How To Refine Your Play Testing

With Worlds right around the corner, numerous players will be devoting their weekends (and possibly more), to play testing. Across the many games that I’ve been a part of, there has been a common factor… unrefined play testing.

The play testing methods that I learned 12 years ago have helped myself, and a few teammates, land multiple Regional/National/Worlds titles in a few of our past games.

1. Use the most consistent build

Probably the biggest mistake I’ve seen people make in play testing is deck builds. Not only do play test groups not always cover all the bases with all the tier 1 decks, they test with all refined and teched out decks. In my opinion, fully teched decks in play testing, at least in the early stages, is a big no no. I fully understand that people have the knowledge of how the major decks run, but there is no replacement for experience.

In the past, we would often spend the weekends of the month before an event testing, and the first weekend would be nothing but the core builds of decks. Pitting them against each other with their most stable and consistent builds.

Good players know why certain matchups are bad, which is the reason why the techs are in the deck in the first place. Again, experiencing these items is major. Some of the knowledge people may have can often be biased. The “weak link” people may refer to in a specific matchup may be less than people think, and may be slightly more about a combination (or lack thereof) with said card.

I believe players get so used to playing with added techs in their deck, that they forget how fast their deck can actually be when you run consistency cards in place of tech.

A great example is LuxChomp. I’ve seen many players running a more toolbox variant, with a ton of options in play testing. We know the tool box variant is good as SP has answers to nearly everything. The problem is that those players lose a lot in translation to understanding why the core build is so strong. With so many one shots the deck will often have worse starts, which obviously slows the deck down. A lot of those players seem to start with the toolbox deck in the beginning, leaving them without the knowledge how potent the deck can actually be.

After a weekend of testing core builds, you should have sufficient knowledge in which decks are clunkier than others before adding in extra tech. I believe Win/Loss % with core builds is more important than with techs. At an event, you can very quickly breakdown what your opponent is playing when basics are flipped over.

However, you can rarely decipher what sort of tech they are running. Knowing your base chance against the deck and what to do should be in reference to the most consistent version of the deck you are up against. Not all players will run the same tech you would choose to run if playing that deck.

2. Don’t just play your deck, play against your deck

I rarely see players using the current tier 1 decks AGAINST their deck. It’s great to gain a lot of experience against a variety of decks, but it’s also important to gain experience with those decks. I don’t think any situation can be skipped. I’d hate to see a Gyarados player lose to Donphan due to thinking it’s such a lopsided match that no testing is needed.

You may understand what you need to do to win in certain matchups, but I feel it’s just as important to know what those decks must do when playing against your deck. So you know the most intricate timing for when to use certain cards with your deck? Knowing the same with the other decks can allow you to crash their plan to pieces at just the right time.

3. Play with techs

After grasping the knowledge from a weekend of play testing with core decks, it’s time to move on to working with different techs. Try to sacrifice as few consistency cards as possible, although I know it’s often needed to make the needed room.

Make sure to try out a variety of techs. If your deck runs Rare Candy, don’t just throw in a 1-0-1 Dusknoir and think it will solve your problems. Try out various 1-0-1 lines. Nidoqueen can often be just as helpful, while proving to be more useful against a wider variety of decks. Making sure a tech has a positive influence on as many matchups as possible is often more important than finding a tech that is overpowered in one match, and a dud against everything else.

Personally, I’m a major fan of running 1-1 Luxray, 1-2 Crobat G’s, and 4 Poké Turn’s. Often being companied with 2 Cyrus Conspiracy, 1 Energy Gain, and the possibility of 1 L Energy. I’ll often add these to decks without even thinking. I made this choice in my Kingdra deck for Nationals. Did I know about running Machamp in Kingdra? Of course I did, but I had never play tested with it, which was my fault. I wasn’t going to run a build I had never used before.

Granted I hadn’t played Kingdra since shortly after SP came out, so I was still comfortable with using Kingdra LA as my attacker. I also had a lot of experience with using Luxray as a tech, which is why I used it over Machamp. It was the correct choice at the end of the weekend. I know my SP matchup hurts without Machamp, and went 0-3 against it, but the losses weren’t due to my deck build.

One was against turn 1 Deafen Lock while starting with Uxie, and a hand full of trainers. One was due to a misplay on my part that cost me the match. The last SP loss was due to having an explosive hand, while drawing into no support in the following turns. The Luxray turned the other matches severely into my favor, while Crobat allowed for much faster kills when combined with Kingdra Prime’s Spray Splash from the bench. Machamp might have been fine in the other matchups, but I’ll never know since I never play tested it.

Playing with techs should be done both against decks with tech, and core builds. By now, most of us know that there are a lot of players that don’t run tech, and prefer consistency. I believe you can cut a bit of testing out against builds that run tech that is worthless against your deck. Run a few simulations to make sure, but you should be fine knowing that their worthless tech will slightly drop their ability to beat your deck.

Again, you should also play the flip side and play against your deck. Understand the best times to break it out, and also the best times for your opponent to use their tech against you.

4. Mix up how the matches are played

Often times we won’t even play full matches. We may play a bunch of simulations to turn X to see how a decks early game fairs against another. Early game setup is an extremely important in Pokémon. It’s important to know when you can overextend against certain decks, and which decks you need to be more conservative against while setting up.

I like stipulations to be put on best of 3 or 5 matches. Whether you ante cards, or just a, “I’ll do this if you win, you do that if I win.” Matches have deeper play when something is on the line. Concentration often goes up, and the thought process seems to be boosted when there’s something to gain from a match. Look at your own past matches. I bet the matches you feel you played your best in will be those where something is on the line. You instinctively fight harder.

I wouldn’t suggest anteing up anything that would make you furious for losing, like a Luxray X, Dialga X, Flygon X, etc. Just something that has some value. Maybe a playable prime like Feraligatr, or Kingdra, or possibly just playable foil staples Like Roseanne’s, Bebe’s, Poké Turn’s, etc. Something that you don’t necessarily want to let go of, but you won’t disown your friend for gladly taking from you.

Stipulations can also add emotions to the play testing scene. While some players feel you shouldn’t add that element to testing, I disagree. I don’t feel that it should be a major part of play testing, but it’s important to have some experience while your emotions are flaring. My play mistake against SP at Nationals is a great example. I’m not very good at shrugging off something like a match losing play mistake. It can linger in me.

Over the years I have learned to control my emotions much better, but it does still fester. Thankfully I’ve had experience in playing matches while not in the best of moods. Without the experience, it’s easy to dwell on what has happened well into other matches, and can affect how well (or how bad) you play.

We’ll also play best of 3 or 5 matches with letting each other take back mistakes. This allows you to see how certain matchups should end up when played error free. On the flip side, we’ll often play with full rules lawyering in effect. I know people hate rules lawyers, but it’s extremely important in play testing. You need to learn to play your deck mistake free, not needing to take stuff back. You never know when you will go against a rules lawyer, so you need to learn how to play 100% error free (or at least as close as humanly possible).

And while I don’t like doing it, when you end up high in the cut in certain events, it should be a given that neither player should make mistakes. Mistakes in those high level matches should be when games get broke wide open. Players shouldn’t allow play mistakes to be taken back, whether it’s a misplayed energy, or a possible match winning (or losing) mistake.

And to be honest, good players should be as error free as possible. That’s one of the defining factors of being a good player. Thankfully it’s a skill that can be learned through hard work. A lot of players make mistakes all the time, and they get frustrated wondering why they keep making mistakes. The most common answer is simple, the more consistent error free players have a ton more hours logged.

5. The Gauntlet Deck

This may be the single most important organized play testing tool I’ve used in the past. It’s an extremely simple yet effective tool that was popular back when I played Magic in Cincinnati, but I’ve rarely seen used since. You have one deck that acts as multiple decks.

The decks are primarily made of proxies, with each proxy being up to four cards. I’ll have chosen four decks for this one deck to be, and each proxy will have one card from each deck printed on it. I’ll then color code the decks by highlighting the card names on each proxy. This lets me tell my partner that I’m playing, say, the blue deck that’s designated by the blue highlighter used on the proxies.

The more wide open the environment, the more useful these decks become. Let’s say there are 12 tier 1 decks in the current format. Instead of having to sleeve up and proxy 12 decks that take up a ton of space, you now have all 12 of those decks in 2-3 sleeved decks. Even better when you play test the mirror, since you would then need 24 sleeved decks.

Make sure to have all needed information on hand when using a gauntlet deck. I always make sure to have scans of all the proxied cards on my laptop next to me. I’ll have the scans in separate folders by deck so I can have the scans of just the deck being used at my disposal.

I’m a major supporter of using real cards as visual is just as important to me as the mental aspect of knowing the cards. But I have to be realistic about it knowing that the efficiency of gauntlet decks far and beyond outweighs not being able to see the real cards in front of you. I own the cards for nearly all of the major decks, but the time I would need to swap out cards would cut play testing time in half.


I truly believe that all of these parts are essential in good play testing. You need to know every angle of a matchup to succeed.

There are smaller things that can help with the testing –

Some players are better than others with specific decks. It’s a good idea to have a unique variety of players in the group. Some are better with lock decks, some may be better with aggro, or SP, etc.

Talking about matches afterward about why certain plays were made, or plays that should be tried out in specific circumstances should happen quite frequently.

Scheduled get togethers are also needed. It’s not a group if you can’t consistently get together as one. Ideas should be bounced off of everyone at one time. Not here and there when possible. A group of four is a great place to start. You can have two matches going on at a time, or you can have one match going with two viewing the match for critique on plays.

Each session should be as organized as possible. Which decks will we focus on as the main decks in that session? is one of the most important questions to ask. You can’t just start to play decks and expect to soak up the info for the matchups of two different decks in every match over a long period. It’s much easier to learn about most of the matchups for one deck.

Make sure to log the information. Cold hard facts written on paper go much further than an overflow of info to the brain. It’s a good idea to have logged info when major events roll around. By that time you should be able to get a feel of what will be overplayed at events by reading forums and/or talking to players from other areas. You can go back and review the info you’ve compiled about those decks.

Our play testing sessions were often full days. Not just a few hours a night. Eight to twelve hour days of testing and researching with a few breaks tossed in to help clear the mind.

I know it’s a lot of info to take in, but once you get used to it, a hardcore organized play testing plan can be the difference in making top cut and barely breaking even at a major event. Unfortunately I still lack a group in this game. I have my roommate, but in my opinion you need more than just one partner for how much work I feel is needed.

Hopefully this insight into how I’ve ran play testing in the past can help others.

Fresko Wyrtzen

Reader Interactions

44 replies

  1. Matthew Tidman

    Great article. I'd never even thought of doing a Gauntlet Deck before, but that's a great idea for playtesting. Do you ever use programs like Apprentice or Redshark to do your testing? Also, how do you feel about solitaire games where you play both sides?

  2. Chris Barrieau

    Wow… I have to say, that was an absolutely amazing article to read! Possibly the best 6p article I've read as of yet! :) I'll be sure to share this with my group of players and see how much of this we can actually do on a regular basis :) Thank you very much for all the wonderful insight! =] My questions for you are the same as Espeon200's. I don't think I have much else to ask. =] Seriously, props man!! :)

  3. Karol Nowak

    Wow, awesome article! Great job writing it. It looks incredibly detailed as well, perfect to give a lot of information. In fact, an article like this will help a lot players in order to improve their play testing skills.

    Once again, incredibly well written article! I really did enjoy reading it.

  4. Perry Going

    very well written article. Playtesting can be difficult for some people because they dont have anyone to play with so they play solitaire games. However some testing is better than none, in solitaire testing the player gets mind set on one deck winning over the other so the player will make mistakes on judgment. If you dont want to do the solitaire thing then playtest on shark and apprentice. Well this again is better than nothing, however the shuffling method is all randomized. I knowshuffling is random but when shuffling a different method is ran. Instead of just randomly putting each card in a total random order, a slight algorithm can be made with shuffling. When pile shuffling you sort into pills and then hand shuffle. Well say you shuffle into 6 pills and then you put the pills together into one stack. Then you take the bottom fourth of the deck and put the top 3 from the top of that fourth on the top of htte deck, so on and so forth. I think the randomization of computer play doesnt give you the full effect of playing in a real life match. idk thats my view. Adn again nice article

  5. Chris Barrieau

    Actually, I think it would make a lot more sense for them to code something like
    //note that numCardsInDeck would already be declared elsewhere and kept track of throughout the game
    array deck = new array(numCardsInDeck);
    array newIndex = new array(deck.length());
    for(var k = 0; i < deck; i++) {
    newIndex[k] = -1;

    for(var i = 0; i < deck.length; i++) {
    do {
    newIndex[i] = Math.Ceil(Math.random()*deck.length-1);
    while(newIndex[i] !=-1)
    for(var x = 0; x < deck.length; x++) {
    deck[x] = newIndex[x];
    } //this is last line is an obscure one to show how it would work, whereas I do not have a placeCard method.

    For all non-coders, this basically means that for each card in the deck, a random number between 1 and the remaining amount of cards in the deck (-1 is because arrays start at 0 in most if not all languages), checks to see if that position in the deck is already occupied, and if not, then assigns that position. The random number generators in programming are in fact not random, but are definitely much more random than the algorithm described above. Most of the time, they are a complicated algorithm involving the time, up to nanoseconds, along with many other factors to make it as random as possible. This always gives a number between 0 and 1 exclusively.

    I also think that this would even be a much easier way to code the shuffling of the deck, so I really don't see them using the simple algorithm mentioned above, or anything else of that sort.

    As it was posted in pgmcsskater's comment, most of his argument was based off solitaire gaming, and deck shuffling with randomization. I agree with you t hat solitaire gaming is not the best of options, but most players cannot afford to do any more than that because they may not have a group to play with or correct methods of transportation to regularly play. But I disagree with you on redshark and/or apprentice's shuffling manners and think that if they really coded the shuffling methods as you described above, then I think that even I could probably code these programs better than they are now.

    However, please don't think I'm trying to attack your comment. :P I'm simply trying to explain that the shuffling methods of redshark and apprentice are just as credible as any other good shuffle in real life. =]

  6. Chris Barrieau

    If the premium articles were written like this, I would pay for them. =]

  7. Ed Mandy

    This is a really good article. I think it could have even been broken into multiple articles and each one would have been as good.

  8. Drew Stillwell

    That gauntlet deck idea is one of the coolest things I've seen in a while. I have no idea why I haven't seen that before! Thanks man, nice article! Way to set the bar a little higher for 6p

  9. Martin Garcia

    Definitly an inreresting topic, a well writtena rticle, good info, and a lot of facts to back it up. Now THIS is how articles on 6P should always be. And this is what i excpect from underground articles.
    Great job Fresko, i will take some of your ideas into consideration next time i get to play test for an event.
    Thxs a lot.

  10. espy87

    the most ive used on your “gauntlet” idea was two cards. i feel too much freedom on 3 or even 4 options to choose from but it is good for playtesting i suppose. that is usually one of the last things i do. good article

  11. David deBernardi

    Great article. I'm not sure I follow the details on the gauntlet deck. So you create these little pieces of paper (like shown above) with 4 cards listed on them and color code them? The you drop all these into sleeves? Seems like creating all those little pieces of paper would take alot of time. Maybe I'm missing something.

  12. Chris Barrieau

    The point is simply for playtesting and practicing. You take four or more or less of the top decks being played. For example, Luxchomp, Jumpluff, Cursegar, and Donkphan. Those are four pretty tough decks. Then, you take the decklist, and identify all the cards accordingly as shown in the gauntlet deck image. You have each card for each deck colour coded. So for example, you have all green papers for the Jumpluff deck. You play as if you're using the cards mentioned on the green piece of paper. This is just an example, the point of the gauntlet deck is to be able to play with any of the x decks the gauntlet deck consists of. This way you can save time from moving cards around, and collecting cards, every time you want to play test before a big event. =]

  13. Slowdog

    Interesting subject to write about. Do we never get the 'ucky egg' article? It keeps getting bumped down.

  14. Mike Fouchet

    very good article, you hit the nail on the head with a lot of these things. the gauntlet deck is an idea that i really like and have used in the past, i'm surprised more people don't use it. i know Ross uses it all the time as well, i think he goes up to 6 decks on one card lol

  15. Chris Barrieau

    :O Really now??? Now that's interesting! T hank you! =]

  16. mewuk85

    Yeah the gauntlet idea seems like its an option. If u have the time to do all that. But Hay !!! great article.

  17. mewuk85

    Hell yeah!!!!!! this one was to detail and great length.

  18. mewuk85 is awesome you can print all regular size card scans. Put them in card sleeves with a real card (for stiffness) and play too.

  19. TheFresko

    It doesnt take that long. You can get a bunch printed from one paper, and highlighting doesnt take too long. The longest part is sleeving them, which really doesnt take too long either. It should be done before the play testing session, so you can move from deck to deck much quicker than if you had all the cards for them. I dont know many people who have enough sleeves to fit all the top decks. Granted I probably have enough for 10 or so decks, most dont usually have that many. Most of the time you have to swap out some cards while changing decks in play testing since most people dont own, say, 30 Roseanne's for each deck needed to playtest. It just allows you to have everything nice and organized to keep the flow of play testing going at a good pace.

  20. TheFresko

    I rarely play solitaire games, though I dough test draw a lot and see how a few turns can look like. As for online testing, Im not a fan of it, but I understand why it's good. I like seeing my opponent. I think a lot gets lost in not being able to try and read an opponents eyes, face, mannerisms, etc.

    I used Apprentice way back when I played Magic, and it was the only program out there. I headed to college in Virginia, and while the Magic local I went to had 3 of the top VA players there (who I regularly tested with), you never forget your original testing group. Id call them and see if any wanted to play for a few hours.

    I just feel like it's less of a game if your opponent isnt physically in front of you.

  21. Sledd

    I think this was a great article. I don't know if it's the best article I've ever read on 6p, but it's easily in the top 3. Greatly well written, tons of info I didn't know, very interesting and useful info. Also, it wasn't the same info that's always said on here, it's unique, which I love. In addition, I love the idea about a gauntlet deck. The only critique I have is I wish you had said something about solitaire matches, as those are often used when along side group testing when you're done play testing all of a deck's weaknesses, and just trying to figure out what techs work in a deck.

    Overall, great article. If this was a premium article, I'm not sure If I'd pay for it, but it certainly made me thing twice about it. Please, write other articles like this!

  22. Adam Capriola

    I'm not sure if it's going to get published…the strategy is sub-par to be honest. It's one of those articles that I know I'll get criticized for letting get posted to the site.

  23. Adam Capriola

    Superb read Fresko, this is exactly the kind of quality I will be demanding for Underground articles.

    I actually don't really do many of the things you talk about in here and am thinking maybe I should.

    The gauntlet idea is pretty cool as well as playing for stipulations. I know when I test we usually let each other redo and rewind moves, as if each of us was playing a perfect game.

    Not letting each other redo but putting cards on the line is interesting though…I guess that can help simulate actual tournament conditions.

    I think it's definitely good to overestimate the competition to an extent (which is what the gauntlet would test).

  24. chrataxe

    Wow, that really is one of the best articles I've ever seen. Well written, original, and very informative. My hat is off to you, my friend.

  25. TheFresko

    Overestimating > Underestimating. I had a big head when I played Magic and got to the point where I actually made a sustainable income, enough to live off of, for almost 2 years. An oversized ego is one of the best ways to lose winnable matches (Even worse when an inflated head gets popped, then you start questioning yourself as a player). Granted Ive matured as a person since then, and have the utmost respect for all of my opponents now. You really have to keep yourself grounded when you start winning, or you can start looking down at your opponents without realizing it.

    The only drawback Ive ever really seen to overestimating is playing TOO conservatively. Ive always thought in my head that my opponent is playing a deck that is viable enough to beat mine. I try to steer away from taking that thought too far, thinking they will always have a counter to whatever I do, resulting in over cautious play. It's just a good idea to think your opponent is on your level. Play your deck the way it should be played in the matchup the same way when you play against trusted teammates. Making minor changes as you see differences in their deck.

  26. David deBernardi

    Thanks Fresko! I'll have to try it out. I was thinking maybe Excel would be a good source for printing the labels etc. Excel could actually highlight it for you saving that time. The pokemon part of it would be tricky maybe since you would not have the stats etc. of the pokemon when playing but as you mentioned you would just have to have a real card handy for display.

  27. TheFresko

    I usually highlight due to my printers color ink being somewhat expensive =/ you can highlight in Word too. I'm just willing to make sure I don't waste printer ink, since mine tears through it fast.

  28. Ann-Marie Thompson

    Amazing article. Really like the Gauntlet idea!

  29. Albert Knutsen

    they aren't “optins” per se, your only alloud to use the one color-coded card, declared before the match, like let's say you declare yu're playig he GREEN deck, you ca only use the card nam hilighted in green, letting you fit p to 6decks in 60 sleeves

  30. mewuk85

    I say everyone buy you fake cards at a flea market, swap meet, and test your deck like that so you dont ruin your cards. ha ha ha ha lolololololo

  31. Olliver Barr

    we need this for underground articles. I would pay right now without a doubt if every article was like this.

  32. Olliver Barr

    we need this for underground articles. I would pay right now without a doubt if every article was like this.

  33. Olliver Barr

    we need this for underground articles. I would pay right now without a doubt if every article was like this.

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