Many Magic players think that the key to winning a tournament lies in last-minute changes done the night before a big tournament, being the best player in the room with the right deck for that specific tournament, hedging your bets on sideboard slots for specific decks while purposefully ignoring others, or having good matchups throughout the tournament and getting some lucky breaks. And while there is some truth to that, not all champions share these qualities.
I’ve seen more than one â€˜best player in the room’ bow out to a lesser opponent playing the mirror match. I’ve seen sideboards filled with all manner of numbers, not to mention the fifteen singletons in Gabriel Nassif’s Grand Prix winning sideboard from Chicago. And I’ve seen players, who played a deck that was supposed to be awful in the current metagame, win tournaments (damn you, Nicholas Rausch!).
Not all champions are the same… but they do have one thing in common.
You can bet that they are not just mentally prepared, but they are also all physically prepared.
As far as I am concerned, the number one way that players cause themselves to lose even before the tournament begins is by not taking proper care of their bodies.
Think about that the next time you blame your loss on bad luck because it’s just as likely you didn’t eat your Wheaties.
Food for Thought
I have a Magic bingo scorecard on my Facebook wall that is pretty funny. Among the other popular Magic stereotypes is a square with the tagline, “Great Player, Awful Pizza.” I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this at 65-75% of all large Magic events I’ve ever been to, from Prereleases to Pro Tours and everything in between. And for every tournament there wasn’t an awful pizza, there was an equally awful ball of grease, starch, and other life-shortening additives being eagerly gobbled by a ravenous Magic player who hadn’t eaten anything since the night before.
Bad food is as synonymous with Magic tournaments as bad sideboarding strategies. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
It starts with your everyday routine. Good nutrition is just as important for tournament Magic players as it is for any other subset of the population that uses their brains in a competitive arena like chess players, lawyers, coaches, and stockbrokers.
In an article on Latest Chess, nutrition researcher Roberto Baglione studied 72 active International Grandmasters (17 women and 55 men, 18 to 55 years old) from thirty-five countries who answered an e-mail questionnaire including fifteen topics. I would suggest that you all read it here.
Here’s a summary of the hints from the article I found most pertinent as well as several other tips on staying well fed and healthy:
- Three meals a day was a common thread among Grandmasters. While the schedule of a Magic player often leads to skipping breakfast or eating a second dinner at times, keeping to three meals is much more advantageous.
- A full two-thirds of those polled were careful not to eat difficult to digest foods before matches. This is an important one to keep in mind, as Magic tournaments have a very specific and strict time schedule, and you don’t want to be caught in the awkward situation of being in the bathroom when pairings are announced.
- Nearly 96% of those asked said that they ate or drank during games. 86% said they ate chocolate, and 72% said that they drank water. Other favorites included fruit and cereal bars for food and coffee, tea and fruit juice for beverages. Fluid ingestion is especially important and should be done in small quantities at regular intervals even if you don’t feel thirsty.
- When you actually go to the tournament, pack a cooler. Go to your supermarket and grab fixin’s for breakfast, lunch, and snacks before you leave or when you get to your destination city. One of my favorite experiences at a Magic tournament has to be when I went grocery shopping with Adam Yurchick at Worlds in Memphis… and we took 3 or 4 of the Israeli guys with us. It was quite an experience. Plus, shopping ahead of time is cheaper, allowing you to go to more Magic events for your buck!
- For two-day tournaments like GPs or SCG Opens, you will likely want to go out with your buddies to P.F. Changs, a Brazilian steakhouse, BD’s Mongolian Barbecue, or some other such nonsense. That’s okay; just keep in mind that you shouldn’t stray too far into the crazy zone. Also, save your leftovers for lunch tomorrow. Your stomach will thank you for not eating miserable convention center hot dogs, and your wallet will thank you for not paying $4 for them.
- Proper hydration is a concern for Magic players. Even slight dehydration can throw you off of your game and make you lose matches you could have won. Carry a water bottle with you to your match, but keep it in a different pocket or wrap it in something so as not to damage your collection!
- Try, if possible, to not eat a full meal between 9-11 pm the night before a tournament. The reason being that the digestive tract takes about 13 hours to go through your body, so if you eat Taco Bell at 9:30, you’re asking for trouble from Montezuma during the player meeting.
- Avoid energy drinks like Red Bull and Monster. Sure, they’ll wake you up… but they’ll also give you a sugar crash later in the day, usually round 4 or so. In the mornings, have tea (regular or iced) instead to get your caffeine and sugar fix. If you absolutely have to have an energy drink, use 5-Hour Energy instead, as the stuff in those is less bad for you. And you had a good night’s sleep the night before, so who needs that? More on sleep in a minute…
Actually, as it turns out, there’s more on sleep right now!
Sleep on it
We’ve all been there. You and your buddies think you’ve just broken the format open wider than the space between Madonna’s front teeth, but there are only a few days before the big tournament. So you get your 60 together and realize you haven’t put together a solid sideboard yet. So the night before, you get together and discuss whether this deck or that card will see more/less/similar play this weekend than it did last weekend/month/whatever. You’ve got a four-of you absolutely need to play for your one bad matchup, a pretty good three-of, and a big pile of cards that should maybe kinda sorta go in the sideboard for some reason or another. You’ve got your work cut out for you.
Hours have passed, but you’ve prevailed. Game after game of testing is finally coming to an end, and you’ve got your 75. Time for a nice, long night’s sleep before you have to wake up in… two hours?! Oh no! Oh well, we have the best deck in the room. What’s the worst that could happen?
Later that day, you’ve all dropped by the fifth round and are left to wonder what went wrong.
Not getting enough sleep is the second most inexcusable reason I can think of to lose a tournament, the number one being a mis-registered decklist. The number of PTQ finals I have seen come down to which of the competitors is simply more awake at the end is staggering. Every tournament winner, from Pro Tours to your local Saturday store-run get-togethers, got their beauty sleep. I am hard pressed to think of anyone who has ever won a tournament when they got little or no rest the night before.
Tournaments are marathons. Long ones. At a 250-person tournament, you have to endure nine rounds, 50 minutes apiece. That’s seven and a half hours right there, not counting theÂ trip to the tournament site, the player meeting, the time in between rounds, and oh yeah, the top 8. And that’s not that big of a tournament in the grand scheme of things, seeing as Grand Prix now attract over a thousand participants.
The bottom line here is to make sure you get enough rest. Here are a few tips on how to do this:
- For tournaments more than three hours away, show up the night before and split a hotel. If you don’t, you’ll be showing up to compete in a tournament having woken up at 6 in the morning or earlier, and that’s not a great plan most of the time. In addition, the driver will have already been focused on a strenuous activity for the length of the drive and be even more underprepared for mental combat.
- Go to bed! You want a minimum of six hours sleep before a long day with a Magic tournament. What, I sound like your mom on a school night? Too bad. Also, put on a sweater or you’ll catch a cold. No time to test? You should have tested your deck earlier in the week. If you didn’t, well, thems the breaks I guess. You have a better chance of winning with a full night’s sleep and no knowledge of what is in your deck at all than with half a night’s sleep and a few extra hours of playtest games.
- Take advantage of the time in between rounds to rest. Battle stories are great and all, and I’m sure whoever you’re talking to about your bad beat is totally interested the whole time, but your body will thank you later with even more stories if you take a breather. If you see there’s more than ten minutes left on the round clock, find a quiet area and relax. This is particularly important if you are playing a control deck, where rounds are longer and breaks are shorter.
Keep it Clean
It should come as a surprise to precisely no one that â€˜Hygiene’ and â€˜Magic player’ aren’t synonymous. But good personal hygiene is another facet of a successful tournament Magic player. Subconsciously, if you care about yourself, you take better care of yourself, and you feel better about yourself, which leads to more confidence and better decision making. Also, you don’t bother people so much. Making friends is easier when you aren’t being followed around by a big dust ball like Pigpen from Peanuts.
When I thought about it, every â€˜smelly’ Magic player I’ve ever come across has not been good at the game. That isn’t to say that some clean, respectable folks aren’t really bad players too. It’s just that stinky players, well, stink. And you don’t want to stink.
Most things based on hygiene should be obvious to anyone who lives in the civilized world (and parts of the uncivilized world, like New Jersey). There are a few not so obvious hints, however, that I think I can share with you without coming off as pompous. If I do I’m sorry, but you smell.
I’m just kidding.
But no, seriously, read these:
- In another Adam Yurchick-based story, I picked this tip up from him several years ago, and I use it every time now: Wash your hands and face in between every round. In the hours (give or take) of a round, you’ll likely shake hands with your opponent, high five a friend, bump into a bunch of strangers, handle every sleeve in your deck, touch the table, touch your playmat, grab your chair, handle your book bag, roll someone else’s dice, and touch any number of other surfaces that you don’t know where they’re been or what they’ve touched. And as we’ve learned from the trailer for Contagion, humans touch their faces 3 to 5 times a minute. That’s a lot of dirt. Cleaning it off every hour or so isn’t obsessive compulsive; it’s just smart. Also, splashing water on your face is another good way to stay awake and alert all day.
- Throw away old sleeves. Luckily, most sleeve brands split and break before it gets that far (zing!), but replacing old sleeves is still a good idea. Remember also to change out old sleeves on items that are used less often but still handled a lot, like EDH decks and Cubes.
Hopefully, you do much of what has been discussed already. If so, kudos. But if not, maybe these tips and hints are just the thing that pushes you over the edge to becoming a better Magic player.
And if not, then they’ll just help you be a better person, and that’s a good thing too.
Last Week’s Roundup
Last week, I asked you all to vote on a couple of things that I had interest in knowing about the Modern format. Now that the Pro Tour has come and gone, let’s take a look at the results.
How would you like to see StarCityGames.com incorporate Modern at future Opens? [Unofficial poll]
33.75%: Modern is an interesting change of pace. Alternate Modern Opens and Legacy Opens on different weekends and add a Modern portion to the Invitational.
33.63%: I’m hesitant. Maybe replace the Legacy Challenge on Saturday or one of the Draft Opens with Modern first and see where it goes from there.
17.06%: Don’t change at all. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
15.56%: Legacy is dead. Replace Legacy Opens and the Legacy Invitational portion altogether with Modern.
For this first poll question, I wanted to gauge what the average Star City Games reader, which coincidentally is similar to the average Star City Open competitor, thought of Modern joining the fray as a format supported by the Open Series. It seems most people would like to see Modern integrated in some way, either as a secondary option or as a full-fledged â€˜third leg,’ if you will, of the Open Series. The two options that wanted to have all three formats of Standard, Legacy, and Modern all supported in some way each received about one third of the votes.
As a side note on this poll, it turns out Legacy isn’t nearly as dead as we all thought. The â€˜replace it’ option received less than one out of six votes. Looks like most people like sleeving up the old-bordered cards, too! And not just Time-Shifted Wall of Roots…
Which of these will be the best performer at Pro Tour Philadelphia?
I gave a lot of options here so I won’t list them all, but a few of the results surprised me.
First off, the leading vote getter was Zoo, logging about 31% of the vote. This is understandable, as many thought Zoo was the best aggro deck heading into the tournament. But to my mind it failed as the best performing deck, only landing one player in the Top 8. In addition, the finals-making Zoo list was more like the Extended Aquarium decks of old, playing blue for counterspells and control elements.
The next most popular choice, and the only other archetype to receive more than 7% of the vote, was the 12Post option, which logged just over a quarter of the votes. Cloudpost certainly showed its viability as well as its popularity, putting several different combinations of cards and colors in contention for Top 8. But alas, probably not the best performer.
â€˜Other’ received the third highest percentage, and a brand new format is bound to have some others in and around it. In fact, if I had to choose a winner for best performer on the weekend, the â€˜Other’ category could be it.
One particularly surprising one to me was Splinter Twin, which received less than 2% of the vote (and one of the votes was mine!). I wrote an article on the possibilities of Splinter Twin as the best deck in the format for my podcast, In Contention, before the format change for the Pro Tour was announced. The fact that it was the second-most played archetype (and the eventual winner) confuses me as to why it didn’t receive more votes than it did.
Lastly, I would like to note that Dragonstorm came in at 3%, and while a deck that ran Dragonstorms was in the Top 8, you will forgive me for not counting it toward its eligibility, as it was not cast once throughout the tournament in that deck. However, if you voted for Dragonstorm fully well knowing that it would chiefly be used to Blazing Shoal an Inkmoth Nexus, then I will adjust my stance.
Would you have preferred Overextended to Modern?
21.14%: I don’t have a preference either way
9.49%: What’s Overextended?
It seems that Wizards chose wisely in making the cutoffs for the newest Eternal format Mirrodin and Eighth Edition. A full 10% were in favor of not including Masques and Invasion Blocks, and with good reason. It’s possible that the addition of (and possible bannings of) Brainstorm, Dark Ritual, Flametongue Kavu, Fact or Fiction, Daze, Rebels, and U/G Madness would have been more of a headache than a boon.
Good on you, Wizards.
Questions of the Fortnight
Until next time, may your ending tag lines rival Mark Rosewater’s.