“Game Over” by Krembler
Call me an optimist, but if you had told me that, months after the end of official FFG support, I'd be watching a tournament whose top cut included people from 8 countries in 4 continents (and even more places represented in Swiss), I wouldn't have been that surprised. If you had told me that this tournament would feature seasoned players (including community stalwarts like Spags and Jonas Wilson) who've been playing Netrunner since release rubbing shoulders with beginners, some of whom were attending a tournament for the very first time, I would have thought "d3dgaem? What d3dgaem?" If you had told me that the commentators for the first day included the hosts of three different podcasts, two of which didn't get off the ground until after cancellation, I would have been impressed, but not flabbergasted. However, if you had told me that Force of Nature would not only get installed in a tournament game, but actually win games for the Runner, I'd have called you a liar and a ruselord and never run an uniced advanced card of yours again!
121 people turned up on Jinteki.net to play with just a single copy of System Core 2019 over the three days of the NISEI Core Experience Tournament. They came from all over the world, and despite our attempts at accommodating different time zones, one player had to drop out of the last round of Swiss to go to class after playing all night (Japan), and one player missed the top 16 because they slept through their 4am alarm (Australia)! Players sacrificed sleep, the Super Bowl, and the opportunity to go outside and film Polar Vortex videos to be online playing Netrunner.
And it wasn't just the players who were making sacrifices to be there: our indomitable streamers (Kelfecil, Andrej, and Codemarvelous, streaming Swiss 1, Swiss 2, and top 16 respectively) provided a combined sixteen and a half hours of informative, professional, and at times uproariously funny commentary. Their co-hosts were no slouches either, with special mentions going to Tristan and Nicole for getting up before 5am to co-host the start of the first day, NISEI's Dis and RealityCheque for staying up until 1am commentating the second day, Netjogging for skipping a Superbowl party to commentate the third day only to be prevented by a city-wide blackout, our Eternal Tournament winner Lostgeek for stepping in to replace him, and Dave "Rotage" Saiya for RFGing all three Hyperdrivers to ensure he had enough clicks to be either on comms or in stream chat during all three days! The biggest props, however, surely belong to the TO, Akira Mitchell, for apparently cloning herself and performing TO, judge, Discord cat wrangler, cobr.ai sheepdog, and stream chat shitposter duties simultaneously over three gruelling, sleepless days!
But not all had to suffer Dickensian levels of hardship to participate, as some players decided to make a party out of it. Specifically, a LANparty, as NISEI's own Vesper joined three of his best local meta friends to play through their Swiss rounds together. He describes the mood in the room as one of "absolute silence in the room while everyone's playing and then nervous peeking over other people's shoulder to see if they manage to get their points each round. Great atmosphere and a lot of good vibes (almost as if we were competing or something)." This focus on maximising their competitive success worked out – Marc, one of the four, made the top cut, and claimed second place, but it distracted them from realising the greatest significance of their gathering: it was possibly the world's first meatspace meetup, to play an online tournament of a meatspace card game set in an online world! The Inception-level layers of nested virtual worlds within real worlds within virtual worlds is surely the most "Netrunner" thing that has happened for a long time!
The games themselves were fresh, fun, and intense to watch. For anyone who feels the nostalgia of old school Core-only Netrunner, the Core Experience format will certainly scratch that itch, but with the modified card pool meaning there’s a different and fresh game waiting to be discovered. The restricted card pool meant that gameplay focussed on good fundamentals, and was immediately recognisable as classic Netrunner despite the System Core 2019 card pool being so different than that of the original Core.
What made the greatest impression on me as a spectator, however, was how certain niche, underpowered cards, which have always been binder fodder when playing with the full card pool, suddenly proved themselves to be effective and powerful. I already mentioned above how much play Force of Nature saw, despite being one of the most reviled decoders in the game. Its effectiveness prompted surprise, disbelief, and, eventually, riotous laughter whenever one was installed, with Kelfecil joking that it's just as good as Gordian Blade versus Enigma (given a Datasucker token, and only when not running last click).
The limited format gave so many cards that rarely see play a chance to shine! Paper Trail proved the bane of many a Runner who just happened to have a fully-loaded Kati Jones or an Armitage Codebusting installed when it was scored, with guest commentator Seamus Macleod calling it "the real star of all the games we've watched". The card's obscurity in Standard caught many by surprise, and, with SC19 Runners being so reliant on Kati Jones for economy, it proved a powerful and swingy card in the format.
Similarly, Lamprey proved oppressive to Corps who made the mistake of leaving HQ undefended, and seeing a Notoriety get played would have made fans of the classic Notorious Daily Quester decks squeal with joy (as demonstrated by Kelfecil, who was himself notorious for his Silhouette decks back in the day). The Runner faceplanting into an Aggressive Secretary also prompted peals of laughter by the comms team, who had only just been joking about how unlikely such an include was! We even saw a Flare being rezzed, albeit only after the game was over, using the winning Priority Requisition to rez it for free! PriReq wasn't just a source of laughter and rainbows though, as it proved to be the winning agenda for the Runner far more often than for the Corp. This caused Codemarvelous to call it the "worst card" and the stream chat to coin the meme "Pri Wrecked" (which I would totally wear on a t-shirt for the enterprising among you)!
Criminals and Weyland proved to be the best factions in System Core, with the top 16 dominated by Leela and Blue Sun. However, six of the seven main factions were represented in the cut, with only Haas-Bioroid missing out. At these higher levels of play, Leela's kung fu proved too strong for most Corps, with the one-two punch of sniping an agenda from an unprotected R&D, bouncing HQ ice, and Legworking for another two points becoming a signature move! The grand final, between Spags and Marc, was an intense game, with both players exhibiting some very strong skills! The OG King of Servers himself, Spags, took the title, and I will close this article by embedding that game below. Enjoy the game, and I hope you'll choose to play in the next tournament we run!