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"Elementary, My Dear Wilson!"
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#5: The Rent-to-Own Deck

by Jens Kreutzer

Really heavy ice like Mastiff, Liche, Wall of Ice, or, since the advent of the Proteus expansion, Colonel Failure and Toughonium Wall, have always made a Corp player's eyes shine. Be it for psychological intimidation alone, having a rezzed Colonel on the table can surely make the Corp's day. But normally the high-end ice doesn't see action all that frequently, because of its equally high rez cost. Speed is of the essence these days, and if the Corp manages to amass enough bits to rez a Colonel, they are usually better invested in a fast-advancement operation to go for the victory. Ice just slows the Runner down and protects only one fort (disregarding Classic's Glacier), which means that the investment is not likely to be worth it, especially if you take Pile Driver and Big Frackin' Gun into account - or Remote Detonator, for that matter.

Proteus, however, has given us a feasible method to rez ice for free, no matter how high the rez cost might be, namely the operation Rent-to-Own Contract (RTOC), which costs 0 bits to play and reads:

Rez a piece of ice, at no cost. Put on that ice a number of Term counters equal to its rez cost. At the start of each of your turns, if you have at least 2 bits, lose 2 bits and remove one of these Term counters; otherwise, put a Term counter on that piece of ice.

This free rezzing of ice therefore comes with a considerable drawback: A number of Term counters equal to the rez cost has to be paid off by the Corporation, which means that in effect (one counter being priced at 2 bits) we pay double the usual price for the ice. This should even be less advisable financially than rezzing it in the normal way - who has 34 bits to spare for a single Colonel Failure, after all? But a radical strategy takes advantage of the one loophole RTOC offers: A Corporation that is broke (i. e., has no more than 1 bit in its pool at the start of its turns) cannot be made to pay off its contracts. A Corp player who abandons the idea of ever being rich again can thus abuse RTOC with impunity. Term counters will amass to ridiculous numbers during such games, but as long as the Corp never intends to lose them, it couldn't care less. Just rez ice as big and mean as you can imagine in your wildest dreams, without ever wasting a thought on paying off all of those debts.

In a Rent-to-Own deck, we will need about 18 pieces of our heaviest ice, and maybe as many as 12 Rent-to-Own Contracts to rez enough of them. The first couple of turns will be spent icing HQ and R&D (maybe Archives too, if we suspect that the Runner might be using Shredder Uplink Protocol) and at least one subsidiary data fort (SDF). Our initial 5 bits quickly vanish to the Contracts, but after we are down to 1 or 0 bits, they won't bother us anymore. Unfortunately, this also means that without special measures (like hiring Chester Mix or including Efficiency Experts), four ice is as deep as we will ever get: Starting our turn with 1 bit in pool, we can take 2 bits with our first two actions and then spend all 3 to install a fourth ice layer. But then, this usually suffices - and in any case, the sheer time it takes to do all of this installing and rezzing with RTOC usually limits ice layers to two deep on the central data forts and three deep on the SDF in the average game.

What strategies are there for a Corp that is protected by the toughest ice in the game, but doesn't have any money? First of all, it should use down-to-earth agendas. Since costly fast-advancement operations or nodes are out of the question, agendas will have to be advanced "by hand". That in itself means that scoring one will take at least two turns, but in addition, there are big problems in generating enough bits even to pay for the advancement counters. All that we can manage in two turns is a 3-difficulty agenda. To avoid having to score more than three agendas in this excruciating way, the wise CEO's choice is Corporate War, the only 3-difficulty agenda that is worth 3 agenda points. Its drawback (lose all bits when it is scored with less than 12 bits in pool) is of no importance, because there are never any bits to be lost anyway. But Corporate Wars are a liability when faced with Terrorist Reprisal; since we don't really need all 9 agenda points, we might consider other 3-difficulty agendas like Marine Arcology (for an improved bit influx), Corporate Downsizing (to relieve an agenda-cramped HQ), or Security Purge (to speed up ice installation) in combination with Corp War. However, these make us include more agenda cards in our deck than necessary, being worth only 2 agenda points each.

The second consideration is that huge ice is the only protection that stands between the Runner and every agenda we want to score. Agendas will always be in danger of being stolen for at least one Runner turn - and if the Runner realizes what's going on, he or she needs only to collect enough bits to breach the SDF and wait. RTO's greatest weakness is its predictability: Since all of the ice is rezzed beforehand, the Runner knows exactly how many bits will be needed to break through. A common Corp strategy is therefore to double this little equation by installing a Bizarre Encryption Scheme in the SDF, which forces the Runner to run twice (and pay twice the cost) to score the agenda. If all else fails, the Corp must be prepared to sacrifice an agenda to make the Runner broke, hoping that he or she won't gain enough bits in time to grab the next. Off-Site Backups are often included in Rent-to-Own decks to get back trashed Encryption Schemes and to recycle RTOCs if not enough of them turn up by themselves. The following is a very basic RTO deck without any fancy gimmicks:

    6 Corporate War
    12 Rent-to-Own Contract
    3 Off-Site Backups
    6 Bizarre Encryption Scheme
    10 Colonel Failure
    4 ToughoniumEWall
    4 Haunting Inquisition

All of the rare ice cards can be substituted by others you might have, like Liche, Cerberus, Mastiff, or even Mazer and Rock Is Strong if you're really in a pinch. Watch out for cards that specifically target black ice, however: Anonymous Tip or Simulacrum can truly ruin your day if you play with Liche; with Colonels, you don't have this problem. The biggest challenge will likely be to collect 12 RTOCs, which are notoriously hard to find. Put in as many as you have, replace the rest with Off-Site Backups and hope for a good draw.

One or two Rent-to-Own decks are seen in almost every Constructed tourney at the time, and a Runner must surely take this into account when designing a strategy. The basic RTO concept can easily be expanded into more sophisticated strategies; Vapor Ops, for example, is a nice card to complement the theme as a "must-trash" node that lessens the danger to vulnerable agendas. Efficiency Experts raise the bit "ceiling" considerably and might be a nasty surprise for the Runner; Night Shift yields bits and speeds up the deck. Rio de Janeiro City Grid is another card to consider. Experiment until you find a good strategy that is playable and fun.

When faced with the decision whether to play a RTO deck in a tourney, take the "metagame" into account. RTO really is in trouble when it has to face its arch-enemies Pile Driver and Big Frackin' Gun (and Terrorist Reprisal or Corporate Ally), but if you expect heavy use of Bartmoss Memorial Icebreaker in the upcoming tourney, RTO is a good idea, since it really shines against Bartmoss stacks. An ice-destruction stack will also have a hard time against RTO if the Corp sees to it that all ice is rezzed the turn it is installed; make sure to detect this Runner strategy early on, though. Runners who don't run SDFs for agenda but instead make only a few multi-access runs on central forts (like The Big Dig), or those who play a game only against time but not the Corp proper (like Masochism Rules), will also be tough on the rather slow and unwieldy RTO deck. Like already hinted at above, a Shredder Uplink Protocol also presents a danger to RTO decks, since building a double ice layer on the Archives as a countermeasure slows the Corp down considerably.

All in all, be aware that RTO gives away its strategy to the Runner only too readily, which means that the Corp loses much of the surprise potential that normally keeps the Runner on his or her toes. The only option tactically is to remain generally passive behind the tremendous ice barriers and hope that the Runner will be stopped short by them. There is not much room for experiment or adaptation during play, but still, a RTO deck can be a formidable opponent.

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