Neal's Last Words
by Byron "Neal" Massey
Washed-Up Solo Construct
About five years ago, my cousin Rob (of Rob's Netrunner Node fame)
(I've not included the link because it's dead, dead, dead) (too
many parentheses) came over to the table where I was playing Magic
at Eucon. Eucon was a great game convention held in Eugene, Oregon
for many years, and the site of the first Northwest Netrunner Championships.
He has a green-and-purple oversized box of cards. It was a Netrunner
He'd purchased it from a dealer who had received a promotional
copy from WotC. The game wasn't due to be released for a few weeks,
and he was pretty excited to get it early. I wasn't familar with
cyberpunk literature at the time, and not particularly interested
I'd finished in the top 32 at the Northwest Magic Championships
in Seattle the previous year, and my investment in the game was
pretty high. I was disgusted with the advent of Type II Magic tournaments,
realizing that my precious Lotus and Mox were on their way to becoming
museum peices. He had some difficulty convincing me to try it.
But try it I did, and the rest is history. Literally. The game
has run its course, and this issue of Neal's Last Words is truly
In memorial to the finest trading-card game ever published, I decided
to indulge myself in a fun collection of the best and worst moments
in my Netrunner experience. I hope they'll bring back some nice
memories for those who have been Running from the start, and perhaps
put some perspective on the entire, wonderful, awful, all-encompassing
Enough preamble, let's stroll down Tycho Mem Chip lane:
For Those About to Run, We Salute You
Running, not crawling, was the first step. Rob and I played several
games, not realizing that Ice was not meant to be discarded when
its subroutines were broken. Winning with the Corp seemed impossible
until this rule was clarified (feel free to chuckle). The rule book
was full of nice examples, but this particular detail was not clear
As soon as we started keeping Ice on the table, we found that the
Corp always won. We fell for the newbie trap of trying to get a
complete kit of Icebreakers and protection measures installed before
our first run. This meant the Corp was already about to win before
we even interfered. Rob learned about this mailing list, and his
first post was asking for help as the Runner. We decided we weren't
to far behind the learning curve when he got little useful help
Charles in Charge
That all changed when Charles Gordon came home from college for
the summer. His parents' house was about 100 yards from mine, and
we played Magic and Netrunner just about every day. He took about
two games to realize that taking Net and Brain damage was not the
same as losing. He ran on his first action of the game, recklessly
used his Junkyard BBS to recycle his Lucidrine Booster Drug, and
generally showed us the art of Running.
As soon as we saw how fun it was to be a suicidal Runner, things
really took off. Charles remains a deadly strategist, although,
these days, he uses his skills to pick up money for graduate school
(in Seattle) by winning Magic tournaments.
After a few months of woodshedding and filling out our collections,
we heard that there was going to be a big Netrunner tournament at
the Magic World Championships in Seattle. We prepared our decks
with great aplomb, practiced sealed-deck, and generally worried
about what other people were up to. We heard rumors of a player
in Seattle who would only trade for Roving Submarines and City Surveillances
- scary to people with small collections like ours. But we still
went to the tournament.
The WotC Game Center was packed with Magic players, but they still
got about 25 people to play in the sealed-deck tournament. I came
in second, Dennis Duncan came in fourth or so, and Rob and my brother
(Bart) finished a little lower. I traded my prizes for the Netrunner
T-shirt that the winner received. I still have it, and only wear
it on days when I feel really reckless and nostalgic.
The constructed-deck tournament the next day was pretty poorly
attended, a harbinger of all that would follow. I got to play Lisa
Michaels, who would be a constant presence in Netrunner along with
her boyfriend, Northwest Champion Chris Phillips, and a few other
notables. Cameron Herzog (the man with the Roving Subs and City
Surveillances) was also there. I beat him after he decked himself
using the MIT/Bodyweight/Score! engine he learned from the WotC
game designers. Jim Lin was there, carefully watching the events
and listening to my too-plentiful advice on the details of the Swiss
System, which was just being introduced into Magic and Netrunner.
I finished out of first, having never played the winner, but I saw
enough to show me the level of design for killer Stacks and Corporations.
Those Weekends at Rob's
The next year or so was spent travelling to Rob's apartment in
Corvallis, with near-weekly sessions against Dennis Duncan, Rob,
and Bart. The level of competition was very high. Dennis developed
Bozomatic during this time, Rob perfected the use of Priority Wreck,
and I finished the design of The Short Stack. These were the best
Netrunner times of my life. We played several sealed-deck ante leagues,
constructed tournaments, and whatever else we could come up with.
We also made a few trips to tournaments in Portland, Seattle, and
Eugene. We did pretty well, with Dennis, in particular, winning
a lot of constructed games and my brother, Bart, getting second
place in just about every sealed-deck tournament. The world was
We used the mailing list a lot. Old-timers will remember Brian
"Spot" Dorricott (occasionally Dornicott) who could barely
spell, and was the first true joke we got to see in Netrunner. The
Dallas crowd also made itself known, with Charles Schwope, Skip
Pickle, and Ben Matthews each posting frequently about their tournaments
Germany put itself on the map quickly with Matthias Nagy's world
Netrunner rankings. Ocke Rorden, Daniel Schneider, and Holger "the
AI" Janssen also appeared frequently with tales of terror across
Then there was the San Francisco crowd...
Meet me in Frisco
Frisco del Rosario was perhaps the most colorful participant on
the mailing list. He wrote an excellent weekly column, lambasted
those who disagreed or criticized him, and generally turned up the
level of involvement and hostility for everyone. He was also nearly
unbeatable in sealed-deck play. His friend Jim McCoy perfected the
Nasty Code Gate Deck, which used Encoder, Inc., to beat just about
anyone. Joe Ganis posted in his no-caps style infrequently, but
Frisco assured us he was at the top of the game.
I travelled to the Bay Area for a weekend tournament and a chance
to meet these people in person. Frisco was kind enough to put me
up at his house, and the tournament was fun. I only finished fourth
or so, playing my Freedom of the Press deck with all those Field
Reporters for Ice and Data. I got a prize for being an original
deckbuilder, though, and that was nice. Frisco played his The World
Would Swing ... deck, using six World Dominations and his famous
quote, "All you have to do is advance this twelve times - what
could be easier?"
The Northwest Championships
At some point in the ongoing cry for more Netrunner support, I
decided to hold the Northwest Netrunner Championships at Eucon in
Eugene, Oregon. Frisco and Jim McCoy agreed to show up, and I decided
not to play so I could run the tournies. Dennis Duncan finished
first in constructed with Bozomatic, and Frisco won sealed-deck
by a considerable margin. Frisco was the overall champion, and he
still has the trophy I custom-built from an old circuit board.
My best memory of the weekend was retiring to Jim and Frisco's
room after a hard day of sealed-deck play, having a couple fun games,
and beating them both. Frisco, after seeing Michael Keene wearing
a bandolier of Urban Renewals that represented all the Runners he
flatlined in the tournament, deadpanned the line , "Runners
are dying, Jim!"
Even better, Frisco told me he was looking for a Netrunner rare
promo card called "Throat Wolf Disk". I had to bite my
tongue a little before letting him know about the old "Throat
Wolf" scam from Magic. Someone sold several Throat Wolves online
at high prices before anyone realized the card didn't exist - apparently
the legend had crossed over to Netrunner.
I organized several online IRC leagues during this time. We set
up a weekly schedule, met in a chat room, and used text to tell
each other what cards we had drawn and played. It was there that
I learned of Hellblazer and Holger Janssen, two really good players.
It was a lot of fun to meet people from Australia and Germany and
Singapore in friendly competition. Ben, Doc and the other regulars
from America were also great guys to know and play.
That's also where I met Erwin Wagner, the finest deck designer
in the world today. His decks are not only powerful, they are somewhat
unknown, and finding his TRAP! website will give you a whole new
perspective on the real art of deck design.
Writing and Publishing
I wrote a bunch of articles for a French Magazine called Black
Ops, which they translated and published. Unfortunately, they never
paid me for them, and got really testy when I kept insisting that
they do so. I also sold an expansion set for Netrunner to WotC.
They undoubtedly bought it to avoid copyright problems, but I am
very proud of many of the cards in that set - I'm bound by contract
not to share them, but they were fun. There were also some cards
that didn't hold up so well to the ravages of time, but they would
have made sense if they had been released within a year of the sale.
How Things End
All good things must come to an end, and these good memories are
no exception. The game continued to suffer from lack of support.
Proteus was released with little fanfare and contained some badly
broken cards. The lack of promotion by WotC led to the shelving
of the game. Richard Garfield posted to the list and told us to
just think of Netrunner like Monopoly, no new cards were needed.
Frisco stopped writing his columns, Martin Jennings, the Swiss
Mercenary, stopped posting to the mailing list, France and Germany
resumed their historical state of conflict via Netrunner organization,
and mentally illl people took positions of authority within the
Top Runner's Conference (you all know the one person I am thinking
of). Dice were sawed in half, several rules Czars were treated and
released, and tournaments were held with increasing infrequency.
The Top Runners' Conference and Jennifer Clarke Wilkes managed
to get Silent Impact released (at least a portion of it), but it
was too little and too late. Doug Kaufmann promises to keep Netrunner
alive via Apprentice, for online play, but the membership in the
mailing list dwindles, and with the lack of starter decks on the
market, it's very difficult to recruit new players.
So that's how it ends, a five-year journey into Netspace. Hopefully
you've sold enough Agendas to keep you in Lucidrine for a while,
and Dr. Dreff is still looking for your Crash Space. I won't be
here anymore, but if you close your eyes quickly when you jack in,
you might see my Self-Construct at the edge of your resolution.
- I've got a weekly poker game with Rache Bartmoss.