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CardShark Content - Dave Andrews (3/24/2001)

Well, folks, Regionals are just around the corner. Pretend that you haven’t read that in any other Magical articles lately, so that you may appropriately respond, ´´Oh my, I’d better get prepared!´´ OK? Good. Now let me share some ideas with you about how to focus your preparation to efficiently produce the best results. If you are part of a well-organized, highly experienced team, feel free to skip this article. If you’ve found that your preparation for tournaments lacks focus or isn’t producing the results you’d like, or if you’ve never really prepared to play in large Magic tournaments before, perhaps you’ll find my advice useful.

Many players talk about getting together with friends and teammates to ´´playtest´´, while in actuality, they are not really playtesting at all. Very often, when a group claims to be playtesting, what they are actually doing is practicing. It is important not to confuse practicing with playtesting, because the goals and methods are different. The goal of playtesting is to learn about decks and the metagame, whereas the goal of practicing is to improve your playing skills. Let’s take a closer look at each activity:

Playtesting
The focus of playtesting is on the cards, decks, and metagame. You goal is to learn what the best decks are, how each deck matches up against each other deck, and what the optimal version of each deck is. Playtesting should always come before practicing, and usually takes much longer, but when playtesting is completed, you should have well-tuned, optimized decks to practice with.

Playtesting should begin with rather straightforward versions of each expected deck in the format. Note that this means playtesting is the second step in preparation for unknown formats, where deck concepting would come first. Since we are now preparing for Regionals, we have an established set of archetypes to work with. Ideally, you should coordinate with your partners to build at least 2 copies (feel free to proxy) of each relevant deck: Fires, Counter-Rebel, U/W Control, Blue Skies, Nether-Go, Eye-Go, Mono-White Rebels, Turbo-Chant, Red Zone, and G/W Blastogeddon. You’re probably itching to get your rogue deck into the mix, but leave it out until you have a decent level of understanding of the important decks.

Now begin the grunt work. Each deck needs to be played against each other deck for a good 8-10 games. Ignore who won the previous game, and alternate which deck gets to go first. After completing the first set of games, play another 8-10 with sideboards. Now is not the time to worry about tight technical play. The time limit is unimportant unless a certain deck type seems to show signs of being unable to complete matches in the allotted time. It is important that any mistaken plays are taken back and corrected. Sometimes, when a decision seems to be critical to the outcome of the game, it can be useful to make a choice, play out a few turns, and then back up and try out the other choice.

Feel free to take notes during the playtesting process, as you have a lot of information to gather. How often does Fires beat Blue Skies? What cards seem to be key in each matchup? How long does Misdirection
Misdirection
MisdirectionSet: Mercadian Masques
Cost:
5
Color:
Blue
Type:
Instant
Rarity:
R
Number:
87
Artist:
Paolo Parente
Text:
You may remove a blue card in your hand from the game instead of paying Misdirection's mana cost.Target spell with a single target targets another target instead.
sit in your hand before it becomes useful? How often did you wish you drew Wrath of God
Wrath of God
Wrath of GodSet: Revised Edition
Cost:
4
Color:
White
Type:
Sorcery
Rarity:
R
Artist:
Quinton Hoover
Text:
All creatures in play are buried.
when you didn’t? Is Blastogeddon having frequent mana problems? Does Counter-Rebel have more cards to sideboard in for a specific matchup than it wants to side out, or vice versa? Does a specific sideboard choice have an appreciable effect on the matchup? What are the key plays in each matchup? Should Terminate
Terminate
TerminateSet: Planeshift
Cost:
2
Color:
Multicolor
Type:
Instant
Rarity:
C
Number:
128
Artist:
DiTerlizzi
Text:
Destroy target creature. It can't be regenerated.
be used on the first creature that hits the table, or saved for a key creature like Lin-Sivvi or Blinding Angel
Blinding Angel
Blinding AngelSet: Nemesis
Cost:
5
Color:
White
Type:
Creature
Sub Type:
Angel
Rarity:
R
Number:
3
Artist:
Todd Lockwood
Power:
2
Toughness:
4
Text:
Flying Whenever Blinding Angel deals combat damage to a player, that player skips his or her next combat phase.
? What are the key cards in the deck and sideboard for Turbo-Chant’s mirror match? The list of important questions goes on and on.

The answers to these questions will guide the playtesting process from there. Make small changes based on results, such as going from 4 Flametongue Kavu
Flametongue Kavu
Flametongue KavuSet: Planeshift
Cost:
4
Color:
Red
Type:
Creature
Sub Type:
Kavu
Rarity:
U
Number:
60
Artist:
Pete Venters
Power:
4
Toughness:
2
Text:
When Flametongue Kavu comes into play, it deals 4 damage to target creature.
to 3 and adding a land to your Fires deck, and then run the relevant matchups again. Some decks may fall by the wayside in playtesting, and as time goes on your decks should get more teched out as you try different configurations. Make sure you keep testing out your changes versus the standard net-deck versions of each deck that Random Bob will be playing at Regionals, and not just against your other, higher tech versions. Once you have an understanding of each of the major decks, you can start trying out your rogue decks in the mix. Run a rogue deck through the gauntlet of major deck types, and if it shows promise, add it to the set of playtest decks.

By now, if you’re actually reading this article and not daydreaming about annihilating Jon Finkel at this year’s World Championships, you’ve got to be thinking, ´´That’s impossible! Running every deck against every other deck 16-20 times every time a small change is made would take decades!´´ Unfortunately, this is true. This is one reason why Magic players form into teams, not into pairs. It is also why experience, deck-building skills, and deck-tuning skills are in such high demand in every playtest group. Barrin
Barrin
BarrinSet: Vanguard
Sub Type:
Character
Rarity:
X
Number:
1
Artist:
Christopher Rush
Power:
+0
Toughness:
+6
Text:
You may sacrifice a permanent to return any creature to its owner's hand. Play this ability as an instant.
g making a really sweet deal with Father Time, shortcuts are going to have to be made. Just keep the true goals of playtesting in mind and consider every card choice carefully, and do the best you can as a group.

One shortcut that is important to avoid is sloppy shuffling. Some players who are very thorough shufflers at tournament time do not shuffle so thoroughly during playtesting. They mana-weave the cards in play and in the graveyard, riffle them once into the rest of the deck, and give a few overhand shuffles. This might save a little time in the tedious playtesting process, but could poison your playtesting results. For example, say you have a Fires decklist that is suboptimal. It may get great results while shuffling sloppily in playtesting, because you keep drawing that same Bird - Fires - Blastoderm
Blastoderm
BlastodermSet: Nemesis
Cost:
4
Color:
Green
Type:
Creature
Sub Type:
Beast
Rarity:
C
Number:
102
Artist:
Eric Peterson
Power:
5
Toughness:
5
Text:
Fading 3 (This creature comes into play with three fade counters on it. At the beginning of your upkeep, remove a fade counter from it. If you can't, sacrifice it.) Blastoderm can't be the target of spells or abilities.
clump. However, when you go to the tournament and shuffle it for real, the deck’s flaws will come out to ruin your day. A similar problem comes from failing to mulligan realistically. I know players who don’t mulligan hands they should just to avoid taking the extra time to reshuffle, or because they just want to ´´see what happens´´. This can also produce poisoned testing results. For some reason, when a playtester keeps a bad hand but draws out of it and wins anyway, he tends to proclaim that the deck is amazing, even winning with bad hands. But when the deck loses, then ´´Oh, that didn’t count. It was a mulligan hand that I was just keeping to see what would happen.´´ Obviously this makes for skewed results. Failing to mulligan also gives inaccurate results for decks that tend to mulligan well. Rebel decks tend to mulligan very well, and playtesting won’t bear out a Rebel deck’s true competitiveness in the metagame if the Rebel player does not use the mulligan as the powerful tool that it is for that deck.

The biggest key to successful playtesting is objectivity. This can be very difficult for many Magic players (myself included), because we have a tendency to be very competitive - why else would we invest so much time in the game? Competitiveness is the bane of good playtesting, however. Your playtesting goal is not to personally win games, but to learn as much as possible about the decks. If your opponent does not see the correct play, you should definitely point it out. When you’re not sure of a play, discuss your options with your opponent, as in playtesting, he’s not really your opponent at all. As I mentioned before, it is vital that any mistaken plays, no matter how minor, are taken back and corrected. The time for skillful and technically correct play will come after playtesting, when actual practice begins.

Practice
In the ideal world, you would be able to playtest every format completely, until you had perfectly tuned and optimized decks and a complete understanding of the metagame, at which point you’d simply select the best deck and start practicing with it. In the real world, however, you begin mixing practicing with playtesting when the day of the tournament starts getting close. You don’t want to put in all that work playtesting just so you can scrub out of the tournament with stupid play errors, so you start going into practice mode. At this point, you should ideally have selected a deck to play at the tournament, but if not, you at least need to narrow it down to 2-3 choices. You should focus on playing your selected deck in practice sessions, but remember to spend equal time giving your partners good practice, too, and run some of the other important decks in the metagame against them.

In practice, your goal is now to outplay everyone, making no playing or rules errors. You are now at a stage where you should be using the 50-minute time limit. Taking back moves should no longer be allowed, and if you feel your opponent has made a mistake, it is best discussed after the game has completed.

Note that during playtesting, a player that isn’t really paying attention or working hard in a particular game doesn’t hurt the testing too much, as his opponent can correct any errors and still see the decks perform. However, in practice, you should bring your best game and focus on the match as if you were playing in a real tournament, or you will be invalidating your partner’s practice. Sometimes it can be useful for everyone to chip in a rare or 2 dollars to play a mini-tournament, to keep everyone playing competitively. Just be sure that if you do that, you don’t deprive yourself of practicing certain matchups because nobody wants to play a certain deck or you just don’t get matched up against it. If you don’t get to play against Blue Skies in one practice session, be sure to seek that matchup out in the next.

As you can see, playtesting and practice require a great deal of discipline and organization to perform correctly. If your Magic group does not specifically keep these goals in mind, it is very easy to slip into so-called ´´playtest sessions´´ that consist of nothing more than simply playing games of Magic. Playing the game and enjoying it are very important, but if you want to take your game to the next level, organizing and focusing your preparation is one of the most vital elements to getting there.

I’d be interested in hearing what other groups do to prepare for tournaments. Feel free to contact me at crazy_monkey1@msn.com


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