Feature Article – Testing For Rimini: How To Test For Success

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Friday, September 19th – In today’s Feature Article, Manuel Bucher – Constructed Control specialist and team-mate of Patrick Chapin – takes us through the seven most important factors needed for a successful testing session. He also gives us his take on the Grand Prix: Rimini experience, and looks at three Shards of Alara cards that are particularly exciting…

“Everybody can play Kithkin!”

That’s a sentence I heard several times while testing for the Grand Prix. While I have to agree that a lot of people can win with Kithkin, I have a feeling that decks like Kithkin (or Demigod Red) are really hard to play perfectly in certain matchups.

After playing the Kithkin versus Quick n’ Toast matchup several times on the beatdown side, I had far more problems figuring out the right play with the aggro deck than with the control deck. Of course, I’ve played the Quick n’ Toast Style decks more often, but the number of cards I tried to play around with Kithkin was enormous. While you don’t want to overextend too much on your early turns because your opponent might Firespout your army away, you also have to make enough pressure that you don’t lose too much tempo versus a Kitchen Finks. In the midgame I had to decide if I should play Ajani Goldmane pre-combat or post-combat, as a Cryptic Command might lose me the game if I choose wrongly (the same goes for Demigod of Revenge; while the obvious play might be to play it pre combat, I played it often post combat to avoid the Cryptic Command that ruins my whole combat step).

While the beatdown players have to play around several cards in the Quick n’ Toast matchups, the control deck often has only a few problems to avoid (against Kithkin these problems would be Mirrorweave and Ajani Goldmane), as most of the other cards are functionally identical, and are even sorcery speed.

As I only played a single matchup from the perspective of Kithkin, I don’t know how the beatdown mirror or the midrange matchup plays out, but it’s probably easier to play than the Control versus Control or the Control versus Midrange matchup.

Burn-spell-based beatdown decks are even more complex to play in several matchups, as you have to figure out the exact moment to stop targeting creatures with your burn spells and start pointing them at the other player’s head. You also need to figure whether you should kill an opponent’s Wall of Roots or just play another creature.

I had a pretty long discussion with Patrick Chapin in Italy — while he agrees that the Kithkin versus Quick n’ Toast matchup is pretty hard to play for Kithkin, he argues that Kithkin sometimes wins because of the complexity of the Toast-Style deck itself, rather than strength of the Kithkin deck, and that I have so much trouble playing Kithkin because I’ve played far more games on the control side of the matchup. While we didn’t reach an agreement on which deck is harder to play perfectly, we ended up in an agreement over which deck is easier to pilot to victory.

I had a great time preparing for Rimini with everybody staying at David Besso’s apartment (Paul Cheon, LSV, Patrick Chapin, Michael Jakob, Léonard Barbou, Rasmus Sibast, Steward Shinkins, and myself), and I learned a lot about what is important for me while testing. This article addresses some of these lessons.

1. Each player wants to win with the deck he is playing.
It doesn’t help if you test a matchup when one of the players doesn’t enjoy the deck he’s playing. Both players have to give their best shot in winning each game, no matter how disappointing it might be, but the results don’t help a lot if one player doesn’t feel comfortable. Several times I felt that my opponent didn’t support his own deck while testing, and I appreciate testing more when players step back and say that they don’t feel comfortable with their current 75, which happened most of the time.

2. Complaining doesn’t help.
If your test partner is complaining about screw, flood, or other stuff while you are testing, it doesn’t help. We all know that screw and flood is part of Magic, and I can understand that people complain about such things when playing for the big bucks, but it’s useless to complain while testing. Both players can see what’s happening during the game, and it’s not like you’re gonna get (or really want) an exact win/loss percentage in any given matchup. For me it’s more about the feeling of a deck versus a deck. If my opponent is complaining a lot, I really don’t enjoy the game as much, and it distracts from the physical act of playing correctly.

3. You shouldn’t test with Magic Online in the house.
The first day of testing, we tried to test in the apartment. We failed, as one of the guys who wasn’t playing started a Magic Online draft, and everybody paid much more attention to the 8-4 SSE than to the testing in progress. When we started testing outdoors, I didn’t have such problems, even when not playing myself, as I still learned a lot about how some matchups played out, and I could share my plays with other players who were watching the game rather than mulling over a draft pick in another room.

4. Figure out the strategies you want to beat
You are rarely able to win against everything, so you have to figure out what you want to beat. For Rimini, all we wanted to beat was Kithkin, Faeries, and Quick n’ Toast, as those decks made up 91% of the Day 2 field at GP: Manila. We cut both Runed Halo and Archon of Justice pretty quickly, as they were at their best against Demigod decks… and we didn’t care about those decks at all. While it helps when everybody wants to beat the same decks, it doesn’t matter too much if there are different opinions here. Of course, the decks you want to beat while testing can change, as you don’t know how most of the matchups play out at the beginning of the test process.

5. Play sideboarded games too
Wispmare seems like a really good card in the Faerie matchup, but when I tested the card I was really disappointed with it, as it was only good in the first few turns if they had a Bitterblossom. In the mid- or late-game, they could easily respond to it with a Scion of Oona, or if they didn’t have a Bitterblossom at all you’d have one or more blanks in your hand. I tried several other cards (such as Devoted Druid) in the Wispmare slot, but most weren’t good enough in the later turns of the game. As the matchup didn’t finish often enough in the first few turns, we figured out something that was good in most game states — Vexing Shusher. While it might not look good on paper, it turned out to be exactly what we wanted. Keep in mind that you should test against different sideboard plans, as not everybody is running the same things (Faeries, for example, could bring in any mix of Mind Shatter, Puppeteer Clique, Jace Beleren, and Thoughtseize). You should do this without your test partner knowing what you are bringing in.

6. Give your ideas a try.
If you have an idea that might have potential, you should try it even if everybody else says it’s bad. It’s is really hard to figure out what is good and what isn’t in theory, but you can make the call pretty quickly when you actually test it. In the end, it is far better to try out too many different cards than trying too few. Michael Jakob, for example, had an idea of running a Deck with Figure of Destiny, Ashenmoor Gouger, Demigod of Revenge, Cryptic Command, and Austere Command. While most players would dismiss the idea already in their minds, he gave it a try, even though he didn’t end up with playing it.

7. Mulligan!
If a player mulligans to five cards or fewer, the result doesn’t help much for the test process. In my opinion, people should stay at six cards (with free mulligans after the first), as long as they only mulligan such hands they would refuse in tournaments. Of course, there is a difference when the hand would be fine in a different matchup but awful in the one you are testing. If this is the case, and the mulligan is for value rather than necessity, the player should mulligan to five cards. If somebody mulligans to five or below, it’s not as if they couldn’t win the game, but as this happens only a few times during a tournament it doesn’t help either player to see such instances play themselves out. That’s why I like to stay at six cards. This also doesn’t factor decks that have to mulligan into specific hands, like Dredge in Vintage (which have to mulligan into Bazaar of Baghdad).

After a little more than one week of testing, we came up with a list with which I felt really comfortable. Patrick and I like to play the same sort of Magic. We made a few minor mistakes in the decklist (the Mind Shatter should have been main deck, as we boarded it in against Kithkin, Faeries, and Quick ‘n Toast), and we didn’t play a single game against Merfolk, which was pretty popular at the event. In the end, we had reasonable results overall, with Patrick placing 9th and Paul placing 10th. Six out of nine players made Day 2, which proves that the testing was a success, even though we were not able to crack the Top 8.

I am looking forward in testing with Patrick for Berlin… we have a great team, and hopefully we’ll break the format!

To conclude, here are three cards I really liked when I first saw them in the partial “Shards of Alara” spoiler over at MTGSalvation.com. If you don’t want to see any Shards cards before you play the pre-release, you should stop reading now.


Okay, let’s go!

Deft Duelist
Creature — Human Rouge
First Strike, Shroud

I am pretty excited about this guy, and I am positive it’ll see play in several sideboards, as it seems like a really good card against any aggressive strategy with lots of two-toughness creatures (or smaller). While shroud ensures that it is removal-proof, the general hatred of combat tricks in Constructed ensures that it stays alive. This is a card you should keep in mind if you get crushed by two-toughness creatures while testing.

Hindering Light
Counter target spell that targets you or a permanent you control.
Draw a card.

This seems like a card that a lot of my decks might feature as a one- or two-of. While there are not too many targets, there should be enough to make this card a contender, either against a midrange deck that targets you or one of your creatures with Profane Command, a Red Deck that wants to throw burn at your head, or a control mirror when an opponent wants to Mind Shatter your hand.

Esper Charm
Choose one – Destroy target enchantment; or target player draws two cards; or target player discards two cards.

This has the obvious use of instant speed card draw, and instant speed discard if they have two cards left after their draw step… and it is also a main deck weapon against cards like Bitterblossom or Runed Halo. The flexibility of this card should make sure that it sees play in Standard and Block Constructed, and the Vivid Lands (or the mana fixing in Shards of Alara) should make sure that you are able to cast the spell on your third turn. While not all the cards are currently spoiled, it seems like Birds of Paradise will make a comeback in the future Standard format to ensure that cards like the Green charms can be played on the second turn.

That’s all form today. Thanks for reading! Feel free to give feedback or ask questions in the forums.

Manu B