All it takes is just one card to ignite the creative spark to build a deck. That is exactly what happened to me when I first laid my eyes on Nyxbloom Ancient.
I know this well-loved/despised Elemental is not legendary, but its ability struck me immediately during spoiler season. When Theros Beyond Death released, I wasted no time in getting my hands on one. I knew that I wanted to pair it with Helix Pinnacle, but besides that I had no direction with the deck. I didn't even know who the commander was going to be.
For a few days at home, I thought about the possibilities that this deck could become. I felt overwhelmed and unsure which way to move first. The card was so new that there was barely any information available online about it or ways to build around it. So I went down to my local game store, I took my small pile of cards I was thinking about, spread them across my LGS's counter, and asked my friends for advice. Within 30 minutes, I had a commander and pile of cards recommended to me by some friends. I left the shop feeling much more confident about my build and was able to finish building the deck within a week.
Whether you look at decklists online or ask for the opinions of your friends at an LGS, building collaboratively is an incredibly helpful tool in a deck builder's arsenal.
From the moment I first entered Magic, I was taught that deck building was an incredibly personal thing. No deck was exactly alike, and even if the lists were, each person's art choices or card prints were there to convey a level of individuality. Your deck was an extension of you.
My introduction to building a deck with a group began with my stream. During the stream's inception, I was worried what would happen if chat and I disagreed too much. With so many chefs in the kitchen, I worried that my flavor would be lost in the dish. This wasn't the case. Building with others doesn't have to be confrontational, and can feel just as personal.
Sharing ideas and concepts is always a nerve-wracking experience, both in and out of Magic. "What if they hate my idea? What if they think this card is bad?" These thoughts can be very scary when asking for someone's opinion on something you enjoy. However, opening yourself to others and expressing your wacky ideas (Niv-Mizzet Reborn Duskmantle Seer Essence of the Wild Temporal Isolation Sek'Kuar, Deathkeeper) requires you to be completely honest about what interests you.
Deck building is like dancing. When you perform it by yourself in the mirror, all you see is your own moves. However, building with a friend or a group of individuals is like the Waltz. You ebb and flow, push and pull with your collaborators' opinions. The result is still, unavoidably, a reflection of you—and of them.
Before COVID, whenever I finished a deck, I would excitedly go to my LGS to playtest a bit. Once I was there, I was asked:
"Did you brew that yourself or did you just copy and paste it from someone else online?"
I was confused by that question. What was so wrong with using something I found online for inspiration? Soon I began to see similar statements made online (though far meaner than the one above). Netdecking became shorthand for words like "lack of creativity" and "concept theft."
The idea that netdecking is bad and lazy is incredibly negative and harmful, and the stigma around asking for help or taking inspiration from other lists found online is unnecessary and elitist. Netdecking is a form of collaboration, and before we dig deep into the concept of collaborative deck building, I want to highlight the problematic nature of shaming netdecking.
Decklists available online are resources. My introduction to deck building began with websites like EDHREC and TappedOut and videos I had discovered on YouTube. The internet contained a plethora of resources and deck ideas to help guide both seasoned and new brewers alike. As any MTG vet knows, being new to Magic, particularly Commander, can be overwhelming to say the least. You can be unsure where to start, what the rules are, or how to even build a proper deck. Not to mention that learning the concept of a curve, what single target removal is, or how certain combos go off can add more confusion to an already complex game.
Even for players who are more familiar with brewing, building around a commander or color identity outside of one's comfort zone can be just as tricky. Having resources available for people to read, watch, play with, or even tweak is incredibly important for the health of the format and community. It's not lazy or uncreative, it's a way to help and inspire others.
When you build with others, they can share insights about cards and interactions you may never have considered.
One recent example for me was the card Necropotence.
When this card was recommended to me, I was confused. I knew that this card has received a lot of love and use in other formats, however I never really 'got' the card. When it comes to black, life is a resource, but whenever I looked at Necropotence all I saw was a bad card. I didn't understand the hype. During my stream, I took a moment to ask chat, "Please explain to me why this card would be good here because I don't see it." Instead of being met with belittlement and discontent, I was met with understanding and explanations. After it was explained to me, I understood why the card was an asset to the deck where I originally saw a liability. There are moments where interactions or cards don't make sense, or maybe the card is worded in a confusing way (I'm looking at you, Ice Cauldron). Having resources nearby to help explain how things work can be incredibly helpful to your understanding of other cards or the deck as a whole.
No matter how long you've been playing, you cannot possibly know every card printed in Magic's history. Having the combined cardpool knowledge of a handful of individuals or even just another person can help introduce you to pieces you might have never heard of.
One example is two pieces from my Emiel deck, a deck I built on stream. Both Ondu Giant and Haze Frog are integral cards to the deck, but were cards I had never heard of until chat mentioned them to me. Thanks to these two cards, I can continuously ramp and fog whenever I please thanks to my Commander. Without them, the deck would be slower and weaker.
Building with others don't just result in better decks—it helps build communities. We can look at this in two ways: larger scale (public streams) or smaller scale (your LGS).
When you build on stream with others, asking for card suggestions or input on combos, your deck suddenly becomes more than yours. If you had 100 viewers watching your stream, providing input and critiques, the deck belongs to them as well. They had a hand in piecing it together.
Whenever we build a deck by ourselves, we tend to feel the claim over it (this ties back into the so-called "theft" in netdecking). When building with a mass group and packed chat, they feel that claim together. "I helped make that." Seeing that deck published on TCGplayer knowing you had a hand in it, even if it was just one card, feels absolutely wonderful. It fosters a sense of belonging and excitement.
Every deck that I build on stream and write about is not solely mine. They belong to each individual in chat who helped me, challenged me, changed my mind, or made me laugh. That's why each deck description on each of my VODs says "a deck made with chat."
Building collaboratively on a smaller scale differs slightly. When you're working on a list, opening it up to others at your LGS not only benefits the deck, but the community within the LGS as well.
The LGS is my favorite place. I can walk in, know no one, and know that we already have a shared interest. Spreading a small stack of cards in front of some shop-goers and workers and saying, "Hey I have this idea. What do you think I could do with this?" opens up so many windows and avenues for communication. The shared interest becomes something more: a dialogue. Suddenly people are pulling out their phones to show you cards while workers pour over pages of binders to pull out the one card that came to the forefront of their mind. Connections are being made, and slowly the people you bought cards from and the person in the corner with their deck boxes become friends.
The LGS is already a wonderful place to meet individuals with shared interests, but now it becomes something more. Whether you build on stream or simply spread your cards across the table with friends, you are helping build community through deck building.
It's fun to work on ideas with others, however, that does not mean differences in opinion won't arise. Having an idea you're passionate about or a pet card you love criticized can hurt or even frustrate you. We've all been there.
How do you deal with disagreements from those you are collaborating with? First, it's important to understand that criticism, more often than not, does not come from a negative place. Second you should remember that opinions are merely opinions, not fact.
With these two thoughts in mind, ask them why they disagree with you. Talking about why they do or don't like a given card can help both you and the collaborator learn about one another. Someone could just personally not like a card, or maybe their meta calls for a different piece. Regardless, taking the time to open up a positive dialogue can clear up hurt feelings and misconceptions.
It should be noted that building collaboratively only works with mutual respect. There is a difference between constructive criticism and simply being critical for the sake of it. Taking a moment to step back and ask yourself, "Is this person trying to be helpful or harmful?" is incredibly helpful when disagreements between collaborators arise.
Building collaboratively is not a new concept, though it is one I feel deserves to be discussed more. It inspires others, builds community, and creates resources for others to help the player base grow. As community members, it's important to help build others up by making resources readily available for others. This includes decklists and concepts.
Being able to lean upon one another, guide one another, and help build something together is the very core of what Magic is and should be.