In Service of the Dark Lord AKA Fan Girl Freak Out

With UK Nationals and Worlds having been and now gone, signalling the end to the official FFG Netrunner season, I decided to look back at my results. Overall I ended up finishing top sixteen at UK Nationals and in all five regionals I competed in, the highlights being second place in Huddersfield and fourth at Reading. Consequently, I now feel confident enough in my results, consistency and achievements in the competitive side of the game to discuss my progression from being a fairly run of the mill newb, to Dark Lord’s apprentice and coming out the other side as now being half decent. Hopefully I can continue that upwards trend to become one of the best players in the UK.

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The Rebirth of Blackguard

rebirthWhen Rebirth was first revealed from The Liberated Mind – the fifth data pack in the Mumbad cycle – many Netrunner players, myself included, started to ponder how they might use it.

A zero cost event giving you the ability to switch your Identity card to another in the same faction, Rebirth certainly sounds good, conjuring up images of a surprised Corp player who has set up to defend against one ID, floundering as he or she has to react to a sudden shift in the Runner’s play.

Of course, Rebirth has its limitations. It is one influence; it is removed from the game instead of being trashed so you can’t use it more than once and it is limited to one copy per deck. You can’t depend on it as a reliable strategy because you might never see it.

It also presents difficulties during the deck-building process. The cards you include in your deck are based around your Identity card and synergise with its ability. To build a deck where the cards will work for not one, but two identities could prove problematic and lead to dead draws and redundant combos.

With these limitations in mind, I tried to think of a deck and two identities that could negate the issues, at least to an extent, and provide Rebirth with the opportunity to give you the best of both IDs.

Which led me to Blackguard.

Blackguard is the criminal console released late in the Spin Cycle that provides you with two extra memory units and the ability: “Whenever you expose a card, the Corp must rez it by paying its rez cost, if able.”

blackguardThere is no denying the strength of that ability and the control it can have over your opponent’s economy. Using cards like Infiltration, Satellite Uplink, Snitch and Raymond Flint you can drain the Corp’s credits by having them rez Ice, Assets and Upgrades and if you pilot it well, it can open up running opportunities on servers they can no longer afford to protect.

Blackguard even has an ID card tailored for it – Silhouette (which doesn’t get any easier to spell, however many times you write it!) – Dressed in the Blackguard gear, this stealth operative exposes a card the first time she makes a successful run on HQ.

There’s a problem with Blackguard though. And it’s a big one. All eleven credits of it.

Yep, it costs eleven credits to get Blackguard on the table and that is prohibitive for any deck, even a Criminal one.

It is this problem that caused many who tried to build for Blackguard to turn away from Silhouette and to the one ID that could provide that reliable early credit boost – Andromeda.

andromedaFor a long time everyone’s favourite lady of Netrunner, Andromeda gives you a starting hand of nine cards and you can mulligan into another nine if you have to. This provides the best chance in the game to get what you need right from the off, which for many Andromeda players is a massive kickstart to their economy.
In those nine cards you want to see four you can play out straight away so something like two Sure Gambles, an Easy Mark and a Dirty Laundry dive into Archives is not an unusual opening for Andromeda, giving you an excellent monetary advantage in the early game.

The big opening hand also has more chance to draw the Blackguard and now you have the money to install it.

After that first turn though, Andromeda’s ability is done. She has given you a great start, but now it’s up to you. So what if you could then switch your ID to something with a lasting affect? See where I’m going?

Rebirth (which you have a better chance of drawing with Andromeda, despite the single copy in your deck), can be played out to switch to Silhouette and take advantage of her natural synergy with Blackguard – only this time, she has the credits to work with.

silhoutteIf you still don’t see Rebirth, even with Andromeda’s help, your deck still has all the exposing tools at hand, you just won’t get Silhouette’s.

Rebirth can’t get around the ridiculous cost of Blackguard, but combining it with Andromeda and Silhouette, the cost is offset somewhat and Blackguard as a concept, is perhaps made a little more efficient and workable.

What are your thoughts on this use of Rebirth? Does it make Blackguard a more enticing prospect or would you use Rebirth differently? Let us know in the forums.

Jamie Dodd

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Leela Postmortem

satellite-uplink-artNow that Worlds 2015 is over I suggested to Dave that we should do a postmortem of Leela to identify whether she was the right identity to play in the meta and whether we included the correct cards in the deck. Our entire chat that this article is based on can be found below if you’d like to listen to us discuss Leela in detail (and some other Android: Netrunner-related stuff!)

With the approaching advent of Worlds 2015 the two of us were considering the available deck options. Despite being long-time fans of Criminal, we had reservations about piloting the faction in Worlds: Criminal has several limitations that are difficult to overcome in the current card pool, as Dave pointed out well in his “Perfect Blue” article. Chief among them are the limited breaker suite and the lack of in-faction recursion and R&D pressure. Still, the faction keeps its charm, especially in an environment where horizontal decks (and NBN in particular) dominate. Over Twitter PMs we decided to gamble on a yellow Corp meta which made Criminal an attractive, if somewhat risky, option. Dave had decided to play his trustworthy Leela Patel early on in Worlds testing, and after several Andromeda games I decided to train as a pragmatist and sleeve Leela for Worlds as well.

If you’d like to read/hear more about the pre-Worlds decision, you’re welcome to read Dave’s Worlds report or listen to his interview with The Winning Agenda. It was very exciting to see almost twenty players piloting Leela at Worlds — especially given that Dave has been a fan for almost a year, providing a lot of positive marketing. We would now like to turn our attention to the future of Criminal, and Leela in particular, and discuss our main observations from Worlds.

Leela in Minneapolis

global-food-initiativeThe biggest question is: was a horizontal-targeted Leela Patel the right choice for Worlds? Sadly, the answer is in the negative. Yes, Near-Earth Hub was the most popular Corp, Haarpsichord came in third (find the full statistics here), and Leela has a brilliant matchup against both. The thorny issue is the huge success of Food Coats builds. There was way more Food than we expected and they were much more successful, with the top 30 decks dominated by Food. Some of this might be due to the influx of Plascrete Carapace following the PSI Games in early October which lead to several top players abandoning Haarpsichord 24/7 kill decks. More importantly, Food Coats proved itself to be highly resilient to both Noise and Valencia DLR, allowing it to climb high.

peacockGiven that Food Coats is Leela’s weakest matchup we both faced tough competition. Looking back on it now, Dave believes that it comes down to the big code gates, such as Tollbooth and Turing, as one of the main problems. Shaper has Cyber-Cypher, Anarch can use Faust, and both have access to D4v1d and Parasite recursion. The Criminal option for decoders is limited, and since D4v1d is not an Icebreaker it cannot be tutored using Special Order. We ended up using either Peacock or ZU.13 Key Master, which only work if you can limit your runs. Eli 1.0 is another issue: Criminal has neither “Lady” nor Parasites, so their solution is Corroder and Datasuckers. This leads to a triple whammy: a rig complicated by Datasucker, slow accumulation of Datasucker counters versus Food, and the prevalence of Cyberdex Security Suite all make this a weak approach.

We believe that this lesson is important for the upcoming Store Championship season. Right now there is a reasonable chance that Food will ride its success in Worlds to become the deck to beat, closely followed by the always-popular NEH AstroBiotics and some flavor of kill deck (either NEH or Haarpsichord). Criminal is a difficult choice in such a metagame.

cyberdex-virus-suiteIf you do take Leela, however, there are several modifications that can be done to Dave’s build to improve the Food matchup. First, the Bank Jobs and John Masanori should probably be replaced, perhaps with Daily Casts and Symmetrical Visage, respectively. Bank Jobs are a wasted draw in many Food matchups, and Masanori would not net the card economy required to sustain the deck. Both are still usable against Replicating Perfection (the other prominent Glacier build) but are a handicap versus the traditional Haas-Bioroid build. Next, the Datasuckers might need to come back: they help with Eli 1.0, Tollbooth, and potentially Assassin. Just remember Cyberdex Virus Suite — it tends to appear at the most uncomfortable situations, and was the main motivation for removing Datasucker from the Worlds list.

The tricks package is also up for debate. It is unclear whether Emergency Shutdown is the right choice. Food quickly amasses a large bank to make it irrelevant while NBN builds are usually too fast and don’t have many targets. You might wish to replace it with a third Inside Job which gives you an early-game tempo boost and serves as a strong bypass and economy options later on. Other possible additions are more copies of Legwork and possibly one The Maker’s Eye. The goal is to increase run efficiency. By accessing more cards during each Central run, you reduce the credits spent on fueling breakers.

Whatever you do, you should probably keep two copies of Plascrete Carapace. We doubt that Haarpsichord (and related kill decks) are going anywhere anytime soon.

I think if we wanted to play Leela in the current meta we would test with something similar to this as a starting point:

Endless Waltz v10

leela-patelLeela Patel: Trained Pragmatist

Event (16)

  • 3x Account Siphon
  • 3x Dirty Laundry
  • 2x Inside Job
  • 2x Legwork
  • 3x Special Order
  • 3x Sure Gamble

Hardware (8)

  • 3x Desperado
  • 2x Plascrete Carapace
  • 3x R&D Interface ••••• •

Resource (10)

  • 3x Daily Casts
  • 3x Kati Jones
  • 2x Security Testing
  • 2x Symmetrical Visage

Icebreaker (10)

  • 1x Atman •••
  • 2x Corroder ••••
  • 3x Faerie
  • 1x Femme Fatale
  • 1x Mimic •
  • 1x Peacock
  • 1x Yog.0 •

Program (2)

  • 2x Sneakdoor Beta

Piloting the deck

gang-signLeela is a challenging Criminal identity to pilot. Many Leela players are trying to build a perfect board position. They wait for the Corp to score, meanwhile setting up their rig and installing various cards that trigger on score, such as Logos or Gang Sign. The idea is that the Corp will score and that will set up the devastating run that will win the game. The problem with this approach is that you’re forfeiting the tempo advantage that lets Criminal shine. The Corp will score at the time that minimizes your ability’s impact. For example, if they install and advance a 3/2 agenda in their remote, they could later double advance it, score, and immediately reinstall the card you bounced — gaining you almost nothing.

On the other hand, Dave’s playstyle is much more aggressive. Chris “ZeromusPE” Hinkes compared it to wielding a sniper rifle: it’s very powerful, but you need to get the headshot to make it work. One out of ten or twenty games you will get a “chain reaction” where a series of steals and bounces will outright win you the game. Most of the time, however, you need to have the perfect timing in order to steal an agenda when Leela’s ability deals the most damage. Keep the Corp in the early game by bouncing ice and applying economic pressure. Follow the “traditional” Criminal mantra, trying to nab as many points in the early game while forcing the Corp to overextend.

rd-interfaceHowever, this stage is where Leela differs from other Criminal runners. Gabe or “Tenma” have to continue applying the pressure, even once the Corp manages to stabilize. This leads to the familiar Criminal problem of running out of steam. Leela utilizes the early tempo advantage to switch to “waiting mode”. This is similar to the approach we described above; the reason Leela is a skill test is because choosing when to transition is the key to her identity. Go for the aggro game but know when to stop. Get your breakers, set up your R&D Interfaces, draw your Account Siphons and Legwork. As the window arrives, switch back to being aggressive and find the agenda needed to bounce a rezzed card or another key piece of ice. Balance the aggro with the right amount of patience and control.

Examining Mumbad

the turning wheelContinuing their tradition from last year, Fantasy Flight Games has spoiled a nice chunk of Mumbad cards through their website and the “Hardwired” draft. There are several cards that attracted our attention as potential tools for Leela and other Criminals.

First and foremost, The Turning Wheel (TTW) is expected to fill multiple roles. By replacing R&D Interface with TTW you save three influence. These influence points could be used for handling code gates, perhaps in the form of Atman. The Turning Wheel also helps with run efficiency, allowing you to run centrals less often in your search for agendas. Finally, since it does not require an access to accumulate a counter, it works well with Account Siphon and Security Testing. You could run a server for 1-2 credits, but the TW counter will be worth the click. Leela rarely floats tags, making TTW a perfect fit.political operative

Political Operative promises to significantly help with the Food matchup. Oftentimes the Corp will not rez an early-game HQ ice in order to dodge a Siphon, giving you an easy window for getting the Operative on the table. Once it’s there it can hit on Caprice Nisei and Ash 2X3ZB9CY, opening up a remote or R&D that was previously inaccessible. Operative can also trash a Crisium that otherwise would have stopped a Siphon. Even against Adonis Campaign, being able to trash Operative before they get their first Adonis proc could set the Corp back enough.

Mongoose is a new killer that appears to be reasonably efficient. It does not compete with Mimic directly (as breaking Architect is 3c), but could let Criminal get through Sentry towers more easily. We do not think that you replace any of the Faeries with Mongoose, but you might want to squeeze it in as a fifth killer.

nero-severnUnless … you’re piloting Nero Severn, the shiny new Criminal identity. Nero feels like an Aggro Criminal except he does not have the economy boost that Gabe and Andromeda get. His ability to mostly ignore Sentries sounds powerful. The original problem of code gates and Eli 1.0 remain, however, so while he might be more efficient in handling Architect, Ichi 1.0, and Assassin, it remains to be seen whether he’s versatile enough to become competitive in tournaments.

We are still optimistic that Criminal could make a comeback as a faction. They were under-represented in Worlds, and sadly only one made it to the top 16. We hope to see higher Criminal presence in the upcoming store championship season — and if not, as soon as The Turning Wheel is released.

Summary

We feel like we got the high volume of NBN decks correct and had a deck that could deal with the top archetypes in that faction. However we greatly mis-understood how strong Foodcoats was going to be, and that was a terrible matchup. In hindsight giving the deck some stronger economy options against glacier may have been the right call. Criminal is still a playable faction, and cards such as Political Operative and The Turning Wheel will hopefully help it return to having a top tier deck within the meta.

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Imperfect Blue

geist faceDave “Cerberus” Hoyland has written an excellent article about the state of Criminal. He poses a difficult question: what is wrong with the faction that dominated the tournament scene up until the end of 2014? Judging from Stimhack and other online sources, we see less Criminal presence overall and even less top performances. Criminal is mostly gone right now, at least based on winning deck lists and forum posts. Cerberus is highlighting several flaws in Criminal deck construction, such as weak non-killer breakers, no R&D pressure, and lack of recursion. The combination of these put a strain on influence allocation in Criminal decks. He is also pointing out the changes to the Corp metagame, focusing on Caprice Nisei and the recent introduction of Marcus Batty, two upgrades that seem to harm Criminal the most. He wraps up his piece with ideas for potential future cards that could help the faction, and hints at the untapped deck space that might include a competitive Criminal build. We cannot do much about the former; my purpose here is to focus on the latter. What would be a good starting point for a Criminal build?

Two clarifications are in order. One, I am thinking about a November 2015 metagame, the shape of Android: Netrunner as it will be played in Fantasy Flight Games’s Worlds Championship. Two, this article revolves around theorycrafting and untested ideas. My personal interests lie elsewhere right now (I am taking my Nasir Meidan Solidarity build to Worlds), but I think that this article might offer some potential starting points to any Criminal aficionados.

parasiteFirst, what Criminal decks have already been established? At least two builds reached top performance in the past year. Stealth Andy faired well versus Sentry-heavy RP glacier builds (forcing RP to tone down that aspect of their ice mix) while still getting wins versus other Corp decks. Dave’s Leela build is another good option, an opportunistic build that forces the Corp to either slow down or risk a waterfall following an agenda score or steal. In addition to these, AndySucker was a star of Worlds 2014, though it lost much of its popularity as RP Glacier became prominent. All three of these builds still have a lot of potential when introducing new cards and sharpening their core strengths — for example, adding Parasite to AndySucker. Furthermore, now that NEH AstroBiotics survived the Clot storm, all three of these deserve attention as they tried and tested versus NBN’s brand of fast advance.

With that said, let’s consider how to take Criminal to the next level. Dave focused on the factions’ weaknesses. Let’s turn the tables and examine its strengths. There are are three main points that distinguish Criminal from the other factions.

  • Aggressiveness. Criminals are the kings (and queens) of the early game. They can attack early and often, preventing the Corp from building up and embarking on its game plan. The Corp must adopt a defensive position for many turns when facing Criminal. Leela is a good example: if the Corp neglects to double-ice centrals before the first agenda score, the snowball effect could dismantle their board.
  • HQ access. Criminals have HQ Interface, Legwork, and Sneakdoor Beta, which make keeping agendas in HQ a risky proposition. A successful run on HQ doubles as a lead to Emergency Shutdown.
  • Account Siphon recursion. Identities from other factions piloted AS recursion well, with builds ranging from Reina, through MaxX, to Hayley. Criminal save the 12 influence required to splash AS in other factions while providing additional tools to pressure the Corp before and after a Siphon (Inside Job, Emergency Shutdown, and Crescentus all come to mind).

Following the above, here are some ideas for relevant cards that Criminal might want to adopt.

faustFaust, Drug Dealer, and Fisk Investment Seminar. AIs are among the strongest icebreakers — while they each come with some disadvantage, their flexibility compensates for the special circumstances required to operate them. For Criminal, Faust is an especially attractive option, especially in combination with existing Datasucker-based builds. It opens up servers for that critical hit Criminals like, such as Legwork, Account Siphon, or a remote access. Criminal recently got two excellent draw options to feed Faust: Drug Dealer is a drip draw that takes a small toll of one credit, and Fisk Investment Seminar is a Diesel-like burst of three cards. While FIS accelerates the Corp as well, it could serve as quasi-R&D access by following it up with an HQ Interface run or Legwork.

Eater and DDoS. Eater is another potential AI for Criminal and DDoS, while not a breaker per se, makes running easier (especially in combination with Inside Job). These cards reinforce the necessity of double-icing servers to keep Criminals out, slowing down the Corp and leading to its stagnation in the early-game.

apocalypseVamp and Apocalypse. Criminals like the early-game, and these two cards allow resetting the game in order to again capitalize the faction’s strengths. Vamp has been seeing surprisingly little play since its release in Trace Amount, with very few leading archetypes utilizing it. In Criminal, Vamp is a great follow-up to Account Siphon and sits well with Siphon recursion decks if the Corp runs out of control. Apocalypse utterly destroys the Corp’s tableau; you cannot ask for a better reset button, though its side effects require specific deck construction. Once you build your deck accordingly (if your only breaker is Faust, for example, if your rig is disposable — see Geist below), Apocalypse could be a perfect splash into Criminal.

Parasite and Prey. Every once in a while a Criminal deck with 2x Parasite and 1x Clone Chip (or even 3x Parasite, 1x Clone Chip) makes an appearance and catches Corps off guard. The combination of ice destruction, early-game aggression, and economic pressure is powerful. AndySucker builds in particular are good targets for adding Parasite, and so are Leela builds (such as Dave’s Waltz). Prey is Parasite’s little brother that does not require outside support and has the potential to operate faster. It is two credits and one click cheaper, so sniping Pup and Pop-up is superior with Prey. While there’s a limit to what it can trash (maybe up to Eli 1.0, and even that as a late-game), its efficiency is alluring.

drive-byDrive By and Gang Sign. These Criminal cards have been released recently and have a lot of potential. Drive By forces an early upgrade rez (and if they don’t rez it in advance it can snipe a Caprice Nisei or a Marcus Batty) and doubles as an effective method to trash SanSan City Grid and Corp economy assets, two sources of headaches that no runner wants to deal with. Gang Sign is another break on the Corp’s plan — score early and you risk losing an agenda from hand. I had a chance to experiment with these on both sides of the table, and they are promising.

Geist, along with Security Chip, Street Peddler, and DDoS again. All of these lead us to the elephant in the room: Criminal’s newest identity, Armand “Geist” Walker. To be honest, I initially thought that poor Geist is doomed as binder fodder. However, having played against him several times, I can attest to his speed and efficiency. I’ve only encountered “vanilla” Geist builds that try to build up and follow the usual Corp plan, and they were terrifying — Geist can accelerate into a full rig in just a few turns, make a couple of decisive runs, then replace the one-time breakers with more permanent solutions. An additional advantage of his disposable rig is that it combos well with Account Siphon, Vamp, and potentially Apocalypse. You don’t care if your rig is gone if the Corp is crippled. Geist deserves more attention as a competitive runner.

I will leave you with two deck lists. First, a Geist build that was developed by Chris “ZeromusPE” Hinkes over a nice chunk of games. It’s a traditional Criminal build, aiming to threat a remote while recursing Account Siphon and applying economic pressure through Crescentus. Give it a shot, it’s surprisingly fast and catches many Corps off-guard:

Armand “Geist” Walker: Tech Lord

Event (11)geist

  • 3x Account Siphon
  • 3x Dirty Laundry
  • 2x Emergency Shutdown
  • 3x Sure Gamble

Hardware (9)

  • 2x Clone Chip
  • 3x Desperado
  • 1x HQ Interface
  • 2x Plascrete Carapace
  • 1x R&D Interface

Resource (5)

  • 3x Fall Guy
  • 2x Same Old Thing

Icebreaker (14)

  • 1x Corroder
  • 3x Crowbar
  • 2x Faerie
  • 1x Mimic
  • 3x Shiv
  • 3x Spike
  • 1x ZU.13 Key Master

Program (6)

  • 3x Crescentus
  • 1x Self-modifying Code
  • 2x Sneakdoor Beta

The following Leela deck started as Dave Hoyland’s “The Endless Waltz” deck and incorporates the Faust idea illustrated above (along with Drug Dealer and Fisk Investment Seminar, plus a surprise Parasite). I only played it a few times, so much more tuning is necessary, but it already shows a lot of potential. Faust works similarly to Crypsis upon Android: Netrunner’s original release, almost guaranteeing access to centrals and a remote which is not defended by a relevant upgrade:

Leela Patel: Trained Pragmatist (All That Remains)

Event (16)leela-patel

  • 2x Account Siphon
  • 1x Inside Job
  • 2x Special Order
  • 3x Sure Gamble
  • 1x Emergency Shutdown
  • 3x Dirty Laundry
  • 1x Hostage
  • 1x Legwork
  • 2x Fisk Investment Seminar

Hardware (7)

  • 3x Desperado
  • 1x Plascrete Carapace
  • 2x HQ Interface
  • 1x Clone Chip

Resource (8)

  • 1x Kati Jones
  • 2x Security Testing
  • 1x Utopia Shard
  • 3x Drug Dealer
  • 1x Film Critic

Icebreaker (9)

  • 1x Corroder
  • 1x Mimic
  • 1x Femme Fatale
  • 2x Faerie
  • 1x Passport
  • 1x Cerberus “Rex” H2
  • 2x Faust

Program (5)

  • 2x Datasucker
  • 1x Parasite
  • 2x Sneakdoor Beta

Going back to my Nasir Meidan article that was published by Stimhack on December 2014: the Netrunner community *still* has not explored the card pool enough. We have gone through Store Championships, Regionals, and Nationals, but the pool of competitive decks is rather slim. I wholeheartedly agree that unusual competitors appear every once in a while (such as the latest “Doomsday” Haarpsichord combo deck), but there has been little dedicated research. In my opinion, Criminal suffers from a negative hivemine stereotype; the previous “draw a card, play a card” mantra that served it so well work better out of Shaper now, so many have migrated there. If we (as a community) try some new ideas, some new directions, there is a strong possibility that a Criminal archetype will emerge.

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