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Emails to the Editor:
Faked Hit Revisited

by Jens Kreutzer

Byron "Neal" Massey (author of the late "Neal's Last Words" column) was kind enough to take the time and effort to make some comments on the "Masochism Rules" featured deck article that appeared in the last TRQ issue. Since he included his own advanced version of a Faked Hit stack, this "email to the editor" by him is of particular interest. When I replied to some of his remarks to explain my own point of view (also by email), a lively discussion ensued. I've put most of it together in the form of a dialogue:

Neal: Hey Jens, I'm starting to wonder what the qualifications are for a featured deck in the TRQ. It's kind of sad to read about Stephen Holodinsky's stack that wins in ten(!) turns without interaction. That is extremely slow, not even vaguely competitive at the time. Anyway, I am not asking for a pat on the back or anything, but reading about the stack in the last issue just left me shaking my head. I don't know what happened in Stephen's tournament, but there are plenty of stacks that changed the face of Netrunner. This was not one of them.

Ed.: The question on how to decide which "Famous Decks" to cover is a good question indeed. Here's what I've been thinking: Many of the famous (or archetypical) decks in Netrunner are quite dated already. I'm trying to deal with the oldest strategies first, so that they don't become even more dated before they get their coverage. Further, I'm trying to include some variation (we haven't had a pure Bad Publicity stack yet). You will also have noticed that I alternate between Corp and Runner, for obvious reasons.

Neal: I guess it depends on what the goal of your coverage is. I always laugh when kids come in my store and buy the Magic cards to build a deck from Scrye magazine. Those decks might be "fun", but they aren't very competitive. I think it's great to highlight combos and ideas that are elegant or have a surprising synergy, but I don't want a deck listing for something that is much too slow or unlikely. That's just me. It follows that an article on a stack that was bad three years ago, and is bad now, doesn't do much for the reader or the writer.

Ed.: Variation is the reason, for example, that "Greyhound Demolition Derby" hasn't been covered yet (because we've already had a Tag 'n' Bag deck). Faked Hit was included because I felt I had to do something on no-run Bad Publicity Runner stacks (before they become obsolete), but since the Faked Hit approach is older than Mantis/Poisoned, I did it first. You will realize that competitiveness in Constructed is not the only criterium for selection ("The World Would Swing..." is an example for a very famous, but not too strong deck). And I chose Stephen's deck because it was the best Faked Hit deck that I knew.

Neal: I think "The World Would Swing..." is an important deck because it shows how to provide maximum defense against a run with a minimum of resources. And it utilizes a card that was meant as a joke by the game designers. Faked Hit (" Masochism Rules") doesn't have either of those features.

Ed.: Anyway, though Faked Hit is not among the more memorable strategies, it is a very clearly defined deck archetype, namely no-run Bad Publicity, and it is, like I said, older than Mantis/Poisoned. It is also on the endangered species list (and deservedly so, of course). I probably should have made it clearer that the deck isn't very strong in today's environment - but since I've been saying that people shouldn't play it at all, it somehow slipped my mind.

Neal: Perhaps I am just feeling grumpy because I have learned that Jennifer is being fired, and that Zvi is being stonewalled on the purchase of Netrunner (no surprise, as I mentioned in my earlier TRQ interview).

Ed.: There's some good news at least: Though she won't continue her State of the Corp column, Jennifer hasn't been fired after all; she just had to change her position. She is the editor of WotC's miniatures section now (which, unfortunately, hasn't got much to do with CCGs or Netrunner anymore).

Neal: Another thing about the article: The strong endorsement of Top Runner's Conference (TRC) over Loan from Chiba seems wrong to me. When I chatted with Rob of Rob's Netrunner Node in the good ol' days, we used to shake our heads and laugh at how "the kids" (our phrase for them) loved TRC, but that it was useless in Constructed. If the Corp can't force the Runner to run with City Surveillance or Blood Cat, it deserves to lose. The idea that a Runner can "simply pay for City Surveillance" with a TRC bit engine seems impossible to me. The other issue is the speed of installing TRC. It's slow. There are no cards that let you install more than one TRC per action. The way we used to talk about Loan from Chiba was that it was the equivalent of five turns with a single TRC, all in one action. There is no reasonable comparison between the power of the two cards.

Ed.: I stand corrected. All I can say is that I'd rather have ten installed TRCs than ten installed Loans around the end of a long game, but probably, the stage in which TRC gets better than Loan (when you have installed about 6, I should guess?) is reached much too late in your average fast-paced tourney game. However - in this particular Faked Hit stack, do you really think Loan would be better than TRC, or are you saying this more in general?

Neal: Both, there is no comparison. As you pile on additional Loans or TRCs, it just gets worse. After you install four Loans, you have 48 bits to use, losing four each of the next turns. After installing four TRCs, you have 8 bits at the start of each turn. If you move ahead, it takes four turns before the bit amount is equal, that is half a Netrunner game.

Ed.: In my opinion, if you're collecting bits for a big finale (like Big Dig), Loan isn't the way to do it. Of course, this "big finale" kind of approach is slow by nature.

Neal: Each TRC takes four turns to equal a Loan, that stretches your waiting time for the big finale by four turns. How can that be better? I think the average Constructed game lasts about nine turns. In the first few turns with a TRC deck, you have no money, so everything goes slower. It takes four actions to install four TRC (plus the problem of getting them) and one action to play a Loan, which you can spend immediately. I'm tired of talking about this; each person is welcome to his own opinion. Let me just say that Rob used to sell TRCs for 8-10 US dollars and laugh all the way to the bank.

Here's my best attempt at winning using only Faked Hit:

    10 Faked Hit
    14 Preying Mantis
    10 Loan from Chiba
    8 N.E.T.O.
    3 Access Through Alpha

Here is how it should go:

  • 1. Play enough Loans to keep using N.E.T.O.

  • 2. Install Access through Alpha as soon as you see it with N.E.T.O.

  • 3. Install the Preying Mantes as fast as you can; you need ten on the table.

  • 4. If you need to discard at the end of your turn, make sure and discard extra copies of N.E.T.O., Access Through Alpha, and Loan from Chiba.

  • 5. Don't take any Faked Hits with N.E.T.O. until you have ten Preying Mantis installed and are ready to win.

  • 6. The turn before you are ready to win, you need to play four Loans. It takes 35 bits to play seven Faked Hits, plus you need to draw them with N.E.T.O., which will take another 21 bits or so.

  • 7. On the winning turn, you use all the Preying Mantis actions for a total of 14 actions. You simply N.E.T.O. for three cards, play a Faked Hit, and repeat. Six more times.

  • 8. You only need to take one card the very last time you use N.E.T.O. It is the last Faked Hit. You win as soon as you play it. That saves a couple of bits, and you become a martyr in Netspace.

  • 9. N.E.T.O. is used because it is immune to City Surveillance and it allows you to get only the cards you want, although at greater expense.

Brief testing shows that this simple plan wins on turn eight. If you introduce Sneak Preview and Emergency Self Construct, it approaches the speed of Poisoned Water Supply/Preying Mantis.

Ed.: Thanks very much for this gem of state-of-the-art deck tech. It really gets the Faked Hit strategy into gear, and I especially like the use of N.E.T.O. I've playtested the deck, and there are some comments I'd like to make. First of all, by cramming all seven Faked Hits reliably (!) into one turn, and by using N.E.T.O. to draw only those three cards you need in hand for playing a Hit, you can entirely dispense with MRAM Chips, which is an approach that is totally different from that of the other decks. I've found that your deck indeed usually finishes by turn eight (only sometimes it took me nine turns), which is fast in comparison. However, I've found that the deck gets into its own way at times, because it's very vulnerable to things going wrong because of the luck of the draw. Maybe it's just me, but if just one thing goes wrong, I either lose a lot of time, or it becomes impossible to stage the final winning turn, or I flatline myself - or all of the above. Things to look out for:

1. You must play four Loans in the penultimate turn. This means that you have to have four Loans in hand at the end of the turn before the penultimate. But if you start the game with two Faked Hits (or more) in hand, you won't manage this without discarding at least one Hit and giving yourself away.

2. If you draw too many Faked Hits with N.E.T.O. at a time during the final turn, you might find yourself losing some to brain damage. Since there are three redundant Faked Hits in the deck, this is not that bad. But what do you do if you happen to draw no Faked Hit with N.E.T.O. in this situation?

3. Searching for Loans and/or Mantes can be a pain if you are unlucky and just find Access Through Alpha, Faked Hit and N.E.T.O. repeatedly. Especially, if after the sixth turn, you need just one more action to get the fourth Loan into your hand, you lose the entire next turn because of it - since the four Loans must all be played during a single turn, you can't start off playing them in the remaining three actions.

4. The most difficult issue for me was getting enough bits into my pool for the final turn. You need either 54 or 53 bits during this turn, but the four Loans you played in the turn before yield only 48 - 4 - [number of Loans already installed] = 44 bits at most. This means in effect that there must have been around 20 bits in your pool at the end of the turn before the penultimate. I find this prospect extremely difficult and would recommend installing 11 Preying Mantis, so that you have time for playing a fifth Loan at some point during the last turn when you happen to draw one with N.E.T.O.

Summing up: It's a very cool stack, but with an inconsistent performance. You have to be a really good player (better than me for sure) to realize its full potential, I guess. Maybe substituting Top Runners' Conference for the Loans would help? :-)

Neal: It would ensure that you didn't win till turn 14, but I don't think that would help :-) You'd still need the Access through Alpha because you are vulnerable to Underworld Mole. You'd stop losing bits at the end of each turn, but that really isn't the problem. The problem is having (as you point out) about 70 bits ready to make the win. That takes an impossibly long time with TRC.

Your criticisms of the deck design are very valid. I messed around with it some more after I sent it to you and found some of the problems you point out. Incidentally, I am thinking that we aren't really doing the concept justice without the Emergency Self-Construct (ESC) included. That's the broken card that makes Mantis/ESC work so well. But let's try to get by without it. Okay, maybe something like this: I have lessened the number of Mantes by splitting up the turn used to play the Faked Hits into two.

The Seventh Time was a Mistake

    12 Faked Hit
    11 Loan from Chiba
    9 Preying Mantis
    9 N.E.T.O.
    3 Mantis, Fixer-at-Large
    1 Militech MRAM Chip

Now you need five Preying Mantis installed so you can play five Faked Hits on the last turn. You only need to play two Faked Hits on the next-to-last turn. Mantis, Fixer-at-Large is for getting the Militech MRAM Chip (the only card in the stack you can't get with N.E.T.O.).

Ed.: One minor point: Did you leave out Access through Alpha on purpose? And another: If you play only two Faked Hits in the penultimate turn, do you need the MRAM Chip at all? You get 4 brain damage, which you can endure without cyberware. Let's see: 4 actions + 5 Preying Mantis actions = 9 actions in the last turn. This means that you have to have three cards, one of them a Faked Hit, in hand at the end of the penultimate turn. Okay, I guess that means you need the chip after all. But wouldn't it be easier to install one more Mantis than to worry about what cards remain in your hand after four random discards, and to exchange Militech MRAM Chip and the Fixers for four Access through Alpha, like this?

    12 Faked Hit
    11 Loan from Chiba
    9 Preying Mantis
    9 N.E.T.O.
    4 Access through Alpha

Neal: Yes, we should of course include Access through Alpha somehow. However, if you look at it closely, installing six Preying Mantes takes a turn and a half, that seems like a lot if I'm only going to use them once. As it goes, you aren't really getting much benefit out of all those Mantes unil the last turn. That's a lot of stored actions. Maybe we should do the maths: Each Preying Mantis installed takes two actions, one to get it with N.E.T.O and one to install it.

Ed.: ... not taking into account drawing multiple Mantes with one N.E.T.O. action, but this probably wouldn't make too much of a difference in the calculation.

Neal: So we need to use the Preying Mantes three times to justify their inclusion, otherwise we're adding actions to the total, or just coming up even. It's also clear that once we're using them more often then twice each, the more Preying Mantes we have, the better. All these numbers suggest a kinder, gentler approach that dispenses with Preying Mantis altogether, since it's so difficult to make them pay off. This probably means that we'll have to use more Militech MRAM Chips.

Ed.: This is bringing us back into the direction of Stephen's deck, but with the Loan from Chiba/N.E.T.O. approach, it is surely worthwhile to try and go for a redo. In the last turn, you'd play two Faked Hits without worrying about brain damage, which means that we only have to take into account the ten brain damage from the other five Hits. Surprisingly, as few as two Militech MRAM Chips will do the trick, granting a hand size of 11 (while 10 would do). The problem will be getting them into your hand, which would have to be done by Mantis, Fixer-at-Large. How about this (taking a gamble versus Blood Cat):

Neato-chism from Chiba

    12 Faked Hit
    11 Top Runners' Conference
    9 N.E.T.O.
    7 Mantis, Fixer-at-Large
    4 Back Door to Netwatch
    1 Militech MRAM Chip
    1 MRAM Chip

Tests show that this outfit can win in eight turns, without much uncertainty due to randomness. Comments?

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