Standing on the Servers of Giants is a series written specifically for new Netrunner players. Using a lens of classic Magic the Gathering articles, this series explores the theoretical framework of Netrunner, and helps players make better decisions in card evaluation, deck building, and game play. Click here to see the overview of the series, and all the associated articles.

 

Welcome to the article idea that made me want to do this series in the first place.

There has been no other writing that so impacted my ability to play games than Mike Flores’ Finding the Tinker Deck. That’s a big statement for an article that, even at the time of its publication nearly two decades ago, was incomplete, insular, and dated.

But year-after-year, I keep finding myself going back to this original article to better understand formats, how to build decks, and how to play games. Tinker’s central idea is simple, but far reaching:

In any given format, available cards come together in recognizable patterns that we call deck archetypes – and while the specific card choices may change, the overarching rules for the archetypes do not.

For me, understanding strategic archetypes is like seeing the Matrix for the first time. All of the sudden, I understood why certain cards went into certain decks. I knew the order in which to play cards. I saw how different archetypes matched up, and what I had to do to exploit or circumvent the natural advantages one had against the other. I could analyze a metagame and understand why certain decks were absent, or how I could take advantage of a natural vacuum.

To this day when I sit down to build a deck, the very first question I ask myself is, “what archetype am I building?”

Archetypes in Netrunner

I absolutely believe that understanding core, strategic archetypes will make you a better Netrunner player. I also believe that a better understanding of these archetypes will benefit the community as a whole. Once you understand the interplay between archetypes, and can define them as specific units, you can expand your deck building range.

Netrunner is still a relatively new game. It seems to me that when most people are building decks, they see a narrow strategic lane through which they should play. This leads to decks defined by inherently powerful (ie. efficient) cards and obvious interactions that stay inside that narrow box.

A better understanding of the core strategic archetypes will lead to more deck diversity – not only in the types of decks that get played, but also in the types of cards. There are tons of incredibly interesting cards that never see serious play. I believe this is less because the cards are bad, and more because the quirks of these cards serve archetypes outside standard understanding of Netrunner.

I’m breaking this article into two parts. Because Netrunner is an asymmetrical game, it doesn’t make any sense to look at Corp and Runner at the same time. This initial part is going to cover Corp archetypes. These include: Fast Advance, Never Advance, Rush, Glacier, Prison, Kill Combo, and Points Combo. Next article we’ll take a look at the Runner archetypes: Big Rig, Lock, Toolbox, Midrange, Econ Denial, Board Denial, Rush, and Combo.

Corp Aggro Archetypes:

When most people think of archetypes, they tend only focus on the macro: Control, Aggro, Midrange, and Combo. This is a good start, but by getting more specific, we’ll better expand our deck building vocabulary. So what do we mean when we talk about “Aggro” decks from a Corp perspective? I’m working with the following definition:

A Corp Aggro deck is designed to give the Runner little opportunity to interact.

In an aggro context, the Corp is attempting to ask questions, and force the Runner to answer them. It is executing its game plan before the opponent has a chance to stop it.

Astroscript Pilot Program Biotic Labor

Fast Advance

Fast Advance is probably the most well-known, well-respected, and feared of the Corp’s aggro archetypes. Fast advance is defined by the Corp’s ability to score and agenda from hand – without letting the Runner have a turn to try and steal it.

A Fast Advance deck needs two things to be successful: agendas with low advancement requirements, and ways to generate extra clicks. You’re not going to be playing any of those 5/3 agendas when you’re on the Fast Advance plan. The gold standards are 3/2 like Accelerated Beta Test and the infamous Astroscript Pilot Program. But even with these low-cost agendas, the Corp can’t naturally play and score them in the same turn. With only three clicks, the best a Corp can do is Install, Advance, Advance – only placing two of the three advancement tokens on the agenda.

That’s where cards like SanSan City Grid and Biotic Labor step in. By getting an extra click, or by reducing an advancement requirement, you can score these 3-cost agendas the same turn you play them. This is such a dominating strategy that Core Set cards had to be restricted.

Fastrobiotics (9th Place World’s 2015)

Identity
Near-Earth Hub: Broadcast Center (Upstalk)

Agenda (11)
3x AstroScript Pilot Program (Core Set)
2x Breaking News (Core Set) ☆☆
3x Project Beale (Future Proof)
3x NAPD Contract (Double Time) ☆☆☆

Asset (7)
3x PAD Campaign (Core Set)
3x Jackson Howard (Opening Moves)
1x Daily Business Show (All That Remains)

ICE (15)
2x Tollbooth (Core Set)
1x Archer (Core Set) ••
2x Pop-up Window (Cyber Exodus)
3x Eli 1.0 (Future Proof) • • • ☆☆☆
2x Wraparound (Fear and Loathing)
1x Quandary (Double Time)
2x Architect (Up and Over) •• •• ☆☆
1x Archangel (Data and Destiny)
1x Resistor (Data and Destiny)

Operation (12)
2x Biotic Labor (Core Set) •••• ••••
3x Hedge Fund (Core Set)
2x Shipment from SanSan (Second Thoughts)
3x Sweeps Week (True Colors)
2x Fast Track (Honor and Profit)

Upgrade (4)
3x SanSan City Grid (Core Set) ☆☆☆
1x Cyberdex Virus Suite (Order and Chaos)

If Fast Advance is such a great strategy (and it is), what stops it? One thing is the natural availability of cards. FFG understands the power of giving the Corp extra clicks, so you won’t find many easy ways to get them. The other is aggressive running. Because the low-requirement agendas also tend to have lower agenda points, deck builders must include more in their decks. A higher agenda density means that an aggressive Runner is more likely to snipe an agenda from hand and throw your Fast Advance game plan out of whack.

Medical Breakthrough The Greenhouse - Jinteki Biotech

Never Advance

Unlike a Fast Advance deck that never gives the Runner the chance to steal an agenda in play, Never Advance decks give the Runner a easy chance to score – but makes it impossible for the Runner to make the right choice. A Never Advance will play an agenda in a server, and leave it there until it is ready to score. Much like a Fast Advance deck, the Corp attempts to score the agenda all-at-once, and not over multiple turns like a traditional deck would. Never Advance strategies use mind games, threats, and disincentives to make sure the Runner attacks the wrong server.

Here is another place where 3-cost agendas shine. You can play that agenda on turn (but don’t advance it), and then use your next turn to score. Never Advance constantly asks the Runner “is that an agenda?” If the Runner guesses right, they can get points. If they guess wrong, the game could be over.

Never advance decks use a variety of tactics to confuse and punish the Runner. Some will choose to “go wide” and set up multiple servers, and make the Runner guess which one is valuable. Does server #3 have that House of Knives? Or is it a fairly worthless Pad Campaign? Is it worth a quarter of your turn to find out? What if it’s something worse? What if it’s a News Team or a Snare!?

Enigma - Gear Check ICE Scorched Earth

Rush

The third aggro deck is the one most people thing of when playing aggressive Netrunner. A Rush deck tries to quickly advance an agenda, through regular means, behind cheap ICE. The essential tools of the Rush deck are inexpensive, gear-check ICE – meaning ICE with end-the-run subroutines. It forces the Runner to have the correct breaker, and if not it just scores.

Unfortunately, pure Rush strategies are generally awful. If your single, focused vision is in scoring agendas as quickly as possible, you aren’t also messing with the Runner’s plan. Variance and time make it almost impossible to score the full seven points before the Runner sets up his or her rig.

This doesn’t mean that Rush is an inherently unplayable archetype. It just means that a successful Rush deck also has to have a Plan B. For some decks like the famed Supermodernism, a Weyland Rush deck, Plan B was threatening to flatline the Runner.

Supermodernism (1st Place Scottish Regionals 2016)

Argus Security: Protection Guaranteed

Agenda (12)
2x Geothermal Fracking
3x Hostile Takeover
3x Oaktown Renovation
1x Posted Bounty
3x Project Atlas

Asset (6)
2x Jackson Howard ●●
1x Shattered Remains
3x Snare! ●●●●● ●

Upgrade (2)
1x Crisium Grid
1x Cyberdex Virus Suite

Operation (13)
3x Beanstalk Royalties
1x Casting Call ●●
1x Fast Track
3x Hedge Fund
1x Restructure
3x Scorched Earth
1x SEA Source ●●

Barrier (6)
1x Changeling
1x Ice Wall
1x Meru Mati
2x Spiderweb
1x Wraparound ●

Code Gate (3)
3x Enigma

Sentry (6)
2x Archer
1x Cobra
1x Grim
2x Swordsman ●●

Other (1)
1x Mother Goddess

Plan B doesn’t have to be as widely different as kill. A deck with strong elements of program destruction can keep the Runner without the proper tools to break their ICE. You could also take advantage of some Fast Advance tools to score the last couple agenda points from hand.

 

Corp Control Archetypes

If the aggro archetypes limit the opportunity for a Runner to interact, the Control archetypes limit the effectiveness of the Runner’s interactions.

A Corp control deck doesn’t care how fast it wins. It isn’t trying to ask questions. It is trying to make sure that, no matter what the Runner does, it maintains Stage III inevitability. “Set up your rig,” a Control deck says. “It won’t make any difference.”

Caprice Global Food Initiative

Glacier

Much like Rush is what people initially think of when they think of aggressive decks, Glacier is what they imagine a standard Corp control deck to be. We call it glacier because it moves slow, and looks to win behind giant walls of ICE. A standard Glacier set up has the Corp with well-defended central servers (hand, deck, and discards), as well as a near-impenetrable scoring server.

Because a Glacier deck plays out significantly slower than aggro-style decks, it has the ability to utilize more cards – especially those with higher power levels. While a Fast Advance deck wants a ton of 3/2 agendas, you’ll often see Glacier players running a 5/3 agenda suite. Not only does this reduce the agenda density of their deck (meaning a random access run has a lower chance of scoring an agenda), but it also means that the Glacier player can use the bonuses and abilities of their scored agendas.

More than other archetypes, Glacier players rely on defensive Upgrades. Cards like Caprice Nisei serve as the final insult of an expensive run.

FoodCoats (2015 World Championship Winner)

Haas-Bioroid: Engineering the Future (Core Set)

Agenda (9)
3x Accelerated Beta Test (Core Set)
1x Project Vitruvius (Cyber Exodus)
3x NAPD Contract (Double Time) ☆☆☆
2x Global Food Initiative (Data and Destiny) • •

Asset (9)
3x Adonis Campaign (Core Set)
3x Eve Campaign (Humanity’s Shadow)
3x Jackson Howard (Opening Moves) • • •

ICE (17)
3x Ichi 1.0 (Core Set)
1x Tollbooth (Core Set) ••
2x Enigma (Core Set)
3x Eli 1.0 (Future Proof) ☆☆☆
2x Ichi 2.0 (Creation and Control)
3x Architect (Up and Over) ☆☆☆
3x Turing (Breaker Bay)

Operation (5)
2x Archived Memories (Core Set)
3x Hedge Fund (Core Set)

Upgrade (9)
3x Ash 2X3ZB9CY (What Lies Ahead)
2x Caprice Nisei (Double Time) •••• ••••
1x Cyberdex Virus Suite (Order and Chaos)
3x Breaker Bay Grid (Breaker Bay)

Knowing that a well-funded Runner can always get into a server, a Glacier player relies less on cheap binary ICE than the aggo decks. Glacier ICE needs to be super taxing. It won’t always be able to keep the Runner out, but it does want to limit the number of times the Runner can access a server. In addition to highly taxing ICE, these decks will often have agendas that are difficult to steal. There’s not a lot that is more demoralizing than spending all your credits breaking into a server only to reveal a NAPD Contract. Not only did all your work in accessing the agenda go wasted, but you’re also too poor to do it again next turn.

Glacier decks tend to go from completely dominant to impossibly disadvantaged depending on the current metagame. A Glacier deck only works when it can assure inevitability. When Runners have unlimited economy, or the tools to deals with the Corp’s ICE and Upgrades, it can be incredibly difficult to keep Stage III advantage. But when Runners struggle to make money, or rely on multiple runs to achieve their basic goals, Glacier can be unstoppable.

Museum of Misery Hostile Infrastructure

Prison

For Prison decks, scoring agendas is barely a priority. Instead, it focuses specifically on exhausting the Runner’s resources as an end in itself. While Glacier decks want to keep Runner’s poor in order to open up scoring windows, Prison decks keep Runners poor in order to apply even more control.

A tightly-crafted prison deck can make life absolutely miserable for the Runner (so maybe think about if you REALLY want to bring this style of deck to casual game night) – but it is also incredibly oppressive. With the release of the political assets in Democracy and Dogma, prison was taken to an all-new level.

IG Superfriends (2016 Durham Regionals Winner)

Industrial Genomics: Growing Solutions

Agenda (9)
2x Chronos Project
1x Fetal AI
3x Global Food Initiative ●●●
3x The Future Perfect

Asset (31)
3x Bio-Ethics Association
1x Genetics Pavilion
3x Hostile Infrastructure
3x Jackson Howard ●●●
3x Mumba Temple ★★★ ○○○○○ ○
3x Mumbad City Hall ●●●
3x Museum of History ○○○○○ ○
1x Ronin
3x Shock!
2x Snare!
3x Tech Startup
3x Turtlebacks

Operation (5)
2x Cerebral Static
1x Diversified Portfolio
1x Heritage Committee
1x Interns

Barrier (3)
3x Hive ●●●●● ●

Code Gate (3)
3x Crick

Sentry (3)
3x Komainu

This IG deck can score out agenda – but it won’t. Instead it’ll drain your resources, and ping you with net damage to shrink your hand, then kill you when you have no remaining outs. IDs like Jinteki: Potential Unleashed are even more explicit with this plan. Not only will you not have any cards in hand, you also won’t have any cards left in your deck to draw.

 

Corp Combo Archetypes

Netrunner is a highly tactical game. Finding new and interesting ways to combine cards is inherent in all the different strategic archetypes. But while aggro and control decks combine card interactions to further their game plan, combo decks use them to define their strategy.

Accelerated Diagnotstics Boom

Combo Kill

SEA Source, Scorch, Scorch.

From the very beginning of the Core Set, flatlining the Runner was an essential Corp strategy. While Prison decks often win through a flatline, they don’t do it with as much flair as the Combo Kill deck.

While Combo Kill decks come in a variety of flavors, they generally require two things: 1. a way to tag the runner, and 2. a way to do serious burst damage. The damage part is easy – you’re going with Scorched Earth or Boom! – but the way to land the tags has changed a lot over the years.

Did the Runner make the mistake of running last turn? Punish them with SEA Source, Hard-Hitting News, or Midseason Replacements. Maybe you don’t want to have to rely on the Runner to do their thing. Inn that case, just use Power Shutdown to stack your deck and eradicate them from the face of the Earth.

Yellow Railgun (Top 16 World’s 2016)

Near-Earth Hub: Broadcast Center

Agenda (11)
1x 15 Minutes
1x AstroScript Pilot Program
3x Breaking News ★★★
3x Explode-a-palooza
1x Global Food Initiative ●
1x Project Beale
1x Restructured Datapool

Asset (6)
3x Jackson Howard
3x Sensie Actors Union

Operation (24)
3x 24/7 News Cycle
3x Accelerated Diagnostics ●●●
3x Anonymous Tip
2x BOOM! ●●●●● ●
3x Hedge Fund
1x Interns
2x Power Shutdown ●●●●
1x Salem’s Hospitality
2x Special Report
1x Subliminal Messaging
3x Sweeps Week

Barrier (2)
2x Vanilla

Code Gate (6)
2x Archangel
2x Little Engine
2x Quandary

While Kill Combo decks are popular and powerful, you can beat them if you want to. Card draw, tag avoidance/removal, and smart running all make it difficult for the Kill player to position the game in their favor. But watch out. One mistake , and the Corp can burn own your entire city block.

Cerebral Imaging Shipment from MirrorMorph

Points Combo

Probably the most narrow of all the strategic archetypes is 7-Point Combo. While there have been a handful of variations of this deck, they tend to revolve around the ability to stockpile cards in your hand, then gain extra clicks, and use Operations to put advancement counters on cards – with the sole goal of scoring 7 points, from hand, in one turn. Take a look at this monster:

CI7

Cerebral Imaging: Infinite Frontiers

Agenda (9)
1x Accelerated Beta Test
3x Efficiency Committee
2x Global Food Initiative ●●
3x Project Vitruvius

Asset (3)
3x Jackson Howard ●●●

Upgrade (1)
1x Cyberdex Virus Suite

Operation (28)
3x Accelerated Diagnostics
1x Archived Memories
2x Biotic Labor
3x Blue Level Clearance
1x Cyberdex Trial
1x Enhanced Login Protocol
3x Hedge Fund
1x Interns
2x Power Shutdown ●●●●
1x Reclamation Order
1x Restructure
1x Reuse ●
3x Shipment from Kaguya ●●●
2x Shipment from MirrorMorph
2x Shipment from SanSan ●●
1x Subliminal Messaging

Barrier (3)
3x Vanilla

Code Gate (4)
2x Magnet
2x Turing

Sentry (1)
1x Ichi 1.0

If you can’t tell immediately, the goal of this deck is to craft a scenario where you have multiple clicks, and cards that place advancement counters on agendas in play. There are a bunch more moving pieces, but ultimately, it results in you scoring a lot of points all at once, without playing traditional Netrunner.

While incredibly powerful, we are lucky that Points Combo decks have some weaknesses. Points Combo decks create a clock. They ask you to beat them before they acquire the correct number of credits, cards in hand, or other resources. If you can race their clock, or disrupt them enough to extend the clock, you have a chance.

 

But… What About Midrange Decks?

If you’ve made it this far, I bet you have one big question remaining. “What about midrange?”

Well, that kind of depends on your definition of “midrange,” If you mean, decks that try to blend strategic archetypes, you do have some options. In fact, most decks aren’t purely one strategic archetype. It’s not uncommon to see a Prison deck with a Combo Kill, or a Rush deck that imports elements of Fast Advance.

If by midrange, you mean a deck that tries to take the middle road between aggro and control, plays agendas behind ICE, and scores them out, then I’ve got some bad news for you. Midrange decks are not a viable strategic archetype for Corps.

This might come as a shock to a lot of people because they probably associate core Netrunner with a midrange philosophy. The Corp is supposed to play out some ICE, and try to score agendas. And the Runner is supposed to build up a rig and try steal them. That’s what’s supposed to happen. Right?

Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. If you and a friend want to crack open your Core Set, shuffle up, and bash decks against each other, those are the types of matches you are going to play. And truthfully, if you’re having fun, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you want to be competitive, or you just want to stretch out your deck building muscles, you’ll soon find that the best choice is to find a strategic avenue, and push it to it’s extremes.

Midrange, by definition doesn’t do this. It refuses to identify a strength and play into it. Instead, it relies completely on tactics. It comes down to raw card efficiency, luck of the draw, and the ability of individual players to manipulate the board state with less than perfect tools.

For some people this is a problem. But not for me. I think Netrunner is an incredibly complex game, with options for all types of players. I honestly believe that it is only because of a lack of a strong theoretical foundation that players feel like the game is limited. And that’s why I am writing this series. I hope that by creating a better understanding of the game – and a vocabulary through which we talk about it – that people can see the huge number of options that actually exist.

Once you understand all the different strategic avenues of play, you can see that you don’t just have to play a limited, midrange style of game. Additionally, by defining the full range of strategies, I hope you can also evaluate cards in a different way. When all you focus on is the midrange game, you only evaluate cards in terms of their raw efficiency. But knowing that there are different strategies available, allows you to choose the perfect card for that strategy.

I think understanding the diversity inherent in the system is essential for an LCG like Netrunner. It’s easy to sit back and think the game is solved, but by deepening our understanding of the game, and expanding our vocabulary of it, we can find new and interesting ways to be competitive.

What do you guys think? Did I miss an archetype? Am I being too hard of midrange decks? Do you need further explanation of anything above? Sound off in the comments below.

 

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