Practice Makes Perfect Part III: Tips & Tricks
Success doesn't have a secret formula. Practice, dedication and hard work are the only things that will get you to the top! We asked a few top players from around the country the same seven questions about practice to give you some inspiration and ideas for the kind of work and help you climb that ladder. I chose questions that focused on aspects of practice that we mentioned in our previous articles. You may notice some trends among these answers, and that is no accident! Good habits yield great results. By tapping into the good habits of great players, we can choose to invest our time into a proven process and feel out what works for us.
Windmill-Slamming Foil Dragoon Bros.
A huge thank you to Matt Okimoto, Max Williams, Sam Prime, Chris Adams, and Adam Lane for taking the time to answer our questionnaire! We asked each of them the same seven questions about their practice habits, history in competitive TCGs, and tips they have to share. Without further ado, let's jump right in!
1. Have you played TCGs competitively before FFTCG?
Matt: I previously played WoW TCG and traveled to Nationals & Worlds for that game. My accomplishments in that game were pretty medium. I would say I was pretty average at the game.
Max: I have been playing TCGs competitively for many years now. Just over 15 years.
Sam: I played Magic the Gathering for a very long time. Grinded some SCG Legacy events and won a couple PPTQs but nothing too serious. My heart was never really in it.
Chris: Yes, I've played multiple TCGs competitively before Final Fantasy.
Adam: Yes, I played a TCG called VS system based on the Marvel and DC IPs. Still to this day probably my favorite TCG. FFTCG is right up there with it though!
Our Insight: We started with this question to set the tone for the rest of the article. These players have years of experience being competitive and each of them are worth their salt. Listen to what they have to say and take it to heart, they each have put in the time and accumulated wisdom that they are willing to pass down!
2. How often do you practice?
Matt: I play FFTCG at least 3 times a week, whether that be on OCTGN or in person at my LGS. I much prefer to play in person and am fortunate enough that California has a great scene that allows me to do so.
Max: I do not practice as often as I should. At this point I’m in the area of one night a week where as I want to be at three 4-hour testing sessions a week at the minimum.
Sam: I practice every single day in some form or another. Whether it be watching matches online, spectating OCTGN, playing at locals, or just refining decklists. But as for actual playing, probably a couple of matches a day. Nothing crazy. My work life doesn't allow me to play more than that or I would.
Chris: My practice habits vary depending on whether there are any upcoming events; but at a minimum I put in about 8 hours a week.
Adam: We Have our locals on Tuesdays and then there is another locals about an hour away on Sundays that we attend sometimes. Other than that I'm probably on OCTGN at least once a week jamming games. So I'd say at least 3 times a week.
Our Insight: We jokingly quoted Zenyatta of Overwatch fame last article by saying "Repetition is the path to mastery." Those words ring true here, as you can see that each of these players is putting in more time than just playing on the weekends or at their LGS. They average at least three nights a week of testing. Investing some of your free time in practice WILL improve your results!
3. Outside of testing, about how much time do you spend on FFTCG a week?
Matt: I probably spend such a sick amount of time on this game that it might be embarrassing to admit, haha. I am pretty much always being involved in the community either through Facebook discussions, private chats about cards/decks/ideas, or just random chats about life going on with the FFTCG community. I spend at least 10 hours a week on Meta Potion website either updating the site, talking to partners about Meta Potion, or working on a side project. I am always open to players messaging me and I constantly try to help anyone I can, and I see that in so many other people in the community.
Max: I would say say I spend a great deal of time on FFTCG. During work I am always discussing stuff with my group of like minded colleagues. Its roughly 20 hours a week on that part alone.
Sam: Not long honestly. I’m a part of a ton of group chats about the game but I find most of the discussion circular. Most of the groups also come to the same conclusion fairly quickly so there isn’t much to expand upon. I mostly keep to myself. When it comes to podcasting though, we probably spend about an hour or so a week, and then you have to edit etc. Honestly I wish I had more time to do so. I told myself if I won the Petit Cup I would start streaming. Then I told myself if I won the Crystal Cup that I would start streaming. Here I am, still not streaming. Maybe if I win Nationals. :P
Chris: I spend a couple of hours each week with our content, but not nearly as much time as Adam does. I'm just the voice of the outfit. He is the brains!
Adam: Man depends on the week honestly. I try to make one video a week outside of the podcast which takes several hours to record and edit. We also have several chats we are in where we constantly discuss decks and lines, etc. So it's really hard for me to pinpoint a number, but its a lot. I love this game.
Our Insight: Every one of these players is spending time outside of playing the actual TCG to improve their game. Whether doing research, having in-depth discussions, analyzing their own play or the play of others, creating content, or tackling side projects, one thing is clear: FFTCG is more than just a game to these players. You don't have to be testing to improve your play. Sometimes you can even do it from work!
4. What is one way you prepare for a major tournament?
Matt: I like to prepare for major events by playing the decks I plan to play for the major event at my locals. I try to fine-tune numbers at every local event. I don't focus on winning; I focus on what cards are good, what cards suck, how my curve is, and how my deck does offering me enough lines of play. I think people get stuck being results-orientated and factor in winning/losing into their tournament preparation. While it does matter somewhat, that should not be your focus when preparing for an event. You want to figure out what works and doesn't work for your deck and make sure you exhaust all possible additions you can make. I also like to share my lists with other good players to get their opinion.
Max: Usually before major events I collect tournament data to ensure I’m testing the right things, and to make sure I’m not missing anything.
Sam: I just grind man. I don’t really do much else. I find the opinions of others usually very bias. It’s really hard for people to discern faults when it comes to those things. The newer players have too much ambition and are too verdant to change their style of thinking while the better more experienced players have too much pride and fall under correlation=causation. So I just test as much as possible.
Chris: Jam matchups over and over and over and over, making changes to decks and talking through games along the way.
Adam: I start out with what I think are the best decks and also the decks I want to play. These overlap a lot of the time. We create what's called a 'gauntlet' where one player just plays meta decks against the decks we are testing while slotting in tech cards. This continues until we have one final list that is decided on.
Our Insight: Everybody has their own method to prepare for a major event, but the common theme is obvious: deliberate practice. Each player makes sure that what they are testing is relevant, and does the research to make sure they get the most out of their practice. Also, they just play a ton of games!
5. What is something that you do that you think has really helped you to improve your play?
Matt: I am a big advocate of the term "You play like you practice," so while I practice I try to treat the environment as if I am in a major tournament and make my decisions based off that. While I know luck is a thing (and since this is a TCG luck is slightly involved,) I try to focus on what I did wrong or what I could have done better when I lose. I feel this massively helps me improve. I also think its very important to know your match-ups and what lines of play can set you up to win. For example, if you are playing turbo discard and you are Earth: you mulligan for Wol and slam it turn 1, never play a backup so you can't get hit by Cid Aulstyne (unless you are so far ahead you can play a backup), and then proceed to put them on a 7-turn clock. I gave this advice to Irving who recently Top 4'd GenCon and it worked out very well for him. But yea overall, you need to take your L's and turn them into lessons.
Max: Playing more games. I grew tremendously as a player from the time Opus 3 dropped to Nats because I was testing 4+ nights a week.
Sam: The fact that I enjoy the game so much. It feels very interactive and skill based. I enjoy it a ton. Also the pressure people put on me to do well has pushed me to try harder.
Chris: Taking the time to learn interactions and understanding as many decks as possible. And having a top notch test group!
Adam: Probably just constantly bouncing ideas off other players. I've lost count of how many group chats I'm involved in where we do that. It makes you think of things you probably normally would not.
Our Insight: Take these tips to heart! No matter who you are or how much you practice, there is always a way to improve your play. Draw inspiration from what has worked for these players to find out what works for you.
6. What is a recent misplay you have made, and what did you learn from it?
Matt: A great example recently is in my Top 8 match against Devin in the Quarter-finals of the GenCon Crystal Cup. There was a turn I should have blocked with the 3cp Viking and then cast Glasya Labolas on the Zidane at end-of-turn. Not only does this kill the Zidane, it gets a Viking in my break zone to prevent it from being removed from the game by Shantotto for future Leila plays, and I also draw a card. Instead I didn't block, hit Nidhogg as damage, got Shantotto'd, drew two more Leila's with no viking targets, and the game went downhill from there. TLDR: always block with Viking!
Max: I changed a card in my deck the night before GenCon and lost two rounds to having less threats / that card specifically. The take-away there was that I needed more testing. But my personal / work life was a limiting factor. :(
Sam: I got very distracted during a match because my teammates wouldn’t stop talking about the “what if” of the outcome of my match. It was on the final turn and I used Lenna’s “Arise” on the wrong target in my yard because I was just that distracted. The game was 100% over with him having 0 outs if I chose the right target. I really should have asked them to step away from the table. It didn’t matter for my record because I was top 4 either way but it ended up mattering on tie breakers for some of my teammates. I’m hoping they also learned from it haha.
Chris: A big recent misplay was swinging into a Scott with 5 backups. CHECK POWER BEFORE ATTACKING!!!
Adam: Oh man misplays are the worst. I actually misplayed in swiss of the sealed Crystal Cup. I attacked with a smaller forward into 2 bigger forwards with a Ramuh in hand. So I was thinking 'no matter what, I trade'. I forgot that Aymeric doesn't receive damage less than his power and ended up losing a card and my forward on board. It was a dumb mistake that could have easily been avoided by just reading the board state better. I will not be making that mistake again.
Our Insight: EVERYBODY MISPLAYS. What is important is to, as Matt says, turn your L into a "Lesson!" In every one of these scenarios these players learned something important that will impact every one of their future games. When you lose, take a minute to think about what you could have done to change the outcome. Sometimes it isn't obvious, but reflecting instead of deflecting is critical to your growth.
7. Do you have one piece of advice for a new player who wants better results?
Matt: Have fun! The best advice I can give a new player is to have fun. If you are not having fun you won't have the right state of mind to know what you need to improve on. Find like-minded individuals and theory-craft with them, playtest, share ideas, work together. You are only as strong as your weakest link. The people you play with need to be good in order for you to be good. If you want to improve, do what you can to improve not only yourself but the players you play with.
Max: Just play more. Always try to play with anyone you consider good or even your friends. There are four sure-fire ways to get better at games in general:
- Putting in more reps with something (playing anyone while using the same deck). This helps you understand how your deck works and card interactions.
- Test with players who are better than you. This one can be a bit harder to accomplish, but if you play with people who are arguably better than you, you may begin to understand different lines of play and see things you didn't before.
- When testing, always talk about questionable / risky / cool lines of play and figure out why they did or did not work.
- Use foils.
Sam: Play OCTGN more. Play it seriously. Play it often. While I don’t believe that it helps that much with your physical game (because the way the brain actually works etc) it does let you keep up with the current metagame and let you also play with different cards and synergies in your deck.
Chris: Get over the stigma that playing someone else's deck is bad. Good decks are good for a reason, and if you want to get better you need to understand how those decks work and the interactions involved.
Adam: Get together with at least one other person that is as passionate as you. If you have a scene full of people abuse that resource. Just talking about the game alot will increase your knowledge tenfold. It helps so much to have players to bounce ideas off of. You may not always agree but thats good. It will make you understand why some people thanks certain cards are better than others. Also this gives you a consistent person to test with constantly.
Our Insight: These are tips and tricks straight from the source, and speak for themselves! Take this advice to heart and use it to level up your game!
We hope that you've learned something or found inspiration from this questionnaire and that you are excited to practice! If you would like to share any tips or tricks you have for practice, didn't get a chance to chat to us, or would like to take the questionnaire yourself, just copy the questions and send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will make a follow-up post with any answers you guys send in! Don't forget that no matter how long you have been playing or what your skill level is, you have the potential to improve your play. Practice makes perfect, and we hope that we've given you something to think about during your next match of FFTCG.
by John Schreiner