Program: Icebreaker - Decoder • Install: 3 • Memory: 1 • Strength: 0 • Influence: 4

Study Guide has +1 strength for each power counter on it.

1: Break code gate subroutine.

2: Place 1 power counter on Study Guide.

"Once you download the lecture source files, this program does a statistical analysis and distills the most important concepts." -Hayley Kaplan
Shaper • Adam S. Doyle • Breaker Bay 28
Links: Decklists | ANCUR
Study Guide
Reviews

Alright, young Shaper, let's talk decoders.

If you're looking for a main breaker, there's really four main options: ZU.13 Key Master, Gordian Blade, Torch, and the new Study Guide. There's also Refractor, Yog.0, and Cyber-Cypher but those all need specific support to be useful, so let's just look at the three standard decoders for now.

If you're debating between ZU, Gordian Blade, and Torch, the real question is, how big is the ICE you plan to break? If you expect to mostly be staring down Quandary and Enigma, then Zu will do the job at nearly same cost as the more expensive breakers and for a helluva lot less up front. On the other hand, if you plan to be hitting the same Lotus Field over and over, you'll be glad you paid extra for the big grandaddy Torch.

This is more important the more times you are going to be running. If you're breaking a Lotus Field, it will cost you 4 per run using ZU, and only 1 per run using Torch. But you paid an extra 8 to play the Torch in the first place, so you need to make at least 3 runs for the initial investment in the Torch to pay out.

The problem is that you have to decide which breaker you want to build your rig around before you ever see your first piece of ICE. Opting for ZU means you can get set up and run faster, but means that big code gates like Tollbooth or Wormhole basically shut you down. Torch gives you the power to burn through any ICE...eventually, and that means the corp has lots of time to set their own board up.

But then there's Study Guide. Where the three other decoders are essentially small/medium/large, Study Guide is one-size-fits-all. If you're facing down weak code gates, then you only need to charge it up a little bit to have a breaker that is strong enough to handle them. On the other hand, if you're looking at monster ICE, you can make SG an even bigger monster. You never get caught in the embarrassing situation of having to break a Quandary with a Torch, or a Checkpoint with a ZU.13 Key Master.

There is a price to this flexibility, though. Yes, Study Guide can be a weak breaker, but it costs 2 more to install than Zu. Yes, Study Guide can be a strong breaker, but it costs a total of 11 to install and get it to four strength, two higher than the 9 it would cost to install Torch. And even though you can break a Wormhole for 1 after boosting it to strength, it's going to cost you a staggering 17 to get there first, with the saving grace that you don't need to do it all at once. Study Guide is jack of all trades, and a master at none.

Of course, this is all talking to Shapers. Anarchs and Criminals are probably going to give Torch and Study Guide a pass; four influence a card is a lot to ask, especially when ZU is only two.

Kit always deserves special mention when it comes to decoders, and in this case I think she's really happy. Kit's greatest strength is early-game aggression: being able to hit any single-iced server is terrifying for the corp until they manage to double-ice their centrals and scoring remote. But she also needs an efficient code gate breaker, to deal with high-strength sentries and barriers turned into code gates from her ability. Study Guide is the only decoder that fills both the early rush need and the later power-breaker need.

You forgot to mention Nasir. SG is probably the best decoder for him, as he can throw creds on it before he loses them. —
The really key thing about Study Guide is that it can use credits during runs. Sure, getting a 4 strength Decoder for all servers costs 2 creds more this way than using a Torch, but 8 of those creds can come from a Stimhack - and without a third card such as Personal Workshop or SMC. —
Boost it with credits off lockpick?? —
Yup. Boosting strength is considered to be "using icebreakers" or "using decoders" so Lockpick, Cyberfeeder, and Toolbox all can use their recurring creds on it. —
Even Valencia might push all those Bad Pubs into it! —
I feel like the review should have given Refractor a little bit more time, considering how insanely good it is. It's certainly the decoder that I weigh Study guide against. —
Agree with @Ber - I run 3x Refractor, 3x Ghost Runner, and 3x Lockpick in my Kit deck. I can melt through pretty much any ICE, especially if hosted on Omni-Drive. My problem is that I need 3-4 cards for ideal Refractor support, and it's causing me issues with consistency and speed. Study Guide seems to have an advantage there, but I'm hesitant to switch given the investment cost. —
I was just thinking about recurring credits, and Nasir. May as well dump them somewhere! —

I tried to make this program work for last three months of playtesting and finaly I had to give up and go back to good old Gordian Blade. Here's why:

In a land of Fairchild 3.0, DNA Tracker and Mausolus, or even good old Tollbooth and Archangel, Study Guide sells you fantasy about having to pay only once to pump, and then come back next time for jest one or three credits.

This works only when you are playing against really slow corps. But nowadays, ETF will try to rush you behind Fairchild and Ravana 1.0, and versus NBN dumping 15-20 creds to break that first Tollbooth willl swing tempo so much in corps favour, that you will have as much power tokens on Study Guide as tags on your head.

You must be fast or go home. Gordian will still help you against stack of code gates, and will give you chance to snipe that Astro or Breaking News behind pesky early Booth. I play very "controlly" builds, with Magnum Opus. I'll have money late game, but I must survive till then. In many cases Study Guide was just too slow.

229
But you can go faster with Multithreader, in 3 turns you go free up to 6 strength = ) —
Unfortunately Multithreader eats up precious MU needed for Magnum, Clot or other programs. Influence is tight these days, so you could supplement it with Cloak, but it still needs setup. —
Also works with Lockpick. As long as you hit one code gate sup per 'pick a turn after you are loaded with power counters, is still doing work. —

K, first off I would like to say that @tiedyedvortex review is excellent, but I would like to narrow it down it a bit more after my experience playing this with Rielle "Kit" Peddler: Transhuman. First off, we all now Kit is about early aggression in order to make most of her ability. IMO this gives you 3 options: Gordian Blade, Refractor and Study Guide. You also have Torch and Yog.0, but these builds require more specific combinations in card draw (Test Run+Scavenge or Dinosaurus+Scavenge etc) and those builds are more suited for the late game.

Now for the first 3: Gordian Blade is the most aggressive. You install it and you can run with no problems right away. The downside though is that Gordian Blade has the worst late game sustain and boosting it with recurring credits is less efficient as with Refractor. This is a bridge you have to gap while building your deck.

Refractor is cheap to install massively efficient with it's recurring credits, has great sustain, but requires stealth credits to work. With 3x Cloak, 3x Lockpick and 0-3x Ghost Runner it shouldn't be to hard to see a stealth card early. You are devoting quite a large portion of your deck to make it work, can probably make only one run a turn in the early game, but it leaves you a lot of real credits left to do other stuff. Once you go late game it really starts to pay off.

Study Guide fits in between the two. It gives you early game independence from other cards like Gordian Blade (although a lot more expensive), but once you slot in the right support cards it gives great late game sustain. The cards I'm talking about is Stimhack and Lockpick or Cyberfeeder (you can also use Cloak, but then you need support). Installing Study Guide and then using Stimhack gives you a permanent S3 decoder right of the bat, same S as Yog.0, which is absolutely fine for most early game ICE. Once you get your Lockpick out you can let it grow on recurring credits each turn (even if you don't make a run) or just pay up front. I've had games in which it was S5 by turn 3, making Tollbooth a joke for the rest of the game. Another bit advantage IMO is the fact it doesn't need recurring credits each time you run, so you are perfectly able to make multiple runs without worrying about running out of those and still be as cheap. The Lockpick you are using first to boost it, switches over to helping you break subs.

I would also like to give a special mention to Escher. A card that is nearly forgotten, but fits great in a Study Guide deck. Firing it in the mid-late game can absolutely wreck 1 or 2 servers for multiple turns. It fits Study Guide better than Refractor as it can take more advantage of it in a single turn (Esher + one or two cheap runs, before corp starts rebuilding).

Conclusion

Is Study Guide better than Refractor? IMO it is about the same power level. A Refractor deck is a deck in itself. It makes one run a turn and it does it very well. Study Guide gives you more room to play with. You can go all recurring with it (for strength boost early game, sub breaking late game) or brute force it with pure econ/Stimhack or you can do both.

If I could make a chart for strength over game time then Study Guide will have a same peak as Refractor early game, is weaker mid game and stronger late game. This makes Refractor better for fast advance, but I think Study Guide will be better for against RP or Glacier.

323
When I build Kit decks, I like to go for 3 Lockpicks, 3 Refractors, and 1 Study Guide + stimshop. Refractor + Lockpicks gives early pressure while Study Guide+Lockpick lets me use those recurring credits to power up study guide (or just using them pay for breaking with study guide). Stimhack always works with Personal Workshop for rig building but can also use it for powering up study guide. Give good versatility and the only piece that becomes obsolete is refactor. —

Study Guide is an interesting breaker that can ramp up as the game progresses, in theory. A corp will typically start by installing cheap ice until its economy can support something more expensive. This means you can throw down Study Guide and increase its strength as needed. Rielle "Kit" Peddler: Transhuman no longer has to decide between Torch and ZU.13 Key Master or Gordian Blade

In practice this isn't the case. Some of the most common early ICE are Enigma and Eli 1.0. Who wants to pay 9 credits to install and break Enigma. 13 for Eli? No thanks! Even if Study Guide is beefed up for the rest of the game, that credit hit opens a scoring window the next turn.

That being said, in combo with Personal Workshop and Stimhack, Kit can really make it shine. So is it worth one brain damage to install and boost Study Guide's strength to strength 3? I think so, if you're running Plascrete Carapace.

It can work in Nasir too if, but I don't think as well, unless your meta is full of multiples of Tollbooth and Lotus Field.

223
Eli is a barrier so Study Guide is largely ineffective anyway. But, as you mentioned, the sheer cost to break through small to mid-sized code gates leaves this in Leviathan territory. It's just somewhat inefficient compared to other options. —
It's all Shaper. Except for Kit or Nasir, in most cases they play slow and sometimes forfeit an early access for late dominance. It's a tradeoff for inevitability. Criminals HAVE TO act fast, because in late game they run out of tricks. Shapers roll out slow, but steady and unstoppably - and Study Guide is an embodiment of that philosophy. —