Playtesting: Quality vs. Quantity with Spencer Swan

cvhWe all know that being prepared for an event is key to doing well, and playtesting is the number one way to get an adequate amount of preparation. Whether it's constructed or limited, you're going to want to know the ins and outs of the meta and what works; even as I type this, I'm reading conversations on the Kaijudo Dojo Facebook page between players who are looking forward to playtesting a lot of booster drafts for the Summer Championship using the upcoming Quest for the Gauntlet set.

When it comes to playtesting, the common belief is that more is always better. I'd counter that quantity only matters if quality isn't a factor. If you have the choice between an hour of good playtesting and five hours of good playtesting, five hours will obviously be more beneficial, but one hour of good playtesting can be far better than five hours of wasting your time.

Kaijudo has a playerbase that, admittedly, can feel a little thinly stretched sometimes. Players in certain areas attend one to three tournaments a week without fail, some players never attend locals and have no one around to play against, and most fall somewhere in the middle, though fluctuations do occur. It can be hard to feel prepared against players who get to play multiple times a week when all you have for preparation is usually the internet, but fear not! I'm here to preach the power of quality over quantity, and I brought in a special guest to help out: one of my best friends and someone I've been playing card games with for close to a decade now, fellow member of Team Peach, Spencer Swan. He agreed to answer some pressing questions for this article, something I asked him to do because he's one of those rare players who have achieved a great level of success while having limited access to actually playing Kaijudo. Living four hours from your teammates and having no local can be tough, but here are some things he had to say on the matter:

CVH: So, Spencer, roughly how much Kaijudo would you say you play on average?
Spencer: I’d say I play about 10 hours of Kaijudo a month during any given season. Sometime up to 20 depending on how

Spencer Swan (left) vs. Ricky Gross (right)

Spencer Swan (left) vs. Ricky Gross (right)

many KMCs are in that time frame. Either way, not a lot.

CVH: When you do play, what is the setting generally like? (Casual, competitive, KMCs, Duel Days, etc.)
Spencer: I'm a huge fan of casual play because my best friends are all on Team PEACH. Hanging out with them AND getting to play Kaijudo is a double whammy of a good time. I also love that we sit around and theory craft/talk strategy mid-game. Figuring out the optimal line in any given hand is one of the best ways to playtest, in my opinion.

CVH: You’ve made the top eight at six of the eight KMCs you’ve entered over the past three seasons, including three wins. You’ve also had solid x-2 performances at both Championships, giving yourself a record of 45-15-9 in KMCs and Championships: a 75% win rate in played matches. How do you manage to maintain such consistency while playing so rarely in comparison to others?
Spencer: I think the consistency of my record really comes down to the close contact I keep with the rest of Team PEACH, despite my living in DC. We talk builds or cool techs almost every day along with CLG on the dream team Facebook (another thing I would recommend teams do - pool their knowledge and opinions). Of course, anyone who's looked over my various lists will notice I almost always play (and do well with) the control archetype. I think sticking to a particular style of deck building and play keeps me competitive because I can always adopt the mindset of a control player. I'm a very reactive strategist, so really no matter what the meta is, I can usually do well playing to that strength.

CVH: Since time is obviously a factor for you, what do you think are the most important aspects of your playtest and theory sessions that give you such an edge?
Spencer: The most important aspect of theory crafting to me is practical implementation and testing. That may seem strange considering the above, but I've had too many experiences of decks looking amazing on paper only to be disappointing in practice. I really rely on my team to test concepts that I implement in builds.  But in my limited play testing time (and it's very limited), I like to get as much advice as possible from someone who has played what I plan to take to a tournament. That'll often mean Carl or CVH sitting over my shoulder while I'm playing another teammate and pointing out all my misplays, but that's exactly what I need.
I usually don't playtest until the night before tournaments either, so my preferred method is to build a control list, take it to the team for cuts, then play a match of 5 games against my worst match-up (usually bugs or tempo) and sleep on slight tweaks for the next day. I guess that's the core of my play testing method, to always learn the match-ups you're most scared of. In DSI meta, that was control mirrors, in Clash it turned out to be dragons, and in Shattered it was Kalima. Now I usually only test against tempo. I figure that if I can make through my roughest match up 50% of the time, then I can handle everything else as a control player.

CVH: Many players out there play Kaijudo weekly; some even play three or four times a week without fail. However, a lot of them still struggle to consistently make the top cut at KMCs and some will be searching for their first invite this summer in the upcoming KMC season. Do you think there are certain “playtesting traps” or mistakes these players are falling in that they should avoid in the future? If so, what are they?
Spencer: As far as playtesting traps, I think players often fall into being results oriented rather than statistically oriented. I almost always lose all of my playtesting games. But, that doesn't mean I scrap the control archetype or radically change my build. Just the opposite usually. I believe in building to ratios and synergy, and those are difficult to have solid results on without hundreds of games. The other thing I see all the time is players who take a deck they've never played to a big tournament. I'm a big believer in being comfortable with whatever I'll be piloting for an entire day. Hence why I play control so much.
I also think that almost every player has a style they thrive in. As an example, Carl is a tempo player. He sees the long plays and gets out of control boxes like I've never seen. CVH is a control player like me, though he likes to have insight and plan instead of react to changes in the board state. Gorby plays aggressive builds and always sees progressions, often when the rest of us miss them. I think most players fall into one of those three types. It's rare that I think anyone can consistently win out when playing against type. Of course, that decision comes down to meta calls for particular events. CVH played mono light rush and did spectacularly at the first champs because of his fantastic meta call and willingness to play against type.

CVH: Do you have any final tips for all the readers out there?
Spencer: As a final tip, I'd just like to mention that whatever you decide to bring to an event should be fun for you to play. Being saddled with a tempo deck that's great but you hate playing will only upset you and lead to poor results. Good luck out there, players.

Powerful stuff - even more powerful considering he typed all of his answers on his phone. If there's a bigger testament out there to someone's dedication to Kaijudo, I don't know what it is. Hopefully you found this interview illuminating, and I hope you can take some of Spencer's advice with you when getting ready for your next big tournament. It's nice to have a big local scene and hours upon hours to playtest, but remember: no matter the disadvantages you think you're at, if you have the proper mindset going into your preparation, you still have the ability to do well at any event. Until next time, Play Hard or Go Home!