I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what are generally considered issues in modern competitive Netrunner, which the community has generally called to be addressed by the MWL, and I’ve come up with a theory as to what these issues have in common. Unfortunately, this theory suggests that the MWL will have a difficult time fixing the problems as I see them. In fact, it may make the game worse in trying to do so.
My basic theory is this: the fundamental issues in modern Netrunner are fundamentally color pie issues, and the MWL is an extremely poor solution to these types of issues. In fact, the MWL may be counter-productive in solving color pie issues, and generally entrenches the powerful archetypes further. This occurs because using the MWL to balance a problematic deck generally kills the fringe decks that use powerful cards to compete with the meta-defining decks.
I feel that there are currently three major color pie issues in the Netrunner card pool:
- The Anarch Faction
- The NBN Faction
- The Alliance Suite
For each of these three cases, I’ll go through why I think there’s a color pie issue in that case, and why I think the MWL is a poor solution for the issue.
The Anarch faction has historically had the following as weaknesses: Draw and search effects, and (to a lesser extent) breakers.
On the draw side, they’ve had some powerful draw options, but all of them come with a significant downside. Wyldside loses the runner a click, and cannot be turned off when it is not needed. Inject trashes programs. Each of these have historically required support to be playable. This is why Aesop’s Pawnshop and Clone Chip were staple Anarch cards for most of the faction’s life.
On the breaker side, Anarchs have always had powerful options, but again, they have significant downsides. The fixed breakers need support. D4v1d has limited uses, and needs support. All of their AI breakers (Faust excluded) have significant downsides or potential counterplay. The anarch rig requires assembling far more pieces to be effective than any other faction.
In general, the Anarch faction is supposed to have powerful effects, but they’re vulnerable to variance or corp counterplay.
Adjusted Chronotype and Faust have shored up these weaknesses to the point where they’re barely worth mentioning. It’s worth pointing out that a powerful AI like Faust also eliminates another Anarch weakness: decoders. The only weakness that modern-day Whizzard decks share with their predecessors is that they can sometimes be slow to set up. They have one additional weakness (which is not always true of the faction as a whole): they’re weak to tags.
In fact, I suspect that the supreme dominance of Anarch on the runner side may be a large part of why NBN is currently so highly represented, and is performing so well. Both of the weaknesses I mentioned are particular strengths of the yellow faction. An important data point to consider here is Worlds 2015, where (I believe) NBN actually underperformed its representation in the field. The major player keeping it down at the time was Shaper, which wields Clot more effectively than the other runner factions. Criminal, however, also has a strong game against NBN. As long as these two factions are under-represented in the competitive metagame, NBN will be a strong choice for corp-side.
That’s not to say I don’t think NBN has its own issues. I think that the issues in NBN, however, are a bit more difficult to define.
Part of the problem is that Jackson is in-faction, which gives all NBN decks 3 more influence to play with than other corporations. Part of the problem is that card draw is generally a powerful effect in card games, and that is NBN’s strength. I know that other card games have historically had issues balancing factions that have “card draw” in their color pie. Part of the problem is NEH, which gets an additional 2 influence above and beyond the NBN norm.
I focus a lot on influence, because the major problem is how versatile NBN is. NBN is currently considered to be the best at both scoring quickly and kill by meat damage. While powerful scoring plans appear to have been designed into NBN’s color pie, Meat Damage is supposed to be Weyland’s strength.
Meat damage is more powerful in NBN right now because the faction can afford to spend 9-12 influence on out-of-faction cards, and still have a strong alternative game plan. I think narrowing their options a bit by limiting their access to non-interactive tagging (via Breaking News) would help make Weyland able to compete. However, limiting Astroscript further (by banning or some similar effect) could accomplish similar goals via a different route (by limiting their scoring plan).
The Alliance Suite:
There is a more recent color pie issue, one that underpins most Museum decks: the Alliance suite. The modern IG list has 30 out-of-faction influence in it before alliance is taken into account. “Hot Tub Time Machine” has 33. Granted, these numbers are a bit misleading, since the Alliance cards likely have overinflated base influence numbers on them.
Among the effects that the alliance suite grants a corp are some things that either: are considered to be strongly within a single factions color pie, or have been extremely limited in the corporation card pool up to this point:
- Tutoring (Weyland)
- Strong asset econ (HB)
- Recursion (HB, limited in neutral. Jackson is a big exception)
- Draw filtering (Jinteki)
These effects include the most powerful repeatable tutor in the game at this moment, as well as the only fully repeatable recursion effect that’s not on a 5/3, one-of agenda.
Why is this a problem?
In my opinion, if these are the dominant problems underlying the competitive Netrunner metagame at the moment, then correcting these problems with the MWL will be very difficult. In order to have a chance of bringing down the power level of the dominant decks, a large number of cards will have to be added to the list. I feel that doing so will likely serve to entrench dominant strategies, rather than diversifying the metagame.
If the powerful faction-defining cards become harder for everyone to include in their decks, they will only be included in the decks that have the most influence to spare. Those decks, in general, are the ones that already benefit from color pie problems.
I see evidence of this in the reaction to the first MWL release. NBN still uses Astroscript and SanSan. Anarchs will never give up parasite (or clone chip, for that matter, as long as they have influence). Lady is still a staple in Shaper decks. Most HB players have between 3 and 6 Elis and Architects.
The only deck that has died out as a result of the MWL is the one that was unequally punished via the MWL: Pre-paid Kate. I feel that Shaper pre-MWL also benefitted from a color pie problem, which is why they could afford an excellent breaker suite alongside Lucky Find. The killing of Pre-paid is an excellent example of what it looks like when the MWL successfully “fixes” a problem: a number of powerful and distinctive cards become unplayable, and a faction as a whole suffers.
I think that the game of Netrunner would suffer greatly if this same treatment was applied successively to a long list of dominant decks over time.
Instead, I think that something else needs to be done to address these color pie problems. Probably something much more drastic, such as bans and restricted lists. What would the game look like if we abolished the MWL and instead banned or restricted cards like Astroscript, Lady, Faust, Adjusted Chronotype, MCH, and Museum? What if Jackson was made neutral, or cost 0 influence? I suspect that in such an environment, experimenting with deckbuilding would be easier and more interesting. The experiments with the BB45 format suggest that a healthy environment can be achieved when slashing the card pool even more aggressively than this.
Thank you very much for reading, and I look forward to reading other’s opinions.