Woah, this article is late. Let’s pretend it’s not a report of last year’s tournament and is actually a hype piece for this year’s event, shall we? It’s been eleven crazy months since all this happened, so forgive my spotty memory and any flawed recollections. Cue the flashback:
The Run up to Worlds
I’d been to Worlds in 2015 and had a great time, but I really wasn’t sure about going back the next year. The cost, combined with abandoning my family for a week, made it pretty hard to justify, but as soon as all the UK people started talking about their plans and booking flights I was filled with all-consuming envy and was desperate to go again. My wife, in her role as long suffering but supportive partner, pointed out that I’d be miserable to live with if I didn’t go so I sold a chunk of my promo collection, booked a flight and then proceeded to get hyped for the next four months.
The BABW finals, the UK leg of the ANRPC, took place two weeks before Worlds and was an opportunity for some last minute practice and meta analysis. Alex White, notable hat wearer, former most handsome man in Netrunner and part of my testing group, had come up with a CtM list that played two Lotus Field to combat all the Reg Whizz decks that were dominating the UK meta at the time.
Alex and I both made the cut, and we agreed that if either of us won we’d split the prize money. As it happens we ended up playing in a remarkably casual and relaxed final. We left London confident that CtM and Temujin Whizz were easily the best decks going, and essentially having made a bunch of money playing a lot of very valuable testing games.
A weird thing happens when you go to Worlds. You end up in this little bubble, with random opinions, hot gossip and panicking players bouncing round in a hot house. In 2015 the UK players had all spontaneously decided that 24/7 Haarp was unbeatable, then played 70 panicked games on the plane and a bunch more in the icebreaker before we decided it actually wasn’t that good after all.
This year two of the UK players, Don Bowden and Alex, had spent a week before Worlds in New York, the city of ruses. They came back preaching the virtues of Nexus Kate, which supposedly had great matchups across the board, and Foodcoats, which was immune to all the hate that people would be packing for CtM. We started the traditional Worlds prep of playing games wherever we could find a flat surface in the Radisson, and Nexus Kate looked pretty good. Then, on the walk back to the hotel room, we saw a rabbit frolicking in the grass. Surely this was a sign from the Card Game Gods that we should all be playing Kate?
Alex and I chose to use the icebreaker as a testing opportunity to make sure that none of the other decks that we’d been considering were better than our main choices. On the Corp side we both played Foodcoats with a slightly different set of tech cards (Archived Memories and Biotic Labour in mine, Hellion Beta Test and Foxfire in his). On the runner side, Alex continued his New York born obsession with Nexus Kate and I played Dumblefork.
I had a great time in this event; both the decks that I was playing are personal favourites of mine and the event is relaxed and played in a good spirit. A personal highlight was getting to play against Hollis, which was a real buzz for me. In a bid to set the world record for the highest number of Intentional Draws in a tournament FFG had announced that the prize support would incrementally increase at certain records; I was 6-2 after four rounds so could ID the last to snag a spot-glossed Chaos Theory.
Alex and I met up for a quick debrief and decided that the decks that we were playing were stupid and we should just play what we had thought was good all along. This was backed up by constant messages from Tim Fowler back in the UK, who repeatedly warned us “Don’t do anything stupid”.
The Key Inn Greasy Pizza Session
After the ice breaker Alex, Don and I smuggled Laurie Poulter in to the Key Inn and we retreated to the breakfast room for an emergency testing, deck building and panic session. Laurie ordered pizza, I bought a 3 litre bottle of root beer and we settled down to try to work out what on earth we were doing. Tweaking our CtM deck was largely straightforward, barring a long and ultimately futile discussion about whether two Pad Campaigns and one Pop-Up Window was right, or the other way round. We laid all 49 cards out on the table, stared at them for a while, then decided that we didn’t want to change anything and piled them all back up again.
The Whizzard deck was much more interesting. We were playing one last game of Nexus Kate against CtM, just to make absolutely doubly sure that we didn’t want to play it, when Sam Suied turned up and started chatting to us. He then proceeded to show us his Whizzard deck, which was spicier than a Wetherspoon’s chicken vindaloo. He told us why Obelus was good (a card we were embarrassingly late on), and also explained why Progenitor helped the deck operate a bit more smoothly. At that point the pizza arrived, and turned out to be both the greasiest food ever produced by mankind and bizarrely cut in to tiny squares.
While we ate pizza we did some theory crafting and decided Sam was probably right, so we switched the Grimoires in our deck for Obelus, moved some cards round to fit in a Progenitor and tweaked the draw and economy a little bit. By that point the pizza was sitting uneasily in our stomach and it was getting late, so we decided not to bother testing the new deck and instead called it a night. In the lift down to breakfast the next morning Alex told me he’d decided to drop the third Inject for an Earthrise Hotel to ease the burden on the recursion in the deck a little bit, so I blindly agreed with him and made the same change.
I’m always irrationally nervous before the a tournament kick-off, and within 5 minutes of the first round starting I was 5-0 down as Corp having bled a whole bunch of agendas from R&D and with a Project Beale sitting, innocent and unprotected, on the table. At that point I was already trying to adjust my mind-set for a long slog back up through the Swiss. But then the power of CtM started to kick in, and after an Exchange of Information for a Global Food and a Psychographics on the same face down Beale to close out the game I felt a lot better about life.
What followed were some of the more surreal and unusual games of Netrunner that I’ve ever played. In my round 2 runner game against Magnus’s CtM I felt completely in control until I was unexpectedly hit by a Midseaon Replacement, then took a random HQ access to gain a Datasucker token and was surprised to access the Boom! that would have flatlined me on the next turn. In round 3 I survived Gejben’s eleven card Medium dig (most of the agendas were in HQ and archives) before flat-lining him with a Cobra, and in round 4 I played a weird game against Austen where I accessed agendas like a maniac and he had no luck at all.
That left me at 8-0 and I was sure that 13-5 with a good strength of schedule would make it in to the cut, so I took ID’s against Travis Yeo and Dave Culemann in rounds 5 and 6 to leave myself on 10-2 and in fourth place at the end of the day.
The second day was a really strange mental experience. My hope was that I wouldn’t actually have to play and could ID safely in to the cut, but that plan was quickly dashed when Brian Cronin said that he wanted to play the first round of the day and then swept me in two close and really enjoyable games. Although that felt pretty bad, the experience of playing against the West Coast decks definitely paid dividends later on.
Now feeling slightly desperate and with visions of missing the cut from a great position bouncing round my head, I checked my next opponent; Aaron Aandries. Great. I played first against his Sync, and we had a perfectly tense, see-sawing game that put us both through the wringer and ended with Aaron sneaking out an agenda in a tiny scoring window. Aaron gently asked if I thought I could still make the cut, and I said that I thought 13-5 and a good strength of schedule would be okay so I was going to play the next game. That one went perfectly for me with CtM having too much tempo for his Congress Kate, so I went in to the last round wishing Aaron all the best and needing a sweep to make the cut.
I sat down in the lifeboat in round 9 and waited for my opponent. He (whose name I have shamefully forgotten) said, without preamble “If I lose the first game I’m going to concede the second one”. I had already mentally decided that I would do the same, but didn’t want to risk the wrath of tournament judges so just nodded my head. We rolled for sides and I was happy to play Corp first, and in a repeat of the last round I just had too much tempo for his Congress Kate. We played the second game anyway, and I quickly pegged that his NEH was Minority Report, the deranged concoction of a Scottish lunatic. I had practiced that matchup enough to know the generally safe lines to take and I was able to win without too much trouble.
That left me on the 13-5 that I’d been shooting for all along, and I thought my strength of schedule should be plenty good enough. The worm of doubt and worry wouldn’t be quiet though, so I commenced a period of nervous pacing while asking everyone else how their last round had gone. A quick poll of the UK players showed that Dave Culemann (yes, he’s a UK player. Deal with it) and Ben Ni were definitely in, Dave Saiya looked safe, and Alex White, Dave Hoyland and Aaron (who I’d granted Honorary Brit status) had all ended up on 13-5 and were firmly in Bubble Town. I was as anxious for them as I was for myself, and when the results went up I was delighted to see that they’d all made it, and I finally felt like I could celebrate. I had ended up 10th after one of the most mentally exhausting and stressful mornings of my life.
As soon as I made the cut all the stress and worry melted away. My general attitude to tournaments is that you should always aim to make the cut and judge your success or failure on that basis, but once you’re there you should trust your luck, have fun and see what happens. Cuts are a swingy affair, with pairings, matchups and luck playing as much of a role as player skill, so I sat down without feeling any particular pressure.
Vs Wilfy Horig’s Sync
My game against Hollis in the Icebreaker was helpful here, as I knew that they were probably on identical lists, and so was pre-warned that this would be an adaption of Jesse Marshall’s fast advance/meat damage hybrid deck from Australian Nationals.
I got off to a better start than Wilfy, then saw a pair of Lotus Fields off the top of R&D that I knew would lock me out for a while. Wilfy felt that he was under enough pressure that they both went on centrals, and the tempo of the game got away from him when he was forced to rez them both and then hard score a QPM protected by a Data Raven that I hadn’t bitten on. He tried to 24/7 combo kill me, but a clutch Street Peddler had stashed a Plascrete Carapace. All that bought me enough time to find the copy of Net Ready Eyes lurking half way down my stack, and I won shortly after from the suddenly vulnerable centrals.
Vs Brian Cronin’s CtM
I had a quick catch-up with the UK posse to check their results, things had genuinely gone well. Dave Hoyland told me, in a serous tone, “Chris, don’t fuck up”. Good advice, I thought.
We’d both won as runner in the first round, so sides were randomly assigned and I got to run again. That was fine by me, as I felt I had a much better matchup against his CtM than the all-conquering Hate Bear. If you could write a script for the perfect Reg Whizz vs CtM game then it would be fairly close to how this went. I drew hate and money cards early, nullified Brian’s early board, prevented any big swing plays and then transitioned in to late game R&D pressure to win. Sometimes everything just goes your way.
Vs Ben Ni’s DLR MaXx
Dave caught my eye again before this matchup. “Don’t fuck up” he said, with another steely eyed gaze.
Another good matchup for me, because I’d much rather be paired against Ben’s DLR than his Sync deck. I knew this matchup pretty well, probably better than Ben did, so had a definite plan about how to approach it.
I tested Ben’s desire to check remotes early, and when he didn’t want to bite on most of them I made sure that there were plenty of Jacksons and a Sensie installed that I left unrezzed, and also hid a few agendas amongst the remotes as well. I scored some cheap points while Ben set up, and he let his tags build up through Joshua B, the odd Siphon and trashing the handful of high value assets that I rezzed. Before long he was milling me pretty severely, and I faked that he had me locked and that I didn’t have an answer while he reduced my R&D down to only a few cards. At that point I used Jackson to shuffle Psychographics back in, rezzed the Sensie to make sure I found it and scored the Beale that I’d left on the table to finish the game.
Vs Weston Odom’s CtM
I spoke to Dave again before this matchup. “Don’t fuck this up” he told me.
Sides were randomly assigned again, and for the second time I got my favoured matchup and dodged a mauling by Hate Bear. Fatigue was setting in by this point and we both played a slightly sloppy game here, making some game state errors and missing some triggers. I committed the cardinal sin of not trashing a Sensie first turn, but then correctly guessed that the upgrade that Wes installed to defend it was a Product Placement rather than the Mumbad Virtual Tour that would have ruined me when I went to get rid of it on turn 2. Wes got a kind of funny draw and ended up having to roll a Global Food Initiative behind a Tollbooth, where a Breaking News or Astroscript could have wrecked me. I let that one go but had an answer ready to go when he tried to push the next agenda.
Wes tried to shore up his board state again, but while that was going on I’d put down a Medium and had a Parasite ticking down on the Data Raven that was protecting R&D. I ran R&D, took two tags from encountering and trashing Data Raven, then went all in when Wes rezzed a second Raven as the other piece of R&D ice. I pulled the second Medium off a Peddler and ran four times for a boat load of tags but a whole lot of accesses, and luckily there proved to be enough agendas in the top 15 or so cards to close the game out.
That put me in the winner’s final, though the feeling really hadn’t sunk in at that stage. The judge told me to piss off for the next two and a half hours, so I went to Subway, had a tuna melt, and chatted with Alex about what matchups were left and how to approach them. The sub was mediocre but the company was pretty good.
I came back in time to see Ben close out the loser’s final against Wes, which meant that a UK player would definitely be the World Champion. Before I went to take my seat in the streaming area I got some last minute sage advice from Dave Hoyland.
“Chris, don’t fuck this up.”
Vs Ben Ni’s DLR MaXx
Ben is a canny type and I knew that he’d have learned a lot from our previous game. He opened with economy and played a Scrubber, and after being burned last time I was sure he’d be much more meticulous in keeping my remotes under control. I threw a San San and an MVT down to wipe out his early credits, then fed him a Global Food when he checked a fresh remote. When he tried to hit me with the first Siphon I stuffed it with a Resistor, and at that point felt in control of the game.
Then everything just slipped away from me. I really wanted to find an agenda to score while I had a window, but some desperate drawing with Jackson didn’t find one. I had the Exchange of Information in hand, but couldn’t find a Breaking News to swap for the Food that Ben had inadvertently stolen earlier. Because I couldn’t score out I decided to try and dismantle Ben’s board to buy myself some time, which may well have been a mistake as I didn’t have the sustainable economy to support that approach. Ben scrupulously kept himself low enough on tags to stop me scoring a big Beale to win, and every time I trashed something a replacement was quick to hit the board. Before long I was on my final turn, and a quick examination showed that I was two clicks short of being able to score out. I shook Ben’s hand and we were on to game 2.
Vs Ben Ni’s Sync
So, we were on to the match-up that I really didn’t want to have to play. I thought Ben was strong favourite for this game but I knew his list and how I wanted to play it; keep my credit total up, play safe, keep pounding HQ where the agendas would inevitably build up, save Parasites to get rid of Data Raven, and resist the temptation to take tags for cheap accesses. My opening hand had a Medium in it and not much else, but I stopped myself from going gung-ho and built up my board instead.
Ben had a decent start and sealed up R&D with a Data Raven, but didn’t see his 2/1 agendas particularly early which gave me plenty of time. I built up my money and got breakers down and just kept pounding HQ, taking accesses every turn and getting up to three points. I’d also drawn my Plascrete, so when Ben finally found and scored a second Breaking News I was able to take the immediate kill of the table. Ben played the combo anyway to get rid of my kill protection, and I’d already burnt my Déjà vu on a single Parasite so we both knew it wasn’t coming back. I cleared the tags and took some more HQ accesses while Ben reassembled his combo, which got me up to five points but with a game position that was gradually getting away from me as more and more ice hit the table.
Ben then found and scored another agenda, which meant 24/7 was back online and I probably only had one or two more turns before I was flatlined. I was certain that HQ was empty of agendas, so I ran Archives hoping to prompt a Data Raven rez which would put Ben out of Boom! Range next turn, knowing that Ben is fond of stashing QPMs in there during the late game. That read was wrong though, as he didn’t rez and archives was clean, so I’d wasted one of the few clicks I had left. I did some maths and clicked for a credit, then ran R&D third click knowing that I was going to take a tag from Data Raven. There were two agendas left that I could steal to win, one of which was an NAPD Contract, so I let the Data Raven sub fire rather than breaking it to leave myself with exactly four credits. That meant I could either clear the tag fourth click, stopping an easy kill, or run again for fresh Medium accesses depending on what I saw.
Ben flipped the top card, and I started blankly at the revealed NAPD Contract for a few seconds while my brain caught up with the significance. I checked my credit total one last time, announced “pay four credits”, and took the winning agenda.
Some closing thoughts, some of which are slightly cheesy
Emotions are a funny thing. At the time, playing those games, I felt like I was pretty relaxed and together, but others have said that I was a bundle of nerves and they’re probably right. When the games were done I mostly just felt a rush of relief that it was finally all over and I could go get a beer; the significance of winning didn’t really sink in until much later. Ben, being the all round stand up guy that he is, dealt with the denouement much better than I did and came round the table for a hug; he seemed almost as relieved and happy as I was. Playing Ben in the finals, knowing that even if I lost someone that I know, like and respect would win, made the whole experience infinitely easier and more relaxed than it could have been, and I’m ultimately glad that we managed to produce what I think were two close, exciting and interesting games.
On that note, credit should go to everyone that I played. I didn’t have a single bad experience all weekend and all the games were played in an excellent spirit, even when they were for a place in the cut, a seat in the finals or The Greatest Prize in Gaming TM (that isn’t $10,000). It gets bandied around a lot, but it really is the players that make this game what it is. Pat yourself on the back.
You don’t win a tournament like this without a lot of luck, however good you are. I think I had the right decks for the tournament, though Hate Bear was definitively better than my runner deck. I played pretty well, avoiding any major misplays and giving myself every chance to win games, but everything went my way during the cut. I got the better end of the matchups in every single round. I didn’t draw a dud hand, my accesses were good and a couple of Street Peddlers came up with exactly the right card at exactly the right time. Always remember that luck plays a huge part in card games, so don’t beat yourself up or rail at the injustice if it doesn’t go your way, and equally don’t congratulate yourself unnecessarily when it’s on your side.
Thanks also to everyone I’ve spoken to, messaged and otherwise interacted with since Worlds. You’ve all been very kind, and I’m looking forward to seeing many of you again in November.
Finally, thanks to Alex White for being my anti-hype man, keeping me sane and for 50% of the work in building, testing and finalising the decks. His success at the tournament made me almost, but not quite, as happy as my own.
And on the off-chance that she ever reads this, an enormous and unpayable debt of gratitude to my wife, who supports me spending all my time and money gallivanting round the world playing card games while she looks after the children, and who stayed up until half three in the morning watching a card game that she doesn’t know how to play in case the positive vibes were somehow of help.
Hearty Handshakes To…
All of the UK players who travelled to Worlds in 2016. I couldn’t think of a nicer bunch of weirdos to hang out with for a week on an industrial estate in Minnesota.
Tim Fowler, Laurie Poulter and Alex White, the egregiously self-named $6 Dudes, for testing, theorycrafting and countless hours of chat that sometimes strayed in to Netrunner. There wouldn’t be a finer bunch of players in the UK, were it not for…
Dave Hoyland, the standard bearer for Netrunner in the UK who is directly responsible for so many people travelling to Worlds and the overall standard of play in this country. He’s still the best player in the UK, and is also responsible for a 10% upswing in beanie sales since 2014.
The Key Inn Krew, for providing friendship waffles, calming advice, Faustian pacts and last minute copies of Progenitor.
Spags, responsible once again for the very best part of the Worlds weekend in King of Servers. The man is a national treasure.
A Disapprovingly Cocked Eyebrow to…
Zach Eaton-Rosen and Tim Fowler, who both decided that personal and professional growth was more important than playing a card game. Sort your priorities out; it’s not the same without you.
The frolicking rabbit, for trying to fool us in to playing Nexus Kate. I hope you contracted myxomatosis.
17.2 million Brexit voters Thanks for crashing the exchange rate bozos.
Smurfs, Barcodes and Ruses wouldn’t it be nice if we could all just be honest with each other?
Dogs and people who think that they’re better than cats.