Pravdivost Consulting has a simple mission: provide political solutions to political problems. On the surface, this involves deciding the day's breaking news, dispensing invaluable spin for extractive industries and corrupt institutions. The firm's pundits are experts at using dog whistles and familiar stories to manipulate their audience, distorting the truth for their clients' benefit.
Founded to serve the moneyed interests of oligarchs, Pravdivost's corporate power would come to overshadow the distant legacy of nobility. Heirs of once-great houses now serve as well-connected eyes and ears of the firm's wide-reaching prisec apparatus, deeply embedded into government agencies and industry boardrooms.
Behind the scenes, a legion of sysops sift through a deluge of data, continuously monitoring public networks to track and predict politically undesirable activities. Once dangerous radicals are identified, they are referred to the "severance department." If frozen assets and a thousand years of "ethically-sourced" scare-footage aren't enough to extort compliance, severance is more than happy to take matters into their own hands.
Everything is politics, politics is everything. Build your own startup-compliant Hard-Hitting News with Chekist Scion and Pravdivost's ability. I wanted to make this idea work in the previous Midnight Sun Startup format, but the tag punishment was lacking any teeth at all. With Parhelion, we can use tags to win games decisively, either through lethal damage or swift scoring.
The tag punishment in Parhelion is fairly balanced. We usually can't procure tags and win the game with them on the same turn. A well prepared runner can avoid being made a victim by clearing the board of tags and assets while keeping their money and cards up. We need to overwhelm them on critical turns by presenting threats which cost the runner more than we invested, a balance of momentum known as tempo. As it would happen, there's a deck archetype that specializes in baiting tempo-negative runs against traps. Welcome to yellow shell game. I'm sorry in advance.
Shell game broadly relies on presenting two indistinguishable classes of threats: hostile assets and ambushes. Hostile assets threaten to harm the runner unless they're dealt with, while running our ambushes can inflict severe tempo loss or even win us the game on the spot. Even when the runner checks the right asset, they'll still pay the trash cost on the way out, robbing them of a click and precious credits that would otherwise be invested in setting up. Once we've thrown the runner off balance with our board state, we can close the game out quickly with our operations.
It can be tempting in shell game to try and read the opponent, but it's far more fruitful to focus on tempo than on mind games. Don't overthink which card goes in what server or what the opponent's reaction might be. The most dangerous runner is one that will check every threat we present, so our best bet is to simply present more threats than the opponent can safely check. We have two general patterns of action available to us to optimize our tempo relative to the runner:
The first play pattern is the Triple Install. The intent here is taxing the runner on clicks by forcing them to check multiple remotes to clear the board. The runner inherently has more clicks than us, but they need to spend some time on keeping their economy and cards up. By presenting a mix of assets and ambushes, we can improve the chances that the runner cannot safely check all three new remotes. This pattern is useful for landing an economic asset on the table and getting the ball rolling.
The other pattern is a shell game and Netrunner classic— the Install-Advance-Advance (IAA). Where the triple install goes wide, an IAA builds tall, investing a full turn into maximizing the impact of the runner making an incorrect choice between run or don't run. While this is our most powerful play, it's also credit negative, so we'll need to make economic stability a priority to ensure we have the credits to make use of the punishment window this play can open up.
These are the seeds of doubt we sow to strike fear in the hearts of runners. Our ID ability gives us the option to sneak an extra advancement onto these traps right after the runner commits to access them. This makes our ambushes more dangerous than they seem, threatening 2 tags or 3 damage even when installed without advancements. When we invest an entire turn into setting these up properly, it can be impossible for the runner to fully recover in a single turn.
Chekist Scion: Mother Pravdivost is telling us "we have HHN at home." We can land 4 tags by IAA our Chekist and using our ID ability if the runner tries to access it. With no multi-tag removal in Startup, this is a huge hit to both click and credit economy, and almost guarantees that a tag will persist through to your turn.
Urtica Cipher: Actually horrifying to access. Using the same "triple-advance" technique that we used for Chekist, we can do a whopping 5 net damage. Not only is that 5 draw actions worth of tempo, but the sheer quantity of damage has the potential to wipe out crucial cards reserved in hand. Most runners will need to scramble to draw up, so hitting an advanced Urtica often opens up a flatline window.
If we've got such horrible traps, why can't the runner just sit back and wait for us to mill out? Every corporation has a baseline punishment available for passive runners: scoring agendas. However, naively advancing our agendas is risky and slow. We'll look instead to advanceable assets which put us on the offensive against runners who choose not to interact.
Clearinghouse: Lets us bank damage across turns to stack up a lethal combo. While the runner always has at least one full turn to interact with this, passing this off as a failed trap and keeping it around can easily win you the game. You often only need 1 or 2 damage to put the opponent into lethal range for End of the Line, but this can be marched up to 6 (or runner's hand size + 1) for especially timid runners. In high level play, it can be satisfying (and risky) to bluff your ambushes as a Clearinghouse, especially if the opponent has already seen the one we do have.
Drago Ivanov: While not technically of the "hostile" sub-type, this man is absolutely not your friend. Non-interactive tags are few and far between in Netrunner, but Drago prints tags no matter what the runner has been up to. Banned in standard format for good reason-- this enables some degenerate tag-based plays. Simply having this on the table represents a tag and an action next turn, letting us threaten lethal out of the blue. Having a triple advanced Drago will let us procure two tags and take two actions, potentially dealing 8 meat damage or scoring up to 4 points from hand.
Reversed Accounts: You need to spend money to make efficient money, so forcing the runner onto low credits is very tempo-positive for us. Our tags hurt a lot more when the runner is broke. Technically you can install, advance, and fire this in the same turn to deny the runner 4 credits-- but I wouldn't recommend it. You'd rather the runner have trashed it themselves at that point. The sweet spot tends to be 2 or 3 advancements, though taking a runner's last 4 credits is much more impactful than taking half of a rich runner's credits.
Gaslight: Not directly harmful to the runner, but this will let us tutor our tag punishment or some emergency economy to combo out the game.
This is the real reason we are playing shell game out of NBN. Tags put us in the driver's seat, letting us reach over the table and directly harm the runner. We can take advantage of runner missteps and play a more active form of shell game with very decisive win conditions. Fear of tag punishment forces runners to spend their click and credit economy clearing our tags.
Public Trail: This is our punishment for runners who run into economic trouble. Even if we can't make them float tags, we can sometimes force them to spend below 8 credits while clearing tags after a run. However, this often doubles the cost of our combo, so we need to keep our own credit pool healthy to utilize this.
End of the Line: If the runner ends their turn with a tag and less than 3 cards, EotL lets us instantly end the game with the most satisfying win condition in Netrunner, the flatline. We have two of these to enable the double tap against runners keeping their hand size up. Even if runners refuse to float tags, Public Trail and Drago let us conjure tags on our turn. Despite having been asked to downgrade from guided missiles to small arms, the severance department is still quite lethal.
Shipment from Vladisibirsk: While we usually want to win decisively with damage, that plan can be nigh impossible against careful runners who augment their hand size or have access to clickless draw. When we do need to score, this card can enable some wild plays. If the opponent floats two tags, there are 5 agendas in the deck that we can "big deal" out from hand and score for 3 points. If we have two Freedom of Information, we can Install-Install-Shipment to score 4 points from hand on a single turn.
We generally don't want to score "fairly" and we don't have much ability to defend agendas outside of centrals. With that in mind, our agenda suite is optimized around two factors. First we want to keep our agenda density low. This isn't PE where every agenda is its own mini-ambush. Second, when necessary, we want to be able to score out in 3 agendas while on average the opponent steal will need to steal 4 agendas.
Freedom of Information: This agenda turns tags into a viable fast-advance strategy. This is our primary back-up plan for well-protected runners. If we can't win with overwhelming violence, then we'll win with overwhelming and overreaching bureaucracy. If the runner goes tag-me, it's possible to score up to 6 points from hand with these.
Project Beale: It's hard to beat the points-per-advancement value of a 3/2 agenda. Beale's printed ability also lets it flex as a 5/3 to land us that one extra point. We can either IAA this against a more passive runner to score 3 points next turn, or put it on the table as part of a triple install to triple advance next turn and score 2.
Tomorrow's Headline: Not only is this a 3/2 agenda, it also inflicts the one truly unavoidable tag in the deck. This lets it act a bit like either an ambush or a hostile asset, occasionally landing the one extra tag needed to combo out the game.
Send a Message: These are mostly here to keep agenda density low and enable 3 agenda wins, though they're a huge risk. We'd absolutely love for these to be Bellona instead, if not but for rotation. Rezzing a Funhouse or Mestnichestvo is a very small consolation for losing a third of the game.
Our tricks do not work unless we can land them on the table, so almost all our ice will go onto central servers. Our ice suite can be very taxing early, but nothing will keep out a fully set up and determined runner in this format. We'll rely on our ice's printed on-encounter abilities to keep them relevant to the end of the game. We're protected by haunting stories and echoes of the past.
Mestnichestvo: This is our one set of real ice. A hard ETR at decent strength, taxing sub, and an ability that makes it sting to encounter this, even for well-funded runners. An ideal battery to soak up otherwise wasted advancements from our ability. While advancing this is a strong signal for what breaker the runner will need, it's so good we generally don't care. I almost always want one of these on HQ, usually pretty early in the game. We like to keep each remote interchangeable and independent, but the rare time we do need to build a scoring remote, Mest is the cornerstone.
Funhouse: If the runner wants in, they're going to need to take a tag each and every time. While this card can be very powerful, it can also be kind of counter productive in that it puts the runner in control over the encounter. Any time your cards give your opponent a choice, you can generally assume they will pick the option that is worse for you. This means you might be spending 5 credits to let them jack out early. Works best as an outer layer ice to add tax in games that are running long, or for servers that will get checked many times, like R&D against shapers.
Vasilisa: Fantastic ice for 2 credits. Super affordable with a very relevant sub which lets this be an early deterrent while we invest in board state. We love putting one of these on R&D early, and maybe throwing one over a remote later. The printed on-encounter ability will let us load up even more clickless advancements, pairing beautifully with our ambushes, provided we have the economy.
Ping: One of our very few hard ETRs, forcing the runner to go find their fracter. An early face-check effectively denies the runner two clicks and two credits while keeping them out. Once they've got a relevant breaker, this becomes paper thin. The main use of this ice into the late-game is the unconditional tag on rez, which can catch runners by surprise and land that one critical tag you need to convert the game. Despite this, it's a bit of a one trick pony, and the runner is ultimately in control of when it gets rezzed.
Regolith Mining License: We run light on credits, so landing one of these early sets up the entire game. This is often the one card we hope survives a triple-install. Packs an incredible density of economy into a single card slot.
Predictive Planogram: Our most versatile economic operation. We always pick draw unless we're truly desperate for credits. If the opponent floats a tag, this lets us dig for our win conditions while helping us pay for them.
Subliminal Messaging: A clickless credit here and there can make all the difference. We fly so close to the ground that our final combo is often credit perfect. Huge shout out to my good friend Choux who convinced me to give these a fair try over the 2x Ping or 2x Vig I was experimenting with in these slots. Having one in archives provides pressure to run, which can help trigger our ID ability or bait runs against traps. Can also work well as a recurring sabotage target.
Ubiquitous Vig: This is often more valuable for the negative tempo the opponent incurs trashing it. I've found this performs best with a single advancement ticking over time. Better than nothing for soaking up ID triggers, but after the first, we'd prefer them to go onto Mest or just about any other advanceable card.
Hedge Fund: Be mindful of the 5 credits needed to play this operation, having to click back up to 5 is extremely slow and can cause us to miss win conditions. Unrezzed ice is a liability on the balance sheet, and our good ice can be quite expensive when we really need it, so take care not to over-extend.
Spin Doctor: Accelerates our draw while letting us shuffle back important operations or save agendas. In addition it can bait out a click from the runner checking it while denying them a successful run.
So how do we run against this list? The most important rule of thumb is to clear the board. Running into a triple advanced Chekist or Urtica hurts a lot, but not nearly as much as if it's left to fester and receive even more advancements. Alternatively if we let hostile assets accumulate advancements, we could be wiped out economically, buried in tags, or knocked out of the game entirely. Even though shell game wants us to sweat the choice, we can disarm it significantly by committing to look in every shell and bearing through the consequences.
To get away with this, it's useful to have extra sources of draw acceleration, click compression, and plentiful economy. Asset tech such as Paricia or Scrubber can help keep credits up while keeping the board down. The safest place to access cards is before they're installed, nothing in this list can hurt you until it's on the table, so hit centrals hard with multi-access. Sabotage and Imp can be highly disruptive. Strive to keep 8 credits and 4 cards in hand; if you can manage that while trashing the board, you've won.
Special Thanks goes to:
Choux - For being an actual playtesting legend, helping me refine this list and experiment with countless other ridiculous ideas.
Inermis - For sharing this CO winning decklist which inspired me to give this idea another shot in startup
tehepicwin - For writing the fantastic article, Deconstructing Shellgame. This shaped a lot of my thinking on shell game lists, and you'll find echoes of it throughout this write-up.
Zoe Cohen - For writing the Pravdivost fiction from which this list takes its name and thematic inspiration.
25 Jul 2023 felhix
25 Jul 2023 cocoro
27 Jul 2023 Megankaur
28 Jul 2023 minho266