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Netrunner Draft Tournaments

by Jens Kreutzer

Karlsruhe Draft
Very little has been written so far about the third Netrunner tournament format next to Sealed and Constructed: Draft. Though supplies of actual starters and boosters are dwindling, if you can manage to get ahold of enough product for drafting, it is great fun.

I would like to present the draft format used in Lukas Kautzsch's regular tournaments in Karlsruhe, Germany. It is basically a draft variant of your normal Sealed-deck tournament, using one starter, one v1.0 booster, and other boosters as desired or available, per player. Lately, we've been going with one v1.0 and two Proteus boosters because Classic supplies have run out. One starter plus three or four boosters is a good number to make things interesting, but fewer booster are also a possibility if necessity demands it.

Since it was (to my knowledge) developed in Karlsruhe, I'd like to call this format "Karlsruhe Draft". Here is how it works:

  1. At least four players sit down at a table, determining seating order randomly.

  2. Each player opens one Netrunner starter pack. Drafting starts with the Corp starter deck.

  3. First, the 11 vitals are removed. Each player keeps his or her vitals; they are not drafted. This is to ensure that each player has the cards for building a legal deck.

  4. The remainder of the cards are then separated into three piles. The 30 commons are divided into two piles of 15 cards each. One of the two rare cards is added to each common pile. The 17 uncommon cards form the third pile. This makes two piles of 16 cards each plus one pile of 17 cards.

  5. The first common pile is now drafted in an anticlockwise fashion. This means that every player looks at his or her pile and selects one card to keep. The remaining cards are then passed to the player on the right, so that everybody has a pile of 15 cards in hand afterwards. Once more, one card is selected and put aside, and the rest is passed on to the right. This continues until all cards have been selected. Since everybody starts off with a pile of their own (as opposed to one starter being shared among several players), it is ensured that each player gets the same number of cards, no matter how many players are participating.

  6. The second common pile is drafted in clockwise fashion.

    The uncommon pile is drafted in anticlockwise fashion.

  7. Now, the Runner starter deck is opened. Everybody keeps their vitals to ensure a healthy mixture of icebreakers to build on.

  8. Since there are fewer uncommon cards in a Runner starter, the piles are arranged in a different way. The commons are once more divided into two equal piles, but both rares are added to the uncommon pile this time. The first common pile is then drafted in clockwise fashion.

  9. The second common pile is drafted in anticlockwise fashion.

  10. The uncommon pile is drafted in clockwise fashion.

  11. This concludes the starter drafting. Boosters can be added as desired; each player opens one booster of the same kind, chooses one card and then passes the remainder to the player on the right, and so on. With each booster, clockwise and anticlockwise are alternated.

  12. Each player should end up with the same number of cards in this way, which the players keep after the tournament.

Decks are then built with the drafted card pool in much the same way as in a normal Sealed-deck tournament. However, to avoid the problem of "rare-drafting" (i.e., drafting the rare cards not because you want to play them in the tournament, but because you want to add them to your collection), all rare cards are drafted separately again after the tournament: First, all rare cards from all draft players are gathered and arranged on a table so that everybody can see them. It should be calculated how many rares there must be so that no players can secretly stow theirs away.

The draft player who had the best tournament result then selects one rare card, which he or she gets to keep. Then, the second-best player chooses one, and so on. When each player has selected one rare card, the first player starts a new round of choosing. This continues as long as necessary until all rare cards have been selected.

After-tournament rare distribution is great fun, encourages players to give their best in the tournament, and helps to round out collections, since chances are that you will get one or another card that you need. It also greatly discourages rare-drafting, since selecting a rare actually nets you one less card for your collection (as you get to keep right away only non-rares that you draft). You'd better want to play that rare real bad, or you should think twice before drafting it.

If beginners are reluctant to participate in a Karlsruhe Draft tournament because they are afraid to get shafted by the pros, they can just receive the same number of starters and boosters as the draft players used and construct a normal Sealed deck with them. Sealed and Draft players can then play in the same tournament without any trouble, but Sealed players don't participate in the rare distribution afterwards (obviously, they keep the rares they got in their starters and boosters).

Other draft formats?
Other trading card games (e. g. Magic: The Gathering) often have booster draft formats. There have been experiments with boosters-only drafts in Netrunner, but they have met with difficulties because of the lack of enough vitals in boosters. There were often not enough agendas to go around, or, with a sufficient number of boosters, players needed to pay special attention to grab enough AP and icebreakers in order for their decks to be viable in the first place. Inexperienced players had great problems with this. In Karlsruhe Draft, this problem is avoided by giving the vitals of one Starter set each to everybody. Perhaps booster draft might be possible if each player brought a set of vitals to the tournament and was allowed to use them for deckbuilding.

Draft strategy?
It is not so easy to formulate a separate strategy for drafting, since it is so close to Sealed-deck strategy. In any given pile of draft cards, experienced Sealed players will be able to identify the cards that are strong in this environment. And so, in Draft, the first cards to go are usually bit-gainers for both sides, card drawing and card manipulation (Crash Everett, The Short Circuit etc.) for the Runner, and fast-advancement for the Corp. Also hot are multi-access (Rush Hour etc.), ice evasion (Inside Job etc.), and some extra low-difficulty agendas.

The Corp will try to get a good selection of ice once the "hot" cards are gone; the Runner will pick up a couple of MU here, some utility programs and tag protection there. The last remnants of any pile usually consist of Netwatch Credit Vouchers, Unlimited Mileage Programs and friends. And Decks, with an uncanny consistency. It is also a familiar sight to find the rare as the last leftover.

So far, there are few surprises. Wise drafters will have an eye on what they already got with their vitals (you will have to decide whether players can review their piles of drafted cards while the draft is still in progress); a Corp with many bad agendas might pick a Corporate Downsizing over money cards, a Runner with just Codeslinger, Black Dahlia and Raptor might be aching for a Loony Goon or Shaka. Everybody knows that a Corp needs bits, fast-advancement and playable agendas to do well, and that a Runner needs bits, multi-card accessing, a way to get at breakers fast (card drawing and/or manipulation), and some tricks up the sleeve along the ways of Social Engineering or Technician Lover - a good drafter will try to assemble a healthy dose of everything, if possible.

Still, there are more chances for interesting decks in a draft format than in Sealed. One effect is that given a similar skill of the drafters, power levels of card pools will even out, which is good. On the other hand, if beginners don't know their way around in Sealed, they will have a problem as the power cards get snatched up in no time, while they are picking Black Dahlias.

But there is also the chance for some individual strategies. Though you won't be able to assemble a Rent-to-Own deck or a Newsgroup Taunting deck, the Corp player has to decide whether to include some tag 'n' bag or not. In Sealed, this decision is also of relevance, depending on what you drew. But in Draft, going all-out for tag 'n' bag can have amazing results, amassing up to six or eight meat damage sources being quite the norm. Or you might choose to ignore tag 'n' bag altogether and go for other stuff, such as multiple Setup!s, which can be a bane for fans of Executive Wiretaps or All-hands. Some players will pick up a Chance Observation and an Urban Renewal if they can get it late in the draft, including it as a sprinkling, not as a main strategy.

A Runner faces the question whether to go for stealth bit sources or not, depending perhaps on how many other bit sources could be secured. If the decision for stealth is made, other cards to look for are Worms and MU adders. Clowns are usually passed to you several times during a draft; considering your icebreakers, you need to decide whether you want one or not.

Perhaps the true skill of a drafter is shown by his or her ability to spot the chance for subtle interactions. An Aardvark and a Jerusalem City Grid picked up early might sprout the idea for a "wall" deck, which eventually makes Classic's sleepy ice more attractive than it usually would be. Or the Olivia Salazar/bitgainer ice combo might see play. If you have Data Fort Reclamation, an expensive node or upgrade might be that little bit more attractive. A variant of the tagging approach is looking for Dedicated Response Team and the easily-gathered Bloodhound ice that deals out tags. Perhaps even Namatoki Plaza and some juicy ambush node can be grabbed? As Runner, if you have Karl de Veres, go for Wilson, Weeflerunner Apprentice, as well. If your multi-access consists of preps and not HQ/R&D Interfaces, Gideon's Pawnshop is golden, not to mention Junkyard BBS. Though Blink is very unreliable, if you go for them in a draft tournament, at least you won't have any trouble filling up on Net damage prevention cards.

There is much more to discover, but look for it on the small scale, not on the Six-World-Dominations-and-Silver-Lining-Protocols-scale. Comments on and hints for drafting technique by you, the readers, are most welcome.

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