I have been playing digital card games almost every day for ten years now. For the past few years, this has meant regular games of Legends of Runeterra. Before that I was interested in Hearthstone, then Gwent. I’ve recently been drawn to Marvel Snap. So, I have a confession to make: I still don’t like building decks.
I’m a netdecker through and through. This means that instead of building my own decks and discovering my own strategies, I’m just looking them up online, copying decks put together by experts and influencers, spending more time mastering their collections than I should.
In almost every card game community online, this would be considered an embarrassing admission. People regularly dismiss their opponents as netdeckers or blame them for losing the spark of multiplayer. It’s a word for stupid – the imagined player is someone who mindlessly runs their copycat deck, winning simply because they have a proven deck, not through skill or intelligence. They rob the better players of their prowess and frustrate the efforts of real, honest people trying to climb the ladder by the sweat of their brow. Or so the thinking goes.
The logic is that because netdeckers copy decks, they lead to homogenization – lots of people copying the same decks means you’ll be facing these popular decks over and over again, especially if said decks are declared OP or hacked, which is annoying. But the irony is that these are the same communities that thoroughly debate the meta, divide competitive play into narrowly optimized decks, and dismiss any card that doesn’t fit a tier 1 strategy as useless. It is their attitude towards competitive play that has led to the lack of diversity.
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It’s also based on a fallacy common to almost every multiplayer community, which is what everyone thinks: when I win, it’s because I’m skilled, and when I lose, it’s because my opponent uses some OP nonsense. They had weaker moral fiber than I did, and the developers are incompetent for allowing it, and it’s everyone’s fault but mine.
The truth is, you can copy a deck from the best player in the world, but it still takes skill and experience to master it. Bad players don’t rank, no matter what deck they use. You have to understand what the deck is trying to achieve and how, and react in turn to what your opponent is doing. You need to know what other deck archetypes are out there so you can counter what they’re trying to do, and you need to remember what cards you have in your deck and what cards are already drawn.
People who don’t understand the decks they’re copying are easily noticed and outplayed. They’re like game players who keep doing the same thing, spamming without feeling the rhythm of the match – and if you can’t beat Ryu who just keeps throwing fireballs, that’s on you, not them.
I would consider myself a pretty good card game player. If nothing else, I have too many hours with books. I really enjoy a good match cut, and I love that it’s multiplayer based purely on taking on your opponent instead of relying on my terrible reflexes or shaky aim. I’m just not good at building decks and I don’t enjoy it. What I don’t like the most is that I’m hindered by the choices I make before the match starts. It’s not always a rational fear, but playing decks that already have other people’s stamp of approval allows me to focus on the action of the turn instead of always wondering what I can or should change.
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That doesn’t mean I only play the top three decks. I regularly draw odd or relatively weak decks to try different archetypes or to accomplish specific tasks. I suspect many of my colleagues do the same. If anything, it’s when you stray off the beaten path of the meta that you want the most certainty that you’re working with something tried and tested.
And I suspect many of my colleagues have. Every major digital card game has multiple sites that are completely dedicated to providing the easiest possible access to pre-made decks. Every influencer who focuses on these games posts videos offering their decks for viewers to use. It’s obviously a big deal, and that means it must have a huge player base like mine. Now, democracy doesn’t always come up with the right answers, but surely it’s dysfunctional for communities to hate a group that should make up a large portion of the actual players of games? Could it be that most of the people who complain are slyly networking themselves?
So let’s just stop pretending. We have a lot of netdeck and that’s good. If you enjoy one aspect of the game more than another, it’s best to turn to the experts for tactical expertise. Even using shortcuts is fine, probably in a game you’re playing more for relaxation than anything else. Let it be your decision in 2023, stop embarrassing your fellow gamers. None of you are innocent, and besides, stone throwing got completely pissed off in the last patch.