Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) somewhat stealthily released a new FAQ/Tournament Rules update as a New Year’s Eve gift. It was the type of move one expects from politicians, or an evil megacorp. One would expect such a release to quietly contain some nefarious information. Well, the main information contained within, the NAPD Most Wanted List (MWL), was neither quietly received, nor nefarious. The largest rules modification since the inception of the game, the MWL represents new lead developer Damon Stone’s first, massive fingerprint on the game.
Despite my paltry 39th place finish at Worlds 2015, a few foolish folk still consider me a ‘top player’ in the game. To feed those delusions, and to get my know-it-all opinions out of my head, I decided that an article was in order. As with anything I write, these are my opinions and ideas, and do not reflect on the Stimhack leadership at large. None of this is hard fact. Let the cartoons… begin.
– The MWL is a good decision
Let us begin with the conclusion. tl; dr – Yes, I like the MWL. It’s a bit heavy-handed, but needed. Core 2.0 isn’t happening, so, this is as close as we’ll get.
As beautiful and near perfect an initial set for a game can be, the Core Set has its issues. 3.5 years in, and a number of the best cards in the game, for their card type, come from the Core. Having played the game from the outset, there were numerous times that were opportunities for some type of list, whether that involved restricted cards, banned cards, errata, etc. After Gencon/Worlds 2013 was the first point that it could have been addressed. Siphon, Anarch programs, and fast advance (FA) were kings, and yet issues remained due to a lack of a list. Instead, we saw magic bullets being printed, such as Sealed Vault. These do little to nothing to slow down Andromeda. Early anti-FA tools like The Source were also ineffective and poorly designed, not doing anything to stop the proliferation of FA. NBN FA decks only got better, as they continued to gain better and better cards. Until Clot, Crisium Grid, and Cyberdex Virus Suite, quality counters to the decks listed above did not exist.
If you look through the actions taken since Core, you will note they all came in card form. I love Lukas Litzinger’s design, as it has been quite elegant. However, since Core, it has also been quite safe. Perhaps too safe. In a game without a sideboard, any meta-specific counter cards will take up valuable deck space, and maybe even eat up even more valued Influence. These ‘magic bullets’ were what Lukas went with, and in general didn’t work that well. For a specific help card to be effective, or see play, it has to be pretty strong at what it does, or be multiple purpose. Jackson Howard worked so well because he not only was the best defense against Agenda flooding, but he also allowed for better card draw (while also posing as a threat in a server). Most of the counters printed weren’t versatile enough to see play, especially in Corporation decks, where deck slots are highly valued, due to the slots eaten by Agendas.
Netrunner (ANR) is an LCG, which is the main reason I got into it. One problem with the format is the slow drip of cards, leading to sluggish meta changes. Although card rotation was introduced, it is still in the future, and not on a quick enough schedule to make much difference, especially immediately. However strong a ‘magic bullet’ is, it may not even come quick enough to address problems. A flexible list dealing with issues is more immediate, it’s maleable, and practical.
– The MWL is not a surprise
The points stated above show a pattern in Lukas’ design. As long as he led the game’s direction, something akin to the MWL was never coming. It is unsure whether Lukas felt like it was admitting failure to produce such a list, or that answers existed in his already released designs. However, after Worlds 2014, and the lack of any kind of non-card answers coming forth to address what I (and many others) thought were problems, it confirmed to me that no list would ever come from Lukas.
When it was announced that Damon would soon be taking over the game, hope for such a list came alive in my cold, mostly dead heart. Most competitive card games see some sort of list come forth at some point in their life. The fact that ANR has not seen one 3.5 years into its life has been touted by most as a great success by Lukas and his team. I would agree, but its absence was not because it was not needed. Damon has run other games, and lists of some sort existed in those games. It should be noted that a number of the reasons for those lists were self-inflicted wounds for Damon. However, the fact that he was quick to respond to broken cards and combos gave me faith in him.
At Worlds 2015, right before the lunch break, Damon Stone approached me as I was chatting with someone, and admired my case (a b-day gift from my brother). While I showed it off, and noted its features, I stated I had a few things I wished to discuss with him. It was the first time I saw him at an FFG Worlds, and wanted to get a few minutes of his time now that he had taken over the game. We chatted about the future of the game, and I put forth my desire for some sort of restricted/banned/errata list, which his predecessor wasn’t as open to. He basically put forth that all options are available, and will be reviewed. I am sure he knew this was already in the works, and just needed some metrics from Worlds to solidify his thoughts, and was laughing internally at our discussion.
-The MWL is far from perfect
So, I like the MWL. Well, most of it. Most of the items on it are from sets that will not see rotation. One, Eli 1.0, is just too efficient for 1 Influence (INF), but it will be the first on the list that will cycle out. It is understandable why non-rotating items would hit the MWL first, as they are and could remain to be issues. Let us look at the Runner cards first.
–Clone Chip, Lady, Prepaid Voicepad
Danwarr on the Stimhack forums joked that the MWL is essentially an attack on the decks I played in the past year or more, and hence a war on spags. That led to my new forum title of ‘NAPD Enemy No. 1’. As one of the founders of the current PPVP ‘Calimsha’ Kate deck, I understand Danwarr’s thought. However, I was going to retire from Kate, before the MWL hit, as I was sick of her and PPVP. It is obvious Damon is sick of PPVP, as well, and decided to destroy it instead of fixing the real problem, Kate. PPVP was not used much outside of Kate, as it does take a number of uses to start turning a profit on it. It is understandable that such a potential powerful economy engine could limit future design of Event cards. However, I don’t believe PPVP was the issue. Generic cards, such as Kate and Engineering the Future (ETF) from the Core, are the real issue. As long as they, or things like Near-Earth Hub (NEH) exist, they will remain the gold standard for their faction. Damon maybe should take note of the ubiquity of Kate and ETF compared to other IDs used in their factions at Worlds, as opposed to PPVP.
PPVP is dead, which is fine. Magnum Opus was back on the rise in such builds as the Security Nexus Kate decks, and other econ options, like Daine’s Congress and its tidal wave of drip creds, exist. Note the common ID between these quite different decks. The MWL has reinforced that a Core 2.0, or Core reprint, or even Core erratas, are not forthcoming. FFG is not in the card game business; they’re in the game business. They don’t want to touch their Core product, and that’s fine. The INF system in ANR is elegant, and works really well. The MWL is a great way to utilize INF to modify the meta landscape. This does not currently have a method for dealing with IDs, and, I do not believe they think they are an issue. As a result, the many suffer for the few.
Clone Chip (CC) and Lady are cards that needed addressing. The speed, cost, INF, and blanket power CC provides are problematic. Combined with another MWL member, Parasite, and any faction can have easy and cheap ICE destruction. This led to low strength ICE like Rototurret leaving the game completely, as it was not worth 4 creds to rez something that instantly died. Also, Destroyer ICE really lost its luster when running through them wasn’t as big a concern. Lady was similarly environ warping. As mediohxcore stated multiple times, it was not worth running more than 3 Barriers in a deck, and even then only certain types of Barriers, due to the existence of Lady. That is really sad for the game, and I am glad it was addressed. Lady breaks the ‘color wheel’ of ANR, making it far too easy for Shapers to break Barriers. It should have probably cost 1 more credit to install, with a base Strength (STR) of 1. That was a mistake with the Dog breakers, not making them uniform. That problem was corrected with Sunny’s suite of breakers, making them all of them have the same base STR and ability.
It is about time for Yog. People note that it hasn’t been an issue for a while, but that is because it exists! Like Lady, it had warped the environment so hard that people ignored small Code Gates for some time now. Finally, it broke the ‘color wheel’, from the outset. The 5 cost is nice, but nothing should break for zero creds like it does. An analogue in faction, Morningstar, at least spends 1 credit per ICE. Like many of the base Anarch breakers (Mimic, Corroder), I felt it needed one more INF to balance it.
Parasite is a great card, but maybe too great. Did I ever tell you how I once cut down 2 Wotans in a game with Parasites? Or, the time at a Plugged In tour stop where I had a Heimdall 2.0 Parasite’d on turn 2, and eventually double Parasite’d, and I told my opponent I wouldn’t let it die, and it didn’t? He was Noise, and eventually died on a desperate Stimhack. Great memories, Parasite. However, at its INF, it was too easy a package to export, allowing all factions to easily destroy ICE. Shaper only needed one, and could recur away. Criminals needed 2 or 3, but, with another cheap INF problem, Datasucker, that was no issue. The heavy usage of Parasite saw such ICE as Komainu, Rototurret, and the NEXT ICE, all ICE I have used well in the past, leave the game. I’m sure Damon’s hope is that things like that can now return, and will.
I think this was included so that Criminal had to be hit somehow. Plus, Desperado has the Kate/ETF problem, in that all future consoles, especially in faction, had to be held up against it. They either had to be super-niche, or be more powerful. Lukas wasn’t going to let the latter happen. Therefore, Desperado was pretty much the only Crim console. “You’re running Doppleganger? Wouldn’t that deck just be better with Desperado?” I even Top 16’d Worlds 2013 with Kate AND Desperado. That’s how good that card is, even at 3 INF.
Time for Corp cards. I will try to remain as brief as I can. This is already pushing 2000 words. Sorry about that.
–Astroscript Pilot Program, SanSan City Grid
We may not know what Lukas’ fave Runner color was, but it’s fairly obvious that yellow was his preferred hue on the Corp side. NBN continued to get strong help, both econ and FA-wise, and that was with them being the last to receive a ‘big box’ expansion. Perhaps that was even the design team’s argument for why they continued to get showered with love. Well, explain that to Weyland.
NBN also has had the joy of having an INF-free Jackson Howard in faction, which has essentially given every deck of theirs 3 free INF. I don’t see any NBN deck not running Astro, even going forward, so, they are just paying for Howard now. That is fine.
We all are aware that Jinteki is Damon’s baby, and notice the lack of their cards or tools on the MWL. I am fine with the moves here, as well. Trick of Light and Biotic Labor still are untouched. Damon didn’t throw tons of shade onto FA. He was just sick of seeing it everywhere at major tourneys. I decry that FA is still strong. Losing 5-6 INF can hurt, but NEH can weather that. Plus, some decks, like SYNC, don’t even run SanSan. They can shed some other toys to pay for Astro, and keep on rolling. If anything, slowing down FA was mainly done by Kate and Clot. By decelerating her with PPVP’s demise, FA may actually have a stronger shot now. Time will tell if this is true, but, from testing my post-MWL NEHFA deck, I can say that it’s still pretty damn great. Hell, I had already moved on from two other cards, Eli and Architect, at Worlds ’15. I’m ready.
–Architect, Eli 1.0, NAPD Contract
I was never a fan of NAPD Contract. It should have been a Weyland card, and provided a nice, anti-Bad Publicity alternate for the green team. Instead, it became the only 4/2 Agenda people ran. Giving it a 1 INF cost really helps, bringing it in line with other neutral agendas like Global Food Initiative (GFI) and Vanity Project. Neutral Agendas in general can become a problem, due to their availability. I wouldn’t be surprised if GFI hit the MWL at some point in the future.
FFG touts that they give away the greatest prize in card gaming. No, it’s not cash, trips, product, or a full body massage. It is the ability to create your own card! However, it cannot be an ID, an avatar of yourself. That would be too cool. It can have your likeness on it! That’s cool. It can’t be too powerful. That would lead to it eventually being sought by the authorities, and relegated to nigh obscurity in the toilet. I loved Architect, running 3 in my NEH at Worlds 2014. It is really strong, indestructible, not easy to run through, and only 2 INF. It is no surprise it is getting hit. Eli 1.0 is in a similar vein, but at even less INF. The fact both are on the MWL are not shocking, but they do hurt HB a bit. I think the desire of Damon’s is to make people reexamine old cards, and actually use them. Also, he is trying to future proof here, and I appreciate that.
–The MWL is here to stay
I am really looking forward to the Mumbad Cycle, and hope that the MWL will open up deckbuilding options before going into the cycle. The Store Championship season just got a lot more exciting to me, and I hope to see more variety than 2015. People may have a number of gripes with Damon’s past LCGs designs, but, this is a great step forward. He is addressing known issues, and is open to change, both to the game and the MWL itself. The MWL was a better result than a restricted/banned list, and, short of errata, it was a nice solution. All hail our new overlord, Damon Stone.