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Kenny Wisdom

Proper Playtesting

Kenny Wisdom teaches you how to properly playtest.

12/02/2014 by Kenny Wisdom

Today we're going to be talking about one of the most important, yet often overlooked, aspects of Pokémon - playtesting! If you've played in a tournament before, chances are you've done some amount of playtesting. However, all playtest sessions aren't created equal. By the end of this article I'm hoping that you'll have a better idea on how to maximize the efficiency of your testing, both for you and the group you're playing with.

It is important to note that not every method will work for every team, and there are certainly going to be exceptions to the "rules" I'm posting here. However, I think all of this advice is applkicable to most situations and should be considered whenever you choose to spend any amount of your time (or anyone elses!) playtesting.


Have a Goal

I see a lot of players post pictures on social media of themselves "testing" two well-known decks that have been in the format for a year, six weeks after the new set has come out. To me, this is a waste of time and not true to what "playtesting" means.

While playtesting, you need to have a reason to play. You playtest to learn something, about a deck, about a format, about a specific matchup, even about a specific card. You should have no reason to play established meta decks versus each other during the middle of Cities season, just as you should have no reason to play two rogue decks versus each other at any time besides the absolute latest stages of testing, and even then you should only do so if you think that you'll face one of the two decks at any point during the tournament.

Be Organized

I've found that the most efficient way of tracking data while playtesting is to build a spreadsheet. It can be as simple or complex as you'd like, but I've found that generally you just want a list of the decks you've played against, your record against them, and any notes from the games (it is important to note that you lost becasue of missing an Energy, or that you feel you made a mistake, for example).

That last bit is actually one of the most overlooked things about playtesting. Not only is it important to know the W/L records of each deck, but it is even more important to understand WHY each deck is losing. You'll never be able to improve a match up without knowing what cards to take in and out, and the only way to determine that is to have a clear idea of what is going wrong and where.

Along with playing rogue decks versus other rogue decks, playing games without keeping track of how your deck is performing is mostly just a waste of time and energy that could be better spent doing other things.

Even if you're not big into spreadsheets and collecting data, at least having a mental note of what you've played and how you do will go a long way.

Play Against the Best Deck(s)

I'm a firm believer that, in order to play a new rogue deck you need to have a very good reason. Your deck needs to be doing something better than other decks, otherwise there's no reason to play it at all! That's why I always suggest testing against what you feel is the best deck in the format at the moment. Even if it's only 3 or 5 games, this should give you a feel on whether or not it's worth proceeding with your deck in the first place.

For instance, I'm sure there are plenty of potentially good decks in the format right now that simply can't beat a Donphan. That's all well and good and hopefully those cards will get a time to shine, but you can't reasonably expect to perform well in a tournament if your brew folds to the most powerful/popular deck in the room. 

Try Everything

In exploring a new format, it is absolutely critical to keep an open mind when building and testing decks. I'm a firm believer that you should sleeve up every single idea that comes to mind, even if it has a glaring weakness or you think that it's not actually that good. The whole point of playtesting is to establish what is and isn't good, and giving up on decks before you've even tested them is doing a disservice to yourself and everyone around you.

Even if your deck doesn't work out, it's likely that you learn something about certain cards, the format in general, or otherwise come to some other conclusion about the format that you might not have previously had. 

Along similar ones, don't be afraid to change your deck on a whim. If, after the first two or three games versus a certain match-up, you're not liking it, just swap out some cards and try it again. Never feel constrained to a certain decklist. especially very early in testing. The only caveat to this is that you're going to need to test the final version of the deck versus the field, since you need to ensure that your changes don't throw off match ups or mess up some previous interaction.

Test Optimally

This should be obvious, but it's very important to make sure that both players are playing at their best when testing. There are some lines of play which are up for debate, but the majority of the time a misplay should be corrected immediately. After all, if you're trying to determine if Deck A beats Deck B, you need to assume that the person playing Deck B is infallable, lest your results be corrupted by things that won't actually happen in the tournament.

Additionally, I'm a big fan of not drawing for any mulligans. Mulligans aren't a super common occurence and you're unlikely to have the advantage of extra cards during a tournament game. I recommend noting mulligans when they happen, and, if you're playing a deck that has a very high chance of mulliganing, it can sometimes be okay to let your opponent take the draws because that IS an accurate representation of tournament performance, but for the most part mulligans should be ignored.

The only piece of advice I have contrary to this is to be very aware when your tournament opponents will mess up where you're testing team won't. One of the big advantages that Team X-Files had at Worlds 2011 playing their Truth deck was that the majority of players in the room were going to have no idea how to play against the deck. There are even on-camera matches where very high-level opponents make mistakes versus the deck purely out of inexperience. Be aware of this and be sure to cut your deck some slack if it is indeed a completely unknown and complicated build.

Know When to Hang it Up

Your time, and the time of the people you're testing with, is limited, and is something to be respected. If you've been working on the same deck for three days and you're currently 2-34 against the field, it is likely a better use of everyone's time to move onto something else. Even if it's another whacky idea, or even a similar one, it's important to not get attached to the decks that you're playing and to know when a deck just isn't going to get there.

This isn't to say you shouldn't be creative and try everything you can, just make sure that this process isn't impeding on you and your team's ultimate goal, which is to understand the format on the deepest level and play the optimal build of the optimal deck.

Play Against Stock Lists

I recommend that almost everyone build a "testing gauntlet", that is, the decks that they believe will be heavily represented at whatever tournament they're preparing for. This shouldn't be too many decks, for instance, in the current format my gauntlet would consist of Donphan, Virizion/Genesect, Virizion/Genesect/Manectric, Metal, Yvelta, and Seismitoad. You should try and find the most standard, stock lists that you can, because again, you're trying to recreate what would happen in a tournament scenario.

As you learn more about the format, and especially your local metgame during this time of the year with City Championships, it may be necessary to add and subtract decks as you see fit, and even edit them based on what you expect people to be playing, but to begin with you should always be playing the boring, standard lists.

Along with this, never let your playtesting get inbred. Time and time again I've seen players show up to a tournament with a reasonable archetype and an absolutely atrocious decklist full of obscure tech cards and incorrect evolution lines, all because during their playtesting, they kept editing each of their decks to beat another one until all of their decks were just unplayable piles of mush. Remember that no one at a tournament is going to be playing your rogue deck or even your specific list of a metagame deck.



That's all I've got for today. Thanks for reading!


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