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
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
Tycho Mem Chip
Zetatech Mem Chip
Edited Shipping Manifest
Forgotten Backup Chip
If You Want It Done Right
Jack 'n' Joe
Mantis, Fixer at Large
MIT West Tier
Open-Ended Mileage Program
Security Code WORM Chip
Temple Microcode Outlet
Baedeker's Net Map
Vewy Vewy Quiet
Zetatech Software Installer
Access to Kiribati
Back Door to Hilliard
Back Door to Orbital Air
Leland, Corporate Bodyguard
Loan from Chiba
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Like I said, this is an outstanding sealed deck, and was
almost too easy to tune. Make it hard for me.