When it comes to big tournaments, there are many matches of Magic to be played before the best players rise to the top and fight for the trophy in the Top 8. Between all those games, there are lots of decisions to be made, from sideboarding, overplaying opposing tricks, to mulligans. To rise to the top, you need to be prepared to evaluate all those situations and choose the best solution over and over again. All those good decisions will add up and increase your total win percentage, bringing you closer to a title.
Testing well before a tournament takes a lot of weight off of your shoulders, because whenever there’s a question, it’s likely you found the answer during the testing process beforehand.
For a great testing experience, it’s advisable to find testing partners whose advice you trust. Maybe you found friends with a similar competitive mindset at your local game store who want to prepare with you - this is the best way to get good fast. If you can’t find anyone who wants to join you, there are many ways to play Magic online to gather data. Either you take your list to a competitive league or you test in single matches - both are easy and fast ways to get lots of testing games under your belt.
In constructed tournaments, let it be Standard, Modern or Legacy, you choose your own strategy to fight through a large field of competitors. While you can’t predict what everyone else is bringing, there are always clear trends in the metagame. When you take a look at the previous winning lists, like the top 32 of a Grand Prix provided by Wizards, you’ll get a hint what strategies and cards are being played. Take note the most played decks and search up popular decklists. Print those out as proxies and ask a friend to play it (or play against it online), allowing you to play the same matchup many times to get a feel for it.
Always keep an eye on which cards are crucial in you winning the game and which cards were subpar. Do the same for the opponents cards - what did you lose to and which cards were merely a threat? After you played against the deck a good amount of times, you likely know which role you take in the matchup. Do you just have to race, are you the controlling deck, or do you need to protect your threat? With all that information you now head to the sideboard.
For optimal testing you can break the boundaries of the 15 card sideboard and keep all the cards that may end up in your sideboard around to board in during the tryout process. Even if you end up just playing one of a certain card in the tournament, board in multiple copies in testing just to see it more often during the games to examine how impactful it actually is.
It certainly takes some time, but after playing against all the big decks and strategies in the format, you go through your notes again and gather the best performing cards and write down your main deck and choose 15 cards for your sideboard.
Surely you have now played plenty matches with your deck. After playing against other forces of the metagame, you will also know what kinds of hands are good enough to play and which cards you should send back to the deck for in mulligan. At the times you feel exhausted and need an opinion, keep in mind that you are not alone on the quest for that tournament win. There are likely other players choosing the same deck and asking similar questions. Look for them in forums, deck primers or your local playgroup and share your thoughts. It is always very helpful to see a different approach to a problem - maybe you find a better solution than the one you thought of.
That brings me to my last point: Always communicate your thoughts. During testing, it doesn’t matter who wins - there’s no gain in outplaying someone. You are often forced to make a difficult decision and to learn the most from that situation just lay down your cards and explain your dilemma to your testing partner. Discuss with each other the different lines of play and what you think what is the best one for the given situation.
Good testing will always be rewarded - with thought-out preparation, you might just spike the next tournament and take home the big prize. With those closing words, good luck and have fun!
Written by Malte Smits