Perfect Blue

Perfect Blue


David 'Cerberus' Hoyland



“Criminal is the weakest faction right now”

“Only diehard fans play Criminal now”


I’ve heard this a lot recently, and I cannot disagree with the logic. PPVP Kate has been dominating the tournament scene for some time, and various Anarch IDs have been doing very well, with Noise leading the Anarch charge since Faust was released.


Is it a problem that they are weak currently? I don’t think so, they have been top of the pile for a long time, but I still think it is ideal for there to be competitive decks available for every faction.


So what is wrong with the faction that dominated the tournament scene up until the end of 2014?





Criminals have some great breakers; Faerie and Femme Fatale are some of the best breakers in the game and see a lot of play. But outside of solid Killers which are the faction’s specialty Criminal really suffer with their Fracters and Decoders.


Generally Criminal will look to spend 2-4 influence on Corroder as this is the only efficient breaker they can get. Lady is a popular choice in Shaper, but this is where they have the recursion to stop the limited number of uses from becoming a significant problem. In some ways you can understand why, this is their weakest breaker area! However, other factions have a number of good option available for less influence let’s look at Shaper who are supposed to be weak against Sentry ice, they have access to Sharpshooter and Deus X in faction, as well as access to Mimic and Femme Fatale for one influence and excellent tutoring.


Decoders are supposed to be an okay area for Criminal, but there are only two which see any play, these are Passport and to a lesser degree Cerberus ‘Rex’. Passport is a great card and is perfect as a supporting Decoder but due to its restriction to central servers, it can never be the only decoder you play, unless you are playing a very focused deck. Rex is a great card, but being limited to only four uses is problematic in a faction that has no recursion and often wants to run often, playing multiple Rex may seem like a resolution but the impact to deck slots, your limited tutoring, and install costs often means its not a good choice. To solve this problem many Criminal decks spend 2-3+ influence on ZU.13 or Gordian Blade.

Why did someone make the space whale?????? AaaaaaaaahhhhHHHHHH!!!!!!!


There are always going to be weaknesses with any faction, and influence is there to plug these gaps or provide access to other cards that further your game plan. But I believe that Criminal have so much of their influence tied up with basics that they are struggling to further their game plan. If you think that already many Criminal decks have spend 6-7+ influence just on breakers, it is quite telling that this is an area of weakness. You can definitely get away with fewer breakers due to Special Order being in faction but that does come with risk, one that I’ll talk more about later.





R&D Pressure


In the current meta there is a huge benefit to having R&D pressure, it is almost essential for Criminal to beat AstroBiotics and it helps against Butchershop, RP and almost all of the top Corp decks currently. Anarch and Shaper both have great R&D pressure in faction in the form of Medium, Keyhole, Makers Eye and R&D Interface, where as Criminal don’t have any, this is fine as Criminal has a lot of HQ pressure and this gap can be addressed with the use of influence, but again in the current meta it feels like Criminal are using their influence on things which are a basic need.





This is an interesting area of discussion, Criminal has no in faction recursion unlike Shaper and Anarch, however up until recently I didn’t consider this to be an issue at all. Program destruction was something that you could totally play around by being a careful / smart runner, and therefore while it was a risk, it was one that wasn’t big enough to warrant a huge concern. Marcus Batty changed that in many people’s eyes, due to the fact that even running carefully or smart couldn’t save you from losing one or more programs. This is what has caused recursion to become a problem for Criminal, though with the rise of Noise and the impact this has on RP has meant less Marcus Batty in the meta from what I have seen. Today, right here, right now, I think that I’d not worry too much about Marcus Batty and would take the risk and play around it as best I could if I came across it. But I don’t believe that this will hold in the future, when the new Jinteki identity Chronos Protocol is released as more program destruction will appear in the meta. Generally, playing Criminal without recursion is a big risk currently.





I don’t imagine there is a lot to talk about here, but when I was reviewing the economy cards that Criminal have, I noticed that they are pretty limited, and there haven’t been any good cards for them for some time, Security Testing is still really the Criminal signature economy card. Security Testing is still a good card but it is inconsistent in its power levels depending on the match up, it is very powerful against NEH, but weak against HB and Blue Sun. Criminal lean very heavily on the neutral economy cards, and I find it very interesting that their recent economy cards such as Cache and Career Fair are played, and better, in other factions.





Remote Pressure


One of the things that Criminal used to do very well was remote pressure. Cards like Inside Job, Emergency Shutdown, Account Siphon and Femme Fatale often allowed Criminals to get into a remote when the Corporation thought it was safe. However over the last year, the meta has been very focused on RP with Caprice Nisei, who stops a lot of the Criminal tricks from working as well as they did, either by protecting HQ from Account Siphon and Emergency Shutdown or the remote from Inside Job. Fast Advance has also continued to be strong, and this means that remote pressure is less important. The reason that remote pressure is often so key for the Criminal game plan is that a lot of their strongest cards are HQ focused and if the corporation is able to Fast Advance or has a safe scoring remote then agendas don’t build up in HQ where Criminal can capitalise with their powerful in faction cards.





Criminal card draw is very limited, Mr Li helps you find the right card but isn’t actually card draw, same with Express Delivery. The recently released Drug Dealer is interesting, and maybe this is a good card for Criminal, but I’ve not tested it enough to be sure yet. Both Shaper and Anarch have some excellent card draw options with Wyldside, Inject, Diesel and Quality Time to name but a few. Criminal lean again on the neutral cards such as Earthrise Hotel and John Masanori for their card draw in a lot of decks.





Having reviewed the Criminal faction against certain criteria, it is really evident that they have huge gaps in their arsenal. Obviously I have focused on the areas they are weak in this article and haven’t spoken about the numerous strong events etc but it really appears what Criminal are suffering from is a lack of versatility, they don’t have any good card draw, R&D pressure, or breakers that aren’t their factions main strength (Killers).


Therefore in order to try and plug these gaps Criminal use all of their influence on basics, such as a full efficient breaker suite, R&D pressure, and then sometimes card draw or economy. I think a lot of these points are backed up when I looked at my Leela deck, which spends 7 influence on breakers, 6 on R&D pressure and 2 on economy and I think this sort of spread is common for those people still rocking Criminal.



What needs to change?


I actually think that very little needs to change to make Criminal good again, an efficient breaker or an R&D pressure card, would give deck builders a bit more of a choice around what they want to do with the influence available. Influence will always be needed to plug the weaknesses that a faction have, I don’t expect to see Criminal receive an amazing Fracter, but a decent option that frees up 4 influence would be huge when it comes to deck building.


Something like four influence may not seem like a huge deal, but it would mean that you could use this to further your decks main game plan, or get some recursion, or draw or whatever your deck needs. One of the problems with the Criminal breaker suite is that if lots of influence is being used for Corroder, ZU.13, Gordian Blade etc then there isn’t influence available for Atman or Eater or Cyber Cypher, basically breakers that are very strong in a particular situation. Eater is great for getting Siphon and Shutdown to land, Atman for plugging gaps in the Criminal breaker suite by dealing with the str 4 ice etc. I just think it would open up a lot of options.


I also wonder if a change in the meta towards rush would benefit Criminal, there is a chance that this is going to happen due to the popularity of Noise currently, but I think that PPVP Kate is too good against this archetype for us to see a huge shift.



Is Criminal as weak as we think?


Now this is a really interesting question, obviously up until a few months ago, I’d been playing Leela Patel religiously and to great success. I was initially very worried by Batty but this seems to be less of a threat than first thought. Also Replicating Perfection was a tough, winnable, but tough match up, the rise of Noise Faust has caused less people to play RP due to the tough Noise match up which I think is only beneficial for Criminal.


That being said, I think that the strong runners such as Noise and Kate are miles ahead of the corp currently and maybe the issue with Criminal isn’t that they aren’t good, viable and able to win against top corps, but they are just not as good and consistent as the other runners?



Stand Alone Complex


An amazing player and deck builder called Chris Hinkes (Zeromus) once said that group think was a serious problem with Netrunner creativity. This could well be the case with Criminal, it has been decided that Criminal aren’t competitive and so everyone has followed suit. It reminds me of a Stand Alone Complex…


A phenomenon where unrelated, yet very similar actions of individuals create a seemingly concerted effort.


A Stand Alone Complex can be compared to the emergent copycat behaviour that often occurs after incidents such as serial murders or terrorist attacks. An incident catches the public's attention and certain types of people "get on the bandwagon", so to speak. For example, a mere fire, no matter the number of deaths, is just a garden variety tragedy. However, if the right kind of people begin to believe it was arson, caused by deliberate action, the threat that more arsons will be committed increases dramatically.

One could say that the Stand Alone Complex is mass hysteria over nothing - yet causing an overall change in social structure.


While it isn’t a perfect fit, it resonates with me because a huge shift in the meta is often caused by a podcast or forum or something making a clear statement about the best or worst deck, and this causes lots of people to shift to or from those decks. This makes a lot of sense on a logical level, most Netrunner players are adults, many with full time jobs or other time consuming responsibilities. Getting time to play Netrunner especially in tournaments is often limited, and therefore we often don’t have time to create a new deck which is competitive because of these factors, so we pick up one of the known tournament decks.


But Mr Hinkes is probably right; if we spent more time playing with different Criminal builds and taking the hits when the deck is weak we could likely come up with something competitive. Often it takes someone creative to come up with a new deck type who is also a good player to win something so people take note.


I’m sure there is something that Criminal can do with all of the resources it has been gaining and Career Fair etc but I haven’t had time to experiment with anything because I’ve been playing in tournaments and need to practice with tournament viable decks to ensure I am familiar with them.



What do you think?


Do you believe that Criminal is at its weakest currently? Do you think this is a bad thing or a good thing?

What do you think Criminal needs more than anything?

Do you think that there a competitive Criminal decks that haven’t been discovered yet?


Let me know what you think!

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