I talk a fair bit about testing my decks, and indeed deck testing accounts for a significant proportion of my time playing this game, but I’ve never before really detailed how I test decks, which strikes me as a fruitful line of discussion. Now I should mention at this point that I don’t think there is a definitively correct way to test your decks. You do whatever works for you regardless of what other people might prefer. But there are definitely worthwhile insights to be found by examining the question.
So how to test a deck? If you built it on RingsDB you might want to try the card draw simulator to simulate some opening hands and just see if anything strikes you as wrong. For proper testing though presumably you’ll want to play a game. But what game? Well, step one is to consider the deck. Different decks should be tested in different ways. What is the deck intended to do? Is it intended for solo or multiplayer, and if multiplayer specifically higher player counts or any? Do you want it to be a solid choice against pretty much anything or is it geared towards certain types of quests? All these points have to be considered.
In the end, while there are many points to be considered, there are only two or three significant things you need to decide about your deck testing – what quest(s) are you playing, how many players/hands are you testing it with, and if that’s more than one, what other deck(s) are you pairing it with. Where all the points of consideration are significant is in figuring out sensible answers to those questions.
First let’s consider the quest(s) question, starting with a sub-question of how many quests do you play? Personally, I tend to stick to one in most cases, but arguments can certainly be made for more. A big part of it is just how diligent you want to be in refining your deck – multiple plays are a good idea if you really want to optimise the deck a lot, but if you just want it to be good enough, then one may be fine. The other aspect is how confident you are in the deck and the ideas behind it, which often depends on the complexity of them – a deck which is fairly straightforward you can probably tell it works more easily, whereas if your deck is based around some janky combo then you want to be sure the first success wasn’t just a fluke. One success means it’s possible for the deck to work but if you want to be sure it’s reasonably consistent then multiple tests would make sense.
And then of course the main point – what quest(s)? Once again this depends on the nature of your deck. If your deck is intended to be general purpose, good for pretty much anything, then any reasonably challenging quest is a valid choice – you could play multiple quests which challenge you in different ways or one which is well-rounded and hits the players on all fronts. On the other hand, if your deck is more specialised then there will be some quests it won’t work for – or indeed there may be only a specific selection of quests it does work for. For example, if you’re trying a Trap deck then quests with less enemies, enemies which can’t have attachments and enemies with negative effects just for being in play are not such great choices. If your deck focuses on exploring locations in the staging area then Temple of the Deceived isn’t a great choice for it. If you’re using Lanwyn you want to play a quest with Surge cards in the encounter deck. That sort of thing. On a lower level there can be more of a debate – for example, a Secrecy deck might have problems with any quest that involves a lot of threat raises, such as Fog on the Barrow Downs, but there you could go either way on it depending on the deck – you might avoid those quests on the reasoning that your deck is simply not intended to work in that sort of environment, or you might deliberately play such a quest since it would represent one of the greatest potential challenges to the functioning of your deck – the attitude of “If it works here, it’ll work anywhere.” Which approach you take to challenging your deck or putting it in favourable conditions really depends on the deck and on your own preferences. Again, there’s no right or wrong way to do this. If you’re testing a deck with a view to refining it further, your focus need not always be on challenging the deck so much as fine-tuning the deck’s internal functionality, in which case to paraphrase Gandalf, the quest need not be great enough for any assault in earnest upon your deck, so long as it be great enough to challenge battle.
The one final point I’ll make is that obviously making these judgements requires you to know the quests reasonably well. I know the quests pretty well in general tone, and still can’t necessarily call to mind quests of a certain character without thinking for a while, so I often simply select quests at random and reject any which don’t fit my criteria, but equally if you want to be more organised about this you could consider putting together lists of good quests for all-round challenge, combat, locations, etc.
Next the question of how many players/hands you test with. Obviously for a solo deck you test in solo, that’s easy enough. If your deck is intended for multiplayer but will also work in solo then testing it solo can be simpler, though you won’t be able to assess its multiplayer interactions that way. A more focused deck obviously needs to be played in multiplayer. If your deck is just focused generally on questing or combat then you should be alright in 2 player paired up with the other one, obviously. If your deck has more of a support theme such as scrying, location control, Traps, etc, that lends itself more to 3 or 4 players and so I’d generally go with 3 just because it’s easier to play 3 hands than 4 but I still get a reasonable experience of how I intended the deck to work.
Finally, assuming you are playing multiplayer/multi-handed, what decks do you pair up with? There’s value in spreading out across all four spheres, though it’s certainly not essential by any means. Making sure you have access to healing somewhere is likely to be significant. I mentioned further up that in 2 player you can just pair up a questing deck and a combat deck, and if you’re testing a support deck I would say you want to pair it up with both a questing deck and a combat deck. You should obviously bear in mind any potential uniqueness clashes, though that’s not absolutely inflexible. Your selection of other decks may be dictated entirely by these player-deck-related factors or you may also be influenced by what quest you’ve chosen to play.
OK, that wasn’t actually finally. Actually finally, there are a couple of respects in which I would say deck testing differs, or at least can differ, from playing the game normally.
The first mostly applies while playing the game and is a certain amount of flexibility, sometimes disregarding uniqueness clashes or allowing more retcons than you otherwise might. In the case of the uniqueness clashes, I don’t mean allowing 2 Stewards of Gondor, as that would really be unbalancing, but say you realise as you’re getting into the game that one of your decks relies on the ally version of a hero who is in another deck. This I would tend to allow because it’s not particularly unbalancing, and because the companion decks not being tested are merely intended as representative of a variety of potential companion decks the deck you are testing could end up alongside. As regards retcons, I allow them more while testing because what I’m testing is that my deck *can* beat quests, not that it absolutely does beat them every time. Allowing a retcon is simpler and easier than restarting the quest to get a more favourable outcome. This applies even more if the retcon applies to an error I have made in piloting the deck, since I’m testing the deck, not myself. If following the retcon I win the game, then I have adequately demonstrated that the deck can win if piloted correctly, and I’ve learned from my mistake so hopefully I won’t repeat it in a proper game where I wouldn’t allow myself that retcon.
The second respect in which testing can be different to playing normally for me relates primarily to choice of quests and companion decks, though potentially also somewhat to how you pilot the decks you’ve chosen. It’s based on the principle that in testing a deck, generally you want to determine how well it functions as a single self-sufficient entity irrespective of what quest you’re playing it against or other decks you’re playing it alongside. With that in mind, I try to avoid companion decks or quests which will alter the functioning of the deck I’m testing – so no quests which take heroes away, if I play a Sailing quest the deck being tested always takes the Dream-Chaser since the other ships would alter how the deck functions, if one of my companion decks contains Beravor or Galadriel I avoid targeting their abilities on the deck I’m testing as I want to know how well their card draw will function in an environment where my fellow players aren’t helping me that way (or indeed aren’t able to help me), likewise potentially avoiding throwing resources around with Errand-riders or Theodred (I’d allow Bifur though, because Bifur is a part of my deck put in with the intent of being able to get resources from around the table). I even go so far sometimes as to try and avoid Deep Knowledge in companion decks so I can get a pure idea of how well my testing deck draws in isolation. This may seem a bit extreme, and it would certainly be reasonable for me to conclude that the deck is OK so long as other players have a little bit of card draw such as Deep Knowledge to help out with and consider that acceptable, because it’s not too significant a request to make of your fellow players, but it’s good to have that information, rather than assume the deck works fine regardless only to find yourself not drawing your useful cards because no-one’s helping you out and losing the game as a result.
So that’s a brief-ish overview of the points I take into consideration when testing my decks. I hope it’s in some way helpful to you and may inform your own deck testing – though just to reiterate once again, you needn’t do the same as me, there is no right or wrong way to do it.