It’s been a while. I’d been planning to get this article at least started before I went on holiday to Japan (I competed in the Lightning Crystal Cup and did absolutely terrible due to lack of practice and sleep AMA), but that didn’t happen due to that pesky blight that we all refer to as ‘real life.’ However, I’m back now, and thanks to the input of the good dudes over at FFTCG Crystarium (I’ll plug those dudes until I die, Team Flat Earth represent), I’m ready to present this article that will hopefully help you prepare for tournaments (and these are some of the tournament prep guidelines that I perhaps need to follow more stringently myself.)
Usually I’d put something like “more after the jump” here, but annoyingly that bit sticks around even if you press the ‘read more’ bit? It’s kind of awkward when you see it in an actual article as you’re like “Hey Esufer, what jump? I got directly linked to this. There’s no jump. You said there would be a jump.”
So if you see a ‘read more’ bit, press it. If you don’t, continue reading. Or don’t, all good.
Before the Tournament
You’ve got a big event coming up in a few months/weeks, let’s run through what you should be doing way before the tournament happens. These’ll be in no particular order:
Arrange accommodation (if applicable)
If the tournament is a fair way away, sort your accommodation as soon as you know you’re going. Events tend to cause price spikes in room rates at certain hotels (here in the UK at least), so by booking as far as you can in advance, you can get a nice room much cheaper than you’d expect. I wouldn’t recommend skimping out on the room either, if it’s only a £30 difference between staying in a budget hotel and staying in a hostel, go for the hotel every time even if it’s slightly more expensive. Being well rested is a massive contributor towards having a good time at a tournament, and if you’re not local to the event I’d definitely recommend travelling down the night before and staying the extra night in a hotel. I’ve done too many events where I’ve traveled down the morning of the event or stayed in sub-par accommodation and I can confirm, it makes the tournament miserable before the caffeine kicks in.
Also hugely important is knowing where your accommodation is in relation to the venue, and how long it will take you to get from the hotel to the venue and vice versa – if you know this ahead of time it’s once less thing to worry about and you can budget time appropriately when it comes to the event. Ideally you want to land a hotel within walking distance, but if you can’t make sure you check out public transport or parking options if you need to!
Get your deck choice locked in ASAP
Knowing what you’re going to play ahead of time at a tournament, and getting the necessary practice in with it is incredibly important. It’s much better to go to an event with a deck that you are really familiar with as opposed to the newest bleeding-edge meta deck or even a netdecked deck that’s proven to be successful from a recent event – if you’re not familiar with the cards, don’t know the combos, don’t know the decision trees, and don’t know how to play out of bad hands (or identify good hands), the best deck in the format isn’t going to do you much good at all. If you have a decent idea of what you’re going to play, and it’s getting close to the event, try not to buy into hype from people that you play with and try to resist second-guessing your deck/card choices based on that. By all means, if you have the time to do so, test suggestions, but if someone goes “Mono Lightning is BDIF” the night before the tournament, don’t knee-jerk switch decks if you don’t know how to play what you’ve switched to, especially if you’ve never so much as read the text on an Al-Cid.
Worth noting as well: there is no shame in netdecking. I’ve seen people put a weird stigma on “coming up with your own deck” and how netdecking is “dishonourable.” Discard any notion that netdecking is bad if you want to get a good deck for an upcoming tournament. Netdecking is often an incredible starting point for finding a deck that really works for you, and lets you devote the hours you would spend building and tweaking ratios over to practicing instead.
Once you have your deck locked in, hopefully there’s enough time to get some serious practice hours in. Don’t worry about keeping your deck secret at a local level, it’s more important to get the practice in vs as many decks as possible. If you can get a good local player to build you a ‘gauntlet’ to test against, now is the time to learn your matchups. To identify what matchups you need to learn, checking out recent tournament results, building them and getting a friend to pilot them is often a good way to do this (although if you have access to people that already play those decks, even better). It’s arguable that practice is just as important (and more important, depending on how you evaluate it) than actual deck choice, but don’t take that as carte blanche to take something awful like Headhunters or Guardians to your nationals – get a good deck and practice with it.
If you have time, feel free to practice multiple decks and test different tech and ratios – massively encouraged in this phase so that you can go in as prepared as humanly possible for your event.
If you don’t have access to people to practice with as well, utilise online systems like OCTGN and Untap. It’ll let you practice against decks you may not even have considered, and it’s really good for getting in back to back games at any time of the day, with the added bonus of letting you test new cards without having to buy them, and on OCTGN you can import decks straight from FFDecks!
By the time the tournament comes around, you want to be in a position where you are able to play virtually every opening hand in your deck – variance will strike at the worst times, and as most tournaments are best of one you need to be able to play out of those bad hands and come out swinging.
The Night Before
Don’t shit yourself
I find nerves can affect me in a big way when it comes to events, and since I’ve won or topped a few tournaments this year, I’ve felt a pressure to constantly always improve. I wouldn’t recommend this, especially in a self-care/mental health aspect.
I’ve lost too many pre-event hours of sleep due to worrying that I had to achieve a certain record at a tournament or I’ve gotten worse or gone backwards. I once saw a tip from Shikadi about not letting pressure get to you before or during an event, as it doesn’t really have anything to do with the actual decisions you’ll make in a game outside of stress you out. You could be 6-0 and in the last round of your tournament, but how you’ve done the rest of the day doesn’t affect the decisions you’ll make in your games, so why be result oriented at all? Just take your time, play your best and the night before, get some rest (rhymes, nailed it.)
The only person creating that kind of pressure on you is yourself, so you’re fully in control of how much you let that pressure get to you. Regardless of how you do at an event, your friends/fellow players aren’t gonna think less of you if you just blow it. So don’t lose a night of sleep over it!
Last minute practice is okay, chilling out is fine too
There’s probably going to be quite a few people staying in the area you’re staying in the night before a big tournament, it’s a good opportunity to get some last minute practice if you feel you need it, but it’s also completely valid to just not think about card games, grab a beer and a burger and just relax. You don’t want to drink so much that you see the Devil and he tries to steal your kneecaps, and you don’t want to be hungover enough that the next morning you are corpsed, so of course enjoy your pre-tournament relaxation in moderation.
New sleeves and Deck Check
Change your sleeves before a tournament. Something as innocuous as a folded corner on some old sleeves can come across as card marking in the heat of a tournament, so always go with fresh sleeves for every major event (I tend to resleeve for anything above a regional level, unless my sleeves are really knackered.)
While you’re resleeving it also gives you a good opportunity to count through and make sure you actually have 50 cards in your deck, and make sure that it’s the 50 cards that you intended to build.
Also, obvious Cactuar memes aside, it gives you a chance to check simple things like all your cards are oriented correctly, that you don’t have more than 3 of a card in a deck, and you don’t have any printed-out proxies or anything left over from testing. If you get deck checked, you don’t want to be worrying that something could get caught, so check it now before the tournament.
Write out your decklist
Once you’re happy that your deck is present and correct, arrange it in cost order (separating forwards, summons, monsters and backups), and write a list based off of what is actually in the deck you have present with you. FFDecks has a handy decklist printing function, and as good as it is, nothing beats writing your decklist out based on what you have actually built in front of you.
As I said previously, variance strikes at the worst times, and what if FFDecks picked that day to print an inaccurate list? Or you accidentally printed an older version of this list without that last minute ratio change on a card? It’s not worth risking a warning/game loss over, trust your own eyes.
I tend to write out 2-4 copies of my decklist, in case they’re needed for side events or my original list ends up lost or damaged.
Going to a tournament, you ideally want to make sure you have your deck, a fresh set of sleeves (which may or may not be already on your deck at this point), spare sleeves in case anything gets damaged by over-enthusiastic shuffling (I’ve seen sleeves split at tournaments from zealous crush shuffling), a playmat, and a method of randomizing who goes first at the start of the game.
I wouldn’t recommend taking any extra decks to a tournament, unless you’re planning on playing them in a side event. It’s not worth the risk of misplacing a deck that’s potentially worth hundreds of pounds. Same goes for trade binders – unless you are explicitly planning on trading cards with people, don’t take it.
I would say take an empty card storage box though (a reasonably small one, like the ones from Crystal Cups), as they’re really handy for storing any prizes/packs you may accrue throughout the course of the event.
I’d also recommend taking a hoodie/sweatshirt with you, as venues are a bit of a mixed bunch. You’ll sometimes get a venue that’s hotter than the surface of the sun, but occasionally you’ll get a venue that’s either hilariously over air-conditioned or just plain cold. Comfort while you play is important, so look after yourself!
The Big Day
Get up early, have breakfast
You don’t want to roll into round 1 half-asleep and still hungry. Treat it like a work day – get up early, take a shower, have something to eat, have something to drink. Not everyone gives themselves enough time in the morning at events, so making sure you’re hitting the ground running can really give you an advantage and make you just that little bit sharper than everyone else.
If you’re in Japan, the breakfast of choice is a mandatory Coolish, no excuses, no substitutes.
You wrote your deck list out last night, right? So we don’t need to worry about that as we know it’s correct. Do a count through your deck though, make sure it’s 50 cards in case one got flicked under something in your hotel room while you were writing that decklist out. This is also a good opportunity to get some pre-tournament shuffling done so you know your deck is as random as can be when it comes to the event (you’ll still do pre-match shuffling, but there’s no such thing as too random!).
Also this is a prime opportunity to check that you haven’t put any extra cards in your deckbox, as this can get you in a fair bit of trouble at tournaments. I’m not sure if it’s a warning or a game loss, but extra cards in your main deck’s deckbox are a big no-no, so don’t do it.
Generate your tournament ticket number
You should be signed up for the Organised Play Ticketing tool – on the off chance you’re not, get signed up before you set off to the venue, and get your entry ticket number ready. You don’t want to be having issues getting your ticket number to the TO because the venue has poor phone signal, so prepare it beforehand.
Get to the venue early
Really important to get registration over and done with as soon as possible. I’ve never been to an event where there weren’t people from the community hanging around, so it’s also a great chance to do meets and greets. Everyone in the community has been pretty awesome so far, so use this as a chance to make some friends – also gives you people to check in with throughout the tournament which can help to distract you from any nerves throughout the day.
Do the best you can
No one’s gonna shit on you for going x-5 at a major event, so don’t worry about it. People in the community are pretty chill, and if the term ‘scrub’ is thrown around, it’s banter in the majority of cases. Don’t go into a tournament being results oriented, as previously stated it won’t affect how you perform in your swiss rounds. No matter who you’re sat down opposite, give it your all. Any pressure you’re feeling at this point is solely created by yourself, so do your best to try and ignore it. I’ve been told this gets better the more events you do, but with FF being the first TCG I’ve played seriously competitively, I can’t really vouch for that.
What’s in a name?
I have a superpower at events of getting drawn against names that I recognize by reputation, and the first couple of times it happened it majorly shook me up. Now when it happens it doesn’t really bother me, after a really helpful bit of advice from Team Flat Earth’s Nado that “it’s just a name.”
When it comes down to it, you’re gonna sit down opposite someone, you’re both gonna be playing the best 50 cards you have, and you’re both going to do your best. Try not to worry about if you’re against a community superstar, you might end up actually pulling it off, opening the nuts and going the distance.
One of the magic tricks for keeping your cool at a tournament is being able to pee on demand. It’s almost definitely a nerves thing, but I find myself needing to use the bathroom pretty much constantly at events between rounds. Keeping yourself hydrated will let you go when you need to, and will also stop you from getting too uncomfortable throughout the day. Snacking throughout the day is also encouraged, even though you’re not doing a massive amount of physical movement you’re going to be knackered by the end of it.
Don’t feel like you need to grab lunch in the lunch break
Lunch breaks always feel a bit tight at tournaments. If it takes you 10 minutes to get to a lunch place, and 10 minutes to get back to the venue, that doesn’t leave you a huge amount of time to eat. I tend to avoid lunch at tournaments, especially if it’s only a 5-6 round event. Treat yourself with a big dinner in the evening, and don’t worry about having to run back at the end of the lunch break to make the next round. Of course, hydrate and snack though, that should keep you going!
It’s statistically likely you’re gonna take a loss at some point throughout the tournament. Don’t make the situation awkward by finding a reason why you lost, and if you do find a reason, don’t vocalize it. If you’ve just had a really tense game with someone, don’t belittle their win by saying “I would have won if I had 1 more CP to boardwipe” or “I didn’t draw any backups” – this doesn’t benefit anyone at all, you’ll end up feeling bitter, the other player may feel like their win is less valid, and it’s not gonna make anyone any friends. By all means, talk about how the match went afterwards, but don’t invalidate your opponent’s win by going “I only lost because I didn’t top Shantotto” – never be that guy.
No matter how much it feels like you might be a dick for doing so, don’t let your opponent do take-backs on misplays, and don’t ask for them yourself. If it’s a serious event, mistakes are mistakes and you should both be sticking by them. I’ve let people do take-backs before and it’s SERIOUSLY come back to bite me in the arse.
At the end of the day, play clean, play your best, and come away a better player than you arrived. If you lost all your games due to stuff you’d never seen/considered before, take it as a learning experience that maybe you need a bit of better matchup experience – if you’ve learned something you’ve bettered yourself.
After the Event
Don’t torture yourself
I’ve got a pretty good memory, so I have a terrible habit of laying in bed after a major event and replaying the misplays I made over and over in my head after a major – it’s important to know what went wrong so you can avoid it again, but don’t torture yourself with something you can literally no longer do anything about. After the event either play some games with friends, grab some dinner, just do something to keep yourself busy. Unless you’ve made day 2, in which case get practicing!
Hang out with the community
The vast majority of people in the room from Day 1 didn’t make Day 2, because of how numbers work. So go hang out with them! I’ve not been great for this historically, usually due to fatigue (due to not following earlier steps in this guide), and it’s certainly something I’ll be working on in the near future. The majority of the people that play this game are absolutely brilliant, so hang out with them, get massively hammered and have a good time.
So that’s my rundown on tournament prep – I’ll admit I’ve not been massively strict on following these in the past, but I’ll definitely be following it in the future. Hopefully this helps some of you guys have the best tournaments that you can do!
Thanks for reading,