Are you ready to level up your game? Enough of your FNM buddies have convinced you to venture out to a Preliminarly Pro Tour Qualifier? An upcoming SCG Open or Grand Prix is finally within driving distance? You qualified for a Pro Tour? It’s time to get ready!
What exactly does “get ready” mean?
This is the nuts and bolts requirement for preparing for any tournament. Taking care of transportation and lodging is essential before a trip. Failing to make arrangements ahead of time will sap some of your finite mental resources during the event, or it will flat out prevent you from attending.
Preparing for a local event? Great! You’ve (presumably) got a bed already, so all you have to do is get to the event site.
If you can drive yourself, transportation to local events is pretty self explanatory. There is very little work that you have to do, but plenty that can make the trip cheaper/more enjoyable.
Finding other people to fill out your car will help cover the cost of gas, or you can generously offer your services for free. Brining other people also gives you a source of conversation. It is an opportunity to discuss strategy, swap stories, and generally get you in a mindset for Magic.
If you need someone else to drive you, this will require a tad more work. You will need to find someone reliable to pick you up and to get you home. Even if compensation is not required, try to do something to pay your ride back. For local trips, a drink or snack at the event will make it far more likely for you to get a ride the next time you need one. For trips out of town, helping with gas money is expected. If the opportunity presents itself, try to pay a little extra. There are plenty of little things that the driver has to deal with, like cleaning out the car, possible car maintenance, and the added trip to pick you up.
If someone else gives you a ride to the event, you need to make sure you can still get home. If the person giving you a ride drops from the event after two rounds, you don’t want to end up stranded at the event. Discuss this ahead of time, and make sure you have a ride home.
Flying adds quite a number of expenses to your trip, but it can still be necessary or highly preferable. The cost of the ticket is the biggest, but it is the obvious expense. You will also need to arrange transportation at the event, which is solvable with a rental car, public transportation, Uber, or knowing someone else at the event with a car. Renting a car is the most convenient, but it sometimes requires paying for parking. Uber and Lyft are almost as convenient, but they don’t work everywhere. It is important to check ahead if you plan to use one of those. Public transportation is a mediocre option in most of the US, but there are a few cities with good transportation. Hotels are pretty much mandatory with a flight, but I’ll discuss that next. Lastly, you need to arrange a trip to and from your starting airport. If that isn’t easy, you can usually park your car at the airport for about $10 a day.
For longer trips, you will need to arrange lodging. Optimally, you know someone that lives in the town you are going to and they having an available couch/bed. If you can’t score free lodging, you’ll need to arrange for a hotel/hostel ahead of time. Staying with a group, you should look into a hotel. A group can cut the cost down to something much more reasonable, and you get some luxuries that a hostel might not have. If you are traveling on your own, a hostel is much more cost efficient. The risk is getting a poor night’s sleep, since people come and go at all hours of the night. You will need to decide how much you are willing to spend for lodging.
Don’t waste your money on tournament entry fees if your deck is missing cards. Without a doubt, that is the best advice I can give to anyone looking towards higher levels of competition. At FNM, it’s alright to test out new deck ideas. It’s a good chance to test deck ideas and to decide if you enjoy playing your deck. Under those circumstances, budget choices are understandable. When you are playing in an event that costs $25+, shell out the money for the cards you need.
Larger events punish losses more severely than FNM. A typical FNM has about five rounds, and prized typically go down to 4-1 or 3-2 records (between 60% and 80% win rate). Larger events often have eight or nine rounds during a single day, and anything less than a 75% win ratio is unlikely to earn you a prize. PPTQs are a little more forgiving, if you are just looking to make cash, but the invite only goes to one person in the room.
Don’t handicap yourself before you even start playing. Make sure your deck has the correct cards in it. That expense is more important than a single entry fee.
Finding the right group of people to prepare with is important. To start with, you want to work with people that are preparing for the same event whenever possible. When everyone is working towards the same goal and under the same timeline, it is easier to get everyone focused. You don’t have to worry about testing different formats, and everybody knows when it is crunch time.
Magic Online is hands down the best testing tool available. You have access to fairly competent opponents at any time of day or night. It is trivial to get in enough games to understand how a deck works. Building decks is easy, if expensive, and it is easy to make changes. Being able to test whenever you have time, without needing to coordinate testing sessions or travel is incredible.
The real problem with Magic Online is the cost. You are either forced to simultaneously maintain a paper and digital collection, or you need access to someone else’s cards or account. There really isn’t a way around this on Magic Online. You need money, a generous friend, or a store sponsorship.
Alternative online testing programs are available, but they tend to perform even more poorly than Magic Online. These programs often rely on player’s understanding of card interactions to maintain an accurate game. Unfortunately, these programs don’t often attract players with exceptional rules knowledge. If you decide this is the best option for you, work to cultivate a group of friends that also use the program. If you play with people you know, you are less likely to have issues that sour your testing session.
You need to sit down with a plan when you are testing your deck. Know what you need to get out of your time and set realistic goals. Do you need to get a feel for how your deck plays out? Do you need to figure out the key interactions in a particular matchup? Do you need to test a sideboard plan? Understand why you are playing games instead of just doing it because you are supposed to playtest.
Be sure to take notes when you sit down to test. Don’t spend the time to play out ten games, and then realize you can’t actually remember how many you won. Record the record, but also take notes for mulligans and anything unusual that happened during the game. Even more important, don’t take the results of your testing and consider them to be law. Just because you won eight out of ten games doesn’t mean you actually have an 80% win rate against the deck you tested against. Did your opponent mulligan a lot? Did you peel the winning card from a lucky top deck a couple times? Be sure to get a good feel for how the match plays out, what cards are important, and what strategies do and don’t work. Don’t just look for a percentage when you finish playing. That won’t do you any good.
When it is appropriate, make sure to try new things out. If you have identified a problem while you are testing, take steps to fix it. Need a better sideboard plan? Found a card that isn’t working the way you need? Try something else out.
Make sure you play some games with your sideboard. At an absolute minimum, you will use your sideboard in 50% of your games. Don’t neglect it. Be sure to know why you have cards in your sideboard, and what matchups you need them for. Make sure your sideboard actually solves problems that other decks present, instead of just making marginal upgrades to cards already in your deck. Be sure you don’t have too many cards to board in against any one deck. If you do, you run the risk of diluting your deck of its important cards along with having insufficient space for other matchups.
Often, my goal for testing out a deck is to learn its common play patterns. I want to know which two drop I should lead with on turn two. I want to instinctively know how to sequence my lands. Understanding the basic mechanics of my deck saves me that energy during a long event. If I can minimize the number of small decisions I need to make, I’ve got more time to consider the crucial decisions.
Small Points to Consider
There are a few small things you should try to do ahead of time. These are simple or self explanatory.
- Have a plan for food. Bring something with you unless you know there is somewhere to eat close by. If you are playing a slower deck, bring food anyway. Stay hydrated too. Shops will happily sell you drinks, but it’s cheaper if you bring a water bottle from home.
- Sleeve your deck up beforehand. It’s less work for you at the event site, and you don’t risk spoiling any tech card choices you’ve made.
- Pack some extra sideboard cards for the tournament. I wouldn’t drastically alter my deck right before an event. However, if I find out a few of the local ringers have sleeved up God Pharaoh’s Gift or Dredge, I might want a little extra graveyard hate. Needing to buy cards last minute can be expensive, and it’s never fun to buy cards you already own.