Running in Netrunner

running-interferenceOne of the aspects of the game I see new and experienced people alike struggle with is running. For a new player playing the runner can be really hard; you don’t know what any of the face down cards are, and there are several ways for the unknowing player to get killed. Generally, you have access to more information as the corporation and so maybe this is why some find it easier to play the corporation from the start. In this article I’d like to go through some tips to make you a better runner and some easy traps to fall into, especially as a new player.

Common traps

Let’s start off with some common traps that new players often fall into.

Not running until you build a full rig

toolboxIt is extremely common for new players to build their board state until they have the perfect economy and rig set up. Doing this means they can often get into any server, and very little can threaten them. Unfortunately, it is likely that the corporation player has won the game by the point your prefect set up has been completed. I understand why running can be scary for a new player, they don’t know what any of the ice is and it could do serious damage to them. However, not running in the early game is giving up a huge advantage, as it is in this period that the corporation is not set up and able to defend themselves. We will cover more on this later in the article, but keep an eye on if you are being aggressive enough in the early game.

Just playing your deck

One of the things I have found with newer players is that they have a tendency to focus on what they want to do next. For example, they will draw a Makers Eye and focus on building up the credits or rig to play that card, but in doing so will ignore what the corporation has been doing and why. More often than not, you can tell the areas to attack the corporation by the actions that they take.

accelerated-beta-textI once had a conversation with a player I was teaching. He was focused on building up for a big R&D run, and I asked him what he thought was in the corporations scoring remote. He said he didn’t know as he hadn’t run it yet. I asked him what was in the new remote next to the scoring server; he gave me the same response. What I was trying to get him to think about was what the corporation may be doing.  The corp was HB Engineering the Future, there was an Accelerated Beta Test (ABT) in the scoring server, a Jackson Howard outside, and they were looking to safely trigger the ABT.

You need to think about what the corporation may be trying to achieve. You are not just trying to score agendas, but also trying to stop them from scoring or advancing their board state as well, which gives you more time to win. I like to think about what I would do if I was the corporation with the current board state., If I would try to score an agenda, then I predict that my opponent would try to do the same, so what, if anything, can I do anything about that.

Noise and the mill

noiseI see a lot of new players playing Noise and loving him, as they are able to beat better players with him. I strongly advise new players to not play Noise initially, as I believe that other runners teach better fundamentals and that Noise can in fact teach bad habits. Some players rely heavily on the randomness of the Noise mill effect to win games. I recently played against a new player playing Noise in a tournament. He literally never ran, instead just installed viruses and used Hades Shard. Now this may be an extreme example, but it shows the problem of how Noise can teach bad habits.

What will make you good at running?

Let’s flip this over then and discuss some good things to do or think about. This section is a collection of little tips, which hopefully will help you understand how to become a better runner.

Know how your opponent plans to win

There are several strategies for the corporation to win, and identifying this early is very important. The main ways a corporation wins are by; killing the runner, scoring in a safe remote, or fast advancing. The reason it is important to identify early what your opponent is doing is because your strategy should be different in all of those match ups. If you are playing the same way regardless of your opponents strategy, you are more than likely going to lose.

scorched-earthI think it is very difficult to provide a succinct summary of how to deal with all of the different match ups but here are some key thoughts that may help you:

Decks that score in a remote – These decks are generally trying to either tax you with big pieces of ice or rush early behind cheap ice. This is really core Netrunner, you are trying to get into their remote and steal their agendas, but are also happy to steal agendas from their central servers. You have a lot of options in these match ups, which we will cover below in more detail.

Fast Advance decks – These decks try to score an agenda the same turn that they install it, which limits your options quite a lot, as you are not often going to be able to score out of a remote server. Therefore, central server multi access is going to be key. Killing off their Fast Advance tools, such as San San City Grid, is essential and will often slow them down long enough for you to win.

Kill decks – These are probably the toughest for new players as you need to be extra careful, run early in the turn, keep a full hand of cards, and be aware of how they can kill you. Because I feel that this is such a tough match up for new players, I have dedicated an entire section to dealing with these decks below.

Knowing what things are…

This is a very broad point, but you will find that running is so much easier if you know what cards are available for the opposing faction, and more importantly, you know what cards are popular in that faction. There are plenty of sites available such as NetrunnerDB and Stimhack that show tournament winning decks, which will allow you to what see cards are frequently being played. If you know the common ice that can hurt you, then you will know when it is safe to run, either because of the corporation’s credit pool or the ice breakers that you have available.

This tip is definitely wider than just ice though, it applies to traps, and defensive upgrades Knowing which traps are common in popular decks can help you judge if it is worth the risk when making a run. Getting to the bottom of an expensive server only to be kept out by a defensive upgrade, such as Ash, is very problematic and often game changing. Having more information about popular cards will not only help your overall decision making but also work around these problems and help you feel safer making runs. You can get this information by playing lots of different decks, and making mistakes against them,. Doing a bit of research really helps you develop faster and is especially worth while before a tournament. Remember, a big part of the corporation’s advantage is hidden information; the more of this you remove the better it is for you.

Be able to threaten

legworkAnother broad point, I know. There are a lot of ways to threaten the corporation, but having a plan is very important. One of the best ways to threaten most corps is to be able to threaten the remote server,. This requires the right rig and normally credits, but if the corporation doesn’t feel safe putting an agenda in their remote server, that is a good thing. You can then take advantage of this unsafe feeling by applying HQ pressure where agendas are building up. Another way of applying pressure is with R&D multi access cards such Medium and R&D Interface. This pressure means that the corporation cannot just focus on scoring in their remote as they will often lose before they can score out, which means they will need to spend clicks and credits to defend R&D. There are a few tricks to extended R&D pressure, however, if you are seeing no agendas in R&D, then you need to pressure HQ as it could be flooded with agendas. New players often curse their bad luck after seeing no agendas in 10 cards on R&D, but should actually be thinking about why they are not seeing agendas in that location. Don’t forget that it is important to still apply pressure to the remote servers, because if the corporation has to rez ice on multiple servers it makes life more difficult on their economy, meaning it slows the rate that they can score out. Finally, it is often a bad move to go broke making a big R&D dig, Regardless of the success of that run, you are granting the corporation a huge scoring opportunity which is something you want to minimize.

What is the worst that can happen?

dr-pepperThis point definitely ties in with knowing what the corporations options are, as it is through this knowledge that you can better plan out your turn. Before you start your turn, you should be planning out what you want to do,. This is a general tip that will help you improve on both sides of the game; if you can help it, don’t draw with your last click. Often times, the card drawn may have changed what you do for your entire turn. Plan your turns! This is especially important as runner, you need to think what you need to do and when it is safest to do it. In general, running early in the turn is what you want to be doing. Why? Here are a few simple (and common) situations where it is helpful:

  • You run 1st click and encounter an Ichi 1.0 with no means to break it. You can safely use clicks to get through the problematic subroutines.
  • You run 1st click and encounter a Snare! You can spend the rest of your turn clearing the tag and drawing cards to ensure you don’t get killed.
  • You run 1st click and the corporation rezzes a Tollbooth going down to 1 credit in the process. You are able to run other freely servers knowing no additional ice is likely to be rezzed this turn.

Hopefully you can see the advantage in running early in the turn. It isn’t always possible, but you should when you can. However this point is not just about running early in the turn, it is about judging what could happen,. Before you start your run, you need to think what the ice could be (and is likely to be) and, in the worse case scenario, can you deal with that? If the triple advanced card is a trap, what does that mean to you? Can you deal with it? Just take some time before each run, to think things through. Sometimes you’ll have to take risks, but try to generally play safe and smart.

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,. A big part of the game is deck building and people want to be creative, its all cool. I still recommend playing the popular decks, maybe by 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 reason is really simple, every deck has problems, or weaknesses, but sometimes when you are playing against them you can’t see it. When you are piloting the deck it becomes much clearer what they are strong at and where there are they run into problems. You’ll learn so much about how to beat a deck by piloting it, and what to expect when on the opposite side. I keep dribbling on about knowledge and this is another aspect of this.

haarpsichord-studiosHere’s an example of why this is so important. I have often seen people playing against Haarpsichord kill decks, who after the corporation scores an Astroscript Pilot Program, go really aggressive as if they have only a few turns to win before the corporation scores out, which invariably gets them killed. However, if you play a Haarpsichord kill deck, you will often find that scoring out is harder than it seems,. It is not an Astro Biotic deck built to Fast Advance, that is merely a back up win condition. You are running less 3/2 agendas, and have no other Fast Advance options meaning you can only chain an Astro into an Astro if you want to purely Fast Advance etc. This is something that you learn by playing the deck, so regardless if you want to play your own creative decks, you will get better by playing and understanding the popular decks around at the moment.

Run early (but with a purpose)

One of the key tips for new runners is to encourage them to run early and often. Many games you will find that the corporation cannot afford to rez all of their ice in the first few turns. This will often allow you some free accesses, and is part of the way to winning the game. Generally all new players should definitely be running early in the game and not just focusing on rig building. However, I think it is important that this is with the caveat that you should still be building your board state. You need to make a judgement call on if runs are worth it.

datasuckerFor example, you may be able to get into HQ for free, but how many times is it worth running there? If they have credits to rez the ice, you need to question why they aren’t rezzing it. Is it because there are no agendas? Playing cards that benefit you for making these free runs is key to taking advantage of the early game corporation weakness. Desperado or Datasucker benefit you for getting free accesses, therefore even if you do not score agendas, you are not putting back your board state too much. There is no perfect algorithm for Netrunner. You need to make a judgement call based on the board state and your opponent’s options, as to whether running lots is worth while. But generally, even if you get punished for it some games, run early and run often. Overall it will make you a better player. Sometimes you may want a killer ICE breaker before you run e.g. against Jinteki Personal Evolution. If you are struggling with early game running, try playing a criminal like Gabriel Santiago who is better equipped to adapt to this mindset.

Playing against kill decks

I felt that it was important to specifically talk about kill decks, as these can be very difficult to deal with for new players. There are generally two types of kill decks, those focused on killing you with cards such as Scorched Earth and meat damage cards, and those that are trying to wear you down with lots of small damage effects and kill with a big damage shot. Both of these decks find it more difficult to kill you if you keep a full hand size, so the key tip here is to keep a full hand of cards. We also spoke earlier about how running first click is really important, this is especially true against kill decks as it will allow you to shake tags or draw up after suffering damage.

midseasonYou will almost never want to be running clicks 3 or 4 against these decks. Decks trying to kill you with Scorched Earth will often be trying to tag you, they will often do this using ice, so make sure that you are avoiding tags where you can. You will also need be aware of cards such as SEA Source and Midseason Replacements which can tag you and can be dealt with by having more credits than the corporation. Kill decks have tricks to tag you proactively such as Breaking News and Posted Bounty, which are agendas that you can steal. Think ahead before stealing that agenda, as it could be the death of you. There are a number of cards specifically designed to help you deal with kills decks, however having these cards in your deck make your match ups against other decks worse, so think very carefully before including these cards in your deck.

Timing windows

clotBeing aware of timing windows is something that will help you a lot as a runner. You can find the timing structure here, and getting your head around this is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, when you confirm you are going to access a server there is an opportunity for the corporation to take some actions, this could be rezzing defensive upgrades, or deal you a point of net damage with House of Knives. These are important things to be aware of when you are planning how much money or how many cards you need for your run. Secondly, it is important to know about who has priority when it comes to Fast Advance and anti-Fast Advance cards such as Clot. I don’t want to go into significant detail on this, but wanted to mention it so that new players can look it up. Priority can be a common occurrence and understanding the timings is an important part of your runner knowledge building.

Getting Better

We all want to get better, so what are some good tips to do so? Well I’d recommend this great article by Noah McKee as a starting point. One of the key things Noah talks about in his article is how he keeps notes of each game and writes down the things he did wrong. I think this is something that would definitely benefit new players, being able to identify what has cost them the game or common misplays will help them improve quickly.

Summary

Hopefully this helps you get better as a runner or helps you when talking to new players about running. Most of this article has come from my own experiences teaching new players and training someone who wanted to play in the competitive scene I probably am missing a few things, so if you think of anything that needs to be included here, drop me a message.

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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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