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"Elementary, My Dear Wilson!"
- Famous Netrunner Stacks -
#18: HQ Attack/Bit Denial

by Jens Kreutzer
with support by Fabian Fritzer


"Important but boring."
- Byron "Neal" Massey on the HQ Attack/Bit Denial strategy.

It is common wisdom that having lots of bits is a good thing in Netrunner. Consequently, it is wise to try and keep the opponent's bit pool as small as possible, thereby limiting his or her options. For the Runner, this could mean running on various forts in order to force the Corp to spend bits for rezzing ice. Dropp is a nice card to have for this approach. However, it is understood that it is somewhat easier for the Corp to gain lots of bits, with nodes like BBS Whispering Campaign being slightly more efficient than the Runner's equivalents (cf. Short-Term Contract). Therefore, it should be hard for the Runner to win this "bit race" of keeping each other poor, because in order to make the opponent spend bits, you usually need to spend some bits yourself.

Still, Runners have tried to use a dedicated bit-denial strategy. The idea behind it is that if the Corp's bit pool is empty or nearly empty, it a) makes it easier for the Runner to continue this disruption, since running becomes cheaper (as expensive ice or upgrades cannot be rezzed), and b) it is more difficult to gain lots of bits if you are running on empty, since efficient bit-gainers like Accounts Receivable or Credit Consolidation need a minimum number of bits for playing. Both aspects taken together mean that once the Corp is down to zero bits, chances are good for keeping it like that.

The Runner needs to accomplish two goals for this: Drain the Corp's bit pool completely, and then ensure that it never recovers beyond the "magical ceiling" of four bits (as you need five bits to play Accounts Receivable), or at least not for long.

There are four Runner cards whose explicit purpose is making the Corp lose bits. Let's take a look at them for evaluation.

Weather-to-Finance Pipe (Prep)

Make a run on HQ. If run is successful, do not access cards from HQ; instead, the Corp loses 4 bits.

Priority Wreck (Prep)

Make a run on HQ. If run is successful, do not access cards from HQ; instead, pay any number of bits to force the Corp to lose that many bits.

Credit Subversion (Hidden Resource)

Trash: The Corp loses 3 bits. Use this ability immediately after a successful run on HQ.

Taxman (Virus Program)

After each successful run on HQ, give the Corp a tax counter. Every two tax counters cause the Corp to lose 1 bit at the start of each of its turns.

Of these, Weather-to-Finance Pipe and Credit Subversion seem to be the opposites of Accounts Receivable and Efficiency Experts - but unlike those Operations, they also need a successful run on HQ to happen before they have any effect, and an HQ run usually costs bits. Financing a run on HQ without accessing anything just to negate an Accounts Receivable, which many Corps pack by the dozen, hardly seems worth the effort.

With Credit Subversion, you get to access a card at least, but the Corp loses only a meagre three bits - note that Credit Subversion cannot be used in multiples at once, as using a second one after the first would no longer be "immediately after a successful run on HQ". It is worth some style points if you make the Corp lose some bits in this way in order to make a run on another, more heavily-iced data fort possible in a later action, but this belongs more into Sealed matches than into Constructed decks.

The other half, Taxman and Priority Wreck, show much more potential. Taxman lets the Runner access cards while handing out virus counters, and virus counters continue their disruption automatically, even long after the original run (and even if the program that created them is trashed). A virus also combines nicely with Shredder Uplink Protocol, unlike preps. Priority Wreck, on the other hand, is strong because it lets the Runner destroy all of the Corp's bits, as long as the Runner has enough of his own. Loan from Chiba seems to be the perfect match for that, though Edited Shipping Manifests might also be worth a look, since it fits the HQ-attack theme so well.

It is mainly with these two cards, namely Taxman and Priority Wreck, that people have been experimenting with in their bit-denial decks. Posts to the NR-list on this topic go all the way back to 1996, with people like Ed (Scott?) Colquhoun formulating the basic theory on June 2 and Chris "Foolkiller" Wagner publishing his "Bankruptor" stack, an early incarnation of the strategy, on June 24. But Chris's stack doesn't yet combine Priority Wreck with the awesome power of Loan from Chiba, and so we turn to the following example by Frisco Del Rosario:

    Basic HQ Attack/Bit Denial
    by Frisco Del Rosario

    10 Loan from Chiba
    7 Bodyweight Synthetic Blood
    2 Krash
    1 Taxman
    1 Shredder Uplink Protocol
    1 Self-Modifying Code
    1 Priority Wreck
    4 Weather-to-Finance Pipe
    2 Credit Subversion
    1 Synchronized Attack on HQ
    4 Security Code WORM Chip
    3 Core Command: Jettison Ice
    2 Inside Job
    2 Restrictive Net Zoning
    2 Militech MRAM Chip
    1 Gideon's Pawnshop
    1 Access to Arasaka

An old favorite is to first bankrupt the Corp with Priority Wreck and then follow up with a devastating Synchronized Attack on HQ, which then makes the Corp lose all cards in HQ as well. Frisco's stack has only one Priority Wreck; perhaps some Weather-to-Finance Pipes or Credit Subversions should be exchanged for more Wrecks. A portion of his deck borrows the ice-destruction strategy, which, alongside Inside Job, opens up the way into HQ. Once the ice on HQ is nipped in the bud with WORM Chips or jettisoned by Core Commands, Restricted Net Zoning makes sure that there won't be any more ice anytime soon.

Since a bankrupted Corp won't be able to afford any tagging antics or the trashing of Loans, a lone Access to Arasaka is perhaps enough tag protection in this case despite the vulnerable resources. Frisco's deck lacks a "winning kit", but if all goes well, the Runner will be able to run HQ at will, and with time, one agenda or the other will show up. With the Corp being broke, chances are that accessing R&D or subsidiary data forts won't be too expensive for the Runner either. The main danger is that the stack will eventually run dry when all of the Loans have been installed.

A newer, sleeker version of this strategy was successfully played by Erwin Wagner in the 2000 German Nationals Revised Constructed tournament. Erwin dispenses with underpowered cards like Weather-to-Finance Pipe and instead just plays four Priority Wreck and two Taxman:

    Erwin Wagner's HQ Attack/Bit Denial

    11 Loan from Chiba
    9 Bodyweight Synthetic Blood
    1 Bartmoss Memorial Icebreaker
    2 Taxman
    1 Vienna 22
    3 Self-Modifying Code
    4 Priority Wreck
    1 Synchronized Attack on HQ
    1 Forged Activation Orders
    2 Core Command: Jettison Ice
    3 Social Engineering
    2 Restrictive Net Zoning
    1 Code Viral Cache
    1 Precision Bribery
    1 Junkyard BBS
    2 MIT West Tier

It's rather gutsy to play with just a single Bartmoss Memorial Icebreaker (and no Joan of Arc): If Bartmoss trashes itself, only Junkyard BBS or MIT West Tier will bring it back, and this can take some time. Erwin obviously didn't expect to do much icebreaking, clearing away any ice on HQ with the phalanx of Synchronized Attack, Forged Activation Orders, Core Command, and Junkyard BBS. Social Engineering might be better than Inside Job in this stack, since the Runner will have lots of bits thanks to the Loans.

Dispensing with Shredder Uplink Protocol frees up precious MU for the virus ensemble, but leaves just one path to victory: HQ. Taxman, Code Viral Cache and Restrictive Net Zoning constitute a cruel lock, however, and therefore, this might just work out nicely. Precision Bribery is also harsh if the Corp cannot afford the four bits to trash it. With Vienna 22, Erwin includes a "winning" card, which lets him see every agenda that passes through HQ eventually.

We have looked at two examples of the bit-denial strategy now. It has become clear that there is no "definite" version of this deck; rather, I'd like to define this archetype by the presence of the Loan from Chiba/Priority Wreck combination. Decks that only use Taxman, Weather-to-Finance Pipe or Credit Subversion could be said to be "lesser" variants that use the same basic approach.

However, in addition to the variation in the choice of weapons, you will find different degrees of focus within this HQ-attack theme. All of the four bit-denial cards, but most prominently Priority Wreck (best in combination with Loan from Chiba), make a reasonable addition to about any Runner stack. Does a single Priority Wreck in a stack that uses Loans as its bitgainer constitute a bit-denial stack? That's open for debate and doesn't really matter all that much; it's just important to remember that bit-denial is a cool element to include in your stack, no matter how focused that approach turns out to be in the end.

In general, the strategy can be summed up like this:

  1. Secure continued access to HQ, either directly or with Shredder. This likely involves some degree of ice destruction.

  2. Bankrupt the Corp, which helps with 1.)

  3. See to it that the Corp wonft be able to recover from bankruptcy and that HQ remains open.

  4. Choose a winning strategy you like: Multi-access for snatching agendas or Scaldan for a Bad Publicity victory. Decking the Corp, who is probably unable to pay for scoring agendas, might be a third option, but the Runner must be careful not to exhaust his bit supply (by having played the last Loan, for example).

Much experimenting is still to be done with the bit-denial approach. To give you some food for thought, let's examine some other cards that might fit into the theme. Some of these might be worth serious consideration, others might find their way into a fun deck.

Icebreakers
The question is: Full breaker suite or not? Krash and Bartmoss save on MU so that the viri can get on board, but they are either super-expensive or unreliable. Chris Wagner's "Bankruptor" included a Dupre; a focused HQ-attack stack is a good excuse to try that breaker for once. Add other breakers to taste, but don't neglect the MU problem. Rent-I-Con might be worth a thought in multiples with a Zetatech Software Installer, but this "kit" might just be too card-intensive to fit into the stack and too action-intensive (installing and re-installing) to be worth the bits it would save. Its two-MU requirement is also a problem when you want at least two Taxman and a Vienna 22.

Other Programs
Startup Immolator has been suggested as another means of ice destruction. Other than that, it's all about virus alternatives: Butcher Boy gives a nice boost to bit income; Pox might serve as an alternative to Restrictive Net Zoning. Crumble is a nice addition to Vienna 22, destroying ice before it is even installed. Cockroach and Gremlins would fit theoretically, but their power level is so weak that you would normally want to pick their stronger colleagues over them. All in all, there are lots of cool HQ viri; it's just a question of having the MU to use them.

Resources
Mercenary Subcontract is an alternative to Crumble if you don't have the MU, but it's more expensive and a one-shot. A Wilson, Weeflerunner Apprentice, can provide cheap extra runs for virus delivery while doubling as a tag protection for all the Loans from Chiba.

Hardware
Bodyweight Data Creche provides more MU and more runs for viri - a card that could fit right in if you have the space. HQ Interface is of course a classic for HQ-attack stacks; you might consider it if there's no MU left for Vienna 22, but it is rather on the expensive side for its effect. Vintage Camaro and Nasuko Cycle are options for those Runners who feel a bit nervous about all the Loans hanging around.

Preps
Organ Donor (in combination with Bodyweight Synthetic Blood and MIT West Tier) might be the one bit engine on par with Loan from Chiba. One Donor yields a huge influx of ten bits at a time, plus you don't lose any bits at the beginning of the turn, so powering Priority Wreck runs with Donors seems to be feasible. Romp through HQ is cool with Vienna 22, probably better than Mercenary Subcontract. Blackmail is too expensive to play seven times, but since HQ is going to be wide open, a copy or two could speed the Runner along to victory if the last agendas take their time showing up.

How does bit denial fare against various Corp strategies? In general, most Corps should be in deep trouble, since nearly every Corp strategy needs bits. HQ attack/bit denial is, therefore, one of the most powerful Runner strategies, and you will encounter it regularly at tournaments. However, Chris Wagner gives us the following warning: "The one loss this deck has suffered so far was due to a Corp with lots of very cheap ice that got rezzed up early. [...] The strategy had been ruined due to my inability to gain access to HQ. Watch out for these decks!"

While Chris's stack did not include enough ice-destruction to deal with this kind of situation, even with a more refined stack, a Corp that protects HQ quickly with two pieces of ice or so could find the time to thwart the Runner with a quickly-scored agenda (Psycho Tycho?), some tag 'n' bag action, or, which is the worst case, with a Siren. Net-damage surprises like lots of Setup!s can spell doom for a careless Runner, since there is seldom space for damage prevention in a bit-denial stack. Even if the Runner survives, Erwin Wagner for one would be slowed down considerably if his single Bartmoss got snagged.

An interesting matchup is the Rent-to-Own deck. Here, the Corp effectively bankrupts itself, so that all the Priority Wrecks become almost useless (Taxman can still be a thorn in the Corp's side, though, because Rent-to-Own Corps like to keep a single bit in their pools. Restrictive Net Zonings may single-handedly keep HQ ice-free.). An early Colonel Failure or two in front of HQ do constitute a bit of a problem, but the bit-denial stack must adapt its strategy anyway when facing Rent-to-Own. With Loans waiting in hand and cards like Inside Job and Social Engineering at the ready, the Runner should mostly forget about HQ and just wait until the Corp tries to score an agenda. Even with Bizarre Encryption Scheme, a favorite of Rent-to-Own Corps, the Runner should be able to run twice and get at the agenda points.

For dessert, I'd like to present an innovative variant of the theme created by Michael Nock. Michael also played this at the German Nations 2000 and won four out of five games with it. Its specialty is the speed with which it sets up, using Classic's Boostergang Connections, a card that had been mostly overlooked and underestimated up till then.

    Bit Denial with Boostergang Connections
    by Michael Nock

    11 Loan from Chiba
    11 Bodyweight Synthetic Blood
    7 Boostergang Connections
    2 Bartmoss Memorial Icebreaker
    2 Joan of Arc
    2 Viral Pipeline
    4 Priority Wreck
    4 Code Viral Cache
    2 Valu-Pak Software Bundle

This is an example of how the stack plays:

  • Play Loan from Chiba.

  • Play Bodyweight Synthetic Blood.

  • Play Boostergang Connections and get Valu-Pak Software Bundle, Bartmoss, Joan, Viral Pipeline, another Loan, Priority Wreck, and Code Viral Cache.

  • Play Software Bundle and install Bartmoss, Joan, and Viral Pipeline.

  • Next turn, you can play another Loan and start Wrecking. With Bartmoss already installed, breaching HQ (and installing Code Viral Cache) is easy.

  • All you need now are additional Loans and the odd Priority Wreck; everything else is already there. Lock the Corp down with Socket (and eventually Pipe) counters at your leisure. Score agendas while doing this as a side effect while the Corp watches helplessly.

Michael's "winning kit" Viral Pipeline isn't HQ-specific, but you could substitute Scaldan (or Vienna 22). This stack seems to be rather powerful, and I can only recommend trying it out, as well as the HQ attack/bit denial strategy in general. It is always a solid way to go in tournaments.

The one negative thing to say about it is that the experience can be pretty frustrating for the Corp if it never gains a resonable amount of bits again for the rest of the game. That's why Byron Massey calls the strategy "important but boring", and if you crave an interesting game in casual, you should perhaps avoid it.

 

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