The more Startup develops, the more we learn how much we can get away with as runners. Maintaining a high credit count is just not particularly necessary in Startup so long as you have access and are advancing your deck's gameplan. In other formats, cards like SEA//Scorched or HHN//Boom can lead to a low credit total spelling instant death. In Startup, credit punish flatlining can only happen from stealing a 5/3 when you aren’t planning on it into Punitive but this can be played around in other ways. As such, I have been experimenting with various runner decks that focus on big rigs with many moving parts while contesting remotes early without breakers and low credit totals, this list being the shining star that I didn’t really expect to work but keeps taking games. My other recent guides have been decks that are relatively easy to pilot even if they have a high skill ceiling. Here though, we have a deck that is difficult to pilot that will function far below other runners if you miss the opportunities the deck requires you take advantage of while accelerating yourself.
In this rube goldberg machine, every card helps you towards making money and running for cheap. Mantle pays to install Az discounted cards off ProgQ to get Class Act filter draw off Masterwork and then sell the trinket to Aesop. The cycle repeats itself. Sure Gamble just providing upfront credits is just not enough. Every card we play can either be installed off Prognostic Q-Loop, is an Az reduced Connection, is a run event (that triggers our run triggers) or is a resource we can sell to Aesop. We will get to the point where we are installing cards off ProgQ on both player’s turns to draw extra cards off Masterwork. Click compression 101. Once built, our rig will Legwork HQ on demand or just function as a Startup RD Interface. Once our deck is thin, we will find and install Boomerang once (if not twice) a run, without spending a single click. On top of that, the random trinkets we play to feed Pawnshop give us various tech choices against some corps. Oh, and if you thought Bukhgalter was the best Killer in Startup, have you tried Afterimage? This cat is the real deal.
We need a very good reason to keep a hand without either Masterwork or Prognostic Q-Loop. These are the two most important engine pieces and oftentimes we can keep a hand that has one of them and no credit providing cards. Alternatively, Class Act + money is a good enough reason to keep and usually Aesop's + junk alongside Boomerang is keepable, but it will be slow because we will have to do a lot of click to draw. Unlike my other runners, I tend to mulligan hands that have Boomerang and credits without any card draw or Aesop’s simply because we will waste too much time click drawing without at least a Class Act. I have noticed, if all three copies of either Masterwork or Prognostic Q-Loop are in the bottom 8 cards you will lose. So hopefully, our keep has one of those pieces or at least a Class Act filter to help.
Our goal is to spread out our Az triggers and balance building our rig with contesting the remote. Generally, if we have the Boomerang, feel free to contest anything. Once you have found ProgQ or Sec Testing you will be running at a minimum once a turn just for the triggers. We are a relatively slow big rig deck, do not feel the need to take single accesses if you can better spend your time building your rig. Before lategame, we don't usually run HQ or RD unless it is the cheapest server at the time and we’re just looking to trigger ProgQ or Sec Testing (or get the cost reduction on Toolkit). Our finished rig has considerable drip and the tool that locks down both HQ and RD, so the payoff of getting our rig built is quite large. Don’t get me wrong, make the corp play fair by forcing rezs and take spicy RD/HQ access if they refuse to put too much money into it; but we want to force rezs along the schedule of triggering ProgQ once a turn.
To summarize, consider you checklist for a turn to be (in order of importance)
Az McCaffrey: Mechanical Prodigy “pays” us a credit to install a Hardware, a Job or a Connection. We have 22 cards that qualify for this discount (more if you count reinstalling the same Boomerang). Put some thought into balancing your Az installs, you don’t ever want to miss one. Remember that Az will reduce the cost of a card once on your turn AND once on the corp turn so try to get a ProgQ install at the end of the corp turn whenever possible.
3x Bravado and 3x Dirty Laundry are our only six events. We really want to avoid playing the ‘classic’ Dirty Laundry archives for three credits. These cards are much better then Easy Marks when you hold them to align with a ProgQ check, a Masterwork install or a Security Testing trigger. Ideally all three, but just one is enough.
0x Sure Gamble not being included has already been discussed and I’ll admit is stylish but could be incorrect. Because this guide will not be including a considerations section; I do want to mention that making room for gamble will improve your turn one. I could certainly see cutting the Daily Casts for them directly, Cast is better value in a long game and grants a whopping extra credit when sold to Aesop but… better turn ones certainly do matter. Along a similar line, you could cut 1x Baklan, 1x Toolkit and 1x Daily Cast to fit 3x Sure Gamble. I would highly advise against cutting a card that is installable off ProgQ.
3x Boomerang will show up more here than any other startup deck because of ProgQ. Look to clickless install it off Masterwork or ambush it off ProgQ. It is often correct to check the top of the stack with ProgQ for Boomerang before making an important remote run even if it’s blind. Lategame, you will be able to drop two Boomerangs in a single run between Masterwork and ProgQ. The Boomerang tricks go on; we will often install a Boomerang on the corp’s turn off ProgQ when we know there is a Boomerang on top. If the corp refuses to rez an ice we have Boomeranged, try to Pawn it before you would otherwise overinstall. Our end game does generally require two Boomerangs being left in our deck, so pawning more than one can greatly increase the cost of runs against Glacier opponents with multiple big ice.
1x Docklands Pass is an excellent piece of Hardware that all criminal decks should run one copy of at least. We get to install it for 1 credit off Az and often will be doing so off Masterwork when the time is right for an HQ ambush.
3x Flip Switch is one of our trinkets. Most of the time we look to only install it on a turn when we have nothing else for our Az trigger and most of the time we will be selling the Flip Switch to Aesop. With that said, once Flip Switch is installed you can aggressively face check every server with Bravado and/or Security Testing. This will force tempo positive rezs for you and if the ice they show is dangerous, we can Flip Switch out. It also gains some equity removing tags against various NBN ice, Snare and our own Baklan. When none of those come up, sell it to Aesop.
2x Lucky Charm is our other trinket. When you get an Az trigger on Lucky Charm and have Pawnshop and Masterwork out, this card is click to draw a card and gain 3 credits. That’s a deal. Deckspots are very tight and I’d prefer to have three of these but have a very difficult time cutting something else for the third Charm and sometimes you draw multiple before you find Pawnshop (where it being unique is a downside). Feel free to sell your charms whenever but if it will save more then 2 credits breaking, pop them to “break” a Tollbooth or other single case “end the run” ice. If your opponent is on run ending upgrades, save them for the appropriate run. Otherwise, draw a card off installing it for free with Masterwork and sell it to Pawnshop.
3x Masterwork is a unique and exciting console that functions as a powerful click saving engine piece. Work hard to space out your hardware installs such that you draw from Masterwork once a turn. With ProgQ we want to try and trigger Masterwork on both corp and runner turns for maximum draw. We do play multiples, look to sell Masterwork to Pawnshop before filling in your rig when you have a second one in hand. Remember that you can overinstall Masterwork with either your Masterwork or ProgQ trigger. This will help accelerate you through your deck and is almost always correct to do if you have no other outlet for an Az trigger during a turn.
1x MU Safecracker makes you pay for what Docklands gives you for free. So, why play it? Well, what if we can have both? Wait, that’s three accesses on HQ a turn in a single run from just our hardware. Keep in mind, when you have extra crowbars around, unlike Docklands, you can crack HQ multiple times a turn over multiple runs. Once your rig is built, we will want to get in a Safecracker RD run every time there are two fresh cards on top. Ration your Toolkit money accordingly for such long games. Early in the game, Safecracker is not the most important card and it’s usually correct to bottom it off Class Act single click draws when you see it in the top 20 of the stack and to wait to install it until you’ve found Masterwork and Mantle.
3x Prognostic Q-Loop is why the deck works. Not enough can be said about this card and as you pilot the deck you will find new optimizations and Prog-Q plays to save on clicks and generate value. In short, try to look at the top two with it once a turn. Try to utilize Masterwork draw and Class Act filter to ensure a ProgQ install once a turn. It’s usually correct to burn a credit on the corp turn (ideally off Mantle) when you don’t know the top card of your deck. When you have juicy hits on ProgQ (like Boomerang or Penrose) make aggressive runs to force rezs the corp doesn’t expect you to break. Look to sell extra ProgQs to Aesop. Remember you can overinstall ProgQ with ProgQ, which then refreshes your ProgQ install trigger (but not the run trigger). Don’t install ProgQ off Masterwork or you won’t get to peek with it. The list of tricks goes on.
2x Afterimage with ample stealth credits makes running cheap and servers accessible. Try to install it relatively early to protect yourself from program destroying ice. The bypass on it is only once a turn, it is often correct to save the bypass or break with non stealth credits to make sure you have enough stealth credits for the other parts of your engine.
1x Makler and 1x Marjanah are our fractor tag team. This is certainly the achilles heel of our breaker suite. It’s cute that Marjanah is free off ProgQ and can be sold to Aesop (which is our plan for it) while providing a break when absolutely necessary. If you know you’re going to be breaking with the little lion, get a Security Testing run in before running the barrier’d server. On the other hand, Makler is not particularly well costed on any end when compared to Corroder and Cleaver but does save on influence for a permanent fractor. Honestly, we want to do everything we can to never have to break ice with Marjanah or Makler. This means using Boomerang on any barrier with more then two strength. Makler does put in work alongside Taka and Mantle breaking 2 strength or less barriers on a server you can Security Testing for value. Again, put off installing Makler as long as possible, most games we can win without it.
2x Penrose is often mediocre yet sometimes excellent. It is marginally better then Unity with two base strength lining up well against Enigma. Because our barrier breakers are subpar, we do want to try and get value out of Penrose’s barrier install reduction. Installing Penrose on a turn you’re running a Bran 1.0 or a Pharos for example. Look to sell a Penrose to Aesop before replacing it with a new one and running more big barriers.
2x Mantle can be a cost-reduced Rezeki if you work hard to spend its credit every turn. When you have nothing else to do with it, feed the credit to ProgQ at the end of the corps turn. Although usually we will want to install Mantle early, it can be risky to do so if you plan on face some types of ice before installing Afterimage or Flip Switch.
1x “Baklan” Bochlin is a swell fellow who gets you out of tight situations. The Az install reduction on him really does take him from interesting to quite solid. Because he’s unique, we only play one. Remember that Flip Switch can remove the tag Bochlin gives you. The corp does not have a chance to re-rez an ice you derez with Bochlin. We are not a derez deck so don’t feel like you need to get a huge credit swing out of Bochlin, it’s fine to use him alongside Boomerang for an access you couldn’t otherwise take. In many ways, he’s a slow Inside Job on demand in this deck that has enough synergy (Flip Switch and Az) to merit a spot.
2x Aesop's Pawnshop pays us for playing bad cards. Sounds fun, I’m in. Always plan one turn ahead and know what you are selling to Aesop on your next upkeep. I trigger Aesop's manually every turn by clicking on it in jNet. This allows me control over when things are sold. For example; during start of turn triggers, you can click Aesops and then on a Daily Casts at 2 credits. Alternatively, you can click a Daily Casts at 4 credits and then click on Aesops. We really really really want to sell a card every turn and put in the work to find things to keep Aesop’s coffers full. This means selling duplicates of Masterwork and ProgQ. This means selling Marjanah as soon as we run out of other junk. Sell Security Testing if the corp ices up all of their servers. I am not above selling a Boomerang I just installed on the corp turn from ProgQ or even selling Docklands Pass if I find it unlikely the corp will ever hold an agenda in HQ again (both of these plays are corner cases but will come up). As long as we got an Az discount on that Class Act or that hardware… as long as we spend three of the four Toolkit credits… then give it to Aesop.
3x Daily Casts are one click for five credits, six if we sell it to Aesop’s. That’s pretty good. Install it as soon as possible as long as doing so doesn’t take the place of a more important turn action (getting an Az trigger, Security Testing, ProgQ, etcetera)
3x Penumbral Toolkit are one click for 4 stealth credits or one click for 6 credits when you spend 3 and sell it to Aesops. That’s Daily Casts 4-6. They do require some work; if it’s free I’ll install Toolkit early but otherwise I’ll often wait until I have two before spending a Boomerang (off a Masterwork trigger) on HQ to get them down. Sometimes you will be forced to hard install them just to have enough stealth credits on a remote run. Remember that Toolkit can be used for anything during a run; for example you can install an Afterimage off ProgQ with Toolkit credits or trash a corp asset with Toolkit’s credits.
2x Security Testing at its lowest level is one click for two credits. That’s a fine investment over a long game. We are looking to pair it with Masterwork and ProgQ (as well as Dirty Laundry) to make even more money. Awkwardly, Security Testing is a Job. This means if you install it before a Hardware or Connection or other Job, it will soak up your Az reduction for the turn. As such, install Security Testing on your last click. Remember that two Security Testings will not both trigger if they are both set to the same server.
3x Class Act only costs Az three credits to install. Furthermore, it will give you filter draw on Masterwork on both your turn and corp turn ProgQ installs. Look to sell Class Act to Aesop as soon as you’re ready to install a second. Try to get your Class Act once a turn trigger in before looking at the top two with ProgQ, either by clicking to draw or drawing from Masterwork’s install.
1x Trickster Taka soaks up the rest of our influence. This little fox will keep your stealth breakers powered. Remember that Taka does not work with Safecracker, so plan your Mantle and Toolkit credits accordingly. Taka will often overflow if not attended to, so when making ProgQ and/or Security Testing runs with a Taka on 3 credits, spend Taka to boost a breaker even if there is no ice. This will prevent you from having to trash the fox at the end of your turn.
Glacier corps are most commonly played out of GameNet, AoT and Earth Station although they can appear in any ID in Startup. These corps are looking to play a slow game where they ice up centrals and stick an economy asset in their remote. Once they can afford to make large ice, they will start trying to score out. A fairly clear hallmark that your opponent is Glacier and not going to try to rush you is 5/3 agendas and particularly slow economy like Regolith Mining and Roughneck Repair Squad. These corps will usually spend their influence on Punitive Counterstrike or Anoetic Void. We want to play slow against them while doing our best to deny their economy. Our fully built rig drips hard enough that it will be impossible for them to score as long as we are respectful of Punitive and/or Void. Fortunately, we have counters to both. Lucky Charm directly counters upgrade strategies whereas the Class Act can be installed on the turn you steal an agenda to take you out of Punitive range. These corps will struggle to keep up with Pawnshop once your rig is built. A mistake you can make against Glacier when piloting a big rig deck is not developing your board and taking too many accesses early. Once they are set up, these corps can score out surprisingly quickly. These corps rely on you becoming exhausted from running, more so than anywhere else, don’t run too much.
Agenda printing corps will set up a single remote as soon as the first turn and then attempt to install a card in it every turn. Sometimes it’s an agenda they Seamless Launch or La Costa Grid and sometimes it’s just a Nico Campaign or Spin Doctor. These corps look to exhaust you by forcing you to run early and often. We are forced to keep up with them while building our rig. Fortunately, we have many tools to do this and although these corps will run upgrades like their Glacial cousins, they often have much cheaper ice that is more manageable once you have found your rig. If the remote becomes too much to handle, try and camp RD with MU Safecracker and stop them from drawing the next agenda before they can threaten to score it.
Horizontal corps will look to install more assets then you can reasonably trash. Try to gauge if your hand has the credits to keep up, don’t break the bank to take out a Pad Campaign. With that said, some of our hands can keep up with even the grindiest Horizontal corp thanks to Aesop’s and Security Testing. This is the only matchup where sometimes I’ll keep both Security Testings and use them twice in a turn. When doing this, they have to be set to different servers but these decks tend to build many servers and not ice all of them. These corps tend to be relatively ice light and finding a stream of Boomerangs is enough to take a few cheeky Safecracker accesses throughout the game. For the most part, we want to build our rig and play board control.
Single score corps are looking to win the game by advancing a single card in their remote. Either Clearinghouse or two Neurospikes. If you can identify that this is the corp’s plan, be even more careful saving your Boomerangs and Lucky Charms. Also, be more aggressive trying to force rezs on HQ and RD. For example; set Security Testing you’d otherwise put on archives to RD until they rez the RD ice. Forcing them to play fair and keep their credit total down will go miles in giving you time to have the proper bypass and breakers to contest their remote. Whenever you can afford to, clear out their remote. Waiting too long to do so could give them time to find Anoetic Void or NEXT Activation.
Gotcha game corps (not to be confused with gacha game corps) can be quite popular in Startup casual lobbies. Sometimes they are Jinteki traps, sometimes they are Ganked Archer or maybe it’s the old Cerebral Overwriter versus three point agenda casino. When I am unsure what the corp is doing and they don’t appear to have a consolidated plan, I assume they are a gotcha deck. We can afford to be a tad reckless with our breakers because we have duplicates of all of them as well as Boomerang to pick up the slack on what we’re missing. Furthermore; Flip Switch is excellent at getting you out of sticky ice situations or removing tags from a last-click Snare. We do have to be careful about losing Mantle. As such, install it early against Jinteki (to not lose it to net damage) and hold it until you’ve found Afterimage or at least a Flip Switch against Weyland (who has program destruction). Being locked out of stealth credits can quickly lead to us being locked out of servers. Remember that your stack is your lifetotal against grindy Jinteki damage decks. As such, it’s often correct after the first few turns, to click for credits instead of installing a Daily Casts. A card not played is a hitpoint gained.
Maybe you can find a way to use Boomerang four times in a turn, my best has been three. Outside of when Masterwork or ProgQ never show up, losses with Stealth Az always feel more so than other decks to be from choices we make as the pilot. That’s the perfect place for a deck to be and keeps me coming back for more. Come on by the GLC discord server; the startup channel is a great place to discuss and tune Startup decks and there is a long-running Startup league you can join at any time. Thanks again to ValeNetrunner and Hope for proofreading. I’ll see you next time with another Startup guide. Happy flatlining.
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