Why goldfishing hurts more than it helps

Written by Ron Saikowski, February 23, 2018

Let's be honest, we all do it.
We sit down at the table, shuffle up our cards, deal out a hand and start playing a game of Magic ... without an opponent. We keep playing until we reach some arbitrary point when we decide we've accomplished what we set out to do. Whatever that may be.

But "goldfishing" as it's called, hurts more than it helps you.
When you sit down and play like this, there is no accounting for what your opponent is doing. There's no accounting for the resources you lose as a result of their actions. You're not facing an opponent who's doing their best to unravel your plans, destroy your lands, creatures, artifacts, etc. and generally doing everything they can to make your life difficult.

"Everyone has a plan 'till they get punched in the mouth." - Mike Tyson

So what's the big deal? Nobody across the table to create problems. Doesn't sound that bad actually. A nice, casual game at a leisurely pace where I can enjoy my cards, look at the old art and reminisce about matches from long ago. Like I said, I do it all the time.

But's here's the issue: You aren't forced to play your cards in any other way than the "optimal" approach. There's no pressure to play a certain card at an inopportune time because your opponent is tapped out and can't react to you this turn. Simply put, there's nothing to lose. You aren't struggling to pull off any oddball combos, you're not even forced to look for any new combos.

And that's perhaps the biggest thing. Being pushed to look for new solutions.
When playing against someone else (other than a goldfish), you're forced to look at your cards in a different perspective. You're looking at them in relation to a constantly changing environment. An environment where resources on both sides of the board come and go in a moments notice.

There is no warning, there is no preparing. You're constantly being forced to reevaluate the "landscape" in front of you and play accordingly. What was an optimal play a minute ago can change to the worst possible play in the blink of an eye.

This kind of challenge is missing in goldfishing. It will not prepare you for the realities of playing against someone else.

There was a fun little article posted a few years ago by WotC that talks about this and actually lists other "pets" you can play against for fun. Things like turtles, rabbits and dogs. Each having a unique set of actions as your "opponent." It's only a slight step up from the old goldfish though.

Goldfishing... it's for fun. It's not for testing a deck.
You want to test your deck... you need to get in the ring with Mike Tyson.

Related Reading:
Deck Building: Threats or Protection?
The joy of discovering hidden gems in your deck

Image credit: Illustration by Drew Tucker (WotC Dandân card art)