For months, Netrunner has been getting more and more tilted in favor of the runner, especially in high level play. Hollis made an excellent post about win rates at high Elo Netrunner play, which you can see here: http://boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/20117/game-balance-at-the-99th-percentile-part-2
For high skill players, playing against each other, runners had a 60-40 advantage. If the runner was criminal, it was close to 70-30.
This data was taken across all time, including plenty of games from the earlier sets, where the runner advantage was smaller. Playing with the newer sets was even worse, as all runners had received strong economy cards like Kati Jones and good attack options like R&D interface, but corps still weren’t getting much. Each set, one corp would get something nice, like Project Beale, and every runner would get cool things, and the options for viable corp decks got smaller and smaller.
But for the average player, Netrunner was still close to 50-50. And for inexperienced players, corps did well, and runners routinely got wrecked by last click runs in to Ichis, Snares, Scorch Combos, and so on.
Then C&C was released.
C&C’s effect on the balance between corp and runner was like Anakin turning evil, and murdering all the little Jedi kids in the temple. Runners got so many good cards from that set, helping every aspect of their game. Daily Casts and Dirty Laundry for economy, Same old Thing to allow even more abusive Account Siphons. Sahasrara was the best thing ever for Noise, even better than Workshop, and can be good for shapers too. Atman meant that entire swaths of ice strength could be nullified at once, especially when combined with Datasuckers. Clone Chip and Scavenge meant recurring Parasites and Imps in Shaper. Professional Contacts was an improvement over the traditional Magnum Opus Shaper economy. Self-Modifying Code meant instant speed tutoring for needed icebreakers mid-run.
What did Corps get? Gila Hands Arcology is decent. Efficiency Committee is better than PSF for HB fast advance. Bastion is pretty much like more Wall of Static, Datapike is a more expensive Enigma. All the Bioroid 2.0s are just more expensive bigger versions that end up not being as viable because they are too dang expensive, in a world of Emergency Shutdown. (And if you Bioroid Efficiency Research a Heimdall 2.0 or Janus, your Shaper opponent can just tutor up a Deus X, break and derez it, and criminal can either Shutdown it or break it with E3). Some decent cards, and nothing amazing.
And as to win rates, this happened:
July: near 50-50.
August: almost 55-45 in the runner’s favor (as of mid-August).
Take that 70-30 experience that high level players were experiencing in their games, and make it 75-25. Playing Corp against a strong runner became almost hopeless. Scoring 7 was almost a pipe dream, and if you tried to kill the runner, and they were prepared, you have to deal with things like tutorable, recurring Deus X (which was already something to include to handle Oversighted Januses).
Everyone has been feeling the pain when playing corp, and it just gets worse the higher you are up the food chain.
But little did we know, that far off on the planet of Tatooine, that Obi-Wan Lukas has been raising a young Jedi named Jackson Howard.
Jackson Howard is a game changer, but this time for the corp side. A New Hope.
How good is he? Well, he might be the best card printed in any of the 8 expansions (non-Core). While the good 3/2 agendas are better for their particular corps, at an influence cost of 1, Jackson helps ALL corps. But I said CARD, not Corp card. Yes, Jackson Howard might be better than any runner card since Account Siphon.
What were the best cards from Genesis Cycle?
Imp, Plascrete, Emergency Shutdown, Personal Workshop, Andromeda, Kati Jones, Quality Time, R&D Interface.
Project Atlas, Fetal AI, Trick of Light, Project Vitruvius, Project Beale, Popup Window, Hokusai Grid, Bernice Mai, Eli.
Most of those cards helped one faction a ton, or were meta cards like Plascrete. Some of them helped all factions a good amount, like Popup Window or Kati Jones. Runners got great economy, ways to answer ice, and attack options. Corps mostly got 1 good agenda each and a nice 0 cost ice.
Jackson Howard is at least on par with the top runner cards, and better for ALL four corp factions combined, than any other card since core set.
Okay, enough hyping him.
OMG Alex, all I’ve read for the last two days is you hyping Jackson Howard!
Why is he THAT good?
First off, Jackson serves two roles. First as a draw engine, second as a way to move cards from Archives to R&D. Both are strong, and he is very good at both. Finally, his rez cost of 0 and trash cost of 3 make him very easy to use, viable to place undefended, and help reduce his worst case scenario to things like: “I got to draw extra cards and then my opponent had to spend a click and an Imp token or $3”. Or “I played him face down, and my opponent ran through two ice to check him out, and then I shuffled three thing back into my R&D”.
Jackson Jedi Power #1: Jackson as a Draw Engine
Getting to draw 2 for a Click helps us improve the efficiency of any cards in our deck that aren’t click intensive. It makes burst economy like Hedge Funds stronger. It makes spamming things like Pad Campaigns stronger, which in turn also makes things that are good at killing these stronger, like Whizzard, Imp, Bank Job, and Paricia. It makes cards that allow us to install several cards at once stronger (Mirrormorph is now playable! Probably not strong, but at least playable). It makes cards that reward us for spamming out cards stronger, like Alix. It makes piling up cheap upgrades like Bernice Mai and Red Herrings into our servers stronger. Finally, it makes our combos easier to find quickly helping us to pull off that Scorch/Sea Source combo.
It makes click intensive effects weaker. Melange Mining Corp becomes a bit weaker, though still not bad. But you might prefer to simply get a lot of burst economy in your deck, draw them with Jackson and play them.
Jackson is simply the best way to draw cards. If you played Anonymous Tip, needing money or ice, and it gave you more agendas, you probably lost. If Jackson gives you more agendas, you discard them and shuffle them into your deck. If he gives you ice and money, youre happy, AND the runner has to run and pay money to get rid of him.
Jackson Jedi Power #2: Countering Noise
(If you think I’m an idiot who doesn’t know what RIP means, ‘RIP In Peace’ is a meme).
Is Noise milling agendas into your archives? Just shuffle them back in! Because you can do this instantly, it is a strong counter. Noise cannot build up 6 viruses on a Workshop, run archives, dump a bunch of cards into it mid run, and then access the agendas. If Jackson is in play, you can simply put the agendas back into your deck INSTANTLY.
Protecting Jackson will be important in this matchup, as Noise will want to kill him before his big milling.
If Noise doesn’t have Workshop, but is instead milling over time, then protecting Archives well and putting out Jackson once something actually gets in there will be a good option. Guarding Archives wasn’t a good solution before because Noise only ever had to get in once, near the end of the game.
But now, a couple ice on Archives making him not want to run often, combined with Jackson, and you are pretty safe.
If Jackson didn’t do anything else, you might include him if you expected lots of Noise, but overall Noise would only suffer if he was expected to be dominant, because most people wouldn’t include Jackson in their deck. It’s like Plascrete: if you expect no Scorched Earths, you don’t play it. If most people don’t play it, it doesn’t hurt Weyland.
But Jackson Howard isn’t one-dimensional. He crushes Noise as a side effect of doing tons of other great things. It’s as if you combined Plascrete and Quality Time into one cards:
$3, Hardware, Shaper 1 Influence. When you play Quality Plascrete, draw 5 cards. Put 4 power counters on Quality Plascrete, remove one to prevent 1 meat damage.
How many Quality Plascretes would get played. Three. In EVERY DECK EVER.
When you take a strong Meta card, and make it universally playable as well, then it is a part of every deck, and the part of the meta that it counters is DEAD. Noise is DEAD. Like, completely, utterly screwed. Whizzard Siphon denial with Rooks, or a new Reina Roja denial deck with Caissa programs are the future of Anarch now.
Nietzsche: “God is dead”.
God: “Nietzsche is dead”.
Jackson Thomas: “Noise is dead. This one we are certain about”.
Maybe you can still do okay with Noise. You’ll be fighting an uphill battle trying to mill people, but maybe you can use it as a small bonus while you also Medium dig them. Force the runner to defend a Jackson Howard in play, holding it until you mill some agendas.
But Noise being dominant? That time is over. The Professional Contacts, Parasite-recurring Kate deck is better than him now. Andromeda is way better than him now. Heck, Whizzard might be better than him now.
Jackson Jedi Power #3: Avoiding Agenda Flood
“Hands that automatically lose the game”:
Jackson helps you avoid agenda flood. We’ve all experienced those games where we mulligan into a bad hand. Or we keep a 1 agenda hand, draw an agenda for our first turn draw, draw an agenda for our second turn draw, and draw an agenda when we play Green Level Clearance.
Draw four agendas right away, and we have this hand entirely full of agendas, and not enough ice or money to do anything about it. You can try to just slap agendas into play and hope the runner doesn’t run them, but it’s almost always a losing proposition, no matter what you do.
Jackson saves us from that scenario.
“Hands that DON’T automatically lose the game”:
Play Jackson, draw 2, draw 2. Discard Beta, Priority, Priority. Once the runner runs either Archives or Jackson, sacrifice him to shuffle them into R&D (we get to make the runner waste a click too, which is nice. Or if they delay, we can continue drawing 2). Suddenly we have a reasonable hand again, and most of the agendas are gone. Essentially, Jackson is the best Rework ever. Rather than just losing you cards and only getting rid of 1 agenda, Jackson first gains you cards, and then gets rid of THREE agendas. Are you getting ravaged by Gabriel early on, and your HQ agendas are unsafe? Just draw cards, pitch them, shuffle them. Suddenly your HQ has nothing, and while he can get $2 off it, he won’t score points. You know how ‘don’t draw agendas early’ has historically been your best defense against criminals? Jackson can create that game state for you.
I feel that this is actually the most major benefit of Jackson: The super-rework. The corp can do well when it draws the correct number of agendas. If it draw agendas when it needs them, but not extras to sit around being vulnerable. Jackson helps you get EXACTLY the correct number of agendas. Don’t have enough? He draws fast. Have too many? You can discard them and shuffle them back in. This use alone would make Jackson a great card. All the other versatile uses just make him better.
Jackson Jedi Power #4: Recurring Snares
Jinteki says GG!
Jackson shuffles Snares and even Fetal AIs back into R&D, to defend against multi R&D access strategies. These Snares and Fetals in R&D are a major part of the Jinteki R&D defense, and can result in random wins. Snares in other corps as well, like Weyland, can be very deadly as well. Many times, the best place for your Snares and Fetals is in your R&D, and Jackson lets you discard them and shuffle them back into it. He even lets you recur used Snares back into your deck, which can greatly increase your chances of running the runner out of cards in their deck, followed by flatline victory. Shuffling Snares into R&D is going to be a big deal, and you’re going to see a lot of it. Not just in Jinteki, but in decks from a variety of corps, that can follow up you hitting a Snare by using False Lead, and killing you with Scorched Earth or PSF.
Jackson Jedi Power #5: Breaking R&D Lock
The runner has two R&D interfaces out. They run R&D and look at three cards. When you clear through those cards, they do it again (it’s even better if he just shuffled some Snares back in). You can’t draw the agendas you need in order to score your final points. With Jackson, at the end of the runner turn, use him to shuffle your R&D. Then you get to draw a different card at the start of your turn, and can draw additional, potential agendas, without digging through the card the runner already saw first. Decks like NBN and HB fast advance will enjoy this the most.
Alternately, your HQ might also be vulnerable, but you can win the game if the FIRST card you draw for the turn is an Agenda. NBN at 5 points, with an Astroscript counter available, for example. But maybe the runner is dominating you and if you don’t get the agenda on the first draw and score it right away, they can get it from your hand or from play. Under R&D lock ,this first draw agenda won’t be coming. But if you shuffle with Jackson at the end of the runner turn, it just might, so you still have a chance.
Jackson Jedi Power #6: Indexing Counter
Jackson can counter Indexing. Did your Shaper opponent just Indexing you, sticking two agendas on top? And then they ran R&D again? Activate your Jackson and shuffle that deck. Now the runner just gets a random card.
Jackson Jedi Power #7: Safe Beta Tests
“Oops! Hmm, do I put the Ice Wall on Archives?”
HB can Beta Test at will with Jackson in play, and if they whiff and put agendas into Archives, they can just shuffle them back in. Previously, this required either an over advanced Vitruvius, or that you score the Beta Test with an extra click remaining and an Archived Memories in hand. Even then, it didn’t protect up to THREE agendas, and the agendas went into your hand, which might not have been what you wanted.
Jackson Jedi Power #8: Celebrity Gift Mind Games
Celebrity Gift is a new card from Opening Moves, allowing you to gain $7 for two clicks, but you must show the runner five cards from your hand. This is a good card with a drawback. But Jackson overcomes the drawback.
Draw 2 with Jackson. Play Celebrity Gift, showing 5 cards to the runner, including some agendas, to get +$7. Discard some cards.
Did you discard the Agendas? Did you hold them? The runner doesn’t know. Jackson has just negated the drawback of Celebrity Gift, allowing you to play a big Hedge Fund and then mess with your opponent’s head. If you can successfully keep agendas in your hand but also throw the runner off of your hand, that’s amazing. Alternately, if you pitch all your agendas and then they waste time on your hand, that’s great too.
Jinteki just loves these mind games. And honestly, so should every other corp. Play NBN with three splashed Celebrity Gifts for economy? Sounds good. You have no idea if I just pitched the agendas, and running my hand will be a waste of time, or if my hand still contains that Project Beale, and you need to run it or else I’ll score it on my SanSan that I can now afford to rez.
Jackson Jedi Power #9: Burst Economy Recursion and R&D Protection
Back into R&D you go!
Jackson can be used to improve your R&D defense. Are you in a situation where R&D is very vulnerable (R&D interface/Medium, and the runner keeps killing your ice there), but your HQ is safe and the runner is uninterested in it? You can use Jackson to draw a bunch of cards, get a couple agendas, and then shuffle three non-agendas back into your deck, improving its ratio of agendas to non-agenda cards. The recycled cards might even be things like Hedge Funds that you would love to draw again! Or SanSan City Grid! Or Celebrity Gift! Maybe they are used Biotic Labors, and when you draw them again you can fast advance the agendas that are now safely in your HQ.
At the end of the day, using Jackson this way helps you make R&D slightly less favorable to run for agendas, while helping you reuse powerful cards.
Jackson Jedi Power #10: Jackson’s Invulnerability to Bank Job and Dirty Laundry
One of the drawbacks of assets is that you either have to defend them, or you place them out in the open, and open yourself up to Bank Job. As soon as you put a Pad Campaign or whatever in your deck, you basically turn on any opposing Bank Jobs.
But that’s not the case with Jackson. You can play Jackson, intend to put him into play undefended, and still not be vulnerable. As soon as the runner puts out a Bank Job and runs him, you simply activate his ability! He is gone. There are no longer any cards in the server, and the run ends. It’s not successful, the runner can’t Bank Job, they can’t get a $ from Desperado, they can’t get money from Dirty Laundry if they played it. (Tip: NEVER Dirty Laundry at an undefended Jackson). Note that this also helps guard your face down unprotected assets from being hit by Dirty Laundry. If they try this, and your card IS a Jackson Howard, you activate him, end the run, and they are out $2 and the card.
(Note: This does not result in an unsuccessful run either, so sadly you can’t play Successful Demonstration. How good would that be?)
At an influence cost of 1, Jackson represents tremendous value to all corps. Weyland loves drawing to get their burst economy and kill combo, and loves recycling Snares. Jinteki loves using Jackson after revealing their hand with Celebrity Gift and discarding. They also love recycling Snares. NBN loves to draw spammable annoyances like Bernice Mai, evade R&D locks that are preventing them from scoring the final needed points, and could even use Snares in a Never-Advance type strategy, with Edge of World, Snare, and Private Security Force. HB loves risk-free Beta Tests. Every corp loves to discard agendas when flooded with them and then shuffle them back in. Every corp loves countering Noise.
Jackson isn’t just a high upside card, he is a low downside card as well. With rez cost 0 and trash cost 3, you never lose any credits using him, but the runner might lose credits on him. He almost always costs the runner at least as much effort to deal with as you spent getting him, and there is high potential to get bonus draws from him before he goes away. Even when using him to discard and shuffle in agendas, you can force the runner to lose a Click in order to eliminate him (and his draw power) from the board. Either they run him, and then you use him, or they run Archives, and then you use him. He can’t be Bank Jobbed.
Jackson provides a new hope to corps, in a world where runners are stomping all over them, and the runner advantage is present at all levels of play. For the first time in many sets, the corp received more from a pack than runners, and the gain is for EVERY corp, not just one faction.
When constructing corp decks in the future, I strongly recommend that you begin them with two or three Jackson Howard, and then work to fill in the remaining 46 cards. If you don’t know what to cut, cut your worst couple ice. He will help you to draw extra ice, and then the average ice you get will be better. And the extra agendas he draws you while finding that ice, he can put back in your deck if needed.
He will make your deck better. He will perform solidly every game, and sometimes he will completely save you. Play your Snares, play your Burst Economy, find your Kill Combo, and activate your Beta Tests. Use Jackson as a super-Rework, or play mind games with the runner. Counter Noise, weaken Gabe’s early HQ pressure, and kill Kate by hitting her with recurred snares as she tries to R&D lock you, followed by double Scorch through her Plascrete.