Knowing what decks to take to a Netrunner tournament is hard!
This is basically what I’d been thinking for several weeks: the meta is in a strange place where there are a lot of good decks that you need to be able to beat, but they are all very different and you want different decks to deal with each. For me right now the difficult decisions are on the runner side rather than the corp. I think there are a number of very viable decks for corp. Near-Earth Hub, Industrial Genomics and SYNC all look strong. I’m less convinced on Palana and kill decks but they are definitely being played and you can’t afford to ignore them.
This is one of the most interesting things about Netrunner - trying to judge the meta and what decks are going to be good. The UK meta in particular is in an interesting place, with many people dropping Whizzard in favour of some flavour of Shaper. This seems to be a response to a huge increase in NBN decks, often taking up over 50% of the field of a given event. Also, fewer people are playing IG than was first expected; there are normally a few representing it at each tournament but there aren’t huge numbers and the deck hasn’t been winning.
The question then is what has a good game against all of those varied corp decks? Recently I’d been playing Whizzard with Siphon but I didn’t really think that it was universally strong. The Palana match wasn’t good if your opponent knew what was coming or were able to swiftly recover economically. SYNC too isn’t great because you are taking so many tags but the other match ups are pretty solid, especially that against IG. With little IG expected and a lot of yellow, I needed a different deck but it had to be one that didn’t just fall apart against glacier, and that was what Leela had done in recent testing.
After conversations with several people I decided to play Apocalypse Kate, popularised by El-ad. I asked him for his most recent list and started testing with it. It is undoubtedly a good deck, but I wasn’t happy with it. Without Clot, it struggled to keep NBN in check long enough to Apocalypse them and then Index them to death. So, I changed the influence around to include this and made a few other changes to breakers and economy. I also added a Councilman to aid in the Palana match up.
I have been pretty set on my corp choice throughout regional season, I have been playing a 49 card IG deck, that combo kills the runner using Dedication Ceremony and Ronin (among other cards). This is a deck I’ve been talking to Chris Hinkes (of Cambridge PE fame) about, and he’s been running something similar. It is a great deck and has generally been seeing positive player feedback, as it isn’t a prison-lock deck. Despite winning a regional with this deck, I’m still not going to publish it. Part of its strength is the question mark about what is in it, and that keeps changing as we refine it. When Whizzard was everywhere this deck still performed; with less Whizzard around I can only see it becoming stronger.
With my decks prepared my tournament buddy, Mark, and I travelled the long distance to the event. I almost bailed on the weekend to spend time with my wife, and this is a theme at the various times I’ve realised I’m going to be away all weekend. I am very lucky to have an understanding and supportive wife!
Arriving in Stockport, the site is an old mill and looks pretty terrible from the outside. But I’ve played in some terrible venues, so I’m not too worried. However, inside, the place is amazing. It is huge, really well set-up with TV screens displaying time remaining, pairings and, during lunch, football. It has a bar and a shop selling a wide variety of games and good toilets. Overall Element Games was a great venue and I highly recommend people checking it out if they are ever in the area. I’ve also heard their online store is very good.
66 people are in attendance for this regional.
My opponent is a fairly new player. I know because I played him a month ago in his first regional, also in round 1. This is his second regional, so he’s got some bad luck, I guess, to have to play me round 1 on both occasions. IG pretty much crushes Andy as he takes time setting up, while I assemble my combo kill.
The SYNC match up is pretty rough as I hit all of the News Teams and, towards the end of the game, it is only Clot lock that is preventing him from winning. He shuffles in 2 Cyberdex and another card with his last Jackson and, a few turns later, installs in a remote when I have Clot out. I run R&D which has only 2 cards in it and hit a CVS killing my Clot. I dig for another Clone Chip but, unable to find anything, I hit R&D last click hoping for the win or a trashable card.
I find a CVS, trash it and win when my opponent’s mandatory draw decks him.
This round is against Paul who I know to be a really strong player. I run first against his Palana and am still setting up when he manages to score his first Nisei. I make an expensive run on R&D through an Assassin, Lotus Field and something else to see nothing. Checking HQ I manage to pull an agenda, and a Dirty Laundry covers my Archives run which he doesn’t Nisei, obviously not seeing the Apocalypse coming until it is too late. In the following turns I manage to get to 6 points while he re-establishes his board. The game gets interesting during a turn when he installs and advances in a remote with an upgrade. I install a councilman and run it but cannot break the Excalibur so he spends the Nisei token, keeping me out. However he is broke and so takes a turn to Celebrity Gift and rez the Caprice in the remote instead of scoring the agenda. I get an Apocalypse off the next turn to close out the game.
In the return match, Paul does a great job of keeping my board clear of cards, and basically runs everything, managing to avoid death when hitting Psychic Fields. We play a nice game of who has the most currents over the course of the game swinging advantage back and forth between us. Paul manages to get a Future Perfect on his Film Critic when on 2 points. I install a card which is a Psychic Field expecting him to run it like he has everything else, he hits R&D stealing a Fetal AI. If I had installed the Bio Ethics instead He’d have been dead, but instead wins the next turn.
I sit down against a woman and am slightly more excited than I should be when she doesn’t know who I am. No idea why it mattered, but it was exciting as this normally doesn’t happen anymore. The Kit match up is pretty solid. She gets set up with a stealth rig and starts hitting R&D. I assemble my combo pieces and am able to kill her before bleeding too many points. Without tech, I think IG is a tough match up.
The reverse game is much more ropey. I don’t see much early economy and she baits me into running a QPM then midseasons me for a lot of tags. Things look bad, but I manage to pull off an Apocalypse to prevent her scoring and then hammer R&D hitting the agendas before she sees Exchange of Information or any more QPMs.
I ICE up early and then spam out as many assets as I can. Even with Whizz and his recurring credits, his economy struggles to keep up. Once I find a Cerebral Static it becomes really tough for him, especially as he doesn’t seem to see much econ. A Bio-Ethics/Ronin combo finishes him off before Static ever leaves play.
The NEH match up is interesting. I run early and he doesn’t rez R&D allowing me to score 2 points. I keep running getting to 4 before he ICEs up further but he manages to score out an Astro before I can get an SMC on the board to threaten Clot. I take another 2 points from HQ and then the final agenda from R&D when I am going for my Apocalypse turn.
At this point I am 7-1, and so I ID the next 2 games to finish 9-3, guaranteeing my spot for day 2. Unfortunately I finish in 6th seed, meaning I don’t get to pick my side in round 1 of the cut. Still worth IDing to guarantee making the cut.
This is where I would like to talk about intentional draws. Not whether they are good for the game or not, as I don’t think they are. However, I also don’t believe in handicapping myself by not using them.
I’d like to talk about how they were managed in this tournament. FFG don’t have any real guidance on how IDs should be managed by judges and previously my understanding was that you sit down against your opponent, call over a judge before discussing anything, then offer to ID. Your opponent then says yes or no. There has been no additional pressure from one side, as everything has happened in front of a judge.
In this tournament, they asked anyone who wanted to intentionally draw the next round to come up and confirm before the pairings were put up. If both sides had put the request in, then you would get an ID, if not – you played.
It was a little confusing at first, since I had wandered off initially and didn’t hear the announcement, but other than that it seemed to work well. The judge was very good and explained the logic well. He didn’t want there to be any pressure from one side, or any accusations of collusion. This system avoided both of these issues as you likely didn’t know who your opponent would be. The process was absolutely fine, I am not aware of any issues, but I think there needs to be a consistent process for how intentional draws are handled. And this needs to come from FFG: their rules on this currently are probably a bit relaxed.
* * *
I’m chatting to Mark who hasn’t made the cut, and I offer to drop from day 2 and go home. It’s fairer on him and it means that I get to see my wife rather than skip out on a day of gardening that we had planned if I didn’t make the cut. Mark thinks I am crazy and refuses. We stay overnight, and my brain is replaying the day’s games so I don’t sleep well, which is normal for me following a Netrunner tournament: I always analyse the mistakes that I made. I think that this is one of the things that make me good at Netrunner, but it is frustrating when I need to sleep!
* * *
Mark and I chat a lot about my first round match up against Tom. He is playing Siphon Chaos Theory and Prison IG, neither of which seem like great match-ups, but we are fairly sure that Tom will pick the safer choice and play IG. We think that the only way of winning is to land an early Apocalypse and/or get lucky with Indexing. The only other thought I have is to not die and this means keeping the option of Levy available meaning getting Same Old Thing on the table when I see it, and watching out for Chronos Project.
Tom and I shuffle up, and while waiting for everything to start, I stand up and start reading the opening chapter of Moby Dick. Gets a good laugh from those watching the top cut. Obviously it means I have to avoid slow play since I have made a joke about playing to time. Worth it.
Tom’s opening turn is to draw twice and ice archives, which seems like a standard IG play based on what I have seen from many players. I don’t have an indexing in hand to punish this play, but do have an Astrolabe, which will do great work in this match up. Tom immediately gets remotes down to start his Mumbad City Hall stuff going, however the remotes have drawn me into an Indexing, which I play and am fortunate enough to see a Chronos Project and a Future Perfect. I run back to steal the Chronos and then go for the Future Perfect on click 3. I bid zero, so Tom either drops low on money or gives up the agenda. I win the psi game to go up to 4 points.
The middle of the game things switch back to IG after I hit a Snare and he manages to get a Hostile Infrastructure rezzed to deny me my chance of Apocalypse. I set up quite quickly thanks to my free Astrolabe draws, after checking the cards I’ve not seen in remotes I got for a second Indexing that nets me a Global Food Initiative. Following this, Tom stacks 4 ICE on R&D to prevent the loss coming from another Indexing. He is also using Heritage Committee and so there is a high chance that HQ will have limited agendas.
I struggle to create an opening to get another agenda as I need to keep Bio Ethics off the board and that requires a decent number of credits. Eventually time is called with the board in the same state, I have few cards left in deck but still have the Levy to use.
Most IG players are really happy when they see Noise, but I’m on 49 card IG and my deck is using a combo to kill. Therefore, Noise can be problematic because of the disruption his ability causes.
Early game is a little slow for both of us. I have to respond a few times to Lamprey threats and Imps that are stacked because of Grimoire. This slows me down a lot and I lose a few points from mills or R&D because of it. We have an interesting battle of currents where I get down a Cerebral Static to turn off his ability and he plays a Hacktivist Meeting as a counter. This is extremely interesting as I have my kill combo ready to go but if I rez my kill pieces there is a good chance that I will lose my Dedication Ceremony because of the Hacktivist. I try and sneak out a Philotic Entanglement but he checks it. In the end I use a Jackson to shuffle in my Static and another to draw hoping to find one of my two. .
Eventually I find one, and next turn go for my combo kill unfortunately hitting I’ve Had Worse. Time is called and so he checks archives and fails to win, losing his last two cards including his Levy to Shock. He runs R&D and dies to a Cortex Lock. This may sound like bad play on his part, but it definitely wasn’t. He knew I had the kill on my last turn and so if he Levy’d his only hope of surviving and getting a timed win was to draw an I’ve Had Worse and for me to hit it. Definitely not good odds
I’m through to the winners final, so if I can win this I make the grand final. I’m playing my Apocalypse Kate against Dan Sergeant’s Prison IG. Interesting fact – there were only two Prison IG players at the tournament, and both of them made the cut. Mark and myself were on 49 card IG and one other player was on Hot Tubs Gagarin.
I didn’t think this was a very good ID-pairing, but I have a better idea on how to approach it, following my round 1 match up. Dan however plays this differently to Tom and immediately protects R&D. He gets his MCH down and starts flooding the board. Again, my Astrolabe does great work keeping my speed up. I manage to take a food out of HQ early, but Dan’s board is definitely getting away from me, and when I go for an Apocalypse he doesn’t rez ICE so that he can use his Mumba Temple credits to rez a Hostile Infrastructure shutting down this game plan. When he gets a second rezzed, I know it isn’t a valid game plan anymore.
Part way through the game, when I go for an Indexing run using a Lady to get through Hive, the top 2 cards are both agendas and so I do zero changing to their order which is really frustrating. I pay a load of credits to go back and take my second Global Food of the game.
Generally I have been quite diligent at checking remotes and on one turn I check two of the three cards he has put down. Unfortunately, the one unchecked is the Chronos Project half my deck is wiped away. Luckily I haven’t lost anything that is key except the Lady, leaving me with Inti as my only Barrier breaker. This also leaves me with limited cards for when the Bio-Ethics lock sets in.
From this point in I spend my game making money and removing Bio-Ethics that make it onto the board. Even with two Hostile Infrastructure rezzed it is still better to do this, as often it takes a few turns for them to be found again. If this hadn’t been a game in the cut I think I would definitely have lost. However, when time is called I’m nowhere near being dead or scoring out and so I progress into the final, the score being 4-1.
* * *
The final ends up being Timo and me after Dan gets a game loss for having a difference between his deck list and his deck. I believe it was an ice change made at last minute which is very unfortunate. I’m pleased when both of my deck lists come back without incident. Though Steve, the judge, does play with me a bit by shaking his head as he walks up with my decks – that guy is a monster!
I start off by running the open HQ while Timo throws out money operations like they are going out of fashion. This worries me as I’m not sure what type of SYNC he is playing, but doing nothing isn’t an option. The HQ runs net me Global Food, but my set up is generally a bit slow and Timo manages to get a San-San down behind ICE. He scores a Breaking News and exchanges it for my GFI.
The tags are an issue due to the resources that I am running so they have to go, but it slows me down even more and I worry about him scoring out off the San-San. A turn or so later I hit an Apocalypse but end up tagged due to Data Raven. Timo’s deck recovers faster than I wanted and I didn’t get any obvious openings to exploit. I end up keeping the two tags I got and soon regret it as I get hit by Closed Accounts, and allowing him to Psycho out an Astro. The game is over shortly after this. It felt like a pretty brutal beat down from my end of the table.
Going into this game the thing I am most worried about is getting repeat Siphoned and then him using the money to trash my stuff. I keep a hand with no draw but with ICE and a Hostile Infrastructure which I can use to dodge early Siphons. The game involves Timo getting off to a great early start with economy and draw while I spam out a few remotes that he doesn’t check. I double ice HQ and feel pretty safe when I get a 2nd Hostile down.
He R&D locks me after using Femme Fatale to get around my ICE. He has an R&D Interface down, and while I know where a number of the agendas are, there are definitely still enough in the deck for me to lose. I ICE R&D and, while he has the breaker he needs, it at least taxes him. Timo spends a lot of money to trash the Hostile and Genetics Pavillion that I rez.
The game goes for a few turns with him checking R&D and me searching for combo pieces. He scores a GFI but nothing else.
I’m not too worried as there is a Philotic on the board as another threat and there is always the chance that he will hit damage cards in R&D also enabling a kill. In the end I get my combo together and kill him before he finds the win in R&D. I think the match up is definitely IG favoured and he played it well, especially not knowing what my deck was doing.
I’m obviously really pleased to have won a regional, but am also pleased to that both decks performed so well. Especially my runner, which I tested once before taking it to the tournament.
The runner deck definitely felt like it had gaps though. Most of the games I played against SYNC felt like a challenge, and I was lucky to win some of the games I played in the Swiss. So, while Apoc Kate only lost in the final across both days, that record could easily have been worse. I also think that I won some games before people figured out which version of Kate it was. The fact that Ben Blum’s regional winning list has so many similar cards really helps disguise the true purpose of the deck.
The corp deck dropped one game to Employee Strike Whizzard and even that game I could have won with better play. I’m absolutely convinced of the strength of this deck. Most of the hard work in building it was done by Chris Hinkes, as the version I used at the event was significantly better than previous versions, thanks to input from him.
Going forward, I need a new runner deck as I think that, without the shock factor, Apoc Kate isn’t something I’d want to play again. It all depends on if I can find a deck that can deal with the huge variety of strong corp decks that are around at the moment. If you have any cool suggestions then feel free to throw decks at me. However, they need to be very competitive.
The meta seems to be in a very strange place at the moment and I know a lot of people are unhappy with a lot of the decks that are seeing play. I can understand these comments, but I find it very interesting finding the answers to the meta. Timmy Wong and his Siphon Whizzard are great examples of playing a deck to beat the top meta decks, and while the UK meta has definitely moved away (in my opinion) from this being the right deck, it is these sorts of challenges that make Netrunner both fun and frustrating.
Look at Apoc Kate: can it beat NEH? Definitely – Clot, Apoc, Indexing are all great cards. Can it beat IG? Definitely, especially if it can land an Apocalypse and my familiarity with the match up certainly helped on the day. It can beat Palana and other decks as well. It is very versatile and was the right choice on the day.
Next month it will likely be something different that is the right call. Getting this call wrong can be very frustrating, often leading to horrible match ups. But getting it right can be one of the most rewarding experiences Netrunner has to offer.
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