4 Tips for Improving your Runner Game

It’s good to be back! So far so good with 1 update per month.

I’ve gotten quite a few requests for an article on how to improve at Netrunner. I thought a lot about how to present my ideas in a way that wasn’t as blunt and unhelpful as “Play more OCTGN.” I decided to come up with my top 4 tips for each of Runner and Corp. You can think of these tips as a mix of “winning tips” and “learning tips”. Certainly learning entails winning more, but some ways of improving your win-rate do not improve you as a player as much as others. If you follow these tips, you should win more in both the short and long term.

Tip 1: Don’t run early without threat cards.

Threat CardsNew players are often taught to be aggressive. “Run early and run often”, their coaches say. The sad truth is that running early and often is a great way to help the Corp escape the early game. When you make a run in Phase 1, you invest a Click to give the Corp the opportunity to do one of 3 things. They can let you in, bounce you with an End the Run, or punish you with face-check-punishment ICE. Most players see the latter as the only possible negative of their efforts. They don’t consider the possibility of getting free accesses very early as a bad thing. To explain what I am getting at, consider this example:

Corp (Engineering the Future) begins central ICE – central ICE – credit

You run HQ twice, with the Corp declining to rez either time, and you conclude there is nothing worth having in HQ. You then poke R&D and see a card off the top. You continue to check R&D for free over the next 3 turns, finally stealing 2 points on the final shot.

Seems like a pretty good start right? Not really. You would really rather the Corp have paid money to rez their ICE. You spent 6 critical early-game clicks grabbing accesses against a Corp who had a very poor economic start. Because you invested clicks for access, which has no effect on the Corp’s tempo, this EtF was able to establish an Adonis Campaign behind some cheap ice and dig themselves out of their economic hole. If you had built your board and tempered your aggression somewhat you could have kept them down.

Many players experience this frustration and conclude that early game they should just not run at all, building their board and camping remotes. This is also incorrect and most players love playing against runners who play this way for good reason. They are the same runners who complain that Caprice Nisei is ruining the game as they stare at their useless 40 credit bank after having no central pressure all game.

So if running early is bad and building is bad, what is there to do? The answer is to run and build at the same time! By this I don’t mean on alternate clicks, I mean to use your runs to force the Corp to rez, lest you advance your own board-state relative to theirs while getting easy access. Here are some strong cards that allow you to do this:

Datasucker

Desperado

Security Testing (still fits in this category, even though you do not get the access)

Lamprey (My Favorite)

Imp (This one is overrated, but it’s better than nothing)

Medium

Playing as Gabriel Santiago 😛

Make a habit of starting all of your games with Threat card + Run HQ. Force the Corp to rez on the least important late-game server. If you can incentivize the Corp to put a 2nd ice on HQ early game out of fear, you have taken a big step toward economic dominance.

I love playing against players who spam runs for single accesses early-game with no threat cards. They’re the same ones who can never afford to trash my SanSan City Grids and Eve Campaigns, complaining about my lucky comeback from down 4-0.

Tip 2: Killers are for cowards

No Killers

This is a very difficult concept and one that is exceptionally hard to teach. A lot of players are terrified of the worst when hitting unrezzed ICE. They’ve eaten one too many Architects/Komainus to ever run again without their Mimic. In some ways their fear is justified, since at the wrong time, face-planting into a nasty Sentry can lose you the game. However, the best time to have these ICE fire is at the start of the game. If you hit a Turn 1 surprise Komainu against Replicating Perfection, the economic exchange is probably fine for you (unless you lose a critical card that you cannot recur, but this happens less often than people seem to think, and usually the affected decks run Faerie for exactly this scenario). 5 credits is a lot for a Corp to pay in the early-game. Likewise with Architect, the best time to slam into that thing is before you have spent any money trashing an asset that they can bring back from archives.

Once you have installed vulnerable non-killer programs, things get a little stickier, since now you must fear destroyers as well. However, while you are trying to improve at the game, I strongly suggest you just take your licks against these cards, only installing your Killer in advance if you are in a VERY comfortable economic position. You will be amazed at how often the worst just does not happen. Unless you’re playing Core-only, the world just isn’t full of Rototurrets anymore. You truly have very little to fear (especially if you run on your first click to deal with a potential Ichi 1.0).

Tip 3: Money is a crutch.

Money Crutch

Intermediate players can really struggle to manage their money. In Netrunner sometimes you are so rich that you can trash unrezzed Eve Campaigns, and sometimes you are so poor you can’t even trash a rezzed Adonis. A lot of players have trouble reading their current economic standing in the game. Every mistake they make compounds the feeling of “I’m so poor”. If they trash things that they shouldn’t, the obviously go broke, and if they leave things they should trash, servers become so taxing that they end the game feeling economically inadequate. Their response after the game is to put more economy cards in their deck. Even after doing this, they continue to make tactical errors and end up just as poor as before. This cycle repeats until they end up with a watered down deck that has no punch or tricks. This is part of why the Prepaid VoicePad engine is so often employed (poorly) outside of Kate; these players are just BEGGING for a way to justify their inclusion of 3x Lucky Find.

To overcome this as an intermediate player, try running with some decks that do not have a huge money cushion to fall back on. Play Tag-me Siphon Anarch, Gabe with no sustainable economy besides Desperado, Noise with nothing but Pawnshop and Cache, or even Nasir. Learn how to find ways to win when broke, and you well get a better feel for how much money you REALLY need to win a game. Hint: It’s a lot less than you think.

It is true that if you look at the best decks, they are loaded with money. Prepaid Kate, Reg-Maxx, and Andromeda are all loaded with economy cards. Making a huge pile of money and then turning it into accesses is only one way to win at Netrunner (even though it may be the best way a lot of the time), and it is not the best way to LEARN Netrunner.

Tip 4: Don’t run silver bullets.

Hate Cards

I’ll discuss this further in the Corp side of this article, but running cards like Clot, Film Critic, Feedback Filter, and even Plascrete Carapace and Deus Ex really hamper your ability to learn the game. Many great players have advised, “Learn it by dying to it.” I would take that advice a bit further and say, “Learn it by losing to it over and over and over.” I probably lost the first 10 games I ever played against Butchershop when the deck was new, but rather than jam Plascretes into my decks, I just changed the way I played and the general tactics my decks employed. Beating NBN became less about getting cheap early points through efficient aggression, and more about securing my board-state and then winning with a big dig or R&D lock. If I had just put 2-3 Plascretes in my decks and not changed my play-style, I would have learned much less. Silver bullets can give you free wins, and not having them can give you really bitter losses when the Corp gets a good draw, but when your focus is on learning and not winning RIGHT NOW, steer clear of them. I’m not saying these cards are bad. They’re not. They are very powerful and you should feel free to pack them in a big tournament if you think you have a good read on the Meta. For me, since I approach every game I play as a learning game, no matter the stakes, I almost never play these cards.

Thanks for reading! The next article will be the Corp side of learning tips. Featuring such incendiary tag-lines as:

When deciding between installing the Agenda and the bluff, go for the Agenda.

17 ICE is a crutch.

Play with Fast Track (and use it aggressively!).

Lose the game in the remote, not in centrals.

See you next month! (or sooner on OCTGN: TheBigBoy)