Playing to win, not to not lose

Ask any Netrunner player why they love it so much and at the top of most lists will be the sheer amount of player agency and decision making. Unlike many card games, there is very rarely an obviously correct line of play to make in any given situation and you are rewarded for planning several turns ahead and making accurate predictions about your opponent’s deck and lines of play. You get to make meaningful decisions from the very first turn.

Cool music for cool people.

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A pretty damn sweet opening hand – and yet, plenty of decisions to make.

A while ago we talked about tempo and the importance of planning ahead. The main point was being aware of your game plan and path to victory and figuring out how to push ahead with it while dealing with whatever your opponent throws at you.

The thing about Netrunner, though, is that it’s hard. Things are going to go wrong! You’re going to draw into a hand of four agendas, face a devastating board state that blanks all your ice, or be tagged into oblivion and just waiting for the hammer to fall. At times like this it’s important to realise when you need to throw caution to the wind and just go for the throat. You need to play to WIN, not play to avoid losing. Remember that the only thing that really matters is getting to seven points or burning down your opponent. It doesn’t matter if your opponent has six points and you have 1 card left in R&D at the end – you still win. It doesn’t matter if you have 0 credits or 20 left after the game’s over – you have to win!

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Noise is the worst. Doesn’t matter, got points.

So let’s look at an example. You’re playing NEH and mulligan into a hand of Astro, Astro, Beale, Beale, Breaking News. Your mandatory draw is a Sweeps Week. What do you do? The safe play is probably to draw, digging for ice. The thing is, that if you DON’T draw ice you are 100% guaranteed to lose unless your opponent has a hallucination and leaves mid game to find their spirit animal. HOWEVER, if you install Astroscript naked turn 1, you have a chance (low, yes) that your opponent won’t check it. If so, you’re away. You make a high-risk play with a massive reward if it pays off, whereas the “safe” play will lead to you losing within a few turns. This exact thing happened to me at a tournament and I managed to squeak out the win by playing crazy aggressively.

The Runner equivalent is less about risk/reward and more knowing when to develop your board state and how to apply pressure. NEH, for example, can force you to make suboptimal plays by scoring an early Astroscript. It’s easy to panic and begin running very aggressively without actually having a long term plan. You start playing to “not lose”, making dumb plays like running R&D through a Pop-Up Window every turn for single accesses. You bleed money, score a few points if you’re lucky and lose sight of the overall game plan. Much like the above example, you need to take a deep breath and think ahead.

Cool, you got 2 points. Shame your board sucks and you'll lose in three turns.
Cool, you got 2 points. Shame your board sucks and you’ll lose in three turns.

Playing to win instead of not to lose looks different on both sides, but the underlying idea is the same. When you have a choice between a seemingly “desperate” or “safe” play, it’s worth trying to extrapolate each line of play a few turns into the future based on the information you currently have. Typically this requires you to know your deck inside and out and have a lot of experience playing it first.

Next time you’re playing, try and identify the turning points in a game from both sides afterwards. It might be something as simple as trashing a Same Old Thing, or Parasiting a Pop-Up Window. See what alternate lines of play you could have taken from the information you had – were you playing to win, or playing safe?

SIDE NOTE: PLAYING TO WIN IS OK

There’s a bit of a trend in some communities to rip on people for netdecking, or playing the ‘best’ decks. You know what? Netrunner is an amazing game, and you should play it how you want! Do what you enjoy. I’m really competitive and I want my games to go as smoothly as possible – not worrying about my deck doing weird stuff because it’s not consistent. So I got over my hipster side and started playing decks built by better people that run more consistently (with the exception of the greatest deck ever) because I usually have more fun that way! Lots of people think damage decks are the most fun, lots of people think crazy combo decks are the most fun. If it feels good, do it!

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DON’T LET YOUR SAGES BE DREAMS

More cool music for cool people. Happy running!

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