Let's talk about shell games.
The Corp installs a card face down in a server! What could it be? We have four main options:
- It could be an ambush, directly hurting the Runner who runs into it. Something like Urtica Cipher or Snare!.
- It could be an agenda! This is what the Runner is looking for, typically (with a few weird exceptions like the now-rotated Haarpsichord Studios and Game Changer decks).
- It could be a "must-trash" card; something like Ronin, SanSan City Grid, or Commercial Bankers Group. These are comparable to agendas in their shell game uses, with the exception that running on them doesn't help the Runner actually win; it merely helps them not lose.
- It could be a complete waste of the runner's time and money getting into the server; NGO Front is the most famous member of this category, but there are also things like Spin Doctor, things like PAD Campaign which aren't normally high trashing priorities, and even tech cards that happen to be near-useless in the current matchup.
"Traditional" shell game decks rely on their ambushes (category 1) to protect everything else, meaning that they're typically light on ICE (due to all the deck space you need for the ambushes). This isn't an inherently horrible strategy, but it also hasn't seen all that much success recently; a typical 45-card Runner deck can often deal with it without tech cards simply by playing cautiously and accessing only a random subset of cards (in the hope that some of the Cerebral Overwriters get stranded).
There's another way to do shell games, though: if you're playing a more traditional style of deck (maybe not full-on glacier, but at least using servers that are expensive to get into repeatedly), you don't really need an ambush to play shell game. There are plenty of cards in categories 3 and 4 that will drain the Runner's resources trying to reach them, either because they have to (categories 3) or because they think they might have to (category 4, masquerading as 2 or 3). Build yourself a moderately taxing server or two, keep installing things in it/them, and eventually you'll build up a large economic advantage and be able to win the game more or less however you want.
This sort of "taxing shell game" deck is generally better than the traditional variety because it can save a lot of deck slots. That NGO Front might be useless to the Runner, for example, but it isn't useless to the Corp; even if you IAA it and they don't run, you basically spent 2, for 8, which is not a horrible rate of return, and so you can fit it into one of your economy slots rather than having to remove ICE for it. The same goes for many of the other cards in that sort of deck; they're serving a useful function of their own, and just happen to be usable for shell games as well.
As such, the usual Runner-side counterplay for this sort of deck is to exploit a structural weakness: the shell game doesn't really work if the Corp has to leave their agendas advanced overnight and thus reveal them as advanceable cards (really cutting down the number of options for what they could be). This gives the ambush-less shell game decks their more usual name: "never advance". And if you're never leaving a card advanced during the Runner's turn, you're normally stuck with just 3 clicks for scoring it; that means 3/2s, or when you run out of those, 3/1s. Winning with only those is really inefficient; you're spending both more clicks and more credits to score out than you would be scoring 5/3s, and that gives the Runner time to build up a lot of multiaccess and hammer R&D, or a rig that's efficient enough to negate your ICE and make running your useless assets cheap enough that it isn't a tempo hit any more, or do whatever else their rig is meant to do.
So hey, what would happen if there was a card that completely negated the main drawbacks of these decks? The problems with never-advance decks basically boil down to "we don't have enough 3-advancement agendas without resorting to those with major downsides, like 'being only worth 1 point' or 'being Merger', and even the good ones like Project Atlas don't do anything if scored as a 3/2 and are a bit of an economic hit". The effects that help keep your economy going don't go on the 3/2 agendas; they go on the 4/2 agendas. There's a lot more redundancy there, too; my review of Corporate Sales Team lists a lot of options, and you can fill out most of your agenda point requirement with economic 4/2s nowadays (if you're going all in, 3 each of Corporate Sales Team + Cyberdex Sandbox + Offworld Office is 18 agenda points on its own). So being able to consistently never-advance 4/2s as though they were 3/2s can launch the runners' attitudes towards never-advance decks away from "the opponent is doing weird stuff, let's just play normal Netrunner and blow up R&D" and more towards "this deck can't be beaten without adapting to its strategy, I need specific tech cards to beat it".
If I'd written the review up to this point at this time last year, everyone would have assumed I was talking about Jeeves Model Bioroids. Jeeves is a better card than Seamless Launch in most respects; he/it's reusable, and gives you benefit in all sorts of ways beyond never-advancing agendas. Jeeves has proven his/its worth time and time again (a simple way to see this is that it's a 3-of in both the 1st and 2nd place decks in last years' Worlds). (Incidentally, another card that fits the description is La Costa Grid, which is often playable in the same decks as Seamless Launch but seems to be a little worse in practice; however, the decks often play both. La Costa Grid also has other uses, although most of them combos, rather than Jeeves' general-purpose benefits.)
How does Seamless Launch compare to Jeeves? It's only better in 5 specific circumstances:
- You can't get Jeeves to stick; the Runner keeps trashing him/it as soon as it's installed. Trashing Jeeves is very expensive (5) and you can add ICE on top of that (and if you're in HB, you have recursion to help even more), but there are Runner decks that are teched to do it; and except in weird situations (e.g. Full Immersion RecStudio). you won't be able to use your scoring server to protect him/it.
- Your deck can't afford even 1 click to install Jeeves, on a turn before never-advancing an agenda. This is possible in sufficiently fast decks, but unlikely.
- Your deck can't afford the 3 extra it costs to never-advance a single agenda with Jeeves, compared to Seamless Launch (1 on play/install costs, 2 on advance costs). Note that the difference reduces to 1 for any subsequent agendas you advance with the same Jeeves.
- Your deck can't afford the influence for Jeeves. This mostly happens when you don't have a reason to import many HB cards from out of faction, although there are many good options like Magnet and Marilyn Campaign which bring the influence cost down to an affordable level. Jeeves costs only one dot more, though, even when you don't have the alliance turned on.
- You want to use two cards to never-advance a 5/3, and sadly aren't allowed to do it using two copies of a unique asset. This is probably jank, but might be towards the more playable end of jank? (People are apparently running decks with both Seamless Launch and Obokata Protocol at the moment, and sometimes have this as a plan B, but I don't know how well it's working.)
This means that Seamless Launch is only really playable in two sorts of decks: very fast decks that run incredibly tight on time or economy, and one-remote glaciers that have reasons not to want to create any runnable servers or that are unable to effectively bluff anything in a second remote. Pretty much anything else would be better off running Jeeves instead. That said, the sorts of decks that do prefer Seamless Launch are really good, and ended up being one of the main factors in Violet Level Clearance getting banned again. (One of the primary decks that inspired the ban was a super-fast rush deck based around Seamless Launch and Precision Design, with Precision Design allowing you to use the same Seamless multiple times, and Seamless Launch allowing it to run an agenda economy, together with way too much card draw to keep the economy going and fuel defensive upgrades like Anoetic Void. It's almost certainly still good, and may need further bans to bring it down to a beatable power level.)
The result is a card that's quite hard to evaluate. Seamless Launch is basically only usable for never-advancing agendas and/or assets/upgrades; you can't use it to fast advance agendas because it can't be used on cards installed that turn (and using it on ICE, or the Runner's cards, seems kind-of pointless). You can't win the game with it without some sort of recursion, because each copy of Seamless Launch can naturally only never-advance one agenda. Your deck has to have some reason to want to never-advance 4/2s (or 4-advancement assets) in particular. Its only real advantages over Jeeves Model Bioroids are "not being an asset" and "not being unique", with everything that that entails. But, when you do have a deck where it fits perfectly – when you're running an agenda economy but need to never-advance your agendas, and can't spare anywhere to put assets, and have some way to cope with not drawing it or having spent it already – it makes the deck much, much stronger. As such, I expect to see it in only a minority of deck archetypes over the next few years. However, it may well make those archetypes may strong enough that they end up being played a lot relative to other decks, with Seamless Launch ending up all over the place anyway.