Tempo in Netrunner: every click matters (Part 1)

Hey runners! I’ve recently become extremely interested in defining tempo within Netrunner after playing with Jinteki Biotech, Leela and Prepaid Kate. Economy is relatively easy to quantify, and while tempo is much harder it’s equally important. Today I’m going to put down some thoughts on building and maintaining tempo, and in a couple of days I’ll post Part 2 about hurting the tempo of your opponent.

At high levels, much of Netrunner is an economy war. There’s a reason Kate, Engineering the Future and Blue Sun stick out as some of the most powerful IDs in the game – credits can’t be argued with. However, equally important is the concept of maintaining tempo. I think of tempo as the rate at which you move towards your preferred game state, while preventing your opponent from doing the same. Since economic development is so crucial to Netrunner, tempo is very closely tied to how you build your economy.

Identities

If Kate and HB: ETF can be thought of as pure economic identities, what do we consider to be tempo based identities? Out of the current top-performing identities, I would rate Near-Earth Hub and Replicating Perfection as the dominant Corp tempo identities. On the runner side, think about Andromeda, Leela and MaxX. There’s some overlap with economy here, of course. Andromeda was dominant for so long because of her ability to set up an economy on turn one and still have a full hand to assault with on turn two. MaxX and Near-Earth Hub both cause you to draw into economy and your good cards sooner. Hayley, while new and not yet proven, is a fantastic tempo ID as it effectively gives you an extra click each time her ability fires. The Greenhouse gives you a huge amount of value for your 3 click investment.

Leela and Replicating Perfection are more about trying to manipulate the tempo of your opponent. For example, Replicating Perfection causes a tempo shift by employing extremely powerful assets that force the runner to waste large amounts of time and resources on or the Corp will gain an unassailable economic lead.

Economy and Tempo

The key to maintaining tempo, in my opinion, is making sure that your economy continues to develop while you further your board state and move towards winning. To this end, your primary economy when building a deck is arguably your strongest decision. Andromeda decks have always been very successful at this by using run based economy to maintain pressure on the Corp while never dropping behind. Because their runs are so efficient, they can develop a long term economy with Kati Jones without sacrificing tempo. Stealth and Supplier Andromeda have a similar kind of economy to this in practice – ongoing drip economy that is either click-free or tied to running.

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Make money while doing something you should be anyway – tempo.

On the Corp side this strategy is mirrored in Replicating Perfection, Near Earth Hub and HB decks. They maintain tempo by employing high-value drip economy assets that allow them to continuously gain money while developing their board. They also force the runner to sacrifice tempo to deal with these assets before getting completely shut out of the economy war. This continuous development of board state is why cards like Magnum Opus and Professional Contacts, despite providing huge and reliable economy, have largely fallen out of favour. It takes 5 clicks just to break even on ProCo and 3 on Opus, time spent while doing nothing else. Compare this to Desperado – while it takes 3 clicks to break even here as well, you’ve also made 3 successful runs and probably gotten 3 accesses out of it. Crucially, installing one of these expensive cards often gives the Corp a huge scoring window while you recover. NEH in particular will often mercilessly punish this kind of investment by quickly beginning to score out.

It’s also worth breaking down how often you actually use these cards. Compare ProCo to its baby brother, Symmetrical Visage. Obviously ProCo can provide you 4 credits of value in a turn – but would you actually use it that much? I’ve been tracking my usage on Symmetrical Visage in my Prepaid Kate deck, and I’ve only had one game where I would have gotten greater value out of ProCo. Every other game, I’ve had one or two draws without gaining the Visage credit – with the lower install cost of Visage, it provided greater value without the huge tempo hit of installing Professional Contacts. Note that I’m not saying either is necessarily better, as having one of these incentivises a certain playstyle. It’s just a question worth thinking about.

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Deceptively similar

Extra bonus question: why is Career Fair better than Modded? While both provide you with a slight credit and tempo saving, Career Fair is better because it’s almost always going to be used on resources that grant you economy or card draw – things that will smooth out your tempo and provide larger gains.

Agendas and Tempo

This obviously only applies on the Corp side, but it’s worth pointing out. Jinteki and NBN are so strong because their best agendas are such an incredibly huge tempo swing in your favour and DRASTICALLY increase your chances of winning. Scoring an Astroscript or Nisei makes it an order of magnitude easier to achieve your goals. It’s also the reason I consider them to be stronger factions than HB or Weyland – these factions have agendas that don’t do anywhere near as much to advance your plan. Accelerated Beta Test is a high-variance exception that can either give you a huge tempo boost or give the same to the Runner.

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Tempo gain, tempo denial, and a variance-heavy tempo EXPLOSION

Pushing the tempo and maximising value: why Prepaid Kate is so good

Prepaid Kate (examples here and here) is probably the strongest runner deck in the metagame right now. These decks tend to be very similar, based around a skeleton of extreme burst economy, high impact run events, heavy draw and tutoring. The main differences between successful decks tend to be decoder choice, the presence of Clot versus Femme and use of Symmetrical Visage, Professional Contacts or neither. Prepaid Kate, when played well, maintains economy by maximising Prepaid credits, the Kate install discount and Symmetrical Visage if used – you want to use all your “free” credits every turn to add up to massive savings. It maintains tempo in two ways. Firstly, every card in the deck is cheap to install, with the most expensive typically being either Lady or a big Atman (which you will generally cheat out with Stimhack). This means that you never suffer a tempo hit from installing your cards, as most are either free or cost 1 credit.

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Cheap hardware and programs mean you get to keep setting the pace

Because the “free” credits are being turned into REAL credits through your 9 economy events, you also avoid the typical trap of drip economy where it takes you a long time to recoup your initial investment. Data Folding is one of the worst offenders – 4 turns to make a profit and you have to actively hold back your board state (seriously everyone, stop trying to jam Data Folding into every single ID). You’ll typically make your money back on a Voicepad install the same turn you put it down. Finally, probably the greatest benefit of Prepaid Kate is that your economy, and by extension your tempo, is so unpredictable from the Corp side. It’s extremely common to burst up by 9 credits, throw down a Self-Modifying Code and suddenly be able to threaten a server that seemed untouchable a moment ago. It’s why Stimhack wins games – it’s not just money, it’s the speed at which it comes.

So it’s about going fast?

No. In game, the simplest way I’ve found to think about this is that your deck has a plan to win, and every click matters in getting there. Clicking for credits can be perfectly fine if it’s going towards a plan for next turn. Glacier decks will often employ this strategy because their economy assets are generating money anyway and sometimes you need to wait for the necessary pieces of your scoring remote. Other than that, you should be planning ahead during your opponent’s turn. How are you going to make money? How are you going to develop your board? If your opponent plays a serious threat – a Medium or Imp, or an install-advance-advance, what’s your plan to respond to that WHILE pushing ahead with the plan? Think about the difference between simply trashing a PAD Campaign, and playing a Dirty Laundry run with Desperado out to do it.

If your deck is geared towards playing slowly and restricting the opponent’s tempo, there’s nothing wrong with taking slower options. An IT Department deck, for example, will often take turns consisting of nothing but building up the Department. Despite being slow, it’s still building up a massive tempo advantage.

Good luck and keep the pressure on! Part 2 will be up soon, focusing more on ways to disrupt your opponent’s tempo.

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