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.

 

One of the hardest things for a new Netrunner player to understand is how to score an agenda. This is true from both the Runner and the Corp side. I think most of the time, these troubles stem from the inability to distinguish their role as either the beatdown or the control player.

And as we learn in the most-often-quoted article on Magic strategy, “Who’s the Beatdown,” Misassignment of Role Equals Game Loss.

This becomes evident in the later stages of a game. How many times have you seen a Corp player score five agenda points, but could never protect a server long enough to score the last couple? Or how about a Runner who has been draining his bank trying to get into R&D to find those last, winning agenda points?

This happens because players don’t understand their role in that particular game, and end up making weak decisions about setting up and defending their scoring windows.

What is a Scoring Window?

Put simply, a scoring window is a defined amount of time in which a player can score an agenda. Most of this is understood from the Corp player’s position. The Corp can be said to have a scoring window in the following (not comprehensive) list of scenarios:

  • You have a piece of gearcheck ICE, and the Runner doesn’t have a breaker to get through. This window closes when the correct ICE is drawn.
  • You have ICE on a server with an End The Run (ETR) subroutine, and although the Runner has an applicable ICE Breaker, he or she doesn’t have the economy to break in.
  • You have a three-advancement agenda and a fast advance tool like Biotic Labor so you can score it before the Runner can interact.

While more nebulous, the Runner also has scoring windows. Sometimes, these are easy situations: the Runner has plenty of money, a full rig of programs, and can get into any server in which the Corp installs something. The catch is, a Runner can only maintain this position for a limited amount of time. Runner windows are constantly closing because they are almost inherently defined by the amount of money a Runner has. For example, it is possible that a Runner has a scoring window on R&D – but if there is any ICE on that server, the window is finite. Given an average agenda density of one agenda per five cards, it can be expected that a Runner would have to blindly hit five cards before an agenda is scored. Does the Runner have enough economy to make that happen? And does he or she have enough clicks to execute that plan before the Corp can execute theirs

Beatdown vs. Control

Now that we understand scoring windows, how does theory help us open them? It all comes down to understanding your role in the specific game you are playing.

In the past couple of articles in this series, we’ve been going over the ins and outs of specific strategic archetypes. But when you get into the context of a real game, the fine distinctions of the categories melt away, and you are left with two options, Beatdown and Control.

The Control player is the one who is playing for inevitability in the long game. Their goal is to amass resources in order to create overwhelming advantages.

The Beatdown player is the one who is attempting to score. And they need to do it quickly. They are willing to make “bad” trades, and throw their resources away to get the win.

Here’s the fun part. You can keep the same deck for every round in a tournament, but you role can change in every match you play. In fact, it can change multiple times during a single match. But it is essential that you know the role you are playing at any given time. Remember, Misassignment of Role Equals Game Loss.

  
 

So how do you know if you’re the Beatdown? Generally, your deck archetype is a good place to start looking. If you are playing an aggressive archetype and your opponent is a control archetype, there’s a decent chance you are the Beatdown. This isn’t, however, necessarily true. To really understand your role, let’s ask a couple of questions:

  • Which deck is going to end up making the most money? That one is generally the Control.
  • How many times do you expect to score/access cards before you win? The one with the lower number is probably the Control.
  • How much ICE does the Corp deck have? Decks with higher numbers of ICE tend to be the Control.

If you are the Beatdown player, you goal is to score out before your opponent. If you are the Control, your goal is to get into a position where you dictate the scoring windows for the remainder of the game.

Like Vs. Like

Sometimes these scenarios make sense. Let’s take an aggressive Weyland deck vs. a controlling Shaper deck. I think it’s easy to see who should be filling what role in this matchup. Where it gets interesting is in matches where both decks are trying to serve similar roles. Take for example the same aggressive Weyland deck. But instead of a Big Rig Shaper, let’s match him up with an aggressive Criminal. Each of these decks wants to use their resources as quickly as possible to score agendas.

But here’s the thing: in every match there is only one Beatdown player, and only one Control player. So you have to decide quickly, what role are you going to take?

  
 

Let’s assume the Weyland player’s strategy is to score cheap agenda’s quickly behind gearcheck ICE. Almost by definition, he has to be the Beatdown player. Because his ICE is binary – do you have the right breaker Yes/No – it is going to be difficult for him to tax enough to control the Runner’s econ. It almost doesn’t matter what role the Runner wants to take. Given enough time, the Runner will draw into the appropriate breakers, and build up enough economy to contest any remote.

Let’s switch it up. What if both players are in control archetypes? Let’s say Big Rig Shaper vs. Glacier HB. Once again, the Runner falls into the Control role. It is on the Corp to set up their server, and force through agendas. If they sit back and wait, the Runner will simply set up and contest every instal.

Here’s a general rule – when two decks are alike in their positioning, the Runner is almost always the Control player.

Always Be Running?

If this is the case, why is it the default for the Runner to “Always be Running?” Common advice is that a Runner should just run. Go after whatever server is open – and even if it’s not open run away. You’ll make the Corp spend money rezzing things.

A lot of the time, I think this advice is wrong. If the Runner fill the control role in most matches, why are they wasting clicks and credits for random accesses? If your first plays are random runs, it means you aren’t using those resources to play Breakers, advance your economy, or draw into the correct tools. A Runner blindly running into Weyland gearcheck ICE is a sure ways to end up in the wrong role. Remember: Misassignment or Role Equals Game Loss.

  
 

There are a couple of caveats this this. The first is when your runs are used to advance your game plan. Running to cash out a Temujin Contract is worth more than clicking for credits. The same can be said for Account Siphoning, Spooning, Patroning, or dozens of other instances where a run is a necessary condition to further your game plan.

The second instance is when you can get additional accesses from your runs. When you are taking the Beatdown role, the value of each run is comparatively higher than a run of a Control player. This makes sense. You ultimately need the same results to win the game, but the Beatdown player is attempting to achieve those results with fewer resources, and in less time. Multi-access tools make this possible. A card like Maker’s Eye or Legwork gives that random run significantly more value.

The Corp faces a similar challenge. When do you rez ICE in the early game? Let’s take the example of the aggro Weyland player again. It’s an early turn in the game you’ve got a single remote server and some ICE protecting your centrals. The Runner goes after R&D. What do you do?

I think too many players would snap rez the ICE on R&D in order to prevent a random score. But the reality is, they should probably let the access happen. First off, the math is in the Corps’ favor. There is a significantly low chance that a random single access is going to present an agenda. But even if you knew there was an agenda there, you should probably let the Runner get it. Instead, you should keep your money to rez the ICE on the remote server, and advance your agenda from there. If you waste your time/money on protecting your central, it means you have to spend more time to set up your remote. And every click you give back to the Runner is a chance for them to draw into the breaker that invalidates your binary ICE.

Know Your Role

In any given matchup, one deck is the Control and one deck is the Beatdown. But what happens when you are not equipped for the role you have to play? First off, you should always play into your role. It might be tough for a Weyland aggro player to rush out against certain decks, but you won’t be more successful if you try to use your weak ICE in the control role.

The second tip is what makes Netrunner a great game. As Sun Tzu says, “All War is Based on Deception.” More so than any other card game, Netrunner is about hidden information and bluffing. If you can’t effectively play on the battlefield that is dictated for you, make sure your opponent doesn’t know that. If you’re lucky, maybe they’ll end up taking the wrong role, and giving you back those opportunities to execute your game plan. Because remember: Misassignment or Role Equals Game Loss.