Mindset: Making or Breaking Your Tournament Run

Hey everyone!

emolga-shiny-collection-23pokeca-japan.ocnk.bizSince this is my first article on SixPrizes, I’ll give a brief introduction of who I am. My name is Samantha and I’m a newer player from B.C. who is currently in Seniors. Also my favorite Pokémon is Emolga!

Just a quick note before we start, I’d like to mention that all of the comments that I make on mindset are just my opinion and what I find works for me. I will be discussing good mindsets for the week leading up to the tournament, the day of the tournament, and during tournament matches.

A few weeks ago, I attended the Provincial Championship in Toronto where I actually did pretty well by making it all the way to the semi-finals! Having had no previous accomplishments in any Organized Play tournaments, this was quite a surprise for me.

I found that I played well that day and my decklist was great, but there was something else that made the difference. What made the difference was that I went throughout the tournament with a more positive mindset than usual which is what I’m going to talk about today!

Table of Contents

  • Before the Tournament Mindsets
    • Week of Mindset
    • Day of Mindset
  • During the Tournament Mindset
    • After a Match Loss
    • The Unexpected
    • Preventing the Unexpected
    • After Winning a Match
  • Habit
  • Conclusion

Before the Tournament Mindsets

I believe that there are two types of pre-tournament mindsets. There is the week of the tournament when there aren’t too many nerves and then there’s the day of tournament when nerves can be really high.

Week of Mindset

chinchou-neo-revelation-42pokemon-paradijs.comDuring preparation for Provincials, what I ended up doing was wrong for my mindset.

The deck that I was planning on playing was relatively new to me so I felt like I needed some more testing. Naturally I decided to try and get a decent amount of online play in everyday. Two weeks before I was fine with playing online, but as soon as it was the week leading up to the tournament, I got completely off course.

For most players it shouldn’t be too hard to stay in a good mindset the week before the tournament. If you’ve tested enough and feel confident, you’ll be in a good mindset.

A negative mindset can start to set in if you feel like you haven’t tested enough. It’s almost like if there’s a big project due for school that you should have worked on the week before but didn’t.

So the natural thing to do would be to work on the project lots each day to get it in on time. This can lead to lots of stress. The same thing can happen in Pokémon when feeling under-tested for a tournament.

Note: I feel that it’s good to test, but not when on tilt. When on tilt, a player will make poor decisions (known as misplays) because something has made them lose their concentration.

Say you misplay once during the week before the tournament while testing. After realizing the misplay, it would be good to take note of what play should have been made and then move on with the knowledge that you have learned from the misplay.

However, there is also the way that will lead you into a negative mindset that will then result in going on tilt.

After realizing the misplay, instead of learning from it, you may get the thought of “Oh no, I misplayed, I better not let that happen again or I might not perform well in tournament.” With that thought in mind, perhaps you may think that proving to yourself that the misplay was just a little mistake and that you shouldn’t be worried would be the best way to get back on track.

“By winning a few games, I can prove that my last misplay was simply a fluke.”

After these thoughts though, you have already started to apply extra pressure to yourself that is not needed, otherwise known as starting to go on tilt. With this extra pressure, your brain naturally cannot think as clearly, therefore resulting in another misplay.

“Wait what if I’m actually bad at this game? I can’t misplay anymore!”

Once a thought like this sets in, you are completely on tilt. Therefore even more misplays happen. It’s almost like you are not even playing anymore, the panic side of your brain is!

The best thing to do in these situations is to simply stop testing for a little while. This may sound counterproductive to some, but it works.

There is simply no use of trying to force perfection when on tilt, it just makes it worse. It is best just to wait until the feeling of anxiety is gone which will result with the logical side of your brain in control again.Having to take a break from precious testing time may seem frustrating, but it is necessary.

However, depending how badly you are on tilt, your break from testing can still be used productively. Perhaps someone’s livestreaming some matches tonight; even just watching someone play can still help! Although sometimes tilt will be so bad that you’ll just have to go do something else for a while.

Day of Mindset

Like I mentioned before, the day of tournament is when nerves are usually very high. These nerves can even cause some players (me being one of them) not wanting to eat.

After getting registered and handing in your decklist, it’s best to try to get into the “playing zone.” When in the playing zone, players can perform their best, making minimum misplays and sometimes none at all.

Getting into the playing zone may be hard or the easiest task possible. Some players can simply pick up their deck and make almost no misplays. However then there are the players that need to take a little while to get into their playing zone.

Being a newer player, it takes some additional preparation for me before tournaments to get into my playing zone. I’ve found what helps is playing a few self games within the few hours leading up to the tournament.

What I mean by self games is when you get in the position to start a real game (drawing your hand and laying out prizes etc.). Then looking at your hand, think and play out what you believe is the right play.

pikachu treadmill exerciseThis is almost like when athletes stretch and warm up so they can perform better during the actual event, except in this case, your warming up your mind. I find doing this can actually have some advantages against playing actual games.

For instance, you can do this with your cards facedown when placed on the board; this results with no one being able to see what you will be playing. Also, if you are someone who goes on tilt after losing (which I will talk about later), there is no way to lose when using this preparation technique since the only goal is to set up your board position to the best that your hand will permit, turn one.

There are some disadvantages though, such as you are forced to set up your board position as if you were going first, which will only occur in about a half of total games. This method is definitely not for everyone so it will really come down to a player’s preference.

It is also great to be familiarized with the look of the venue. The more familiar you are with it, the more comfortable you will be to play in that area. Therefore it will be easier to stay in your ideal playing zone.

During the Tournament Mindset

I find that there are three main categories of events that diverges players from their ideal mindset and playing zone throughout a tournament. These events are losing, the unexpected, and even winning.

After a Match Loss

This is a common situation amongst all players. The moment after losing, thoughts of what went wrong during the game, such as dead-draws or misplays, might occur in a player’s head. There is a difference between reflecting on the game and dwelling on it.

I find that I personally take losses very hard with thoughts like “I’m not smart enough to play this game.” Up until Toronto Provincials, I used to take about half of my losses this way. It would affect my mindset, play zone, and would put me on tilt.

After one of my losses in Swiss at the tournament, I realized that I was going into my trance of negative thinking. I knew that I couldn’t go into the next round with thoughts like this, so I literally just stopped my negative thinking and moved on with the tournament.

The key to stop thinking like this is to realize when it is happening and knowing that it won’t help your tournament run in any possible way.

The Unexpected

When an unexpected situation occurs to a player, he or she could react as calmly as possible or go on tilt.

Many players will go on tilt simply out of habit (which I will talk about later). Which will take the player out of their playing zone. The hardest thing about unexpected situations is that they can vary. They can be caused by an opponent, a judge, tournament surroundings, and even yourself!

During one of my matches in Toronto I was put into an unexpected situation that ended up putting me on tilt:

judge-unleashed-ul-78pokemon-paradijs.comIn the middle of one of my Swiss rounds, a judge comes over and asks me to organize my discard pile by making sure all cards were facing the same way. I don’t blame him for doing this since my discard pile was messy and cards were turned in all different directions. This did take me a bit out of my playing zone though, but I wasn’t on tilt, yet.

The judge then proceeds to pick up my entire deck to make sure that all of my cards were facing the right direction! Then afterward, he just stood behind me.

I completely understand that it’s a judge’s job to do such actions. I should also note that I was using white sleeves so the backs of the actual card could be seen slightly. It was logical for him to go through such precautions to make sure that I wasn’t trying to cheat in any sort of way.

All of these actions caused me to go on tilt. I could have dealt with one, but not all three unexpected situations. The judge standing behind me is what affected me the most; it’s just one of those situations that I am weak to.

The key to not going on tilt in unexpected situations is to know what situations you are the most weak to. Say that having a talkative opponent is what puts you on tilt, in other words, “takes you out of your playing zone.”

Simply saying to your opponent “Stop talking!” would be a bad idea for multiple reasons. It would be considered quite rude and therefore you may be issued a penalty. Also your opponent may realize that this must be your weakness, so he or she might just keep on talking to keep you on tilt.

Knowing that this is your weakness, you can prevent yourself from going on tilt. It may be harder to stop being on tilt if the unexpected situation(s) occur during a match since the normal pressure of tournament play is still being applied to the player (in this case you). Just take a moment to calm down by doing things like taking a few deep breaths.

Just like how there are different ways that players get themselves into their ideal playing zone, there are plenty of different ways to get out of tilt. It really just depends on the player. So finding out what works for you would be best!

Preventing the Unexpected

rockets-snorlax-gym-heroes-33pokemon-paradijs.comSome of the unexpected can actually be prevented by taking extra precautions. Situations like hunger, having to change deck because of something wrongly written on your decklist, and fatigue all fall into this category.

Say that you get tired easily even just by missing a few hours of sleep. By knowing this, it would be best to try and get a solid night of sleep the night before.

The situation of not getting enough sleep before a tournament is one of the most unexpected situations amongst most players.

I suffered from this a bit in Toronto. I went through the first couple of Swiss rounds fine because I had some adrenaline. Having missed a few hours of sleep the night before because I was undecided on my final decklist, however, by the third round I was tired.

Knowing that I couldn’t continue the rest of the tournament this way, me and my mum had to find some ways to keep me awake and in my playing zone.

The first thing that I did was taking off anything that was keeping me warm (like my hoodie.) The other two things that I did were to eat food that had some sugar in it, and then, since we were in Toronto, I ran outside and threw snow in my face to make sure that I was fully awake.

This whole situation would have never had to happen if I had gotten enough sleep. That brings us back to the topic of extra precautions. If I had my final decklist decided even a bit earlier that day, I would have had a better chance of getting more hours of sleep.

Most players will need to eat during a tournament, so bringing some food along or checking to see if there is somewhere to purchase some near or at the tournament venue would be a good idea. Also it’s a good idea to reread your decklist multiple times to make sure that everything is written down correctly.

Again, these are extra precautions to prevent going on tilt.

After Winning a Match

Although winning is the main goal when going into a tournament, it can actually put players on tilt. It’s not the usual type of tilt though. It’s more like a “victory tilt.”

I’m sure that lots of us have won a game against someone we consider a great player. The feeling after is usually one of accomplishment. It’s great to give yourself a pat on the back for winning against someone with a high skill level but, if this happens in tournament, it could affect your next rounds negatively.

What I mean by this is that the happiness from the win could distract a player from their current match, therefore meaning that the player is on victory tilt. Victory tilt can also occur when a player gets farther than they have ever been in a tournament before (making it in to top cut, top eight,finals, etc.)

I had victory tilt in Toronto after learning that I was in top cut (in Seniors, we had an eight person top cut.) During my first match of top eight, half of my attention was on the fact that I was going to get points. Because of that, I have no recollection of how game one played out; I only know that I ended up losing.


During game two, I still had some victory tilt, but not as much as before. It was a good long match where I actually in the end won!

After that, I realized that there was a chance for me to move to the semi-finals. That’s when I was completely off victory tilt. I ended up winning game three because of time and moved on to the semi-finals.

If I was on complete victory tilt during game two, I’m sure my tournament run would have ended there.

Tilt after a loss and victory tilt after a win affect players the same way by wrecking a player’s concentration that is needed for future games. They also can be both stopped by realization. Once realizing that he or she is on victory tilt or tilt in general, the player can usually get out of it by realizing why they are on either type of tilt and how it is affecting them in matches.


All players will have certain habits for tournaments and matches. These can be habits for shuffling, drawing cards, and ways to handle situations that may cause tilt. However I’ll just be talking about habits for handling tilt situations today.

Like how I said before, most players will go on tilt out of habit. People who naturally think more positively will have less of a problem than those who have a more pessimistic nature.

Having a negative mindset during a match isn’t good, but some players will naturally have one.

It’s crucial to get rid of the negative attitude habit before a tournament. For example, league would be a perfect place to practice having a more positive mindset during games. Since the games are more casual and laid-back, there’s nothing on the line.

Tournaments organized by local game stores are great too. There are usually some prizes involved, which will offer a more competitive atmosphere. This would be a great way to practice having a positive mindset for players that just have a negative mindset during tournaments.


Having a positive mindset at a tournament is what can sometimes make the difference. It’s important to realize when you are going on tilt and knowing what your weaknesses are!

I actually had lots of fun writing this article, so maybe I’ll write another sometime in the future!

Thanks for reading!


Reader Interactions

22 replies

  1. Jak Stewart-Armstead

    Really nicely written and presented with lots of solid advice. Other Seniors (and a lot of Masters) take note.

    But as far as I’m concerned, you earned the +1 with the pic of FA Emolga

  2. John Orgel

    Preparation is key. One thing that I might add to the tips you gave are always have a bottle of aspirin or alleve ready and stay hydrated. These two things have helped me make sure that I don’t get mentally fatigued late into the tournament day. At an event like states or regionals it is not uncommon to be playing pokemon for 14 hours. Ensuring that you are mentally awake and alert allows for you to make the best plays and have no regrets about your play.

    Great article, and I agree with Baby Mario that this is something that every player (senior and master alike) must be reminded of from time to time. +1

  3. Aidan Boyce

    Wow what an amazing article with great advice that anyone in any division should really pay attention to! Nice job! Seriously this article is better than something your average Master could write up imo.

  4. Aaron Worob

    Great article! Provided for some inward reflection, and quantified some of my own thoughts on the issue of attitude.

  5. Martin Payne

    One thing you didn’t mention is that no matter how much you have prepared, once the tournament begins it begins. At that point the only thing you need to do is play every hand to give you the highest % chance of winning. You can’t change your deck list and bad draws are irrelevant as you should be thinking about making the best play given what you have, not what you could have. Also people tend to forget mistakes they make in games that they win. Always reevaluate your games, win or lose, to see if you could have played your hands differently (note I didn’t say think about what you could have drawn but think about how you could have played identical hands better). Its sort of like when you are taking a test you haven’t studied for, it is irrelevant that you didn’t study once you are taking the test and all of your focus should be on answering every question to the best of your ability.

  6. Mark Hanson

    Haha, I love the Vancouver Island collective starting up here! We just need Josh, Chase and Trevore to start writing, and then it’s pretty much everyone…

    Great article Sam! I really enjoyed it :) Overall good advice, and it’s interesting to hear your thoughts on something like this.

  7. Bria Boyce

    This was a great article! Ah, the negative mindset…something I struggle with even outside of Pokemon. Some of it can be personality a bit…I think, considering it seems really hard for me to get out of this mindset with just about anything, but I’m making progress! And you had some excellent tips in there. All in all, excellent! =)

  8. Jack Stensrud

    This article is great. My personal warmup ritual is to take whatever song that is in my head, and play it over and over until I get tired of it, then I am completely ready for some reason. I usually don’t misplay as much as most of my friends, but that’s probably because I have a much longer time playing. This really helped me in my 1st round game of Washington States, where I was playing the player who had just gotten 2nd place last Saturday at Oregon, and I was a bit scared, but I just said, “Well, I’m just going to give him a good game,” and wound up playing a perfect game, and I beat him on my last topdeck. I wound up going 3-3, but that was a major victory for me just to win against him.

    • Samantha Norrie  → Jack

      Thanks, that’s a cool routine. The same thing happend to me too in Toronto swiss, as soon as I saw who I was facing one round I got nervous because I knew he was good but then ended up beating him in a close game, congrats on the win!

  9. Grant Manley

    For your first article, it was very good (you’re probably tired of hearing this from everyone :P) I’m surprised it’s only got +25 but I admittedly skimmed a little.

  10. Jack Stensrud

    Good job on making Top Cut at Regionals! I got 35th with Darkrai… :C

  11. Robert Hinds

    Just wanted to thank ya. I used your insights and ideas. It helped a lot to actually enjoy regionals and play with a positive mindset.

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