On Saturday the 26th, the first of two Northern California Plugged-In Tour events was held at Gamescape North in San Rafael.
I had scouted the store the day before so I would know what to expect with regards to travel time and parking– unfortunately, both my car and phone battery died during that trip, stranding me in an unfamiliar city without a way to contact anyone or go anywhere. I was able to locate a helpful gentleman who let me use his phone to call AAA and get a replacement battery delivered and installed, but it wasn’t exactly an auspicious beginning to the event, and I ended up with less sleep and preparation than I had planned for.
Before this misfortune, I was debating between three decks:
-A roguish Kate deck with three Account Siphons and Crypsis/Opus. I’d tested this deck in several rounds on OCTGN and it can pull off absurd blowouts since people don’t see it coming, but I was worried about getting scouted.
-A Professor deck with lots of tutor and one of every good program (basically my normal Kate deck except with Sneakdoor, Nerve Agent, Medium, Imp, etc.)
-My tried-and-true “Powerful Mac Five” Kate deck– very much a “Core Set Shaper” kind of build.
The battery issues ended up forcing my hand a little by giving me less prep time than I had planned. Without as much prep time as I would have liked to do last-minute testing, I decided to go with the deck I was most comfortable with– “The Powerful Mac Five.”
Identity: Kate “Mac” McCaffrey: Digital Tinker (Core)
Total Cards: (45)
Sure Gamble (Core #50) x3
Dirty Laundry (Creation and Control #52) x3
Escher (Creation and Control #31) x1
Tinkering (Core #37) x2
Infiltration (Core #49) x2
Stimhack (Core #4) x1
Levy AR Lab Access (Creation and Control #35) x1
Plascrete Carapace (What Lies Ahead #9) x3
Clone Chip (Creation and Control #38) x3
R&D Interface (Future Proof #107) x3
Spinal Modem (What Lies Ahead #2) x2
Rabbit Hole (Core #39) x2
Self-modifying Code (Creation and Control #46) x3
Parasite (Core #12) x1
Corroder (Core #7) x1
Gordian Blade (Core #43) x1
Ninja (Core #27) x1
Deus X (A Study in Static #66) x1
Faerie (Future Proof #104) x1
Crescentus (A Study in Static #65) x1
Professional Contacts (Creation and Control #49) x3
Daily Casts (Creation and Control #53) x3
Kati Jones (Humanity’s Shadow #91) x3
Basically, this is a core set-style Shaper deck that’s also set up to take advantage of the tricks Creation and Control gave us. Pretty straightforward– once you’re rigged up, there isn’t much that can mess with you, and the deck also has tricks to prevent most opponents from running away with the game before you get your setup established.
There are a few unusual cards in here. First off:
A lot of people hate this card, but I’ve found it to be quite effective. In this deck, Spinal Modem gives me everything that I want from The Toolbox (one memory, two recurring credits for runs) at less than half the cost. It often outperforms Desperado, since in the endgame I frequently find myself making only one run– a big R&D hit– in each turn. Further, Spinal Modem’s downside can be easily mitigated by three things:
1. installing Rabbit Hole
2. breaking trace subroutines
3. just plain not installing it against NBN: Making News
Throughout the course of the day, I only took one or two brain damage, and in all cases that was via Stimhack. Some people have claimed that Spinal Modem is bad because it makes you run Rabbit Hole, but to be honest I ran 3x Rabbit Hole prior to adding Spinal, and after adding Spinal and testing for a while I cut to 2 Rabbit Holes (thanks to dropping Aesop’s). I really haven’t found it to be a problem.
This card makes the cut despite 3 influence and not staying in play because it’s the best way that I’m aware of to deal with the one big ICE that you really need to have a clever answer for– Archer. Faerie breaks Archer for 4, and that means a lot– Ninja breaks it for 10, and Femme for 12. In combination with Crescentus, Faerie is an allstar– I really don’t need to worry about Archer with this loadout, and having Faerie in the deck to SMC out also means that I can drop as low as 6 credits + SMC while facechecking against Weyland if I don’t expect a Troubleshooter, which is rather luxurious.
Overall, I’ve been playing this deck for a while and doing very well with it. That isn’t to say it’s perfect– I am constantly making minor adjustments to the deck. We’re honestly pretty close to the point in the cardpool where I switch this to a Professor deck– in fact, we may be there already– but I hadn’t tested that version enough to be entirely comfortable running it.
Choosing a Corp deck was also a bit of a challenge. I have multiple viable decklists for HB, NBN, and Weyland–my Jinteki deck is too contingent on unreleased cards at present– and all of them appealed. Ultimately, I decided to go with my NBN: Making News deck simply because its tempo best fit with my Kate deck– Kate can be slow, and Making News is quite fast. My TWIY* deck is even faster, but it’s not consistent enough for competitive play, so I went with Making News:
Identity: NBN: Making News (Core)
Total Cards: (49)
AstroScript Pilot Program (Core #81) x3
Breaking News (Core #82) x3
Project Beale (Future Proof #115) x3
Character Assassination (Opening Moves #14) x2
Gila Hands Arcology (Creation and Control #23) x1
Jackson Howard (Opening Moves #15) x3
Draco (What Lies Ahead #20) x3
TMI (What Lies Ahead #17) x1
Pop-up Window (Cyber Exodus #56) x2
Caduceus (What Lies Ahead #19) x3 ** ** **
Ice Wall (Core #103) x2 * *
Enigma (Core #111) x2
Tollbooth (Core #90) x1
Wall of Static (Core #113) x1
Bastion (Creation and Control #26) x1
Shadow (Core #104) x1 *
Beanstalk Royalties (Core #98) x3 * * *
Green Level Clearance (A Study in Static #70) x3 * * *
Hedge Fund (Core #110) x3
Closed Accounts (Core #84) x2
Freelancer (Trace Amount #40) x1
Bernice Mai (Humanity’s Shadow #97) x2
SanSan City Grid (Core #92) x3
Total Agenda Points: 20
Influence Values Totals –
The Weyland Consortium: 12
This deck was explicitly inspired by two things from Alexfrog:
First, his article “Playing the Opening,” which I consider one of the best Netrunner articles out there at present. The principles described in that article strike me as extremely important for effective play. If you haven’t read that article yet, go do that now.
Secondly, the NBN: Making News decklist he posted after winning a Plugged-In event of his own. Ironically, though, I thought that deck had neglected Alex’s own principles to an extent, so I made modifications to bring it more in line with ensuring the strong openings he describes. The most notable of these modifications was the addition of three of one of my favorite Corp cards in the game:
Beanstalk, like Hedge Fund or Green Level, is a card that you love to see in your opening hand. It makes almost any opening much stronger, provides a and in the event that you don’t need it right away, you can save it as a recovery option after Siphon, Vamp, or rezzing SanSan/Tollbooth. In many respects I consider Beanstalk Royalties a better card than Hedge Fund for this deck.
In order to take the Beanstalks, I had to cut Archer and Troubleshooter, but in my testing they were underperforming anyway– if I wanted to trash programs reliably, I would need to invest more heavily than that. Similarly, once I cut those cards there was little reason to keep around the single Rototurret, so I used the free influence to upgrade one of the Pop-Up Windows to a Shadow. The rest of my changes were relatively minor elements of individual preference.
So, with Kate and NBN at my side I made the drive up to San Rafael. The venue (Gamescape North) was excellent, with a good space, a great setup for the event, and friendly staff– they even had a binder full of menus from local restaurants to help with the lunch break! After a brief speech from the store owner and FFG reps, the first round pairings were posted, and I found myself paired up against Martin. Gulp!
Round 1: Martin (Gabe and Weyland: Building a Better World)
Martin is a very skilled player who I had encountered before on several occasions in multiple stores, and neither of us was particularly enthused about being matched up with an experienced opponent in the first round of the event. On the plus side, I figured that in an event without elimination this at least meant that I wouldn’t have to face Martin in later rounds, where stakes were higher.
We flipped a coin and found that I would run first against Martin’s Weyland deck. This game was cut short by Martin’s terrible mulligan leaving him with several agendas in hand and very limited ICE. While I was somewhat cautious at first (I know Martin runs Snare!), I quickly realized what was going on and attacked aggressively without Plascrete installed. Thanks to Martin’s low ICE and large number of early agendas, I was able to take the game before he could draw his SEA Source to flatline me or get an Atlas counter to enable the same. The only real thing of note was that I believe this was the game where I used Tinkering on two different unrezzed ICE on the same server in order to Stimhack in with only Corroder and score the agenda, which was funny.
The second game of this round was much more intense. Martin’s Gabe outmaneuvered me at first, scoring several points quickly, but I was eventually able to get at least some protection on my centrals and score a Beale, a Breaking News, and an Astroscript (with counter). However, Martin finally got the Corroder he needed to get through my lightly defended R&D and finished the game with an Indexing, winning 7-5.
After our games, Martin and I joked that we’d each have to rack up the wins to ensure a strong Strength of Schedule for one another.
Cumulative score: 1-1 (2 Prestige, 0 weak side wins)
Round 2: Mike (Andromeda and NBN:TWIY*)
I hadn’t encountered Mike before, but he was with a group of people who had come up from some store together, so I figured that he must be an experienced player.
I ended up playing Corp first this time. My tagging and punishment ended up being useful in this game. I believe this was the round where I trashed several Bank Jobs– one normally and one (as well as a Compromised Employee) via Freelancer. Without getting the income injection from those Bank Jobs, Andromeda ended up behind my strong Operation economy, and I was able to advance several agendas and win– I believe without having anything stolen.
The second round, however, was quite the nailbiter. TWIY* proved to be quite annoying, with Mike’s 6-card hand size making it difficult for me to fully assess what was in HQ. It ended up that he scored 5 or 6 points in the early game, but I had scored 3 or 4 as well as a solid rig. However, Mike had one advantage I didn’t– an Astroscript counter (and perhaps a rezzed SanSan as well). My rig enabled me to do multiple runs in one turn and I checked R&D as well as hitting HQ many times, unfortunately seeing nothing but Ice Wall and Shadow. Luckily for me, Mike didn’t have an agenda in hand. The next turn was much the same, but the turn after that Mike drew 3 cards, seeing either one or two cards I hadn’t been able to look at from R&D. I hit R&D and managed to score an agenda, putting me at match point– I then hit R&D again but wasn’t able to close it out there.
With two clicks left, I weighed my options. There were several face-down cards in Archives, and there could easily have been an agenda discarded during one of the earlier periods where I had the advantage. However, if Mike had pulled an agenda into his hand and I didn’t get it, he would win next turn. I decided the first click would have to be HQ and the second would be Archives. Hitting HQ, I checked a card and managed to pull Beale for the game win! This was a lucky break since there was only one agenda in the six-card hand, but Mike revealed that he had indeed discarded an agenda earlier, so the Archives run would have won the game. However, this was a strikingly close one, as my opponent had just one turn to win!
Cumulative score: 3-1 (6 Prestige, 1 weak side win)
Round 3: Daniel (Andromeda and Weyland:Building a Better World?)
Daniel is a player that I had encountered a few times at Game Night tournaments in Berkeley and a time or two at the Game Kastle as well. I knew him to be skillful, but didn’t have as much of a read on his playstyle as I did with Martin or Seth.
I have very little memory of the first game, to the point where I’m not certain what corporation Daniel was using– I believe it was Weyland but I’m not sure. Kate was doing her thing and was able to prevail without too much craziness.
The second game was more memorable only because of all the things that went right for me. I found myself facing a resource-based Andromeda deck, which I consider one of my best matchups, and my confidence was further boosted by my incredibly good initial hand. The luck of the draw continued to strongly favor me– while Daniel got Professional Contacts out on turn one or two, I trashed it on turn three or four via Breaking News. My ICE draws were also amazing and I quickly had three Caduceus rezzed to protect all centrals, as well as a robust remote with active SanSan. Daniel, on the other hand, wasn’t drawing into money cards, and without Professional Contacts his economy was suffering.
In the meantime, I scored an Astroscript followed by a second Breaking News (with a Beanstalk Royalties on the same turn courtesy of SanSan). Daniel responded by taking three credits and playing Hedge Fund– but in the next turn I scored another Breaking News in the SanSan and used Closed Accounts. With my centrals safe, SanSan in a secure remote with an Astroscript counter for support, the runner at 0 credits, and the score at 5-0, Daniel conceded. To be honest, I don’t blame him– I had an amazing opening hand bolstered by great draws, and he had a mediocre opening hand as well as a giant setback in losing his Professional Contacts early.
Cumulative score: 5-1 (10 Prestige, 2 weak side wins)
Round 4: Ian (Andromeda and HB:Engineering the Future)
Ian was another fellow I knew from Berkeley. The Game Night tournaments held there, despite small turnout, are extremely competitive, and many of the Berkeley crew were doing well at this event. If you’re in the Bay Area and are interested in playing Netrunner competitively, I strongly suggest that you check these events out.
I’m not sure which round came first in this match, but both rounds were extremely close. Ian was using an Andromeda deck that was distinctly NOT reliant on resources, and the difference between this match and the previous one was night and day– in fact, I drew my Character Assassinations early only to find them almost useless. I did make one major mistake this game when I discarded a Character Assassination instead of a Freelancer, thinking Ian wouldn’t check Archives– only for him to check Archives on the very next turn! D’oh! Luckily, it didn’t cost me the game– Ian established an R&D lock and got to 6 points to my 5, but I managed to keep him focused there and not on the Beale that I was able to fast advance from my hand for the win.
In the runner game, I found myself facing Ian’s HB:EtF, which I knew to be based on the running_bear HB deck. With 3 Grim and 3 Rototurret, I had to be careful. Luckily, I had included Ninja rather than Femme, and managed to get a few points early and trash Ian’s SanSan. However, he played another SanSan and used it to score Director Haas’ Pet Project, bringing back his first SanSan as well as an Adonis and an unknown piece of ICE. Seeing this, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to stop him from fast advancing and started focusing on an R&D lock. Ian began drawing to try and get agendas from R&D, but I figured the odds of him having them were low and focused my efforts on R&D. I grabbed two out of three agendas in my last hit, putting me at 6 points, but didn’t have the economy to go in again on the same turn. However, it didn’t matter, because Ian had in fact drawn a Vitruvius and scored it in the SanSan to close out the game.
Cumulative score: 6-2 (12 Prestige, 3 weak side wins)
After this intense match and my second loss for the day, I was worried, but I knew that I still had a slim shot at winning a bag. Having been playing on table 1, I was able to see the other top tables playing alongside us. There were no undefeated players left, and only two remaining with 7-1 records. If I won my next two games and the two 7-1 players went 1-1, I would have a shot at winning. I knew I had played several strong players, so I would have a good strength of schedule in case any other 6-2 people went 2-0– further, I had taken one loss as each side, so were I to win both my rounds I would beat either of the 7-1 guys if they split and had both losses on the same side. Even still, I figured first place would be a long shot– I hadn’t played either of the 7-1 guys, and with them playing one another their strength of schedule would of course be quite high– but second was definitely within reach.
Final Round: John (Gabe and NBN:Making News)
I found myself on table 2 against the one player with 13 Prestige, giving me further confidence in my tiebreakers. To my right, the two 7-1 guys were setting up. It was showtime. My opponent brought out his Gabe (this might have been Andromeda but I don’t think so), and the games began.
Gabe was doing fairly well, but my NBN deck was able to get early fast advance components set up and win. I don’t have too many clear memories of this game– I believe my opponent was using Crypsis, which I always love seeing with this deck. While Crypsis is great at breaking most gearcheck ICE, it’s horribly inefficient against Caduceus and the virus counters become highly constraining when dealing with cheap Ice Walls or Dracos. Ultimately, I was able to get my agendas out early and take the game.
To my right, I couldn’t help but notice one of the 7-1 guys flatline the other with Snare! into Scorched Earth. It was still anybody’s game.
In round 2, I was against NBN: Making News. Things were going fairly well at first. John scored a Beale with two extra advancement counters for 3 points, and I grabbed two agendas (I believe Astroscript and Breaking News) for 3 points of my own. I saw Scorched Earth and installed Plascrete to mitigate it, keeping up the pressure. Later, my opponent managed to tag me via scoring Breaking News and trash my Professional Contacts in the midgame, but didn’t have enough clicks to take out Kati as well, and I was able to play another Professional Contacts fairly quickly and continue moving forward.
To my right, I overheard another Scorched Earth flatline. The two 7-1 guys had killed one another! I could win this event!
However, in my excitement I made a crucial error, letting a Shadow tag me during a third-click run that would also involve encountering Bernice. While I scored the Astroscript in the server, putting the score at 5-4, I got hit by two tags and didn’t have time to clear them. With my opponent at 7 credits and two PAD Campaigns in play, I realized that I had to trash one of the PAD Campaigns in order to prevent a potential triple Scorched Earth flatline next turn. I did this, but my opponent used the money drop to hit me with Midseason Replacements, putting me at 10 tags and rendering my empty Kati worthless, then hit me with one Scorched Earth.
I considered the situation carefully and decided that I had to take the damage on my hand instead of my Plascrete, thus ensuring that I still had protection up for a potential future double Scorch. Unfortunately, this damage lost me the R&D Interface I had in hand.
It was down to an R&D race– if he got Beale he would win outright, and if he got Astroscript he would be able to score it via Psychographics and then be in a great position to aggressively draw other agendas. I had only one R&D Interface in play, but I could ignore the Data Raven on R&D now that I was locked into tag-me mode. Ultimately, the luck of the draw was on my side, and I managed to grab a Beale for the win.
Final score: 8-2 (16 prestige, 4 weak side wins)
I quickly went to talk with the guys on table one. One of them had two losses as Runner, but the other was one and one. This meant I was nearly certainly going to take either first or second– there was a chance that another 6-2 player would go 2-0 and we’d have a four-way tie, but I was confident that my tiebreakers were better than any other 6-2 player. The question was whether they were better than those of the other 8-2 guy, Davis (yes, the top two players were both named Davis).
Final Results and Day 2:
The top 8 were called, starting with eighth place. I was pleased to see several people I knew, including my first round opponent Martin, take top 8 spots. The margins here were pretty tight– if you had 14 prestige, you were in the top 8, and if you had anything else you were out. Even my round 5 opponent, with 13 prestige, didn’t make the cut. Third place went to one of the 7-2 guys. Second place went to… the other Davis! I had won the event!
After collecting my bag and mat and participating in several group photos, I hung out for a while talking to other players. There was going to be another Plugged-In event tomorrow in San Mateo, and I was considering playing there with some of the decks I chose not to use today. However, I realized that there were several people who were on a waitlist for that event and hoping someone would drop to get a slot. Ultimately, I decided that I would drop and let someone else get their shot at prizes– I already had my mat and bag, after all, and that would give me a chance to take on the challenge decks.
The challenge decks were very interesting to play against. I had a challenging time against Jinteki, with net damage sniping a few key cards, including my Levy AR Lab Access. In the end, though, my Deus X and Clone Chips, as well as strong card draw via Professional Contacts, kept me afloat, and I won the game with 5 cards left in my grip and 0 in my stack. I had used Deus X two or three times, so if not for that card I would have lost– the last agenda I scored was Fetal!
GRNDL, on the other hand, was a more boring game. I had a strong opening hand that included Professional Contacts and Plascrete, and used that to play things safe, drawing lots of cards, getting a great economy via Professional Contacts and Kati Jones, and setting up two Plascretes to protect me from Scorched Earth.
My opponent deployed a facedown card in a remote pretty early, but unlike NBN there really aren’t any Weyland agendas that I care a lot about someone scoring without advancements (False Lead can be rough, but with 2x Plascrete and Deus X I wasn’t worried), so I let it go in favor of building up my money. It proved to be an Atlas, which my opponent scored without any counters. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t able to draw any threatening agendas before I was rigged up (The Cleaners early would have made it a totally different game), and I soon rigged up and got the points I needed to win out of R&D via my Interfaces and Spinal. At one point, my opponent sacrificed Atlas to bring out an Archer and drain my economy, but I used SMC to break it cheaply with Faerie and derezzed with Crescentus, putting me strongly in the driver’s seat.
The challenge decks really interested me because of how careful I felt I needed to be against them. Is this what we’re going to see from Corps in the future? If so, I expect that Runner decks will also shift a lot. As I wasn’t playing but rather just hanging out and talking with my friends and the FFG guys, I saw several unlucky or overly bold Runners get flatlined by the challenge decks.
To conclude my report, I’d like to thank Fantasy Flight Games, the guys at Gamescape North and Gator Games, and all of my opponents. This was a great set of events and really got me reinvigorated during the “post-preview slump” we had with Opening Moves. I’m looking forward to seeing what the future has in store– it’s an exciting time to be playing Netrunner!