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From good to great

In another thread, @spags wrote:

The latter scenario is precisely the no-man’s land I currently find myself stranded in, without an obvious path to take in order to improve further.

When I started playing seriously last year, I set a goal of making the cut at a tournament that had one before the end of the year. The closest I got was 5th at an SC with a top 4 cut, ending up in 4th after the fact when the eventual winner was disqualified. I figured that since I didn’t really make my goal, I should set the same goal for this year.

I’ve tracked my tournament results for the year so far, including SCs, the local league (3-round tournaments weekly, top 8 cut after 10 weeks), FFG’s monthly 3-rounders, and the SCIQ. I’m 101-58-2 in those events, which is comfortably into “pretty good.” And I’ve certainly met my goal:

  • 4th seed at SC #1/4 (5-2-2), ending 5th (1-2)
  • 1st seed SC #2/4 (9-1), ending 5th (1-2)
  • 2nd seed in the first league this year (33-15), ending 5th (1-2)

Now I want to take the next step and actually win something. I had a great shot at the second SC this year, but wasn’t quite experienced enough with Bootcamp Glacier to see the right line in my elimination game. In fact, I’ve noticed that I don’t see the optimal line more often than I’d like, even with decks I’m quite experienced with. On top of that, I also make unforced errors, particularly in playing around things like Midseason and Punitive.

The problem is that I’m not sure what I need to do in order to further tighten my play. The usual recommendations are:

  • Play a lot; if you already play a lot, then play a LOT
  • Play a lot with the same decks to learn the matchups
  • Play people who are better than you

Those are the things I’ve done to get to where I am now. It seems like where I need help is in spotting the non-obvious lines of play that separate the very best players from everyone else. And so far, just playing more games hasn’t gotten me there. I’ll keep doing that, of course, but I feel as though something beyond that is needed.

So if you’re in my position, or have been there and got past it, what do you think? How does a Netrunner player go from being good to being great at this game?


There are differences in difficulty between getting to the elimination bracket and winning the tournament.
One thing about the decks is that in the swiss you can be fairly certain that the opponent doesn’t know your deck, but the more matches that are played during the day the more information about decks spread around. Learn to not count on suprprise at the top bracket and bring a deck that doesn’t need it. Also any deck that has more than low variance tend to be the downfall in eliminations brackets.

This might be already known, but make sure that you bring decks that you can pilot as well as possible during strained conditions, Netrunner tournaments tends to bring long days and you are not doing yourself any favours if you bring very complicated gameplans to the elimination bracket.

As for actual play, I think you are underestimating the importance of “learn the matchups”.
You need to know the strengths (and weaknessess) of your deck, how to quickly identify key points in your opponents deck and how that impacts your gameplan.


It sounds like maybe you’re relying on instinct a little too much. Everyone has quick heuristics that they apply to let them do reasonably well - and which are needed to finish a game of Netrunner in a sensible time - so it’s easy to forget to step back sometimes and actually analyse the situation.

It’s often hard to do in the pressure of competition, but force yourself to recognise key turns and take them a bit more slowly. Analyse the situation from scratch rather than going for the most intuitive move. Iain Reid wrote a really nice article/tourney report about this on netrunners.co.uk called “The Inner Sherlock” that says it much better than I could.


If you have trouble playing against specific cards like Midseasons or Punitive, then practice playing with those cards. If you know the matchup from both sides then you’ll have an easier time noticing when you’re playing into the opponent’s hands.

A good exercise is also to keep weak hands and try to win with them. An issue with playing top tier decks is that with a strong draw, you’re likely to win even with average play just because your deck is so strong that most reasonable lines succeed. Practicing from a weak position motivates you to dig for strong moves just to stay in the game and also helps you know what to do when things go horribly wrong and you do mulligan from a bad hand into a worse one.

Generally a big thing that’s helped me (and I continue to work on) is just playing slower. Recently I’ve had a round timer with me at tournaments and it’s helped me relax and realize that I have a lot of time on the clock and can afford to think beyond the cached behavior of “this is a reasonable move that’s worked in the past” to actually trying to incorporate all available information.


+1 on kiv’s “play with those cards”. Even more broadly than dealing with specific cards like midseasons, playing the opposite sides of matchups has helped me get a better sense of what it’s realistic to be afraid of my opponent having. I tend to err on the side of too cautious for fear of some obscure combination of stuff that they’re only 10% to have and even if they do have it I don’t lose instantly anyway.

+1 on ilza’s “learn the matchups” too. With decks like RP NEH and andy the plan is very linear, and it’s hard to notice the difference between playing on autopilot vs adapting to the matchup/situation, so they don’t push you to get better. Play decks like headlock, regmax, kate, bootcamp, midseasons, where the whole plan is just to be reactive in different ways across different matchups. Play matchups between those decks, where the game is more a struggle over board position/econ than scoring. Even if you settle on andy/RP instead I think the lessons about tempo carry over.

Make decks. There’s been a lot of talk recently about how everyone should play the best decks before building their own stuff, but don’t forget that building new stuff can help you learn too. It doesn’t need to be something tournament-playable; just play some games, analyze what the good and bad matchups are and why, make some tweaks to fix the bad matchups, analyze the sacrifices you needed to make during those tweaks, etc. Then go back to established decks and make some changes in the same way. Even when I netdeck something, predicting the meta and making effective tweaks is an important step.

Not just play people who are better than you, but play them in a setting where you can think out loud, see what they think of your plan, and ask what they’re thinking about their own plays. If you catch me for some casual games I’d be happy to do this instead of SHL4 since it’s better practice for me as well.


I second this. Nothing has tuned up my Kate play like many months of building and tuning Nasir decks for more casual play - playing a deck you’ve built and tweaked yourself can teach you a lot about adjusting to matchups and metas.

this is so important. It can be really hard to hear (what you might perceive as) criticism, but players who have already worked out the kinks you’re dealing with will be in a good position to notice faults in your line of thinking and offer correction for the future. Just bashing your head against good players and trying to riddle out yourself why you aren’t winning more is definitely doing things the hard way.


I think I am quite in the same boat as Ajar. I’ve made my share of the cuts, won few tournaments, and am consistently in the top4 of dozen man strong tournaments. But when push comes to shove, at regionals, nationals, I am still clawing my way to get to Top8 and then usually just lose very quickly.

What I think we need (you, me, everyone else in this position) is a bunch of stuff like post mortems that @mediohxcore and (sorry forgot who was the other guy) had after the other guy’s games in SSCI. That kind of thinking is INVALUABLE to me. To see and understand what kind of process goes through the head of people who are not good, but great players.


Question, is there a list of 4 or 5 things you should check before every turn? I know I can benefit from slowing down and spending time analyzing the board state but besides my Creds vs theirs, what else should I be looking for? Thx!

  1. Is he about to win if I don’t stop him?
  2. Am I about to lose if I keep playing like I did until now?
  3. Why did he do what he just did?
  4. Is there anything I wasn’t planning on that makes more sense because of what he did?
  5. Am I talking to myself out loud?
  1. Why is this Playboy so sticky?? Some of the pages can’t even be separated…

I’m also trying to improve my game at the moment after my jank-tastic first year. Had a GNK today, tried to do a bit of ‘revision’ beforehand to remember certain beneficial lines of play. Things like ‘Count credits you and the runner require twice before making key plays’, ‘Install breakers ahead of time against click-compression decks’, ‘Remember the cards you see in HQ/R&D and figure out if they’re relevant’, and of course, most importantly, ‘DON’T FORGET TO TRIGGER LEELA!!’

I did end up forgetting the things I revised a couple of times, so not sure if it helped. But I didn’t make any of my usual catastrophic mistakes, so I can only assume that its good practice to do this kind of thing.

  1. if I draw an agenda now. What’s my plan?

Nothing screams legwork like the corp thinking for 30 seconds counting his credits twice and looking at every ice on the table


Very interesting topic !
Being also a Go player, I took a look at these articles focused on the ways to improve and become “strong”:

So obviously the games are a lot different, but trying to make a parallel, I would come up with this for ANR:

  1. Play a lot, if possible with strong opponents who are going to punish your mistakes. Play under different conditions (fast games, slows games, online, offline, fun decks, netdecks, etc…)
  2. Review your games. Not that easy compared to Go, nor IRL nor on OCTGN, but I always find it very fruitful to have at least a quick debrief after the game with my opponent. During tournaments however, we often lack time and/or don’t want to disclose our full decks… Streaming/recording your games may help. Having a strong player watching you is probably awesome (lucky people who got streamed & commented during SSCI have probably learned a lot reviewing the stream). Replay function on OCTGN would be awesome.
  3. Watch high-level games. Unfortunately, not knowing the decks played and not seeing the hands lowers the experience (although for OCTGN streaming we most often see the hands).
  4. Read forums, articles, blogs, check the popular decks, etc…

If you have say 5 hours per week to spend on ANR, then 3.5 hours on 1 and 30 minutes on each 2/3/4 should be good.

Ok that’s it with this questionnable parallel, there are plenty of things specific to ANR which are probably more interesting in order to improve your play :smile:


I’m okay, but I got better once I learned three things:

  1. Have a menacing stare while playing. Not a mean stare, but an “I know every card in your HQ, I’ve counted your influence, and if I lose I’m pretty sure I know someone that can burn your house down and then go play Rampage at the arcade like it’s no big deal” stare
  2. Learn to do the cool guy Magic player shuffle. The intimidation is real.
  3. When you play your cards, make sure they make an audible sound when they hit the table (slap them down). The sound of a sleeve hitting the mat is scientifically tuned to the frequency of evil.

Are you making fun of me?


You’re not menacing.


Without playing as RP much, I learned a great deal by taking anarch to regionals against them. I built the deck myself, tuned it for several weeks with hours and hours of practice, and then worked much harder than I needed to competitively to try and beat them. Before I lose my point- build a deck for a faction you don’t play, and stick with it for a few days, while practicing against better players with better decks. You learn to spot weaknesses you may not have noticed from a shaper point of view (for example), and along the way find strengths in your piloting and decision making as you see the board through new eyes.


You should try removing your sleeves. Studies show they can be inhibiting.


Sorry dan.


It should go without saying to make sure you have good fundamentals, stuff like maximizing voicepad credits or kate discount, waiting until last click to put creds on kati (unless enigma), not clicking to draw after installing ice/assets. But there are also some “advanced fundamentals” that require reading the board state and incorporating a bit of strategic thinking as well as understanding the tactic. For example, knowing whether it’s better to run archives or run on jackson directly (maybe they didn’t discard an agenda? archives has a nasty ice? getting desperado/sucker/laundry at same time?); and also recognizing when you have too much of some resource and being more inefficient with it (got enough money? start trashing assets out of R&D to get more accesses).