I've been playing digital card games almost every day for probably a decade now. For the last few years, that's meant regular games of Legends of Runeterra. Before that, I was obsessed with Hearthstone, then Gwent. More recently, Marvel Snap has lured me in. So here's a confession: I still don't like deck-building.
I am a netdecker through and through. That means instead of building my own decks, and discovering my own strategies, I simply look them up online, copying decks put together by experts and influencers with far more time to pore over their collections than I do.
In almost every card game community online, that would be considered a shameful admission. People routinely dismiss their opponents as netdeckers, or blame them for multiplayer losing its spark. It's a byword for idiot—the imagined player is someone who mindlessly pilots their copied deck, winning not through skill or wits, but simply because they have a proven deck. They steal the valor of better players, and frustrate the efforts of true, honest folk just trying to ascend the ladder by the sweat of their brow. Or so the thinking goes.
The logic is that, because netdeckers copy decks, they lead to homogenisation—too many people copying the same decks means you keep facing those popular decks over and over, especially annoying if said decks have been declared OP or broken. But the irony is that these are the same communities that exhaustively discuss the meta, breaking down competitive play into a narrow band of optimised decks and dismissing any card that doesn't fit in a tier 1 strategy as useless. It is exactly their attitude towards competitive play that has fostered that lack of variety.
It's also based in the fallacy common to almost every multiplayer community, which is that everyone thinks: when I win, it's because I'm skillful, and when I lose, it's because my opponent used some OP bullshit. They were of weaker moral fibre than me, and the developers are incompetent for allowing it, and it is everyone's fault but mine.
The truth is, you can copy a deck from the best player in the world, but you still need skill and expertise to wield it. Bad players don't rank up, regardless of what deck they're using. You need to be able to understand what the deck is trying to achieve, and how, and you need to react turn-by-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 are in your deck and which have already been drawn.(opens in new tab)
People who don't understand the decks they've copied are easily spotted, and outplayed. They're like fighting game players who keep spamming the same move, with no sense of the rhythm of the match—and if you can't beat a Ryu that just keeps throwing fireballs, that's on you, not them.
I'd consider myself a pretty good card game player. If nothing else, I have a lot of hours on the books. I really enjoy the cut-and-thrust of a good match, and I love that it's multiplayer based purely around outsmarting your opponent, instead of relying on my terrible reflexes or shaky aim. I'm just not good at the deck-building, and I don't enjoy it. Most of all, what I don't enjoy is the worry that I'm being hampered in a match by choices I made before it even began. That's not always a rational fear, but playing decks that already have the seal of approval from others lets me focus on the turn-by-turn action, instead of always thinking about what I could've swapped out or swapped in.
And that doesn't mean I only play the top three decks. I regularly pull weird or comparatively weak decks, to try out different archetypes or complete specific quests. I suspect lots of my fellow netdeckers do the same. If anything, it's when you're straying off the meta's beaten path that you most want that reassurance that you're working with something tried and tested.(opens in new tab)
I also suspect there are rather a lot of my fellow netdeckers. Every major digital card game has multiple sites entirely dedicated to providing the easiest possible access to pre-made decks. Every influencer focused on these games runs videos offering up their decks for viewers to use. It's clearly big business, and that means there must be a huge player base much the same as me. Now, democracy doesn't always arrive at the right answers, but surely it's dysfunctional for communities to hate on a group that must be making up a huge proportion of the actual players of the games? Dare we even suggest, many of the people complaining may also be netdecking themselves, on the sly?
So let's just stop pretending. Loads of us netdeck, and it's fine. It's OK to enjoy one aspect of a game more than another, to look to the experts for tactical expertise. It's even okay to use shortcuts, in a game you probably play to relax more than anything else. Let it be your resolution in 2023 to stop shaming your fellow players. None of you are without sin, and besides, throwing stones got totally nerfed in the latest patch.