Thursday, 21 January 2016

The Woes of Weyland - Part III: Subpar Scoring

The Agenda Story


The stellar art on these cards fills me with the deepest of sorrow.

Welcome back. So, many consider one of Weyland's greatest flaws to be that they have the weakest agenda selection out of the four factions. Let's investigate that, faction by faction, shall we?


Comparisons to NBN are perhaps unfair, as their agendas are somewhat notorious for their potency - on top of housing the single-most powerful agenda in the game, Astroscript, NBN also has easily the two best 2-for-1 agendas (Breaking News and the sensual, new 15 Minutes), the always-excellent Project Beale, and a full suite of nasty Midseasons-empowering agendas (Explode-a-palooza, TGTBT, and Quantum Predictive Model).

Jinteki, however, also has several great-to-phenomenal agendas - Nisei Mk II (an absolute back-breaker when allied with Caprice Nisei, Marcus Batty and taxing remote servers), The Future Perfect (prior to the arrival of Film Critic, easily the best 3-pointer in the game), House of Knives (extraordinarily strong in kill-oriented decks), Fetal AI (see House of Knives), Philotic Entanglement (see Fetal AI seeing House of Knives) and Braintrust (a blank 3-for-2's still the gold standard for the advancements-to-points ratio).

Haas-Bioroid's agendas, while not at the level of NBN or Jinteki, have their own advantages: Accelerated Beta Test is great simply as a blank 3-for-2, but in an ice-heavy deck, or with a Team Sponsorship and/or Jackson installed as support, a successful 'firing' can win games; Project Vitruvius is often used as a blank 3-for-2, thus empowering Haas-Bioroid's fast advance capabilities, but its over-advancement effect can also be very useful, particularly against Noise. On top of their 'heaters', Haas-Bioroid also has their share of very playable, albeit not spectacular, agendas: Director Haas' Pet Project is worthwhile in its ability to recur/reuse high-impact assets/upgrades (Campaigns, Sponsorships, Cyberdex Virus Suite, etc) with ice as protection, if desired; Efficiency Committee, despite what the hideous art would have you believe, is also worthy of consideration, as a strong, tempo-providing agenda, and an auto-include for Accelerated Diagnostics combo-based Cerebral Imaging decks; finally, while only really usable in decks specifically constructed around it (Mushin no Shin card - "you sure you wanna slam into that Cerebral Overwriter, buddy?"), a scored Mandatory Upgrades makes losing reasonably difficult. So how does Weyland fare? 

Really, really good agendas. Straight up.

Honestly - pretty well actually. Project Atlas, Weyland's most prized agenda, is very impressive, a 3-for-2 whose over-advancement effect is so strong (instant-speed tutoring), it will rarely be scored blank; the recently acquired Oaktown Renovation is a superb agenda for rush-oriented decks - its 'faceup' downside (that just sounds silly) is more than outweighed by its constant maintenance of economic tempo whilst being advanced. Also of note: Hostile Takeover, while unpopular in taxing variants of Weyland due to the bad publicity it entails, is a staple of Weyland rush decks, both for the monetary boost and to turn on Archer threat. And as a final, cursory mention, High-Risk Investment has huge economic potential against a wealthy Runner, particularly out of Titan Transnational - however, its status as a 3-pointer frequently makes it a liability.

Conclusion? If it hadn't just received Oaktown Renovation, Weyland's agenda selection would indeed be looking a little underwhelming (it certainly was prior to Oaktown) with only one straightforwardly strong agenda in Project Atlas, Hostile Takeover being archetype-dependent. As it is, they have two high power agendas. Furthermore, if they forego Hostile Takeover in favour of Oaktown and Atlas, Weyland is even able to finally play NAPD Contract, using the also-new Public Support to feed its Archers. This could arguably put them roughly on par with Haas-Bioroid, agenda-wise (or, at worst, not far behind) - so what's the real problem with Weyland's agendas? The truth is that it's not really the agendas themselves that are the problem at this stage, it's the method by which they are scored. Also, snappy segue to discussion about scoring methods:


Fast Advance and Protection Upgrades


NBN, Haas-Bioroid and Jinteki. Seems about right.

Weyland's biggest problem with its agendas is that it has considerable difficulty actually scoring them. Outside of their ice, they do not have a single in-faction card that actually aids them in doing so - apart from the threat of meat damage flatline, which will be covered in the next section (spoileeeeers). The other three factions have both fast advance tools - to let them score agendas out of hand - and protection upgrades - to let them score out of remotes. Weyland has neither. NBN's primary strength is fast advance, frontlined by Astroscript, fellow 3-for-2 Project Beale and SanSan City Grid, though they also have limited (agenda-)protection upgrades in the form of Red HerringsOld Hollywood Grid and the tag-punishing Keegan Lane. Jinteki's psi-based protection upgrades, Caprice Nisei and Marcus Batty, are widely (loathed and) regarded for their ability to defend remotes; Jinteki also has limited fast advance capabilities in the form of Trick of LightMedical Breakthroughs, alongside its 3-for-2s. Haas Bioroid has both potent fast advance - Biotic Labor, two pairs of 3-for-2s, Director Haas - and magnificent upgrade protection in the form of Ash (and backup in the form of Corporate Troubleshooter). And WeyWey?

Weyland is the only faction to have just one 3-for-2 and the closest thing it has to fast advance is an overly elaborate and unrealistic, pipe-dream combo with a heavily over-advanced Hollywood Renovation*; regarding 'protection' upgrades, Weyland has Off The Grid - which is entirely unplayable outside of Blue Sun, and even there it requires considerable set-up - and The Twins - which also requires considerable setup, and is rarely worth the payoff, unless played out of faction, specifically The Foundry. One 3-for-2, non-existent fast advance, and no reliable protection upgrade - very clearly Weyland are lacking in this area.


*Or ya know, something like this - typically wins via casually scoring 7 points in a single turn, via Shutdown-Diagnostics combos. As one does. Amusingly, it's certainly not as unfeasible as it may appear, but it's also unlikely to be winning any major tournaments.


Ambushes?



Haas-Bioroid, Jinteki, NBN. Yeah, definitely not missing anyone.

So if Weyland can't score agendas out of hand and has no upgrades to protect their remotes, what about ambushes to bait as agendas? Sigh - sadly, once again, Weyland is the only faction to not have an in-faction ambush. Haas-Bioroid has two highly disparate, advanceable ambushes, the deadly, kill-oriented Cerebral Overwriter, and the rig-wrecking, glacier-friendly Aggressive Secretary; the ever-wiley Jinteki has the advanceable Project Junebug, as well as Snare, Psychic Field, Shi Kyu, Edge of World and Shock; even blistering NBN has Ghost Branch and now News Team. While Space Camp ostensibly contains the 'ambush' subtype, it is entirely toothless, potentially ceding advantage to the Corp (assuming they're playing advanceable ice, which, as discussed earlier, is rarely a handsome proposition) instead of actually hurting the Runner. 

Tragically (for me, mostly - I love me some traps), Lukas Litzsinger (the previous lead designer of A:NR) has gone on record saying that "Weyland is not a tricky faction", whose cards should "speak for themselves", much to my dismay. Additionally, the introduction of 'public' agendas pretty patently appears to be Weyland's intended, stubborn response to advanceable ambushes. Without a shred of subtlety, the public agendas openly announce the agenda that they are advancing, goading the Runner into running them. It seems we are unlikely to see any Weyland ambushes any time soon, unless Damon has different ideas...


Solutions?


... In the universe where Damon has different ideas to Lukas regarding Weyland having ambushes (hopefully ours), I think an ambush that removes power counters would be an excellent way to further Weyland's "screw with the Runner's board state" design space. While that might seem like a pretty specific effect, I think cards like Crisium Grid, Power Shutdown, and Student Loans (horrendous though it is) establish that control and rig manipulation are pretty squarely part of Weyland's wheelhouse. Furthermore, Crisium and Student Loans are meta-oriented hate cards, so having a card that directly hates on a meta-related mechanic seems entirely reasonable. About that ambush though:

I originally named this card Blackout, which made the card art even simpler.

In coming up with Weyland's 'Space Camp with teeth', I liked the design space it opened up, as it can potentially be useful as both scoring support (by messing with LadyD4v1d, Earthrise Hotel, Atman, and the upcoming The Turning Wheel, etc) and even kill support (Plascrete Carapace). As such, it seems pretty well suited to a classic rush deck, giving Weyland a nice new tool to manipulate the Runner's board state. Furthermore, if the Runner doesn't have a card with power counters installed (or doesn't want to lose said card), the Runner must trash one of their pieces of hardware - which is also rarely desirable, particularly when the choices are Clone Chips or a console. To me, this seems like the type of card that could give Weyland (at least its rush archetype) an appreciable boost, pushing it ever closer to parity with the other Corps.

As it is evidently more impactful than Space Camp, Short Circuit has an activation cost, but one noticeably lower than Snare!. Despite the fact that the aforementioned 'power counter' cards are all frequently played in the current meta, it's actually a reasonably niche effect when considering the Runner card pool as a whole (only 15 Runner cards currently make use of power counters). Furthermore, unlike Snare!, whose 3 net damage and tag are always impactful, Short Circuit is only usable once the Runner has a 'power counter' card or a piece of hardware installed. Definitely a 'meta call' card whose value is entirely dependent on the prevalence of 'power counter' cards.

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If we ignore ambushes as a potential solution for Weyland's scoring problem, how then are we to work at solving this conundrum? What about fast advance mechanics? Lukas has also gone on record many times in saying that more 3-for-2 agendas are not something on the horizon, so hoping for another of those for Weyland is likely wishful thinking. Because I enjoy moping and dwelling overly on "what if?" scenarios, I do wish that Constellation Protocol were a much more general use card that actually allowed the Corp to move advancement tokens from ice to any installed card that can be advanced, not just restricted to ice. This still wouldn't help Weyland score agendas from hand, but it would let them score 4-for-2s from an unadvanced state, and 5-for-3s, bluffed as single-advanced NAPD Contracts. Such a change to the card would likely necessitate a worse rez-to-trash ratio, but that's a trade-off that most Weyland players would be willing to make. In light of what we expressly can't achieve, I also have a more original idea for 'limited' fast advance in Weyland, and appropriately enough, it also ties into advanceable ice!


Because why not add a little French flavour to A:NR?

On the surface, it isn't perhaps obvious how Avenard Grid is meant to accelerate agenda scoring. Its fast advance applications are not immediately obvious. There are two cards in Weyland's card pool, neither of which will rotate out, that unlock this card's latent scoring potential - Shipment from Kaguya and (especially) Firmware Updates. With the use of either of these cards, the Corp can score an agenda with an advancement requirement of 3 (or less) out of hand, assuming they have an installed advanceable ice. Thus, Avenard Grid serves as a 'combo fast advance' card alongside cards which otherwise have reasonably limited utility. That being said, Weyland presently only has one 3/2 in Project Atlas, so Avenard Grid's potential for scoring agendas out of hand (aside from 3/1s) is actually reasonably limited. 

More than simply a 'combo' fast advance card, however, the click compression element of Avenard Grid makes it both powerful and versatile. As a click compression tool, it lets you advance a piece of ice and an agenda simultaneously, or even advance the same piece of ice twice for a single action, if you are waiting for agendas, or a scoring window, to arrive. Put simply, Avenard Grid rapidly (if you will pardon the pun) ADVANCES the Corp's game state, assuming the Corp is able to keep its economy afloat. As mentioned though, Firmware Updates, in particular, turns Avenard Grid into something truly terrifying, potentially allowing the Corp to bluff out 5/3s unadvanced, only to fully score them the following turn (advance at the end of the Runner's turn, advance at the start of your turn, advance-advance-advance-score). Consequently, Firmware Updates (by virtue of its sickening synergy with the Grid) would provide a much-needed boost to Weyland's 'never advance' game - the Runner cannot simply ignore unadvanced remotes against Weyland for fear that they let an Updates slip through. As such, Avenard Grid is probably better described as an advanceable ice/scoring support card that can also double as a 'fast advance' tool. And Weyland would really, really something like it.

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More than fast advance measures though, I think the most immediate boon for Weyland would simply be to give them a functional defensive upgrade that isn't highly combo-dependent or needlessly complicated to set up. When Weyland already has so many overcosted, clunky ice that lend themselves to glacier strategies, it really is ridiculous that they lack any sort of additional protection for their servers to synergize with the strategy advocated by such ice. Unfortunately, Jinteki has already claimed the 'pseudo-random' design space with their 'psi' upgrades, and Haas-Bioroid has already claimed the 'leveraging economic superiority' space with Ash and Troubleshooter. There's no obvious solutions/unexplored design space that leaps to mind. HB can't have all the nice things though, so I think Weyland's upgrade could well occupy the same 'big money' territory. My idea would be something inspired by the design of ice like Hive and Spiderweb, and also Corporate Troubleshooter - a one-shot upgrade that adds 'end the run' subroutines, stopping runs with cold, hard cash.


His rig has a lot of RAM. 256 kB at least.
Superior Cyberwalls edition.


While somewhat similar in function to Corporate Troubleshooter, Cecil Arturez actually fulfills quite a different niche to its purple cousin. To some, this might look like a strict upgrade to Troubleshooter, on account of the fact that Cecil affects multiple pieces of ice in the server; in reality though, the cards are really not directly comparable. Unlike Troubleshooter, Cecil will never be able to create any 'blowout' situations, in the vein of Troubleshooter boosting an Archer/Ichi out of breaking range to decimate a Runner's rig (the ideal scenario); Cecil is no rig-buster. In a pinch, he could be used to secure a scoring window behind a single piece of ice, but his real utility lies in making multiply-iced servers monstrous for a turn. On a remote with three or more rezzed ice, Cecil will more than likely secure a server for a key scoring turn, assuming the Corp has sufficient creds.

Furthermore, Cecil would serve as a powerful check against breaker solutions that are especially popular in the current meta, namely Lady, Faust, and D4v1d (which counters Troubleshooter), all of which are limited in how many subroutines they are able to break. A card with the mechanics of Cecil, assuming it were impactful enough, would have the potential to move the meta away from these limited-use breakers. Despite Cecil's glacier synergy, the effect of shifting the Runner meta back to using regular icebreakers would also give faster Corps (Weyland rush, in particular) an advantage. Amusingly enough, a counter to Cecil already exists in the form of Sunny's cloud breakers, which break all subroutines on an ice for a one-off payment of 2 credits - and an indirect buff to Sunny can't be a bad thing! In the event that a card like Cecil proved too powerful as a late game score-enabler in testing, his ability could be further narrowed/Weyland-ized to only work with barriers (the version on the right).


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Ice, agendas, scoring upgrades, ambushes - it appears we have covered all the tools necessary to score 7 points in a game of Netrunner! What more is there? Well, as it turns out, Weyland often likes to win its games in a very different fashion. Scoring agendas is great and all, but so is stopping Runners from thieving them. Permanently. But more on that in Part IV next week, eh? 

Hmm, I smell something burning...


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