Now that Core 2 and rotation has been announced, I thought I’d do a series of articles aimed at early level deck construction. One of the things I hear most from new players is “Is there some sort of resource I can read/watch to understand this game better,” and I think one of the better ways to understand the game is through good deck construction. There’s a lot it doesn’t teach (good action economy, when clicking for credits and/or cards is good, etc) but it helps you learn to see what enough economy looks like, the importance of efficient breakers, etc. Basically, it helps them learn to make good choices before the game even begins. If this sounds like things you would like to know and work on, then welcome! Let’s get into it.
When building a deck, there are many choices to be made. How much money does your deck need, what ICE or breakers do you use, what agendas to run… the list goes on. Eventually you (usually) end up with a stack of 45 or 49 cards. There’s not much randomness in Netrunner, and most of it comes from shuffling your deck and the resulting order you now draw your cards in — you know what cards you *can* draw, but don’t know exactly which ones you *will*. This randomness can be mitigated somewhat through card draw effects or tutors (cards that search for other cards), but it will always be somewhat random. However, there’s always one card that you can count on getting every game: your Identity.
Choosing your ID
There are two schools of thought in regards to when you choose your identity within the deck building process. The first is that you choose your identity with the idea that this gives you chance to build around it and make good synergistic choices. The other school says that you should actually pick your identity last, making the deck you want to make first, and then find the right identity for the deck to fit into. These both have merit, and I think can both be correct, depending on the type of deck you’re making.
As an example, almost no one would build a Jinteki deck dense with 1-point agendas without already deciding that they wanted to make
a Personal Evolution deck. However, one can make a Jinteki deck with highly taxing ICE and scoring upgrades under the game plan of wanting to tax the runner out in order to open up scoring windows, and then, afterwords, try and find the ID that best facilitates that game plan. In the end, there are IDs that you want to build a deck specifically for, and IDs that serve a more general purpose. Distinguishing these from one another is important to the deck building process. I’m not going to dissect and categorize every ID in this manner, but it’s good to keep in mind that IDs like Nasir or Jemison Astronautics are going to want specific cards much more heavily than IDs like NEXT Design or Edward Kim.
Once you’ve chosen an identity, keep in mind that you don’t have to be married to it. Sometimes the meta shifts and different IDs become better or worse. In TheBigBoy’s famous Whizzard deck Dumblefork (before the ID rotated), his original identity fronting the deck was Edward Kim. Here’s the thing: it was still a completely valid deck out of Edward Kim, it just depends if you are hating on operations or on assets. Assets became wildly popular, and Whizzard became the ID to beat for over a year.
How valuable is your ID
One of the things that you need to ask yourself when building a deck is
1. How often is this identity going to do a thing?
2. How valuable is/can I make that thing?
Let’s look at HB for examples. Next Design allows you to immediately install up to 3 ICE before the game begins, and then draw that many cards back up. However, as soon as you actually start playing the game, the ID is effectively blank. The question you need to gauge here is how much a “free” turn of ICE setup and draw are worth. For a rush strategy, getting ICE set up before the game starts could be quite valuable, but it also comes at the loss of 3 influence (we’ll go over influence here in just a little bit). As another example, The Foundry will fire many times over the course of the game, assuming you add many duplicate ICE, but you need to gauge how valuable that is over simply drawing the ICE naturally. Previous to the announcement of Core 2, a problem with HB as a faction was the looming monster of Engineering the Future.
EtF gained a credit the first time every turn that they install something. This adds up to a LOT of money over the course of the game, and often meant that you could run less economy cards, opening card slots for other goodies, or run larger, more taxing ICE. Plus, it paid you to do exactly what you want to be doing anyway: building your board state. The question that every HB player needed to ask themselves is if what they are getting out of the ID they choose was better than a credit almost every single turn of the game. The answer was almost always “no.” That identity doesn’t exist any more (largely because of how insanely good this was), but because of this another question we’ve identified that needs to be asked is
3. What is my opportunity cost playing under this identity vs playing under another?
Shaper and Criminal had similar issues pre rotation. In Shaper, Kate gave a very similar bonus to EtF; a free credit every turn for installing programs and hardware. In addition to free money, this also helped pad the tempo loss of having to spend a bunch of credits installing cards, keeping you more aggressively poised. It’s easy to figure out the value of an ID like this – just make a tick mark every time her ability fires: that’s the number of credits you’ve saved. Criminal’s most common identity was more nebulous in immediately identifiable value. Criminal lived under the shadow of Andromeda. This might seem counter-intuitive at first. After all, she was a blank ID the moment you kept your opening hand of 9 cards. At the beginning of the article, I mentioned that the randomness in Netrunner comes from shuffling your deck and seeing what you get when you draw; Andy is the best answer to this. Between her first hand and her mulligan, there was a very high chance that she’d have a great start to the game, and coming out of the gate sprinting is very valuable vs the corp, who starts the game in a more vulnerable state. This is especially important to the Criminal faction, as they have many good tools to exploit corp vulnerabilities and keep them in vulnerable states. Andy’s advantage, then, was consistency.
One of the most popular non-Andy IDs for criminal for a long time was Leela Patel, so let’s look at Leela as an example of both why she can be a great card, but also as to why Andy was so good. I already said that Andy’s strength was being strong out of the gate. This kept the corp on the reactive side, and ideally let Andy dictate the tempo of the game. Leela also has a tempo-based ID power: bouncing cards back to the corp’s hand on a score/steal. Leela Patel will almost certainly fire two times a game, because a player usually needs to score a minimum of 3 agendas to win (two 2-point agendas and one 3-pointer). The third score doesn’t matter to Leela, because the game just ended. In most games, however, more agendas will be scored/stolen because the runner is also stealing them. Let’s say the corp and the runner are both on 6 points. Leela has probably fired around 6 times, since most corp decks run mostly 2-point agendas. That’s time and money the corp invested into their board-state that Leela has torn away. A timely access can mean a turn 1 account siphon, crippling the corp’s economy for the rest of the game, or potentially snowballing into additional agenda accesses because of the ICE she has removed. It’s easy to look at these scenarios and feel awesome about Leela.
However, there are the games where Leela does only fire twice. Also, the corp can try and dictate when Leela will fire, at least as far as their scoring goes. It’s very common to install and advance a 3/2 agenda vs Leela, so that on the following turn, when the corp scores it, they can use that saved click to re-play whatever Leela sent back to their hand, denying her a reduced board state on her turn, where she can take advantage of it. In this scenario, Leela’s effective power is maybe taxing the corp a credit or two on a score, which is vastly worse than the reduced board state. While potentially having amazing upsides, Leela also has the downside of potentially not firing often, and potentially not being able to capitalize on the times she does. This adds another couple questions to ask.
4. What are the best and worst case scenarios for my ID?
5. Do my better-case scenarios happen with enough frequency to justify playing the identity, and are my worst-case scenarios okay or infrequent enough to justify playing the identity?
In Leela’s case, her upsides are great, but she is a little inconsistent in them. However, she’s great vs Fast Advance decks (decks that try and use cards like Biotic Labor and Shipment from Tennin to score agendas directly out of their hand), because it’s very hard and often expensive to FA an agenda and also have a free click to re-install a card. This means that Leela almost always can capitalize on a reduced board state vs a FA deck, while being worse vs a Glacier deck (a deck that tries to score behind large stacks of ICE with scoring upgrades). So, depending on the meta, she has the possibility of being quite good.
The influence cost of cards is tracked as small pips along either the side or bottom of a card. Identities show how much available influence they have right below their deck size constraints (usually 15). As a definition, an ID’s Influence limit is how many pips of influence they can import from another faction. This enables them to bring in cards that might be better at certain things than their faction’s cards can normally be. As an example, non-criminal factions might want to import cards like Legwork or HQ Interface in order to be able to have some multi-access for runs on HQ, as those are cards the Criminal identity specializes in.
Generally, as far as Influence goes, more is better, and less is worse. Ideally, the influence on an ID is meant to help pad an IDs shortcomings by providing more Influence, or help bring a powerful ID back in line by providing less. In practice, sometimes it seems a little random at times. Near-Earth Hub has an identity power that (at the time of it’s release) enabled a blazing fast Fast Advance deck, since you got an extra draw most turns. This ID was also printed with 17 Influence, which only helped it further. On the flip side, Iain Sterling was printed with an ID power that is only turned on if you are losing, and only 10 influence to work with. Not coincidentally, he’s never seen at the top tables.
Influence alone doesn’t cut it, though. Custom Biotics has 22 influence, with the only restriction being you can’t play Jinteki cards. However, this 7 extra influence is their only ability, and as such this ID is almost never seen either. IDs generally need to have an actual ability to be useful, especially since the game has been going for some time, and there are many IDs for each faction to choose from. There’s no need to pick an ID with no/a poor ability. Better ones almost certainly exist. This doesn’t exactly formulate another question we need to ask ourselves while deckbuilding, but it is certainly something to consider in the case where two or more IDs all seem like a reasonable choice for a given deck.
Making the most of an Identity
Here in the next paragraph, I’m going to choose, in my opinion, a kinda questionable ID, and we’re going to get some ideas about possible decks to build. We’re not going to literally build those decks, but rather just poke around the edges of deck design. First, we have some questions to ask ourselves. Assuming we’re choosing the ID first and making the deck second, what cards are we now going to use to take advantage of the ID we’re using? Some IDs don’t need additional card support at all. As noted earlier, Edward Kim doesn’t really need card support; he’ll trash operations no matter what. Just put him in front of a good deck in an operation-heavy meta. Geist, on the other hand, plays almost exclusively card support in order to get the most out of his trash-cards-to-draw-cards game plan. Let’s choose our ID then.
Let’s pretend that, for some reason, we chose Builder of Nations.
The reason I’m actually choosing BoN for this exercise is that the BoN is, in my opinion, a little at odds with itself. So we’re all on the same page, the ID power for Builder of Nations is “The first time an encounter with a piece of ice with at least 1 advancement token ends each turn, do 1 meat damage.” Also, so we’re clear, this is the eratta’d text as it currently stands from FAQ 3.1.1, and not the literal text as printed on the card to the left. It is a 40 card identity, rather than a 45 card one, which lends itself toward building a Rush deck, whose goal is to score out as fast as possible, which is something that Weyland in general is good at. Many of their agendas give you money for scoring them, allowing them to keep up monetarily rather than falling behind, and Project Atlas can find cards on demand, which often includes more agendas when you have a window to score them. Going back, the reason that I say that BoN is a little at odds with itself is that taking a click to advance a piece of ICE is a very, very slow action, and a single advancement on almost any ICE does almost nothing in terms of game play value, aside from turning on BoN’s ability on whatever server you advanced the ICE in. This goes fairly counter to the Rush ideal of never having a wasted click where you could be pushing agendas out before the runner sets up enough to stop you.
The reason I say that advancing ICE is slow is that, effectively, you are spending 2 credits every time you advance an ICE. Since advancing most ICE once does effectively nothing, you’re basically skipping a click in order to hopefully have that ICE give a payoff in the future of doing 1 or more meat damage to the runner. You’re spending a click and a credit to do this, where you could, instead, be clicking for a credit. This credit will almost certainly do something, since you’ll need it to push out those agendas and rez whatever ICE you chose to protect your servers. The reason, then, that I say it effectively costs 2 credits is that it costs the credit you spent, and the credit you didn’t click for. Anyhow, this is just something to think about when looking at advanceable ICE and when looking at IDs that have to do with advancing ICE. Let’s move on.
Already, this identity is probably informing us a little as to some cards we might want to consider. That is to say, anything that advances ICE for us, or allows us to advance ICE at a discount or accelerated rate. This speeds up that slow action while also allowing us to turn on our ID ability. However, before we even get into card specifics, we need to ask ourselves some important questions about this ID. How important is a single meat damage? What’s the most impactful thing that a single meat damage can do, and how reliably is that going to occur? Furthermore, since this ID power only fires off on runs, the runner is going to effectively be choosing when they’re comfortable with this ID power firing. How can we still make that an impactful moment in the game, when they’re the ones choosing when it occurs?
Let’s answer some of these questions, from the runner’s perspective. As a runner, I can tell you that taking a single damage every once in a while is just fine with me, especially when I can control it. The worst that can happen to me is to have a key program (usually a breaker) sniped from my hand, but this can be entirely avoided by simply playing whatever cards I need before running and having to worry about the damage. The way that this damage could still be impactful toward me, the runner, is if I am forced to run often enough that I’m having a hard time also drawing back up and installing needed pieces before I run again. It’s also impactful if there are additional damaging threats I need to be wary of that can flat-line me during or because of this run, and this single meat damage is helping facilitate this.
These answers let us formulate possible ideas in order to make this damage meaningful. One thing that we can possibly do is increase the damage to the point where it matters more, perhaps through use of The Cleaners. Another way is to make the runner run faster than they feel comfortable with, which is probably best achieved through simply trying to rush scoring. Finally, including other sources of damage, such as Prisec and Snare!, can allow the extra damage to go that small distance toward lethal damage, or at least threaten the runner with it, helping you dictate when they can run.
A final option is to use the idea of advancing ICE and really go for it, with the idea of scoring using Red Planet Couriers in order to Fast Advance out large agendas using Biotic Labor. Cards like Dedication Ceremony, Shipment from Kaguya, and Priority Construction can advance your ICE quickly. Mass Commercialization can make a boatload of money off all the advanced ICE. Punitive Counterstrikes might make sense as an additional threat and to possibly combo with the ID power. The 40 card ID here could then be used less as a rush ID, and more to get a clever agenda suite. 3 Hostile Takeovers, 3 Global Food Initiative, and 1 Government Takeover makes 18 points, leaving you able to win on 2-3 agenda scores, while the runner *usually* has to win on 4 (assuming they don’t hit the Takeover). You could also substitute the Global Foods for The Cleaners in order to get more out of your ID power (and if this is the case, it might also make sense to run a couple Snare!), but it does mean that the runner wins on 2-3 agenda steals as well. In any case, usually the ID power is just used as an additional tax on the runner, which is compounded by the fact that because you run so few agendas, they’ll usually have to run several times before they find them, wearing out their deck.
Now we have some ideas about how to potentially make the ID power worthwhile, and ideas of cards to include. Obviously beyond that we’re going to want econ cards and an ICE suite of mostly advanceable ICE, as well as a decent agenda composition, but that’s deeper into this exercise than I want to go. We’ve identified how the runner can react to our ID ability, and how to possibly capitalize on it to increase their discomfort level and force them into potential bad situations, and therefore have at least some kind of idea about the power of the ID (nebulous though it may be).
We’ve more or less covered the questions we need to ask ourselves when choosing an ID, except #3, which was the opportunity cost of playing this versus another identity.
At least with the cards we’ve talked about (advanceable ICE, cards to advance ICE, etc), there’s no clear ID that makes more sense with those. A thought would be to use Jemison Astronautics, because their ID power also can advance ICE, and it’s not a terrible idea. Ideally, though, in a Jemison deck, it might make more sense to use your agenda sacrifices to advance other, larger agendas, rather than advance ICE. Sacrificing 2 points to put 3 advancements on an ICE is a pretty bad trade. Agenda points are how the game is typically won, so sacrificing them needs to create a drastic advantage.
Looking at the Red Planet Couriers deck we discussed as a possibility, there actually is an identity that might make sense, and that identity is Skorpios Defense Systems. Skorp doesn’t care about the advanceable ICE for anything other than the win condition, but the ID power might be more powerful in the long run, and it shares the same 40 card deck size, which we already identified as a potential benefit for the agenda composition. With BoN, you’re sniping random cards from their hand, but with Skorp, you’re removing problem cards from the game entirely, and can swap in cards like Archer and Hunter Seeker to potentially lock the runner out of your servers. This also gives you the opportunity to possibly score in a remote if you are able to remove a key breaker from the game, rather than just coast on the Fast Advance plan. Additionally, you gain 3 influence over BoNs 12. Depending on the exact cards you want in your deck, this might be a tipping point as well.
In the end, both of these ID powers are nebulous enough in how often they work and how impactful they are when working that it probably would come down to play-testing them both with slightly different variations on the deck to finally see which would be the best fit.
That’s All, Folks
Thanks for sticking with me, and hopefully you’ve been able to take some useful information away from this. There’s a lot to consider when picking an identity, but it’s a more important choice than many people give it credit for. Next time, I’ll be writing an article on deck economy, what is generally considered reasonable, and why the biggest mistake I see beginning deck makers make is to not include enough. I’ll see you then!