Practice Makes Perfect II:
Tools For Success
In part one of our series on practice, we talked about what deliberate practice is and why it's important. Inspired and excited to practice, how exactly should we go about doing it? Everyone has a different preference, and often we can't get the type of practice that we want due to distance, time, or other constraints. Many communities aren't large enough to host more than one local a week, and some players don't yet have a local to attend. It's always possible to practice and improve, even if you're alone at home. Where there's a will, there's a way! Many players only practice when they go to locals or get together with friends. There's nothing wrong with that! However if we truly want to elevate our play to the next level, we need to put in some reps on our own.
While obviously not the ideal way to practice, we've listed it first because it's the most important. Playing FFTCG against another player is surely the best form of practice, but isn't always available to us. There are many ways that you can invest your free time at home into improving your play. Goldfishing is one of the ways that you can test without another player. Goldfishing is a term used in TCGs to refer to the practice of playing without an opponent on one's own, typically by drawing a starting hand and continuing to play as if your opponent has no response. Goldfishing really helps you to get a feel for how your deck can run on a fundamental level. Important information like how often you get a good start, how the diversity of forwards, backups, monster and summons feel as you play, and how it feels to use certain combos can easily be gleaned by playing a few games on your own. Ask yourself questions as you play. Do you mulligan almost every game? Are you drawing your combo pieces regularly, or does a combo feel difficult to set up? If you deck isn't running smoothly on its own, it is sure to stumble across from another player. Are you worried about a certain matchup? Set different scenarios for yourself. How would your deck feel if your opponent had one removal option every turn? Simulate how you would fare against Turbo discard by drawing your hand, discarding three cards, and playing off the top-deck. If you're having trouble with Mono Lightning, play turns assuming they have al-cid combo in their hand and see how you would play around it. While this isn't nearly as nuanced as playing against a real player, goldfishing can give you a lot of information on how your deck performs in different situations.
Research is another excellent way to spend your free time. By reading this article, you're already on the right path! Checking tournament results, listening to podcasts, reading articles, and discussing FFTCG with other players are all easy ways to improve your practice by investing time alone. If you know what decks have been doing well lately, you can get more deliberate practice in by testing against those matchups. Listening to podcasts and checking tournament results can let you tap into the practice of other players by distilling information on what does and doesn't work from their experiences. RVA Returners, FXBG Turks, Chocobros, The Break Zone, EmoTempest, Metapotion, Joesephyr and so many other content creators are constantly talking about their experience with different decks and giving you plenty of information to use for your own practice. Sites like FFDecks act as an amazing resource - posting tournament results and deck lists with easy access to statistics on different builds. Brewing new decks on FFDecks is another great way to invest your time alone. Knowing all of the cards in the game is invaluable and by constantly tinkering and playing with different lists and combinations you are much more likely to identify powerful interactions.
Running the Gauntlet
Since we're on the topic of TCG slang, another term that you might hear when talking about practice is "gauntlet" In card games, running the gauntlet means taking a deck and testing it against a "gauntlet" made up of a series of top-tier decks, popular decks, and decks that have won recent events. If you're going into a major event, there is always a certain field of decks that you can expect to see. While the "meta" changes often, thanks to the resources we mentioned before it is easy to do some research and identify which decks are doing well that you need to test against. It's impossible to test every deck a significant number of times against any given match-up. By creating a "gauntlet" you can make sure that you are prepared for the decks that you believe you are most likely to see. If a deck can't hold its own against Mono Ice, Mono Lightning or Earth/Wind, you can expect to have a lot of trouble in a tournament. There are certain elements that you should be prepared to face.
Players in Facebook groups have had discussions about what decks should be in their own gauntlet. If you aren't already, you should be in some kind of social chat group with other FFTCG players. Discord and Facebook are two major options, and there are plenty of friendly, welcoming communities happy to talk shop. Reach out to other players and see if they want to chat FFTCG. Players are passionate about this game and are often excited to talk about it! Have a conversation with your testing partners and other groups about what decks you feel are appropriate for your own gauntlet, and then test any new brews against it. Make sure that you record your results! Like we talked about in part one, tracking your progress and recording your results is crucial to deliberate practice and will help you get the most out of your time. When you're testing with your group, don't be afraid to talk through plays. If you are unsure which line of play to take, explain to your opponent what your decisions would be and see how they would respond. Which line would be more difficult for them to deal with? You can get a lot of insight on how different decks will handle your threats this way. After games, find out what aspects of your deck were the hardest for them to answer. Discuss techs or changes that you may be able to make to impact the match-up, and run it again. "Repetition is the path to mastery."
While there is no official way to play the Final Fantasy Trading Card Game online, that doesn't have to stop you from getting in games against other players from home. There are a few different ways that you can play FFTCG over the internet, and there are large communities of players who are just itching to play together.
OCTGN - OCTGN is a downloadable application that has a plugin for FFTCG. Once you download and install OCTGN, the FFTCG plugin, and the image packs you can browse for lobbies of players. Many of the games listed will have informative titles like "Casual Play", "Serious Testing", and "Testing Against [deck]." You are able to build decks in the program or import them directly from FFDecks.com. One of the nice things about OCTGN is the rules for FFTCG are (for the most part) coded into the plug-in. This means it enforces paying proper costs for cards and abilities, visibly adjusts power on cards, and has well-defined zones for the different types of card. Some drawbacks of OCTGN are it does require a bit of additional setup, and it isn't natively compatible with Mac. To get started with OCTGN, click the links above and follow the instructions.
Untap.in - Untap is a browser-based application that natively supports the FFTCG. It also allows you to both directly build decks through the site or import lists from FFDecks.com. Unlike OCTGN, Untap is able to be used on a Mac and requires no additional setup at all. Some of the drawbacks of Untap are that it does not enforce any of the rules, and it tends to be used by less players. Personally I think that Untap is best when you are playing somebody who you know or you are in voice chat with, since the players will need to enforce the rules themselves. To get started on Untap, all you need to do is visit untap.in and make an account.
Skype or Discord - Ahhh, the old-school tried and true. You can always fire up your webcam, point it down at your desk, and play vs a friend on video chat through Skype, Discord, or your preferred video chat software. Make sure that you open your webcam settings and flip the video so that your opponent can see the cards face up instead of upside-down. Drawbacks to this method are obvious; you don't get clear card images, you must have the physical cards that you are testing with, you must have a webcam, and you have to have a friend who you can play with. That being said, it's still a viable option if you're hungry to play!
Saving the Best For Last
Hopefully if you felt like you weren't able to get as much practice in as you like, this has inspired you to find productive ways to invest your time in getting better at FFTCG. Goldfish on your own and do research on top decks, use that information to create and run a gauntlet during testing, and get games in online when you have the chance. By playing and practicing more deliberately and more often, you will see a marked improvement in your performance at your next tournament. In the next part of our series on practice, we've asked some of the best players from around the country what their practice habits are, and what tips they have for you to level up your game!
By John Schreiner
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