Practice Makes Perfect Part I:

Building Blocks

We've heard it all our lives: "Practice makes perfect." Teachers, parents, mentors and even peers doubtless have repeated these words to you at some point. It's a fairly obvious and straight-forward piece of advice. To get better at something, you need to put in the time and effort to practice getting better at it. What is not stressed nearly as often is the type or quality of practice that will help you improve. There is a famous study about the "10,000 hour rule," or the idea that doing anything for 10,000 hours makes you an expert. While this idea is almost infectiously catchy, time alone is not the only factor in improving a skill. Obviously time invested often has a strong correlation to expertise, but we are interested in getting the most efficiency out of our testing. In this article we are going to focus on "Deliberate Practice" - the idea that purposeful, structured practice will get us better results in less time than mindless repetitions.

Everyone's Doing It

In school teachers assign homework as deliberate practice to help you prepare for an upcoming exam. If you've ever had a coach, you've likely experienced deliberate practice in the form of drills designed to work on a specific skill. In trading card games we often have to be our own coach or teacher, and decide on our own how we are going to practice to improve. In those scenarios goals are set for us, and the metrics to measure our success are more obvious; you get a grade on your quiz, your coach times your lap around the track. It's easy to see if you are improving day-to-day, and results are immediate and unambiguous. In FFTCG it can feel more like a "pass or fail" scenario, where the work you put in can sometimes seem like it didn't matter when you don't win a tournament. The fact is that getting good at the FFTCG is not unlike getting better at a subject or sport - setting specific goals for yourself, recording your results, focusing on details and getting feedback are all critical to your success.

Any time you can focus your practice on improving one aspect, that is the most effective way of improving performance. A musician will break a song into specific measures they are having trouble with and run them over and over again until they nail the technique. Football teams will run a play over and over again to make sure it's polished and consistent. We can do the same thing in FFTCG, playing a match-up over and over while tweaking small things about our decisions or tech choices to see what works, and recording our results. When players tell me "it tested really well against X," I often find myself wanting far more detail. How many games did you play? How close were the games? What happened in the games that you lost? How many games did you draw X card, and how many times was it useful? These answers are things that are very important but that a lot of players aren't mindful of in the moment. One thing to keep in mind during deliberate practice is whether you "win" or "lose" is almost always less important than how you got there.

Hyperbolic Time Chamber

Now that we’re focused on deliberate practice, how can we apply it to the FFTCG? Since deliberate practice is all about defining specific goals for ourselves and improving that specific aspect, we need to pick apart our play in the FFTCG and decide on something we’d like to be better at. Start small - making better trades, being more mindful of the board state, or anticipating common threats. As you improve you can start to look at more nuanced things to practice; when to use a specific answer, when to take damage, how not to overextend. Use all of the resources at your disposal. Listen to podcasts, read content, and interact with experienced players. Ask local players who have success to give feedback on card choices or certain plays that you make. Feedback feeds directly into deliberate practice by highlighting the things that we need to work on. In every game of FFTCG you play, try and think about what you're going to focus on improving. By being mindful of what you're trying to practice, you will automatically get more out of it. Before you know it, certain responses or habits will be second nature and will make it easier to choose the next aspect of your performance you want to hone in on.

Early in my FFTCG career when I first showed up at the store for locals, I was told there was one player who was absolutely dominant that won every week. I approached that player at the earliest opportunity and asked him to jam a bunch of games with me and tell me what I was doing wrong. I walked into every combat trick, combo and bluff in the book; losing over and over again as I slowly catalogued all of the things I would need to work on. Losing is never fun, but is the unavoidable stepping stone to every breakthrough in your play. Rather than feel defeated or upset at yourself for your shortcomings, highlight them as things that you are going to work to eliminate. Turn every loss into the first step towards your next win. Instead of being intimidated by the player, I wanted to know what it was that made them so dominant and how I could tap into his experience to improve my own play. Players in this game are exceptionally friendly and I have yet to meet someone who wouldn’t give you advice or feedback on your deck or play. Applying feedback from knowledgeable, experienced players to your practice is often what makes the next step possible. There are dozens of streams of high-quality competitive matches that you can analyze to discover new lines of play, or new answers to common problem situations. If there is a deck that you are determined to make work, ask other players who have seen success with similar decks what they discovered in their own practice, and build upon their experience to improve your own.

Ok Guys, Wrap It Up

Hopefully this has given you something to think about when deciding how and what you want to test. There are many different ways to practice and hone your skills, and everyone will find a method that works best for them. In Part II of "Practice Makes Perfect" we will go over specific methods players use to practice FFTCG both alone and in groups, and explore some more nuanced ideas for improving the quality of both solo and group practice. In Part III, we will be talking to some top players from all different regions of NA to find out how they practice and what tips and tricks they have for you. By the time we're done, you'll have a whole new set of tools to help you level up your game!

P.S. I didn't reference any cards in this article, so enjoy some random fun images!

by John Schreiner

"My focus is unparalleled!"

"Tonight's homework, study all of the possible Al-Cid targets for tomorrow's exam."

"Ok guys, just run that 100 more times!"

Hop in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber.

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