When I think of Netrunner’s balance between Corps and Runners over the years a pendulum comes to mind. The power balance has oscillated back and forth as the designers have implemented new mechanics to expand the game laterally rather than vertically. It has been a great ride watching the strategies change as new mechanics are released.
This trend continued into this year’s tournament season with an influx of powerful runner cards and IDs that flipped the power back in favor of those pesky hackers. Now we have entered the season of clicks for the runner and the winter of discontent for the corp, and I am concerned about the meta implications of all these free runner clicks for corp archetypes and the game as a whole.
The three mechanics that make the runner frighteningly click efficient are Geist’s trash draw ability, Hayley’s piggyback install and the adoption of Wyldside-Pancakes as the anarch draw engine.
Wyldside coupled with Adjusted Chronotype has had the most competitive success and is just simply outstanding. The ability to draw two cards a turn while retaining four clicks solves the Anarch’s biggest weakness: penalty free draw. Across the IDs the struggle is to install and be able to run in the same turn and wyldside is back from the graveyard to help you party all night and rock all day. Furthermore, cards such as Career Fair, Paige Piper and Street Peddler has mitigated the variance of a two card draw system.
Anarchs are the most disruptive and faction and now you get all the tools you need to take the corp apart without having to spend a click to draw. This engine essentially provides two extra clicks a turn to the faction that most often needs its clicks for resource money and to install tools like Parasite. In essence, this draw engine gives anarchs the clicks to not just compete but dominate. Recently, the spotlight has been on anarchs due to their flexibility with influence and their ability to apply pressure to all servers.
Hayley has seen some success in competitive play but is still being cookbooked. With the flexibility and power of prepaid Kate, people are wary to cheat on their favorite shaper for a mere college student. Despite a snub in tier one, her ability to install two cards of the same type with a single click is potent. Her piggy back ability also makes shaper’s clickless install tools like Self-modifying code and Clone Chip more effective, allowing you to bring a needed card out of the hand midrun.
Previously, archetypes such as stealth that require many items to function were weak outside of Andromeda because set up time could lose you the race to seven AP. Now, you can set up rapidly using efficient draw tools, replicator and surprise installs to keep the pressure on the whole game. Hayley was the first breath of air in this cycle’s attempt to make less played strategies more viable by giving runners free clicks. Her click compression will be mastered when Kate falls out of competitive favor and more minds focus on her Ability. An ability which maintains the shaper incentive to install in a way that encourages new decks instead of slotting her in to Kate’s archetypes.
The “spirit” of draw is strong this cycle, especially with Geist, criminal’s newest edition. I have discussed before that the designers do a masterful job of reintegrating panned cards into competitive play and Geist is the king of under-utilized cards. His ability states whenever you use a “trash” icon ability, you draw one card, which appears on a whopping 33 different runner cards. In addition, with the exception of clone chip, the most effective of these cards are native to the criminals including: crescentus, fall guy, grappling hook, and the B&E breakers.
His “free” clicks are unique in that there is a variance but no upward cap, if you have the trash cards to use you can get as many draws as you can handle. This enables him to setup while and as a reward for running. His clickless draw engine coupled with criminal tools makes him one of the most avalanche runners I have ever played. The new breakers that trash to use gives him a card, using Crescentus gives him a card, using a Clone Chip to get a breaker to use can give him TWO cards all while running. If you include Autoscripter, you may be able to get the click you used run back for using a Clone Chip…. VALUE!
Similar to Noise, playing Geist rewards you for what you want to do anyway. In the case of Noise you get to threaten archives and remove tools for installing viruses and for Geist you get to draw more cards for using criminal tricks like Crescentus, Decoy, or Spike. The difference is that Noise’s reward is limited by the number of viruses he can play in one turn whereas Geist’s limit is the number of trash cards you can use this turn and how much you can hold/install. There is a lot synergy native to Geist , he can draw up to safety during a run and find what he needs as a reward for applying pressure to the corp. Criminals like to run and Geist gets more fuel by spending fuel. To give an example in a single Account Siphon run with The Ghost of Running Past I derezzed two pieces of ice and drew four cards including another AS after using a Spike, a Crescentus, a Clone Chip and that returned Crescentus. This level of efficiency on the runners side would have been a pipe dream two cycles ago. That having been said, Geist has a weakness, if you don’t turn over his engine quickly it can cause you to fall flat and not be able to threaten anything.
This level of efficiency and cool toys on the runner side has caused a shift in the way people make corp decks. During the beginning of this year we were living in a rainbow spectrum of corp archetypes and I have witnessed a shift to hybrid kill decks such as Butcher Shop or decks that include Marcus Batty or Caprice Nisei. To me, this belies that people feel they cannot win by scoring agendas without a disincentive (kill cards) or a way to make runner credits less relevant (caprice). To put it simply, corps can’t make money fast enough since they lack the clickless tools that runners now enjoy. A set up anarch has 6 effective clicks to the corp’s 3 making scoring windows much scarcer. Decks that set up fast and have efficient econ such as PrePaid Kate, Geist, and basically all Anarch decks can threaten any server in the mid to late game. The aftermath of the new world of running where you can gain nine credits in two clicks and break ice for zero credits is a meta where ice and even Ash can’t reliably grant a scoring window without baiting multiple runs. In today’s meta it’s difficult to protect an agenda without a PSI game. Is that a bad thing? Maybe, maybe not.
Even the corps that get free draws like NEH and or clickless money like RP and HB gain benefits from installing things that can be trashed. Your benefit of clickless econ or clickless draw comes with vulnerabilities that these runner tools do not share. Furthermore, as the runner speeds up, people have expressed the “need” to play NEH to feel competitive and that gives me the sads.
What concerns me is that a corp meta that relies on the PSI game will leave players (especially new ones) with the impression that the corp game ultimately comes down to luck. A cursory glance at Reddit, Stimhack, or Netrunnerdb will supply you with rumblings of dissatisfaction over losing by rock paper scissors. I love PSI as a mechanic and as theme for Jinteki, unfortunately, I have also experienced frustration over playing right and just not being able to win and the guilt when I rob people of games they deserved to win. I don’t know how this will be resolved by the designers but I hope that Batty and Caprice won’t be the only reliable way to protect an agenda in a remote server.
Till next time remember to always bet zero (not really),