In the vein of my Mumbad cycle wrap up, I’m taking a moment to review the most recent set of Netrunner data packs & select my favorite cards.
Anarch had a brutally strong cycle, receiving not only an entire suite of playable icebreakers but two absurdly good consoles & a much reviled tech card in Rumor Mill. I played with, & enjoyed, a lot of these orange cards but my favorite was Frantic Coding, because it’s ridiculous. Dumping a quarter of your deck into the trash just to find one program is so, so Anarch. The synergy with the install-from-heap breakers, plus Anarch’s in-faction recursion events Deja Vu & Retrieval Run (which saw a huge comeback this year), make the card stronger than it appears. It’s the perfect pseudo-tutor for the faction that should be defined by recklessness, garbage fires, & a bit of inconsistency.
I did like Obelus, Omar Keung, Paperclip, Black Orchestra, & MKUltra an awful lot. I think the Rumor Mill hate is a bit unjustified; there are a lot of things keeping traditional glacier corps down right now & not many runner decks actually play Rumor Mill. Glacier would still be in awful shape if RM were banned. Have you ever played glacier against stealth Shaper? Against ICE destruction Anarch? These are perhaps even more problematic elements of the meta for glacier. If the ICE protecting your unique defensive upgrades is trashed or irrelevant, they don’t work so well.
While I think Rumor Mill is ultimately OK, Şifr looks like a straight up mistake. I hope FFG takes action to correct this overpowered, meta-breaking card. I’m someone who’s played decks without ICE & I was happy with it, but a card like this that stands to nearly invalidate one of the core concepts of Netrunner (ICE vs. icebreaker) is deeply troubling. Şifr is causing a lot of consternation amongst players.
Most of my picks won’t be the best card in faction but the one I had the most fun with. For criminal, those two happen to coincide: Temüjin Contract is not only the best runner card we’ve seen since Account Siphon, it actually had a few positive effects on the game. It introduced interesting counter play on the corp side (e.g. using an Advanced Assembly Lines installed on turn one to suddenly ICE the Temüjin server). It required a bit of skill to target effectively; if R&D is open, do you still put it on Archives because you want to stretch the corp’s initial ICE thinner? Temüjin made rounding out the economy of most runner decks trivial, which perhaps made decks more homogenous but it also felt freeing to have more card slots & money to experiment with. Most importantly, Temüjin rewarded making runs. If there’s going to be a dominate economy card in the game, I want it to be this one. Sure, it tipped the scales too far in the runner’s favor; it probably should cost more to install, or pay out less. But at its core Temüjin Contract is a wonderful Netrunner card.
Can I say Reaver? I don’t play a lot of Shaper but I did enjoy a brief stint with Smoke after Worlds, so she’s my favorite card of the cycle. Smoke’s not that flashy but the smaller deck size & the great support cards of the stealth archetype make her fun. It’s simple, honest Netrunner with some staple cards that I rarely get to play, like Diesel & Self-Modifying Code. There was also that time I played three Data Breach in one turn with a Medium out, 5 points in my score area, & still didn’t win. That was fun. Data Breach is a neat effect but probably not effective enough to justify a card slot, much like the very-cool-but-underwhelming Encore. Another great aspect of Smoke was how ubiquitous she was throughout the cycle; it felt like every single Shaper card alluded to her in some way, whether visually, thematically, or in the flavor text.
Mini-faction (Adam, Apex, Sunny)
I was so happy to see all of the minifactions receive a card this cycle. While I played Sunny the most of any minifaction runner, Reaver is an easy choice out of the three factions for me, as I enjoy Apex but also find this card to be powerful & fun in general. It’s sublime out of Shaper where you can pair it with Aesop’s Pawnshop to establish an economic engine that draws cards & makes cash. Reaver is very good in Apex itself, as Chop Bot was already a decent card but the added synergy of stacked Reavers & Wastelands turned it into an engine that easily outclasses Adjusted Chronotype - Wyldside.
Deuces Wild is a card that seemed awesome when it first came out, faded in popularity a bit, then became a nice tool in decks that want tag avoidance or a bit of extra card draw. I’m not a fan of Magic-style card effects in Netrunner since the game is so fundamentally different that they’re neither as useful nor as interesting. No offense to former world champion Jens, but CBI Raid suffers severely from this flaw. It’s an effect that’s devastating in Magic but terribly weak in Netrunner, especially when the card directly competes with Account Siphon. But Deuces Wild is more than a standard modal card like Infiltration because of the “expose an ICE, make a run” option. It’s perhaps the most commonly played expose effect & gaining the efficiency of a run, then reacting to what happens on the run with your second choice (e.g. drawing cards after taking damage, clearing a tag after running through Data Raven), is surprisingly powerful. Some initially thought Deuces was a Prepaid Voicepad card where all you would ever do is gain money & cards but in practice it proved to be much more.
Fairchild 3.0 probably changed the way I run more than any single piece of ICE ever released. I don’t play much HB, so it’s mostly a card I see from the other side of the table. I’ve planted into more than my share of equitable children & while it is brutal, it also rewards examining your board & looking for cards you can trash to save three credits. Honestly, F3 felt unfair at first, it was so damned powerful, but I’ve come to relish having strong ICE in the game. It’s one of the most standout trends that defined the Flashpoint cycle, with every faction receiving a couple of solid pieces of high-strength ICE (DNA Tracker, Chiyashi, Fairchild 3.0, Fairchild*, Mausolus, Bulwark, Data Ward, Thoth).
Jinteki is far & away my favorite corp & they received so many wonderful tools this cycle. From the perfect flavor of the combo card Hasty Relocation, to the solid psi ICE Mind Game & Aiki, to the devastating DNA Tracker, the cycle provided so many interesting choices for Jinteki decks. Even Project Kusanagi deserves a mention as a silly but ultimately playable card—an agenda that cannot be scored for agenda points! Similar to how I love the silliness of Frantic Coding, a lot of Jinteki cards this cycle made me laugh with joy (or cackle evilly) & for that I’m thankful.
Ultimately, the Potential Unleashed ID was my favorite card, edging out the obvious choice of DNA Tracker. I enjoy the “death by a thousand cuts” style of Personal Evolution & PU reinvented that archetype in an intriguing way. The randomness of milling off the stack makes it exciting & random in a limited, acceptable way, akin to Accelerated Beta Test. But the main reason why I love PU is because it rocketed my very favorite corporation card back into play: House of Knives. HoK went from being a good Personal Evolution card that was falling out of favor to a punishing force in Potential Unleashed. I like that HoK gives the identity an agenda it really wants to score, as it makes bluffs & early rush scores more common.
NBN was too strong coming into the Flashpoint cycle & I must admit that I freaked out a bit too much over the better yellow cards this cycle. Controlling the Message, Hard-Hitting News, & Data Ward all felt simply too good to be given to a corp that was on top & already had a viable tagstorm archetype. With the AstroScript Pilot Program errata spelling the demise of NEH fast advance, Flashpoint simply handed NBN another top tier strategy on a silver platter. My complaints aside, these cards don’t look that bad in retrospect. It’s unfortunate that tag counters like Aaron Marrón, On the Lam, & Misdirection weren’t available at Worlds or yellow wouldn’t have been so dominant.
While I have my complaints about CtM, it made for some of the most decision-intensive runner games I’ve ever played & for that reason it’s my NBN card of the cycle. An example illustrates it best: CtM jams an unadvanced card into a taxing Tollbooth remote. You run HQ & see All Seeing I. Is the remote server Breaking News? Should you go for broke trying to get in? Should you pull all your credits off of Liberated Account to play around ASI? What if they have Closed Accounts, too? Should you try to balance your money between installed resources & credit pool? This practice of balancing credits illustrates how runners were rewarded for thinking ahead & playing around the corp in ways that they didn’t often do previously. CtM games were very Netrunner in my mind, involving bluffs, traps (Mumbad Virtual Tour, Product Placement), crazy swings (Breaking News into Exchange of Information), risks (trashing a turn one Sensie Actors Union while leaving yourself vulnerable to Hard-Hitting News), & desperate lines of play. Everyone knows the only true way to beat CtM is by Medium digging through an R&D Data Raven to win the turn before you would lose to EOI or Psychographics.
Mausolus is an easy pick. While BOOM! is a fun card that’s great to have in the card pool, it feels more at home in NBN Accelerated Diagnostics/Power Shutdown combo decks than it does in Weyland. Sure, Midseasons in Blue Sun was huge this year, winning a few store champs, but those decks also needed Mausolus to be good enough to win. It’s just so refreshing to see Weyland finally receive a playable code gate that can fit in most of their decks for years to come. The card’s not perfect; it doesn’t end the run when it’s not advanced, which unfortunately makes it rather weak in the rush-based strategies that Weyland has traditionally excelled at. Advancing it three times is not often the right thing to do in a world where subroutines rarely fire. Still, that flexibility to become an ETR ICE is important. If you can remove the runner’s decoder from play, Mausolus transitions from taxing annoyance to win condition.
Those that know me will probably be able to guess that Show of Force is my favorite neutral corp card. I love Personal Evolution & this card immediately went 3x into a PE deck for me. It’s not a very useful card, even out of Argus or other Mushin No Shin kill decks—it’s kind of weak. But in Personal Evolution, it’s like extra copies of Ronin. Scoring a Show of Force clicklessly to deal tremendous amounts of damage was one of the best feelings I’ve had all cycle.
I loved the direction of neutral corp card design this cycle. Macrophage is a wonderful card—extremely powerful but narrow—while Enforced Curfew was another nice tool, a decent effect for kill decks but also a zero cost counter current for corps that needed one. Scarcity of Resources was arguably the most overhyped card of the cycle & in retrospect it’s a fair card that’s a great addition to the somewhat limited current options for corp.
The flashpoint cycle had a few defining tensions at its core. It introduced high-strength ICE, only to pair them with runner cards that mostly invalidated ICE-based strategies (stealth, Şifr). It made NBN into the tagstorm faction, only to give runners excellent countermeasures such as Aaron Marrón. Overall, while the power level of the cycle was extraordinarily high, runners came out far ahead on the strength of a few great Criminal & Anarch cards.
Controlling the Message, Friends in High Places, & Şifr all strike me as problematic cards. For CtM & Friends, they make life too easy for yellow & asset decks. The 100% yellow Worlds top 16 is an obvious sign that the faction was way too powerful at that point in time. They were provided copious tagging mechanisms (CtM, Hard-Hitting News) & tag punishment options (Exchange of Information, Observe & Destroy) over a short span of time. Breaking News went from a fine, if powerful, agenda to the most broken card in the game (another commonality of the Worlds top 16 corps: every single one played 3 copies of Breaking News). Tagstorm was already a viable archetype but a few superpowered yellow cards made it too strong. Similarly for asset spam decks, it’s great to have them as an available archetype, but they should be fringe at best. They distract from the most interesting, pivotal pieces of Netrunner’s design (ICE vs icebreaker, hidden information).
Şifr, meanwhile, is perhaps the first card that looks like it deserves a ban. Even MWL doesn’t fix how easily the card invalidates ICE. Corps have no good answers to it. Using the reduced hand size for a kill isn’t even viable when runners are so efficient that they have plenty of deck slots for tech cards like On the Lam or Net Shield.
I don’t mean to sound pessimistic. It’s easy for competitive communities to fixate on the flaws of a game without appreciating the brilliance of it, all the fun it’s brought them. I had, by far, more fun playing Netrunner in 2016 than ever before. For all the talk of the disbalanaced Worlds meta, I had a blast in Minnesota. Netrunner is still an incredible game, filled with fun moments & amazing plays. I also think that the player community can take it upon themselves to find new ways to tweak the meta & the play experience for the better. Think there should be banned cards? Run a tournament with them & report back on how the meta was. One thing we enjoy in the Bay Area is cube drafting; you can read John Treviranus’ article about it on Stimhack. There are no influence restrictions & we often don’t abide by “limit 1x per deck” rules either. It sounds broken, & it is, but the decks & synergies become so absurd it’s hilarious.