Anarch seems to be the red-headed (heh) step child of competitive Netrunner – ever since Jackson “murdered Noise” (more on this later) at the very beginning of the Spin cycle, the reddish kind of orange brothers have been struggling to find their place in the competitive spotlight. There’s been a slight re-surgence lately, thanks in no small part because of Steven’s Anatomy of Anarchy article, but that very article significantly narrowed peoples’ perception of the faction and what is viable within it. This is something I’d like to address in this series of articles.
In this introductory installment, I’ll be spending some time covering the faction’s strengths and weaknesses. If you’re a longtime tournament veteran, this particular article might not be for you… or it might, hard to say. Since it’s an introduction, I’ll err on the side of caution and link every possible card mention to its info, just to make reading easier for new players. If you see a link on a card’s name and are familiar, don’t bother – it points exactly where you’d assume it would. 🙂
Anyway, there’s plenty of ground to cover, so let’s get started.
Part one: Required reading
„If you can’t stand the tomes, get out of the library“ – Whizzard
First of all – I strongly believe that Anarchs are the weakest runner faction right now. That being said, they’re far from hopeless, and the current corp meta seems to prefer archetypes that are actually favorable matchups. Thus, in my mind it pays to invest effort into „making Anarch work“.
There’s already a bunch of great material out there, and I’d rather not re-iterate stuff someone else wrote already, so let’s start with what I’m assuming you have read if you’re interested in Anarchs at all:
- Steven’s Anatomy of Anarchy article
- This made a huge splash when it came out, especially amongst people that haven’t really dabbled in Anarch before and either had no previous experience with the faction, or their experiences were all negative due to mindset deficiencies
- There’s quite a few points of the article I disagree with (which might be the subject of a future article), but it’s still important to have read it, to get tuned into what we’ll be doing here
- Alex’s article on Noise Workshop
- This is an older article (back from the middle of the Genesis cycle), and a lot of things have changed since it came out. Still, it points out an interesting concept, „the power turn“. Again, I don’t necessarily agree with Anarchs being „all about the power turn“, but it’s an interesting concept that I’ll eventually be working with.
- Hraklea’s „Root Cause“ series of articles
- Joao put out quite a bit of material, and while you might think that the articles are of varying quality, there’s still a lot of food for thought to be found here.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s dive into our own analysis of the faction! I’ll start with the weaknesses, because they’re pretty obvious.
Part two: Faction Weaknesses
„Where my Wyldside at?“ – Noise
First of all, there is the lack of card draw. The faction as such has exactly one card-drawing effect, which is Wyldside. There used to be a time where this was a great card, but the game has sped up considerably since then, to the point of Wyldside being a liability.
Wyldside is constraining in a lot of ways – it’s a resource, costs 3 to play and its effect is both mandatory and limited (i.e. you have to use it every turn, and yet you can’t use it more than once). So, essentially, we’re paying 3 credits for one extra card every turn, while also saying „I’ll draw at least once from now on“. This means that depending on how you value your clicks (and cards), the estimated return of investment on Wyldside is something like 4-5 turns. So, unless you get it early, you’re quite possibly better off not playing it. Add to this the fact that you need to spend at least 2 influence (probably 4) for Aesop just to be able to turn it off eventually, and the lack of in-faction search tools for it, and it becomes obvious that it’s not a very good option. Eventually, once Inject comes out, things will improve a bit, but so far, card draw is a problem for Anarch.
Which brings us to the second weakness, being lack of card search effects. Again, within the faction there’s exactly one card-searching effect, Djinn. Djinn’s actually reasonable, as far as these things go – sure, it might be a bit slow and expensive if you want to use it just once or twice, but it’s a permanent ability and also doubles up as additional memory for utility programs. Still, you can only search for two breakers, one of which is super-slow and the other is pretty expensive both to install and to use. It’s also restricted in terms of what it can fetch, which is becoming more and more of a problem – it already can’t get you Caissas, and there’s some neat upcoming cards you’d really like to be able to fetch but can‘t, such as D4v1d. This leaves Anarchs in a weird spot where they can search for their „payload“ cards, but are stuck having to draw their „delivery“ methods the hard way. This further highlight the card draw issues, leading to decks that are highly volatile and unreliable, with few means of increasing consistency.
Then there’s the weak economy. Now, I’m going to go on record here as saying that this is the one thing that actually isn’t as much of a problem as people make it out to be. It’s true that Anarchs are more dependent on neutral economy cards than the other two runner factions, but at the same time their stuff tends to be cheaper to operate. So in a way, they end up getting more mileage out of those neutral cards. The faction also has good access to recurring credits, in the form of Cyberfeeder (and potentially Spinal Modem, though that’s only viable sometimes). So, why do people feel that Anarch economic options suck? Well, there’s only two straight-up „gain you money“ cards to be had in the faction – Liberated Account and Queen’s Gambit.
Queen‘s Gambit is tricky and unreliable to use, to say the least – there are matchups where you won’t be able to use it at all, and there are times when it will lose you the game outright. This makes it less than well-suited for competitive decks, where consistency is paramount. This leaves us with Liberated Account.
On the surface, Liberated Account seems like a pretty good deal – in five clicks, you will be 10 credits richer. That’s essentially five Opus clicks without sinking 5 credits into actually aquiring the program or using the memory for it. The problem? It has a pretty steep entry barrier. 6 credits are more than you have at the start of the game and it’s more than you have after clicking up from zero and then doing a Dirty Laundry. Thus, if you draw a Liberated Account, it’s only immediately useful to you if you’re sitting on a bit of a bank. That’s anti-synergistic with how little money Anarchs usually need to operate, and so it ends up being a less-than-stellar card for them. Again, sometimes you’ll draw it while you can still play it and it’ll leave you rolling in cash in no time, but other times it’ll be sitting there, taunting you and leaving you wishing it were literally any other economic option instead.
The last weakness I’d like to mention is one that’s not actually a problem within the faction as such, it’s more of a metagame thing. This would be the low influence cost of the best Anarch cards. The logic here goes as follows: „Why would I bother playing Anarch, when I can get the complete suite of their best stuff and still have the upsides of another faction?“ (Andromeda says hi). This is certainly a valid concern and can easily turn people off messing with the faction at all. There’s some very strong elements that can’t really be exported out of faction (most notably, the Joshua B./Data Leak Reversal combo), but they often seem fragile, convoluted and not worth it in general. While I personally think that there are unique and valuable things available to Anarchs that aren’t open for others, they often aren’t immediately apparent. Unique and valuable… sounds a lot like „faction strengths“, doesn’t it?
Part Three: Faction Strengths
„Trash the Biotic, please“ – Imp
To illustrate: If I’m playing Corp, I might be built so that I don’t care what you, as the runner are doing on the other side of the table. My key cards are Operations (and thus can’t be trashed easily), I have enough money to eat two Siphons and still win, etc. In those situations, only Anarchs have cards that actually make the corp care about their opponent – whether by trashing untrashable stuff, or by burning all their money, or by digging super-deep into where the agendas are. In my mind, the only non-red card that comes even close to being as punishing is Escher, which can still sometimes be shrugged off (depending on the Corp’s ICE setup).
This is a pretty valuable weapon to have in your runner arsenal – no matter who you’re going to be playing against, they can’t really afford to blindly follow their primary game plan and expect it to work consistently. Many a game was lost to an open HQ letting a fresh Imp trash a critical combo piece. Sure – sometimes, you won’t be fast enough to stop an opponent dedicated to rushing through (I’m looking at you, AstroBiotics) – but by rushing, they’re accepting the risk that you’ll be able to do something that other factions just can’t, interact with them in a way that stops them dead in their tracks.
Related to this is the second strength I perceive. Anarchs are just brutal at exploiting and punishing openings. When you’re the corp and you take a calculated risk (say, leaving RnD open on turn one), you can always tell what the worst case scenario for you is. With Shaper and Criminal, that worst case scenario will usually be very unpleasant (double Siphon, Indexing for 5 points, etc), but if you weather it, you’re fine (at least until some times passes and/or they draw more copies of whatever it was that caused you issues). With Anarch, this worst case scenario always involves them creating a problem that will lead to you losing unless you’re able to address it right the f**k now.
Example: Assuming an open RnD, compare the threat level of an Indexing, Maker’s Eye or even an RnD Interface to something like Medium or a Keyhole. If you leave RnD undefended and I drop a Medium and run twice, you’d better be able to plug that hole in your defenses right now – preferrably with two pieces of ICE, because if I have Knight or the right breaker, one might not be enough. Otherwise, from next turn onwards I’m always seeing at least two new cards, and depending on what other cards come out, you might be left unable to plug the leak and stop me from steamrolling over you completely. Even after you plug the hole, you’ll still need to sacrifice an entire turn to purge viruses, and only then have you handled the threat.
Example 2: If you have no Agendas in hand and plenty of money, leaving HQ open (or lightly defended) to concentrate on other things might be viable. Even if you draw an agenda later, it can still hide in the rest of the cards in your hand pretty well, and the other cards in your hand (ICE and Ops) aren’t in danger from accesses. That is, until the runner installs an Imp and/or Nerve Agent. One will end up trashing the cards you actually need, and the other will make fishing for agendas trivial, unless you can make repeated runs on HQ prohibitively expensive.
Another strength is the Anarchs‘ flexible vector of assault. They’re the only ones to have potentially game-ending threats to all central servers in-faction. Some of their best cards put equal pressure on multiple servers (Imp, Datasucker, Stimhack). Those cards that require a specific server to work (Keyhole, Vamp) are straight up devastating when you get them to work, potentially much more so than other, equivalent effects from other factions. In short, when you sit down with an Anarch across the table, you need to keep on your toes, because your loss could come from anywhere- just slapping two Tollbooths on one server and calling it a day usually doesn’t cut it.
To continue on with the list of strengths, we come to resilience. Partially as a result of having to play around the lack of card draw and search, Anarch decks tend to run not only multiple copies of breakers, but also other means of getting into servers – seeing deck lists with 3 Knights and 3 Parasites in addition to a full breaker suite is a pretty common thing. This leaves them particularly resilient both to various forms of damage (eating Snares, face-checking Komainu and the like) and to limited program destruction – losing one breaker is rarely the end of the world for Anarchs. The faction also has interesting recursion options for some of their key pieces, in the form of Deja Vu and Retrieval Run. These are traits that have become more desirable lately, with Jinteki getting a significant boost both in strength and in popularity, courtesy of Honor and Profit. All this, coupled with the flexibility mentioned earlier, means that it’s not the easiest thing in the world to shut an Anarch out of the game completely.
A common theme of Anarch cards seems to be invalidating entire sections of the corp card pool. Think about how much Anarch cards tends to skew the value of corp cards in the game. Here’s a few examples to consider:
- Whizzard’s impact on resource-based economies
- Noise’s ability to random-mill himself into a victory in a game he has no business being in
- Yog completely invalidating low-strength Code Gates
- Morning Star’s impact on taxing barriers like Eli 1.0, Bastion or Wall of Thorns (this is an especially bad one)
- Parasite’s influence on the perception of high-cost low-strength ICE like Komainu and Tsurugi
These are all examples of threats that corp decks simply have to address at the deck-building stage, because there aren’t really any easy counterplays if you’ve come to the table unprepared for the possibility of facing them.
A point I have already touched upon briefly when discussing economy is the Anarchs‘ cheapness of operation. Their breakers are hands down the cheapest to operate, in general. Sure, they often have other costs involved, whether it be clicks for Knight, Datasucker counters for fixed-strength breakers encountering big pieces, or just plain time in the case of Darwin, but money-wise they win out easily. The same goes for a lot of the faction’s other tools, which have interesting costs like „taking a tag“, or even „taking a point of brain damage“ instead of a credit price – just take a look at Data Leak Reversal, Stimhack, Spinal Modem, Tallie Perrault and Activist Support. Since every credit you make gets you farther, you can in turn get away with being comparatively poorer. Of course, it’s easy to overdo it by skimping on economy too much, to the point of being unable to even acquire the tools needed.
And, closing with an amusing mirror of the previously-mentioned meta-defined weakness, Anarchs tend to have a lot of influence to play around with. With the possible exception of card draw, they have a fully functioning suite of runner essentials in-faction: all three breakers, RnD pressure, HQ pressure and even a little remote pressure (in the form of Stimhack). They can also do some pretty wicked ICE destruction/parasite recursion without spending a single influence point. There’s even some long-term sustainability present, in the shape of Cyberfeeder. The tools brought in from out of faction to handle issues like card draw and economy are often very cheap, influence-wise, which leaves Anarch decks with less influence „auto-spent“ than the other factions.
I will say one thing though: the things you’ll be using influence for in Anarch will seem weird to you initially. It might very well be cards you don’t play in their home faction at all, and with good reason. This is because the best way to improve their decks often is to spend influence on things other factions either don’t need in the first place, or simply take for granted.
„I’m outta here“ – Jackson Howard
So, we’ve covered the strengths and weaknesses of the faction as such. Hopefully I’ve managed to make you at least a little more excited about playing around with a deck consisting mostly of red cards. It’s no walk in the park, but it’s not all bad, either.
What exactly do you need to play and build Anarch well, then? That’s something I‘ll be covering next time. We’ll look at some of the challenges that the faction presents, both during deckbuilding and in the course of a game, and look for the mindset necessary to surmount them. So, stay tuned!
Bonus: Did Jackson murder Noise?
While it’s certainly true that you can’t play NoiseShop like you used to and expect positive results in a post-Jackson world, there’s another way of looking at the situation:
- Would Jackson get played if Noise didn’t exist? Almost certainly, for all those other valid reasons beyond „countering Noise“ that Alex mentions in this fine article of his.
- Does Jackson get installed and used in games where the runner isn’t Noise? This one is a pretty certain „yes“, as witnessed by throngs of players worldwide.
- Is Jackson under-utilized when the runner isn’t Noise? This really depends on the game in question, but overall there tend to be plenty desirable recursion targets.
Then, we can arrive at the following conclusion: Jackson initially might have seen play primarily as a Noise counter, but now Noise can see play as a Jackson counter. Just by being Noise you skew the corp’s options for Jackson usage, much like Whizzard skews the value of assets and upgrades. This is something that furthers the overall Anarch theme of being disruptive and messing with your opponent in rather unpleasant ways.
(damn, I really wish I had a picture of Noise and Jackson fighting in a lightsaber duel right about now)
Agree? Disagree? Join the discussion 😛