I’ve been playing deck building games for a long time now, but I’ve recently gotten into deck building for Android: Netrunner, and I wanted to share a bit about how I build my decks. Now, it should be said that I’m not a competitive Netrunner player, nor is my meta particularly large, so the following can all be taken with a few grains of salt.
Step 1: Know your win condition
When designing a deck, the first thing you want to know is what your win condition is. This lets you weigh options when you’re trying to decide between two cards. For instance, if, as the corp, you’re going to win by flatlining the runner, Scorched Earth is a very useful card; if, on the other hand, you plan on winning by advancing agendas, you may not need many copies (if any.) Similarly, as the Runner, if you will win by stealing agendas from remote servers, Passport isn’t going to do you a lot of good.
It’s worth noting here, that this doesn’t actually have to be a standard win condition for the game. Your win condition might be, “get 10 ICE in front of R&D” or “pull off my awesome combo” – if that’s your win condition, then make it so! It may not win you games, but if it’s fun, roll with it.
Step 2: Know how you want to achieve your win condition
Where step 1 is knowing your target, this is all about how to get there, and is the real focus of the deck. For me, this is also where I get creative and get into the concept of the deck. For Astudillo Defense Systems, this is where I decided I was going to protect my servers using Code Gates. Done well, you’re really going to narrow down your card choices in this step – In Astudillo Defense Systems, I could rule out any ICE that wasn’t a Code Gate, and I ruled out a lot of Code Gates because they weren’t going to be effective at protecting my servers (notice, this wasn’t a deck about letting the Runner in and punishing them, it’s about protecting my servers.)
I tend to think of card choices here similarly to thinking about a focus in Mage: The Ascension. If your win condition is the effect you’re trying to create, and how you are creating it is your paradigm, what cards you choose are your focus.
Step 3: Work your meta
Up until this point, your deck hasn’t really dealt with what your opponent may do to prevent you from achieving your goal. In my opinion, for casual deck-building, this is the least important thing to add to your deck for a couple of reasons. First, if you’re playing a casual deck, the last thing you want is to frustrate your opponents by having a hard counter to what they’re doing. Second, for me, it’s more fun to have a cool deck than it is to have a good deck. Still, including a couple of cards to help you get out of a sticky situation is handy.
Step 4: Separate core cards from support cards
Next, lay your entire deck out in front of you and separate out the cards that are core to the deck from those that support the deck. You might find it useful to further categorize this into Economy, ICE, Operations & Assets, but however you do it, have a way to visualize your entire deck at once.
This makes it easy to see what is really important to making your deck work, and what just helps make the deck work. This view also gives you a good chance to make sure you’re not overextending your deck and think critically about how it’s going to work – does everything in the core stack achieve the same goal (or are you trying to do too many different things in a single deck?) Is your combo too complicated (are there too many cards you need to pull it off?)
Step 5: Trim your deck
I always recommend trimming your deck as much as possible. When going above the minimum deck size, I usually think about it this way: “is a 1 in 50 chance of seeing this new card worth decreasing the chance of seeing every other card in my deck?” If the answer is yes, then you have justified growing your deck, if the answer is no, then you should remove something else to make room for it. This provides the ability for comparing two cards directly, usually using the criteria for how well it’s going to get you to your goal.
Step 6: Play, Tune, and Repeat
Before trying to do any more theorycrafting, I recommend playing your deck in at least one game. This usually tells you if your economy is too tight, if you have the ICE balance you need, and whether your support cards are working. Additionally, if you play a game and your deck works exactly as you had planned, but you never even saw one of your “core” cards, you should look closely as to whether it was core or whether another card had taken its role (i.e. it was one of two or more alternatives.) If something seems off, start again at step 4, and swap in or out additional copies of cards (or pull something new in) to try to shore those things up.
While I may not be a word-class deckbuilder, I find that I at least build decks that can usually do what I want. It’s also worth noting that I explicitly don’t build tournament decks, which is why looking at the meta is so low on my list. I play deckbuilding games casually, and that’s all I intend to do.