It's been over two years since the last review. Anansi has gone from merely being "very interesting" to "all over the place, please send help" and a candidate for the best piece of ICE in the game. Generally speaking, it's a 3-of in any Jinteki deck that can afford to rez it, and my deck-building process for Jinteki decks nowadays starts by putting in the agendas and three Anansis, and then thinking about the rest of the deck (and about what sort of economy it needs for rezzing Anansis to be a reasonable option). It's also probably a large part of the reason why, in top-level play, glacier decks tend to be run out of Jinteki nowadays.
So why is it so dominant? There are basically only three ways through Anansi:
- Breaking the subroutines. This has a typical cost of around 7. 7! With some breakers, it's a little more, and with some, a little less. But in any case, this is considerably more than most runners can generate in a turn.
- Face-tanking the subroutines (and the trigger). That's 4 net damage (you can pay 2 to draw a card in order to survive at 3 cards in hand), and the corp gets to draw a card if they want to, and to rearrange R&D.
- Using a bypass (e.g. Inside Job, Security Nexus) or pseudo-bypass (e.g. Boomerang, Grappling Hook) effect. This doesn't work very well on Anansi; you end up paying the cost of your bypass or pseudo-bypass effect, will typically have to let a sub fire if using pseudo-bypass (the "draw a card" sub is normally the least damaging), and still end up taking 3 net damage.
In other words, this is not a piece of ICE you can run through repeatedly by any reasonable means. If Anansi is on a central server, then any run through it has to be very high impact in order for it to be worthwhile. Take an event like Diversion of Funds; that's a double which produces a 9 swing (5 gained, 5 drained, 1 to play the event), one of the largest swings in Standard. Now imagine running a Diversion of Funds through an Anansi; you're paying around 7 to break it, so you made a net gain of 2 if you don't count the cost of playing the event, or broke even if you consider that you could have clicked for 2 with the clicks you used to play it (and you probably had a better use for those clicks anyway). This means that as soon as you have an Anansi rezzed on a central server, it's effectively safe from anything short of a giant The Turning Wheel run, or a Legwork run when the Runner already knows there's an agenda or two there. The cost of running an Anansi simply isn't worth it when you aren't sure that there's something good waiting for you inside the server.
Counterbalancing this amazing taxing power is Anansi's 8 rez cost. But the rez cost is only 8; most highly taxing ICE is more expensive than that. (I was going to put a list here of similarly taxing ICE to an Anansi, but ran dry on comparisons; there simply isn't anything that taxes quite like an Anansi. ICE with comparable break costs include Wormhole which requires more support, Chiyashi which costs 12, and Susanoo-no-Mikoto which costs 9 and is way more vulnerable to Boomerang.) This also, importantly, means that Anansi is cheap enough to plausibly rez on turn 1; a very common turn 1 play for Jinteki decks is to ICE HQ and R&D and play Hedge Fund, and now aggressive runners are stuck because you really don't want to run into an Anansi on turn 1. Anansi is thus comparable to Hard-Hitting News in that it invalidates entire Runner deck archetypes, by making early aggression incredibly risky. Just like an NBN deck might not necessarily have the Hard-Hitting News, a Jinteki deck might not necessarily have the Anansi; but the Runner has to respect the threat, and so the mere existence of Anansi keeps you safe even if you don't draw it.
The main drawback of Anansi is that it doesn't actually stop the run. When the Runner hits it (maybe as a facecheck), things are going to suck for them, but they may as well continue the run after they do; they're going to have to slog through the Anansi no matter what, and the run will still be going afterwards. This doesn't matter all that much if you place the Anansi on HQ; a face-checking Runner will get one random access there, which is the sort of thing that Corp decks are used to (and maybe you can draw a Snare! off the subroutines). It matters even less with an Anansi on R&D; if the Runner can't break the subroutines, it will protect the top of R&D for you.
However, it is the reason why you mostly only see Anansis in Jinteki decks. With a piece of ICE this good, you don't really want to have to limit its versatility by putting it on a particular server. I've experimented with Anansi out-of-faction, in decks which want out-of-faction ICE (and that can afford to pay the rather large influence cost), and although it works fine on centrals, it has too much of a tendency to be face-tanked if placed on a remote (this is often the cheapest way to "break" it). In Jinteki decks, though, reducing the number of cards in the Runner's hand by 3 might as well be an " End the run." subroutine; accessing a Jinteki deck's remote server is the sort of thing that you can typically only do with a full hand, otherwise you end up wasting a run on an Obokata Protocol or flatlining yourself on a Snare! or Project Junebug. So this is basically the perfect example of a piece of Jinteki ICE; you need the 3 net damage to be meaningful before you can put it just anywhere, but if it is, its stopping power is very comparable to its taxing power.
There's one other strategy with Anansi that's easiest to explain by looking at its break costs with common breakers:
- Bukhgalter: 5 if it's the first sentry of the turn, 7 otherwise
- Afterimage: 2 stealth + 2 (or 2 stealth + 3 net damage)
- Aumakua: 3, but you need 5 virus counters (side note: this is a likely reason why Jinteki decks so often run a Cyberdex Sandbox economy)
- MKUltra: 9 (this is by far the most common killer in Anarch decks, and it's also the least efficient in this case)
- Odore: 6, 8 if you're missing the virtual resources
- Eater: 6 and you don't get to access cards in the server
- Engolo: 7, only works once per turn
- Ika: 4 if you haven't broken any other sentries since the last time you broke the Anansi, 6 if you have
- Na'Not'K: 9 if the Anansi is alone on a server, 6 if there's other ICE (or 3 if it's a 4-deep server, but that rarely happens in practice)
- GS Shrike M2: 6
And just for fun, a selection of some not-so-common breakers:
- Golden: 6, or an effective 13 + to derez
- Faerie: 3, but it only works once, ever (so it's more like 3 + + a card)
- Femme Fatale: 9 (the bypass doesn't really help)
- Musaazi: 7 virus counters
- Pipeline: 11 (but this never happens, nobody actually uses Pipeline)
- Amina hosted on Dinosaurus: Amina is a decoder. But assuming the Anansi is a code gate, 2. (I umm, may have created a deck designed to paint ICE as code gates and break it with Aminasaurus. And if I did, Anansi was the entire inspiration for the deck in the first place.)
The pattern's a little hard to spot, but: among common breakers (other than Aumakua), if they can break Anansi cheaply, they get more expensive if there's another sentry on the same server. Ika costs money to move back and forth. Bukhgalter's discount applies only to the first sentry broken each turn. Afterimage ends up draining the stealth credits faster than they replenish, and Engolo can't break more than one sentry per turn without help from another card. This is another reason that Anansi works better in-faction; Jinteki has a lot of good sentries, and pairing another decent sentry with an Anansi is a quick and easy way to make a nightmarishly expensive server that's only moderately expensive to set up.
Above, I said that the main drawback of Anansi is that it doesn't actually stop the run. It has another main drawback, too: as with almost every card in Netrunner, you can only run three of them. Most decks want a lot more than 3 of the effect. If you're reading this review, you may be thinking about playing Anansi and wanting more; so it makes sense to mention some "second-best" options that can emulate Anansi in different respects, in case one fits your deck:
- Mlinzi needs to be placed into a grinder deck for the subroutines to be meaningful, but when it is, the facecheck is arguably even stronger than Anansi's, and the break costs are effectively the same.
- Engram Flush is considerably more porous than Anansi, and is vulnerable to Boomerang, but has a decently high tax on centrals (and a much lower rez cost to make up for the lower break costs).
- Chiyashi has comparable break costs, arguably a slightly better facecheck punishment, hates AIs, and ends the run, but a rez cost of 12 is much harder to reach than Anansi's 8 and it is much more vulnerable to bypass effects.
- DNA Tracker is very Anansi-like, but suffers from being a code gate (with decoders that can handle large ICE being very commonly run in all factions but sometimes Anarch).
And in other factions:
- Endless EULA usually taxes 6, but is very fragile to cards like Chisel and doesn't need a breaker at all.
- Tollbooth has comparable break costs when you take the access trigger into account, but is very vulnerable to shenanigans (most famously Femme Fatale, but cards like Hunting Grounds and pseudo-bypass also make it sad).
- Data Ward is more expensive to break, but suffers from massive positional issues due to the need for a tag (and generally falls apart to Inside Job as a consequence).
- Týr is unique and 5-influence, making it hard to use effectively, and the facecheck is less effective if partially clicked through.
- Fairchild 3.0 is very good, but a little "smaller" than Anansi (cheaper to rez, lower tax), and has a tendency to get trashed via triple-click + Hippo.
- Archer has higher break costs, but a nasty rez cost (making it vulnerable to being derezzed), and has no protection against bypass effects.
- Tithonium became pretty much unplayable when Paperclip was unrestricted; Paperclip breaks Tithonium for 4, and almost everyone runs Paperclip. It used to make for an interesting Anansi alternative/supplement before that, though.
In summary: Anansi is basically the perfect piece of ICE for central defence, and is well worth its rez cost (which is high, but not unusably high). Its effectiveness on remotes rather depends on what impact "pay 2, draw a card, take 4 net damage" has on the runner; when you play Anansi in-faction, that's effectively going to end the run (and make Anansi just as good as on the centrals), but in other factions the Runner might not care as much. In any case, it is basically the dominant piece of ICE for Jinteki decks nowadays, making early facechecks (even more) unwise against any red deck that has 8 to spare.