Guinea Pig is a very straightforward economy card, that nonetheless isn't playable in most decks.

The economy aspect of the card is easy to understand: pretty much every Netrunner player knows how powerful Sure Gamble is, and the credit effect is a substantially better Sure Gamble (instead of paying 5 to gain 9, you're paying 4 to gain 10, a strict upgrade on both halves of the card). If you can live with the downside, you can get a lot of gain from a card like this.

However, in order to play Guinea Pig and gain that sort of absurd economic boost, you need to trash the rest of your grip. So playing this card is all about building your deck to minimize the downsides. Downsides plural, because there are two of them:

  1. Trashing cards means that you're losing the tempo you spent to draw the card, and in most cases losing access to the card itself. If you have critical cards in hand along with a Guinea Pig, you can't really play Guinea Pig. (A special case of this is if you have two Guinea Pigs in hand: you can only play one of them.) Losing one good but noncritical card (something like Daily Casts) isn't the end of the world; but losing two is enough of a cost to make Guinea Pig not worth it.

    So in order for Guinea Pig to be viable, you're going to need a deck that never has useful cards stuck in hand. In particular, you need to run very light on situational events – and most events are situational. Cards like Sure Gamble are going to be OK because you can usually just play them first, and the Guinea Pig afterwards; but almost anything other event is out. Likewise, programs/resources/hardware (other than Paperclip and its friends, who don't mind being trashed) will typically need to be installed before playing Guinea Pig, meaning that you need the clicks and credits (and MU, in the case of programs) to play them.

    As a consequence, Guinea Pig is mostly only seen in decks that are all-in on a resource economy, and run few utility programs (in particular, they avoid cards which you might need to delay the install of, like Botulus). That's a pretty rare combination, and you're probably going to have to design your deck around it.

  2. Guinea Pig leaves you low on cards, and thus very vulnerable to flatline combos. This is less of a problem in today's metagame than it used to be, but even so, there are still cards like Neurospike, Clearinghouse and Ronin and some of them even get played on occasion. If you want to be on the safe side, you probably want to play damage mitigation alongside it (and the standard Anarch damage mitigation I've Had Worse doesn't work, so you'll probably need to import something). Or you could just go for the full-on Anarch attitude and play it anyway, hoping that the consequences won't be too bad.

Guinea Pig is therefore unusual in that it's one of the least synergistic cards in Netrunner. Normally in my reviews, I think about "what support does this card need to make it playable?". Given the strength of its upside half, Guinea Pig is sort-of the opposite: it doesn't need support, so much as it needs to avoid anti-synergies, and it anti-synergises with almost everything. So you aren't looking at what makes it playable, but rather at what doesn't make it unplayable. (It used to have a notable synergy with Bookmark, but Bookmark has rotated, and it wasn't a very strong combination anyway.)

My best results with Guinea Pig have been in a deck that's almost entirely resources, hardware, and conspiracy breakers, with lots of redundancy. The idea is to operate on very few cards in hand, installing everything as it's drawn except for redundant copies of cards that you don't need. A construction like this can give you a very strong economy, but at the cost of taking a while to get started.

It's also worth noting that Guinea Pig isn't the only card that anti-synergises with situational cards or cards that you'll need later but that get stuck in your hand: pretty much any other self-damaging card has the same issue. As a result, Guinea Pig works quite well alongside cards like Zer0: if you have the sort of deck which Guinea Pig is playable in, then Zer0's downside will also be smaller than usual.

In conclusion: there's obviously power in Guinea Pig, so it's initially a little surprising that it isn't played more. However, the downside really hurts it, limiting what decks it can go into. In particular, decks where Guinea Pig works tend to be slow to initially set up (because this is the main downside of resource economies); and they also tend to be slow to react to what the Corp does (because they can't hold situational cards like Inside Job in hand). Given how fast the metagame is at the moment, and how often the Corp will try to get away with scoring in a dubious scoring window (thus forcing the Runner to react), its relative unpopularity therefore shouldn't be all that surprising after all; the sort of deck that wants to play Guinea Pig will suffer from having a bad matchup against more or less everything that's popular, which is not a good place to be. That said, there's definite potential here: I can easily imagine Guinea Pig becoming a very strong card if the metagame ends up getting a bit slower and giving resource economies their time to shine.

There are two ways to look at Thunder Art Gallery: as a tech card against tags, or as part of a synergy deck based around tag removal or avoidance.

Thunder Art Gallery as a tech card

First, the uses as a tech card. One of the things that Thunder Art Gallery does is that it effectively upgrades the "remove tag" basic action, to allow an install at the same time (once per turn). It's much easier to see what it does if you think of it as upgrading the "install" action, though, making it more or less equivalent to the following hypothetical resource:

Once per turn, when you install a card with an install cost of 1 or more (not through a basic action), you may pay an additional 1 to remove a tag.

That's a pretty good effect, against some decks! Removing a tag for 1 and no clicks is much cheaper than tag removal normally would be, and most decks have quite a few cards they want to install.

There are two real problems with using this as a tech card, though. The first is the hit to install it; you're spending 3, , plus a card and a deck slot, on installing your Thunder Art Gallery. The second is the fact that it only works once per turn. Taking these two facts together, to be worth it as a tech card, you would probably need to untag yourself on four separate turns (installing something each time) to get a meaningful gain. It's certainly possible to imagine a Corp deck which likes to repeatedly land single tags on you, without directly punishing them; some SYNC: Everything, Everywhere or NBN: Reality Plus will, for example. However, only a minority of tagging decks use this sort of "tag-based grind"; more often you're going to come up against Hard-Hitting News or Public Trail or the like, and Thunder Art Gallery is the wrong tech card to use against those sorts of decks – and of course, many Corp decks don't tag at all! So in short, this is an effect that you could plausibly want in a sufficiently weird metagame, but it's unlikely that the metagame will ever reach a state in which playing this as a tech card is worth it; generally speaking, you'd prefer a more generally applicable tech card like Networking.

Thunder Art Gallery as a synergy card

So if you can't rely on the Corp deck to tag you often enough to make your Thunder Art Gallery worthwhile, what about placing the tags yourself? Thunder Art Gallery is obviously no good in a "tag-me" deck (which relies on floating a lot of tags), so the main form of Runner self-tagging is out. However, there's also a less popular Runner strategy involving tags: using a combination of cards which tag yourself in exchange for a benefit, and cards that clear the resulting tags more cheaply than basic actions would (thus giving you a larger benefit than the tagging card would give you naturally). Thunder Art Gallery is, in effect, a support card for this strategy, giving you cheap clickless installs while your deck does what your deck does (and this sort of deck really likes clickless installs because it's spending so many clicks tagging itself). A discount of 1, on installs once per turn is obviously crazy (imagine if you could play as Hayley and Kate simultaneously and with no card type restriction!), but as the tradeoff to obtain that, you're going to need to design your entire deck around tagging and untagging itself (or avoiding the tags) as often as possible.

In order to make a self-untagging deck work, we need two main components: the cards that tag yourself, and the cards that cheaply remove or avoid the tags.

First, the self-tagging cards. Based on the name, and the set it came out in, Thunder Art Gallery was probably designed with Liza Talking Thunder in mind, but she has been banned; and the most popular card which tags yourself in exchange for a benefit is Account Siphon, but that has rotated. So nowadays, we typically need to rely on cards that don't see much play outside this sort of deck. By far the best is Rogue Trading, which is likely to be an automatic 3-of in any Thunder Art Gallery deck; it's an economic card with a lot of longevity, but a value that scales based on how cheaply you can remove a tag (and the whole point of this sort of deck is to cheaply remove tags, so Rogue Trading is likely to be quite good). There's also Hot Pursuit, which has the issue that you need to be able to make successful runs on HQ, but which gives a decent amount of economy in return for a tag when you do. (I've also had decent success with Credit Kiting in a deck that's designed around it, but that's a lot more niche.)

Second, the self-untagging cards. My first thought (and many others' first thoughts) will likely be Jesminder Sareen, who is able to avoid tags as her ID ability. This synergises well with Hot Pursuit (which is normally an automatic 3-of for her despite being out of faction). The problem is, it doesn't really synergise well with anything else nowadays (you would have to resort to obscure cards like "Baklan" Bochkin to do more self-tagging during a run). The other problem is, Jesminder is a Shaper, but Thunder Art Gallery is a Criminal card, as is almost every self-tagging card. So Jesminder will end up running out of influence very quickly when trying to make a deck like this, and will have to play very suboptimal cards to do it. I don't think that sort of deck can work; Jesminder loves her Hot Pursuits, but can't go further enough along the path of self-tagging to make Thunder Art Gallery worthwhile on top of that.

Even though the main untagging identity is a Shaper, though, there are still good self-untagging cards floating around in neutral and Criminal. Networking, for example, saves you 1 whenever you remove a tag and does not require installing; that might be enough of a benefit to make this sort of deck work, but probably isn't enough by itself. However, there's also Citadel Sanctuary, which is close to a perfect fit for this sort of deck; it allows you to untag yourself once per turn with a trace[1] (in addition to acting as tech against Punitive Counterstrike, Clearinghouse and City Works Project). One drawback of Citadel Sanctuary is that you need to be fairly rich to avoid disaster, as you'll have no chance to react if the Corp pumps the trace. Another is that you will need link to keep the expenses down (in particular, it works much better as a 1 runner than it does as a 0 runner). However, unlike the drawbacks of the various other possible combinations, these drawbacks are managable (especially because Rogue Trading itself will help you get out of the economic danger range).

Conclusions

Given the current list of banned and rotated cards, I think that (at least in Standard) Thunder Art Gallery works in exactly one deck: a Criminal deck that is based around tagging and subsequently untagging itself most turns, using at minimum a combination of Rogue Trading, Citadel Sanctuary, and link. (You won't play against appropriate Corp decks often enough to make it a viable tech card, and it doesn't have enough synergy to be playable unless you're playing those two cards specifically.) You'll also need a lot of things to install (meaning, most likely, you'll be running a resource economy), making the deck it goes into even more specific. So this card is likely doomed to be niche forever; you can't put it into just any deck, you'll have to be designing your entire deck around it.

"Niche" doesn't necessarily mean "bad", though; a card that only goes in one deck can nonetheless be playable if it's a sufficiently good deck. And based on my testing recently, I think it is indeed a sufficiently good deck. (This shouldn't be all that surprising, given that the Rogue Trading + Citadel Sanctuary combo is strong enough to have seen play even without additional support cards beyond a 1 identity.) I've been winning above 50% with it in practice games, which is much better than I normally do as Runner, especially given how Corp-friendly today's metagame is; the Thunder Art Gallery deck is probably the strongest Runner deck I've ever built (although I'm much better at building Corp decks in general, so being a good Runner deck by my standards probably doesn't mean that you'll be winning tournaments with it).

So I think this is a well-designed card; its inflexibility means that it won't be dominating the tournament scene or anything like that, because it isn't going to fit into the goodstuff/"regular" decks that Criminals often end up playing, and is even less likely to work out of faction (with the possible but unlikely exception of Sunny); but it has the right sort of power level to make the one deck it does go into playable, and help make the world of viable Runner decks a little broader.

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:

  1. It could be an ambush, directly hurting the Runner who runs into it. Something like Urtica Cipher or Snare!.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Your deck can't afford the 2 extra it costs to never-advance a single agenda with Jeeves, compared to Seamless Launch (1 on play/install costs, 1 on advance costs). Note that if you never-advance two agendas with the same Jeeves, the two cards will break even on credits.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

In my experience it's hard to justify this card in a deck. If you're playing it in a non-Hyoubu Institute: Absolute Clarity deck you're down one credit when you rez it, putting you in a similar spot as PAD Campaign, but you end up with an asset with a lower trash cost and that provides the runner with a free Corporate Defector, more or less. 2 credits is nothing to sneeze at and the Runner will likely know this, so you'll probably need to put this behind some good cover otherwise they'll trash it and you'll have lost an asset and paid a credit for the privilege. A bit risky - probably won't see this card in the other factions' decks.

Within Hyoubu Institute: Absolute Clarity you break even on the rez and from then on it's 3 credits a turn. Not bad at all! That's Daily Quest territory, and like that card this one also requires a good amount of protection and forethought. However, it also comes with a bit of anti-synergy with some of the other tools Hyoubu has at it's disposal. Celebrity Gift, Drudge Work, Hyoubu Institute: Absolute Clarity's own ability, and others stop generating that extra credit since it gets used by Public Health Portal's passive. The trade-off sort of works - you'll only play so many Celebrity Gifts or Attitude Adjustments in a game after all. But there's always the variable of your draws being slowly revealed to the Runner, which can really screw over your plans if the Runner is attentive enough.

If you cannot use Imp (which is strictly better) you could use Scrubber. Hopefully, you will trash multiple assets to make this card worth its cost. The first time you'll use it, it will have reimbursed its own cost. Using it more is like getting 2.

This card has two competitors that use to trash cards : 1. Fencer Fueno, which combo with Keiko and is free to put on the board. 2. Miss Bones, which gives you a whopping 12 in one go to trash cards. Letting you trash multiple SanSan City Grid or Jeeves Model Bioroids at only the cost of 2.

In my opinion, both options are better than Scrubber. Miss Bones is just more efficient (but will not work on card found in centrals). The drawback of Miss Bones is more than compensated by the fact that you could do multiple run in one turn to trash multiple assets. Which is amazingly useful against asset spam decks.

Fencer Fueno is free and can be used to pay for stealing an agenda like Bellona. Which will help a great deal. As such, it is usable in a wider variety of circonstances and against more corp archetypes. On top of this, it is the same influence cost.

Is Scrubber worth it? In certain cases yes. It allow you to trash card everywhere, as long as it has a cost. If you do not use Imp, it might be better for René "Loup" Arcemont: Party Animal to use Scrubber. Because René "Loup" Arcemont: Party Animal gain a lot from trashing everything that can be found.

Quote would fit in any destructive card, which is great here. The art is just so much fun. Putting this card on the board is inspiring. Enjoyable.

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