Testing is the most common way players prepare for high-level competition. Just like rehearsing before a concert or going to practice before an athletic event, testing is a way to prepare for the big event in a controlled setting where the stakes are lower. Just like any other kind of preparation, there is a right and wrong way to test for a Yugioh tournament. Very few people do it the right way, so good testing practices can give you and your team a huge edge over the competition. In this article I’m going to talk about some of the strategies I use to playtest and why you should start using them too!
The Winning vs Learning mindset
Most people subconsciously play Yugioh in two distinct mindsets. One mindset is the one you are in during a tournament, where the pressure is high and mistakes can spell disaster. We’re going to call this the Winning Mindset. When we play in the Winning Mindset, we’re less likely to take risks or try new strategies, and we instead rely on what we’ve learned previously to guide our decisions. We want to know explicitly what to do in the Winning Mindset, and our highest priority is winning the game. It’s easy to see how being in the Winning Mindset is important during big tournaments.
Our second mindset involves, in many ways, the opposite of the Winning Mindset – our highest priority is not to win the game, but to learn something new about the deck we’re playing. For this reason, we’ll call this the Learning Mindset. In the Learning Mindset, we’re willing to make mistakes and learn from them because the stakes are low. We can make risky decisions, since our main objective is no longer to win the game. We will keep winning in mind because it shapes the things we want to learn, but games played in the Learning Mindset don’t need to be structured like games played in the Winning Mindset – and they shouldn’t.
As a skilled player, you need to be able to completely leave the Winning Mindset and enter the Learning Mindset when you test. This is the only way to learn enough about a deck (or about Yugioh in general) to perform well in a tournament. Removing external pressure will lead you to make mistakes and riskier decisions (and in turn lose more games), but these are the basis of the knowledge we need to be successful in the Winning Mindset. We’ll talk later about when testing in the Winning Mindset is useful, but the tips I’m going to start with are designed to build and support low-stakes environments.
Picking your group
Don’t switch up members of the group too much
When you prepare for an event, you want a consistent group of people to practice with. As you learn more things about your deck, it will be harder to catch new members of your group up to speed. Your team will become your most important resource throughout the testing process, so you want to pick people with a wide variety of skills.
Work with motivated people
You also want to test with people that share your goals and your motivation. This usually means testing with people that are going to the same event you are, or at least one in the same format. Motivated people are more likely to positively contribute to testing since it’s in their best interest as well as yours.
If you’re not arguing, you’re doing it wrong
Finally, you want your circle to be people that you can comfortably argue with, since arguing (in a healthy way) about in-game decisions is necessary to the testing process. If your circle already has the same opinions about a deck, or has differing opinions that nobody is willing to change, it becomes impossible to learn new information.
Setting up a game
One game at a time
If your testing group has six people, there shouldn’t be 3 matches going on at once! Have two people play against each other while the other four watch – everyone will get more out of the experience this way.
Playing with hands reavealed is difficult to learn well but can have huge implications in the long run. If everyone testing has the same information, it is much easier to discuss the particular situation. This is one example of something you obviously wouldn’t do in the Winning Mindset, but is very useful in the Learning Mindset. One challenge of this is avoiding the bias that comes with seeing your opponent’s hand – would you /really/ make that play if you didn’t know they had Maxx C in their hand? This is where you must discuss what the correct play is as a group, given the information you would have in a real game. Since sometimes you actually will know some of the cards in your opponent’s hand, I usually turn cards upside-down to keep track of which cards are public knowledge.
Pick a card, any card
Another trick we can use in the Learning Mindset is setting up a game state we want to test before the game starts. If you’re testing Ghost Reaper in a specific matchup, have one player start with a Reaper and 4 random cards instead of a 5 card. If we want to see if a deck beats Naturia Beast + Cyber Dragon Infinity, one player starts with that field. Clearly this means the outcome of that game is largely decided already, but for more complicated situations this is a great way to break the game down into simpler parts. Especially in fringe situations, it’s also a time-efficient strategy that minimizes the number of games we must play to see a certain game state.
Running the gauntlet
You should have some idea of the decks you’ll be playing against before a particular event. The best way to prepare for the field is to build/proxy each deck and play against them one at a time. Even if you are pretty sure a matchup is unwinnable or unlosable, there’s a chance that it isn’t – and you won’t know unless you actually play it. Doing this for every deck in the field gives you a full understanding of what you’re up against.
In addition, make sure to play against the decks you actually expect to face. If you’re trying a teched-out version of some deck, don’t test the mirror against a card-for-card copy of your deck unless that’s what you expect other people to play. The purpose of this testing is to give a realistic impression of what you’d play in a tournament, and not just playing against your teammate!
Play sided games
Statistically, more of your tournament games will be played sided than unsided. Your testing should represent this! To get a complete picture of how your deck performs, you need to see what it does going first, going second, and pre/post sideboarding.
Play unfamiliar decks
Testing is a perfect opportunity to play decks you otherwise wouldn’t. If you never would consider taking Thunder Dragons to an event, proxy it out and try a few games. Especially in matchups you struggle with, knowing what you’re up against can be incredibly valuable. This is the best way to learn things about your opponents’ decks, and you may discover strengths with a deck you originally thought wasn’t very good.
During the game
Taking notes is one of the most important parts of testing, especially if it’s taking place over multiple days (which it should). Write in a notebook, record games with a camera– whichever way will give you the best record of your results. If you’re writing/typing, include all the important information – what matchup is it? How was the game decided? Were there any unexpected interactions? Taking good notes and making sure to share them with the group means you have a permanent record of your testing that you can look back on whenever you want.
Talk about every play
In a given situation, there is always exactly one correct play. If each player has some set of cards in their hand, and some set of information, there is one play that gives me a higher percent chance to win more than any other play. Having said that, your goal in testing should be to find that play for every situation. If you disagree with the play your partner suggests, talk about why each play could be better (this is where the arguing comes in). The same applies to deckbuilding decisions – your goal should be finding the deck that gives you the highest chance of winning, independent of your playstyle. It’s not enough for one play to just be “your playstyle”, the purpose of testing is to determine which plays are correct, even if they aren’t ones you would make otherwise.
Talk about why to make each play
In the same vein, it’s not enough to know what plays to make, you also need to know why to make that play. Even with lots of testing, the situations you encounter in a tournament are going to be different from the ones you practice. How will you know whether that difference means you should make a different play? Understanding the “why” in addition to the “what” is essential for translating the things you learn in testing to an actual tournament.
Focus on what you don’t know
Since the purpose of testing is to learn, it makes sense that little time needs to be spent on the obvious things. It doesn’t take many games to know that Danger FTK wins when it resolves its combo, for example. The purpose of the above tips is to direct your time towards the situations that you don’t know – if you don’t know how good a card is, or what the right play is, these are things that you can learn through practice. Part of good testing is identifying which of these are most important to learn, and then learning them.
Play the same game lots of different ways
A lot of times in Yugioh, one topdeck can make or break an otherwise close game. In these scenarios, sometimes it is useful to rewind the game and try a different situation. Events like drawing Soul Charge or banishing all of a certain card with Desires can certainly happen in real games, but sometimes it’s useful to see how the game turns out if this doesn’t happen. On the flip side, if the game is almost completely decided, try lots of different topdecks to see if any of them lead to a comeback. These situations might be unlikely, but just like testing a specific card or situation, they give us a more complete understanding of what can happen in a game.
When to practice the Winning Mindset
Everything I’ve talked about so far has been in the context of the Learning Mindset, where the focus is learning rather than just winning the game. However, just like anything else, it can be useful to practice the Winning Mindset as well. I usually wait until I’ve done all the testing I plan to do in the Learning Mindset before I practice the Winning Mindset, and use it as a rehearsal for the real tournament. The Winning Mindset can help practice playing under pressure and all the other constraints of a real tournament. Whether this means playing in a smaller tournament first or playing your friends for money, practicing the Winning Mindset under realistic conditions gives you a valuable sense of what the actual tournament will feel like.
These are just a few common playtesting strategies that are simple to implement, but can lead to big performance improvements. The most important of these is staying in the Learning Mindset, where your primary goal in testing is to learn new things rather than to win. From there, you and your testing group can explore testing strategies to find what works best for you. Let us know what tricks you use when you playtest, and until next time, Play Hard or Go Home!
By VINNIE SILVERMAN
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