In this article I will share my understanding of the mechanics of a functioning Corp deck in very broad terms. A lot of the information here (ice types, phases of the game, etc.) has been discussed extensively elsewhere, but a lot of those sources are old enough that many players have not read them, and a lot of their specific information is a bit out of date now (for example, the context that 80+% of a given meta is probably Criminal, which is far from the case now). I intend for this to be a good reference for anyone looking to better understand discourse about Corp play, or for anyone trying to build original decks but struggling to give them direction.
Following is a list of terms that I’ll be referring to in this article. Feel free to read them first, or just refer back as needed.
Binary Ice – Ice that is either ‘on’ or ‘off’ depending on the runner’s equipment. Typically cheap and taxes the runner by forcing install costs on them, rather than breaking costs. Examples include Ice wall, Wraparound, Himitsu-Bako, Quandary, Rototurret.
Taxing Ice – There are 2 varieties of taxing ice. The first is cheap ice that causes an immediate monetary exchange that is beneficial for the Corp, but often does not stop the runner or force them to install a breaker. Examples are Pop-up window, Pup, Caduceus, and Draco. The second variety is ice that is expensive to break for most breakers in Phase 3. Examples are Tollbooth, Ichi 1.0, Tsurugi, and Curtain Wall. This second type is typically expensive to rez and not useful in Phase 1 due to its prohibitive cost or lack of relevant subroutines.
Gear-check – A situation where the runner cannot make progress toward their current short-term objective until they install a specific breaker type or utility card. Binary Ice cause gear-checks and Destroyers (Archer, Rototurret, Grim) or other program destruction cards (Power shutdown, Will-o-the-Wisp) can turn them back ‘on’ once they are broken.
Operation Economy – Using Operations for burst money. Difficult to disrupt, but can fall behind runner economy in the long run. Examples are Restructure, Celebrity Gift, Sweeps Week, Beanstalk Royalties, and Green-Level Clearance.
Asset Economy – Using Assets for long-term or even permanent economy. Either sustainable or massively profitable, but can be trashed by the runner. Examples are Pad Campaign, Eve Campaign, Sundew, Marked Accounts, and Capital Investors.
Face-check punishment – Ice that ranges from annoying to devastating for the runner to hit in Phase 1. Examples are Architect, Caduceus, Gutenberg, and Komainu. Often does not deny entry if the runner feels the potential gains of access outweigh the consequences of the ice.
R&D lock – A state in which the runner can consistently access R&D (typically for multiple cards) every turn, preventing the Corp from drawing the agenda(s) they need to win the game.
Work compression – The corporation invests many clicks over several turns to force the runner to spend more than 4 clicks in a single turn in order to safely access a server. This can be done with damage cards such as House of Knives, Hokusai Grid, and Fetal AI, with tagging effects such as Data Raven, Bernice Mai, and TGTBT, or with click compressors such as various Bioroids, Enchanced Login Protocol, and the Replicating Perfection ID ability.
Phase 1 – At least one important server can still be accessed very efficiently (often freely) by the runner. The runner is still susceptible to gear-checks and face-check punishment. Runner advantage, but only tenuously.
Phase 2 – The runner is locked out of all important servers or cannot access them without substantial long-term sacrifices. Corp advantage.
Phase 3 – The runner can enter all relevant servers with an acceptable level of efficiency, or can enter a single, very important server to devastating effect. Runner advantage.
When new or intermediate players try to build a Corp deck, they often build around groups of cards that seem to go together. However, the way they form these groups is a bit off. They group cards by how they work rather than what they are for. They put a bunch of net damage ice in a deck without a clear idea of how they are using that damage. They build annoying servers full of Data Ravens, but have no way to force the runner to run through them. A good Corp deck has a clear path to victory, and every synergy in the deck moves it forward along that path.
I will now walk through how I think about the different paths to victory that the Corporation has. If you have not previously had success building your own decks, you can use these very broad archetypes to guide your thinking.
Most Corporation decks fall on a 2-dimensional space, the axis of which are Pace (how aggressively the Corporation tries to score) and Scoring Strategy (how the Corporation plans to safely advance agendas). The Pace axis is a spectrum, whereas the Scoring Strategy axis is binary (for now!).
There are also Corp decks with strategies that are orthogonal to most Corp play (Mainly Personal Evolution and other Mushin No Shin decks). I will not discuss these here. They are viable, but they can have a totally different play pattern than most decks.
Summary: Score 7 points quickly, sending the game to phase 2 very early and winning (or losing) before phase 3 arrives.
Ice Types: Binary, possibly assisted by Destroyers
Economy Types: Operation
Other Details: Usually contain a backup win condition to finish the game if the runner gets to phase 3 but you are on game point. Examples are Biotic Labor in HB, Caprice Nisei in Jinteki, or Sea Source/Snare + Scorched Earth in Weyland. Often (but not always) contain snowballing agendas such as Astroscript Pilot Program, Efficiency Committee, Project Atlas, or Nisei Mk 2, making the first score (which is usually the easiest one) more relevant.
Summary: Take away the runner’s advantage in phase 3 using taxation or work compression. Give up accesses in phase 1 for tempo and long term economy.
Ice Types: Taxing/Face-check punishment (some binary to protect economy assets or to defend against devastating events such as Account Siphon and Indexing)
Economy Types: Asset/Varying amounts of operation to help early game
Other Details: Needs to contain a plan to safely score agendas in the late game against a runner who does nothing but build money and their rig, rushing to stage 3 with a powerful economy. This may be upgrades, fast-advance options, never-advance/bluffing tactics, damage or tag-based work-compression, or traps.
Summary: Score agendas the turn they are installed without needing to protect them in a remote server. This is typically done with Biotic Labor, Astroscript Pilot Program, SanSan City Grid, or Trick of Light, although other options also exist.
Advantages: Many runner tricks are much less effective when the value of individual single-access runs is lowered by the lack of a critical remote server. Examples of such cards would be Inside Job, Stimhack, and Blackmail.
Disadvantages: Fast advance tools consume deck slots and often quite a bit of influence. A well-timed Clot can lose you the game. Vulerable to central-heavy pressure cards like Medium, Sneakdoor Beta, and Indexing. Since HQ is usually very vulnerable in phase 3, R&D lock can be devastating since you may not be able to safely draw cards.
Summary: Score agendas in a remote server over multiple turns.
Advantages: Potentially inexpensive, as some agendas may be scored with no ice rezzed and no money is spent on expensive fast-advance tools. The relevance of a 3rd server gives the runner more chances to make mistakes in judgment, attacking the remote when they should pressure centrals and vice-versa. Deck space is reserved for tricks and tech cards, while influence is preserved for surprising or particularly well-suited ice. The Corp can use clicks to draw cards more aggressively in phase 3 since they have a place to put agendas if they are drawn, giving them an answer to R&D lock.
Disadvantages: Potentially vulnerable to the runner tricks mentioned above, as well as unexpected burst-economy. The Corp is also potentially vulnerable to ice-destruction, as ice is spread over 1 (or more) additional server(s). Can get remote locked against powerful phase 3 runners, where the runner can run through the scoring remote every turn at little cost.
In this section I will give popular examples of these deck types. I encourage you to use these only as a reference. I am definitely not saying that these are the best decks for each category, or that they are the ones you should play. They are just good representations of their strategies.
Rush/Fast Advance: NBN Astrobiotics
General plan: Score an early Astroscript Pilot Program using SanSan City Grid or Biotic Labor. Use the Astro counter to help fast advance more agendas, rushing to 7 points very quickly.
Strengths: Speed, resilience to disruption and denial due to requiring very little money to function and using very cheap ice.
Weaknesses: Vulnerable to R&D lock, very predictable ice and play-style. All possible ice spreads have vulnerabilities that can be heavily punished if the runner is equipped with the proper tools (powerful events against face-check punishment and quick rig assembly against binary ice)
Most Important Skills: Properly discerning potential early-game threats. Diverting the runner’s attention away from the important central server at any given moment.
You may like this style if: You like having a clear, unwavering path to victory that is present until the runner has won.
Your least favorite runner cards are: Medium, Clot, Desperado, Indexing
Rush/Traditional: Weyland Supermodernism
General Plan: Build a frustrating remote server ASAP and immediately begin scoring snowballing agendas such as Oaktown Renovation, Project Atlas, and Hostile Takeover. End the game before the runner can escape Phase 2 or reset their rig with destroyers and Power Shutdown if they manage to get to Phase 3. Punish runners who prioritize rig-building over economy with a Sea Source + Scorched Earth Flatline, often assisted by Snare!.
Strengths: Best gear-checks in the game thanks to Archer, Grim, and Ice Wall. Can get free wins with early Snares or meat damage kills, preys on runner fear of kill cards and destroyers.
Weaknesses: Vulnerable to Remote-lock. If behind on credits, this deck has absolutely no ways to win in phase 3 if not on game point, and often even if on game point.
Most Important Skills: Proper ice-placement and identifying the rig-building strategy of the runner.
You may like this style if: You like feeling in control and making the runner play your game. You don’t like building and like getting right into the action! You don’t mind drawing dead for a few turns in games that you lose.
Your least favorite runner cards are: Self-Modifying Code, Clone Chip, Inside Job, Blackmail.
Glacier/Fast Advance: Biotic Labor HB (w/Eve Campaign)
General Plan: Use HB’s powerful Assets to generate a robust economy. Use the economy to build frustrating central servers that are taxing in Phase 3 and then close the game by fast advancing agendas with Biotic Labor and SanSan City Grid. HB’s powerful taxing but porous ice is quite well suited for protecting the 5-trash-cost Grid.
Strengths: Extremely resilient to economy denial, few terrible match-ups that cannot be played around with play-style or tech-card changes. Very flexible and potentially unpredictable ice-spreads.
Weaknesses: Bleeding too many points to early aggression. Anarch asset-destruction (Whizzard, Scrubber, Imp). Multiple R&D interfaces or well-timed HQ multi-access.
Most Important Skills: Economy management, balancing offense and defense, Ice Placement.
You may like this style if: You like being able to react to your opponent or your meta-game. You like managing a complex economy that is tied up in several places at once.
Your least favorite runner cards are: Legwork, R&D Interface, Imp, Datasucker.
Glacier/Traditional: Jinteki Replicating Perfection
General Plan: Use the click compression caused by Caprice Nisei, Replicating Perfection, Nisei Mk 2, Eli 1.0, and potentially Enhanced Login Protocol or Ichi 1.0 to score agendas in a remote server that is so secure, the runner may as well not even try running it.
Strengths: Closes the game very quickly once set-up. Self-defending agendas help you escape phase 1. Capable of miraculous comebacks if behind on points early.
Weaknesses: Very vulnerable to ice-destruction. Can lose to phase-3 runner power-plays (Vamp, Escher). Can have trouble getting agendas out of HQ if Jackson Howards and defensive upgrades are trashed from centrals in phase 1. Can have trouble leaving phase 1 if asset economy is denied by very strong early runner decision-making, burst economy and potentially disruption tools such as Account Siphon and Parasite.
Most Important Skills: Agenda management (when to keep agendas in HQ and when to use Jackson Howard to put them back in R&D), adapting your strategy and pacing to your opponent and their deck.
You may like this style if: You like winning long games. You like the “Checkmate” moment and tactical play.
Your least favorite runner cards are: Account Siphon, Vamp, Parasite
Additionally, here is a visual representation of some popular Corp strategies. Obviously the exact and relative placement of decks in this visual is highly subjective and the details of where a Corp deck falls can depend on specific card choices.
Hopefully some of these generalizations can help guide your thinking like it guides mine when I build a Corp deck. Do you have trouble with Medium? Maybe don’t play a Fast-Advance + Rush deck. Parasite got you down? Maybe stay away from Traditional Scoring + Glacier. Look at what your meta is doing (or the cards you struggle against) and give yourself an edge by playing the types of cards that are going to be strong in that environment. The answer to Account Siphon is not jamming Crisium Grid into every deck; it’s playing strategies that are inherently good against that type of tactic. Not relying on counter-cards and instead using counter-tactics will make you a stronger, less frustrated player.