Important Things for Tournament Success – Part 1: Concentration


Hello, it’s Tomoharu Saito. This is my third article for ChannelFireball.

I was rather uncertain about what would be a good subject for this article. When my tournament results are good, I can write a report about my performance. I think many people prefer to read articles about tournament successes. But there are also articles that strive to teach about the fundamentals of Magic play. I would really like to write this sort of article as well.

I think that it is essential to have strategy articles that focus on tournament coverage. However, at this time I don’t have the skill to write articles in English. Even when writing my articles in Japanese, my writing ability is still somewhat lacking. Given the time required to translate, I decided not to write a strategy article about my recent performance.

As my English ability improves, I would like to be able to write English articles myself. But, for now I am content to think about what kind of article is best.

I decided to write an article that would always be helpful to players, one whose ideas would not fade with time or format changes.

Previously, I wrote a column entitled “Important Things for Tournament Success” in my personal blog. It was the first in an irregular series of posts but gradually I began to have less time to write, and in the end I wrote about only three subjects.

However, I would certainly like to improve in writing about these subjects, and I also wanted to write an article whose subject would always be relevant to Magic players, regardless of when they read it. I will start from the beginning.

Consequently I have already written about the first three points, but I plan on making this an improved version. I apologize to my Japanese readers who might have already seen this first part.

In this series I am going to write about the most important skills for winning Magic tournaments. The degree of importance of these subjects varies depending on the situation, but on the whole these are the ones I think are the most crucial.

This article is aimed at all players who wish for more success in tournaments. I look forward to working with you!

1. Concentration

No matter how powerful your deck, no matter how great your understanding of how it plays, if you cannot demonstrate this ability sufficiently, it will be difficult to win in a tournament. In order to show 100% of your ability, concentration is crucial.

Frankly, as far as concentration is concerned, each person is different. And I feel like there are some people, although it may be only a handful, who can concentrate extremely well without training.

However, this does not mean that most players are naturally sufficiently focused. I think that time spent training concentration can affect one’s ability to refocus when their concentration is broken. This will boost your deck’s power, and is itself a way of taking countermeasures against weaker decks.

Training to Boost your Concentration

When practicing concentration, I find it particularly effective to pretend I am playing in a real event and focus accordingly. If my only goal were to boost my concentration, it would be good to always play as though I were in a tournament, but I also like to watch deck development, tune my build, learn match-up odds, and work on other goals which can capture my attention and cause a distraction. Because this can also lower my efficiency, I have found it is not a good idea to always split my focus. It is for this reason that I make time to challenge myself to work on concentration.

When you intend to play a match as if you were in a tournament, my recommendation is to prepare a table and chairs and keep talking to a minimum.

Also after reading a book or watching movies or television, make sure you are able to explain the subject to a third party. This is always effective in improving awareness. When it comes to explaining the subject to someone else after reading or watching, you need to have watched it carefully and tried to concentrate in order to pin down the main point. If this is mastered, when playing Magic you may find that your chance to overlook important game information will considerably decrease.

There are various methods for training your concentration, but there are none that allow you to master the skill in a short period of time. There is a feeling that steadily bit by bit the skill increases, so persist in your attempts.

Also, one characteristic of concentration ability is that it is greatly affected by your every day life. In particular, people who stay up late should be attentive to this. If an individual does not spend enough time in sunlight various problems can ensue, and concentration ability is no exception. I believe that if one’s physical health is poor, their ability to focus also decreases. Every Magic season I travel the world and my life habits tend to become irregular, which in turn has affected my experiences with concentration.

During a practice period, before a match, or simply each morning taking a walk in the sunlight is effective in improving my concentration.

Preventing a Break in Concentration

The depth of your concentration is not the only important factor when playing Magic, as your ability to play well when circumstances break your focus is also crucial. Indeed, circumstances where concentration is broken and misplays are made are frequent, and naturally they make winning more difficult. I recommend self-confidence, but you can also learn my own method for recovering concentration.

Have you heard of the Saito Slap?

If there is bothersome noise around me, I will slap my cheek hard to recover my concentration. Honestly, I also continue to do this because it has become a part of my character as a professional player.

I often look up at the ceiling and take a deep breath. I also find it useful to move my focus from a single ceiling board to the ceiling as a whole.

Going outside to smoke between rounds also renews my spirits afterwards, but while effective, I do not recommend it.

This habit is causing a decline in my chances to sip tea with friends while playing Vintage in my old age.

I do not do this, but maybe pinching yourself forcefully or eating strong flavored candy is a good idea. I have heard that eating chocolate helps.

At any rate, those are my recommendations of everything that has worked for me when it comes to recovering concentration.

What are the times when it is easy to break concentration?

When you recognize the times when it is easy for problems to arise, it becomes easier to cope with them.

The moment you think you’ve won
When you’ve lost a previous game due to a play error
When you’ve lost a previous round due to a play error
When you’ve lost a previous game due to a poor draw, mana troubles, etc.
When you’ve lost a previous round due to a poor draw, mana troubles, etc.
After some kind of trouble occurs
When something causes you to become irritated
When you think about things other than the match

At these times, your concentration may break, and it is easy to make play mistakes. Among these things, are there any that you have always managed to focus through? I think that there are few players who haven’t lost their concentration due to these things at some point.

“After that mistake, I couldn’t have won”¦

I have heard these words uttered many times, and I too have said them previously. Thinking of strictly theoretical value, even if one mistake causes a player to lose a game and that game caused the chance of winning the match to decrease, it means no more than that. However, practically speaking, many people let the chance of winning the match decrease because of their thinking. This is like a misplay in that their ability to concentrate is destroyed, and the likelihood of success decreases.

“I made that mistake, so I lost”

Refraining from thoughts like this is overwhelmingly beneficial: each time you stop this train of thought, you get closer to victory. Anyone can make play mistakes, and instead of becoming upset when they occur, how about using a method of recovering your concentration and trying to get back on track?

Magic is a wonderful game. Right now, I am betting my livelihood on it, but even misplays and losses do not cost me my life. I don’t let other people get to me.

If you relax a little, you can move forward.

From Tomoharu Saito, to Magic players throughout the world

52 thoughts on “Important Things for Tournament Success – Part 1: Concentration”

  1. This article is pure gold.
    One can apply its concepts not only to Magic, but to everything in his life.

    Saito, you’d probably be one of the best salarymen in Japan if you’d chosen that path. You have the correct mindset for success at whatever you choose to do in your life.

    I’m looking forward to reading the next articles on play skills.

  2. Love the “decreasing my chances to sip tea and play vintage with my friends in my old age line.” That is a beautiful thought. I want to do that too. The cigs between rounds are just so good though.

  3. I have mixed feelings about this article. It was fine, but I don’t feel like I really got anything out of it.

  4. I kind of agree with bob on this one. I feel like it was an alright read, but I didn’t take much away from it save for a few personal tidbits about it’s author. I feel like there were a few places where it could have gone into a little more depth, but instead the author opted to just glaze over the point and move on.

  5. @ ppl who got nothing from the article. Congratulations. You are a master of concentration. I found that this articel was helpful but doesn’t give you everything. There is no quick fix for focus. You can see the best do it. Meditiation, mindfulness, focus; whatever. I would recommend every person on this planet do their own research on the topic Saito has broached.

  6. Nice to have an article that is outside the realms of what we normally read. Specifically tricks and tips on maintaining focus. Gold.

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  8. konnichiwa!! o genki desu ka

    i really enjoyed reading your article, because my principal weak point while playing magic in tournaments is that i always get really nervous and i cannot concentrate and i make mistakes that makes me feel like what the fuck? hahaha

    well, i will take your ideas and try luck on next regionals on my town =)

    hope to read another of your articles soon!!!

  9. As person with A.D.D I really find this helpful. Though I feel if I start to slap myself every time I break concentration, I might have a permanent red mark on my face LOL. To help concentrate I usually try to find some odd marking or anomaly on the table for a mental anchor point so when my concentration breaks I can find something that can bring me right back into the game visually, which is all I need. But I will definitely be using some of these tips in the near future

  10. Great article Saito-san!

    I recently threw a match at my local FNM from my lack of concentration (my friend was talking to me at the time). Even if it is a low level tournament, I think that improving upon such errors would greatly help my game, and I think of my game losses that day could have been attributed almost solely on lack of concentration.

  11. On a related note, what do you guys think about people who take prescription stimulants to help them focus while playing at Magic tourneys? Is it ok as long as the person was actually prescribed them?

  12. I think that one of the main problems for most of ppl while playing magic is in fact, lack of concentration. PPl tend to receive as much information as they can from everything , and that causes ppl to get distracted. cuz most of ppl simply can´t deal with so much information.
    Nice article, Mr. Saito. Keep up the good work.

  13. someguy: if it was prescribed it’s definitely fine and if it’s not, well, you’re a huge degenerate but I can’t see whats really wrong with it. On 2+2 forums people were talking about how adderal in poker is the equivelant of steroids in baseball but that’s taking it a little too far. It might give you a bit of an edge but it won’t exactly help you’re fundamentals. From an admittedly small sample size, I’ve known three people playing on adderal in a gp and they won a combined 2 matches. I wouldn’t exactly lose any sleep over this whole issue.

  14. I agree with others–I appreciate the simplicity and honesty of the article. It speaks greatly of your character without the swagger and braggery that the other pros present to us even if they aren’t aware that they are doing so.

    You gave us a topic for further contemplation and for that I am grateful. I look forward to your future articles and your continuing development of our language.


  15. This was a pretty helpful article. For those who got nothing out of it, I’d say to re-read and reconsider some points. A lot of the things that seem obvious (this was my initial reaction to the whole article) are really things that are commonly overlooked, probably because of their obviousness. the two lines I found most helpful were:
    ” When you intend to play a match as if you were in a tournament, my recommendation is to prepare a table and chairs and keep talking to a minimum.”
    “Also after reading a book or watching movies or television, make sure you are able to explain the subject to a third party. This is always effective in improving awareness.”
    The first of these follows a saying about athletic training that alot of coaches use that is “Practice doesnt make perfect… Perfect practice makes perfect”.

    the second, to most people, including myself, probably seems like something natural that they can do without concentrating. I know if i watch something i can explain it and summarize it, without having paid a significant amount of attention to it – its just second nature. But thinking of how much better I could explain that thing im watching had i given it my full focus makes me wonder what potential I havent reached. I’m sure most of you that didnt get anything out of this article can also explain things you watch or read without difficulty, and without too much focus, but how much better could you given your full attention?

    I think these two lines are the real “gold” of this article.

    nice work Saito, keep it up.

  16. I think your English articles are quite good, actually. Don’t sell yourself short.

  17. Very pleasant to read, I appreciated that it was more than just specific magic strategy. Keep these up!

  18. As someone who is constantly made fun of for missing on-board tricks and making silly errors, I might adopt the Saito Slap, now that I know what it’s used for. This article was great, and I look forward to more.

  19. Also, @Riki (who I presume translated this): the original Japanese says it’s the 4th article. I don’t know which is right (too lazy to go to the archives), but they should be put in sync.

  20. great article, I just wish it were longer! Not that it didn’t have enough content, I just wanted more!

  21. @ Ertai
    I have been doing the translation for these articles. This is Saito’s third article for CF, and the Japanese version has been changed to reflect that. Thanks!

  22. Awesome article my friend, look forward to more. LOL ill be joining you with cigs between rounds.

    I’m not trying to be an advocate but a little “mind expansion” before a tournament works wonders with my concentration.

    you all know what I’m talking about. holler if you hear me.

  23. The part about not letting one play mistake cost you the game is something I’m learning, I try to recognize my mistakes but not let them get in the way of still trying to win, there have been a number of times where I’ve lost due to an error, but also many times where I’ve drawn into the right sequence of outs or the opponent makes a mistake that gives an opening to get back in the game. I would sum up as; concentrate as much as possible, but know that mistakes will still happen, and when they occur take the attitude of forcing the opponent to still make all the right moves to beat you. Mistakes are a part of the game, not an excuse to lose one’s concentration. 🙂

    Also, concentrating on the opponent (like their body language and reactions to draws, board states/plays, opening hands/mulligans), can give a lot of information to turn the tide in games, that is something I would love to hear the CF.com writers cover at some point.

    Thanks for the article, and please quit smoking, it would be great to see you play magic in your old age!!

  24. This was amazing. I would love for more experts in all fields to share this kind of deep reflection. I even tried to process it to share with my math students.

  25. “When you recognize the times when it is easy for problems to arise, it becomes easier to cope with them.

    -The moment you think you've won”

    This happens to me far, far too often. I did it yesterday playing in the Midwest Masters in Des Moines, and it cost me a match and a chance to top 8.

  26. IDK if this was all that helpful. It certainly had a lot to say, but nothing that hasn’t been said before. But i guess that is the problem with gaming theory. It’s so widely spread there is always SOMETHING all ready written on it. I must say though Saito puts a personal touch on it that makes me appreciate it that much more. Thanks for writing this one, hope to see more coming.

  27. mabye you should CONCENTRATE more on the article and you will get something from it

  28. Very good article.
    I don’t know if you actually read the responses, but I have another question for you, I always have problems to play consistently in situations where I feel a lot of pressure, like in Feature matches,i’m playing important matches or when a lot of people are watching. Maybe you can help me with this?

  29. Hohoho, i saw the “Saito Slap” on Gp Bs. As. Once…
    All this time to understand it was a Focusing technique…


    Cool Article, keep the good work (Y)
    Good Luck!

  30. IMHO, for those that feel they didn’t get much out of it, it’s just the self-awareness and self-analysis that this article can conjure or reawaken that makes it worthwhile.

  31. -.- dingdingdingdingdingding ding ding ding dingdingdingdingding ding ding

    u stupid JAP

  32. @Finny – why did you read an article on improving your magic game when your clearly going nowhere in life?

  33. when Saitou speaks, I really have to stop by and listen.

    Really good stuff.

  34. I really enjoyed this article as it reminds us of things often forgotten. Thinking back, I lose tons of matches online just because I get easily distracted by my environment. I must work on this.

  35. Thank you for highlighting on an area of magic that I have had little success in. I managed a 1-3 drop in the standard event in Atlanta. After reading your article saturday night I went 6-2 with Ad Nauseum Doomsday the following day just out of contention for top 16 (lost in first 4 rounds due to unfamiliarity with the correct Doomsday piles) in a field full of Reanimator. I’ll take ridiculous uphill battles for a thousand please.

    I found that purposely switching the area that I placed my deck after shuffling forced me to re-examine the board and my hand after I returned the deck to its original position before my draw step. Also writing down that I am playing against on my notepad gave me something to focus on that would return my focus back to the task at hand.

  36. Anyone can sit down and write a witty article about which decks you should play at the next PTQ and why, with numbers to back it up.

    I can think of maybe three other people in the Magic community who can write an informative and interesting article about concentration. This article is pure genius.

  37. @Moderator

    Can anyone do something about the inappropriate and racist comments posted by FINNY? It is very disturbing to have such immature people at this day and age.

  38. This article was probably translated by Emily Porcher (who did the last two articles). Naoki Shimizu and Riki offer translations for other stuff too I think. Awesome English whomever it was!

    As for the racist comments, the fact that finny spells “you’re” wrong should be enough to indict his legitimacy (though i don’t want to be sexist and assume it’s a guy, lol). I mean, please. Lighten up.

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  40. Really good article, i dont know why people is giving negative comments. Be positive man. Saito or no Saito, a good advise is still a good advise. Congrats.

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