Relight the Fire in My Heart
What follows is a dramatisation of events that definitely took place.
Simon Moon, editor in chief of Stimhack Weekly, paused outside the door. He asked himself for the fifteenth time if he really needed to fill column space this badly, but at this point he was resolute. He rapped on the door.
“Come in”, came a low voice from within.
Simon pushed open the door. The room was cramped and gloomy. A pleasant yet overbearing smell of coffee dominated Simon’s senses as he entered. The room was an office; books, software cases, playmats and odd bits of hardware were scattered all over the various surfaces, and an overstuffed bookshelf with no rhyme or reason to its sorting took up the left wall.
Against the far wall was a small rosewood desk that looked worse for wear. It wasn’t quite standing up straight, and its surface was marked with ink stains and small gouges. Off to one side a large photo of a good looking man sat. He looked young, happy and tired, clutching a glass trophy in his hand and smiling for the camera. A man with success behind him and a hopeful future ahead.
Sat at the desk was a man who matched the photo, at least superficially, though the differences were immediately obvious. He had shorter hair and was heavier set, but the mismatch went beyond the physical. The man at the desk looked sadder and more serious, his small brown eyes were like dark vortexes, consuming whatever they saw and finding it wanting. He looked like someone who’d grown more used to crushing failure than happy-go-lucky success. He also had a shitty beard. He looked up at Simon.
“What do you want”.
“Listen Vine Gary”
“Please, call me Zachary”
“Ok Zachary. Look, I need an article for Stimhack. Something meaningful and specific. Given the deep dive into Street Peddler you did a little while ago I thought you might be able to give me something good. The kind of thing that makes Stimhack deserve its reputation”.
“Isn’t Stimhack’s reputation that it’s the website you visit to find out how to join the Slack channel so that you can stay up to date with all the spiciest Netrunner memes? Face it Simon, old fashioned Netrunner journalism is dead. Its all about scoops, Tony pictures and Fetal.ai profiles now”
“Forgive me for thinking you gave a shit about good writing anymore Zach. Forgive me for thinking you gave a shit about anything. It’s not as if you’re busy being the most handsome man in Netrunner or the UK National Champion anymore. I just thought you might want to do something productive with your life for once.”
Zachary flashed a smile that contained more cynicism than mirth.
“Alright Simon. Maybe I will bring some goddamn truth to that rag you call a website. Maybe I’ll even write something worth reading. I’ve been thinking about Decoders in Andromeda a lot. Perhaps it’s time for people to learn that they don’t need to piss 5 credits up the wall breaking Tollbooth 5 times a game until their opponent has a scoring window bigger than Josh01’s ego”.
“Good. Have it on my desk by the end of the week”.
Simon began to depart the room, but he turned back just as he opened the door.
“Oh Zachary? Write a shitty piece of fiction to go with it. That’s how you get recognition on Netrunner websites nowadays. Probably spend more time on it than you do on the actual content.”
“What. What the hell is happening to the world.”
“Come on Zach, have you seen A Smile On Her Five Thousand Faces?”
For the first several years of Netrunner, criminal was the dominant competitive Runner faction, winning the first three World Championships. Criminal had powerful cards (Account Siphon and Desperado), some of the strongest ID abilities in the game in Andromeda and Gabriel Santiago, and tricks like Emergency Shutdown and Inside Job to shore up their weaknesses They were the only faction that could hope to keep up with NEH or HB fast advance with their low to the ground strategy that rewarded successful runs.
However as time went by Criminal started to slip more and more. While Shaper and Anarch received good support that made them more powerful and more consistent, Criminal continued to build decks almost entirely out of Core set and Honor and Profit cards. With the release of Clot, suddenly Shaper and Noise were better suited to beat NEH than ever before, and Criminal lost its way a little. When Dave Hoyland made 3rd at Worlds 2015 with a Leela Patel deck (now the only Criminal in the top 16, instead of one of ten), it was seen as an unlikely occurrence that was testament to his skill.
Cut forward to the present day. Blood Money gave a power boost to every Runner faction in the game with Paperclip, Rumour Mill and Beth Kilrain-Chang finding important places in multiple deck archetypes. However, in a pack of powerful Runner cards, Temüjin Contract stands head and shoulders above everything else, and it did not take long for most to realise its power. It sees play in every Runner faction, warping both Corp card selection and strategies around fighting Temüjin.
While Shaper and Anarch get plenty of power out of Temüjin Contract, it is at its best in Criminal. Other than the obvious fact that they don’t have to pay influence for it, cards like Desperado and Security Testing that reward you for running provide extra in faction mileage for this powerful resource by paying out even more money when you make successful runs.
Temüjin Contract well and truly put Criminal back on the map.
Currently the most popular and best performing Criminal list is a fairly standard “good stuff” Andromeda list. With victories in the Stimhack League and Belgian Nationals for Standard Andy, I would consider it the go-to for anybody looking to play Criminal right now.
The non-program section the deck is fairly standardised. This one comes from michiel.questier’s Belgian nationals winning deck –
2x Career Fair
1x Inside Job
3x Sure Gamble
3x Desperado ★★★
1x Kati Jones
1x The Turning Wheel ●
Getting with the program(s)
While there is some variation on some of the influence spent, and small details like how many copies of Careers Fair and Legwork are included, the core of Standard Andromeda is pretty well established. Play some resources that draw you cards and give you money, and then a suite of Criminal tricks and economy events. You can take this core and shift it around depending on your preference and expected metagame, unlikely to lose a ton of expected value if you get things a bit wrong.
However, the programs that you play are less set in stone. Deciding whether you play Datasucker, Faerie and/or Medium, and if so how many of each is extremely important. Do you play 1 Femme Fatale or not? It used to be the norm for every runner faction to splash its breakers, but Criminal is still the only faction that is essentially required to do so. While Paperclip and Mongoose are the most commonly played Fracter and Killer respectively, there are still people playing Corroder and Mimic with success. The more you’re able to skimp on spending influence on breakers, the more powerful hate cards or good multiaccess you’re allowed to play. You need to decide whether it’s worth playing a slightly suboptimal breaker suite in order to play more powerful cards, or whether you really want to devote yourself to being able to break ice efficiently.
The most difficult question of all however, is which Decoder you play. Criminal doesn’t have an in faction Decoder that universally breaks all Code Gates efficiently. While this is also true for their Ability to break Barriers, the Fracter options are much less diverse (Paperclip or Corroder basically). Mongoose and one Femme are the standard Killer options, with only Mimic and extra copies of Femme being the only enticing additions that you might consider.
I intend to evaluate all the main decoder options that Andromeda has available to her, exploring the strengths and weaknesses of each. While I ultimately have my own preference, I believe there is strong merit in many of the options.
Some of your influence spend is pretty much fixed. Given its high power level and relevance at all points of the game, you definitely want to run 3 copies of Desperado. Paperclip is probably your best Fracter at 3 influence, though you can scrimp 1 influence back if you play Corroder. You’re generally therefore going to be left with 9 influence to spend on R&D multiaccess, breakers and Datasucker, as well as any silver bullets you might want. Some R&D multiaccess is required in Standard Andromeda, so if you spend lots of influence elsewhere you’ll be left having to run Turning Wheel, a card generally considered inferior to Medium or R&D Interface.
The Datasucker Factor
Clearly you should always evaluate every card choice you make in the context of every other card in your deck, but I’d urge you to pay particular attention to whether you’re going to play Datasucker or not when you build your Criminal Icebreaker suite. When discussing each Decoder below Datasucker will be mentioned, given that some Decoders practically require it while others function just fine without it. The same is also true of various Fracters and Killers you could play. Don’t just build a program suite by picking individual cards according to your preference and assessment, be sure to build it as a whole. In addition, consider how much Cyberdex Virus Suite you expect to play against, as a breaker suite that relies on Datasucker can seriously suffer when a CVS hits you at a bad time. When reviewing a particular Decoder I will mention to what extent that Decoder goes with Datasucker.
Hold that Reddit Comment
When researching (read: asking around on Slack) this article, I heard stories of people testing basically every Decoder that isn’t Force of Nature or Leviathan in Andromeda. I didn’t want to write a paragraph on every Decoder available, and have instead chosen to only focus on the main options available to a standard Andromeda deck. Stealth Andromeda plays pretty differently to Standard Andromeda and should really be considered its own archetype, despite the fact that it plays a lot of the same cards. Faust is also an acceptable sole Decoder option, though again that’s more of an archetype in and of itself.
Played by: Every good Criminal player
- Doesn’t cost influence
- Very cheap install cost stops you taking a tempo hit when you install it
- Breaks gear-check ice efficiently and tackles taxing ice without an unpalatable cost
- Cannot be used on remotes
- Occasionally slightly inefficient when breaking ice with an odd numbered strength
Datasucker factor: Helps bring down ice strength to an even cost so aids Passport a little. This will save you 2 credits instead of the 1 credit that a Datasucker counter will usually save you.
Flavour text: 5/10. Gives us an insight into how Criminal deals with Ice in the Netrunner universe. Also mildly amusing.
Passport is an excellent Decoder. If we were playing in a meta where you never had to worry about breaking Code Gates on remotes, you’d play Passport and nothing else. People often focus on how much a breaker will cost you to break a particular piece of ice, but install costs of icebreakers rarely seem to be mentioned. A low install cost on an icebreaker allows you to keep pace with the Corp in the face of cheap gear-check ice, and is of particular interest to Andromeda, who wants to maintain her early momentum as much as possible. Given the fact that it’s in faction, I’d recommend playing a Passport in all of your Criminal decks, but the serious Central only downside forces us to include another Decoder.
Cerberus “Rex” H2
Played by: Dave Hoyland in early 2015
- Doesn’t cost influence
- Paying power counters to break subroutines makes this cheap or free to use on gearcheck ice
- Limited to 4-8 subroutine breaks
- Criminal has no good in faction cards to regain the counters on Rex
- Fairly low strength for its install cost
Datasucker factor: No particular synergies
Flavour text: 4/10. Equates to ‘this is a dog’. Why would an icebreaker need treats?
Rex has always seen a little play (Dave Hoyland has included in some of the versions of his signature Leela deck) but has never taken off. Unlike its sister Lady, Rex just doesn’t break Code Gates cheaply enough to really be worth the include, and while Shaper can Scavenge and Clone Chip back its limited breakers to its heart’s content, Criminal is forced to either play Uninstall (a bad idea), or just use it until it runs out and abandon it. If you’re playing in a metagame where you expect to mostly be winning through assaulting centrals,and just want a Decoder to threaten the occasional remote, you might want to look to Rex. You probably shouldn’t do this just because you like the idea of a bit more Influence, but should bear it in mind if there’s something you think you really need to splash. Given that it isn’t a permanent solution and has unexciting stats, I would judge Rex as simply not worth the card slot otherwise.
Played by: Bblum in the Stimhack League Finals
- Pumpable breaker with a base strength that efficiently breaks gearcheck ice
- Very efficient against stacked high strength code gates
- High influence cost
- Pricey install cost
Datasucker factor: No particular synergies
Flavour text: 6/10. The name, art and flavour text are a decent historical reference, though the text itself basically amounts to saying ‘this is an icebreaker’.
Gordian Blade is probably the most commonly used Decoder in Criminal since the beginning of Netrunner. If you expect to be running through a lot of code gates on both centrals and remotes and expect to see multiple code gates on the same server at least occasionally, you can play Gordian Blade with no other support and be happy with it. However, Gordian has a fairly high asking price. We take our first hit from it in deckbuilding, where we’re forced to pay 3 influence to simply break one ice type in a faction that often finds itself short on influence. Additionally, the 4 install cost is going to be a real pain in the early game, where we’re forced to take a decent credit hit in order to give us a way to break Enigmas and Quandaries. However, given its universal applicability, I would still tend toward Gordian Blade if I wasn’t playing Datasucker. You might be leaving Datasucker on the bench because most of your expected Corp opponents will be locking down Centrals and ambushing you with Cyberdex Virus Suites. In these situations the Influence might be better spent elsewhere.
Played by: Basically no one but Andrew Xenasis Hynes likes it and Josh01 has been running it in his Leela Patel deck.
- Doesn’t cost influence
- Can break any code gate
- Extremely inefficient against most of the code gates in the game. There are a few exceptions like Tollbooth and Turing however.
Datasucker factor: Like Passport, Datasucker has some synergy here in helping you avoid paying for the strength increase for code gates with either 3-4 strength, or preventing you from paying it twice for strength 6-7 code gates.
Flavour text: 7/10. I assume this is a meta joke about the card’s inefficient break numbers. Nice and punchy.
Peacock is often characterised as ‘unplayably bad’, and at first sight is one of the weakest breakers in the game. However, it does possess some unique upsides. It doesn’t cost any influence, and it can break every code gate for the rest of the game. The 2 credits per subroutine is the worst thing about Peacock, meaning you’ll pay a ludicrous 4 credits to break an Enigma. While 2 credits for +3 strength is more efficient than 1 credit for +1 strength when broken down, it’s still pretty awkward when looking at the strength of the commonly used code gates in practice.
However, if you don’t think you’ll be breaking many code gates on remotes and intend to use Passport on centrals, you might want to consider Peacock as an influence-free option. I’d recommend it over Rex in these scenarios. Temujin has left Criminal pretty rich, so occasionally paying over the standard rate isn’t the end of the world. I wouldn’t recommend playing this card right now, but I’d bear it in mind when deck building, particularly if you find yourself short on influence. Peregrine may have deprived Peacock of this upside however.
Played by: No one yet
- Doesn’t cost influence
- Fairly efficient against most gates
- Derez ability is powerful if the Corp is poor
- Awkward strength pump
- High install cost
Datasucker factor: As with Passport, Datasucker can sometimes bring Ice with awkward strengths into a number than Peregrine cleanly breaks.
Flavour text: 3/10. I have no idea what purpose the flavour text is serving here
Peregrine was only spoiled the day this article was written, so it’s currently an unknown quantity. Obviously its closest comparison is to Golden, but I’ve never played that card and have barely played against it, so the similarity isn’t much help. I do think that Peregrine’s numbers are pretty good, and it may have potential in Standard Andromeda. Against Gates with strength 1-2 or 5 (about the most common gate strengths) it equals Gordian numbers, and the extra 1 on install cost is probably worth the 3 saved influence in that case. The more Gates with strengths that force you to pay over the rate on Peregrine’s boost cost (DNA Tracker, Magnet and Lotus Field being good examples), the more likely you are to want to leave this on the bench. Datasucker can get around this problem, but I’m not particularly happy to pay 5 credits for a Decoder that wants Datasucker support.
The derez ability isn’t a major upside on standard Andromeda. You aren’t playing a credit denial game here, and paying 7 to use the ability and reinstall Peregrine will often not be worth the cost of whatever you derez. However it is a unique effect among Decoders, and there may be games in which the Corp struggles with econ and you use this and Siphon to stay ahead. I wouldn’t put Peregrine in my deck for the derez ability right now, but it’s clearly decent upside. Peregrine might be the best Decoder to supplement Passport if you don’t want to spend any Influence on Decoders, and I for one plan to test it.
Played by: michiel.questier at Belgian Nationals
- Breaks code gates for 0 credits, so it straight up blanks a lot of code gates
- High base strength
- Strength cannot be increased
- High install cost
- A purge on Datasucker counters has the potential to lock you out of servers.
- Can’t break Lotus Field even with Datasucker, forcing you to use Net Ready Eyes or Personal Touch.
Datasucker factor: Required. Playing Yog.0 without Datasucker is extremely foolhardy due to its fixed strength.
Flavour text: 7/10. This might not be acceptable if printed today, but in Core set it was a good indicator of how Anarchs break into servers in the fiction. The part about changing the gate isn’t that funny, but it’s pretty good advice I guess.
Yog.0’s ability to break low strength ice for zero credits amounts to mass ice destruction. Given the economy provided by successful runs from Desperado, Security Testing and Temujin, Andromeda particularly appreciates free runs. If you’re able to draw Datasucker early and get in a lot of good early runs and use Yog.0 to break every gate without much issue, you’re incredibly far ahead. The gates that require Datasucker counters to break tend not to be much of an issue due to the fairly high base strength and zero break cost. If the Corp clicks to purge virus counters you’re often able to use Security Testing and Temujin to generate money while regaining Datasucker counters. It’s definitely the Decoder with the most enticing best case scenario.
However, Yog.0 has some serious downsides. For a start it requires you to play at least 2 Datasuckers in your build, adding up to a total spend of 4 influence with the current Most Wanted List. There’s a chance you won’t see Datasucker and without a way to search your deck and get it you may end up losing to agendas being rushed out behind a high strength code gate like Tollbooth. Additionally some Corp decks are well prepared to slowly lock down centrals behind high strength code gates like Ravana and Archangel in order to cut you off from gaining Datasucker counters. There’s also the install cost to grapple with. Not only do you need to break 4 subroutines on small code gates like Quandary before you’ve spent less credits over using Passport, you also take a serious hit to your tempo when you install Yog. If you have fewer than 6 credits, Special Ordering for a Yog which you install just to get into a central to gain some Temujin money is going to take a lot of clicks. Obviously this is true for all high cost Decoders like Peregrine and Gordian Blade, but it’s sometimes overlooked with regards to Yog.0 because of Yog’s 0 credit break ability.
Yog is one of the hardest decoders to evaluate because it’s very swingy. In a metagame where you expect a good volume of low strength gates and easily accessible Centrals, it’s a fantastic include. The more the meta tends towards better defended centrals and stronger code gates, the more likely you are to want something else. Be prepared to play aggressively if you do include Yog in your deck, and try to find Datasucker and gather those counters as soon as possible.
ZU.13 Key Master
Played by: Laurie Poulter at Nordic Nationals
- Negligible influence cost
- If you’re playing Sports Hopper, the Cloud ability can sometimes be relevant
- Low install cost
- Low base strength makes even gear check Gates a little taxing sometimes, and big gates a problem
- Stacked Code Gates will seriously tax the low base strength
Datasucker factor: Not required, but the low base strength could do with some help.
Flavour text: 8/10. An amusing insight into how this particular Icebreaker functions in the fiction. Also totes adorbs
Zu.13 isn’t a card that anyone loves, but finds its way into decks fairly often. If you’re not looking to play a breaker that has quite a few drawbacks like Peacock and Rex, but don’t want to spend too much influence, Zu is a great go-to. I’ve already mentioned that I’m a fan of low install cost breakers because of tempo, and Zu’s install cost of 1 makes it great in the early game. The strength of 1 is sometimes awkward given that Enigma and Magnet are fairly commonly played gear check ice that Zu must pump to break. If your opponent plans to tax you out on a Tollbooth or double Turing remote, Zu is quickly going to make things difficult for you. The more likely you are to face Glacier decks and decks with lots of high strength gates generally, the more I’d move away from Zu. However in a meta with little more than gear check gates, I’d be tending toward running it. A rig with Datasucker and Zu is very serviceable if you find the extra influence, install cost and lockout potential of Yog.0 to be a problem.
I’m not going to tell you which Decoder you should run and which one you shouldn’t, because there are a ton of meta dependant factors and I’m not confident myself. Right now my preference is Yog and Datasucker, but the decision is both difficult and important enough that I’d reevaluate my choice before every event.
Always consider the metagame when building your breaker suite, both the overall meta as defined by the current strongest and most popular cards and factions, and the specific meta that you predict on the day of your tournament. At the time of the article, the Code Gates that should be most prominent when making your choices are Tollbooth and Archangel out of NBN, Turing and various Fairchilds out of HB, and Enigma and Quandry from everyone. Lotus Field and DNA Tracker are also looking to be fairly popular cards going forward. Don’t just consider these pieces of Ice as they stand, but how you’re likely to play against the Corps that run them. Getting Datasucker counters is usually not too difficult against CTM or NEH, but tends to be more challenging against Sol and Engineering the Future. These are just a few of the considerations you’ll have to bear in mind.
Hopefully my discussion of the options has helped you to better understand the factors going into your decision, and what you might be giving up or embracing when you make your choice.
Thanks to Hermit, higgs_bozo and Clercqie for their help with proofreading and editing.
No thanks at all to Simonmoon