[As much as 2010 has been a great year for me, it has been an even better one for fellow Mana Deprived contributor Vincent Thibeault.  In the 3 big tourneys that I participated in, I was able to top 8 each of them.  Pretty good, right?  Vincent, on the other hand, won one of them (PTQ Amsterdam) and split in the finals for another.  This article discusses how he plans to prepare for his biggest tournament yet: Nationals.  –KYT]

The Canadian National Tournament is now on the horizon and people going on rating now know for sure that they are going. As I am already qualified for Amsterdam, my Pro Tour Qualifier season ended early, at the first tournament I attended. I was planning to play in a few online ones and some in the area, like Toronto, but now my only focus is Standard and M11 draft, which are the only two formats at my Nationals. For the draft part, I can read the spoilers on mtgsalvation, but I can not prepare yet, so I am putting my efforts into Standard. As it is still early, the tournament being on July 24-25, and that a lot of new decks can emerge before that, I do not know for sure what I am playing. I can, however, start to prepare in numerous ways, and this article will be about different things to keep in mind while preparing for a big event.

1. Learn how to play the most common deck archetypes. This one may seem a no-brainer for players with experience, but I am often surprised when I see some players attempting to master a format without trying out each of the main decks. It is easy to do so on Magic Online if you have the budget, or you can meet up with a playtesting team where everyone brings a deck or two and allow people to use them. I used to play in Taiwan where I was working as an English teacher and the competition was quite steep, local players were getting their new techs directly from Japan and were quite dedicated. A buddy of mine was living next door and we started playing as a hobby.

When we realized that there was several tournaments a month as well as PTQs, we started to abandon other games and focus on Magic: The Gathering alone. We did not have all the cards obviously, so we made plenty of proxy decks and played long sessions testing them and testing our own creations against them. During these years I learnt a lot about Magic, and enjoyed playing all sorts of decks, like Affinity, Mind’s Desire, Reveillark combo and UB Teaching. I used to prefer playing aggro when I started, but with all the playtesting with my buddy and a drink or two, I improved my capacity to play a variety of decks, and became a better control and combo player.

Playing a lot of the different decks of the format not only allows you to understand their different plans, strategies and essential weaknesses, it permits you to get experience with the most powerful cards of a given environment, which is very useful if you want to tweak your own version of a known archetype, make a brand new rogue deck, or even building up a sideboard capable of dealing with these troublesome cards. And, more than anything, it is a lot of fun, trying out different combo engines and managing to get decks to work.

These days I have moved back to Montreal and most of my friends are quite busy with work and family obligations, so I do most of my playtesting for constructed on MWS and Magic Online. I meet up with a team once or twice a month, sometimes more if a big tournament is coming. I often attend Wednesday Night Magic at my local store and hit quite a few local weekend tournaments.  I may not build all-proxy decks anymore, but I get to play more decks than the ones I expect to use in a real tournament.

So anyway, to get to know a format, play the decks of the format.

2.  Another way to get ready and better prepared is to think about your past mistakes in a critical, detached way, and then try to find out what you could do to avoid them. You read a tournament report about a Grand Prix or a Pro Tour and you realize that even the best pros are prone to blunders and misplays. Luis-Scott Vargas during the Grand Prix Oakland this year played a Slaughter pact on his own Thopter token in response to Brozek’s Searing Blaze. He was clearly trying to avoid 3 damages to his face but misread the card and misplayed, lost his pact, lost the life and later on lost the game. That shows that everyone can make mistakes, so no matter how hard you will try you can not totally avoid them.

You can, however, learn from your mistakes and try not to reproduce them again. I recently noticed that if I am not totally focused while playing, maybe talking to a friend watching my game at WNM or trying to do a clever play during a feature match with a little crowd watching, I tend to do more errors and ridiculous plays. Keeping that in mind I will be more careful in these situations and hopefully not do the same mistakes again.

Some players are writing down their mistakes, or analyzing their games afterward to see if they played tight enough or not. Brad Nelson in one of his last articles (on ChannelFireball) spends five minutes after each match to analyze in his head his games and what were his questionable plays. I used to play chess like KYT and the way to improvement was a critical review of the games played. All the games in chess are written and it is easier than Magic to remember exactly what happened. Being humble and questioning your every move, even when you won the game, will allow you to discover your weaknesses and take active measure to avoid them in the future.

So, in order to get better, you need to think back in a critical way and consider what you personally have to work on.

3. A player that blames exterior factors for his short-comings and his losses will not feel as bad about himself, but he will not have any incentive to level up his game. A player that hates losing will often be lucid enough to evaluate his part of responsibility in the loss and will tend to take proactive measures to avoid letting it happen again. We have all heard bad beats stories and we have all told them. The opponent drew his only out, we played well according to odds and he played below average, but he still won.

Blaming his luck will not do much to improve our games. Being angry about it may even be counterproductive, draining our energy and serving no constructive purpose. I am not saying that we should all become some sort of Ancient Greek stoic or Buddhist monk, and have a total control on our emotional life to the point of never feeling sadness or anger. However, if these negative emotions are hindering your play and that you are really aiming high, you have to develop coping strategies so that they do not affect you as much.

I had the chance to study Ancient Greek philosophy in university and according to Epictetus, a Stoic, things are not good or bad in themselves; only our judgment on them makes them that way. Losing because the opponent drew exactly what he needed is something that happens once in a while, and when it does happen to you, keep in mind that it should not be a source of frustration. If you accept in advance that such a thing can happen, it is easier when it happens to let it go. As most poker players will know, even if you play according to odds it does not mean you will win in the short term, and the worst thing that can happen to you when it does not work out is to go “on tilt” which means getting all emotional and starting to make irrational decisions.

So, to improve your game you should not blame exterior factors for your loss and avoid being emotional following bad beats.

Good luck in the next tournament you may attend and if you have any strategies you use in your preparation do not hesitate to share them in the comment section. In the next article I will share my thought on how to prepare for a new limited draft format and practical strategies to adopt in this matter.

Have a nice weekend,