Refining the Process

Refining the Process

17/10/15

Richard Hammond

 

It’s Friday Night, and I’m stood in what seems like an interminably long line for a street food truck in the middle of Sheffield City Centre. While I am queuing for 30 minutes for what turns out to be a posh grilled cheese sandwich, I am browsing through Twitter on my phone when the following exchange takes place:-

 

 

 

 

What prompted me to jump at this topic was that earlier in that day, while managing my OCTGN decks, I’d come across this folder on my PC:-

 

So as articles go, this one is going to be slightly unusual, as it’s not really about the deck, or how it plays. It’s about how decks go from concept, through refinement, and into a deck that you are happy to take to any level of tournament, Game Night Kits to Nationals.

 

 

The Raw Materials - Concept

 

Going from an empty page to an initial deck list is usually prompted by one of three things; There’s a problem in the meta you want to solve (“There’s a load of people playing RP at the moment, I need a good matchup against that”), there are card synergies in the card pool you want to take advantage of (“Man, DDoS seems good, what can I pair that with to really make my opponents cry”), or there is an upcoming event and you just haven’t found a consistent deck that fits with your playstyle.

 

In the case of the later, my first port of call would always be Netrunnerdb, this fine website, and other online netrunner communities like Stimhack. There has been endless discussion about netdecking over the years and I’m not going to wade into it, but I will say this - picking a list off the net to play is as much the first step in the refining process as making your own initial list. Taking a Pre-Paid Kate or an Astrobiotics list off NRDB will still get you results if you can pilot it right, but you will get better results if, when you play that deck, you’re comfortable with every card choice, and the deck’s position in your expected meta,

If you are starting from scratch, whether you are designing for a problem, or around an idea, or both, I always start by putting in everything that supports the core idea of your deck, or the synergies you are trying to take advantage of. What that will give you is a deck without much nuance or many options, but it will also tell you whether the core idea of what you are trying to achieve is workable or not. When I started designing Opus Andy, it was early 2015, Replicating Perfection was everywhere, and I wanted an economic engine that could pressure it consistently both early and late game. So the original thought process was this:-

 

“Opus is a good economic engine. What if I could build an Andy deck that uses its draw power to find Opus in its opening hand, burst out some econ events and install it?” Essentially trading Andy’s draw power for a new ID which said “You start the game with between 3-8 credits and Magnum Opus in play, probably”. So I put together a deck which was econ events, Opus, and the most efficient breakers I could afford, It ended up looking like this

 

 

Opus Andy v1

 

Andromeda: Dispossessed Ristie

 

Event (26)

3x Account Siphon

1x Blackmail

3x Dirty Laundry

3x Easy Mark

3x Emergency Shutdown

3x Inside Job

3x Legwork

1x Levy AR Lab Access •••

3x Special Order

3x Sure Gamble

 

Hardware (5)

3x Desperado

2x Plascrete Carapace

 

Icebreaker (10)

1x Alias

1x Breach

1x Cerberus "Rex" H2

1x Corroder ••

2x Faerie

1x Femme Fatale

1x Gordian Blade •••

1x Passport

1x Yog.0 •

 

Program (4)

3x Magnum Opus ••••• •

1x Sneakdoor Beta

 

15 influence spent (max 15)

45 cards (min 45)

Cards up to All That Remains

 

 

Live Fire Environment Testing - Proof of Concept

 

Now, this next step is so simple it seems silly even to write it down here. Play your deck. A lot. Play it against a variety of opponents, and a variety of other decks. And as you are playing those games, think about how your deck is performing. Remember that this is still something you are learning to pilot, and in the case of new builds, is often unrefined. Whether this deck is racking up wins against everyone you play when you start off isn’t as important as the answers to these questions:-

 

  • When I play the deck, is it doing what I designed it to do?

 

  • When it is performing the way I want it to, are the outcomes what I expected?

 

If the answer to the first question is no, it’s possible there just aren’t enough cards in the card pool to support the concept you are working on; if you have jammed in every card that you think supports your idea and it’s still not coming together, it might be time to shelve that idea, while keeping an eye on upcoming datapacks which might contain more support for what you are trying to achieve, and let you resurrect it later.

If the answer to the second question is no, that’s a more insidious problem. If after installing all your Hyperdrivers, All-Nighters, Stim Dealers and playing Amped Up, you find your 22 click turn doesn’t win you the game on the spot like you thought, it might be time to smile, shake your head, and send your deck to the ‘it seemed like it might work’ pile and move on.

 

If you can answer yes to those two questions, your core concept is sound. When I played my deck, sure enough most games I would draw into some combination of Opus/Dirty Laundry/Easy Mark/Sure Gamble, and I’d end my first turn with some credits and Opus in play, and when I had Opus in play, that tended to fuel my economy for the rest of the game. Concept proved!

 

Obviously, if you are playing an established list, then this stage has already been done for you. Thousands of games played by other people have already proved that playing Astroscripts and SanSan City Grids are a good way to score 7 points quickly, and that PrePaid Voice Pad, Lucky Find, and card draw events make a good basis for a Shaper economic engine.

 

Do the Evolution - Breaking Down Your Choices

 

Now you have a workable core concept, it’s time to iterate. This means playing more games with it, this time with a set of different questions in your head as you play. Generally, once I am happy that my basic idea is working, I want to retain that core, while creating as much flexibility in my list as possible.

 

During and after each game I am playing at this point, I’m asking:-

 

  • When I drew that last card, did I find myself wishing it was literally any other card in my deck?

 

  • How often is this card in my hand useful or relevant? How often do I install or play it?

 

  • With the cards I have, are there common game situations where I will be at a significant disadvantage? Are there card choices I could make which would change that?

 

  • Is there a critical function of good deckbuilding this deck is missing?

 

As you are playing, keep a track of the first two questions particularly to start with. Cards you are drawing which feel out of place or redundant are the ones you can start paring back, In their place, there are several things you can add in; this is where the answers to questions 3 and 4 come in. These new card slots can be filled with answers to specific problems, with cards which improve bad matchups, or give the deck flexibility it was lacking in its core proof of concept build.

 

When Opus Andy went from v1 to v2, here were the changes:-

-1 Yog.0, -3 Easy Mark, -1 Emergency Shutdown, -1 Levy AR Lab Access, -1 Blackmail,, -1 Alias, -1 Cerberus “Rex@ H2, -1 Femme Fatale,

 

+1 Maker’s Eye, +1 Faerie, +1 Dagger, +3 Same Old Thing, +3 Silencer, +1 Switchblade

 

Yog.0 and Cerberus I found I never installed because I had SpecOrdered for the Gordian in 90% of games, Easy Marks were dead draws once I had Opus installed, Levy was originally there as tech against Death of a Thousand Cuts PE but was a waste of INF, Blackmail came out once GRNDL and other Supermodernism decks died away in the meta, and I switched the sentry breaker suite, which was not efficient enough in the original list.

 

In came a Silencer Package with the two stealth Sentry Breakers and an extra Faerie, 3 Same Old Things for recursion, and a Maker’s Eye for some R&D Multiaccess.

 

Maintaining The Edge - Continual Improvement

 

This kind of deck evaluation isn’t a process you do once, and then sit back and declare your deck tournament ready, it should be a continuous hum in the background as you play and test and try new things. The meta changes, new cards are released, and tournament season (even the compressed version we have here in the UK) can go for a long time in Netrunner terms. My first draft of Opus Andy was timestamped 28/2/2015. The final version that I took to Nationals was 5/6/2015. That’s 3 months of shifting metas, new datapacks, and deck evaluation.

 

And this, more than anything, is where the process also interacts with those tournament winning decklists from NRDB. There is no deck that wins by itself, plays itself, has no bad matchups, and can’t be refined. Whether you are questioning if Professional Contacts belongs in PPvP Kate or not, or seeing if you can jam a Weyland Kill Package into ETF, refinement isn’t just the preserve of the deckbuilder. When you go into a tournament where even 2-3 cards are different from the list you selected, you can take pride in knowing that those choices make that list your own.

 

There’s no real roadmap for this process, it comes with feel. It comes from playing a lot of games. However, here are some general pointers I always consider when I am testing.

 

Iteration is a gradual process

 

Try and only test one change at once to your list. If, for example, you start by making big, sweeping changes, changing full breaker suites and your economic package you might find that in testing your deck performs about as well as it did before. Are neither of the changes good? Is one change good and the other dragging you down? You can only evaluate the success of your change as long as the rest of the deck remains consistent.

 

Version control your changes

 

Try and keep track of every change and every version of your deck. This stops you covering the same ground multiple times, let’s you look back at a version 2 or 3 ago which might have performed well in a certain matchup and let you see what changes might have affected that.

 

Be true to your concept

 

The danger with this process is your deck can mutate, with each change you make pulling you further away from your original intent. That’s fine, but every time you make a change, think about what your original concept was. If you are cutting the cards that are key to that original idea, it might be time to look at the deck you now have, and figure out what the new heart of the deck is; or whether another approach altogether might be needed if your original concept is no longer doing what you want.

 

Don’t be afraid to test changes which go against perceived wisdom

 

In every card pool, there are expected includes, there is groupthink card evaluation which tells you in a choice between A and B, A is empirically better. In a vacuum, that’s often true. When combined with every other card in your deck, or just your core concept, you might find that a rogue choice ends up being superior in your particular list.

 

Which console do you run in a Criminal deck? You run Desperado. Its merits have been sung from every corner of the internet, it’s powerful, efficient, and rewarding. One of the best changes I made in my process of iteration was replacing my 3 Desperado with 3 copies of Box-E. I was finding myself short of mem using Desperado, so thought I would just test the higher memory console. The first time I drew that and Opus in my starting hand and went “Install Opus, click for 4 credits, Install Box-E, keeping 7 cards” in Andy a little lightbulb went on. Desperado is a better card. Much better. But for my specific deck, Box-E turned out to be a star player in event after event.

 

Talk to people, and listen to them as well

 

When you have tested against someone with your deck, talk to them about it. Ask questions. What did they think worked? What didn’t they think worked? What changes would they made? What cards does their deck hate to play against? While self-evaluation is a big factor in refining your deck, the Netrunner community is full of smart, friendly people who will give you their honest ideas. Don’t be intimidated to ask for feedback, or advice. It benefits everyone when you can help people improve their game.

 

Then, and this is the harder part, listen to them and test those ideas. I remember listening to a RunLastClick episode where Eady was railing against the inclusion of Opus in decks, and he said “Any deck that runs Opus should try with 3 copies of Armitage Codebusting instead”. So I did, I tested it, I found it didn’t work as well in my particular list. But at least I knew for sure, because it was an opinion I hadn’t considered.

 

Don’t forget your ID can change too

 

A deck is not necessarily always tied to the ID you originally built it from. When you are thinking about changes, consider whether there’s a better ID that fits the pile of cards which comprise your deck. My Corp deck which went along with my Andy deck this year started as an Argus deck, switched over to Titan, and then switched from Titan to NEH as a proto-Butcher’s Shop deck.

 

Think about matchups, the meta, and role playing cards

 

After a few weeks of testing, you might well have found that you’re very happy with, say, 42 of the 45 cards in your deck. You have tested, and pared down, and filled in and enhanced your list, but you have these flexible slots available to take you to your card limit. For those, think about what worries you when you sit across the table from it, and what single or double-copy card you can put in to give you a better matchup in those situations. Can you find room for a single Hacktivist Meeting because you are worried about NearPAD? Is a single Drive-By going to be a good answer to that Caprice remote you hate fighting through?

 

The night before Nationals, the deck I knew mine was weakest too was any version of PE. With no Levy and only 3 Same Old Things, I could lose critical stuff or get decked very easily. So I shuffled things around a bit and found room for a 1-of Feedback Filter.

 

In round 7 I sit down opposite Raymond Ho from Bristol, who is playing Blacktree. I drop Opus and Feedback Filter within the first 4 turns and suddenly the game is totally against him. A single card choice turned a tough matchup into a winnable one.

 

Mass Production - The End of the Road

 

There will come a point where you know you are done refining your deck. Maybe tournament season is over, maybe the meta has shifted and your concept no longer works, or maybe you are just bored and want to move on to a new challenge, test some new, shiny concept on the horizon.

 

The last thing I would recommend you do as part of this is share. Publish your list in forums, on NRDB, to your local facebook group. Let other people look at what you did and draw their own inspiration. Maybe 6 months later, you’ll sit opposite someone at a tournament and find them playing the next evolution of an idea you worked on, and you can tell yourself “I helped make this happen”, as they stomp your new creation into the ground.

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