This is the second part of my article on the current Netrunner meta. The first part was posted over at Netrunners.co.uk and you should check it out here. If you’ve not already taken a read of this.
This part of the article will focus on what the meta looks like for runners. I am aiming to talk about what has happened in the meta recently, and what are some of the top runner decks. What are good counters to cards that are frequently within these top decks and about the decks that are on the rise due to the meta changes.
What I am hoping that you take away is what some of the competitive decks look like for each faction, so that when you sit across from one in a tournament you already have an idea on what it may be. Additionally, when you are at home deck building you will have an idea of what cards are strong against those decks.
The Meta Last Year
The top runners at the end of last year, were Andromeda with Datasucker, and Prepaid VoicePAD (PPVP) Kate. These decks were every where because they were the best decks for dealing with Near Earth Hub (NEH) AstroBiotics.
Quite a lot has changed since that time, with the Anarch (and Weyland) big box hitting and then some key anti Fast Advance cards coming in the early San San cycle packs. This means that a lot of Anarch identities are now competitive and there is a dominant runner archetype.
That archetype is PPVP Kate.
This deck’s economy is based on the PrePaid VoicePAD economy engine, using event economy at reduced cost, and then cycling them back eventually with Levy AR Lab Access. It is also able to run early and very cheaply, this is because it contains lots of tutoring and draw, and specific breakers that are cheap, Cyber Cypher as the classic example. This in combination with the multi access events, means this is a formidable deck.
Why is this currently the top runner deck? Well, in my opinion it is because it is versatile, it can deal with NEH AstroBiotics thanks to the large amount of multi-access cards it contains in combination with its cheap specific breakers that allow access at a reasonable price. It also has Clot, and this puts a lot of pressure on the Fast Advance strategy, and since NEH was the top corp archetype and is still a viable one, this is an important point. It can also deal with glacier decks because it can attack early before they are fully set up and apply pressure with the multi-access events. It can also deal with specific threats thanks to Atman and Parasite, and can generally always just find a way.
There are a number of cards that are good against this deck archetype: The first is strength 4 or above Sentry ice. This is because the decks main sentry breaker is Mimic, with Sharpshooter or Deus X as back up to break specific sub types, but repeated use of these tools taxes the decks recursion a lot.
Cards such as Susanoo-No-Mikoto which are over strength 4 and do not have the Destroyer or AP sub types are the best counter. Barrier ice with multiple sub routines are also extremely good against this deck because it is reliant on Lady which will run out of counters and tax the decks recursion, therefore cards like NEXT Silver and Ashigaru are good, as is simply stacking cheap barriers.
Another card that is good against this deck is Crisium Grid. This is because a lot of the Shaper multi access is event driven and this card turns off the threat from The Makers Eye and Indexing if you can keep it on the board.
Finally, a recent popular counter that has come up is Blacklist, which stops the Shaper recursion, this is very strong if the Kate deck is using Scavenge and Clone Chip to reset their Cyber Cypher and Lady.
It is worth noting that most of these counters to this archetype are likely not permanent solutions. The deck is versatile and will find a way around most of these problems given enough time, however the addition of these cards will often give you scoring opportunities or prevent your R&D quite so much.
I think there are a number of other Shaper decks that are also very competitive, if these are top tier is another question, and maybe the answer is no. They are often less played so it is hard to get a true answer, and I’ve done limited personal testing. That being said, I’m still seeing rogue Chaos Theory and Exile decks placing well in some competitive tournaments, so it’s something to consider.
Andromeda Datasucker decks were probably the best decks for competitive play in 2014, and while they are not the unstoppable force they were, they are still definitely a force to be reckoned with.
A few things changed to take the top slot away from Andromeda; the first is the move away from pure End the Run ice and into a more taxing set up; high strength Barrier ice is still expensive to break; Lotus Field and higher strength code gates mean that Yog.0 isn’t as effective and there is a need for another code gate breaker which takes up precious influence and isn’t as efficient. Finally, the multiple sub routine Sentry Ice run by Jinteki again added a tax to a deck that was all focused on efficient runs.
However, Andromeda decks are still seen at the top, they just aren’t as common/dominant. They have also evolved, using Stealth to retain the efficient runs. Some decks go all in on the Stealth aspect, others are much more a kin to the original Datasucker builds but using Switchblade to deal with taxing Sentry ice and Yog.0 as their primary and another Decoder to deal with high strength problems.
Many of these decks are not a million miles away from the Andromeda Datasucker decks of the past year, therefore (and because of my love of the ID) I’m going to talk about the newest Criminal: Leela Patel, is in my opinion a top tier runner ID and one that has been seeing significant success.
Here, (and with no bias on the deck selection), is a sample Leela Patel deck.
This deck is strong because of its simplicity; it has a large number of economy cards and a large number of breakers and tutoring. The plan for the deck is simple, which is to get an economy up and running and apply pressure while building your rig as you need it. If you score or the Corp scores during the game it will traditionally open up an opportunity for an Account Siphon, or a multi access run of some kind. Because of this threat rushing out an early agenda against Leela is very difficult to do without doing a lot of damage to the corps defences. It also means that decks with high agenda counts are badly handicapped and they are very susceptible to Leela’s ability snowballing, and their entire board position unravelling, though it is possible for this to happen to any corp.
This deck is not well positioned to deal with strength 4 or above sentry ice on a regular basis, as its only pumpable ice breaker which is permanent is Femme Fatale. Taxing ice such as the NEXT suite or high strength ice like Eli and Viper all cause this deck problems as they are extremely taxing to break and not susceptible to Emergency Shutdown like more expensive ice. If the ice becomes too taxing to allow regular runs then this deck falls back on big digs following agenda scores or steals, so protecting R&D, ideally with an upgrade such as Ash or Caprice, and archives is important to cause lock out.
Why am I giving away secrets about my favourite deck???
The Anarch faction was, in my opinion, the weakest one for most of the games life, and I imagine that the meta would have been even healthier than it was if the Anarch cards had come out when the Criminal big box was released. Regardless of random speculation, since Order and Chaos, the red faction has definitely been doing well.
We saw a lot of MaxX decks in the early days after, focused on using Eater and combining it with cards that replace access such as Keyhole and Account Siphon. Then we saw a more standard build using good cards and using MaxX’s ability as a form of tutoring, which the World Champion has been behind, and had a lot of success with.
Interestingly, I think that Valencia is the runner of the moment, and she has really evolved out of the move away from AstroBiotics and towards glacier. She is a runner who has come to strength, in my opinion, as a response to the current meta. What is great about Valencia is that there are a number of different builds available, one of which has a great article written about it by Alex White (VinegaryMink)which you should check out here. Another version of Valencia to check out is the one run by Joey McMillan to second place at the London Regional.
Now, both of these decks are different in their play style, but both have things that make them strong in the current meta. Firstly, they are running economy denial in the form of Vamp, this is a play that has come about because of the strength of Replicating Perfection, which relies on its economy to play Psi games on cards such as The Future Perfect and Caprice Nisei. By stopping the corps ability to play Psi games or rez ice it allows for the stealing of critical agendas and trashing of important upgrades. The good thing about Vamp is that it is not just a card that helps against RP but is good against most glacier decks, its weaker against aggressive and fast advance decks such as NEH but is still useful.
One of the key Valencia cards is Blackmail: This is extremely strong as without a defensive upgrade such as Ash or Caprice, or a way of rezzing ice without interaction from the runner, it is possible for Valencia to get into any remote. This makes any agenda that requires advancing over two turns particularly vulnerable. As well as this strong remote pressure, this deck uses the combo of Eater and Keyhole to apply R&D pressure, this which is very effective.
There are a number of ways to make this deck’s life more difficult. Firstly, there is the obvious choice of Bad Publicity removal, while this is a strong defence, I generally wouldn’t recommend that you put this into your deck list unless it fit in with your general deck strategy. The other option is to use upgrades for defence, or cards like Executive Boot Camp to rez ice and protect against Blackmail, and this I would recommend as these cards are strong in most match ups in the current meta. Crisium Grid is a good card that hurts the Eater Keyhole combo as well as Vamp and is also useful in other match ups such as against PPVP Kate, so this is worth considering. Finally, cards that are strong against AI breakers are good includes in the deck, so Wraparound, Turing and in some decks Swordsman are a useful addition to your deck if it ties in with your overall strategy. Valencia is strong in a glacier heavy meta and I believe NEH AstroBiotics is a tough match for it, though if you are willing to risk it NEH is definitely something to base off your metas use of Clot.
There are lots of great Runners at the moment, and I definitely haven’t mentioned all of the ones that I think I would consider taking to a tournament, just the top ones. There are definitely still strong MaxX decks out there, Noise is still placing well, and in fact most of the Anarch identities are performing well. If anything I would say that it is the Criminal faction that is the most stale right now for competitive choices.
It seems to me that the meta is in a very healthy place for runners, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t see these top decks around a lot as people are drawn to the good decks that they know work and are consistent. Therefore I believe that Crisium Grid, high strength sentry ice and good upgrades are very key right now and will give you a good edge against a number of top decks.
Do you think that there is something I have horribly missed and that will be the next big thing? Let me know!
Dave Hoyland is a panellist on The Winning Agenda and is the 2014 UK National Champion as well as a 2014 Worlds Top 8 competitor. He has a huge love of board games, martial arts and Japanese animation (Anime). You can follow him on Twitter @Cerberus__d