It’s been a while since our last Owning the Arena article, mostly due to how busy we’ve been with War of the Spark and Core Set 2020‘s back-to-back spoiler seasons! Today, we’re going to talk about a concept that takes a little while for some newer players to get used to in the MTG Arena meta: Netdecking. Let’s get into it!
Netdecking is whenever a player copies a deck they saw online card for card and uses it to play. When you look at it, it does seem kind of shady right? You’re taking someone else’s idea, after all, and in any other context, that’d be akin to cheating. But not in Magic, and here’s why.
The decks that people copy from online don’t just come out of nowhere. They don’t materialize online perfectly optimized. They start off like any other deck, with someone who had an idea. If the deck that person made is good, maybe they share the idea on YouTube, Twitch, MTGSalvation, Reddit, or anywhere else that supports discussion about MTG. Then, others online can see it and work together to optimize the deck until it becomes meta (or doesn’t).
For example, look at this thread on MTGSalvation for Mono U Tempo on MTG Arena. It holds 20 pages and over 400 comments of people bouncing ideas off each other, sharing event reports, and working together to build and optimize this deck. Sure, people can just copy and paste this deck if they want. But they can only do that because community members worked together to make that possible. For some, myself included, this process is fun. Studying the deck’s matchups, intricacies, and discussing those discoveries with like-minded individuals is riveting for some players.
No. There is no right or wrong way to play MTG. You’re free to build whatever decks you want, any way you want. However, the average Magic: The Gathering player at Friday Night Magic or on MTG Arena will likely run a meta deck that they copied from somewhere online. Whenever you’re playing against a deck like this, you’re not just playing against the pilot — you’re playing against all the minds that went into crafting and fine-tuning that deck. So, more often than not, it’s a good idea to come prepared with a deck that has had similar tuning.
That doesn’t mean you have to netdeck. It just means that your odds of winning may be higher if you do. But hey, winning isn’t everything. It’s okay to play whatever you want as long as you’re having fun.
Most decks have what are called ‘Flex Spots’. These are spots in a deck’s construction that allow for personal changes, even in netdecks! For example, Esper Midrange on MTG Arena may prefer to run 2x Hostage Taker if they keep seeing creature decks instead of 2x Basilica Bell-Haunt. These cards are interchangeable depending on what kind of decks you’re trying to beat. Lots of decks work this way, meaning that even netdecks have a degree of customizability. In addition to this, decks evolve over time (look at Jund from 2018 versus Jund from 2019).
I hope this article can shed some light on netdecking and why it isn’t evil like a lot of new players tend to think. It took me several years after I first started playing in Avacyn Restored (2012) to understand that there is nothing wrong with standing on the shoulders of giants when it comes to deck building in a competitive meta.
Thank you all for reading; it really means a lot. See ya next time on Owning the Arena!
I’m Brett, working in association with Daily Esports to cover Magic the Gathering and gaming news.