Preparing for a Major Tournament

NARP Series Article 6- Preparing for a Major Tournament – by Chris Gogolen

If you haven’t been to a major tournament before, it’s definitely something I recommend you do at least once in your playing career. I basically define a Major event as any tournament that requires decklists to be provided. They typically also either take more than 1 day to complete, or get more than 20 players. The list currently would include:

The Match Play Championship, Texas Mini-Worlds, Nationals (multiples of these in Europe), SoCal Grand Prix, and the World Championship.

The atmosphere of the event is pretty exhilarating as some of the best players in the world will be gathered under one roof for a weekend of events. But it also goes beyond that. The playing community contains some genuinely nice people who are fun to hang out with outside of the game. So in addition to the multiple tournaments being played all weekend, you will also find people going for meals, having a drink, or playing other CCGs, board games, etc… until the crack of dawn.

Why travel to a Major Event?
Inexperienced players often look at these events as being above their skill level. Why travel hundreds/thousands of miles and spend a fair amount of money to get your butt kicked by some of the best in the world? It’s a fair question, and the answer is two-fold:

1) To have a fun weekend- as I mentioned above, it’s more than just about the actual event. There are plenty of other social activities going on and you can build relationships with other players that may come in handy down the road(such as finding someone to share a room with, or someone local who might lend you a couch to sleep on for a future event).

2) To get better at the game- Iron sharpens Iron. I remember the first big event I traveled to like it was yesterday, and believe me it wasn’t. I had won my share of local tournaments in NJ, basically sticking within an hour driving distance (there were 3-4 stores back then running locals with about 10-14 players each). I had even made the Top 8 of my Regional event (back when Regionals got 40+ players), but I had never really gone outside my immediate playing area. Then I decided to take a little trip to VA Beach for the Decipher World Championships in 1999, and that event changed the trajectory of my playing career. I was not qualified for the Main Event, so I had to play in the Last Chance Qualifier, which had 103 players in it and only the Top 2 would advance. It quickly became apparent that I would not be one of those two. I mustered a respectable 4-4 for the day, finishing somewhere around 43rd. I could have taken this as a demoralizing event and just gone back to my little pond. But I saw this as an opportunity to learn and improve and take a giant step forward. What had beaten me in those 4 games? How did those two guys who advanced both go 7-1 on the day? How did the guys who made it to the World Finals play so well all weekend? I can still pinpoint that weekend all these years later as the first major turning point in my career.

So how can you prepare for your first major event? Let’s cover some important items!

1) How are you getting there? Seems obvious but it’s an opportunity- is it within driving distance? Who else from your area is going? Can you carpool with some of them or share a hotel room? Besides cutting costs and making the trip easier to pull off, it opens up lines of communication. You are going to be stuck in a car for a couple hours with some other guys- that might be a good time to discuss some deck ideas or card choices to fine tune a deck. Maybe they have some suggestions that will make your deck better, or some ideas about how to play against specific decks that might help you perform better.

2) What decks do you plan on playing? Its always a good idea to figure this out at least 1-2 weeks in advance. I recommend preparing and being comfortable playing 2 different decks for each side, and finding the cards to put them together before you get to the event. People are nice and might let you borrow stuff last minute, but don’t bank your weekend on someone else having brought the stuff you need. Ask in advance to make sure you have the cards you want. I recommend bringing two decks just to leave you a little flexible, and because there are a number of side events during the weekend so its good to mix things up a bit and try and keep people guessing about what you might be using for the Main Event. Also, make sure you have all the V slips you need for the cards in your deck. I can’t tell you how many people I see scrambling 5 minutes before the event starts trying to find a virtual slip for a key card in their deck.

3) What decks do you expect to see other people playing(also known as Figuring out the Meta)? This can be one of the most challenging aspects but if you put in a little bit of time doing your homework, it’s not as bad as you might think. There are two things to take into consideration- what players have announced they will be attending the event, and what decks were played by the guys who finished at the top of the prior major event. Major events happen every 2-3 months, and the card pool doesn’t change too much between them. So chances are that if at the last event, the guys who made the Top 8 cut were playing lots of Huntdown-V and Spice Ties, it’s a good assumption that you are going to see at least a handful of people playing these decks at the next event. Try and see what the two most popular decks at the last major were, compare those to the decks used by the guys who finished at the top, and you will have a good idea of the most likely 3-4 decks that will be played that weekend. Now that you know some of the things that you are likely to play against, start practicing against those decks (affectionately referred to as Playtesting). If you go in cold without understanding how those decks work, you will be playing from behind the whole game. By the time you figure it out, you are already a couple turns into the game, and it might be too late to catch up. Perhaps you would have played turns 1-3 differently if you knew more about the deck at the beginning of the game, and that might have led to a different result. The decklists for all major tournaments are posted on the PC site within about a week of the event. They usually are located in the Download Section under the Resources tab.

You can review these and compare them to the list of players who have announced they will be attending, and you will see some patterns emerge about which decks certain players favor. So look up some of the most notable people attending the event and see what decks they have used recently. It will help guide you about what decks might be played, and if you are struggling to find a deck of your own to play, it might also help you figure that out.

4) Be social at the event itself- walk around and introduce yourself to people, talk to your opponent during your games, have a chat with the people running the event. Building relationships is a great way to improve both your playing ability and the amount of fun you have during the weekend. There are a decent number of people who come out for the larger events who don’t believe they are going to win the tournament. So why do they come? They come to play the game, and hopefully win some games along the way. But its also a good excuse to travel and see some friends that you don’t get to see often. Share a meal, have a couple drinks, then play some other games until 3 in the morning. Its not all about the serious competition.Yes, you want to learn and continue to get better, and winning is often more fun than losing, but winning the event doesn’t have to be your sole motivation for attending.

5) If you are playing against someone who’s name you might recognize from performing well at past major events, after your game is over ask them for advice. What could you have done better in the matchup? Are there any cards in your deck that just don’t make sense and are taking up space? Was there something missing from your deck that you should be using? These seeds can really accelerate your learning curve and open up your eyes to strategies that you may not have previously considered or heard about before. Let’s go back to the 1999 event I mentioned earlier. I had just lost a game to a pretty good player and asked him what weaknesses his deck had that maybe I could exploit against someone else later. He told me that he lost a game earlier in the event because of an interesting play by his opponent.

6) He was playing a LS deck that revolved heavily around non-unique cards, and had a card called Yarna D’al’ Gargan on the table. It says that while you have 12 or fewer cards in your hand, your non-unique cards are immune to Monnok. Monnok lets your opponent look through your hand and make any card you have multiples of immediately lost. It can be devastating to decks that rely on non-unique cards if you catch them at the right time. So he was very careful to always make sure that he never had more than 12 cards in his hand. His opponent activated, and then played Set for Stun. Set for stun targets a character, and if you draw destiny > than ability, you return the character to your opponent’s hand. The draw was successful, the non-unique character went back to hand, giving him 13 cards in hand, and then his opponent played Monnok, and made him lose 5 copies of the non-unique character. Then he proceeded to force drain and make him lose a few more cards, thus burying those characters far enough in his lost pile that they would be difficult to retrieve. When you look at the scenario it’s a great idea, and some would see it as a very obvious interaction, but at that point in my development I can admit that the idea had never even occurred to me. If I never asked my opponent for pointers, who knows how much longer it would have taken me to learn that idea, and start thinking of things a little more “outside the box”.

7) If it’s an event you are driving to, and you can only make it for the one tournament and drive out the morning of the event, leave yourself some extra time. If the tournament starts at 10am, don’t plan on getting there at 10am. Plan on being there at 930, so if you hit a little extra traffic or have trouble finding parking you aren’t in danger of missing the start of the tournament. The events never start exactly on time, but many of them will begin the first game within 15 minutes of the scheduled start time. Also, if the event required Deck Lists- fill them out in advance. You don’t want to be sitting in the tournament room frantically filling out your decklist 5 minutes before the event. You are likely to make a mistake writing them, and you are advertising to anyone walking around the room what exactly you are playing that day. Even if it’s too late for them to change any cards, they can still start brainstorming about how they would match up against your deck and come up with a strategy that they might not have had time to think of without the advanced knowledge of what you are playing. (As we discussed in Item #3)

8) HAVE FUN! It’s a game, games are meant to be fun. If you don’t win, its not the end of the world. It just gives you something to go back home and work on. Go back to your local play group and tell the people who didn’t go all about your weekend. Not just the games you played, but about everything that you did all weekend. Share some of the concepts your learned, what you saw people playing, the crazy stories you heard from other players about their games, how you won $7 playing Liar’s Dice at 3 in the morning, etc… It will probably inspire at least one of them to want to travel to the next large event, and now you’ve got someone else to share a room with!

I hope this article has encouraged you to attend and looking forward to seeing plenty of you at major events in the near future. Check the Players Committee forums often- like I said there are always big events on the horizon.

“Live the journey, because every destination is but a doorway unto another” ~ Old Eternian Saying



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