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Hi guys, Loliconartist here! A bit of a disclaimer, this article is meant to be as informative as possible on what the common card game term “meta” is, what can change the meta, and some advanced theory that can be done with the idea of meta. With this in mind, this is based off mainly from my own personal experience playing through multiple card games. (Over thirteen TCG’s including Magic the Gathering, Hearthstone, Stormbound, Pokemon, Eternal, Hex Shards of Fate, Shadowverse, and way too many more.) without further ado, let’s get into it!
Meta is short for “Most Effective Tactic Available”, and is a term previously coined in MMO’s and similar games, and it has since spread to games of all kinds.
Of course what this means for card games is the strongest deck(s) possible! However, this is where it gets interesting. Because card games are inherently centered in RNG (randomly generated numbers or luck, such as drawing random cards from your deck) it often means that there is few pieces of conclusive factual evidence beyond winrate to prove a specific deck is the strongest.
This leaves it up to community experimentation and OPINION to determine what decks are stronger than others. This inevitably ends up in what is known as a tier list, or a list all currently known decks of note, ranked based on their power and effectiveness. Tier lists reliability are directly proportionate to the skill and experience of their author(s). What they aim to do is map the current state of a card game, from the meme decks to the netdecks. This map is what is commonly known now as a card game’s “meta”. So because all ideas of meta in card games are mainly based off opinion, it’s always arguable as to what decks are the best.
What this means is that a “meta” deck may not always be the strongest, it may simply be the most widely accepted as such.
After an expansion, the search for the new most competitive decks starts in every rank, but in any card game breakthroughs most commonly occur in the highest ranks, such as s rank in duelyst, generally because of the common deckbuilding and piloting skills of the players and their peers in that rank being the best in the game, and the competitive drive between them being much higher than more casual players.
After some time, the more effective archetypes and strategies seem to settle more, and this is generally when a certain effective deck stands out above others as being “the best”. While this deck may not be the strongest, it is the most powerful one discovered so far.
This leads to popularity within the upper echelon of s rankers looking to ladder but not necessarily risk experimenting with other less tested or less powerful decks. When lower ranked players see this “best deck” in action they often want to jump in on it too, leading to the act of “net decking”. In this way the deck effectively spreads like a virus and trickles from higher to lower ranks, creating what is known as the “meta deck”- a deck widely accepted as the best, and something that defines the rest of the meta, or competitive scene of decks because of its popularity and success. Something key to note is that occasionally in the fever to find the best deck, other ideas/decks can be missed or ignored. This leads to explosive popularity of said meta deck that often leaves a lack of deck variance for a while after the decks creation. Even though there is still other t1 or t1.5 decks, they see considerably less play.
An example I will use for this is the most recent event in our memory. The Trials of Mythron expansion launch, and how it was dominated by Grand Strategos. I believe most of us will remember how Brome Strategos decks overtook the ladder a few days after the expansion release, and how every other player we saw was a Strategos player. Undoubtedly this was the meta deck, at least before it’s inevitable nerf. When Kolos cracked the deck’s optimized shell, it spread like wildfire as I previously mentioned how meta decks will. Even though there was plenty other perfectly fine decks, (maybe not as over tuned as strategos) they saw little to no play because of strategos’s dominance.
So, Meta within a card game refers to the strength of an individual deck AND as a byproduct of strength, its popularity. Meta also refers to the current state of the game, and what makes up the strongest and most popular decks.
Often a deck’s power within a meta relies upon its individual traits and advantages, as well as the ones it has over the current top meta deck or decks.
So, what can change a meta?
The reason why everyone considers something meta in card games is because people look at the best players with the best collections, watch what deck they are playing, copy said deck if it sounds like or seems like the strongest, then play it themselves. This causes a large spike in popularity of said deck, leading people to more easily recognize it, and that means it has become meta. Then people complain about it being over tuned, given that it became popular because people saw it was having success, so it is not only a STRONG deck, but also a POPULAR one to the point of boring repetition.
To change the meta, the most often and inevitable way is for the developers to release their next expansion of cards, validating new strategies and invalidating old ones.
Secondly, often an over tuned deck or over tuned cards will receive nerfs in a patch or hotfix which can invalidate top tier meta decks. resulting in a shift in what deck will become meta and in the decks that were previously good because they beat/countered the previous meta deck.
Third, a unforeseen discovery of a previously unknown/less tested archetype’s power. A previously unknown deck that was overshadowed by a recent meta deck can often turn a meta on its head, quickly taking the place of the other meta deck and causing chaos within the previously established meta.
These are the main factors that influence a meta. Now for some advanced theory on meta to wrap up the article.
One can argue that the meta of each division in Duelyst and other card games is different due to the amount of variance between options available to separate groups of players and their separate playing levels. This can be said to influence popularity of different archetypes in say,silver or gold that see no play or do not even exist in ranks like diamond and s. The popularity of different archetypes directly affects the strength of other cards or decks in that meta as well.
but in card games the lower the division the less streamlined decks tend to be. This ends in a confusing, ineffective, and not unified meta. Secondly, because people are naturally competitive, they want to win. This leads to people wanting to play the best deck to climb to higher ranks. Where do people look to find those best decks? That is correct, the top ranks they aspire to be at the same level at. This is why “netdecking” is such a common and natural part of every collectible card game.
For these two reasons, a card game’s meta as a whole is dependent on the meta of the top players. Netdecking from the top causes lower ranks to mimic higher ranks in meta, and home brewing from less skilled deck builders with less skilled competition leads to less defined and optimized, and therefore less successful, decks.
Another short theory is that costs of cards in a deck affect the popularity of said deck, especially in lower ranks, and therefore the costs affect the meta.
Cost ratios don’t matter to strength of a deck, and often people overcome cost barriers to make a deck via crafting and grinding or just using good old money. However, cost of a deck and its cards do provide more of a decentive depending on its cost to many budget players, so it does impact popularity of decks a small amount, although its effect is minimal. That still doesn’t effect meta however, because as previously mentioned meta is defined by the top players, and the top players only want to win. They do not care about budget anywhere near enough to get in the way of that.
One last important yet advanced thing to note is the origin of the term meta. Meta was also originally a greek prefix which referenced something about itself, in a way. An example would be Metadata, which means data about data. In the case of gaming, meta was originally the metagame, which refers to the same idea of what is currently strong and popular in the game, or the game behind the game. metagaming means to play the game behind the game. This meant playing the game of using the information of what is good and what is popular right now in the game in order to predict your future opponents decks and moves, and what would counter or be good against them. This is the same idea behind teching in cards to deal with certain decks. It is important to understand what metagame and metagaming mean, as they are deeper original roots of what meta is.
And with that, I conclude my informational writing on what meta is in card games. Let me know if you want to see more in depth dives on topics like card game theory and terminology in the future. See you all later, Loliconartist.