Beyond the Top Deck: Approaching Testing

joe 2Just as the new March 2013 begins, I think it is the perfect time to talk about a subject I have been meaning to write about for quite some time. Every time there is a new format, people seem to scour the internet for results of the first regionals and tournaments of the weekend. This is a completely legitimate thing to do, and I am going to talk about that in a moment. But the real subject I want to discuss today is understanding how to analyze the testing results of other people, and how that should help you shape pre-conceived notions of a given format.

The real motivation to write this article came about in the summer format of last year. To say the least, I treated myself to the devastating power of Rescue Rabbit throughout virtually every event that format, minus YCS Long Beach. However, after YCS Dallas, the popularity of the dreaded Chaos Dragon archtype spiked, which was seen as a downright awful matchup for Dino-Rabbit variants. To be honest though, whenever I sat across the table from a Chaos Dragon player, I never felt this unmatched potential between our decks. It might have been because I adapted my decklists to utilize copies of Macro Cosmos, but I felt like I was playing a matchup that I was actually favored in. Even in games where I never saw Macro Cosmos, I felt like the trap line-up I played gave me a reasonable, if not significant chance of winning the match. The thing was, through my own testing I concluded upon results I was confident with. Just as I felt this confidence in the matchup, if you were to ask a general question to most of the Yu-Gi-Oh community, they would have said Chaos Dragons were favored against Dino-Rabbit. In an absolute blanketed approach to asking which deck was favored against one another, you could have told me that over the course of five YCS event Chaos Dragons defeated Dino-Rabbit variants at a 75% clip, and those numbers would have been relatively irrelevant. What I think people misunderstand about the results of large-scale tournaments, is exactly how to decipher what they should be looking at. And in the same sense, develop a better understanding of how to garner testing results without actually playing.

Mermail AbyssmegaloWhen Cordero rounds up a wave of recent regional results, the first thing I tend to see from the Yu-Gi-Oh community is the attention given to the sheer numbers of each deck in the Top 8's around the country. In a lot of different sectors of life people are results based, and it is quite apparent in Yu-Gi-Oh as well. And because of that, people will often seek these regional results for decks, or specific cards to replicate in their own decks. That is exactly what we should be doing with these results. The fact that Mermails took up the highest percentage of Top 8's across the country is an irrelevant stat, we want to key in on what the Yu-Gi-Oh community is going to dwell on. Keeping up with these results will not prove what the strongest deck in the format is, but it will provide you with the framework to what will be copied in the short-run.Yu-Gi-Oh fads tend to go in fluctuations, and being able to predict short term trends is an important aspect of keeping up with the game.

A few times throughout this article I have alluded to the fact that the sheer numbers results, or even as in depth as matchup based results are irrelevant and that probably seems ridiculous at first. My little tidbit at the beginning about Dino-Rabbit against Chaos Dragons is the first example I gave about doubting the results of the masses for your own, but I want to dig a little deeper into this idea.

Lets assume for a minute that Konami gave you the results of the latest YCS with a breakdown of every matchup across the board. It told you how well Mermails fared against every single deck in the format, and at the end of it showed you that Mermails owned the highest winning percentages against the most prevalent decks in the format. So Mermails are the best deck right? You have nothing to test, except finding the superior build of Mermails. Ehh, not so much. These type of numbers completely eliminate the human element from the game, as if a bunch of computers are playing against one another. Have you ever watched over the shoulder of someone else while playing? How often would you have taken drastically differing lines of play at critical points throughout the game? Chances are you might have agreed with a percentage of things, but most assuredly not every single play. Now multiple that game across the entire YCS field. See where I am going with this?

We are not computer generate programs designed to play this game, and because of our ability to differentiate our lines of thinking from other people who play the game - we still consider this game skillful. So if I am trying to argue that basic numerical breakdowns of a tournament field yield results that are not representative of what your own testing will yield, should all of your testing be confined to your own results? Absolutely not.

I have a lot of friends who play this game right now, and because of that I have the ability to pick up my phone and ask for advice from a myriad of minds. The thing is though, we all have friends who play this game - why else would we continue to play? But what you need to take into consideration amongst your friend group are the individuals who have similar thinking patterns to your own. No two people are going to play games of Yu-Gi-Oh in an identical fashion, but there are minds which go through similar through processes to conclude upon the optimal play. And that is exactly what you need to utilize. For example, I could list off a bunch of people I would consider to play similar to me - but I am going to mention Jessy Samek first. I go to a cascading list of people to strictly talk about the game of Yu-Gi-Oh in terms of the effectiveness of certain cards and whatnot. But Jessy has always been a person I trusted when I spoke to him about the intricacies of certain matchups, and the way in which he approached unique gamestates. After traveling and playing this game for as long as I have, I have had the opportunity to watch Jessy play countless games while considering my own sequence of plays. We obviously have disagreed, but I know that afterwards, Jessy and I would be able to discuss why he made the play he did in reference to what I would have made. It is an immensely valuable asset to what when you are testing, or otherwise seeking valuable information for tackling a format.

So as the calendar digs deeper into March, make sure you approach the results of given tournaments around the country appropriately. Understanding how to cautiously evaluate the black and white numbers game, which appreciating the human element which makes this game.

Joe Giorlando

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