Netrunner tournaments are a crucible of competition, with players battling it out over successive rounds to crown a winner. Winning a tournament is a tough challenge, but they don’t only test your ability to win Netrunner games! They challenge you physically and mentally, with complicated tournament structures and particular rules unique to the format. I’ve had the opportunity to attend many Netrunner tournaments throughout the years, all the way from Store Championships to World Championships. Along the way, I’ve learned the “hidden curriculum” of tournament play: the tips and tricks that will help you succeed in the tournament format.
You need information about the tournament you want to play in. Most tournaments are advertised in two ways: local Facebook groups, and the website Always Be Running. These tournament posts will have information like when and where the tournament is taking place and who is running it. If you have questions about when and where, figure it out before the tournament! Messaging the person who posted the advertisement or asking players from the local meta can get you good information. Such as information about the store, when there are planned breaks (if any) and what the expectations are for decklist submission and ban list compliance.
Prepare your decks beforehand. Leaving physical deck construction until the morning is begging for disaster. You’d rather find out ahead of time that you’re missing a Boomerang. Often helpful players will lend cards if you ask. Write or print out your decklists the evening before the tournament and double check that your physical deck matches your decklist card by card.
I normally bring a backpack to Netrunner tournaments because it’s easy to transport between tables. Pack any accessories you want to bring (playmats, dice, token boxes) the evening before. Bring a refillable water bottle and a high energy snack. I prefer to bring energy bars and almonds, but pick something you like!
Hydration is incredibly important.. A four round tournament can run up to six hours and a cut could add another two or three hours on top of that. Tournaments are exhausting, requiring a lot of brain power over a long period of time. Consuming caffeinated drinks early can make you prone to energy crashes later.. Personally, I try and drink water all during swiss, and then drink something caffeinated like a Coke during or right before the cut.
Arrive at the venue before decklists are due. If decklists are due at 10:00 AM, you should aim to arrive at around 9:30 AM. You’ll want to talk to friends, get a feel for the venue, and maybe make any last minute edits to your deck. Rushing into the first round can elevate your stress levels and make you unprepared, worsening your play.
What you need to know about Double-Sided Swiss
At time of writing, nearly all tournaments are run in the Double Sided Swiss (DSS) format. This means that a tournament round consists of you being paired versus another player of similar points, and you playing both a runner and a corporation game against your opponent. Wins are worth three points, ties are worth one, and losses are worth nothing.
During tournaments you generate a second score called Strength of Schedule (SoS). SoS is a measure of how “well” your opponents did. It is your opponent’s points, divided by the number of rounds played, summed together. If you play opponents who did well in the tournament, you’ll end up with a higher SoS. SoS is the tiebreaker used when two players are tied on points. If you and I are both tied for 4th at 15 points, but my SoS is higher than yours, I place 4th, you place 5th.
Instead of playing a normal round of Netrunner, both players may elect to instead Intentionally Draw (ID) or Two for One (241). An ID is when both players agree to “split” the round with each player taking a win and no actual games being played. This means that each player gets three points. A 241 is who plays corporation and who plays Runner is randomized, and the winner of the match is considered to have won both matches, even though the second is not played. One player will get six points, the other will get zero. Under the current NISEI organized play rules, any discussion of ID-ing or 241-ing must take place in front of a judge. When you want to suggest an ID or 241, just call a judge at the beginning of the round.
ID-ing essentially eliminates the risk of you losing both games, at the cost of possibly winning both. If you’re aiming to make the cut (or a certain point threshold for prizing), you should ID when losing both games would jeopardize your chances of making the cut, but winning one of your games gives you a very good chance to make the cut. Let’s imagine you’ve finished the 2nd round of a four-round tournament at 4-0 (12 points) and you need to go at least 6-2 to secure a cut spot. You pair up against another 4-0 player in the 3rd round. If you lose your next four games, you’ll end up 4-4 and miss the cut. if you lose three of your next four games, (ending 5-3) it’s likely that you make the cut, but it could be up in the air. If you ID this round and ID in your next round, you end up 6-2 and you’ve made the cut guaranteed. ID-ing essentially allows you to eliminate risk from your swiss rounds as long as you’re in an already advantageous position. You should never ID if splitting your round will mean you’ll miss the cut. ID-ing as 2-2 in the 3rd round means you are 3-3 going into the 4th round. It’s better to play your games out (or 241) instead of ID’ing when it won’t improve your likelihood of making the cut.
241s are the inverse of an ID. They are riskier but ultimately helpful in situations where splitting your round would mean you miss the cut, but winning both your games would secure you a spot in the cut. Imagine the same tournament in our previous example, except now you’re 3-3 at the end of the 3rd round. Based on math and previous experience, You know for a fact that no 4-4 records will make the cut. Your only chance of making the cut is ending with a 5-3 record. To do this, you will need to win both your games. Your opponent has an identical record and is in the same position. If you both split your games, you both end 4-4 and neither make the cut, but if someone sweeps the other, then one of you will make the cut.
Let’s assume hypothetically that each outcome during a tournament round has an identical likelihood of occurring. 33% chance you sweep, 33% chance you split, 33% chance you get swept. When you need to win both games to make the cut, you only have a 33% chance to make the cut. Getting swept knocks you out of contention, and in the case of a split, the single win you get is meaningless, as it doesn’t put you over any meaningful thresholds for cut contention. If you eliminate the possibility of a split by 241’ing, you’re now 50% likely to make the cut, you either win this game or you don’t. You’ve improved your odds of making the cut by 17%. This doesn’t map onto Netrunner perfectly as there are other variables in play, but I hope this illustrates why you should 241.
Knowing when it is correct to ID or 241 is difficult. There are two clear cut cases where ID-ing and 24-ing is correct. You should always ID when you’re in the last two rounds of a tournament and at the top of the standings (positions 1-2) . You should always 241 in the last round when splitting would not put you in cut contention. There are a lot of murkier cases, where ID-ing or 241-ing will put you in a points tie with other players. This is where SoS comes into play. Players with higher SoS can ID more confidently, as they’ll win more ties to make it into the cut.
The decision to ID or 241 should also be informed by the possible outcomes of other pairings in the round. I will now be referring to the following pictures below as a “dummy” tournament: a hypothetical four-round, 14 person swiss tournament with a cut to top four.
Let’s consider Danielle’s position. She has the highest point total, but the worst SoS among the top six players. Should she ID? Absolutely. While not guaranteeing a spot, a lot would have to go wrong for Danielle to miss the cut with an ID. She would end up on 18 points. It’s possible for players on 12 points to also end up on 18 points (by sweeping), but only four of them could possibly make that score. Because some of the players on 12 points are playing each other, eliminating the possibility of them both making 18. The likelihood of five players ending at 18 is low, and Danielle has a top four cut position secured.
Consider Alexander’s position above. He has 9 points, and it looks like a lot of 15 point players will make it. If he splits, he’ll end up on 12 points, which probably won’t make the cut. A 241 makes a lot of sense. However! He’s paired up versus Jessica who is second in the standings–he’s been paired up. It’s unlikely that Jessica would accept a 241 (she still derives value from a split outcome) so Alexander should ask for a 241, but expect to play both games.
Jamie is our murky case. He has a 3.000 SoS which puts him squarely in the middle of the pack. He’s also playing Chris, who is in an identical position to him. Is it unclear whether an ID will guarantee a cut position for him, nor is the risk of a 241 necessary, as a split result might get him into the cut, it’s unclear. Jamie should play his games out, and hope to sweep both, while being satisfied with a split result. He should not 241 because he’s exposing himself to greater risk. Consider our thought experiment about percentages. In a 241 you’re 50% likely to get swept and be out of cut contention, but in Jamie’s position a split is also an acceptable result for him, so by playing out our games, we’re only 33% likely to be swept versus 66% likely to sweep or split.
There is a growing opinion that 241s should be done much more aggressively. Traditionally, 241s are only done in the last 2 rounds of a tournament, but some success and analysis has shown that it’s correct to 241 from even the second round. If you’re swept in the first round, it’s better for you to 241 for nearly the rest of the tournament instead of playing the whole round out. This requires your opponent to be willing to 241 so aggressively, but it is worth thinking about.
Finally, SoS is an important factor in making your decision, but you also need to understand that SoS changes from round to round. Because SoS is determined by how well your opponents did, if you play stronger opponents, your SoS will be higher. That is why Samuel should accept the ID that Danielle will offer. His SoS will get a boost from pairing against someone with the highest points in the tournament.
I’ve internalized a lot of this math after playing in many Netrunner tournaments, and it’s something you learn with time. I’d recommend pouring over past tournament data, and also asking experienced players what they’d do in certain spots. I have friends that I will call or message online at tournaments and ask if I should ID or 241. If you don’t have a network of friends with that experience, I’d recommend asking friendly people at the tournament. You’d be surprised just how helpful and caring the Netrunner community is.
Outside of the competitive sphere, IDs and 241s are often maligned by the Netrunner community. That should not stop you from doing them. I personally dislike them as well; I think they reward you for not playing Netrunner and are a byproduct of a fundamentally flawed tournament structure. With that being said, this is how tournaments will be run for the foreseeable future, and you must win within that tournament structure. ID and 241 when it is in your best interest. You should make your best case to your opponent, but if they don’t want to do it, do not badger them. Simultaneously, don’t feel bad about declining an opponent’s offer for an ID or 241, you don’t owe them anything. Act in your self interest.
Finally, think of ties as a “win” that bumps you up into the next bracket of scores, but places you at the bottom of them. If you’re 4-1-1 (four wins, a tie, and a loss) you can effectively consider yourself 5-1, but at the bottom of all 5-1’s when it comes to tiebreaking. Ties are great for sneaking into cuts in the last position. A second tie is effectively a loss, as it doesn’t help you reach any breakpoints.
Calling the Judge
Judges exist to enforce two sets of rules: The NISEI Organized Play rules, and the Comprehensive Netrunner rules. In many contexts, the Tournament organizer (TO) is also the judge, and sometimes the TO/judge will play in the events they’re running/judging, especially at the store championship level. Judge calls are a resource you should use to clear up rule interactions or enforce rules that you feel are being broken. Many players are hesitant to call a judge. People don’t want to appear rude, make their opponent feel bad, or waste the judges time with a silly question. This is all malarky. The judge exists as a resource for you to use. To call a judge, first explain to your opponent that you are going to call a judge. Call a judge by raising your hand and shouting “Judge!” and holding your hand in the air. Clearly explain the situation, and end with the rules query. Remember, if you want to discuss a 241 or ID with your opponent, a judge must be present. You can also call a judge and ask for the text of any card in the language of your choice. Use this! If you need exact card text, ask for it!
You should only get assistance from judges. Netrunner players will sometimes interject when they overhear a ruling dispute and try to solve it themselves. Spectators may also intervene and provide their unsolicited opinion. If there is a rules dispute of any size, I would recommend getting a judge. Other players are not certified to give rules advice, and even if it comes from a place of helpfulness, you should politely decline and instead ask for a judge.
Sometimes judges give bad calls. Judges are regular people just like you, and it’s absurd to expect perfection all the time. Mistakes happen. Typically bad calls happen in two ways, a ruling on card interactions is incorrect, or an organized play related ruling is not consistent with how the organized play rules outlines punishments for infractions. If your deck is reliant on niche card interactions or on a not commonly understood part of the rules, you need to understand it inside out. When you get involved in a judge call, have the section of the comprehensive rules on hand that relates to your niche interaction so they can read it for themselves. Don’t expect the judge to be able to explain your deck to you, you need to know how your own cards work.
It’s trickier when a ruling on the fly is made up. Personally, I’ve been the recipient of bad calls because of judge reluctance to hand out game losses, or disqualify players, especially at smaller events. It is wrong to push for your own ruling, or a ruling that would benefit you specifically. Instead, you should try and reference the organized play rules on punishment. Lastly, remember that the organized play rules offer differing levels of punishment depending on the seriousness and scale of the event. Revealing hidden information at a store championship is treated differently than revealing hidden information at a nationals level event. If you’re still getting a bad call, you can escalate it to the TO, or the marshal, if your event is large enough to have a marshal. You need to advocate for yourself, without advocating for a specific ruling.
A takeback is the rewinding of an action in a Netrunner game. For example, you install a liberated accounts last action instead of installing a daily casts, so you ask your opponent if you can take back the action and install the other card.Under current NISEI OP rules, takebacks are allowed as long as no further actions have been taken, the gamestate has not changed, and no hidden information has been revealed. A judge may be called and the judge will rule on whether the action can be rewinded or not.
In practice, people ask for take backs for a large variety of reasons. Broadly, take backs commonly fall into two categories: small, easy to fix errors, and larger, messier rewindings of the gamestate. Easy to fix errors might be clicking Liberated Accounts last click instead of installing daily casts, immediately realizing you installed the wrong piece of ice, or advancing the wrong card. Broadly, you should give your opponent all these take backs. Netrunner is played by humans, and humans make mistakes. Good sportsmanship is important.
Larger take backs with big ramifications for the game state are more complicated. While not allowed under the NISEI OP rules, players still ask for them. You are not obligated to give a take back, full stop. You should not feel pressured by your opponent (or spectators) into giving a take back. Whether you should or shouldn’t rewind the boardstate after hidden information is revealed comes down to the individual player, and I encourage you to reflect and ask yourself what you are personally okay with. For me, the level of organized play impacts my willingness to give a larger take back. If I’m playing at a GNK or SC I am more lenient. At the regionals level or above, I never give take backs unless they’re small errors.
Scouting is gathering information about the specific cards in a player’s deck and using that information in future games. Scouting is a reality of competitive Netrunner. There has been scouting at every major Netrunner tournament and there will continue to be scouting. Active scouting is intentionally spectating games with the goal of gathering information on player’s decks, while passive scouting is gathering information incidentally or via casual conversation. Actively scouting is prohibited by the NISEI organized play rules, but a lot of passive scouting goes on. Stories are relayed at the lunch break, and word travels fast around a tournament. At nearly every recent major tournament, I’ve had a good idea of my opponent’s deck heading into the cut even before I saw their decklists. The current rules do a good job of prohibiting active scouting (watching games and taking notes) but they can’t prevent passive scouting. Having friends in the tournament is an advantage, plain and simple. Even having people give you advice about potential cut matchups (or future swiss matchups) is scouting information.
The two takeaways are that you should assume your opponent has a rough idea of how your deck works, and you should work with your friends to figure out what your cut opponents will be on. If your deck is a gimmick or based on some super obscure combo, you should assume by the end of the tournament that the secret will be out. You should ask questions like What archetypes are they on, which deck did they think was stronger or what matchup you should pick.
In a cut, players are allowed to see their opponent’s decklist before the game. In the first round of a cut the higher seeded player chooses who corps and who runs. In future cut rounds it will be decided based on side history in the cut. Take your time reviewing your opponent’s deck! You’ll have roughly about 2-5 minutes to review the list. First thing is to identify the archetype. Most decks should be familiar but there is often variance within archetypes. Most Palana glacier decks look the same, but playing against Punitive Counterstrike and Data Loop Palana is a lot different than playing against a traditional glacier deck. Make a mental note of any tech cards (if you are a kill combo deck, look to see if they have any kill prevention) It is also valuable to get an idea of roughly what their ice suite looks like and how much it costs, so you can be aware of what the corp can rez at a given moment.
Playing the Tournament
As the Runner, you will need to randomly access cards from HQ. Humans are notoriously awful at making truly random decisions, and you should use aids to randomize your decision making. I recommend rolling a die to determine which card you access out of HQ. If you try and do it without an aid, you run the risk of developing a pattern that your opponent can exploit. Similarly, if the corporation installs three facedown remotes without ice, I would use a dice to randomly choose which one to run. You want to make your play the least exploitable as possible.
Note-taking is allowed during all Netrunner tournaments. You are only allowed to take notes during games, but cannot take notes while reviewing your opponent’s deck during the cut. Important information you might want to write down is what is in facedown servers you’ve accessed, the order of cards in R&D, or what you know is in HQ. I’d recommend writing down key information during games, simply to lower the mental load. It’s hard to form an overarching strategy while also remembering what is in the 5th facedown remote.
During tournaments, you may be asked to play on stream. Playing on stream can be a lot of pressure, so you shouldn’t feel obligated to accept. Even if your opponent is eager to play on stream, you should make the decision that you feel most comfortable with. Similarly, if a crowd is forming around the game, you’re allowed to ask that people don’t spectate your game. Spectators are not supposed to comment on the game they’re watching, and if I ever have a spectator chime in on a game I’m playing, I ask them to stop or leave.
Take breaks during the tournament! You’ll be spending most of the day in what is most likely going to be a hot, stuffy room. If you finish your round early, take the time to get a drink of water, eat a small snack, and collect yourself. I usually leave the venue and walk around the block to get some fresh air, or listen to some music on earbuds. If you get swept, it’s important to not tilt, and instead focus on the round ahead. While it may be tempting to commiserate with your friends on bad beats, in the moment it’s better to prepare yourself for future rounds.
Mental fortitude is important during tournaments. Losing feels worse than winning, and you need to be prepared for losses. Getting swept or losing due to simple mistakes can feel crushing, especially if you’ve practiced a lot. You play worse when you’re upset, and if you’re feeling bad from a round one loss, you can carry it into the second round and hurt your chances of winning. Since Netrunner has variance and luck, sometimes you make all the correct decisions and still lose. That’s not your fault; that’s Netrunner. Each Netrunner round is independent from the last, and just because last round your deck gave you a lot of agendas, or you couldn’t find your breakers, that should have no impact on the games you’re playing next.
When I get swept, I have a series of rituals I engage in to make sure I don’t become upset. I thank my opponent, step away from the tournament, and write in my phone or in a notebook why I thought I lost and how I feel. Other players prefer to talk to their friends about their bad beats, or simply go for a walk. No method is better than the other, you need to find a solution that works for you. If you lose a bunch of rounds in a row and you truly feel awful, it’s fine to drop from the tournament. I’ve dropped from many Netrunner tournaments because I feel awful, and you shouldn’t feel obligated to play if you’re going to hate it.
There was a period of my life where I wrapped a large part of my self-esteem in how I did at Netrunner tournaments. When you spend endless hours thinking about, practicing and playing Netrunner, it’s easy to equate winning with self-worth and validation. This is a toxic, self-destructive view. You’re going to win, but you’re also going to lose, and people will still respect you, care about you, and like you even if you lose. It’s fine to feel bad in the moment, but you shouldn’t let losses get to you. I used to be very stoic about losing and kept it bottled up inside. Now I let myself feel bad, move on, and enjoy hanging out with my friends. You won’t have fun if you can’t cope with losing appropriately,
Netrunner tournaments are magic. It’s a beautiful combination of competition, community and sportsmanship. Some of my favorite memories of the past eight years have been at Netrunner tournaments. The tournament structure can be mystifying to new players. Prepping for tournaments, how double sided swiss works and judge calls are all important parts about Netrunner tournaments. I hope that you found the advice in this article helpful, and I look forward to sitting across the table from you at a tournament soon.
A special thank you to Chris Fazio and Cat Shen for their help editing this article, they were indispensible in providing feedback to me. An additional thank you to the Snarebears, for cultivating an environment where I can explore and write about these kinds of ideas.
Eric Keilback (whiteblade111) is the Current US National Champion and Asia Pacific Champion.