With UK Nationals and Worlds having been and now gone, signalling the end to the official FFG Netrunner season, I decided to look back at my results. Overall I ended up finishing top sixteen at UK Nationals and in all five regionals I competed in, the highlights being second place in Huddersfield and fourth at Reading. Consequently, I now feel confident enough in my results, consistency and achievements in the competitive side of the game to discuss my progression from being a fairly run of the mill newb, to Dark Lord’s apprentice and coming out the other side as now being half decent. Hopefully I can continue that upwards trend to become one of the best players in the UK.
One 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.
Let’s start off with some common traps that new players often fall into.
Not running until you build a full rig
It 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.
I 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
I 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.
I 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
Another 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?
This 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.
Here’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.
For 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.
You 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.
Being 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.
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.
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.