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Sebastian  P.

How to get better at the game: Testing, Losing and Winning it all – Part 1/2

Testing, failing and rising again – three steps for success

10. 11. 2016 by Sebastian P.

"This article is part of 60cards article competition"

Hello folks, it has been quite a while since my last article here on 60cards.net. The game has evolved since the printing of Breakpoint in February this year and frankly I haven't had much time to play as of late. Never the less I felt like writing another article, this time about a more general topic, that might help some folks out there never the less: Testing properly, coping with defeat at a tournament and finally tips and tricks to put you on the road to success. This series will be split into two parts, the first will deal with the necessary preparations before the start of a major tournament, whereas part two deals with mental strength, keeping your cool after a defeat and so forth.
Enjoy.

 

How to get better at testing

The next season is upon us and whether you are a grizzled tournament veteran, or a young blood, there are certain procedures everyone will go through on their way to Worlds 2017.
The first stop on our way to the top isn't even located at the actual tournament, but rather weeks in advance; the testing.
While it is occasionally fun to just pick up a deck and play without any preparation, fact of the matter is that those who are testing and fine-tuning their decks will usually end up at a higher ranking. However, testing properly is a skill that one has to master as well, because there are many errors that are time consuming and counter productive, so let's take a look at a good testing session step by step.

1. Preparation

As with everything in life, a good preparation will ensure that you waste less time and be more productive. Here are some crucial things you should prepare prior to your testing session:

- make sure to have every card that you want to test with. While fine-tuning your deck list, you want to have spare copies of tech cards to include in your deck. Thanks to the internet, you don't even have to own those cards at the moment, just make sure to have some good prints of them so that you don't end up just writing a name on a piece of paper and using this as a proxy.

- make sure to include enough coins, dice and other needed material for two players. Unfortunately you can't ensure that your testing partner(s) will be as prepared as you are, so in case they forget their stuff you can ensure that everything goes smoothly anyway. It's safer to bring more dice and leaving half of them in your bag, than taking too few and eventually having to tor a paper napkin to use as damage counters.

Deck, sleeves, dice and counter - everything you need

Sleeves, dice and coin – all set up to go

 

- print out the latest deck lists and results from important events, both regional and international. Information about regional events will help to to establish a certain meta game, while a look at international events can give you some inspiring ideas on unusual tech cards and fresh deck concepts.

- make sure to build and or proxy the most important decks of the meta, use your event deck lists for this. The biggest mistake I've seen time and time again, is that two people, who want to test for a big event, would only bring their own decks and play them against each other for a couple of hours.
This isn't effective, because you need to be prepared against the entire field of different meta decks and thus you want to test against each and every potential archetype.
That way you'll also learn how each and every deck works in different situations, allowing you to, once facing them, be able to predict their next moves more consistency, based on the information you gathered.
Keep in mind that neither you, nor your partner need to be an expert on those decks, even if an archetype isn't played to its full potential you'll still obtain valuable data in the process.

Authors note: proxy cards – Just a small interlude, as I'm not sure that everyone is familiar with the
term. When I speak about a proxy card, I'm talking about a printed out version of a card that acts as a “proxy”, a substitute for a real card. Just place a regular card in a sleeve and add your printed out card on top and voilà, you are able to play and test with every card you want. This method is quite commonly used to test decks in advance, before buying the real cards, as you can save a lot of money that way and it obviously helps in your testing sessions, as only a small amount of us have the necessary cards at their disposal to build a multitude of top tier decks at any given moment.

 

Nowadays you don't have to be a great artist to create playable proxies. Just get some high quality card scans, print them out and you are good to go

 

2. The right location

Alright, now that we are prepared to start our testing session we need to find a place to stay.
The beauty of card games is that you can play them almost anywhere and for a casual get together this is definitely true, however if we want to test for a couple of hours, there are certain aspects a location should have, in order to ensure a good time.

- the location has to be quiet. Playing to your fullest potential requires some concentration and thus we want to avoid any place with to much noise or other forms on distraction. Living rooms frequently used by other family members or room-mates aren't too viable, neither are fast food chains, or bars. Speaking of the later, while I share a certain affection for beer, after all this is likely part of my German DNA, I'd strongly advise you to stay away from alcohol during your session, as it will eventually have a negative effect on your performance.

- the location has to be protected against the weather. Playing cards outside on a sunny day is great, but you should make sure that a sudden shift in the weather doesn't ruin your plans completely.

- the location has to be comfortable. Eventually you'll have to sit for several hours, so make sure that your designated location is tailored towards this undertaking, or you won't concentrate on the match, but rather on your ever so hurting butt cheeks.


3. Let's play

Alright, everything is prepared and the location is perfect, the only thing left to do is start playing.

- play every hand to the end. Occasionally one will end up with a bad draw, a hand without a Supporter card and other things. It's quite easy to just shuffle up for another game in this case, however you won't be able to do so in a tournament, so make sure that you even play out those bad draws, in order to learn how to make the best of your situation when it counts.

Authors note: plan b – while any deck has a straight forward plan a that defines what the deck wants to accomplish, you'll have to face situations where said plan is stopped by your opponent, or by a bad draw. If you test properly and thoroughly, you'll eventually experience said situation and thus learn how to navigate yourself out of a bad spot. Sometimes the hurdle can be too high to climb, which is fine, you'll obtain some knowledge either way. I've seen people win out of scenarios, that looked downright impossible to me, showcasing the experience gap between me and the pilot of the deck. If you watch a lot of high level play I'm sure you know what I'm talking about.

- switch the starting player, no matter the result, after every game. The first turn of a game is incredible crucial and the difference of going first or second is immense. In order to be able to cope with every situation, you have to test as on both sides equally.

- Try to split between normal rounds and speed rounds. It takes some time to play out your turn, as there are a lot of things you have to be aware of, the state of the board, the discard pile, the remaining prize cards, the hand size, and so forth. Playing a speed game, where you have to rush your turn as fast as possible (potentially by using a chess clock or other devices) seems to be counter productive as first, as you will eventually make mistakes due to the limited time frame, however, exercising this drill for some times will sharpen your eyes and mind, allowing you to process the information on the field in a faster rate.
This will help you to keep your cool in clutch situations, especially when the last minutes of the round are ticking.

Authors note: training your eyesight – playing a TCG on a high level requires, above all, a lot of brainpower, as we are dealing with strategic games, where planning several turns ahead, as well as knowledge about the game, the cards and so forth are required to achieve victory. Unlike physical sports you don't need to be in great shape either to perform well at a TCG tournament, never the less there is one particular thing outside your brain that will give you an advantage over your opponent: your eyes. If you ever played a fast paste sport like tennis, you are probably familiar with the terms kinetic, dynamic, depth and peripheral vision and know some exercises to train the various muscles that control our eyeballs. We are particular looking at the ability to process information at a faster paste and filtering out unnecessary input.

Train your eyes, it might come in handy sometime

Train your eyes, it might be useful someday


As a short drill, start up a new game, lay down your prize cards, draw your opening hand and then look through your deck (as fast as possible) and tell me how many and which supporter + special energy cards are in your prize pool. Done ? Ok now do the same for Pokemon-EX and stadiums. Done ? Ok now for trainer cards. Done ? Shuffle up a new game and repeat the process.
With this exercise you'll develop two things: first of all you'll train your eyes and your brain, as both have to be sharpen in order to perform this drill with a ton of speed and secondly you'll develop the ability to mentally cancel out unneeded informations and only focus on the task ahead.
In the actual game this task usually boils down to answer questions such as:
How many DCE do I have left in my deck, how many VS Seeker are in my opponents discard pile, how many Pokemon are in my own discard pile, does he have a potential stadium left, how much damage can he do on his next turn and so forth.

Be aware that this is no hidden super power, it's rather a neat ability one can train on, that will help you in clutch situations. When the clock is mercilessly ticking down and you can't afford a draw, one tends to rush through his turn and with a keen eye you're more likely to navigate yourself through said situation successfully.

- Occasionally play on the active players turns with an open hand. Again, this sounds a bit odd at first, because information about your opponents hand is always hidden in real matches and using this to your advantage can be a key to victory. However, specially when you only test with two people, it can be difficult to spot mistakes on your turn, as your partner is lacking the necessary information to evaluate your play.
Playing your turn with an active hand allows your partner full insight, helping them to spot mistakes, or discuss different lines of plays.

- keep notes on win/lose records on different match ups. The aim of a good testing session is not only to improve your skill as a player and your performance with a deck, but also to gather information on certain match-ups, that will help you evaluate the best deck to pick in a given meta game. This ties in to the point of preparing multiple decks in advance, as your personal deck choice might have an incredible win percentage against the preferable choice of your opponents, but if it only produces mediocre results against the rest of the field then it might be wise to look for an alternative.

My Deck 
Opponents Deck 
Score OtP 
Score OtD  
Score Overall 
Upset Wins
Overall Win  Percentage  
 Seismitoad + Bats  Night March  10-6  12-4  22-10  3 (1-2)  68,75%
  Seismitoad + Bats  Donphan  8-9  10-6  18-15  2 (1-1)  54,5%

A potential way to keep track of your data


4. Game, Set and Match

Alright, now you have everything prepared, your location is optimal and your testing is tailored to increase your knowledge as a deck builder and as a player, is there anything else we missed so far ?

Well, unfortunately the above mentioned points will hardly be fulfilled by a regular test session with your friends, because what we have created is an ideal scenario that ignores some rather important factors such as time. You'll end up making compromises and eventually cross out some of the points I mentioned above, which is totally fine. However, if you ever felt that you did not reach the full potential of a proper test run, then it is a good idea to go over this check list and incorporate some points you are currently lacking in your session, it may just be the final note that leads you on the path of victory.

5. Testing Online + Playing Solitaire

Let us close this topic by looking at two more ways that can help you prepare for a tournament, even without real life testing.

Thanks to the world wide web, you're able to play with thousands of trainers all around the globe, sharpening your skills at the highest level of competition, or so you might think. In reality, it might not be as easy though. The Official client “Pokemon TCGO” isn't practical to use, as you'd need to start a separate online collection, making it difficult to prepare in a short amount of time. The level of competition on the servers is furthermore rather lacklustre, even at high ELO ratings.
Play TCG” offers a free, third party alternative, allowing you to play any deck you want. The downside of the program is certainly the functionality, as you'll have to perform every action yourself, from drawing cards to placing damage counters, which can be quite tedious. The server is furthermore not really populated, making it hard to find a game, depending on your time zone.
If you want to play test with a friend who lives in another state or country, this can still serve as a good way to get some quality matches, never the less.

 Solitaire - countless hours of fun

Solitaire, countless hours of fun for the generation 70+

 

Lastly, let us look at good old Solitaire, the game you probably played on your dads old computer, in a time before the internet. Playing with our self ( no pun intended) seems rather odd at first, as the game lives from interactions with your opponent and what are you attacking anyway, the tin air ?
There are two ways you can gather informations on your own: on the one hand you can simply go ahead, sleeve up another deck ( a little nod to the proxy paragraph here) and play against yourself. Keep in mind that we are primarily looking to gain data on certain match-ups and how specific cards perform, hence we can neglect the fact that knowledge over the opponents hand isn't given in a real match.
On the other hand you can simply shuffle up your own deck, set up your game and play down the first turn, nothing more, nothing less. Repeat this process about 25-50 times and look at your results. How often did you start with a supporting Pokemon EX as your only start Pokemon ? How often did you ended up with no Supporters in your opening hand. How smooth were you able to execute your game plan on the first turn ? Did you notice any short come in Trainer or Energy cards ?
Once you got your results you can make smaller adjustments ( i.e. replace Supporter X with Y, add in / replace another Trainer /Supporter / Pokemon / Energy card, etc.) and test again until you are satisfied with the outcome. If someone were to approach you and ask why you play a certain card and X amount of copies in your deck, I don't want you to answer “well I just copied a deck list”, or “dunno, I just thrown cards in until I got the deck”. I want you to be confidant and answer “the list was fine tuned to my personal play style, tested vigorously against the current meta decks and every card has been selected based upon the data I collected” and I want you to say so once you won that freaking tournament.

Or use it as an excuse, because next time we'll discuss the inevitable downfall, how to cope with defeat and various tricks to keep your mental game on point.

 


Till then, have a great time.

 

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