The latest Netrunner big box expansion, Data and Destiny, brought a brand new challenge in the form of three individual ‘mini-faction’ runners, and the community is still trying to work out how to get the best out of some pretty weird new cards. In the mysterious country known as England, three wise men saw the Data and Destiny star and decided to each undertake a journey with one of the new runners, hoping to arrive bearing useful gifts for all. In part three, Mike Didymus-True talks tentacle tactics for the Apocalypse-touting titan Apex.
“I AM BECOME DEATH. DESTROYER OF WORLDS”.
Great moments abound in Netrunner. That’s a huge reason so many of us round the world are in love with this weird little card game, of cyberpunk hackers smashing their way into corporate servers, while those same megacorps are trying to lock them out, smash their equipment and blow up their houses.
Those moments – the ones that cause your palms to sweat, or your foot tap absent-mindedly, or make the tiny hairs on your neck prick up – can be as simple as casually installing an agenda face down with no protection, hoping the runner will think it a less important card and turn their attention elsewhere. The moment that passes between you when you spend your next turn advancing and scoring it, pushing you a few points closer to victory – the look you give each other, the laughs or groans which pass across the table – is one that never loses its impact.
Apex – one of the trio of new mini-faction runners from the latest ‘big box’ expansion Data & Destiny – is a glowing example of what Fantasy Flight Games are doing well with Netrunner to keep the game sharp, and varied, and exciting. Of his two unique ID abilities, one is a deckbuilding drawback, and the other next to useless unless used in combination with very specific cards – the most obvious of which is ruled out by ability number one. But not only does Apex have some beautifully weird cards which let you spread your digital tendrils into the corporation’s servers, it also has one which the whole community was immediately talking about when it was first revealed. A card which creates a moment whenever it is played. Apocalypse.
Apex is the most fun I’ve had with any runner in the game, and Apocalypse is key to that. Sure, runners have been able to reach in and fiddle with the corp’s cards before – Parasiting ICE, using Imps to blow up nasty-looking operations, hiring “talented” individuals to help wipe clean servers. But never has the runner been able to spend a turn peering into the corp’s HQ, R&D and Archives before obliterating everything else they’ve created from the face of the earth. It’s huge. And the moment the corp realises it’s coming – the moment you decide to run an unprotected Archives for apparently no advantage, having already crept your way into the corp’s other two central servers that turn – the moment they catch your eye as you slide the card from your grip and place it on the table: it’s bliss, every time.
A hellish tattoo
Apocalypse is a game-winner. It’s undoubtedly Apex’s best card, able to flip a game on its head in a flash. But is it Apex’s most important card? If you’d asked me several weeks ago, when I first ripped the clingfilm from Data & Destiny and was greedily rifling through the cards, I would undoubtedly have said yes. But after weeks of building, playing, rebuilding, testing new strategies and card combos, there’s only one contender for the prize. Heartbeat, Apex’s console, is well named – literally the beating heart of the deck, it provides Apex with the power to push into the corp’s servers without fear.
Heartbeat’s ability to counter *any* damage sustained – even brain damage – by throwing away a facedown card for each point sustained gives Apex an unprecedented level of damage protection within the game. With limited options for raising large amounts of cash, thanks to just a single in-faction money card and a need for influence to be spent elsewhere, Heartbeat lets you comfortably shrug off the threat of a surprise SEA Source – double Scorched Earth combo, especially with a Hunting Grounds installed to provide an immediate three-card boost to your facedown installs. (For some reason this always reminds me of setting off a spice bloom in Dune 2). With no breaker installed, you can walk through an Ichi 1.0 or 2.0 with just the loss of a single facedown card and picking up a tag. It lets you amble through a Janus 1.0 – one of the most dangerous cards in the game – unscathed by chucking away a few facedowns. WIth enough cards down, it’ll even let you multiaccess against net-damage heavy Jinteki decks with little or no problem. It’s monstrous.
Heartbeat is your MVP, and that means playing three copies and mulliganing for it, and playing safe and drawing to get it as soon as possible for the early game if it doesn’t hit your opening hand. You’ll want to be using Apex’s ability to facedown install almost every turn at first to build up six or seven cards quickly, to power Heartbeat and your breaker. That can leave you fairly exposed to a surprise tag and scorch, so dropping Heartbeat down quickly is your first key move.
Always hungry, never full
As if Heartbeat wasn’t already doing enough for you, it also provides an extra point of memory – essential, as your in-faction breaker takes up a whopping four. Let’s talk Endless Hunger – a strength 11 behemoth of an icebreaker which lets you chuck away an installed card to break an ‘End the run’ subroutine. It’s potty, and like Apocalypse is an electric addition to Netrunner which turns a large segment of the game fully on its head – breaking through ICE.
Endless hunger means regular ETR ICE becomes porous as hell – it’s as easy for Apex to get through a Lotus Field as through an Ice Wall, and that’s as simple as throwing away a single installed card. Toss in the other ability from that installed Hunting Grounds mentioned earlier – ignoring a single ‘when encountered’ ability on a piece of ICE each turn, and you’re chucking away a single card to get through a Tollbooth, no questions asked. All you need to do is keep those facedown installs coming – between this and Heartbeat, you can easily end up falling short if you’re not topping them back up in rapid fashion.
Upshot of trashing all those facedowns? Your in-faction economy card Wasteland, which gets you a credit each turn the first time you trash a card. That’s “each turn”, mind, so there’s also potential credits to be had trashing Hunting Grounds for more facedowns while the corp’s having their go.
Endless Hunger is amazing, but it’s also your only in-faction icebreaker, and as my initial attempt at deckbuilding for Apex sadly proved, it needs support if you’re going to be busting through into those corporation servers. This seems like a good time to actually show you what I’m currently running, so:
While that’s sinking in, let’s talk problem ICE. You see, while Endless Hunger sees you breeze past plenty of ordinarily imposing stopping ICE, and Heartbeat lets you brush off net and brain damage from a host of others, there are some intrusion countermeasures which fit into neither group that can cause real problems. The worst part is, some of them are very common indeed. Curse the popularity of HB:ETF! Let’s looks at the nastiest culprits.
Sends HB into a crazy overdrive of ICE drawing and installation, potentially clogging up your ability to Apocalypse and invariably leading to you bumping into other horror ICE such as:
The nastiest of the lot – two of these on a remote and it’s impenetrable, sticking it on a central kills any chance of Apocalypsing.
Another Apocalypse killer with a non-Endless Hunger-able ‘End the run’ to boot, Apex’s lack of cash makes beating those traces a big problem.
Another big tracer, this one invariably seeing either Heartbeat wiped off the table so you can be scorched, or Endless Hunger disappeared ahead of a piece of ‘End the run’ ICE to lock you out of a server.
More tricky traces – this one dumps a pile of credits into the corp’s grubby hand to make sure you’ll struggle to beat the second ‘End the run’ trace.
Traces again – the three net damage will wipe out your facedowns in short order if you’re not careful, while the second means you can kiss goodbye to an Endless Hunger ahead of more ‘End the run’ ICE.
Another non-traditional ‘End the run’ tracer, this one giving the added embarrassment of being kept out by strength zero ICE.
Susanoo No Mikoto
Way less common, but an impenetrable barrier to everything except a trip to Archives.
Don’t see a lot of this, but parked in front of an ‘End the run’ ICE and you can kiss goodbye to getting in that server.
An ‘End the run’ to break! Sadly, it also sees the corp grab a couple of quid and then trash your breaker and Medium as you saunter on by.
The problem with dealing with the above ICE is that they cover sentry, code gate and barrier and have a range of strengths – some of them fairly hefty. Apex’s 25 influence seems like a lot until you realise you need to import economy, card draw and multiaccess cards, so fitting in an entire ‘regular’ breaker suite and the requisite memory just wasn’t going to wash. No, a single, multipurpose AI breaker seemed to be the only way to cover such a range of problems, and I think I’ve managed to find it in Knight, supported by E3 Feedback Implants.
This duo gets through almost everything in the above list for either 2 or 3 credits (Archer by using Endless Hunger and E3 for the other subs), and just four credits to install the pair is eminently affordable. The notable exception is Turing. I’ve dabbled with splashing a breaker specifically to handle it, but ultimately I’ve found that with the other problem ICE holes plugged, it’s actually not an insurmountable issue.
One Turing on a remote means you can, if needed, click through to snag an agenda, although any server with Ash, Caprice or Red Herrings can put paid to that. Two on a remote locks you out, but means there’s only one left in the deck to protect a central – and that’ll only be strength two, well within reasonable parasite range and also easy to Prey. As such, you’re looking good for an Apocalypse to blow the whole remote (and everything else installed) into the bin, hopefully with an agenda to boot. If they’re all on centrals – well, same applies with Parasite and Prey, with the bonus that the remotes should be easier to bust into.
Destroyer of Worlds
I’ve already mentioned Parasite – thematically it seems right to have Apex slowly strangling corp ICE, but it’s super handy to boot. Resistor is an excellent target, but also those pesky Popup Windows to stop them draining your fairly small credit supply. Essential for centrally installed Turings, against Jinteki it can disappear those annoying Pups, and versus Weyland (probably Apex’s best match-up because of all the ‘End the run’ barriers) it’s handy for sniping an Ice Wall so you don’t need to chuck away a card breaking it each turn. Prey, Apex’s in-house ICE killer, doubles down on these targets, but can also be used against bigger problem ICE in an emergency (albeit losing those all-important facedown installs).
I’m also running a single copy of Kraken – mainly because I ran out of influence, but another good way to get rid of those pesky Turings on remotes, or any of the other problem ICE pre-getting Knight out.
E3, as well as being great support for Endless Hunger and Knight, is supremely handy against HB decks to help support clicking through ICE like Victor, the Ichis or Heimdalls. I’d almost go so far to say it’s worth mulliganing for over Heartbeat as the tag/Scorch threat is so greatly reduced, but it’s still worth getting the console up relatively early as brain damage protection.
I went with Medium as the multiaccess of choice, as Apex generally has a (relatively) easy time getting into the servers it wants to early in the game. If the corp goes all in trying to keep you out of R&D once this is down, then they’re likely not dropping as much rezzable ICE elsewhere, meaning you should be able to snipe agendas from HQ or a remote. You’re mulliganing for Heartbeat of course, but having an early Medium can score you some quick agendas if you can also find a copy of Endless Hunger fast. Not seeing Medium until mid-game is fine, though, as you can follow up an Apocalypse with one to start getting a pile of card accesses.
Knight, Medium and Parasite all take memory of course, but it’s rare you’ll have them all out at once. You’ve got room for one and Endless Hunger with the extra memory from Heartbeat, with the Akamatsu Mem Chip and Q-Coherence Chips handling situations where you need a boost. The Q’s obviously get trashed along with a Parasite (or Knight if the corp trashes the ICE it’s on), which isn’t a major issue as at that point you no longer need the memory – but I’ve found it helpful having an emergency Akamatsu in there in the rare situations you need slightly more stability.
Card draw was always going to be an issue, and I’ve struggled to find a brilliant solution in the current card set (more on this later, if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t mind future card spoilers). A single Quality Time has been occasionally handy for refreshing my grip, but with a Day Job to boost the credit pool and a Levy AR Access to recur everything late game, there’s just not the influence. Levy also acts as a hand refresher when you play it, of course, so there’s potentially up to five card draw there.
The deck gets rounded out with three Dirty Laundries and three Sure Gambles for economy, and three Infiltrations for exposing the contents of remotes or for a quick cred boost. There’s also a Kraken in there to melt ICE off of particularly annoying servers
Into the Wasteland
Just a few thoughts here on cards I’ve seen in other Apex decks, which I’ve decided not to plump for in this build. Heartbeat’s protection means I’m not too fussed about Chop Bot for anti-tag tech, and while some card draw would be nice and the synergy is there with Apex’s ability, my experience is that you need to save your facedowns for powering Heartbeat and Endless Hunger. The same goes for excellent AI breaker Faust, and against the cards you really need it to be dealing with – Turing, Architect, Viper – it’s still three or four cards to get past each. Without more imported card draw, it’s a no go for this deck.
One or two Clone Chips were sitting in this deck at various points, as super-handy ways of recurring a dead Parasite, Medium, Knight or even an Endless Hunger. Something always had to go to make the influence fit, though. I also dabbled with Notoriety in my early builds, which was proving pretty successful at helping snatch the odd single point needed to win a game, either early on or after an Apocalypse. Its low influence helped its inclusion, but I think as people inevitably get more comfortable playing against Apex and protecting against the inevitable Apocalypses it’ll get harder and harder to land.
This is definitely the best, most consistent Apex deck I’ve made to date, but I’ve tried all sorts of other builds – full ICE destruction with Datasuckers, Parasite recursion and Krakens. Stealth! Because I love the idea of Apex sneaking around the corp’s servers trying to blow them up. But even without the stealth barrier breaker because of Endless Hunger’s excellent ability, I don’t think there’s the influence for the rig and other utility cards you’ll need to consistently win.
Apex’s inability to use non-virtual resources means there’s no room for some intensely popular cards, which would have been hugely helpful for things like income and card draw. But them’s the breaks! I’ve had an amazing time wrapping my brain around the deckbuilding constraints Apex throws up, and I genuinely believe it’s only a couple of consistency-building utility cards away from being a pretty powerful ID.
My overriding sense from two months testing Apex is that not only are many people not playing the ID, but that plenty are still being taken by surprise by the way it plays. Sure, almost everyone’s wise to the threat of Apocalypse, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you can stop it. And the ICE Apex struggles with is fairly well know and currently popular, meaning that I suspect many have given the ID a try and quickly moved on as it fails to impress. Anyone who’s been tempted by the tentacled one, even if it hasn’t worked out after a couple of plays, I beg you – give it another try. Build. Tinker. Delve deep into how your deck needs to be piloted, and about what tricks you can pull against different matchups. Apex will certainly be my tournament buddy for the start of 2016 – and even if it’s not champion material, it’s going to be a hell of a lot of fun.
The Universe of Tomorrow
WARNING – SPOILERS AHOY FOR THE MUMBAD CYCLE. Not all of the new cards we’re getting have been revealed yet, but of those that have there are certainly a couple of choice morsels for Apex to get its teeth into. I’ll leave a nice little gap here so you don’t see anything you don’t want to – thanks for reading, and hopefully you’ve been persuaded to give Apex a run out in your local meta.Good luck Netrunning!
Right, now they’re gone, let’s have a lightning look at potential new cards which can help out our squid-like friend.
The one several people have highlighted already is Turning Wheel, and I absolutely agree – you can usually get relatively easy accesses with Apex, so getting this out early and charging it up will make an excellent foil for Medium, and generally make runs more efficient. And it’s cheap! AND it’s a virtual resource – praise be!
I’m also incredibly excited about Sports Hopper, although don’t get me started on how Apex is supposed to be driving the thing. FINALLY, some zero-influence card draw (and a bit of link to boot). This is a three-of auto-include for Apex when it hits as far as I’m concerned, and I’m super ready to cram it in my deck.
Brahman also caught my eye – this could be the solution to architect, it’s all right for Viper, great against Resistor before you’ve picked up more than three tags, but alas, still pricey to get through Turing. At four cost, three influence and two memory, though, I think I’ll likely be sticking with my Knights for now.
Given Apex’s brutish resistance to flatlines, The Black File looks amazing – four influence is a big whack though. Basically this is three extra turns against fast advance to grab those last agenda points, so maybe a one-of include isn’t totally out of the question.
That’s actually it – thanks so much for reading! Hopefully this has persuaded you to sleeve up an Apex deck and start harassing your local meta. Feel free to harass me too with your thoughts – I’m [email protected], @BoardingKennel_ on Twitter, and MouseofKnives on Jinteki.net. See you around!