I've been grinding jinteki.net over the past couple of weeks, and I think this list pushes Apex as far as he can go in the current Standard cardpool. Unfortunately, "as far as he can go" means losing 4-7 instead of 0-7, and still being locked out of too many games. However, I've discovered a lot of interesting things about Apex that make this list worth writing up. Shout-outs to the A.B.T.G, and to RIPApex on jinteki.net, for listening to all my my post-game reflections, and for their excellent advice.
Everything you Know About Apex is Wrong
"I have never seen Apex play Apocalypse and recover faster than the Corp." — RIPApex on jinteki.net
Everyone knows that the reason you play Apex is to get Apocalypse in-faction. Even the contrarian Chop Bot is a crutch list (the distant primary ancestor of this one) writes about un-cancelling the Apocalypse, and runs it at 3x. These people are wrong. You will not recover from an Apocalypse faster than the Corp, so don't even try. We are re-cancelling the Apocalypse! But then how do you use Apex's ability and cardpool?
First, Apex's ability. It has a few non-obvious uses beyond "fuel Prey/Heartbeat/Endless Hunger":
- If you need to dig for new cards, stash installables that you might need instead of overdrawing and discarding. If you're reduced to clicking for credits, Apex-install->Assimilator is actually faster than install->credit->credit if the card you're installing costs 2 or more.
- If you Assimilate a Boomerang, you can use it anywhere because the "when installed, pick an ICE" trigger doesn't fire.
- Assimilate(Mayfly)->run is a decent surprise, and you can keep Mayfly hidden if you're not ready to trash Endless Hunger, or if you suspect IP Block or Bulwark.
Now that the deck is on 1x Assimilator, I tend not to facedown cards until turn 3 or so, after I have an idea of what I need "now" vs "later". Useless duplicates (Dreamnet, Heartbeat, sometimes Reaver — see below) can obviously go facedown as soon as you see them.
Specific Card Choices
Apex's faction cardpool scores 1/4 on the major components of a runner deck: money, draw, multi-access and icebreaking. The traditional Chop Bot/Wasteland/Reaver/Harbinger engine reduces Apex's ID ability to "when your turn begins, cycle 1 and maybe get some other stuff", and you whiff on finding the 3/45 Chop Bot 3000 depressingly often. (Seriously, check the Chop Bot is a crutch list for the GIF alone.) By the time you have your engine going, the Corp will be on game point anyway.
We need fast money to survive traces, and want to stay above 10 credits (among other reasons, it means you at least pass through a facechecked Whitespace):
- 3x Peace in our Time: Among the 1-influence economy Events, this is as good as it gets for burst. Wildcat Strike doesn't give enough. Giving money to the Corp means we can't run a derez game, but oh well.
- 2x Creative Commission: Very easy to find a final click to play this, and it even looks like the guy is making Apex fanart.
We also need some drip economy to keep us afloat:
- 3x DreamNet: This turns Jailbreak into a Build Script that also gives 2 accesses, and without Jailbreak it still gives you a Professional Contacts-equivalent click each turn. Worth mulliganing for. Rebooting for net 0 credits and cards is very nice.
- 3x Wasteland: Even though we have Wastelands and 2x Reaver, we are not looking for Chop Bot in most situations — aim to use Prey/Boomerang/Heartbeat/Gbahali/Endless Hunger to get your trash each turn. Between this and DreamNet, a run that uses a card to get in will gain 0–4 credits and draw 1–3 cards. I'd love to replace these with something else
We need money more than we need draw, so there's no influence left to pull in any good draw Events. We make do with drip draw, and click-to-draw more often than we'd like:
- 2x Reaver: You'll want one in every game, but if you need to dig really hard, it's sometimes correct to install the second. Installing over the top of the second with Endless Hunger will only trigger one Reaver, but at least it's your trash for the turn.
- 3x DreamNet: If you can't make a run somewhere on most turns, you're probably going to lose. This is a general truth that DreamNet makes more true, so whatever.
- 1x Chop Bot 3000: As an absolute last resort, you can grind up your Preyfuel to see more cards. But it never feels good to do so. Better to trash something mid-run and get your free draw trigger that way.
- 3x Jailbreak: Decent on its own, great with DreamNet. As usual with Apex, we can't afford anything better.
- 3x Jailbreak: The best we can do, since it's serving double-duty as a draw card.
- 1x Khusyuk: By sheer coincidence, nearly everything in the deck costs 2, so as long as you didn't trash your entire board breaching R&D, you get a pretty deep dig.
- 1x Docklands Pass: It's decent if you're running HQ for your DreamNet trigger each turn.
- 2x Endless Hunger: There are depressingly few real "End the run." subroutines around these days, but there are enough that we still need this. Best in non-Jinteki matchups, and is one possible answer to Wraparound.
- 3x Mayfly: Your only real answer to deep remotes, but expensive to use without support. The self-trash isn't so bad when you get Wasteland and Reaver triggers off of it.
- 3x Boomerang: A recurring source of Wasteland/Reaver triggers, and good enough to get you past most things.
- 3x Gbahali: Your answer to Ballista, Tithonium, and with Boomerang, Anansi.
"These are all really great ideas, and some very well thought out tricks, I mean that genuinely. I think Devil Charm is a bit influence heavy, but inspired with Prey." — RIPApex on jinteki.net
- 1x Chop Bot 3000: Emergency draw if you really need it, and a way to dig out of a Hard-Hitting News tagpile. Chop Bot a tag (hit Wasteland/Reaver), install something facedown, play Peace in our Time and clear 3 tags and it's still a reasonably productive turn.
- 2x Devil Charm: These let you Prey all but the biggest ICE for 0 cards, and make Mayfly runs affordable. Ideally do both on the same run, but when you gotta run, you gotta run.
- 1x Assimilator: At some point, you'll stop being able to draw for new stuff, and using face-down cards as trash fodder won't be enough. That's when you put down the Assimilator and start bringing back Boomerangs, Gbahalis, Mayflies, etc.
- 1x Hunting Grounds: Softens a lot of annoying NBN ICE, as well as Engram Flush. If not, or if you're Assimilating, consider trashing it on the Corp's turn for more Wasteland/Reaver triggers. Reboot it if necessary.
- Apocalypse: Rejected so hard, it has its own section.
- Emergency Shutdown: Peace in our Time is a critical part of our economy, and if you give the Corp 10 credits in most games, derez doesn't hurt.
- En Passant: We prefer the Corp pays for ICE before we kill it. Prey->En Passant is still a good answer to 2-ICE servers, so may be worth considering if you can find a good cut.
- Diesel: I wish it'd fit, but I see no compelling cuts.
- Labor Rights: The game is over before the stack is, even though I'd really like some event recursion.
- Harmony AR Therapy: As above, plus it won't pull back two copies of Prey, and there aren't enough other impactful events.
- Kongamato: Considered but rejected as a replacement for one of the Gbahalis, as a part-answer for Whitespace, Slot Machine (with Hunting Grounds), and IP Block, but not reliable enough. Costs 1 instead of 2, which weakens Khusyuk.
- Consume: As an answer to asset spam, it's the only thing that fits into the rig. But it won't return you money fast enough, by which point you've eaten at least one HHN.
- Fermenter: As the only virus, it's usually good for 12-16 credits, but it's just too slow. You need money up-front to have any game in the opening turns. Without other viruses, it doesn't provoke purges.
- Botulus/Tranquilizer: Anti-synergy with Assimilator, so you don't have any recursion story for them. And at 3 influence each, you'd want to get more than one use out of them.
- 3rd Reboot: Seeing Reboots before you have a 5th card in the heap just sucks, and you want to Reboot installables if at all possible.
- Misdirection: Competes with Reaver for the spare MU since you need Endless Hunger in the NBN matchup, and what would you cut to get the influence?
- Dirty Laundry: takes credits away mid-run, risking traces and forces you to run from 12+ credits if you suspect Whitespace
- Overclock: doesn't give real credits, and we spend most of our money installing tools rather than pumping breakers.
- Hyperdriver: MU issues thwart the dreams of a big Assimilator turn.
- Stargate: doesn't fit in the rig if you're on Endless Hunger.
"Sometimes, the best thing to do with a deck is to shelve it." — A friend on A.B.T.G.
Every matchup is hard. You burn so many resources contesting remotes that you can't often check for Rashida Jaheems, so the Corp will accelerate to warp speed. Plus, it's hard to reliably get into centrals and stop either her or NGO Front from getting on the board. Here's how to lose a little less badly:
- Facecheck very aggressively because most ICE will hard-ETR.
- Having no programs works surprisingly well for a surprisingly long time.
- Gbahali and Boomerang are your answer to Tithonium, Bulwark and Ballista.
- Avoid installing Mayfly faceup if you suspect Bulwark.
- Prey is good against Border Control — they have to stop the run as soon as you finish breaking subroutines on Border Control, or you can trash it for 1 card and keep going.
- Watch out for Above The Law trashing your only Assimilator. This happens distressingly often.
- Facecheck aggressively, since you can click your way out of most trouble.
- However, beware Drafter.
- Against Haas-Bioroid: Architects of Tomorrow, if you Prey the first Bioroid you encounter, you can trash it before the Corp's ID power fires.
- Engram Flush will absolutely wreck your day. Its strength makes it ruinous to break with Mayfly, and its cost means you'll see it everywhere. Hope to see Hunting Grounds and play open-handed, or Boomerang your way through them.
- Endless Hunger isn't very useful in this matchup.
- Ease up on the facechecks until you have answers to net damage and Engram Flush.
- Anansi will wreck you if you're not careful; Boomerang without Gbahali will mean you take 3 net damage. Unlike vs Architects of Tomorrow, Prey is a non-answer: Anansi's trigger fires when the encounter ends, which happens before Prey's "when you pass an ICE" trigger.
- Prioritise Heartbeat, as once you get it down, you can empty your grip and run through Engram Flush for no effect, and deal with any net damage that isn't Obokata Protocol.
- Consider installing both Reavers, as two cards from mid-run trash and makes it a bit easier to snatch Obokata.
- Pray to whatever gods you believe in.
- Hope for Hunting Grounds (to soften the ICE) and Chop Bot (to help with HHN tags).
- Avoid installing Mayfly until you know where the IP Blocks are.
- Endless Hunger is surprisingly useful, since Ping shows up everywhere as a gearcheck. It will also get you through Tollbooth and Wraparound.
- If you run aggressively, they will HHN you.
- If you make money and run aggressively, they will play Economic Warfare, then HHN you.
- If you don't run, they will fire NGO Fronts and Rashidas, accelerate to warp speed, then win.
- If they put down a Bellona, and you steal it, they will HHN you.
- If they put down a Bellona, and you make money and steal it, they will play Economic Warfare, then HHN you.
- If they put down a Bellona, and you don't contest it, they get their money back when they score it.
- If you trash an unrezzed SanSan, they will HHN you.
- If you make money and trash an unrezzed SanSan, they will play Economic Warfare, then HHN you.
- If you wait for the SanSan to rez, they will score a Remastered Edition, and start the train.
- If you clear tags, they will score agendas and win.
- If you don't clear tags, they will blow you up and win.
- Screw NBN.