Sharpening Your Sword

Welcome back to part four of the article-series on The Skills of Netrunner. Now we are all set! It is time to start discussing how to improve. This assumes you play matches with opponents in the learning state-of-mind, concentrating on the match, and focusing your energy on your own actions. What I want you to do is to start thinking in the types of skill previously described to you to make it clear to yourself which decisions you are taking.

Choosing an opponent

It is important to choose the right opponent for this. Whether they are aware of it or not, players all fluctuate between mind states similar to what I described in article two. Some players rarely leave their preferred one. You should choose a player who is also interested in the same thing you are; getting better. If you choose a casual opponent, you will maybe not get good practice out of it if they are not really concentrating on their game. If you choose a proving opponent they will try to win at all costs, not helping you learn faster. What you want is a discussion partner, and while some prefer discussions during a game this might spoil the actual game, but you will definitely be discussing after the game. Choosing someone who is willing to spend time doing that will be very helpful, and preferably someone at a similar skill-level.

running

Preferrably you are evenly matched..

Deck choice

While you can practice using any deck you want I believe you will get more mileage out of choosing some decks over others. As we have discussed, your goal here is not to win but to improve the most with the games you play. The best options for players who want to get better at the four skills is to choose a mid-range deck, maybe towards either the tactical or strategic side of things depending on your preference. Avoid decks that are too off, or to extreme towards one end.

Even more importantly is to choose a deck of a good power level. You do not want to practice with your homebrew since you will then have a hard time attributing match outcome to your actions over your deck. To practice you should choose a good-quality weapon that you know works. This will make it easy for you to start thinking about your own actions, rather than questioning your deck.

Scour NetrunnerDB for something of your liking, or take some hints from the previous article discussing deck types to find something you like. You do not need to worry too much about what is the current hotness in the competitive scene, Netrunner-decks are surprisingly time-lasting which continually surprise people who blindly trust the internet-consensus. Choose something you like and that matches your card-pool.

While ‘the meta’ is important, it is much more important the higher in skill you are and is much more important in tournaments. This will be discussed in the next article. This is not what we are doing right now.

Before Playing

You will get better practice if you both know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I am of the opinion that any deck that plans to win by surprise, while effective once or twice cannot be counted on at the top tables of a tournament, and will not help you improve as a player either. Thus always tell your practice opponent about your deck. Hand her your decklist, and take your opponents decklist in return as a reference.

You might even describe your initial strategies to each other. If your decks have any specific combos or nasty surprises, show them to your opponent. This will make you both make better, more interesting and more informed decisions which will make you improve faster.

Controllable and Uncontrollable

Now what is useful to think of as factors affecting game outcome? The two main classes are things that you control and things that you don’t.

Uncontrollable factors are all factors that you cannot change, things that you will have to accept and cope with. Thus it is also pointless to ever concentrate on these factors as reasons for a game-loss. While they may be, they are not in your control, and only by concentrating on things in your control can you improve your win-percentage.

Also, some things are uncontrollable in-game but controllable when entering a tournament, such as your deck. This is important to consider when doing your post game analysis, and when considering your state of mind. If you are in a tournament, what is in your deck does not matter simply because you can no longer change it. Concentrate on what you can change!

practice

Good practice is requires concentration.

While Playing

Now, in-game you should draw your opening hand and formulate your starting strategy. This is broadly how you plan to win the game. You should know the opponents deck, she should know yours. The initial strategy is important since it gives you a direction for what you want to do. If you play a strategic deck this might be more focused on your own board state. If you play a tactical deck this might be focused on a very generic plan until opportunities emerge, or it might be focused on disrupting your opponent.

Examples of runner strategy:

I know he has dangerous ICE so I will build my rig to completion before starting to run.

I know his economy is very strong if left untouched, so I will destroy all the campaigns I see, and ignore agendas for now.

My combo is required for me to stay effective; I need to assemble it before I can start running.

Examples of Corp strategy:

I know he will try to deny my economy by trashing my big ICE and siphon; I will try to use small taxing ICE to waste his Parasites and make his siphons inefficient.

I know he is very strong late-game so I need to take risks early to score a Nisei Mk2 to have a chance late game.

I know he really needs successful runs for his economy to function, so I will lock down all servers before starting to score.

You will now start evaluating your play. Remember to concentrate on what you can control and only react to what you cannot. You are playing to learn, not playing to win. Some decisions you make are easier to directly evaluate than others. Efficiency is rarely about your opponent, and mostly about yourself. To improve at efficiency you usually just have to remember a certain set of rules. These rules are not absolute, but give a good default mode. I can give you a couple:

  1. Try not to click for credits; if you do, make note of what led you there.
  2. If drawing cards, always do it as your first action.
  3. Wait until you really need to, to spend resources.
  4. An R&D access is worth ~0.4 points on average. Count your accesses, not your points.

Examples of efficient play:

I plan what I want to do during a round, if that includes drawing cards I do that first to see if my plan changes.

I know I need to stay at 10 credits to play all my economy operations; I try to do that and draw cards to prevent clicking for credits.

I keep my breakers in hand until I feel a need to play them; denying him the knowledge that I have them and making sure my credits are efficiently spent.

Now while you are both setting up try to realize your strategy using good tactical choices. See if you manage to fulfil it, and see if it indeed is effective or if you want to change your strategy while the game is going on. Your opponent might change up their plan, or get lucky with card draw, or maybe you see them getting really unlucky and need to adapt to that.

While playing, pay close attention to whether you make efficient plays with your cards. This is one of the easiest things to pay attention to.

Now the meat of the game is often in the tactical layer. This is the actions you take to implement your strategy and to react to your opponents play. Some actions will not forward your game-plan, but will try to prevent your opponents plan instead. This is why it is important that you and your opponent tell each other about your deck, and your overall game plan. This will make both of your tactical plays more informed, and you will both learn more from the game.

When you make a tactical choice in Netrunner it is usually an interaction with your opponent. Typical examples are; making a run, installing a specific ICE, or whether to rez an ICE or not. Think about the implications in the terms of strategy, consider whether the move is efficient, whether you made the right tactical call to do this now and if you are taking a Yomi decision or a pure efficiency decision.

If you are taking a Yomi-decision, be prepared for the worst outcome. The blank-installed card may be a bluff. The advanced card might be an Aggressive Secretary. Think about all these paths, would your opponent want to bluff now or not? What do they gain by scoring now? What do you gain by rezzing the ICE?

Tactical play is often what decides a game of Netrunner between evenly matched opponents. Equally often it is Yomi, which you will usually see with common decks when either opponent is behind by enough to warrant the risk, or for specific decks build around it.

After the match

After the match, whether you won or not is not really that interesting. Way more interesting is: did your strategy work? Why did it work? Concentrate on what you learned during the game! Even if it was something simple like ’next time I will not run without my sentry breaker’. Did your opponent make an especially good tactical play? Ask them about it! Was it chance, or did they anticipate (Yomi) your actions and exploit that with good ICE placement?

Now comes the time to ask your opponent the questions that you have about their side of the game. Often it is useful to ask them how they felt when you did certain things. You will make tactical decisions that you feel are good, but maybe they have another perspective, or maybe you ran HQ at just the right time but missed the three agendas?

You should both discuss the decisions during the match that were most difficult for you, and whether they panned out as you hoped. You will learn a lot from this.

Finally, make a mental note of what kind of mistakes you made during the game. I have yet to play a game of Netrunner where I could not find a mistake I made, or something I could have done better. You will quickly form an understanding about where you need to improve, whether that be Strategy, Efficiency, Tactics, or Yomi. This makes sure you can pay more attention to that aspect in the future.

eli

Looking at the game piece by piece let’s you understand it.

What can you improve?

A good way to make mental notes is to identify your two-three most important mistakes during the match. They can be related to what your opponent did, or they can be purely what you did.

To identify a mistake and separate it from what could have been a good choice that turned out bad you need to consider probabilities. This is where focusing on what you can control really is key. If you ran R&D with Makers Eye when there were a bunch of agendas in there and whiffed it might still have been a very good move. Netrunner is a game about probabilities, and to win you need to make the best decisions you can over time. This is where focusing on who won is not important, since it is really the quality of your actions that is important long term.

Maybe you ran HQ at just the right moment and whiffed? Maybe you snagged the single Government Takeover from R&D? Discuss this with your opponent if you are unsure, as they will likely have another perspective on some things you did. Maybe they were secretly terrified at a point in the game, but you did not realize that they were vulnerable? This is where I will introduce this mental scorecard for you to use:

scorecard

Your mental post-game scorecard.

Now this is not something I ever write down myself, but some players do. I just tend to make mental notes of my mistakes, and attribute them to roughly where I did a poor decision. I try to keep this in my head.

After a few matches you may start to identify some mistakes you keep doing over and over. Some things you will learn from and adjust to, while others may seem to go against your intuitive judgement. You then know where to focus your efforts, or maybe switch to a deck better suited to your brain.

The worst mistake you can make, however, is to start switching decks as soon as you lose a few matches. In fact, a big reason I was inspired to write this series of articles is that I see players focus way too much on decks and cards as reasons for a game-loss, and completely miss the mistakes they themselves make. This is the surest way of never improving! It is also a good way of getting frustrated with the game, and thus a dangerous trap to fall into.

Complexity matters

The skill-curve of playing Netrunner is one thing, but each deck has its own skill-curve as well, what I call complexity in a previous article. If you ignore that, you will find yourself switching decks so often that you are playing all of them suboptimally. The better a player is, the easier they can afford to switch decks. This is because a lot of the skills they have carry over to other decks. This is another reason why playing mid-range decks are good for learning.

If you are just starting out you should find a set of decks that you like; a runner and a corp. Choose among popular mid-range decks and use your intuition or go by recommendations from other players in your meta. Then stick with them. Stick with them until you win with them. You’ll get there way faster than any other method!

improvement

Stick with it, you’ll improve faster.

Summary

Make sure you are ready for a focused game, find an opponent who has the same goal. Choose the right deck for the job. If you are new to the game, try to choose a mid-range deck with lots of options but a decent core strategy.  Play opponents with the same type of deck.

Try to formulate a strategy while you play, pay attention to whether your moves are efficient and whether your tactical moves play to the strategy you have chosen. If a Yomi situation occurs, make note of the best and worst case scenarios and take that into account when choosing your path, but make sure you do not get predictable.

After the game, have a short discussion with your opponent. You will probably find a few things that you agree on decided the game outcome. Make mental notes of these, especially if you caused or took part in them (hopefully!). Ignore any related to your opponent or other uncontrollable factors such as order of draws, or lucky accesses.

Happy hunting! In the next article we will talk about going to tournaments!

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