Hey all how’re we going? Shielsy here.
I’m going to talk about a framework I’ve been working on for a while that I’m calling the Meta Psi-Game.
It’s a model I’ve been using to help me choose my decks, tune them in, and push the limits of aggressive and controlling styles.
A SHORT HISTORY OF NON-MID-RANGE CORPS
With Honour and Profit came a deceptively large change in the limits of corp construction; Komainu and Himitsu-Bako offered the critical mass of solid in-faction ICE that allowed the existence of the Replicating Perfection control deck we all know and love, with Mental Health Clinic making its way in there too.
The synergies between Nisei Mk.II, Caprice Nisei, Ash 2X3ZB9CY and larger ICE like Tollbooth, Heimdall 1.0 and Susanoo-No-Mikoto were clear: with the powerful economy offered by Sundew and Melange Mining Corp you can lock an ill-equipped runner out, often for more than long enough to score an easy 7. Enhanced Login Protocol pinned the entire thing down and it became time for the runners to learn to deal.
Something flew under the radar though: Mushin-No-Shin.
Jesse and I toyed around with it, pushing out advanced San-San City Grids and using Trick of Light to score 4/2s straight out of hand. This was awful obviously; There were simply no upsides to housing a classic midrange San-San deck in Personal Evolution or Nisei Division, instead of HB: Engineering the Future (or Near Earth Hub which would come later).
However there still remained clear applications for Mushin-No-Shin in shell games and aggression. By dressing a Future Perfect or a Brains Trust in the cloak of a trap, aggressive PE decks can reach 5 points quickly and without interruption. From there they can threaten every remote as a 3/2, but reveal a Snare! instead.
The capabilities for both agenda victories and flat-line victories are there, and the two-pronged approach is more than a little bit good. With Hybrid PE, Wilfy E. Horig had broken many of the unwritten rules the rest of us had abided by until that point: his ICE was weak, his agendas large and he refused to acknowledge the runner’s credits, respecting only their grip. He and BBW have acquired more than a few kills between the two of them, and it was all made possible by a mind without a mind.
But let’s lose our minds entirely here and consider Mushin without the traps, and just the agendas. As a double, Mushin-No-Shin is already rather inflexible, even before considering that it must create a new server. You can only cover your bet with one piece of ICE, and doing so is a massive tell. If you don’t ICE it and the runner checks your bet you’ll probably just lose, so you should definitely ICE your bet.
But with what? A Tollbooth? No. It’s too costly; Mushin is restrictive enough already. Maybe a Neural Katana? Still not good enough. It’s too permissible; the runner was prepared to eat a Cerebral Overwriter, (which is effectively a loss anyway), so nothing has really changed by dealing her another 3 damage. What about a Paper Wall?
Now we’re talking.
In modern Netrunner, aggressive corp decks score hard and fast. They are consistent over the early game, with exactly as many tools as required to parry a light midgame offensive, while hammering into the runner from one angle or another. More than that, they don’t afraid of anything at all.
So what’s a poor runner to do? At one end, all-in aggro corps are demanding AI breakers and reckless abandon, but the controlling corps ask for conservatism, flexibility, and patience. Should she naively choose the middle ground, as has so often been done over the last few years? Should she choose to match both, and put her faith in the heart of the cards? Does it really matter?
Motivated by my need to answer these questions, it was time to get to work. The abilities and styles of controlling runners had already been very deeply explored, with Shapers, (and in particular Kate “Mac” McCaffrey), slogging most of the long shifts, and Noise on retainer.
While Kate and Noise had tools like Professional Contacts, Atman, and Parasite to lock down controlling corps in interesting and powerful ways, these decks were still very inflexible. The inclusion of Desperado in Kate and Crypsis in Noise opened up some midrange potential; Kate could switch from rig deployment to hard and fast runs at a whim, and Noise could break deep into a remote even with a bunch of useless Caches.
Unfortunately the aggressive corps didn’t care. Without immediate and consistent burst economy there was no way runners could be hosting an SMC’d Gordion Blade or a charged Crypsis. Even with an opening that could compete, by expending so many resources so quickly slow runners would catch themselves in poverty traps and simply get killed over the next few turns as they struggled to recover. Runners needed more accessible breakers, less heavy-handed economy, and more flexibility in how the rig came together.
And when I say “needed”, I mean that I just “needed” to actually put these cards in some sleeves.
This style of loose and easy rig building has proven very effective at wrestling initiative away from the corps in the early turns, forcing them to find more ICE and allowing you, the runner, the capacity to flush agendas out of HQ and from the top of R&D. As more ICE and more breakers come down, she and the corp pass initiative back and forth less often, and accessing consistently becomes more expensive than her economy can support.
There are tools for this common situation of course: Targeted attacks from Parasite or Femme Fatale can leverage cheap consistent access, and scalable programs like Medium, Nerve Agent, and Keyhole compress more threat into each run, not affecting the cost but instead affecting the pay-off.
Finally cards like Woman in the Red Dress, Infiltration, and Deep Thought signal the whereabouts of agendas, allowing the runner to direct her runs to be accurate both in terms of timing and target.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Let’s take a step back from decklists and look at the pattern that’s emerging here; by using ICE the corp can take initiative, and start scoring agendas. To prevent this the runner must draw and install the appropriate breakers, and remove the threat.
Until the corp produces another (different) ICE to reclaim initiative, it is the runner who can be proactive. This back and forth is repeated until every kind of ICE the corps has available is on the remote, and each of those ICE can be broken by the runner.
At this point the initiative is no longer as rigid, and really only related to how many credits the runner has, how mush ICE the corp has, and how they each can compress their clicks. It is during this period that either player can claim inevitability: that, (barring a dramatic change in the game state or variance), they will win.
We note one more general situation: Whenever a player is proactive and uses her resources to attempt to win the game, she cannot also be investing those resources into her economy or ICE, and therefore inevitability. The consequence: when either player attempts to push an advantage and is unable to win outright before the opponent can stabilize, her economy is weaker than if she had simply not acted, and now further from a position of inevitability.
While these observations seem needlessly austere, the generality is actually a very powerful tool, and allows us to make another statement: a runner is best equipped to handle a corp when she can take the initiative as often as possible, and for as long as possible.
Alright, back to the concrete.
This is something of a Goldilocks phenomenon: when a runner is too slow, she won’t be able to assemble her breakers before the faster, more consistent corp simply scores out. But if the runner is too fast she won’t be able to claim inevitability and will have to rely on variance for victory. So it is in the runner’s best interest to be the same speed as the corp, and conversely, it’s in the corp’s best interest to be a different speed to the runner. Additionally, the inherent variance that comes with agendas and the limitations that come with memory mean that there are higher costs to playing control decks over mid-range, and mid-range over aggressive. Sounds familiar right?
Applying this outlook to our 3 archetypes offers a new and clearer perspective on current and previous meta-games.
In the early days when NBN and Weyland mid-range strategies and HB control strategies were the only clear options for corps, Criminal mid-range and Shaper control decks were the response, and runners took the advantage.
The introduction of NAPD Contracts and Jackson Howard smoothed out some of the costs of playing mid-range: The corp’s susceptibility to variance came down, and the windows for runner aggression closed a little. This change was enough to push aggressive Anarch styles out of the meta-game entirely, as there was simply no corp they were well positioned against. The corps never bid 0, so it didn’t make sense for the runners to either.
Having been conditioned so heavily into midrange strategies, runners weren’t prepared for a mixer-upper, and there isn’t any clearer evidence of this than Dan D’Argenio and Minh Tran taking 1st and 2nd at Worlds 2014 with a control corp deck and an aggressive corp deck. Almost every player in the top 16 brought a mid-range runner (Jesse Marshall entered Kate control, and Kenjy Jab entered his Wyldside Control), and they simply weren’t prepared to go toe-to-toe with Caprice Nesei or Mushin-No-Shin.
There has never been more capacity for depth and experimentation in both corp and runner play than right now, and it’s also never been more important to have access to multiple decks than right now.
So be sure to play more! Find 6 decks you like, and keep them up to date. Keep an eye on the room, and be prepared to audible into a different archetype if you suspect too much opposition, or into an archetype if you recognize a gap to take advantage of (particularly if you’re in a league!).
Thanks for reading everyone! I know it’s been a bit of a slog-fest, but I think it’s pretty interesting.
If you have any questions, suggestions, or even just wanna say some stuff, feel free to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, post on The Winning Agenda page on Facebook, or in the comment threads on Netrunnerdb.com, where I’m @Shielsy.
Liam ‘Shielsy’ Prasad is an panellist for The Winning Agenda. He was the runner-up for both the 2014 Melbourne Regionals and the 2014 Australian Nationals. He is a budding mathematician and TWA’s resident Anarchsit. Follow him on Twitter @5hielsy