Netdecking versus rogue play is one of those arguments which may never end. I personally am an avid rogue player because I think it’s more fun. Players are often quite befuddled by the plays I make, the cards that I run, and I can take advantage of that. Some players lack the creativity to do this, and rely on the internet to get them the very best decks created by the world’s best players. Which is better?
Statistically speaking, netdecking is better, but you can’t ignore the fact that the majority of rogue players are first-time tournament players who don’t know any better, and that serious rogue players are few and far between. Often times, however, those players will do quite well. If you were to compare only the rogue decks which were serious, you’d see that they have a much higher finish in general than many players running netdecks.
So if you can’t determine which is better, you need to look at opinion. I think the answer to which is better is to run netdecks, but customize them, and optimize them as well as you can through playtesting. Don’t run the exact copy of the decks you see on the internet. Everyone has seen them, and everyone will be playing them, so take the basic concepts of those decks and adapt them to fit better against the decks which you’ll be playing against. This strategy will work right in any format where the decks are clearly defined.
In any format where the decks are not clearly defined (like States or Regionals for example), this strategy cannot work. In these situations, I like to play something completely off the wall. If you can open up your playbook in these situations, you should see that not many of your opponents have playtested against anything, because they didn’t know where to start in building their test decks. Because of this, you can take big advantage of their missteps by playing something truly strange. Of course, there is also the opinion that the only decks which will do well are stand-alone decks, those that will do whatever it is that they do, regardless of what the opponent plays, which is why aggro decks are always so popular at these tournaments.
If the format is well defined, but the decks are so even in matchups, netdecks are probably the best idea. This is true especially in Block Constructed formats where card pools and potential decks are limited. If you have no great ideas, play a netdeck and hope for the best.
Once upon a time, there was no such thing as Netdecking. These golden ages of Magic saw the rise and fall of many unusual decks and if you look back at a lot of those decks, you’d laugh out loud if you saw someone running a similar deck in a tournament today. The very first Magic world Championship was won by a deck that ran the all-powerful Serra Angel/Stasis combo, and ran only a single copy of each and every non land card in the deck.
This kind of strategy would never cut it today, and in fact, today the game of Magic has changed drastically since it was originally conceived. That original world champion won partially because he had better cards than everyone else. It is widely thought that the reason Jon Finkel won the 2000 World Championship was because he knew the new rules better than everyone else. Today’s champions are defined by their ingenuity and deckbuilding skills, while playskill often takes a backseat. Intuition in knowing which decks will be popular is important, but it really comes down to the kind of cards you decide to play.
For this reason, I suggest that you should always try to customize your decks. Relying solely on someone else’s proven ideas ensures that you’ll always be a step behind in the breakthrough ideas that are waiting to be found in a format, but playing something too conceptual and unusual means that you’ll suffer from losing many tournaments based on the fact that some ideas just don’t win.