The Art of Deck Building

Deck building is one of the many skills of Netrunner. It is one you can avoid totally by net decking (finding a deck on one of the online sites, such as NetrunnerDB or Meteor and playing that), but I think it is one of the most exciting parts of the game and one that helps you develop as a player.

So, what do you really need to do to be a good deck builder? I’ll be honest with you, to create something truly new that is also competitive you are going to have to put in a lot of time, practice and, unavoidably, be a little bit imaginative. To do this, it’s really important that you have a good understanding of the current meta-game. Creating a new competitive deck (if that is your goal – remember it isn’t everyone’s) is going to take hundreds of games and much iteration.

motivationI’m not the best deck builder in the world, but I’m going to take you through how I often go about building a deck. Hopefully you’ll be able to find some insight in this. This will be focused on building decks that are strong and competitive. I’m not the right person to help with janky deck building ideas. If that is your thing you can check out this article here.

Starting Out

The first thing to do when new to deck building is to net deck.

Wait, your advice on deck building is to not do it?

Yes, sort of. I think the best way to begin any deck building education is to take a deck that is known to be good and play it for a bit first. Once you have an understanding of the deck’s key strategy and play style the next step is begin to change it. Amending a strong deck is important as it allows you to change a part of the core concept and test whether it makes the deck better or worse. Importantly though, you always have something to revert back to if your idea doesn’t work. You will learn so much by
taking out cards of an established deck and seeing why they were in the deck and what strategy they complemented. Your changes need to work in a similar manner. In my experience trying to create a new deck from scratch and for it to be good is too challenging when you are starting out.whizzard

What cards should you be changing? I would start by trying to change one aspect of the deck and probably something that isn’t fundamental to the deck. Good areas to look at are the economy package, the card draw, the agenda suite, and the ice/icebreakers. Often there is a reason that the author of the deck picked what they did; was it synergy with other included cards, or just their raw power? It doesn’t mean it was the right choice but your aim in this scenario is test to see if you can improve it. Whether you succeed in this or not, you’ll learn a lot.

Keeping Track

One of the key things to remember when making changes to an existing
deck or building a completely new deck is that one or two games is not enough testing to prove a concept. Don’t have a knee-jerk reaction to your deck’s performance in one or two games. Losing to a particular deck-type such as kill (for example Scorched Earth) is often the sort of thing that triggers these reactions:

I flatlined with only one Plascrete Carapace in my deck as I didn’t see it. Therefore I must increase the number to three.

hard-at-workThis isn’t necessarily correct. You’ll need to put more games in to tell if that is true. You’ll need to put in more games to get what you want, and I’d recommend keeping a record of what happens in each game:

  • Did the cards you changed have an impact (thinking back to the example above when you answer this, remember you need to answer this in context – Plascrete Carapace will have no impact in a game against a deck with no meat damage, but that doesn’t make it a bad include)?
  • Did you even draw them?
  • Did you win or lose? What was the deciding factor? Keep a record.
  • Did your changes impact the result?

If you keep this information you’ll be able to see the impact of your change without relying on gut feel. The NetrunnerDB deck building facility, for example, can really help here. What you’ll generally find is that you test out a change over time and then either keep it or revert and then try something new. My preference is to test changes in a tournament setting, ideally large GNK or Store Champs as if the changes hold up and the deck performs here it is a good indication that it works in a live meta.

Building a New Deck

The sensible place to start when building a new deck is your core concept. In other words, what do you want the deck to do?

scorched-earthFor Corp is it:

  • A Kill Deck
  • Glacier
  • Fast Advance
  • Rush

For Runner is it:

  • A Denial Deck (Account Siphon / Vamp)
  • Ice Destruction Focused
  • A “Good Stuff” Deck (Breakers & Economy)

Obviously this isn’t a comprehensive list of core concepts but just to give you an idea. The key point is this:

This core concept and strategy should shape your entire deck.

For example if building a Corporation deck your agenda suite should complement your plan.

  • Kill decks – These decks often want agenda that can assist with tagging such as Breaking News. They also like agenda that give them money such as Hostile Takeover as this enables their other tagging options such as SEA Source. Agenda that do damage such as Fetal AI, potentially bringing the runner into range of their other kill options, are also worth considering.
  • Fast Advance – These decks largely want to play agenda that can be scored with two or three advancement counters. This means that with cards such as Biotic Labour or San-San City Grid they can be fast advanced (scored from HQ in one turn). Astroscript Pilot Program is a further fast advance enabler, but otherwise agenda do not usually compliment this strategy.
  • Glacier – Often want to play larger agenda so they have more deck space
    and can win with fewer agenda scored. Global Food Initiative is an example where it is a large agenda but is also worth fewer points to the runner. Accelerated Beta Test is a good example of a useful card, as it allows glacier to play Never Advance and if used safely can allow large ICE to be rezzed for free.global-food-initiative

These examples are true for all aspects of your deck. From your economy package to your ice suite, all parts of the deck should all compliment your overall plan. It is very difficult to cover packages for all of these areas as they are constantly changing with new cards and I don’t think that it would be that beneficial. That being said, if you need help with these areas, there are a number of good articles on Stimhack which cover them or just give me a shout.

Pet Cards – Everyone has favourite cards that they just love. You should analyse if you have included your pet card just because it is one of your favourites rather than because it is good in the deck you are building.

I can give a personal example of this. My pet card is Sneakdoor Beta. I love the pressure it applies to corps and I include it in Criminal decks whenever I can. In the current meta however, it is important to recognise that this is often a bad include. Corporation players often ice archives to prevent Temujin Contracts from having an easy target and therefore Sneakdoor is often considerably less effective today than it has been in the past. Try to avoid including cards just because they are your favourite.

Power over Synergy

This is something that new deck builders some times find difficult to grasp, so I think it is extremely important to discuss here. Often there are cards that are very powerful and should be played in almost any deck, even over cards that complement your game plan.

To give you an example, say you are building a Weyland kill deck. There are a number of cards that might compliment your kill plan. For instance, both Vulcan Coverup and Posted Bounty link with the tag and kill plan. However these cards have a quite low power level and are often excluded from traditional Weyland kill decks. Indeed, agenda like Oaktown Renovation, although it has no direct kill synergy, are often included instead as they put more pressure on the runner (two points instead of one, can make the Corporation money); Runners under pressure often overextend or make a mistake leading to the kill.

gang-signAnother commonly seen example are Leela Patel decks. Leela’s ability triggers when an agenda is scored or stolen, so decks attempting to optimise that effect (for example by including Logos, Gang Sign, Unscheduled Maintenance, etc.) are commonplace. Ask yourself, though, do you really think a good Corporation player is going to let you optimise this effect? Does it fit into the Criminal design space to start on the back foot by allowing your opponent to score? What if you play a kill deck that doesn’t want to score agenda? Would your deck not be better by including, instead, Desperado, Employee Strike, R&D Interface, or just more economy? These cards are strong throughout the game and do not rely on the Corporation to act.

What I am trying to get at is that you should not hamstring yourself to include extra synergy when playing more consistent and generally more powerful cards will often get you there faster. There is a reason why so many runner decks at the moment are playing cards like Temujin Contract (or as Eady from RLC calls it Temmy J) or Account Siphon. Whilst including these cards can sometimes stifle your deck building options, they will usually mean you end up with a stronger deck overall.

Building for a Problem

One of the reasons to build a new deck is because there is a top tier deck that your current deck(s) cannot deal with and you need a solution. For someone like me who likes to figure out what the best deck is and take a counter to that, this is one of the most enjoyable experiences in Netrunner. However I would argue that it is also a good way to deck build as it gives you a clear goal to overcome.

Let’s look at a competitive example. NBN: Controlling the Message (CTM) has been dominating the tournament scene since before Worlds 2016, and so a few decks have turned up that are built to counter it. Chris “Zeromus” Hinkes, who is a great deck builder, has created an Andromeda deck which is focused on dealing with CTM and the other trace and tag focused decks around which the Corporation meta is currently focused. It runs cards which many thought of as binder fodder (i.e. low power level, unlikely to ever be played). The deck uses Rabbit Hole to increase your link strength to deal with the traces abundant in these decks, but also Power Tap so that every time a trace is initiated by the Corporation it generates the runner money. It also plays cards that allow the runner to initiate traces, for example the Security Nexus console and Citadel Sanctuary. This deck has a really good CTM match up because it has so many cards that punish Corporation decks that want to tag and trace. It has also inspired a number of other decks using these cards.

This deck is good in the CTM match up due to the hate cards it is using. Is it good against other decks? That is a question for another day, because fundamentally it comes down to being able to predict the meta game and whether you care about the answer or not. What I wanted to show here is that if you have a purpose when deck building it helps focus you on the aim for the deck. It also means that you re-evaluate old cards in a new meta – many cards will eventually have their day.

Money is the Answer (Ruined!)

One of the most common problems with deck building is that you want all of the cool cards. I have seen a lot of decks that have had an interesting concept but they don’t work because the deck is economy starved.

account siphonFundamentally, the game of Netrunner is about the Corporation protecting their servers with ICE and the runner trying to gain access to those protected servers using icebreakers. The common denominator here is money – in Netrunner, credits will get you out of a lot of difficult situations. If your icebreakers are not very efficient, credits will help. If you expect to hit lots of traces, credits help. If you really want to rez a juicy Tollbooth or Curtain Wall to keep the runner out, you guessed it, you need credits.

As a runner, dropping low on credits is one of the main ways that the Corporation feels safe to begin scoring agenda (i.e. you created a scoring window). With this in mind, I recommend that you play a lot of economy in your decks – often more than what you think you need. This is general advice but when building a new deck it will help ensure you have the credits to complete your objective and hopefully help identify what the problem with your concept is. What the correct economy package for your deck is a topic for another day and something for you to experiment with, but make sure economy is central to your deck.

Closing Thoughts

Deck building is really fun and, for many, a key part of the hobby. I recommend that everyone tries it, but realise that it is difficult and that making a competitive deck from scratch requires a lot of testing, a strong knowledge of the card pool and an understanding of the current meta-game. If you are new to Netrunner, making changes to decks you know are good is the right place to start.

Also, remember that deck building is organic and personal. Often people have differing opinions about cards but a lot of it (particularly the so called, “flex” or flexible slots) come down to personal playstyle.

If you ever want to discuss a deck idea or need help with making a deck better then feel free to drop me a message (but remember I’m competitive focused), I love talking Netrunner.

Any feedback? Anything I’ve missed? Let me know!