If you want to be the last man standing at an event, then you need to practice like that same man. While playtesting you should be completely focused on your game and make the best play with the cards you are dealt. There’s no reason to practice something incorrectly because those same incorrect motions will translate into the games that matter. This is a topic that hits very close to home because I used to have some of the worst testing habits and I did not really know how to properly practice for events. This week I’d like to go over what I consider to be an extremely effective testing process that I’ve developed from the knowledge of various players.
Identifying The Most Popular Deck
Just because a deck is the most popular does not mean it is the best choice for a specific event. Kozmo illustrated this paradigm a few weeks ago at YCS San Jose. Going into San Jose it was very clear that Nekroz would be the most represented because it was going to be the final event where Nekroz was the best deck, but this did not mean that Nekroz was the best deck for this particular event. With an overabundance of Nekroz players at San Jose, Kozmo was clearly going to be the best pick to win this event (and it did). Kozmo has a terrific match-up against Nekroz, and Nekroz had good match-ups against the decks that threatened Kozmo. With Nekroz players knocking out most of the decks that threatened Kozmo, the equation was eventually simplified down to Kozmo vs. Nekroz. With Kozmo having such a good Nekroz match-up it came as no surprise when the deck took up the entirety of top four at San Jose.
I made the mistake of playing Nekroz at this event when Kozmo was clearly the better choice because Kozmo beat the most popular deck. When you’re testing it’s important that you not only identify the common decks but that you can 100% them in games. Beating a deck 100% of the time would be a dream because by that logic, you would never lose. Unfortunately no matter how much you practice, there will always be outside factors that will decrease your 100%. Things like bad hands, time, and cheating are three common things that will chip away at that 100% you so greatly desire when you play against a deck. This may seem quite discouraging but it’s still important to keep your percentage of victory as close to 100% as possible, which means all of your card choices need to be near perfect. While it’s not possible to construct a perfect deck for an event, it’s still essential to build a deck that can beat every match-up that you’re worried about, especially the most popular deck.
When I was in San Jose a few days before the YCS, Brad Larmie and I stayed with my buddy David. Feeling underprepared for the event we wrote out all of the decks we expected to see on a white board. We had compiled a list of about 10 decks that we all agreed we would see at this YCS. After the list was made, we all identified the decks on the list that gave us a bad match-up. I was playing Nekroz for one last time and I noted quite a few poor match-ups, which consisted of Infernoid, Kozmo, and Burning Abyss. Subsequently, we compiled a list of all the potential cards that could be sided against these various bad match-ups. Once the list was made we took a different color marker to the white board and circled all the cards that had at least two of the bad match-ups covered. Finding overlap in your side deck is integral to getting the most out of your choices. Less is always more in the grand scheme of things! You certainly would not want to side in five cards for one match-up when there could be amazing ones that do the equivalent job of the five.
The Testing Process
Once you’ve identified what deck will be most popular for an event and noted the bad match-ups, the next step is quite obviously to play. This doesn’t mean that you should just play with whatever decks are available to you; you should be playing against the decks that give you the biggest issue. I always find it easier to refine my worse match-ups before revisiting the better ones because if a match-up is favorable you shouldn’t have to spend that much time on it. If you have a bountiful amount of time to prepare for an event, it’s extremely optimal to spend a whole week on one certain match-up. If I had the time to I would have spent a week playing against Infernoid because that match-up was pure trash for me as a Nekroz player. Granted, the more bad match-ups you have might provoke you to cut weeks in half and spend one portion on one deck and the remaining time on the other. Moreover if you have a ton of poor match-ups, you should probably find a better deck! Doesn’t make sense to enter a tournament where you know that 9/10 matches will be difficult for you to win.
Is a week’s worth of testing really going to convey enough information for you to understand a bad match-up? It honestly depends on how many hours you put in, because the more you put in, the more you will get out. As you learn how to handle your bad match-up it’s important to play with the deck that gives you a poor match-up. This form of testing is very similar to the old saying of “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer”, because to beat your enemy you should understand them and learn their weaknesses (if they exist). Committing lots of time to poor match-ups can even provoke you to just switch decks all together because you realize your deck isn’t going to be good enough. I’d much rather want to switch decks during testing than mid-match at a tournament! There’s no worse feeling than realizing you’re playing the wrong deck for an event mid-match!
As far as actually playtesting goes it’s important to ensure that you and your testing partner are both making the best possible play because when you’re in a big tournament scenario you would expect your opponent to be making the best play. It doesn’t make sense to let your opponent make a bad play in testing because then your results won’t be as accurate. It’s not like you can think, “well I won this game because he misplayed, and this is suddenly a great match-up for me!” That’s like beating a five year old in basketball and thinking you’re ready for the NBA, it just doesn’t make sense! Ensuring you make the best play is as easy as just playing open handed so you and your partner can talk through you plays together. The more you play and visualize the better plays in certain situations you will be able to make reads in real game scenarios based on what you believe to be the best play from your testing. For example, lets say your opponent is going out of their way to avoid leaving scales up at the end of their turns in a PePe mirror match; you can probably infer that they don’t have an out to Wavering Eyes because they are playing around the card. Alternatively, if your opponent doesn’t seem to care about Wavering Eyes you can assume that they have a Damage Juggler or a Wavering Eyes of their own in their hand.
This idea of practicing how you play gravitates heavily around the previous paragraph, as you want to make sure you are practicing the right moves and not something incorrect. Until next time duelists, Play Hard or Go Home!