CPH2 – From Casual to Competitive

So, you’ve played a few casual games of Netrunner with your friends and enjoyed it. You’ve been to a couple of local game night kits and found that you like taking part in organised events. You decide that you want to go to more tournaments, and to finish well in them. You want to become a competitive player. But how do you go about that?

This is my five-step programme for people who want to start down this slippery slope.

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CPH1 – Introducing the Competitive Player’s Handbook

Let’s get one thing out of the way. Being a competitive Netrunner player is hard. If you want to be really good at this game you need to spend a lot of time, energy and probably money dedicated to what is essentially a children’s card game. You’ll inevitably face disappointment, frustration and the confusion of your friends and family along the way.

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Jank – What It Is and How to Build It

Hello everyone, my name is Guy and I am here to talk about jank, and how to build “jank decks”.

There are many fantastic articles about how to build beautiful decks; decks that will take you to the glorious heights of winning GNKs, making cuts of Store Championships, competing at Regionals, fighting hard at Nationals or, who knows, maybe even doing well at Worlds. These articles are about taking the concepts of a great Netrunner deck and applying them with your own sense of flair.

They are brilliant articles.

This is not like those.

matrix-analyzer

This is about Jank. Beautiful, nutty, eccentric, surprising, befuddling, entertaining jank.

Jank isn’t exactly one of those words that is incredibly common outside of Netrunner and a quick google search finds that those out in this “real world” I hear so much about are using it to mean anything from evasive maneuvers on an aircraft to just generally meaning bad.

In Netrunner there probably isn’t total unity on its exact meaning but I would choose to highlight a few common strands. The first and most obvious strand of jank is that it prioritises other, sometimes esoteric, aspects of the game over pure effectiveness. These aspects can include simple creativity – the desire to explore the card pool and finally make use of cards that languish in the binder. To qualify as jank however, this creative spirit needs, to my mind, to be combined with a certain commitment to these cards and concepts, such that they are explored to their fullest degree. Equally I think most would expect their definitions of jank to include some aspect of entertaining flair. They would expect jank not only to not completely work competitively, but do so spectacularly. There are some who would specify that a great number of card combinations or interactions are required in order to qualify for “jank”. I would disagree; I would include in jank many decks that do things “the hard way” but aren’t necessarily firing nine nested triggers before the start of each player’s turn.

Before we go further though I’d like to do a quick little aside in the interest of clarifying something.

Building a jank deck doesn’t make you a “better” player than the person who consistently plays the best decks available – whether they netdeck or not. If you want to build jank it should be to enhance the experience of playing the game for you and for any opponent you come across. Jank shouldn’t be about building something super special and then turning your nose up at those players who are playing Tier 1 decks as if you are better than them.

For the record a lot of the very best players have the capacity to make both creative plays and creative decisions in deckbuilding. I have had the privilege of playing many players who it would be fair to name as the top players in the UK and on each occasion I have been impressed by their capacity to work with the game on an adaptive level. They aren’t just playing “the best decks” and getting lucky. That should go without saying, but saying it never hurts.

This can cut both ways as well; in order to get the most out of jank it is important that you understand the game on a fundamental level. To do this often means playing very good players playing very good decks. Hopefully in doing so you can surprise and entertain these players with your creation.

But enough about general principles – we have jank to create. Let’s get cracking!

Step 1: Concept

Why do you want to jank?

Maybe it’s for a “jank tournament”, a format pioneered by John of NeoReading Grid fame. In that format there are points to be gained for opponents liking and enjoying playing against your deck.

motivationIf you are struggling for an idea for such a tournament I would suggest that the best thing to do is to open your binder and look for those cards that have been abandoned there, unloved and alone. I would ignore IDs – there are few of them and they get enough attention, more or less. There are many other cards out there, particularly in the first cycle – when the design team were reasonably cautious and often over costed things – that are never going to be playable in a competitive setting. Find one, look at that card with the kindness it has never known and say “OK Bad Times/Leverage/Braintrust/Disruptor/Panic Button … today is your day to shine”. You can then build around how you could possibly make that particular card as effective as it can possibly be – no matter how convoluted the board state might need to be to make it work (although that board state is actually, typically, remarkably simple).

Or maybe you’ve had an idea for a combination of cards, or want to explore a certain card, and you are fairly sure from the outset you’re not looking at a “competitive” concept. It is probably important to determine that at this point. There are a lot of genuinely great ideas that have come from thinking outside the box.

But say you’re looking at what is, obviously, not going to be what one would fit into your 40/45/50 card slots if you were trying to be the best that you can be. Well then, now, we have some jank on our hands.

The important thing to take away from this article is this singular vision. It is very important, in my humble view, to have a single concept. Jank is, by its very nature, difficult to pull off. If you are simultaneously trying to pull something else off you are going to get none of it done.

You may have more than one concept you want to work with, and that’s fine. Stick them in separate decks.

A concept can be varying levels of complexity.

From the simple:

“A shell game deck using Matrix Analyser to make traps more dangerous as you run them”

“A Noise deck that only gets in through Blackmail”

“Escher/Copycat out of Ken Tenma”

To the complex:

“A deck that rezzes a Project Junebug early and heavily advances it, then uses a combination of Whirlpool, RSVP, Bullfrog and Marcus Batty to get the runner to hit it.”

The simpler ones are easier. If can restrain yourself go for the simpler ones.

Step 2: Putting the Pieces together

You’ll need to do your first deck build.

The first thing to mention is to start by maximising your chances of getting the key components of your jank in your deck. Start with 3x of these cards if you can, going down to easy tutors if it helps with influence or the likelihood of pulling off the jank. We won’t necessarily end up with 3x but starting here increases the likelihood of getting something done in your early games. 2x of something in a deck, especially if you need another 2x, or even 1 more 2x, is not a certain by any stretch.

Step 3: Committing to the jank

copycatCommitting to jank means tying your own hands. I have seen some wonderful jank concepts that never got used because the pilot found that there were far better paths to victory in their decks.

To use some examples from my own experience, I was forced to utilise my Escher/Copycat combo as I had no other way of getting into remotes – having, as I did, only central breakers to get through ICE. Equally my Noise deck was forced to use Blackmail because it did not have a single breaker.

This will often mean you have to write off specific match ups. Do this happily; you can’t build a jank deck that will get a chance to shine in every game. I have often found that most jank decks make presumptions about the opponent’s board state; they might assume that the opponent attempts to score behind ICE in a remote, or needs to make a series of runs to try and assess a remote server and steal agendas. These are fair assumptions to make in this style of deckbuilding. You will, undoubtedly, play against a super-fast fast advance deck, or a Blackmail/Apocalypse Adam deck that will ignore your entire board state. Do not plan for too many of these; jank has enough problems without trying to keep up with a diverse meta!

Step 4: Remember your fundamentals

It doesn’t matter how janky a deck is if you can’t draw what you need or can’t afford to play it. Once you have the cards that there to achieve your jank you should then add in the very best cards that take care of other functions of your deck.

sure-gambleIf you have a janky economy then make sure you have good draw cards, the best breakers, some damage protection & possibly a few early econ cards that might help if your econ has a high setup cost. For me, the methods of getting into servers has tended to be the jankiest part of my runner decks; I have therefore spent influence on the very cream of the crop of cards for economy & draw. Many entertaining decks play Sure Gamble & Daily Casts, Diesel or Professional Contacts.

On the corp side you will often find, especially with combo decks, you will need to secure both your economy and your central servers. When faced with nonsense in remote servers the most common response of runners is to slam centrals. To that end there is no shame in good taxing Ice, defensive upgrades & playing the strongest event economy influence can buy.

This is also why I would recommend, if you have the choice, playing Jank out of the stronger IDs. When you put Kate on the table it might not look like a jank deck. But it will be.

Step 5: Play some Trial Games

You’re going to lose.

That’s how you should go into each game. In terms of actually getting to 7 points before your opponent, you are going to lose.

You win if you get to use your jank. That is the new primary win condition.

In playing games you will find out if you can build your combination or set of cards required to demonstrate what you are doing. It may well be that you can’t. When you see this you will need to either find a way to bring out the cards you want quicker, adding draw, or play more of those cards.

The obvious elements are at play as well; if you’re too poor add economy, if you’re too slow add draw (or Stimhack!).

However, there are times when a combination is never going to fire. Ask yourself if you have been playing poorly or if the deck just isn’t capable of what you want it to do, even with refinement? If you are finding that it is just not working then it is time to move on.

Step 6: Arrival at Concept

If you have been building for a tournament then it is possible to build with a goal in mind. If, however, you are just taking this jank down to casual nights then know when it is time to stop and move on. The thing that most entertains people about jank is surprise and unpredictability. Once everyone has played against this deck a trio of times or so they may well not find the combination as interesting or as fascinating as they once did.

One thing that does work against a player of jank, as opposed to a competitive player, is that when you are playing jank you have to file away decks more quickly. A top quality player can get a reputation for winning by being consistently good with a shell of an NBN or Anarch deck (or even both in today’s meta) shifting a few cards here and there. That makes a lot of sense; it is probably one of the best ways to be strong at the game. Their opponents should not tire of them. When both players are trying to win, that tussle is the entertainment. Jank does not have that luxury; after only a handful of games your opponents may tire of beating your “off the wall” deck. And then, my friends, it is time to move on. And if you choose to move on to new jank? Well, then I applaud you.

I said at the start of this article that it was important to not get a sense of superiority about jank. This is true, but I think it is also important to take pride in it. I think the desire to entertain and share something amusing is an excellent one. Various places talk about their resident jank player with fondness and I think it is an enjoyable thing to do and for some it enhances the game. It can take a surprising amount of work to set yourself as the jester of your meta. But if you do it right you might occasionally get to enjoy playing the Shakespearean fool, dotting wisdom and truth in amongst all your nonsense.

Whether you jank often or jank little I wish you all the best, and happy running.

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The Rebirth of Blackguard

rebirthWhen Rebirth was first revealed from The Liberated Mind – the fifth data pack in the Mumbad cycle – many Netrunner players, myself included, started to ponder how they might use it.

A zero cost event giving you the ability to switch your Identity card to another in the same faction, Rebirth certainly sounds good, conjuring up images of a surprised Corp player who has set up to defend against one ID, floundering as he or she has to react to a sudden shift in the Runner’s play.

Of course, Rebirth has its limitations. It is one influence; it is removed from the game instead of being trashed so you can’t use it more than once and it is limited to one copy per deck. You can’t depend on it as a reliable strategy because you might never see it.

It also presents difficulties during the deck-building process. The cards you include in your deck are based around your Identity card and synergise with its ability. To build a deck where the cards will work for not one, but two identities could prove problematic and lead to dead draws and redundant combos.

With these limitations in mind, I tried to think of a deck and two identities that could negate the issues, at least to an extent, and provide Rebirth with the opportunity to give you the best of both IDs.

Which led me to Blackguard.

Blackguard is the criminal console released late in the Spin Cycle that provides you with two extra memory units and the ability: “Whenever you expose a card, the Corp must rez it by paying its rez cost, if able.”

blackguardThere is no denying the strength of that ability and the control it can have over your opponent’s economy. Using cards like Infiltration, Satellite Uplink, Snitch and Raymond Flint you can drain the Corp’s credits by having them rez Ice, Assets and Upgrades and if you pilot it well, it can open up running opportunities on servers they can no longer afford to protect.

Blackguard even has an ID card tailored for it – Silhouette (which doesn’t get any easier to spell, however many times you write it!) – Dressed in the Blackguard gear, this stealth operative exposes a card the first time she makes a successful run on HQ.

There’s a problem with Blackguard though. And it’s a big one. All eleven credits of it.

Yep, it costs eleven credits to get Blackguard on the table and that is prohibitive for any deck, even a Criminal one.

It is this problem that caused many who tried to build for Blackguard to turn away from Silhouette and to the one ID that could provide that reliable early credit boost – Andromeda.

andromedaFor a long time everyone’s favourite lady of Netrunner, Andromeda gives you a starting hand of nine cards and you can mulligan into another nine if you have to. This provides the best chance in the game to get what you need right from the off, which for many Andromeda players is a massive kickstart to their economy.
In those nine cards you want to see four you can play out straight away so something like two Sure Gambles, an Easy Mark and a Dirty Laundry dive into Archives is not an unusual opening for Andromeda, giving you an excellent monetary advantage in the early game.

The big opening hand also has more chance to draw the Blackguard and now you have the money to install it.

After that first turn though, Andromeda’s ability is done. She has given you a great start, but now it’s up to you. So what if you could then switch your ID to something with a lasting affect? See where I’m going?

Rebirth (which you have a better chance of drawing with Andromeda, despite the single copy in your deck), can be played out to switch to Silhouette and take advantage of her natural synergy with Blackguard – only this time, she has the credits to work with.

silhoutteIf you still don’t see Rebirth, even with Andromeda’s help, your deck still has all the exposing tools at hand, you just won’t get Silhouette’s.

Rebirth can’t get around the ridiculous cost of Blackguard, but combining it with Andromeda and Silhouette, the cost is offset somewhat and Blackguard as a concept, is perhaps made a little more efficient and workable.

What are your thoughts on this use of Rebirth? Does it make Blackguard a more enticing prospect or would you use Rebirth differently? Let us know in the forums.

Jamie Dodd

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Push Your Luck – Entering the World of Competitive Netrunner

I can still remember how intimidated I was going to my first competitive Netrunner tournament. I’d seen they were happening on a monthly basis at the local games store, and I had some friends who played, but the idea of spending a day playing against people I didn’t know – all of which I knew would be better, smarter, and more cunning than me – and getting crushed in game after game filled me with a kind of existential dread that I am sure a lot people would recognise.

push-your-luck-art

What made me get over that initial fear and sign up for the event was the Chronos Protocol Tour – and I wanted to vote on which ID I wanted to get printed, and for that, I had to play in the tournament. I turned up with decks I had designed myself, having never read a single article about Netrunner online, never looked at someone else’s decklist, never read a tournament report. I went in expecting to lose every game on the day.

But I didn’t. I won a couple of games and had a lot of fun; the gulf between my expectation of the event and the reality was as wide a gap as I could ever have believed. Having played in some competitive Magic:The Gathering events, my visions of shark-eyed ‘pros’ scoffing as I installed cards they wouldn’t dream of playing, followed by them dismantling me and rolling their eyes as they left me crushed, were washed away. Instead what I found was a friendly, welcoming, but definitely competitive group of people who were thrilled to see new players entering the local scene.

With the recent announcement of FFG’s NAPD Most Wanted List shaking up the established decks, and the beginning of Store Championship season upon us, there might never be a better time for you to overcome your fears and take the plunge into competitive play. Still not convinced? Then let me try and debunk some myths about these events, give some tips for how to approach your first tournament, and what you should do and where you should go once your first event is over.

The Myths

Here in Sheffield, the group of Netrunner players seems to widen every month, and some of these concerns are things people have mentioned to me as reasons why they haven’t, or are worried about, playing in a tournament.

“There’s so many technical rules in Netrunner I don’t know, I’m going to get disqualified because I did something wrong I didn’t know about”

lawyer-upThis is something I have heard from more than a few people – a perception that entering a tournament is going to be a minefield of unknown or misunderstood rules where, and when you say something nonsensical like “I flip my Jackson facedown in Archives”, instead of a puzzled look from your opponent, instead your opponent calls a judge and Rules Lawyers you out of the event for something you didn’t even know was a mistake.

The reality is than in 16 months of regular tournament attendance, including Regional and National Championships, I have seen only a handful of judge calls, and none of them resulted in disqualification. I have seen one game loss in an event, and the person in question volunteered to take it when they realised they had an illegal deck by mistake.

The people who you play against, especially if you mention this is your first tournament in the pre-game setup chit-chat, will all either be just as inexperienced as you, or remember their first tournament experience and be generous and sympathetic to your rules concerns. 95% of rules disputes can often be walked back at the table without the need to call a Tournament Organiser or judge to make a ruling. If you do have a rules query, a concern, or something doesn’t look right to you, each event should have someone knowledgeable and neutral on-hand to resolve these kind of disputes. Despite not having an official judges program, every event you go to should have any number of people who can cite chapter and verse the rules, ruling, or timing issue you are trying to straighten out.

the foundryThat’s not to say you should walk into a tournament having only skimmed the rulebook once – if you are planning on playing in any kind of competition, having a core understanding of the rules should be part of your preparation. However, as long as you understand the basics, anything up to a Store Championship level should mean that your opponents aren’t going to react too harshly to any missteps you make. It’s not until you reach the highly competitive climate of Regionals and Nationals that you need to have internalised all the rules, but I wouldn’t recommend making a Regionals or Nationals your first taste of competitive Netrunner either.

So go out there, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You are going to encounter rulings that seem counter to what you think must be true (I can still remember first encountering the The Foundry-Accelerated Beta Test interaction in a game against World’s Top 16 player Gary “evilgaz” Bowerbank and spending the rest of the game thinking “that can’t be right” as he trounced me in the first of what would become several encounters between us), but at the same time you are going to learn a lot about how some of the stranger corners of the game function, get a better understanding of some of the timings and wrinkles in Netrunner play, and you’re definitely not going to get thrown out of the event for any of it.

“The card pool is huge and intimidating! I don’t know what every card does, and I can’t learn all 800+ cards before an event. I am going to lose to something I’ve never even seen before!”

Yes, Netrunner has a big card pool. There are a lot of options out there. However, a lot of movies get made every year, but I bet you could take a decent stab at naming a bunch of high profile movie releases from 2015.

Someone brought this up with me during a regular casual Netrunner night in the Pub in Sheffield where I play, and it got me thinking. I contacted FFG Data guru and Netrunner player Jaffer Battica (@jafferbatica), who was compiling some data from the Top 16 of Worlds, and based on the top 16 decks featured at World’s this year, only 73 different Corp cards and 84 different Runner cards were played over all those decks – a far less intimidating number of cards to be familiar with, especially when several of the greatest hits are no doubt cards you have come across already.

hard-at-workIf you are here, reading this article, you’ve already found a great resource for familiarising yourself with what cards you might reasonably expect to see – the internet is full of fantastic guides to the world of competitve Netrunner, from this fine website, to Netrunnerdb.com (especially its ability to search for decks which placed highly at tournaments), to Stimhack, as well as plenty of video content on youtube provided by channels like Facecheck and NeoReading Grid, and a raft of excellent Netrunner themed Podcasts like RunLastClick, Terminal7 and The Winning Agenda, all of which can give you a leg up on your understanding of the cards you are likely to see across the table from you.

But if all that sounds like too much hard work, the real secret is – you don’t need to have memorised the text on every common card to play in a competitive environment. You’ll have plenty of time to read cards as they are played, and while knowing what cards you might expect your opponent to be holding, or have installed over their servers can be the key to winning games, that’s something that you will pick up naturally as you continue to play. Every game, win or loss, is a lesson in what is possible as you start your journey into the competitive scene.

“Everyone is just going to show up with these unbeatable decks from the internet and I am going to get crushed with my home made deck all day”

No-one, especially not me, is going to tell you that there aren’t going to be people at these events who are playing decks which are currently popular. But no deck plays itself, no deck has perfect draws, and no deck is guaranteed a win over any other. Player skills factors as much into the outcome of a game as the composition of cards in your deck, so as long as your deck contains the basics it needs to win (like a suite of breakers in a Runner deck, a way to score agendas and/or kill your opponent in a Corp deck) then you stand at least some chance against everyone you sit down opposite on the day.

near-earth-hubOf course, there’s nothing to stop you looking at one of those resources I mentioned above, or just asking the local players in your area about what is strong, and bringing a competitive list from the internet yourself. There is absolutely no shame in ‘netdecking’, people are not going to judge you harshly, throw stones at you, or run you out of their store on a rail if you bring Prepaid Kate and NEH Fast Advance to a competitive event – you can be sure you will not be the only one there making those kinds of decisions.

So whether you take a home brewed list or a known archetype, there isn’t a game you should feel you have lost as soon as you sit at the table. Good, experienced players might still beat you, but your deck choices shouldn’t.

“I don’t really know what I am doing! What if I do something wrong at the tournament?”

It’s pretty hard to mess up attending a tournament. Turn up on time, take two legal decks, wait for your opponent to be named each round, play them, then tell the tournament organiser the score, repeat until the end. There is no dark secret or arcane initiation to tournament structure. All you need to do is play who you get told to play, and let the tournament organisers take care of the complicated ranking and record keeping part.

“I just can’t take the pressure of playing in a tournament!”

I had someone say this to me a couple of weeks ago and it really threw me for a loop. Because in reality, the only pressure that exists in tournaments is the pressure you put on yourself. The first time you attend a tournament, the other players aren’t going to look at you and go “Hey you! Unless you come at least 5th in this event, you are banished forever from our presence!”. If you enjoy playing Netrunner, then attending a tournament should be exactly as much pressure as you feel when you play with your friends. You might have some tense games, you might get invested in the result, but the only thing expected of you by the other attendees is that you come and play.

Think of it as like the Netrunner equivalent of Speed Dating – you pay a little money to attend, you get to meet and play a bunch of new people. The difference here, is you also get prizes for participating, something that I think Speed Dating is lacking.

Fine, I’ll do it! – Attending your first tournament

OK, if I’ve convinced you it’s not going to be a scary as you thought, here’s a few useful tips for your first tournament.

Before you show up, make decklists for both the decks you are taking, and compare the lists to the actual physical cards in each deck. That’s a good way to make sure you’re not missing any key cards, and that your deck is legal (in terms of influence and card numbers etc).

store-champs-2016-swag

Tournaments can be long days – especially Store Championships, which can take up to 6-7 hours to finish. Have a good breakfast if you can, because sometimes lunchtimes are short and its not easy to get a decent lunch, and take something to drink throughout the day as well – you’ll be surprised how much energy you can expend playing Netrunner, and being well fed and hydrated throughout the day will stop you feeling sluggish and miserable as the day goes on.

If possible, try and take a tournament buddy. It’s always useful to have someone to trade war stories with between rounds, review decisions you’ve made, or just blow off steam with. If you are going on your own, you can always ask the Tournament Organiser to introduce to the people who are waiting for the event to start and talk with them – it’s possible you’re not the only new player, or you might just get talking with someone else playing throughout the day.

Don’t get too stressed or overly invested when you are playing. Politeness and good sportsmanship generally have been hallmarks of the Netrunner community – in 16 months of competitive play, I’ve never had a bad, surly, or abusive opponent, and it’s that part of the game which keeps many people coming back to competitive events having left other, perhaps less friendly competitive games.

Finally, set yourself a reasonable goal for the day. I ran a community event in November last year where we had several people for whom it was their first event, and I know at least 2 of them came into the event with the goal of winning at least one game (which they both did). Even if your goal is just to meet people, see some different decks in action, or find out about the larger netrunner scene in your area, try and have something you want to accomplish on the day. However, remember to keep it realistic – going into your first tournament thinking “I’ll only be happy if I come first or second” is probably only going to leave you frustrated and give you a negative experience. (unless you are a Netrunner Prodigy, or you’re participating in a 2 man tournament).

Tournament Fever – When is the next one?

After you’ve had your first, hopefully positive, Netrunner tournament experience, you might find yourself wanting to dive deeper into the competitive scene. You’ve come away with some prizes, some new friends, and a desire to go back and do better than you did last time. So what do you do next?

Reach out to the community of players you just met, through social media or casual netrunner meetups, and ask them about upcoming events. Sometimes you’ll find a group from your local area who travel around to other tournaments nearby, and you can join in on some Netrunner Road Trips, with a pre-arranged set of tournament buddies ready to roll into someone else’s town and take on their players. Most areas will have some kind of website/Facebook group/social media thing surrounding their local scene where details of upcoming events will be available for you to search. For FFG’s more organised play events, you can find listings of every Store Championship, Regional, and National event on their website.

Look out for people posting details of community-organised events near you on places like this fine website (if you are in the UK), Stimhack, or other Netrunner larger community forums. If you’re lucky, there might be a New Player Only community tournament being organised in your area, and if not, ask your local Tournament Organiser to see if people might be interested in one – you never know your luck.

Hopefully some time in 2016 I’ll be hosting a New Players Tournament here in Sheffield, as well as a second outing for my Charity Gift tournament later in the year. If you’ve still not taken the competitive plunge by then, get in touch, and I’ll make sure to save you a place.

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