The Automata Initiative preview

Reading time ~16 minutes

They’ll see it coming, but it doesn’t matter.

It is yet again the pleasure of this blog to play host to two specially selected, rules-heavy card reveals for an upcoming Netrunner expansion! On July 31 The Automata Initiative - the first set in the Liberation Cycle - will be released, and in this article I’ll be doing a comprehensive reading of two of the cards in it. To help me out, NSG Rules Manager Jamie Perconti will provide some additional insight into the development of these cards.


The cards

Like last time, the cards are concerned with runs, but these two are a bit more focused on value generation than direct disruption.


Stegodon MK IV


NSG is continuing to make use of the new Trojan subtype. After premiering it with Hush in Parhelion, we are now seeing a large number of new trojans being added in The Automata Initiative. Pichação, with art by veteran Netrunner illustrator Adam S. Doyle, was clearly made to be used by the recently revealed new Shaper ID, Arissana.

The card has obvious similarities to Kyuban as well as the more recent Flux Capacitor, being a value generation card that triggers when you pass the host ice. The value itself could be considered about the same as Kyuban, but a click has the potential to be more powerful than pure money, so you always have to watch out for cards like this.

Kyuban Flux Capacitor

The big way this card differentiates itself from its predecessors is by its drawback. While the ability can in theory trigger an infinite number of times on a single turn (the possibilities!), any triggers after the first one will bounce the card back to hand. And you have to be mindful of your sequencing here! If you’re Sable, the click you gain when you successfully run your mark will trigger the Pichação drawback condition. When playing with multiple sources of in-run click gain, you’ll want to be always triggering Pichação first, to get the “free” click. (You can always opt to not gain the click, to avoid bouncing, as well.) However, it does play nice with cards like Marathon, which gain clicks outside of the run itself.

Nyusha "Sable" Sintashta: Symphonic Prodigy Marathon

Arissana, of course, doesn’t mind the bounce as much, since you can easily reinstall Pichação, paying 1c per turn for two extra clicks (assuming you’re triggering it twice per turn), and DZMZ Optimizer could make it completely free. Of course in that deck it’s competing for memory and slots with all the other trojans (like Ika and Botulus, as well as the new Living Mural), many of which have more direct applications when running servers than Pichação. Will there be room for all of them? That seems a bit unlikely.

What’s the potential of this card? If you play around the drawback, it’s an occasional fifth click. Not mindblowing, but it’s pretty cheap and could be useful for Deep Dive. A deck running DZMZ can easily stomach reinstalling it every now and then, but spending the click you gained just to reinstall the card is a net value of zero. Bursting one turn and reinstalling the next could be a thing, but now you’ve done Temple of the Liberated Mind with extra steps.

There are cards that like seeing programs being installed, like Environmental Testing and the console revealed along with Arissana, LilyPAD, which seems like a very useful console in a trojan-focused deck with its extra memory and card draw effect. But now we’re talking about installing both a console (a 4-cost one at that) and some memory chips in order to get your economy up and running, which sure sounds a bit slow. Of course, you can use cards like Paladin Poemu or Urban Art Vernissage to finance all that installing as well, but now you’re installing even more cards to make it cheaper to install cards…

Environmental Testing LilyPAD

The dream would be to generate a large number of clicks on a single turn in order to do something really painful to the corp. If you can stomach bouncing all three copies of Pichação, you can get 4 extra clicks on a particular important turn. If you have the ability to reinstall them clicklessly - like Arissana - you could get a few more. Add on Synthgland and other incidental sources of click gain and you have the opportunity to do… something? Charge up a WAKE Implant? Dig deep with Conduit? It remains to be seen whether the support and payoff for a combo like that exists in the set. (And many would no doubt prefer there not to be.),

In the absence of some big splash payoff, the question will continue to be: Is “Kyuban-but-a-click” impactful enough to get a deck slot in 2023?

Jamie had this to say about the evolution of the card text for Pichação:

Pichação is a great example of the ever-improving collaboration between Development and Rules. When the Development team first showed us this card, it simply said:

Install on a piece of ice.
The first time each turn you pass host ice, gain {click}.

“First time each turn” conditions mix poorly with trojans. It’s really ambiguous whether we care about “passing a piece of ice while it has this hosted on it” or “passing the piece of ice this is hosted on right now, regardless of the hosting status at the time it was passed”. In other words, if I pass a piece of ice, host this on it, and then pass it again, does that meet this trigger condition or not?

We also need to be aware that trojans can sometimes move around. If I pass an ice hosting this, get it pulled to a Magnet, and then find a way to derez and pass the Magnet, can I gain multiple clicks in one turn?

Even something like

Install only on a piece of ice.
Whenever you pass host ice, you may gain {click}. Use this ability only once per turn.

is problematic, because multiple copies could be installed and you then have to keep track of which ones you’ve used each turn, including getting the use back if a copy gets uninstalled and reinstalled! It’s just too much work to keep a comprehensible board state, and we don’t want players to get bogged down tracking those details or trying to reconstruct them after the fact.

So we suggested a “global” once-per-turn condition, which everybody was pretty happy with for a while:

Install only on a piece of ice.
Whenever you pass host ice, if you have not gained any {click} during a run this turn, gain {click}.

This is clean, fairly easy to understand and track, and it doesn’t matter what Rejig, Magnet, or multiple-copy shenanigans you pull. You get 1 extra click per turn and that’s it.

But an elegant ability isn’t the same as a playable card, and eventually the Development team decided there did need to be some way to benefit from multiple copies of Pichação. So we put our heads together and came up with the return-to-grip option as a way to put a less-strict-but-still-reasonable limit on the card.

Stegodon MK IV

Haas-Bioroid are leaning into the military angle more than usual in this set. Between this Mammoth Tank lookalike and Salvo Testing, they’re moving several steps beyond the occasional murderbot and into full-on warfare. With art by Vitalii Ostaschenko - who illustrated many of the Weyland cards in Borealis - the brash presentation stands in contrast to the ability, which is quite intricate.

Stegodon has similarities to Advanced Concept Hopper, a card which almost made a splash when it came out but was supplanted by Corporate Sales Team almost immediately. Instead of generating resources for the corp though, this one taxes the runner. HB has a long tradition of ice strength-boosting effects (like Corporate Troubleshooter, Experiential Data and Helheim Servers), but this is the first time we see a corp ability lowering the strength of icebreakers (on the runner side, Cradle exists, but that’s the only previous instance of this type of effect).

Advanced Concept Hopper Cradle

It’s worth noting that the strength reduction stacks with multiple scored copies of this agenda, and that icebreaker strength can be negative, a fact which is implied in the CR1 2 3 and stated in an old card ruling4 but not explicitly codified in the current rules. (Jamie: The intent is that values can be negative except where specifically noted. It’s on our list of upcoming CR tweaks to make that general principle explicit.)

Which deck plays this card? A 3/1 is always a hard sell, so it has to be a really strong effect or a deck which wants many agendas to begin with. Thule might be one of the homes of such decks, but you could also imagine this as the 1-pointer in some kind of glacier deck that wants to score two 5/3 agendas and one of these. That kind of agenda mix has not historically been very prominent though.

Thule Subsea Ping

An important limitation is the “not protecting the attacked server” part. If you could derez cards like Ping on the attacked server, you could make the runner very sad. It’s also restricted to specifically ice, so you can’t reset your Trieste Model Bioroids with this card.

The effect can be truly brutal, but it’s also costly. Derezzing is not for free, but Stegodon at least pays you back a little, and the -2 is worth 6 runner credits on a 3-ice remote. Another scored copy potentially doubles that number, but you’re sacrificing a lot by scoring two 3/1:s. Skunkworks already taxes a similar amount, and can also surprise some runners, which this card can never do. But if it turns out that there are cards which love getting derezzed, maybe this card can be another piece of that puzzle. (There are only 2 unrevealed HB cards left though, so we’ll see.) The new HB sysop Vovô Ozetti could also potentially take some of the sting out of repeatedly derezzing and re-rezzing ice. Additionally, there are now some new breakers with fixed strength in the card pool (Banner and Umbrella), which might further increase the value of strength manipulation effects.

Manegarm Skunkworks Vovô Ozetti

Jamie tells the story behind the development of the text on Stegodon:

This was unquestionably the most difficult card in The Automata Initiative to finalize. For most of playtesting, its two abilities were combined into a single conditional ability, which the Development team wrote something like this:

[When the trigger condition happens], you may [derez ice]. If you do, this agenda gains “Each icebreaker loses 2 strength.” for the remainder of the run. Use this ability only once per turn.

A key detail here is that the Runner shouldn’t be able to get around the strength debuff by waiting to install their icebreakers until after the agenda ability has resolved. This constraint came from balance considerations, not rules, but it’s pretty obvious why it matters: shapers tend to be much better at this kind of timing trick than anarchs and criminals, and Arissana is perhaps the best identity we’ve ever seen for timing your installs to exactly when you want them.

With that consideration in mind, a straightforward wording like “The first time you derez a piece of ice each run, each installed icebreaker gets −2 strength for the remainder of that run.” doesn’t meet the needs of the card. “Each installed icebreaker” in this context would (probably) refer only to the breakers installed at the time the ability resolves. Though it’s not at all intuitive which way this wording works.

The final functionality for the card wasn’t settled until pretty late in the development cycle, and it came out of collaborative discussions between Development and Rules. The Development team had tried a bunch of permutations of the ability, trying to find the right power level: some of them had different trigger conditions, some required spending agenda counters, some lowered strength by different amounts, and so on, but the right mix wasn’t coming together. The insight that got us to where we ended up was that we could split the ability in two: one ability that gives the Corp a derez, and a separate ability that looks for derez and hits icebreaker strength. This allows the card to have synergy with other HB derez effects, while reducing how much stuff we have to jam into a single paragraph.

Even with the functionality decided, though, we still had to figure out the best way to write the strength reduction. Ultimately, we’re trying to create a static ability that says “Each installed icebreaker gets −2 strength.”, but limit it to apply only at certain times. In theory that’s not too bad: lots of cards have static abilities with conditions on them, like Palisade’s “While this ice is protecting a remote server, it gets +2 strength.” But nothing we’ve seen before has quite this level of nuance to it. The condition needs to apply during certain runs, but only for part of the run, and we don’t know which runs or which part until the relevant derez actually happens.

The playtest wording above used an indirect approach to solve this: a separate conditional ability handles the timing, and creates the actual static ability we want as a lingering effect. But cards granting themselves quoted text is confusing to some players, and a more complex technical implementation of an ability tends to result in more weird corner cases. We looked at a whole bunch of approaches, considering the implications of not only structure, but also individual word choices. Here’s an example:

If a piece of ice was derezzed during this run, each installed icebreaker gets −2 strength.

This is simple under-the-hood, and “works” technically: we have the static ability we need, and a condition that describes when it applies. But it badly fails on intuition. Rather than a static ability with a static condition, intuitively it looks like a conditional ability with text missing on both ends, and the “−2 strength” effect reads like a lingering effect missing its duration.

The wording we ultimately ended up with is in some sense equivalent to this, but it uses “Each run” and “as long as” to help make sure the intuitive reading signals the correct structural interpretation.

Here’s another approach we thought about:

The first time a piece of ice is derezzed each run, for the remainder of the run, each installed icebreaker gets −2 strength and whenever an icebreaker is installed, it gets −2 strength for the remainder of the run.

This is a big mess of text, but what’s interesting here is it handles the original issue by separating the two cases and making them explicit: breakers that are already installed when the ability resolves get a debuff, and breakers that get installed later get a debuff. We handle the timing with a conditional ability, and set up two separate lingering effects (one of which is itself a conditional ability that sets up a lingering effect! I’m probably dating myself with this meme but I can’t resist it: “Yo dawg, I heard you like lingering effects, so I created an ability that creates an ability that lasts for the remainder of the run that lasts for the remainder of the run!”).

This wording really highlights the ambiguity of the word “installed” itself. It can be both a description of static game state (e.g. “an installed program”) and of an effect happening (e.g. “whenever a card is installed”). You kind of want to write it as “each installed (now) icebreaker gets −2 strength, and each installed (later) icebreaker gets −2 strength”, and trying to make that comprehensible leads you to the tongue-twister above.

Final questions

We’ll finish with a few extra tidbits from Jamie.

Will there be a new CR and do you have any favourite upcoming changes in it?
Yes, but likely not until a bit after the set release. It will be a fairly small update in terms of content, because we’ve been busy making improvements to our overall CR-writing process. We’re aiming to make the document not only easier for us to work on (we’ve long since outgrown what Google Docs handles well!) but also more accessible (by having a web version in addition to the downloadable PDF).

During preview season, we’ve seen that “Psi Game” is now a rules term, with Psi cards no longer spelling out the process explicitly. We’ve also seen that the reminder text on some of those cards seem to separate “bidding” and “spending” into different steps. Are you changing how psi games work?
It’s just reminder text, we’re not planning to make significant functional changes. Cards that care about “secretly spending credits” will work the same with the Psi Game keyword as they did with older psi cards. We’ll be adding rules for the keyword to the CR.

Did either of these two new cards require CR changes?
No, I believe the only change relevant to these particular cards is the clarification about negative values that we already talked about.

What’s your favourite aspect of these cards?
That I got to contribute to their design! Rules work is already part of game design, and it’s totally normal for us to suggest a bunch of variants of a card Development is working on to help them problem-solve, but there are a handful of cases in The Automata Initiative where I proposed a novel element I’m proud of that made it onto the final card.

Were there any unexpected/unplanned interactions introduced by these cards that you nonetheless decided to leave in?
The derez condition on Stegodon MK IV was intended to work with itself and with other HB derez cards like Bloop and Hakarl 1.0, but it also soft-counters Runner derez effects. I don’t think this was explicitly planned, but of course it wasn’t a surprise.

When will you announce the removal of the NCIGS rule?
I can’t trigger my ability to answer that question, because there are no valid targets.

Big thanks to Jamie Perconti and Null Signal Games! The Automata Initiative will be released on July 31. Keep your eyes on the NSG blog for the latest updates. Also check out Jamie’s other work on Worldbreakers, a game that draws a lot of inspiration from Netrunner and is getting its first expansion very soon.


This article uses the NSG Comprehensive Rules Document version 22.12, which was released on 9 December 2022.

Rules mentioned:
Chapter 1: Game Concepts
1.16.2a (p.22)

Chapter 9: Abilities
9.9.6d (p.109)
9.9.7a (p.109)

Cards mentioned:
Arissana Rocha Nahu: Street Artist
Flux Capacitor
Nyusha “Sable” Sintashta: Symphonic Prodigy
DZMZ Optimizer
Living Mural
Deep Dive
Temple of the Liberated Mind
Environmental Testing
Paladin Poemu
Urban Art Vernissage
Basilar Synthgland
WAKE Implant
Salvo Testing
Advanced Concept Hopper
Corporate Sales Team
Corporate Troubleshooter
Experiential Data
Helheim Servers
Thule Subsea: Safety Below
Trieste Model Bioroids
Manegarm Skunkworks
Vovô Ozetti
Umbrella Bloop
Hakarl 1.0

Mark Your Calendars for The Automata Initiative!, NSG blog post
Adam S. Doyle, illustrator
Netrunner cards by Adam S. Doyle
Vitalii Ostaschenko, illustrator
Netrunner cards by Vitalii Ostaschenko
The Shadow Net, podcast
Ysengrin, youtube channel
ANCUR UFAQ 24 (Reign and Reverie)


  1. CR 9.9.6d The base trace strength of a trace attempt is a value. /…/ A base trace strength value does not need to be greater than 0 for the trace attempt to occur. 

  2. 1.16.2a If a quantity in a cost is subject to effects modifying its value, determine the final value of that quantity by taking its default value, applying each effect that increases the cost, and then applying each effect that lowers the cost. Finally, if the value determined by this process is less than 0, set the value to 0. 

  3. CR 9.9.7a While an instruction is imminent, values associated with that instruction can be reduced below 0. Values 0 or lower can still be modified by other interrupt abilities while the instruction remains imminent. 

  4. ANCUR UFAQ 24 [Michael Boggs] Yes, strength on both ice and icebreakers can be negative. An icebreaker’s strength being negative does not affect its basic functionality; it can still only break subroutines on ice with strength less than or equal to the icebreaker’s strength. 

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