Playing to lose

I’ve heard the following claim before. When it came up today on Slack, I thought it might be worthy of further conversation in this asynchronous forum.

“People play stuff they know is bad because they don’t want to face their own poor play. It’s sad because being like ‘Hey, I don’t want to practice a ton. I’m just competing for fun’ is a totally fkin reasonable thing to say. But they are afraid to say that, so they lose on purpose instead.” (edited for captizliation and punctuation)

This comment struck a chord with me because in my Netrunner play, I have at times dodged “the best decks” because playing sub-optimal decks gives me a ready excuse for losing.

I have done this. And I’m not sure if I should feel like I was wrong to do it. But I think there is an interesting conversation to be had about why people do this and whether it is something to avoid. I wonder how much fear of facing the fact that we are not elite-level players drives deck choices?

What do you think?

It’s only an excuse if your goal is to be competitive. If you’re trying to compete to the best of your ability, you are handicapping yourself with suboptimal choices.

That said, many people have goals other than being competitive. It is 100% fine for these people to play decks they know are bad, because the decks aren’t bad at achieving their goal. If your goal is to fire Brainstorm as much as possible, The Foundry + The Twins is a “good” deck. If your goal is to win as much as possible, it’s a bad deck.


This gets at the multitudinous reasons we play games at all. I come to this from a LotR LCG background, which is of course a cooperative game and so has inculcated in me certain norms that I never completely shake when playing other card games.

LotR is super-hard, so losses are expected even with optimized decks. And I rarely play with optimized decks. It’s not that I don’t enjoy winning, nor is it that I fear my inability to properly pilot a tier-1 deck. It’s a whole melange of things that others will doubtlessly express better than me—and that brew of factors changes from day to day, playthrough to playthrough.

I don’t doubt that many intermediate Netrunner players do exactly what you describe, but there are many possibilities for why one might eschew the Good Decks for the Bad, and I think only the individual can decide whether the psychology involved is overall more detrimental than enjoyable for the self.

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I’m sure this train of thought probably applies more to some players than others, but I would hardly think it represents the majority. A lot of players who avoid taking the “top-tier” decks to a tournament probably still think they are playing to win. Often times, the best decks are expected and prepared for, in which case playing off meta could actually be a decision you’d expect to give you an advantage. In addition to that, some players may just find little enjoyment playing whatever is tier 1, not because it isn’t good, just because they have different preferences and playstyles.

I’ve attended a lot of large events, probably close to a dozen Regionals, Nationals, and Worlds. I can tell you that every time I blindly took a tier 1 deck into a tournament I did significantly worse than the times I took a tier 1.5 deck that I understood inside and out.


People get their fun out of play in different ways, and anyone who judges someone for not have the same kind of fun as they do is myopic at best. Personally, I like building decks that do a cool thing. The most fun I’ve had recently is an RPC Government Takeover deck that wins 40% of the time on a good day. Is it wrong for me to have fun this way?

I’m a reasonably talented player. I could pick up a Worlds-ready CtM or CI deck and get a high win rate in General, and a reasonable win rate in Comp on jnet. I’d never do that though, because it wouldn’t be fun. I hardly care at all about winning, and I don’t see why that should be a problem.


That may be true, but to be fair to the point made in the quote, the comparison would need to be with a top tier deck that you also knew inside-out.


That’s a fair point. On the other hand, the quote mentioned not practicing a lot, and with as much as the meta can shift from data pack to data pack, isn’t it also fair to assume that the player in question will be more familiar with other decks that were perhaps strong in a previous meta?

I just know a lot of ‘tier 1’ decks throughout Netrunner’s history have been decks that require a lot of skill to pilot well. For example, CtM was and still is an incredible ID, but it also has a very high skill cap. If you put yourself in the shoes of a player going to a tournament just after 23 Seconds came out, they might not have had the time to reach a reasonable level of skill with CtM to actually perform well, but maybe they’re familiar with some other deck that they played throughout Mumbad cycle, say Gagarin Tubs.

I see what you’re saying about an apples to oranges comparison like that, but I still think it assumes a lot to say that players actively decide to play a “worse” deck, while they are equally skilled at piloting “the best” deck. I would assume that a player equally skilled at both would rarely choose the worse one specifically to gimp themselves and give themselves an excuse.

I play my own deck,I practice against people no matter what they play (junk or competitive),if I lose,I will try to figure out what I’ve done wrong,card choice or poor judgement?Then if I think there is no improvement I can really made and the deck is still ill-performed,I simply delete it,and start to build and play a new deck with same routine.

The truth is you can play whatever decks you like,just make sure the reason you play it is to improve it,to improve yourself,not to have an excuse to say after you lose.I have never said that I played a bad deck,I just say that I’m a bad player.


That sums up my approach to this game pretty succinctly.

I’ve never “played to lose”, and I definitely haven’t looked to my deck choices to provide “an excuse for losing”. But I’ve definitely played to play, or played to have fun, or played to have experiences rather than “playing to win”.

I’ve played a ton of games in a ton of formats (board games, card games, console games, PC games, etc.) and in my experience Netrunner is one of the most fun to play, even if you lose. Some of my most memorable and enjoyable games have actually been losses.

To me this is huge, and one of the most important factors that distinguishes Netrunner from other games and is why I stick with it while other games come and go, but it’s mostly ignored by the most competitive players. The typical response to “I’m not having fun when I lose” is “Practice so you get better at the game and don’t lose as much”. But as a community, that’s a zero sum game. 50% of the people playing are having a good time, tops.

Whether or not the game is still fun for the losing player is massively important to the longevity and health of that game, and “you’re just making excuses for not gitting gud” is an unhelpful response.


I play stuff that I build and feel comfortable with. I half expect to lose every game and winning is a bonus - but as long as you enjoy the company and the game itself, that’s the most important thing.

Here are some of the reasons someone could be playing a deck that’s not the ‘best deck’:

  1. They don’t know what the best deck is (I think this is true for many of us right now!)
  2. They’re not good with the best deck
  3. They don’t enjoy playing the best deck
  4. They’re bored of playing the best deck
  5. They think too many people are playing the best deck and want the meta to have more variety.
  6. They know their current deck isn’t the best, but they think it’s fun anyway.
  7. They feel more accomplished if they win with a deck that’s not the best deck.
  8. They’ve discovered a deck that’s actually even better than the ‘best deck’!

I think it’s pointless to try to psychoanalyze why people aren’t playing the best decks, when there are so many possible reasons.

  1. they like to build their stuff and play games like in the 90’s

Thanks to everyone for jumping in on this topic. Lots of interesting comments.

Sounds like I may be one of the few ANR players who gets performance anxiety before an event and has shied away from playing a top tier deck because I did not think I actually had a chance to get into the top cut. My first tournament, I took Kit and GRNDL. I was not planning to lose or playing any games to lose, but it removed some pressure from losing to know those decks were not the ones that were supposed to do well that day. It made me less stressed to not have the pressure of losing while playing a tier 1 deck.

Maybe that is just me. Sounds like a lot of ANR players have a much healthier approach to the game than I do.

Thanks for all the conversation.

Choosing decks that allow you to actually enjoy playing in a tournament (as opposed to being stressed out by it) seems to be a fairly healthy approach to the game. Not saying; just saying.


Play something you enjoy in T1.5 then ?
So you’re paired within the creative tier, then enjoy fireworks with middle players ? (and win and loose games, yes, but in “real” Netrunner).

Knowing the strengthes and weaknesses of your deck makes you don’t bother much about match-up I’d say ?

Last time I brung firework decks though, I made last. That made me brung serious decks this time and I’m where I belong (middle, could be first quarter) :slight_smile:

You’re not the only one who picks decks that may not be tier 1 for psychological reasons, and I don’t think it makes you any less of a competitive player for doing so. You’re not an AI playing this game, you’re a human, and part of the challenges you’ll face come from within as well as without. I don’t compete as heavily as I used to, but I’ve definitely picked lower-tier decks at competition levels as high as Worlds.

Personally, there are situations in which my mood will tank, which has a tendency to be a feedback loop and can ruin both my enjoyment and performance. Losing can lead to lower mood, can lead to losing, can lead to… etc. (I know there’s a term for this in competition, I’m blanking on the phrase right now.) (EDIT: “tilting” is the word I was looking for!) Playing a deck I know better, enjoy playing more, or take some special degree of pride from can help moderate the lows, elevate the highs, and prevent my mood from tanking. I’m a better player when I’m in a better mood.

I still like competing and might be happiest coming in first with any deck, but coming in second with a pet deck is pretty dang close. In contrast, losing with the “best” deck feels worse than losing with a pet deck. These things matter different amounts to different people on different days, but they’re worth considering.


So, one reason I often don’t play the perceived “best deck” is because I know that people are gunning for it. It’s one thing to lose to lack of playskill, but I absolutely hate losing because the vast majority of the tournament came decked from head to toe with tech against the deck I’m playing. I generally like to choose a demonstrably strong strategy that doesn’t have too many lopsided matchups.

Consider the following artificial situation.

Corp Deck A: Has 51% matchups against the vast majority of the runner field.
Corp Deck B: Has 70% matchups against 90% of the runner field, but 20% matchups to 10% of the field.

If you are a “spike” which deck do you play?

I think either one is a valid call if you are a competitive player. Choosing deck A says “I can leverage my skill to win tight games”. Choosing deck B says “I like to have the percentage edge by tech in most of my matchups, I can use my skill to steal games from unfavorable matchups. Furthermore, EV analysis favors deck B.”

Most players will not win a tournament. Most players will play, and lose half their games - maybe a little less, maybe a little more.

If you are most people, you need to be having fun in a way that doesn’t involve winning all your games. That might be trying to win them all, but I suspect that will be quite disheartening for most people.

I get a lot of fun out of playing odd but decent decks. I enjoy making interesting decisions (which many, though not all, of the best decks lack). I enjoy flavour, and novelty. I’ve had a lot more fun playing decks that produce this than I think I would have had playing top tier decks and being dissapointed when I don’t get lucky and win.

And sometimes I get really lucky and win something, and everyone asks questions about my deck choices as if they were important!


Understand your personal motivations can be a painfully introspective exercise in honesty. Whatever reason you might have for any sort of play is valid, and understanding them can only give you a better appreciation for your experience.

I think the next step is to try to figure out why your opponent is playing the game. Is he a player who sees the game as an excuse to socialize? Is he addicted to “Fancy Play Syndrome”? Ect.

Making this read might be difference between winning and losing, as social players might tell you if they have an agenda in their hand if you have been keeping it light and ask very nicely. Players who play for the ego-boost of the win can be subtly goaded into giving thing away. As Laurence Fishburne taught us in ‘Searching for Bobby Fischer’ ‘you’re player the man, not the board.’

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