Eternal Europe – Outside Influence

Carsten is preparing for the Bazaar of Moxen in Paris this weekend, but a lot of your success at an event relies on the externals. He breaks down the fundamentals of self-maintenance in long tournaments and avoiding unnecessary problems.

Outside Influences

I’m writing these words on the verge of leaving for the Bazaar of Moxen, and this weekend is also going to see the StarCityGames.com Open Series in Los Angeles and the Eternal Weekend in Philadelphia, featuring both the Legacy and Vintage Championships of 2013. In short, big tournaments await.

Everything is ready. You’ve been testing for weeks, your deck is all tweaked and teched out for the metagame you expect. You’ve trained, relentlessly, honing your skill to a fine edge. Clearly, you’re ready to take it down, to finally prove to yourself and your peers that you’re ready to play with the big boys. But are you?

If you’ve never been to a large event before, if you’ve never played for a grueling ten hours straight, you might still be ready – but almost assuredly less so than you expect. Having success at a large event is only partially decided by how good you and your deck are. There are a lot of factors that figure in, ones that don’t have anything to do with Magic itself – and those are what I’d like to talk about today. After all, forewarned is forearmed, as the saying goes.

Game Losses are Bad!

Duh, right? Well, sadly as obvious as it sounds, game losses for deck registration errors or marked sleeves happen again and again. And if you think about it, that isn’t even all that surprising. When was the last time your weekly event ran deck checks? How often have you been punished by the people you see week after week for running your crappy old sleeves back once again or because you put a couple of cards back off your Brainstorm the wrong way around before shuffling? If your events are like mine, the answer is “basically never.”

Do not take that mindset to a large event! Yes, I know this seems extremely basic, but I’ve missed out on two PTQ Top Eights (yes, I sometimes play non-Eternal formats) because my sleeves weren’t up to snuff (though I suspect foul play as far as the second time is concerned) and also gotten more than one game loss for having errors on my decklist, so I know what I’m talking about here.

At large events the rules enforcement level is generally high enough for these things to really matter, so don’t just double-check your decklist. Triple-check it, make subtotals and add them up to 60 and 15 and then go over it once again to make sure those are the correct seventy-five. After every round, check your sideboard and maindeck to make sure you’ve actually reverted to your main deck. Count your deck before each game, maybe by doing a pile shuffle. It’s painful to try to make sixteen Goblins on turn one for the win only to realize you forgot to switch your Ad Nauseam back to the Empty the Warrens you usually have maindeck.

In that same vein, don’t be a miser with your sleeves. Sleeves become marked quite rapidly. You’re paying good money to play here and nothing is worse than ruining your chances because you didn’t want to spend another couple of dollars on a new pack of sleeves. Re-sleeve before the event, check your sleeves when pile-shuffling and sideboarding, and replace any that could be considered marked on the spot.

If you have that terrible habit of ignoring the direction of cards in your deck, get rid of it. Having some of your cards upside-down not only ruins your sleeves, it automatically makes those cards stand out and thereby makes them marked. Whenever you look through your deck, keep an eye out for misaligned cards. When you sideboard, make sure everything is in order. In short, don’t be lazy. Make sure you don’t cost yourself a win just because you can’t be bothered to do things by the book.

Nine Rounds Is Long

Magic is hard. Really hard. Playing Magic well requires a lot of focus and forces your brain to work overtime pretty much continuously. Don’t keep it from doing its job due to adverse conditions. If you aren’t blessed with the SCG Open Series circuit, you probably aren’t used to playing for ten hours straight. Make sure you get enough sleep, keep hydrated and maintain your blood sugar levels. Use the restroom whenever you feel the slightest need. Also, don’t get drunk the evening before the event. The party might be sweet, but celebrating your trophy come Sunday is even sweeter, right?

Yes, I know, there are all those stories where it didn’t matter. I mean, I won my first big Vintage event when I was pretty much still drunk after a friend of mine had celebrated his birthday the evening before until the wee hours of the morning. I won that tournament in spite of my state, not because of it. For every time you run good and things just come together perfectly, there will be a dozen in which you miss important lines or forget about the counter they signaled two turns ago. Don’t make your big events one of that dozen.

This advice also holds true for unhealthy things. If you plan to stop smoking, that’s a great idea. It’s a pointless habit that doesn’t actually do you any good (I oughta know, you can generally find me outside calming my addiction between rounds). The day of a big event is not a great moment to start stopping, though. If your body is used to the nicotine, make sure it gets enough of it for these last two days. Withdrawal is really bad for your concentration, so Monday is still early enough to stop.

Paper Cuts

Take care with your game notes. Make sure you keep track of life totals well, and verify them whenever you aren’t sure you and your opponent are on the same page. If you write down cards from their hand or take notes about what they have in their deck during a game, make sure you do it the same way every time. If you’re playing a deck like Storm that demands keeping track of a lot of intangibles, make sure you have a notation you’re comfortable with*. Write down everything that isn’t obvious from the game state (like, say, what Meddling Mage named). You want your brain to be able to concentrate on the game, not how you’re keeping track of things.

*Please, for the love of God, don’t use dice to keep track of your mana, your spells, the number of High Tides played this turn or whatever. Dice can fall over and don’t leave a trail you can follow when things get mixed up. Crossed out letters and numbers or simple tick marks on paper tell the story almost by themselves. They’ll make it much easier to show the judge what was going on should things get tangled up somehow.

Another thing concerning life pads – use a fresh page for every round. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve won games because my opponents put down a notepad with life totals and game notes from previous rounds on it, basically telling me straight up what kind of deck they were playing. Paper isn’t expensive enough to offset the price that comes from spewing information this way.

Clarity Is King

Make sure to communicate clearly. Magic is complicated and fast, a lot of things happen that you don’t expect to. Announce your spells, announce your targets. If there’s a trigger you want to be sure resolves, clearly indicate it. If you want to do something, say so. When you put Infernal Tutor on the stack and need a moment to think before cracking your Lion’s Eye Diamond, clearly state that you’re holding priority. When you’re casting Flusterstorm and want to target multiple spells, don’t be my Reanimator opponent from Amsterdam – let your opponent know that you’re thinking and not waiting for them to respond.

One particularly big offender here is the little word “Okay.” Don’t use it. I’ve used “Okay” for things from telling my opponent their spell resolves or acknowledging I understand what they’ve played to indicating that I’m thinking about possible responses. I’ve even used it unconsciously, talking more to myself than my opponent. That’s a terrible habit to be in, especially in events where people don’t share a native language. Best case, you get a long discussion with your opponent when the two of you each have taken it to mean something totally different. Worst case, a judge rules you just allowed a lethal Lightning Bolt to resolve when you were merely thinking which of your five counterspells to use on it.

Ask The Judge

Don’t be afraid of the judges. Calling a judge is neither accusing your opponent of cheating nor impolite in any other way. Whenever you don’t understand an interaction, whenever something isn’t clear about the game state or whenever anything happens you didn’t expect to be this way, call a judge. The judges aren’t policemen and they aren’t evil robots that want to give out game losses. They’re here to make the tournament run smoothly, by the rules and enjoyable for all participants.

Don’t know what exactly a card does? Call a judge. Don’t understand your opponent’s infinite loop? Call a judge. Something that happened makes things unclear for you because of shortcutting or sloppiness? Call a judge. In a situation you don’t know how to deal with? Call a judge. Suddenly need to go to the bathroom? Call a judge. Unsure if some particular agreement – say, a prize split – is acceptable in a Magic tournament? Call a judge. Your opponent is being insulting or clearly stalling to run down the clock? Also call a judge. Basically, whenever things aren’t the way you believe they’re supposed to be, call a judge. They’ll help you find out if you’re wrong about the way things are supposed to be or they’ll help fix the situation if you’re right.

Make Things Fun

You’re playing Magic because you enjoy it, right? Yes, we’re playing for high stakes in a big tournament, but that doesn’t make it any less of a game. Yet each and every one of us is disappointed or frustrated at some point. Maybe your opponent ripped his one-outer on the last possible turn, or maybe you just flooded out twice against someone who’s obviously terrible and lose. It’s normal to be annoyed and want to lash out. Please don’t. We’re all here to play a game where we flick around little pieces of cardboard to represent wizards duking it out by summoning dragons and fireballs. This is not a life-or-death matter, as much as it might feel that important to you sometimes.

That doesn’t mean you need to be amusing and witty or have great conversation when you’re playing the match. Efficient gameplay without much talk will do in a pinch. It’s even OK to tell your opponent you’re really not in the mood for bantering and ask them if they could stop talking for a moment. Whatever happens, though, at the very least you can be calm and polite in your dealings with your opponent – even if they just got you with a sick Jedi mind trick. Sign the slip and tell them bye before leaving as soon as possible if you must but don’t berate them as terrible players or otherwise vent your frustrations on them. We’re all here to enjoy a hobby together, so don’t ruin the fun.

And trust me, that’s better for your performance, too. If you’re being a burden on those around you, you’ll feel it during the games. If you aren’t enjoying yourself, your brain will be looking for other matters to occupy itself with instead of the game. If there’s a constant hostile atmosphere, your brain will get worried and try to keep the situation under watch, disturbing your focus. In short, you’ll be playing worse than you could. By keeping things civil and fun for everybody involved, you’ll get the best out of your mind – and that’s what we’re looking for, right?

See You There

I hope these observations of mine will prove helpful to you this weekend. There are likely a lot of other things to keep in mind, but I’m not the most experienced player of large events out there either. Yes, I’ve been playing for a while, but nine-plus round events are still unusual to me. So I’m sure there are a ton of things out there I still need to learn and, hopefully, share with you in the future. This weekend will give me a great chance to grow down in Paris and I hope you get your own chance as well, wherever it may be that you’re playing.

I’m off to Paris and will probably be without internet access until Monday, so I don’t expect to be able to check the comments before then. If you happen to run into me at the BOM, feel free to hit me up and have a chat. I’m always happy to talk to my readers, as it’s a great pleasure to know my words are appreciated!

Until next time, remember that there’s more to Magic than just the cards!

Carsten Kötter