At some point, you will find yourself needing to get ready for a Magic tournament with little time to prepare. Ideally, you should have all the time in the world to test for a tournament but that’s not always realistic. During these times, I find myself thinking about what I can do to maximize the value of my limited time testing. Here are some of the strategies that work for me:
Research the cardsResearch is the most important element when practicing for a tournament with little time. The biggest edge that professional Magic players have is predicting what their opponent might have at any given moment. I recommend looking at mtggoldfish.com’s top decks in the format so you can familiarize yourself with which specific cards the top decks play. This includes which sideboard cards they might run, as well as cards to look out for in a tournament. Try to look at a visual page of all the cards in the set and read every single card before you start playing with them. Notice some trends. What are the combat tricks? What are the removal spells? Do you see any tight spots on the mana curve that make you want to prioritize cards that cost a certain amount? These are things that you can easily look up on your smartphone anywhere, even when you aren’t someplace where you can pull up MTGO or Arena and play real games. Whether you are walking to class or waiting in line you can prepare for your tournament.
Form a Testing PlanI wouldn’t recommend a testing plan that you need to write down or stick to at all costs. A testing plan in my mind can just be some deck or some changes to a deck that you really want to try. It is the thing that excites you in playing Magic. You should find a way to get yourself excited about what you are going to play with and not dread your next games of Magic. Magic is easier when you are having fun! Similarly, I have found that I get much better testing when I get home from school and start playing rather than when I have the day off of school. This is because throughout the day I am thinking about which deck I am going to be playing or which new cards I am going to try out. I don’t always have that when I just wake up. Also, avoid creating a testing plan such as, “I am going to play five MTGO leagues with this specific deck.” You don’t want to force yourself to test when you are more excited about testing something different. This also works really well for me when I am brewing a new deck because I can build the deck at school and try it out at home. I realize this idea might be slightly specific to me because during school I have no access to playing real games but you might have some time of the day when this is relevant to you, too.
Choose the right deck for youAs far as deck choice I would start with the deck that you are most interested in playing with. I don’t recommend playing the “best deck” unless you actually like playing that deck or have found nothing else in the format that you enjoy. You might have the mentality that if you have limited time to test for the tournament, it would be better just to play the “best deck” because you don’t have time to properly tune a deck to beat it. This is sometimes helpful but can fail when in the “best deck” the tuning of it is actually very important. I think to play the “best deck” actually requires more testing to play properly because, in addition to learning to play your own deck, you need to prepare for all of the strategies the other players will use to fight against it. So, if you have limited testing time I recommend playing the deck you like and use focused testing to tune it to beat the “best deck.” An example of this was in GP Dallas a few weekends ago. If you wanted to play Hogaak, to play it optimally you would need to know how to play around graveyard hate from every deck including your own and this is all new information you need to learn. While if you played a deck you already know, you just need to learn the Hogaak matchup.
What to do when playing real gamesIn general, I recommend playing MTGO if you are practicing for a tournament with a time constraint. In constructed, the percentage of top-level decks is higher and similar to the tournament metagame when you can only play against them if you already ranked up a lot on Arena. In limited, drafts resemble real ones and don’t have bots and competition is better on average. I do like the Arena interface a lot though I think it is better if you have a longer period of time or test for standard. When it actually comes to playing the games, I like to examine what I did that made me lose the game (if I lost) or why they lost (if I won). This isn’t simply, “They played X card” but more “I lost because I decided to be more defensive and they outvalued me.” I would learn from the situation this that I need to either lean more towards value or be more aggressive for example. This allows me to recognize the game plan that I need to create for each specific matchup and how to tune the deck for the next games. Sometimes just playing games against random opponents on Arena or MTGO can be time-intensive, because of the wide variety of decks preventing you from testing vs the deck that you want to. To use your time more effectively, I would recommend playing games on paper or online with friends of specific matchups in order to play the relevant games more often. Games against friends can pretty difficult to start because it requires both people to have copies of the decks and have the same time open to play, but it is very useful. Mythic Championships teams use this strategy because it helps players learn exactly what they want to learn from playing specific games.
I hope you found these tips to be helpful.
Please comment if any of these worked for you or if you have any questions!