Monday, April 27, 2015

1.2 Criminal - Core Set

Criminal core set has long been regarded as the repository for several of the most powerful cards in the game. For many tournaments and events Criminal dominated the playscape on the runner’s side, and many of them were using quite a bit of core set cards, even though so many new cards had been released to the blue.

Criminal has been said to be the faction that makes runs light and lean. With very few either cost efficient or cheap icebreakers in faction, they rely on other ways to get into servers. They don’t brute force their way past the ICE, they slip through, over, around, bypassing or not even going the same path. It has been said that the best Criminal players never play an icebreaker, and still are able to win the game.

This article was written with the meta up through “The Valley/Breaker Bay” having just been released. This article is about the opinions of the writer, as a review of cards as they are seen throughout the length of the game. The main goal of the article is for new players to have an understanding of the history of the cards as the meta evolved, and for experienced players to maybe re-look at a cards they long since dismissed. (It is a nice side effect that the writer learns more about the cards as well).

Gabriel Santiago: Consummate Professional Identity: Cyborg (#17 Core Set)

Gabriel Santiago: Consummate ProfessionalImpact 4 out of 5

Gabe has been a runner that has seen a lot of use. He fell to the less popular side as Andromeda took over during the Genesis Cycle, but he always seems to make a comeback. His ability is very useful, and focuses a lot of the runner’s attention on HQ. New players who are having trouble understanding how often to run might want to consider playing Gabe a few times; because his ability is focused on a successful run there is pressure to make those runs.

It appears at times that even experienced runners drift back to Gabe from Andromeda after a time, if just looking for something different while keeping a lot of their favorite tricks. He continues to shine, with new cards interacting wonderfully with his ability. “Sir Gabe” using Knight was very popular for a while, as you could access HQ through a single early piece of ICE for, most of the time, basically free.

In the end, he has a reliable, stable ability that continues to be useful even late game, and because of the strength of the rest of the Criminal cards, he will often be used.

Account Siphon Event: Run - Sabotage (#18 Core Set)

Account Siphon
Impact 5 out of 5

No other card in the entire pool of Netrunner cards has had the impact that Account Siphon has had. For months it was complained as impossible to deal with, especially with some of the runner decks designed to be able to play the card 10+ times over the course of a game.

On the surface it doesn’t seem that bad. If you clear the tags you gained from it, it would only be a 6 credit gain at best, right? That is assuming there was no ICE that had to be dealt with. It is however, a potential 15 credit swing, in total, and at the time there was not a lot of tag punishment outside of Scorched Earth. It was primarily responsible for the creation of the ‘Tagme’ archetype of play, where runners used very little Resource cards and didn’t bother clearing tags away.

Even more important than the credits gained or the total swing was the fact that it caused the corp to go broke, very fast. A poor corp can’t rez ICE. They cannot score agendas. They cannot use their cards. Even Hedge Fund becomes unusable. Account Siphon Spam led to broke corps all across the world, and that in turn let runners get into all their servers.

Play has developed and while Account Siphon is still a dangerous card, it at least has lost some of the fury directed at it. Players have learned to play around it, ICEing HQ if they suspect it with a good piece of ICE that could stop them, maybe even double ICEing. Dropping money into traces or rezing upgrades to prevent the runner from gaining credits.

While there has been no ‘silver bullet’ directly printed to deal with Account Siphon (though some claimed Targeted Marketing would be such a card, it didn’t really pan out to be. Crisium Grid however, is very close to being so) the increase of cards that can interact and deal unfortunate effects against the runner for being tagged helped mitigate some of the strength of Account Siphon. In addition, the increase in good, playable resources led to less a desire for playing ‘tagme’ style.

Account Siphon still is a powerful and useful card for keeping the corp broke and the runner rich. It will continue to be one for as long as money is an issue in Netrunner, which is to say: for all time.

(Edit: It was pointed out that the card Sealed Vault is effectively a Silver Bullet to Account Siphon. By the time it was released however, players had learned to deal with Account Siphon through more soft counters like trace ICE and rezzing assets/upgrades that spending a whole deck slot just against Account Siphon did not seem very worthwhile)

Easy Mark Event: Job (#19 Core Set)

Easy MarkImpact 2 out of 5

At first Easy Mark was played in many decks, Criminal and otherwise. Like the corporation version Beanstalk Royalties it was a quick, cheap way to gain credits for a single click. It was, and still is, very efficient. As mentioned on this blog before, however, the one area of power creep for Netrunner is economy. Card slots are always at a premium in any deck, and just gaining 3 credits isn’t enough, not when there are much better, more efficient methods out there

Like Beanstalk, it has fallen considerably out of use as the economy options grow. It is unlikely to come back into play either, if only because it could be replaced with a card that does the same thing, but better.

Forged Activation Orders Event: Sabotage (#20 Core Set)

Forged Activation OrdersImpact 3 out of 5

A useful card, if not entirely at first glance. A new player may wonder why you would want to give the corp the option to rez a piece of ICE - doesn’t that make it harder for a runner? In effect it is good, either way the corp chooses. Either the ICE is gone, or the runner knows exactly what breaker they need to go get to deal with it. Plus the money was spent, possibly leaving the corp in a position where they do not have the money to rez ICE on another server.

When used against ICE like Archer it can be even more devastating. The additional cost must still be paid, and getting an Archer targeted by Forged Activation Orders is a very painful choice for the corp.

It has a lot of great use, and it often see’s play. It isn’t a card that has been the bane of someone’s existence like Account Siphon, nor is it one that is forgotten when players make decks. It sits comfortably in the middle of the pack as a good card.

Inside Job Event: Run (#21 Core Set)

Inside JobImpact 4 out of 5

Inside Job get’s a 4 rating because of the simple fact that all players must learn to play around it. It will be in Criminal decks, and without a card like Guard handy, any server protected by a single piece of ICE is a prime target for Inside Job.

It also is a perfect example of the playstyle of Criminal. As mentioned in the introduction to this article, it allows the runner to get in without icebreakers. That alone has given it power.

It may not be a card that has turned the meta on its head, left people raging or celebrating, or made a huge memory in players minds, it still has a very large impact on how the game is played.

Special Order Event (#22 Core Set)

Special OrderImpact 3 out of 5

A card that is a very nice tutor for your icebreakers, it must be remembered that any use of this card increases the cost of your icebreakers by a credit and a click. It is also a bad idea to play this card without being able to install and make a run that same turn. The corp now knows what icebreaker is in the runner’s grip, and can install ICE that is not of that type if they need to protect servers.

It is a solidly useful card, as are most Criminal cards of the core set, providing a good way to get single copies of icebreakers when you need them. That can be a dangerous proposition if there is no way in a runner’s deck to retrieve those single copies should they be trashed, but it also provides a way for single specialized breakers like Deus X or Sharpshooter to be found when needed. It continues to be used and as a tutor, will always be useful.

Lemuria Codecracker Hardware (#23 Core Set)

Lemuria CodecrackerImpact 1 out of 5

Expose abilities are seemingly underrated through most of the game. While information is always useful to have, having to spend an action on that alone has never really caught on in competitive decks. Silhouette at the least get’s the expose for doing something she already wants to be doing - making runs. Doing it for an additional click and a credit is often seen as too slow, or a waste of time. Why not just run instead and find out what it is while forcing the corp to spend money, and possibly be able to deal with whatever was going to be exposed all in the same click?

The argument against that is traps, such as Project Junebug of course. Most of the time however it is simply easier to prepare for the worst when running into what could be trap. Protection, enough cards in hand, a click and money to clear any tags, and traps are far less dangerous than the need to spend an entire click on exposing them.

Interestingly however, the release of Government Takeover might just give some runners an incentive to pack some expose. Some decks have tried to score a Takeover by advancing it slowly, one counter a turn, making it look like a Trick of Light battery, or a failed trap. Likewise, they do the same thing with traps. A four advanced Junebug or Cerebral Overwriter is a bad bad thing to run into, and expose could let you know if you need to make that run or not to stop the corp from winning with a scored Takeover.

Still, expose remains on the weak side of the design space for Netrunner. It has a lot of places to go, and if explored Codecracker may come back into vogue, but until then it has little to no impact.

Desperado Hardware: Console (#24 Core Set)

DesperadoImpact 5 out of 5

Often rated as the single best  console in the game, Desperado is one of the primary pioneers of the idea of ‘click compression’. Its ability at first glance does not sound like very much, but combined with Datasucker (which can be considered credits for dealing with the strength relation of icebreakers and ICE), Dirty Laundry or Bank Job, and other effects that trigger off a run, it simply adds to the pile of effectiveness for that single click.

As more and more consoles come out, Desperado still remains one of the strongest. Even ignoring the idea of click compression, the runner wants to run. It is the only way for the runner to win the game, realistically (baring milling the corp, which has yet to be a truly effective strategy) and gaining a credit for doing what is already going to be done anyways is simply powerful.

There are a lot of great consoles in Criminal, but all of them are very specific in their abilities. Any one of them coming into play is going to show the corp what that runner deck is built around. Desperado is so generic in its strength that it still leaves any option open for where the runner may go, giving the corp less information to work from.

It continues to see play, and will for a very long time as a console that is simply effective and generic enough to be good in almost any deck.

Aurora Program: Icebreaker - Fracter (#25 Core Set)

AuroraImpact 1 out of 5

From the highs of Account Siphon and Desperado to the lows of Aurora, Core Set Criminal has a lot of very interesting design choices. At first glance Aurora may seem like a good answer to some very big barriers, but its not. On all the barriers, the likes of Corroder is still cheaper (for new players, see the website Sneakdoor Zeta for a comparison of how much it costs breakers to break a piece of ICE). Perhaps if influence was a problem, then maybe aurora would be more useful alternative. However, Criminal has the likes of Inside Job and Femme Fatale to get around big beefy ICE.

With cards like Breach having been released, while limited to Central Servers, it is as effective, if not greatly more, than Aurora against every single piece of ICE it can interact with.  The math doesn’t lie, Aurora remains one of the least effective breakers in the entire game. Barriers may be the weak spot for Criminal icebreakers, but all that means is that it is time to use the tools already available to get past them, rather than rely on horribly expensive means.

Femme Fatale Program: Icebreaker - Killer (#26 Core Set)

Femme FataleImpact 4 out of 5

While at first glance Femme may seem extremely expensive (and indeed, she is) her bypass ability is incredibly powerful. That ability alone is what has given her the impact she has. Being able to get around a Tollbooth for a single credit completely destroys the taxing hope of the corp wherever they placed that Tollbooth. (For new players, a run happens during the runners turn, so Femme's ability resolves first before, bypassing the ICE - it is never encountered, so the encounter ability of Tollbooth does not resolve.) It allows bypass of high strength low subroutine ICE for a pittance, an even multiple subroutine ice is considerably cheaper most of the time.

While Femme is indeed expensive, that too has become less and less of an issue. Economy power creep and tricks like Test Run into Scavenge or other methods of getting her onto the table for far less credits make her even more effective. Her bypass ability is also very useful in core, with the fact that core set Criminal cards contain no decoders.

Femme is often a one of include in decks, for making taxing ICE not so taxing. She continues to be played for that reason, and will see great effect into the future.

Ninja Program: Icebreaker - Killer (#27 Core Set)

NinjaImpact 2 out of 5

While not as bad as Aurora, it is still not the most effective icebreaker. For strength 5 or 4 sentries it is amazingly efficient, but outside of that small window it becomes either horribly expensive or utterly overcosted.

Killers are criminals most effective icebreaker type, but most of their breakers are often overscored by the likes of Mimic, with tricks. Ninja may not see as much use as Faerie or even
Alias it still has seen some use in influence heavy Criminal decks, though not much use outside of blue.

Sneakdoor Beta Program (#28 Core Set)

Sneakdoor BetaImpact 3 out of 5

A card that certainly could see more use in the future, Sneakdoor Beta is often the surprise that corp players simply aren’t ready for. Spreading ICE thin over servers that are not getting attacked is a danger for corps. Sneakdoor forces archives to be ICE’d, especially late game when agendas may be sitting in HQ waiting for scoring windows.

It fell out of favor because of the 2 MU cost, making it hard to keep around with a full breaker suite. It makes surprise appearances in decks from time time, and is a good way for blue to force the corp to ICE Archives. As a one of in the tutor heavy Shaper decks, it is great for that quick and sudden surprise run.

It may have fallen a bit out of favor because it initiates the run, so it can’t be used with the likes of Account Siphon, Legwork, or any other Run Event. It is likely to see a resurgence in popularity as it fades from memory, to be a surprise for the corp. Many cards do this, going into and out of popularity in decks simply because the other side is ready for them. When they stop preparing for them all the time because no one plays them anymore, it is time to bring them back.

Bank Job Resource: Job (#29 Core Set)

Bank JobImpact 3 out of 5

A useful way to make money, Bank Job was used as a primary tool for economy for blue for a long while. As the economy power creep continued, it fell out of use as such, though it continued to be an effective way to ‘punish’ the corp for leaving unprotected remotes.

It has a slight weakness that if the server disappears while being run (through, for instance, Jackson Howard being already rezzed and used with no ICE on the server) the run is neither successful or unsuccessful, the click is lost, and the money is not gained.

It has had its day in the sun, and as a way to make money it may be a little more effective with the horizontal play style that has been gaining traction.

Crash Space Resource: Location (#30 Core Set)
Crash SpaceImpact 2 out of 5

It may have been the only way to prevent Meat Damage in the core set, but it quickly lost popularity when Plascrete Carapace was released. The recurring credits to remove a tag might be nice in combination with Account Siphon or other tagme type cards, but have to be used at least twice for it to provide a benefit over clearing tags without Crash Space

When the cycle rotation comes into play in a few years, it might see more use - Plascrete will be going out of rotation, and unless something similar is printed, Crash Space may see use then as a viable protection.

Data Dealer Resource: Connection - Seedy (#31 Core Set)

Data DealerImpact 2 out of 5

A card with a hefty price. Though the boost of credits can be quite the surge for runners, and close off corp scoring windows rather suddenly, it is very hard to reliably use. Like most ‘forfeit an agenda costs on cards, it is best used with 1 point agendas (or 0 point like Domestic Sleepers). The runner however has no way to guarantee that those will be available. There may be none in the deck to steal, or the runner may only have seen 3 pointer agendas. Sacrificing 3 points, especially if the runner is on 6 already, for, at best, a chance to score an agenda is not a good trade off.

Design wise it is very similar to Stimhack in gaining the nine credits for a steep price. The use of Stimhack to get into servers unexpectedly is well known, and a thought could be said that Data Dealer could be used for the same. There comes two problems with this. First, as a Resource there is no surprise factor. It would take three clicks to play, click for nine credits, and make a run compared to a single click with Stimhack. Second, more often than not the only agendas available to be forfeited would be of the same point value (or greater!) than the one being stolen.

There was some consideration of Data Dealer when Shi.Kyū was released, and it has seem some work in a Connections style criminal deck with Calling in Favors - at least in that style of deck it has a purpose if no agendas are worth being forfeited to it.

Data Dealer could see some use in the future, but it is likely to be a niche card used against certain decks, and so not very likely to be seen in competitive play.

Decoy Resource: Connection (#32 Core Set)

DecoyImpact 2 out of 5

The best thing Decoy has going for it is its instant speed use of avoiding a tag. Decoy allows the runner to take the tag a SEA Source would give in preparation for a double Scorched and instantly avoid it, protecting them from the inevitable block explosions that follow. It has also been used for cards like Activist Support to protect it long enough for that bad publicity to fire.

Its real weakness is the single use it has. Tagstorm through the likes of Midseason Replacements makes it a useless protection, and other methods of tagging are so prevalent that a single use won’t protect when the time comes for the corp to make use of those tags.

Criminal in Core

Perhaps most interesting is that Criminal cards in core were either the absolute strongest the game had (and for a few, still has) seen, or they were pretty much ignored. Account Siphon and Desperado will be fixtures in blue decks for practically all time, but the likes of Aurora will never see widespread accepted use. Criminal were set up strong in the core set, and that strength showed through many tournaments and many seasons.

Next week, the deadly Jinteki

The red corp, with its net damage and its shell games full of traps and prickly situations is next week!

Reminder: This article was written with the meta up through “The Valley/Breaker Bay” having just been released. This article is about the opinions of the writer, as a review of cards as they are seen throughout the length of the game. The main goal of the article is for new players to have an understanding of the history of the cards as the meta evolved, and for experienced players to maybe re-look at a cards they long since dismissed. (It is a nice side effect that the writer learns more about the cards as well).


  1. Nitpick: Agendas doesn't need an apostrophe.

  2. bugger! I thought I had caught them all (some reason I keep typing it when writing these up)