Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad Preparation (as an Amateur), pt. 1

First of all, I’m not qualified to play, but as my business partner (of Sensei’s Divining Shop fame) and friend, Lauri, is, I decided to join him in testing. It doesn’t hurt that I live in Finland and the testing is going to happen in Spain… Also, I’m currently enjoying my sabbatical (in other words unemployed, with pretty good savings), so why not?

I’m in many ways looking in from the outside and I don’t have any previous PT experience. I don’t think anyone in the team has either, although I’m not quite sure about that. I haven’t met two people from the team at all yet, but based on our Facebook discussion, they are quite eager and have been testing actively already.

As I said before, I have never been on the Pro Tour and all these people in the team have qualified, so basically its pretty clear I’m a worse player than any of them. I know I’m worse than the Finnish players, to all of whom I’ve lost to. Two of them quite often (as they are local players), and one of them a couple of times. I don’t know about the other two players (one from Germany and one from Turkey), but I assume they are better than I am. On the other hand, I’m no spring chicken either. I’ve played in 12 GPs (Barcelona will be my 13th) and although I’ve never actually done well, I do have experience on playing on a professional level (which GP day twos are).

So, why am I taking part in this?

I was an entrepreneur for 11 years and in a way still am (I have a stake in the aforementioned Sensei’s Divining Shop, as well as another company, and I’m in the process of starting one or two new bsinesses). I know how to lead projects like this. I don’t want to boss anyone around, but I do want to see these people do well. So, I’ll do my best to facilitate the process by bringing structure to it and seeing to that the limited amount of time we have gets used efficiently.

I do consider myself a pretty good deckbuilder. I have a tendency to toy with deck ideas and write down brews all the time (as anyone reading this blog regularly can attest to). I know a lot about prototyping and I know enough to understand that ideas need to be discarded quickly, if they don’t work. I like to identify underplayed cards and look for potential in any unique card. I might not be a great deckbuilder, but I think I’m in the top few percent in the world (which still means, with 20 million or so players in the world, that I’m roughly in the top half a million). Also, I just like it.

Even though I might be worse than the rest of the team as a player, I still do think I’m competent enough to be a sparring-partner. I am prone to making huge errors, when I’m not concentrating enough on the game, but when I am concentrated enough, I also do find some fairly unintuitive lines, which let me win “unwinnable” games (of couse, the lines need to be there for me to find, but still). So, I might not be great, but I’m good enough.

The place we’re staying at does have a pool, so that’s a definite plus.

As I’m writing this, I have just stepped into the train in Tampere to take me to Helsinki, where I’ll stay over night, before I meet with Lauri at the airport to fly to Barcelona, where we do some live testing for the limited format and meet the rest of the team, before moving to Madrid on Monday to get to the real testing.

So, of course, this is preliminary, but the way I see next week should go, is something like this:

We meet up on Sunday, after the GP is over, mostly just to get know each other, but to break the ice, to talk a little about how we feel about the limited format.

On Monday, we’ll fly to Madrid, so we’ll be missing about a half a day on that account (the distance isn’t even that big, but air travel always requires a lot of time at both ends), but we can use at least some of that on discussions.

Otherwise, I think we should see to it that we play enough Draft and Standard each day. The balance might shift, depending on how the deck building for Standard is going. We should take care to see that no-one gets burned out by playing too much, so it would be nice to have food breaks, where discussing Magic is forbidden, just so our brains get some time to relax. This might also work as a trust exercise, if we get to know each other better outside of the game. For example, there’s a teammate I’ve played a lot over the last few years I’ve been playing in tournaments again actively, but I don’t even know what he does for a living (he isn’t very talkative outside of Magic-related subjects).

I think we should also see to it that everyone does some exercise during the testing. This doesn’t have to be anything more than walking around and maybe stretching, but a little physical activity does go a long way. Sitting all day will make you groggy and your brain doesn’t function properly.

Each night, we should reflect on what happened during the day. Although records don’t tell the whole story, we should keep them, as long as we keep in mind that they don’t necessarily tell the whole story. Intuition is also important, but that shouldn’t overwhelm actual numbers either. I’ve seen people not letting go of poor card choices even if they are shown to be weak, because they cling to some wonderful experience with them. We need to get beyond that.

The way I see deck building should work is this: You play your deck a few games, then you “sideboard” from a collection of maybe 30 to 40 cards and play a few games with that deck. You repeat the process. The idea here is that this way you learn faster. You are prototyping the deck quicly and even though you might not play each card in each game, you can rotate out the ones you have a feel for. With limited time, this could really help use the precious resource efficiently.

We also need to come to some kind of conclusion on a gauntlet (meaning a list of decks we think represents the field at the PT best, so we can test against them). I think some decks are quite obvious from SCG results right now and on Momday we’ll have even a better idea on what we can expect to see, but these are still the level 0 or level 1 decks. In order to do well, we need to next level those decks. Relying on pure playskill in this environment can be costly, as the field is full of people with much more experience.

For the sake of balance, everyone should play the gauntlet decks equally, although it would be helpful here, if someone wants to play one of them at the event. On the other hand, its also beneficial to play those decks even if you are planning to play something else, just because its good to know how different decks work. Having insight can help you in many ways, because you’ll know what tricks, outs and so forth to expect.

Well, we’ll see how all this goes. I’ll get back to you on the Sunday of the pro tour at the latest, so I can tell you my version of what went well and what didn’t.

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