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Carrie On – Preparing For Your First GP

I remember my first Magic tournament. Admittedly, it wasn’t very long ago. It was Worldwake Game Day at my local store. I had proudly built a White Weenie Equipment deck that I thought was amazing. I’d win, and everyone would say, “oh, wow, you are so good.”

Well, I didn’t win. I had no idea what people played in Standard or that there were big competitions with carefully tuned decks that people would copy, nor the concept of a metagame to think about and work around. Game Day is hardly the most cutthroat environment, and only a few Spikes will actually have the deck. But the higher you go, the more tuned and precise decks are, and yours needs to be as well if you want to compete. So, how do you prepare for you first big competition like a Grand Prix? Today I will share my preparation for GP Ghent, which is my second major excursion into Legacy, and the first time I’ve actually tried to prepare for a big Legacy event.

The preparation for a format like Legacy or a mid-season Standard tournament is very different from preparing for a Pro Tour. For the Pro Tour, you always have minimal information to go on, and as much as I’d like to be, I am not the person to write about that. Try asking LSV. Anyway, I hope that if you are new to the tournament scene, or thinking of attending your first GP, or just want to improve your tournament preparation, you will find this article useful. Without further preamble, onto the meat (or vegetables, given I’m veggie).

“Knowledge is Power” – Francis Bacon: De Haeresibus

Three months ago I couldn’t watch a game of Legacy. I didn’t know what half the cards did, which makes watching those matches a rather frustrating and tedious experience. As a newer Magic player, I just don’t have an extensive knowledge of what the cards that only show up in Legacy do. Sitting down and memorizing every card that might turn up in a Legacy event seemed like overkill, so I settled for learning the big decks.

But wait, what are the big decks?

For any given format there is a wealth of information out there about what is successful. Many of you are already familiar with the following sites, but if not, make sure to bookmark them. They are invaluable for keeping an eye on what is happening:

1. Magic Online deck lists

If you scroll down the page, on the right is a link to all the decklists from Daily Events that went 3-1 or better along, with decklists from Premier Events and online PTQs. When I do metagame analysis for Standard, this is where I go—and I usually take the last 20 Daily Events and count archetypes. It’s important to look over several events because of the natural variance in Magic. I wish it were possible to access all the lists that had entered, since that would be an even better indicator for success; but alas, it is not. Notably, MTGO is useful for looking at Standard, Modern, and Block lists; but Legacy does not have the same card pool online as in real life, and so it is a poor indicator for an actual tournament.

2. SCG deck lists

Star City Games runs regular weekend tournaments: Standard on Saturday and Legacy on Sunday. The Top 32 lists are normally made available from the events. They are a great resource for Legacy, since they are the only regularly run events. For Standard, I think their metagame is a little inbred, so don’t use them as your only point of reference.

3. TCG player

TCG player keeps a record of many decklists from various events (I have linked to the Standard lists, but you can finds others under the ‘decks’ heading), including the two above. However, I listed the other two as separate resources since TCG player can be overwhelming. With so many lists, you have to be careful to observe the Location and Finish columns, otherwise you end up looking at someone’s random brew. As a bonus, on the front page for Standard they give you the decks by Top 8 frequency from when the last expansion was added, but that doesn’t tell you what the metagame is up to right now. So again, caution is important. Still, when I want to look at lists for a particular deck, this is where I head, as I can take an average across many recent lists.

Those are the three major places I go to get a handle on what people are playing. But there are other resources available.

Phone a Friend, or Ask an Expert

Seeking the opinion of people with more knowledge than yourself is a sensible approach. I know it may seem like asking directions, which for my male readers may seem hard, but there is no shame in this.

I asked several regular Legacy players which decks I should focus on, and which would suit my playstyle best. For reference, the “big decks” I should learn were RUG Delver, Reanimator, Maverick, Sneak and Show, and Stoneblade, with with the caveat that I should at least be aware of how Dredge and Elves work. Given I had a couple of months, this seemed a sensible workload for me.

I have also been reading what the “best in the business” are saying. There are some fine articles out there about almost everything. People spend time writing these excellent articles, so don’t turn down your best resource.

Normally, my main use for articles is to gauge what people are thinking and talking about, and this lets me get an idea of what will be highly played. I’m not too bothered about this in Legacy, since I’m not choosing and tuning a deck to win the GP (though that’d be nice). For Standard, I want to ensure my deck isn’t useless against the expected meta, and I want my sideboard to reflect what I think I am likely to play against. It’s a bit naïve, or possibly just lazy, to turn up at a tournament with nothing for the one matchup that everyone is playing, when three different people wrote about the list the week prior.

Doing Your Homework

I have had a couple of months to prep for the GP. What have I been doing? Well, I built copies of the major decks and played. Not serious testing like Paulo’s recent article talked about (if you haven’t read this, do check it out). I do that for a format I am already comfortable with and intend to win. No, I have just played Magic like when I was first learning. Seeing what the decks do, working out their game plans, their nut draws, and importantly: how to disrupt them.

For example: Sneak and Show

Game plan:

• Plays big, broken creatures:

[draft]Griselbrand
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn[/draft]

-for cheap!

[draft]Show and tell
Sneak attack[/draft]

• Runs counters to stop its plan from being disrupted or bested by the opponent’s plan:

[draft]Force of will
daze[/draft]

• What it doesn’t like are opposing counters, hand disruption, mana denial, or [card sphere of resistance]Sphere[/card] effects.

[draft]Force of will
Thoughtseize
Wasteland
Thalia, guardian of thraben[/draft]

I started with a case study like this (thought—not actually written down) for each of my major decks. As I played the decks, I added more notes around the edges. All decks are more complicated than they appear on paper, which is why it’s important to actually get some time playing them—even if you aren’t going to play that deck.

In this case, it was also an important method for deck selection. Having not played anything but Zoo, I wanted to find something that suited my playstyle. I didn’t actually like Sneak and Show—I felt it needed too many expensive pieces to do its thing. That’s not to say I am opposed to combo in general; I actually quite like the Reanimator decks.

Even for the decks that I don’t end up playing, knowledge of how each deck plays is very important. If I do end up playing against them, I want to know which of my cards I should be using to disrupt their plans and which of their cards are important. Do you know which of [card]Elvish Visionary[/card] or [card]Wirewood Symbiote[/card] you should kill first? Or whether it’s better to counter an [card]Entomb[/card], or wait for the [card]Reanimate[/card]?

I Have my Deck! Now What?

You’ve researched the popular decks, chosen one you like, and practiced plenty with it. That’s great! Now to think about non-Magic related stuff that affects the Magic stuff.

It is overlooked, but your mental and physical health, before and during a tournament, affects your performance.

If you are happy sharing a youth hostel with friends, then don’t let me stop you. Personally, I find the beds uncomfortable, and someone always snores. I will not sleep well if I stay there. As such, I shop around and find a cheap hotel room. Getting a good night’s sleep is really important for your ability to play well. Similarly, if you can, travel out to the GP on Friday evening rather than first thing Saturday morning. More sleep is a good thing! You cannot expect your brain to perform if it’s tired.

Ensuring you get plenty of water and eating sensibly will help keep your mind focused. GPs are held in huge rooms with lots of people. It’s a really dehydrating experience. I’m really bad at this in particular, so after each round I make myself drink half a bottle of water. That way I can’t forget.

As for food it can be difficult to source it in a hurry. The advantage of arriving on Friday is that you have time to search out the local supermarkets, and purchase the ingredients for sandwiches or whatever. It’s tempting just to eat cake all day, but too much sugar won’t actually help. Try to get a balance of food, including stuff you can easily snack on that isn’t chocolate, like grapes, to keep your sugar levels balanced—rather than running the roller coaster of sugar highs and lows.

This is all really common sense stuff, and yet it’s ignored time and time again. Oh… also don’t get drunk the night before—a hangover is definitely not the secret to winning.

I hope this advice will help you have a fun and successful GP. While it won’t guarantee a win, the steps outlined here are essential for victory. Good luck! See you next week.

Carrie Oliver
@onionpixie

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