Friday, 27 December 2013

Worlds 2013 - Andromeda Analysis

It’s been nearly two months since FFG’s World Championship Weekend crowned seven ‘world’ champs of their many LCG and Miniatures card games, including the Netrunner champion Jens Erickson, who won the day playing Andromeda and a fast advancing Haas-Bioroid deck.  It wasn’t the first success that Jens has had from flopping cards – five minutes of internet research revealed that the same Jens Erickson has previously torn it up at some large Yu-Gi-Oh tournaments, and has made the odd foray into Magic: The Gathering’s Pro Tour, winning money at Pro Tour Kyoto in 2009, which is no mean feat.

2013 World Champion - Jens Erickson

So we can be relatively confident that Jens knows his way around card games and that his success wasn’t a random fluke result.  It was also another win for Andromeda after we watched the Dispossessed Ristie pick up more than her fair share of wins from the Plugged In Tour a few months back.  While many people saw the Plugged In Tour wins as a further sign of Andromeda being unfairly powerful (along with the highest win % of any ID on OCTGN), there were just as many prepared to defend Andromeda, correctly claiming that focussing only on the winners was less useful than looking at the Top 8 and which other decks had come within a hairs-breadth of winning. 

Well, from Worlds we CAN look deeper than just the champion, thanks to the excellent work of reddit and boardgamegeek stalwart “mplain”, who compiled 25 of the Top 32 decklists from the World Championships!  Here were the Top 8 from Worlds 2013:

1st) Jens Erickson - Andromeda  /  HB:ETF (Fast Advance)
2nd) Andrew Veen - Kate (Atman) / NBN:MN (Never Advance)

SF) Aaron Andrias - Andromeda / Weyland:BABW (Tag n Bag)
SF) Jesse Vandover - Andromeda / NBN:MN (Psychographics)

QF) Sam McKnight - Andromeda / NBN:TWIY (Fast Advance)
QF) Brad Wildenborg - Andromeda / NBN:MN (Never Advance)
QF) Niles Stanley - Andromeda / NBN:MN (Psychographics)
QF) Pat McGregor - Andromeda / NBN:MN (Never Advance)


BOOM!  7 out of the Top 8 players were running Andromeda, and on the Corp side there were 6 NBN players, although really they represented three noticeably different decks within the NBN faction.

7 out of 8 of the most successful decks were Andromeda, which is a very strong result, and in fact there were another 6 Andromeda decks in the other 17 decklists we have from places #9-32.  When you stack this alongside Andromeda’s dominance during the Plugged In Tour and her dominant win rate on OCTGN in non-competitive play, the argument that there is one best Runner deck seems very hard to refute.

So, if Andromeda locked up nearly the whole of the Top 8 does that mean it’s the only identity that can win?  No, absolutely not, although she IS the only Runner ID with an OCTGN win percentage much above 50% (59% from the last data pull).  The dominance of Andromeda at Worlds almost certainly came from a feedback loop of success: Andromeda wins more than other runners, the better players want to maximise their chances of winning so play Andromeda and then it’s the combination of the best players wielding the best Identity that locks pretty much everybody else out of the Top 8.

Playing Andromeda is certainly not a guarantee of victory, and for a great many Netrunner players there are better reasons for choosing your Identity than the cold hard truth of wanting to win as much as possible (eg. fun, variety, creativity, wacky combos, personal favourites).  But, if you are serious about wanting to win a game of Netrunner, you need a very good reason to play any Runner ID other than Andromeda.


Anatomy of an Andromeda

As well as cementing Andromeda’s place as queen of the Runners, the fact that we got so many decklists from the World Championships gives us a great opportunity to look at the makeup of a successful Andromeda deck.  What cards are the staples for this Identity?  What are the common differences between decks?  And are there are any significant differences between the way Andromeda decks are put together?  I’ve pulled together the seven decklists from Worlds Top 8 to help us understand how Andromeda decks are put together.


Events are the lifeblood of pretty much any Criminal deck, and Andromeda in particular – you can see this right here in the way that most of these decks are running over 20 Events, with nearly 50% of the average Andromeda deck being a one-off Event.

The first striking thing is that there are six events which appear to be almost compulsory – Sure Gamble and the dreaded Account Siphon, of course, but also Emergency Shutdown and Special Order to help assemble your rig of Icebreakers, then Dirty Laundry and Inside Job.  The eventual Champion, Erickson, found room for a full 3 copies of each of these six cards while most other players cut a copy or two here and there.  Pat McGregor left Inside Job out of his deck altogether, and it looks as though he chose to play more economy resources instead – simply punching through the Ice with credits rather than avoiding it with Inside Job.


Beyond those six essentials for Andromeda the selection of other Events becomes a bit more a matter of personal taste.  The humble Easy Mark surprised me with its popularity in the Top 8 as 4 players brought it along, while the three that didn’t all had strong reasons to avoid it – McKnight and Wildenborg were both playing the full 3 copies of Kati Jones, allowing them to click for 3 credits through their trusty courier resource, while Aaron Andrias was playing a very different sort of Andromeda deck entirely (more on him later!).  Forged Activation Orders was another common Criminal Event that Andrias’ unusual take on Andromeda left out of his deck, along with Vandover and Stanley.  The latter two players had another plan for removing problematic Ice than Forged Activation Orders, preferring to find Influence for Parasite by taking out their R&D Interfaces.

Jens Erickson’s winning deck made a feature of the new Opening Moves card Hostage, which gave him some flexibility in his Resource economy and allowed him to consistently force the excellent Professional Contacts into play without having to spend Influence on multiple copies.  Professional Contacts is a good fit for a completed Criminal deck as it provides a steady stream of Events for the Criminal mind to play with, and in matches against damaging decks it makes it less painful to keep topping up your hand to avoid a flatline.  Infiltration was a card often associated with Criminals, but was actually rarely played in the Top 8, although I note that for the decks in positions 9-32 it was much more common, with those players packing an average of two copies.

A final note on Events must go to Sam McKnight, whose whole deck was set out to take maximum value from his Events at the expense of other cards.  Where other decks packed R&D Interface, McKnight had chosen to run a set of Maker’s Eye instead, and then added a couple of Quality Time to help him ensure a constant flow of Events, which he could then replay with Same Old Thing.  Switching R&D Interface for Maker’s Eye cuts costs but at the expense of the late-game ‘R&D lock’ threat.  It wasn’t a popular switch among the top Andromeda decks, although there was another player in the Top 32 who made a similar change.



If the Events in the Top 8 decks were quite consistent then that’s nothing next to their use of Hardware, where pretty much everyone was of the same mind. 


Three copies of Desperado is an auto-include, it seems (which is painful as the only way to get three Desperado is to buy three core sets!), and in fact the only non-Andromeda deck in the Top 8 found 9 Influence to spend on bringing in three copies of Desperado to its Shaper deck!  Desperado is just as essential to the dominance of Criminal decks as the more obvious culprit, Account Siphon.  The credit you get from Desperado is often a sizeable ‘cashback’ bonus to the cost of making a successful run, and in decks that also run Datasucker and/or Jon Masanori the synergies of making successful runs start to add up.  Corps rightly fear the Account Siphon but often it’s the inexorable economic gains of Desperado runs that put the Runner in the driving seat in the first place.


All players ran at least two copies of their trusty Plascrete Carapace, with Andromeda decks frequently choosing to remain tagged from Account Siphon, or breezing past cards like Data Raven and relying on their Carapace to keep the roof from collapsing on their heads.  Finally, most of the Top 8 ran two or three copies of R&D Interface as the card that, ultimately, grinds out the Agenda points from the Corp’s deck once the Runner has established economic dominance.  Three of the Top 8 didn’t play any R&D Interfaces – Sam McKnight switched his like-for-like with Maker’s Eye (as previously discussed) while Vandover and Stanley sacrificed their R&D Interfaces to the altar of Influence in order to bring in Parasites for their ice destruction plan.


Datasucker, Corroder, Yog.0, Mimic.  The Criminal rig is brutally efficient and almost entirely Anarch, with Criminals profiting from the criminally-low Influence cost on the best Anarch breakers and programs.  Should Yog.0, Mimic and Datasucker be just 1 influence apiece?  Probably not, but you won’t find many Andromeda players arguing with the value they get from that deal, especially when they get their breakers sent to them via Fed-Ex with Special Order.  Once assembled, the Anarch rig is incredibly efficient at breaking through all but a select few pieces of Ice (Archer, Tollbooth, Hadrian’s Wall are perhaps the most common stumbling blocks) and Mimic alone disables many of the common Sentries you will meet (Draco, Caduceus, Shadow, Rototurret, Neural Katana) for some risk-free running.


Playing against the Criminal rig can be incredibly disheartening for the Corp.  Early on you feel as though you have a chance as their fixed strength Icebreakers bump up against bigger problems, but once the supporting elements of Desperado and Datasucker arrive you will rapidly find that your Ice becomes a mere distraction for the Runner and they can bypass it at very little cost.  If you can land Program destruction on a Criminal then the game swings hugely – they’re dependent on those Anarch imports and can’t rebuild them once they’re gone, like a Shaper can – but if the Criminal gets to make his rig and keep it… it’s pretty much game over.

Supporting the ubiquitous Anarch rig usually a couple of Faerie, which act as a Get Out Of Jail Free card should any particularly big and ugly Sentry be rezzed unexpectedly, and usually Andromeda will play a Crypsis or two as backup should anything unfortunate happen to their precious imported Icebreakers.  Get past those two cards though and it’s rare to find anything else – maybe the odd Femme Fatale or Ninja.  The Criminal icebreakers are simply too inefficient to justify a place in the deck, and there is no spare Influence to bring in the best Shaper breakers.

The only exceptions to the Anarch icebreaker rig were the two players who brought Parasite in, and Aaron Andrias’ completely different Icebreaker rig which abandoned the Anarch cards entirely for something else.  I’ll talk about that version of Andromeda in more detail a little later.


All the way through the analysis of these decks from the Top 8 of Worlds it has been, largely, a case of highlighting the similarities.  The decks finally diverge hugely in their approach to Resources, and the amount that they lean on their back row for economy.


A key consideration to bear in mind is that Andromeda decks often play ‘Tag Me’, meaning they are happy to ride through the game with tags and choose not to spend precious credits on avoiding receiving them.  When you switch into ‘Tag Me’ mode you can’t rely on your Resources so much because the Corp can always spend a click two credits to trash them, but in Andromeda that threat is lessened because the whole deck is hoping to keep the Corp poor – if the Corp wants to spend a click and some credits to trash a Resource then often Andromeda isn’t too sorry to see that happen!

That aside, lets look at some of the different approaches to Resources in the Top 8 decks…

Jens Erickson plays the minimum Resources possible – just three cards – although it’s probably best to remember he’s also playing two copies of Hostage, so he’s really dedicated 5 cards in his deck to Resources.  That reduces Erickson’s vulnerability to resource destruction and allows him to be flexible in his response.  Against decks that are unlikely to tag him Erickson can invest in keeping some Professional Contacts hostage, or otherwise turn to the trusty Kati Jones or the synergetic Jon Masanori.


McGregor and Wildenborg played very similar Resource lineups – Kati Jones, Daily Casts and Jon Masanori are really the ‘classic’ lineup for Criminal decks, offering strong economy and great synergy with Desperado/Datasucker runs.  There’s little more depressing about playing against Criminals than when they make a run and finish up with “and I gain a credit from Desperado, put a Virus counter on my Datasucker, and draw a card from Jon Masanori”.  That’s a lot of little benefits from a single click!

Vandover and Stanley played a very different Resource base to the classic lineup, though, putting all their eggs into the combination of Compromised Employee and Mr Li.  Both brought a couple of Same Old Thing then one played two copies of Daily Casts and the other two copies of Kati Jones.  Compromised Employee is a great metagame call when you expect to face a lot of NBN, as with Andromeda’s natural +1 Link it quickly adds up to great resilience to tags from cards like Shadow, Draco and Midseason Replacements, and also helps frustrate cards like Caduceus that also rely on successful traces.  Combining the recurring trace credit with the credit gained whenever the Corp rezzes Ice means the Compromised Employee quickly repays the 2 credits invested in getting him onside.  Mr Li is a powerful card-searching resource who helps you power through your deck and look for specific things, which fits extremely well in a deck full of powerful one-off effects.  The thing that both Compromised Employee and Mr Li have in common is that they need to stick around a while to really pay off, and that means these variants of Andromeda have to be much more careful about allowing tags to accumulate.

The last two players used a card that has come in and out of fashion in Criminal decks over time – the Bank Job.  When you can bust into a remote server cheaply the Bank Job is a great way to boost your funds, and both Andrias and McKnight paired the Bank Job with a good number of Same Old Thing to recur their best Events and keep the Corp under control.


Average Andromeda

So that’s a bunch of different takes on Andromeda decks to mull over.  They’re virtually all the same deck, just with minor subtleties and tweaks that focus strengths and weaknesses in one direction or the other.  Erickson brought a small but flexible economy package that was resistant to tags, while other players invested more heavily in Daily Casts, or even more heavily in the slow but powerful advantage gained from Mr Li and Compromised Employee.  Underneath all the minor differences, though, the common thread of powerful Criminal Events and an ultra-efficient Anarch rig remains a constant.

If you take all those decks and mash them together, what do you get?

Averagedromeda
by The Top 8 Players at Worlds 2013

3 Account Siphon
3 Sure Gamble
3 Emergency Shutdown
3 Special Order
2 Dirty Laundry
2 Inside Job
2 Easy Mark
2 Forged Activation Orders

3 Desperado
2 Plascrete Carapace
2 R&D Interface

3 Datasucker
2 Corroder
2 Faerie
1 Crypsis
1 Yog.0
1 Mimic
1 Femme Fatale

2 Kati Jones
1 Same Old Thing
1 Daily Casts
1 Compromised Employee
1 Jon Masanori
1 Mr Li

You know what that looks a lot like (aside from the Resources)?  That’s pretty much Jens Erickson’s winning decklist, which is a bit of a coincidence but also interesting.  The Resources look like a bit of a mess as they come from a bunch of different styles of deck, but as a starting decklist for working out how Andromeda works this is a great jumping-on point for players new to Andromeda.


The Other Andromeda

All the way through this piece I’ve been talking primarily about six of the seven Andromeda decks in the Top 8, stopping occasionally to point out that Aaron Andrias’ deck was different in many regards.  All the other Andromeda decks rely on assembling an efficient rig of Anarch icebreakers, but Andrias went in another direction and turned to Shapers, bringing in Magnum Opus to help him fund more expensive runs with Ninjas and Gordian Blades rather than Mimics, Yog.0s and Datasuckers.  And Aaron Andrias wasn’t alone, with two of the other Andromeda decks in the Top 16 playing very similar decklists. 

Let’s take a look at ‘The Other Andromeda’…
   

Before you go cross-eyed trying to work it out, Myron Michal and Brad Emon played card-for-card identical decklists into the Top 16, while Aaron Andrias arrived at a similar solution through a slightly different route.

Where the other Andromeda decks just tweak their strengths and weaknesses slightly this deck wrenches the wheel over to one side and makes something very different.  The key inclusion is Magnum Opus and everything in the deck warps around that.  Got credits but not Datasucker?  You’ll want Gordian Blade not Yog.0 then, and the Influence you spend on two Magnum Opus and a copy of Gordian Blade is what you traded for 3 Datasucker, 1 Mimic, 1 Yog.0 and a Corroder. 


So what does these Shaper versions of Andromeda gain for switching over?  Well in Magnum Opus they gain perhaps the best pure credits economy engine in the game, and that gives them a big edge in the NBN matches.  Magnum Opus allows you to build up a stash of credits very rapidly to fight off traces and big Midseason Replacement attempts, and it also allows you to recover much more quickly from Closed Accounts.  Because your economy is based in Programs rather than Resources it’s also a lot less trashable from Character Assassination or Breaking News tags.

Where Michal and Emon stick with the original flimsiness of the Criminal rig – singleton copies of Gordian Blade and Ninja, for example – Aaron Andrias also adds a lot more resilience to his rig by playing multiple copies of Ninja and Corroder with Crypsis backup.

That’s what you gain, but what have these decks traded in to gain those strengths?  Well, to my mind they’ve traded in one of the core reasons why Andromeda is great in the first place – the ultra-efficient rig.  In trading out Yog.0/Mimic/Datasucker for Gordian Blades and Ninjas you lose a ton of efficiency in your breaking, particularly of Sentries.  The number of pieces of Ice that Mimic wanders past for minimal cost while Ninja has to pay 3 to pump up to 5 strength is eyewatering… Draco, Caduceus, Katana, Shadow were all among the most common Sentries played in the Top 8, and paying 10 (TEN!) to break Archer is horrible.  So yes, Magnum Opus gives you a ton of credits, but then your icebreaker rig takes those credits right back and throws them at the Corp.   

The Ninja/Opus Icebreaker rig in action

I’m not sure the other Andromeda is the right build, but in a metagame dominated by NBN I can see that the ability to rack up Scrooge McDuck levels of cash in double-quick time could be essential.


The Future of Andromeda

Since the Worlds decks landed we’ve had two new data packs – Second Thoughts and Mala Tempora – so the question of what comes next for Andromeda is a valid one.  What new toys have FFG given the most popular girl in school?

None.  Nada.  Zip.

Some cards look slightly tempting – Grifter, Pre-Paid Voice Pad, Running Interference – but the existing Andromeda decklists are so strong that the bar to entry is EXTREMELY high, and I don’t think any cards have proven that they meet that requirement.

But new Runner cards is only one impetus towards changing decks – as we’ve seen from the Magnum Opus variants the Runner has to stay aware of changes in the Corporation decks and respond if necessary.  In Power Shutdown the Corps have been given a tool that very squarely targets Andromeda, not in a crippling way but at least enough for Runners to sit up and pay attention.


As we talked through the cards played at Worlds I hope I imprinted on you just how crucial the Anarch breakers were to Andromeda’s success.  Bringing in such fundamental cards with precious Influence is a weak point that Power Shutdown aims to exploit – trash a Datasucker or a Corroder and can Andromeda keep going?  Suddenly the Runner has to be really careful about the order in which they play their icebreakers, because you can never afford to have Yog.0 trashed can it ever be the first thing you install?  Can you afford to sit Desperado out naked and let the Corp shoot at it?

We’ve yet to see how much Power Shutdown will get played but I suspect that the answer will be ‘a lot’ and that will force a change in Andromeda.  The most obvious and easiest solution is to simply play more copies of Faerie, which is a card that already fits into the deck and can be sacrificed easily in place of another Program or Hardware.  Beyond that the Shaper tools of Sacrificial Construct and Clone Chip offer suitable protection but would probably require the loss of R&D Interface in order to gain Influence for them.  Alternatively, Runners could look to cheap Criminal Hardware for fodder to throw under a Power Shutdown – Cortez Chip or Pre-Paid Voice Pad have some utility in Criminal’s theme and can be happily lost in a power cut.


The other possibility is that, if Corps switch to aggressively destroying programs and hardware, it could be the Shaper version of Andromeda that becomes the dominant version with the more expensive breakers and more redundant copies making a Power Shutdown less traumatic.  One thing playing in favour of the more expensive breakers in the Shaper version is that, as Bad Publicity becomes more and more common, cards like Ninja will become easier and easier to support. 

The future for Criminal could well be Green, but for now I'm going to be sticking with Orange.