The MTG Community - The Importance of Playtesting [Jeff Pieper]

How important is it for competitive Magic players to playtest? Once a week? Twice a week? Seven times a week? Okay maybe not seven, but players must understand how important it is to get adequate playtesting done and how many hours should be spent playtesting.

I remember when my older brother and me would playtest day in and day out along with Andres Suarez, one of the best players we have in Houston. The three of us top eighted multiple events, mainly Pro Tour Qualifiers. I made six Constructed top eights as well as two Limited top eights; three of them being 2nd place finishes. This was all done easily thanks to the playtesting that I did with my other team members back in the day.

Having the complete knowledge on how to play a deck that you like will make you a better player. Although there are many ways to playtest for both Constructed and Limited play, I won’t cover them all in this particular article. But rather, I’m writing this to emphasize why playtesting is crucial to making a good player become a great player.

When a player plays the deck they feel comfortable with and playtests with it against other good players, he or she becomes familiar with every ‘out’ the deck has. He or she also becomes familiar with every starting combination of seven cards to help him or her decide whether to mulligan or not. I’ve met a lot of players who would concede way too early and then realize his or her next card could’ve kept them afloat or even possibly win the game.

I would joke around with some of the people that I would playtest with and talk about ratios. For example, I remember in a tournament against Joel Labrada, I was thinking about my outs when I played Black/Red Aggro during Innistrad and Return to Ravnica. My match with Joel got grindy fast and he had my back against the wall. Well, I knew that I played most of my cards that would normally get me out of sticky situations and I knew I there were 3 Falkenrath Aristocrats left out of the 18 cards in my deck with Joel only at 4 life and no fliers to block with. I said that my next card was going to be a Falkenrath Aristocrat. Joel had a puzzled look on his face and jokingly said, “Yeah, right. Just draw your card and lose.” Right after that, I tapped the mana required to play the vampire and just flipped over the top card of the deck. And as predicted, there she was. With a smirk, I put the vampire on the battlefield and swung. Joel was still puzzled by how I knew what I was going to draw. Yeah, it could’ve been something else. But because I took the time to think about my outs and realize the numbers/ratios were in my favor, I knew the chance of topdecking a Falkenrath was quite high. The best thing about this was that the other players who were watching could now reflect on this experience and know that they should never scoop too early.

Every time I would get my group to playtest, they would think playtesting was an inconvenience for them or they thought they already knew how to play their decks. Or they would base their strategy off of articles other professionals wrote. Well, those articles are just opinions and every player should know that every region has different metagames. I would keep an eye on my team members during tournaments and determine who playtested heavily and who playtested lightly. I would also have a wager inside of my mind on who would do well over others. To no surprise, the players who playtested did better than the ones who didn’t.

If any team wants to become good, the people in that team need to work together to get the playtesting in that will help them understand their matchups. Playtesting shouldn’t feel like torture but should be a way for players to become better and be well prepared for any tournament. Whenever a friend/team member finds a breakthrough in the metagame, then other team members should expect that person to share that info with the rest of the group. I condone this 100% because we would need to test the theory of whatever that player came up with.

Deciding on whom you want to playtest is also very important. That player/team member must have the same motivation and determination as you to win the event. When I picked my friend Andres Suarez to playtest with, we would playtest all the time, trying different cards to help our chances of winning. Before we knew it, with all the playtesting and deck modifications, we ended up playing each other in the finals of the top eight for Pro Tour Yokohoma. Picking your playtesting partners (or team members) may not seem important, but it really is. Some players think using FNM (Friday Night Magic) for playtesting is helpful when really FNM is mainly for newer or casual players. Be cautious of this.

When playtesting for a tournament, it’s best to steer clear of playing other formats. This will break your concentration and you’ll lose focus on the current metagame. It’s better to keep your mind sharp and know every situation that your opponent can throw at you in that format. Another important reason, but can also be very long to talk about, is sideboarding. I can’t stress enough the complexity of knowing how to sideboard against certain decks. If players playtest, sideboarding becomes less of a struggle in figuring out what to board in and what to take out.

I took the liberty of asking several Houston players (anonymity kept) this question, “How important is it to playtest?” Some responses were quite remarkable and some were average. Here are some responses. I wasn’t looking for a correct or incorrect answer. I was just looking for opinions.

“So the two big things are playtesting your deck over and over again, which is more important if you’re an uncertain pilot. Then there's studying the metagame, which is more important if you’re unsure of your knowledge of the format. Both are about 50/50 in terms of deck preparation. The variance is in where you lie on that spectrum.”

“It’s very important if you want to get as far as going to a Pro Tour.”

“Honestly, playtesting is the most important to becoming better. You become familiar with the different types of decks and you realize what should be in your main versus the sideboard. How do you think I did so well with my home brews? My Reanimator deck took down that tournament at Bad Wolf because I was already familiar with most of the decks I played against and had a good sideboard plan. Got to test every chance you can get.”

“Extremely important; knowing my deck, knowing other decks, knowing matchups, and getting triggers right.”

I’m not saying players have to devote their life to the game. But at least if they want to be competitive, they should have determination, motivation, and dedication to playtesting.

Determination - A player who wants to win a Grand Prix (or at least top 8).

Motivation - A player who wants to playtest and get a group of like-minded players together to do well at an event.

Dedication – A player who wants to learn about their deck and wants to playtest against every dominating deck in the format.

Remember, it should be fun to playtest because you’re most likely with your team members who are probably also your friends. If you select your team well, then every player will get the best playtesting done. This will help them gain confidence in playing their deck and make the most optimal plays to achieve the best outcomes.

Let me know what you think in the comments below or on social media. 

Thanks for reading,

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