Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Divadus Rants - Crappy Chrome City Cybernetics

[Warning: Much rage is about to be unleashed in textual format about a highly specific piece of pasteboard. There will be mathematical analysis throughout, but also a lot of subjective disappointment and considerable butthurt. Continue at your own risk. Also, the furious affectations donned by the author may be a teensy bit exaggerated. Just a smidgen. Kthx.]

It's been a long time - I shouldn'ta left you... without a strong rhyme to step to. So, I have been playing and loving Netrunner recently (I really do intensely adore this game), but a niggling question compelled me to revisit this blog and say my piece about it: How did the ANR design team manage to drop the ball so thoroughly with the cybernetics? More specifically, why is Net-Ready Eyes so good when the other pieces of cybernetic hardware are not? Most specifically, why is Skulljack so phenomenally bad? Before I launch into my full-fledged tirade, I suppose that a bit of a 'current card pool' spiel would be worthwhile at this point:


In my mind, the SanSan Cycle has been progressing beautifully thus far. Our first pack, The Valley, gave us a number of wonderful cards that I am enormously fond of, many of which are actually also good. We were also introduced to a new mechanically-significant subtype of resources - genetics resources - each of which vary in their comparative usefulness, none of which are outright unplayable. Fantastic! Aside from the neutral entry, however, the genetics resources are either highly meta-dependent or necessitate specific deckbuilding choices - which is not a bad thing at all! In fact, it encourages innovation and experimentation in deckbuilding - how consummately excellent!

Anarch's Adjusted Chronotype empowers the "When your turn begins, lose a click" cards immensely - particularly potent with Wyldside, as Chronotype basically transforms Wyldside into a permanent Earthrise Hotel. The neutral Symmetrical Visage is the most vanilla, and the most straightforwardly useful of the lot, functioning like a baby (heh) Professional Contacts, without the tempo hit. Really nice card for just about any deck looking to get more out of its draws (that isn't running ProCo). Criminal gets Enhanced Vision, which is a nifty effect, albeit a difficult one to find deck slots for, given that it's already competing with other high-powered 'successful run' based cards (Security Testing, John Masanori). Shaper's Synthetic Blood is the only real stinker of the lot, and that is almost solely because it should be just a little cheaper than it is, which it apparently initially was (text-spoiled at two to install), given its reasonably niche effect. The genetics support card, Gene Conditioning Shoppe, feels a little too combolicious for my liking, given that it only really merits inclusion in a deck with multiple genetics resources, but it does have the advantage of not being draw-order-dependent (more on this soon).

With the great precedent set by The Valley with their new 'theme subtype', I wonder if Chrome City's 'theme subtype' cards will follow suit with a new set of highly usable cybernetics?.... Sigh.


When we had the official FFG reveal of Chrome City, only two of the cybernetics were spoiled - Net-Ready Eyes and Brain Cage - alongside the support piece, Chrome Parlor. Before my incremental rage counter builds any further, let me take a moment to gush profusely in Verdana font (I will actually try to be reasonably concise) about the lone gem among the cybernetics:


Net-Ready Eyes is splendiferous. A tremendously potent card across a wide range of scenarios. Makes me inordinately aroused. Sorry. Anyhow, Net-Ready Eyes synergizes hideously well with the Anarch breaker suite: allowing Mimic to break Ichi 1.0, NEXT Gold and Cortex Lock without 'sucker support, or enables Yog.0 to break the previously un-Yogable Lotus Field FOR FREE. If you know that you won't have to deal with any of those nasties on a specific (say, double Eli) server, however, you can just Net-Ready your Corroder to make it break the Elis for cheaper, functionally serving as 2 bad publicity for the run. HOW ARE YOU NOT HYPE YET? Given that Mimic, Yog.0 and Corroder have long been contenders for the best breakers in the game, with Lotus Field now a non-issue for Net-Ready Yog, expect the big ol' key to reestablish its dominance. Which may mean that Power Shutdown comes back in a BIG way.

For a more reasoned, ordered, multi-faceted 
and generally superior explanation about exactly why Net-Ready Eyes is so good, check out bewnt's video on Net-Ready Eyes (dude's content is consistently entertaining and informative).


I was actually tossing up between Verdana and Trebuchet, and ended up opting for Verdana, because I feel it is a fraction less stylized or something. But I digress. The other two initially-spoiled cybernetics-related cards were less exciting. Chrome Parlor is the aforementioned cybernetics support piece - thus its effectiveness is determined entirely by the usability of the cybernetics themselves (more on this later). The neutral cybernetic, Brain Cage, provides the Runner with increased hand size. Yep, pretty dull and vanilla, as is to be expected from the neutral. On first glance, without support, Brain Cage simply appears as a worse version of the already mediocre Public Sympathy - both cards effectively increase hand size by 2, but Brain Cage costs one less at the cost of randomly trashing a held card upon install. That being said, as a resource, Public Sympathy is vulnerable to being trashed if the Runner is tagged - while this may be seen as a point in Brain Cage's favour, Brain Cage is vulnerable to Taurus (not uncommon out of Blue Sun) and Power Shutdown for 1 (so basically, Blue Sun can tech against you like a big meanie, if they want to).

Now, in my mind, Brain Cage is the only one of the cybernetics that I think basically necessitates Chrome Parlor, in order to earn its slot (I'm getting ahead of myself here, but.. well, you'll see). The reason for this is that Chrome Parlor's damage prevention effect directly bolsters Brain Cage's effect, allowing it to actually provide the full 3 increase to hand size, instead of only a functional 2. Of special note, a hand size of 8 is the magic number against the infamous double Scorched Earth.  And in this respect, Brain Cage is much more useful than Public Sympathy against meat damage flatline, especially Midseason Replacements-based decks. Against a perma-tagged Runner, the Corp can simply trash the Runner's Public Sympathy and then proceed to cause a several car pileup the following turn - not so with Brain Cage. Of note, however, a hand of 6 or 7 cards containing an I've Had Worse is actually more vulnerable to a double Scorched flatline than a hand of 5, so you really would have to hold onto the full 8 if you actually wanted to be safe.

The biggest deterrent to using Brain Cage is that Sweeps Week is still very much a card and an exceptional one at that (and honestly, it's not ever going to disappear until it's eventually rotated out, particularly with the continued push toward increased Runner hand size). In fact, you'll be hard-pressed to find a tournament-winning NBN deck not running three copies of said card. Sadly, I don't think I would ever consider my NBN matchup sufficiently favourable to actively disadvantage myself against Yellow, either by playing slow support cards such as Chrome Parlor, or by playing increased hand size cards to make their even Sweeps more punishingly strong. All that being said, Brain Cage certainly isn't upsettingly objectionable - but it's not great either.

But what about the other cybernetics - the Criminal and Anarch ones? Before even seeing them, I made the assumption that the Criminal cybernetic would inflict meat damage, and the Anarch one would inflict brain damage (following the established damage foci for each faction). I'm not bragging or anything, but I was totally right about this not-at-all-meaningless detail. Just sayin'. Anyhow, onto the Ribs:


In point of fact, the remaining two cybernetics were text-spoiled before the official images were revealed, and in both instances, the text-spoiled cards were somewhat different to the end result. Which just goes to show that anything unverified should be taken with a grain of salt. I'm a whore for new content though, so I typically take anything I can get my filthy paws on. My spoiler-hungry tendencies aside though, probably the greatest thing about Titanium Ribs is its strikingly impressive art. I mean, who'da thunk it? The mighty Matt Zeilinger actually does know how to pen a terrific Gabe, despite what previous efforts may have you believe. I'm sorry, that's both mean-spirited and unfair - Zeilinger's art is almost always superlative and his Alt Art Gabriel Santiago is hardly the worst Gabe depiction thus far (I still involuntarily dry-retch upon looking at Silencer). But I digress yet again (stay on target...).

When Ribs was first text-spoiled (in this case, likely an error on the's part, as opposed to an early playtest version), we were informed that it only allowed you to manipulate meat damage. Fortunately, that card never came to be. Because it would have sucked. Like, truly colossal amounts of suck. Like, almost as much as Sku... Okay, steady on, we're getting there. No, in fairness, the 'meat-only' version of Titanium Ribs would be a special, nigh-unparalleled level of bad for Runner cards whose sole niche would be against 'tickle meat damage' Argus Security, and even in that respect, it would be fairly terrible (no no, Muresh Bodysuit, we weren't talking about you - back in the box you go), given that it doesn't actually offer any flatline protection and it does meat damage to you in the first place!

As it is, the real Titanium Ribs offers its effect without discrimination, freely interacting with all forms of damage - which makes it a heck of a lot better. But is it good? Well... no. The effect is obviously intended to save the most important cards in your hand when you take non-lethal quantities of damage, thus letting you delay your key breaker installs until the moment that you actually require them or save other situationally-dependent-but-highly-potent cards in hand. As mentioned before though, for a card that is meant to ameliorate damage, taking damage as an install cost is fairly unappealing. To elaborate, the card's effect antisynergizes with itself - given that you lose your two least important cards the moment you install Titanium Ribs, you now have two fewer redundant/weaker cards to sacrifice to damage than you did before you installed the Ribs. Plus, in the present Criminal card pool, the card has absolutely no support in-faction, i.e. in a matchup where damage is unlikely to occur (at least in sufficient quantities to make installing this card even a consideration), there is no way to leverage its ability proactively with your own card effects.

Now, if Titanium Ribs were an Anarch card, it would be substantially more usable. Both for the repeatedly-punching-you-in-the-face-obvious synergy with I've Had Worse and also for interactions like safely performing Amped Up into Wanton Destruction (the pain of accidentally trashing your Wanton Destruction with the brain damage you took from playing your Amped Up is roughly comparable to that of being flayed alive by malevolent, animate fishhooks, while drowning in lemon juice). However, given that Ribs is not an Anarch card, creating the four spare influence required for the two copies you'd need to include of this card to find it with any degree of regularity, especially given that you would need to find it before you find your combo pieces, is a hard ask, and almost certainly not worth it. Bummer.

So thus far, we had seen one monster cybernetic (Net-Ready Eyes), one fairly uninspiring cybernetic (Brain Cage), and one pretty serious clunker (Titanium Ribs). In order for Chrome Parlor to actually be remotely worthwhile, we would need a second genuinely useful cybernetic. (SPOILERS: It didn't happen. Also, Snape kills Dumbledore.) My spirit was already weak at this stage and hope was frail. 


I suppose I may as well use the untampered image once, 
especially considering how good the art is, almost as if 
to spite those looking for an actually functional card. 

The moment I saw the text-spoiled Skulljack, my heart sank. My soul sundered, a bitter anguish overcame me and I wept. Bitterly. I desperately hoped that some of the precise stats would be altered when we received the final version (has happened for other cards that have been prematurely spoiled, e.g. NEXT Gold originally spoiled at 7 to rez). Turns out I was right - tragically. Text-spoiled at 1 to install, the Skulljack we ended up with has double the credit install cost.

How is it even possible that they willfully made Skulljack WORSE? HOW What fiendish spirit of Fodbinder could have possessed the playtesting team into thinking that Skulljack needed its install cost increased? Lest it wreak havoc on all trashable cards with its overbearingly strong effect (n.b. monumental sarcasm)? The "single most common cybernetic enhancement that isn't a medical necessity"? Is this supposed to be some subversive social commentary about how people sometimes do stupidly self-destructive things that "seemed like a good idea at the time", but actually have next to no payoff? Are we genuinely being trolled here?

The obvious point of comparison is Scrubber. To put Skulljack in perspective, you need to trash at least 3 cards in a turn to make it more profitable than Scrubber would be. To elaborate, Scrubber can trash a single card in a turn, say a PAD Campaign, and save you 2 credits; Skulljack has to trash 2 separate cards to save you 2 credits, and 3 to be worth more than Scrubber. Trashing three cards in a turn is, to say the least, a very rare occurrence. That's pretty damning, considering you have to brain yourself to install the damn thing. Plus, if Scrubber's the closest point of comparison to Skulljack and Skulljack compares unfavourably to it, I think we should be able to accept at this point that it's really not very good. Scrubber's a highly situational card, putting in work against metas where asset economy runs rampant; Skulljack is just poor, not solely because you have to brain yourself to install the damn thing. The argument for Skulljack over Scrubber inevitably, as with Brain Cage and Public Sympathy, centres on the fact that Skulljack can be used in a tag-me deck or in a tag-heavy Corp meta. The reason to use said argument with Brain Cage, however, is because tagging decks are frequently out to kill you - thus, a non-resource, hand size bolstering solution is highly welcome. The same logic in no way applies to Skulljack, because - say it with me now - YOU HAVE TO BRAIN YOURSELF TO INSTALL THE DAMN THING. Unlike Brain Cage, however, your hand size is actually reduced by the damage - consequently, you make yourself markedly more vulnerable to flatline by installing Skulljack. In fact, you now have to be holding a pair of I've Had Worse in hand (instead of a singleton) to survive a double Scorched. We are, of course, assuming that the Skulljack didn't knock one of the IHW out of your hand in the first place, upon install. Finally, in recognizing the increased flatline vulnerability, if playing Skulljack makes you decide to replace your I've Had Worse(s) (a multifunctional, high utility card) with Plascrete Carapace(s) (a narrow, dedicated hate card) or simply cut other cards to make room for Plascretes the damage has already been done (pun fully intended - come at me).

How about we look for another point of comparison? How about another economy card, say, one that also causes you to take brain damage in order to play it? You guessed it - Stimhack. Heck, both cards even follow a similar sonic structure, basically begging the comparison. But I digress (I really should call these Digressions with Divadus). Akin to Skulljack, Stimhack is also only situationally useful economy - you typically don't want it early game, unless you've got the requisite tools to leverage your Stimhack funds (e.g. Self-Modifying Code, Personal Workshop) or the particular situation compels you (e.g. SanSan City Grid behind a Pop-up Window and you're broke). However, unlike Skulljack, Stimhack gives you a MASSIVE, immediate payout to compensate for the brain damage - NINE credits for a single click, PLUS it even saves you the click to make the run. Skulljack requires you to trash 12 cards... TWELVE FECKING CARDS... before it's saved you more money than a single Stimhack. This. Card. Is. TERRIBLE. How many games are you even going to trash twelve cards? I'm tempted here to also go into discussing the considerable advantage of burst economy over long-long-term economy (I've done similar rants about why High-Risk Investment is so much better than Government Contracts), but I imagine the difference in power level is already painfully evident at this point.

But what's the big deal about a single brain damage? Well, here's what. At 2 credits and 1 brain damage to install, Skulljack is one of the most expensive (pseudo-)econ cards in the game. And the fact that this card is coming out contemporaneously with Cybernetics Division (and its brain damage support cards) - an ID clearly intended to make brain damage more terrifying/detrimental than ever before? "I may have a hand size of 3, but bruh, am I getting a minor discount on trashing your cards or what?" Even from a 'current meta' standpoint where assets are aplenty, Skulljack is still indefensibly awful because its arrival also coincides with the prominent threat of Corp-inflicted brain damage. THIS CARD THOUGH.

For the last nail in the coffin, even trying to mitigate Skulljack's self-braining with Chrome Parlor is going to be a massive deckbuilding trap. Bias at the forefront, I already loathe draw-order-dependent cards - Djinn earns my unreserved ire, time and time again - but even Djinn, clunky card that it is, both serves as an awkward, infinite virus tutor as well as memory. Furthermore, even if you draw Djinn too late (which always bloody happens), it may well still be worth it to install your Medium/Datasucker/Nerve Agent and get mileage out of them early; you may just have to overwrite them later, when you run out of memory. IT IS NEVER WORTH IT TO INSTALL SKULLJACK IF YOU ARE TAKING BRAIN DAMAGE TO DO SO - ESPECIALLY IF YOU BOTHERED TO SLOT IN CHROME PARLOR IN THE FIRST PLACE. NEVER. Primarily for the fact that now you have obsoleted multiple cards that you put in your deck solely to negate the disadvantage of installing the former card (which, of course, you failed to do if you installed Skulljack sans Parlor), but also for the fact that you could well be trashing another much higher impact card for this one. Even contemplating the possibility that one could accidentally trash a drastically better economy card such as Liberated Account or Daily Casts by installing this card is almost impetus enough for me to actually want to self-inflict brain damage in real life, solely to forget that I had done something so egregious.

But okay, let's imagine you somehow get the entirely-implausible best-case scenario: you have both Chrome Parlor and Skulljack in your opening hand. Let's say, because we live in WhoneedstomulliganIstackedthedecklolol-Fantasyland, you also have two Sure Gambles, so you're still economically stable when you unleash your devastating, game-winning combo. Thus, you are able to install your Chrome Parlor before your Skulljack..... you are now 3 credits and two clicks poorer. Realistically, you'll actually be many more clicks down, given that, in a typical game, you are bound to have to spent several clicks drawing into your order-dependent two-card combo, but hey, we're seeing how the card fares in its absolute best case scenario. After your perfect opening, what do you have to show for your toil? Assuming a click is worth a credit (frequently untrue - clicks are typically considerably more valuable), your Chrome Parlor Skulljack 'mad trashing econ engine' won't actually start making you money until you've trashed six cards. AFTER THE PERFECT OPENING. SIX FECKING... Okay, I already did the whole subsequently-capitalized repetition-for-emphasis thing, but you get my point, right?

Just... JUST... Okay, breathe... Breathe..

I am patently aware that card design is extremely difficult and often things are balanced on a knife-edge, but cards like this are so far off being usable. Of course, there will always be bad cards - not every card is going to light the world on fire, nor should they. Furthermore, it is, of course, better that FFG print a slew of poor-to-mediocre cards than accidentally release an overpowered monster upon the unsuspecting meta, and have to resort to bans, restricted lists, errata, overly narrow hate cards, etc. But why bother introducing a new mechanically-significant subtype of cards if the majority of them are going to be so decidedly sub-par? WHAT WAS THE POINT? IF YOU WANT US TO USE THESE CARDS YOU PUT SO MUCH EFFORT INTO DESIGNING, WHICH EVIDENTLY YOU DO BECAUSE YOU GAVE THEM THEIR OWN SUBTYPE AND SUPPORT PIECE, WHY IS SKULLJACK SO SPECTACULARLY ATROCIOUS?! WHY DO YOU DETEST US SO, LUKAS/DAMON/WHOEVER ELSE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS UTTER TRAVESTY, THIS DAMNABLE HORROR, THIS FECAL MONSTROSITY OF A CARD?!


Huh. Well, that was prodigiously strange. On an unrelated note, I think my Caps Lock key is broken.

On a slightly more related note, I also thought about some of the other, non-cybernetic cards from Chrome City:

Immolation Script might be interesting-but-card-slots - I'm not sure it's better than either of Knifed, Spooned or Parasite (the other Anarch ice destroyers - Forking isn't really my thing), which is its major flaw. Just feels a little too situational to truly be exceptional, let alone worthy of a coveted card slot, when Orange is already brimming with less situational, good cards that still may not make the cut.

Turntable looks fairly exciting even if Grimoire is more universally useful. Tons of 'pipe dream' scenarios come to mind - stealing a Breaking News and swapping for the Corp's Astroscript (token denied!); stealing Replicating Perfection's NAPD Contract and swapping for their Nisei Mk II (token once again denied!); stealing Domestic Sleepers and swapping for HB: ETF's hard-earned Eden Fragment (if you're playing the 3-pointers-and-Sleepers archetype against a Turntable-user, I am really sorry). Turntable is both highly matchup- and luck-dependent, but in some games, it will provide massive game state swings that the Corp will struggle to recover from. Damn, that's a lot of hyperlinks.

Also, Cybernetics Division screams Mushin no Shin Cerebral Overwriter funtimes, Clairvoyant Monitor has an embarrassingly dismal strength-to-rez ratio for a code gate and an exceptionally bizarre effect (it feels like they just threw three different effects onto a single card and then forgot to actually put the card through the ringer), and Oaktown Renovation is the best Weyland 2-pointer since Project Atlas.

Still pissed about Skulljack though.

P.S. If you found yourself offended by this acerbic appraisal - please do not take this asinine rant as the self-aggrandizing words of some fun-policing, hyper-competitive elitist knocking you for using the cards that you want to use . If you want to play a theme-driven, funsies, "F**k me brain!" deck with Stim Dealer, Spinal Modem, Amped Up, Stimhack, and, yes, Skulljack whose primary plan is to self-inflict a flatline as swiftly as possible whilst perhaps stealing an agenda or two in the process, please do. I will in no way hold it against you, nor deride you for your suicidal proclivities. In fact, I would laugh uproariously with you as we played the game out, and genuinely applaud you as you inevitably achieved your aim - to have fun.

Just please, please don't actually put Skulljack in a deck, expecting it to put in work at your next game night/Store Championship/Regional, etc. For the love of all that is cyberpunk, save yourself the inevitable heartache.

It's not you, it's Skulljack.

1 comment:

  1. I snort baby powder off a hookers buttcrack and even I am not that crazy