Reimagining the Core Set

Editor’s note, May 2020: This article was initially part of Replicating Perfection – System Core 2019. It has been split into its own post here for clarity and readability.

Hi beautiful people – Lead Developer David Withington (a.k.a. divadus) here. Just wanted to interject with a few words regarding the process of balancing and shaping System Core 2019.

Even though reimagining the Core Set did not involve designing any exciting new NISEI cards (though those are certainly in the pipeline, don’t you worry), this was still a fairly mammoth undertaking. As a Core replacement, System Core 2019 is intended both as an introductory/entry-level set for players looking to learn and familiarize themselves with the fundamentals of Netrunner, as well as a bridge for rotation within the NISEI Standard constructed format.

As such, the two formats that I tasked testers with in playtesting System Core 2019 were “Core Experience” and “Core in Standard”. “Core Experience” involved building decks from a single set of System Core 2019, and is intended to be a more casual/entry-level experience where the MWL does not apply. “Core in Standard”, meanwhile, is as it sounds – determining the impact on the competitive scene of the various changes to the card pool brought about with System Core 2019, either via rotation or the intentional reintroduction of a few dinosaurs. Lead Designer Greg Tongue already relayed the rationale behind various considerations made for “Core Experience” in his recent article, but I thought it would be appropriate for me to speak on a few of the more significant changes and their effect on Standard play.

R&D Interface replaces Indexing?!

Out of all of the changes introduced in System Core 2019, this is almost certainly going to have the most immediate impact. Indexing has effectively defined multiaccess within the competitive scene for some time now and is a card that Corps always have to be prepared for in some fashion. Despite its potency, Indexing can often provide quite nuanced lines of play around it regarding exactly how to rearrange cards. For instance, what if the Runner finds more than one agenda and only has enough money to steal one that turn? What if the Runner doesn’t find an agenda and therefore must arrange the top five cards in the least beneficial way for the Corp? And so on.

By contrast, R&D Interface could create oppressive “R&D lock” situations where the Runner is able to repeatedly run R&D for multiple cards every turn, thus letting them see every card (and thus agenda) before the Corp can. In light of all of this, why remove an interesting, meta-defining card like Indexing and replace it with the more vanilla (and potentially dangerous) R&D Interface?

Purely from a power level standpoint, most competitive players would argue that Indexing is the stronger of the two multiaccess cards. Generally speaking, replacing Indexing with RDI is a Runner side nerf, particularly in a Runner’s ability to massively swing games in their favour early on. Additionally, unlike Indexing, R&D Interface is a directly telegraphed threat card – it must be installed first, which may well give the Corp the opportunity to respond in kind by further defending R&D. Furthermore, four credits to install is not insubstantial – the Runner will need to have a reasonable economy situation in order to weather the tempo hit without ceding advantage to the Corp, especially if they are looking to then make use of their newly-improved R&D pressure. But the rationale behind choosing R&D Interface over Indexing extends beyond simply reducing Runner power.

Concerns about “R&D lock” typically stem from earlier experiences of Netrunner in a world where this was a reliable strategy on the Runner side. Ice, however, have been upgraded considerably since then, and making successful runs on R&D turn after turn is a difficult feat against any deck with even moderate glacial leanings. If the Runner has two or more R&D Interfaces installed and the sustainable economy and breaker suite required to repeatedly run through R&D–which ought to be heavily fortified by the time the Runner has managed to assemble all of the above–every turn, the Corp will most likely also have assembled an impressive board state and have a few points in their score area, if not already be at match point. This panned out consistently in testing, with few games ever reaching this point of “Runner inevitability” before either side had already won.

There is very much something of a paradigm shift in the transition from Indexing to R&D Interface, with increased emphasis on improving the general value of runs and Runner board state. Alongside a few of the other changes in System Core 2019, such as the removal of Deep Data Mining, this is a conscious decision intended to sacrifice a bit of the Runner’s early potency for longer-term pressure application, thus reducing the impact of bad RNG in openings somewhat. While there is definitely a tradeoff with the game being less contingent on a few pivotal plays and more on consistent waves of intensity, I’m excited to see how things shake out with games lasting just a little longer and perhaps being a little more well-rounded.


Once the gold standard of fracters, Corroder, while still rock-solid, is no longer the barrier-demolisher it once was. A fair number of barriers now, both in the medium-cost range (IP Block, Envelope, Masvingo, the returning Eli 1.0) as well as the big brutes (Chiyashi, Orion, Data Ward), actually tax Corroder fairly effectively.

However, more than the fact that Corroder’s power level is simply not a concern, there is actually a major reason to revive Corroder: taking MWL action against Paperclip is simply not a reasonable consideration unless there is a generically good Anarch fracter (of a lower power level) to replace it. Enter Corroder. And on a related note…

Eli 1.0

Another significant return to the scene is the ever-taxing Eli 1.0. Long a staple of competitive play, Eli 1.0 is noteworthy for having an impressive rez-to-taxation value, frequently taxing common fracters for 3credit–5credit. Cerberus “Lady” H1 does exist as a highly efficient (albeit impermanent) answer to Eli 1.0, but as an exception that proves the rule. Much of the reservation surrounding Eli 1.0, however, is on account of it costing only one pip of influence – and consequently being extremely easy to slot in any faction. Furthermore, with Paperclip being newly restricted, Eli 1.0 is even stronger against the unrestricted fracter field. So, what gives – why revive what could simply become another tournament staple?

Despite well and truly sounding like a broken record at this point, I feel compelled yet again to emphasize that ice really is substantially more taxing than it used to be. Unlike during its heyday, Eli 1.0 is not drastically more taxing for its cost than its current barrier contemporaries. IP Block, the closest comparison (also one influence), is similarly taxing for 1credit less and is actually considerably more taxing if the Runner is on Aumakua (certainly not a rare sight within the competitive scene), Atman or Brahman. Furthermore, unlike IP Block and a number of other taxing ice that see play in top-tier decks, Eli 1.0 has zero facecheck value.

There is also the fear of “critical mass” being reached – that is to say, why not both? Decks can now run six or more highly taxing and efficient barriers for as as little as three influence (depending on the faction). The obvious downside, of course, is that doing so increases the number of ice in your deck that can be broken by a single icebreaker. Worse still is the fact that playing three copies of both Eli 1.0 and IP Block increases the number of ice in your deck that do not require any icebreaker to pass; in typical bioroid fashion, Eli 1.0 can be clicked through. While spending two clicks to break a 3credit-to-rez ice is typically a very poor exchange, when you have a Runner going in for a Legwork, besieging a remote, or going for repeated pokes into R&D with an R&D Interface installed, Eli 1.0’s clickable nature is a very relevant downside that can be exploited.

All the same, Eli 1.0 remains an excellent piece of ice that will be readily welcomed by a number of Corps (slightly favouring Haas-Bioroid), with its own porosity and the existence of mid-range targeted fracters in the vein of Cerberus “Lady” H1 keeping it in check.

Jinteki: Replicating Perfection

Jinteki: Replicating Perfection is the only ID that was actively resurrected in System Core 2019, accompanied by its partner-in-crime, Sundew. Similar to R&D Interface’s return, I expect that there will be some degree of consternation about Replicating Perfection coming back, in light of it being something of a glacial powerhouse during the game’s early days and also fostering some unpleasant horizontal strategies alongside Bio-Ethics Association. However, the game has changed substantially since then.

Firstly, as a glacial ID, the beastly Replicating Perfection of yore was backed up by the now-absent Caprice Nisei, a centerpiece of pre-rotation glacier. Modern glacial Replicating Perfection decks would have considerable competition in faction with Mti Mwekundu: Life Improved, Pālanā Foods: Sustainable Growth, and even AgInfusion: New Miracles for a New World, and is thus very unlikely to be singularly dominant as the faction ID of choice. And as a horizontal ID, the most-maligned “prison” archetypes of Replicating Perfection are no longer nearly as competitive as in the past – due to various MWL additions and the rotation of Shock! While Replicating Perfection provides an additional tax in terms of checking remote servers, the value of its taxation is contingent on having rezzable ice protecting all three centrals – which of course requires money and, well, ice. Furthermore, Replicating Perfection is of course vulnerable to cards and strategies that punish horizontal play, the tools for which (Bankroll, Paricia, Hijacked Router, etc.) exist across all three major Runner factions. Finally, like the aforementioned Jinteki identities, Replicating Perfection is also extremely vulnerable to Employee Strike.

I am reasonably confident that in the current card pool, Replicating Perfection – even with Sundew – is kept in check by a number of factors. While the argument that the ID has the potential to limit the design space/upper power level of certain archetype-pushing cards can be made, the same could be said of basically every ID that has seen competitive play – and in the case of those that lend themselves toward horizontal strategies, rest assured that development is ever vigilant to prevent another Mumbad era.

Where’s Magnum Opus?

Yeah, it’s gone. I am aware that various players have exceedingly fond memories of Magnum Opus, especially within a Core or limited format environment. For many, Magnum Opus is the archetypal Shaper card – the perfect economy engine unto itself, doubling the efficiency of the basic click-for-credit action, while arguably being balanced by its large install cost and steep memory requirement. But it is precisely its “perfection” that makes Magnum Opus problematic.

One of the things that makes Netrunner such a fantastic game is the beautiful, dynamic dance of economy management that underlies virtually every Runner-Corp interaction. Magnum Opus reduces this intricate back-and-forth to a highly linear, repetitive formula; its entire purpose is to “solve” the Runner’s economy, with all the negative connotations of one-dimensional gameplay that this entails. Furthermore, given the various ways to tutor programs, building a deck which can fairly reliably get out a Magnum Opus on turn 1 is not difficult – Kabonesa Wu can guarantee it, in fact. As iconic as it is, Magnum Opus is not a card I believe promotes healthy or interactive gameplay.

Alternative Economy Engines

All the same, I can sympathize with the desire to have long-term, enduring economy engines, so as to ensure that all Runners have the ability to contest glacial strategies. Hence, the decision to have two in System Core 2019Professional Contacts for Shaper, and Kati Jones for all factions. Both of these cards are substantially more compelling to me than Magnum Opus for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, being connection resources, Kati Jones and Professional Contacts are highly vulnerable to both tagging and connection-targeting tools on the Corp side – tools which are very much relevant both within the Core Experience and competitive play. Professional Contacts, specifically, is quite similar to Magnum Opus in many ways, effectively providing an additional credit gain to the basic draw action instead of the basic click-for-credit action. Unlike Magnum Opus though, Professional Contacts is not a card that you can repeatedly click and remote-camp once you have an assembled rig – the maximum hand size mechanic inherently limits the value of mashing the Professional Contacts button and encourages the Runner to continually play cards from their hand.

The restored Kati Jones, by contrast, is technically an infinite economy engine like Magnum Opus. However, unlike either Magnum Opus or Professional Contacts, Kati has the unique stipulation that she can only be used once per turn. This significantly limits the Runner’s ability to “just money up”, as the remaining clicks have to be spent on other actions. Alongside this once-per-turn limitation comes the excellent “banking” mechanic: the longer you wait to cash in, the larger the payoff, but the more vulnerable you are to the Corp prematurely ending the party by paying Kati off or throwing a bus at her.

There are obviously other card inclusions and removals that merit their own discussion, but a number of them concern future rotation plans. For more on that, check out our article on System Core 2019 and rotation!