The Internet has made us stupid. Not really, but it has made us less active in the deckbuilding aspect of Magic.
Netdecking, the act of choosing a deck to play based on winning tournament lists posted on the Web, has been the dominant force behind settling metagames for quite awhile now. Sure, it’s helpful to see what decks are consistently winning events and to get a sense of the most popular techs and strategies. But today most players seem to yield all deckbuilding to “whatever wins” instead of coming up with their own innovation or trying new card combos. Looking for a deck to play at an upcoming event? Go online and see what decks have been winning, pick one and build that, and train with it against a gauntlet of other netdecks. That’s business as usual right now for Standard.
There also appears to be an assumption that if a deck wins a tournament, then that deck is the best deck in the format and everyone should switch to that deck immediately. That’s a gross over-generalization, but the mentality is somewhat evident particularly on the Starcity Games 5K circuit, where every weekend the most popular decks are either A) whatever deck won the previous weekend’s tournament, or B) whatever directly beats that deck. Just watch next week’s event; this past weekend Wolf Run White won, so everyone will either be playing that or will be gunning for it, as opposed to trying something new. (Although that particular list of Wolf Run White was pretty different from past versions of the archetype)
The metagame changes based on whatever deck wins, but generally the same decks with nearly identical lists win during the season, and 5-7 decks stand out as the “go-to” decks.Standard is much more diverse than it has in previous years, and the format seems quite open for new decks to swoop in and earn some wins. But instead, I see the same 5-6 decks being played across the country, in events large and small.
Let’s step back a second. I understand that when pro players play decks, they’ve likely playing hundreds of games with several deck archetypes and have tweaked it a billion times, so winning decks are generally finely-tuned machines. I’m also somewhat of a hypocrite, since I also tend to pick my decks from what is among the top tiers at Grand Prix’s and 5Ks (but that’s mostly because I am a horrid deckbuilder). But the deck I most enjoyed playing, and performed the best with, was a deck I created myself back in Lorwyn/Time Spiral standard, which I’ll be discussing in an upcoming edition of I’m a Bad Magic Player (retro style). I’m not saying decks that win aren’t good, I’m just saying there’s far too much reliance on winning lists in deckbuilding, and we’ve lost the innovative spirit.
Those players who enjoy trying new ideas and go nuts with deck-building outside of the posted meta are met with two reactions from other players: 1) that they don’t know how to play Magic and they play bad cards, or 2) the common exclamation “Nobody plays that!” I find the latter reaction especially funny, since it just reinforces the argument that Standard is too restricted by netdecking. The first reaction is hilarious when the so-called “bad player” wins. What is so wrong with playing cards that are different from what everyone else is playing? Especially if you win!?
Obviously there are only so many cards in Standard at any given time, and some cards are obviously more powerful than others. But just because there are 10 amazing cards in a set that are popular, doesn’t mean there aren’t 10 other great cards that can be played in winning decks. I just have a sense that most people are too willing to jump on board what someone else has already built, rather than try their luck at a new idea of their own. I have great respect for players like Conley Woods, who isn’t afraid to try crazy deck ideas just to see if they work. Sometimes they don’t, but sometimes they end up in smashing victories. These players find new ways to win even after a format has settled. A good example is the “Junkwalkers” deck that took 2nd in the Dallas StarCity 5K this weekend. Although I bet you’ll find a huge number of people playing it next weekend because of it’s success.
Perhaps there is more to this matter than a simple unwillingness to be creative in deck choices. It’s possible that many players want to work on their own decks, but have neither access to a wide array of cards to try them out, nor the opportunity to test out decks outside of actual tournaments. For example, one of the main reasons I generally choose a deck from online to start playing with is because I don’t have a dedicated play group to try out new deck ideas, so I have to have a deck ready to go at FNM and the bigger events. I think if I had even one night a week for some good testing, I’d be more willing to mess around with something other than the current top decks. I would suspect many other players have this same delimma, especially those older players who have “day jobs” (in other words, not students).
I’m not saying that the decks online are bad, I’m merely commenting on how many players jump right at the decks that win rather than trying out their own ideas first. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to do that, but it is somewhat frustrating that Magic has become one big copycat game, instead of a game about creativity and innovation. The deck-building aspect of the game seems to have taken a back seat to efforts just to win events. Maybe I’m way off, and competitive Magic is meant to be a clear-cut game with a few archetypes, and creativity is best left to the casual players.
I’m curious to what other people have to say about this – how do you pick a deck to play? Do you look online at tournament lists, or do you start from scratch with your own ideas? I’d also like to hear if you disagree with my assessment. Do you think netdecking is a good or bad thing? Is there even a problem?