Exploring a Stalling Metagame: Nasir Meidan StimShop

The following article is by El-Ad David Amir. El-Ad is a longtime contributor to the Netrunner community. He is known for his long, detailed posts on Boardgamegeek.com. Today, in his first article for Stimhack, he goes over the Nasir deck he has been experimenting with since Worlds.

I would like to thank Chris Padfield for his proofreading and insightful comments.

Introduction

One of the main trends that can be seen in the Worlds 2014 deck lists is the lack of faction diversity on both sides of the table: NBN and Criminal are about 40% of the field. An observation that I found more interesting, however, is that while Corps feature at least some of the newer identities (Blue Sun, Near-Earth Hub, and Tennin are all in the top 16), Runners stick with the tried and true: you have to go down to rank 19 to find the first post-Genesis identity (Kit), and to rank 33 to find Whizzard. Corp players have been innovating with new identities and sometimes strategies (such as RP Glacier and Tennin FA). Runners? Runners still play Katman and AndySucker. While in the past year Katman adopted Prepaid VoicePAD and burst economy, the winning Andromeda list featured no cards from Spin Cycle or Lunar Cycle. I would even argue that it features only one central component from Honor and Profit (Security Testing), and that set was supposed to redefine Criminal. Runners are playing the same game they played last year. No wonder their win rate was so low.

This stagnation lead me to three hypotheses:

1) Fantasy Flight Games has not released any cards that support new strategies or are better than those printed in Core Set and Genesis.

2) Players found new Runner strategies but are hiding them (or just not sharing them).

3) The Netrunner community has not explored the card pool enough to identify new Runner strategies.

The truth is probably a mix of these three – I could think of anecdotes that support all of them. As far as I am concerned, however, I am willing to admit my contribution (or lack thereof) to the third point. In the months leading to the Canadian National Championship and Worlds 2014 I focused on training and improving with existing archetypes (AstroBiotics and AndySucker) rather than exploring other possibilities. Now that the pressure of the large tournaments is gone, the time is right to try some new ideas. Anarch is an obvious choice, considering that Order and Chaos is on the horizon, and indeed I have been working on a Quetzal deck that utilizes spoiled cards such as Steelskin and Day Job. As the title of this post implies, Nasir Meidan is another option.

 

Showing Solidarity

Nasir

I had three reasons to go with Nasir. First, he has an unusual ability which is different from any other identity – I would argue that only Blue Sun and Noise change the flow of the game as much as Nasir. That lead me to believe that he could adopt an innovative playstyle and move away from the status quo. Secondly, from an economic perspective, Nasir can make a lot of credits. I expect Kate to make twelve to fifteen credits a game. In the right matchup Nasir could get twenty or even more. Finally, according to Damon Stone, Nasir (pronounced NAA-s-er) is half-Arab, half-Jewish, which means that we have a shared heritage! This last fact lead to the deck’s name, Solidarity.

Thanks to the Shaper tutor trinity of Self-modifying Code, Test Run, and Clone Chip, there are many potential directions to take with the build. Two popular options seem to be adapting the existing powerful Katman archetype, or going down the Stealth and recurring credits route (with Lockpick, Cloak, Refractor, and either Dagger or Switchblade). I felt that neither the “slow and steady” Desperado Katman build nor the burst-y Prepaid VoicePAD version fit Nasir’s swingy temperament. As for stealth, I could not see how I find influence for Silencer (which seemed to be a prerequisite for Switchblade), and decided that without that Killer the time necessary to assemble the rig does not justify the efficiency gain. I wanted to pursue some other design.

Instead, I decided to rely on Personal Workshop (a Nasir staple) and follow a StimShop route where Stimhack credits are used to fuel Personal Workshop and Self-modifying Code. Nasir’s ability serves as a recurring alternative to Stimhack: you use the credits gained from rezzed ice to assemble your rig. In the early-game, you might not have credits to tutor for one of the big breakers before Nasir wipes your pool, so I added cheap silver bullets such as Deus X, Cyber-cypher, and D4v1d, all of which provide the added bonus that you can run much more aggressively than standard StimShop. I supplemented these with three copies of Ghost Runner, a later addition that proved to be highly beneficial in trashing assets, stealing taxing agendas (such as NAPD Contract), and getting the last few credits for breaking ice. Two copies of Magnum Opus provide a mid to late-game economy boost, though they come earlier against low-Ice Corp builds such as Near-Earth Hub fast-advance or Cambridge Jinteki (a Personal Evolution build that uses Ronin and ambushes to kill the runner).

 

Decklist

Note: I initially planned to wait a while longer before writing this guide, as I don’t feel I played enough with the deck. I would have preferred to play at least 50 games before posting. However, several commentators on NetrunnerDB.com and Twitter pointed out that partial observations are better than nothing. You’re welcome to take the following with a grain of salt.

Solidarity v0.11

Nasir Meidan: Cyber Explorer (Upstalk)

Event (4)
2x Scavenge (Creation and Control)
2x Stimhack (Core Set) ••

Hardware (12)
2x Astrolabe (Up and Over)
3x Clone Chip (Creation and Control)
2x CyberSolutions Mem Chip (Fear and Loathing)
2x Plascrete Carapace (What Lies Ahead)
3x R&D Interface (Future Proof)

Resource (12)
3x Earthrise Hotel (The Source)
3x Ghost Runner (The Spaces Between)
2x Order of Sol (First Contact)
3x Personal Workshop (Cyber Exodus)
1x Utopia Shard (All That Remains) •

Icebreaker (8)
1x Cerberus “Lady” H1 (All That Remains)
1x Cyber-Cypher (Creation and Control)
1x Deus X (A Study in Static)
1x Femme Fatale (Core Set) •
1x Gordian Blade (Core Set)
1x Inti (Creation and Control)
1x Mimic (Core Set) •
1x Sharpshooter (True Colors)

Program (9)
1x Crescentus (A Study in Static) •
1x D4v1d (The Spaces Between) ••••
1x Imp (What Lies Ahead) •••
2x Magnum Opus (Core Set)
1x Parasite (Core Set) ••
3x Self-modifying Code (Creation and Control)

15 influence spent (max 15)
45 cards (min 45)
Cards up to The Source

Decklist published on http://netrunnerdb.com.

Rules clarification: The Corp chooses to rez ice when the Runner approaches it. Nasir’s ability triggers when he encounters the ice. There is a paid-ability window during approach. Therefore, after the Corp rezzes but before Nasir triggers he can spend his credits on Personal Workshop or Self-Modifying Code.

 

General Gameplay

My baseline for a Shaper identity is Kate “Mac” McCaffrey. Kate’s ability provides twelve to fifteen credits over an average game. My take on Nasir reaches 20-24 against Glacier decks such as Blue Sun and Replicating Perfection Glacier, but plummets to 5-8 against low-Ice decks. The mean seems to be about the same but the variation is higher. Setting aside the actual amount, Nasir provides a significant advantage over Kate: the credits are received earlier in the game and in large chunks rather than one at a time over many turns. This makes him an extremely efficient rig builder that can run and crack servers (remotes included) while setting up. When the money dries up Magnum Opus shows up to keep the party going.

This Nasir build wants to run. Ideally, you would set up Personal Workshop or empty your credit pool on Earthrise, Order of Sol, or Astrolabe, then start probing the Corp’s centrals. You’ll either get credits or free accesses, both of which help you win. Against a Corp reluctant to rez ICE, R&D Interface is usually enough incentive to force a rez on R&D.Imp and Utopia Shard serve a similar purpose on HQ. Once Self-Modifying Code hits the table, you can break a surprising variety of ice with little to no credits. Furthermore, by floating a small pool in preparation for Nasir’s ability you could tutor for a more efficient solution, making your life easier and allowing you to keep more change from the ice you encounter. You should expect to take risks, some of which might end up being painful (such as facechecking an Architect or Galahad with a Merlin splice). Fortunately, Shaper is robust enough to let you bounce back.

Here is a characteristic run. Nasir has eight credits, “Lady”, Self-Modifying Code, and Order of Sol. He installs Earthrise Hotel, going down to four credits. He then runs HQ, which has an Eli 1.0 and an unrezzed piece of Ice. The Corp rezzes Lotus Field. Nasir uses Self-Modifying Code to fetch Cyber-cypher. He’s at zero credits, so Order of Sol triggers, giving him a credit. He then encounters Lotus Field, loses his credit and gains five. He pays one to break Lotus Field, one and a “Lady” counter to break Eli 1.0, and installs Utopia Shard in lieu of accessing. Nasir still has three credits, but now Cyber-cypher is on the table and HQ is vulnerable (with Utopia Shard waiting). Notice that a lot has happened, so attentive bookkeeping is important to make sure that triggers such as Order of Sol are acknowledged at the right time.

The tricky part of mid-run rig building is figuring out which component you should retrieve in order to solve the problem at hand. Your goal is to use pre-encounter credits to get the most expensive icebreaker that solves the current ice and save as much of the post-encounter credits for later ice and future installations. Early on most of the ice will be unrezzed and you should be able to assault all servers equally well. Eventually, though, the game will reach a tipping point where you need to stockpile credits before running, allowing the Corp to create a scoring window by rezzing a piece of ice to empty your stash and block you out of servers. You need to set up and apply as much pressure as possible before that point is reached. When it does arrive you still have a couple of tricks up your sleeve (such as Stimhack, Ghost Runner, and Crescentus), but usually by then you got a few stolen agendas and you’re aiming for an R&D lock.

 

Card-by-Card Choices

Personal Workshop is your main workhorse. With Workshop on the table, you can usually reach maximum efficiency with Nasir’s ability, spending all of your credits before they reset. You should always have something on the Workshop, such as R&D Interface, Gordian Blade, “Lady”, or Femme Fatale. Remember to balance counters and watch out for memory: when the last counter is removed, whatever is there must be installed. Finally, Blue Sun is adopting Elizabeth Mills as a popular choice, so tread carefully and don’t pile too much stuff, or it all might go down in flames.

Stimhack serves two purposes. First, you can use the nine credits to fuel the Workshop, installing hardware and programs much earlier than possible otherwise. Similarly, you can use Stimhack funds for tutoring with Self-modifying Code, and it is one of your main vectors of installing Magnum Opus against a low-ice deck or if most ice has been rezzed. Second, the Corp might use an outermost piece of ice to lock you out of servers. With Stimhack, you can float credits, run the server, let the identity ability reset your pool, and then Stimhack in.

When combined with Workshop, Order of Sol is a powerful source of drip economy. Since it triggers every turn, you could empty your pool, get your Sol credit, then use it on the Corp’s turn to get another credit. It also works in combination with Nasir’s ability, giving you a bonus credit when encountering a newly rezzed piece of ice. Timing is everything when joining Sol and you should think carefully about your turn order. Oftentimes you will want to install something, get the free credit, then click for Magnum Opus. Similarly, you might tutor with Self-modifying Code, trigger the Order of Sol, and only then run. The ability is mandatory, and deciding whether you want the bonus credit before or after encounter could be the difference between a successful run and a failed one. One last tip regarding the Order, both Stimhack and Bad Publicity are credits that are seen by the Order. Make sure your bookkeeping is accurate.

Ghost Runner is a source of backup funds (with the added bonus of confusing the Corp into thinking you might have stealth). It faithfully persists when Nasir’s ability resets your credit pool. As a rule of thumb, you should never use Ghost Runner unless you absolutely have to. Its chief purpose is to trash troublesome assets such as Ash 2X3ZB9CY and SanSan City Grid, and to steal NAPD Contract, Fetal AI, and The Future Perfect. Rarely you might use it to trash a Jackson Howard off R&D, though that’s a painful decision to make. A secondary use for Ghost Runner is to block certain painful but cheap ice that happen to be popular, such as Architect.

There comes a time at any Shaper’s lives where they install Magnum Opus. The most difficult decision with Nasir is when to install it. Too early and you’re susceptible to program trashing that would cost you time and could force you to waste a Clone Chip. Too late, and you’ll have to click for credits or burn a Stimhack to install the Magnum. Generally speaking, Magnum comes later against glacier decks since they provide you with the credits for their own destruction. On the other hand, against decks that rely on asset economy and/or cheap or low ice, you should get Magnum as early as possible. One interesting exception: installing Magnum and running on turn one is a dangerous trick that could lead to great payoffs. The main danger is Rototurret – if you think you can dodge it (or if you have a Self-modifying Code available), you might want to go for it.

Two final components of the deck’s economy are Earthrise Hotel and Astrolabe. Both of these provide precious card draw. A great turn one is to book your room at the Hotel and then start running centrals (with one credit remaining, or zero if you install a Clone Chip or Astrolabe). You might facecheck something painful, but more often than not you’ll get some credits and just end the run. The draw drip from Earthrise is the oil in your deck’s gears. Astrolabe provides a nice memory boost, allowing you to keep Magnum Opus, Self-modifying Code, and a breaker, and usually gives you two to three cards per game (potentially more if your opponent is playing horizontally).

You might have noticed that four of the deck’s economic pillars are resources, Workshop and Order of Sol chief among them. As a result, it is extremely susceptible to tag-based strategies. You do not want to float tags as the Corp will probably trash your valuable resources. If you see that tags are starting to fly, you might want to consider getting Magnum earlier.

Your main win condition is R&D Interface. This is an R&D lock deck: you want to apply pressure and threaten the remote long enough to get as many Interfaces on the table and run R&D often enough to guarantee that the Corp will never draw another agenda. As a rule of thumb, you need 17 R&D accesses on average to get from zero to seven points. While the game usually ends beforehand, having that late-game option is crucial to make sure Nasir’s ability does not become a liability. Installing an early R&D Interface is a great threat to get more R&D ice rezzed, providing you with funds for building a rig.

The deck revolves around your toolbelt: a variety of one-ofs that can solve various situations. Before we talk about them, though, we should discuss Self-modifying Code. This beautiful flower gives you immediate and repeating access to the programs in your deck. When you approach a piece of ice, oftentimes you’d be doing the math on how to use Self-modifying Code to solve it. It is also your route for fetching one of the two copies of Magnum in the deck. Clone Chip provides trashing protection, recycles your various one-ofs (such as Parasite and Sharpshooter), gives you a second shot at Self-modifying Code, and works with Stimhack to pull expensive programs like Femme Fatale and Magnum Opus. While SMC and Clone Chip are amazing, you should remember that you only have three of each. Make sure you use them well – balance them with drawing cards the standard way (Earthrise should help). Drawing a program and getting it through Workshop is often superior to cracking a Self-modifying Code.

To your icebreakers, then! You have ten cards that get you into servers. Each of them targets a relatively narrow band of ice, with some overlap between them.

Your most diverse tool is Gordian Blade, your central decoder and a great solution to Enigma, Lotus Field, and other code gates. The Blade is one of the few icebreakers in the game with “until the end of the run” ability, which means you can use your approach credits to boost it and your encounter credits to break (which is why both Lotus Field and Tollbooth give you a change of four credits after breaking them). Cyber-Cypher serves as a secondary decoder, usually in the early game, since you can install it with just four credits (two less than the Blade for higher strength).

You have Cerberus “Lady” H1 to take care of barriers. “Lady” is especially attractive since you do not need to pay credits to break subroutines, letting you run with no credits against cheaper ice. She is also efficient versus many popular pieces of ice such as Eli 1.0. Inti is your cheap backup fracter – it’s great against Wraparound, Ice Wall, and boosts strength until the end of the run (which again means you can use approach credits).

Sentries are the most challenging pieces of ice to break, and four slots are allotted to fight them. Mimic is there for several vicious, early-game ice: Architect, Caduceus, and Rototurret are good examples. Femme Fatale usually replaces it later on, as you can use your ample Magnum credits to boost it. The Femme counter is often reserved for extremely large sentries (Archer), Tollbooth and Data Raven, and Komainu, though you might use it for other targets. Last but not least, you have two silver bullets: Deus X takes care of Komainu, Tsurugi, various Bioroids (such as Viktor 2.0 and Heimdall 1.0), rarely Wall of Thorns, and also offers protection against Personal Evolution shenanigans like a killing Ronin blow. Sharpshooter is the cheapest way to defend against destroyers, including Archer, Grim, and Ichi 1.0 – with a Self-modifying Code, Sharpshooter usually means you have perfect coverage against such tactics.

The final components of your icebreaker suite are two wonderful Anarch toys. Parasite could save you a lot of money by sniping Pop-up Window and Pup before Nasir drains his credits on them. You could also use it as a solution to tricky low-strength ice such as Komainu, or as an emergency pull to take care of Rototurret or Quandary. D4v1d is a surprise move that gives the Corp all sorts of headache – letting you pass Tollbooth for three credits, sail through Archer and Grim unharmed, and cheat Oversight AI shenanigans.

Two programs (and one resource!) offer additional manipulation and round up your icebreaking capabilities. Imp lets you trash cards even if your credit pool is gone (as with Ghost Runner) and prime targets are SanSan City Grid and Ash. It also lets you take care of an advanced NAPD Contract, making sure the Corp cannot score it. Imp makes HQ more vulnerable and could convince the Corp to rez their ice there even if they’re holding no agendas by threatenting important bits of their deck. Potential HQ targets are Scorched Earth and Biotic Labor, or that cheap ice they’ve been keeping for a scoring window. Utopia Shard serves a similar role, punishing a Corp that leaves an open HQ and thinning their hand so stealing drawn agendas is easier. Utopia Shard also replaces a third Plascrete, since you can use it to hit Scorched Earth after a SEA Source or a Midseason hits. Crescentus is one of your means of assuring repeated runs – if you derez a big piece of ice, the corp will have to pay you if they want to rez it later. Flipping Archer is a great move, as are Hadrian’s and Curtain Wall in the Blue Sun matchup. Personally, I rarely burn a Self-modifying Code on tutoring for it, but rather install it as it comes and let the Corp simmer about it.

The deck supplies two copies of Scavenge to recycle or reset the high number of disposable pieces (Imp, D4v1d, “Lady”). Alternatively, you might want to cash in on Mimic or Cyber-cypher once their big sisters enter play. Rarely, you might lose a crucial program to trashing or damage, and Scavenge is another means of retrieving it (saccing an empty Imp for a Self-modifying Code is surprisingly common).

Finally, two less-glamorous but still crucial cards. Since the Corp has some control of your credit pool, Plascrete Carapace helps dodge Scorched Earth – tracing you with SEA Source is laughably easy, and you cannot stockpile credits like other runners. Unfortunately, this might mean they’ll use the SEA Source to trash Personal Workshop, another reason to keep your Workshop light with programs. CyberSolutions Mem Chip and its bonus of two MUs opens up the option of a huge rig later on (having three breakers, Magnum, and leaving room for Parasite or Crescentus). It also often serves as a Workshop buffer by leaving a counter on a program you don’t want to install yet.

 

Opening Moves and Mulligans

As mentioned above, your optimal first turn revolves around emptying your credit pool and starting to run. You want to force the Corp to start rezzing ice in order to fund your further exploits. Early on you could risk facechecking into the nastier pieces of ice – one trigger off Architect or Caduceus, for example, should not influence the faith of the game too much (and you will get your credits off them). However, this is not a Criminal deck. Once the Corp has rezzed their ice and given you money, sit back, draw, and find outlets for your credits before you run again.

Self-modifying Code gives you great flexibility. There are very few pieces of ice that you cannot solve with a flower installed – and that list is even narrower if you have Ghost Runner or Order of Sol. Likewise, a Workshop with two or three programs on it will begin the process of assembling your rig while slowly restricting the Corp’s options with regard to resolving the subroutines on their ice.

There are several cards you’re looking for when examining your opening hand. A Workshop is almost always an auto-keep, since you cannot tutor to it and it gives you amazing flexibility with Nasir’s ability. However, you should not immediately mulligan if you do not have the Workshop. Instead, assess your potential for emptying your pool, drawing cards, and applying pressure. Some combination of Earthrise Hotel, Astrolabe, Self-modifying Code, and Order of Sol is usually enough to get you going. You could also consider a turn one Magnum Opus, either directly, or by installing Self-modifying Code, taking two credits, and running; that is a much riskier opening, though, as it weakens you against program destruction.

It is also important to watch out for cards that are mostly useless in the early-game. You cannot use them, and, even worse, you might have to discard them, limiting your later options. Scavenge and Stimhack are examples of cards you generally don’t want to open with, as are two copies of Earthrise Hotel (as it’s expensive and unique). CyberSolutions and Femme also often clog your hand, though drawing a Workshop might take of that. Beware of the early-game MU trash trap: even if you think the game might end quickly, try to keep your MU sources in hand to avoid a later situation where you cannot maintain your rig.

If you’re just starting with the deck, keep any hands with Workshop, Earthrise Hotel, or Self-modifying Code. Usually they’re enough to get you rolling and provide opportunities to figure out how to run with Nasir.

 

Troublesome Pieces of ICE

When designing the icebreaker mix I tried to have at least one easy solution to every popular piece of ice. For example, Mimic breaks Architect and Caduceus, “Lady” breaks Eli 1.0, Deus X breaks various Jinteki ice, Cyber-cypher breaks Lotus Field, and Parasite removes Pop-up Window before you lose all of your credits. The problems begin when your opponent is breaking the mold and rezzing cards that are not as often used.

More specifically, this build is susceptible to cheap, high-strength sentries with no Destroyer or AP subtypes. Hunter is a great example – it’s a four strength, one cost sentry with an innocuous trace subroutine. Fortunately, it will give you the credits to remove the tag, but getting past it later on (especially against Making News) will be challenging – remember that losing your resources is especially painful. Hunter’s big brother, Data Raven, causes similar problems, as you cannot float the tag and breaking it with Femme is five credits.

Two other pieces of ice that might trouble you are Whirlpool and Mother Goddess. You don’t really have much of a solution to the former – just hope that they haven’t rezzed the follow-through ice, so you could break whatever nastiness is heading your way. This deck does not sport an AI, so if the Corp chooses to stick to nothing but a Mother Goddess you’ll have to Femme it or wait until Parasite eats through it. Fortunately, you can ravage other servers while this happens.

If you see that such pieces of ice stump you often you might consider replacing the Cyber-cypher with an Atman. You’d need to float more credits when running, which will slow you down, but you’ll be much safer (and have the added bonus of a terrific repeat solution to Eli 1.0, Lotus Field, Ichi 1.0, etc.). Just remember that without your super-cheap decoder, positional ice (Inazuma and Chum come to mind) could wreck havoc on your runs.

 

Summary

Nasir Meidan has a unique ability that opens up a new approach for playing Runner. By forcing the Corp to fund your exploits your turn their strengths against them, converting their biggest pieces of ice into your rig. It’s an aggressive twist on Shaper, which is usually a mild faction during the early-game as they work on building up their rig. Nasir is a great hybrid choice, letting you strive for a massive rig while harassing the Corp early on.

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