing NACH. Needless to say, you will be losing the economic war. And that's when Midseason Replacements decimates you. Not an enviable prospect.

 Fortunately, Rachel's massive weakness to NBN is not necessarily the nail in the coffin. Her status as a Connection means you only need a single copy of her in your deck (reducing dead draws when you don't want to see her), allowing her to serve as a match-up dependent Hostage target. If NBN is basically non-existent in your meta, Rachel will put in work. Her Hostage-reliance, however, on top of requiring tag prevention, relegates her almost exclusively to Criminal. Unless you're running some silly (I say this with the utmost affection) Motivation-Oracle-Eureka! deck, in which case go ahead.

2.5/5

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And there we have it - my semi-lucid initial thoughts on First Contact. There is a lot of really fantastic stuff in here - most of the goods, however, will require a degree of building around (hence the reasonably conservative ratings), minus a few straight heaters (I imagine Crisium Grid on its own is fully functional). With the exception of The News Now Hour, I would say that every one of these cards serves a potential role in a deck, to a lesser or greater extent. I don't think any particular faction here got the shaft (I maintain that Manhunt is thoroughly peachy in Making News), as everyone got some great new tools to work with, even if they don't necessarily immediately slot into existing archetypes. 

I look forward to seeing how wrong I am in my initial assessments (my ravenous sense of self-loathing could afford some nourishment). Test away and have fun, people!


7 comments:

  1. Hilarious writing style. Loved it, thanks!

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it! It was fun to write.

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  2. Box-e is probably leela patel's console, she appears to be in a boxing stance - thus box-e. If it sees play in criminal it will be for Overmind crim play, else crim would have to splash for MU or rely on dyson or q-coherence.

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    1. I feel the Box-E and Leela connection may be a bit of a stretch (if it looks like a box, smells like a box and is actually called a box, it's probably just a box), but far be it from me to deny a person their headcanon. Headcanon is sacrosanct.

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  3. Nice review - I think you're wrong about the beginning of turn/The Supplier interaction, though. The reason PW/Parasite doesn't work is because PW doesn't trigger at the beginning of the turn, it needs a paid ability window to be used. The Supplier, on the other hand, triggers at the same time as the beginning of turn abilities of Underworld Contact and company, which means you can order the effects such that it will work.

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    1. Thanks. I think you may be thinking of Personal Workshop's "1[Credit]: Remove 1 power counter from a hosted card" ability; Personal Workshop does indeed also have a 'trigger at the beginning of turn' effect. In the cited Parasite/Workshop ruling, the "When your turn begins, remove 1 power counter from a hosted card" clause on Personal Workshop is being addressed, not the paid ability. There are already a couple of threads on The Supplier's interaction with 'when you turn begins' resources:

      http://www.reddit.com/r/Netrunner/comments/2gnz7m/the_supplier_daily_casts_timing_will_the_daily/ http://www.reddit.com/r/Netrunner/comments/2gnfy8/do_the_supplier_and_activist_support_work_together/

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  4. Rachel Beckman also dies if you ever hit a Snare! Lame.

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