Being at Your Best

Kenny’s Guide to Success in Tournament Preparation and Progression

Hello friends, Kenny Wisdom here. I’m happy to be back with another article! I realized today that this is actually my 100th published piece for SixPrizes, which is pretty unreal to think about. As someone who has been a fan of/been involved with SixPrizes since its inception, it’s great to see how far the website has come. Thank you all for supporting me over the past eight years(!!!), and through my many role changes within the game and the community. I wouldn’t have managed to crack double digits, much less triple, without all of you. Here’s to a hundred more. :)

Unfortunately, I haven’t been all that focused on Pokémon as of late. I’ve undergone a lot of significant life changes over the past few months that have taken up most of my time and energy. I had toyed with the idea of attending the San Jose Regional Championship, but the pressures of Thanksgiving weekend combined with rising flight costs made that idea less appealing very quickly. I’m not sure when I’ll next be able to attend a Regional, whether playing or on coverage, but rest assured that I do plan on doing more of both of those this season than in the past.

Due to the changes in the Championship Point structure, my goal is to try to qualify for Worlds (though if given the opportunity, I would commentate rather than play). It remains to be seen whether my schedule will allow me the travel necessary to do so, but I am going to make it a main focus of my life over the next six months or so. Now that life has settled down a bit, though, I do plan on going to as many local League Cups as possible, and learning the ins and outs of the new format. I’m sure there are plenty of other 6P writers who can and will tell you all about new Standard, so I’ll leave that to them. Today, I wanted to talk about something a little different…

With the European International Championship and San Jose Regionals happening over the next few weeks, I thought I would take this opportunity to talk a little bit about giving yourself the best opportunity to be successful at a tournament, outside of physically playing the cards.

Deck selection and in-game play are incredibly important, but are also only one piece of the puzzle, especially in the current era, where doing well at these events means playing two full days of Pokémon. It’s my hope that, after reading this article, you will be prepared to handle all of the practical and emotional aspects of a long, grueling tournament.

Pre-Tourament Preparation

Catching ZZZs and Watching Calories

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You’ll read a lot of articles that tell you to get plenty of sleep and make sure you eat a nutritious breakfast. While I think you should be doing these things, I don’t think it needs to be repeated here. Of course you are going to function best on enough sleep and enough calories. This should be obvious to anyone with a SixPrizes account, though I admit it is easier said than done.

The only thing I’d like to add in this realm is that I don’t think you should break from your personal routine all that much. If you’re used to sleeping five hours a night and skipping breakfast, you should probably stick with that for the day of the tournament. I think adding variables that might make your body respond differently (if not necessarily poorly) is not a recipe for success. With that being said, you should always aim, tournament or not, to get enough sleep and eat balanced meals throughout the day. If you’re not already doing that, though, I don’t think day one of an International is the place to start.

Mise En Place

The single most consistent difference I’ve observed between myself and other Pokémon players over my years of playing is the amount of time I spend preparing to handle the logistical aspects of a tournament before the tournament begins.

For instance, I don’t think I’ve ever walked into a tournament bigger than a League Cup without my decklist written out, deck sleeved, and extra sleeves/dice/etc on hand. For me, tournament mornings are already stressful enough. I’m waking up in an unfamiliar hotel room, most likely surrounded by several other people. I probably won’t have as long to shower and dress as I’d like, and we likely have to spend ten or fifteen minutes driving or walking to a tournament. This is before even considering if the previous days’ travel has worn on me, if I’ll be able to find food and coffee, and the million other little things that affect how your morning starts.

By front loading all of this work, I am reducing stress factors on the day of the tournament itself, so I can focus on the things that can’t be taken care of beforehand, such as the aforementioned bathing and getting to the tournament site. This extends to all aspects of my life, but I think it’s especially useful for tournament settings.

Map out the things you can and cannot do in advance, and prioritize them in a way that makes your life the easiest.

Note that some of this is going to require preparation in the days leading up to the tournament. You may need to buy sleeves a day before you leave, and you might need to order cards a week or two in advance to make sure they arrive on time. You’ll want to grab a sheet of paper from home, or from the front desk of the hotel, so you can have a decklist written out that morning. All of this is fairly simple, but is something I see Pokémon players fail at consistently, causing themselves a whole lot of unneeded stress.

During the Event

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Between Rounds

You’re likely going to spend a lot of the day not actually playing Pokémon. Even if your event is run well, there is going to be a significant amount of time between rounds, and figuring out how to best use that time can be the difference between entering the next round feeling prepared and not.

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what is going to be best for you. Everyone is different, and it’s important to take a look within yourself and think about what helps you in these situations. After a tough loss, do you like to be left alone, or do you want to be surrounded by your friends to be cheered up? If you finish a match quickly, do you want to scout the field, watch your friends play, or take a walk? It’s up to each individual to decide for themselves what the best course of action is for each situation.

For me, personally, I like to spend most of my time between rounds by myself, or at least not actively engaging with others. My ritual (which feels like a little too strong of a word for something that is just nonsense) is to pick a song before a tournament, and listen to that song through the entire event, whenever I’m not playing a match. I find that this acts as background noise that is repeated and predictable, so I can just kind of zone out and not have to think too much.

I said earlier that I like to be alone, but that doesn’t apply to the digital world. I’m actually a big fan of checking Facebook/Twitter or just texting in-between rounds. I think, for me personally, this lets me escape from the Pokémon mindset for a bit. If I had a tough loss, it helps to read a text from my parents or my partner, or even just a silly joke tweet or something, to remind me that what I’m feeling is only temporary, and doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things.

Both of these things are ways to separate myself from the tournament at hand as much as possible, while still being physically present. It’s not helpful for me to finish a match, drop off my slip, and then be engaged in a dozen different conversations about records, bad beat stories, how a certain match up should play out, and whatever else. There’s a time and a place for all of that (except for bad beat stories, no one has ever been interested in those), and it’s all about identifying when that is for you.

This isn’t to say that I don’t want to be interacted with at all during a tournament. Certainly, if you see me walking around between rounds, feel free to say hi! I always enjoy meeting new people and immersing myself further in the community. I pride myself on being open and approachable. If I feel I’m too tired, distracted, or whatever else to have a full conversation, I’ll tell you as much. I never have a problem talking to anyone at tournaments, and certainly want to hear from those who are fans of my content.

That’s just me, though. I know people that love to play games in between rounds, because they never want to fall out of the competitive mindset. I also know those who want to be social and talk to their friends about anything other than Pokémon. There is no right or wrong, it will just take a little bit of introspection, and likely trial and error, to find what works best for you.

Lastly, once you’ve identified what it is that works for you, it’s important to ask for it, or put yourself in a situation to receive it. If you desperately want to be left alone, then it’s probably a good idea to put on headphones and move to a corner of the room. If you want to talk to your friends, come up to them and let that be known. No one but yourself can give you the things you need, and no one can read your mind.

Losses and Mistakes

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Winning feels great, losing feels horrible. Winning is one of my favorite things, losing is one of my least favorite. If you’re subscribed to a premium Pokémon TCG strategy site, I’m willing to bet you feel similarly. None of us would play the game if we weren’t passionate about it, and with passion comes strong emotions. It’s okay to feel bad when you lose, the important thing is to not let it affect your in-game play for the rest of the tournament.

The important thing in this situation, and maybe the most difficult concept I’ll talk about in this article, is to not be results-oriented. This is a topic I’m very passionate about, and one that I’ll likely write an entirely article about someday, but for now I’ll just say this:

The results of your last match don’t have anything to do with your current one. They don’t change the contents of your deck, your reason for choosing it, or how any of the match ups work. Losing a match means that you earned zero match point for that round, and nothing else. It doesn’t feel good to start an important tournament 0-1, but you will not be as successful as you can be until you realize that there is nothing you can do to change that result, and it’s time to move on.

At Vancouver Regionals, I made an egregious mistake in Round 8. I used Gallade’s Premonition and put a card that would win me the game over the next two turns on top of my deck. I thought for a second, and then played a Brigette, without thinking that it would cause me to shuffle my deck, and undue the Premonition entirely. This was the worst mistake I’ve ever made, and directly led to me losing that game and the match. I am embarrassed to even be writing about it here, but hopefully it will serve some purpose.

In addition to losing me the match, it also made it impossible for me to advance to the second day of competition. I like to think I’m better than most players at keeping my emotions in check, but on this day, I wasn’t. I went into the last round of the day still clearly upset, and made multiple mistakes because of it. I wasn’t entirely focused on the game, and did not try my hardest to win. I ended up unintentionally drawing that round due to having to recover from the mistakes I had made.

This served no purpose. In Round 8, I had made the mistake, and I had lost the match because of it. This sucked, but there was nothing I could do about it. Being upset wasn’t going to make the mistake go away, or to add three match points onto my record. It was only going to make things worse for me. There was no reason to let a loss in Round 8 affect my Round 9, but I did, and I paid for it.

One At A Time

One of the most important concepts I’ve learned through my years of playing Pokémon is to take things one match at a time. The way you’re playing and thinking about the game and the tournament shouldn’t change whether you’re 6-0, 0-2, down a game, up a game, desperately need to win this match to make Day 2, or any scenario in-between. In fact, you shouldn’t even be thinking about any of that. You should just be playing the game.

Your goal at any given event should be to win all of your matches. Your record, your opponent, how your last match went, how your next one might go, etc. should not factor into this at all. The more energy you give to factors outside of the game, the less you have to give to the game itself, and the worse your results will be because of it. There is no reason to give any energy to anything other than playing your best.

I remember watching an interview with a professional chess player (unfortunately I can’t remember who, as this was years ago) who had recently won a big tournament. When asked about the pressure going into the finals, he said something along the lines of “I didn’t think about any of that. There was no extra pressure than there always is. I just played chess until they told me I couldn’t play chess anymore, like I do at every tournament.” This is a simple statement, but a very profound one. I think adopting the mindset of “I’m going to play Pokémon until they tell me I can’t anymore” is incredibly important to making sure you’re allocating your mental resources correctly at any given tournament.

Of course, this is easier said than done. We’ve all felt the pressure of being 0-2, knowing that you need to win the rest of your matches to even stay in the tournament. On the other side, we all know what it’s like to just need to win two of your next three matches to make Top 8. It’s not realistic to be able to block these things out of your mind entirely, but I believe, with some effort, you can reach a point where these thoughts will occur less and less, and impact you less and less.

Something that has always helped me is to not concern yourself with what record you might need to make Day 2. At a certain point you need to be aware of it, for situations where you might be able to ID in, but at the beginning of the tournament, how does knowing that some 6-1-2s will miss help you? It’s not as if you’re going to think “I need to do really well at this tournament. I had planned to only win some of my matches, but now that I have this newfound information, I think I’ll plan on winning them all!” Your goal is always to do well, it’s always to win, and putting added pressure on yourself by counting match point before it becomes relevant is a waste of time and energy.

None of this is going to be easy. In fact, it is going to be very difficult. By attempting to learn to take the tournament one match at a time, you are going to have to unlearn behaviors that have likely been with you since you began playing the game. Thinking about how many more losses you have to give is not only deeply ingrained in you, it’s completely natural. Bad habits are difficult to break, and this one is no different. You’re going to struggle, you’re going to mess up. Those are just facts, and they are okay. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about doing the best you can. That’s all any of us can do, really.

In Conclusion

I hope that these tips can help you to be better prepared at your next tournament, whether that’s London, San Jose, or even just a local League Cup. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. See you next month.

XO
KW


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