Is There A Place For Netdecking In Magic: The Gathering? by Matt Cook
It’s common knowledge that at this moment in time Standard is not in a great place. With the last few results in large tournaments being previously dominated G/B Delirium and U/B Flash and most recently Delirium and Aetherworks Marvel Decks taking more than the lion’s share of Top 8/32 spots, with the majority of the last few spots going to Mardu/Boros Vehicle decks. A lot of blame has been put around as to why this has happened, from Wizards R & D not doing their jobs to putting the blame squarely on single cards such as Aetherworks Marvel, Smugglers Copter and Emrakul the Promised End being the main targets. One of the other asserted reasons is a controversy that has been in Magic: the Gathering for a number of years and can quite easily polarise most message boards, threads and groups. That problem would be Netdecking.
‘Netdecking’ is the term used for someone using decks which are not their own, typically from the Internet using various sources such as videos, blogs, streams and articles. Today I am going to discuss its impact on Magic as a whole and try to find where to draw the line to find out what Netdecking really is.
During my first stint as a Magic player (Invasion through to Time Spiral) the internet as it is today was still in its infancy, there was no Facebook, Twitch or the player numbers to even come close to the information sharing ability we have today. Most of the decks I encountered at tournaments were brews, ideas from a recent Scry magazine or message board or obvious strategies such as Tribal decks or ones following recent set mechanics or themes and I was hard pressed to find events where I would play the same decks more than once.
Fast forward to my current spell as a Magic player (Return to Ravnica to now) the world is a different place, we have countless Facebook groups, Twitch Streams both big and small, articles from big MTG websites multiple times a day, we now had access to so much data such as most played card stats, professional players opinions on cards and strategies and most importantly, the decks that are best performing on the big stage at the moment.
Below are some situations I’ve found myself in over the last few years and with the recent discussions going on have made me reflect and think “Am I a Netdecker?”
Situation 1: Theros/Khans Standard, Temur Ascendancy Combo
As with a lot of players I like to not just play the game but watch videos and read a lot, and just after the release I saw a deck that put up a great result at one open and reading and watching it I instantly fell in love, I had to do it. I continued to use the deck for many months right up until Theros rotated out, making a few adjustments here and there depending on the metagame I encountered and what cards I enjoyed playing.
Situation 2: Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad, Green & White Tokens
When Battle for Zendikar was released I started playing B/W tokens at the recommendation of a couple of friends. With the subsequent release of Oath of the Gatewatch I decided that Nissa, Voice of Zendikar would be a great addition to the deck and that adding green would give me access to great cards like Dromoka’s Command, Abzan Charm, and of course Siege Rhino. When Khans and Fate Reforged rotated out almost all the black cards in the deck went with it but rather than give up I persisted with the deck as just Green and White as the synergy between Nissa and Gideon was fantastic. When the Pro Tour rolled around I was surprised to see that the winning deck was also G/W tokens and the main deck was only 7-8 cards different to mine and I promptly made the adjustments to mine to fit in.
Situation 3: Khans/Theros Standard, Esper Dragons
I am not a great control player, I have never really enjoyed the archetype and probably never will but as a Magic player I feel it’s better to understand every strategy to learn how to play against it by playing it yourself. Given my less than ample abilities as a control player I decided to give myself the best change by using a list that had recently performed well and noticing the recent good results of a deck that was both control and indulged my love of dragons I felt this was the one to try.
Situation 4: Current Standard, Naya Superfriends
I had a less than pleasant experience at GP Manchester this year and while I failed a good friend of mine put up some good results and made his first day 2 with a deck list he was given from a friend. The deck list was a midrange planes walker deck in Naya colours which ticked pretty much every box in what I enjoy playing in Magic so I asked him for the list and continue to play it or at least a variant to this day.
While there have been probably many more situations I have been in these were the ones that stuck out in my mind the most. So let’s assess.
There are many reasons why some people choose to look to others for ideas for their decks. Whether you are a Magic player or not time is a valuable resource to everyone, and while there are full time pros that have days and even weeks to brew and test, the vast majority of Magic players are just normal people with jobs and responsibilities and may not have the time to sit and brew for their next FNM, GPT or whatever may come next.
There a number of players and even pros that are fantastic Magic players and can win with any deck but not all of them are great deck builders, not all of us are going to be the next Patrick Chapin and need to look to others for inspiration and while not necessarily playing the deck lists card for card the core of the deck will be someone else’s idea. I myself am not perfect and as described in situation 1 with Temur Ascendancy I would never have thought of that deck on my own with the resources I had but none the less still managed to get months of enjoyment out of it.
Sometimes you have an idea that is not quite there as in situation 2, the deck felt right but ultimately wasn’t quite good enough, if you find yourself in that position do you make no changes to the deck out of pride or do you make the changes based on the knowledge of better players than yourself? After all they’re the pro and you’re the amateur right? That’s why all these streams and articles exist right? To help you grow and become better as a player which is why in situation 3 we find that sometimes we all need a helping hand with things, I could have been the next great control player (spoiler, it turns out I wasn’t!) but with my limited knowledge on the archetype I could have easily built a bad deck, lost, given up and blamed myself when really all it would have been is a matter of lack of experience which a better equipped allowed me to gain and learn a little more about the decks.
With situation 4 it is pretty simple, is it not a net deck because it didn’t come from the internet? It is still taking someone else’s idea and using it after all? Every now and again we will come up against something we have never seen before and have been tempted to try it out ourselves.
Many feel that the current standard problem is exacerbated by the issue of netdecking because the competitive field is so narrow players that just players just copy the top decks, as there are only a few top decks players are just copying this and compounding the issue of a lack of diversity in the format and that innovative and new decks like Panharmonicon based decks recently are too few and far between, but equally it could just not be a great format at the moment, but how can we appreciate a great Standard without having the odd bad one here or there?
As players we are truly spoilt by the amount of information we have at our disposal, with big tournaments happening every week or two to scour for the next big deck or find a way to improve existing ones. Magic is a game and as with any game there will be people that will play for fun and there will be those who play to win though the two are not mutually exclusive. The issue isn’t exclusive to Magic, sports teams and players will try to emulate the tactics of more successful ones, video gamers will copy the loadout or configuration of pros or more successful players, it is a symptom of the world we find ourselves in with any information we need at our fingertips and every small details catalogued for scrutiny.
Even with all this in mind it’s hard to not understand where all the animosity comes from. For new or casual players there is nothing less enjoyable than turning up to a casual FNM and having your deck you’ve spent some time preparing and building lose to a deck someone has spent 5 minutes reading about and sleeving up and can discourage newer players from carrying on. I recall one of my first game days and losing heavily to a deck I recognised from reading about online, when I asked why he had chosen to copy a deck from the internet as opposed to brewing his own he aggressively insisted it was not a netdeck based on the fact that their version was completely different because he had 3-4 cards different in the mana base compared to the version from the previous Grand Prix, which as you can imagine, was no comfort at all.
Card prices are another cause of strong feeling of resentment and while the complaints about the cost of Standard is a discussion for another day it perfectly logical to guess that if everyone is clambering to play the same couple of decks then cards from those decks are going to become expensive. Some cards such as planeswalkers and marquee cards such as Emrakul, the Promised End are naturally going to be expensive, and others are just too good not to be such as Smugglers Copter. However there are times such as Pro Tour Theros in 2013 which for those who do not remember or were not playing was the breakout tournament for the Mono-Blue Devotion strategy, in response to the decks success one of the key cards Master of Waves, shot from being a $5 card to a $25 card overnight and it’s hard to not conclude that the jump wasn’t driven by people desperate to sleeve up the latest Pro Tour winning deck.
There are many things to consider about how people play Magic and while all of us enjoy playing and winning, but there is sometimes a little more behind someone’s choice of deck, and while of course there are players out there who change their deck week in week out based on GP, Pro Tour or open results just to win an extra pack or promo at FNM these players are the exception rather than the rule. So next time you sit opposite a player at FMN thinking your opponent is a netdecker, ask them about their deck choice and you may be surprised by their answer. As with most issues the best solution is compromise, try not to feel resentment that your opponent has a deck you’ve seen online and has a few more expensive cards than yours does and equally maybe a casual Friday Night Magic with new or less experienced players isn’t the best place for a top 8 deck from the latest Pro Tour.
I look forward to your comments on your experiences and at what point do you draw the line at what is and what isn’t considered Netdecking.
Thanks for reading,