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Frisky's Corner

by Frisco Del Rosario

Tuning a starter deck, part 1

I directed two sealed deck NetRunner tournaments at last week's Mini ManaFest held at the MatchPlay Game Center in Mountain View, Calif.

I gave the players at least 45 minutes for tuning their sealed decks, and found that some players were struggling to judge some cards as they neared their deadlines. For that reason, I will spend this week and next noodling about the tuning of sealed decks, starting with runner cards this week. I wonder if anyone who reads this column can use this kind of help.

Is tuning really necessary? In last Saturday's sealed deck tournament, a brand new player, who had just learned to play at a demonstration, finished second with an untuned starter. Furthermore, her runner deck was a bad one -- the big cash cards were Databroker and misc.for-sale. No Broker, no Loan from Chiba, not even a Short-Term Contract.

Yes, to have the best chance to win a sealed deck contest, tuning is necessary. Sixty cards are far too many to draw from in order to find the right icebreaker or cash card. You will find that you really want to keep just 30 to 35 cards from your starter, and the other 10 or 15 are blah, which usually serve as discard fodder. I love to find a Crash Everett, Inventive Fixer in my sealed decks, just so I can whittle the crap down on the fly.

The reason for deck size minimums is based in game design. The designers of NetRunner understood that if runners were allowed to play with just the 30-35 "good" cards in their starter, their decks would be too good, too easy to play.

I have cracked a fresh starter for the purposes of this column, and found an exceptionally good runner box. It's possible that 45 cards in here will be standout choices, which won't make for thought-provoking reading, will it?

First things first. Separate your cards by class. That should be obvious, but I watched players sift through their 60-card stacks plucking cards as they went. It's much easier to choose between icebreakers if all of your programs are in one place.

Microtech Backup Drive
Nasuko Cycle
Pandora's Deck
Parraline 5750
RD Interface
Tycho Mem Chip
Zetatech Mem Chip

Edited Shipping Manifest
Forgotten Backup Chip
Gideon's Pawnshop
If You Want It Done Right
Jack 'n' Joe
Livewire's Contacts
Mantis, Fixer at Large
MIT West Tier
Open-Ended Mileage Program
Security Code WORM Chip
Temple Microcode Outlet
Weather-to-Finance Pipe

Baedeker's Net Map
Black Dahlia
Force Shield
Loony Goon
Pattel's Virus
Pile Driver
Ramming Piston
Scatter Shot
Speed Trap
Vewy Vewy Quiet
Wizard's Book
Zetatech Software Installer

Access to Kiribati
Back Door to Hilliard
Back Door to Orbital Air
Fall Guy
Leland, Corporate Bodyguard
Loan from Chiba
Nomad Allies
Short-Term Contract
Submarine Uplink
Trauma Team

Keep every card which can provide a bit. That's the bottom line. I know that some card gamers are turned off by NetRunner for its prevailing "money is everything" character, which is certainly true of many constructed runner decks which rely on a dozen Loans from Chiba, or 15 Scores! In sealed deck play, an artful runner must learn to make good use of subtle cards like Smith's Pawnshop. (The easy tricks with Smith are to sell Rigged Investments with one bit remaining on it to gain an extra bit, or sell Short-Term Contract with two bits on it to save an action, or sell Loan from Chiba to gain four bits.)

Choose resources and preps first, then programs, then hardware. This allows you to pull all of the cash out first, and programs are far more important than hardware.

Make the easy choices first. It's like spinning a radio dial. You zoom in close to the station you want, and when you're close, you move the dial only a little bit each way before you're tuned in. In a NetRunner runner deck, you keep 30 cards easily, then make finer judgments about the other 15.

With those points in mind, we can get to work.


This is the first starter deck I've ever seen which includes Broker, Short-Term Contract, and Loan from Chiba. Keepers. For tag prevention, Fall Guy is the tops. Between Nomad Allies and Leland, Corporate Bodyguard, I keep Nomad for its special ability to remove tags cheaply is much greater than Leland's meat damage prevention. Besides, we've got a Trauma Team for meat protection -- I set that aside for now, though. Rely on resources for base linkage. We got a few program links in this starter, but they take MU. Back Door to Hilliard is the cheap link of choice, and Submarine Uplink is an overlooked card, which often works as well as Dropp against trace ice. The other three base links (Orbital Air, Kiribati, Springboard) are set aside.


What a great set of preps. Keep the cash first. Edited Shipping Manifests, Livewire, Score. Deck management preps come next. Done Right, Jack 'n' Joe, Mantis, Temple. Recycling is great (see last week's Frisky AI installment). Gideon's, and a terrific rare, MIT West Tier. Sabotage is good, too, so we keep WORM Chip and Weather-to-Finance.

So, out of 13 preps, 11 are easy keepers. Only Forgotten Backup Chip and Open-Ended Mileage Program are set aside. I figure Open-Ended won't come back, considering that we have Nomad Allies among our resources.


Roughly half of the cards in a runner starter are programs. Therefore, I sort them further by use -- icebreakers into four separate groups (code gate, wall, sentry, specialized) and others.

One big icebreaker of each type, one small one. That's fairly common sense. Keeping two of each makes it easier to draw one, and permits you to lose cards to damage.

Black Dahlia is the only big sentry breaker. Its weakness is that it has to pay four bits to break the piddly little sentries like Banpei, so I'll prefer Shaka over Loony Goon as my small breaker because Shaka is slightly less expensive to use against weak sentries. Raptor and Loony are set aside.

Raffles is the best big code gate breaker. I suppose code gate breakers could be considered a weakness in this starter, since there's no Codecracker to handle Filters and Sleepers. I'll take the Wizard's Book for them. Put Cyfermaster away for now.

Dwarf is the expensive wall breaker, and Pile Driver will serve as the cheap one. Ramming Piston and Worm are put away, but I have a hunch Worm might return as a better answer to Data Wall 2.0 than Pile Driver.

Our only specialty icebreaker is Replicator. That's kind of a drag. Dogcatcher is always fun in sealed deck play, for corporations are forced to play with dog sentries. My favorite specialty icebreaker is Reflector, because Shock.r and Bolter Cluster are such prime sealed deck cards. Flak is a heavy sealed deck card, too, because corporate starters are often provide a full complement of AP sentries which do brain damage.

Other Programs

Keep the money cards first. A Zetatech Software Installer is a big bonus, and Scatter Shot is an amusing and useful rare. I like Scatter Shot very much even in constructed play because upgrades like Rio de Janeiro and Crystal Palace Station Grid have such high bloody trash costs.

The other money programs we received are stealth cards, Invisibility and Vewy Vewy Quiet. Stealth, in general, sucks. It takes MU, and except for Invisibility, costs too much to install. I've seen sealed deck runners save and save to install a Cloak, and not even use its installation cost in stealth bits before the corp wins the game. Keep a card's installation cost in mind. That's a big thing to remember when thinking about hardware, too, in a following paragraph. I'll keep Invisibility because it costs zero to install. Vewy Vewy Quiet can go.

The base link programs can go. Cards like Baedeker's Net Map and Bakdoor are useful mostly in constructed decks which rely heavily on ValuPak Software Bundling and lots of MU.

Detection is good in sealed deck play. Smarteye is an annoying program against a corporation which hopes to bluff with ice it can't afford to rez. Speed Trap is an unsung card in constructed deck play, too. I'll put SeeYa away, because it's a little expensive to install and to use. I'd much rather have a Mouse, anyway. SeeYa can expose ice, but good NetRunner players expose ice by slamming the hell into it.

For now, I'll prefer Force Shield to Shield, just for its brain damage protection. It's just easier to make choices like this when you have a Zetatech Software Installer in hand.

Between the viruses, I'll keep Gremlins over Pattel's because it's potentially more damaging to the corporation. Also, Pattel's is good if it saves the runner icebreaking costs -- this particular starter set is very cash-rich, though.

Rabbit? One of the worst cards in the game. Pass.

Clown. Hmm. Clown is just a good card, but in this deck, with its strong Dahlia and Pile Driver, I'll leave it aside. Maybe it will come back in the second look.


RD Interface is the only sure thing, because it permits the runner to access an additional card. I now see what's missing from this deck. No Custodial Positions, no Executive Wiretaps. Keep cards which provide extras. Custodial and Wiretaps are classic sealed deck cards. Even All-Nighter, which allows an extra run, is a good sealed deck card.

I'll put all three decks away. Wizards screwed up with the design of those cards. They're all expensive to install, and don't provide much.

I'll take both mem chips, and hope I draw Zetatech before I draw Tycho. Nasuko Cycle is expensive to use, but it is a lifesaver occasionally. Keeper. Microtech Backup Drive goes away for a while.

We've kept 36 cards so far:

Hardware Nasuko Cycle RD Interface Tycho Mem Chip Zetatech Mem Chip

Prep Edited Shipping Manifest Gideon's Pawnshop If You Want It Done Right Jack 'n' Joe Livewire's Contacts Mantis, Fixer at Large MIT West Tier Score! Security Code WORM Chip Temple Microcode Outlet Weather-to-Finance Pipe

Programs Black Dahlia Dwarf Force Shield Gremlins Invisibility Pile Driver Raffles Replicator Scatter Shot Shaka Smarteye Speed Trap Wizard's Book Zetatech Software Installer

Resources Back Door to Hilliard Broker Fall Guy Loan from Chiba Nomad Allies Short-Term Contract Submarine Uplink

At least we only have to find nine cards in the drek. Some sealed deck tunings are painful at this point.

I'll pack Backup Drive because it can be installed, while Forgotten Backup Chip has to stay in hand.

Clown, just in case. Shield is free to install, and provides at least a little net protection. Worm is great against cheap walls, and who knows, maybe Worm plus Wizard's Book will give our Clown life.

Open-Ended Mileage Program might save a few tag-removing bits, and even costs less to use than Nomad Allies. Trauma Team is also free to install, and might save a life.

That's six. Three more cards to save, darn it. Springboard could also result in avoiding a tag. Vewy Vewy Quiet, as bad as stealth tends to be, could work out if Zetatech Software Installer comes out first -- besides, keeping Vewy Quiet pays attention to the first rule, keep the money.

One more card to keep from this mess.

I'll make it Parraline 5750, a deck, just for its icebreaking bit. It'll probably be discarded during the play, but money is money is money.

Like I said, this is an outstanding sealed deck, and was almost too easy to tune. Make it hard for me.


Frisky's Corner