New Ban List Format and Changes

As you will have read in this article, the MWL is going through a substantial shakeup, with a new name, a new format, and several exciting changes in its contents!

Format changes

Name and version number

We are all fond of the “MWL” moniker, introduced by Damon Stone as the NAPD Most Wanted List all the way back on 31 December 2015 (a New Year’s Eve that none of us who heard the news while partying with friends will ever forget!). But we feel that the name is incomprehensible for newer players going to their first tournament and searching the NISEI website trying to find out what cards are legal to use. 

This is not intended as a break from the Android setting. References to in-fiction people or organisations are fun and cool, but they belong on cards and in fiction inserts accompanying new packs. When they’re used in the titles of Organised Play documents, they just create confusion. After all, imagine if the NISEI Comprehensive Rules document were written entirely in first-person narration by Ash 2X3ZB9CY!

Likewise, we’ve found that the current format of the version numbers was hard to keep track of, even for those of us coming up with them! We moved to the 3.x version numbers when NISEI took over the game, but with the change to a ban list-only format, we feel it’s time for another clean break and a move to a more immediately comprehensible version number. The YY.MM datemark will make it easy to see how recent the list you’re looking at is, and will allow people coming back to the game after a long break to figure out which the current list is very easily. The lack of a Restricted list will also help shake up the Standard metagame.

Banlist-only format

While the Restricted list provided us with a more granular tool with which to limit the ubiquity of problematic cards and break up exploitative combos, it was a barrier to entry for players new to the tournament scene. Whenever there was a new MWL update in the past, there would always be questions about how exactly the Restricted list worked, with the most common misapprehension being that it was a “limit one per deck” list. During the pandemic, there’s been an unprecedented number of people breaking out the old core sets they bought in 2013 and never got round to playing, then finding out about and deciding to give it a go. With in-person game nights and tournaments hopefully resuming in the next few months, we want to make it easy for these people to build Standard-legal decks and join the established community. Having only a Ban List to worry about when deckbuilding as a newer player not only removes the barrier of having to understand how the Restricted list works, but also removes the tactical element of choosing the optimal card to use for your restricted slot, a skill that requires both deckbuilding and metagame knowledge.

Our process

Before we go into more specific card details, we want to mention some of the reasons this list has taken as long as it has.

We entered this process with a desire to do more than merely tinker with the MWL. Some in the community felt that incremental “whack-a-mole” updates, in which we simply nerfed the strongest decks, had left the game feeling depowered and too slow. We felt, with the Lunar Cycle and Creation and Control having rotated, the time was right to reassess the MWL in full, and to that end we started testing with a minimal ban list, and an ambition to be able to leave some powerful key cards unbanned. 

One card in particular that occupied a lot of committee and tester time was Sensie Actors Union. We tested it unbanned through multiple iterations. Some of us hoped that bringing it back would enable horizontal tempo decks to be on par with the powerful glacier decks, challenging Runners to handle both archetypes and injecting more variety and excitement into the game. 

Numerous iterations of the new banlist format were attempted; some that brought back key powerful Runner cards in order to counterbalance Sensie Actors Union, and some that did not. We never found a meta that was at all up to a standard that we felt was worthy of release, and while we continued to experiment, this endeavour was ultimately not successful.

We then turned to the meta as it stood. Where usually there would be many in-person Store Championships from which to take our data, the reduction in tournaments due to COVID-19 meant that we had to use our testers to help identify problems in our current meta. 

It was not the intention of the committee to leave a banlist unchanged for as long as we have, and we certainly do not expect to do so again.

Content changes

With the removal of a Restricted list, the list of changes from 3.4b is too large to list in this article. However, you can see them in detail in this document, created by Ben/Solemnstorm from our playtesting team. Below, please find explanations for the most notable newly banned, unbanned, and unrestricted cards. Please see here for the full Ban List. 

All “current” events banned

Since their release, currents have suffered from a core problem: (lack of) interactivity. The only reliable ways to interact with an opposing current immediately are:

  1. play your own current, or,
  2. if you’re the Corp, score an agenda. 

As a result, the power level of currents has a sharp inflection point. As their power level rises, they go from unnecessary to mandatory in competitive decks very quickly. Currents fall into distinct categories:

  1. Played casually or as counter-currents: Net Celebrity, etc. 
  2. Powerful effects that change how the players interact: Enhanced Login Protocol, Hacktivist Meeting, Paywall Implementation, etc. 
  3. No counterplay: “Clones Are Not People,” “Freedom Through Equality,” Interdiction, etc. 
  4. Answer or lose: Employee Strike, Scarcity of Resources, Death and Taxes, etc. 

The effects in the second category, while healthy and suitable for the game if they were printed on other card types, still become too strong if the opposing player is unlucky enough to not draw their own current (or worse, not be playing one), or unable to manage a timely steal or score to clear it. If the cards in the other three categories are, on balance, net negative additions to the game, then the cards in the second category alone are insufficient to justify preserving such an uninteractive card type and continuing to devote design and development resources to it. 

Some of these problems are addressed by the Lockdown subtype, which was introduced in Uprising and is notably only available on Corp cards with trash costs. 

We considered banning some of the most complained-about currents, such as Scarcity of Resources and Corporate “Grant”, in previous updates. However, we quickly found that once these top-tier currents were gone, the second-tier currents became even more oppressive, because there were even fewer counter-currents in the meta to clear them with! As such, we’ve come to the conclusion that a blanket ban was the only way to deal with the mechanic. 

It’s very unfortunate that this radically hits both New Angeles Sol and News Hound as viable cards. Them being built so heavily around the mechanic made that inevitable unless currents were retained in some way, which was something we did not want to do. We hope that the concept of ice and identities that interact with persistent events in some other way might be explored in a future NISEI set.

Zer0 unbanned, Clan Vengeance banned

Zer0 is a fun, exciting card that was banned reluctantly. In concert with the rest of this banlist, we expect Zer0 to enable interactive “regular” Anarch builds to be playable competitively once more. Clan Vengeance, on the other hand, doesn’t see play outside of extremely uninteractive builds. It now has to take the fall to prevent the Zer0/Clan Vengeance combo, which we feel is too strong.

DDoS banned

Apocalypse decks have become the only competitively viable Anarch builds, in large part due to the extreme value provided by DDoS. Whether it’s enabling an Amped Up Wanton Destruction play, or “just” providing massive value on the Apocalypse turn, it’s clear that other Anarch builds will remain unexplored as long as DDoS is available. This ban maintains the power of Apocalypse decks against the types of Corps they’re meant to counter (namely, horizontal decks), while making it tougher for them to also deal with glacier Corps. It also ensures that other Anarch deck types will be seen as equally viable, especially in conjunction with the Zer0 unban.

Film Critic banned

Film Critic has always been a problematic card. Its ability to nullify a huge swathe of Corp win conditions is unparalleled. It can blank “on encounter” text on agendas (such as The Future Perfect or Quantum Predictive Model), additional costs to steal (eg. Obokata Protocol), and other cards with the “if the Runner stole an agenda” prerequisite (such as Punitive Counterstrike). As a restricted card, we could make sure that it was not absolutely everywhere, but was available as a safety valve in case Corp strategies revolving around defensive agendas became too powerful. But with the Restricted list gone, and Film Critic being 1 cost, 1 influence, and tutorable with Hostage, leaving it free would enable it to go into every single Runner deck and create massive side-balance problems.

We have therefore opted to ban it, in part because the less powerful Whistleblower exists as a hedge against such Corp strategies. We also feel Runners have received a lot of new toys in this release, so banning Film Critic will be a definitive boost to Corps, hopefully with exciting results. 

Azmari EdTech banned

Azmari presents us with a number of balance challenges, having proved to be extremely powerful even without Scarcity of Resources in testing. The power level of the ID is driven by the core synergy between the economic disparity it seeks to gain and the low agenda density requirement giving it time to capitalize on the credit ability. This makes it extremely flexible, and therefore an automatic choice for anyone building an NBN deck out of an ID other than Controlling the Message. In this Standard environment, we have seen:

Finding a single ban to rein in these decks, or even two or three, proved impossible. Several other cards that are key to the six-agenda Azmari deck were considered for banning, but each of them presented problems. We therefore decided that removing the huge economy boost of the ID itself and forcing players to run the various archetypes normally played in Azmari out of other IDs would be the most even-handed way to reduce their dominance. We don’t ban IDs without substantial consideration and debate, and we’ll be keeping an eye on this one following new card releases to ensure that vertical NBN strategies remain viable. 

Breached Dome/Kakugo/Shipment from Tennin banned

Many combinations of bans were tested to curb the so-called “Potatoes PE” deck that is arguably the best Corp in Standard. Ultimately, all three of the above were deemed necessary, but we are very much aware of the splash damage to other Jinteki archetypes, and to spiky Pālanā glacier decks in particular. We’ll be monitoring Personal Evolution builds, with eyes on Sting! and House of Knives in particular, and may reverse or substitute some of these bans in the future if it turns out the entire faction is disproportionately affected by them. Banning Personal Evolution itself was also considered, but at that point it was too late in the process to consider all the implications, so we kept our focus on depowering the “grinder” deck specifically.

Cayambe Grid banned

The first (and so far only) NISEI card to be banned, this is a very targeted ban intended to curb an extremely negative player experience deck that appeared in testing. 

Gagarin Deep Space banned

As mentioned above, ID bans come only after substantial deliberation, and require sustained advocacy from testers and committee members to pass. Potent Gagarin decks were tested extensively through many revisions of the testing banlist. They proved to be overpowered and extremely frustrating to play against in every incarnation, almost unaffected by us banning nearly half a dozen cards over the course of testing in an attempt to curb them. 

Whampoa Reclamation banned

The one thing which all the grindy, negative player experience decks we found in testing had in common was using Whampoa Reclamation to bury agendas safely out of the Runner’s reach. While we believe we have weakened those decks with our targeted bans, Whampoa is clearly a card that’s just waiting for the next such deck to exploit it, and we feel it’s healthy for it to remain out of the card pool.

Gang Sign banned

Gang Sign was tested unbanned, but it led to a lot of unsatisfying games in testing, including a particularly uninteractive mill deck which the entire Corp meta was forced to shift around. We decided a ban was the best way to deal with this card.

Faust unbanned

The cardpool has changed significantly since Faust was last legal. Wyldside has rotated, ice is significantly more powerful, and, most importantly, Levy AR Lab Access has rotated. The Faustian bargain is substantially less appealing now than it was at its most potent. 

Hyperdriver unbanned, Encore banned 

While Hyperdriver may have been banned because of its use in “Dyper” or “Cold Ones”-style combo decks, it used to also see play in more “regular” Shaper builds to help accelerate setup time. With several other key combo pieces such as False Echo having rotated, and others like DDoS banned, we decided that unbanning Hyperdriver would help lift Shaper from its current place as the least competitive Runner faction.

Needless to say, we reckoned without the combolords, who quickly discovered a Dyper-style deck in testing. Encore is therefore a targeted ban to prevent Hyperdriver from being abused in these sorts of decks. While Encore is a flavourful card, it has only seen play in combo decks, whereas Hyperdriver has plenty of “fair” uses in regular Shaper decks.

Tapwrm unbanned

Tapwrm was at its most potent when combined with Sacrificial Construct, forcing the Corp to spend multiple turns purging, particularly (but not exclusively) in decks that also ran Clone Chip. Today, Simulchip is the only comparable pure recursion tool available, and its additional cost clause makes it less good at recurring Tapwrm. Moreover, Dummy Box cannot be used to save Tapwrm from being trashed in the way Sacrificial Construct could, due to its “trashed by the Corp” clause.

Aesop’s Pawnshop unrestricted

Aesop’s Pawnshop is a powerful card, economically, but was not found in testing to require a full ban. Unrestriction will allow Shapers to include it alongside other formerly restricted cards, making them far more competitive than they are in current Standard.

Inversificator and Engolo unrestricted

These are powerful breakers with powerful abilities, but they are expensive. In testing we found them to not need any further restrictions, but we will keep monitoring both to see whether Engolo’s “painting” ability pushes Inversificator over the top.

Mumba Temple unrestricted

This is a powerful enabler for asset decks, which are weakened relative to today’s Standard due to the Gagarin ban and the increased power level of Runners generally (even accounting for the DDoS ban). We still want asset-based decks to be present in the meta, and they need to be able to operate at and recover from low credit totals, which is where Mumba Temple shines. 

Bio-Ethics Association and Obokata Protocol unrestricted

Without Gagarin to defend it, Bio-Ethics is likely most powerful out of Replicating Perfection or Personal Evolution. With the “Potatoes” bans discussed above, both Bio-Ethics and Obokata are less egregious. The threat of being able to run Bio-Ethics will go some way towards mitigating the loss of Kakugo and Breached Dome in decks that try to score Obokata.

Labor Rights unrestricted

Labor Rights sat quite well on the Restricted list but was found to be too weak a card to justify a full ban. Additionally, with the recent rotation of a large number of Runner recursion effects (including Levy AR Lab Access and Same Old Thing), we’ve found it to be helpful in preventing lockout scenarios and providing Runners with a little more longevity.

We’re eager to hear your thoughts on the changes to the NISEI Ban List. Let us know what you think on Facebook and Twitter!