2 Tips for Improving your Corp Play

This article took quite a while to write. I was really set on making it as similar in structure to my runner tips article from last month as possible, but it turns out that Corp play is far more structured and less free-flowing than Runner play. Corp players make fewer decisions than runners, but each decision is more impactful. Because of this, I only have 2 tips for improving your Corp play, but each is far more detailed and complex than the 4 runner tips from last month. Enjoy!

Tip 1: Trust your gear-checks

You’re playing an NEH fast advance deck against Kate and this is your starting hand after mandatory draw:

NEH_Hand

Many players’ turn 1 would be:

  • Install SanSan, drawing for NEH (let’s assume it’s irrelevant, perhaps another SanSan or an NAPD Contract)
  • Pop-up HQ (some would put it on the SanSan)
  • Architect R&D

Here’s my first turn:

Turn_1

…with a credit.

Unless you luckily top-deck a Sweeps Week or Hedge Fund, the first opening is going nowhere fast. Even if you do, you’ll have to rip an Astroscript Pilot Program shortly after. By then you may not even have a SanSan anymore!

My opening sets up for this turn 2:

Turn_2

This Astro is a lock the vast majority of the time. Additionally you have created a very useful server that the runner must find an answer to. This early tax of install costs will amount to far more than the 5 credits it would take to kill your SanSan. This remote server will also keep the runner’s attention away from your R&D. They will often avoid running it while you have 4 credits, lest you rez an Architect in their face and install something into your remote with it. They will not be able to search out their Mimic because their SMCs will be taxed by getting the programs out to deal with your remote. They may not even bother to hit R&D until you are on close to 0, perfect for your Pop-Up!

An astute observer should have noticed that after this turn 2, we only have 5 credits, not enough to rez both pieces of ice and score our agenda. This is OK for several reasons, in order of likelihood:

  1. The runner will often not be able to break the Wraparound, leaving us with 3 credits.
  2. If the runner does get out a Fracter and force you to rez the Quandary, there is still a very reasonable chance that they cannot get back in next turn anyway.
  3. The runner may hit the Pop-up on either turn 1 or 2, giving us the credit we need.
  4. If the runner cannot get 2 breakers + some money right now, they may not bother to fetch their breaker knowing that they will just be stopped by the next piece of ice.
  5. The runner may ignore the remote completely if they know they only have access to at most 1 breaker.
  6. You could top-deck Shipment from SanSan (like a boss). I run 3 because I want the freedom to make aggressive plays like this more often.

All of these reasons combined make this slight credit “miscalc” totally alright. This play gets less safe VERY rapidly every turn that you wait.

Many players see this play as unnecessarily risky. The truth is this:

Playing aggressively is not as risky as allowing the runner to reach late-game un-pressured!

In fact, the only play I see as a reasonable alternative to mine is this turn 1:

Aggro

Now that’s Netrunner!

A lot of players insist that they play aggressively, but I watch their games and can see them not trusting their ICE. Why are the gear-checks in your deck if you don’t believe they can keep the runner out for 1 turn? That’s their job! Ask your local Kate player if they always have SMC turns 1-2 when they need it (let alone access to 2 plus the money to use them). They will laugh you out of the room.

Just because you’re a fast-advance deck, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to score agendas out of a remote. Just because you’re a glacier deck, it doesn’t mean you can’t try to score your critical agendas early. Waiting for your scores to be 100% secure is a good way to have them be 0% secure. Put your Agendas down and trust in your ICE. Pick up the pace and you will strike fear into your opponents.

If you want to learn to play this way, jam a Fast Track or 2 into the next deck you build, regardless of style, and use it aggressively. Every turn that it’s in your hand, process the board state and judge if it is at all safe to go for a score. If you are unsure, GO FOR IT! You will get your points far more often than you expect. Lose the game in the remote, not in your centrals!

Tip 2: 17 ICE is a crutch

One of the most difficult things for intermediate Corp players to learn is ICE placement. They do not plan for the long-term when they install their ICE, only thinking about its immediate impact and not its lasting effect.

For an extreme example, I recent played against a Near-Earth Hub deck as Andromeda. I had Desperado installed and so was likely to check most remotes. He installed a new remote and ICE’d it. I checked the remote and slammed into an Architect. Having no cards in Archives so far, he got his ½ value Architect (+1 click for the HQ install), and I accessed to find a PAD CAMPAIGN. He rezzed the PAD and let it sit behind that Architect for the entire game. A few Medium runs through his Eli + Pop-Up defended R&D with no Mimic out probably had him wishing his Architect was protecting something more important. I’m sure my opponent didn’t really think that a Pad Campaign is worth defending with a 4-cost piece of ICE, but he knew that if he put the Architect there that I would probably hit it without a Mimic out. He was so focused on getting his subroutines to fire that he did not think ahead to how he wanted his ICE to be arranged several turns down the line.

So what does all this have to do with having 17 ICE? Intermediate Corp players get trapped in a spiral of poor ICE-placement. They put their ICE in the wrong places at the wrong times, conclude after they lose that they never have the ICE they need, and add more ICE to their deck. With all that extra ICE, they feel compelled to install more of it. This costs a lot of money and slows down the game, allowing their opponents to reach late-game more often, where their poor ICE placement haunts them even more. Decks like this one make my head hurt:

http://netrunner.meteor.com/decks/zpCxag7Noe6faKuyh

All Ice No Tricks (49 cards)

Near-Earth Hub: Broadcast Center
Agenda (11)
3 AstroScript Pilot Program
2 Breaking News
3 NAPD Contract
3 Project Beale
Asset (7)
1 Daily Business Show
3 Jackson Howard
3 PAD Campaign
Upgrade (5)
2 Cyberdex Virus Suite
3 SanSan City Grid
Operation (9)
2 Biotic Labor ···· ····
1 Fast Track
3 Hedge Fund
3 Sweeps Week
Barrier (6)
3 Eli 1.0 · · ·
1 Wall of Static
2 Wraparound
Code Gate (8)
2 Enigma
3 Pop-up Window
3 Tollbooth
Sentry (3)
2 Architect ·· ··
1 Ichi 1.0 ··

If you play with this list locally or on OCTGN, you will probably win a lot. You will also LEARN very very little. You will coast to victory on the power of your core strategy, never realizing that many of the games you lose are due to your poor ICE-placement (and the rest are probably due to you not following Tip 1!). This is because this list has way more ICE than is actually needed for its strategy to function. Netrunner has a ton of extremely powerful Corp cards that often do not make the cut (or are 1-ofs instead of 2 or 3-ofs) because ICE takes up so many deck slots. Every piece of ICE you can cut because of your placement and timing skills is one more luxury card like Fast Track, Interns, Enhanced Login Protocol, or Cyberdex Virus Suite you can run. These utility cards can be totally game-changing, and make for a much more dynamic, decision-laden learning experience.

Strong ICE placement is difficult to break down in explicit terms. While writing this I played several games and took notes on my thoughts while placing my ICE. I’ve summarized my thoughts here:

  1. When you build your deck, think of the ideal place for each piece of ICE that’s in it (this can be match-up dependent if you are a more advanced and Meta-savvy player). When you play the game, don’t get caught up in perceived immediate runner threats. Stick to your plan. Be consistent in your placement. If you improvise too much you will learn little about what is correct. If you stick to your plan over the course of several games, you may find yourself losing to the same tactics repeatedly. This is a great way to learn the weaknesses of your deck’s plan and adjust it accordingly.
  2. When both are unrezzed, a Taxing or Punishing piece of ICE in front of a Binary piece is better than the other way around, since the runner will be forced to pay a price just to be gear-checked on the other side. For example: Architect->Wraparound is better than Wraparound -> Architect.

This is an important point since many people snap-install their opening hand Architect on R&D. When you do this, you give up optimal placement later in the game. If your opponent installs a Mimic and runs a few turns later, you will be glad to have them pay 2 credits to get stopped, rather than not having to face the Architect until they can get all the way though and the 2 credits matter much less.

Don’t be a slave to this tip, but whenever you install a Piece of taxing ice, ask yourself how likely you will be to have to reinforce it with a Binary later. If the likelihood is high, perhaps it is best to install the binary now (even if you do not plan to rez it!)

  1. If you have the patience, time, and safety to do so, destroyers like Rototurret, Archer, and (a central server) Ichi 1.0 are most effective as the BOTTOM piece of ICE on a server. The risk involved in placing this way is that you may not be able to rez these ICE for value for a very long time, and if you continue to hold out on rezzing even when rich, the runner will start to get suspicious. When you make this play, you are going for a blowout moment later in the game. Knowing when to go for this play and when to save your destroyer to cap off a server later takes a lot of practice. Try making the play as often as you can to learn when it is correct to do so. Very few people expect an Archer at the bottom of a remote server. They will assume that you would not install one until after they played at least one program. Punish their assumptions!

It is also an important point that playing this way is MORE FUN. Getting blowout moments feels great, and maintaining positive morale and having a good time are VERY IMPORTANT parts of learning. Wrecking someone with an Archer or Ichi is a great way to keep up your motivation to keep practicing.

  1. Practice playing decks that rely on ICE but have very little of it. One of my favorites is the Waldemar HB deck (that scores Mandatory Upgrades the long way in a double upgrade remote powered by massive Asset economy).

http://netrunner.meteor.com/decks/aT6gkjaLqCEcEvjFH

This deck plays for a very long game, but since it has to fit in a ton of horizontal game and upgrades, it has only 15 pieces of ice. It can get away with this because each piece of ICE is high strength and very impactful on its own. However, if you do not place it correctly your mistakes will glare at you for the rest of the game, as you do not have extra pieces of ICE to just toss around on a whim. I have probably learned more about playing Corp well from this deck than any other. Also, scoring Man-Ups is super fun, which, again, helps keep you positive and in a learning mindset.

If you only play decks with an abundance of ICE, you will rarely notice your ICE placement mistakes. Play some decks where every piece is precious, and you will learn quickly through your losses. Remember I am not saying that a 19 ICE deck cannot be strong. I am just saying that it is not very instructive to play.

So that’s what I have on improving as a Corp player. I hope you find these tips helpful, or at least entertaining. Have a great month of Netrunning! Drop me a comment if you have any questions, or hit me up on OCTGN (TheBigBoy) if you want to play some games!

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