NBN has had a long and successful career at the top of the food chain. Fast Advance was pioneered using yellow cards, and Astrobiotics has been one of the top running deck types for several cycles. The core cards to those strategies are all in the core set - SanSan City Grid, Biotic Labor, and Astroscript Pilot Program.
Yet during the early days this strategy didn’t pan out for NBN so much as the tools were often imported elsewhere. There simply were not enough Three for Two agendas yet, and it wasn’t until Project Beale that NBN Fast Advance took off like the rocketship it was. As economy grew and ICE became thicker and more varied, it only got stronger.
That left the other strengths of NBN in the dust. Traces and tagging are big things for the yellow news network. While some decks may have splashed a few Scorched Earth to take advantage of this, most went all in on advancing and scoring as quickly as possible. It was a brittle strategy that may have seen its end in Clot. Certainly since Clot was released NBN Fast Advance has not had the prevalence it once enjoyed. This is not the end of NBN however, simply the turning point it needs to find its footing on other strategies and diversity.
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).
NBN: Making News Identity: Megacorp (#80 Core Set)
The least impactful of all the core set Identities, Making News started the Fast Advance train, but it quickly moved over to The World is Yours* for the smaller deck size (increasing the chance of getting the pieces needed) and larger hand size (holding more). The Trace bonus of Making News, while thematic to the strengths of NBN, simply did not help the Fast Advance strategy.
As such, Making News rarely see’s play. Its ability can be very strong, given how many pieces of ICE and operations NBN carries that have a Trace effect, but the question is how is that Trace effect used to win the game? Too often when faced with a Trace either the corp will not boost it at all, making it (often) negligible for the runner to match, or the corp will boost it out of the runners reach, so the runner does not boost at all.
There is a strategy that has not yet been explored however. Like the Jinteki shell game, one of bluffs and posturing. When a Trace is boosted a little, but not enough that blows the runner off from being able to match it, it can be a powerful bluff or an interesting tax. What does the runner do, match and beat the trace, spending valuable credits that might be needed on the next piece of ICE or let it fire and take the punishment for it? This strategy requires traces that have an effect the runner wishes to avoid; Either effects that are immediately dangerous, or tag punishment cards in hand such as Closed Accounts.
Making News may see a resurgence with NBN Fast Advance seeing a setback. The other strengths of the faction may be explored, and if found to be competitive, Making News could certainly see a comeback.
Astroscript Pilot Program Agenda: Initiative (#81 Core Set)
This is it. This is the Astrotrain card. This is the one that set off the NBN Fast Advance, chaining together to allow the corp to score from hand until all they need is a single point - a point easily found in the next agenda, a two for one.
Astroscript has defined the game for many cycles now, forcing runners to get faster, and leaving slower corps in the dust. It has led the way of the aggressive corp scoring turn after turn and leaving the runner with little ability to set up before the game is even over.
It has often been lauded as a detrimental card as well, leaving several runners feeling like they just watched the corp play a game of solitaire to win, and they having no ability to counter it. The problem becomes that its ability can be used at paid ability speed - it doesn’t take a click. Any other Three for Two agenda can be installed, advanced, advanced, and an Astroscript token used to score it. If that was another Astroscript then another token is ready for the next. With the third one scored, even a Two for One can be found with Fast Track, installed, advanced, and Astroscripted to score for the win. All with only a single credit left. The Astrotrain is brutal when it works.
And work it does, given that there is some great card draw in faction (Jackson Howard and Daily Business Show) and good economy is a given now for every faction. Now the card Clot has been released,and Fast Advance seems to have hit a bit of a snag. Maybe it is people not wanting to play against Clot, maybe Clot really has put crink in the side of FA, that is not for Wyldside to discuss. Either way, the ability to score out of hand finally has an answer from the runner side.
Astroscript will remain a powerful card for cycles to come. Even outside of FA its ability saves a click and a credit, and that is useful even if it doesn’t score from hand. It is going to remain strong, like all Three for Two agendas, and always be something the runner has to consider.
Breaking News Agenda (#82 Core Set)
At first glance this agendas ability does not seem to apply easily. Most often used to score from hand the last point after three Astroscripts have been scored, its ability to give tags has not been a large part of the environment.
That is the effect Fast Advance has had, in essence turning this agenda into just a finalizing score. That is not all there is to do with it however, and many an enterprising player has used this agenda to great effect by playing upon that Fast Advance effect. Too often runners do not expect there to be face down agendas in a Fast Advance deck, believing them to be SanSan City Grids being prepared for advancing. Doing so can leave a click to act upon the tags Breaking News gives. Trashing resources such as Kati Jones when loaded up with credits can be very devastating to the runner. Now as well are resources that trash themselves automatically if the runner is ever tagged, making even a score from hand of this agenda a threat to those.
As a two for one it will see use for a long time, and while its ability needs to be played around it still can be quite powerful.
Anonymous Tip Operation (#83 Core Set)
When Netrunner was young Anonymous Tip was considered a bad card. The corp already got a free draw, and accelerating their draw not only increased the density of agendas in RD but also headed the corp closer to running out of cards.
As the meta grew however and decks became more consistent in achieving their winning strategy, drawing cards became an advantage. Getting through the deck to find the agendas needed to win, or get the cards together in hand that would open up the winning score or set up the flatline. While Anonymous Tip has fallen out of general use, it and cards like it are no longer considered bad cards, and will be seen every now and then.
Closed Accounts Operation: Grey Ops (#84 Core Set)
Closed Accounts is one of the few tag punishment cards that exists. A few more are starting to come out (Traffic Accident for instance) but they are still far and few between. That may actually be part of the design philosophy - with only a few cards that can punish the runner for being tagged (outside of the default corp action to trash a resource) it simplifies the options for playing around being tagged. Too many threats would make it an impossible situation to be tagged, forcing the runner into deadlock situations. With only a few possible fates (MU loss, credit loss, and meat damage) it can be played around with other cards, which gives a great option for the runner to make choices. Clear the tag, at the cost of time and money, or risk the fate that may come with the corp knowing the runners location.
That is good design. A choice, one that is difficult, but one that does not have a single viable option. Because there are only also a few cards that can tag the runner during the corp turn, this continues to make the tag mostly on the decision of the runner.
Closed Accounts is tag punishment, and it sees play, but never to the impact of cards like Scorched Earth have, but it can open scoring windows and create opportunities for the corp. It continues to see play, and will be a powerful card as long as ways to tag the runner are included in the corp deck, or at the least ways to force the runner to consider taking a tag.
Psychographics Operation (#85 Core Set)
As the popularity of Tagstorm style decks starts to become more prevalent, Psychographics will see more use. The card is an interesting fast advance tool, allowing any agenda, no matter how many points it requires to score (Government Takeover for instance, or an instant win over advanced Project Beale) to be scored in a single turn.
It requires money, but so does any of the fast advance tricks. It also requires the runner to have several tags, and not be clearing them. It can be used to great effect with Midseason Replacements, which is the most common combo to play Psychographics with.
An interesting development comes with the release of Clot. Because using such a card would be on the corp turn, the paid ability window (including the time to score) would be in the corp favor. That would allow Psychographics to score out even a Three for Two (such as Astroscript) without the chance for clot to be used after the agenda is advanced. The runner would have to install clot (with a paid ability) when the card was installed, which is risky and can be bluffed out easily. Psychographics can be made to work with that and may see more use in a post Clot meta.
While it has not had a lot of effect outside of score big agendas (Government Takeover, over advanced Project Beale, or Mandatory Upgrades) it could very much see use to combat Clot.
SEA Source Operation (#86 Core Set)
The impact of this card comes from its combination with Scorched Earth. The SEA, Scorched, Scorched combo is well known as one of the primary ways of flatlining the runner with meat damage. It is a fact that new players should realize - If the runner run and ends the turn with more than a nine credit difference (adjusted by link) under the corp, then they can very well be flatlined without other protection. Money is a way to keep that safe, staying above the nine credit limit when making a run is a form of protection. If the runner does not run, they cannot be hit with cards that tag, outside of a Data Raven counter.
That is the limit of this card, but otherwise it is a very powerful way to land a tag when it is needed. The runner has to run, and because always keeping the runner out of servers and successful runs is impossible, SEA Source will be viable to land that tag. It will remain a strong card for that fact.
Ghost Branch Asset: Ambush - Facility (#87 Core Set)
This is a card that probably should see some more play as Fast Advance drops back a step from the dominant strategy. As NBN will need to step away from scoring agendas from hand, the ability to fake the runner into attempting to steal from taxing remotes will be needed. Cards like Ghost Branch, Reversed Accounts, and others will be useful for this.
Ghost Branch is more than that however. It is a zero cost, zero to trigger, one influence trap. The uses for dropping at least two tags on a runner for nothing but the turn and two credits to advance it could be enormous. Played at the right time, at the bottom of a deep taxing server, and those tags would be very hard to clear. Not to mention that a double advanced Ghost Branch, a trap that is almost never expected to be seen, would require three clicks to deal with by the runner, assuming one of those was to run and trigger it.
Ghost Branch has not seen a lot of use in the past, but it is a card that is ready to be brought back into the light with the changes of strategy for NBN. This is a card that might very well end up being important.
Data Raven ICE: Sentry - Tracer - Observer (#88 Core Set)
Data Raven is a particularly nasty piece of ICE. Despite not having an End the Run subroutine, and its single subroutine being a trace that can just be beaten without a breaker, it causes more runners to jack out and bail on the run than practically any other piece of ICE.
The on encounter ability of Data Raven is an ability to be feared. If Data Raven’s are being rezzed, especially outside of NBN, the runner will almost always assume that some sort of tag punishment is being prepared, probably Scorched Earth. This piece of ICE is part of the psychological game that can, and does, make Netrunner such an interesting game to play.
Of course, it doesn’t actually have an End the Run subroutine. The smart runner will plow right through it when they are ready too. As the only line of defense it is not enough, but coupled with good strong ICE or ICE that threatens to use those tags (such as Universal Connectivity Fee) it can be a good threat.
Matrix Analyzer ICE: Sentry - Tracer - Observer (#89 Core Set)
This ICE is not one that has seen a lot of use, but certainly one that might in the right deck. The main issue with Matrix Analyzer is having something to advance. Certainly some great bluffs can come out of a runner hitting this - is the card you are about to access in this remote, that is now three advancement counters instead of two, a trap or an agenda? Junebug will kill and Overwriter is no slouch either.
Having advanceable ICE in the deck provides a much better chance of having something to advance, though the advancement is not free the fact that it does not take a click is. If for some reason the corp playing Because We Built It did not use the recurring credit they can use it when this ICE is encountered, but that is possibly a risk at wasting the ID’s ability.
Matrix Analyzer is certainly not a bad piece of ICE, but highly situational and that is what makes it see less play. It might come around as more cards that can be advanced appear, and it might become a very interesting linchpin as NBN meta develops post Clot.
Tollbooth ICE: Code Gate (#90 Core Set)
Tollbooth is quite frankly one of the best taxing pieces of ICE in the game, despite having only one subroutine. Its on encounter ability makes it expensive to get through regularly, even efficient breakers have to pay the extra cost to proceed. Because it does have an End the Run it must be dealt with one way or another, making this both an early defense to stop runners (assuming credits are available) and a hefty tax every time they encounter it.
Tollbooth is a prime target for Femme Fatale, the paid ability window order going to the runner allowing the bypass to take effect before Tollbooth can charge for the on encounter. This means that Femme does not pay the three credits and will pass Tollbooth for only a single credit, as long as her counter is on it.
Even outside of that it means that Femme is not being used on other ICE. Big glacier style decks would have many targets for Femme, and another piece of strong taxing ICE fits well into their playstyle. Tollbooth has been splashed outside of faction for big strong taxing ICE, and it has and will continue to see play.
Red Herrings Upgrade (#91 Core Set)
Red Herrings is NBN’s protection upgrade, like Caprice Nisei and Ash 2X3ZB9CY, but it has not seen nearly the same amount of use. Most likely this comes from its low trash cost and its inability to protect anything other than agendas. Caprice protects herself by stopping the run, Ash costs three to trash so its more of a tax, and can protect other cards (Such as Caprice) in the server.
Red Herrings might be a card that is worth recurring however. Combined with Predictive Algorithm and maybe encountering an NAPD Contract the costs are huge for the runner to steal. As more agenda protection such as this occurs, or with other agendas that protect themselves (such as Fetal AI) this card can become more important. It would be surprising at all to see this card making a return in Never Advance style decks, especially post Clot.
SanSan City Grid Upgrade: Region (#92 Core Set)
The second card out of the core set that defined NBN Fast Advance, this region is the most popular corp card reason for buying a third playset.
The strength of this card is the ability, for eight credits, to score any Three for Two out of hand, and it still protects itself with a massive trash cost. Runners have learned to trash these as soon as possible, but the very act of doing so can open scoring windows for savy corp who understand how to manipulate that desire to trash. Considering that the other major fast advance card, Biotic Labor, does the same thing for seven credits, but without the ability to tax the runner, nor the ability to stick around if the runner does not trash it, SanSan is integral to fast advance.
What has often been overlooked in the fast advance style however, is SanSan City Grid’s usefulness for never advance. It is more difficult to achieve, but when scoring windows are opened a four for two agenda that has sat on a SanSan can be scored in one turn, without any advancement counters on it giving it away. It is more difficult than normal three for two never advance style, but careful play can produce the effect. Clot actually makes this a slight bit easier - runners who have access to an instant speed Clot are rarely going to believe that a four for two would just be left lying on the table, unadvanced.
Combine SanSan with Astroscript tokens, and any four for two can be scored out of hand if the SanSan is already on the table.
This card made a huge effect into the meta, and will continue to do so despite the presence of Clot. It will, however, see some change in the way that it is used, and that can only be good.
NBN In Core
NBN, despite not being one of the early corps played, has some of the strongest corp cards to date. These are cards that are seen in every Fast Advance deck, and that strategy was the dominate corp strategy for many cycles. While it may be faltering off, that only means that some of the less used cards out of NBN are ready to be plucked up and used to great effect, probably also for some great surprise for unwary runners not used to seeing such cards out of the news network.
Next Week, Neutral
We started with runners, so in order not to have two corp weeks in a row (sort of), all the neutral cards will be done at once.
Reminder 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).