Welcome to the very first “Mushin No Shin” article. My hope with this article is to cover some less conventional topics that are just as important to the aspiring or current competitive player. Don’t expect deck lists or card reviews. We’re only discussing high level strategy when it comes to playing Netrunner.
First, let’s discuss “Mushin No Shin” as it applies to playing this game. For those of you who don’t know, Mushin No Shin is Japanese phrase that means “Mind without Mind”. The most common and accurate comparison is being “in the zone”.
If you’ve seen “The Last Samurai” with Tom Cruise, you may remember a scene where the main character was trying to learn the art of using a Samurai Sword by sparring with a Samurai.
“Too many mind?”
“Yes- the mind of the sword, mind of the people watching, mind of enemy… Too many mind. No mind.”
Too Many Mind (Video Clip)
What is being said is that it’s easy to lose focus of what is important in stressful situations. In this case he was losing focus of the sword fight because his mind was considering the on-looking crowd, the moves of the enemy, trying to understand how to use the sword.
The same can be said for Netrunner. Having recently played at Nationals I can tell you first hand of the multitude of distractions when it comes to playing in that level of competition: What is my opponent thinking? Why are these people watching my game? Why is it so loud in here? Is Lukas or Damon watching this game right now? Why am I so tired?
Preparing for Tournament Day:
How do you avoid “too many mind”? The short answer is preparedness. Let’s evaluate some of the good ways you can be ready for your next event.
Practice the decks you’re going to play. “Mind of the sword”
This may seem like a no-brainer, but knowing a deck inside and out is the first step to achieve Mushin No Shin. This game has a lot of decisions that have to be made without clear-cut answers. Knowing your deck means that you can spend more time focusing on the less concrete parts of the game.
The mulligan is also a very important part of this game. Experience and practice means you know when to keep a hand and when to mulligan; where you can take risks and when you need to be conservative. Opening strong isn’t the most important part of the game but it can be leveraged into an advantage that lasts the whole game.
Don’t make last minute changes. I know it can be tempting. You’re sitting in your house/apartment/car/hotel room and you’re thinking of the possible matchups and all of the conventional wisdom and practice you did tuning the deck go out the window. You need to be ready and have played the deck in its current form so you can have a clear mind. Be confident in what you made. This game rewards good play as much if not more so than good deck building.
Make sure you’re in good physical condition. “Mind of Self”
Another seemingly simple task, but you need to be well taken care of to ensure your body isn’t a distraction. First, make sure you sleep. If you’re sitting a table thinking about how tired you are, you’ve lost Mushin No Shin and your focus is no longer on the game. If you’re in a position where a long drive or other factors have led to a lack of sleep, make sure you are stim’d up.
Bring food with you. I’m not talking about a picnic basket (though people who saw me at Gencon can attest to the bulk of food I bring), but bring a candy/protein bar, some chips or some fruit. Just bring something you can eat during a game if you have to. Once your mind wanders to being hungry, it’s hard to shake.
Basically you don’t want to be these guys.
Practice against popular decks. “Mind of Opponent”
You’re not going to be able to read your opponent, and the people who say they’re “good at it” are just lucky guessers or play against the same people a lot as far as I’m concerned. In my mind, trying to read your opponent is just another way to lose Mushin. The game state should be all the telling you need to make good decisions.
There is a better choice, and that is to know the deck of your opponent. Having an idea of how your deck fairs against the popular decks will prevent disruption in your though process. The only real “tricks” a player has are ambushes. These should be considered in your Mushin thought process. What are the benefits in this match-up to my opponent if it’s an agenda, what are the benefits of it being an ambush? These are all decisions that can be made as quickly as muscle memory if you’ve practiced enough. Board state will typically dictate the right move in these situations.
The key here is to not allow your opponent and his decisions to shake your focus. I’ve heard a lot of players (in Netrunner and poker alike) who call this “on tilt”. Losing the first game in a match is the number one way I lose Mushin No Shin. Like a Samurai who has been injured by your opponent, you need to regain focus and fight like it never happened. Once the downward spiral begins, it’s hard to shift back into Mushin. This is what separates most players: how much it takes to be put on tilt. To be “mind without mind”, you should be impossible to shift.
Sometimes, crowds happen. “Mind of People Watching”
This is probably the hardest one, as I know that the typical gaming crowd is rife with people who have social anxiety problems. I am not speaking negatively of these people, simply acknowledging the problem. Also, people can be distracting even if you don’t suffer from anxiety. If you’re able to enter Mushin No Shin, there is a good chance you will be doing well in a tournament setting. If you are doing well you will draw some attention from onlookers; your game may even be recorded.
Option 1 is to ignore them. This is the path I choose as it is easy for me to dismiss things not in the game. If I start to feel overwhelmed by the people around me I take a deep breath, close my eyes and then bring my gaze directly to the playing surface. I take a second and reassess the field and make sure I’m not missing anything. For me, it helps to keep my eyes on the field and think about each play in the current state.
Option 2 is to be vocal, and by that I mean actually ask people to walk away. You don’t have to be a jerk (though you can be if you really want). If you simply ask the people around you if they don’t mind stepping away from the table I don’t think anyone would have an issue with that. If they do have a problem walking away, call a judge or TO over. Let them know you consider their presence distracting and would prefer that they don’t hover over you.
Well I know that was a bit “wall of text” like, but hopefully you enjoyed the first installment of “Mushin No Shin”. Next time we will discuss achieving Mushin in regards to board state and economy. There will be a companion podcast with this where I read the article that you can check out at waitwaitdrm.podomatic.com. While you’re there check out “Wait, Wait… Don’t Run Me!” a Netrunner themed podcast.
-Corwin “DJ Hedgehog” Brindley