Submarine: verb. In a tournament using Swiss pairings, to sink to near the bottom of the standings in order to draw favourable matchups and / or avoid the best players for the rest of the tournament, then climb back to the upper echelon.
I didn’t plan to write a series about getting better at Netrunner, but this seems to be the third part: first, a long thread seeking advice on how to take the step from making the cut at small events to winning one; second, a Store Championship season report from last year about the road to winning my first event; and finally, the article you’re reading now.
I won my first Store Championship in 2016, and also managed to win the Mead Hall league in Minneapolis once. Later that year, my all-local team of me, theBigBoy, fictional, and gh0st_b1rd finished second at King of Servers 2016 by less than one win. I took a 92% line to win out of Dyper in my final Runner game and lost, so I think we did as well as any of us could have hoped. I also won a second Store Championship in 2017, and after steadily increasing success, I thought I could take a legitimate shot at the Minnesota Regional this year. I’d started monthly coaching sessions with mediohxcore, and I worked on my decks and piloting with him and independently leading up to the event. I took Siphon Whizzard and post-Power Shutdown CI7; I’d played a pile of games, had a bye, and was ready to go.
It didn’t work out.
After my bye, I drew spags in round 2. I got close against his AgInfusion, but not quite close enough. Conversely, his Temujin Whizzard didn’t have answers to CI7. A split with spags is always solid, so that was okay. In the next round, though, I let myself down: I had control in both games, but misplayed both and lost. I sank down into the jungle and got Info Sifted out of Fisk — way before Sifting became this year’s hot Worlds tech.
I missed the cut by a mile, but there was a silver lining: spags and cranked, who I’d invited down for the tournament, had both missed the cut as well! We left to get beers and never looked back.
That was when I started to realize that the community is actually more important than the game.
I followed the game through the rest of the summer, but didn’t play much. Top players I respected said the meta was amazing, but the decks just didn’t appeal to me. The end of the European Championship also left a bad enough taste in my mouth that I felt compelled to write about it. I wanted to help the community reconcile with what had happened in a way that would promote both learning and healing. I hope it helped. I was feeling okay about the community after that, but still wasn’t super enthused about the game. I tested a few rotation decks, but shifting Moons into Custom Biotics with triple Sensie still felt unfair.
Then Michael Boggs dropped a bomb on the Netrunner metagame.
The long-rumoured Core 2.0 announcement reinvigorated many players, but the Most Wanted List update that followed had an even more obvious energizing effect on the community. Suddenly, Worlds would be the grand reveal of a new, uncharted metagame.
That energy was dampened by the scraping revelations, and most of the scrape targets had something to say about that, but nothing could truly suppress the community’s deckbuilding spirit. The scraping also happened early enough that while there were some substantial spoilers, there was still plenty of time for more to be discovered before the tournament. I’d been waffling on whether to spend my pre-Worlds preparation time on organizing community events, grinding games, and / or playing Destiny 2 with my raid-obsessed wife ElJay, but in the wake of the scraping I decided that I was going to go super tryhard. I talked about it with theBigBoy, who when I told him in a moment of anger that I wanted to beat the scrapers, replied with something that has stuck with me ever since: “If you played as much as they do, you’d crush them.” In particular, as my initial rush of anger over the scraping slowly began to fade but the desire to compete remained, I decided that I wanted to focus my preparation on King of Servers, which is my favourite tournament and my favourite format.
I formed a team of top-tier locals: me, fictional, BizTheDad, and fiorillo.sj (the 2017 MN Regionals winner!). Unfortunately, fiorillo.sj had to bow out, but we quickly recruited gh0st_b1rd, noted dim sum aficionado and living embodiment of the axiom “Always Be Triggering.” Our team might not have been quite as strong as last year’s without theBigBoy, but we were all grinders and confident in our ability to perform.
We quickly arrived at faction assignments, and I knew I’d be on Anarch and NBN. Having seen mediohxcore’s Gagarin lists as well as the Glass House list, I knew that people were thinking about Hostile Infrastructure… but I decided I wanted to work on an Apocalypse deck anyway. I started with the classic Fury Road shell devised independently by theBigBoy + inqueblot and asher back in 2015; I’d always loved the deck, and loved Apocalypse. I’ve played Apocalypse out of Apex, Anarch, and Shaper at different times since it was released. I also saw a certain Xylophone jamming a Steve Cambridge Apocalypse deck on jinteki.net, and it looked reasonable enough that it might not even have been a ruse! But in addition to loving Apocalypse, I also loved MaxX and how she just doesn’t give a crap about her deck. So I stuck with my initial concept.
After a pile of testing, I arrived at this list. It was much improved from the first draft; I’d had three Apocs, and without influence for DDM, the closer was (blech) Equivocation. Going down to two Apocs was a tough choice, but ultimately necessary. I also switched Amped Up to Stim Dealer to alleviate grip overload when prepping for a power turn, which helped the deck run more smoothly. Chop Bot was in from day one, and never left — it was a perfect fit in an Apocalypse deck running Levy.
I kept this deck completely secret from non-local players (with the exception of showing whiteblade111 an early draft that he correctly told me wasn’t great). I wanted to show up and surprise everyone with a super fun deck. On the yellow side, I worked with mediohxcore on a first pass Controlling the Message list, and talked with and / or studied many other CtM players — spags, jdeng, theBigBoy, and aandries.
Sidebar: Getting the Most out of Coaching
mediohxcore has been my coach for over a year now, and we work together more or less monthly, although some months I’m just not into the game and I decide not to do any work. In my view, to get value from having a coach, you need to understand both what you bring to the table and what your coach brings. I know what I bring to the table:
- I can analyze the game at an extremely high level when not playing.
- When playing, I rely predominantly on instinct to make the right plays.
- I try to save the analysis gear for important turns, but I often end up just leaning on instinct in those turns as well.
- As a result of 2 and 3, I’m very good at identifying what I did wrong after a game where I relied on instinct during an important turn.
From the perspective of being his student, there are two key things that mediohxcore brings to the table:
- He can distill the gameplan of any deck he knows with perfect clarity.
- He makes excellent in-game reads and can usually explain why he made them.
Our practice sessions consist of me playing games, with him spectating and giving me instructions. The most important aspect of this isn’t mechanically doing whatever he says, it’s asking questions and understanding why he thinks the lines of play he’s recommending are the right ones. I always consider what I want to do, listen to what he tells me to do, and then if those two things are different, I make sure I understand why. So to any opponent against whom I’ve appeared to be playing slowly, I apologize — you were probably facing both me and the two-time champ.
It’s also important that the games themselves are secondary. I don’t really care if I misplay before he’s done talking and do something stupid and lose, the important thing is that I learn what I should be doing and why.
I try to come into each session with two things:
- One defined objective — a deck I want to learn, a matchup I want to understand, etc.
- A list of questions, which are usually (but not always) related to the objective.
I usually leave each session with a few paragraphs of notes expanding on how I plan to play a particular deck or matchup going forward.
It’s been immensely helpful. There’s another shout-out to mediohxcore coming later, so I’ll leave it at that for now.
King of Servers 2017
Our team was:
- Me on Apocalypse MaxX and 10 influence Judge CtM (turned out later I was missing a Bankers and had a 3rd Startup in that slot, whoops)
- fictional on Misdirection Hayley and Stinson / Reversed CI (both his own personal brews)
- BizTheDad on Noob Kit and Mushin Palana
- gh0st_b1rd on Sunny and Museum Gagarin
I lost some squeakers, notably with CtM. That contributed to my later decision to swap from 3x AR Enhanced Security and 1x Quantum Predictive Model to the reverse. Highlights included:
- Clawing back from down something like 2-5 or 2-6 in my opening round as CtM
- Losing as MaxX to Show of Force when my opponent clicked to draw the third Kaguya during the combo turn after taking EffCom clicks (20 or 25% chance!)
- Playing netjogging’s Personal Evolution with Apoc MaxX twice for fun, including a clutch Kakugo placement read that let me bounce off, rebirth Quetzal, and run back in to win
- Beating Potential Unleashed with no cards left in my grip or stack and PU with 1 House of Knives counter left — they decked one turn before they would have scored out
- Playing highwire in the last round, losing two close games but picking up amazing Quetzal and CtM alts
- Watching teams ruse themselves over and over whenever BizTheDad played Mushin No Shin
- World Street Kitchen catering
I’d had aspirations to win KoS this year after my team’s close second place finish last year, but I ended up at 5-5 after getting swept in the last round. fictional and gh0st_b1rd also ended 5-5. BizTheDad was the only one on the team to edge up to 6-4. Not exactly the result I wanted, but we all had a blast and the teams we faced were all great to chat and play with. My losses were close, and sometimes it just doesn’t go your way, so I wasn’t salty about it.
That’s especially true because after KoS, a group of 16 went to Travail, a very unique local dining experience. They serve many small courses, there’s a lot of interaction with the staff, etc. We had a fantastic time, and multiple attendees told me that it was the highlight of their trip and that they wanted to repeat this next year. So keep your eyes open!
Worlds 2017: Day 1
I took the day between KoS and Worlds off from Netrunner. I had lunch with a few other players at Tillie’s Farmhouse, a delicious American restaurant about 15 minutes from Roseville. Then aandries and I broke out the musical instruments for a multi-hour jam session that did wonders for both of us. It was a great way to take a breather before what was sure to be a major grind on the Saturday. Later, when he wanted to get some reps in, I spectated him and leburgan jamming some games and we swapped a few ideas about decks and the meta, just to keep my head in the Netrunner space.
On Saturday, I woke up feeling rested and refreshed. I grabbed my decks, packed my snacks, went to the venue, and after chatting with theBigBoy, I finally decided to make the AR/QPM swap I mentioned earlier. I amended my decklist with a pen, turned it in, and the die was cast.
My Round 1 opponent was skry, from New York. I saw his IDs — Hayley and CtM — and suspected he’d be a serious player. I was definitely right about that! I didn’t expect what happened next, though: I drew my hand, took a mulligan, and then suddenly I didn’t care about the game anymore. It was as though in those few seconds, someone had reached into my brain and flipped the switch that controls whether Netrunner matters to me from ON to OFF. I played the games out, and I did come close to winning the first one, but my head wasn’t in it at all. I hope I didn’t seem too off to skry, I did try to stay my usual polite self despite the internal turmoil.
Down I went to table 98, where I saw scd, dashakan, and a few other familiar faces who I hadn’t thought would also be swept in the first round. I don’t remember my opponent’s name, but I remember that he was on Skorpios, which would have been a favourable matchup for the Valencia deck I was on… except that I still wasn’t thinking clearly at all. I faceplanted two easily avoidable Archers — one with 5 counters on Aumakua and clicks floating that I could have used to charge it to 6+ on an open Archives. I scooped when my Paperclips were both exiled, even though the game wasn’t technically over. I was completely out of it. [Edit: prfogarty sussed out that this was anachron, and that his Runner was Smoke.]
I thought about dropping, and considered whether I should just stop playing the game competitively, maybe to focus on judging, or even leave the game altogether. After all, my grinding for Regionals and KoS hadn’t paid off, even if I’d had a ton of fun on both days anyway. In the end, remembering that the fun happened regardless of the games made me decide to keep playing even though I was 0-4 and would be at table 112 for Round 3.
Being in this mental state was a totally new and foreign experience for me, and honestly it was kind of scary. I usually feel pretty comfortable understanding how I feel and why at any given time, even when I’m tilted — I think I’m a reasonably self-aware person these days. Not knowing why I was feeling how I was feeling was deeply unsettling. I talked to a few other players about what I was experiencing, and a common theme was that these sorts of random switch flips can be a symptom of depression or other problems. Since this was a first for me, I decided to treat it as just one red flag: something to be aware of and discuss with my wife, so we’re likely to notice if it happens again. Hopefully it was just a random blip, but either way, I know I’m in good hands with ElJay looking out for me.
Thank you to all of the people I talked to after my 0-4 start who gave me sympathy, encouragement, and analysis. Without others sharing similar experiences, being supportive, and just generally giving advice, I probably would have stayed emotionally off-balance and kept losing. But knowing other people had been in the same situation and dealt with it was a huge help and went a long way toward settling me down.
In Round 3, I faced kevintame. I was still a little wobbly, so I had to check with him later on to remember the matchups we played, but he was on Misdirection Hayley and PU. I played my CtM basically on autopilot, but thanks to all of the grinding, that meant I played it correctly and won after sticking Zealous Judge. The PU game was a nailbiter — even though I had Film Critic in my open, he managed to get my stack almost empty. Fortunately, I’d been keeping the Whampoas under control. I also had a charged Turning Wheel from bouncing off Kakugo, and a final R&D dig got me the Obokata I needed to win.
That was the start of a slow climb. In Round 4, I don’t remember the Runner matchup, but I know my opponent’s Corp was Mushin Palana. I again lucksacked into a Film Critic open, and also sniffed out an agenda when he Mushin iced after a mulligan. I think I had to get three 5/3s to win that one, but I’m very familiar with Mushin Palana, so I was fairly comfortable. I have no idea what happened in the Corp game beyond that I won it on the back of my Zealous Judge.
I was 4-4 at Round 5, and aware that 5 losses would spell doom for the cut with my weak strength of schedule. (This is a known risk of the submarine strategy, not that I was pursuing it deliberately.) I read the pairings and saw that I was going to have to play fictional with both of us fighting for our tournament lives, and I was crestfallen. For us to spend so long jamming so many testing games together only to face off with one or both of our runs ending, it was just… rough. We randomized sides, and I got to Corp versus his Misdirection Hayley, which meant I won with Judge again. fictional conceded the second game so that the dream would still be alive for one of us, and I would absolutely have done the same if he’d won the first game. He’s a fantastic test partner and has both the skill and the endurance needed to compete at the highest level. Sooner or later, he’s going to have a killer run that will put him on the international Netrunner map.
I didn’t know my Round 6 opponent, but I knew I had to sweep to stay alive. In my Corp game, a Zealous Judge rez again drew a concession. As Runner, having success against the other Jinteki decks I’d faced — plus getting Film Critic in my open for the third time that day — left me feeling okay about my ability to pilot my deck versus an unknown AgInfusion. An early Gift showed me the ice, so when an outer remote Excalibur was rezzed, I continued the run to force a trash on the inner unrezzed Chiyashi for the redirection. Despite the fact that my opponent was on (I think) 5 points with a scored Nisei and rezzed Excalibur after that, I felt in control of the game. I was on 4 points myself, and could just break Miraju repeatedly with my bad publicity to keep him poor. Eventually, I got the win on R&D, and the sweep I needed to stay alive.
I made Day 2 in 48th place. Tune in tomorrow to find out what happened…
(Spoiler alert: you can look up the standings on Always Be Running or look at my Corp deck on NRDB if you really want to know.)