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"Elementary, My Dear Wilson!"
- Famous Netrunner Stacks -
#16: The Short Stack

by Jens Kreutzer
using material by Byron "Neal" Massey and Paul Grogan

"I hope this stack gives you the same success I have enjoyed."
- Byron "Neal" Massey, Neal's Last Words.

Apart from The Big Dig, there is one other famous Runner strategy that gorges itself on R&D for the win: The Short Stack by Byron "Neal" Massey, posted to the Netrunner-L on February 17, 1997. The name was chosen because in the rather short time of eight turns or less, the Runner draws his or her whole stack and then (hopefully) wins with a flourish. Unlike Big Dig, which intends to make one huge run, The Short Stack makes many runs that become ever more effective. At its heart lie Highlighter and Microtech AI Interface, a deadly combination for explosive access power: Accumulating Highlighter counters let the Runner access more and more cards from R&D, while cutting cards that have already been accessed to the bottom of R&D with Microtech AI Interface ensures that no card is accessed twice. Let's have a look at Neal's original decklist:

    The Short Stack
    (46 cards)

    10 Bodyweight Synthetic Blood
    6 Militech MRAM Chip
    9 Loan from Chiba
    4 Access through Alpha
    3 Nasuko Cycle
    1 Krash
    2 Highlighter
    1 Microtech AI Interface
    1 False Echo
    1 Enterprise, Inc., Shields
    2 All-Nighter
    1 Rush Hour
    1 Remote Detonator
    1 Private LDL Access
    1 Valu-Pak Software Bundle
    1 Bodyweight Data Creche
    1 WuTech Mem Chip

Neal himself has written an article that plays with the metaphor of stuffing oneself with R&D cards, and that does an excellent job of describing how The Short Stack works. I take the liberty of quoting Neal's article with some minor editing:

Flipping the Pancakes

"The first strategy is to use Bodyweight Synthetic Blood to draw through the entire stack as quickly as possible. I don't discard anything except excess Bodyweight Synthetic Blood, Access through Alpha, Militech MRAM Chips, and Nasuko Cycles. Occasionally I discard a Loan or two if my hand is too crowded. The Access through Alpha should be installed with the first Loan from Chiba, if possible, but sometimes I have to risk it. The Nasuko Cycle can be left out unless the Corp is playing an R&D that forces me to run before turn 8 (sometimes turn 7). It has to be installed before any early run, since a tag during the Corp's turn is instant death with an installed Loan from Chiba.

"It seems to take four Militech MRAM Chips to get past the hump, which usually comes around turn 3 or 4. Sometimes I only need three Chips. I try to hold the Loans back as long as possible to avoid paying the Chiba goons until absolutely necessary, and all those extra Loans require MRAM to keep my head from exploding.

"Somewhere along the way I install the Bodyweight Data Creche, WuTech Mem Chip, and Enterprise, Inc., Shields. This has to be done before running starts, but none of these cards gives away the strategy, so there is no special timing needed to put them into play.

Setting the Table

"At this point, about six turns should have gone by. I have been furiously racing through my stack, installing Loans and MRAM and collecting cards. The installed cards should be:

  • some Loans from Chiba
  • some Militech MRAM Chips
  • Access through Alpha
  • Bodyweight Data Creche
  • WuTech Mem Chip
  • Enterprise, Inc., Shields
  • and possibly a Nasuko Cycle

"I hopefully have all eleven of the cards needed for the finale (the 'kit') in my hand. I try to follow this sequence in the last two turns of the game (hopefully no later than turn 7):

Turn 7:

  • Loan from Chiba
  • Loan from Chiba
  • Loan from Chiba
  • Valu-Pak Software Bundle, installing:
      False Echo
      Microtech AI Interface

Going Back for a Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Helping

Turn 8:

"First action. If HQ has a lot less ice installed than R&D, I play Private LDL Access, otherwise, Rush Hour. Private LDL Access is especially nice if the Corp ices R&D heavily after seeing the programs on turn 7. If I use Rush Hour, I access four cards, if not, just one. Either way, I give the Corp two Highlighter counters.

"Immediately after this run, I use the False Echo program to force the Corp to rez all the ice on R&D that they can afford. This sets up action 2.

"Second action. If I won't have enough cash to keep Krashing the R&D ice for five more runs, I play the Remote Detonator. Otherwise, I just run R&D. I almost always have to play the Remote Detonator, and I will use that assumption for the rest of my description. I ignore the tags from the Remote Detonator since this is the last turn of the game. The Corp will not get a chance to send the Chiba goons after me (famous last words, but it usually works).

"Third action. I play All-Nighter and make two runs on R&D. I access two cards on the first run and four on the second, cutting off the ones I have already seen with the Microtech AI Interface before accessing. At the end of the action, I have seen ten cards (counting the Rush Hour from the first action) in R&D and the Corp has six Highlighter counters.

"Fourth Action. I play another All-Nighter. At the end of this action, I have seen 24 cards in R&D, and the Corp has ten Highlighter counters.

"Bodyweight Data Creche. I run R&D again with the Creche. After this run, I have seen 34 cards from R&D. Since this is turn 8, and the Corp has to draw at least one card each turn, I have seen every card in R&D.

Doing the Dishes

"A quick-setup Siren can really be a bummer. Hopefully the Nasuko Cycle provides enough protection to run on the Siren as soon as it is rezzed. The same is true of City Surveillance.

"Super-Speed Tycho can sometimes outrace me to victory. I have experimented with Precision Bribery, but it seems that most CEOs these days put ice on a subsidiary data fort before I can even grease the frying pan.

"There isn't much strategy or suspense when I play this stack, and it is currently retired. It does provide a sort of benchmark for speed Corp CEOs. I imagine there are stacks with Taxman, Viral Pipeline, or Scaldan that can win faster, but this stack is very predictable. If I can make it to turn 8, I nearly always win."

This was Neal's original article, and it pretty much says everything there is to say about his creation, except perhaps that it doesn't really do the Corp much good to start forgoing actions in the middle of the Highlighter R&D carnage, as the Runner can just start to run again next turn. However, since 1997, the tournament scene has changed, and Classic has been released. So, let's look at The Short Stack from a current point of view.

First, of course, the Revised Constructed Format has banned Enterprise, Inc., Shields, so this card should be removed from the deck list. This makes The Short Stack very vulnerable against R&Ds that pack multiple Net damage ambushes like Setup!. On the other hand, the format gave The Short Stack a new chance to shine, since Tycho Extension is also banned. Neal had always been worried about this: "I have to be fair and say that [The Short Stack] was too slow in the days of Psycho Tycho".

Second, thinking about an alternative icebreaker choice might prove worthwhile. Neal had already considered taking Bartmoss Memorial Icebreaker (and some Umbrella Policies as insurance) over reliable but expensive Krash. This takes up more deck space and still could let the Runner down in the critical last turn. Classic has introduced Rent-I-Con, and this is a really viable option, since it doesn't depend on any support cards, but is much cheaper to use than Krash. The single drawback is that playing Remote Detonator (in combination with False Echo) is a must after the run with Rent-I-Con.

Ironically, Classic has also provided a defense against Rent-I-Con: Glacier. If the Corp suspects that a Detonator is about to be played, a Glacier on R&D can be moved away at the start of the run to escape being detonated, only to return when the Runner next tries to assault R&D. This will be very expensive for Krash, but impenetrable for a Runner whose Rent-I-Con has just trashed itself.

Paul Grogan has built a post-Classic Short Stack and written some comments about it:

    The Short Stack Mark 2
    (45 cards)

    10 Bodyweight Synthetic Blood
    6 Militech MRAM Chip
    12 Score!
    3 Loan from Chiba
    1 Rent-I-Con
    1 Microtech Backup Drive
    2 Highlighter
    1 Microtech AI Interface
    1 False Echo
    2 All-Nighter
    1 Rush Hour
    1 Remote Detonator
    1 Private LDL Access
    1 Valu-Pak Software Bundle
    1 Bodyweight Data Creche
    1 WuTech Mem Chip

Here is what Paul has to say about his creation: "I was tempted to play The Short Stack for the Y2K UK Championships as I'd been practising it and wanted to see how it would fare against any decks with new cards in it. I was a bit worried about Data Fort Remapping which people might play. A Theorem Proof deck might also cause me problems but nobody seems to be playing that at the moment.

"24 hours before the event, I thought to myself that I really should change it a little bit. I looked at Rent-I-Con over Krash and I was worried about using Loan from Chiba as I'd overheard a few people saying they will be playing anti-Loan Corp decks. So, I thought that if I play Rent-I-Con, I need less money, so I dropped all the Loans for Score!s. I also dropped the Enterprise, Inc., Shields since the card is currently banned. A short while later I had the finished deck. I added the Microtech Backup Drive as a safety measure, just in case.

"On the day of the championships I never needed the Backup Drive or the Private LDL Access. The deck didn't lose a game all day, not even against Barry, who got two Data Fort Remappings out against me."

All in all, this classic Runner stack has seen a renaissance, and still seems to be a viable option nowadays. It doesn't have many rares, and never more than one copy, which should make it comparatively easy to build. Besides, it doesn't take a genius to play it, as the modus operandi is almost the same each time. Advice for newer players: Try this out a couple of times and see how you fare. When it becomes boring for you, move on to something else, like others have done before.

Hints for Corporations that play versus The Short Stack (in its newer incarnation): If you know (or suspect) beforehand that you will have to face a Short Stack Runner, you have quite a number of metagame choices, some of which have already been mentioned:

  • Play with Glacier, as almost every Corp does anyway these days. If you can ice R&D again after the big Detonation, Runners using Rent-I-Con will face a big problem. Other Runners will at least face big expenses and might not be able to pay up.

  • Play a Rent-to-Own deck. Some Colonel Failures in front of R&D and HQ might prove too much for Krash, but they probably won't be enough to really stop Rent-I-Con.

  • Play virus defense versus Highlighter. While Disinfectant, Inc. is a flash in the pan, two Superserums scored beforehand might make the difference, as the first four virus counters will be prevented. This reduces the number of accessed cards from 34 to 18. Three Superserums whittle this figure down to a puny 13.

    Another way to threaten the Runner is having a way to increase the number of available actions per turn, like with Remote Facility, for example. If the Corp can forgo actions to remove the Highlighter counters right before the second All-Nighter, only 17 cards will be accessed. With the remaining one action, the Corp can then trash a Loan from Chiba for the win in the following turn.

  • End some of the Highlighter runs: Though Paul Grogan's experiences are different, Data Fort Remapping might still thwart the Runner's plans. A well-placed Rio de Janeiro City Grid could do likewise.

  • Kill the Runner with Net damage. Since Enterprise, Inc., Shields is ousted, this is a major weakness of The Short Stack. Skullcap isn't worth it, since it only prevents one source of damage, and Weefle Initiation doesn't combine with either All-Nighter or the Creche. Therefore, the choice of weapons is up to the Corp: Setup! is standard, of course, and TRAP! works well as long as the bits are there to pay for it, but perhaps the strongest and most versatile choice is Fetal AI.

  • Use Theorem Proof as the agenda of choice. This delays the Runner enough for the Corp to trash some Loans from Chiba the next turn (thanks to Remote Detonator tags) - the Runner needs three extra actions (and two extra MU) to score three Theorem Proofs, which are not accounted for in the plan.

  • Dazzle Microtech AI Interface with Bel-Digmo Antibody. Perhaps only a minor annoyance, reshuffling R&D by rezzing an installed Bel-Digmo might reduce the percentage of accessed cards considerably. Perhaps most efficient at the point when the Runner just needs one other agenda for the win.

  • Divert the runs with Siren. A strong Siren fort and some defense on R&D and HQ is likely to spell doom for a Runner using Rent-I-Con.

  • Incidentally, a Newsgroup Taunting deck is very strong versus The Short Stack, since these nodes are immune against Remote Detonator. If the thing that makes running expensive cannot be removed after the first run, further runs will be very difficult to make.

  • Trying a tagging approach to go right after the Loans is also an option. The Runner might be forced to try and find another bit engine if tagging (and bagging) proves too much of a danger.

On the other hand, if the Corp has no chance to actively metagame against The Short Stack, possibilities for reactive countermeasures are limited. Trying to win before The Short Stack can kick into action is best, of course, but not easy. Drawing enough cards from R&D to get the agendas into HQ, a subfort or perhaps the Archives might be a worthwile tactic, best done if there is some way to increase hand size. Essential for this second tactic is an early identification of The Short Stack.

Of the two "big finish" R&D stacks, The Short Stack seems to be the more vulnerable one, while The Big Dig is probably a little bit slower. Nevertheless, both are solid and very focused strategies - if perhaps a little boring in the long run.

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