Startup has quickly become my favorite netrunner format. With how well received my guides have been, I suppose this is going to become a regular thing. Steve is a well known Startup runner and this list isn’t innovative, there have been a number of Steve lists in circulation by great deck authors. Some similar, some very different… but when deciding what runner to write on, I do love to pilot Steve and this is how I play him. At over 70 games between jNet casual and GLC’s netrunner league, my winrate for him is just above 70%. The list presented has gone through many changes and refinements since the start of the format before arriving where it is now. This guide is geared towards new/returning players to navigate some of the tips and tricks of individual cards and the logic behind the card choices so that you can edit the deck for your own playstyle in the evolving Startup meta. Whereas Startup corps benefit from surprises, runners benefit from small tech decisions that can wildly swing specific matchups.
All those runners work so diligently to find Agendas. Steve accidentally falls upon them while triggering his ability on HQ runs or trying to force RD and remote rez’s for Bravado or Emergency Shutdown value. Really, why try so hard. It’s always better to be lucky. Our plan is rather simple in theory, but stacking the deck can be a complicated process. We have a robust run based economy that leans into Swift and a deck chock full of juicy duplicates that allow Steve to really stretch what we need when we need it. The real key to Steve piles is removing the corps choice, creating a Morton’s Fork through either presenting two of the same card or two cards, both of which are crushing.
Evaluating if a hand is a keep or a mulligan can be quite difficult for this deck. The ideal opening hand has card draw, burst economy, one ice bypass and slow economy. For example Earthrise Hotel, Sure Gamble, Mystic Maemi, Boomerang + any other card (Career Fair or more money would be perfect). Hands rarely come out this clean or obvious. If the hand has Earthrise or Class Act and any amount of economy, it is probably a keep. If the hand has two credit generating cards and bypass it is also probably a keep, just know that without draw, you’ll be clicking to draw twice a turn for the first few turns of the game. You have to aggressively hunt for the first Earthrise.
We are choosing to play as Steve Cambridge: Master Grifter over Ken and Zahya. Although we are a Swift run event deck, Mr. Express will generate less value over a game then Steve. The master grifter allows us to run less run events than Ken while still duplicating the ones we need. Thanks to ample card draw, we will find both Maker’s Eyes against Glacier corps and Steve squeezes three out of two if you wait long enough for both to show up. Unlike Ken or Zahya who can only generate credits, Steve provides flexibility. Need a breaker? Inside Job HQ choosing Earthrise and Mutual Favor. The options are yours. It can, however, not be stressed enough that just because you can make a Steve pile doesn’t mean you should. It is often correct to save important pieces until you have doubles. Liberated, Maker's Eye and Emergency Shutdown are cards the corp doesn’t want to give you back and is usually not worth pawning from your heap for a Sure Gamble.
3x Bravado and 3x Dirty Laundry are the bread and butter. Try to heavily avoid firing either one of them off “just because you can.” You want to make runs with Laundry that can accidentally give you a single access or at least soak up two Mystic Maemi credits or at the very least force the corp to crack a Spin Doctor. Bravado, on the other hand, should be used early to force rezs on RD and the Remote (as in, don’t Bravado a rezzed Barrier just for 3 credits). A lot of playing Steve is about not running HQ so that you can spread the corp’s economy as thin as possible. Corps are pressured to heavily invest in HQ ice against you, use this to your advantage to create openings elsewhere. If they can’t afford to rez RD and still protect HQ, then you get extra Bravado credits and an access. If they do rez RD, then you might just find your Emergency Shutdown target or score off a single. Create win win situations for these economy run events and not just Laundry a faceup archives or Bravado an Ice Wall.
3x Career Fair speeds up the deck. If you cut the Liberated’s you could certainly trim some Career Fairs. They really excel though at getting Earthrise and the Class Act into play turns 1-3 at minimal cost, which is crucial for providing the fuel you’ll need to burn through resources.
3x Sure Gamble should be played in every runner deck with few exceptions.
3x Emergency Shutdown creates hard turns in the game. The corp has finally stabilized but then an Inside Job HQ run or Sneakdoor ambush leads to you disarming two of their ice. Try to avoid shutting down ice that costs 4 or less to Rez unless the corp is broke and you need access. It may seem simple but, consider what ice the corp deck tends to run. Against Weyland we really want to line Shutdown up with Pharos or Archer. Against GameNet, can we get away with not shutting down the annoying F2P on HQ to save it for their Tollbooth rez? Corp decks that are weak to eShutdown will never give it to you in a Steve pile; yes, you can use that to leverage them to fork over your Hotels, but most of the time, we should just be waiting for an eShutdown doubles pile.
2x Inside Job has incredible flexibility when early it provides remote bypass and late it is free off PPVP/Maemi/Swift for a cheap HQ Steve trigger. As such, try to save them for when you really need them. Between Inside Job and Boomerang you have the tools to get past any gear check the corp presents you with. Mid and late game, look to hold Inside Job to break into an expensive HQ and secure an important Steve pile or eShutdown. Similar to your other doubles, try to wait on Job in a Steve pile until you can present doubles. Oftentimes I wish there was a third, feel free to find room for it.
1x Legwork just covers your bases. HQ multi access is not the most necessary in a deck that profits so much from HQ single access runs already. With that said, corps tend to ice HQ hard against you. As such, by lategame, the price of entry is oftentimes not worth it for singles. Legwork alongside docklands will convert that into a full sweep. It is highly recommended to skip leg day until you have a very very (may I say very) high suspicion that HQ is stacked and worth the peak. Just because you can Legwork does not mean that you should. Did the corp just Sprint or Spin Doctor? Most corps use Sprint to either tuck agendas into RD or to find agendas they will install that turn, similarly most corps use Spin Doctor to remove flood or to find agendas to remote threaten with Seamless Launch on the same turn. Based on your opponent's last few turns, what are the odds that sweeping HQ is going to be more worth your time then building your rig or just clicking your Liberated?
2x Mutual Favor helps us find the breakers we need when we need them. Not much to say here besides possibly a comment on how greedy single breakers are in Startup format. This is the only runner list I am currently playing single breakers in. This means being more careful than otherwise when breakers are in grip or installed. Do not face check Jinteki ice with programs in hand. Don’t facecheck Weyland ice with programs installed and no killer.
2x Maker’s Eye is our RD access of choice and we can stretch these two copies to lock the corp for a considerable amount of time. Unlike Legwork, we should fire Makers anytime the price of RD entry is reasonable. It’s been said before, but don’t offer Makers in a Steve pile that doesn’t include a second Makers. There are some cases where you should consider how likely RD is to be stacked before firing. For example; if the corp has a Spin Doctor and facedown cards in archives, try to clear the Doctor (force the shuffle) before spending a run event on RD. Similarly, right after the corp Sprints tends to be a good time for Maker’s Eye and a bad time for Legwork. Late game, look to time multiple Maker’s Eye over multiple turns to lock the top of RD. Just make sure to track how much the corp is drawing on each of their turns. To be a broken record, 2 Maker’s Eye is actually 4 when you present a Steve doubles pile and then Buffer Drive back the fourth. That should be enough to close any game where you’ve wrangled a reasonable position.
3x Boomerang is our bypass of choice. It is slightly better then Inside Job in this list because you can stack it with other run events. Boomerang + Bravado for a nice access and some money. Boomerang + Inside Job to gain remote access through any two ice in Startup without breakers. Boomerang + Legwork, Maker’s or heck even Dirty Laundry for a guaranteed run success at a bargain price. When boomeranging unrezzed ice, try to make sure it's one that you can afford to leave the Boomerang on for an extended period of time, many corp players will not rez ice, especially RD ice, that you’ve Boomeranged . This is usually good for you on HQ ice but worth the time to consider before making the investment. A Boomerang trick that comes up once every ten games to be somewhat aware of, you can put a Boomerang into a Steve pile on a run you use it to breach HQ.
1x Buffer Drive is awful yet has continued to fill a specific niche that keeps its influence spot over the other options. First off, don’t install it. Not usually worth it. Just let the thing rot in your grip. But then why do we play it? Well, there is no Labor Rights in startup and Harmony costs an arm and a leg. Buffer Drive, for half the influence price of Retrieval Run, lets you play duplicates of all of your breakers just incase the corp manages to trash one of them. Buffer Drive, for a single influence, buys back a Maker’s Eye. Buffer Drive, for but one influence pip, clogs the grip until it can pick up whatever you need at the cost of 3 credits and two clicks. Not a great deal, but a flexible one. Plus, install it against PE and SDS decks early.
1x Docklands Pass shows up at some point. Due to it being unique and not the most important part of our gameplan, we really only need one. Install it when you can afford it and don’t worry if you can’t.
1x Lucky Charm is criminally underplayed in crim decks, let alone underplayed in non crim decks. Anoetic Void got you down? Skunkwork surprising you when you have no clicks left? Heck, been ambushed by a lurking Tollbooth lately? Better Lucky Charm then good. If only we had a reason to run HQ before running the remote… right, we play Steve. Lucky Charm has been so strong in this list that going to two isn’t unreasonable. If we don’t suspect Void, then fire it off whenever you can get value from it. If you do suspect Void, save it and thank yourself later.
1x Prepaid VoicePAD was once the card I had this deckname saved as in jNet. Prepaid Shutdown. As it turns out, paying two to install PPVP can be fairly tempo negative and takes awhile to pay off. So, we cut it down to two PPVP. Then we wondered, what if we invested some influence in upgrading a PPVP to a Mystic Maemi. Now, we play one PPVP. It may seem strange as a single, but thanks to all your draw you will find PPVP or Maemi early enough to drip off of.
1x Swift might need to be a two of with how much value it generates. Try to space out your run events over multiple turns to maximize Swift triggers. Before we’ve found Swift, we would prefer to leave Dirty Laundry and Bravado out of Steve piles when possible to focus on making Sure Gamble with Daily Casts piles.
Bukhgalter, Corroder, and Unity are the three best stand alone Startup icebreakers in a finished rig that require no support from other cards. They are flexible and offer you the best rate across all ice without being particularly strong or weak against any particular ice. We spend influence on both Corroder and Unity to save a considerable amount of credits over the course of the game in comparison to the expensive to use in faction fractor and decoder (Makler and Abagnale)
1x Sneakdoor Beta will be expected by most corps out of your ID. Regardless, we want to use it to spread the corp's ice as thin as possible. Look to install it after already forcing HQ rezs to enable Emergency Shutdown.
3x Earthrise Hotel and 2x Class Act function as our draw engines. Oftentimes I mulligan hands that don’t include one of the two. Click drawing is very slow, once you get your first Earthrise down it will help you find the second and once you’ve found two, Steve is quite good at making his way into a hotel’s headquarters to extend his visit. Avoid putting Earthrise into a Steve pile that doesn’t involve a second earthrise, a class act, or a favor. For new players, if you don’t know, you can overinstall unique cards like Class Act and Boomerang. Even though jNet doesn’t automate this, just pull it from play to the heap manually then install the new one. When Class Act is out and Earthrise isn’t, you want to make sure to get a click draw in once every turn. Avoid having to do it twice if possible, instead spacing it over multiple turns to get the Class Act filter as much as possible.
3x Daily Casts will show up in every Startup runner deck. Install them asap, the sooner they run out the sooner you can pick them up with Steve.
2x Liberated Account offers you staying power at the cost of clicks. The card is dreadfully slow at times but we already want Career Fair for our Earthrises pretty badly so why not Liberated. Especially early game, corps really like to give you Career Fair in Steve piles over all other options. Use this to your advantage to get a cheap Liberated installs. In long games against Glacial opponents, we will wait to put a Liberated into a Steve pile until we’ve burned through both copies. If you’ve donated to jNet and unlocked classic art, make sure to acquire the achievement of installing Andy’s retirement plan. Shout outs to Longi’s Steve list for including Liberated, I didn’t try them myself until their version of an eShutdown Steve list was posted.
1x Mystic Maemi has more than proved its influence worth to me. Unlike PPVP, you can hold their credit when spending turns click drawing, installing, and liberating your accounts. The extra credits off Agenda steals do add up, especially against corps with high agenda density like PE or horizontal SanSan decks.
Grouping Startup matchups can be difficult with it being such an undefined format, but, let’s look at archetypes.
Startup Glacier is most commonly played out of GameNet, Earth Station, Architects of Tomorrow and some of the Built to Last, although it can show up as any ID. Glacier corps will heavily ice centrals against you and will build a remote around their economy assets. In startup, these corps all share that they provide the corp with value everytime you run through things like GameNet or Architect’s ID trigger or Akhet growing a Colossus. These decks build a single server, make a lot of money, rez big ice, and protect their server with Anoetic Void, Skunkworks and Cayambe Grid. In the early turns of the game it is important for you to identify if this corp is trying to protect its slowplay with Punitive Counterstrike, Public Trail/Retribution or with Anoetic Void. Count influence pips, pay attention to what agendas they have (multiple 5/3s suggest punitive). Use your ID triggering HQ singles to help you develop a game plan. Against Punitive kill decks we need more money then the corp or to hold a Class Act and draw above 6 cards on the turn we steal a 5/3. This means not running if it breaks the bank. Against Void decks we want to keep the remote clear of upgrades until we’ve found our Lucky Charm. In general, this is a good matchup for you. Look to build your economy and land multiple backbreaking Emergency Shutdowns. A good rule of thumb is to run once a turn on the cheapest server. This should lead to forcing rezs across the board, a few random accesses, and clearing the remote of upgrades. Both mid and lategame it’s really okay to play slow against these style of decks. At that point only run when it’s cheap and avoid taking single accesses.
Fast advance corps that play Trick of Light (commonly out of Built to Last), Biotic (commonly alongside Fully Operational horizontal strategies) and/or SanSan are often easiest to attack by keeping the agendas out of HQ. This can often mean ignoring them the first few turns of the game while you set up your economy and then going for an HQ sweep off Dockwork (or is it Leg-pass) into camping RD the rest of the game. Try to get in accesses while building your economy through RD Bravado runs and Boomerang/Dirty Laundry HQ runs for picking up Sure Gamble. Against horizontal fast advance decks, identify early if your hand’s economy is in a position to contest their board. Sometimes you just can’t and trying to will put you too far behind. If they fail to present reasonable HQ ice, you can go ahead and trash everything in sight and pickup your economy with Steve. This is particularly effective when you’ve found Sneakdoor or the Scrubber you decided to tech. When going for board control, the most important card to find is Earthrise to ensure the money keeps flowing while you are burning everything in sight. In theory, Jailbreak hedges against FA because they tend to be ice-light and more random access’ makes it more likely to be lucky.
Remote rush corps are a bit different then Trick of Light or Biotic Labor corps. These are Seamless decks that try to set up a remote and then install a card every turn. It could be a Nico Campaign or it could be an agenda they want to Seamless. Their plan is to exhaust your resources running their remote turn after turn. Although you have to contest some installs, it’s important to build your rig and make them play fair. It’s okay to let an install go if it means you can advance your board. If you’re looking to tech hard, Carnivore can really change this matchup. Steve’s ID trigger keeps the beast fed and the corp has to telegraph which installs are 4/2 agendas when you're eating their operations.
What is there to say about most Jinteki decks you’ll find in Startup? Don’t tilt. They lean into you making a mistake. If you don’t run, they find a way to score. If you do run, it might just be a Urtica or an Overwriter. Unless they are representing a traditional corp strategy, I am of the mind to run everything. Treat your stack as your life total. Make sure that you install your breakers before running. Try to install the minimal amount of economy needed. Yes, playing Sure Gamble and Daily Casts is great and all, but keep in mind, every card you play is one less life you have. Clicking for credits doesn’t cost you health. It’s okay for a turn to simply be click draw, click draw, run, take 2 from a Urtica Cipher, click credit. You need enough money to establish a Steve loop on HQ (every successful run gains you one health) and that’s about it. Eventually they will run out of things to install and you can start on clearing out the Snares from HQ. Always run with 3 cards in hand, never end your turn with 2 cards or less if they have a facedown card installed. And above all, don’t run with icebreakers in your grip.
Single score corps are somewhere between Glacier and Seamless corps. They are looking to score a single agenda and Neurospike you or ride a 6 advanced Clearinghouse to victory. Shameless self promotion moment. These corps tend to ignore centrals and focus solely on their remote, very similarly to Seamless decks. They will feature strong defensive cards to keep you out of the remote. If a Glacier corp ignores their centrals, they will fail to score three agendas before the game ends. Spike and Clearinghouse corps, however, can just race you if you never breach their remote (they will “score” once before you find three agendas). If you can identify that this is what you are playing with, spend a minimal amount of money on centrals and really focus on keeping that remote clear.
Those seem to be the most common ‘categories’ of corps that appear in Startup. Keep in mind that until you see the corp’s influence they could be packing anything. Archer out of Jinteki. Snare out of Precision Design. Ganked out of Weyland. Oftentimes the element of surprise is the corps best friend. So, until you’ve seen their influence, be on the lookout and be wary. Just because it looks like a duck and talks like a duck doesn’t mean your RealityPlus opponent isn’t packing Biotic Labor.
If you have a tendency to watch in horror as your breakers blow up, you lose little by going to doubles of your programs. A suggested swap to achieve this would be -1 Mutual Favor, -1 Liberated Account, -1 Emergency Shutdown for +1 Corroder, +1 Bukhgalter, +1 Abagnale. If you make this choice, you might as well shave the Buffer Drive for something else.
The rest of these are cards I played at one point and cut for various reasons, but each of them shined in specific ways.
Jailbreak fits quite well into this deck. Even though you don’t get PPVP/Mystic value, you will get Swift value. Cheap cards that replace themselves help with acceleration. There are only so many deck slots and finding room for them is difficult. I’d look to cut Legwork if I was playing Jailbreak.
Xanadu was in my list for over half the games on record. It really excels at pushing eShutdown over the top against corps with low ice rez costs. Notice how lackluster shutting down rushy ice can be. Yet with this 80s musical we can shut a Hagen down and not feel awful about it. Swapping Maemi for the second PPVP would give you the influence for Xanadu (but you’ll have to shave something else to make room).
Wildcat Strike showed up in my early versions, before I was running Liberated, that had all three PPVP. It’s a great sink for event credits and if you go back up to three pads, I’d find room for Wildcat.
Stargate or Conduit could replace Maker’s Eye. This frees up influence but clogs our MU (our finished rig currently has 5 MU between the breakers and Sneakdoor). I have found looping makers to be enough RD pressure to close games, but if you struggle with that, a program solution is reasonable.
Scrubber was in this list for the longest time because finding one early allows you to play a board control plan against asset decks while almost always netting some value with the most popular strategies slotting powerful trashables.
It was a long deck guide, hopefully if you’ve made it this far then you learned something from it. GLC discord is the best place to stop by if you have any comments or questions for me. There is an excellent long running Startup league that has continued signups if you’re looking to test your Startup chops in a casual yet more competitive environment. Let me know if there are any particular guides ya’ll are interested in us tackling next, I’m enjoying publishing these and look to put out another soon. Thanks to ValeNetrunner and Hope for proofing the guide before posting. See ya’ll in the jNet casual lobbies, happy flatlining.
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