A quick guide by Richard Zapp
As North America impatiently waits for the Final Fantasy TCG Open National event this September, players anxiously are awaiting for Opus 3 to hit shelves and start playtesting their favorite brews in preparation. While we unfortunately have a couple more weeks before the testing can begin, I’d love to take this time to talk about how to prepare well for events. I firmly believe someone can be successful without an excessive amount of preparation, if the practice is intentional, deliberate, and effective. Here are four suggestions I’d encourage you to consider when preparing for events, rather they be local, regional, or national level events!
1.) Avoid being results-oriented:
It is so easy to come up with a sick list, play a game, get demolished, and scrap the idea – you probably have someone in your testing circle that is criminal for this. That person is being “results-oriented” to an extreme. Winning a game does not mean that your list is better. Perhaps the person was better. Perhaps they were very lucky. Perhaps you were very unlucky.
I remember the first time I tried splashing 16 Water into a mono-fire deck. My first game, I had seen 6 water cards by turn 2 going second, and feel frustrated with how clogged my hand is and how there’s no way I can play something like Emperor Xande anytime soon. It is important in those situations to realize that opening 4/7 waters when running 16 is the exception and NOT the rule. Your deckbuilding approach should be driven by theory, reinforced by statistics, and tested only to prove your hypothesis. If your testing isn’t going well after extended practice, then you should reconsider the accuracy of your driving principles first, and then see how your new theory impacts the deck building process.
2.) Do not overvalue the lists that have had success at previous events.
Final Fantasy TCG also has the benefit and detriment of being a best of one game, and not a best of three. In an 8 round event, a player may only need to win 6 games to make the ever-elucid top 8. In a best of 3, that number doubles to 16. Consistency is relative, and ‘winning’ does not necessarily indicate consistency.
But time and time again, we will see “okay players” that identify as “good players but bad deckbuilders” take a list, make a couple changes, and hope it gets them to victory. When it fails, they will often blame the matchups they had or extrinsic factors. In reality, they made a dangerous assumption that the person that won the previous event built their deck correctly in the first place, and are being too results-oriented.
It is helpful to look at what decks have won events. Reflect upon why they won. Did they have the best top 8 matchups? Was the top 8 a fair reflection of the playing field on that day? Was the player that won historically much better than everyone in their region? All of these factors can determine how a top 8 goes, and just because the 1st place list is above the 5th place list, doesn’t mean the 1st place list is better.
3.) Remember “The best deck in the room” isn’t always “the deck that wins.”
A great player will look at the top lists, examine commonalities between the lists, and theorize how to overcome those lists. Perhaps the winning decks from three different events all have a weakness to Water-Wind decks built around Yuna / Rikku / Paine; do you consider playing that deck because you believe most of the people at the event will be playing what they think is popular? What if you are going to an 8 person event, and you know everyone considered the popular decks when making their choices? Do you play a deck that beats the Water-Wind list?
The same idea applies to training games as well. Let’s assume you are testing with your friends, and you are confident that deck A and deck B will make up the majority of the playing field. Even if deck A and B have a better matchup spread versus less common decks, if you build Deck C, a list that has a 60% win rate against both A and B, you are putting yourself in a position to succeed. If your read is correct that only a couple people are playing list A or B, those players will probably end up being eliminated as they are more likely to get paired up with bad matchups, and you mostly get paired up with A and B matches.
If at the end of the day you bring in a gold medal, and the rest of the top 8 lists are A’s and B’s, you can attribute you win, in part, to predicting what your matchup spread would look like and how those assumptions improved your chances of topping.
4.) Practice to learn, not to win
The number one disservice you can do in a TCG is not be open to learning. Try practicing open-handed during your next test session. Testing open-handed creates opportunities for both of you, and anyone else in the room, to chime in with feedback on the best way to handle certain situations. Not only do you gain insight from others, but it allows you to gauge how important certain cards are. It can be difficult to determine if using 7 CP of resources to Odin their Cecil is the right call based on the cards you have; playing open-handed helps you understand what kind of cards the opponent is probably holding next time they are in a similar position.
Furthermore, testing open-handed allows you to solidify your gameplan for a matchup. Too often, I see players always trying to open the same way as often as they can; but rarely is it correct to open the same way every game. Your water deck may love to get Minwu on board turn 2, but if I’m playing against a water/lightning deck that uses Odin and Leviathan to keep cards off of the field instead of damaging them, maybe you shouldn’t be using your mulligan on finding that Minwu. Playing games open-handed create opportunities for your to discuss the reasoning behind your decisions, and get feedback if you’re thinking about the matchup in an effective way, or encourage you to reevaluate.
Finally, use open-handed games as a platform to try alternative plays and fix mistakes. If you go a turn in and realize that someone could have used their Backups more economically or should of used a removal spell on a different target, rewind and play the alternative situation out. One of the best ways to learn how to play right is to learn how to not play wrong. Take these situations with a grain of salt though, and recognize when an unorthodox or less obvious play should be the rule (how you normally play) or the exception (how you play in very specific situations). (Thanks to Chris Mattiske for pointing this out!)
The takeaway from these ideas is that winning a friendly game during a training session preparing for a big event means nothing. Focusing on your individual winning, diagnosing the playing field based on what those that are winning are doing, and fixating on what you think is objectively “correct” are all traps that stop middle-level players from growing. But if you can identify the issues in your mindset that are holding you back, you can make strides towards improving the quality of your practice. Practice doesn’t make perfect – practice helps. Intentional, deliberate, quality practice, however, can get you there even faster.
Massage therapist and career counselor Richard ‘Zappdos’ Zapp has been a TCG enthusiast for over 10 years with experience in a multitude of games including Yugioh, Naruto, Kaijudo, and Final Fantasy TCG. His love for strategy games and helping those around him improve at them is incredibly rewarding for him, and he loves using articles as another platform to help others.