Netdecking: Why It's Not Evil, And Actually Completely Necessary

Jason Grabher-Meyer

2/11/2011 9:48:00 AM
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If you've been around this game for a while, you've probably seen the age-old argument: one side believes that netdecking is a bad thing, while the other merrily netdecks away, hammering refresh every Sunday night after a YCS to get at the Top 32 deck lists. The Duelists who decry netdecking usually do so for a number of reasons: they believe netdecking is “just ripping off the ideas of creative Duelists who build their own decks”; that it crushes creativity by encouraging people to run decks that are already winning, instead of striving to create something new; that inexperienced players can buy the cards for a netdeck and unfairly steamroll people who've been in the game longer; and that copied decks just aren't as good as custom-made ones, since they aren't fitted for an individual's style and relevant metagames.

Flat out, only one of those suppositions is true. In reality, netdecking is a powerful tool that's useful for new and younger players, and evenbetter for the truly creative who set out to build something original and competitive. Without netdecking, us creative types would lack what's needed to make and perfect a worthwhile, innovative strategy. Today I want to discuss how netdecking helps different types of players with different interests; how you can use it yourself; and where it does indeed become a sub-par technique. The goal? To de-vilify netdecking as a whole, and help people understand that it isn't the enemy of creative efforts, but in fact a tool for creative success. It's my hope that by the time we're finished, this'll be the kind of discussion that you can link different types of Duelists to; helping them make the best choices for their Dueling career, and if attacked, help them defend their use of netdecking.

What Is Netdecking?
Let's begin at square one with a definition. Netdecking is, for the sake of this discussion, the act of finding a successful deck online (often from the official tourament coverage of big events like Yu-Gi-Oh! Championship Series tourneys or World Championship Qualifiers), and then copying it card-for-card to build that deck in real life. While netdecking can also refer to the similar practice of grabbing a cool deck from an article or online forum just to play something fun, we aren't going to include that definition here; that's not the practice that comes under fire, and it's not really going to be relevant to the list of benefits and techniques we'll be discussing. With that definition established, let's talk about who can benefit from netdecking.

New Players Should Netdeck:
Ask any Championship-level Duelist what their first tip is for a new player that wants to up their game, and the answer will probably be, “Put down your casual deck, pick up a netdeck, and learn how to run it effectively.” This isn't because creative decks are inherently bad. We've seen countless creative, non-mainstream strategies – decks that couldn't have been netdecked at the time of their victory – win Championships. But the reality is that if you're new to Dueling, or even if you're just a casual Duelist who wants to win more, you need to build a universal set of skills in order to be successful. Reading about core theory like Card Presence, Simplification, Tempo, and Synergy and Utility isn't enough on its own. That kind of research is extremely useful because it helps you focus, make the right observations, and helps you make sense of things when games are played out on the table. But there's no replacement for real experience.

And you can't get that experience with a poorly built deck. You can't even do it with a great build of a deck that simply has a low win percentage. If your deck has trouble winning, you're not just going to be frustrated; your deck won't offer you the kinds of choices and decisions you need to learn how to make, to become a better player. You're going to lose, and you'll lose for reasons that are not only beyond your in-game control, but that you can't benefit from or make useful observations about. Trying to dive into the game, competitive or otherwise, and then trying to immediately build your own deck, is like trying to build a car without ever driving one, or even looking at the schematics for how a car is constructed.

It's nuts. It's a total recipe for failure on all levels. It will suck, and you will be sad. Trust me on this.

So when you bring someone new into the game, do them a favor: send them to the latest YCS Top 32 lists. While it may seem like a downer to you, they'll probably have a good time, immediately absorbing a ton of valuable information and spending a couple days looking up cards (none of which will be rife with disappointment). If they'd rather play Beasts or Dragons something, send them right here in turn, and assure them that while those decks can definitely be successful, they're better off learning to walk before they try and run. Netdecking is an awesome tool for new players: it helps them build their skills, eases them into what can be a complicated game, and ensures a certain base level of success so that they don't give up right out of the gates. If you loved them enough to introduce them to Dueling, follow through and make sure they don't get their face totally beat in at their first local.

Testing Groups Should Netdeck:
As I mentioned in last week's article, very few competitors do what I would consider to be real, organized playtesting. Last week's piece was concerned largely with intent and goal-setting in testing sessions, while previous writings of mine have talked about actual systemization of the testing process. But one thing that's worth reflecting on here, is that if you're not testing against the kind of decks you can expect to see at tournaments, you're hardly testing at all.

That can be tricky, because if your friend is an expert Blackwing player (or thinks he is), and runs an off-the-wall teched-out masterpiece (or just a total mess of a deck), it might be tough to try and get him to netdeck a recently-successful Blackwing build for your testing session. But it's necessary. Because whether the deck you're testing against is a great build or an awful one, it's largely meaningless if it's not representative of what you'd expect to find at a tournament. It doesn't matter much if your deck can beat one, specific, unique build of a strategy – or if it has problems against unique cards that aren't commonly played. “I lose to Cloak and Dagger,” might be kind of good to know, but honestly, how many players are running that card right now?

Not enough for you to care when you're playtesting: that's how many.

Budget Players Should Netdeck:
If you're working on a tight budget but still want to compete, you can find yourself in quite a pickle. This is Yu-Gi-Oh! we're talking about: finding a cheap, but effective deck isn't easy. Beyond that, there's nothing worse than sinking what money you do have into a strategy you're excited about, only to discover that it's actually abysmal and doesn't work. Now the few resources you have are invested in a failed deck, and you're worse off than you were to begin with.

Just go window shopping instead: check out the latest YCS Top lists, and find the ones that match both your personal tastes, and your budget. I'd love to tell you that you can play anything you want in this game regardless of money, but that's not true. Netdecking is a great way to get a competitive start on a new deck, and you can always tweak things to fit your style. You know the decks that Top 32 a YCS work. Be smart with your money, and as you rack up store credit and Turbo Packs, you can build your collection and expand your options.

Creative Deckbuilders Should Netdeck:
If you're the type of Duelist who likes to buck the trends – or better yet exploit them – then netdecking is your best friend. That might seem counterintuitive, but the reality is that if you're creating something from scratch and hope to pilot it against mainstream strategies, you don't want to spend all your time perfecting Gladiator Beasts or Debris Plants just to test your real deck against them. That would defeat the purpose of your aims entirely: you want to spend as much time as possible achieving awesome new things, trying ambitious new strategies, and achieving glorious levels of success mixed with spectacular, fireball-explosion levels of failure. That's what's fun to you: that's what you enjoy, and it's what you're banking on to achieve victory.

Building something remarkable, entertaining, and unique requires playtesting, and that means you'll need to have builds of the top decks on-hand to test against (even if they're just proxied on slips of paper). You want to test against the most mainstream, popular versions of those decks you can find, so don't try to be clever: those builds are freely available for your convenience on the internet. They're right there. You'll win respect and self-satisfaction when your innovative decks win: you won't achieve either by mimicking a tournament-successful X-Saber deck without checking basic reference materials. It's not part of your agenda, so don't make life hard for yourself. Free your mind and focus on the task at hand.

So Who Does That Leave?
If you're not a new or casual player; a budget player; a creative deckbuilder; or part of a playtesting group, is netdecking still for you? Yeah, probably! If all you intend to do is play builds of mainstream decks for the rest of your Dueling life, without ever really playtesting, you may as well sample the most successful strategies here and there to see what's up. If you consider switching from your current mainstream deck to another one, start with a netdecked version to get familiar with what that theme has to offer. You can add your personal flare and tech cards later, but starting with a successful build (and occasionally trying other builds that are different from yours) is extremely helpful. You're very much in the same boat as the new player, as I described him earlier.

Of course, here we encounter what I consider to be the one legitimate point of criticism against netdecking: that copied decks just aren't as good as custom ones, and won't play as well as those fitted to your style and your metagames. Netdecking is extremely helpful, but the moment you rely on it solely for the decks you build, it becomes a crutch and starts eating away at your win percentages. As you play a deck, it's important to consider what seems to work and what doesn't. Realistically speaking, some things may be failures on your part: maybe you play too conservatively; too aggressively; or maybe you don't yet have the matchup knowledge that certain decks require. But sometimes, what worked for one Duelist – and especially one metagame – just isn't right for another. Success requires adaptation, and over-reliance on netdecking costs you that edge and leaves you like wheat for the sharpened scythes of more adaptive (and creative!) Duelists.

No matter what your level of interest in the game, netdecking can help you have more fun and be more successful. If you truly don't care about your win percentage, and see no need to build your skills, then by all means... Play whatever you want and ignore online deck lists. As long as you're having fun and getting what you want out of the experience, that's totally okay. But if your win ratio is linked to your enjoyment of the time you spend Dueling, then netdecking could probably benefit you in one way or another. It's not a negative force, it doesn't stymie creativity, and you're not a bad person for doing it. Netdecking raises the challenge level of competitive tournaments, but it also gives us all the tools we need to compete and innovate.

-Jason Grabher-Meyer, probably about to get flamed like crazy by people who hate netdecking


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