Sunday, 10 May 2015

Cyber Threat: Replicating Perfection


Since returning to Netrunner I've had my work cut out of me trying to catch up on over a year of new Data Packs.  New cards have created new decks and shunted the old favourites I'm used to into the sidelines.  My new 'Cyber Threat' series will be focused on trying to understand some of the current big decks - the cards they play, why they play them, and why together form a killer deck.  

First up is the Jinteki juggernaut of Replicating Perfection.  I've picked six decks posted over the last couple of months (five from NetrunnerDB, one from Reddit), all of which were winners of either a Store Championships or a Regional Championships, and I'll be comparing them to each other to find the common threads and the differences.  Interestingly this also gives me three decks from before SanSan Cycle arrived, and three decks from after SanSan Cycle, so we can look at how things have changed.




Identity


Any discussion of Replicating Perfection decks has to start with one card: Replicating Perfection itself.  This corp ID is one of the most powerful we've seen printed to date because it puts such a frustrating restriction onto the runner's freedom.  

For a long time Jinteki was the whipping boy of Corporations and the few Jinteki decks that did work were based in net damage and killing the runner using the Personal Evolution identity as there simply weren't enough cards printed that supported Replicating Perfection.  By contrast Replicating Perfection has now had 18 months of consistent improvement and love as Jinteki was given a real boost throughout Spin and Lunar Cycles, including Honor & Profit, and the strong ability on this ID is fully able to shine.

Every Replicating Perfection deck is built around maximising the ability on the ID.  At its very least the runner is forced to waste a click on running a Central server before going to hit a troublesome Asset or steal an Agenda, but Replicating Perfection decks are looking for more than that.  The objective is to put threatening Ice over all three Central servers so that the Runner has to do more than waste a click, they also have to spend credits or cards before they can jack out of the Central server to attack a Remote.  This pushes Replicating Perfection decks towards a taxing strategy, constantly draining the runner of clicks and credits for everything they want to do, and it also produces a deck that gains additional value out of protecting Central servers, making you a more troublesome target for the classic Account Siphon/R&D type of assaults from runners.

Let's look at how players are maximising the impact of the powerful Replicating Perfection ability, and using that to wage economic warfare on the runner.


Agendas


There is such a strong consensus on Agendas for Replicating Perfection that out of the six decks only ONE card differs, with Cerberus daring to break ranks to play a single copy of Chronos Protocol (presumably for its Maxx-busting powers).  To all intents and purposes though, every RP deck starts with the same 9 cards.

NAPD Contract and The Future Perfect share something very obvious in common - they're Agendas that are difficult for the runner to steal - and this fits perfectly into the RP gameplan of taxing and draining the runner.  Even if the runner is able to pay to score their agenda you know that it's taxed them further and possibly created a window for the Corp to push a second agenda through.

Nisei MkII is a different story - it doesn't defend itself, but once scored it defends all your other agendas.  In a deck like RP, with it's horrible taxation and frustrating multi-run ability, a scored Nisei MKII can be utterly devastating, rendering a dozen clicks worth of the runner's effort worthless with a single Agenda Counter.  

"Did you run through HQ?  Did it cost you credits?  Ok, did you run on my Agenda?  Did it cost you more credits?  Well guess what, you need to do it again.  Twice.  Hugs & Kisses xx."

We've long thought of Astroscript Pilot Program as perhaps the best Agenda in the game, and while Nisei MkII is harder to score as a 4/2 Agenda, once it's in your scoring area the impact of a scored Nisei can easily match that of Astroscript, especially in Replicating Perfection.


One final comment on the Agendas is that there's a common theme here.  Where most Corporation decks look for Agendas that are the easiest to score (Astroscript, Project Atlas, Accelerated Beta Test) or on Agendas that help the deck once scored (Geothermal Fracking, Efficiency Committee, Priority Requisition) the RP agendas are about being difficult to score.  RP could play with four 3/2 Agendas if it wanted to but instead it's all about making the runner's life difficult, not the Corp's life easier.


Assets


The consensus on Agendas carries through into Assets as well, with Mental Health Clinic and Sundew forming the beating heart of Replicating Perfection's economy.  These are both great cards in their own right, but also both fit absolutely perfectly with RP's ability.  Replicating Perfection makes it impossible for the runner to trash Sundew before you get your 2 credits back, so at its very worst Sundew is a direct tax of two clicks and two credits from the runner, but more often it will sit there over at least a couple of turns generating cash before the runner is in a position to trash it.  Mental Health Clinic is very similar to PAD Campaign, but with its 0 rez cost it becomes a low-risk alternative to the PAD Campaign that again, at its very worse, taxed the runner for two clicks and three credits.


I think we're long past explaining why Jackson Howard is in Corp decks, and these days Daily Business Show has become another popular card for Corp decks who want to have more control over the cards they draw, and avoid Agenda flood by pushing unwanted Agendas to the bottom of R&D.  Replicating Perfection makes a particularly good home for Assets with a high trash cost that the Runner will want to trash, and Daily Business Show ticks that box, but I think there's another important reason why RP wants this asset in particular: Replicating Perfection is slow as hell.

You're playing a deck based around dragging the game out, with taxing Ice, clicks drained from the runner, dripfeed economic assets and Agendas that are difficult to score.  None of this helps you to actually finish games but Jackson Howard and Daily Business Show do at least help the Corp to maximise their draws, finding a critical mass of economy to install Ice, and find Agendas to score and actually win the game.


Upgrades



Oh yeah.  Her.

Caprice Nisei can be horrible to play against, and once again she's a card that gets even more horrible in Replicating Perfection. Caprice is the final raised middle finger at the bottom of a remote server once the runner has committed huge resources to getting that far, much the same way a scored Nisei MkII might do.  Caprice underlines that the whole strategy of Replicating Perfection is on wasting as much of the runner's effort as possible, which is very different to most Corp strategies of maximising the Corp's efforts.



Most decks also found room (and Influence) for either Crisium Grid or Ash 2X3ZB9CY, which are similar in that they both further frustrate the runner's efforts once they have broken through Ice on a server, with Ash better at defending Agendas as a Caprice alternative, while Crisium Grid is more commonly placed on Central servers to defend against damaging runs like Maker's Eye, Account Siphon, Wanton Destruction, Keyhole, Legwork etc.


Operations


Partly because Replicating Perfection works so perfectly with Assets there's actually relatively few Operations being played in these decks, especially when you look outside the staple six economy Operations: 3x Hedge Fund, 3x Celebrity Gift.  Cereberus was one player to differ from the accepted wisdom around Celebrity Gift, and if you read the comments he makes about his deck he says he playtested both Celebrity Gift and Medical Research Fundraiser and found that it was better to give the runner credits rather than information.  It's not been a popular decision, but it's interesting that the option to remove Celebrity Gift is there if you agree with him.


Outside of those cards the Corp pretty much always finds space for a copy of Interns to reinstall trashed Sundews/Caprices, and then most recently we've seen players trying to find Influence to play Enhanced Login Protocol.  The synergy of Enhanced Login Protocol with a Replicating Perfection plan of taxing clicks from the runner is obvious, and so it's obvious why players have been trying to find space for it.  The reason that Enhanced Login Protocol isn't being played more heavily appears to be that it is competing for card slots and Influence with some of the better cards in the deck... arguably Alex White (who ignored Login Protocol) got to play a Tollbooth and an Ash in it's place, and they are both strong cards in their own right, and both also fit perfectly into Replicating Perfection.

*****

Before we look at the Ice makeup of Replicating Perfection I think it's really useful to stop and take stock of what we've seen so far.  We've got six different decks, winners all, and you have to say that at this point the differences between them are few and far between.  They play the same Agendas, the same economy Assets and Operations, the same card draw Assets, and the same Upgrades.  This is what a Replicating Perfection deck is, and all these players pretty much entirely agree on how to build it best.  The consistency is remarkable.

But also look at just how single-minded these decks are.  Economy aside, virtually the entire deck is focussed on hating the runner.

  • Agendas that are hard to score
  • Assets that are powerful and hard to trash
  • Upgrades that make runs hard to complete
Where other decks might split focus a little, with some cards that help the Corp and other cards that punish the Runner, Replicating Perfection is all hate.  Slow the runner down.  Slow them down some more.  Then when they're slowed right down... slow them down even further or send them back to the start.  It's the Replicating Perfection obsession.


Ice


To Grail or not to Grail, that is the question...


It should be immediately apparent that what we're dealing with here are two very different blocks of Ice, which happen to coincide neatly with Pre/Post SanSan Cycle coming out.  The three Store Champs decks all played a Grail Ice layout, while the later Regionals winners all played with more traditional taxing Ice, with the Influence spent on the Grail Ice converted into Influence spent on Eli v1.0 and Tollbooths.  The shift away from Grail Ice appears to have come about because of wider changes in the Netrunner metagame, rather than because of any particular cards being printed in SanSan Cycle that have led to the change.

1) Grail Ice is less effective against Pre-Paid Kate McCaffrey decks because it takes time to build a hand of Grail Ice to attach to those installed, and you need to be hurting Kate early in the game.

2) Kate brings Self-Modifying Code, and new Anarch decks in Order & Chaos bring Parasites back into the fray, both of which hurt Grail Ice.  It's harder to surprise the runner with program trashing with SMC around, and both Lancelot and Galahad are easy targets for Parasite destruction (not to mention each Grail you kill probably pulls a Grail out of hand to be installed, making all Grail worse).

It's combined to mean that Grail Ice, the post-World Championships flavour of the month, has been replaced by the old stalwart taxing Ices.  Although the Grail/traditional difference is very real, affecting more half of the Ice played in these decks, the roles that the Ice play are really quite similar - this is demonstrated in the table below which divides the Ice up according to the definitions I laid out in Shields Up!.


Look at how much these decks lean on Ice that taxes the Runner, and also on 'Analogue' Ice that retains it's value once Icebreakers are installed.  Binary ETR Ice, the cornerstone of so many Corp decks as they're the cheapest way of stopping Runners from completing runs, are given only a minor sideline role.  In Replicating Perfection those Ice are perhaps the least desirable, and ideally saved only for Remote servers - RP wants to layer annoying taxing Ice over Archives/R&D and HQ in order to maximise the fact their ID ability forces the runner to go there.  If you put an Ice Wall over HQ the runner can just bounce of it at the cost of a click, but if you put a Tsurugi over it then the runner has to pay credits to avoid damage before they can jack out.

The core taxing Ice that is being used here is Tollbooths, Pups, and the net damage sentries like Tsurugi and Cortex Lock.  Since Cortex Lock became available it has replaced a lot of the Tsurugi that were previously being played - although the taxation effect of Cortex Lock is often less than it was for Tsurugi the card is cheaper to rez and, critically, a lot harder to dispose of with the likes of Parasite.  Pup is one of the cards that I think does the most to make Replicating Perfection work - for the super-low cost of a single credit the RP deck drop a Pup over a Central server and immediately begin taxing the runner two credits or two cards.  Being able to make a server unpleasant to run on WITHOUT costing the earth is a big help for Replicating Perfection as it tries to secure all three Centrals with something nasty. 


Even then on the remote servers you don't really want binary ETR Ice, because you want the runner to have to invest more credits to get through the Agenda behind, making it even more frustrating for them hit a Caprice Nisei or a Future Perfect, lose a Psi game and have to go back to the start.

After throwing the tricky taxing Ices over Central servers the next step for RP is to add build a taxing remote server and begin pushing Agendas, and that's where Lotus Field, Eli v1.0 and, once again, the trust Tollbooth come in, sometimes supported by the likes of the expensive Ashigaru or worldbending Susanoo-No-Mikoto.  Even on remote servers the likes of Quandary, Wraparound or Himitsu-Bako are only sparingly used... it's simply not in Replicating Perfection's interests to give the runner an easy ride through any of its Ice.
Again, look at how single-minded the Ice is, here.  Outside of the Grail Ice variants there's pretty much no threat to trash programs, just layer upon layer of credit/card taxation and mid-sized ETR Ice that can't be easily brushed aside.  As I discussed in Shields Up! trashing programs is a great support for Binary ETR Ice, because killing an Icebreaker effectively turns your Ice back 'on', but in Replicating Perfection the Ice is tough and can look after itself, still successfully taxing the runner once their rig is assembled.  Simply carrying more strength and more subroutines is more important than attempting to kill the runner, or the runner's rig.  

Replicating Perfection remains super-focused on its goals through almost every card in the deck and, like all good decks, it picks the Ice that works best to it's goals, not 'the best Ice'.


Beating Perfection

So, that's what Replicating Perfection look like.  It's a deck designed to tie the runner in knots, drain them economically while keeping the rewards just out of reach - it's like playing at a bent casino where the house never lets you win.  How do you beat Replicating Perfection?  Well as I'm just returning to the game I'm afraid that's a question I'm not best placed to answer, but from looking at what I've learned from this analysis I have a few theories about how to go about it.

1) Be an economic powerhouse.  RP wants to force you into poverty and keep you there, but if you can secure a guaranteed supply of credits then you can turn the tables, trash the Corp's dripfeed economy and leave them in the poorhouse instead.  Recurring credits of some form will be particularly valuable - RP is setting up for a long game so short term economic boosts may not be enough, but you also know that RP isn't going to come after your rig in any meaningful way.  This means you've got time to build up a powerful economic engine, and can be pretty sure that the Corp isn't going to come and blow it up.

2) Avoid running until you need to.  RP taxes you every time you leave the house, so stay home and choose your moments, don't keep throwing away clicks and credits just to take a shot at accessing cards from R&D or HQ - with a deck of The Future Perfect and NAPD contract, and only 9 Agendas to shoot for, you're not going to win fast anyway so don't rush.  You've got to make every run count, and use the downtime to prepare correctly for the next one.  

3)  Play efficient breakers.  Against RP finding a way to play Torch over Gordian Blade is great value, the same for Battering Ram over Corroder.  You'll be up against big Ice a lot, you'll be running against it a lot... pay the upfront cost (or cheat it in with Scavenge) and you'll make a big saving in the long run.  RP will give you the time to install that rig, and it won't try and trash you big guns once they're out.  Have them ready.

4) Kill the Ice.  Replicating Perfection is one of the best decks for squeezing value out of their Ice, both by having their ability force you to interact with it when you don't want to and by playing a slower game where you'll make more runs against it.  In the long run it's often better to kill the Ice outright rather than tangle with it multiple times.  Parasite the small stuff, Femme the big stuff, do whatever you can to avoid breaking the Ice on the Corp's terms.

Those are some of the ideas that immediately occur to me, but I know there is a wealth of knowledge out there of how best to take on Replicating Perfection so please feel free to enlighten me about the ways you've found to take it on by leaving it on the Comments section.



Appendix - Influence