How To Prepare For Your Next TCG Tournament – Tips and Advice

How To Prepare For Your Next TCG Tournament – Tips and Advice

For this article, I’ll teach you how to prepare for your next Trading Card Game (TCG) tournament with some practical tips and actionable advice. While you can use these for your friendly Local Gaming Store’s (LGS) weekly sessions, these are more geared towards bigger tournaments like major once-a-year events like the National Championships, where preparation plays a bigger factor in winning. Some of these may sound a little crude and not as strategic-sounding but trust me, they’re a product of decades of experience playing TCGs, joining big tournaments, and winning a couple or so – all boiled down to the very fundamentals that will apply to most, if not all, games that you’re playing.

How To Prepare For Your Next TCG Tournament – Tips and Advice

  1. Respect Your Local Metagame.
  2. Stop Being Romantic With How You Get Your Practice
  3. Don’t Stay Up Late Practicing, Do Wake Up Early To Warm Up.
  4. Eat Just Enough, Hydrate A Lot.
  5. Redefine What “Winning” Means.

TCG Tournament Tips: Respect Your Local Metagame

A metagame is the current state of the most effective strategies available given the current cards. A TCG with a healthy metagame has a good balance of different strategies that interact well with each other, or balance each other out by their respective strengths and weaknesses, or simply just varied enough that any player can pick from a list of viable ones and use them to win.

Identifying the metagame for the tournament you’re going to is important because it provides a realistic picture of the decks and strategies that you’ll expect to fight against. This helps you make an informed decision on which deck you want to bring, and how to approach your testing process against the field. A common error for new tournament-goers is that they zero in on what they want to play without taking into account the context of the field that they’ll be playing in.

TCG Tournament Tips
Players often form teams or organize playtest groups to solve the metagame better.

Common starting points are:

1) Identifying the “best” decks in the metagame. There are usually a couple or so decks or strategies that define the metagame because they are the dominant ones that every other deck or strategy is measured against.

2) With this knowledge in mind, decide how you want to approach it – the two common ways are playing it, or countering it.

To play it is to acknowledge that the existing strategies are already powerful enough that it’s easier to just play them rather than think of ways to defeat them. The drawback here is that because they tend to be popular, you have to prepare for mirror matches accordingly.

Countering involves finding ways to make your matchup against the best decks favorable, usually by finding strategies that disrupt or outright destroy theirs. Sometimes, these decks end up becoming the new “best” decks in the metagame, and this constant cycle of having dominant strategies and finding ways to beat them keeps the metagame constantly evolving.

By identifying the dominant strategies and how to approach them, you can now pick a deck that you want and practice with it, which brings us to the next point.

TCG Tournament Tips: Stop Being Romantic With How You Get Your Practice

I’ve met a lot of players who wait for stars to align before they put in the hours to test their decks and strategies. Oftentimes, their reasons don’t make sense – they want to wait for their actual cards to arrive, or they want to complete the deck first, or they want to do it offline so it’s “real” practice, or they don’t want to use online tools available because they’re not feeling it, or some misguided belief like “it feels like cheating”.

And then during tournament day, they complain that they never had enough practice.

The thing is, the knowledge that you gain in practice matters more than the way that you’ve acquired it. Testing with paper label proxies vs testing with real cards will yield the same amount of information –  one just happens to look more aesthetically pleasing than the other. Using online tools and then talking over Discord yields just the same amount of insight as meeting up somewhere to play IRL. Nobody gets a “most complete deck during playtests” award. Ultimately, what matters is the information that you get from testing, how you’ll use it, and whether it does end up helping you win or not. The method doesn’t matter at all. Info is info.

TCG Tournament Tips: Don’t Stay Up Late Practicing, Do Wake Up Early To Warm Up

During my younger days playing TCGs we tend to test well into the early morning of the tournament day. Maybe it’s just our love for the game or the youthful energy reserves but either way this often is a bad idea.

You have acknowledged that the body needs rest, and while the immediate benefits to your stamina during tournament day are obvious, the bigger reason for this is that we need a rest period to process and retain information better.

TCG Tournament Tips
Players are also less grumpy, so it improves the overall tournament experience for everyone.

From personal experience, out of all the times we’ve stayed up late in hopes of getting more practice, and information or discovering some great new strategy at the last minute, it only worked out well once. The rest is just a whirl of crashing energy levels in the middle of the day, or committing multiple crucial misplays because of mental fatigue that more often than not, took us out of contention.

So what’s the best plan? It’s pretty simple:

Do some relaxed testing before going to sleep, the goal here is to dig as much information as possible to process when you rest.

Get enough sleep for your body to be refreshed the next day.

Arrive early and do warm-up games. This helps refresh the brain, get it in line with what you will do for the day, and makes you less nervous going into the first match. If the time or place doesn’t allow that, at least discuss your strategies before going into play while shuffling your deck.

TCG Tournament Tips: Eat Just Enough, Hydrate A Lot

Water is a non-negotiable during long tournament days. You’ll be playing for hours and, understandably get tired – you’ll need a drink. I didn’t emphasize food the same way because some players (me included) can get a little too relaxed when we’re full, which leads to sleepiness in the latter parts of the tournament, which could potentially lead to misplays. I perform better with a little hunger in the stomach just to help keep me aware – so it’s usually a good idea to eat just the right amount.

A good rule of thumb is to eat breakfast before going out to play and bring a water bottle with you to keep hydrated. In bigger tournaments, it’s unlikely that you’ll get lunch breaks once it starts, so it’s safe to assume that you’ll be in there non-stop for the next five or seven to ten hours, depending on how well you’re doing.

TCG Tournament Tips
The best tournaments provide players with free food.

Finally, just like sleep, it’s all just a matter of being healthy = performing better – the closer to the right amount you get, the better off you’ll be. At the end of the day, tournaments are still strenuous activities even if we’re just shuffling cards and thinking hard, and our physical condition will still affect our performance.

TCG Tournament Tips: Redefine What “Winning” Means

Everyone going into a tournament is of course thinking of the prize – and we can’t help it, some tournaments can be lucrative for the eventual winner. Battle Hardened: Manila, for example, awards special cards that amount to thousands of dollars… in addition to an actual cash prize.

Read More:

What to Expect From Battle Hardened: Manila

However, if we always continue to judge our tournament success based on whether we win the whole thing, then it’ll lead more often than not to disappointment. This is because of the nearly insurmountable odds that are stacked against the winning player in any given tournament. To give you an idea of how difficult it is to Top 8, much less win a tournament, a player has to…

  • Play their best and make the correct play almost always for the whole duration of the tournament – which could last for eight to ten hours non-stop.
  • Win their early rounds regardless of their matchup. Getting two losses early on almost always kills anyone’s chances to make the Top 8.
  • Be fortunate enough to dodge their worst matchups.
  • Face increasingly tougher opponents as they get tired. Winners are often paired with other winners so you’ll eventually fight against the best players in the tournament as the day goes on.
  • Make the right metagame call and bring a competent deck or strategy.
  • Avoid every other unlucky factor that can happen both in and out of the game.

A better mindset is patting yourself on the back for making correct decisions regardless of whether big or small, win or lose. If you brought the correct deck or strategy against most of the field but lost early on because of some obscure, bad matchup, that’s fine. The takeaway here is that you did good research and accounted for the biggest probabilities.

It’s still possible to lose after making all the right decisions. What matters is that you made them.

If you made all the optimal plays and still lost to variance (e.g. you never saw a card that’s crucial to winning the match), the lesson is that you’ve played correctly to the best of your ability, and that experience will build up your skills for that matchup in the future.

Sometimes stuff just happens outside of our control and not in our favor. The best thing we can do is control how we frame it, and how we react to it.

I hope these tips help and good luck on your next tournament!

Looking for a TCG to try out? Check out the best ones to play this year!

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The Five New Trading Card Games You Should Play This Year

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