Thursday, 7 January 2016

The Woes of Weyland - Part I: Abhorrent Advanceables

AOWR Agony

"Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions." - T.S. Eliot

This is probably no surprise. A large number of Weyland's ice make use of the 'ice advancement' mechanic - currently, 16 out of 30 of Weyland's ice are able to be advanced (17, if we include the technically unadvanceable Builder, which is basically an advanceable ice support card in ice form). Sadly, this is not a good thing. In fact, I do not hesitate to say that the designer's continued efforts in developing advanceable ice for Weyland have unfortunately hurt the faction's ice selection considerably. I believe that the abominable, advance-only-while-rezzed ice (SalvageTyrant, and Woodcutter), henceforth to be known as the AOWR suite, and their awful surrounding suite of support cards from the Genesis Cycle (Weyland Consortium: Because We Built It, Simone Diego, Amazon Industrial Zone), have done more damage to Weyland's card pool than many realize.

Not content with simply being hilariously underpowered cards, as the design team's first foray into advanceable ice mechanics, the AOWR suite set an extremely low power level precedent for advanceable ice. This precedent proceeded to further wreak havoc upon subsequent tries at exploring the mechanic. From an entirely admirable goal of 'not wishing to break the game', Weyland's advanceable ice unfortunately became the victims of overly conservative design. While the designers no doubt very shortly became aware that the AOWR suite was not quite at the power level they were hoping for, I don't think they knew just how far they had undershot. At present, this probably just sounds like an extended, perhaps facetious dig at the designers - I assure you it is not. Please allow me to elaborate/digress at length.


Props to whoever was responsible for this.
I realize that there are possibly some who may object to my immediate dismissal of the AOWR suite without actually describing precisely why they are so underwhelming. Honestly, I just don't want to vent - I've got high enough blood pressure already, plus it's simply a lose-lose situation. If I make a sweeping statement about cards being underpowered without sufficiently elucidating, I will be charged as an arrogant elitist who hates on things without even trying them (sadly, I have); if I go too much in-depth (as is my tendency) about just how underpowered said cards are, via comparing to functionally similar cards, with colourful, pejorative adjectives, I will be (perhaps justifiably) accused of hating on our beloved game. I'm really not trying to garner sympathy here - it just is how it is. All the same, at the very least, I should perhaps give at least one point of comparison to justify my use of 'abominable'. Tyrant is probably the easiest one. I shall be as brief and objective as I am capable of being. This'll be a cinch.

Tyrant costs 7 to rez. Good start. At present, there is no other barrier that costs exactly 7 to rez; the closest two are Wall of Thorns and Heimdall 1.0, both 8 to rez. Heimdall is massive, at 6 strength and 3 subroutines, largely on account of its being a bioroid; Wall of Thorns, by contrast, is 5 strength and only 2 subroutines - substantially less hefty, but with the added benefit of a painful, unclick-able facecheck. In order for Tyrant to actually do anything, the Runner first has to run the server Tyrant is 'protecting' and the Corp has to throw away 7 credits, while the Runner gaily ganders past the hapless moneysink of an ice. [Deep breath]. At which point, the Corp is now able to interact with Tyrant so that it actually does something. As an advancement costs a click and a credit, however, even if one is to ignore the not-at-all-insignificant downside of having to be run on first, Tyrant functionally costs a whopping 9 credits in order to become a measly 4 strength barrier with a single "End the run" subroutine. You know what else is a 4 strength barrier with one ETR? - Bastion. And that sucker costs 4 credits. FOUR. You heard me right. And it's not even considered to be great - it's definitely not bad, it's just decent. Tyrant with one subroutine costs more than twice as much as what is only a serviceable piece of ice. Completely, utterly, irredeemably sh...It has to be noted that Tyrant can in fact be advanced more than once though - how does it look when it's overadvanced then? Well, let's say you advance it 4 times, so it has a very reasonable four subroutines. It will cost you the equivalent of 15 credits. Out-FU... Outrageous. You know what else is a 4 strength barrier that typically has four, if not five subroutines? Ashigaru - which costs 9 credits up front - as much as Tyrant cost to have ONE subroutine. For 14 credits, Curtain Wall is a minimum 6, typically 10, strength, barrier with 3 ETR subroutines. Tyrant is a putrid atrocity, no matter how times it is advanced. I would willingly TREPAN myself before...

Well, that failed horribly. Anyway, suffice to say, the other two AOWR ice are similarly bad when compared with equivalent ice. I don't want to do the above analysis for Woodcutter and (especially) Salvage, so please believe me when I say that they are really, truly, sincerely, indisputably bad.

And if you are still somehow convinced that I'm just unjustifiably hating here: our new overlord Damon Stone himself - a man notoriously loath to call out cards as weak, frequently citing them as examples of 'answer' cards that come out before the 'problem cards in question' actually exist, or as 'sleeper' cards that people simply underestimate or fail to recognize their niche - acknowledges that the terrible trio is terrible. You heard that right - Damon Stone called them terrible. However, there is more to it. I feel compelled to provide a larger excerpt of the remark from Damon's recent interview with Bad Publicity wherein he made this statement about the original AOWR suite:

Transcript of Damon's comments from 1:36:12 through 1:37:18 here: 
["The infamous trio of advanceable ice that no one plays because they are terrible didn't start off terrible. They started off ridiculous. And it was another case of "well, we'll do this, because it's safer"... Tyrant, Woodcutter, Salvage. When we designed those, they were beasts... just absolute beasts, and they needed to be taken down a bit. And Lukas was like, "Well, we'll just change it so they can only be advanced after they're rezzed." But no other changes were made [to the cards]. So, they kind of fell into a place where yeah, if you can get advancement tokens on these ice, they are brutal. Getting advancement tokens onto that ice is a problem. You have to be dedicated to make that happen."]

Bolded emphasis mine. I would hate to be unfairly misrepresenting Mr Stone here, so I included as much of the quote as was relevant to this discussion. But I don't honestly believe that I am taking this out of context. The man himself appears to have admitted that, after the AOWR suite were determined to be too strong, the only change that was implemented was the AOWR restriction itself. I'm willing to put my entire online dignity at stake (for whatever that's worth) to say that Tyrant, Woodcutter and Salvage would still be well below the power curve (as evidenced by the mathing earlier), even if they could be advanced while unrezzed, and far from the "absolute beasts" that Damon seems to suggest. Even now, the design team (or just Damon?) still does not realize just how badly off Tyrant, Woodcutter and Salvage are.

After such an ardent fulmination, I would very much like to emphasize at this point that I do not in any way blame the design team for their miscalculation. Nor do I have any misguided belief that I would have been able to pick up on any of these problems at the time, had I been involved. In fact, I probably would have created a fair few more - I was highly inexperienced back then, and knew far less about the game and its overall balance equilibrium than I do now. And I think therein lies the source of the problem - no one really knew how to effectively play the game in the Core/Genesis era, due to how early we were in the game's infancy. While Tyrant, Woodcutter and Salvage were feared as being too strong in the early stages of ANR, before any of the current archetypes, playstyles and run-sense were developed, time and experience has shown us that such fears were sadly unfounded. With the privilege of hindsight, it is fairly clear that mistakes were made early on regarding the balancing of advanceable ice that unfortunately continue to plague Weyland's card pool.


As a result of the AOWR misjudging, subsequent advanceable ice, while clearly better than the AOWR suite, were still decidedly below the power curve. Even ignoring the bad publicity, Swarm is tremendously overcosted and still requires substantial investment before it becomes a legitimate threat. Changeling, while not awful, is fairly dear for only a moderate strength ETR barrier, and exceptionally so, as a sentry; even accounting for its surprise factor, Lycan is (boy, I'm starting to sound like a broken record here) far too expensive for a such a low-strength, easily-broken ice. While the advanceable ice from Order and Chaos are far better than that which is AOWR, and clearly on the right track, they are not sufficiently strong as to have an entire deck/archetype built around them and be successful, which consequently neuters most advanceable ice support pieces - Shipment from KaguyaCommercialization, Firmware Updates, Constellation Protocol, Space Camp, Builder, Satellite Grid. Wormhole is clearly the winner of the lot, both for the fact that it is exceptionally taxing for basically any icebreaking measure, barring D4v1d recursion and perhaps Atman at 7 strength, and also that it serves as one of the few (playable) Weyland code gates. But until we see a substantial number of Wormhole-level advanceable ice for Weyland, a sizable portion of Weyland's card pool, particularly surrounding its ice, is going to remain underplayed.

Finally, perhaps the most terrible thing about the AOWR suite, is that they have hijacked important ice roles for Weyland - taxing, multisubroutine ice. Assuming the cards were costed appropriately, ice gaining subroutines per advancement would actually be a welcome design space, especially in the current meta, considering the abundance of in-faction support just waiting to be useful and the effectiveness of such ice against limited use breakers, the likes of Lady, Overmind and Faust. The problem is the AOWR suite already fills that space - they just so happen to be woefully weak and poorly priced. Hence, if the design team ever decides to revisit 'ice that gains subroutines when advanced', AOWR (and Swarm) are their reference points. Unless the design team bites the bullet and accepts that they simply have to succumb to pretty major, albeit localized, power creep (which is to say, making Weyland's advanceable ice considerably stronger, as opposed to just generally making new ice stronger), we will end up with the same problem of inferior, ignominious ice.

Many players would argue (particularly after such a hefty list of negatives) that it would be prudent to simply accept Weyland's advanceable ice mechanic as a failed, long-running experiment - I am not many people. So how are we to possibly breathe life into this severely struggling mechanic? Suffice to say, it'll require a lot of work.


Firstly, in order for advanceable ice to see play, Weyland would simply need some genuinely strong advanceable ice. In non-existent fantasy land, where time travel exists but is solely used to right major past wrongs, I would head back in time and engage in civil discussion with various tyrannical dictators of yore, persuading them not to commit future atrocities, and, failing that, kick them repeatedly in the groin. Then I would fix the AOWR ice suite (I might attend to a few other equally important things first, but you get the picture). Assuming that we retain the 'can be advanced only while rezzed' clause (a self-imposed restriction to determine what level of buffs would be necessary to revitalize these ice), we would have to make up for this massive disadvantage - as such, I would reduce their respective rez costs substantially and have them actually rez with an initial subroutine, so that they have immediate impact, on first rez/encounter. Below are aggressively costed do-overs of Salvage, Tyrant and Woodcutter - AOWR, version 2:

You three never looked so good.

The above cards are enormously more powerful than the originals and even Salvage is retooled to be playable (albeit still poor against non-0 link Runners). The idea behind each of these is that they are entirely reasonable ice the moment they are rezzed but can subsequently be advanced to become tremendously taxing. Tyrant is perhaps the most controversial of the lot in that it is an upgradeable, and thus strictly superior, Bastion - something which the design team has shown that they are hesitant to do. This is justified by the fact that it's obviously only a strict upgrade for Weyland - any other faction that wants a 4 strength, 4-to-rez barrier will still opt for Bastion, unless they can spare the influence. While costing 'Tyrant v2' at 5 might seem appropriate, to avoid the above scenario, doing so would make advancing it quite unfavourable, cost-wise, when compared to the likes of Hadrian's Wall and Ashigaru, cards that already see little more than fringe play. Also, 'Salvage v2' and 'Woodcutter v2' would now provide a minor facecheck punish, while the 'worrying' element of springing a surprise 10-advanced Woodcutter on the Runner is still kept in check by the retained AOWR clause. For advanceable ice to become a real archetype, cards of this power level are going to be needed. That being said, future installments should really default to being advanceable at all times.

Furthermore, to properly utilize an improved set of advanceable ice, Weyland would need to have a solidly usable ID that synergizes with the advancement mechanic. It's been pretty clearly established at this point that Because We Built It is simply really poor. While it's an unfair comparison to make, both BWBI and Engineering the Future functionally provide you 1 credit per turn - however, ETF's credit is vastly more versatile. ETF will gain its credit almost every single turn of the game, and even occasionally on the opponent's turn - just by playing the damn game. BWBI, by comparison, is not even able to use its ability until it finds an advanceable ice - at which point, they now have to invest clicks into their ice to gain their discount. Which leads to another point in ETF's favour - it actually provides real credits; BWBI instead provides a discount for performing a niche action that rarely contributes to a win condition. Advanceable ice are presently very mediocre - even with the improved versions proposed above, the present BWBI would still be off, for the reasons stated above. The real problem with advancing ice (outside of them simply being bad) is the tempo lost in clicks advancing them - something which the original BWBI does nothing to mitigate. My proposed revision for Because We Built It is a weakened version of the one Willingdone proposed in his Weyland Core Set Retrospective (will be piggybacking off more great work from this guy in later sections).

Willingdone's original version had 2 recurring credits - however, my nerf is highly intentional, as this ID is intended as a tool to interact with an upgraded pool of advanceable ice, akin to the altered AOWR suite above. BWBI v2 has substantially increased flexibility in its use of the credit-per-turn - if the Corp has an unlucky start for instance, and lacks advanceable ice in the early game, they can still benefit from discounted installation costs. The 'gaining of a click' clause, however, would make this ID fairly beastly at turning its ice into taxing monstrosities as the game goes on. And with upgraded ice for this purpose, BWBI v2 could actually enable Weyland to be the glacier Corp that the designers so desired.

Encapsulated in the BWBI v2 idea, another major obstacle advanceable ice would need to overcome is their slowness - to utilize this archetype, Weyland would strongly benefit from a combo card that accelerates ice advancement. Part of the reason the 'click refund' clause is present on the proposed BWBI v2 is because of how much tempo is lost in the process of advancing ice, and how slow they are to actually become taxing. Here's my idea of a way to rectify that:

I really don't understand the advancement of ice, thematically,
so I just went for something vaguely research-oriented, art-wise.

Initially, I planned for Specialized Reinforcement to be more generally applicable, but ultimately opted for, uhh, specialization. As such, this card is very clearly only meant for a dedicated advancable ice deck - but in such a deck, it could be a very strong tempo card, saving the Corp up to three clicks (which is enormous), assuming you have the money and the desired ice. Which is ultimately the justification for the card's strong effect - it's a combo card. Moreover, it's a combo card that requires the Corp to have the desired piece of ice in hand (or in Archives), the credits to install said ice and the credits to place advancement tokens. If those conditions are met, however, the resulting upside is not insubstantial - free Wormhole/Nebula/Asteroid Belt; heavily discounted Orion; pre-boosted AOWR v2 suite (let's be real, this card still wouldn't save the AOWR suite as it currently stands). As such, Specialized Reinforcement might enable (with fortuitous draw) advanceable ice decks to rush out a few points early, before eventually transitioning into full glacier mode to score their remaining points. Also, Specialized Reinforcement has a niche utility of being able to install ice from Archives - thus allowing the Corp to discard space ice until they find the Reinforcement to jump-start them, or recover ice milled by dastardly measures or trashed via ice destruction. On that note...

To truly be viable, Weyland's advanceable ice would also require an answer of sorts to the dreaded Parasite - to be specific, Parasite recursion. While no single deck will have an answer to every deck out there, advanceable ice decks are especially devastated by Parasites, a staple of the Anarch faction and frequently splashed out of faction. Given how much investment, both economic and tempo-wise, is required to advance one's ice, the fact that the Runner playing one card and spending 2 credits further mandates you to purge virus counters every few turns or accept losing all your investment simply makes such strategies entirely unviable. As such, I propose a Patch-style 'condition counter' operation that prevents the lowering of ice strength (basically an operation that adds Lotus Field's effect to a piece of ice), preventing Parasuckers from simply wrecking all of your ice:

Y'know, because ice? HAHAHAHAHA. I hate myself. 

Freezer is fairly simple in its design - 'install to rez ice; ice is now immune to Parasites, Datasuckers and Ice Carver.' On top of resolving the Parasite problem for advanceable ice, its pre-rezzing ability makes it the ideal card for the AOWR suite, with a side-benefit of serving as anti-Blackmail tech. While designed to empower advanceable ice (which is good), Freezer could also potentially be abused to make 'difficult to deal with outside of Parasite' ice, such as Komainu, far more resilient (which is potentially problematic). Furthermore, ice such as Ichi 1.0, which are frequently dealt with via usage of Datasucker counters and the Anarch breaker suite become brutal for such rigs. That being said, the mere fact that Freezer does not fall into the categories of ice, economy, or agendas means it has fierce competition for deck slots. And given that it preemptively rezzes ice, their facechecking ability is entirely nullified. Additionally, as Freezer would only really be desired for certain 'vulnerable' ice, and thus both ice and Freezer would need to be present together, it is inherently a timing-dependent combo card. Despite its downsides, cards similar to this could definitely have some impact on the meta-game and would certainly make advanceable ice more playable.


Tune in next week for Part II of our series on Weyland, where we discuss the obstacles Weyland faces with regards to its rush strategy (in particular, its rush-oriented ice) and some solutions to rectify them.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. To clarify, I didn't delete this man's comment (far be it from me to quell discussion) - he did.

      His comment may be found here, alongside the ensuing discussion:

  2. There's that HB asset that lets you derez things (including ice)...

    1. I'm sorry to say that I don't understand what part of the article your comment refers to. Would you care to enlighten me?

  3. I've been seeking a possible solution to make the terrible 3 not so terrible by using Clairvoyant Monitor. Highlyrics doubt I will get far with it but if you read the subroutine carefully, I think you will see where I want to go with it.

    1. I very much do see where you are going with it. Even if you crash and burn, it'll be fun while it lasts! All the best!

  4. What do you think of Wendigo?
    I didn't see you mentioned it though you mentioned Lycan and Changeling.

    1. Indeed I did not. I touch on it briefly in the following article (shall be out in a few days).

  5. There's a cute little card called PAD Factory coming in Mumbad, it won't make the Rez cost any less horrendous, but I wonder if it won't make AOWR ever so slightly better...?

    1. I am familiar with the card you are referring to. Given that each copy costs 2 influence unless you are running 3 PAD Campaigns in your deck, PAD Factory feels like it's designed for a Gagarin horizontal deck with space ice. Given that it allows for the placement of advancements irrespective of whether the card can be advanced or not, it will inevitably make the AOWR suite better, but 'ever so slightly better' still isn't going to make those ice decent, let alone playable, outside of kitchen table combos.

  6. I really like your series, as I have a fondness in my heart for glacier and rush Weyland. But I was a little disappointed that the article on advanceable ice omits Space Ice. We all know Tyrant et al. suck. But Wormhole is a great piece of ice, which you do mention, and so are Nebula and Orion (Asteroid is a worse Fire Wall). Ice that trash programs usually have downsides (Grim, Archer, Ichi) or low strength (Rototurret). In my opinion the problem is not the ice, it's the support cards. We need cards that allow you to advance ice without spending huge numbers of clicks. The new card, Dedication Ceremony, would have been perfect for this, and I think was a huge wasted opportunity. If it had only said "place 3 tokens on an advanceable ice." What say you, good sir?

    1. Thanks for the love. Glad you've been enjoying the articles.

      You evidently think more highly of the space ice than I do. While I do indeed hold that Wormhole is a perfectly decent piece of ice, the other space are all fairly overcosted (Asteroid Belt is especially egregious). As such, Nebula and Orion, as program-trashing ice, also have their own downsides, in that they cost more than they should. They certainly aren't terrible, but they also aren't the calibre of ice that Weyland requires in order to jump-start its advanceable ice mechanic.

      That being said, I do indeed feel that many of the support cards for advanceable are also lacking: Simone Diego takes far too long to pay off and is too costly to rez upfront, Satellite Grid is very low impact and uses the coveted 'region' subtype (thus preventing the use of more powerful regions upgrades on the same server), Constellation Protocol is both situational and low impact, and the less said about Amazon Industrial Zone, the better.

      I very much think Dedication Ceremony was a wasted opportunity. It's certainly not without its uses, but advancement acceleration is something Weyland really needs (my hypothetical solution, Specialized Reinforcement, in the article obviously demonstrates my bias in this regard) and restricting DC's use to something highly niche feels silly. It's pretty obvious that the faction is due some genuine power cards at this point, after all. If Dedication Ceremony cost an extra credit to play but could be used on facedown cards, I would play it in an instant.

      Anyhow, no point dwelling on 'what-could-have-been's at this stage. Let's just hope Mumbad has more exciting cards in store for Weyland.