How to Test Properly, and Evaluation Advice

Jeroen delivers his weekly dose of Magical advice, answering questions posed via email by StarCityGames.com readers the world over. Today’s topics include tips on tournament preparation, advice on evaluating new cards for competitive play, and the truth about Rich Hoaen’s legendary grumpiness…

Hey all, and welcome to this week’s edition of the series you must all be very familiar with by now. Things are going great here in the Netherlands, with a new set out and a lot of ideas for building new and exciting decks. Worlds looks like it will be an exciting tournament, with all these new formats that are sure to be completely thrown on their heads by the great stuff that Time Spiral brings us.

That does mean that for States, the future is now completely uncertain. Usually this tournament is dominated by decks from the past Block Constructed season – with minor changes – but this time around, there was no such season. Add to that the fact that Time Spiral cards seem to be so much better than the last block, and so many more new cards that rotate in between Chronicles 2 (the purples) and Coldsnap, that there really is no way to predict what is next.

As for the questions… lately I have been forced to skip a couple of them, because they have become outdated. I don’t see a reason to talk about Ravnica block limited or stuff like that, when no one really is interested in that format any more. This means that if you feel I skipped your question because of this, by all means resend it to me in an updated form and I promise I will cover it as soon as possible. My email is [email protected], just to remind y’all where it’s at.

Onto this weeks bunch!

Jose Pineda has a general question that will never be outdated…

Should one play assuming that one does not know what one is playing against? Let’s say I am testing CAL against my opponent’s Ichorid deck. I can first turn Cabal Therapy before he even lays down a land and name Zombie Infestation because it is the one of the harder cards for CAL to deal with. In a tournament I would not have this information until he at least lays down a Watery Grave, at which point I can guess he is possibly playing Ichorid, so how should I treat these situations in testing?

Mulligans: When testing first begins, I typically keep track of how often I mulligan, but I then draw to seven cards so I can see how the deck runs in an optimal environment. It is not until I have few games (maybe ten or so) under may belt that I begin to take mulligans as they come. If the deck I am testing against needs to mulligan I typically make all it’s mulligans free because I want to test against a strong/decent hand. Is this okay, or should I always test as though in a match and never allow “friendly” mulls.

Hey Jose,

When testing for a format, what you are trying to do is best simulate a tournament situation, as that is what you are really testing for, amiright? This means that you should try to avoid doing anything in testing that you will not do in a tournament. This means no turn 1 Therapies for most of the games (I would say don’t do it 75% of the time. Do it 25% of the time, but make sure you decide before testing what you will do in any particular game)… and no mulligan takebacks.

In a tournament, most of the time you will not know what you will play against, until later, and in Top 8s when you will know. This means you will want to test both situations, and make sure you dedicate time to both. In Pro Tours, by round 5, I will usually know what any of my opponents is playing, which helps a lot when you have a card like Therapy in your deck. If you do, make sure you scout (or have friends scout for you) accordingly.

As for mulligans… we always, always test with mulligans. In tournaments, a deck like Zoo will take a lot of trips to Paris, which is one of the main reasons it isn’t the best ever. If you then decide to only test against seven-card hands, this means your testing will be severely skewed, as the deck is not being tested like it will perform in reality and will therefore win far more than normal. Of course, if you want to see if you can beat its best hand, by all means ignore this rule… but for serious testing, take those mulligans!

Next we have Jason Patterson:

1. Let’s say you are 8-3 at Nationals, and you and your opponent have the exact same tiebreakers. He offers a draw. You look at the standings and realize that one of you is guaranteed 8th, and the other 9th. Then a friend tells you that you have a bad matchup against him. What would you do?

2. I recently made a mistake at the top 8 of Canadian Nationals in game 5, which may have cost me the match. I was wondering if you ever made a mistake like that, and if you did could you explain what happened?

3. Is it true Richard Hoaen is actually one of the grumpiest players on the Pro Tour?

I have enough faith in my own ability to never draw whenever I am not sure to make the Top 8. I didn’t come to that tournament to flip a coin to see if I am in or not. No, I’ll play most of the time. Maybe after losing the first game I’ll reconsider, as then your odds are so stacked against you, but most of the time I’ll be playing.

I am not a very good technical player, so I make mistakes all the time. I just try to make as infrequently as possible, and hope my opponent screws up in return. At Dutch nationals two years ago, playing in the Top 8, I misplayed in game 5 of the semifinals. With two Pyroclasms and a Bolt in my hand versus Goblins I got greedy and didn’t want to kill the one Goblin in play right now… I wanted more!!! This gave my opponent the chance to play a Clickslither, which I didn’t expect, and he would have knocked me out if he hadn’t missed a ping with a Goblin Sharpshooter later in the game. I wound up winning the tournament. This year I mis-sideboarded for the last game playing for Top 8, and should have lost because of it… but, once again, my opponent made a bigger mistake.

Everyone screws up. The best you can do is minimize your mistakes, as no one plays perfectly.

As for Rich… he’s one of the grumpiest, but only if you don’t really know him that well. Most of the time, when he is in a good mood, Richie is actually a very good man… and a very good friend, naturally.

Then again, there are so many grumpy men on the PT, it is hard to call any one of them the grumpiest. Just think of Josh Ravitz – who hates everyone in the world – or Eric Froehlich – who just mainly hates himself. I mean, Anton Jonsson and I get called the grumpiest by Ted Knutson, for having a negative attitude regarding almost anything being released by Wizards at first. Let’s just leave it at the fact that he is up there, but that there is too much grumpiness abound for him to claim it all for himself.

Felipe Archangelo asks the next question:

First of all, happy birthday!

Before reading your last article (30 questions answered) I used to think that Umezawa’s Jitte was an auto-side-out card against control. I played a lot of games with it in my deck, and I would only leave it in my deck after sideboarding against aggro decks. Taking for example the deck you played at your country’s Nationals (Dutch Sea Stompy), why wouldn’t you take out the Jitte for game 2 against a Control deck like, let’s say, U/R/W Firemane Control?

So now you can see how backed up I am on answering these questions… he even sent it to me twice. Thanks for the congrats, buddy!

Jitte is a very interesting card. Because it is one of the most powerful cards in the format, this means it can also be misused a lot of the time. I would keep it in against control, because if I don’t you will notice that there is no way I will ever be able to beat a Firemane Angel by itself. I also become very weak versus Wrath of God. Leaving in Jitte means I can make a genuine threat out of a single creature, as well punch through a 4/3 first striker with a smaller man (given that I managed to put some counters on the Jitte first).

The reason I like Jitte so much versus control decks is that it makes all the other cards in your deck huge threats by themselves, which is exactly what you want versus control decks. A Jitte with counters makes a Bird into a Dragon, and an Elf into a Slum, making every non-land draw a winner.

This doesn’t mean I wouldn’t board out one or two, since drawing two is kinda sucky, but I would never take all of them out. That’s just silly.

Next up, a question by a man who calls himself Monkey Nick:

As an aspiring professional player, I’m interested in knowing how one goes about obtaining access to testing groups and teams within the pro community, and if there is an easy way. I myself am in a rather isolated part of the world known as Tasmania (it’s at the very bottom of Australia), and we don’t have any standout talent when it comes to building for new formats (or even existing ones). Because of this it severely hampers my ability to do well at any Pro Tour or event where the format is new, as seen from my performance at Pro Tour: Honolulu and, to a lesser extent, Prague (I’m terrible at Limited). I largely consider myself a Constructed specialist but can’t construct decks very well, so what is the best way to get on mailing lists or obtain deck tech? Should I start stalking the pros on MTGO? Build a shrine to Mike Flores so that he might enlighten me if I sacrifice some baby goats to him?

There’s not a pro in the land that will accept you into their playtest group without first proving yourself in the field. Most of us had to start from scratch, with our own friends, and show the world what we were capable of, before we were accepted by the others. This is so because otherwise it is very hard for these groups to gauge your strength… and because then everyone will want to join.

Your best chance to prove your worth is to get on Magic Online (yes, again with the Magic Online…) and join an upstart clan of eager kids. If everyone treats it seriously enough, this will give you the biggest chance to set up good results. Just think of Ben Goodman clan, Cymbrogi, which started out exactly the same as you – a bunch of eager kids – but grew to design one of the most successful decks of PT: Honolulu. No one is going to give you charity; you have to work for it and prove you are worth it.

I am also wondering how you can be a Constructed specialist without being good at constructing decks? If that’s the case, where exactly would you say your skills lie?

With this week’s last question, we have Mike Mihealsick:

I was wondering if you could provide some pointers for analyzing a new set and how to process all the new cards. It seems like every year, at the point that Standard shifts, the card pool is almost overwhelming. How can you determine what’s going to be good? What’s going to be bad? What should you prepare for?

There really is only one place you can go to when you want to figure things out like this, and that is the past. You have no idea what the future will bring, as you aren’t psychic, so the best thing you can do is look what was good in the last blocks (and what is left from that) as well as what themes worked. Because you are left with at least half of what was good before, this should be a great start-off point.

Then you need to look at the new themes, and what seem like good starting points for new decks. Right now there is a bunch of great Blue stuff in Time Spiral, so that is something to explore… as are slivers, Combo decks (with both Pandemonium and Enduring Renewal back), and Black discard. An important thing is to think about cards in relation to what role they should play. Some cards are made to build decks around – like the combo cards, and stuff like Teferi or Dragonstorm – while others are more support cards – like Smallpox, Magus of the Disk, or Ancestral Visions, as these cards can’t carry a deck by themselves.

The most important thing is to remember that it is not an exact science. No one can tell you exactly what to do, and you have to have some feel for it, but I hope this at least helps.

That’s it for this week! Like I said, get me all those new questions at [email protected], as I am now looking for updated Time Spiral queries.

Until next time,