The Neutral cards were originally pitched to allow the core set to have less total number of cards but still make legal decks for each faction. The idea, because of the faction system, also allowed cards to be designed that are so ubiquitous to the game, or so important as to make the game playable, that all factions could use them without worrying about using up their influence.
While some neutral cards have gained an influence cost since the core set was released, they are outliers. For the most part neutral cards are to fill holes in the design space, and provide answers that should be available to all factions equally.
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).
Infiltration Event (#49 Core Set)
The best thing about Infiltration is its double use. Expose is not always useful, but the ability to either gain a few credits or expose is a nice pairing. Some runners will pack just one in their deck, using Same Old Thing to reuse it if they want to expose again. Its main weakness is that it is only two credits. Some cost this as neutral - a click to draw it and a click to play it is the same as clicking twice for credits. The thing to remember is that its not really designed as an economy card, rather an information card that can also be used if there is no reason to expose. While it has not seen a ton of play, it also hasn’t been overlooked entirely. It is a good card to include if you want to expose before making costly runs on what could be nothing, but it is often cut as runners become more experienced in the flow of the game.
Sure Gamble Event (#50 Core Set)
Hedge Fund Operation (#110 Core Set)
What is there really to say about Sure Gamble/Hedge Fund other than it is the benchmark all operation/event economy cards are measured against? Pretty much the standard economy gain, four credits for a single click on a single card. Either they give less, but require less investment (Easy Mark / Beanstalk Royalties), give more but require a higher investment (Restructure) or have drawbacks beyond just the investment cost.
These two cards are played in almost every single deck, and because each player starts with five credits, and five is relatively easy to reach, they continue to be played in pretty much every deck.
Crypsis Program: Icebreaker - AI - Virus (#51 Core Set)
The very first AI Icebreaker, and the back up for many decks. Crypsis is often played either as insurance against losing a single copy of a breaker, to replace paying influence for a breaker that faction does not have a strong variety for, or as an alternative for early aggression that can get into any server, for a cost.
That cost is great. While Crypsis is very efficient in breaking ICE, the requirement that an extra click be spent to power Crypsis up for each piece of ICE he needs to break, he can quickly eat up time. Early game this is fine - a single piece of ICE is often all that protects a server and the ability of Crypsis to get in and allow powerful cards such as Account Siphon to land is a useful tool. It is also worth mentioning that if there are other ways to pull a runners standard breakers into play, that there is no reason to power up Crypsis for only a single piece of ICE. Just break and trash him to get that Account Siphon off, then drop normal breakers as needed now that the ICE is rezzed and the runner knows what type it is.
There are other AI breakers that have come around, and it becomes a bit of a runner choice on which to use. In general, having an AI breaker, even just a single one, in a runners deck can add a lot of flexibility to their attack plan, without losing consistency to their deck. But as with all AI’s, they have a steep cost in trying to make use of them as the only breaker in the deck. Even with options, Crypsis can and will be useful into the future for that flexibility alone.
Access to Globalsec Resource: Link (#52 Core Set)
Link is, sadly, one of the most underused mechanics of the game. Although this may change as the ‘Cloud’ subtype of breakers starts to become more popular, Access to Globalsec is still not going to be the go to choice for runners to find link. It simply is too narrow a card, only providing one benefit for a mechanic that is rarely used. Even if Traces become the most popular thing the corp can use, the other methods that provide Link are still going to be more popular than Access, if just because they generally also offer something else as well (Memory, deck thinning, recurring credits) Sadly this means that Access to Globalsec is likely never to have much of an impact on the meta.
Armitage Codebusting Resource: Job (#53 Core Set)
One of the earliest ways that money was generated for the runner, Armitage has fallen a bit out of use. With the likes of Daily Casts providing a similar amount for no spent click, and other economic options flowing into the game, it is just another option. However, consider the fact that it can generate credits much to the same ratio as Magnum Opus, without the hefty install cost or the MU.
Armitage can allow an almost broke runner to be back in range for Sure Gamble the next turn, or enough to break into a lightly defended server. While it doesn’t stick around like Magnum, its well known that the ability to ‘Take eight’ that Magnum provides can be vicious. That is a solid amount of burst, even at the cost of a full turn, and Armitage can provide that without the drawbacks that Magnum can, if for a much shorter burst. It deserves to be looked at again for economy options where the runner doesn’t want to put a lot of event economy into their deck, or would like something a bit more flexible but not as difficult to install as Magnum
Priority Requisition Agenda: Security (#106 Core Set)
Big ICE and low agenda density is what leads players to use this agenda. Five for Three’s are often used to keep the chance of accessing them out of RD lower, and out of many of the five for three’s, Priority Req at least has a chance of being worth some hefty discounts. Rezzing a Hadrian's Wall or Wotan for free is very nice! It is also one of the few ways to rez ICE outside of a run, which can be useful - though trying to score this to prevent a Blackmail run is a very tricky proposition.
It sees play in decks that have big(er) ICE, that want to build big tower servers. There are still so few agendas in the game that often when trying to find a suite of agendas that works well together, sometimes Priority Req just is the only five for three worth it. It is a drag however when all there is to rez with it is a Pop-up Window.
Private Security Force Agenda: Security (#107 Core Set)
Early on when there weren’t a lot of choices for agendas this was seen, sometimes. Even then it wasn’t regarded as a great card - four for twos are usually just as difficult to score as a five for three, and don’t provide as much of a jump in points. They also clog up RD and add more cards that can be stolen by a runner to the deck.
PSF at least has a really great ability. PSF Lock it was called, where the runner gets tagged and the corp just spends three clicks a turn doing three meat damage. Not only would the runner have to clear the tag but also draw back up as quickly as possible - throwing tempo very quickly in the corps favor.
Tagstorm may see this agenda return, but compared to the other four for two neutral agenda, NAPD Contract it is a bit lackluster - that four credit cost to steal is a much more guaranteed tempo hit for the runner than maybe getting a PSF Lock - PSF is a bit lackluster, even though if scored it can be a real big threat to any runner who sees a tag.
Melange Mining Corp. Asset (#108 Core Set)
Though this doesn’t seem like a great trade off (a whole turn for seven credits?) it is a huge swing of tempo for the corp. A few bits of ICE protecting this and even just two turns using it straight up before the runner comes up with a way to trash it, can be a real huge swing of momentum for most corps.
It continues to find its way into decks and while it doesn’t seem to make a lot of a fuss, it is a workhorse. It continues to provide huge amounts of credits for corps to play with, and that’s what gives it such a fantastic impact.
PAD Campaign Asset: Advertisement (#109 Core Set)
Like Melange this card is undervalued at first, until experience shows it to be a great money maker. Four credits to trash is high for the core set - it is even high for most of the cycles - and that gives it a lot of staying power. If a PAD campaign of two get going for even just a couple of turns and start paying out, free, clickless money it can really hurt the runner’s ability to deal with what tricks the corp might have.
Yet trashing it as the runner, as vital as that may be to keep a corp poor, is so very difficult. It costs so much, killing a lot of momentum for runners who are not swimming Scrouge Mcduck style in credits, and wastes the runner’s time. It must be dealt with though, or the slow drip of money will strengthen the corps game plan considerably.
(For Hedge Fund see above, Sure Gamble)
Enigma ICE: Code Gate (#111 Core Set)
A very strong and stable early game piece of ICE. For decks that want early game protection, for rushing agendas or building up a credit advantage off of Adonis or Melange, this card can do a lot of work. As a Code Gate it is not something most runners will be seeking to break early (Unlike Sentries which carry harmful effects) and the first subroutine is a great time waster for runners - while they won’t hit that subroutine more than once and let it fire, that single click wasted can be the difference between scoring an agenda, and them finding their breaker and having the time to use it to get through.
Hunter ICE: Sentry - Tracer - Observer (#112 Core Set)
Low rez cost and high strength makes Hunter a good piece of ICE on first glance. A subroutine that is a trace is a little less appealing, which probably is the reason for its strength to rez ratio. Hunter is often times cheaper not to break, if an extra click to clear the tag is available. It can also be a danger to a corp, who puts money into it to boost the trace to land that tag might be something the runner doesn’t care to fight.
Hunter has been overshadowed as other ways of tagging the runner have been released, but if a tagger is needed, this is at least a neutral card that can easily slot into any deck for that purpose.
Wall of Static ICE: Barrier (#113 Core Set)
Like Enigma this is a solid, low cost, End the Run piece of ICE, and that makes it ideal for early game protection. Though it is solidly a binary piece of ICE (as soon as a Fracter is installed it is trivial to get past) that is often all that is needed to rush an important agenda out behind it.
Wall of Static is just such a basic, but fundamental piece of ICE, filling a role that all corps need - early game protection. It can be rezzed for cheap, and still leaving enough credits on the table for another piece of ICE or whatever plan must be accomplished on turn two, and being neutral can easily find its way into any deck.
Neutral in Core
Neutral cards in the Core Set were designed to be able to be played in almost any deck, and indeed to be useful in most decks. For most of them, that is exactly what they were. Though a few of them have not seen a lot of impact on the game, they may one day see some light, and while not exactly game changers, they fill needed slots in every strategy.
Next Week, Weyland
Next week Wyldside looks at the green money grubbing meat damaging blow up your entire city block corp, Weyland!
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).