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Is the MWL the best solution for problems in competitive Netrunner?


#1

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.

Anarch:

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.

NBN:

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.


#2

Excellent post Kevelairns. I agree fully that MWL is not the tool we need to address the issues many see with the current Netrunner competitive. There is simply too much slack influence in many of the top tier archetypes for adding a few more cards to the MWL to make a real difference. For example, swapping a clone chip for a deja vu or some other card is not going to hurt Dumblefork that much and probably deal with an MWL change). In the vein of your analysis of Anarch past and present, I would add that NBN “back in the day” had a weak ice suite. Fast forward to now and most NBN decks can put forth a solid ice set entirely in faction, freeing up influence to deal with anything MWL throws at them.


#3

The ice suite is an excellent point!

D&D really gave NBN a huge boost in that regard, and they were already doing well by that point with Pop-up and Wraparound.


#4

I think you accurately describe the 3 problems in the meta currently (Faust anarch, nbn, mch suite). Anarch is mainly a problem with the power of Faust / wyldpancakes, though recently this deck has moved in line with other options. I think a 1 card mwl hit moves it in line with shaper, 2 for slightly below and 3 cards makes the deck tier 2. Mwl seems sufficient to address the anarch problem of the power of this combo.

Nbn simply has an Astro problem. The faction has gotten enough support and Astro is so strong that nothing short of restricting or banning astro will bring the faction in line. even if you hit enough influence that astro decks play zero out of faction cards you kill interesting non astro decks as a side effect. Eoi and pure kill decks as well as weaker fastro with 1x astro still give nbn a bunch of reasonable options with only 1 astro. Mwl is a bad solution to this problem.

Hitting moh, mch, and temple is probably enough of influence hit to make these decks non competitive. If it’s not mch should probably be banned.

Mwl seems sufficient for every concern other than astro IMO.


#5

Swapping clone chip for deja vu or retrieval run is a huge nerf. Losing the first 1 is solvable but every 3 influence beyond that is probably between 5-10% winrate for dumblefork.

Dumblefork is also way closer to other factions (or other anarch decks) in terms of strength than it was at the beginning of mwl (where it was massively the best deck).

Palana, sync both emerged and fastro got stronger. IG/tubs are the biggest reasons to play whizz right now.


#6

I think you are right that the big issues right now have to do with colour pie issues, but I think anarch and NBN have very different colour pie issues. For anarchs, as you say, they have been allowed to circumvent too many of the weakneses built into their colour pie. But for NBN, I think the problem is more that they have been given too many slices of the pie, not that they have been allowed to circumvent their colour pie weaknesses.

NBN still lacks defensive upgrades, and most of their ice is porous and has difficulties ending the run (although you could make the case that wraparound and tollbooth go a long way to shoring up this weaknesses). But their fast advance tools are just so strong, pretty much just because of astro, and they have been given absurdly powerful and efficient draw, in the form of Jackson but even more so sensie actors union and DBS. Those two abilities should probably have been split up–together, they let you break through R&D lock to continue to score out. Add in their strong tagging ability allows them to branch out into kill as well, which makes a rush strategy much more powerful since the best answer to kill is to slow down, which isn’t an option against astroscript.

TLDR, Anarch have been allowed to get around their weaknesses, but the problem with NBN is they just have too many strengths.


#7

Desperado valencia died too…


#8

True. However, I don’t think that Desperado Valencia was being targeted by the original MWL release, so I would consider that an example of collateral damage from the MWL than a success of the MWL.


#9

The stated logic that came with MWL suggested that the items on the list prioritized problematic -cards- rather than balance the factions so they had similar relative overall strength. It was a solution to a different “problem” than the one people might like solved.

Of course, it did fail to solve the problem it was aimed at, too, at least with Desperado. Crims are hardly considering other consoles. But in some cases it succeeded at solving its intended goal while not achieving a goal we would like for it to have had. When Eli is 2x in a Palana list, 3x in an ETF list, and 1x in an NEH list because the NEH list doesn’t need to consider archangel a particularly heavy downgrade, Damon’s goal of Eli not covering everything like ketchup is achieved, even though factional balance is not achieved when those 2x Elis are more like, evidence of Palana struggling to match NEH’s incredible tournament results.


#10

MWL is pretty good at adjusting tuning of cards, but not very good at handling card mechanics.
Also it’s supposed to be a stop-gap until rotation occurs, but here it tend to fail because several of the very problematic cards are actually not on the rotation list.


#11

Yeah, I agree. I like the MWL—it does a good job of bringing cards that are a bit above the curve down to allow a bit more variety. Eli isn’t an auto 3 of in HB, clone chip not necessarily 3-of in shaper. But it can’t deal with truly broken things like eater, or at least not without lots of collateral damage. Case in point- astroscript, still an auto 3-of in NBN. I’d prefer to see MWL and bans working together to change up the environment from time to time.


#12

Core 2.0 remains the dream. Then it’s just clone chip thats a problem.


#13

Has there been a discussion anywhere discussing what changes a Core 2.0 might hold?

If I understand correctly, Core 2.0 doesn’t mean the same thing as GoT 2.0, correct?


#14

It means just print at least some new card, no rule changes etc.


#15

No, Core 2.0 is referring to the language in FFG’s tournament legality guidelines which state that “the latest version of [a product’s] Core Set” is always legal for play. Presumably that was there because of X-Wing, which released a Force Awakens version of the Core Set to tighten up some weak points in the original Core Set’s design, but we Netrunners like to dream that FFG could use that ‘loophole’ to release another Core Set for Netrunner that could help fix our current woes.


#16

I always wondered why certain cards were added to certain factions. It doesn’t bother me that adjusted chronotype exists, but why was it put into Anarch? And why is Faust an Anarch card? Why couldn’t it have been a 2 influence neutral card? And would Astro be broken if it was in Weyland? Or what if it was a 4 influence neutral card?


#17

Personally I think there needs to be a FA faction, and with Beale rotating SSCG isn’t enough to make NBN a FA faction. I don’t consider Astro the problem; it’s the synergy with other cards and the strength of NBN’s pool in general that has kept them on top.

Shaper is in a perfectly acceptable spot right now. I’m not sure how people can complain. Players are winning Regionals all over the place with Shaper. The tier 1 Shaper decks are not functionally weaker than the tier 1 Anarch decks, IMO. The only caveat I would add is that Whizzard gains huge value in many tier 1 match-ups, but that’s not indicative of Anarchs being overpowered. While I won’t contest that Anarch has an amazing card pool, I disagree that more than one card from Dumble-style decks should be added to MWL. The worst offense Damon could perpetrate with the next iteration of MWL is to overcompensate and effectively stomp tier 1 decks into the ground, as he did with PP Kate.

Honestly, NBN isn’t too problematic. It keeps oppressive, durdling Runner decks in check at the competitive level, which I consider a good thing. I maintain my opinion that in a cut of very strong players, NBN FA is a liability. I think it’s one of the easiest archetypes to practice against and come out with a solid understanding of your lines as a Runner.

Moreover, for me, Astro is a defining card of ANR. Many of the most fun games I have played have been catalyzed by that dreaded first Astro token. Do we really want to play in an official meta without Astro? My own answer is no; I think we would lose a great experience of the game we all claim to love.

To close, I think the MWL is a great tool for sculpting the meta, if used properly. So far it hasn’t been used to its full potential. I am not necessarily against banning cards, but I am not giving up on the MWL just yet. It is unfortunate that we are still effectively playing in the artificial meta of January, though (or whenever MWL 1.0 came out).


#18

Great post, and a good primer for players who might not have been following these developmets closely but are wondering why netrunner seems so much… worse when they go to events these days.

TLDR answer to the question in the title: No, it is not; a ban list would be.

People are so against a banlist but play 2 or three games of BB45 (or even just theorycraft a few decks) and have your eyes opened to how fresh and exciting this game could be again; it doesn’t have to be “trading one meta for another,” we can have a better meta, but it starts with banning everyone’s favorite cards :frowning:


#19

Whereas I think that the card pool has grown large enough that having “the fast-advance faction” is flat-out detrimental to the health of the game, the way that having “the code gate faction” or “the card draw faction” is similarly unhealthy. Having usable ice of all subtypes, having the ability to draw, having a fast-advance option – I’ve come to believe that these are things all factions need to have some hand in, albeit not at the same level. It’s good for Criminals to have Fisk Investment Seminar and Drug Dealer, while Shapers get Quality Time and Diesel and Anarchs get Inject and Wyldside. It’s not fine if Criminals have no in-faction card drawing options at all. I think it’s not good that NBN is “the fast-advance faction.” That means that Runner cards that tech against fast-advance might as well be anti-NBN tech, and if the meta were in a healthier place, that steers us more towards silver-bullet answer cards and lopsided r/p/s matchups.

Thankfully I think cards like Political Dealings,Trick of Light, and even Titan Transnational + Project Atlas illustrate that there are ways to provide non-NBN factions with fast-advance cards that a) don’t put them on equal footing with NBN in terms of fast-advance, and b) don’t imbalance the game by providing too many compatible FA tools. I think that there should be a similar approach when it comes to other core aspects of the game.

Oh yeah, and Astro can go hang. Its presence in the card pool means FFG has to be really careful about printing future FA tools in yellow, because it’s so good why would you not use it? If it were gone, we might see other in-faction FA options see print without breaking the game in half.


#20

I agree about the runner color pie.

Anarchs don’t seem to have nearly as strong a central server affinity as either Shaper or Criminal. Anarch has powerful effects targeting R&D (Keyhole, Medium), HQ (Lamprey, Bhagat, Vamp), and Archives (Retrieval Run, Keyhole, Bhagat, Noise, Data Leak Reversal), all of which see play, on top of the diffuse central pressure of Datasucker.

On top of this, “trashing shit” appears to be part of their color pie, when perhaps it might be more balanced to split “trashing assets” and “trashing ice” into different parts of the color pie.