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.

 

Quick. You are playing an Andromeda deck. You opponent is on Weyland Rush. On the first turn, they lead off with Hedge Fund, install a card in a new server, install ICE to protect the new server. What do you do?

I think most Netrunner players would play a couple cards, then run into HQ and/or R&D. And nine time out of ten, I think this is wrong.

Sure, you might hit a lucky agenda, and score some quick points. But that initial action – the one you’ve probably done a million times – didn’t actually do anything to advance the game plan your deck is designed to exploit.

While your short-term tactics were successful, they did not support your long-term strategy.

Andromeda

Tactics and Strategy

Before we get too much farther, we need to talk about the difference between strategy and tactics. Strategy is your long-term plan. It is the big-picture vision. Strategy is the WHAT.

Tactics, on the other hand, are the moment-by-moment decisions you make. Tactics come together to weave the shape that is your strategy. They are the HOW.

To quote Sun Tzu: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

This is why we are spending so much time on understanding this strategic foundations of Netrunner. If you don’t understand the foundational strategy you are trying to accomplish, the tactics you employ won’t come together in a cohesive game plan. You’ll be making decisions, and maybe even getting positive results, but your play will not be optimized.

Additionally, as we get a better understanding of Netrunner’s strategic pillars, the more diversity we’ll see in tactics. If you only have one strategic lens to look through, you’ll only be able to evaluate cards and lines of play on a single metric. But if you understand the full scope of strategies available to you, you’ll quickly see new and interesting possibilities in cards you never paid attention to before.

So, let’s go back to our initial question. What’s the right play for your Andromeda deck? The answer is, or course, “It depends on the strategic archetype of the deck.”

Netrunner Archetypes: Runner Aggro

Much like last time, we’re going to break down the macro archetypes (Aggro, Control, Midrange, Combo) into their specific micro archetypes. Let’s start with Aggro. What does it mean to be an aggro deck in Neturnner?

Most people would probably say and aggro deck is one that run early and often. But I think this is a little limiting for our uses. A Run is, by definition, a tactic. There are plenty of reasons you might want to initiate a run. Some could be used aggressively, but not all of them.

Instead of defining Aggro archetypes by runs, I think it makes more sense to analyze it through the stages of the game. Remember our article from a couple weeks ago, The Three Stages of Netrunner? The big takeaway there was there are different stages in a game of Netrunner with key characteristics at each stage. And, one of the primary ways to gain advantage is to advance further through the stages than your opponent.

So instead of defining our aggro archetypes by the frequency of runs, I’m going to define them by their ability to outpace their opponents – especially in Stages One and Two. Here’s our working definition:

A Runner Aggro deck is one whose primary plan is to score out seven points of agendas before the Corp can advance through Stage Two.

There are two ways this can happen – either the Runner executes their game plan before the Corp can stabilize, or the Runner attacks the Corp’s resources and never let’s them advance Stages.

Rielle   The Maker's Eye

Blitz

The sole goal of a Blitz deck is to score enough points to win the game before the Corp can establish their game plan. It is a single-minded monster – that rarely ever works.

Let’s do some quick math. The average Corp deck has about a 20% agenda density. That means on any given run, you have a 1-in-5 chance of scoring an agenda. Let’s also assume that you have to score 4 agendas to win the game. That means you have to run an average of 20 times in order to win.

That is five full turns where all you are doing is running. Not playing out ICE Breakers. Not advancing your economy. Not being stopped by any of the Corp’s tactics.

No one actually plays a game like this. Instead, most Blitz decks end up evolving into midrange Runner strategies.

But let’s say you really want to put pressure on the Corp. You want to run aggressively, and make the Corp react to you. How do you do it? First, you have to turn the math back in your favor. Use multi-access tools to see more cards on every run. With a medium or a couple R&D interfaces, you can easily change the number of accesses needed to win from 20 to something more manageable. Maker’s Eyes and Indexing also increase the impact of your runs, and give you better odds of scoring.

The other necessary tactic is adding points to your runs. Cards like Notoriety, Freedom Through Equality, and the newly released Mad Dash make it so you only need to score three times to win.

Git Gud Kit (GNK 1st-Place)

Rielle “Kit” Peddler: Transhuman

Event (16)
1x “Freedom Through Equality”
3x Diesel
3x Dirty Laundry
3x Indexing
1x Levy AR Lab Access
3x Sure Gamble
2x The Maker’s Eye

Hardware (9)
3x Lockpick
2x Mirror
1x Plascrete Carapace
3x R&D Interface

Resource (7)
2x Beth Kilrain-Chang
3x Ghost Runner
2x Temüjin Contract ●●●●

Icebreaker (6)
1x Cyber-Cypher
2x Dagger
1x Paperclip ●●●
2x Refractor

Program (7)
3x Cloak
1x Medium ●●●
3x Self-modifying Code

This is the most aggressive Netrunner deck I’ve ever seen. Not only does Kit’s ability mean you have to use fewer clicks equipping the tools to access servers, the sheer dedication to R&D dig helps close the game out much quicker than the standard math would tell you.

En Passant  Spooned

ICE Destruction

If racing the Corp, click for click, is too tough, maybe it makes sense to force them to take one step forward, and two steps back. That’s the idea behind the ICE destruction deck. If the Corp is going to use their resources to defend servers, the Runner is going to undo that work. As we advance into Stage Two, the Corp will be sitting on wasted clicks, no money, and no board defense.

From that point, it is easy for the Runner to score out. You just hit R&D until you eventually find the agendas. If the Corp player has the audacity to use all their resources to play another piece of ICE, just kill it and make them start all over again.

Miffed Val-Passant (1st place Portsmouth SC)

Valencia Estevez: The Angel of Cayambe

Event (28)
2x Account Siphon ●●●●● ●●●
3x Blackmail
3x Déjà Vu
2x Dirty Laundry
3x En Passant
3x I’ve Had Worse
3x Inject
2x Knifed
1x Rebirth ●
2x Rumor Mill
1x Spooned
3x Sure Gamble

Hardware (3)
3x Obelus

Resource (8)
1x Hades Shard ●
1x Joshua B.
3x Liberated Account
3x Same Old Thing

Icebreaker (6)
1x Black Orchestra
3x Faust ★★★
1x Mimic
1x Paperclip

Program (5)
2x D4v1d ★★
3x Medium

I’m not going to sugar coat it – this is not a fun deck to play against. It is incredibly frustrating to not be able to execute a strategy that most people consider “core Netrunner.”

But this is why understanding strategic archetypes is essential for both sides of the game. If a Corp player understands the strategic archetype they are playing, it can and should influence their tactical decision making. I’m not going to say that playing against an ICE Destruction deck is ever going to be fun – but recognizing what is going ensures you don’t make misplays like spreading you ICE too thin across multiple servers.

Account Siphon  Vamp

Econ Denial

The goal of an Econ Denial deck is very similar to that of an ICE Destruction deck. Both want to keep the Corp in Stage One – broke, nothing impactful on the board, and generally miserable. But where an ICE Destruction deck waits for the Corp to use clicks installing ICE, then destroys that resource, an Econ Denial deck doesn’t let the Corp get enough money to ever rez their tools.

The poster-child of the Econ Denial deck is the Core Set All-Star, Account Siphon. Not only does this beast of a card bankrupt the Corp, it also vaults you ahead on credits.

Gabe’s Perfume Shop v1.0

Gabriel Santiago: Consummate Professional

Event (19)
3x Account Siphon
3x Dirty Laundry
3x Emergency Shutdown
2x High-Stakes Job
2x Inside Job
2x Special Order
3x Sure Gamble
1x Vamp ●●

Hardware (4)
1x Akamatsu Mem Chip ●
3x Desperado ★★★

Resource (9)
1x Hades Shard ●
2x John Masanori
3x Same Old Thing
3x Security Testing

Icebreaker (6)
1x Corroder ●●
1x Eater ●●●
3x Mongoose
1x Passport

Program (7)
2x Crescentus
1x Keyhole ●●●
2x Pheromones
2x Sneakdoor Beta

No disrespect to TheBigBoy, but based on our definition, this is NOT a control deck. It’s sole purpose is to keep the Corp in Stage One, all while you are advancing your game plan and scoring out. Eventually, you are going to be so far ahead, and rich, that you can run wherever you want, whenever you want.

Netrunner Archetypes: Runner Control

If keeping the Corp helpless, broke, and in Stage I isn’t a control strategy, what is?

The key in back in Stage Theory. A Runner control deck looks to dominate Stage III. A Corp wants to build impenetrable servers? A Control Runner will always power through them. While an aggro runner actively seeks to hold a Corp back, and control runner doesn’t care what the Corp tries to do. He’ll beat you anyway. Here’s our working definition for Runner Control Archetypes:

A Runner Control deck seeks to dominate Stage III. Although it allows the Corp to execute a gameplan, the Control Runner will always overcome the Corp’s strategy.

While the end result is the same, there are three distinct avenues a Runner can go down to thwart the Corp’s plans.

Magnum Opus - Econ for Days  The Toolbox
 

Big Rig

A Big Rig deck is the platonic ideal of Runner Control archetypes. It’s what everyone thinks of when they see Runners dominating the late game. And it all comes back to a core tenet of Netrunner:

Given enough time, the correct programs, and enough money, there is no server that a Runner can’t get in to.

Big Rig decks use the most powerful ICE Breakers, and nearly limitless economy, to crack into any server they want. Although this style of deck is slow to set up, once it is firing on all cylinders, the Corp is in a bad spot. It will be nearly impossible for a Corp player to instal, advance, and score an agenda through normal means. And worse, if the Corp doesn’t do that, then the Big Rig runner will simply camp their hand and deck, and find agendas there.

Big Rig Kate

Kate “Mac” McCaffrey: Digital Tinker

Event (18)
3x Diesel
3x Dirty Laundry
3x Modded
3x Stimhack ●●●
3x Sure Gamble
3x The Maker’s Eye

Hardware (13)
3x Akamatsu Mem Chip
3x Clone Chip ★★★
2x Plascrete Carapace
3x R&D Interface
2x The Toolbox

Resource (3)
3x Liberated Account ●●●●● ●

Icebreaker (4)
1x Corroder ●●
1x Garrote ●●●
1x Gordian Blade
1x Sharpshooter

Program (7)
1x Crescentus ●
3x Magnum Opus
3x Self-modifying Code

The inevitability of the Big Rig deck is one reason why Fast Advance strategies are so popular and powerful. The riskiest time for a Corp deck is right after they Install-Advance-Advance an agenda. If you can score it in the same turn, you never have to worry about the Big Rig wrecking your house.

R&D Interface  The Turning Wheel

R&D Lock

A lesson that Magic the Gathering players learn pretty early in their development is that it’s only the last damage that matters. It doesn’t matter if your opponent does 19 damage to you. Until that 20th point happens, you’re still in the game. This is the fundamental concept underlying control decks.

The same principle is true in Netrunner. Who cares is the Corp scores 6 points? It’s the 7th that matters. The R&D Lock deck makes sure that 7th point never comes up.

A R&D Lock deck looks and feels very similar to a Big Rig deck. Both want to use powerful Breakers and a robust economy package to dominate Stage Three. But where they differ is in their focus of attack.

A Big Rig deck wants to make sure they can access a wide variety of servers. They need to be able to threaten any remote, and well as abuse the central servers. An R&D Lock deck is willing to give up efficient runs on remotes in order to dominate R&D. A Big Rig deck might run on R&D to make sure its the first to see the next card the Corp will draw. An R&D Lock deck will hyper focus on multi-access cards to make sure it knows the next three or four card the Corp could possibly draw.

Smoke and Mirrors

Ele “Smoke” Scovak: Cynosure of the Net

Event (12)
3x Lucky Find ●●●●● ●
3x Modded
1x Networking ●
3x Sure Gamble
2x The Maker’s Eye

Hardware (10)
3x Clone Chip ★★★
2x Mirror
2x Plascrete Carapace
3x R&D Interface

Resource (8)
2x Ghost Runner
2x Net Mercur
2x Professional Contacts
2x Technical Writer

Icebreaker (4)
1x Dagger
1x Deus X
1x Houdini
1x Paperclip ●●●

Program (6)
2x Cloak
1x Clot ●●
3x Self-modifying Code

The math that makes Blitz decks challenging also applies to Corp decks. It takes time to draw into the three or four agendas necessary to win. Then it takes resources to defend and score them. The R&D Lock deck takes advantage of this math by digging deeper into the Corp’s deck. While it could take four clicks for the Corp to find an agenda, the R&D Lock deck will find that same card with one.

Demonic Tutor  Silver Bullet

Toolbox

So far, our Runner Control decks have focused on executing their own, dominant game plan. They attempt to understand and overcome the Corp’s core strategy of installing agendas and scoring them out. But what happens when the Corp doesn’t want to play along those strategic lines?

That’s where the Toolbox deck comes into play. A Toolbox deck leverages incredibly powerful “silver bullets” to counteract the Corp strategy.

Pitchfork (Sure Gamble is a crutch.)

Hayley Kaplan: Universal Scholar

Event (5)
1x Levy AR Lab Access
3x Scavenge
1x Stimhack ●

Hardware (9)
2x Astrolabe
3x Clone Chip ★★★
1x Plascrete Carapace
3x R&D Interface

Resource (19)
2x Aesop’s Pawnshop
2x Artist Colony
3x Daily Casts
3x Fan Site
1x Film Critic
1x Hunting Grounds ●
3x Professional Contacts
1x Same Old Thing
3x Technical Writer

Icebreaker (5)
1x Atman
1x Cerberus “Lady” H1 ★
1x Chameleon
2x Cyber-Cypher

Program (7)
3x Cache ●●●
1x Clot ●●
1x D4v1d ★ ●●●●
2x Self-modifying Code

Corp fast-advancing before you get a chance to react? Go grab your Clot.

Worried about Fetal AIs or getting slammed with a Midseason Replacements? Call up that Film Critic.

The challenge with Toolbox decks is making sure your ratios are correct, and your answers matchup well. While you might be able to stop the Corp’s game plan, you still need to find an efficient way to make money and break into their servers. And you have to make sure you are answering the questions the Corp is asking. There is nothing worse than coming with a teched out stack, only to realize that all your tools are useless.

But if you have a firm understanding of your expected competition, a Toolbox deck can be a dominant force.

Netrunner Archetypes: Runner Midrange

When we talked about Corp Strategic Archetypes, I was pretty harsh on their midrange strategies. And I still stand by that fact. Midrange Corporation decks are to Netrunner what draft decks are to Magic. You are just playing cards in, hopefully, efficient ways, but not actually driving toward a true end goal.

In Magic, bouncing 2/2 creatures off of each other and playing around combat tricks can be a lot fun. People get a lot of fulfillment from these types of games in draft and sealed formats. And even around the kitchen table, you can have a blast playing at the most basic level of the game. But you don’t see these strategies succeeding in constructed, competitive formats.

Runner midrange strategies operate completely differently. Not only is midrange a completely viable Runner archetype, it is probably the most popular. To understand what a Runner midrange deck is, it is helpful to understand what it is not.

It is not an Aggro deck that actively runs to score agendas and keep the Corp in Stage One.

It’s also not a Control deck that uses powerful, selective runs to close off a Corp’s avenues of victory.

Datasucker  Temmy J
The Midrange Runner deck is all about Stage II. It runs, and runs often. But these actions are used to develop its game plan, and to manipulate the Corp’s board into advantageous positions. The reason this works, when the Corp version doesn’t, is because the Runner has the inherent ability to define the initiative of the game. A single click allows the Runner to initiate an attack – and therefore force a response from the Corp. 

Andysucker italian national 1st place swiss 4th overall

Andromeda: Dispossessed Ristie

Event (18)
3x Account Siphon
2x Career Fair
3x Dirty Laundry
1x Hostage
1x Legwork
1x Networking
1x Rebirth ●
3x Special Order
3x Sure Gamble

Hardware (4)
3x Desperado ★★★
1x Plascrete Carapace

Resource (14)
2x Bank Job
2x Daily Casts
3x Earthrise Hotel
1x John Masanori
1x Political Operative
3x Security Testing
1x The Turning Wheel ●
1x Utopia Shard ●

Icebreaker (6)
1x Corroder ●●
1x Faerie
1x Femme Fatale
1x Gingerbread
1x Mongoose
1x Yog.0 ★ ●

Program (3)
2x Datasucker ●●
1x Medium ●●●

One of the first truly dominant Runner archetypes was a midrange Andromeda deck. This deck ran a lot, but not only for the purpose of scoring. It understood that you need to get more value from a run than a simple, random access. Using one click, Andysucker could gain credits, put counters on a Data Sucker, and then Emergency Shutdown a piece of ICE to undo some Corp. tempo.

Could that run also score an agenda? Sure, but that was a nice bonus. The true goal was building up resources to make sure the Corp never had an effective scoring window in Stage II. And that’s how we’ll define midrange Runner strategies:

A Midrange Runner decks creates efficient runs in order to gain incremental advantages in resources and board position for the purpose of controlling the Corp’s scoring windows in Stage Two.

This past year’s World Championshipion Runner deck was archetypally midrange.

Papa Smurf – 1st and 6th @ Worlds 2016

Whizzard: Master Gamer

Event (15)
1x Déjà Vu
3x Dirty Laundry
2x Employee Strike ●●
3x I’ve Had Worse
2x Inject
1x Retrieval Run
3x Sure Gamble

Hardware (4)
1x Net-Ready Eyes ●●
2x Obelus
1x Plascrete Carapace

Resource (12)
3x Daily Casts
1x Earthrise Hotel
1x Ice Carver
1x Liberated Account
3x Street Peddler
3x Temüjin Contract ●●●●● ●

Icebreaker (6)
2x Mimic
2x Paperclip
2x Yog.0 ★★

Program (8)
2x Datasucker
2x Medium
3x Parasite ★★★
1x Progenitor

Run-based economy. Tools that boost the efficiency of your runs. An ID that helps shape the board state. Playing against this deck had to be a chess match. The Corp could try to establish a board presence, but Papa Smurf could find, and exploit the smallest opening. And it’s effects would snowball out of control. A Data Sucker and a Temujin built incremental advantages – even if their run didn’t score an agenda. Those runs would fund Parasites to make your Breakers more efficient. Which in turn made it easier to power up future runs.

Netrunner Archetypes: Runner Combo

Sometimes you put a couple of cards together and you get synergies – each card get’s a little more efficient or powerful. But sometimes, you put a couple of cards together, and you define the pathways through which you win. That’s how you get to a Runner Combo deck:

A Runner Combo deck uses a combination of cards,that taken together, create a game-ending advantage through non-interactivity and Stage Three domination.

All decks should look for synergies. Combo decks look for wins.

DLR  Citadel

Mill Combo

There are two ways a Runner can win a game. He or she can score 7 points from agendas, or they can run the Corp out of cards. A Mill Combo deck has a singular focus on the latter.

Leak at the Citadel – 3rd Place SC Seville, Spain

Sunny Lebeau: Security Specialist

Event (8)
2x Another Day, Another Paycheck
3x Peace in Our Time ●●●
3x Sure Gamble

Hardware (5)
2x Security Nexus
3x Sports Hopper

Resource (31)
2x Aaron Marrón ●●●●
1x Beth Kilrain-Chang ●●●
2x Citadel Sanctuary
3x Data Folding
3x Data Leak Reversal ●●●
2x Fall Guy ●●
1x Film Critic ●
1x Globalsec Security Clearance
2x Jak Sinclair
2x John Masanori
3x Off-Campus Apartment ●●●
3x Power Tap ●●●
3x Street Peddler ●●●
3x Underworld Contact

Icebreaker (6)
2x GS Sherman M3
2x GS Shrike M2
2x GS Striker M1

The poster child of the Mill Combo is Data Leak Reversal. If left unchecked, it represents a non-interactive clock for the Corp. A deck like the one above it so focused on milling you out, it doesn’t care if you score 6 points. It believe it can race – and often it does.

Part 1  Part 2

Points Combo

The other side of the combo coin is a deck that tries to score out all seven points in the course of one dominating turn.

Dyper v3.25 (Top 16 at Worlds 2016)

Hayley Kaplan: Universal Scholar

Event (13)
1x Apocalypse ●●●
3x Diesel
1x Escher
1x Notoriety
3x Quality Time
1x Rumor Mill ●●
3x Sure Gamble

Hardware (5)
2x Astrolabe
3x Bookmark

Resource (15)
2x Aesop’s Pawnshop
3x All-nighter
2x Artist Colony
3x Daily Casts
1x DDoS ●●●
3x Fan Site
1x New Angeles City Hall

Icebreaker (2)
1x Chameleon
1x Faust ★ ●●

Program (10)
1x Cache ●
2x False Echo
3x Hyperdriver
1x Keyhole ●●●
2x Leprechaun
1x Self-modifying Code

Plenty of decks use Blackmail to get into servers, but Dyper is a different beast altogether. It doesn’t want to play chess, and jockey for board position. It doesn’t want to gain incremental advantages. It wants to shape the game around one, big turn where it instantly invalidates all of your previous actions, then blows through your deck until it accesses all the cards – instantly winning the game.

What’s the Play?

Remember the question at the top of the article? Andromeda versus Weyland Rush. What do you do on your first turn? Understanding the differences between these archetypes helps answer that questions for us.

If you are a midrange deck, maybe you drop a Data Sucker and a Desperado and run HQ twice.

If you are a Big Rig deck, maybe you play Hedge Fund, Earthrise Hotel,

If you’re an aggro Econ Denial deck, maybe you Account Siphon, play Same Old Thing, then remove two tags.

All of these decks start from the same position, but each strategy involves wildly different choices in deckbuilding and tactics. Playing up the advantages of each strategy will make you more successful, while playing the wrong cards or confusing your tactics will cause you losses. Thanks for sticking it out through these past couple marathon posts. Hopefully they have given you a better understanding of the game, and opened your eyes to a whole new world of cards and decisions.

As always, sound off in the comments below. What did I miss? What are you favorite archetypes? And what are your favorite cards in them?