Some time ago I wrote an article about how to play as runner more successfully. You can find this here if you’ve not seen it. I didn’t initially follow this article up with a Corporation version because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to cover.
Over the last few months I’ve been making notes as I played games until I had enough points I felt were valuable. Honestly though, part of my inspiration for writing this is that I want to have a selection of articles available that are a good reference for new players – a new players toolkit, if you will. That being said, I very much expect this article to be useful to most players.
I appreciate feedback so please let me know what you think.
Identifying the Threat
Playing as the Corporation often feels like playing defence, although this can depend on the deck you are playing and can even change throughout a game. In all cases, however, you need to understand where the threat to you is coming from. This assessment forms two parts: firstly, how is the runner planning on winning, and secondly how is the runner able to stop you winning? How you play your Corporation deck will need to change as you discover the answer both of these questions.
Looking at the first point, the runner will have a game plan. This may be an economy denial plan using cards such as Account Siphon and Vamp. They may be playing an ICE destruction deck using cards like Parasite and the cutlery (Knifed, Spooned, Forked) or they could be playing a combo deck like “Dyper” which looks to build up multiple clicks using cards like Hyperdriver and win in one big turn (this one made top 16 at Worlds 2016). There are other, more straightforward decks such as those that use good efficient breakers and multi access cards that can often catch you out if you are worrying too much about the other deck archetypes. Regardless, you need to understand what they are going to do so you can prevent it.
I often see players not respecting the threat from their opponents enough. To give you an example, I played against an opponent at the World Championships in 2016 who left a single ice on HQ all game despite the fact that I was on an Account Siphon recursion deck (i.e. using Same Old Thing and Déjà vu to play Account Siphon multiple times). As a Corporation, if you know (or more likely discover) that you are playing against this sort of deck there are a number of things that you can do to play around it – make the HQ ice extremely taxing, use defensive upgrades such as Caprice Nisei or Crisium Grid or have high cost Assets and Upgrades available to rez to “duck” the siphon (i.e. leave limited credits in your credit pool for the runner to steal – Siphon recursion decks often rely on this for their economy).
The important thing is to respect the runner’s game plan and to make it as difficult as possible for them to complete it. The art of Netrunner is knowing when you should be spending your time preventing your opponent progressing their board state and when you should be trying to advance yours.
On to the second point, how is the runner going to stop you winning the game? I’m not just talking about stealing your agendas – that is something they are very likely to be doing and you should expect and be prepared for this anyway. What I want to show you is that there are counters to your well thought out, considered plans and you often need to adapt to account for them, play around them, and sometimes take some risks – maybe your opponent doesn’t have the counter to your play in hand yet.
Lets look at a “glacier” deck as a starting point. These decks are defined by their use of big (often, but not always, expensive) taxing ice and defensive upgrades such as Caprice Nisei and Ash to score agendas in a remote server. The defensive upgrades are usually the key here. So, as you might expect, the runner has numerous tools at their disposal to counter them. For example, cards like Rumor Mill and Political Operative. Therefore, when playing this type of deck, you need to consider if it is likely that your opponent is playing these cards and what you are going to do to deal with them. Rumor Mill is a two influence Anarch card – how much of your opponents influence spend have you already seen? Do you have currents of your own? Is HQ well defended and therefore Political Operative isn’t an option for them?
Similarly, “fast advance” as a strategy has challenges. A fast advance deck being one which intends to score agendas in the same turn that they are installed (see Biotic Labour, San San City Grid, 2/1 agendas). The main challenge is Clot, as this is often not on the board when you start to fast advance. This is where you need to review and decide if they have the ability to get Clot (Self-Modifying Code, Clone Chip or Street peddler, for example), if it is likely they have the card in their deck, and if you can deal with it using something like a Cyberdex Virus Suite. These decisions change from game to game and deck to deck, but are things that you should constantly be thinking about.
The overall message is that you should be focused on what your opponent is doing, not just trying to advance your win condition. If you play your deck regardless of what your opponent is doing (“playing solitaire”) you will often lose as you will not see key plays coming or have the resources to react to them. Balance your goals with your opponents.
Know the Cards
In the sections above I have referred to a number of cards by name. There are a lot of playable cards in the Netrunner card pool (~1055 unique cards up to Quorum) and while you don’t need to be familiar with all of them you do need to have a good understanding of the cards that are regularly played (“the metagame”), especially in the competitive environment. If you don’t have this knowledge you cannot predict what could be coming.
To give you an example, if the runner runs R&D and HQ and then runs Archives and you don’t rez the ice to keep them out because you don’t see any threat (there are no agendas in Archives, for example) then you haven’t considered cards like Apocalypse or Notoriety.
However, this understanding of the card pool needs to go beyond simply knowing what cards are and if they are generally played. It is also extremely important to know what the good (competitive) decks are right now. Even if you aren’t interested in the competitive scene at this point it is something that dictates the decks that get played, even at casual meet ups. Having this knowledge allows you to sit down across from an opponent and (often even as early as when they put down their ID) have a good idea of what that deck is. This means that you can start the counter plays that we spoke about previously straight away, rather than waiting for an indicator from your opponent’s deck.
Guaranteeing the Win
One of the pitfalls that I see newer players falling into is that they want to create a situation where there is no chance for the runner to get in and steal an agenda. They want to completely lock down all of their servers, particularly their scoring server. They will often play economy cards until they have enough credits to rez every piece of ice on the board even if they are Account Siphoned. This is similar to how new runners will refuse to run without a full rig, sacrificing pressure on the corp for their own safety.
You should not be making an impenetrable remote, but rather making it unlikely that or very costly for the runner to risk going for the steal. In the early game – before the runner is set up – what you are often aiming for is multiple “End the Run” ICE with different sub types, banking on the runner being unable to pull together the necessary breakers in time. An alternative is using taxing ice so that they cannot afford to get in without suffering negative consequences, such as net damage or program trashing.
One of the reasons that 3/2 agendas (3 advancements, 2 agenda points – see Project Beale, for example) are played so frequently is because they allow you to “Never Advance”. That is when you install an agenda but do not advance it – this means your opponent will be unsure whether you have installed an agenda, an asset or an upgrade. This presents them with a choice: is it worth making the (likely costly) run when it may not be an agenda at the end? Agendas that need to be advanced need to be protected more, particularly if the ICE protecting it is rezzed because the runner can calculate the cost to get in and knows there is likely an agenda installed (although it is not guaranteed to be – see cards such as Reversed Accounts which can be a good bluff).
When to Score
Scoring agendas is an expensive prospect. You invest both clicks and credits in the advancement itself as well as protecting that agenda. That protection may be ice protecting your remote server or the cost of using fast advance tools. Therefore sometimes trying to score agenda can open you up to attack by other routes. One of the questions that I always ask myself is – what impact does this have on my board state? If it is early and I have no ice rezzed, does scoring mean I cannot rez my central server ICE and therefore bleed accesses? This doesn’t mean it isn’t the right play, but you should at least consider the following questions:
- Do you have any agendas or trashable cards in HQ? This is going to (or at least it should) influence your decision. If you don’t, or the risk is minimal, then it seems like a sensible play.
- What about R&D? Do they have any multi access cards installed or are they likely to have any? If your deck is full of low point agendas or trashable cards even a single access could lead to more. On the other hand if the agenda density or number of trashable cards isn’t high then giving up a single card access is likely the right thing to do.
- Another question that you should ask yourself is how much does scoring this agenda advance my win condition? For example, cards such as Astroscript Pilot Program and Nisei MK II aid in the scoring of further agendas or enable other plays so this is a very positive factor.
- Does scoring the agenda put you on match point, and therefore put a lot of pressure on the runner?
- Is HQ defence already quite weak and therefore could leaving agenda in hand advance my opponents win condition?
- Am I opening myself up to potential damaging plays such as Vamp, Apocalypse or Indexing? What is the likelihood of this and am I willing to risk it?
If I am going to try and score I always do the maths involved – if the runner has the breakers they need or could get them into play, how many credits would they need to get into the remote? If you are not advancing the agenda it becomes a question of if you think the runner would be willing to spend the credits to check. If you are advancing the agenda, then this is far more important because they are likely to run it, as it is very likely score attempt. The runner scoring the agenda but going broke to do so may be an acceptable outcome, as it may open up a better scoring window for you.
There is no perfect answer to if you should be pushing to score, but these are the things that I tend to consider. Hopefully this helps you with your decision making. I would definitely take the time during games to ask these questions to myself, but also remember that time is often against you – you will draw into more agendas and the runner will develop their board state as the game progresses so scoring will become more and more difficult. There is rarely a perfect scoring opportunity so do consider taking risks and playing aggressively. As always, these points vary based on the decks you and your opponent are playing. And, just because something worked the first time you did it, doesn’t mean that it is always the right play.
It is very easy to ignore parts of the game state when it doesn’t matter to your game plan. Take a runner encountering an Ichi 1.0 and being unable to break all of the subroutines, for example. In this situation, the runner will often focus on the program trashing subroutines and let you fire the trace. What do you do? If the runner gets tagged from the trace when playing HB it often doesn’t matter as you don’t have any tag punishment cards and so often you do not boost the trace. Is this always the case? Assume for example you are playing a deck whose main breaker is Faust – that brain damage could really matter. Alternatively, what if the runner has some Resources installed that are critical to their game plan? You could trash, for example, a Beth Kilrain-Chang, Wyldside or loaded Kati Jones. These things may not seem huge, but they can be game changing. There is a reason that these cards are in the runner’s deck, and you need to be consider if it is worth the cost to trash them. Don’t just focus on what you wanted to do next: analyse if the cost is worth delaying your plan. Does it set them further back than you?
Having a solid economy is extremely important; you may have noticed that I rabbit on about this in basically every article that I write. Having too much economy is rarely a problem, but having none is. As the Corporation, it is extremely important not to drop low on credits. As I pointed out in the “When to Score” section, if you are low on credits you open yourself up to free accesses and potentially some devastating attacks.
The definition of what “low on credits” is can actually be different from deck to deck. In glacier decks you’ll often need more money so you can rez big ice – the runner will know this too. It also raises the point about being aware of your ice cost curve and the importance of cheaper ICE for the early game.
There are also links here with knowing the card pool – if the runner knows that Ichi 1.0 costs five credits to rez and Cortex Lock costs two, they are going to potentially consider this when facing off against the respective factions. If you have the number of credits you need to rez your key impactful ICE it may prevent a runner from making a run if they do not have the answer to this card, regardless of what’s actually installed.
Play all the popular decks!
I know that a lot of people don’t like to play the popular decks (or ‘Netdeck’) and I understand their thinking. Part of the game is deck building and people want to be creative – it’s all cool and it’s you’re hobby.
With that said, I still recommend playing the popular decks. Just take them for a spin at your local game night or online. You don’t need to play them for months or take them to tournaments – just get some games in with them. The reasoning is really simple – every deck has problems and weaknesses, but sometimes when you are playing against them you can’t immediately see it. However, when you are piloting the deck it becomes crystal clear what a deck’s strengths and weaknesses are. You’ll learn so much about how to beat a deck by piloting it, and you’ll know what to expect when facing it. I keep dribbling on about knowledge and this is another aspect of this.
To give you an example, take a traditional Dumblefork deck. It is especially strong in the late game and you are likely to find that much of your ICE gets destroyed in reaching this phase of the game. However, it can be slow to set up (depending on what it draws). If it doesn’t see a Faust early you are likely to be able to sneak though a couple of agenda. This may mean that you can abandon your remote server and Fast Advance the remaining points. Further, the deck is very reliant on Resources for its card draw and economy – it is unwilling to keep tags in many circumstances. Therefore cards that tag can be quite taxing to the deck. Piloting the deck will show you its weaknesses. Too often you will say to yourself “where the hell is that Wyldside?” You don’t have to take it to a tournament if you don’t want to, but you should at least test it on casual nights if you want to get good at playing against it.
Bluffing / Illogical Plays
Sometimes the correct thing to do is make “bad plays”. Hear me out, I know this may not seem to be solid advice but it actually is.
If you are trying to score an agenda there is often an assumption that you will put your agenda in the scoring remote that is the most heavily defended. Often economy assets and other cards will go in other, less defended remotes. If the runner has to pay a few credits to keep you honest, then often they will not bother because if you were trying to score there is a better option available to you – therein lies the bluff.
Now when going for a bluff it is worth considering a few things:.
- Are you on match point? If you are there is a good chance that the runner will check everything you put down if they can because they cannot take the risk that it’s the winning agenda.
- What is your economy like? If it is weak then the runner may opt to run your economy asset to keep you poor and will be very happy to find an agenda instead.
- What is the runner’s economy like?
- Do they gain another benefit for making the run?
The principal is to try and predict if you think they will run a particular server or not. Are they building their board state to enable a particular play? It is also worth considering what the risk is if you make this play and it fails – do you lose, is it a key agenda etc?
A few examples of good bluffs I’ve seen in recent weeks:
CTM vs. Whizzard during swiss in a Store Championship: the runner is applying pressure well and has R&D locked down. The corporation installs a card in a remote. It would cost the runner a single card with Faust to check as it isn’t the corporation’s main scoring server. Instead they continue to threaten central servers since it is likely an asset (the CTM deck is running Mumba Temple) and it cannot be a Sensie Actors Union as it is iced. The card is a Breaking News that leads to a Closed Accounts and is the pivotal play that turns the game and enables a corporation win.
HB ETF vs Smoke during casual play: the corporation is on 4 points and the runner on 2. The scoring server is quite taxing and so when the corporation installs the runner makes the decision to not run it, but establishes a solid R&D lock. The next turn the corporation scores out an agenda using a Biotic Labor going to 6 points. The game continues for several turns with the runner stealing points before the Corporation gets them. After one mandatory draw the corporation uses Biotic Labor to score the 4/2 agenda that has been sat in the remote for a large part of the game.
Hopefully you can see that often the runner will not check a card if it is deemed unlikely that it is an agenda or key asset. This is logical as the runner cannot check everything and must make a decision on what to expend their clicks and credits on. This can be exploited. Also the runner will sometimes make the decision that a card is not an agenda. If they do this then it can often be left for several turns before it is scored – this is sometimes important when you need to react to a runner threat such R&D pressure (e.g. they have just played a medium).
Hopefully this helps you get better as a Corporation player or helps you when talking to new players about corping. Most of this article has come from my own experiences teaching new players and my own learning curve, but I am certain that I am missing things. Therefore, if you think there are things that need to be included here drop me a message or comment so others see it.
Special thanks to Dan / Phoenix for reviewing and editing this article.