Hello, and welcome to another Hack the Planet. Today I’ll be looking at the new-found value of link in the current environment.
For those of you who have not read the rules for this game, sometimes the Corp player looks to find information on the Runner such that they can nuke that pesky Runner from orbit. This is accomplished through the trace mechanic, wherein the Corp and Runner spend money to either accomplish or prevent something the Corp wants to do, be it tagging the Runner (learning about them), trashing some of their toys, or simply stopping the run. Both players have a starting value in this trace, the Corp’s being the trace strength while the Runner’s is the titular link, which is based on cards the Runner has in play.
So, why am I talking about the new-found value of link? Short answer: Scorched Earth. Longer answer: as with most card games, the environment of Android: Netrunner is constantly evolving as new strategies and counter strategies are formed and new cards are released. At this specific time in the tournament environment the rules are such that the Corp decks are incentivized to kill the Runner. Further, the easiest way to kill the Runner is to tag them. The easiest way to get tags on the Runner is to use traces. In this way, one of the meta choices available to Runners now is to use link to keep the Corp from succeeding in their traces since those lead inexorably into death. Right now the primary meta choice we’ve seen has been Plascrete Carapace since it blocks the damage in, but I think that an increase in link should be equally effective meta for certain decks. (And keep in mind the two choices are not mutually exclusive. Make the Corp cry when he has to pay out the nose for your link just to wipe out the armor.)
That said, it’s not for every deck. Really it’s just for two: Andromeda, since she starts at 1 link, can easily take the boost to get to a usable amount and Shapers in general have most of the link boosts in faction such as the deck thinning Rabbit Hole or the instance ICE boost button of Helpful AI.
Also you should keep in mind that link is not a panacea: Plascrete stops the damage outright, absorbing one whole Scorched play, while trace strength just gives you a better fighting chance against the trace. With 4-5 cards in hand the Corp can still kill you with Sea Source + double Scorched if they get enough credits to beat your link anyway. The key with link, then, is to accept its an increase in the cost for the Corp to win and therefore you as the Runner need to beat them faster, rather than count on your Plascrete to survive the nuking. This fact may make the link strategy more enticing for an Andromeda deck that plans to keep the Corp player broke throughout the game anyway since link will increase the cost to the Corp to lay their nukes in, and a Tag & Bag deck will likely be constantly trying to get little tags to land, constantly costing them money.
And don’t forget, there are other benefits beyond Tag & Bag meta to increasing your link. The main three being the money from Underworld Contacts, spare memory if using the cloud breaker suite – which I personally would like to see more of – and potential ICE obsolescence. What I mean by this is any ICE with a trace based subroutine may no longer need to be broken if you simply have enough link to make it meaningless. The new NBN ICE Muckraker has a lot of subs and will likely cost you a lot of credits to get through if you have no link. But if you find yourself with 3 or more link suddenly it’s the Corp who has to shell out big bucks for his ICE to do anything. And let me tell you as an NBN player, nothing is more frustrating than link when I have an unrezzed Twitter.
Hopefully now you’ll consider putting some link into your next deck. Again, it’s not for every deck but I feel far too many people are outright ignoring it when the environment has shifted to make it a good meta choice. Or come tell me how wrong I am in the comments below. This is the internet after all.