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.
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.
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.
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 Lightning 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.
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.
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 afterwards 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.