The Critique of Pure Reason

sebastiank 346

The world is hard for corporations right now. The netrunner gameplay world, of course, not the one in which our corporeal bodies dwell. Runners are quicker than ever while retaining the same ungodly revenue stream that makes them a late-game force, with amazing win-cons and tech cards to boot. In the face of this adversity, some corporate executives have turned to the tactics of Haas-Bioroid, trying to squeak their way past the finish line before runners can discover their plans. However, I propose we CEOs instead turn to the wisdom of Immanuel Kant.

Kant was a believer that we can reach laws of reason with a priori thinking, independent of our lived experiences, and that these laws should guide what we do. I'm certain he would view Project Redacted, Compatible with Android: Netrunner through the same lens. What laws of reason can we reach about Netrunner, without knowing any of the cards?

So, Netrunner is a two-player asymmetric card game set in a dystopian future where four megacorporations control almost every aspect of daily life. Legendary hackers known as “runners” aim to fight the corps’ influence by hacking into their servers and preventing them from advancing their sinister agendas.

In Netrunner, one player takes the role of the Corp, whose tools include corporate assets and defensive programs called “ice”. Using tools like these and the element of surprise, the Corp aims to advance their agendas to completion. Across the table, the Runner‘s objective is to infiltrate the Corp’s servers and steal their agendas, and they’ll draw on their resources, specialty hardware, and programs to do so. Of course, the Runner is no threat if they’re dead, so a canny Corp may also attempt to “flatline” their opponent through damage—while the Runner’s secondary path to victory is stalling the Corp long enough that they run out of opportunities.

Corps historically have attempted to win the game piece-meal through a combination of agenda scores and other plays, utilizing scoring windows, bluffing, tempo, punishment, and fast advance. But in the face of a runner in the ideal state, with infinite credits and an operational rig, these plays are all worthless. They will run through the ice on your remote server: if what is sitting at the bottom is an asset or an upgrade, they will have enough money to trash it and run it again ad infinitum until they find an agenda. They will trash your assets that sit in the open providing you with advantages, paying any additional costs to do so. If you rely on scoring agendas without having to install them on a previous turn, they will probably install a card at instant speed that Kant isn't familiar with to disrupt this plan and/or run your central servers to find the agendas that sit there before you have a chance to score them. The prospect of the fully equipped runner would horrify Kant, I think. And these days, it feels like most runners can reach this state before you reach turn 5.

Thus, Kant would only play corp decks that can win despite the runner having infinite money. There are only three ways to do this (edit: there are also ways of click-taxing and deck-taxing, but these both have great limitations given the corp options in the standard card pool and the presence of oft-played tech and win-cons on the runner's side):

  1. Make all your servers actually, literally, impenetrable, allowing you to win the game with ease.
  2. Win the game in one fell swoop in a way that is, if not impossible, extremely hard to interact with.
  3. Utilizing the game's mechanic of hidden information, force the runner to make a choice that, should they choose wrong, will kill them.

Okay, now, given the laws of reason we've established a priori, what corp deck can lead us to salvation in standard? The first way is impossible. There are enough runner cards printed that runners have solutions to any puzzle you create. No ice is impenetrable, and no upgrade can't be trashed by Pinhole Threading. Even if your deck can create a board state that is impenetrable against the opponent you face, they can win before you fully set it up (impenetrable board states take a long time to set up, I'm thinking Trieste Loki here) or if you've sealed off your remote win through HQ or R&D. The second way has been possible in the past, ala Cerebral Imaging: Infinite Frontiers combo decks or BtL Government Takeover, but is possible no longer: there is no 6 point agenda anymore, and without Cerebral Imaging you can't easily assemble combo pieces and even if you could game-winning combos are much clunkier than they used to be. This leaves us with the third way. Now, this one is possible. In fact, it's always been possible. Since the release of the first cycle, almost 10 years ago, the deck has been there. And now, it is the deck that reason compels us to play.

Kant would play Beale or No Beale.

Actual Deck Tech

In case it wasn't clear, what this deck does is install an Urtica Cipher or Project Beale naked and advance it in front of the runners face. The goal is to reach enough advancement counters on that card, most likely 10, that the runner is confronted with a decision tree. This is the tree and each of the outcomes.

  1. They don't run. The card is Project Beale. On your next turn, you advance it 3 times, score, you are 10 advancement counters over the requirement, it is worth 5 extra points, that is 7 points total, you just win the game.
  2. They run. The card is Urtica Cipher. They get blasted into another dimension, and unless they run extreme net damage prevention or have found a way to draw up to 13 cards, they are flatlined, you win the game.
  3. They don't run. The card is Urtica Cipher. This is not ideal, however the deck plays a way to win in such a scenario: install a Project Beale, play Biotic Labor, play Red Planet Couriers, move all the counters on Urtica Cipher to Project Beale, win the game. Not easy to pull off by any stretch of the imagination, but not impossible.
  4. They run. The card is Project Beale. This obviously is the least ideal situation, however it is not outright game losing as Project Beale is only worth 2 points to them. It is a huge loss on investment, but we still live to fight another day and install and advance another card, forcing them to make The Choice again.

I'm sorry, how do we advance this 10 times?

This is a good question. On the turn we install our mystery card, we can advance it two times. Our ID ability means that if they run it immediately, it will have 3 advancements when they access it. That is 5 Urtica Cipher damage. In the grand scheme of things, that is not that much of a disincentive. So I lied a bit about not icing this card, we may want to install a Vasilisa or two to increase the damage threat before we install. Or, if it is early game, any ice you install there may be disincentive enough, if the runner doesn't know what you're deck is trying to do. Anyhow, once we pass through this growing pains phase, we really get cooking. The runner will probably start to run your central servers a lot to find agendas without having to mess with the mystery card, which will keep triggering the ID, advancing the card further and further towards the doom state. As far as manually advancing it, advancing a card like this repeatedly costs a lot, so I wouldn't spend whole turns doing it most of the time, spend turns getting money and setting up your other defenses, spending a click here and there to advance the mystery card.

The Other Defenses

Sadly (Kant would be heartbroken), it is possibly for the runner to win the game without even considering our mind game: They can just run R&D and HQ until they find 7 agenda points. The rest of the deck is built to cope with that reality.

  • As I said, there is no impenetrable ice. Data Ward when the runner is tagged is the closest to the Kantian ideal that we can get- the thing is a beast! It will not stop the runner, but at the very least, they will have to intermittently do things to get credits in order to deal with it, giving us valuable time to level up our mystery card to its 10 counter final form. Thoth and Funhouse are in the deck to put in front of Data Ward, ensuring the runner with be tagged when encountering it. The rest of the ice helps us advance our game plan if the runner runs: Pop-Up Window and Congratulations give us credits to advance the Mystery card with, and Vasilisa advances it proper.
  • The agendas are not the hardest-to-steal package in the world, 3x beale is mandatory, after all, but the rest are trying their best. The hope is that a runner will always be tagged when accessing on a central due to our Funhouse/Thoth plan, so QPM should go to our score area a non-insignificant part of the time. This and 15 minutes are pretty good: they are easy ways to reduce the threshold we have to advance our Beales to. Bellona is 5c to steal, against infinite money it isn't much but like Data Ward, hopefully will buy us more time. News Team will further contribute to us drawing out the game, and if they choose to take 2 tags and go tag me, ye olde psychographics might have something to say about it. False Lead does not hurt the runner to steal nor is something we can score. The deck just needed another 1 pointer to fill out the agenda suite, so I figured I'd increase the decks intimidation factor and put in the most ominous looking 1 pointer in the game.

The rest of the deck isn't anything too special, money so we can advance and rez ice, recursion in case all our Urtica Ciphers get trashed out of centrals or in the infancy stage. Just want to point out that the Mavirus, which is there to protect our fast advance lines, is probably the safest Mavirus in the game- we can install it in the same server as our 10 advanced "Urtica Cipher."

That is all, we've reached the end. Thank you to anyone insane enough to read this to its conclusion. If you know more about Kant than I do, which if you know anything about Kant is quite likely, I only started reading him today and only a little, please correct me and tell me how Kant would actually play Netrunner. And if you have suggestions to improve the deck, please share!

ps: don't tell Kant about this. or this. or this. and definitely not this. and if you even make the slightest mention of this...

pss: "I've trashed 2 urtica ciphers, and tracked down 13 influence. I've seen so many cards at this point. That card has to be the last Urtica, right?" ;)

7 Sep 2022 Sauc3

This is the transcendental ideal of a deck

8 Sep 2022 Two_EG

That influence trap is genius :P

8 Sep 2022 DonLoverGate

I love the writeup. I feel Philosophers of reality and paradox may lead to an interesting continuation, maybe some Wittgenstein or Deleuze...

9 Sep 2022 Buppu2099

Fantastic writeup. Thanks for the effort. I am now interested in both Kant and playing this pile of cards.