Monday, May 11, 2015

1.4 Shaper - Core Set

Shaper is a faction about finding what you need when you need it, program wise. The green are the runners who are in it for the knowledge, the understanding. They are not there for money like blue, or a cause like red, but for the knowledge of how to do it best.

Shaper in core has been said to be the best teaching faction for the runner, with a wide array of tools for getting things done, and the most stable manner in which to do them in. They rely less on tricks than other factions might (such as Inside Job or fixed strength breakers plus Datasucker) but that does not mean that Shaper does not have its own share of aces up their sleeves.

Shaper became much stronger once Creation and Control big box expansion was released, which gave them many of the iconic tools that so define the faction today. Even so, they saw some good use early on, if not nearly as much as blue, and continue to be a contender in todays meta.

This article was written with the meta up through “Breaker Bay” having just been released. This article is about the opinions of the writer, and 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).

Kate "Mac" McCaffrey: Digital Tinker Identity: Natural (#33 Core Set)

Kate "Mac" McCaffrey: Digital TinkerImpact 4 out of 5

Like all of the core set runner Identities, Kate is a strong contender even in the current meta. Her ability can be considered a reciprocal ability to Engineering The Future, saving money rather than producing more for an action that the runner will be undertaking several times over the course of the game anyways. Her one Link is a useful effect as well, even if Trace is only sometimes a consideration (depending entirely on deck archetype).

With such a strong basic ability that streamlines economy throughout the entire game, it is not a surprise that Kate remains strong. In combination with the Prepaid VoicePAD event economy shell, that gives her a discount on every card in her deck besides Resources, she makes one of the strongest runners in the current meta. Prepaid Kate, as the archetype is called, remains a fast and viable alternative that has been seen in multiple tournaments to great effect. With such an encompassing ability that can fit any deck type that and does not have to be built around specifically, it is no surprise that she remains strong and will continue to do so.

Diesel Event (#34 Core Set)

DieselImpact 4 out of 5

Diesel is a strong card draw ability. Unlike the corp’s mandatory draw, it costs time (clicks) for the runner to draw more cards. Any card that compresses that action into a more efficient one is good for the runner. Diesel has made its way into many decks, providing that basic card draw compression, without even having to cost a single credit.

Beyond that simple comparison, the runner also wants to see more cards. The more cards a runner sees the sooner they will encounter the necessary tools to get into the corps servers. The corp on the other hand often wants to leave more cards in their RD in order to protect the agendas buried within.

Card draw fits into an interesting place in Netrunner. Unlike many other games (noticeably MtG) card draw is not one of the most powerful effects to be generated. Card draw in Netrunner is a choice, plus it carries consequences - such as increasing the density of agendas for corp, and reducing the availability to stay away from a flatline for the runner.

While it may not seem to be a card that has led to a large impact of the meta, it has helped contribute to the consistency of many decks and will continue to be used.

Modded Event: Mod (#35 Core Set)

ModdedImpact 2 out of 5

It is really surprising that Modded does not seem to see as much play as one would expect. It is a fantastic economy style card, allowing many things to be installed when the credits don’t look to be in the runners favor, or when those same credits will be needed for a run later.

It works in combination with Kate’s ability, and can provide very quick and meaningful boosts to getting a rig setup. Perhaps that is why it doesn’t seem to be that prevalent - Big Rig style decks are not very popular, rather a lean and fast rig that finds the tools it needs with lots of burst economy is far more popular.

Modded certainly is a good card, and it has seen use. Expect to see it come back into play more as Fast Advance style becomes less dominant and a possibility for a bit more rig building comes back to the runner. Without having to speed into RD access, the chance for Modded to be worth a card slot again is high.

The Maker’s Eye Event: Run (#36 Core Set)

The Maker's EyeImpact 4 out of 5

This is one of those cards that sees play consistently and often to great effect. While the chances of pulling multiple agendas with a Maker’s Eye run are slim, it is not that which makes this card such a useful ability. Maker’s Eye is reduces the number of times a runner will need to access RD to find agendas, by compressing those accesses into one run. Combine with other multi access cards such as R&D Interface or Medium and it can give the runner a quick boost in access counts.

There is some math that has been done that states the runner needs to access RD so many times in order to have a good chance of winning. That math is beyond the scope of Wyldside, but suffice it to say that The Maker’s Eye helps reach that number sooner. (Note: Do not think that accessing RD 17 times means a win for the runner. Rather, remember that you will need to access RD many times over the course of the game, any card that helps you do that faster or more efficient is good)

The Maker’s Eye can lead to a bit of a trap however. Concentrating singularly on RD can let agendas that are piling up in HQ slip into servers and get scored. The Maker’s Eye is often times best used when the runners concentration is on HQ instead, much the same way a Legwork would work in reverse. If the runner’s deck concentrates heavily on HQ, a Maker’s Eye run can be a good surprise to pull something off the top the corp thought was safe.

It is also worth noting that concentrating too much on a single central will cause agendas to be missed. While stacking advantages (such as R&D Interface and The Maker’s Eye) is a good strategy, the runner needs to be conscious of when it is a good time to run HQ or Archives to keep a corp on their toes.

Tinkering Event: Mod (#37 Core Set)

TinkeringImpact 2 out of 5

Tinkering is a very niche card that has had some use out of decks using Kit or maybe Quetzal (Though the influence would be very tight then) to get more out of their base abilities. Outside of Paintbrush Kit it hasn’t really seen a lot of use, which maybe should be thought about in a different light.

The big thing that is often overlooked on Tinkering is that it does not have to be on a rezzed piece of ICE. Any ICE can be targeted with Tinkering, even unrezzed pieces, giving the runner quite an opportunity. It becomes a Shaper version of Inside Job, when the runner only has a single breaker out. Certainly no where near as effective, and without knowing what the ICE is trying to calculate the cost of the run is very difficult, but there are ways around those issues.

Though it has not seen a lot of play, it is certainly a card worth re-looking at and considering again in a different light. If seen early enough it can help get into servers the corp thought were safe, and even late game it can allow more efficient breakers to work on ICE that is costly to get through for another type.

Akamatsu Mem Chip Hardware: Chip (#38 Core Set)

Akamatsu Mem ChipImpact 3 out of 5

For a long time this was considered the Shaper ‘Console’ - Because cards like Monolith and Toolbox were so expensive to play, the simple cost and memory boost for the program heavy Shaper decks made this an ideal card.

Now there are decent consoles that give the memory boost and an effect, so Akamatsu has fallen out of favor for that use. In terms of pure memory, there are a lot of options, and if you need cheap +MU, Akamatsu is the place to go. It doesn’t really have an impact on the game outside of the need to increase MU to support a rig, and it does that job admirably and cheaply.

Rabbit Hole Hardware: Link (#39 Core Set)

Rabbit HoleImpact 2 out of 5

Link, while better in this version of Netrunner than in the original, is still not a mechanic that is used very much. With Breaker Bay there are the Cloud type breakers that are starting to come into the pool, which may give Rabbit Hole some new life.

The main advantage of Rabbit Hole is the ability to thin it out of the deck as soon as one is drawn. This ability is seen to greater use on Paige Piper, and has been used to great effect even in the small time that she has been released.

Rabbit hole does that a little bit, but only for itself. If a deck relies on Cloud breakers and Underworld Contact the ability to jump from zero to three Link in a single action could be useful, while removing cards from the deck that won’t be needed later - So far all Link dependent cards only require two link.

Unfortunately there is also Dyson Mem Chip which gives one link and one MU - making it much more versatile with the need for a rig. Of course the Cloud suite of breakers doesn't fill up memory, so perhaps Rabbit Hole might find a place once the full suite of breakers is released.

The Personal Touch Hardware: Mod (#40 Core Set)

The Personal TouchImpact 3 out of 5

A simple +1 Strength may not seem like a large amount, but it can and does have a great effect. Consider the use on the fixed breakers, Mimic and Yog. Consider the use on expensive to pump breakers like Femme. It can, and will, over the course of the game save far credits than the two and a click it costs to install it.

Personal Touch is, notably, the only Hardware that is hosted on a program - the other similar types of hardware host programs on themselves. What this has for an effect on the game is not really clear - It may have no effect, there may come an odd interaction down the line where it does create an issue.

Personal Touch hasn’t seen a ton of use, but it is a solid way of saving credits, or putting fixed breakers up into a higher range. It also saw use with Darwin to help keep a strength after the corp purges virus counters.

The Toolbox Hardware: Console

The ToolboxImpact 2 out of 5

While the abilities on the Toolbox are great, giving quite a bit of a bonus to the runner who plays it, its nine credit cost makes it rather difficult to get it out, and even when installed, that credit cost is usually a huge tempo hit to the runner, opening up a scoring window for the corp to react.

The Toolbox’s abilities are somewhat powerful, if limited. Two MU and two Link can turn on a lot of programs. The MU is great for the likes of Sage and Overmind which combo’s well with the link that will enable the Cloud Breakers to stay off the MU bonuses Sage and Overmind take advantage of.  Two credits allows Sage to break any one subroutine ICE it can interact with for effectively free, and there is a large synergy between these cards.

The price is what holds the card back however, the tempo hit from installing it and possibly opening a scoring window. However, economy continues to creep onward, becoming stronger and stronger such that Toolbox may one day see its day in the sun.

Battering Ram Program: Icebreaker - Fracter (#42 Core Set)

Battering RamImpact 2 out of 5

Battering Ram has not seen a ton of use. Though it is costed allright in breaking barriers (one subroutine barriers become slightly inefficient) the two MU cost is what holds it back. While it’s ability to retain its strength for the remainder of the run can be useful, that requires the corp to be stacking barriers.  Relying on the corp to set things up to make it easy on the runner is a strategy that is not going to see a lot of success.

It might be interesting to see Battering Ram and the other permanent strength breakers in combination with Escher, which would allow the runner to dictate the ICE placement and make it much cheaper to get into servers than the corp would wish.  The two MU cost of Battering Ram makes it difficult to see even this fringe strategy through, and is what keeps Battering Ram from making a huge splash. It is interesting to note that except for a few pieces of ICE, Battering Ram is as efficient, if not a credit better, than Corroder. Just that two MU still makes it so hard to use.

Gordian Blade Program: Icebreaker - Decoder (#43 Core Set)

Gordian BladeImpact 3 out of 5

Decoders are the strong icebreaker type for Shaper, and Gordian Blade is certainly the frontrunner of those. As efficient to use as Corroder, and not really too much to install, makes Gordian Blade pretty useful. Combine it with Kit for some very easy accesses early game, and it is a powerhose.

It still sees a lot of play, and it is a good solid decoder. The main drawback is the three influence cost. Despite being the same practically as Corroder, it is more difficult to splash out of faction, causing it to be used less when runner decks are using their influence for tricks rather than just a simple breaker.

Code Gates are a bit more interesting to deal with than Barriers too. Where barriers usually simply End the Run, a Code Gate will let the runner through but often taxing them credit wise or causing some sort of happy effect for the corp player. Where as Sentries attack the runner, Code Gates can often be walked through without too much stress, as long as the runner is prepared to accept whatever advantage the corp is going to gain out of doing so. That makes decoders less needed quickly than killers or fracters.

That in turn makes Gordian Blade have less of an impact on the game - It certainly is a useful decoder, and will continue to do so, but it doesn’t tend to be splashed for its efficiency like Corroder does, or played early for safety like killers do.

Magnum Opus Program (#44 Core Set)

Magnum OpusImpact 5 out of 5

Here it is, the Magnum Opus of the Shaper cards. Magnum is often the only economy card in a Shapers deck, being tutored out as quickly as possible, and then used to dominate the economy game. ‘Take eight’ is often said when the runner plays Magnum, and it is a very harrowing thing for the corp to see a runner sitting on piles and piles of credits.

Magnum is often used as a protection against flatlining as well - by staying within economic parity with the corp, it makes it much harder for the corp to land cards like SEA Source or Midseason Replacements, and even more difficult for making use of Punitive Counterstrike.

As well as protecting the runner, it makes it very hard for the corp to keep the runner out. When the runner can simply take eight credits a turn, and wait for the corp to place something down in a remote server, it becomes a task to find a window where a card will be safe long enough to be scored. Forcing that window is a skill that becomes very important to learn when facing off against Magnum Opus economies.

The memory cost is the greatest drawback for Magnum, putting a crink on the ability to play a full rig without support cards. Where Magnum’s greatest strength lies in the late game, keeping the economy of the runner going where the corp has started to lag, is also where it causes the most issues in having a full rig deployed and the memory to support it.

Magnum will continue to see play for as long as there are shaper decks worth playing.

Net Shield Program (#45 Core Set)

Net ShieldImpact 2 out of 5

If the local meta is full of Personal Evolution or other versions of Jinteki 1000 Cuts, Net Shield becomes a very useful card.  It allows the runner to play a lot more safely and more aggressively against decks where net damage is strong. Unfortunately, it does absolutely nothing against decks that are not using net damage, which is where it has seen some issues.

There is also Feedback Filter which can protect against two types of damage, and does not take up precious MU. It is more expensive to protect with, however, but it is also not limited to once per turn.  If net damage is prevalent in the meta, then these are considerations that have to be taken when building a deck - Is Net Shield or Feedback Filter a better choice? That all depends on the rest of the deck composition and if single pings of net damage are more a threat or multiple net damage a turn is.

As Clot pushes players away from Fast Advance, Jinteki is starting to push into the front of the world meta. Replicating Perfection and Personal Evolution are strong contenders in tournaments, and that makes the consideration of cards like Net Shield being played a much higher possibility. While it may not have seen a lot of play in the past, as the meta evolves and players look for tools to deal with the current ‘strong’ deck types, Net Shield can shine.

Pipeline Program: Icebreaker - Killer (#46 Core Set)

PipelineImpact 2 out of 5

Like Battering Ram, Pipeline can boost its strength for the entire run. In the same vein however, this is not often a very useful situation. With the strength boost ability of pipeline being two credits, it makes it even more important that it gets to use those boosts at least twice.

If Pipeline encounters two sentries in a row with the same strength then it is a very efficient breaker. Outside of that scenario it lags behind even Femme, which has the same cost to boost, but with a higher base strength.

It often seems to see play when influence is tight in a Shaper deck, if simply because it is cheaper to install than Creeper and sentries often have multiple subroutines to break.

Aesop's Pawnshop Resource: Location - Connection (#47 Core Set)

Aesop's PawnshopImpact 4 out of 5

Aesop has seen play in numerous archetypes of decks. It is the linchpin for the economy of decks like ‘Noiseshop’, selling viruses after they have been used up to prepare them to be brought back out. Recent Exile decks have copied the same strategy, gaining a card draw when cards like Cache are replayed over and over again.

It is often used as a stable part of the economy for runner decks that rely on a lot of things that go into play but can only be used once or twice. It also combo’s well with  cards like Starlight Crusade Funding and Wyldside. Those cards trigger at the start of the turn, at the same time Aesop’s does. When the runner is done with their ability, they can choose to trigger Aesop’s first, selling Wyldside before it causes a click loss, and having four clicks again to use.

Aesops’ will continue to see use, simply because the ability to get cards off the table that normally cannot be trashed (that is hardware and resources, and sometimes even programs when there is not another one to install) is a strong ability.

Sacrificial Construct Resource: Remote (#48 Core Set)

Sacrificial ConstructImpact 2 out of 5

While the idea of being able to protect programs and hardware seems like a very strong ability, it hasn’t seen a lot of play. This is likely to the fact that it does not actively advance the runner’s win strategy, rather reactively replying to the corp’s strategy. Given that not all corp decks will be actively trying to trash programs, it makes it a difficult card to include. Most program trashing comes from ICE; because those ICE are almost always Destroyers, cards like Sharpshooter not only protect the runners programs, but also allow the runner to get past that ICE further advancing their win strategy.

The Hardware protection has yet to see a lot of use, but that is where Sacrificial Construct may see some play in the future. Up until now, most hardware destruction was found in Weyland ‘Tag and Bag’ decks, which were looking to destroy Plascrete Carapace's in order to ensure the kill. Most decks don’t include a lot of hardware outside of a Console, and that makes it difficult for the corp to justify a lot of hardware destruction if they aren’t aiming for a kill.

Cards coming up in the next datapack are Cybernetic Hardware. These are cards that have a cost to install, but provide a nice benefit - If they become prevalent enough, or the corp starts to see them as a threat, hardware destruction could make more of a splash. If that happens, Sacrificial Construct will gain more of a use as well.

Shaper in Core

Shaper did not see a lot of great cards in Core. Magnum Opus continues to be powerful, but the majority of their breakers and hardware do not see a lot of play even now. It was with Creation and Control that Shapers really took off, building on a solid foundation of Magnum Opus and Kate’s ability, and adding in tutoring that gave a lot of lifting power.

Next Week, NBN

Next week Wyldside dives into yellow NBN, the news network that knows where you are at all times…

This article was written with the meta up through “Breaker Bay” having just been released. This article is about the opinions of the writer, and 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).