Australian Netrunner National Champion Interview

Fantasy Flight Games’ World Championship weekend has come and gone. More than 230 Netrunners converged on Minnesota including Australia’s own national champion and host of The Winning Agenda podcast, Jesse Marshall. After byes and a great Swiss run, he made the cut to the top 16. I had the chance to ask Jesse a few questions about the tournament and get a retrospective on how things went.

 

The Australian National championship was in early September. Since then, how did you prepare for Worlds?

I firmly believe that practice is the only way to optimise your play and really test out your card choices and skills. The more diversity of decks and player skill the better. I was fortunate enough to have a group of 4 people; Wilfy, Tom, Brian and Liam, who helped me test out my decks over the period between nationals and worlds. Wilfy in particular spent 2 days and evenings before I left giving me some much-needed practice with the corp deck I had chosen to play, which I had little experience piloting. In all we must have spent more than 9-10 hours on each of those days squeezing in last minute practice.

Tournaments are also a really important way to prepare, because you expose yourself to ideas outside of your own play test group. I played a few games against Patrick the night before I left at a store in Melbourne. He was piloting a Gabe deck similar to one I played against at Worlds and featuring Bank Job to punish remotes. This was of great help, as Bank Job was a card I hadn’t considered to be much of a player in the meta but which I saw plenty of at Worlds.

You settled on Kate and HB for the day. Were there any other decks you considered and what made you stick with these specific variations for the day?

I considered HB Fast Advance, Blue Sun, BABW and Near Earth Hub on the corp side, and Andromeda, Noise and Kate on the runner side. I felt that Noise was still too poor and too reliant on early aggression, so narrowed that to Andy and Kate after some testing.

BABW I found to mostly be inferior to Blue Sun’s flexibility, and so I eliminated my Australian Nationals BABW build from the equation quite early on. Near-Earth Hub was very powerful, but I found it too weak against good Andromeda players, who I expected to make up the majority of the top tables. I found that it was punished by the combination of Account Siphon and R&D Interface that Wilfy was playing in his Andromeda deck, with Express Delivery to fetch them with ease and consistency. I felt that HB Fast Advance, whilst forgoing the power of AstroScript, had slightly stronger ICE, was able to transition to midrange play more effectively, and had some (admittedly less reliable) blowout potential from ABT+Jackson or Director Haas’ Pet Project.

I was leaning towards playing Andromeda on the night before the event. I felt that Kate was just a turn too slow against NEH without Professional Contacts in its opening hand, even though it had a better matchup against Replicating Perfection and glacier builds. I went with Kate because of my experience with the deck, but if I had played both Andy and Kate an equivalent amount beforehand, I would have gone with Wilfy’s Andy build.

I cut Parasite, one Mimic and one Datasucker to fit in two Legworks to try and improve the NEH matchup for Kate. In the end this did help stabilise me in the early game against NEH and helped me steal a game against Blue Sun, but I got punished when I played against Replicating Perfection and lacked the ability to remove Tsurugi and Komainu from the board.

Excluding byes, you went 8-4 during Swiss rounds. Can you talk a little about the matches you played and what you were expecting from the metagame?

I was expecting to face more NEH on the corp side than I ended up facing. Two in every five players was playing NEH, and I faced it only twice in my six rounds on Day One. I faced Replicating Perfection twice and Blue Sun twice. My choice of Kate as a runner assisted me in combating Blue Sun and RP, but I had harmed my RP matchup by removing parasite. The lack of Parasite led me to lose an agonisingly close game against RP to leave me 1-1 out of my two games against the archetype.

I didn’t drop a game with HB on Day One. I was extremely happy with how the deck performed, including digging me out of a 0-6 hole in one game against Ken Tenma through sheer efficiency and the well-tweaked ice spread. Wilfy has spent a long time refining the balance between aggression and control in the deck, and it really paid off for me in a number of close games throughout the day.

Jesse at an earlier store championship

Jesse at an earlier store championship

If you were able to play the event over, would you change your deck selection?

I would 100% go with HB again. It performed well, and I always felt comfortable sitting down and shuffling it up. I rarely felt that I was staying alive by the skin of my teeth, which I find can often be the case as corp when your servers are exposed in the mid game. It always felt like I was able to place enough of a tax on the runner to disincentivise repeated runs, and enough scoring pressure to force them to remain low on credits by engaging in low-percentage runs.

On the runner side, the boost I got from Legwork against NEH was probably not enough to justify the loss of Parasite and the loss of consistency from going down to two Datasuckers. That being said, despite the less-than-optimal results, some things did go against me on the day that would happen differently on another day. I was only able to start with Professional Contacts twice out of six games on day 1 (opening hands plus mulligans), which slowed me down considerably in some key matches.

Where I did have Contacts in my opening hand, I won the game. Being seemingly reliant on Contacts to win would be a bad thing were it not for the fact that you can mulligan aggressively for it because it smooths out your variance in and of itself, and that the deck still functions (albeit less efficiently) without it. The games where I didn’t have it were not blowouts by any means – I got to 6 points in a number of them, but I never felt like I was in control in the same way as I do when I have the Contacts on turn one.

What does that mean for deck selection? I still like the Kate deck a lot, and feel that it has good matchups against most of the field. I will be putting some thought into optimising the deck when it doesn’t have Contacts in its opener, and practicing more with Andy to give myself more of an option to go down that road if I want to in future big events.

In summary, I think Andy and Kate are close in power level, with Andy being more consistent and more aggressive, and Kate being slightly higher variance but with better matchups against a wider variety of decks.

For any National hopefuls next year, can you talk about the experience of worlds outside of the games?

Worlds was a blast. It was wonderful to be able to meet people from all over the globe, people who love the game and who came along to have fun and learn from each other. With a couple of small exceptions, the attitude was fantastic from the players, with people emphasising the importance of fair play and treating each other respectfully.

I was heartened by the fact that people did not seek to hold each other to verbal declarations of actions where no additional information had been revealed, and that people did not seek to harshly punish missed triggers. For instance, people were happy to allow their opponents to say “click two, I’ll gain one” and then take it back and say “actually I will draw first”, or vice versa if a card had not yet been drawn. Players were also willing to let their opponents gain Desperado credits, change security testing servers, rez Pad Campaigns, gain virus tokens and other triggers within a reasonable period of time from the missed trigger, which was good to see.

I would highly recommend that people pack their cards in their hand luggage, as I had a tense couple of days after I arrived where my bag was delayed, and I was concerned that I would not have my cards for the tournament. This undoubtedly impacted upon my preparation, causing me much stress, angst and wasted time on the phone to airlines in the leadup to the main event. It is entirely avoidable, so remember that you should keep the most important things (your decks for the tournament you are travelling across the world to play) with you at all times!

Otherwise, I would recommend that people become literate in more than one game if they are heading over. FFG has an excellent array of competitive games, and your entry ticket to worlds allows you to play in as many side and main events as you want over the weekend. If I had learnt Conquest, for example, I would have played in the side events on the first two days free of charge and enriched my overall experience.

Any finals words or shoutouts?

Thanks to:

  • All the guys in my testing group for their help in the leadup to the event
  • Dave and Liz Hoyland for keeping me company and hanging out with me at Worlds – you guys were great fun to be around and it was good to have some people with which to share the emotional energy of a big tournament
  • Hollis Eacho, Tim Bunn, Ben, Zach, Kenjy and all the other guys I played – we had some excellent matches and you were all extremely polite, respectful and exhibited unquestionably good sportsmanship.
  • Tom for organising my The Winning Agenda playmat – it was great to be able to rep for our podcast and the playmat started up lots of great conversations with listeners who were at Worlds.
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