Netrunner does not occur in a vacuum. Tournaments are composed of other players who might bring a variety of different decks, but more importantly, there is groupthink about which decks are “the best.” Because you can assume that in a tournament, most other players are interested in winning, you can then assume they’ll bring the decks they think will have the highest win rate. This is the basis for forming a “meta.” When we have a good idea of what people will bring, we can bring decks that “counter” or “are teched” for our opponents lists, giving us an even greater winrate in the tournament. Tech is the individual cards we are putting in our deck, while teching is modifying our deck to have an improved winrate in specific matchups. Teching is what often separates the average Netrunner player from a great Netrunner player. By bringing cards that attack specific corporations, we can shore up our own weaknesses, while improving against the most popular corporations in the meta. An understanding of the meta, what its weaknesses are, and how to exploit them, gives you a clear advantage over the rest of the field.
An Introduction to Teching
Runners are more reliant on tech cards than corporations. Corporations often tend to be more linear in their game plan and provide problems to the Runner. Because of the linearity of their decks, they often don’t have the same amount of space in their decks to include tech, and can rarely tech for multiple runner archetypes. The Runner needs to answer the problems put forth by the Corporation, and advance their own gameplan. Because Runner decks are more flexible, they have more available deckslots for tech, and can tech against multiple corporation decks at once.
At the most basic level, teching is playing cards that are excellent in specific matchups, while being near useless in others. Consider Caldera. Caldera is excellent against Personal Evolution (PE) grinder, but is useless versus the Outfit. Net damage prevention gives us a massive advantage versus PE, as now we can spend our money to prevent being ground out by damage. In the case of the Outfit, because they deal no net damage or brain damage, Caldera would never get used.
A Runner wishing to solve every problem in the game may wish to tech against everything and play a bare minimum of economy. Well, for some decks historically, that’s been an approach. Pawnshop Hayley, and certain American conceptions of Valencia have been about stuffing the deck with as many tech cards as possible, but those are exceptions, not the rule. The reason we shouldn’t do this ties into something fundamental about card games: we want our cards to be usable in as many boardstates as possible. Flexibility is vital, as we don’t know what the boardstate is going to look like in each game (although we can form some predictions) and so having a card that can be played in more possible boardstates means it’s providing value in more overall games.
Consider Sure Gamble versus Ice Carver. Sure Gamble is consistently valuable. Four credits for a click is something nearly all decks in the game want, and it’s good against almost all Corporation archetypes and playable in all boardstates. Because it has high usability independent of boardstate, we’re getting more value on average.
In the case of Ice Carver, it’s more specific. We need to have breakers or special cards (to take advantage of the strength reduction) and our opponent needs to have ice, and the strength reduction has to be worth installing it. Ice Carver is still pretty good, but it won’t hit as nearly as many boardstates as Sure Gamble. If we just stuff our deck full of specific tech cards, we risk running into draws where our cards don’t help us win the game. This means we’ll be missing out on economy, tempo, and the actual tools to win a game of Netrunner. Sometimes, your opponent will be on a deck that you didn’t tech for!
It’s possible that a Runner deck can be so linear that it doesn’t need to, or can’t afford to play tech cards. Cold Ones is a linear runner combo deck. It is not interested in countering the Corp’s gameplan; it is solely focused on pulling off its game-winning combo. Similarly, the Liza decks that ran rampant over the 2019 Nationals season didn’t need to play a lot of tech either. The Counter Surveillance dig was so powerful, that solely focusing on executing it was better than playing tech.
Teching as Silver Bullets
The first conception of teching I want to explain is teching as including ‘silver bullets’. Silver bullets are often used interchangeably with the idea of teching, but it is a specific form of tech. Silver bullets are highly effective in certain matchups, and completely useless in other ones. Caldera, for example, is a silver bullet, as is Data Dealer and Qianju PT. We trade flexibility for raw power, to shore up matchups that are terrible for our runner.
Each Runner deck has a certain amount of tech cards they can play before it becomes inefficient: How many tech cards can we put in our deck before we become unable to support our win condition or economy engine. It’s going to depend a lot on the deck. Broadly, “reg-ass” or good-stuff decks are going to have more slots for tech, as their game plan is just money and breakers, meaning we have more slots to play with.
Consider Lostgeek’s Val that he played at Worlds 2020. On the surface, it appears that we have four slots for silver bullets, three Mining Accidents, and the Ice Carver. But we could cut economy cards or draw cards and play more silver bullets. We might cut a Dirty Laundry, and one of the MKUltras for Hijacked Router or other silver bullets. This is a dangerous process, as we can end up running too much tech, and not enough economy.
The exact mix is going to depend on the deck, and most silver bullets aren’t useful in only one matchup. Ice Carver is good against most ice heavy decks, Citadel Sanctuary is good versus CtM, Argus, The Outfit and Punitive decks. By playing silver bullets that hit more matchups, we increase the flexibility of our draws, and increase our win percentage in more matchups.
Once we have an idea of how many tech cards we can fit in a deck, choosing the appropriate ones for the meta presents a new problem. When evaluating a tech card, you should consider how valuable it is in a matchup and consider how often you expect to play that matchup. Imagine we’re playing !raffle-style Freedom. We’ve identified that CtM and Sports Combo are the two most likely decks we’re going to play against, and we need to decide which tech cards we want to play. Let’s imagine we have a 70% winrate versus CtM because we’re now playing a copy of Citadel Sanctuary and two copies of No One Home. We have a 30% winrate versus Sports Combo. We could decide to cut our NoH for Data Dealers, However, we now have a 70% winrate versus Sports Combo, and we lose out some amount of win percentage versus CtM.
Is it worth it? Let’s consider the trade-offs. The Freedom ID ability is already quite good versus CtM, and because the basic tenets of our archetype (trashing things for free, run based economy, cheap breakers) is good versus CtM anyway, the lowered win percentage versus CtM is fine. I’d imagine we didn’t even really need NoH in the first place, and could’ve skirted by on the Freedom ability. In the case of Sports, without Data Dealer, our chances of actually disrupting the combo was very low, and we would’ve needed to get lucky on accesses. We moved our equity into another matchup that needed the help.
While picking the correct tech cards for matchups is important, we need to consider the likelihood of playing those matchups in a tournament. Let’s hypothetically say that we know 70% of the field will be on CtM, and 10% of the field will be on Sports Combo. In that case, we want to play more tech for CtM than for Sports Combo. You want to tech for the matchups you think you’re likely to see.
In fact, these two factors are interrelated. You need to consider the opportunity cost of playing a tech card in a given slot, how it impacts your win rates in matchups, and the likelihood of playing those matchups. You can be teched to the gills for The Outfit, and when you play against Palana all day, you’ll regret your decision!
Teching as Archetype Tech
We can conceptualize tech as not only playing silver bullets, but also changing the cards that help us fight corp archetypes. Consider 419 from the beginning of Continentals season compared against Longi’s Leela that took second at APAC. The 419 runs a small amount of tech. Citadel Sanctuary, No One Home, and Hunting Grounds all aim to answer specific corp problems, while spreading themselves across different matchups. In contrast, Longi’s Leela is more focused on beating Titan, Asa and The Outfit, some of the best performing corporations in that tournament. Longi runs three Boomerangs to contest early remotes, The Maker’s Eye and Sneakdoor Beta focus on maximizing accesses, while the Legwork sweeps the hand. Longi is not explicitly playing silver bullets, but has instead adjusted his deck to better tech for the meta. Titan and The Outfit are very strong, and so Leela needs to race and maximize accesses, instead of the more controlling style promoted by 419. The rise of Asa only reinforced this playstyle.
This type of broader tech can be characterized as Archetype tech. Corporation archetypes are decks that all have similar qualities that we can exploit. Glacier decks are interested in advancing agendas behind taxing ice, while kill decks want to tag the runner while aggressively rushing agendas. We can include cards that exploit common factors among corporation decks within an archetype. We know that glacier decks want to use taxing ice, so cards that trash ice become stronger. Archetype tech is less individually effective against corporation decks, but is more widely applicable in a number of matchups.
Tech is not simply about playing individual cards that attack a corporation’s strategy, but also involves adjusting your archetype tech. Runners need to answer the problems that the corporation is presenting. Asa trying to rush out behind cheap ice? Slot more Boomerangs. Are combo decks running rampant? An Imp in Shaper that can be reinstalled over and over will beat that. In a meta where you expect lots of Palana, Hippo becomes a much stronger card, as you need to disable their taxing ice. Conversely, in a meta full of CtM and Replicating Perfection, Hippo becomes worse, and perhaps even a cuttable card.
Of course, the idea of trade-offs when playing silver bullets also applies here. Longi’s Leela is a lot worse versus CtM or a straight-up glacier deck; the way he positioned his deck was a meta call. When determining your archetype tech, you need to consider the opportunity cost of a given permutation. While silver bullets are tech cards, it’s important to consider an expanded definition of tech. By positioning your archetype tech to aid you in key matchups, you can make an even stronger deck that is overall better teched for the meta.
Teching as Economy Choices
The final way we can conceptualize tech is the actual economy suite we choose to play. Economy is opportunity. The cards we draw give us access to powerful effects, breakers, and win conditions while our credits allow us to interact with the board. Making money and drawing cards are tied to specific effects, which means that sometimes our economy cards will be boardstate dependent. That’s why the best economy cards are boardstate independent (Sure Gamble, Daily Casts) while the worst ones are highly boardstate dependent (High Risk Job, Möbius).
Dirty Laundry is a great example of how we can consider teching our economy cards. On the surface, Dirty Laundry is an Easy Mark with a successful run requirement. However, because you can get additional value from the run in many matchups (checking a remote, getting a datasucker counter, collecting security testing money), it becomes well worth it. Many decks play this card even without Security Testing or Datasucker to provide additional value. Instead of evaluating Dirty Laundry in a vacuum, however, we can use the same approach as any other tech card, considering it in the context of its matchups. In a meta full of CtM, we can see why Dirty Laundry becomes valuable. We can check assets with more tempo, and the likelihood of having an open server to run is high. On the other hand, Dirty Laundry in a meta composed primarily of GameNET makes it a liability.
The other factor is evaluating how the economic game plan your deck wants to follow interacts with the corps you’re likely to face.. Rezeki is great tech for slow, grindy GameNET games, but often you will struggle to find the time or tempo to play it versus Titan. In some metas where Pawnshop Hayley has needed to play faster, Diesel has been included to draw key pieces faster, in slower metas, Diesel is cut to play for a greedier economy suite. Burst money that pays out right away is better versus fast corporation decks, while slow drip economy is good at beating value oriented grinder decks, or glacier decks.
By structuring our economy differently, it allows us to take advantage of different opportunities in a given meta. Are there open servers in many popular corporation decks? Security Testing, Dirty Laundry and Paragon become better. Do large amounts of money matter to avoid traces? Liberated Accounts becomes better. On the deepest level, tech involves aligning all elements of your deck to answer the problems presented by corporation decks, including how you make money and draw cards.
An Example of Teching in Practice
I’ve talked a lot about theory, but I want to contextualize it with my journey with Freedom. Heading into Asia-Pacific Continentals this year, I was preparing Reg Hoshiko. My testing group, Snarebears, had spent a lot of time exploring the possible corp archetypes, and paid close attention to the Black Lives Matter tournament data. We concluded that the meta was most likely going to be The Outfit, Titan, Argus and Asa. I struggled to win with Hoshiko, as I couldn’t answer the threats that these decks were presenting.
In the last moment before registration, Skry presented me with a modified Freedom list, which we felt was teched appropriately to the meta. Aggressive run-based econ, hand disruption for kill and combo decks, and anti-asset potential for CtM and Asa. I ended up winning that tournament. Freedom himself acted as the “Silver Bullet” as I could more easily disrupt combo decks, which showed up in force.
Fast forward to Intercontinentals, and the meta shifted yet again. GameNET was very popular, and as much as Snarebears wanted to play Freedom, we couldn’t hack it. The large, taxing towers of ice made Aumakua an impossibility. I instead swapped to Apocalypse Hoshiko, with specific tech cards for glacier matchups. Apoc was great tech versus Asa as well, and we didn’t believe Titan would be played.
Because we expected so much Asa and GameNET, Apocalypse seemed like the logical tech for those decks. I had the fortune of finishing 3rd at that tournament, due to an appropriately teched Runner. By changing the archetype from Reg-ass to Apoc, Snarebears managed to exploit the Corp meta we predicted.
Finally, for Worlds 2020 we considered what Runner to play. GameNET had been gutted by the latest ban list, so we revaluated a perennial favorite: Freedom. However, the economy needed to be changed. Palana was a force in the meta, and we expected a lot of it. Because we felt Aumakua and the Freedom ID ability was strong tech for Asa, we focused on beating Palana. The greatest innovation was moving the influence around. Instead of playing Bravado, we swapped to Engolo on the advice of tf34 and Skry, and started playing Self Modifying Code.This allowed us to run more aggressively and check remotes without being blown out by Anansi.
This tech paid off, as Snarebears had a much easier time winning Jinteki glacier matchups at Worlds. Analzyechris piloted this version of Freedom to a 10th place finish. By teching our Freedom at a more fundamental level (including economy and breakers) we successfully anticipated and answered the questions poised by the corp meta.
Runner tech is critical for beating a wide field of Corp decks. It’s rare to have a Runner that is effective versus everything so tech allows us to shore up weaknesses. Silver bullets are obvious ways to improve our deck against bad matchups, but we must consider not only how effective a silver bullet is, but how likely we are to see the matchup we need it in. Archetype tech is an even deeper level of deckbuilding, as we can orient the supporting cards in our deck to better perform against expected matchups. Finally, we can tech our economy itself to counter corp decks, reinventing the logistics of our economic engine. Teching is more complicated than simply slotting silver bullets. It requires a complete evaluation of how your runner functions and the matchups you expect to play against. While tricky, a perfectly teched Runner can be unstoppable.
I owe a great deal to Chris Fazio and Ian Moskowitz, who both volunteered their time to edit this article. They helped me move it along from an idea, to a finished work. I would also like to thank the Snarebears testing group for fostering an environment that is inquisitive, intellectual and interested in a deeper understanding of Netrunner.
Eric Keilback (Whiteblade111) is current US National Champion, current APAC Champion, and will happily tell you your corp sucks.