My secret love affair with Jinteki:Personal Evolution

[Ed Note: This article was originally published by hollis on his blog at BGG. He has since requested it be reposted here so that it can be easily found and preserved.] 

I have a confession.

I have pretty much exclusively been playing Jinteki for the past three months. One of the reasons I haven’t put out a video recently is that I just don’t have any footage I want to show anyone. Call me greedy; I’ve been wanting to keep my tricks secret, at least until after regionals.

Gradius05 recently won the 26-person regionals in Plano, Texas, running a corp deck very similar to the one I’ve been working on for the past few months. In fact, I think he went undefeated as corp. I’ve really really been wanting to do some shop talk about Jinteki for awhile now, and I think I am finally going to break down and spill my guts.

I am going to discuss a Jinteki: Personal Evolution deck I have been refining for the past few months.

Starting Observations

Ok, so first we need to make some observations about Jinteki. From a traditional perspective of what makes a good corporation, Jinteki is a hot mess.

1. From an economic perspective, Jinteki has terrible ice. Most is cost-efficient for the runner to deal with (e.g., wall of thorns vs. heimdall or tollbooth). The one exception is chum, but that has other problems — particularly Yog-sucker problems.

2. From a security perspective, Jinteki has terrible ice. Wall of thorns is the only ice with a clear end-the-run on it but, as already established, Thorns has some other serious problems.

3. Jinteki has terrible in-faction economy. Akitaro and Dedicated Server do not give you any cashflow; you cannot directly use them to advance agendas. They are also both fragile and inconsistent.

4. Tricky and trappy cards gain value the longer the game goes on; longer time = more opportunities for combos to go off. Jinteki has lots of tricky and trappy cards. However, neither its economy nor ice support long games.

So, what’s a corp to do? You want better ice, right? So you import them from other factions. But then you also need economy to support those ice so you … import it from other factions? There’s a serious problem here. Jinteki needs ice and economy from out of faction, but really doesn’t have the influence to take both.

So run neutral asset economy like PAD and Private Contracts! Well, the problem is that since your ice is so cheap to break, the runner is always going to have extra credits for trashing these things with impunity. If you defend these cards with ice, you will end up digging yourself into a deeper economic hole.

Runner economies are just really really good. HB:Core and Weyland may be able to win an economic pissing contest against runners sometimes, but Jinteki will almost certainly always lose a game if it comes to that. Magnum Opus is everywhere. Kati Jones too. Account Siphon is a gigantic kick in the face. The runner will force it to come to an economic war if she can.

But, Jinteki does have a very interesting tool. The best term I have for it is work compression. Jinteki can do a lot of little work here and there over many turns, each step requiring a single click and small credit investment, and then force the runner to match them click-for-click for that work, within a single turn or a) die, else b) let the corp score an agenda. I am talking about cards like Snare!, Data Mine, Ronin, Hosukai Grid, Neural EMP, False Lead, Nisei MKII, and Fetal AI. Project Junebug can be work compression if the runner runs on it. Edge of World reduces how much work compression you have to make the runner suffer, for you as the corp to capitalize.

Runners do have many tools to combat against work compression: Doppelganger, All-Nighter, Public Sympathy, Netshield, Joshua B, Diesel, and Quality Time all come to mind. However, few of these cards are runner essentials whereas cards like Magnum Opus and Kati Jones are.

Jinteki Misconceptions

I am going to be a jerk: many (most?) people I hear talking up Jinteki are inexperienced/naive/misinformed/delusional concerning Jinteki’s strengths, and the prowess of their jedi mind tricks.

In theory, Chum+unrezzed Neural Katana/Data Raven is amazing. In practice, you will never pull those combos off against a good runner. Stop thinking about cards in terms of their best-case potential; start thinking about cards in terms of their average-case potential.

In theory, running all 2-pt agendas makes sense; that’s more opportunity to flatline the runner, more sources of net damage, and extra chance of completely decking the runner. In practice, homogenizing your agenda point values takes away your ability to make the runner suffer from work compression. Decking the runner is a theoretical possibility, but not actually a realistic outcome.

In theory, getting a runner to run on a double-advanced junebug nets four cards. In practice, good runner decks are robust to losing specific cards; good runner decks can make use of anything, and rely on no specific card to function. In fact, double-advanced junebugs tend to be negative work compression (i.e., if the runner is getting 1 card/click and your only source of income is 1 credit/click, you are costing the runner 5 clicks at the expense of a 6 credit difference to not playing the junebug at all).

In theory, triple-advanced junebugs flatline a runner straight up. In practice, you are only getting the runner to run on triple-advanced junebugs in very edge cases. You cannot realistically treat it as a play in your playbook.

In theory, it would be cool if you could actually see a person’s soul by looking deep into their eyes, or read their darkest secrets off the twitches and ticks of their body. Sorry, you probably cannot. Unless you have had decades of formal, immersive experience with reading body language, you are no better than chance at inferring intentions from body language. If you believe otherwise, the better explanation is that you have a confirmation bias. I am not saying that inferring dispositions an intentions from behavior is impossible. There is a vast literature on this topic that says it is actually a very systematic process. But anyone who presents it as mysticism, some sort of ritualistic/prophetic skill, or The Key Ingredient To Success, is full of crap.

The variant of this is that Jinteki is all about mindgames. No. Again, the best explanation is that people are simply falling prey to confirmation bias. A:NR is a very structurally rich game. The vast majority of players will not share an appreciable amount of knowledge overlap with you. That knowledge overlap is required for mindgames to be effective. There are certainly exceptions, everyone pulls off the brilliant play every now and then, and extensive past history with a specific opponent changes things, but most people who say that mindgames are a big part about playing Jinteki well are simply being naive/unrealistically optimistic. Sorry.

I do not consider these serious points about Jinteki. However, I feel obligated to do lip service to the ideas since I see them surprisingly, and distressingly, often.

Defining Work Compression (hint: the most important point in this post)

Ok, getting back on track…

Jinteki’s most interesting tool is a form of work compression. If you would like a concrete definition of that, I am using work compression to mean “the ability to use clicks for actions across multiple turns, and then to force the runner to match you click-for-click within the space of a runner’s single turn”.

Economic bullying is a form of work compression, exemplified by Ash and/or deep servers. However, Jinteki usually sucks at that form of work compression. They do work compression through the runner’s hand size (in the case of Jinteki: PE), or more directly in terms of clicks (in the case of Jinteki:RP).

The corporation’s scored agenda points have an interesting interaction on work compression. Once the corporation gets to match-point, the runner needs to start being very aggressive about trying to fulfill every work-compression condition that might result in an agenda scored. If the runner is not, the corp can very easily exploit the fact and win.

Building and Playing my Jinteki Deck

So, this led me to a few ideas to keep in mind when building a Jinteki deck.

1. A good jinteki deck will need to be fast; the sooner you get to match-point, the more you can exploit the runner into taking work-compression risks. Note, this is completely counter to running all 2-pt agendas. You are going to need to run 3-pt agendas.

2. A good jinteki deck will not allow the runner to pay the costs of work compression using credits. You can always expect the runner to have a bank of credits since your ice is so terrible economically. Don’t fall for that trap.

3. Good play will not involve applying a steady stream of pressure on the runner’s work (whether that’s click work or handsize work). Good play will involve very “bursty” pressure; there are going to be lots of tempo swings within Jinteki games.

4. Some of your main tools for applying work compression on the runner (e.g., Snare!) require credits to activate. You will need a way to consistently float 6-8 credits if you expect to perform well.

With these things, in mind, here is my current Jinteki: Personal Evolution deck.

Jinteki: Personal Evolution (Core)

Total Cards: (49)

Agenda: (10)
False Lead (A Study in Static) x2
Priority Requisition (Core) x2
Braintrust (What Lies Ahead) x3
Fetal AI (Trace Amount) x3

Asset: (8)
Melange Mining Corp (Core) x2
Ronin (Future Proof) x3
Snare! (Core) x3

ICE: (19)
Pop-up Window (Cyber Exodus) x3 ■
Caduceus (What Lies Ahead) x2 ■■
Chum (Core) x3
Data Mine (Core) x3
Neural Katana (Core) x3
Enigma (Core) x2
Wall of Static (Core) x2
Rototurret (Core) x1 ■

Operation: (10)
Beanstalk Royalties (Core) x3 ■
Scorched Earth (Core) x1 ■■■■
Hedge Fund (Core) x3
Neural EMP (Core) x3

Upgrade: (2)
Hokusai Grid (Humanity’s Shadow) x2

Total Agenda Points: 20

Influence Values Totals –
Haas-Bioroid: 1
Jinteki: 43
NBN: 3
The Weyland Consortium: 11

Here is the starting gameplan for the deck.

1. Your economic ice (Popup, Caduceus) are preferentially going on R&D.

2. If you are up against a criminal runner, you want an ice in front of HQ as well. Preferably, Neural Katana on the first turn. You might lose an agenda but the loss of three cards will give you breathing room to score an agenda for yourself shortly afterward (chum+x is a very powerful remote server). If you are not up against criminal (or a known account siphon player), don’t even bother defending HQ. Let the implied threat of Snare! in an undefended HQ work to your advantage.

3. Your top priority is rushing to match point. Your ice is dead cheap. If you get lucky and score a chum in your opening hand, the practical cost of your remote server is 1 credit until the runner’s rig is assembled. If money is tight, you might opt not to rez non-economic ice protecting central servers.

4. Once you are on match point, your gameplan may change. If the runner’s rig still is not complete, you are balls-to-the-wall rushing out a last agenda. If the runner’s rig is complete, you are instead trying to orchestrate a situation where you can put the runner under a massive amount of work compression in a single turn. This is going to involve some very meticulous setup with data mines, Fetal AIs, and maybe a timely hit of Snare! on R&D. At this point, the runner is usually panicking and trying to control R&D. Snares (and Fetals) in R&D work to your advantage. You might start defending R&D with a few ice, but more importantly you want to be consistently floating 6-8 credits so you can capitalize on opportunities to apply work compression.

Lessons learned through trial and error

Do NOT try to bait the runner into running a Snare! facedown in a remote server if you cannot follow that up with a kill.

DO lay down Braintrust, Fetal AI, and Snare! undefended when you are on match-point, are sitting on 8+ credits, and the runner only has 4 cards in hand.

Do NOT play-advance-advance Fetal AI unless you are on match point, or have no other agendas in hand and the runner gives you an opening for an uncontested score.

DO consider playing fetal AI and advancing it once if the runner has 4 or fewer cards in hand, you have hosukai grid, Priority Requisition sitting in hand, 8+ credits, plus 2 data mines and/or two neural EMPs.

Do NOT play Ronin early. Your priority is scoring agendas, not killing the runner. Killing the runner is the consequence of work compression, and that is something best applied when you are on match point.

DO play Ronin facedown in a server when the runner is at 3-4 cards in hand and you still have 4+ Snares/Fetal AIs in R&D and a couple neural EMPs in hand. Next turn, proceed to advance it three times and leave it. start building a new server afterward.

Do NOT play single cards in unprotected remote servers.

DO play three cards in separate unprotected remote servers if 1) there is a permutation of cards that would threaten the runner’s life by hitting two of them in a turn, 2) at least one of those cards is actually part of that permutation, and 3) you can get value out of the runner not running at least one of those cards.

Do NOT late-game bluff with priority requisition when the runner has a full grip.

DO late-game bluff with priority requisition always when the runner is sitting on 3 or fewer cards in hand. For that matter, do this with any advancable card.


So, how does this deck perform? I have been having ridiculous success with it. Db0 recently released the 40,000 game anonymized OCTGN dataset. I managed to figure out which user ID corresponded to me (not that hard — there is only one person who has been obsessively playing Jinteki: PE for the past three months), and calculated my win rate.

I filtered out my first 30 games with the identity; they were largely trial-error learning and I was making lots of poor plays. That still left me with something like 130ish games to look at. My overall win rate with the deck was 74%. Of those 130ish games, my win rate against experienced players was about 65% over 30ish games. For comparison, my win rate with HB against the same group of experienced players is only about 45%.

So is this deck the holy grail? No.

It is a very strong deck. However, it has some serious shortcomings.

Public Sympathy singlehandedly shuts this deck down. So does Net Shield. Net Shield still isn’t seeing alot of play, but Public Sympathy is getting table time. It makes the job of applying work compression on the runner’s hand incredibly difficult.

Crypsis can be an annoyance. He prevents the net damage of data mine, but he doesn’t always prevent the work compression of data mine since you have to load crypsis with a virus counter first. The trick is to catch Crypsis when he has no virus counters loaded on him.

Darwin, on the other hand, is a serious issue. Darwin will probably be seeing lots of of playtime in the next couple months. He’s interesting and fun to tinker with.

This deck may not pass the Gabe test. Although my winrate is about 65% against non-Gabing experienced players, it drops to about 45% when only looking at Gabe games. Don’t get me wrong — that’s still pretty good. It’s just not stellar.

This deck presents many opportunities for the corporation to make critical mistakes. After playing about 200 games with it, I still make a serious blunder every 5-6 games. I did not really begin having success with this deck until I played it about 30 times. Even now, I am constantly refining my play with it.

To play this deck well, you need to constantly track the number of cards in the corporation’s hand. This can prove to be a hinderance in face-to-face play (asking a person their hand size can give away your intentions if you are not careful).

This deck suffers severely from the Corporation Repeat Play Effect. As such, I have a few variants of it that substitute the ronins for Junebugs/Edge of World. Occasionally, I will also splash in an Archer. I almost always regret the Archer.

The singleton scorched earth may seem out of place; I assure you it has pulled its weight for a long period of time. About a third of my wins against Gabe involve that single scorched earth, and about a fifth of my wins against other runners involve its presence. That said, Kati Jones + resource-heavy Andromeda decks really diminish its value against the range of runner decks you might see. I am definitely thinking about taking it out.

I am well past a 3,000 word count. This seems like a good place to stop.

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