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Neal's Last Words


Neal's Last Words

by Byron "Neal" Massey

Beta Testing the Field

Skipper Pickle and I recently discussed the Gridlock II format. We disagreed on its value and the goal of the event. This week, I offer some suggestions for the next Gridlock Weekend.

There are three distinct elements in playing a trading card game:

* The first is the actual game play. Deciding how to use each action in a game is still the key element in Netrunner success. No matter what type of tournament you enter, this element is always tested.

* The second is deck construction. Deciding what cards to include in your decks is key. Obviously, these decisions are much easier in Sealed Deck than Constructed Deck. But they exist in just about every form of Netrunner.

* The last is trading. This is a trading card game, after all. Acquiring the cards for a great deck is a very real skill that is often overlooked. Money can be a substitute for skill in trading, but a good trader with sufficient time can always get the cards they need for their decks.

A good World Championship event would test all of these factors. A Netrunner World Champion would maximize skill in each area.

The most obvious World Championship tournament would have two divisions, Sealed Deck and Constructed Deck. Different weekends could be chosen for each type of tournament. The Sealed event could use a v1.0 starter deck and a Proteus booster. Many players feel that luck is too strong a factor in Netrunner Sealed Deck play. I am willing to take a chance on card selection to enjoy the fun of creaing new strategies and tactics on the fly.

If you feel that luck is too prevelant in Sealed Deck, you could enter the Constructed Deck event. There is a strong advantage here for the card lords. This advantage can be overcome, though, by announcing the event several months in advance. Smart players will use this time to test their ultimate strategies using proxy cards, and then trading for the cards they need to replace the proxies in their working decks.

If you don't like the idea of having separate tournaments for the two popular forms of Netrunner play, here are some suggestions for hybrid tournaments:

Drafting I really like this form of Netrunner play. You can read all about it in my previous "You're Drafted" column. This format creates a limited card pool with nearly equal access to preferred cards. As always, there is some luck, but every player should get an opportunity to build a reasonable strategy, or at least prevent their opponents from doing so.

Point Ranking This system assigns a point value to each Netrunner card and limits the total point value of a deck. Powerful cards like Loan from Chiba and Viral Pipeline are given very high point values, while dogs like Rabbit and Hell's Run are given no points at all.

Variants on this idea include assigning point values to groups of cards, like Bartmoss Memorial Icebreaker and Joan of Arc, or ACME Savings and Loan, Project Consultants, and Tycho Extension. I think the point system offers a promising test of deck construction skills while still allowing a lot of play strategy and tactics.

Cash Limits As an alternative to the point system, a cash value could be assigned to each card, using a price list like the one on Rob's Netrunner Node. Players would then be restricted by an upper price limit for their decks. The prices would have to be frozen once the contest was announced.

This system makes constructed deck play realistic and affordable for new players. The downside is that WotC makes no money from the sale of single cards, hindering the further development of Netrunner by the company.

Card Lists The Gridlock II format suffered from the scattered effects of balloting, leaving the card list with some obvious gems and dogs. A TRC Czar could be assigned to draft a card list. The list could be playtested for several sessions and then released to the public. Ideally, the list would include several options for deck construction on each side, with no single option being superior.

As always, playtesting would be the key. A good group of playtesters could develop a well-balanced list that allowed players to test their deck building and playing skills.

Deck Passing This is similar to duplicate Bridge. Each player opens a starter deck and writes down the complete list of cards. That deck and card list stay at the same table position for the entire tournament. Before each round, players are given a time limit in which to construct their decks from the cards at the spot they occupy.

Careful planning is necessary so that each player is assigned to a table position according to a strict ranking criteria. Also, the cards should be thoroughly shuffled after each game so that the next round begins with an "unconstructed" deck.

An alternative, which requires a lot of preparation, is for the cards to be shuffled, and then recorded in strict order. After each game, the players return their decks to the exact order listed. This ensures that each player works with exactly the same resources from each deck, further reducing the influence of luck.

Stacked Decks are another option. Each player begins with a sealed v1.0 starter deck, and arranges the cards in the order they prefer. Decks are not cut before play begins. This completely eliminates lucky draws, and also allows access to the best cards in the pool without restriction.

Trading before the tournament starts can be very enriching. Players open their sealed v1.0 starters and survey their card pools. Use a round-robin pairing scheme to schedule 5-minute trading sessions between each possible pair of players. Scouting during trading is deadly, prevent it at all costs. When the trading session is over, begin the tournament.

Any of these formats, with appropriate playtesting, could make for a fun, fair championship. Testing the trading skill of players is always the most difficult. Ideas for improving this area of tournament play are welcome, as always.