Hack the Planet: On the Changing Threshold of Playability

Hello, and Welcome to another Hack the Planet. Today we’ll be looking at how the Environment of any LCG/CCG changes over time as more cards are released into the card pool, specifically looking at Android: Netrunner. To do so we’ll look at the Threshold of Playability – is this card actually good enough to go into a deck – and how it changes over time.

Leviathan is big. Too big.

So, what is they Threshold of Playability? Basically: is a card good enough to go into a deck. Look at Leviathan. Even comparing it to another bad breaker, Peacock, we see that it’s basically just inefficient: it’s bigger, but Code Gates so rarely come in at big that the few cases where it’s the most efficient breaker are… non existent? Certainly not common enough to be worth slotting the card. Leviathan is below the Threshold of Playability. Usually it’s not that easy to determine which side of the line a given card is on: I’ve taken an easy one to show the concept. Cards like Femme Fatale, Nerve Agent, or Escher are much harder to evaluate, especially since some decks may rate them differently than others – Nerve Agent is a lot more playable for Noise where it’s also a mill card than Whizzard where it’s just more hand access.

Now that we’ve established what the threshold is, we can look at how it’s changed. As new cards are released, the threshold naturally rises: since a given deck can only include so many cards, when a new card is released for the deck others must be cut to make room. Remember when Personal Workshop decks were all the rage? And then it dropped below the threshold due to all the new cards that did the same basic thing – let you drop programs mid run – and disappeared (Though this was partially also changing meta, which we’ll see below.) It is this change in threshold that makes a game like Netrunner interesting: you need to be constantly aware of how the game has changed and update both your decks and playskill.

The other way you see changes to the threshold, and through it decks, is the change in meta. In short, meta or Meta Game is the game of the game. You need to play against Jinteki differently than you do against HB. The prevalence of Yog.0 in Runner decks made low strength code gates worthless, while it’s cycling back out in favor of AI breakers made them better again. One of the bigger meta movements is the prevalence/near ubiquity of Tag and Bag. This was a large part of Personal Workshop’s downfall: since it’s vulnerable to tags, them being more common means the Workshop is weaker. Similarly, Plascrete Carapace’s value rises and falls alongside the Tag ‘n Bag decks since it is meta for those games.

I need friends to be valuable!

Which brings us back to the threshold of playability. In any game you’re going to have to read the cards, read the environment, and figure out where a card falls. This is one of the keys to being a better player in any card game. With Netrunner, since there is no reset like L5R or Magic have, once a card drops below the threshold it’s unlikely to come back. That said, one of the most common ways for a card to come back above the threshold is as part of a block. The easiest one to see in Netrunner is the Caisa suite. Pawn is terrible if it’s the only Caisa in your deck. But as the power of the various Caisa goes up, so to does the value of the Pawn. While it was unplayable on first release since Rook was the only target, as more data packs in the Spin Cycle have released more Caisa have appeared to make Pawn a playable card.

Obviously I can’t speak to the current threshold of playability: not only does it vary by card/deck but it’s in constant flux: a new datapack or the surge of a new deck type can quickly change the valuation of cards. While some cards like Hedge Fund/Sure Gamble or Neural Katana might be fairly fixed in their valuation, others can vary – sometimes wildly – as new cards are released. Just keep in mind as you look at new cards or are evaluating your deck: you want every card in your deck to be above the threshold. Otherwise it’s dead weight and you should trim it in favor of something that is above the cut.

Happy Hacking!

9 thoughts on “Hack the Planet: On the Changing Threshold of Playability

  1. I don’t play Netrunner, and yet I feel compelled to read your articles about it, Jay. It’ll be interesting to see how they deal with the threshold of playability long term. It almost strikes me that the LCG model is just a different variant of the concept that gave us ROLLING THUNDER. At least the part of RT that suggested players don’t care about rarity.

    (Also you’ve got a minor spelling error “Pawn is terribile if it’s the only Caisa in your deck.”)

    1. Thanks Slaven. sometimes wonder if anyone actually reads these things 😛
      I assume at some point FFG’s going to have to do a ban/restricted list like they have for their other games. They don’t do arc resets like L5R uses to relevel their power: in fact it was that idea that gave me the idea for the article: with arc changes L5R/Magic can make old bad cards good again by resetting the threshold while Netrunner is unlikely to bring a card back once it drops off.
      (“Pwn is terrabad if it’s the only Caisa in your deck” better?)

  2. I think it’s an interesting point you make about lack of resets, but the limitation or removal of certain cards could well achieve the same effect. Imagine the changes to the meta if Account Siphon was restricted and Datasucker were banned.

    Do you agree that Ice & breakers are the most variable w.r.t. playability over the life of the game?

    NB: Pawn is excellent as the only Caïssa in your deck in the Exile Pawn cycle deck.

    1. spot removal/restriction will obviously change the meta and with it the playability threshold, just not in the same scope as a reset would.

      And yes, ICE/breakers are where the threshold is most obvious: banning Yog would immediately make a whole lot of ICE playable that is right now unplayable/ borderline play due to it’s cheap cost.

      I had not heard of Exile Pawn… I quite like it. Often the threshold of combos (Pawn and Exile) is greater than the sum of the cards involved. That’s how new cards coming in can make an old card suddenly playable.

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