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Play at or above your level?

Hello my brain-damaged compatriots!

So something I’ve thought about for a while is the differences in playing opposition that is clearly above your skill level (for me, that’s the SHL and probably a majority of people on this site) as opposed to playing opposition that is about your skill level (so that, all things being equal, you come close to breaking even in terms of wins and losses). I’d like to hear anyone’s opinions and experiences on this subject.

Being that I consider myself a weak intermediate (at best), I’ve struggled mightily in the SHL, as evidenced by my 5-11 record. Granted, I haven’t played a ton, but I have no reason to suspect that record isn’t about indicative of my skill - indeed, it might be misleading for being too good, as one win was when my opponent (a Kate player, I believe PPVP, but I’m not sure as I never saw one) never saw an SMC, and I quickly rushed my way to a victory behind a quandary or something like that as Biotech.

When @hayati announced the Novice League and was looking for entrants, I considered entering it, until I saw I did not meet the requirements (less than 6 months of ANR experience). Unfortunately, I feel like even that would not be particularly useful, as I think I’m likely good enough to be very strong against inexperienced players. Some sort of “Intermediate League” would be exactly what I’m looking for, but that has the issues being no clear lines where “novice, intermediate, expert” all end and begin. So there would invariably be some issues there, but they’re probably not major, and could be dealt with.

But then I wondered if playing in the SHL was actually better for me than looking for people around my skill level - or even if playing in the SHL was actually bad for me. I want to know if, at the high levels of ANR, there’s a learning curve where, if you don’t have a strong foundation in the more beginner and intermediate plays, it becomes impossible to truly understand the advanced concepts. If that’s the case, I should learn and master the concepts that are on my level first before pressing on. But is it possible to learn what you need to learn just by playing the best, and adjusting your game as you go along?

So, the big thrust I’d like answered - as a weaker player, what’s the best path for me to continue to improve? Play against those of my approximate skill level and “split” often with them, or play against the best I can and learn by continued failures until I get it right?

To everyone who contributes, thank you for your time and effort.


Play with the best players you can find and play with them often.
There is no better way to learn the game if you really just want to improve. :wink:


Play against people who are worse than you. Think of it as a kind of tutorial mode.

This is also interesting and worth talking about.

When I participated in historical fencing, I remember one of the pieces of advice I received from my teacher and another skilled fencer was to “teach new fencers”. In this manner, it becomes important to make sure you do things properly. Step correctly. Turn the wrist properly. Extend, thrust, recover, all done properly.

Is that kind of what you were thinking of?

Or are you trolling me? :smile:


Play against everyone! If you pay enough attention there’s always something to be gained from a game.

  • Against players who are worse/newer than you, you can learn by teaching. If they make obviously suboptimal plays, you’ll probably find yourself telling them why those plays were problematic and how they could be better. Explaining your knowledge of the game out loud like this will help to reinforce it. Also, newer players will make plays that are not in the established playbook that high level players except, such as slow-advancing agendas over several turns rather than the install-one-turn-score-the-next thing that we’re all used too. If these plays throw you as a more experienced player off, consider incorporating them into your own game to mess with your more experienced opponents.
  • Against players of a similar level to you, you can not only learn from the mistakes you make (as you can in any game) but also from those they make, as they will likely be similar to the kind of mistakes you make. Essentially you get twice as much experience of the intermediate-level mistakes and how to avoid them or win in spite of them.
  • Against players who are better than you, watch and learn. It’s easy to see no value in just getting crushed by someone who’s playing a very efficient deck and is good at always seeing the right lines of play. It can be hard, but a helpful angle to take is to try and think about the mistakes they don’t make, particularly if those are ones that you tend to fall prey to. Also keep an eye on how they take advantage of any mistakes you make - this is a useful skill to have, as there will be mistakes in every game, even between two of the toppest of top tier players.

All that said, I do think that paying plenty of attention when you play is more important than who you play against. If this means taking it slow then so be it, but do occasionally mix things up by trying to play fast and see where your instincts take you.

The thing I’ve found has most helped me improve in the past few months (particularly on the Runner side) is playing more simple, top-tier decks - specifically no-nonsense Criminal. Playing around with all the crazy Shaper and Anarch tools is great fun, but some of us just aren’t able to keep track of it all very well. When I play Shaper I often find myself playing the deck instead of playing the game. I spend a bunch of time thinking about the most efficient way to get my rig set up, set it up, then start running and get immediately Scorched because I forgot I was playing against Weyland, or hit a Snare, or realise that I could’ve capitalised on the corp’s economic weakness way earlier than I actually did. Playing Criminal, your deck does nothing special, so you quickly learn a lot about when and where to best make runs, when to draw, when to install breakers and when to hold them back. Also, because you spend less time thinking about your deck, you have more time to think about your opponents and learn matchups.

TL;DR: Play against everyone, just pay attention! And play Criminal!


I consider myself to be at an intermediate level too - with severely limited time to engage in the SHL, so I’m in a similar situation to yourself. Here are my thoughts.

I believe your best route to improvement is to continue to play in the SHL, as much as possible, but with a focus on ensuring you learn from every game, be they win or loss. Ask your opponent if they can hang around for a minute after the game to answer some questions. I doubt there’d be many people who have signed up for the SHL that wouldn’t oblige.

Think of areas of play you’re trying to improve. Take notes during the game about what you were thinking, and ask if you were on the right track. For example, I had a terrible track record of choosing the correct time to run HQ, based on my opponent’s actions. I started focusing on trying to improve that, and checking after the game. If I hit HQ a bunch, and came up empty, I’d ask ‘When I was hitting HQ in the midgame, was there anything there?’ - most people will remember being lucky (if you simply missed) or unconcerned (if you were hitting an empty HQ) and can answer fairly accurately.

On a related note, trying to improve (and noticing improvement) is much easier if you’re playing powerful, proven decks. Distinguishing between poor play and poor deck performance is extra fuzziness you probably don’t need. I love janky stuff, but putting it aside while trying to improve has helped me a lot.


I do an after game review after most games. Try to talk to your opponent to figure out what contributed to the win or loss, be it deckbuilding, misplay or just negative variance. Often than not your opponent can give you an alternative point of view to improve. I’d recommend playing above your level though. Losses are hard to swallow but there’s a lot to learn from such losses, like how to play around different cards and how meta tech can help you respond better to different strategies

My chess teacher made me write a ‘diary’ of every game I played, and I needed to analyze key points in the game and identify my own mistakes and provide solutions. I found it incredibly useful in the long run. We then worked through the games with each other, and he did the same thing.

I think mentorship is important, but it’s much easier in chess than in Netrunner. Cos the games are notated. Critical self analysis can go a long way in learning games like this. But Netrunner has no settled strategies (i.e. control the center, well apart from, have money), so strategic analysis is really difficult to perform.

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I think for ‘classic’ decks there are certainly useful strategies that were well established. Theory about remote lock, R&D lock and match point, for instance. Even in more complicated decks, it can be useful to explain how e.g. Caprice breaks remote lock. These are important to explain to beginners after they are fluent with the rules.


Good point dude. R&D lock is an established strategy, along with other’s you mentioned. Tactics like Ice, Ice, Baby are also well established. The difficulty is that decks tend to focus very heavily on a certain strategy, and that is meta dependent and changes from time to time.

It might be helpful to get a thread going with this stuff, but I have no idea how to lay it out or present it effectively outside of meta.

  1. Play against everyone.
  2. Never assume you’re owed a win.
  3. Try to learn something from every game.
  4. Actively seek out matches that scare you.

I wouldn’t be where I was today if I didn’t constantly seek out to play @Groober, @Rabscuttler, @Kesterer at every London meetup. Oh, I got beat bad. Really bad. But it was friendly, and all those games against great players made me into a very good one myself.

+1 to all of this. All things being equal, you’ll probably improve the fastest by playing against the best player you can find who’s also willing to teach you, but obviously this solution doesn’t scale.

Just play more, and focus on the play. After a game reflect on what you learned, and make sure that you don’t discount OR over attribute the role that luck played in the game.

If you lose a game to a 4th click 1/5 pull out of HQ when you could have scored out next turn, you may have lost the game on the score card, but you put yourself in a position where you were 80% to win that game. Likewise, if you win on a makers eye that magically scores 6 points… there was some luck involved.


Don’t sell yourself short, even if you are still learning the intricacies of the game, make sure you don’t go into it thinking “I am at best an intermediate player.”

Success in most things, and especially games, comes with having a winning metal attitude. You can do this.

If you look at @mediohxcore when he plays, he is bursting at the seam with confidence. Granted, he has the wins to back it up, but he goes into the game thinking he is going to win, and it affects both his play and the play of the other people. When you play confidently you can put your opponent on track to tilting, which is actually a big part of Netrunner.

Keep your head clear, don’t tilt yourself, and play until the end, every game. You never know what a single access can do.


Steel > Bronze.

I am Steel.


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When you know/think you’re playing against someone above your level, the key is to be nice and fun, so they’re more apt to talk to you about how you played. I recommend playing above your level for sure. Which for me, is anybody on here.

There is no level above me.


Can I quote you on that?

Someone needs to pull a Philly upset. Dude wins too much. Not saying it’ll be me but come on guys. He’s beatable.

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Direct quote, when someone tried to put me and him in the same boat. He did just 10-0 his MAC event.