I spend entirely too much time thinking about Android: Netrunner, so I’m going to start writing up blog posts here on the game. I’m starting with a reflection on the Mumbad cycle of data packs. I started playing Netrunner shortly after the release of Order and Chaos, so this is only the second full cycle I’ve seen. It was a fun exercise to run down my favorite new cards for all the factions.
Making an Entrance. MaE finally gives Anarchs enough event-based card draw/filtering in faction. Since it reaches six cards deep into the stack, it’s maybe the first playable “rearrange the top of your deck” card and we’ve seen a lot of those over Netrunner’s history. The ability to trash unwanted cards is huge, too. Since many Anarch decks rely on powerful economy engines which need to be seen early to be effective (e.g. Chronotype-Wyldside), MaE is the perfect card for the first click of a game. But since we now have enough card draw events, we can also eschew resource economies and go tag-me more easily. The best example of a powerful MaE deck is Timmy Wong’s excellent siphon Whizzard concoction which he piloted to first place in the Las Vegas regional. A Whizzard deck without Wyldside! in 2016! winning a tournament! It’s largely possible thanks to MaE, which enhanced the deck’s draw power just enough to mitigate the usual “Anarch problems” of not finding the right pieces quick enough.
There are several other cards I haven’t played with enough but are great additions to the Anarch card pool, especially given the current meta game. Salsette Slums did more work for me than any other runner card this cycle by turning previously torturous matchups against asset spam decks—even as Whizzard!—into pretty easy affairs. I have a feeling Bhagat will ultimately be the best Anarch card from the cycle. Bhagat is influence free HQ pressure and continues the theme of Anarchs being able to pressure all central servers. Since MWL2 means Noise decks and thus milling strategies will reduce, Bhagat might pressure corps with less recursion and become an absolute force once Jackson Howard rotates out.
Criminal won the Mumbad Cycle on the runner side, hands down. They received both the largest number of playable cards and the most potent cards in Tech Trader and Political Operative. Political Operative had been hyped since 2015 Worlds and immediately made an impact. Pol Op isn’t just an excellent answer to Caprice and Ash, it’s a nuanced card that opens up new timing window plays and counter-plays in a way we haven’t seen since The Great Clot Versus CVS Wars of 2015. The first time I played Pol Op, I insta-trashed a Jackson to scoop three agendas out of Archives and suddenly win the game. It’s moves like that which are so interesting and lead to new play patterns (Corps preemptively using Jackson after a successful HQ run).
Another great, playable card this cycle was Mongoose, which I underestimated at first but has found a niche as a permanent sentry breaker backed up by a second copy of itself, Femme, Shivs, or Faeries. Mongoose also benefitted strongly from an anti-Faust ICE meta wherein multi-sub sentries like Komainu made a comeback; Mongoose’s 1 credit to break 2 subroutines was quite valuable in the first of half of 2016. Criminal also received the only two playable “limit 6 per deck” cards in Exclusive Party and Spy Camera. And Spy Camera ends up being my favorite card of the cycle, since Geist is my favorite criminal. The card is fine on its own but has so many potent, over-the-top synergies, from the obvious Tech Trader economy burst to the unbelievable Replicator-Bazaar combo that basically installs your whole deck in one click. Spy Camera looks innocuous but plays fun. Most importantly, it’s finally a Criminal card with “R&D” written on it, filling a huge gap in the faction. In a cycle where Corps received an overpowered Alliance mechanic that saw a ton of play, it’s nice that at least one of the runner’s “consumer grade” hardware is usable.
Shaper’s Mumbad Cycle is pretty much the opposite story to Criminal; they received a bunch of strange cards that didn’t fill in many existent gaps in the faction’s card pool. I almost never play Shaper so I don’t have any insight on this cycle’s cards. Artist Colony is obviously strong and it chased News Team out of the meta, for which we are all thankful. The Fan Site-Artist Colony combo also made Shaper the first faction to profitably use agenda-sacrificing effects, which have been around since the core set’s Data Dealer but very fringe. Panchatantra, however, is my favorite Shaper card of the cycle. I love it when a card comes out that turns previously unplayable or niche cards into generally strong ones. Panchatantra enables all sorts of interesting icebreaker choices, turning the already-solid Deus Ex and Sharpshooter into all-purpose tools while also leading people to actually play the oft-mocked Gingerbread. It’s the essence of a fun Netrunner card, with its ability to choose silly non-existent subtypes so you can use Sadyojata to making Wraparound a fracter to reduce its strength to 0.
Rebirth probably won’t surprise anyone as a neutral runner favorite, but I actually was not expecting to play with this card very often. The criminal IDs just don’t have very compelling abilities outside of Leela, so Rebirth Andy didn’t seem that fun, while I never experimented with Rebirth Val though I love the Anarch pool of IDs. But I did stumble onto the idea of Rebirth MaxX, an identity no one was talking about using Rebirth with, and I had a blast playing that deck. MaxX is my favorite ID and Rebirth fit so naturally with her, as it was easy to find with the card draw and recursion, plus did a nice job of turning off MaxX’s self-mills once my board state stabilized. There’s just no better feeling than Rebirthing into the unfairly neglected Edward Kim to drop the hammer on some operations, be they Biotic Labor, Midseason Replacements, or Scorched Earth. Rebirth, like Panchatantra, makes unplayed cards suddenly appear on the table again, which is great to see.
I was annoyed to see almost half the Mumbad Cycle neutral runner cards cost influence, after not seeing any like this in the past SanSan cycle. On at least a couple cards—Guru Davinder and Rigged Results—the influence pip doesn’t seem justified, but it definitely is on Rebirth and Corporate Scandal.
HB had a very strong cycle, continuing to compile unbelievably powerful ICE with two great new bioroids plus the intriguing Anarch-counter Magnet. They also received interesting new combo and fast advance tools. In my mind, HB is the faction whose potential has been least explored. Jeeves works well in faction and HB has loads of crazy combo cards like Accelerated Diagnostics and Shipment from Mirromorph. Still, it seems that HB is mostly stuck in a rut of glacier decks with campaign economies and Cerebral Imaging seven-point combo. HB experiments have been common but haven’t seen consistent success.
While Jeeves Model Bioroids titillated everyone and may be the best fast advance tool outside the core set, my favorite card of the cycle was the relatively boring Advanced Assembly Lines. Inside HB ETF, it functions as an extra Hedge Fund of sorts, giving you the easiest way of gaining the ETF credit on the runner’s turn we’ve seen so far. But when you’re rich and don’t need it, AAL plays strongly into the HB never-advance shell game: install it, the runner might waste a lot of resources breaking into a taxing server, or they might leave it alone and let you install a campaign before your turn begins. But really my favorite use of AAL is in Near Earth Hub asset spam, where the acceleration and economy it provides is almost unfair. Typical AAL play: install in a new remote, draw a card from NEH ability, gain credits from Turtlebacks, rez for free with Mumba Temple to gain three credits, then on the runner’s turn pop AAL to install another card from hand in a remote server, drawing a card from NEH and gaining Turtlebacks credits. At its absolute best, Advanced Assembly Lines can net a corp two cards, an install, and nine credits for a single click. It would be utterly broken except for the reasonable single-credit trash cost, always nice to see on assets these days, making it a liability when it sits in your central servers.
Voter Intimidation finally provides an answer to the most obnoxious runner card of all time, Film Critic. It’s unique and powerful to have resource trashing that isn’t tied to tags. The perfect generic tech card, I’ll be popping one or two of these into pretty much every Jinteki deck I build for the foreseeable future. The psi element also makes it fair for the runner as about one-third of the time Voter Intimidation does nothing. The detested Bioethics Association is a close second here, as I’ve longed for more sources of proactive net damage. It’s unfortunate that the card will forever be associated with the horrific Industrial Genomics prison decks we all suffered through this cycle.
Jinteki saw a lot of interesting if somewhat janky cards, including what looks to be a sudden, inexplicable influx of support for Nisei Division. Focusing on psi games and net damage is great for the faction’s already strong sense of identity. Pālanā Foods is clearly the standout card of the cycle, maybe the best corp identity we’ve seen since Near Earth Hub, and should continue to be top tier for a long time. It was the perfect answer to a meta full of Wyldside Anarch. Still, I hope to see new Foods builds that utilize the steady economy to do more interesting things than use Caprice to score out of a remote.
I struggled to pick an NBN card for this cycle. While NBN continued to dominate the meta in 2016, it’s mostly been by using Data and Destiny ICE with out of faction cards that cost little to no influence (Mumba Temple, Mumbad City Hall, Consulting Visit). Exchange of Information is the clear-cut winner in terms of power level, as Breaking News exchanged for Global Food Initiative is one of the most powerful interactions ever, but Salem’s Hospitality edges it out to be my favorite yellow card. Salem’s is an intense skill test, as knowledge of deck constitution and ability to read your opponent directly relate to your ability to get value from it. While it’s been pigeonholed as a flatline card meant to deal with I’ve Had Worse, Salem’s is far more versatile than that. It can be used to knock a vital card from an opponent’s hand, or to check that a scoring window is open. If the runner keeps their opening hand, naming Professional Contacts against Shaper, Wyldside against Anarch, or Account Siphon against Criminal can turn the game in your favor from the very first turn.
An honorable mention goes to Sensie Actors Union, yet another must-trash asset which accelerates the already breakneck speed of NBN. Like many of the assets we’ve seen this cycle, I find SAU to be at its best in Industrial Genomics, as the overdrawing effect is more powerful there and the low trash cost less of a liability.
Dedication Ceremony immediately piqued my curiosity. It screams crazy combos and enables a bunch of strong plays which were previously impossible, like using an unadvanced Ronin for an unexpected flatline or erasing the runner’s whole credit pool with a Reversed Accounts from hand. While Dedication Ceremony was criticized heavily at first, since it explicitly doesn’t work with the Weyland public agendas, it’s proved to be a powerful card in and out of faction. It’s been featured in some well-performing but uncommon decks, like CTZ_UNDEFEATED and 49-card kill combo Industrial Genomics. In faction, GRNDL Refinery and Mumbad Construction Co. synergize but I’d love to see more advanceable assets in the card pool, whether they’re pseudo-traps or have other effects, and Dedication Ceremony will be the best way of obtaining burst value from them.
Consulting Visit is a really close second here and undoubtedly the more popular card. It’s great to see Weyland continue to get new, powerful tutors that fit so well into their game plan. Operations are the easiest way for the corp to suddenly win the game or gain a large advantage. Consulting can pull Scorched Earth, or make the Scorched kill plan more consistent by tutoring up single copies of splashed NBN cards like Midseason Replacements. However, I have a feeling that Consulting Visit suffers from a common Weyland problem which we see with Mumbad City Hall, too; it’s too easy to use out of faction and often more powerful elsewhere, meaning that Weyland obtains very little advantage for having it in faction relative to the other corps.
Vanilla! It’s funny to be excited by what is fundamentally the least interesting Netrunner card ever. But I played a ton with Vanilla and continue to stuff it into many of my corp decks. It gives every faction an effective implementation of a basic need: an end-the-run gear-check which secures the early game & always costs more to break than it does to rez. Weyland has Ice Wall, which doesn’t instantly die to Parasite, and NBN has Wraparound, which is incredible against AI breakers, but Vanilla still shines in a lot of different decks. I’ve loved a 3x Vanilla, 3x Ice Wall barrier suite in rush Weyland.
Neutral saw some of the most infamous cards of the cycle in Museum of History and Mumba Temple. I’m happy to see MWL2 knock these down a peg. It was too easy to stuff them into any deck and make it tough for a non-Whizzard runner to keep up with. While I praised Vanilla’s utility, I am concerned about the number of general purpose neutral cards which overshadow the strengths that the different factions are supposed to have. Assassin (from Data and Destiny), Cobra, and Corporate Sales Team all fall into this category. It’s sad to see corps turn to Corporate Sales Team over Advanced Concept Hopper, or Cobra over Caduceus, when in faction cards should be stronger than influence-free neutral ones. Neutral cards that are too solid make deckbuilding less challenging and the pool of cards seeing tournament play far more homogenous.
The Mumbad Cycle
Overall, I was pretty pleased with this cycle. It had a stronger story, by far, than the other cycles, with characters recurring in interesting ways throughout the cards, such as the whole Sareen family who started off with the cycle’s first identity and ended with Akshara’s assassination. The power levels on cards took a distinct jump and I never felt like a data pack was a “dud”, there were always strong cards that fit into existing decks or interesting new interactions to explore. While it seems odd to say this when the (pre-MWL2) meta has become incredibly disbalanced in favor of NBN and Anarch, I think Mumbad did a good job of introducing new counters and balancing existing faction power levels. This is apparent in a couple ways: the influx of good Criminal cards assisting a struggling faction and the introduction of several hard counters to major corp strategies (e.g. Councilman, Political Operative, Salsette Slums). Tech cards have always been a part of Netrunner but they’re also starting to be more playable, more versatile. Pol Op and Councilman have these traits, but Sports Hopper (as flatline protection but also card draw/link) is perhaps the cycle’s prime example.
I do have a lot of concerns about the Mumbad cycle, however. Assets are clearly out of hand, and they distract from Netrunner’s most interesting interactions and turn the game into more of a “my huge board state versus your huge board state” competition that too closely resembles other card games. Most of all, I’d like to see new counters to assets appear for runners, especially outside of Anarch. Finally, as I brought up above, I don’t like the direction that neutral card design went, with runner cards costing influence and corporation ones being too generically appealing. I actually think seeing fewer or even no new neutral cards would be good, because Netrunner is reaching such an incredible size that all common functions can be easily fulfilled somehow. There’s just less of a need for neutral filler with such a mature card pool.