15 Minutes... with Sanjay and Craig

Welcome to “15 Minutes”, as brought to you by “Probably Not the Best Smoke Substitute in the World”.

“15 Minutes” is planned as a series of written interviews with various members of the global Netrunner community, with the goal of showcasing the greatness and diversity we all represent. Ideally, it would inspire both existing players to be even more excellent to each other and those who don’t know Netrunner yet to join us in shuffling cards, counting clicks, spending credits, and being a part of one of the most interesting gaming communities out there.

We are kicking the series off with Craig and Sanjay, whose story first caught my attention on one of the many StimSlack channels. After a brief chat, Craig graciously agreed to drag Sanjay into the virtual interview booth and volunteered to share his side of the story.

On the way to Euregio

Vesper: Hi Craig, hi Sanjay! Both of you attended the 8th Euregio in Essen (Germany) a short while ago - and from what I hear, you had quite a blast. How did you end up going all the way to Essen for Netrunner?

Sanjay: It’s all Craig's fault! Care to comment, Craig?

Craig: Sanjay is a friend of mine from university. We met up for a board game weekend together last year and I had just bought the Netrunner core set. I taught him the basics and he absolutely loved it, but we lived far apart and I moved to Germany at the end of the year so opportunities to meet and play were limited. In July this year, to try to get more of my friends interested in the game and playing, I ran an online league on jnet. It helped to bring together my friends from Münster and back home in Bristol and London.
After having not played since we last met about 8 months previously, Sanjay decided to join two weeks before the league started. He called me incessantly every day asking about cards and decks, hammered the group to find games and spectated every single game he wasn’t playing. At the end of the month, he had taken the top spot, beating out 14 other participants that included a lot of more experienced players. I invited everyone from the league to Euregio and the Cologne GNK before but only Sanjay could make it. I built him some decks, explained how the Swiss system works and unleashed him on the German players. He did well, to say the least.

Vesper: Wait, so you’re trying to tell me you started playing Netrunner only last year, you still had a blast, and you managed to get a good position in a rather well-developed meta, Sanjay? Would you say that Craig is a good teacher and trainer then?
(Craig, how much do you charge per hour of consultation via jinteki.net? I need to step up my ruse game)

Sanjay: Occasionally, you find someone who has mastered something, they have learned how to be the best doctor/lawyer/magician/thief… Then you meet Craig ,who has mastered the art of learning. He thus understands to an expert level how to impart his Netrunner knowledge, and is without a doubt one of the greatest teachers I have ever met. I just completed a law course in London called the GDL, which is a three-year undergraduate degree compressed into less than 9 months. Before beginning, Craig sat and trained and drilled me in his learning methods for a day. I went on to score in the top 5% nationally this year. His teachings were critical in that. So when I decided to come to play my first ever tournament, I did so only on the agreement that Craig would spend a day drilling me and my technique. I lost every single game I played against Craig that day, and he ripped me to pieces with all my mistakes. The next day, I placed 13th in the tournament. That guy knows his Netrunner, and how to teach it.

Master Certified Teacher

Vesper: That’s some pretty strong coach credentials right there. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were asked to mentor by a few people soon, Craig.

So you’re both definitely deep into running servers and baiting runs. Is Netrunner the first deckbuilding / collectible card game for both of you? What’s so special about it? Would you have imagined playing it at a competitive level around Europe when picking it up?

Craig: For me, it is. I've played board games and computer games before but Netrunner is the first deckbuilding / collectible card game I've played.

Pay to Win

Sanjay: I played Magic: The Gathering many years ago, but Netrunner is so much better for me on two counts: The asymmetric nature of the game is completely unique and adds a really impressive dynamic to the game; Magic quickly became a pay-to-win game. If you didn’t have the rare or legendary card, your deck was weaker and you would lose. With Netrunner you can access all the cards at a much more affordable cost. What’s more, the Netrunner community is unlike any I have ever encountered before! Okay, so that is three not two reasons, but allow me to illustrate the third a bit more. I turn up to my first ever tournament, nervous, not knowing anyone but Craig, and this dude I have never met before comes up to me:

Random Dude:  "Are you Sanjay?"
Me: “Yeah?”
Random Dude: "You’re playing Chaos Theory, right?"
Me: “Er... Yeah?”
Random Dude: "Here you go! Play this."

...and he just handed me a special edition alternative-art version of the card. When I chatted to him later, he said someone had done it for him at his first tournament and he was paying it forward! I have never turned up to any group where everyone was so welcoming, and where the people on the top were so humble about it (that guy turned out to be Elwin, he placed second in the tournament, and he is running a Netrunner event where you get free lasered I.D.s as a participation prize, check it out here). There are another ten stories just like this from that weekend - around cards, advice, take backs during the game, and a beautiful Netrunner playmat from a legend called Gereon, who organised the Saturday game so that I could play in style. It reminded me of the capacity for generosity that humans have, and has inspired me to up my life game in that respect.

Streamers gonna stream

Vesper: The community streak of great people playing Netrunner continues… But surely you’re both aware of the sad fact that there will be no more officially supported organized play, nor any new cards being released, come 22nd October. What were your reactions to the announcement (once you learned of it) and what does that mean for your future Netrunner plans and aspirations?

Sanjay: Well, ironically that’s what drove me harder into the sport. The reason I bought a last minute ticket to Germany to go play Netrunner was because I felt like this might be my last chance to play in a tournament, so rather than wait until I was ready or a more suitable time, I just made it happen. I went in thinking that this would be my one (and only) tournament that I would ever play in.

Craig: I was really devastated when I read the announcement regarding the end of Netrunner. I mostly played kitchen table until the very start of this year but i decided that if I wanted to improve, I needed to step into the wider Netrunner scene. Me and two friends went to Euros in Birmingham as our first official tournament and we couldn’t have had a better introduction to the international community. We found a group of people that understood the passion we had for Netrunner because they felt the same way and which made us feel welcome and comfortable despite our lack of experience. And then a mere week later the news hit.

After lots of anger, frustration, and sadness, the news of NISEI emerged and I felt that perhaps this might not be as bad as it seemed. Then it became apparent that NISEI was full of organised, coordinated, talented individuals, and there was actually cause for optimism. After that, it became clear that they intended to fix problems with the game, release new cards, engage the community, keep the scene alive, and communicate clearly and honestly with their audience every single week.

For me, as someone who came in late, I think Netrunner under NISEI could be better than ever and I’m extremely optimistic about the future of the game. I intend to continue to evangelise about the game to strangers, to play at meetups, and to make it to every tournament I can because the best things about Netrunner are the people, the unique and fascinating game mechanics, and the sheer joy of playing with such a wonderful community. None of that is going to change any time soon.

Vesper: So has this really been your last tournament, Sanjay? Come on, you’re on a good roll there! Where will you play Netrunner next?

Sanjay: Ha ha! Yeah, I am far from done! Whilst I thought that this tournament would be my only chance, my expectation (now that I know how dedicated the community members are), is that there will be plenty more tournaments in the coming 12 months. I expect that I’ll do another in Germany when Craig invites me, but I’d also like to enter nationals if I am able. Just for fun though - I love the game but I am a long way from chucking the normal job in and going full time pro!

Vesper: May I live to see the day when we have professional Netrunner players… I’d definitely try hard to join their ranks myself :-) Now, with your entry points into the game differing quite a bit, I wonder: if either of you were to get someone totally new to Netrunner to play the game outside of the “kitchen Runner” context, how would you go about it nowadays?

Craig: Most of the people I’ve taught Netrunner to generally fall into two categories: either they are already competitive when it comes to games and they want to go to competitions straight away, or they are intimidated by the card pool and just want to play with set decks that they know all the cards from.

For the first group (those of a more competitive disposition), the people I have spoken with are put off by the lack of official support since the announcement. I think in that case, only a strong community showing over the next year will make them want to engage. If we can continue to draw people to the game and continue the surge in people coming out to organised play events that we’ve seen since the revised core was released, then I think that will help counteract that fear of learning a “dead game” and help draw people into the scene.

For the second group (those intimidated by the card pool), I think limited formats are key. I’ve now run two leagues for my friends and colleagues using only the revised core and one or two Kitara Cycle data packs and it’s really helped them to get into the game and overcome their fear of sitting down to play, just to be killed by a card they didn’t know existed.
Cache Refresh, 1.1.1.1 and tournaments with set decks such as TheBigBoy’s league all seem a great way to move players from the kitchen table to their FLGS and with proxies becoming more acceptable moving forward, that will be more possible than ever.

Sanjay: Craig’s got this. I would just add a reminder to allow your own enthusiasm for the game to shine through when introducing it to a new player. Allowing them to see the joy you take in the game will help them work through those more difficult first games when they are still learning the mechanics.

Good times were had!

Vesper: Now, let's imagine I just met you across the table at an event. What would I know about you as a Netrunner player after our two games?

Sanjay: That I am a really good loser! You’d likely beat me in at least one game, and you’d have seen my genuine enthusiasm for whatever slick moves you played whilst schooling my ass, so you’d learn that I am someone who can take joy in playing regardless of the win.

Craig: That I like to build my own Corp decks; that I like to chat while I play; and that I play Hayley at every tournament because I think it helps me learn and improve rather than because I am actually any good with her.

Vesper: What’s better - scoring agendas or stealing agendas?

Craig: I have always enjoyed Corp much more than Runner and I’m not a fan of kills - for me, scoring 7 points through deception, misdirection and ruses is as good as it gets :)

Sanjay: I like either - but I want my games to be tight. My favourite games finish at 7 to 6 points, or both parties are one move away from winning, and someone takes it. Those are the ones I remember the most.

Vesper: I enjoy scoring out and winning by a point or two as well. Good to remember these useful pointers if we ever meet over our playmats ;-) OK, could you help me finish the sentence: “In 2020, Netrunner will…”?

Craig: … still have an active community and player base and it will still be one of the most unique and exciting games most of us have ever played.
Everything I’ve heard about NISEI’s plans for 2019 have me excited to keep playing - card rotation, organised play, game night kits, community, cards, and all the rest.  It doesn’t feel to me as if the options for playing Netrunner will diminish at all; the only change I can see so far is that events will now be organised by people who are more responsive to the community than FFG were able be do during their time.
In regards to Netrunner itself, one thing will never change - it will still be the most unique, most exciting, most interesting game that I’ve ever played, with mechanics and core gameplay that keep me coming back over and over again.  If we can keep the incredible community that has grown up around the game too, then I can see no reason why we won’t all still be spamming assets and digging for bin breakers in 2020.

Sanjay: … still be obsessively played by one Craig Vanaman, no matter what. The fans could lose interest, the community give up on trying to keep it alive, the government could outlaw the game and create a special unit of lethal killers tasked with hunting down and eliminating any remaining Netrunner players to ensure that it is purged from all existence… yet in some small basement room, lit only by the flickering light of a bulb powered by a bicycle-powered dynamo, Craig will be found, clad in rags, rocking back and forth, his sanity clearly driven from the stress of being constantly hunted. In front of him the world’s last remaining cards are spread out on a wooden crate. All that can be heard is the slow drip of water, and the soft sound of three words repeated over and over again like a religious litany… “Always be running”.

Vesper: Hahaha, I really hope we end up in the best possible timeline (especially for Craig’s sake). As we’re wrapping up, is there a question you wish I had asked?

Craig: “If there is one card that you could set on fire, have a dog urinate on and then shoot into the sun, never to return to earth and thus be removed from Netrunner forever, what would it be?”
My answer: Hard-Hitting News.

Sanjay: “If you could play anyone at Netrunner, who would it be, and why?”
My answer: Summer Glau, because she’s Summer Glau!

Vesper: I was expecting slightly different answers from you to my question. Thank you for managing to surprise me! Finally, is there a question you would like to ask to the next person (or people) I am going to interview as part of “15 Minutes…”?  

Craig: “Please tell me about your most memorable turn/game in Netrunner.”

Sanjay: “If you could play anyone at Netrunner, who would it be and why?”

Vesper: Very well, I hope I’ll get to ask these soon to someone from our community who’s as much fun to interview as you two. Thank you so much for sharing a piece of your Netrunner story with us - and see you around!

For those of you interested in playing a game or two against Craig or Sanjay (yes, we’re posting this in hope of Summer Glau finding and reading this page), you can find Craig in the Cologne meta or both of them on jinteki.net as mrteatime66 and sanjayshelat (who, when not on jinteki, apparently likes to breathe fire).

“15 Minutes” will return soon with more questions and answers by you and for you! In the meantime, please let us know who you’d like to see interviewed here and why - and if you’ve got some questions to suggest, go for it! The comments section is all yours.