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Teaching Netrunner using simple decks

If you’ve ever tried to teach someone how to play Netrunner, you know Netrunner is a complicated game. There are a huge amount of mechanics, most of which aren’t fully explored by every deck. You can play Netrunner without knowing about tags or viruses or traces or meat damage or bad publicity.

I maintain a pair of decks that I call “teaching decks”, which I built from mostly cards from the Core Set; an HB taxing deck and a Kate big-rig deck. Still, even with those decks, there’s a lot of material to cover; consider a card like Ichi 1.0:

Type: ICE: Sentry - Bioroid - Tracer - Destroyer
Cost: 5
Faction: Corp Haas-Bioroid
Faction Cost: 2
The Runner can spend [Click] to break any subroutine on Ichi 1.0.
[Subroutine] Trash 1 program.
[Subroutine] Trash 1 program.
[Subroutine] Trace 1 - if successful, give the Runner 1 tag and do 1 brain damage.

There are about 7 things going on here, and you need to know about them to use the card properly - even after you know what ICE is and what it’s used for.

  1. This ICE doesn’t end the run. Players naturally expect their ICE to end runs.
  2. This is a Bioroid; it can be clicked through without breakers. Players will often ask about strength when Bioroid ICE is clicked through.
  3. This ICE trashes programs; new players often install and rez Ichi on turn 1 and are disappointed to learn that this ICE does nothing for them. Players will blindly trust that their cards are good for them, even if they don’t fully understand the ramifications
  4. This ICE performs a Trace. A Trace is a complicated sub-game.
  5. If the Trace succeeds, the runner is tagged. What’s a tag? Well it has to do with resources. What’s a resource?
  6. This ICE applies brain damage. What’s brain damage?
  7. This ICE is a Sentry - Bioroid - Destroyer - Tracer. What do all those words mean?

While this card is a 3-of in the Core Set and a very solid piece of taxing ICE, it has far too much complexity for one single card.

What are we trying to teach with a first game of Netrunner? The following:

-Netrunner is a game about two players with wildly different cards and playstyles.
-The corporation player defends servers and tries to protect his cards, while the runner attempts to break through and steal those cards.
-Money is at the heart of all interactions, and the player with an economic advantage will often win.
-There is hidden information; ambushes and bluffs can be performed with devastating results.

That’s it. If you can show this to a player, they will enjoy Netrunner; even if you don’t tell them about memory or currents or recurring credits or link.

I usually give the new player the corporation deck, since corps have access to all the hidden information. Sadly, the corporation cards are the ones with the most irreducible complexity. I try to avoid cards with more than 2-3 lines of text.


Cards: 49 / 45
Agenda points: 21 / 20
Influence points: 15 / 15
Identity: Engineering the Future
Agenda (9)
3x Accelerated Beta Test
3x Priority Requisition
3x Project Vitruvius
Asset (15)
3x Adonis Campaign
3x Melange Mining Corp
3x PAD Campaign
3x Jackson Howard ●●●
3x Shock! ●●●●●●
Ice (17)
3x Viktor 1.0
3x Rototurret
3x Neural Katana ●●●●●●
3x Enigma
2x Wall of Static
3x Eli 1.0
Operation (8)
2x Archived Memories
3x Hedge Fund
3x Green Level Clearance

I would like a blank or simpler identity, since EtF comes with a lot of bookkeeping, but its power-level and usefulness makes it acceptable. Base Weyland might turn out to be simpler, but Weyland revolves around an unnatural playstyle of threatening lethal meat damage.

The agenda suite is the part I’m least happy with; I wish I could just remove all the text from the 3/2s. They’re blank most of the time, and players always feel betrayed when Accelerated Beta Test screws them over. PriReq is perfect in terms of complexity. The 3/2s are in there to enable never advance play and bluff any kind of asset as an agenda; melange, jackson and adonis can be very comfortably placed in a scoring server to entice a wasteful run.

Adonis Campaign is too wordy to be easily understood, but it’s a useful demonstration of a taxing economy card. Melange has a single line of text and a potent effect, making it an ideal card for this type of deck. PAD campaign is a simple, taxing economy card.

Jackson Howard was initially excluded from the deck for being too complicated. However, a second look at the card makes this debatable. Click: Draw 2 cards is as simple as assets get. The exiling ability is funky and unnatural. However, the ability to rework agendas into R&D and combat agenda flood are critical to not losing. Plus, he’s a key part in every game nowadays, so you might as well get new players used to it quickly.

Shock! is the simplest ambush in the game. It always works, always hurts, and while it’s not as devastating or lethal as Snare or AggSec, it teaches the players a key thing: you can bluff. You can install a thing and pretend it’s something else.

For a while, Aggressive Secretary was in the deck; it’s a potent example of a trap card, masquerades as priority requisition and can completely swing a game around, creating huge scoring windows and blowing out an overconfident runner. The problem is that it’s really hard to play correctly. It’s often accessed and trashed from R&D or HQ, which just feels terrible. If installed, players often don’t understand they have to advance it; or they advance it when the runner has no programs, or they advance it and put themselves below the 2c threshold necessary to activate it.

The ICE suite is okay; not great. I really struggled to find a simple Sentry; Neural Katana has only one line of text, and while it necessitates the introduction of the damage mechanic, it brings enough to the game to justify its inclusion.

Viktor 1.0 is an iffy inclusion; it’s the only card that references Brain Damage. Still, Brain Damage is flavourful and players tend to latch onto it; it gives the game an air of lethality. Viktor and Eli are the only two bioroids. I don’t like the bioroid mechanic for new players; they feel betrayed when the runner can just click through their server and don’t appreciate the taxing nature of the cards. I considered swapping Viktor for Hourglass and Eli for Bastion; much simpler cards, requiring the introduction of no new mechanics, but the dynamics of the game would suffer too much, I think. I may revise this choice after a few games.

Enigma and Wall of Static are perfect, simple ETR ICE. I played a lot of games with Tollbooth, and while the taxing of Tollbooth creates good dynamics, it’s wordy and I wanted to stay within influence limits. Tollbooth was a fantastic PriReq target though, which this deck now completely lacks.

Archived Memories is very simple to understand, and although players often play it badly (Archived Memories for Green Level Clearance) it never slows down the game. Hedge Fund and GLC are perfectly simple cards; it’s possible I should have them play restructure instead of some economy asset; possibly swapping out Adonis Campaign. It creates worse dynamics, but removes text.

I’ve managed to eliminate the following mechanics while keeping the heart of the game intact

-Keeping money up for Snare
-Meat damage (private security force was a head-scratcher for many)
-“On encounter” ICE, such as Tollbooth. All ICE effects are subroutines.
-“Do-Nothing” ICE like Ichi, which fail to do anything on turn 1.
-Expensive ICE like Tollbooth and Heimdall, which do nothing to protect you on turn 1.
-Upgrades. I used to have 1 corporate troubleshooter in there. Not worth the complexity.
-Fast Advance (Biotic Labor was one of the first cuts. It is never played correctly.)
-Advanceable Traps (I’m sad about cutting this, but there’s no good way to introduce it)
-Bad Publicity
-ICE with power counters (data raven, viktor 2.0)
-Tutors (never give a new player a tutor. It slows down the game too much.)

Things I would like to cut:
-Overadvanceable Agendas
-Double-edged effects, like Beta Test

The Agenda suite is really the part with the most complexity. Gila Hands Arcology is both simple and creates good dynamics, but there are not enough cards like it to fill out a deck.

This post is getting long enough; in the next post, I’ll detail the runner deck, which I’m much happier with.


The Runner Teaching deck (which usually I end up playing) is, in my opinion, close to ideal.

Cards: 40 / 40
Influence points: 15 / 15
Identity: Chaos Theory
Event (22)
3x Special Order ●●●●●●
3x Diesel
3x Modded
3x The Makers Eye
3x Infiltration
3x Sure Gamble
1x Quality Time
3x Dirty Laundry
Hardware (3)
3x R&D Interface
Program (12)
3x Corroder ●●●●●●
3x Mimic ●●●
3x Gordian Blade
3x Magnum Opus
Resource (3)
3x Sacrificial Construct

It started out as Kate to use Core Set cards only, but Chaos Theory is a much better identity, letting us cut two mechanics from the game instantly: memory and identity effects. Chaos Theory is completely blank (no bookkeeping!) and her 5 base memory allow her to install Magnum and 3 breakers with no additional support cards. The arbitrary limit of 4 memory is a stumbling block for newbie runners, and delaying its introduction is a boon.

Events tend to be the simplest cards, and as such this deck is mostly events. Special Order is the most complicated of the bunch, and while I wrote in my last post to never give newbies a tutor, I feel this one is necessary. Playing it is straightforward; you have 3 choices, get the one you currently need.

Diesel needs no explanation. Modded might make a new player stumble, thinking they need to pay a click to install their thing; this is easily rectified, and the dynamics of Modded are good. Maker’s Eye is a simple, potent run event; even if the player never runs naturally, they will want to set up good Maker’s Eye runs and will score some points that way.

Infiltration is a safety blanket for new runners. While expose is a separate mechanic, it’s intuitive and does what you’d expect. It also has some play value against a never-advancing deck.

Sure Gamble is the gold standard for simplicity and play value. Quality Time is there as a 1-of because I needed a 40th card, and while it’s simple to read, it’s quite hard to play well and usually leads to you have to trash cards, which feels bad. I’m not too happy about its inclusion.

Dirty Laundry only has two lines of text. It’s moderately complex to play, but it encourages new players to run, which I consider a boon.

R&D interface is the only hardware in the deck, but hardware is an easy thing to grasp. It incentivizes running and synergizes with Modded and Maker’s Eye. Indexing would probably have been too complicated.

The breaker suite is as simple as can be. I’m cheating by including Mimic as the Killer; there is no good simple scalable killer that fits within the memory limits of the rig. Ninja strains influence and has the weird cost to Pump; Femme is too expensive and requires the introduction of bypassing. Garrote is too expensive and breaks our memory. Mimic is perfect, as I know we will never run into Sentries with a strength of more than 3.

Magnum Opus is a simple, powerful economical engine and doesn’t have all that messy text of Daily Casts or Armitage Codebusting. Sacrificial Construct rounds out the deck, acting as Rototurret insurance. Teaching them about the danger of sentries is important, but blowing out their Magnum Opus while doing so will lead to ragequits. Sacrificial Construct softens the blow.

Some notable cuts:
-Armitage was cut for its wordiness and redundancy with Magnum. New players will often install an armitage even after they have Opus online. They blindly trust in the relevance of their cards.
-Daily Casts was cut for being wordy; while not catastrophic, Dirty Laundry is the simpler card, and encourages aggression to boot.
-Crypsis was in the deck for a while as a stopgap breakers. Needless to say this was a bad idea.
-Professional Contacts; while a very simple card, it is redundant with diesel and magnum opus, and encourages a very passive style.

Through this runner deck, we avoid the following mechanics

-Consoles (The Toolbox is VERY hard to parse)
-The word “Host”
-Recurring Credits
-Trashing ICE
-Heap recursion
-Mid-run abilities (SMC, etc)
-Bypassing ICE
-Irregular Breaker costs (Ninja, Pipeline, Battering Ram…) All breakers are virtually identical.
-Damage prevention
-Gaining or losing clicks
-Changing ICE subtypes (tinkering, etc)
-Voluntarily trashing cards (aesop’s)

I welcome all feedback; feel free to steal these two decks and use them to teach the game. They’re the result of a lot of experience and deliberation.


I’m currently debating swapping the two Walls of Static in the corp deck for 2 Heimdall 1.0. It adds a high-cost ICE, which good for priority requisition. It adds little new complexity (brain damage is already present with Viktor) and give the corp a better chance to stay alive in the late game. Thoughts?

Not sure. Your ice suite isn’t going to protect Melange. If you want more economy and want to teach the runner to expect advanced cards that aren’t agendas, I’d swap the Shock!s for GRNDL Refineries. Then you can drop Melange for 2x Heimdall 1.0 and 1x Wall of Static or something.

I vote yes to this change! Rezzing a big ICE and watching the runner reel is a fun moment for new players, and it also gives you some idea of how powerful 5/3 agenda abilities can be (even if you don’t land one, most new players will be quick to put these two cards together in their head).

I love your lists; I’ve been using the stimhack lists for a while but they’re a) a bit dated, and b) I think they strive to teach more mechanics whenever it’s easy; if I recall correctly there’s a couple of simple traces, recurring credits, etc. I think I like your approach better: stick to the basics and show them what’s fun about the game.

I think i might swap in pipeline for mimic; I’d worry that mimic is a little too simplified, from my own experience:

One of the first games I ever played my teacher briefly explained how there were code gates, barriers, and sentries and breakers for each… ok I thought. He also mentioned that barriers tend to keep you out, and sentries tend to hurt you in one way or another. So, seeing mimic in my hand, and that it couldn’t be boosted, I proceeded to draw and draw and draw the entire game looking for a single card that could help me break the big sentries that I assumed the corp would play to kill me if they saw my little mimic on the table.

just my 2 cents, i think people can probably handle “sentry breaker cost 2 to boost strength”

“I would like a blank or simpler identity, since EtF comes with a lot of bookkeeping, but its power-level and usefulness makes it acceptable.”

Why not just use the draft IDs and build whatever decks you want.

I came up with the following decks that only focus on introducing all the card types and the most basic of all the mechanics: economy and scoring agendas. Play to 6 Agenda Points instead of 7 just like in draft.

Teaching Corp Deck (34 cards)
The Shadow: Pulling the Strings
– Agenda (8 cards)
1 Accelerated Beta Test
1 AstroScript Pilot Program
3 Corporate War
2 Gila Hands Arcology
1 Project Beale
– Asset (5 cards)
2 Adonis Campaign
1 Jackson Howard
2 Mental Health Clinic
– ICE (13 cards)
1 Ashigaru
2 Bastion
1 Caduceus
1 Chimera
2 Enigma
1 Guard
1 Hadrian’s Wall
1 Lotus Field
1 Pop-up Window
1 Rototurret
1 Wraparound
– Operation (7 cards)
1 Biotic Labor
2 Hedge Fund
2 Oversight AI
1 Restructure
– Upgrade (2 cards)
2 Midway Station Grid

Probably need to replace the Caduceus so there’s no traces. No damage, no trace, no tags, no psi games, no bioroids, no traps, and all ice have some form of “end the run” on them. Midway Station Grid seems like the easiest upgrade since all it does is make ice cost more to break. 1x Jackson just to introduce him and prevent agenda flood.

Teaching Runner Deck (30 cards)
The Masque: Cyber General
– Event (10 cards)
2 Diesel
2 Dirty Laundry
1 Express Delivery
2 Inside Job
2 Sure Gamble
1 The Maker’s Eye
– Hardware (4 cards)
1 Clone Chip
1 R&D Interface
– Program (10 cards)
2 Corroder
1 Femme Fatale
2 Gordian Blade
2 Ninja
2 Parasite
1 Sneakdoor Beta
– Resource (6 cards)
2 Daily Casts
2 Kati Jones
2 Same Old Thing

Runner side the focus is only on building a rig, getting money, and running. I think the corp deck is way over powered for this runner but its not a big deal, especially if the new player starts as corp which seems to be the most common method of teaching.