Netdecking - Imitate & Innovate

Imagine if you will that it’s Friday night and you’ve invited some friends over for dinner. “This minestrone is amazing!” someone says. “Why thank you, it’s my grandmother’s recipe!” you excitedly reply. One of your guests stands up immediately and announces loudly that they refuse to eat such an unoriginal soup. Another makes remarks under his breath about how unique his own minestrone recipe is, and about how many much more original soups he has come up with at home. Yet another guest instantly dismisses the soup stating that they have seen minestrone before and so they don’t even need to bother tasting this one. Finally your last guest mentions that she had heard about your grandmother’s recipe on Facebook and was excited to get to try it for herself.

Given the context of friends at a dinner party, some of these reactions seem both unreasonable and incredibly ill-mannered. Having gathered under the pretense of enjoying something with friends I doubt that our hypothetical host was expecting an outburst when they served one of their favorite meals. If you aren’t already seeing the parallels here, just think of the deck as a soup and a deck list as a recipe and this anecdote transforms from an extremely atypical reaction to food into a common reaction to "netdecking". I’m here to show you why making fun of (or feeling superior to) people who netdeck is as ridiculous as making fun of someone for cooking their grandmother’s minestrone.

Far From Plagiarism 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the phrase, netdecking is a term that means taking someone’s deck list or idea, typically from the internet, and copying it. It is also a phrase that carries a very heavy and sometimes even toxic connotation for some people. Players who like to pick on “netdeckers” typically call them unoriginal and insinuate that their lack of creativity makes them less skilled at the game or takes some amount of integrity away from their performances. These arguments also are almost always made with the purpose of making the player who is “netdecking” feel bad for their decisions while uplifting the person or group of people who are harassing them.

In almost any competitive sport, players use a uniform set of tools to compete against each other and their skill is the deciding factor. Trading card games offer us a wide array of complex choices and options that we can use when crafting our deck, but one should never forget that a player’s individual skill is a factor in every single game they play. Different players have different play-styles, value cards differently, make different conclusions based on different information that they have gathered, and learn different lessons from different experiences. No two games of FFTCG are exactly the same regardless of the match-up, and few players pilot a deck in the exact same way. In fact, most high-level players will tell you that they learn something every single time that they sit down to play a deck regardless of if they have played the deck or match-up before. Simply copying a list of cards cannot give someone all of the pieces of the victory puzzle.

Just Like Grandma's Cookin'

For some fun, let’s go back to our example from the beginning of the article: just because you know Grandma’s minestrone recipe certainly doesn’t mean that you can make it like Grandma. Grandma likely ruined a hundred soups before she settled on her favorite recipe! If a deck list is a recipe, there will always be players who prefer to adjust and tinker and experiment with making their own style soups while some of them are happy with Campbell’s for the rest of their days. While the person who came home with soup in a can certainly didn’t try as hard as you, they didn’t get any of the experience that came from making their own soup and adjusting it until it came out just right. You could argue that they have a lesser appreciation for soup than you, but that may not even be the case. Perhaps no matter how many times another player makes their own soup, they just prefer the taste of Campbell’s. There’s nothing wrong with that! There are so many ways to enjoy soup the Final Fantasy Trading Card Game, and there is no reason to give someone a hard time for what they enjoy.

Bear with me continuing the metaphor for one more comparison – maybe you just aren’t very good at cooking at all but you still LOVE soup! One of the best ways to start learning how to make your own soup is to go to the store and grab a simple canned soup and start adding your own ingredients to it. Perhaps you googled a recipe or saw one on a cooking show and you are excited to try cooking it for yourself. People have spent thousands upon thousands of collective hours making soup, it almost seems silly to not look to them for some advice. Much like types of soup, there are literally hundreds of potential decks in the Final Fantasy TCG and players have spent thousands of hours testing some of them. While there are definitely decks that people agree are leading the pack, official events for the FFTCG are actually consistently and constantly won by different decks. Rarely will you see an identical top cut from tournament to tournament. In fact of all of the trading card games I have played, FFTCG by far has the most room for creativity and experimentation when building viable competitive decks.

Know Thy Enemy

If you are one of the people who has a bad taste in their mouth when they think about netdecking, I encourage you to change your point of view. Even if you prefer to play your own builds, the fact of the matter is that people WILL be playing the meta decks. Playing them or at least familiarizing yourself with them will put you in a much better position to understand them and therefore beat them! If players around you are netdecking, they are actually improving your testing and helping you get more deliberate practice! Your local scene will start to develop answers and techs to the big meta decks, and you may even find inspiration among some combos or card synergies in decks that other players have built. It’s not possible for any one person to build and test all of the relevant FFTCG decks a statistically relevant number of times. Let other players do some of the legwork for you! By looking at decks that perform well and stepping into their shoes, you will make yourself a more rounded player and you will perform more consistently against the meta decks.

When it comes to the big meta decks and “netdecking” in general, I like to encourage players to “imitate and innovate.” First look at what is performing well and imitate their deck/strategy. Discuss winning decks. Why are they so successful? Look at the context – the meta/field that the successful decks were played in. The imitate step is all about gathering information. Once you understand their strategy and the reasoning behind their decisions you are in a better position to innovate and create a new deck or find a new tech that can bring one of your decks (or possibly even that netdeck!) to the next level. Before you know it, your innovation may even start to reshape the meta. If people start to netdeck something you've created, be proud! Even though it may feel like somebody is "stealing" your hard work, imagine if your deck inspired a new player and helped them fall in love with FFTCG! This community has the unique ability to be competitive while being cooperative and the more we help the game grow, the more there will be for all of us to enjoy.

I hope this article has given you something to think about (or at least laugh about) the next time you're looking at tournament results. Sometimes people make really FUN decks! Maybe you're playing something really fun and you'd like to share that enthusiasm with someone else. I'd love to see anybody's list and talk shop at any time! I am personally inspired constantly by seeing the creative lists and spicy techs that people are playing, and I know that I have inspired others with some of my ideas. Netdecking as a term needs to shake the stigma and we should just call it what it really is: research! Whether or not you hate minestrone, give someone else's soup a try and see if it helps you level up your game!

-by John Schreiner

"This time we'll try two Leila.."
The secret kidney bean tech
She actually won her last locals

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