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Fourteen Decks in Fourteen Weeks, Pt1

Welcome to a new mini-series of articles I’m hoping to sustain over the coming months. I’m intending to do something different for this series, which is to introduce a number of decks that I’ve designed and played, although perhaps not refined particularly well and discuss the merits and drawbacks of each. These might be completely off the wall and conceptual, or they may be fairly conventional designs, though hopefully more of the former than the latter. Think of them as potential jumping off points, perhaps, for tuning into tournament level decks of your own. Then again, they may prove in some cases to be little more than intellectual exercises, on par with the conceptual decks of Card Game DBs Tech Talk article series by Scud (not linked because the tagging doesn’t seem to work on CGDB).

An Intro to the Adelaide City Grid Leagues

For those three readers of my blog who are not members of the Adelaide City Grid, first a prelude. The ACG Leagues are what I like to describe as decentralised, self-organising evolutionary tournament. Players register to the fortnightly Facebook events to join up for a round, and registrations close at midnight on the Saturday prior to the round commencing. The League Organiser (me) makes the pairings and tries to get these out on the Sunday of the first week of the fortnightly rounds.

Players can then use Facebook chat or other means to organise a time over the course of the next two weeks to meet up and play a single match, reporting the results to me. The League isn’t tied to any of the excellent gaming establishments we have in Adelaide, so it truly is decentralised; we’ve had three or more matchups being played out on a Saturday mid-round, down to players hosting one another in the privacy of their own homes. Obviously there’s a degree of honesty required in reporting the matchups, along with a draconian “no prestige” rule for disputed results that cannot be resolved amicably.

The league rounds are organised to coincide – as best as the vagaries of the distribution chain admit – with the release of Data Packs in an expansion cycle. The Genesis League ran for eight weeks over the last four Data Packs of the Genesis Cycle, while Spin League 1 will run for the duration of Opening Moves, Second Thoughts and Mala Tempora. Ostensibly this makes the first of two Spin Leagues six rounds long, presuming a monthly release turnaround for each Data Pack, but aforementioned vagaries took hold early on and so I extended the Spin League 1 by an additional round. Spin League 2 will encompass True Colors, Fear and Loathing, and Double Time.

Decks are obviously not fixed for the duration of the league; players can choose to stick to one deck (for Runner and Corp each, obviously) throughout the entire series of matches, updating and refining them as new packs bring options into the environment. They can alternatively decide to build complete new decks each round (and given a fortnight there’s often ample time to do this) and try to exploit the novelty of new cards and the shifting meta to their advantage. Most, I think, tend to straddle the two although not many people choose to provide me with their deck lists (again the honesty system is in place rather than mandating that I get to adjudicate the legality of deck lists).

My goal for Spin League 1

I didn’t really take up the option of doing new things each round last time that I ran an ACG League, and so for this one I thought it would be an interesting challenge. I want to have a new Corp and Runner deck each round, with which to try to explore Spin as well as my own design space in Netrunner. I had also had in mind that I would use the Spin League matches to try and identify potential strong contenders for the weekly tournament series being run by Infinity Games, one of the local stores. The converse seems to be happening, however, where the weekly tournaments are becoming  ”hothouse” testbeds for my League decks. Lastly this goal might allow me to get back into the swing of posting to my LJ, where I can talk about the decks, put up listings, and aim to get out some shorter, more punchy articles than my usual long-winded and more philosophical essays. And so, enough preamble, on to Round 1’s decks.

Round 1 (Sunday 6 October - Saturday 19 October)

Runner: Exile, Streethawk “Cyberspace is for Pawn”

It is an old adage in collectable card games: card advantage wins games.This may not be so true in Netrunner as in, say Magic or Legend of the Five Rings or other symmetric games, but if Necro Summer teaches us one thing, it is that being able to draw more cards, even at the cost of seemingly moving you towards losing the game, can in fact put you further on the path to victory.

Thus Exile’s ability is immediately appealing to me. When he was first previewed/released, there were only twelve cards that would trigger his ability: Test Run (Cyber Exodus), Retrieval Run (Future Proof), Clone Chip and Scavenge (both Creation and Control, as is Exile himself). I remarked at the time that when a Program that could install itself from the trash was released then the Exile deck would truly come into its own. With the preview of Pawn (Opening Moves) I believed that this was what we were looking for. Pawn would allow Exile to run (Retrieval Run, especially, but also Dirty Laundry, Indexing, The Maker’s Eye, etc.) and advance the Pawn down a central server, falling off the end to install another Pawn from trash, triggering his ability, and setting up a repeat with the first Pawn now in the trash as well. If this could work efficiently, then a potent draw engine would work to engineer a card advantage out of Exile’s ability like little else in the game.

Cyberspace is for Pawn” is predicated on seeking to exploit the efficacy of that concept. Influence constraints led to the Retrieval Run being cut down for the “final” deck design, but the rest of the Exile draw triggers are all there. Freelance Coding Contract served to fuel both the engine by putting Programs into the trash, and the rest of the deck by gaining credits for the privilege. Although the deck performs moderately well, the big drawback to the whole scheme is the expenditure of the –action to host Pawn on the central server Ice. This could just have easily been an action to draw the card that Pawn eventually gives me.

When Mala Tempora is released, the use of the Deep Red console to offset this cost might make the engine worth revisiting. This would bring its own issue however, with Deep Red providing MU only for the Caïssa programs (and Pawn requires none) which may push the deck to trying to import some additional Caïssa such as Rook or Knight. That raises the spectre of needing to carefully manage the Influence as well as adding another theme to the deck and diluting it from its main goal. Akumatsu or Dyson Mem Chips may be required, and perhaps with Dyson, Cloud Breakers become an option as well, although Creeper is … not very good.

What worked: Test Run for Femme Fatale is good. Test Run into Femme keyed to Ice in a remote you want to attack now, then running to steal Agenda, and then Scavenging Femme and re-keying her to Ice in the central server that is your main target is even better. This also works (as Emma made abundantly and frustratingly clear playing this deck against me) with Cyber-cypher against the next deck I’m presenting. Hostage mixed with a limited suite of Kati Jones, Professional Contacts and John Masanori is good for reducing dead draws from redundant copies of the Connections. Indexing and The Maker’s Eye are both good Run Events that can further your scheme while Pawn is advancing as well. Escher is just That Damned Good!

What didn’t: The Pawn cycle engine needs Deep Red. Memory was an issue as well. I forgot my 3Ms maxim. Same Old Thing into Test Run, Retrieval Run or Scavenge was kind of clunky; SOT was originally there for Stimhack, a combination that worked well in a Professor deck I ran a while back, but which was dropped from the ‘final’ deck list. As did Levy AR Lab Access, which is usually counter to Exile’s desideratum of having a trash pile full of Programs. It does, however, give you a chance to start the engine all over again in the case of a long game, so remains a consideration if or when I return to this design.

Corp: Haas-Bioroid Cerebral Imaging “NKVD v3.0”

This deck is a rebuild of a re-tread from the original Netrunner deck design dubbed the “Nasty Code Gate Deck” (NCGD). I keep coming back to (variants of) this build every so often (thus the v3.0) but certain critical components remain absent from the current game. “NKVD v3.0” is a thinly veiled misdirection from the original acronym. now of course pointless.

The NCGD set out to exploit a couple of cards from O:NR that made cheap-to-rez, high-strength code gates (normally moderately ineffectual) actually very hard to break through en masse. Primarily vertical (using the new game jargon) it set out to build a deep server of CGs with a Wall (i.e. Barrier) or potent Sentry at bottom that would become so ridiculously expensive to break through that Agenda could be slow advanced moderately safely after the Runner went broke getting through once. It capitalised on the fact that CGs in the original game actually had the best rez:strength ratio, and made  that even worse by adding strength and additional subroutines to otherwise weak CGs. There are, as mentioned, some fundamental components missing:

    1. Encryption Breakthrough: a 5/2 Agenda that when scored gave all CGs +1 Strength and also a monetary return for ea. CG rezzed or revealed at score.
    2. Encoder, Inc.: a Node (Asset) which cost 0 to rez, reduced the rez cost of all CGs by one, and added an additional “End the run.” (ETR) subroutine after all other subroutines to all CGs. It would Force Multiply as well, further reducing the cost and adding extra subroutines.
    3. Chester Mix: an Upgrade-Sysop which reduced the install cost of Ice by two.
    4. Crystal Palace Station Grid: an Upgrade-Region which sent your server into orbit, making each subroutine on the Ice on that server cost +1 to break!
    5. Ball and Chain: a 2 rez/5 strength CG with a subroutine that forced the Runner to pay 2 to encounter the next piece of Ice, for the remainder of the run, or end the run.
    6. Minotaur: a 6 rez/4 strength Wall which had +1 ETR subroutine for each CG or Wall rezzed outside it.

    Most of the other pieces can be replaced with analogous cards in A:NRs pool: Misleading Access Menus ≡ Pop-up Window, Tutor (some variants, incl, mine) ≡ Sensei, Antiquated Interface Routines ≡ Experiential Data, AI Chief Financial Officer ≡ Executive Retreat, Off-site Backups ≡ Archived Memories and so forth.

    Chester Mix can be mimicked by using Minelayer, itself a 1 rez 4 strength CG, which fits the deck model. Mazer can be replaced with Viktor 2.0; both are 5 rez/5 strength CGs, where Mazer has only one ETR, Viktor also has his trace routine, but is double-clickable. Rock is Strong can be replaced with TMI. Both are 5 strength, with a single ETR, but where the former cost 6 rez, the latter is only 3 rez, but requires you win a trace2 to keep it up. Turning that into a trace strength of 5 usually does the trick except against cashed up Shapers with link. Haunting Inquisition could be considered loosely analogous to Tollbooth; both are big expensive CGs that cost a lot to get through (barring Femme Fatale nonsense). Heimdall 2.0 fits the bill for where a high cost Sentry threatening Brain damage (such as Code Corpse) served in NCGDs.

    The hardest thing about replicating a NCGD in A:NR is dealing with the card limits: original game decks had no upper limit on cards that could be included, and so NCGDs often ran eight Misleading Access Menus and eight Ball and Chains. Influence is also a factor, but there is enough commonality in the pool that suggests HB is a natural place to start from. Finding the right array of Ice to get around the card limit makes getting this design difficult, but really it is the missing key components (1 & 2) that still really hamper the design.

    What worked: Minelayer and Alix T4LBO7 are good components,overall the deep server of code gates seemed to be appropriately costly to get through. Getting the timing right for putting this deck into the metagame is probably critical. Prevalence of certain breakers in the meta (Yogosaurus &  Gordian Blade, mainly; I love seeing a ZU.13 almost as much as I love seeing Peacock against this deck) can wreck NKVD. Efficiency Committee and Private Contracts are able to combine to turnaround a large number of credits in a turn or two. NEXT Bronze is a good, cheap, early stopper, well worth the 3-of slot.

    What didn’t: The Identity. I ended up switching to HB EtF sometime in the testing of the deck after the economy let me down again. I should properly change the listing to reflect that, but the original design that is up is truer to what I was looking for out of the concept, even if it works less well.

    Yogosaurus wrecks this entire scheme pretty much. Em started running a KitMan deck around the time I was trying to refine this, and the losing streak that KNVD suffered as a result of that was disheartening to say the least.

    Using Security Subcontract to ‘eat’ early Ice: Burke Bugs (there for the Runners who run early with a MO or Sneakdoor Beta installed) and Pop-up Window seems less good than it did on paper. I will make that work in some deck someday. Despite, as mentioned, the Efficiency Committee working well with Private Contracts, and also maxing out installs for Alix cash grabs, it wasn’t super useful and could potentially be swapped out for Project Vitruvius, which might play the role of the Archived Memories if overclocked. That potentially makes room for Successful Demonstration in the Operations room. Haas Arcology AI is another drop waiting to happen.

    The deck deliberately eschews Fast Advance trickery, especially Trick of Light; Salvage, despite being an advancable CG which could play into that theme is really out of the question due to its inherent weakness as well as its pitiful strength. With Efficiency Committee in the deck, Shipment from SanSan might be an option to put some speed into the deck’s advancing, but then the Influence is a tight squeeze.

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