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"Elementary, My Dear Wilson!"
- Famous Netrunner Stacks -
#11: The Nasty Code Gate Deck

by Jens Kreutzer
using material by Jim McCoy, with permission

"Once you get experienced with how this deck plays, you will find it a useful addition to your collection."
- Jim McCoy

Choosing a certain kind of ice as a "theme" has always been a fun way for the Corp player to go about building a deck. After all, there are Skalderviken SA Beta Test Site and Black Ice Quality Assurance for Black Ice; we have Data Masons and Superior Net Barriers for walls, while Encoder, Inc. and Encryption Breakthrough support code gates. However, after years of trying, it has become apparent that only one of the three approaches really has any promise in the unforgiving realm of tournament play - the code gate deck. And, using Encoder, Inc. as the essential part of his strategy, famous Runner Jim "McCode Gate" McCoy has proven that it can get downright nasty.

The trick is that unlike Skalderviken and Data Masons, Encoder, Inc. doesn't just give a strength bonus or reduces rez cost - most importantly, it adds an "End the run" subroutine to all code gates. This wouldn't be such a big deal, since nearly all code gates have an "End the Run" subroutine already, and against breakers like Skeleton Passkeys or Codecracker, it wouldn't make any difference anyway. However, two specific code gates benefit tremendously from Encoder, Inc., namely Misleading Access Menus and Ball and Chain. The former, a "payback" ice at strength 1, suddenly becomes a "real" piece of ice that is not only better than Sleeper, but also gives the Corp player 3 bits. Ball and Chain suddenly becomes stronger than Mazer, at a dead-cheap rez cost of just 1 bit. With two Encoders in play, it rezzes for free.

It is this synergy that makes Jim's code gate deck so very nasty: Because a pretty strong ice defence is put up almost for free, there is enough money left for advancing agendas and further mischief like Crystal Palace Station Grid, which makes sure that Runners using Skeleton Passkeys won't go scot-free. Crucially, there is no superweapon against code gates along the lines of Big Frackin' Gun or Pile Driver, so that it just gets more and more expensive for the Runner. Bartmoss Memorial Icebreaker and Rent-I-Con also pay dearly for multi-subroutine Ball and Chains.

The following is the deck list sent by Jim McCoy to the Netrunner-l on January 21, 1997.

    4 Encryption Breakthrough
    3 Tycho Extension
    1 AI Chief Financial Officer
    4 Encoder, Inc.
    1 Virus Test Site
    1 BBS Whispering Campaign
    3 Antiquated Interface Routines
    2 Crystal Palace Station Grid
    1 Chester Mix
    8 Misleading Access Menus
    10 Ball and Chain
    3 Mazer
    2 Haunting Inquisition
    1 Rock Is Strong
    1 Minotaur
    1 Code Corpse
    3 Accounts Receivable
    3 Off-site Backups
    1 New Blood

Jim already did a great job himself explaining the strategy behind his deck, and the following remarks are to a great extent a paraphrase of what he posted to the Netrunner-l.

The core of the Nasty Code Gate deck are its four Encoder, Inc. Next to the main subfort that is heavily iced and later used to score agendas, the Corp will therefore also create one or two other subforts to hold Encoders. While the main subfort ideally has Minotaur and Haunting Inquisition as its innermost ice, the second subfort for the first Encoder should be reasonably but not too heavily protected. If the opportunity for creating a third subfort presents itself later in the game, ice that consists mainly of Misleading Access Menus will be sufficient for protecting it. HQ and R&D are iced as needed; most of the time, a light protection will be enough, but when facing a dedicated HQ- or R&D-attack stack, they can be fortified similarly to the main subfort.

Hopefully, the first Encoder, Inc. turns up quickly. As soon as it is drawn, it should be installed in the second subfort. Now, Ball and Chain and Misleading Access Menus mutate to quite expensive "must-break" ice. Moreover, when raising the strength of the icebreaker to be able to break the "End the run" subroutine anyway, it is usually cheaper for the Runner to break the "Pay two bits ..." subroutine of Ball and Chain as well than to suffer its effect. A second Encoder makes everything even more expensive for the Runner. Haunting Inquisition as an occasional surprise might allow the Corp to score an agenda "in the open" while the Runner sweats of his no-run actions.

Other ice tech includes Minotaur, a natural choice for a code gate deck, alongside Code Corpse and Rock Is Strong, so that each type of ice is present, which forces the Runner to install a full breaker suite. New Blood optimizes the ice configuration, putting early Ball and Chains into outermost positions and switching Minotaur and the other heavies to innermost positions. All of the upgrades likewise function as support for the ice. Chester Mix helps with building the main subfort (often six ice deep); Antiquated Interface Routines are neat because they catapult Mazer's and Ball and Chain's strength over the second Skeleton Passkeys threshold (it pays 6 instead of 3 bits against strength 6); Crystal Palace Station Grid combines well with the ever-increasing subroutines and is a potent weapon against icebreakers that pay 0 bits to break a subroutine. There are a lot of possibilities within the Nasty Code Gate deck to make the Runner's life expensive, and Jim accurately described this synergy as "death by a thousand paper cuts".

Another notable characteristic of this deck is its total lack of fast-advancement cards, in spite of its agendas being of a rather high difficulty (4 or 5). This means that it relies completely on its strong ice defences to keep the agendas safe for at least one Runner turn while they are being advanced "by hand". The one Virus Test Site, however, could be used as a further deterrent not to run cards with advancement counters. Further, the deck doesn't include a lot of bitgainer nodes or operations: just one BBS Whispering Campaign and three Accounts Receivable. The eight Misleading Access Menus are the main source of bits, later helped along by huge influxes from Encryption Breakthrough. There lies a danger in the fact that Misleading bits won't flow if the Runner doesn't run. But then, Nasty Code Gate is a very slow deck anyway (and on purpose), so that it doesn't stand much of a chance against no-run Runner stacks like Masochism Rules in the first place.

Versatile Off-site Backups is a card to consider for every Corp deck; in this case, the three copies are indispensable for recycling trashed Encoders. However, they might also fetch back trashed upgrades, or even agendas that were hidden away in the Archives. As far as Jim's agenda choice is concerned, Encryption Breakthrough of course fits right in with the deck theme, boosting Code Gate strength (e. g., against Skeleton Passkeys) and giving a sizable bit influx of perhaps ten or twelve bits at a time. AI Chief Financial Officer (AI CFO) is an insurance against getting decked, and also is a potent draw engine for getting used operations or trashed nodes/upgrades back into HQ. Since the Nasty Code Gate deck is intentionally slow, getting decked is a possibility that must be addressed. However, just one AI CFO is not much, as Jim has remarked himself: "I learned the hard way in a tournament that a single AI CFO is not enough; if the runner gets lucky and manages to score the AI CFO, then you need to hope that your agendas are not clustered at the bottom of the deck, or else you will not have enough time to advance and score them."

Another consideration that must be made with today's tournament environment in mind is agenda choice number three, the three Tycho Extensions, which - like in so many card-intensive theme decks - conveniently provide the remainder of the needed agenda points without taking up a lot of deck space. Tycho Extension, however, is banned in the Revised Constructed format, and therefore, an alternative would have to be found if Nasty Code Gate were to be used in such a tournament. Jim has suggested Political Overthrow; this could even make additional AI CFOs feasible and accordingly has promise. Also possible is substituting four Corp Wars for the Tychos and one Accounts Receivable; cards that might be removed from the deck in order to make room for agendas would have to be bitgainers, or maybe the sentry ice (most Runners will install a sentry breaker anyway, just in case). If Corp War seems too dangerous (beware Terrorist Reprisal!) or inconvenient, other options include Security Net Optimization since it fits the theme, alongside the usual suspects Employee Empowerment and Main-Office Relocation. Jim also mentioned Genetics-Visionary Acquisition, but with its single agenda point, it probably takes up too much deck space.

Let's take a closer look at how this deck plays (and just how tough code gates can get). Again, Jim has already done an excellent job explaining all of this, and the following remains close to his remarks. Nasty Code Gate sets up slowly, but hopes to keep ahead of the Runner in the bit race, making it more and more expensive to breach the most important data forts. In time, the cost will become overwhelming (barring Runner interference): Jim gives the example of a mid-game subfort with Minotaur (innermost), four Ball and Chain, and a Misleading Access Menus (outermost), augmented by Crystal Palace Station Grid, Antiquated Interface Routines, one Encoder, Inc. and one scored Encryption Breakthrough. This makes Ball and Chain strength 7, with two subroutines. Minotaur has strength 5 and also five subroutines. Misleading Access Menus has strength 3 and two subroutines.

In this combination, Bartmoss Memorial Icebreaker pays 65 bits to get through, which is much more than even three Loan from Chiba will give the Runner. With a Skeleton Passkeys/Big Frackin' Gun combination, it still costs 57 bits. Even Classic's new powerhouse Rent-I-Con guzzles up 53 bits to breach this fort. Counting all upgrades, rezzing this whole datafort with just one Encoder in play costs only 14 bits (the three bits gained for rezzing Misleading are already deducted). Installation costs can be reduced to a mere 6 bits with Chester Mix, for a total of 20 bits. And a second Encoder reduces costs further and bumps up the bit costs for the Runner even more.

The Nasty Code Gate deck is very defensive in its approach, as Jim has also pointed out. It neither aggressively pushes its agendas through, nor does it try to actively damage or flatline the Runner (apart from Virus Test Site). Not quite as predictable as a Rent-to-Own deck, it is a solid possibility for tournament play, being able to adapt to Runner strategies to a certain degree. To drain Runner bits, the Corp will sometimes have to "sacrifice" an agenda, installing a second one right after the first has been stolen, when the Runner is (presumably) broke and cannot get through to it. Usually, the game will be decided by the Runner's choice of code gate (or generic) breaker, and woe to the Runner who somehow loses this all-important program.

Apart from no-run Bad Publicity stacks, it is perhaps the "big finale"-type stacks like Big Dig or The Short Stack that can become the most dangerous for Nasty Code Gate. Ice destruction that gets going fast is also a threat. On the other hand, R&D control with Technician Lover, or TagMe stacks of various kinds might see themselves in serious trouble. HYHADIARS, using Bartmoss and Loan from Chiba, also will probably have to struggle hard to implement its plans. Against Clown, Crystal Palace gives the Corp a fighting chance.

Some comments on individual Runner cards: Death from Above is an annoyance, while cards like Remote Detonator always hurt severely if the Corp builds a huge datafort - in this case, at least, it will likely cost the Runner more than the Corp, since the ice is so cheap to rez. Against Security Code WORM Chip and Core Command: Jettison Ice, icing HQ and Archives becomes top priority.

Thinking about possible variations of Nasty Code Gate, the following comes to mind: Virus Test Site and Code Corpse do not really fit the theme of the deck; rather than damage, trashing the Runner's code gate breaker is probably more devastating. Putting in Experimental AI (also Jim's suggestion) and Colonel Failure or Data Naga instead therefore seems like a good idea (Jim revealed that he picked Code Corpse when metagaming against a Joan-of-Arc-heavy environment). Other cards a Corp player might consider are Rio de Janeiro City Grid, Sterdroid or Rasmin Bridger for extra nastiness, or Syd Meyer Superstores for bits in a pinch (the latter appeared in an earlier version of Jim's deck). To thwart Demolition Run or protect agendas, using Data Fort Remapping as an agenda choice also has promise-getting remapped and then having to run that huge fort again will surely be tough on the Runner. Theorem Proof would fit in with the trashing approach. Classic's new code gate Puzzle (and perhaps Vortex) might also be worth a try.

Once more in Jim's words: "A code gate deck is the antithesis of a speed advancement deck, it builds slowly and just keeps getting stronger as the game wears on." Well, he has given us a classic in his Nasty Code Gate deck, and, rarest of all things, a strong deck that is also fun.

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