Beginner’s Luck: Innovation and Immolation

Hello again.

Following my article last month on acquiring information within a game, I thought this time round it would be interesting to look at information in a wider context; specifically, deckbuilding, and the stigmatized practice of ‘netdecking’. I’ll try to explain why people get so aggravated by the idea, and set out some guidelines for doing it in a productive way, then round out with a very simple decklist of my own.

Once upon a time, or so I’m told, there were no Magic websites (some people say there was no internet at all, but then, some people will say anything). In this proverbial Dark Age, the flow of information was choked down to a trickle; imagine not being able to read up on the newest strategies whenever the fancy takes you, or google up an answer to your friend’s latest creation, or see how the pros are weaving their magic. In fact, imagine going into a new Magic environment, be it a tournament or a different kitchen, without any real clue about what sort of decks you might be facing. Wait- in fact, imagine not even being able to find out what all the available cards are like!

The whole idea is mind-boggling to someone like me. I joined this particular party once it was well underway; I can’t conceive of how difficult it must have been for those early pioneers of the modern game to piece together new ideas. I mean, without tools like Gatherer and the combined resources of the world’s best Magic brains at your fingertips, what exactly would you do? Just sit in meditative silence staring at pile after pile of cardboard until something finally clicked?

Thankfully, these are problems I will never have to contend with. I am, I fully, vigorously and shamelessly admit, a netdecker.

So what’s the problem?

For me, most of the fun of Magic is exploration and customization (I think the two go hand in hand). Those who have issues with netdecking will no doubt think that statement is at odds with my previous admission; how can I claim to enjoy the thrill of discovery when I download all my ideas directly from the web? The answer is disarmingly obvious; I don’t just play the decks I find online without any attention to how they perform and what might be right or wrong about them. I tinker. I swap things in or out just to see what happens, and to understand them better. I put in cards I like the sound or the idea of, to see if they’re any good; or remove cards that look utterly rubbish but are frequently played, so I can figure out what I’m missing. I take out cards I know to be good, but just aren’t any fun to play, or that don’t challenge or stimulate me enough.

You see, I don’t think anyone dislikes netdeckers because we don’t think about the decks we play; if that were true, then nobody would get so annoyed. Why does it matter to you how your opponent came across their decklist? There’s only one possible reason for such aggravation: they’re beating you with it. Moreover, they’re beating your prized, loved and nurtured stack of sixty with it. (You know that deck you’ve been tirelessly labouring over day and night for the past month? The one that you scrawled the latest incarnation of on the duvet in orange crayon in your sleep, and that brought tears to your eyes when you finally admitted to yourself you had to cut your favourite card? Yeah, that one). They’re beating you in the face over and over again, because they were too dull, lazy and unimaginative to come up with their own idea, and stole someone else’s instead. Someone who is more experienced, more competitive and just plain better at the game than either of you. It’s that someone who’s really beating you now, not the zombie clicking away on the other side of the screen. And that is annoying. You came here to have fun by exploring this whole new world of creatures and spells and interactions, and they’re stifling your fun, just because they want to play a different way than you; a lazy, automated, mindless way, that saps all the joy out of your little world. They probably just googled ‘best MtGO deck for under $100′ and bought it, right?


Well, maybe. I’m sure some people do think like that; but most don’t, fortunately, because if they did, they probably wouldn’t be interested in Magic. I’d go so far as to say that most Magic players are endowed with, if not above average intelligence (that’s a huge, sweeping statement), then at least a hyperactive sense of curiosity. Magic is not a game that appeals to those who simply want to win, and nothing else. Even the much-vaunted Spike mindset does not live on victory alone. Nobody is that simplistic; even the most competitive die-hard cares about how they win, and against whom. For most Spikes, it’s probably even important that they win in a manner of their own choosing; they want to be the best, and that means being the best deck builder, not just the best player.

Why netdeck?

Because Magic is a colossal wilderness, and even the best explorer needs a map. When I first started playing, I had no idea of how to judge the value of a card, or work out what was a viable win condition and what wasn’t, or how many lands I needed. I’m not sure I do now! The very first deck I put together was a shambles; I just lumped in a lot of cards that had some nice interactions, and hoped for the best. It never came. (I’m still trying to get that deck to work and one day dammit I will!)

People netdeck because they don’t know where to start. It’s only a bad idea if they think that’s where they should finish, too. People have a problem with netdecking because it spoils their fun, and that I completely understand. So go ahead and download decklists off the net, just remember that netdecking is a means, not an end. If you don’t understand why most pauper White Weenie lists don’t play Icatian Javelineers any more, then just running a list without them because that’s what everyone else does will not teach you a thing, and nor will it make you a better player. You should play a list with them in because, apart from anything else, don’t you want to know what they were doing in there in the first place?

Another good reason to tinker with netdecks rather than accepting them is that, even though the initial list may be better in the abstract than your Frankensteinian aberration, there’s absolutely no guarantees that the former will get you more wins than the latter. You have to understand a deck in order to play it well, so if you can’t see what a card is doing for you, perhaps you should get rid of it and see what happens. Who knows, perhaps your ugly duckling will turn out to be the next PE winning waterfowl.

Here’s my own nest egg:

RG Aggro-Standard Click the arrow to download the above deck in .txt format

It’s Standard legal (for now), but it’s also made entirely out of commons, so it’s playable in any Pauper format, too. I kept it this way so that if you want to piece it together yourself for fun, it won’t cost you much at all; on this very site, the whole shebang can be put together for less than $3.

The aim is to beat the opponent down with early Plated Geopedes, Scythe Tigers and Ruinous Minotaurs, using the land grabbing spells to fuel the cow-faced one’s lust for ruination and counteract the Scythe Tiger‘s enters-the-battlefield effect, while simultaneously pumping the Geopedes. The seven Terramorphic Expanses help fixing your mana (which shouldn’t be a problem anyway) and boost your insects at instant speed. If beating face doesn’t work, you can cast Souls Fire on a Zektar Shrine elemental or a sufficiently beefy Geopede- or even a Minotaur, if need be. My success rate is a little better than 50/50 over forty or so games in the Casual Decks room, which is pretty good for me. (I must admit I got pasted the half dozen times I took it into the Tournament Practice area, but c’mon, many people there run decks where the cheapest non-land costs more than my entire deck! That said, they’re probably better players than me in any case). I suspect that a lot of the times I did not win were down to me keeping slow hands or blocking too cautiously (I should take my own advice!) rather than inherent weaknesses in the deck.

So, I invite you all to take this list and make it your own.

If you’re a new player like me, it might help you to know that the first few turns with the deck are very important; you need to take control of the board, so I find it’s best to mulligan aggressively to get a Plated Geopede or at least a Sythe Tiger, and count on the twenty-four lands and six ramp spells (nine counting Borderland Ranger) to save you. If you think about it, every second card you draw should be either a land or a way to get one, so you don’t need to have three lands to make a hand playable. You could experiment by taking out the Expeditions and Souls Fire in exchange for more burn spells, or maybe dip into White for Steppe Lynx or Black for Putrid Leech. Also, I’ve been told time and again not to play Scythe Tiger, and I don’t fully understand why; I can see it has it’s weaknesses, but it’s also pretty strong in the right circumstances. You should definitely consider replacing them in the long run with something you prefer, since weight of experienced opinion is against them. Some of the new M11 cards look very exciting.

If you want to inject some more cash into it, then I’d recommend Spellbreaker Behemoth as a replacement for two Minotaurs. Elemental Appeal might be worth a go. Raging Ravine and Rootbound Crag are obvious picks. Beyond that, I think I’d just start naming really obvious, abstractly good cards and let you take your pick, so I’ll save us both that delight.

If you’re an old hand, I’m sure you can see several problems with this deck; perhaps you could fix them and let us know how it turns out? Better still, why not capitalise on the fact that it’s already pauper-legal to make perhaps your first venture into uncharted format territory? There are Standard, Extended and Classic versions of Pauper, so get exploring! I must say, Tilling Treefolk is crying out for a go on the fetchlands. I don’t want to say too much, but seriously, he was made for decks like this. Oh, and if you do venture in to Classic Pauper, for the love of all that’s holy, take lots of artifact hate. Cough, Ancient Grudge, cough cough.

That’s all from me. I hope you have fun with this list, and don’t think badly of we who download ours.

Until next time,


  1. I pretty much created my own deck like that from the cards I got in a draft. I didn’t make it with the land destruction way to it but still very similar decks.

  2. i think a major argument about netdecks, or at least the one I see the most come up in the casual room is when people bring the latest ptq Jund deck or whatever. I can see a point there since Im not sure what anyone gets out of playing a tournament deck in the casual room simply because the levels of skill are so varied. My only problem with netdecking especially in an online environment is that the metagame quickly gets very stale when its the same decks, over and over. Its not wrong Ive done it before myself just to have a decent chance at a ptq, but normally i try to avoid it. That said if I decide hey I want to play Monogreen, I will look at lists to see if there are cards or interactions i may have missed that would work in my build.

  3. It is interesting to see how other people think, and sometimes people like to write about certain decks and it can be both fun and insightful to read. the problem is, once you learn of something or are interested in something, it is impossible to just forget it. copying a deck 75/75 is different, but there are only so many interactions and color combinations possible that are competitive play worthy, so I see “netdecking” in general as an inevitable thing. and when people make a good deck, they want others to know and also once a deck becomes known as good, it fosters new thought when people try to build decks to beat that deck. and then it’s a cycle.

    i have another comment later on the deck you posted but it is very very long!

  4. Unlike my non net deck decks for pauper this one actually seems like it can win. I enjoy innovation a lot and noticed a few decks like this int he tournament practice rooms. Sadly netdecking will continue to happen over and over. But i mostly just like to see peoples ideas with magic more than actually play the game.

  5. Hi,

    Thank you all for the feedback! I’m glad the article got people talking.

    @Aznsilly and Shardfenix: Yes, that’s more or less the approach I was trying to encourage; it’s both inevitable and, I think, right, that people use the resources on the web, but that shouldn’t be the end of the story. There is a very big difference between taking inspiration from the decks PTQ winners are using, and just copying them outright.

    @Masterofbrine: I couldn’t agree more. Interesting decks make for interesting games!

  6. Anyway to continue,
    Interesting article! I’d like to say a few things about the list you posted, just my thoughts on certain things, like why people say you shouldn’t play scythe tiger, and also in what direction you should take the deck perhaps.

    First of all, since the deck is all commons, I definitely think you should develop it as a pauper (standard pauper PREs are available) deck. Of course you can add more expensive cards in the deck (the first of which would be bloodbraid elf most likely for these colors), but I think that would change the whole deck entirely. Assuming you play the deck as a normal standard deck, here are some weaknesses: in today’s standard, creatures are everywhere. Control decks run 1/3s or 0/4s in sea gate oracle and wall of omens. your turn 1 scythe tiger (which kills a land of yours and in a relatively land light deck with no 1CC spells other than more scythe tigers and 2 llanowar elves (also 4 bolts, but those require a different color and are not usually played on turn 1), you set yourself quite far behind. because you have no cards that provide card advantage except borderland ranger (in fact many of them are card disadvantage), you will probably run out of gas as soon as your opponent can stabilize. against different decks this happens at different times, but for example against jund a sprouting thrinax as early as turn 3 and its subsequent tokens pretty much stop your deck for a long time + the amount of removal the deck has means that the deck will stabilize fast. mythic can put down baneslayer on turn 3 which stops every creature in your deck or trades with it, aside from that knight of the reliquary often comes out at 4/4 or bigger which quickly becomes unstoppable for the deck. UW control has wall of omens, gideon, day of judgement, path etc. mono red has enough burn to kill all your creatures other than scythe tiger which trades with goblin guide at best or just gets stopped by opposing geopedes + fetchland in play. of course the deck might be fun as just a casual standard deck, but then i think you will still get outclassed by decks with bigger/more of the same sized guys. the highest costing spell in the deck is 3, but you have lots of ramp which serve only the purpose of pumping geopede or activating shrines. it seems only half effective to me.

    so if you look at the deck from a pauper point of view, the power level of the cards around it is much lower. however, pauper is much more of a creature based format (especially standard pauper) so your creatures that max out at 2 toughness are easily removed or traded with. i think scythe tiger might be a feasible sideboard option against creature light decks, but is quite poor against sweepers and only really good when it comes down early. since it has shroud but no evasion, you can’t even use pump spells on it to shorten your clock.

    i don’t exactly know where the deck should go to be really good, but as long as it’s fun…that’s pretty important too ;-)
    imo more burn spells and a little less ramp would make it perform better too

  7. I just deleted my whole ranting comment because it came off way too harsh, but let me say this:
    Pauper decks can be better for $3. Much better. And I mean no offense with that, but I do want to say it.
    I wouldn’t want prospective Pauper players scared off by your ‘the cheapest card in the pauper tournament practice room is $3′ line. That’s not even close to being sort of true, even in classic pauper!

    Going to a few “100 commons for 1 tix” bots would be a good start for any pauper deck, and I am convinced spending 3 tix there could build you 3-4 decks that are just as ‘competitive’ as this one (by which I mean not very competitive imo :( ).

  8. I like the idea of the deck, and I agree with the above that you should probably tailor it more for the Pauper Standard crowd than just as a sub-par Standard deck.
    Also, creating your own decks like this is all about the fun of it, it doesn’t matter if you are only winning 50/50 if your having fun and not aiming to be a magic god.

    And on the subject of netdecking, I have an uncanny ability to turn top 8 decks into bottom 8 decks simply by changing things around and trying out cards I like in that deck. I don’t think anyone minds this keep of netdecking…

  9. For the record, Zage, I meant that in the Standard practice room, there are decks that have very few cards below $3 (bit of an exaggeration, but not much, sadly). There is no way I would ever say that the cheapest good pauper card is $3; that would be an outright lie. Going to freebots is a good way to start, you’re right. And yes, I agree there are definitely better Pauper decks out there; I intended this as the basis for a deck, not the finished article. That’s the reason I kept it entirely to commons; I never set out to make it pauper-legal, but since it was, I thought it was worth mentioning. In retrospect, I agree that I should probably have emphasised that more; I’ll bear it in mind for the future. Having said that, I think this deck is fun to play and moderately competitive; it can win out of nowhere on turn 4 with a good hand, and consistently on turns 5-7. Standard seems pretty slow at the moment (at least, it was a few weeks ago, when I played this deck) and having such a big element of surprise is often enough to get around the defences of control decks. Anyway, sorry if I caused you any confusion!

  10. What i don’t like of netdecking is the way it warps some formats, remember Affinity? it gave you two options: play affinity or play affinity hate, leaving a lot of wasted potential from the cards of fifth dawn.