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Milquetoast -- Shutdown-less Cerebral Imaging


#1

I know what your reaction is going to be when you see the list. Something along the lines of “what is this garbage, and how does it ever beat X?” I’ve gotten plenty of that already. But trust me when I say this is a real deck - probably too weird for Tier 1, but definitely worthy of Tier 2.

Introducing…

Milquetoast
Cerebral Imaging: Infinite Frontiers

Agenda (8)
1x Domestic Sleepers
1x Hades Fragment
3x Priority Requisition
3x Project Wotan

Asset (3)
3x Jackson Howard •••

Upgrade (1)
1x Cyberdex Virus Suite

Operation (28)
1x Accelerated Diagnostics
3x Archived Memories
3x Biotic Labor
3x Blue Level Clearance
3x Green Level Clearance
3x Hedge Fund
3x Punitive Counterstrike ••••• •
1x Reclamation Order
3x Restructure
1x Snatch and Grab
1x Subliminal Messaging
3x Targeted Marketing •••

ICE (9)
2x Chimera
3x Eli 1.0
1x IQ
3x Merlin •••

15 influence spent (max 15) •••••••••••••••
21 agenda points (between 20 and 21)
49 cards (min 45)
Cards up to Order and Chaos

Like most Cerebral Imaging decks, the strategy is simple: gain credits, draw cards, keep the runner from disrupting you. But unlike many of the Power Shutdown decks, drawing cards and making credits is the way you win - whether by getting a dominating credit advantage that lets you Punitive Counterstrike the runner out of the game, or by getting enough credits to triple Biotic Labor out two 5/3 agendas, topped off by your Domestic Sleepers. (For the low, low price of 37 credits!)

Thus, unlike many traditional CI combo decks, you have to run very few “useless” cards like Shipments, Scorched Earths, Accelerated Diagnostics, and even Power Shutdown itself. Your deep concentration of money cards makes you much stronger against typical disruption, like Account Siphon. Your win condition is influence-cheap, letting you add in lots of extra tricks and safety nets. Furthermore, you can run a very austere agenda package that forces your opponent to take almost half the agendas in your deck to win. This puts your opponent in a bind, as the more they spend time checking your central servers, the less time they spend building up the infrastructure necessary to make a sufficiently massive play later on. In practice, few decks have shown the economic aptitude to match your unceasing consumption of cards and credits.

Card Choices:

Agendas
1x Hades Fragment
3x Priority Requisition
3x Project Wotan
1x Domestic Sleepers

Getting the mediocre part out of the way first. HB as a faction has many advantages, but they have really lackluster 5/3 agendas. Since Utopia Fragment and Eden Fragment are worthless when you aren’t building a scoring server, this is what we get. To be fair, none of these agendas is worthless - Hades Fragment is great insurance against Noise, among others; Priority Requisition occasionally gives you a free gigantic IQ; and Project Wotan lets Eli eat up tons of Lady counters. But you’re playing them for the points.

Only one Domestic Sleepers, meanwhile, because space is tight, you’re only going to score one anyway, and you want to minimize the odds that the Runner will steal it and see a fresh card in R&D. You could maybe play extra with Archers in the deck, but… nah, don’t do that.

Win Conditions
3x Punitive Counterstrike
3x Biotic Labor
1x Accelerated Diagnostics

Yes, yes, the deck plays Diagnostics. But it’s only 1 copy, and no Power Shutdowns, so I still get to keep my dignity. Instead, you draw up your entire deck with Jackson Howard and use it in conjunction with Jackson to play three Biotics to get 8 clicks in one turn - enough to FA a 5/3, plus play the Jackson, plus play a Cyberdex for Clot security.

Credits & Cards

3x Hedge Fund
3x Restructure
3x Green Level Clearance
3x Blue Level Clearance
1x Subliminal Messaging
3x Jackson Howard

HB may not have a Celebrity Gift-level economy card, but what the Clearances lack in flashiness they make up for with workhorse efficiency. Since this deck is far less reliant on Jackson Howard for anything other than drawing cards, I’m often willing to let the runner trash him, which just makes Punitive Counterstrike that much easier later on, and I can always get him back anyway.

Rebuys

3x Archived Memories
1x Reclamation Order

Plus Jackson, of course. Archived Memories is the secret MVP of the deck. Its most obvious use is as a second Punitive Counterstrike, but it’s also great at providing extra copies of Reclamation Order, Jackson Howard, Snatch and Grab, Cyberdex Virus Suite, or even just a Restructure. Reclamation Order is almost always used to buy back three economy cards, though it can go grab a set of Biotic Labors in a pinch.

Disruption

3x Targeted Marketing
1x Snatch and Grab
1x Cyberdex Virus Suite

I wrote a long review of Targeted Marketing on NRDB, but the short version is - don’t think of TM as a money-maker; think of it as a tempo-maker. More often, you want to pick a card such that your opponent will hold off playing something important, thereby buying you enough time to get out of range of a really painful Account Siphon, Legwork, or the like. Oftentimes, I just pick a key money card, rather than something more overtly threatening, on the theory that it’ll slow them down more. Snatch and Grab is obviously for Kati and Aesop’s, and Cyberdex Virus suite is obviously for Clot (though it also sometimes does double-duty against Datasuckers and/or Mediums).

ICE

3x Eli
3x Merlin
1x IQ
2x Chimera

This is where you really can customize to suit your taste the most. For example, if you feel naked without at least 12 ice, you could definitely cut the Targeted Marketings for more. But I’ve found this to be a nice mix in the current metagame. Usually in the early game, what you want is less a particular piece of ice (though Eli is always welcome) than the threat of ice itself, to keep the runner from freely deploying cards like Account Siphon.

Other than Eli, all the other ice in this setup plays a specific role later in the game. Chimera is a pain for Criminals, who often don’t want to have to set up a full package and seem to be eschewing Parasite fairly frequently these days. Merlin (in addition to giving value to extra copies clogging HQ) is often more than Anarchs can handle unseen, and though rarely lethal is great at taking out I’ve Had Worse. And IQ is brutally expensive to break (imagine a 20 strength Code Gate!), and Shapers seem to frequently be missing its key vulnerabilities (D4v1d, Femme Fatale, and Inside Job). But if, say, you can’t handle an ice package without Caduceus, well, go nuts.

To summarize matchups briefly: the deck has shown itself to easily beat decks with slow or unreliable economies, especially Anarchs (though the Headlock matchup is only somewhat favored, since Lamprey can even the odds); Criminals can often be beaten if you ferociously protect against Account Siphons (or at least make them unprofitable for the Runner, or cover them with Targeted Marketing); Shaper decks that don’t run Magnum Opus are easy, while MOpus decks can sometimes keep pace enough to require you to diversify your approach; and PPVP Kate is even-to-somewhat-unfavorable (depending on relative skill), since they have both the fastest runner economy and a large concentration of multi-access cards that can take your agendas in those critical first few turns if you get unlucky. It’s because of PPVP Kate that I wouldn’t put this deck in Tier 1, naturally, but believe me, I’ve had really excellent results against the rest of the field.

To quote another thread: Try it out, tell me what you think. Just be warned that it really isn’t fun to play against.


#2

Have you come up with a way to play around Vamp yet? :wink:


#3

Does chimera really work in a non-rush strategy? It seems awful against shaper/Anarch and marginal against Criminal.

Seems alright. I’d have thought a more standard agenda suite involving efficiency committee and shipments would be better.

I think if your opponent sees 1 punitive that win con is dead.

Interesting idea though. Cheers for the write up.

Why Merlin?


#4

I’m not sure about the Triple Biotic 5/3 FA plan. That’s a lot of cards to have to draw up in order to secure the combo, and with that many cards in hand you’ll need all your operations econ credits to keep you from just spilling cards from HQ. It does have the advantage of being repeatable in 2 turns with Reclamation Order.

The ice seems too minimal to hold defensively throughout the game, esp. if your plan involves drawing most of your deck for the Triple Biotic. Chimera is the one that really doesn’t fit for me: if your plan is to have all the money so you can have all the cards, the runner is going to be happy to spend a click or two to force you to rez Chimera and shorten your margin on handsize. It becomes a dead card later, and with as few ice as you have that makes it a significant hit to your defenses.

When do you typically rez IQ? It sounds like you’re trying to draw up a lot of cards right away, and IQ would end up putting a big hit to your credit pool later into the game you get it rezzed. PriRec is a good way to get it rezzed, but that’s going to basically require you to FA it, which isn’t likely early in the game (I have a hard time imagining you getting it scored behind Eli or Chimera against anything but Anarchs).

There are ways to make FA CI decks that down run Power Shutdown, ones that don’t require a huge margin of credits to score out agendas. Shipment from SanSan doesn’t just let you advance a card after using Efficiency Committee but also helps save you credits to advance cards.


#5

Also. You know the first card in the SanSan cycle. I think it’s named after some form of blood coagulation. It might make this deck sad.


#6

He does have 1 Cyberdex, so he’s completely safe from it.

I have real misgivings about expecting Jackson and the Clearances to draw all the cards of the deck. Jackson doesn’t stay out very long against decks like this, so you can expect to draw at most 6 cards with Jackson, more likely 4. That’s not going to get you very deep into the deck very fast compared to a runner building their rig.

I’ll give it a try before completely dismissing the deck, but I like Shutdown-less CI and this doesn’t really fit the ways I’ve been able to have success with it.


#7

In my experience, most decks that play Vamp are Anarch and have mediocre economies that lean on either Kati Jones or Liberated Accounts to launch them up to the high credit counts you’re targeting (the aforementioned 50 credits). They have a hard time keeping pace with this deck provided you’re aware that it’s a possibility and don’t rest on your laurels. The only time I was Vamped successfully with the deck was when I was totally asleep at the wheel and didn’t consider it a possibility. Targeted Marketing does wonders for putting a full Vamp out of reach.

Now, there are some niche decks that play Vamp which can be a threat - I’ve seen it in Magnum Opus decks, often playing Kit, and of course there are the Power Nap-based decks, which can bust out a much stronger economy much faster than this deck. If you suspect those decks in your metagame, there are definitely steps you could take to combat them more directly, e.g. Crisium Grid. But in my experience, it’s never been so substantial a problem as to require adding dead cards.


#8

Could this deck use a singleton Mushin maybe? It’s a lot cheaper than trying to triple biotic 3 agendas, which keeps the punitive threat alive for longer, and would also help you against clot.


#9

You’re underestimating how much money this package of cards can make. The only times I’ve ever faced hand-size problems have been either when I’ve been hit by multiple Account Siphons in a row early in the game or the one time the runner got close enough to land Vamp. I even played Reuse in an earlier version of the deck before realizing it was simply not needed. When I talk about credit counts in the fifties, I’m not exaggerating. You already intend to play all 12 copies of your economy cards over the course of the game, and those provide a net of 42 credits (12 + 15 + 9 + 6). That’s not counting Subliminal Messaging, rebought Restructures, or the fact that you’re not spending that money to finance a glacier. All your clicks go directly to either disrupting the runner or drawing more cards to dig up your win conditions.

Part of the reason I can get away with such a thin base of ice is a psychological effect I’ve observed playing many, many games with 7-agenda CI - runners are naturally hesitant to check HQ if they think the likely rewards, in agendas stolen and information gathered, are too thin to justify it (especially if you’ve put a cheap tax in front, like Eli). If they see a hand with fifteen to twenty cards in it, they’re likely to think, “well, there’s no way that’s worth it”. It’s a heuristic bias - after all, the agenda composition in HQ is often no different than it was in R&D. The only difference is the runner feels like he can control R&D, whereas a gigantic HQ feels like a shifting mass. That, coupled with Punitive Counterstrike as a safety blanket (and/or passive tempo spike, if the runner stops running in order to stockpiles credits and cards just to feel safe) means you don’t usually feel worried about leaving the servers insecure.

Sure, it’s true, the best players will see through that guise and compel you to play more defensively, but the fact that skill influences the matchup isn’t unique to Milquetoast. Do I think the list as it stands could go even against Calimsha or another top runner? Probably not. But that’s more a reflection of my inexperience relative to those players than a flaw with the design itself.

Seriously, try it out. You’ll see why I only worry about run events, why I’m not worried about money gluts, etc.


#10

Yeah that was me, I was making a joke :). I don’t think that it would have been an issue if you’d set your marketing to Vamp.

I think you’re underestimating modern Anarch economies though - there are a lot of decks that can make mad cash if they don’t run.


#11

I’m familiar with the econ package since that’s the one I run (-Subliminal and +Shipments, but I end up advancing more than this deck). It gets you a lot of credits for sure, but unless you can use those credits to seriously tax the runner for runs on HQ or R&D, I feel like the money won’t get you very far. For some CI decks Plascrete installs are a positive exchange since it’s time and money the runner is wasting protecting against a non-entity for that deck, but the credits for Plascrete are well spent here because it protects against the Punitive and they wouldn’t be using that money to break ice anyway. The money spent on ice is an investment against constant runs and run events. I don’t think the deck would suffer much from having ways to use its money other than giant handsize and a Triple Biotic combo, but I’ll try the deck out before I say any more.


#12

Seems like the deck is all-in on Punitive Counterstrike. It’s well positioned in the current meta where everyone is using Utopia Shard to skimp on Plascrete Carapace. But if they install Plascrete or you don’t get lucky against IHW then you are very sad. Also your ice is super weird.


#13

Can’t disagree with you on that last part. For anyone who wants a less weird ice mixture for testing purposes, I’d suggest starting with 3 Eli, 1 Lotus Field, 1 Viper, 2 Pup, 1 IQ, 1 Ichi 1.0. (If you cut the TMs, you could also put in Hive or Caduceus, which would be great to have.) The reason I can get away with a super weird ice mix is I only ever rez the ice to stop a really scary card effect - Siphon, Wanton, Legwork/TME, Vamp, etc - or when I’ve already secured a comfortable economic lead and feel like screwing around with the runner a bit. Hence why I play Chimera in particular. It doesn’t need to be good, it just needs to be good enough.


#14

Every time I play CI I love to include at least one copy of Ashigaru. So many subs.