Last weekend we saw the first tournaments under MWL 2.2 and the final FAQ, which will be in force at Magnum Opus. It was a brave new world that gave us a tantalising peek at what the meta at the last ever world championship is going to be like. These were both fairly large tournaments, with some top players attending, including several who travelled from other countries to play. Nordic Championships was 45 people, German Nationals was 94. They’re therefore reliable indicators for the meta at Worlds.
I therefore decided that a very quick overview of the field and predictions for Magnum Opus was in order, not so much to help those of you preparing for Worlds, as I imagine you might have already submitted your decklists by the time this gets uploaded, but just so the rest of us can follow along, do some armchair theorycrafting, and have a basis to talk about the meta about. Also, it’ll be fun if this is out there before Worlds starts so there’s a record of how off I am in my predictions and I can embarrass myself after it’s over.
Although not everyone has claimed and uploaded their decklists, I also watched big chunks of the stream during the weekend, so I got a general idea of the field.
The most noticeable impact of the new MWL was the resurgence of Shapers as a faction. In both tournaments, Shapers were just under half the cut, whereas they were hardly anywhere to be seen before that. Sure, Knobkerrie Smoke took some people by surprise back at Euros (before the cancellation announcement, which feels like a lifetime ago) but, just a week earlier at UK Nationals (under MWL 2.1), there was just a single Reavershop Kabonesa in the top 16. This is in line with what everyone expected when Clone Chip was unrestricted, and even I was on the money when I recommended a Hayley Pawnshop deck in my Competitive Decks on a Budget post. This time round, there were a number of “Circus Hayley”-style decks, using Aesops Pawnshop and Brahman.
The Pawnshop decks weren’t the only Shapers that did well though: the big surprise for me was Paragon Smoke, which won German Nationals and pulls off the good old Stealth Andy trick of turning stealth credits into real credits, all while getting accesses! In addition to the Criminal run-based econ suite (Desperado Jr. and Sec Test), this deck uses Kyuban to turn your cheap gearcheck ICE into massive money-leaking liabilities, and recurs it with Clone Chip when the corp inevitably trashes the ICE Kyuban is hosted on. I had seen that deck before, but this is the first time I’ve seen it dominate a large tournament. It’s an interesting deck that seems both fun and powerful, and I hope there’s some floating around at Worlds and we get to watch them on stream!
Shapers doing better doesn’t mean that Anarchs are no longer good. Even without Zer0 and Clan Vengeance (since CV can’t build counters fast enough without Zer0), Anarchs were 50% of the cut in German Nationals (overperforming, with 38.1% of the total field), and just under half of the cut in Nordics (slightly underperforming, being 48.8% of the field, though there were 2 more anarch decks just missing the cut). Maxx was the most popular runner ID of any faction at both events by a wide margin! I’m guessing the reason she displaced Val as the go-to Anarch ID is due to the Maxwell James errata, which make Val more prone to being gearchecked and letting the corp rush out behind an Enigma all day long. Maxx being faster makes her less vulnerable to such losses, which always feel bad. Due to normally using Levy as her restricted card, and drawing lots of cards for free, she’s also better suited to using Patchwork, which is the best economy engine Anarch can get their angry little mitts on. The ones that made the top cuts used a variety of builds, some reg Anarch, some more unusual stuff.There were still some Vals at both events’ top cuts though (and in fact Val took Nordics!), and even some less popular anarch IDs like Reina and Ed Kim. Surprisingly, it seems that not everyone was on Patchwork either, with at least one Turntable in the mix!
Another surprise was the almost total absence of Criminals in the mix, who got some nice cards in Reign and Reverie, which I expected to give them a boost. Marsellus’s tag-me Liza got second place in German Nationals, but apart from that, there was a single 419 and 3 Geists in the top cuts of both events! Geist actually overperformed, representing 12.5% of the top cut in German Nationals, compared to 7.4% of the field, and 12.5% of the cut in Nordics compared to 2.2% of the field, which means he’s actually decent right now! But non-Geist Criminal IDs severely underperformed in Nordics, with not a single one making the top cut despite representing 15.5% of the field. They overperformed in Germans, making 12.5% of the cut out of 7.5% of the field, but the number of non-Geist criminal decks are so small in both tournaments that I don’t think we can take them as statistically significant. My hunch is that they’re not actually as weak as the numbers represent, but were simply ignored by the most competitive players in favour of the more reliable factions. Anyone who really wanted to do well but was dead set on playing criminal played Geist, whose cardpool and playstyle is far removed from the normal criminal style.
The same problem of tiny numbers means I really don’t have a clue how the non-Geist minifactions will do. There was a single Sunny in the top cut of Nordics, but they weren’t otherwise in evidence. My hunch is that Adam is actually decent now, probably on par with reg criminal decks, but I doubt any of the top players will pick him. While Apex won’t be in evidence on the top tables, I expect a lot of his cards will see play, with some Apocalypse out of both Anarch and Criminal, and maybe a Khumalo deck with Consume will make the top cut.
On the Corp side, I expected the demise of the Zer0/CV combo to have had a greater impact than it did. Its presence meant that corps that typically hold punishment cards in hand, waiting for an opportunity to hit the runner with them (such as CtM with their tag punishment, or Weyland with their meat damage) were having a really hard time, CV knocking their entire win condition to archives every five turns or so. I thought that decks like that would see a resurgence in the post-CV meta.
However, Shapers being around again also makes it harder for those corps. Those relying on Fast Advance are hurt by Clot, and the meat damage decks have their job made much harder by Misdirection, which makes a mockery out of Hard Hitting News.
The performance of Controlling the Message in German nationals really demonstrates this. The ID underperformed, being 14% of the field but only 7% of the top cut. However, in Nordics the story is reversed, with CtM being only 6.7% of the field but 25% of the cut! But this difference just proves my point: in German Nationals, with Shapers (mostly Hayley and Smoke) representing nearly 38% of the field, CtM did much worse in Swiss. But there were fewer Shaper decks in Nordics, with 6 Hayleys (13%), and just 4 players representing other Shaper IDs, making it possible for CtM players to dodge them during Swiss. Since those Shaper decks did well and ended up in the top cut, however, those playing CtM were forced to face them there. Presheaf’s top cut games against Artturi Piisaari’s CtM (they met twice) shows how much Misdirection hurts decks relying on HHN to land tags, and how Clot hurts Calibration Testing fast advance.
Mti was 25% of the cut in German Nationals, significantly overperforming, but not by as much as Azmari, which was 5.3% of the field at 18.8% of the cut, with 3 entries in the top 16 and another narrowly missing it! Combined with the handful of AgInfusions, Palanas, and even a single Architects of Tomorrow, it seems clear that glacier decks were the name of the game in both tournaments. There were, however, a couple of Mti decks that were not glacier, one being asset spam, another relying on Mushin’ed traps. Among the glacier Mtis, some used Obokata and others used Food as their restricted card). The newly unrestricted Fairchild 3.0 was seen out of all these IDs, though some decks used Surveyor, and some even used both! Among the Azmari decks, one had Sea Source and Exchange of Information as a backup win condition.
Sportsmetal, on the other hand, seems not to have made as much of a splash as was expected. It underperformed at Nordics, slightly overperformed at German nationals, but nothing sensational. It seems that no HB identity is particularly impressive at the moment, with CI banned.
On the Weyland side of things, I think the hit Skorpios took with joining Hunter Seeker on the restricted list might not turn out to be as big as we all thought. This is completely unsupported by the evidence, which didn’t see a single Skorpios making the cut in either tournament. Instead, I’m basing this on the fact that Maxx was the most popular runner ID in both tournaments, eclipsing Val as the most popular Anarch. Unlucky mills by Maxx’s ID ability can pretty much give away the game against Skorpios, even without the Skorp player running a dedicated rigshooter setup. On the other hand, rush is weaker to Shapers, who can set up very quickly. So I think Skorpios will be a good choice for the swiss rounds, but somewhat suboptimal for the cut.
Titan (no top cut decklist, but this should be typical) is the other Weyland ID which got hit by the rise of Shapers, but there were still a few in the top cut at both events (in fact taking 2nd place in both). Clot-lock shuts down fast advance, which is how Atlas decks usually close out the game (or occasionally score all 7 points outright, since some of them don’t bother building a remote at all). Self-Modifying Code also means that you can’t reliably rush behind a gearcheck while the runner digs for breakers, like you can sometimes get away with doing against Anarchs. But skillful piloting can still outmanoeuvre those dastardly Shapers, threatening scores quickly and forcing them to use their SMCs, then fast advancing out when they can’t tutor out Clot. Decks like Argus and the Outfit are a little better positioned, having meat damage kill as a backup plan, but they normally rely on HHN to tag them, and Misdirection makes short work of those tags.
This is not to say that those corps have no place in the meta anymore, and that from now on it’ll be Surveyors all the way down. But they’ll have to adapt to the presence of Shapers in the meta, and slot the tricks they need to deal with them. Fast advance decks, for instance, will need to find some space from Cyberdex, and rely on bluffs like NGO Front to bait out the Clot. Some beefier ICE that are not completely trivial for stealth breakers to get through would not hurt either – at the moment, the “Rash Decisions”-style CtM decks everyone plays have almost no late-game ICE, no NGO Fronts, and no CVS. Moreover, they could swap one of their HHNs for a SEA Source to make sure their EoI can land. I can see them being more viable if they make these adaptations, though whether the dedicated CtM devotees will have made the changes in this narrow space of time is debatable. Even the kill corps could adapt to counter Shapers, if they reconfigure their kill package to make sure tags stick, whether by getting rid of Misdirection through a combination of Best Defense and Ark Lockdown, or by working around it through False Leads, Zealous Judges, or switching from High Profile Target to Punitive Counterstrike for the kill. A look at Marsellus’s 2nd place Argus deck illustrates this well.
One deck type that wasn’t represented at all in the top cut of either even was prison decks, whether they are Gagarin asset spam, or Potential Unleashed. Both received nerfs, with PU being restricted, and therefore not having access to Obokata anymore, and Gagarin losing Museum of History, which was banned. I don’t think PU has much game without Obokata, but Gagarin does still have play without Museum. However, it’s a risky proposition, and I doubt any of the most competitive players will bet on it.
It does seem, on the whole, that glacier is the best corp archetype at the moment, with Jinteki having the greatest number of viable IDs to play it out of, and Azmari being the best non-Jinteki glacier deck. I would not discount non-linear decks like tag punishment or kill, as they have ways of bypassing Shapers’ greatest strength, which is breaking ICE efficiently. So I would expect some Argus and Outfits in the top cut, possibly even a CtM. On the runner side, I do expect Shapers to be the best deck, but Anarchs the most highly represented. I don’t think Criminals are that far behind those two, but I doubt there’ll be any in the top cut, since most of the top players will just go for Anarch or Shaper, if they care about winning. I would therefore expect the top-16 at Worlds to consist of mostly Shapers and Anarchs, with perhaps a couple of Criminals (most likely Geist), and, on the corp side, to be just over half glacier decks (out of a variety of IDs, Mti and Azmari being most popular) with perhaps 4-5 Weyland kill decks and 1-2 CtM, and maybe a Sportsmetal sneaking in.
Oh, hell, what’s the point of an article like this without some truly bold predictions? My money is on Smoke and Mti winning Magnum Opus! Hayley may be a more well-rounded, toolboxy deck, but Smoke has the capacity to capitalise on the corp’s early vulnerability in a way that no other deck has had since Andysucker won two Worlds back to back! Mti, on the other hand, has enough defensive upgrades and other tricks to make the ability of Shapers to go through expensive ICE like butter irrelevant, and so stands the best chance of taking the top spot.
Swiss rounds for the last ever officially-sanctioned World Championship start tomorrow, so we will see whether the field made any radical adaptations informed by the outcome of last weekend’s tournaments, or whether we’ll just see the same decks we saw last week. One thing’s for sure: if my predictions are accurate, I’ll become utterly insufferable and mash the “paste link” button every time that I’m presented with the opportunity to remind people that I called Muffin Opus.