What is testing?

This was written just around Worlds 2009, believe it or not. That's how delayed this is. Now bloody Worldwake is out and it's out of date. Grrr. We all call it testing, yet in fact; it’s also a lot of practice. Some Magic decks play themselves – and require little to no skill to play, probably needing little more than a novice’s knowledge of the rules. Some decks on the other hand are so convoluted, so complex and so confusing that rules knowledge is useless.

Testing a deck is really not as complicated as it sounds. Sit across another person who’s pretty good at piloting the deck you want to test against – and play. There’s no need to be complicated, take statistics and all just to know everything. Really, most good players know quite well from maybe 3-5 rounds of Magic how well a deck actually performs against another.

Taking numbers really only helps in borderline cases – where your advantage over another deck is slim. The most important thing to take out of testing is which cards are important, which cards are great and which cards are just so-so.

The easiest way to build a deck currently is pretty simple – pick two or three colours, look at the pool of cards available to you and choose those that are the best – and fit your play style. The Standard card pool has shrunk considerably in recent years, and the focus on creatures has made building good decks easier than ever.

No longer do you have to ponder for hours over which card draw to run, which removal to put in and which enchantments and artifacts to play, you simply put in the best creatures at each converted mana count up to 5 or 6, and then just play.

This might seem mindless – but it isn’t. Subtle differences are extremely important to decks. Currently, the few dominant decks in Standard are Jund, Naya, Vampires, Nissa Aggro and maybe a few others.

A Jund deck ran by simply playing cards that gave incredible card advantage. It wasn’t fast, it wasn’t great – it simply trounced your opponent by simply playing cards that became 2 spells instead of being the 1 spell cards traditionally are.

A Naya deck aims to do differently – it tries to play situation changing cards. The idea is to drop a big creature every turn past turn 3. To me, this was the deck to play – it had a good chance of beating Jund, simply because everything that it could play was simply better than anything Jund could play.

There were two variants of the Naya-based decks: Naya Zoo and Naya Ramp (I consider the Naya Lightsaber deck that won the World Championships to be a Naya Zoo variant containing [card]Ajani Vengeant[/card]). The defining difference (to me at least) was that Naya Ramp ran [card]Lotus Cobra[/card]. I tested Naya Ramp for three games against an old mono-green aggro deck. The old mono-green aggro deck isn’t really representative of Standard currently – but it is fast, hits hard and plays like a lean mean damage dealing machine.

Even without testing against Standard archetypes (which are slower than this green aggro deck), I decided immediately against [card]Lotus Cobra[/card]. I never saw what others saw in [card]Lotus Cobra[/card] – besides a possible turn 3 [card]Baneslayer Angel[/card]. In the 3 games I played using Naya Ramp, I found myself either never needing [card]Lotus Cobra[/card] in the first place – or I was drawing it late game, where it was a dead card. I hated that fact that I was, at times, contemplating holding land for the next turn where I’d be able to cast something big. Maybe this was just my lack of experience with the deck, but [card]Lotus Cobra[/card] was so dependent on land drops to be useful that it just didn’t fit my play style.

I eventually tuned the deck to be closer to a Naya Zoo build. I’m no Pro Player – and my play style has become very sloppy after many years of not playing – but I’m still an excellent deck builder. The Naya Zoo deck I built from the wreck that was Naya Ramp made me feel happy. I wasn’t yet familiar with planeswalkers (although I later built a deck filled with planeswalkers to remedy that) – so I opted to not put anything besides 3 [card]Qasali Pridemage[/card]s for removal.

The deck then became something I was more comfortable with – it no longer mattered that I had removal, just that I could play creatures. [card]Wild Nacatl[/card] and [card]Noble Hierarch[/card] became my turn-1 drops – and what made them even better was that I didn’t mind playing them late game. While a turn-3 [card]Baneslayer Angel[/card] wasn’t possible anymore – I had a lot more problems for my opponent to deal with.

Even without my best possible hand, [card]Arid Mesa[/card]s made sure [card]Wild Nacatl[/card] was always a nice 3/3, and [card]Noble Hierarch[/card]s enabled my turn-2 [card]Woolly Thoctar[/card]s. A 5/4 on turn 2 or 3 is ALWAYS a problem. It’s gonna hit for something on turn-3. It doesn’t matter how small or how big – you’ve probably made your opponent’s plays for the next few turns problematic. It falls out of the range of most removal, and [card]Noble Hierarch[/card]s and [card]Qasali Pridemage[/card]s often made those problems bigger for my opponents. More often than not, my [card]Woolly Thoctar[/card] was a 6/5 or my [card]Wild Nacatl[/card] was a 4/4 when attacking – at that early point in the game, few decks can compensate.

The idea was simple – attract removal so that when it comes time for your [card]Baneslayer Angel[/card] or [card]Scute Mob[/card] – your opponent was out of solutions. I find that a lot of people don’t main deck artifact and enchantment removal – in the current state of Standard (the last time I played it was still [acard title=Umezawa's Jitte]Jitte[/acard] wonderland, it still is in Extended) – I’d forgive you – most decks don’t play much of either – and when they do, it’s rarely important to their strategy.

However, I’ve always liked artifact and enchantment removal in my main deck. It’s just my style. I’ve never liked playing against artifacts and enchantments – most people play them for a reason, and it’s rarely going to be good news for you. [card]Luminarch Ascension[/card], [card]Eldrazi Monument[/card], even the innocuous looking [card]Khalni Heart Expedition[/card] can easily mess with your path to victory. Although, ever since the dominance of [card]Umezawa's Jitte[/card], we haven’t really seen much equipment again – although I think that might be a sign that equipment is going to get important real soon.

Of course, nowadays, there’s a new problem – planeswalkers. It’s rarely good news when one hits the table – and it’s almost always a must to get rid of them ASAP. There are few, if any, good answers to a planeswalker besides a good thrashing – or even better – your own planeswalker (which I believe is pretty common :D).

I realise I’ve deviated quite a bit from testing – so I guess I should make another post on testing. Which will probably get sidetracked. Again.