August 3, 2016

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6 Steps to Prepare for a Major Tournament

This week I’m going to take a little break from my usual Budget Brew article and write about something I’m currently going through – getting ready for a major tournament.

With the Pro-Tour less than a week away, and the large event I’m getting to go to (SCG NY) only a few weeks away I wanted to write something about getting ready for a big tournament. I’m not really an authority on the subject or anything like that and I’d recommend reading the pros’s articles about such topics over mine, but I’m going to gear this towards people like myself.

We’re a lot more casual than the pros. Sure, maybe we dream of getting on the Pro Tour or being able to grind to some success the SCG Tour, but life’s got us and we’re not seriously going to be making any real attempts to do either of these. Maybe it’s because of the job you work demands you work weekends, maybe it’s the wife and kid, or if you’re like me it’s both of those things. So, we stick to playing at FNM and maybe talking our wives into letting us go to a different local tournament now and then like Game Day, but every so often the stars align and we get to go to something major. Something 500+ people are going to be going to all playing this game we love. These are the real weekends. The weekends we can actually dream we’re going to be able to have a break out performance and something incredible might happen.

Well, again, if you’re anything like me you haven’t had that happen (yet). I’ve been to a few large events: GP Richmond 2015 SCG NY Open, and a few SCG Regional events. The best I’ve ever done? 2-3, drop. Yup. This is why I’m surprised I’m even allowed to write for any website, let alone the two that I do write for. I’m what I like to call, a casual try-hard. I’m casual, but I try hard locally and online, and like to think I’m a good Magic player… until I get into a room with 500+ other much, much better Magic players and I’m knocked down to realize I’m very, very bad at this game.

How do you get better? How do you get on the level to be able to make Day 2 of one of these large events? Well, I really don’t know for certain, but it’s my goal this tournament at SCG NY. I don’t want to just do better than I’ve ever done. I want to make Day 2.

Step 1: Know the Format.

Not just the format of the tournament (but, I’d definitely recommend knowing that too) but the meta game of the format. Is it a Standard format? Well, make sure you have a decent Bant Company and U/W Spirits match-up. Is it a Modern tournament? Get ready to face decks like Grixis Delver, Jeskai Nahiri, Infect, Affinity among others. Make sure your deck is either already good against the expected field, or that you can shore up the match-up after Sideboard.

My upcoming tournament is Modern. Modern is a very diverse meta-game right now. According to the only deck to hold 10% or above of the meta is Zoo, and that I believe has come up in the last week. The other popular decks sitting at 7%+ are four or five of various strategies of control, and aggro.

Step 2: Pick a Deck you Like to Play.

Yeah, we’re going to be going to a big tournament and we want to do reasonably well, at the same time blowing the amount of money we’re going to be spending with GP prices going up and up, and then the price of the hotel room and everything we still want to make sure we have a good time while we play. So, if you’re heading to a standard tournament but you don’t like playing any of the top decks? Well, hopefully you can steal some matches so you don’t go 0-3. Otherwise, you can still go and play side events. Draft till your eyes bleed. Play the Side events for whatever your favourite format is (maybe that Vintage tournament will be able to fire!).

My deck of choice for the tournament is Ad Nauseam. It holds a whopping 2% share of the current Modern meta game and you see it have a top 8 finish here and there in WMCQ’s, IQ’s, Competitive Leagues, and whatever else. It even won GP Charlotte. It’s an unexpected deck that can combo and win at instant speed on Turn 4. The deck goldfishes faster than some of the other decks in the format, and can win at instant speed which helps versus control. The deck’s biggest selling point? It’s unexpected. Who the hell plays the janky Ad NauseamAngel’s Grace combo? Only 2% of players play, so it doesn’t warrant any sideboard slots. The decks downside is that if you don’t find Ad Nauseam you probably don’t win. I’m glancing over that fact since it plays all sorts of cantrips and scry lands.

Step 3: Know Your Deck.

This one is probably the most important part of any of this. Knowing the various lines with various decks helps you out tremendously especially in a format like Legacy or Modern. Then taking that a step further would be knowing how your deck interacts with other various decks in the format. Testing is the reason you have “super teams” develop at the Pro-Tour level and fly to the city that the Pro-Tour is going to be held weeks in advance and set up an apartment or a house and do nothing, but build decks and test possible decks versus each other. This is how they decide on what deck to play when there’s thousands of dollars and the all important Pro Points.

Then there’s other teams that have a day job, or families, or for whatever reasons can’t fly early to do anything, but play Magic for two weeks with some of their closest friends. Sam Black and company do a lot of their testing right online and don’t even see each other until maybe the day before. Now testing over MTGO can be pretty expensive, so it’s a good thing that there are things like XMage (the best option), Cockatrice, or You can find other serious players on these various servers to test your meddle with, try to come out ahead, and learn what people are playing so you can try and be ready for them.

Step 4: Get a Good Nights Rest & Eat a Good Breakfast.

This, I know, is probably one of the most overlooked steps but it’s very important. You’re about to hit a tournament with many rounds in a single day (the Opens have 9 rounds on Day 1) and it can get grueling. Your eyes might not bleed, but you will get very tired. Who would have thought sitting in a chair and playing Magic could be so tiring? So, get your rest.

After sleeping you want to make sure you’re not starving all day. Food at events is overpriced and probably not very good for you or good tasting. Have a good breakfast and hit all the food groups. It’ll probably be wise to stay away from a carb heavy breakfast as well, so you don’t crash and want to fall asleep across from your opponent when those delicious chocolate and peanut butter pancakes burn you out.

Step 5: Be Prepared.

This one could actually fit in anywhere, but I’ve included it here because you want to make sure you have certain things with you before you go to the event, or that you know for a fact that a vendor will have the last couple of last minute items you’ll need. Things like a scorepad and pen are almost mandatory. You don’t need to use it to keep track of your life, but Judge’s frown heavily on using dice in REL events and the cell phone rules means you can’t use that either. Pad and Paper are the best way to go.

Tokens are another big thing to have. When I was on Jeskai Tokens in Standard, I always had to make sure I had goblin tokens and soldier tokens and enough dice to figure out how big things were. It’s a good way to make sure everyone knows the board state, and it helps keep your sanity. Also, if you’re playing a card like Swan Song it’d be nice if you have the swan token for your opponent.

The other things I like to bring with me (or tell myself I should always have and never do) are little snacks and a bottle of water. Again, food is overpriced at events and you’re probably carrying around a backpack anyway so why not throw a few packs of nuts or something in it with a bottle of water to help get you through the day.

Step 6: Have fun.

It’s the most important part of Magic. It’s why we all come together at FNM, or during whatever local events might be going on. Sure, it’s nice to win and I can be a bit of a spike, but if at some point I didn’t think Magic was fun anymore? I’d sell the cards and be done with it. Why spend $80 to go to a Grand Prix and be miserable?

This is how I’m attacking SCG NY coming up, and hopefully, I’ll be able to do better than I have yet (c’moooon day 2, plzplzplzplzplz). I think this is how the pros do it as well, or at least part of it.