From Casual to Competitive

From Casual to Competitive (An Intermediate Guide)


David 'Chimpster' Paterson



In lieu of attempting to complete a dissertation due in a fortnight (titled The Reinterpretation of the Devil in 17th Century England for the curious souls among you), I have decided instead to sink my productivity into something Netrunner related!


So you’ve bought a Core Set, have got a fair few games under your belt and are looking to branch out into the wider world of competitive Netrunner. Thankfully, you've come to the right place, and we're here to help put you in touch with your local Netrunner scene, give you some useful tips on purchases, deck building and a few golden rules to live by. Warning: this post contains an unapologetic love letter to the all-encompassing hobby which is Netrunner!


This article will do its best to cover these bases though it should be worth establishing that this will be by no means comprehensive. This guide will assume a basic level of knowledge of the game (i.e. you’ve actually played the game a bit and understand the rules and terminology) and that you are contemplating taking up Netrunner as a hobby.


I’ll do my best to link to other online resources as I go for the extra keen among you and hopefully this can at the very least, serve as a good starting point for folks in the future. As always, if you think I’ve missed something important, please follow the forum link at the bottom of the page and let me know!



Netrunner as a Hobby


Netrunner, like any other weighty LCG/CCG, has a fairly steep learning curve when you make the step up from kitchen table to local game night. It may not seem like it at the time, but this is a good thing. It indicates the depth of the game and believe you me, Netrunner is a game with enough depth for there to be weird looking fish with little lights hanging from their heads swimming around you. If you haven’t already, you should definitely read Leigh Alexander’s experience with getting to grips with the game for a brilliant demonstration of breaking through that pain barrier and finding something truly worthwhile on the other side. This excerpt eloquently sums up the experience far better than I ever could:


'Getting your head around Netrunner is like trying to grab a fish in a river. It slips always just out of your reach, lets you seize it only for a moment. And just when you think you’ve really got it, brand-new cards are released, making new mechanics possible. It is not about the climb to dominance. It is not about getting better and better until you’re impervious. It’s not about winning, but about growing, laterally, like you’re sketching a map of a world that will never be finished being born.


I fell in love with this game because becoming good at it, and having fun at it, and making it mine, meant that winning stopped mattering at all.'


I think that this is the mental state which any new (or experienced) player should aspire to. Don’t expect to suddenly take your local scene by storm, you almost certainly won’t, but if you go in with the right mind set, you’ll enjoy yourself despite losing. This leads me onto my first tip:



Find Your Local Netrunner Scene


Going back to drawing from Leigh’s experiences, you’ll note that she had a guru to help her make the jump, Quinns, board game reviewer and Netrunner enthusiast extraordinaire. This is really important, and you need to do likewise. Seek out a local Netrunner scene near you and find a guru. I realise that may be somewhat intimidating (especially when everyone pulls out their championship Netrunner playmats) but this definitely needs to be the first step in your journey. I was fortunate enough to find an absolutely splendid scene here in Cheltenham when I first got into the game a couple of years ago, where I received tutelage under the masterful gaze of now national champion David Hoyland. While I wish I could say that the apprentice has now become the master, this would be an utter falsehood but further underlines the importance of finding good players and losing to them. It will make you a far better player.


If you’re in the UK, you are in luck! You’ll notice on the top bar of this very site that we have a rather spiffy ‘Find a group’ button that will take you to an appropriate forum board where you can learn more about where folks meet in your area. If your locality isn’t represented, try giving the folks over on the UK Netrunner Facebook group a poke and see if you can track someone down. If you’re not from the UK, you could of course move here or failing that, try and track down your countries Facebook group or website (there are a couple) to get in contact.


Once you’ve found a group, don’t be intimidated, take your decks (more on this later) and introduce yourself to someone. The Netrunner scene in my experience is one of the most gentle and forbearing groups I’ve come across and I have little doubt that you will find the same. If all you have are Core Set decks, it could be a good idea to ask if your opponent would mind playing with your spare deck to keep the playing field level and to at least ensure that you won’t be spending the next hour reading the text on cards you’ve never seen before. It could be that your opponent has a core set ‘teaching’ deck of their own to use, definitely take advantage of this if possible. Talk to your opponent if you are unsure on a rule or a card interaction and don’t worry too much about the speed you’re playing at. The folks either side of you might be playing at a lightning pace but that doesn’t mean that you will be expected too, take your time and take advantage of every learning opportunity you can.


Game night kit Tournaments are the next logical step in your journey. Talk to your group about what might be coming up that you could make, don’t be afraid of losing, it’s not likely you’ll place higher than mid table to start with but the experience is valuable. Quinns occasionally runs tournaments specifically for new players in London, definitely keep an eye open for news of those if you can but failing that, a local tournament is an experience that you shouldn’t preclude yourself from, they’re a brilliant experience no matter what your level. Like Leigh said, it shouldn’t be about the climb to dominance, just enjoy playing a great game against great people!



What Should I Buy Next?


This is almost always the next question (usually the first) people ask when looking to take up the game as a hobby but I think it’s important to stress that this is probably the least important section of the article. My first piece of advice would be Don’t Go Crazy. As we’ve already established, the jump from kitchen table to local scene is huge and the jump from local scene to competitive tournament is equally enormous. There’s the possibility that you won’t enjoy this process and the last thing you want is to overinvest in something you won’t be playing a month down the line. Equally, you don’t need every single Netrunner card ever printed to be a good player. More cards won’t suddenly make you a better player either, I can’t emphasise this enough. Of course understanding strong deck design and building robust decks is important, but 9 times out of 10, if you were to put a ‘top tier’ deck into the hands of a newish player and a well-constructed Core set deck into the hands of an experienced player, my money would be on the experienced player every time. The Core set contains some of the strongest and most prolific cards in the game so while you will be at a disadvantage with a smaller card pool, it’s probably less than you think it is. The bigger handicap will be ‘card knowledge’, actually knowing what to expect in certain decks. We’ll come on to this in more detail later.


One of the main advantages of the ‘Living Card Game’ model is that you can buy the cards you want fairly cheaply (assuming availability) and with minimal fuss. The first thing I would reconmend is to get a feel for which factions you enjoy the most and talk to your guru about what cards you could take advantage of within your decks. While being able to build every deck under the sun is absolutely fantastic, initially, you just need to have 2 solid decks that you enjoy playing and hone your skills with them. The deluxe boxes are obviously a great place to start with this and I would definitely reconmend picking 1-2 of them up for your favourite factions (Creation and Control also has some really important neutral cards which is worth considering). We’re still a little way off rotation of datapacks so don’t stress about picking up packs from the Genesis or Spin cycles (Deluxe boxes will never rotate so that’s another reason why they make a good starting point), in fact some of them are still important (What Lies Ahead and Opening Moves especially). Two cards I would highlight at this stage as being nigh on essential are Jackson Howard (Opening Moves) and Plascrete Carapace (What Lies Ahead). Pretty much all good corp decks run 3x Jackson Howard while Plascrete is especially important for the new player (most experienced players will still run 2 copies in their decks). Plascrete was also available as a promo card so if you ask your local game group nicely, they might have some spare copies for you.


Eventually, you’ll also want to consider picking up a second Core Set for extra copies of cards that are ‘1 ofs’ or ‘2 ofs’ within the box. Many players would reconmend this being your first purchase (again, due to the strength of Core Set cards) though I’m not sure I agree. As I’ve already suggested, card knowledge is more important than actually owning all the cards, so I think variety should be your first port of call in purchasing. A third core set is usually superfluous as any extra cards you may need can usually be borrowed from your group if required, just remember to say please! The Reddit buyers guide is a really handy resource for giving a general flavour of important packs so have a look at that as well when you’re looking to make the financial plunge.

If you can buy from and support your local game store, you should. Failing that sometimes you can get some good deals on used sets on eBay or on Facebook so keep your eyes open.


A final note, I would strongly reconmend that you pick up card sleeves at your earliest possible convenience if you haven't already. Not only will they prolong the life of your cards, but they are compulsory for certain tournaments (and if you want to use alt art cards). They also make shuffling a heck of a lot easier. Personally, I really like Ultra Pro Matte sleeves but that's entirely subjective, Fantasy Flight also make some rather spiffy Netrunner art sleeves that you might be interested in (should be able to grab them at your local games store).



Deck Construction


Building decks is a significant part of the hobby and one I would never discourage BUT…


You will probably be awful at building decks to start with, and you won’t realise why. This can become deeply frustrating for some people and lead them to believe that they are worse at the game than they really are. ‘Net Decking’ (the process of copying a popular online deck) feels like cheating for some, and for reasons unknown to me, is typically frowned upon or viewed as unsportsmanlike (usually by newer players). I would argue that these attitudes could potentially stunt your growth and prevent you from ever truly making the leap from kitchen table. Look at decks online, look at lots of decks online. Read the description of decks you like the look of, try and understand why certain choices have been made and then build that deck (or something like it if you have a limited card pool, try and replace like for like, economy with economy etc). As you pilot that deck in the real world, it could be that you find there are certain card choices that don’t suit your style of play or that you miss having a certain option in your deck. It could be that your local group all play a certain style of deck that you need to build counters for. Make the changes you need from that basic skeleton and then try it again, repeat the process until you have something that you can pilot well enough to recognise where you have made play errors rather than deck errors during a game.


This advice will be blasphemous to some and I imagine that people will suggest that this attitude limits creativity in the game, leading to a stale meta. There’s certainly an argument for that, but I would again assert that you can’t truly improve your play until you have ruled out bad deck choices. As you start to improve your play and card knowledge through piloting a tried and tested deck, the decks you’ll build from scratch in the future will be immeasurably better. You’ll understand why card x is better than card y for your specific deck, how to spend your influence to make up for faction weaknesses and the importance of building a win condition into your decks as a starting point.


All that being said, some of you will probably still prefer to trail blaze your own ideas, so let me offer some general tips on deck construction that should at least point you in the right direction.


1) Economy cards are not just nice to have, they are utterly vital


The classic deck building error, and one I see all the time on deck building sites is not including enough economy cards. Good decks usually pack about 12 economy cards (sometimes more, sometimes less depending on program/ice cost), and you should do likewise.


2) Good icebreaker choices and tutoring will win you runner games


Consistency is king as runner, you need to find the tools to access servers as quickly as possible. Cards like Special Order, Self-Modifying Code or draw engines like Diesel, Inject or Earthrise Hotel will give you the means to score agendas but won’t mean diddly if you are playing an inefficient breaker suite. Don’t be afraid to spend precious influence on icebreakers, they usually end up being the most important cards in your deck. There’s a reason why cards like Corrorder, Mimic and Gordian Blade are in so many decks, and you should play them too. Finally, sentries are mean and can really hurt while you’re still getting to grips with the card pool. Try and build in plenty of good sentry breaking options within your deck, they usually cause the biggest problems during a game and require you to have already have a solution in play in order to deal with them. Bear that in mind.


3) A solid corp deck will usually run around 16 pieces of ice


This one is more subjective I’ll admit, but the bottom line for me is that seeing no ice starting hands is pretty demoralising. I’d suggest that to start, you always want to be at around the 16 ice mark as it will give you solid options protecting your central servers initially (very important).


All of this advice is very general I appreciate, but it's a good platform to launch your first baby steps into the art of good deck building. As you continue to play, you'll learn more important things like what style of deck you prefer to play. Do you enjoy rushing your way to glory via fast advance? Do you prefer playing it slow via a glacier deck? Do you just like burning people's houses down (no judgement here)? Do you like dual win conditions or would you rather stick to one solid plan? If you find that a particular style of play isn't enjoyable, shake it up, try a different faction and change style completely, it could be a revalation for you!



Making Better Plays


A while back I posted an article entitled The Seven Deadly Netrunner Sins and since I’m an egomaniac, I would suggest that you go and read that first. It’s funny, I promise.


I feel like the ‘sin’ most appropriate to newer players would be that of sloth; not being aggressive enough to apply any meaningful pressure to either the corp or runner player. Within the article I state that newer players often forget that:


‘…the point of the game is to steal or score agenda points rather than prepare for every single eventuality on every single run. Preparing for the worst case scenario is important still but not at the expense of not pressing an advantage.’


I often find myself advising new players to build a solid Gabe deck in order to learn the importance of aggression and I think it's advice still worth offering. If you make the corp spend money rezzing ice or placing ice on centrals, that's time, money and resources they're spending on defending rather than advancing their own board state to be able to score agendas. The simple act of playing a Sneakdoor Beta can blow a game wide open, not just because you gain access to HQ but because the corp now has to respond by spending resources protecting archives. Make the runner/corp play your game through (sensible) aggression, don't just play solitaire and hope that you snatch the game at the end (even more difficult to do if the corp has scored an early punishing agenda like Astroscript or Nisei MkII), you need to apply constant pressure throughout the game.


I would counter my own argument (as I do in the article) with some important exceptions, and general rules to live by:


1) Don’t run 4th click unless you have no other choice (i.e. you’ll lose if you don’t)


If you face plant a Snare on the final click (not that I ever do this of course *cough*), you’ll probably lose either from a Scorched Earth to the face or to net damage. Always give yourself time to clear an unexpected tag or to recover from something nasty.


2) Always try and keep 4-5 cards in hand at the end of your turn


Scorched Earth isn’t going away any time soon. If in doubt, always put you Plascrete down.


3) Always be mindful of cards like Inside Job or Femme


Double stacking remote or HQ ice is pretty important and always a sensible play.


4) Try and have 4 credits left at the end of a run


NAPD is still everywhere and I don’t think that’s likely to change, having to put an NAPD back because you can’t afford to steal it is a depressing prospect most of the time.


5) Don’t neglect HQ


This is another classic mistake that all players make. So often a player will remark at the end of the game ‘you probably would have won if you ran HQ more’. Often, people will get tunnel vision on R&D and then despair their luck as they fail to see any agendas without realising it’s because they’re all in hand. Even if there aren’t any agendas there, you’ll gain valuable intel on what cards will soon hit the board while also being able to trash key cards before they even get there.


These are very general rules and you’ll learn a lot more as you go (like going slow against Personal Evolution, how to stay ahead economically to avoid being deaded by cards like Punitive Counterstrike, Sea Source or Midseason Replacements etc), but I feel like those rules (and the sins article) are a good place to start.



Final Thoughts


Netrunner is a great game with a great community and I try to keep our Links section up to date with a whole host of brilliant resources for the aspiring runner of nets. Initially though, take it steady, learn what the popular cards do and why they’re popular, play lots of games and try to seek as much feedback as possible.

Netrunner is a game of passion rather than one of strict rules and guidance and I hope that’s come across through this piece. Like Leigh articulated in her article, I love having Netrunner as a hobbie, it’s a creative, competitive and social experience with a unique language of its own. It has a really wide ranging, yet intimate competitive scene where we all travel around to each other’s tournaments and develop fun rivalries (I’m looking at you Reading vs Oxford!).


A great blog article written by Alex Spencer that I found during writing this article concluded with the following:


'Netrunner is social in the same way that watching a football game is social. It's certainly the closest I've ever come to following a sport, tracking the latest developments month to month online, listening to some of the dozens of podcasts dedicated solely to the game, talking the talk.


If I meet a fellow Netrunner player, we instantly have a common vocabulary. Anyone I've played a couple of times, we have long personal histories. That's something I have long envied of football fans: the shortcut of simply asking someone about their team.'


When you leave a tournament or local game night, you’ll almost always have a story to tell, or a catastrophic mistake to bemoan. If you’re anything like me, all you’ll be doing after getting home from an epic 7-12 hour tournament is thinking about the day, how you could have improved your play or change your decks. We already have some great stories in our Tournament Report section that you should have a look at, because at its heart, Netrunner is a game of stories and they definitely deserve to be read. Hopefully if you made it all the way to the bottom of this article, you’ll have stories of your own to share soon enough. Please join us over on the forums, we’d love to hear them!

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