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By: Meyou, Derrick Heard
Apr 27 2015 12:00pm
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Playing a game against yourself is a largely ignored facet for practicing Magic. It can't even be done online. It is one of my gripes about the digital spectrum of this game. As such, I will attempt to talk about this subject on two levels.  I will explain why you should play against yourself and why it should be available online.

Putting Theory into Practice

If I were to advise anyone who wants to be on the Pro Tour, I would suggest practice, practice, and practice. No, I haven't ever been on the Pro Tour. Not yet anyway. It doesn't matter. Magic is not any different than any other sport or profession. It takes practice. It is endless hours of failure that leads to success. You haven't been a success until you have failed. The problem is many players like to sit around and theorize. That is nice and all, but we are human. We can't possibly account for the million different scenarios integrated into Magic. There is a reason why those smart people always say playtest, playtest and playtest. Dreaming about owning a restaurant and actually operating a restaurant are two very different concepts. The hardest part about graduate school is not coming up with a theory. It is creating an experiment to test those theories.

Okay, okay, I'll stop with the analogies. Let's dive in.

Step One: Proxy Up Two Decks

While I don't support proxies, I do support proxying up a deck in order to playtest it for solitaire testing. It is highly unrealistic to expect anyone to drop that amount of cash for playtesting. In the offices at headquarters, I can fathom the arguments against it. While there is some merit to those statements, it doesn't matter. If you want people to play online, you need to give them an incentive. The only place proxies would be allowed is in a solo play environment. As a consumer, it allows players to test out ideas before dumping a lot of cash. It is horrible to have an idea and drop the cash to only find out that the idea didn't pan out. I've done it. Now, I'm stuck with cards I don't want and will lose even more money selling them to get the actual cards I do want.

My argument is that online should simulate life as closely as is possible. If I want to, I can go downstairs to my collection and start proxying cards. Sometimes it is just a piece of paper with the word Force of Will scribbled on it. For more serious testing, I print out proxied pictures. It is an aspect of artwork that I don't think many people appreciate. Artwork helps facilitate game play. In testing, artwork helps to facilitate the ease of recognition. I'm getting off track. I don't proxy to take those cards to tournaments. I proxy to playtest.

Sure, there may be people who will only use MTGO to test and nothing else in this environment. You know what, proxying has prompted me to actually buy those cards. I tested. It worked. So, I bought them. No matter what, the proxy environment won't ever replace the game of playing with other human beings. The proxy environment is a place to get comfortable with the mechanics and cards. It is a safe environment to grow without ridicule or peer mockery.

Step Two: Mulligans

If this was allowed online, I'd always want the choice of getting to go first or not. It makes sense. It is not like I am playing anyone else. Anyway, don't mulligan both hands at once. Mulligan the deck you are testing for to play. Once you have decided to keep, then mulligan the deck you have decided to proxy up against. Before playing, take a moment to decide whether your keep was good enough. How is the other decks hand? It helps to be consistent when playtesting in solitaire mode. When you decide to play or draw, keep that configuration for multiple games. It will help for you to understand what hands are keepers on the play or draw. For some decks, it won't matter so much. For others, some hands just aren't fast enough on the draw. Some hand may be fine against control, but will get eaten alive by Atarka Red or other fast aggro decks.

It is important to not cheat. You are only cheating yourself and there are no free mulligans at tournaments. Follow the rules for mulligans. Don't take a new seven every time. Mull to six, five and so on. Why is this important? For one, it will help you decide whether your land count in the deck is correct. If you are taking too many mulligans, you might want to up your land count. Keep in mind, in the real world, you need to thoroughly shuffle your deck between games. Again, don't cheat. Even though your deck will have variance, but a deck that isn't randomized completely will have clumps of lands or spells. Will this happen? Yes, but completely randomized decks will on average have a better spread of lands throughout the deck. If you are getting a lot of clumps, it is because you are slacking on your shuffling.

A person can learn a lot from these starting hands. For example, you decided to keep a sketchy hand. You see a turn one Thoughtseize and a removal spell in the other hand. Your hand looks suddenly terrible because they are going to take card X leaving you with a bunch of lands and one creature which they are just going to kill with their removal. There is a lot to learn from just observing opening hands. This whole process helps to get you in the mind of your opponent. What is good for them? What is bad for them? Don't just dive right into playing out those hands. Take a moment and contemplate those openers. You can learn a lot.

Step Three: Playing for Perfection

In a real tournament setting, you won't have perfect information. While that is true, playing with perfect information is a great learning tool. One of the problems with playtesting with people is that they make mistakes. While this is great during a tournament, it doesn't help to make you better. Besides, this handicap will only last for only so long. At the top tables, those players rarely make mistakes. It still happens, but don't fool yourself. You may be able to trick some people, but counting on player mistakes to win the tournament is a bad recipe for success. When playing in solitaire mode, you want for both decks to be making optimal plays. Playing at an optimal level will help to evaluate the true power level of the deck. For example, if the blue/black control player plays perfectly, you can't beat them. This may be a blow to your deck, but it gives an accurate picture. Don't try fooling yourself. It will only hurt you during a tournament.

Now play. Take your time to evaluate your openings. Try different openings and sequences of play. Take notes. Yes, take notes. When you aren't playing Magic, these notes can be looked over later for patterns. Taking notes also forces you to think about it. There may be lines of play you never thought about before. For example, you are playing Abzan and had dropped a (Sylvan Carytid) the following turn. You have Siege Rhino, Rakshasa Deathdealer, Fleecemane Lion, Thoughtseize and a land. You could drop the land and the Siege Rhino, but you see a Disdainful Stroke in their hand. They only have other counter magic in hand. If you play the Rhino, it will get countered. However, if you drop the Deathdealer and Lion, they can't counter. This allows you to play Thoughtseize the following turn and possibly the Rhino depending on how it plays out.

Step Three: Sideboarding

Sideboarding is so neglected. People rarely practice the art of sideboarding let alone playing the game after sideboarding. You need to practice sideboarding. The clock is ticking during a tournament. You don't want to be wasting your time and speed only comes with practice. Instead of winning your match, you ended up drawing because of taking too much time sideboarding. You often know in real life about your opponents experience level. They look flustered and confused. It is especially apparent who's comfortable in a match during live coverage. Confidence only comes with experience.

The advantage of solitaire in playtesting is not only understanding on what you are bringing in, but what your opponent is siding in. Remember, you are playing two decks. To be honest, I still find it a little weird. It is very enlightening though. Sometimes you realize the very cards you are siding in are basically negated by the cards the opponent would be boarding in. I think there is an error in people's sideboarding philosophy. When you think of sideboarding, what do you think about? You think of your sideboard cards as card to bring in against deck X. However, that isn't true. Your sideboard cards are actually for deck X with sideboard cards. You don't bring in sideboard cards until they bring in sideboard cards. After the opponent has sideboarded, it isn't the original deck. Are you following? You aren't boarding against the original deck. It's gone during sideboarding. It is a different. Okay, it's slightly different. Anyway, double sideboarding helps to get you in that framed of mind.

Lastly, play those sideboarded games. There is a lot of information to gleam from those games. You may find that those sideboard cards just didn't do enough. I always find certain sideboard cards are great in the opening hand and horrible when drawn later. Some sideboard cards only give a slight edge while others are high impact. It is important to understand. This is important when it comes to mulligans. If you had boarded in a bunch of high impact cards, it might be worth it to be more aggressive with your mulligans in games two and three. Opening with one is a huge advantage. The opposite is true. It might not be worth it to mulligan for those low impact cards. However, its only things you learn with practice.

Step Four: Go Practice and Practice

Get some reps in on or offline. Confidence comes with practice. Speed also comes with practice. While reading articles may provide useful information, it will never replace practice. It is like reading on how to swim, but never actually stepping in the water. Is this all necessary if you are a casual player? I'd have to say no. It isn't worth the time. However, if you truly want to get better, I highly suggest testing by playing some solitaire games.

Solitaire Online

The kicker is whether it is worth the programming time and money to allow for this add on. I believe it is in the long run. If a person really wanted, they could already do this on mtgo. All a person needs is two computers and two different accounts. I ask, why create the hassle? Cards like Mindslaver and Telepathy are already programmed in the system. Just make them permanent for one player. Other than that, just require the two decks from one person. Maybe it is more difficult than that, but it doesn't seem like it should be a very big leap to include such an option.

Derrick Heard aka. Meyou