Author’s Note: This article is an extended read. It covers some key concepts about playing to improve, playing to win, and so on, and they are not necessarily exclusive to WS. This article does not aim to incite a hardcore competitive, cutthroat attitude. My aim is to illustrate that it is possible to approach the game with a competitive spirit, while still having fun. That said, please enjoy!
“This deck is the best thing since 焼きそばパン!”
“That deck is garbage! How does anyone win with that?”
“This CX combo is broken!”
Ever heard these types of statements before? You may have heard them in different games. If you don’t think you have, I’d ask if these questions sound familiar:
“Kassadin is so broken. How do you go 0-3 in lane and still carry?”
“If they open with 1. e4, why wouldn’t you play 1… c5 every time?”
“If you put him on having AK suited with the 3-bet preflop, would you shove?”
“If he has two lands untapped, do you think he’s representing removal or a counterspell? Would you attack into it first, or try to play your threat?”
Weiss Schwarz shares properties with all the other games I just mentioned (League of Legends, chess, Texas Hold ’em, Magic: the Gathering). They are unsolved, iterative games of imperfect information.
A solved game is a game where a game’s outcome can be determined from any given point, assuming no errors are made. You can read more on solved games here. Because of WS’s inherent complexity involving a great number of cards and effects, it can safely be declared unsolved.
WS is a game of imperfect information because there are elements that are not revealed to players at all times. For example, the order of the cards in one’s deck is not public knowledge, nor is the identity of the cards in an opponent’s hand. These elements make the game more challenging, but also they contribute to the fun. They also add the element of luck to the game.
An aside for chess players: There is a popular argument that chess is in fact a game of perfect information. In fact, modern game theory classifies chess as such. However, this has been a hotly-contested subject. Though it is easy to remember the strong lines that have been calculated through many years of attempting to solve chess ([1. e4 c5, Sicilian], [1. e4 Nc6, Nimzowitsch], [1. f3 e5 2. g4 Qh4#, LOL]), there is still the human element in which one cannot be sure what move will be played. If chess was a game of execution of a constantly objective ‘best’ play, players would be celebrated for how well they memorized the moves rather than their abilities to adapt and improvise; Carlsen would be considered a robot, rather than a 2872 elo genius, and Kasparov would have been called a fraud after dropping a set to Deep Blue.
Most importantly, WS is a repeated, or iterative game. No one learns everything after just one, ten, or even a hundred games. In theory, one can map out the game of WS by taking all possible combinations of cards and every possible sequence therein. However, attempting to perform the math for that is beyond impractical, and it would, above all, be very very dull.
Math aside: The number of possible combinations of a deck of 50 cards is 50!, or 3.0414093e+64. Put that against how many 50 card combinations you could get from an average set, and add in the ability to have up to 4 copies of a given card in the deck, adjust for CX requirements, and then account for the combinations relative to another deck, which multiplies 50! (good luck) against all of that. And all of that math is before we take any human element into consideration.
So how do we try to tackle the problem of how to best “solve” the game for ourselves, since we only get one match to deal with at a time, of the effectively infinite possibilities? We practice. We test.
Why is testing important?
Testing is important for many reasons. For players who may not know all the rules, testing allows them to put their game knowledge to the test and get used to them. For those that are testing a new deck, testing exposes them to the ways a given game could play out, and allows them to think creatively within the scope of the new deck they are using. Testing is valuable for the players involved, and can also be incidentally useful for observers. For those that are looking to improve or tune a deck, testing shows how consistent or inconsistent a deck may be, and can suggest changes in numbers.
Most importantly, testing allows us, as players, to qualify our evaluations. It adds to our credibility without having to rely solely on past results. However, we have to be careful on how we qualify our statements. Consider this:
Which ‘qualified’ statement is most likely to be useful to a player?
“I won the tournament with this, so it’s a good deck.”
“I’ve played fifty games with this deck, and cards A B and C have been doing X Y and Z pretty consistently. More than half of the games I was able to use the combo, and it was very hard for my opponent to do anything.”
Note that both statements are realistic and fair. In WS, a lot of credit tends to be given to players that win events, especially those that are featured on Bushiroad’s website, and rightfully so. In both of these statements though, both players could have tested extensively, and both players could be very good. However, it’s easier to listen to player who has gone out of his or her way to quantify and qualify his or her opinion for his or her audience.
How should one test?
Testing is a very different approach to playing a game. It requires a mentality that may be very strange or odd to players unfamiliar with competitive play. A typical game might be a “show of strength”, or a challenge that starts with, “Let’s play a game!” Testing is not a typical game.
Testing is a playing setting where both players are attempting to find the most accurate lines of play together, as well as try to find alternative options. The threat of the result determining the quality of a player is completely ignored in a testing environment. That is, while testing, any player, whether a tournament winner or a first-week learner, is an equal to their opponent. Both players are able to take valuable experience away and become stronger players.
Remember, a player’s performance in one game does not form a proper basis for evaluation. When testing a deck, the goal is mutual improvement, not “players knowing their place”.
Respect is an absolute must to have when testing, both for oneself and one’s fellow testers. If someone ends a game thinking, (or worse, saying) “Wow, you’re garbage,” about his or her opponent, their results are effectively null. Why? Having fear of being surpassed by another player is the sign of an immature and less skilled player. One should aim for more objective and less personal statements, such as, ” I learned X and Y!” or “I think I misplayed at Z, and should have done A.” Even objective “you” statements are okay in this regard, such as “What were your options during B turn when you had X CXs left in your deck?”
If player quality is a concern, remember that there is always something to learn and practice, regardless of skill disparity. Think of it this way. If one tests with a player of much lower skill level, the game becomes a practice of execution for the higher-skilled player. On the other end, it becomes an incredible learning experience for the player of lesser skill.
Once players are on a similar (and higher) level, more advanced tactics, such as bluffing and other mind games can start to be used effectively, and they both stand to become that much better as a result.
Analog: If you play a fighting game, you probably know exactly how this might look. A less skilled player will struggle to even begin a combo, and for the better player it becomes a game of how well they can execute every punish. If the players are both extremely good, the game looks completely different, and inevitably becomes much more exciting.
How many times should you play with/against a deck?
More is more. There is no set number for how many times a deck should be played before it’s considered tested. The closer one can get to 100+ games though, the better.
Wait, 100? That’s kind of ridiculous, no?
If a hundred games seems ridiculous, try proving that these statements are not ridiculous:
“The deck is garbage. I played against it once and I just smashed it.”
“That CX combo is so bad, I only was able to do it once in two games.”
“The deck is just bad. I don’t know why you can’t see that, but it’s just bad.”
“I can beat that just because I can cancel 5 times, it’s no big deal. Why would anyone need to do anything like that? I’m just better than it!”
These kinds of statements are quite often heard in the noise in the theorycrafting world we know as deck building. They also share the properties of being unqualified and closed statements. If someone was to say these things about your deck, you would correctly feel rather defensive and probably put off that someone would make such remarks. But consider this kind of feedback, if we qualify the opinions with something:
“The deck seems inconsistent. I’ve played against it 50 times, and I wasn’t even able to see the combo go off in 5 of them.”
“I’m not sure the risk is worth the reward. You have to do X, Y, and Z, and the effect is only drawing a card. Does the set have any other effects that can do it more efficiently?”
“Is it generally favorable to be attacking for that much? What timing would make the most sense for this card, and is it reliable?”
Suddenly, the tone of the conversation has turned from a battle to one with a mutual objective. It moves from, “Let me show you how wrong you are,” to “Let’s improve!” This is a very good thing!
How do you know this works?
It would be a bit odd to write about all this without anything to back it up at all. For me, it comes from a combination of personal experience, and seeing it work with other players in other games (though I won’t mention them here).
A little history about my time with WS. I started playing in late 2012 when the game was gaining more interest in my area. I saw that there was a set for Madoka, and I felt this urge to play. I only knew a couple of people that played, and I was not able to really get much “testing” in so much as games where I floundered to keep up with how the game worked. And for the first two months I played WS, I did not win a single game. Even in my first tournament, I did not win a single game of WS all day.
As I started to get more into the game, I started playing around with the deck ideas, and bounced ideas off fellow players. Since everyone was more experienced than I was, I had to trust what they told me. Beyond that though, it was on me to continue to play and to test.
And test I did. I ground game after game with a friend before I figured out what my deck was doing well and what it wasn’t able to do. After that, during the next tournament I attended, I didn’t just place in the top cut, I won the whole thing. And since then, I’ve won a good number of tournaments. (I keep a running tally on the Authors page)
Through all of this though, the game has not stopped being fun for me. In fact, I even have fun writing about the game! I started 9th CX to see how I could contribute to the WS world, and I hope that you, the reader, have been able to take something away from it.
As always, thank you for reading. I look forward to hearing your feedback at suggestions, and if you want to send anything in, send an email to theninthcx AT gmail DOT com! If you are interested in hearing more about my experience in other card games, I’ll gladly respond to questions there as well.