Getting L.U.C.K.y: Playtesting

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
-Thomas A. Edison

I’m going to take a bit of a break this week and shift into getting L.U.C.K.y while playing the game. In a game such as Magic, where there are sixty randomized cards built from thousands of options facing an opponent that could be playing any different combination of those thousands of cards, how can you get consistently good results? Is it all just luck? Are we wasting our time? How do we start getting L.U.C.K.y?

Playtesting is the Key to Success

Any great athlete ( I’m not talking about the local star, but a professional athlete) spends more time practicing everyday than we spend at work. I think it’s safe to assume that this holds true for professional Magic players as well. You can’t get better at anything if you don’t spend time at it.


“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”

-Vince Lombardi

Just as important as how much you playtest is who you playtest with. Find people who are better than you. The only way you ever get better is by raising the level of competition. These should be people you can take advice from, even if it is critical. Surround yourself with players who are at where you want to be: that’s how you get there. Good things to look at when finding members for a playtesting group are time they spend playing, tournament experience, tournament results, attitude, and most importantly, willingness to teach.

The people you playtest with might not be your best buddies. You may hurt a few feelings by not inviting friends to your playtesting groups, but that’s okay. Don’t start ignoring them. You can still play with them, you just need to be doing your hardcore playtesting with hardcore players. I’m not saying that your friends aren’t good either. If you have a group of competitive friends, then by all means, use them. If your friends aren’t where you want to be, though, don’t defriend them. You just need to know they aren’t going to give you the best results by playtesting with them.

Proxy Up Decks for a Gauntlet

You need to know how your deck stacks up against the field. Look at the top eight to twelve decks in the appropriate format and print them off. I personally use MTG Top 8 and MTG Goldfish, but you can use whatever works best for you. If you have a good printer, the easiest way is just to print proxies off. If not, I take a slightly less than card sized piece of paper and write my proxy on that. Use relevant info that will help you remember what the card does exactly (name, mana cost, type of spell, effects, power, toughness, etc.)

From that point I like to do what I call “running the gauntlet.” You need solid playtesting (20+ games) against at least all the tier-one decks in the format. Figure out where your matchups are, how they feel, and ultimately how you feel about your deck. One of my favorite things to do is to operate the gauntlet while a friend runs my deck. There have been times that it completely changed things when I saw someone else running the deck.

Once you run the gauntlet a few times, try out some deck tweaks if you have them. If not, use some variations of other decks and get some additional testing. It may also behoove you to try some rogue decks out. It is good to know what kind of weird stuff you can expect.

Schedule a Time

The worst thing that you can do is to prepare everything and then hope you get around to it. Playtesting needs to be scheduled or it won’t happen. If you just hope to casually meet up, you will just keep casually playing and casually losing. Make sure that you get a time when everyone can meet up and follow through with it. If there are scheduling conflicts, schedule two sessions.

If your group can’t meet all at once, there is nothing wrong with having a playtesting meeting on both Monday and Wednesday.  Some players will go to both while others will only be able to make one. I think sometimes we forget that others have a life outside of Magic. If you have a group that can, schedule them more than a couple times in a week. Personally, I try to hit up three to four sessions every week with different groups.

Set Goals

Do you want to perfect your mainboard? Trying to figure out what to sideboard? Set a goal before you start. When playtesting is focused, way more gets accomplished. Figure out what it is you want to focus on and focus on it. It’s okay to just need experience playing. At some point, though, you are going to need to hone down a playtest to more specific goals.

I like idenifying small goals that you can accomplish while also looking at a large one. How far can I extend against control? What should I be countering in the aggro matchup? What hands are acceptable keeps against a midrange deck? How far can I safely mulligan down and still win? Should I be playing [card]Dissolve[/card] or [card]Syncopate[/card]? What is the biggest threat and how do I deal with it? These are all questions that can and should be turned into playtesting goals.

Sometimes this also looks like designating. If Bobby is focusing on what sideboard options look like while Jeremy is testing out a different sideboard option, you accomplish twice as much. Maybe Kyle is better at figuring out what to cut while Andrew is a stone-cold killer when it comes to mulligans. Figure out where everyone’s strengths are and use them.

Write It Down

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt I had a bad matchup when I didn’t because I didn’t know the actual numbers. Or the times when I figured out what to side out and totally forgot what it was when at a tournament. When you keep track of results, sideboard options, how to play against “x” deck, and matchup results, it makes you that much more consistent later.

When you put it down in writing, it also makes it easier to remember later. Studies show that just by writing things down, we increase our odds of remembering even without a later review of our notes. By writing and reviewing, we tremendously increase our retention of information. Why would we not want to do this?

Most of taking “L.U.C.K.” out of Magic has to do with consistency. If you aren’t writing things down, it feels more and more like a chance-based game, which is the last thing that I want when I play. So start playtesting and start “Getting L.U.C.K.y.” Have questions or comments? Let me know below!

About the Author
@CalebGothberg     -     Email     -     Articles Caleb studied at The University of Lessons Learned the Hard Way. He graduated Magna Cum Laude with a doctorate in Failed Finance. He's out to share some knowledge so you can avoid the mistakes he made. Visit his website at

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