Netrunner: Crimson Dust Review

In this series of articles Marc and Chris, our resident runners of nets, review the latest expansion for Android: Netrunner. In these articles Marc and Chris will introduce their favourite cards from the newest pack and then give a whistle stop tour of the rest of the cards. There are a lot of card names mentioned in these articles. If you don’t recognise a particular card, or need a refresher about what it does, we recommend either searching for a card on NetrunnerDB or installing this Chrome plugin to let you quickly look up what the cards do. Without further ado, let’s jack in…

Crimson Dust

Pack summary

Crimson Dust is a powerful pack of cards, with Aumakua and MCA in particular being responsible for shifts in the the types of decks played after release. The almost immediate banning of Salvage Vanadis Armory due to broken combos is also an issue with Crimson Dust. There’s still a lot to enjoy here for the casual fan though, as several of the more interesting cards are not reliant on specific combos or certain deck types.  

MarcsFavourites_CrimsonDust

Aumakua scares me a little bit; I think it makes ICE a little too easy to break. Aumakua is an AI breaker, which means that it can break subroutines on any ICE (except one!) in the game. AI icebreakers have to be carefully balanced; if they’re too powerful then they’ll start being used as the only Icebreaker a Runner uses, and the wonderful counter-play between Runner and Corp, of scoping out the installed ICE and finding the correct tool to get passed it, is lost. Too weak, and they’ll never be played. Aumakua breaks subroutines for a mere 1 credit per subroutine, but this is balanced by its strength being zero. In order to increase the strength of Aumakua, the Runner needs to access cards and not trash or steal them, or expose cards, which is Netrunner parlance for the Runner peeking at facedown Corp cards. The former mechanic has been somewhat of a theme in the Red Sands cycle, with Maw and Aeneas Informant both having similar triggers, whereas exposing cards is a trick that Criminals are generally good at, with the ID ability of Silhouette based entirely around the mechanic. Doing either of these adds a virus counter to Aumakua, increasing its strength by one for each virus counter. Once it’s up to strength, Aumakua is able to plough through basically any ICE it encounters. The natural counterplay to this is for the Corp to purge virus counters, although doing this either requires the Corp spend an entire turn doing so, or include specific counter cards in their deck.

The reason Aumakua scares me is that it’s quite easy to build up these counters. Running Archives or unprotected assets both add counters, so even if the Corp purges, the Runner can usually get Aumakua back up to 4 strength in one turn. There is also a potent synergy with Dean Lister, who adds strength to Icebreakers, meaning that even if the Corp manages to surprise the Runner with a purge the Runner can still use Aumakua to get around ICE for one run. It’s this flexibility in an AI Icebreaker that is worrying. The reason I like the card, despite my fears, is that it gives Runners early aggression. The Runner has to run to give Aumakua strength, and that puts pressure on the Corp to shore up Archives and unprotected remotes. It also gives expose effects a boost, which I personally like as Silhouette is a pet ID for me. I’ve played Aumakua in a Silhouette deck with multiple GPI Net Taps installed and the rate at which Aumakua accumulates counters is phenomenal. If you’re sick of seeing it across the table from you when playing Corp, play ICE that targets AI such as IP Block, Turing, Swordsman, or Wraparound. Perhaps protect Archives by including more ICE in your deck than usual, or including traps that fire from Archives like Space Camp or Breached Dome (in this pack!). Or include cards that are able to purge virus counters during the run, such as Cyberdex Virus Suite or Macrophage. All told, although I think Aumakua is powerful, I think it’s close to being balanced given the cards that are able to target it from the Corp’s side. It also promotes interaction between the Runner and Corp, which is a fantastic property in a Netrunner card. Perhaps we’ll see Aumakua on the new restricted list one day because of it’s power, but I would be surprised to ever see it banned given the counterplay that is possible.

Marc Aumakua Austerity

On the Corp side, MCA Austerity Policy (MAP) is a card that lets the Corp score beefy agendas in a single turn, while hindering the Runner’s plan. MAP has two abilities. The first lets the Corp spend a click to put a power counter on the card and cause the Runner to lose a click on their turn. The other ability allows the Corp to gain three clicks by trashing the card when it has 3 power counters on it. Essentially, MAP lets the Corp bank clicks over 3 turns. On the fourth, the card can be trashed, with the extra clicks letting the Corp score a 5 advancement agenda straight from hand. Alternatively, the Corp can use MAP a turn early to score a 4 advancement agenda from hand.

MAP does an awful lot of work. When it’s being charged up, it slows the Runner down so they can’t draw cards, can’t check remotes, and more importantly for HB, they can’t use clicks to get passed bioroid ICE. This means that MAP is useful in a number of different deck styles. In decks that try and rush out agendas, a MAP behind some cheap ICE means that the Runner has fewer clicks to find the breaker they need. In decks that create a lot of remote servers, the reduced number of clicks means that the Corp can sneak Agendas or powerful assets onto the table without the Runner having enough clicks to check them all. In decks that build an expensive to get into remote server to score, a MAP in the remote creates a “damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t” situation for the Runner; don’t run and let the Corp score an Agenda, or trash MAP and don’t have enough credits to get back into the remote.

Previous cards have allowed the Corp to reduce the number of clicks the Runner has, such as Victoria Jenkins and Load Testing. Others have allowed the Corp to gain additional clicks to score Agendas, such as Biotic Labor. MAP combines these two functions, and isn’t a liability to install in the case of Victoria Jenkins, making it a very flexible card. I’ve tried it in this[TODO] NBN deck, that aims to try and tag the Runner by reducing the number of clicks they have to remove tags. Between the tag from NBN: Controlling the Message and any scored AR-Enhanced Security (this pack), the Runner potentially has to spend an entire turn to trash MAP and clear all tags. Another card in the deck that has synergy with MAP is Hard-Hitting News. Hard-Hitting News is balanced as the Runner can use their entire turn to remove the 4 tags it gives before the Corp can leverage them. But if the Corp clicks MAP before playing Hard-Hitting News, the Runner won’t be able to clear all those tags. In short, MAP is a really interesting card with a number of different strategies it can complement.

Chris Favourites Crimson Dust

Mining Accident is a real showcase for the designers learning from their mistakes. The now banned Account Siphon was one of the dominant cards in Netrunner for a long time, being frequently used in both Criminal and Anarch decks for its dual effect of Corp punishment and Runner economy. Whilst its removal from tournament play is a blow to its fans, its power level makes the decision understandable. Mining Accident seems like a semi replacement, as it also can be used to drain credits from the Corp, and can supplement a runner economy. But it’s a far less extreme card, as it is Corp tax OR Runner economy, rather than both. It is also removed from the game when played, so it can’t be repeated more than 3 times.Despite these weaknesses relative to its predecessor, it’s still strong enough to be worth playing. When played in the first few turns, the decision for the Corp to take Bad Publicity or lose 5 credits is a difficult one, as losing the credits could prevent crucial early ICE from being rezzed but the Bad Pub will really add up for the runner over the course of the game.     

Whilst Mining Accident is fine solo, it can become even stronger with combined with other cards that care about Bad Publicity. Itinerant Protesters is a great one, reducing the Corps HQ size by one for each Bad Pub. Out of the ID Valencia, alongside Investigative Journalism, giving the Corp and HQ size of 0 is a far more achievable goal than prior to the release of Mining Accident. This is a fun type of deck to try and play, especially if you combine it with the fun Fisk Investment Seminar.  If interested take a look at this deck!   

Chris Mining Construction

I’ve always liked Weyland’s suite of advanceable ICE, and with the release of Mass Commercialisation and Red Planet Couriers, they’ve been getting a lot of strong support lately. It’s said that good things come in three’s and Priority Construction seems to be the final piece. It installs a new piece of ICE and advances it three times. Three is a key number with advanceable ICE, activating the special subroutines of Mausolus, Hortum & Colossus and making Nebula, Asteroid Belt & Wormhole free to rez. If you were going to advance the ICE three times irregardless, this saves you 2 clicks, and at least 2 credits. This speeds up the setup of advanceable ICE, and helps both Rush and Glacier decks. It’s probably best out of Builder of Nations, but could be worth including in any deck that is including advanceable ICE. 

Faction by Faction

Crimson Dust Anarch

Anarch

Anarch get more toys for their “punch yourself in the face” deck archetype. Respirocytes lets you draw a card when you have no cards in hand, potentially saving the Runner from further damage the Corp may have in store. It also keeps the Runner’s tempo up when receiving damage, meaning they can spend fewer clicks drawing cards and more setting up their rig or dismantling the Corp’s servers. As a result it fits well into the self-damage decks that have been fleshed out in this cycle, and has additional synergy with this strategy by causing a meat damage when installed, triggering Clan Vengeance for example. The other Anarch card is Salvaged Vanadis Armory, which has already been banned from the game! The way the card was intended was to provide a little extra benefit when you took damage by trashing cards from the top of the Corp’s deck based on the amount of damage you have received. Just taken a Snare! to the face? Trash 3 cards. However, the way the card is worded is that it’s cumulative over the entire turn. This lead to people making uninteractive decks that self-inflict upwards of 10 damage, then use multiple Salvaged Vanadis Armories to trash all of the Corp’s deck. This is obviously not good for the game, so thankfully this card has been banned. It’s a little disappointing that this problem wasn’t addressed before being printed, but at least it’s not a problem anymore.

Crimson Dust Criminal

Criminal

Aside from Aumakua, Criminals get net and brain damage protection in the form of Caldera. Once installed, Caldera allows the Runner to avoid 1 net or brain damage for 3 credits. Criminals desperately needed something to protect them from net damage, as Kakugo, the Jinteki ICE that deals a net damage when passed, often meant that Criminals were better off not running late game. The numbers on Caldera are very similar to Feedback Filter, although being a Resource it is a little easier for the Corp to get rid of. The worrying thing about this card is how easy it makes avoiding brain damage. Brain damage, as it has a lasting effect on the Runner’s hand size, is usually very difficult for the Corp to land. Cards like Feedback Filter and On The Lam prevent it once, while cards like Monolith and Heartbeat are reusable, but take up a Runner’s console slot and need to be built around. Caldera, on the other hand, just needs money. I think Caldera makes decks that try to kill the Runner with brain damage, already a fringe strategy, even harder, which is a shame.

Crimson Dust Shaper

Shaper

Shaper get two new events that are, frankly, a little strange and are expensive in terms of influence, making them unlikely to be played in other factions. Diana’s Hunt is an expensive card that initiates a run and allows the Runner to install programs for free whenever they encounter ICE. However, those programs are transient, and are trashed when the run ends. There is an awkward combo with the card and Sacrificial Construct, letting the Runner cheat out programs on the cheap if the latter card is installed first. The other strategy is to ensure that the programs aren’t installed by the end of the run. For example, Diana’s Hunt can be used to install the Bird Breakers (Saker, Peregrine, and Golden) that return to the Runner’s grip after derezzing ICE. Alternatively, the Runner could install fodder for Brahman, that adds installed programs to the top of the stack, or install programs like Grappling Hook, Shiv, Crowbar, or Spike that trash themselves during the run. These strategies aren’t competitive by any stretch of the imagination, but they’re fun! The other Shaper event is Reshape, that lets the Runner swap unrezzed ICE. This can be a powerful ability, letting the Runner compose a cheap path to R&D or break up positional ICE combinations. However, it only works if the Runner knows what the ICE is. This will require either importing ICE derez abilities from Criminals, or using expose effects like Infiltration. The requirements for extra support cards, and the fact that the card only swaps a pair of ICE, limits the benefits from swapping ICE. If this is a strategy you want to pursue, I recommend the card Escher. Sure it requires a run on HQ, but it’s the same play cost as Reshape and lets you freely rearrange ICE on any server, which is much more powerful.

Finally, Shapers get a new resource in Dummy Box. By trashing a card from their grip, the Runner can prevent the Corp from trashing an installed card of the same type. So if the Corp tries to use Hunter Seeker to trash an icebreaker, the Runner can trash a program from their grip to save it. This also works with Resources, so if the Runner is tagged, they can trash a Resource from hand to prevent the Corp trashing their installed Resources. This works well with the Anarch decks that have received support this cycle, protecting their Resources. The ability to use cards from hand to do something they were not intended is something we’ve seen before with Monolith, and is an interesting “do they, don’t they” decision for the Corp when they try and trash something with Dummy Box on the table.

Crimson Dust Neutral

Neutral

The final card of the Red Sands cycle is Conundrum, and that’s certainly what this card is! Intended as the ‘grown up’ version of Enigma, Conundrum punishes the Runner for having an AI installed by becoming stronger. The problem with the card is that at 8 cost, this is an expensive piece of ICE that might not have as much of an impact as other expensive pieces of ICE like DNA Tracker or Tollbooth. Sure, it has a punishing program trashing subroutine if the Runner doesn’t have a Code Gate breaker, and if an AI is installed it’s a monster, but if neither of these things are true then Conundrum is not as much of a tax on the Runner as other ICE. I can see this ICE being a meta decision; if AIs are in most Runner decks then including Conundrum might make sense. Given the aforementioned strength of Aumakua it may be that that time is now!

Corporate Defector gives you vital information about what the Corp is drawing, allowing the Runner to time Legwork and The Gauntlet runs appropriately. Having played against this card, it is really quite oppressive and really discourages you, as the Corp, from clicking to draw. I imagine this card is best in an Alice Merchant deck, where the Corp is losing cards from HQ and is incentivised to draw.

Crimson Dust HB

HB

CFC Excavation Contract is a new agenda for HB that gives you money when scored based on the number of bioroids rezzed. This includes bioroid ICE, assets, and upgrades like Ash 2X3ZB9CY and Warroid Tracker. I expect this agenda will be frequently seen in HB: Architects of Tomorrow and HB: Stronger Together decks, two IDs that are based on including bioroids in your deck. The main problem with this card, in my testing, is that it is sort of useless early game. Sure you might get 4 credits or so off it early, but I’d rather the 10 credits from Corporate Sales Team. Late game it can give the Corp the economic boost needed to finish the game, but the lack of a consistent benefit may limit the usefulness of the agenda. The other HB card is Restore. This card fits into the theme of HB being able to retrieve things from Archives, allowing the Corp to install a card from Archives and rez it, at the cost of removing all other copies of the card from the Archives. Since Friends in High Places is now banned, this may now become the primary way of getting important assets and upgrades, such as MCA Austerity Policy and Ash 2X3ZB9CY, back into play in Netrunner. You can also rez ICE outside of a run with Restore, which can be important against decks that try and keep ICE unrezzed like DDOS or Leela Patel, or Corp decks that want to rez certain bits of ICE, like AgInfusion or The Foundry.

Crimson Dust Jinteki

Jinteki

Jinteki get a new ambush, in the form of Breached Dome. When accessed, the Runner not only suffers a meat damage but also trashes the top card of their deck. This latter ability can be very impactful for certain Runner decks that don’t have a way to rescue icebreakers or other important cards from the heap. Unlike other Jinteki ambushes, like Snare!, Breached Dome works when accessed in Archives. Thus, a few Breached Domes are able to protect Archives, important in decks that want to discourage the Runner from running this server, such as Industrial Genomics and Tennin Institute. It also makes Archives relatively safe to leave agendas, allowing them to sit there for a turn or two before being shuffled back into the Corp’s deck with Preemptive Action. Trashing cards from both the Runner’s hand and deck make Breached Dome good in decks that want to wear the Runner down and eventually kill them like Potential Unleashed and Personal Evolution. Due to these varying uses, I can see Breached Dome turning up in quite a few Jinteki decks. The other Jinteki card is a new ICE, called Sand Storm, that can move the Runner during run to a different server. The subroutine is more likely to fire than other ICE subroutines, as the ICE is a Trap piece of ICE, requiring an AI icebreaker to break. Moving the Runner during the run can be used to throw them into a trap, although without combining this with an ability to stop the Runner jacking out, like Whirlpool or Labyrinthine Servers, this is unlikely to work often. A more likely scenario is that you move the Runner to a different server to waste their clicks. This strategy has seen success in AgInfusion decks, which use the Corp ability and scored Nisei MK IIs to force the Runner to run first or second click in order to have any chance at all of reaching the agenda in the scoring remote. Potentially Sand Storm might find a home in these style of decks as a backup when the Runner plays Employee Strike.

Crimson Dust NBN

NBN

The new agenda for NBN, AR-Enhanced Security, takes the ability of Controlling the Message (CtM) and dials it up to eleven, by doling out tags for the first card the Runner trashes each turn, regardless of whether it’s installed or not and without any trace occurring. When combined with CtM this ability can mean that the Runner has to take two tags in order to trash assets. I also like it in Near Earth Hub, using the speed of the ID ability to setup and AR-Enhanced Security for protection. With this agenda, or multiples of this agenda, scored, therefore, assets are very safe and you can build up a strong position using Daily Business Show to filter your hand and PAD Campaigns for money. If the Runner gives up removing tags then you can punish them using a number of different methods, such as Psychographics to score agendas or The All-Seeing I to trash Resources.

NBN also get a new Current in Rolling Brownout. By making events and operations more expensive for Runner and Corp, and by giving the Corp a benefit to Runners using events, this card supports credit denial strategies. By affecting the Corp’s operation play costs as well, the Corp will probably want to rely on asset based economy if they plan to use this card, such as PAD Campaign or Launch Campaign. This card is somewhat limited by it being so dependent on the Runner’s deck. If they aren’t relying on Event based economy, by using Resource based economy or Magnum Opus, then this card will do very little. Saying that, it complements other credit denial Currents, such as Scarcity of Resources and Service Outage, which could be used as a suite to slow down a Runner’s economy regardless of how they’ve constructed their deck.

Finally, NBN get a potentially scary card in Threat Level Alpha. Unlike other cards like SEA Source and Hard-Hitting News, that require a run in order to tag the Runner, Threat Level Alpha can be used at any time. However, the numbers on the card, and the fact that it needs two clicks to play, means that the Corp has to be quite a bit richer than the Runner to play it and only has a single click to use the tag they give the Runner. The main way I can see this card being used as an early game play to slow down the Runner. Say the Runner installs a Daily Casts and an Earthrise Hotel during their first turn, putting them on a few credits. The Corp could use Threat Level Alpha and The All-Seeing I to knock the Runner’s tempo back considerably, giving the Corp a chance to set up. This does need very specific cards in hand though, and as the Corp ideally wants to do this play early, when the Runner is most likely to be poor, it necessitates playing multiple copies of Threat Level Alpha.

Crimson Dust Weyland

Weyland

Fractal Threat Matrix, is a defensive upgrade that trashes cards from the top of the Runner’s stack when they break subroutines. On the face of it, this seems to be synergistic with Skorpios’ ability to remove cards from the game, potentially locking the Runner out of servers. However, as this only triggers when the Runner breaks ICE, they must already have breakers installed. Instead, I think this card fits better in a Corp deck that tries to wear the Runner down until they have no cards left, then kill them. Such a strategy is possible using the ability of Builder of Nations, that deals out regular meat damage to the Runner, or if you’ve got the influence in a Potential Unleashed deck. If you want a challenge, try and combo this card with Chief Slee to create a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation regarding the breaking of subroutines!

 

See you next time for a run down of the new core set for Netrunner!

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