Magic Number Analysis

[This blog was written in the age of Cyber Exodus.]

So I did a reddit post about the usefulness of keeping up the 4 creds to rez Rototurret, even when you didn’t splash it. After thinking about it, the idea can be generalized a lot further and it’s a useful idea to have for when we discuss the game. So, I’m going to write a post about magic numbers.

What’s a magic number? We’ll define it as follows: a magic number is a number of creds such that the Corp having that many creds implies that they can threaten significantly bigger threats than they can at one cred below that number. It generally, but not always, is in reference to facedown cards the Corp has installed. A weaker version of magic number analysis can apply to the Runner, but we’re not looking at that because the runner needs to bluff about their capabilities a lot less than the Corp. The point is that, because the Corp plays everything facedown first, the set of all possible things that the Corp could afford to rez is a really important thing. By contrast, while the Runner will sometimes sit on a juicy card until a good moment, the Corp is much less concerned about tracking every possible threat the Runner can afford to present.

It’s worth noting that, from a perspective of a Corp player, it’s really trivial to know “I should have the money to do the things I want to do.” The key is that you need to know how much money you need to have to threaten something that you didn’t play. I’m getting more and more convinced that part of the reason the game seems runner-biased is because the balance point for the game is implicitly assuming that Corps threaten with a lot more than they have. Hopefully this analysis will help nudge the game in the Corp’s favor a bit. Although, of course, magic number analysis is also useful for the runner. Indeed, perhaps the difference is that Runners are always doing this when they play, and Corps don’t always think to do it on themselves.

Some caveats. Magic number analysis isn’t just “what can you do with this number of credits?”; otherwise, this would be a very dull article. The idea is that, when you hit a magic number, the Runner needs to fear something they didn’t fear before, and it lets you control with threats that you don’t necessarily have.This means that hitting a magic number should change which plays are safe for the Runner. So, Ice Wall doesn’t make 1 any more of a magic number, because running on an Ice Wall is still the right answer. 4 creds can rez both Data Raven and Archer, but only the latter factors in to 4 being a magic number, because if I facecheck Data Raven I’ll just end the run, so the threat of a Data Raven can’t control my actions. It also means that magic numbers don’t matter if the Ice or installed card is exposed; because then it’s just a matter of the actual card you have there, and not all of the potential things you could afford to rez there. Also, if you’re playing with a public decklist, magic number analysis only extends to the things you actually have in your deck. (This also mean that, if you’re deckbuilding for an event where you anticipate your deck list being public, you can deliberately control which numbers are magic numbers for your deck.) This analysis assumes that you could potentially have anything in your deck from the Runner’s point of view.

So, let’s begin…

Magic Number 1

You play a card and double advance it. You have one cred left. This is enough to turn on Project Junebug, OR to score a 3 or 4 cost agenda next turn. This is an okay mindgame. You’d really like two creds to also threaten Aggressive Secretary. But still, when you’re desperate and have no money, the magic number 1 mindgame can let you steal back tempo. By contrast, if you end the turn with zero credits, I can just walk in and look at the card, taking it if it’s an Agenda and trashing it if it’s Junebug.

It’s also magic in that it turns on Melange Mining Corp. This is important. It’s especially important when looking at subtraction – going down to 1 from an Account Siphon or from rezzing something is a LOT better than going to 0, because the Runner needs to run facedown cards to keep you broke. If you have zero credits left and an unadvanced card in the remote, it’s impossible for you to score an Agenda OR turn on Melange, so there’s no reason for me to go through hairy Ice to get there. But have even one credit, and the Runner needs to think long and hard about leaving that unrezzed card alone…

It’s also enough to rez Ice Wall, Draco, Hunter, and Pop-up Window, but remember our earlier caveat. Since running is the answer for all of them, the only way this is ‘magic’ is that the Runner won’t run on the last click or with fewer than two creds available. This is very unlikely to control the Runner (that is, they were probably doing this anyway) so it’s not really a magic number for Ice.

Magic Number 3

3 is a really, really big deal for installed cards in remotes. Let’s look at it.

The biggest factor is that it lets you play a card facedown without advancing, and then triple advance it next turn to score a 3 cost agenda (“blank scoring”.) This is strong because you don’t signal whether it’s an Agenda, Asset, or Upgrade, so the Runner is forced to either run on it or potentially let you score an agenda. As well, blank scoring just got a hell of a lot stronger with the new card Edge of World, because now your 3-point agenda and your brain damage dealing trap look EXACTLY THE SAME. Notice how Edge of World costs 3 to trigger? That’s what we mean by magic numbers. End turn with 3 credits and a facedown card in a remote, and the Runner must play the “Agenda or Edge of World?” game that they wouldn’t need to play at all if you had 2 creds.

Also, if you threaten a cheap source of fast-advance (Astroscript Pilot Program scored with a token on it, an already-rezzed SanSan City Grid, two advancement counters down for Trick of Light), magic number 3 ALSO let you threaten blank-scoring 4 cost agendas. So if Jinteki has 2 advancement tokens down somewhere, their Edge of World and Nisei Mk. II get played the same way. That’s just dirty.

So that’s the big power of 3. If you’re at 0-2 creds, I can just pass a turn and see what you do with your remote card. Sure, it could be Melange (magic Number 1), and in some games I’ll bite. But if I’m winning, I’m often willing to give you that one turn of Melange for the payoff of knowing for sure it’s Melange before I trash it, especially if it’s a difficult remote to slog through. At three creds, though, you force the issue of “This could be an agenda! Better run it.” for every facedown card you play, whether it’s actually an Agenda or an Edge of World or a PAD Campaign.

Magic Number 4

And now we’re back to the original inspiration for this article.

Let’s say I’m the runner. I’m merrily charging along and blind running on stuff. I don’t care! Then you hit 4 creds. Here is an abbreviated list of the horrible things you can do to me:

  • If I have no Killer, you can rez Rototurret and eat a program.
  • If you have an Agenda to exile, then you can rez Archer and trash 2 programs. Even if I have a Killer, I also need a lot of dosh to avoid the sadness.
  • You could rez Neural Katana and do net damage. Not only does this mean I need at least 3 cards to safely blind run without a Killer, but even with 3 or more cards, I need to consider the QUALITY of those cards when thinking if I want to blind run or not.
  • Even if I get in, if I hit Snare!, you can activate it.

When you hit 4 creds, suddenly I’m looking at the number of cards in my hand, whether I have a good Killer out, and if so, whether I can afford to stop Archer from at least trashing programs. None of  these were factors before. This is the archetypal magic number. Even if all of your derezzed Ice is actually too expensive for you to bring up, you can still do a decent job protecting yourself just by getting up to 4. If nothing else, you’ll make me want my Killer (or Snitch, but generally instead of running Snitch I could just run another Killer, so) sooner, and that’s time and money spent NOT getting the early Fracter out, which is always a bonus.

As a final note, we’ll explore the idea of magic numbers by contrast, looking at why 8 is NOT a magic number. 8 creds let you rez Tollbooth, Heimdall 1.0, and Wall of Thorns. All of these are seriously strong Ice that are good for winning the economic arms race. But magic numbers are very intertwined with the idea of facechecks, and in that department these pieces of Ice don’t really stack up. It only takes 1 click to break Heimdall’s brain damage, and no runner worth their salt runs on derezzed Ice on their last click without a seriously good reason. Tollbooth makes the Runner lose 3 creds, which sucks, but the Corp just lost 8, so it’s not really a surprise shot – it’s use is for the economical gain of this ability over repeated runs, not because it’s very painful when hit by surprise. The best candidate here is the two net damage on Wall of Thorns, but Neural Katana is half the cost and does 3, so unless the runner happens to be running with a Killer and no Fracter (and this is a lot less common than the converse), or is so poor they can’t break the net damage sub on WoT, but they could on a Katana, this isn’t threatening anything new.

Again, this isn’t saying these are bad pieces of Ice. If you have them, you should try to get to the money to rez them. The point is that, as Runner, I DON’T think “Man, that might be a Tollbooth…I’d better not run on it”, because I’m usually fine losing 3 creds to make you lose 8. Having the money to rez Tollbooth is good in the sense that when I run on a Tollbooth, you can rez it, but it won’t stop me from running on it to check. So, if you don’t actually have a Tollbooth, getting to 8 creds doesn’t make your facedown Ice that much scarier to me than 7 creds made it, which is why 8 isn’t a magic number. Savvy?

As always, leave any comments or criticisms in the comments. Especially let me know if I communicated anything poorly. I know it’s kind of a weird concept.

PS. There were going to be pretty images here but the image uploader isn’t letting me link from external sources or use things from my library. If anyone can tell me how to fix it, this will be retroactively beautiful.