Big Spiky Centrals (11 undefeated games on jinteki.net)

callforjudgement 165

The 20.06 ban list is upon us. One of its more interesting changes is that it removed the concept of a restricted card (under the previous MWL system, you could not place two restricted cards with different names in the same deck).

On the runner side, the card restriction system worked fairly well, giving an interesting choice as to which overpowered card to put in your deck. Do you want the extra icebreaking power of Paperclip, or the defensive potential of Film Critic? However, on the Corp side, it had less of an effect; few Corp cards were restricted, and they mostly didn't go in the same deck anyway. There is, however, one ID that would have benefited from multiple restricted cards; Jinteki: Replicating Perfection, which wanted to run both Bio-Ethics Association and Obokata Protocol. In the previous Standard, I built a Replicating Perfection list around Bio-Ethics Association, to decent success. But now, with the dawn of 20.06, I had a chance to improve it.

And I created a monster.

Strategy

The basic idea of this deck is to put the most punishing ICE you can afford on your three central servers, and force the runner to run through it over and over and over again. If they do, they'll run out of credits (if they break it), or cards (if they tank it), very quickly. If they choose not to run, you end up with an overwhelming economic advantage will eventually be able to score your agendas with impunity. This deck most commonly wins by the opponent conceding, next-most commonly by scoring agendas, occasionally by flatline. None of the games I've played with this deck have even been close; scoring wins are usually 7-0 or 7-3, flatline wins normally come either in the early game while the runner attempts early pressure, or late in the game when the runner finally decides to start running.

Early game

The early game is when this deck is at its most vulnerable, especially if your draw is light on ICE. Hedge Fund, if it's in your opening hand, will allow you to afford to rez large pieces of ICE on turn 1; and this is pretty much its main purpose in your deck, it rapidly becomes redundant later in the game. Saisentan is your most reliable central defence card right at the start of the game, and rapidly becomes obsolete. Otherwise, click for credits like mad so that you can afford to rez something more expensive; the opponent can't do much to you early other than waste their credits trashing assets in your hand, or steal SSL Endorsement and give you the credits you need to rez ICE that way. So within a few turns, you should be able to place some enormous piece of ICE on each of your three centrals, and have the creds to be able to rez one of them. The key to the deck is that when the runner does decide to check a central, the tempo hit to the runner of breaking (or facetanking) your ICE will be larger than the tempo hit to you of rezzing it, so you'll get all three of your central ICE rezzed in time.

It is possible that you won't get enough ICE early, especially as you have three centrals to protect (you should normally protect HQ first, then R&D, then Archives; most runners are rightfully scared of random early-game R&D accesses versus Jinteki). In this case, you can simply install a lot of assets (and even agendas) unrezzed in remote servers, pretending that you're a shell-game deck; Replicating Perfection shell-game is a common enough deck that the runner will just assume that this is how your deck works, so probably won't take advantage of the stumble (and there's not much they can do early in the game anyway). It's normally best to leave even economic assets unrezzed in this case, until you get past the early game.

NGO Front (and to some extent Rashida Jaheem) are your primary cards for escaping the early game, giving quick boosts of creds and cards so that you can have the ICE on your centrals set up. NGO Front should normally be left with two counters on it until the runner runs it and/or you really need the credits; if you can bluff it as a Project Junebug then the runner will assume you're running Snare!, and run more cautiously for several turns, a good thing because this is the most vulnerable time for the deck (but still not all that vulnerable).

It is possible that a scoring window will open early. However, in this deck, it is normally best not to try to score early agendas; the 3+3 it takes to score a House of Knives, or the 5+5 for your other agendas, will set you too far behind. Instead, use the time and money to escape the early game as fast as you can.

Asset spam phase

Probably the most common Replicating Perfection deck in 20.06 is the asset spam deck, played a little like the (now-banned) Gagarin Deep Space. It works by playing lots of unprotected economic and/or mush-trash assets, relying on the fact that the runner will need to spend a click on a central run in order to trash them, tying up almost all the runner's clicks in asset-trashing.

Once you've set up strong ICE on your centrals, and can afford to rez it, this deck starts to play the same way as that one. There are two main differences, though. One is that the centrals run now costs much, much more than 1; running a Anansi or Chiyashi means losing 3-4 cards from hand or paying a fortune in icebreaker costs, and running Týr normally costs 3, leaving only one to trash an asset. So the Runner will not be able to trash assets at nearly the speed that they would against a more normal asset spam deck, due to running out of one of the three key resources (cards, clicks and creds).

The second difference is a consequence of this: the Runner is going to be taking several turns off, rather than trashing assets constantly. This means that when you play cards like Sundew or Commercial Bankers Group, especially if the Runner trashed something last turn, you can expect to gain a large profit before the card finally gets trashed. This effect is so strong that Hedge Fund feels like a dead card when you draw it in the mid- or late-game; 4 just doesn't feel like much when your economic assets get you so much more.

Besides the economic assets, you also have chip-damage assets; Bio-Ethics Association which damages opponents once per turn, Synth DNA Modification which damages opponents once per turn on a centrals run. If the runner fails to trash your economic assets, you'll get hugely far ahead on credits; if they fail to trash the chip-damage assets, though, they'll get further and further behind on clicks (spent to heal the damage), and may be at risk of running out of cards in their stack entirely. As a consequence, most runners will prioritize trashing your chip-damage assets, giving your economy more of a time to work.

Your goal in this phase is to pretend that you're playing an NBN deck, and try to get an overwhelming economic advantage over the runner; getting up to 30 or even 50 is very common, while the runner stays stuck near zero. As such, you need to aggressively try to deny the runner's economy by any means possible. Many of the best Runner economy cards are intentionally designed to allow the Corp counterplay, e.g. PAD Tap can be trashed by spending 3+, Tapwrm by spending to purge viruses. While you're playing asset spam, you should be looking for these opportunities and taking them aggressively; every turn will drain the runner's resources (if they run), or allow you to use your own drip economy assets (if they don't), so causing a general waste of time for both players will be to your advantage.

You will draw some amount of ICE during this phase. You will want to put the spikiest ICE you can in the outside position of your three centrals; this may mean installing a second layer (there's no need to remove the inner layer of ICE when this happens, leave it in case the runner decides to try to get into a central rather than bouncing it). If there's any possibility that the runner is running ICE-trashing cards like Hippo, make sure you hold spiky ICE in hand so that you can replace your centrals ICE if it gets trashed. If you have spare ICE despite this, though, you can start icing remote servers; icing Sundew makes sense if the runner is trashing all your economy, but otherwise it is probably best to build yourself a scoring remote. (One nice thing about this deck is that scoring remotes normally don't have to be large; two pieces of ICE is almost always enough.)

Closing out the game

At some point, you will want to try to win the game. The deck has a few ways to do this.

Probably the most common, and a very straightforward win, is to use Sandburg. This requires you to build up a huge credit bank beforehand, during the asset-spam phase; this is likely to happen naturally if the runner does not run much, because they won't be trashing your economy. Normally, you'll place it in your scoring server (although just naked-installing it can work too); you should normally aim to surprise-rez it during a centrals run. If the Runner deck has a strong economy, they will be able to afford one centrals run even through Sandburg, but are unlikely to be able to get into your scoring server afterwards. The Runner normally concedes at this point, but if they don't, you just opened a very large scoring window, and can just sit back and score the agendas you need to win. (Occasionally, the act of rezzing Sandburg rez will randomly flatline the runner when they fail to break and die to the subroutines, which is an alternative form of win; it's not worth spending effort trying to make this happen, just enjoy it when it does.)

Sometimes the Runner will be able to trash Sandburg (because it's inadequately protected, because the runner has single-use remote-running cards like Stimhack, or because the runner is playing a very strong icebreaking deck such as Smoke's or Sunny). In this case, you haven't actually lost much, so this was a huge resource swing in your favour; you didn't win right now, but will be able to try again later. The deck has a second Sandburg, and can recycle them using Preemptive Action.

If the runner is running very aggressively, you might not be able to get an economic advantage, but there are a few other ways to win. Anarchs will almost always be using MKUltra to break your sentries, and will usually aim to install it from the heap. Against these decks, it is usually best to install Blacklist unrezzed, and rez it once the runner commits to encountering a sentry; this often flatlines on the spot. If the runner manages to install their killer, you can use Inazuma to repeat the same trick with code gates and Black Orchestra.

The deck has a few other random ways to flatline, involving rezzing multiple copies of Bio-Ethics Association on the same turn, and/or using House of Knives, perhaps in conjunction with Waiver. Sometimes you will win by rezzing Týr when the runner is low on clicks; some runners will mentally run through the possible ICE you could have on a server, and fail to consider a rarely-used 10-cost 5-influence card from out of faction. Even if these techniques don't lead to an immediate flatline, they can set the runner so far behind that you will have plenty of time to win via some other method.

Finally, you can win by grinding out the runner's stack; this won't happen against most Runner strategies, because you'll win first, but may be your only option to win if the runner decides to repeatedly face-tank into your ICE to avoid spending the credits to break it. When the runner's stack is running low, cards like Synth DNA Modification and Mlinzi become incredibly lethal, and may completely lock the runner out from a server; lock the opponent out from all three centrals, or from a remote, and you can score with impunity. On occasion, the runner may end up with fewer than four cards in stack and grip combined, at which point Obokata Protocol becomes impossible to steal short of Whistleblower (because Film Critic is banned in 20.06), so you can just naked-install and score it.

Card choices

Agendas

The agenda selection is very straightforward. Obokata Protocol causes a huge tempo loss for the Runner when stolen, and is mostly safe from random accesses, so it is very unlikely that it will ever get stolen at all; you can safely leave them anywhere (HQ, naked remote, etc.) without giving the Runner much of an advantage. SSL Endorsement is very powerful due to being an economy card that takes up an agenda slot; it can (and often will) be stolen, but if it is, it will accelerate your setup to the point where the runner isn't getting into HQ any more. House of Knives is your seventh point; scoring it in the mid-game makes all your servers just a little bit more dangerous, slowing the runner down still further.

ICE

The major drawback of Replicating Perfection is that it does not require a successful centrals run before allowing a run on the remotes; the runner merely has to declare a run and survive it, but can jack out at their first legal opportunity (normally after passing the first piece of ICE). So to maximise the strength of the identity, you want your centrals ICE to be expensive not merely to break, but to survive. A card like Hadrian's Wall is expensive to break, but very cheap to bounce off; in this deck, we want even the bounce to be as expensive as it can be.

The primary spiky pieces of ICE here are therefore Anansi and Chiyashi. These cause incredibly heavy damage if not icebroken. They can be expensive to rez, but this deck can normally afford to past the first few turns. Mlinzi acts as a backup to Anansi, because the effect is so strong in this deck that it wants more than three copies.

Týr is the sixth piece of super-spiky ICE. Due to being unique and very influence-intensive, we don't want to run more than one. However, the effect is very strong, and it is even more expensive to icebreak than Anansi is. It does have the drawback that the Runner can click through (at the cost of giving you extra clicks), but then the Runner has only one remaining click to trash assets (assuming they click through the first two subroutines and let the third fire). This Runner behaviour also means that the central you place it on is likely going to become immune to random accesses, because the Runner would rather let the ETR fire than break it. You can exploit it in other ways, too; naked-install a 5/3, and if the Runner gives you two extra clicks, just score it on the spot. (The Runner is more likely to trash rezzed assets than risk looking at face-down cards.)

Saisentan is basically a stop-gap card, serving early defence while you're trying to get set up. Think of it as gear-check ICE, that is nonetheless expensive to break and has a chance of flatlining a runner who face-checks it. Later in the game, you use this to protect moderate-value remotes such as Sundew; it also protects Sandburg well.

Waiver and Inazuma are there mainly there to take advantage of a runner who has lost their decoder, or been locked out from installing it due to Blacklist; Waiver is however fairly spiky in its own right (and Inazuma can flatline if installed in front of something spiky). Waiver can be used to defend a central early, if required, as it costs quite a bit to break and most runners will choose to break it rather than risk letting you pump the trace and trash their entire grip.

Operations

Hedge Fund is a 3-of in basically every Corp deck in existence. In this deck, it doesn't help all that much through most of the game, but is one of the easiest ways to get past the dangerous early game, allowing you to have spiky ICE rezzable as early as turn 1 or turn 2.

Preemptive Action is normally used to increase the number of assets the runner is forced to trash, dragging them through your centrals over and over again; you can think of the card as being three assets that occupy only a single deck slot. This has the side advantage of effectively reducing your agenda density (this deck doesn't particularly care about seeing agendas early). You can also use it to recycle Sandburgs, in case they end up trashed early.

Assets

The assets in this deck fall into three main groups.

First, we have economy acceleration cards: Rashida Jaheem, NGO Front, and Mumba Temple. These normally aren't worth trashing for the Runner (or in the case of NGO Front, can't be trashed if IAA'd as normal); they exist to speed up the vulnerable early game, giving us credits to rez our ICE and cards to find the ICE we need. Later in the game, they're less powerful, but still give a nice boost and can be helpful for shell-game purposes. (Mumba Temple in particular gives value throughout the game, reducing the economic hit of rezzing things.)

Next, 11 "must-trashables": Commercial Bankers Group, Sundew, Bio-Ethics Association, (a little less effectively) Synth DNA Modification. (By "must-trashable", I mean a card that is likely to eventually win the game by itself if the runner fails to trash it.) Due to the concept of restricted cards being abolished, we now have a large pool of these available, and a lot of redundancy in it. This deck really likes this effect, and being able to run so much of it is very helpful.

As for why these are must-trashables, Commercial Bankers Group gains you 3 per turn, and Sundew 2 (Sundew can also be protected by ICE in an emergency, which is helpful if the Runner is going for economic disruption early-game); this is a ridiculous rate of economic drip that few Runners can keep up with. Bio-Ethics Association, if left untrashed, will tie up approximately one of the Runner's clicks per turn drawing off the damage, which again adds up to an overwhelming advantage in the long term. Synth DNA Modification is slightly less of a mandatory trash, but it causes damage whenever the opponents run through your centrals to trash one of your other assets (almost all your ICE is AP), so they will typically end up having to trash it in preference to one of the economic must-trashables.

The remaining assets are Blacklist and Sandburg. These are win conditions, normally working by preventing the Runner breaking your ICE and/or causing them to flatline themself on it. Sandburg's operation is straightforward: if the Runner ignores your must-trashables, it limits them to maybe 1 to 2 ice-breaks total in the remainder of the game, allowing you to score with impunity. Blacklist is a little more complex, doing nothing against most Criminals but acting as a remote server for shell-game purposes. It is more powerful, though, against the other main factions. Against a Shaper, it is normally best to rez it immediately; most Shapers rely on their heap for their deck to function, and so your Blacklists become additional must-trashables in that situation. Against an Anarch, you install it unrezzed, then use it for a surprise flatline by denying them the opportunity to install MKUltra or Black Orchestra (sometimes even Paperclip) when they're already locked in to encountering one of your spiky pieces of ICE.

Conclusions

I don't know how to beat this deck, and neither do any of my opponents. Most of its games haven't even been close. Part of what makes it so strong is a powerful core strategy; part of what makes it strong is that it looks like a more common deck until it's already too late to change your strategy against it.

The only matchups that felt losable were against Runners who set up for the extreme late game, Sunny Lebeau: Security Specialist and Ele "Smoke" Scovak: Cynosure of the Net. Even then, though, the deck still functioned, and overcame the late-game strength of the Runners by tying up their economy in the mid-game. In one of the games against Sunny, she rarely had more than 4 or so at the end of her turn, because she was spending her entire economy on trying to keep the deck in check, and it was easy to find a couple of scoring windows.

It's still early days for the 20.06 format. Replicating Perfection decks are everywhere, so I'm hopeful that people will develop techniques for countering them. The common builds are managable; perhaps there's some way to beat this deck, too. It just remains to be seen whether someone will find it.

7 comments
22 Jun 2020 rongydoge

sincere Waiver in a deck = automatic fav. automatic.

23 Jun 2020 aeongate

I believe I was one if not two of your 11 wins! What a fantastically miserable pile of cards, made for some brutal games given I hadn't played in several months. You've given the deck a thorough write-up too which is lovely to see. Great stuff! I'm with you in hoping that there's some good runner counterplay for decks like this.

24 Jun 2020 boreira

@callforjudgement I've bet this deck playin Leela but was a close one congrats

26 Jun 2020 tonybluehose

great write up! Mean Deck!

27 Jun 2020 callforjudgement

Just an update: this deck has now actually been defeated, after failing to draw sufficient early ice or economy against 419. It somehow still felt close despite that, though, with the deck being on the verge of locking him out as he sniped the seventh point.

26 Jul 2020 Mpascall

I am by no means a great player. I only play with friends. But this deck looked fun and I kicked a strangers ass with it on Jinteki. Yep, fun!

30 Jul 2020 Mpascall

@callforjudgement I'm having trouble against runners with Security Nexus. They bounce off the centrals at minimal or no cost and without fear of damage (except for sometimes taking a tag). Any suggestions?