Hey everyone! For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Dan D’Argenio, aka Mediohxcore. I have a Twitch.tv stream and YouTube channel where I play Netrunner on OCTGN. I have been a contributing author on Stimhack for a few months now, and I also just won the Philadelphia Regionals last week! For the time being, I’m taking over Alexfrogs duty of writing set reviews, so I’ll just get right into Upstalk!
I’m going to do a simple 0-5 card rating, but I will issue caveats where they are necessary. All card reviews are for the current metagame, so if I think a card isn’t necessarily good right now but might go places in the future, I’ll mark the rating with an asterisk and explain it. My ratings will take into consideration the alternatives available, so a low rating doesn’t necessarily mean the card isn’t powerful in a vacuum, just that you should probably play something else over it.
Domestic Sleepers 3.5/5
Here we have the first 0-point agenda in the game, though after a quick look, we can see it plays more like a 2/1 agenda. One key difference between Sleepers and a card like Breaking News is that while it can’t be effectively stolen by the runner, it also doesn’t help you reach your agenda requirement during deckbuilding.
I think that this card is reasonably powerful in fast advance decks. It’s not quite as good as a blank 2/1 agenda, but it’s close, and that’s good enough. Domestic sleepers can be slotted as a 1 or 2-of in a standard HB fast advance deck, allowing you to cut Gila Hands Arcology and Director Haas’ Pet Project entirely, or it can be used in a Cerebral Imaging deck which plans to score three 2-pointers and then finish things with a Sleepers. Sleepers also enables you to play Archer in HB, which is one of the places it is least expected but most powerful, as it’s one of the best ICE to flip with a Beta Test. You can also try slotting a couple in a glacier deck with 6-7 3-pointers, though I don’t think giving up Beta Test is worth making the runner have to get a few more random accesses on average. Whether any of these changes are strict improvements or not will be hard to judge, but they’re certainly worth trying out.
NEXT Silver 3.5*/5
Finally, we have the second piece of NEXT ICE, (and the third, if you count Mother Goddess)! While we won’t be able to get the full NEXT effect at this point, NEXT Silver and NEXT bronze together compare favorably to the alternatives, Wall of Static and Quandary. Multiple subroutines on ICE is the best way to tax the runner, as they will not be able to simply set an Atman on the correct strength or use Datasucker counters in conjunction with other fixed or otherwise efficient breakers to avoid paying real money. While it is somewhat vulnerable to Parasite, so is basically every ICE in the game (but one), so I don’t think the low strength is of major concern.
Right now, I think the NEXT ICE package is going to be better than Wall of Static/Quandary for some decks, and worse for others, and some decks will want to play both. While it’s not stellar in a taxing build, having an additional piece of ICE besides Eli to protect you from R&D lock in HBFA is awesome, and it’s still great to protect rushed agendas, SanSans, or economy assets early. If NEXT gold is as good as NEXT Silver, I expect the NEXT package to see a ton of play. As of right now, it’s still pretty good.
Lotus Field 4.5/5
Lotus Field is a game-changer. Criminal builds are going to have to find something besides Yog.0 to break this piece of ICE, and that’s going to make a huge difference in how we build criminal decks. The fact that it’s such an easy splash at one influence means that basically anyone can bring in Lotus Field, be it HB Glacier, HB Fast Advance, NBN, or Weyland, and have access to what works like a mini-Tollbooth. There are only three breakers in the game that will have an easy time with this: Atman, Knight, and Torch. That means that in addition to a reasonably-priced hard stop, we can reasonably expect Lotus to tax most runners for a significant amount of money, meaning that this ICE can be placed basically anywhere, (except archives).
I think that the best places to play Lotus Field are going Weyland Tag & Bag/Supermodernism, HB Glacier, RP Glacier, and Near-Earth Hub. These decks all love Tollbooth, and either want more Tollbooths or a cheaper, influence free Tollbooth. That is what Lotus Field provides: a hard to deal with defense that is going to send the runner back where they came from and keep them out until they can find their mid-late game tools. It’s perfect for scoring agendas, defending from Account Siphon, and against most decks, putting a Tax on R&D. You can basically put this card in any deck and expect it to perform at least reasonably well.
Lotus raises two questions for the near future: How many do I put in my corp deck, and how does my Criminal/Anarch deck deal with it. There is no question, however, that this is a damn good piece of ICE.
Unfortunately, while cheating huge ICE out sounds fun, there are basically no good cards that allow you to cheat Mutate’s random effect. Without a way to avoid randomly flipping ICE, if you want to play this card, you’re either going to have to play a bad way to avoid flipping random ICE, (Precognition), or just stack your deck with a ton of really cheap and really expensive ICE and cross your fingers. Neither is appealing.
If we get a card with an effect like Precognition, but without being so terrible, Mutate might become a thing. Right now, it is not.
Near-Earth Hub Broadcast Center 5/5
Here’s the new NBN ID we’ve all been asking for, and it’s really fucking good! There have to be a lot of ways to make this ID good, but the two obvious ways are to (1) play a lot of cards you can install in naked remote servers, and (2), use the 17 influence to splash Biotic Labor or Scorched Earth. Either of these plans seem fine to me, as you don’t really need to work hard to make the ID ability work in the faction with both SanSan and Jackson Howard. The Biotic Labor version of NEH is particularly interesting to me, as one of the big disadvantages of TWIY AstroBiotics was that your ICE was generally pretty weak because you needed to spend all or most of your influence on Biotics. NEH can easily splash 2 or even 3 Biotic Labor, and still have room for Elis and Lotus Fields and what have you, which will make for more interesting Biotics games but also increase the deck’s win percentage and popularity, (early OCTGN data shows this ID to have a 70% win rate). One thing that NEH is going to hurt for, however, is a good sentry splash, so keep an eye out for ways to make the available sentries work for this ID.
I think this card has a little bit of a design flaw: right now, taking full advantage of this card’s ability seems like it takes a backseat to abusing the 17 influence to splash both Biotic Labors and non-shit ICE in AstroBiotics, which is kind of boring. While there are certainly some fun NBN games played, nobody likes being Biotic/Astrotrained out of the game with very little to say about it besides random accesses. Hopefully, I’m wrong, and someone will make a more horizontal NEH deck work.
Primary Transmission Dish 1/5
NBN Making News doesn’t need this card, and the other NBN decks won’t want to play enough traces to make it good. In other words, if you want to play a trace-heavy NBN deck, just play a Making News deck, and don’t play this card in it. Most of the traces will be ignored or broken before they fire as subroutines by the time you get this card online anyway.
Midway Station Grid 2/5
Many of you know me as a big taxer, and that part of me really wanted to like this card. It’s rez and trash costs are reasonable, and the runner is going to want to deal with it most of the time they see it. Unfortunately, NBN has literally no good, in-faction ICE that have multiple subs that will synergize with this, and the best splashes, Eli and Caduceus, can be dealt with without using breakers. I would have added an asterisk to the rating of this card if we had at least one good piece of ICE to go with it, but we really don’t, so I’m just going to tell you that Ash is enough better than this that you should just spend the two influence there.
The Root 2*/5
The Root is a super-powerful economy asset, which is great, because I love asset economy, and Weyland desperately needed some. Unfortunately, right now, I think that the rez/trash ratio of this card isn’t quite what it needs to be to warrant inclusion in today’s Weyland decks, and at 3 influence, it isn’t a reasonable splash, as all factions have good influence-free options for asset economy. There are good things to say about this one, though. First of all, you can rez it before rezzing ICE so that you can immediately use the recurring credits as soon as you rez it, making its functional rez cost $3, not $6. Second of all, the credits are available for enough things that you can expect to use them on most turns.
Where this card is truly going to shine, though, is in Blue Sun, the upcoming Weyland ID that allows you to return rezzed cards to your HQ at the start of your turn and recoup their costs. In that ID, The Root is incredible, as you can either bounce ICE rezzed with the recurring credits to gain actual long-term money, or you can just bounce the Root itself after using its credits during the runner’s turn, and then replay it. I expect Blue Sun to be a strong ID, and I expect The Root to be a staple in those decks, so I predict that the value of this card is going to shoot up as soon as the new Weyland ID hits.
I could be wrong about this one, but I don’t see it being super powerful, for a number of reasons. First of all, Weyland is both the faction with Archer, and the faction most likely to splash Grim, which means that the runner is often going to be prepared to break this if they need to. Second of all, if the only hardware the runner is playing are Consoles and Plascretes, they can make the decision to just let you pay $8 to trash their hardware and just run through Taurus for the rest of the game, as most hardware isn’t critically important and decks don’t tend to play very much of it. All that being said, Taurus isn’t totally awful. Blowing up hardware is a unique effect, and some decks are going to want it. It’s also only 2 influence, so you could splash it in NBN Making News, (though I don’t see a good reason why you wouldn’t just play Ichi 1.0 or Hive instead).
There really are just a bunch of circumstantial things working against this card at the moment, so despite it’s apparent power, I’m giving it a medioxcore rating for the time being. If scorched decks get rich enough to pay $8 to blow up a Plascrete, or start caring about blowing up stuff like Desperado and PPVP, maybe this will get better, but right now, those decks just aren’t rich enough to pay the steep price tag.
Mother Goddess 3/5
Mother goddess has two interesting uses. The first is in a low-ICE count deck like Cerebral Imaging combo, where you might be able to rez one Mother Goddess and nothing else for a long time, forcing the runner to find an AI breaker which they may or may not be playing. This is maybe just a fringe use, but those decks like Bastion just fine anyway, so, especially if people are cutting Yog.0, you could maybe just play one of these and ride the wave if you draw it as your first ICE. The other use is in combination with the NEXT ICE package, where it will boost the rest of your ICE and be a reasonable tax itself, especially if they’re not playing Yog or are stressed on Datasucker counters because your Bronzes are so big. Sadly, it doesn’t work with Grail ICE, as the card’s text box is inactive while it’s in your hand.
Currently, all factions have decent options for low-Str EtR barriers, and will not be spending influence on this one. However, when the rest of the Grail ICE is out, I expect it will be reasonable to splash all of them in Cerebral Imaging to tax the living shit out of the runner and scare them away early with the threat of damage and program trashing subroutines on barriers, code gates, and sentries alike. As of now, though, there is no reason to play Galahad in anything.
Bad Times 3/5
Personally, I don’t believe this ONR reprint is going to replace Scorched or Closed Accounts as the primary method of tag punishment. Instead, I think that non-Weyland decks that previously splashed Scorched might consider replacing them with Bad Times to save influence. There are two IDs that makes sense in right now: NBN Making News and Cerebral Imaging.
NBN Making News, especially Midseason variants, can do well with Bad Times. Some people have had some success with scorch in these decks, though I’m not quite sure how, seeing as they can’t possibly splash both 3 Scorched and a bunch of other good cards that deck really likes to play, (Caduceus, Celebrity Gift…). Bad Times might solve that problem. It works very much like Scorch, in the sense you play 2 of them in the same turn when the runner is tagged and you blow them out. It doesn’t instantly win the game, and it costs 1 more, but 12 influence is a whole lot to save.
Cerebral Imaging has been splashing Scorch a lot recently, mostly because it has all the necessary tools in faction to work, it’s likely to see the Scorches, and they have a lot of cash to SEA you. They also can easily take a 4-click turn, which helps a lot when you need to play 2 of something and tag the runner. Another big advantage CI has is Archived Memories, which lets you play 2 Bad Times without drawing 2 of them. You could even play one and no ways to tag the runner if you were so inclined to punish Siphoners.
I find it hard to see how other decks might fit this card into their game plan. Maybe there is a way to do it in conjunction with Cerebral Casts, but that card gives you incentive to flatline runners and therefore just play Scorch. Maybe a program-trashing Weyland deck could play this instead of Scorched Earth to avoid dealing with Plascretes, (though I’m not super impressed with this idea). Bad Times may very well be a good role-player, but I believe it will still take a backseat to Scorch and Closed Accounts as the choice way to punish tags.
Cyber Threat 1/5
This card appears to be a lot worse than Forged Activation Orders, which is already on the chopping block a lot of the time these days. The fact that it’s in Anarch gives you a reason to maybe think about playing it anyway, but it seems to me that the Corp will have an easy enough time choosing the option which makes you wish you just played something else.
This is about as generous as I’m going to get with ratings. I really don’t think this card is good enough to go anywhere. It has a reasonably powerful effect, assuming you can repeatedly get into HQ for cheap, but actually doing that isn’t easy in the Siphon-riddled world that we live in. Splashing it in Gabe seems like a bad idea, because if Gabe is pounding HQ he’s winning anyway. I’ll give it a 2 because it’s a 1-cost virus and Noise is still apparently an identity, and I’ll give it an asterisk because the upcoming set has a card which combos with it, but I don’t think it’s going much higher.
Paper Tripping 1.5/5
If everyone in the world were playing Midseasons, this card would be perfectly fine, but in the real world, people play other things, and this card becomes entirely too situational to imagine playing. If you’re getting wrecked by Midseasons, there are ways to remedy the matchup that don’t involve super-narrow silver bullet defense mechanisms. Unlike Plascrete, you can’t play this silver bullet proactively, which means you can’t use it to prevent the Corp from Closing your accounts or assassinating your Kati Jones right after they tag you. Unlike Scorched Earth, Midseasons is hardly ever splashed, and it’s hardly mandatory in NBN decks.
Power Tap 0.5/5
Plenty worse than Compromised Employee.
Nasir Meidan 2.5/5
I honestly can’t be sure at this point where this ID is more of an Exile or a Chaos Theory (in terms of its viability) , but my instinct tells me it’s not very good. Playing this ID just gives the corp too many options when it comes to setup that will keep you out of a server for at least a turn for them to score, and not enough people are playing expensive ICE. Having to deal with his ability means that you have to keep your icebreaking cheap, have Personal Workshop to dump money into, and have tons of expensive Toolboxes and things, also to dump money into. The strength-retaining breakers are just bad, outside of Gordian Blade, so trying to use that to your advantage is probably just silly when you can play Atman, but Atman decks have little need for Toolboxes, and will probably just work better with Kate. I’m not really sure how to make this guy work as well as I feel he needs to, but the doors are open, so I’m giving him a middling rating to reflect the fact that I’m not really sure about him. My gut tells me that he’s not that good, as being unable to stockpile money to beat traces or just remain flexible is a pretty big disadvantage.
Social Engineering 0.5/5
This is going to be the hardest Easy Mark in the world to get to work. If you play this, you better also play Snitch so that you can avoid getting blown out by ice that costs 3 or less, like most of them that see play. Make it a priority to use these to proxy something better.
We come to the best runner card in the set, and it’s just a darn mem chip. Granted, it’s a pretty good mem chip. Shaper decks have longed to play utility programs like Magnum Opus, Sneakdoor Beta, and Keyhole, but memory has always been an issue. CyberSolutions Mem Chip is okay, but it’s quite expensive. Leprechaun cuts the money issue in half, provided you can keep it from getting blown up and have a 2-memory program to slap on it. A role-player for sure; Try out this one in Opus-economy Shaper decks that want to have a little Sneakdoor, Medium, or Keyhole on the side. It’s also a pretty big boon for the Professor to have access to more Daemon memory. God knows he needed it.
Eden Shard 1.5/5
When it comes to the shard cycle, FFG apparently wanted to save the worst for first. Unfortunately, for the cost of 1 influence, the only important thing this card does right now is completely hose Accelerated Diagnostics combos. You might also be able to use this card to fuel a deep R&D dig, (with Medium in play, you’re not even giving up an access if you’re running more than once), but it seems a little worse than Demolition Run for that purpose. Still, because it has some reasonable uses, I won’t pan it completely.
And that, my friends, is Upstalk. Overall, I think the set is quite interesting, providing us with a continuation of an old cycle, the start of a new one, a major game-changing ICE, and a major game-changing identity. The lack of terribly interesting runner cards is made up for somewhat by the presence of Nasir in the pack, but even if you’re not interested in trying to make him work, the corp cards are enough to shake up the runner metagame quite a bit on their own.