Before I became a grinder, I was what you might call a grinder-in-training. When I competed in my first Pro Tour Qualifier—just six months after receiving my DCI card—I knew I wasn’t Pro Tour material yet. I was playing the long game: ingratiating myself with local players, gaining experience, and racking up as many Planeswalker Points as possible. Soon enough, I had earned a Grand Prix bye for a season—so, naturally, I decided to play in some Grand Prix (and earn even more points). I traveled to San Diego, Portland and Las Vegas in a three-month period, competing in Modern Constructed and Modern Masters Limited . . . and the whole time, I had no idea what I was doing.
Arcbound Ravager I opened that I decided to throw together all the artifacts in my pool. I won four total matches across all three events, but maybe my win percentage would’ve been higher if I hadn’t dropped halfway through the day each time.
Of all the challenges I faced during that first year, the greatest was maintaining my stamina at competitive tournaments. Playing in a four-round Friday Night Magic every week was like taking a pleasant, three-mile walk around the lake near my apartment; day one of a GP was like a marathon. Once I had enough three-hundred-person PTQs under my belt, I grew accustomed to the day-long grind, but I still suffered from the occasional migraine or fatigue-induced misplay. If I wanted to become an accomplished Magic player, I had to do more than just practice with my deck and memorize my matchups—I had to learn how to play in a tournament. I’ve since devised my own system for completing (and succeeding in) nine-round events, and while everyone handles stressful situations differently, I’d like to share some of my favorite tournament tips with you.
Before the Tournament . . .
Choose Your Deck Wisely.
- How well do I know this deck? How long have I been playing it?
- Is this deck well-positioned in the expected metagame? What are its good and bad matchups?
- Will I grow exhausted after playing this deck for several hours?
For the longest time, I refused to play control decks in competitive tournaments because I didn’t want to risk playing mirror matches and going to time. Some players may agree with me; others may find fault with aggro (too much combat math), midrange (too grindy), or combo (too many triggers to potentially miss). Be honest with yourself about your preferences and play style, and choose a deck that you know you’ll enjoy—you’ll be playing it for at least nine rounds.
Gather Any Materials You’ll Need, Including Cards, Snacks, and Other Supplies.
I also go on a grocery run before any major tournament. Don’t count on finding healthy food options near a tournament site, especially if you’re visiting from out of town and don’t know the area, so try to stock up on fresh fruit, trail mix, and other snacks beforehand. My weekend ritual involves eating a high-protein breakfast (usually eggs or a tofu scramble) and noshing on bananas and granola throughout the day. A Magic tournament truly is a mental marathon, so be sure to keep your potassium levels up!
Other essential items: pens and paper; a canteen full of water; over-the-counter pain relievers for headaches; cash to cover the entry fee (some tournaments only accept cash at registration).
Psych Yourself Up.
One of my favorite pieces of positive-thinking advice was one I heard just a few weeks ago, but I’d like to pass it on nonetheless. A friend of mine has had issues with tilt for as long as I’ve known him: He frequently overanalyzes his plays, loses sleep over games, and drops midway through tournaments in a huff. Recently, another member of our playtest group suggested that he focus on finishing a tournament for once. If you enter an event with the intent to play in every round, no matter what, you’ll have a psychological edge, our friend claimed. The next week, he competed in a seven-round Standard tournament and finished with a 5–2 record after losing the first two rounds. Here’s hoping he sticks with the plan . . . and you should do the same!
At the Tournament . . .
Walk, stretch, and do whatever you need to do in between rounds to keep your blood flowing, and stay on top of your game even when you’re away from the table. When I’m not playing, I’m usually on the move, looking for friends or scouting the top tables. I try to go outside every two or three rounds to breathe some fresh air and sunshine; being stuck in a windowless tournament room or convention hall, breathing the same recycled air, can be stifling.
Know How Much Space You Need.
As time has gone on, my tote bag has grown heavier with all the diversions I bring to Magic tournaments. After watching my boyfriend power through day one of GP Vancouver with the help of Kanye West, I started packing my headphones in my bag so I could listen to music on my phone in between rounds. I’m also likely to have a book, a journal, or a portable videogame console on me; I’ve seen other players working on word puzzles, trying to keep their minds sharp.
Make Time for Food Breaks.
I mentioned bringing snacks to the tournament earlier in this article, so it goes without saying that you should make time to eat, right? I, for one, often forget that I need to feed myself when I’m focused on something. Just a few weeks ago, I went seven hours without eating (granted, I had a large breakfast at 10:00 A.M.), and I felt my head pounding two-thirds of the way through a tournament. I had been on a four-game winning streak, but I struggled to finish the day with a positive record. The following week, I ate a snack every three hours and felt fine.
Those are all the suggestions I have for now. Feel free to share your own in the comments below!