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Effective Playtesting

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Effective Playtesting

Narrated by Mark Chamberlain


This article is narrated, but requires a Rathe Times subscription to experience.

Whether you are someone with dreams of one day winning a Flesh and Blood Pro Tour or just hoping to win your local Armory events, you need to practice- a lot. However, not all practice is created equal. There is so much more to learning how to play a deck well than just jamming as many games as you can repeatedly. Today I'm sharing my approach to playtesting- the questions I ask and the parameters I set around our games- to maximize the value of my testing.

Ask The Right Questions

The fastest- and least intrusive- way to improve the effectiveness of your playtesting is my asking the right questions.

Which cards/equipment are feeling powerful, and which feel terrible?

There will always be cards that over- and under-perform in your deck. When you identify certain cards as not pulling their weight, you don't have to play it safe when replacing them! This newly-discovered deck slot is the perfect place to try new ideas, or to go against conventional wisdom. Maybe Enchanting Melody helps you establish a proactive defense on your turn. Or Exude Confidence is actually better than Command and Conquer in your hyper-aggressive deck. Initially, I was very hesitant to include a card like Ironhide Gauntlet in my decks; but after a few games of testing, I was sold that they can be clutch when the right moments present themselves. A healthy amount of experimenting is critical to good playtesting.

Am I comfortable with my Red/Yellow/Blue ratios? And how often was I stymied by pitch costs?

If you want to get real scientific about it, this should really be done with a spreadsheet and a hypergeometric calculator. But it's also okay to determine this by feel, so long as you're able to get in enough reps to make a confident claim that your read is reliably based. Try to average out the cost of all the cards you intend on playing and make sure that the average hand you will draw over the cost of the game can pitch enough to support these costs.

What opportunities did I have available after using 1 or 2 cards to defend?

Many players start out by thinking about the potential of a 4-card hand. But by the time you're done deck building, if you haven't pulled your head back down from the clouds, you're going to feel like your deck is under-performing in a big way! Always keep track of how effective your deck runs after you need to commit cards defending your opponents' attacks. Likewise, keep in mind that the need to commit to your attack phase is going to vary by the deck. Oldhim only needs to keep 1 blue Ice card to consistently implement its gameplan, whereas more aggressive heroes have huge returns when playing 4 or 5 card hands.

Have Specific Goals When Testing

Of course, playing Flesh and Blood is fun- that's what brought us to the table, right?- but when you're trying to seriously playtest, it's crucial to have a goal outside of just having a good time.

Often, players are just trying to figure out whether or not their deck is "favored" in the matchup. While this information would be helpful, it is improbable that you and your partner will play enough games to accurately understand the true win rates of the two decks against each other. I will often hear players say, "This match feels like an 80-20 split between wins and losses"- which just sounds like, "60 percent of the time, the deck wins every time." 

One of the most important goals I routinely set for my testing is figuring out which deck is more aggressive in the match. If one deck is much faster at presenting damage or operating more efficiently than the other, you need to understand why and what strategies you can use with your deck. Figure out if you need to be blocking more often than not and what types of hands can successfully disrupt or race your opponent.

Remember The Stakes- Or Lack Of Them

Often during casual games with my testing partner, I lay my hand on the table and ask, "How can I best use these cards?" Flesh and Blood is an incredibly complicated game, and the different lines and possibilities each hand presents are genuinely staggering. Asking questions while you play and verbalizing your thoughts and ideas out loud is a great way to learn and grow as a player. Even if your first instinct turns out to have been correct, having someone question your reasoning and make you explain why you are playing in a certain way helps everyone involved.

I'll take it a step further: I highly encourage allowing reasonable takebacks during your playtesting sessions. You do not want the results of your games to be skewed by mistakes or bad plays. While a handful of your opponents might make a game-ending mistake on accident throughout a tournament, you should not rely on that when deciding what lines to take or what deck to play. You and your partner should be trying to have the best quality of games possible between the two of you, in order to understand the game's dynamics, not the dynamics of human mistakes.

If you or your partner begin to see consistent bad habits in your play, do your best to take note of them and spend a single game being extremely mindful of that mistake. One of the biggest opportunities available to you while testing is modifying the playspace in an attempt to fix bad habits. For example, you could write out a note that says “Tick up Tunic” in your pitch zone so you always remember to do it. Once you start ticking it up enough times at the start of a turn, you will begin to develop a “muscle memory” for these routine triggers and you won’t need to focus on them during your game.

Play More Than One Deck

"Know thy enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles, you will never be defeated. When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal. If ignorant both of your enemy and of yourself, you are sure to be defeated in every battle." – Sun Tzu

Flesh and Blood cards can be expensive; but when playtesting, no one is going to call you out for proxies. One of the best uses for bulk cards is writing over them with a sharpie to build test decks. This method also lets you try out decks and strategies before committing your hard-earned dollars to purchasing them.

If you don't have this option, try switching decks with your partner for a few games. When you have a solid understanding of how your deck functions, you have a solid understanding of its weaknesses.

This lesson does have practical limits. Ultimately, everyone only has so much time to give to practice, and there is not much to be gained by learning the ins and outs of Levia vs. Azalea if you're not running either of them! When time is a limiting factor, focus on one or two top decks represented in the current meta.

Be Respectful

Mark Chamberlain wrote an excellent piece recently on tournament preparation and respect. Going into a session with unrealistic expectations or a bad attitude will do way more harm than good. Mark put it best when he said,

"Don't put people down, and don't make fun of other people's choices, and don't yell at people. Do not threaten anyone, or intimidate them, or make fun of them. I know that for a lot of us, this stuff seems obvious, but nevertheless it should be said for anyone who was wondering. We are all here to have a great time playing great games, and that does not have to come at anyone else's expense."

If you ever feel yourself becoming frustrated with your games or not in the right headspace to play, walk away and take a break. Ultimately, Flesh and Blood is a game, and it's not worth sacrificing friendships or your mental health over.


While these are the points I considered to be the most critical, I am sure they are far from everything that can help you during your next practice session. Let me know if there is anything that you think about or implement during your sessions in the comments!

Audio narration by Mark Chamberlain | Background music by Wavecont | Music promoted by | Licensed under creative commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International

Discussion (2)

Author Kevin

Kevin Brayer

2 years ago
This is a great piece. I try and do a lot of this stuff with my testing group as well, particularly the takebacks and consulting other players about optimizing lines. Another aspect to maximizing your testing value (that you probably just felt goes without saying) is testing against "real" decks far more often than not. It's fun to jam into someone's janky brew from time to time, but unless it's one of the rare occasions when a brewer strikes gold, the player facing the brew list probably isn't getting a great deal out of it.


2 years ago
It's definitely good to allow any and all take backs during practice, to get a better idea of what happens when you (or your opponent) play perfectly. A great read with some insights I hadn't thought of before!

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