Blood on the Tracks

Blood on the Tracks (Clot and the Astrotrain)

17/03/15

Tim Fowler

 

Hi, my name is Tim, and I am an NBN player. And let’s face it, this isn’t a theme thing. If my reading options include novels on human cloning and sentient cyborg workers, I don’t instantly reach for a story about a (not particularly) nefarious news organisation. No, I play NBN because of my strongly held belief they’re the best corp right now and that they have been for at least half the history of the game. And while they’ve got some of my favourite ice (Pop Up mother fucking Window) and some great econ, this power is all but explained by the existence of two cards. San San City Grid and Astroscript Pilot Program. Component pieces of the Astrotrain.

Until now, runners have had little answer beyond indignant swearing as the train flew past them on an express journey to 7 agenda points. But the next datapack contains the greatest threats fast advance decks have ever faced. Traffic Jam is an annoying current that raises the scoring requirement of all agendas that have been previously scored by the corp, but the real threat is Clot. Clot is a cheap to install, low influence (allegedly 2 to install, 2 inf but also rumoured to be 1 to install, 1 inf - who knows, it might not even be called Clot) Virus that totally undermines the core function of NBN fast advance decks. The text reads:The corp cannot score agendas on the same turn they are installed. Trash this program if the Corp purges virus counters.

 

So great is the threat posed by Clot that the question posed is not what does NBN FA look like after its release, but whether it’s a viable archetype at all?

 

 

How bad is Clot?

 

So, here is a thing about me, I am prone to overreaction and hyperbole. In netrunner this manifests a habit of massively over estimating the effects of new cards and convincing myself that they will be THE BEST THING EVER before slowly realizing that not much at all has changed and that I should just rebuild the damn Andy deck. However, in this instance I think I can safely say in this case that the release of clot is likely to be one of the worst catastrophes in the history of the human race.

 

The two relevant questions when considering how bad Clot is NBN are ‘how many people will play Clot?’ and ‘how bad of a hit do I take against them?’. On the first, there is at least one top tier runner who will probably be playing multiple copies (Noise), plus all the shaper players who are going to run one and have multiple ways to recur it. Criminal probably don’t have the resources to justify splashing it, and I don’t know if I’d put in most other Anarch decks (though I’m running a Maxx deck now with enough recursion to make one seem a pretty plausible include), but I think that means between a third half the decks you can expect to see in a tournament will contain one, even if those decks don’t become more popular because they can run Clot effectively.

This wouldn’t be too bad if the hit in those games was a relatively minor one, one that you could expect to get around at least a good deal of the time. Unfortunately, the answer to the second question is, roughly, about as much as from a sledgehammer to the balls….

 

First piece of bad news is this. When the runner is packing Clot, they are likely to see it early. Against shaper decks packing 3 SMC and just one clot the latest you can expect to see a Clot on the board after your opponent has drawn about 12 cards, so seven more than starting hand. As a shaper that’s pretty easy to do in 3 or 4 turns even while doing other things. After that, they’ve got 3 Clone Chips and quite possibly a Scavenge or two to get it back multiple times. Against Noise, worst case scenario you might well be looking at someone playing all three Clots, all three Deja Vu and some Clone Chips to boot.

 

Once they’ve got it out, clot really cramps on your style. The really debilitating thing about Clot, and what makes it much worse than Chakana, The Source, or Traffic Accident in my opinion is that there is no way to fast advance around it. When I’ve been playing these other hate cards, often my deck has had a way to respond by finding even more fast advance cards. Sure it’s a bit annoying for a while, but a combination of a San San, Biotic Labour and tokens from already scored astroscripts can get around the blockage. With Clot on the table, you just can’t fast advance. At all. Which includes, remember, scoring a breaking news from hand. The only remaining options are frequent purging to trash the clot or (gasp!) trying to score from the board.

 

Neither is appealing. While NBN FA decks are powerful they’re also fragile, relying on relatively small amounts of ICE to keep the runner at bay for a while as they score out. Every lost turn is one more turn for the opponent to build up to the point where they can successfully access multiple cards from HQ or (worse) R&D. Scoring from the board might seem like what all the cool kids are doing nowadays, but if your plan as an NBN deck against Kate involves having ICE that she has no way of getting through even by the late game then you’ve got serious problems. I can see easily how NBN gets to 2 or 4 points against a clot deck, getting to 7 seems like a Herculean task.

 

 

How can NBN respond?

 

So what should NBN players do once they’ve dried off the tears? The obvious response to Clot is one of the new cards from Order and Chaos, Cyberdex Virus Suite . Cyberdex is an upgrade that lets you purge virus tokens either when the runner accesses it, or by rezzing it for 3 credits. Purging virus tokens at instant speed should open up a scoring window because it trashes any clots on the table. And to an extent, this analysis is right, and if there is hope for the astrotrain this card is it. But it’s by no means plain sailing. First, its card slots on something you might not want to include, and certainly don’t want three of (but you will post clot). That’s deckspace that could have been ice or econ. Second, you need to have found one by the time you want to score if your opponent has managed to find a Clot. There are no tutors for upgrades, so that means drawing one the old fashioned way. Takes time, and means you now need all of the Astro, the fast advance card, and the Virus Suite to open up a scoring window. Worse, these scoring windows can be destroyed if the runner just runs in and trashes the suite. Running every server gets annoying against NBN, but when you know their plan on scoring depends on having a Virus Suite on the table it’s probably worth it. Also remember that a clone chip can stay on the table through a purge, so a runner with a Clone Chip can keep hitting servers looking for the Virus Suite and have an accurate knowledge of whether or not the corp has any chance of scoring from hand.

 

Another option is an old standby, shipment from San San. Shipment places two advancement tokens without room for a runner response. If that’s onto a card on a San San grid, or if you have an astro token out, that means you can get all the way to three advancement tokens without room for a runner response. Simples! Except, of course, that you need to have made sure there was no clot on the table (see above), and you need to have a Shipment around for every time you need to score, and its another 3 cards you probably wouldn’t be running otherwise. The list of cards needed at the same time to guarantee a score is growing ever longer. Worse, there is still a response window after the initial card installation. OK, so a shaper or Noise can’t get a Clot every time you create a new server. But they can sometimes, and remember if your opponent guesses right off this install it is a total disaster because you’ve installed a naked Astro on the table with no way of scoring it. Even if they guess wrong and you force a clot install for an economy asset, you still have to use either a turn or a Virus Suite to deal with it and you only have as many Virus Suites as they have Clone Chips.

 

 

Play a different deck?

 

OK, OK, so maybe NBN fast advance gets hit hard by Clot, but all to the good, because it means people will start experimenting with all the fun ways of playing NBN that get pushed out by the power of the train. Maybe. And I hope so, and there are some great contenders (stand out for me is some version of the taxing ‘Yellow coats’ deck run out of Making News reliant on tracing ice, tagging and Closed Accounts).

But it’s worth remembering that a lot of the other ways of playing NBN around depend on the possibility of fast advancing. Two other leading NBN archetypes are the scorched deck variant NBNnever advance. Never advance works by running a bunch of non-advanceable traps like Snare! and Edge of World, then bluffing out its agendas or killing a runner who hits too many. Scorched just splashes Weyland kill cards and combines them with NBN tagging, most notably Midseason Replacements which relies on the runner taking an agenda then hitting them with a huge tracing landing multiple tags.

 

Both these decks rely on making the runner attack non-advanced cards or stealing agendas when they are too poor to survive the kill. Why would a runner attack aggressively if they think the corp is trying to kill them? Because of the astrotrain of course. The real power of NBN kill decks, and what makes NBN scorched better than the Weyland version in my view, is that the runner can’t just sit back and build up resources before attacking. Do that and the corp will just score out an astro or two and while you’ve survived you’ve also lost. You have to attack to stop that, and then the kill deck can take advantage of your aggression. With Clot, a Shaper can just sit back and click their Opus safe in the knowledge the corp can’t run away with it. Similarly, a smart runner playing a NBN never advance deck that is going to have to score all four agendas from the board is just going to hit R and D and HQ and ignore the bluffing game. The bluffing game works only when the cost of letting the corp sneak out the Astro is so high that you have to try your luck.

 

 

What does this mean for the game?

 

It’s often noted by people looking to end the astrotrain decks that their existence is a constraint on runner deckbuilding. Unless your deck can get up and running and start causing problems for the corp quickly it’s going to lose, no matter how awesome the combo you were building up to. True. But less noticed is that this constraint on deckbuilding is precisely what gives glacier corp decks room to breathe. Because runner decks have to be fast, they generally need to include lots of burst econ, quick draw, and cheap to install breakers. Decks including those things are vulnerable to being taxed to a standstill. If I knew all I was going to be facing were glacier builds I’d run some combination of a stealth suite, slow but never ending drip economy, D4v1d recursion and expensive but brutally efficient breakers. Try taxing that.

 

So to all the NBN haters out there (you know who you are) I say: You want answers to the astrotrain? You can't handle the answers! My existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves matches. You don't want the answers because deep down in places you don't talk about at tournaments, you want me on that train.

 

You need me on that train.

 

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