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"Elementary, My Dear Wilson!"
- Famous Netrunner Stacks -
#8: Big Dig

by Jens Kreutzer (with support by Holger Janssen)

Normally, it is always worth an action to run R&D and check the top for an agenda that's ripe for plucking. R&D comprises those cards that are least controllable by the Corp, barring card effects like Strategic Planning Group or Planning Consultants. If the Corp gets nervous each time the Runner looks at an R&D card, it gets downright paranoid about heavy-caliber Runner tech like Rush Hour. The Runner strategy taking this approach to its limits is called, appropriately enough, "Big Dig" - after a somewhat slow buildup, it simply accesses everything that's left in R&D in one fell swoop, which normally yields enough agenda points for the win.

The Proteus(TM) expansion supplied the last of the three tools needed for an effective Big Dig approach: a 'breaker suite sure to breach R&D ice at the critical moment, a powerful tool for multiple card access (Proteus ' R&D Mole, possibly in combination with Rush Hour), and vast amounts of bits to power the first two. And so, as early as November 17, 1996, the following stack by Chris Patterson was posted to the Netrunner-l newsgroup:

    7 Top Runners' Conference
    4 Loan from Chiba
    1 misc.for-sale
    8 Bodyweight(TM) Synthetic Blood
    2 MIT West Tier
    3 Militech MRAM Chip
    1 Codecracker
    1 Pile Driver
    1 AI Boon
    1 Enterprise, Inc., Shields
    1 Mouse
    10 R&D Mole
    1 Mercenary Subcontract
    1 The Deck
    2 Time to Collect
    3 Fall Guy

The stack's first goal is to install as many Top Runners' Conferences as possible, and fast. They quickly reach the Runner's hands with the powerful draw engine of Bodyweight(TM) Synthetic Blood and Militech MRAM Chips, yielding bits every turn once they have been installed. Since this deck makes only one run, the Conferences' restriction (trash upon making a run) is of no importance. Loan from Chiba can be used as a fast bit influx for installing expensive cards like AI Boon or The Deck, but it is better to save Loans for the last turn, since they interact with Top Runners' Conference in a counterproductive way. The card best played immediately before the final run is misc.for-sale, cashing in the Conferences. Chris revealed that he created bit amounts in the realm of three digits with this engine.

Just as important is getting the setup ('breakers, some defense if deemed necessary, and, most importantly, all the R&D Moles alongside a Mercenary Subcontract) on the table as fast as possible. Although the draw engine helps, installing three 'breakers, ten R&D Moles, and a Mercenary Subcontract still takes 14 actions - being a bit on the slow side is the weak spot of Big Dig. After all of this preparation is complete, however, its big moment comes - unless the Corporation has won by then, of course. After three more actions of preparing or bit-gaining (Loan from Chiba and/or misc.for-sale), the Runner assaults R&D. The ice should not seriously impede a breach by now, and once inside, the Runner spends all leftover bits on R&D Moles. Assuming a starting Corp deck of 45 cards, minus five cards drawn at the start of the game, minus perhaps eight or ten more drawn during the elapsed turns, that leaves 30 to 35 cards in R&D. Ten R&D Moles accesses 21 cards, which falls little short of rifling through what is left, but the Moles can be used one at a time while accessing cards, saving bits for a possible use of Mercenary Subcontract if not enough agenda points for winning turn up. In that event, the Mercenaries put everything accessed into the Archives, severely pushing the Corp to the point of losing through R&D depletion. Also very important are Enterprise, Inc., Shields to guard against an R&D bristling with Setup! or TRAP!.

As Chris pointed out, a Corporation that is caught unawares by this strategy will be very unhappy und surprised indeed, as it watches the Runner's agenda score go from 0 to 7 in a single action. His other assertion, that the Corp cannot do much about it even if it sees it coming, might have been true in 1996 - but times have changed. Nowadays, a Corp player need only see one Top Runners' Conference played in the Runner's first turn to know exactly what kind of general approach is to be expected and adjust to it. With only minimal ice (or even in the open), the Corp does nothing but draw cards, create bits, and advance agendas, speeding towards victory on overdrive. If this taunts the Runner into running, that's just fine with the Corp, since it neatly disposes of all installed Top Runners' Conferences, crippling the Runner's bit pool. If not, the Corp will usually outrace the Runner to 7 agenda points. In any case, it becomes an exciting race between the two players, albeit with little in terms of interaction.

Chris Patterson identified several natural enemies of Big Dig: speed advance, in which the Corp has no trouble outracing the Runner with time to spare, and the much-played City Surveillance, which presents a dire threat to a draw engine relying on Bodyweight(TM) Synthetic Blood. Chris's deck includes Mouse to identify speed decks early on (presumably agendas like Tycho or fast-advancement nodes), but in today's tournament environment, this seems a waste of actions. Speed decks use powerful bit-gainers and fast-advancement operations in most cases, which cannot be detected by Mouse. It could be used to spot City Surveillances, however. Chris joked in his mail, "To fight City Surveillance, I just concede." Not far from the bitter truth - the Runner can do nothing but take bits until he or she has enough to pay off City Surveillance before starting to use Bodyweight(TM). Otherwise, the Runner will be a sitting duck for incoming meat damage, or the trashing of vital resources. The only other tag danger would be from Underworld Mole, against which the Fall Guys and Time to Collect give the Runner a fighting chance.

Much has changed since Chris posted his deck to the list, most notably the additional cards offered by Classic(TM) spicing up the environment. With these and the experience of years of playing Constructed tournaments added to the bill, the Big Dig has much more potential, in terms of both speed and impact. On the other hand, the new Restricted environment has ousted Enterprise, Inc., Shields, so Runners should try to make do without them.

The first likely idea for improvement is substituting Classic's Rent-I-Con for Chris's original 'breaker suite (he would have done well in choosing Bartmoss Memorial Icebreaker/Umbrella Policy in the first place). It saves actions otherwise used for installation, is not too expensive in light of the powerful bit engine, and really shines since the Runner can ignore its major drawback: If only one run is ever made during the game, Rent-I-Con's self-trashing only adds to the show.

The greatest forte of the Big Dig is its finality: If the whole of R&D is trashed with Mercenary Subcontract, the Corp loses at the start of its next turn, no matter how many agenda points the Runner has liberated by then. As shown by the calculation above, Chris's stack did not consistently access all that remains of R&D, sometimes leaving a number of cards behind. Assuming a standard 45-card Corp deck, the Big Dig has to make sure that if the Corp allows the Runner to make that one big run, it loses. Therefore, it needs more accessing power, which is provided by more R&D Moles and one Rush Hour. An improved, modernized Big Dig might look as follows:

    10 Top Runners' Conference
    2 Loan from Chiba
    1 misc.for-sale
    10 Bodyweight(TM) Synthetic Blood
    5 Militech MRAM Chip
    2 Rent-I-Con
    1 Rush Hour
    13 R&D Mole
    1 Mercenary Subcontract

This deck assumes a game that lasts no longer than ten turns. At that point, there are at most 30 cards left in R&D, assuming a 45-card deck and one mandatory draw per turn only. The Rush Hour and R&D Moles allow the Runner to access exactly 30 cards, guaranteeing that he or she will see the remainder of R&D. Installing all the Top Runners' Conferences (TRCs), two Loans from Chiba, two Militech MRAM Chips, one Rent-I-Con, 13 R&D Moles and the Mercenary Subcontract, plus playing eight Bodyweights, misc.for-sale and Rush Hour, takes exactly 39 actions, or ten turns with one action to spare, should you have to draw a single card when no Bodyweight turns up. It is crucial that the Bodyweights and MRAM Chips show up in time, but since there are a lot of them in the stack, you have a good chance of never wasting actions to draw single cards or having to throw away cards vital to the strategy.

At first, install as many TRCs as possible, since the earlier they are installed, the more bits will they yield on the whole. Next priority is getting one or two MRAM Chips into play. Then you can start installing whatever turns up, preferring TRCs over Moles and the Subcontract. Save Rent-I-Con for the penultimate turn, lest the Corp realize what ice would make you pay the most. You will probably have to discard the odd card, so look at the game situation: If the Corp draws lots of cards, you don't need so many R&D Moles (though this leaves no doubt about your intentions); if you drew and installed many TRCs at the start of the game, you can discard later ones easily. The default choice for discard would be the three superfluous MRAM Chips, or Bodyweights, if you have a handful of them. Discarding one of the Rent-I-Cons gives away much to the Corp, although less so than the R&D Moles.

When everything is in place, the final turn should look like this: Play misc.for-sale, selling off all TRCs and MRAM Chips, then two Loans, and finally Rush Hour. After breaching R&D ice (and hopefully surviving any nasty upgrades), pop the R&D Moles one at a time. As long as you don't hit any ambushes and your bits don't run out, keep doing this until R&D is looted. Then, if necessary, send in the Mercenaries for the coup de grace. This should work - unless you hit Net and brain damage cards, in which case all you can do is pray.

Ten turns is a lot of time for the Corp to glide to victory, of course. If you see that impending danger, take the risk of a hip-shot run over not running at all. It's not that hard to make the big run during turn nine, dispensing with say, two TRCs and two Moles, as well as one Bodyweight, since the Corp is likely to draw lots of cards seeking agenda anyway. Depending on what you draw, runs by turn six or seven are not a bad choice, either - even though you probably won't access R&D completely, you might get enough AP for the win. The two Rent-I-Cons increase the chances of having one in the event an early run is necessary.

This streamlined version of the Big Dig comes with a steep cost: even greater vulnerability to Tag 'n' Bag and ambushes. Though you might survive an Underworld Mole, City Surveillance is still the card you'd rather not see on the table. Without Enterprise, Inc., Shields, ambushes have become very dangerous. The cards you have in your hand when making that final run won't be much of a damage buffer, so beware. Skullcap or Emergency Self-Construct might not be worth the effort, but Holger Janssen advises using Weefle Initiation instead of Rush Hour to be on the safe side. If you don't have enough TRCs, substitute Score! or the like, though this is hard on your bit supply. On the other hand, if you're not shy of a little brain damage, Holger names Do the 'Drine as an effective alternative for bit-gaining. He also points to the possibilities of Promises, Promises in the Big Dig context (especially cool if you're up against a Corp that just uses three Political Overthrows). Try it out and play with whatever works best for you. Since it does not involve much interaction, Big Dig is perhaps not that much fun to play in the long run (pun intended), but everybody should try it out once for the sheer pleasure of digging away!

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