By Lennie Brookes (aka Qwerty)
Well today for the first time ever on MTGsalvation, I am going to write a strategy article that’s not about strategy. Yeah I know, the last sentence was oxymoronic but it is true I tell you! At some point every one of us has wanted to just play a game of Magic to see how their deck does. When it performs badly we tend to change it. Often, even if you win you could still be making improvements. This article is about more in-depth testing styles.
There are lots of reasons to test. The most common reason is to make your deck perform better. The second most common is to find out for yourself firsthand how a deck pilots. There is a distinct difference between piloting a deck like Landstill (sorry, Legacy is my format of choice) and reading about playing it. For a start, how do you know where and when to initiate the manland beats? A person could write a article saying "When you have , it's about time that you start the manland beats." But things like this are variable and you only learn these type of variables by testing a deck against a plethora of other decks. In general, the more decks you test against, the better results you will get (more on this later because this is not always true) .
Tools you may need
A Magic deck of your choice to test with.
A notepad and pen/pencil
A friend to play decks against you
A ton of scrap paper for proxies
Multiple decks or decks made of proxies
Where to test
When testing the it is important to be able to keep track of what you are doing and how you are doing it. To do this successfully you need an environment with few distractions. So turn the TV off, shove the PS2 under the bed, and tell the girlfriend to go home (joking if you're reading this, women!). Next is to make sure the environment is clean of clutter. Some of these techniques need space for notes, extra cards, extra observers, and liquid to prevent dehydration. You know; just the things you need to live.
When to Test
“In advance” is the fast answer, but it is a little more complex than that because you need to learn changes in the metagame as well. So you should start to test as fast as is humanly possible. And whenever a new deck pops up, test again. A new shift happens in the metagame, test again. In Magic: the Gathering you can never have too much testing data because somewhere along the line you will find something that relates to your testing in a tournament and your testing will pay off. And trust me, when that happens you will be very thankful and probably test even more (I see a cycle).
Now for the reason for reading this article besides me randomly ranting. Each style/type I talk about I will list certain needs before talking and/or explaining them. Some will not be vital but they will help and to be frank, some are really silly extremes (like two monitors, but more on that later).
Pen and Notepad
OK this might seem silly and obvious but the more you play the more experience you get with a deck. You are better able to predict outcomes and draws; you know multiple turns in advance what you should be doing next. Now you're going to ask, "what do I need the pen and paper for?" The first is to record your life, duh! The second is recording important actions where you have multiple options.
“Example: You are playing a tog deck, and you end of turn Fact or Fiction the cards are separated into two piles. Pile 1) A Counterspell and a Fact or Fiction. Pile 2) a Fire // Ice, a Island and a Deep Analysis.
You see both piles are valid depending on the situation and the piles are quite difficult to choose between. Both could win the game. It's at this point that note-taking is very important. If a similar situation happens again, you will have stronger information to fall back on. So the rule of thumb is to record all make or break decisions; that way you can be sure you're choosing the right path.
Next up, allow people to take back actions. What’s the point in testing deck if you're not going to let the decks work to their best degree. Another thing to do here is to point out when you think a bad move is being played and make a note to talk about it later (or argue ;)). In heavy testing you will eventually get past this stage and will want to not use it overly unless one of you think it is important.
Two decks of the same type
Pen and Notepad
Mirrors are usually about three things: 1) who draws the best, 2) who goes first, and 3) who has the most experience in playing the deck and the mirror. This means that if you want to win as many mirror matches as possible you have to play just as many games against your own deck type as against any other deck type. People often forget to do this and end up in a very bad position when it comes to tournament play and you're playing a popular net-deck.
The best example of this would be Carlos Romaos' testing of Tog pre 2002 Worlds. He understood that the mirror was about the counter war. He knew that every counter he used on stopping the draw spells (Fact or Fiction and Deep Analysis) was one less counterspell he could use in the Tog/Upheaval war.
Pen and Notepad
Mobile phone with notepad function (optional)
Whenever you play in your local shop, club, or tournament, make a tally chart of the popular decks and leave a few open spaces. Each time you see a deck type, make a tally mark. Then take note of any irregularities and every time you see these irregularities place a tick next to the irregularity. This allows you to spot metagame dependencies like people running slightly more artifact removal than normal. This has the added benefit of telling you which decks are the most popular in your area and lets you adjust your deck and sideboard to make it more relevant for your metagame.
Magic Workstation (I’ve had MWS running on a P2 400MHz 128mb ram)
Apprentice 1.46 (I’ve had APPR running on a P1 120MHz 96mb ram)
If you have some spare time, load up one of these two programs and go find a game. MWS has the option of waiting for a game while APPR you will have to go hunting for a game in a chat room. Ok, I will fully admit that many people you will play against will be scrubs but every so often you will get a good player and hell, the games before that were just cannon fodder right ;)? This lets you get more familiar with the deck even if it is against a bad opponent, test quick new deck strategies, metagame strategies, etc. But by far what I find online play best for is testing my decks against scrubs. Sometimes no matter how good a deck is, RandomScrub.Dec will beat it. A prime example of this would be Odyssey/Onslaught Tog. It could not for it's own life compete with a deck that could cast a creature or two per turn. If you beat scrubs you are one more step towards not getting made fun of by your friends for getting whacked 2-0 by a 9 yr old playing with 4 Rhox, 4 Enormous Baloth, 4 Silverback Ape and 4 Spined Wurm…….. (trust me, I’ve been there. Making the colour of your cheeks go back to normal is impossible)
A few years back when Glide was in T2 (odyssey/Onslaught), I was owning Goblins and other aggro decks. I bragged about this to a friend online and he asked to play against me. So I booted up apprentice and promptly got my ass handed to me by a scrub black green deck. I ended up playing a good amount of games that day on Apprentice 'til I had perfected my scrub match. Incidentally the reason I was losing was because I wasn’t playing aggressively enough against his hand denial and sitting there trying to play a control game.
A PC with mws or appr.
This is one of the simplest techniques you can do to test and almost everyone does it. It is the first sign of the crack-like addiction that is Magic: the Gathering. You shuffle your deck and if you're playing aggro you cast spells and take free virtual turns until you deal 20 damage. Combo plays until the deck combos out, taking free virtual turns. And control? You play the first 10-15 virtual turns of the game. This gives you a rough idea of what, where, and when a deck does something without any extensive testing. This is expanded on by introducing virtual disruption. The aggro deck could act as if Wrath of God was cast on a certain turn; the combo deck could act as if it had been targeted by Duress; the control deck could act as it had been targeted by Stone Rain.
Another trick which is open to you (though I do not do this but I have started to because it is quite effective) is to run two Apprentice or MWS windows and set one to wait and the other to call and play the decks against eachother, trying to play as if you do not know what is in the other player's hand. The first thing I noticed about this technique is that there is a lot of minimizing/maximizing which I eliminated by using dual displays (so it’s an option if you have the hardware). Here is a screen shot of my two monitors; Landstill is on the left and Angel Stompy is on the right. (Note: You can do this just as easily with two real magic decks, it is just a little more time consuming)
A friend willing to use this technique with you
Pen and Notepad
I have no doubt that someone else invented this testing trick, but I started doing this on my own when I first started to test decks properly. What you do is mark a card as two or more separate cards (I use a bit of paper in a sleeve) when you are undecided which should go in a deck. You write each card on a notepad. Whenever you draw this card you use it as either card (your choice) but each time you make a choice, tick the respective option on your notepad. After several games you will get an idea to which card is better suited for the deck and/or the metagame you are playing in.
Recently I have been testing if Akroma's Vengeance was playable in Landstill over Nevinyrral's Disk. I played two of each in my deck (though I started to use proxy split cards). And each time I drew one of them I marked which I would rather have on a tally sheet. Surprise, surprise! A lot of games later I had ticked vengeance at least forty times more than the disk. Mmm... wonder which I put in my deck?
Deck Stack Testing (not quite what it sounds)
A friend willing to use this technique with you
This testing consists of two parts: the pros and the cons.
Pro: You choose the top 10 cards of your library and stack them as you want then play multiple games using this testing method. Record how many games you win compared to normal.
Cons: Your opponent chooses a bad top ten cards for you that you cannot mulligan. Depending on the deck type, impose limitations like minimum three land in the top ten cards and a max of five land in the top ten bad cards.
This testing allows you to see your deck at its strongest and weakest. It helps you find redundant "kill more" cards and areas that you need to cover more.
A friend or random plebs on chat rooms, forums, etc!
Ok this is not exactly a true testing method but rather a friendly argument. One person (or group) should take one side of an argument and argue for and the other should argue against. You could say this is done on the forums but the problem with forums is they tend to kill spontaneous thought because you don’t have fast rapid consecutive debate which forces ideas and answers. This helps in testing simply to clear your mind of doubt or to give you the doubt needed to drop a card. This might seem very simple but it is a lot more complex then I can honestly put into words. The short and curlys of the matter are that this type of rapport lets you find weaknesses in a deck or strategy. When you can no longer make a rapport you should have the answers to your missing questions.
This directly relates to my last example. While me and my friend were chatting along, he was swinging though my rare binder. At that same moment I cast Nevinyrral's Disk. He said "hey, why don’t you use Akromas Vengeance?" I said “nah, it costs way too much." He then end-of-turn Naturalized the disk. I said “Well, I’m going to try it.” A week later I was testing it
Lots of proxies or bits of paper
Pen and Notepad
A willing friend
This is very similar to the shift-able cards technique but instead you would have a large side board of 30-60 cards (depending on format). What you would do is sit down and board multiple times against multiple decks and gradually make a tally of the most sideboarded-in cards. This can be used very well with the Metagame Notes technique, letting you predict a possible sideboard from the results of that test.
Harping back to my T2 days of playing Glide, I was testing for county champs; I was trying to come up with a board that could help me against Tog, UGM, and the rest of the field. I ended up testing a sideboard of about 30ish cards including weird stuff like Disrupting Scepter and Solar Blast. I ended up with a sideboard that let me apply a lot of pressure to Tog and Wake while giving me the extra removal I might need for the other decks in the format. Most boards are usually just random theory piles slapped together: “4 artifact/enchantment control, 3 more threats, 4 hate, 4 cards that cover a weakness.” Instead I had cards that helped the matches I was expecting directly and covered some of my grey areas at the same time
Well, I hope I helped you guys test a little more constantly or even look at testing in a different light. I heard about the new Grand Prix: Legacy today, and I am going to be putting most of these into practice with the hope of going to the GP in France :). Remember, there are always the deck building groups and strategy forums to help you make your deck and your playstyle better. And with that said, I’m starting to run out of words for this article and I will leave ya all be.