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Defining tempo

People talk a great deal about tempo. They tend to talk about it in two different ways. I think there is not a right and wrong way to think about tempo, but it is useful to define these things and identify how the term is being used.

Let’s define tempo:
-The efficiency with which you use your available resources. The idea with this definition is that you should be making the most efficient use of your clicks possible at any given point in the game. If you spend clicks efficiently to gain in the long term, that gives you tempo unless you needed to gain in the short term. And vice versa, if you efficiently gain in the short term, that gives you tempo unless you could achieve greater gains in the long term.
-When you make a move and that requires the opponent to react. The main idea with this one is defining who is in the driver’s seat. If you force a move on your opponent, their click efficiency is subordinated to how they react to your provocation. The player who is calling the shots can dictate the pace of the game and can force errors on their opponent.

Now both definitions come from games where both players are playing with the same pieces, so I don’t think either is better or worse for Netrunner. It’s a totally different beast. I think both are valuable terms to throw around.

So, I think we should distinguish between these two definitions. Let’s call them different things, like effective tempo and pace tempo, or something way better that someone else can think of.


For your first meaning I think if you just call it “click efficiency” everyone will know what you mean, and for your second meaning if you call it making a “threat” you’ll also be understood.

The least confusing way to talk about tempo is literally defining it as gaining or losing time in the context of a goal.

For example, if you’re trying to rig up as Hayley, her ID power gains a tempo when you install a breaker that you would normally have installed later for a click. But if Rototurret trashes your Corroder, then you’ve lost a tempo as now you need to spend a future click to re-install it.

The Greenhouse ID power gains a tempo when you flip and advance something using 3 clicks that normally requires 4 clicks. If you’re able to flip score a Nisei on Turn 2, that’s a gain of tempo compared to install-advancing and then advancing 3 more times.

With NEH, when you install a SanSan City Grid you both gain a tempo (drawing a card that you would have spent a click to draw) and create a threat on the board.

Blue Sun is unusual in that the ID ability actually loses a tempo. This would be a very weak ability if it wasn’t compensated by interactions like Oversight and Adonis, plus the ability to create positional advantages with your ICE.


I understand the idea of calling it click efficiency and threat. That said, people still use the word tempo and they use it in different ways, so I think defining against the word tempo is valuable.

You have provided a number of great examples of the chess definition. This would be the first of my definitions. I was more vague because I wanted to account for the asymmetry. You defined it much better than I did though.

The other definition I learned from shogi, but I think it comes from go, and it’s the threat move. If I do something that you have to react to, I’m playing your turn for you. I can plan ahead and contain you within that plan. This is the other definition of tempo. That’s why I bring this up. There are two definitions, and I think it will help everyone to use them discretely.

I always viewed tempo in the same way Kiv describes. If im spending time doing something other than what i had planned, im losing tempo. If i have to clear tags for example, or build up my econ again because i just spent it all on installing a bunch of things. If im rich enough to run a lot, or rich enough to install loads of ICE and rez it, im gaining tempo. If iv slapped down a card and advanced twice, im gaining tempo.

This is probably an oversimplification but its how i get my head around it.

I’m not convinced the concept of a forced move is valid to bring over from a perfect information, deterministic game into a hidden information, randomized game like Netrunner.

In Chess/Go you can often have long forced sequences where the opponent can only either play correctly or lose.

If you IAA as Corp in a remote on match point, you don’t actually force “the Runner must take Kati money, run, spend X credits, then it’s my turn again and I can do Y”. In fact you don’t even know what moves the Runner has available to respond with.

They could Maker’s Eye the deck and randomly succeed even though it was the wrong play. Or they can Stimhack in and ruin your math. I had a guy play triple Tinkering on my remote one time and then go in.

You can certainly influence what the opponent is likely to do, but rarely in a way that allows you to exactly plan a winning line several turns into the future as you would in Chess/Go.

There’s so much hidden information in Netrunner that players don’t necessarily even agree on what a threat is. Suppose Runner can Medium dig hard, and they think Corp is forced to defend R&D and/or purge. But Corp may actually know that the remaining agendas are mostly in HQ and Archives and is free to advance their own plan. The Runner thinks they’re in the driver’s seat but due to hidden information, the Corp is.


I don’t disagree with you. I also think that the efficiency definition doesn’t translate perfectly either. That said, people do use the term. I don’t think you can say that click efficiency tempo is a better definition than controlling the pace tempo. They are separate concepts. All I am saying is that as a community we should identify that they are separate.

When people talk about tempo now, it is very vague. I have listened to a half dozen podcasts define it at least a bit differently. It is in our best interest to be on the same page to facilitate discussion. Often, when I hear someone say ‘it’s a tempo hit’, I am left to context to understand what they mean. It is as if they said nothing. I am confident that we can improve the discourse. Let’s just make sure we’re specific; that’s what my point is here.

I think tempo in Netrunner is a lot harder to define then in some other games. In Hearthstone for example, having tempo is basically the ability to go for the face rather then making trades, since the opponent is forced to make those trades for you or is required to make the more card inefficient “fast” play rather then the slower “value” play. But Netrunner isn’t a damage race so the concept there kind of fails to translate.

To me, gaining or losing tempo in Netrunner has a lot to do with forcing the other side to spend money disproportionate to what you’ve spent. Getting the corp to rez a Tollboth when you only have 2 credits is a good example, or forcing the runner to trash an unrezzed San San. It’s more about temporarily limiting their options and taking advantage of those opportunities to make high impact plays. The quintessential tempo play for the runner in my book is forcing the the corp to spend most of their money rezzing a biggish ETR ice on R&D as you apply strong pressure there with RDI. Once they are poor you hit their hand with legwork and follow that up with a Shutdown on the big ICE and run back to R&D. Huge impact, costly to them, cheap for you.

Tempo decks in Netrunner are about keeping your opponent poor, forcing them to spend turns recovering rather then executing their game plan. The effort tends to keep you poor as well, but your deck is made to operate close to zero and punish the opponent while they are recovering and hopefully land a few kicks while they are down to keep them down.

So I’d say tempo in Netrunner is maintaining your ability to execute your own game plan while simultaneously frustrating your opponents ability to execute theirs.


The way I see tempo, it’s about the ability for the runner to maintain pressure on the corp. This usually has to do with the runner’s credit pool specifically. If the corp has some turns where they don’t really have to worry about the runner because it’s obvious they either need to click for credits or cards to do anything useful, that gives the corp the ability to maintain flexibility by delaying installs, setting up drip economy, or scoring agendas. If the runner can threaten meaningful accesses on many servers while also utilizing an economy engine or denying the corp money, they are winning the tempo game.

Because tempo is so much about doing meaningful things with your clicks, the way you gain ground in a tempo game as the corp is by setting up drip economy and advancing your scoring threat. Cards like Sundew, Adonis Campaign, SanSan City Grid, and Ash are great tempo plays because they force action from the runner, burning their time and money, or force them to let you gain a credit advantage that hinders their ability to gain tempo on you in the future. Bioticing out a Vitruvius is a tempo hit, whereas SanSanning out an Astro is a huge tempo gain, essentially buying you 2 free Biotic Labors, one of which the runner has to pay $5 to negate. Tempo plays as the runner usually involve negating/trashing the corp’s tempo plays while simultaneously using econ and draw engines rather than clicking for cards/credits. Part of the reason Medium is so strong against AstroBiotics is that it’s usually a greater threat than Fast Advance is, and thus it partially negates the Astrotrain tempo by turning the focus of the game to an R&D race where the runner can have the advantage despite the corp being able to Fast Advance almost any agenda they come across.

Other ways to gain tempo as the runner usually involve over-threatening centrals, either by Vamp or Siphon or multi-access, forcing overprotection from the corp, or simply by letting the corp score agendas, which usually means the corp spends a turn or two advancing rather than furthering their econ goals. The reason why Astroscript and Nisei are such strong agendas is that scoring them actually advances tempo advantage rather than taking a tempo hit because their agenda counters are generally worth more than the cost of advancing them.


Over advanced atlas, tempo advantage?

Corporate war seems like it would provide strong tempo, which I guess is why we’re seeing it out of BS so much now, 7 credits and pushing the game state is strong tempo.

What about pure tempo cards like breaker bay grid, blacklist, and other 0(even 1) to 2+ trash cost cards, things like Rex campaign. Those are pretty much raw tempo, no?

I wouldn’t call Blacklist a pure tempo card. It more-so falls into the department of denial. It can both be used to deny a certain play and to delay it. Favourite is of course to rez a piece of Ice and Blacklist at the same time, preventing Clone Chip recursion.

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What it’s purpose is denial, but the end result is the runner expends resources to trash it, and it cost you 0 to rez. Its like a by-product. If it sticks though, yea, its kinda denial I guess.

Honestly I think trying to make people agree on a specific meaning for “tempo” is like herding cats.

If you take a restricted, limited meaning then you can speak mathematically about what plays gain or lose tempo. So an Astroscript token is worth one tempo towards scoring out, that sort of thing.

On the other hand many people mean something extremely broad by tempo, where basically if a play increases the probability of you reaching a winning position before your opponent does, then they’ll call that a gain of tempo. Under this system you can describe nearly every turn qualitatively in terms of tempo.

Other people simply mean that spending 4 credits on an Earthrise is a tempo hit because they had to spend credits doing something that isn’t scoring agendas. Losing tempo is playing passively for later gain and gaining tempo is playing aggressively or gaining now.

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I feel like Earthrise is only a tempo hit if the corp actually gains some productive line of play because you spent the money. That’s why I feel the runner’s credit pool is the ultimate indicator of tempo advantage. Tempo is the sort of thing that tends to snowball, very much like it can in Chess. You might not have actual forcing lines of play, but the greater your tempo advantage is, the more you can leverage your flexibility and excess cash to gain further tempo with econ cards, spend time scoring or getting random accesses, and force your opponent to defend against your threats on your terms.

Snowballing tempo is why Andy has been such a successful runner despite not having as powerful of an economic ability as Kate or Maxx or even Gabe in some cases. When you come out of the gates setting up a strong economy engine with money to spare and the immediate threat of Siphon, it can be very difficult for a Corp to ever overcome that advantage so that they can further their own game plan. Whereas another runner might have been stuck trashing economy Assets without an engine in play or digging for breakers to even threaten Siphon or remote access, Andys initial tempo advantage is often the difference between a corp being allowed to run a full Adonis Campaign or protect a Sundew and having those things trashed at little tempo cost to Andy as she collects $3 of Security Testing every turn.


For me, tempo is about whether you can score agendas and advance your econ/reactivity at the same time. When you don’t have the tempo advantage, you have to choose which one is more important and sacrifice the other according to the situation. As corp this is often pretty direct, as scoring tends to leave you too broke to defend your centrals for a turn, no matter what archetype you’re playing. As runner it’s more fuzzy, as what reactivity means changes across matchups - it could mean locking the remote server, or threatening legwork if the corp doesn’t spend time on HQ management, or threatening a siphon/vamp lock if the corp doesn’t spend time to defend their econ, etc.

I don’t consider cards to be inherently tempo positive or tempo negative, but many have specific tempo-related tactics associated with them. For example, scoring NAPD contract can often be tempo-neutral instead of tempo-negative, because you can slow-advance it across 3-4 turns while keeping shields up on centrals at the same time. In other situations, when you can force the runner to come into your remote to take NAPD, it’s a tempo-positive play because it breaks the runner’s ability to keep threatening centrals and respond to your next play at the same time.

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There’s a few examples of cards that are always tempo-positive. The most notable is Stimhack, which is probably the strongest tempo card in the game, as it not only net you a whole lot of money for functionally no clicks, but allows you to go broke or close to it setting up other econ or making runs without letting up your remote threat.


God do I love faking scoring windows out of shaper with stimhack. Spend to 0 running RnD, then bang out stimhack into the remote.

The effect of perceived tempo is also very important.

I appreciate the discussion of tempo. I think discussing it is useful. I also think that we should be talking about two different types of tempo, which is why I raised the topic.

Tempo is extremely useful. Netrunner is basically about credit count and tempo. That said, tempo can be defined these two different ways; as efficiency and dictating the pace. So I am going to be adamant about this. We shouldn’t define tempo as anything any one of us thinks it should be defined. We should define two separate tempos. Even if we’re all on the same page here, the community at large is using this word in different ways. It’s a word (or words) that we ought to lock down so that we can better discuss things.

I don’t want to discuss examples of tempo, I want to define it. Specifically, I want to define it twice. Please, let’s talk about the definition. Use examples to illustrate a definition, but please define first. If you think that I shouldn’t be separating the definitions, bring that up. It’s not about tempo in this topic, it’s about my objections to the varying definitions. Let’s talk about that.

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Hm. Tempo is a tough one.

I’d normally think of the concept as gaining an advantage that snowballs into a larger advantage. Andromeda doesn’t just get a huge starting hand, she gets a lot of a money and Datasuckers down early. That means she can trash assets earlier, or force rezzes on R&D/HQ earlier, which gives her more time to find breakers…

HB:ETF gets a credit on a install. That gives it more tempo: it can defend assets that other decks couldn’t, which lets it rez more ice earlier, which lets it defend more assets or agendas, which lets it accelerate to victory.

Weyland gains tempo from scoring agendas. Other decks tend to lose tempo - scoring an NAPD is a huge tempo hit. Scoring an over advanced Atlas or a Hostile Takeover is a tempo gain (the latter sometimes for the runner…).

Somewhere there’s an awesome tempo Anarch deck involving Power to the People and Human First, which starts fast and turns that fast start into an even faster one. It’s probably in Quetzal. I haven’t found it yet.

Well, I think that tempo is kind of a combination of the 2 things you are you are talking about. I would call the first thing click efficiency and is only tangentially related to the other which I would call something like “threat”. Getting the most out of each click certainly helps you maintain your threat, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you are dictating the pace of the game. Example: Late in the game both sides are on match point. The runner is making 8 credits a turn compared to the corps 3, but it costs 15 to get into R&D and 10 to get into HQ. The corp has BL in hand (no Clot in the runner’s deck for the sake of the example). Even though the runner has much better click efficiency, the cost of meaningful accesses still swings the threat in favor of the corp. At least until the runner plays an RDI.

By the same token there are situations where you can dictate the course of the game by clicking 3 times for credits and making 1 run provided that the run is threatening enough. The corp could be gaining 6 credits a turn to your three, but if you can still get those meaningful accesses cheaply, you still have the threat. Example: Late game both sides are looking for their last agenda and the runner has 3 RDIs and can just make enough money to see those cards every other turn. Runner has the threat. At least until the corp drops a Tollbooth or a Caprice on R&D.

So click efficiency is about getting the most out of your clicks. Threat is based more on runner’s ability to access and the corps ability to score. One helps to maintain the other, but you don’t necessarily need to have the better click economy to maintain threat.

Both examples that I gave above, threat can easily be reversed by playing certain cards, and the better click efficiency of the opponent makes those plays very conceivable. Neither side in those examples has what I would call tempo. Tempo is the ability to use your threat to force your opponent down a path that yields lower click efficiency while maintaining good click efficiency for yourself. This relative advantage in click efficiency helps to extend the duration of your threat. This is the snowball effect that a lot of people have mentioned. I think that the key to tempo is that your threat negatively effects your opponent’s click efficiency. They are forced to scramble to correct the situation. If both sides have relatively strong click efficiency and are just throwing hay-makers at each other, I wouldn’t say either side has a particular tempo advantage because things could change quite quickly.

With that in mind, I would say that a strong tempo play does 3 things: 1. It creates a strong threat. 2. It requires the opponent to make a change to the board to stop that threat or risk losing and 3. They are unable to fully neutralize the threat on their next turn and are forced to scramble (normally by clicking for credits or cards). Less strong (but in no way weak) tempo plays can be addressed the turn after they are made, but leave the other side too resource poor to develop their own threat. In Hearthstone this is the equivalent of forcing your opponent to trade his board plus all his mana for a couple of spells in hand for your board, which allows you to put the first creature down.

Edit: Clarified my last paragraph and added the Hearthstone analogy.