Hello everyone, and welcome to a very special edition of know yourself. With the internet abuzz with everyones favorite controversial magic the gathering talking point, I’m taking this week to address some fundamental flaws with arguing for and against the so called boogeyman known as “netdecking”.
While typing these words, I feel the inevitable heat of the internet. What is the problem that people have with the boogeyman, and what is the alternative? What is at the heart of the problem, and how do we as a community reconcile the two ideas? “netdeck” and “homebrew”?
Well first, let us sketch out the two defining terms. Homebrewing is the idea that a player or players eschew what is generally thought of as common knowledge between magic players that can be found online and instead put together decks of their own creation. The “homebrewer” is a player that takes pride in their individuality, in their prowess at crafting and shaping their own decks. They find pride in going against the grain, and they take great pride in beating the popular, top table, “netdecks” that other players play at locals or PPTQ’s or even grand prixs they participate in. This type of play is often romanticized by their peers and by themselves, as brave new minds striking out into a stale metagame full of like minded “netdeckers” just following the crowd to mediocre results and poor deck construction. (which we all know, of course, to not be true)
On the other hand, Netdecking is a term used by magic players when describing looking at a certain set number of decklists online for a given popular archetype, say, temur energy, and then playing this deck at their tournaments. A “netdecker” is a player who does just that, with the implication being that this player doesn’t think for themselves. They look to the data to see what the most played cards are, what the winning decks are, and who is playing them. Perhaps they dig a little deeper to see what cards are in and out of popularity, but for the most part they borrow the core shell of whatever deck or decks have the attention of the weekly sites and other article series. They then buy these cards and play these decks. Some more poorly mannered players might see people who are trying something different as “Silly” or “bad” at magic, and that they have a better understanding of magic than their opponent. (which we know, as well, is also not true)
But do you see the problem with those interpretations? Both of these interpretations (that I take from the overall consensus on my readings thus far) are extremely narrow. First of all, for those of you who do not know, I am a senior in college studying English. I do not want to say magic the gathering and research are the same, but let’s do a little comparison. When I have to write a paper, I need sources. If I am going to convince someone that my argument is good, I cannot have it be simply because I said so. I need other people who have done research and read into themes to support my argument, or for me to refute. If there is no research on a topic, then I will have to delve into like topics to discuss my new piece of research and literary analysis.
Netdecking follows the same principle if you take away the black and white interpretation that many follow. I am not a troglodyte simply doing a copy and paste in a TCG player bin, I am a magic player studying the decklists and deciding what balance of spells and threats and answers are the best for me and my deck archetype, largely decided by the community to be an archetype that gets results. The checking of lists and spell count and card popularity is a lot like doing research for a paper or a presentation. People should not be shunted, or begrudged upon, or looked at poorly for wanting to use the resources at their disposal. Maybe they just want to play the “best” deck. That is totally fine. Maybe they just want to see if other people reached the same conclusions they did. That is also okay. Maybe they just don’t have time to build decks all day, and just want something that functions for their local Friday night magic. That is also perfectly welcome. But I do not get to assume that people who do not look at lists are worse at the game than me, and are therefore less deserving or less intelligent than me
And homebrew players are very much the same. If you choose not to look at a decklist website, or refuse to use the wonderful resource known as mtggoldfish.com, that is totally your choice and no one should slight you for that. Players are allowed to make their choices. But, if you’re also good enough at magic that you read content on the regular, or even sometimes, you know some of the baseline rules. You probably know that any energy deck starts and ends with 4 attune with aether. You probably know that lightning bolt by and large is the best burn spell ever printed, not even close. But if you want to use unorthodox methods to achieve victory, and tuning and tweaking those decks ultimately makes you happy, then by all means go for it. No one should tell you otherwise if it makes you happy.
I am not an idiot who doesn’t know how to play the game, I am a human being who wants to try something fun and interesting. I want to explore the rougher edges of unrefined lists, or play with a new card I really like. And gosh darnit if there are dinosaurs and I want to play a dinosaur deck, then gosh darnit I’m going to, and it is gonna have all the Ripjaw Raptors and Regisaur Alpha’s you could ever want to shake a stick at. But I also don’t get to assume that someone is unintelligent or worse than me for wanting to play the game the way that a large group of people have decided is the most efficient, or most powerful.
What I am saying is this; It should never be another player’s ambition or goal to tell you or someone else how to play, and it should never be yours to tell someone else how to. If you want to do research, great. If you want to copy a list and play it, please do. Even wizards produces well performing lists for the public. But, if you want to do your own thing, wonderful. If you want to play a deck no one has even seen, please do, and tell people about it! But telling other people that they aren’t allowed to have fun a certain way in a game all about community and having fun is just grating, and it is just wrong. We can, and we must, do better as a community.
See you all next week!