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Neal's Last Words


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 starter.

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 either.

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 the last.

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 journey.

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 to us.

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 in reply.

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 our oyster.

The List

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 and decks.

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 the ocean.

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.

IRC Leagues

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.