Important Things for Tournament Success – Part 7: Other Lessons Learned

Hello, it’s Tomoharu Saito.  Today, I am returning to my series “Important Things for Tournament Success”.  In past articles in this series, I’ve covered various topics including the importance of concentration ability, having fun, and your play environment, but today’s themes are different.  I am going to talk about a few less commonly explored subjects.

Physical Condition Management

When you are in poor physical condition, your ability to think and concentrate decreases proportionally.  It is very important to manage your physical condition prior to a tournament.  Fortunately, I have rarely felt unwell when playing in a large tournament. I found that there were times when I practiced too much before a big tournament and overworked myself, or when I packed improperly for weather differences in a foreign country (a change of seasons or different air temperatures), and it is easy to understand how this impacted my physical condition.  If this is what you are dealing with, by heightening your awareness just a little, you will play in events in poor physical condition less and less.

Avoiding overworking right before a tournament, bringing appropriate clothes, eating a balanced diet, all of this common advice applies here.  Regularly exercising to get into good shape is also a good idea, but because of the time it takes I feel it is not cost-effective, as far as tournament success is concerned, and generally do not exercise right before an event.

Though this probably has no bearing on many people, jet lag is my number one enemy in terms of physical condition. I will mention once that I think not sleeping the day before your flight is best, because in recent years this method has enabled me to combat the problem of jet lag.  If you are extremely tired on the plane you can sleep through the flight and get nothing but rest.   After your arrival, make sure not to sleep until it is past 10 PM local time and to be in bed no later than 1 AM.   For me, sleeping on a plane is only about half as effective as sleeping in regular circumstances.  Even if you can sleep in economy class seats, the unsatisfactory conditions can still leave you feeling fatigued.  Not sleeping before a flight also allows you to sleep easily when you arrive at the tournament location. If it is the evening local time and you still cannot sleep, as a last resort you could drink alcohol to help you get some rest.

If you must play in a tournament in poor physical condition there is still one positive to note. When you are keenly aware of the fact that you are playing in poor physical condition, you may be more attentive and make fewer careless play mistakes.  I’ve heard some people say that, “You have a better chance of success at Magic when you’re feeling unwell,” but I think that people like that might generally make a lot of careless misplays.

However, being both attentive and in excellent physical condition is best. The morning of the event you should always eat breakfast.  This will reduce the number of so-called “fatigue mistakes” you make.  This is especially important for individuals like me who are not morning people. Since the act of eating wakes up your body and allows you to take in energy, it is important to eat on the day of the event.

Time Management

How long until sign-ups close?  How long until the tournament starts?  How long until the end of this round?  How long until the beginning of the next round?  When you don’t know the answers to these questions at a tournament there is always the possibility of having an unpleasant experience.  Being even a little late to a tournament can result in your being unable to enter, and being late to a round can result in a game loss.  Just one game loss can snatch away your chance at Top 8.  These things are completely avoidable, so being aware of the event or round’s start time and checking your watch are important habits.

Additionally, you need to be careful because being late to practice with your colleagues wastes their time and may decrease their desire to work with you.  For example, eight people are getting together for a draft and seven of them must wait for twenty minutes.  Seven people each waiting twenty minutes becomes 140 minutes in total that they are kept waiting.  In creating a better environment for yourself, you must reduce behaviors that decrease others’ confidence in you as much as possible.

Playing and Enforcing an Honest Game

To put it strongly, this is a game that allows for the possibility of all kinds of cheating. You could cheat or be the victim of cheating. However, you absolutely must not cheat.  Judges and players will catch you, and you will have to leave the tournament and will be banned from tournament play.  Cheating does not even provide you with the chance to win a tournament, and besides this it will spoil the satisfaction you get from playing.  Thinking of being banned from tournament play now is scary because I think that my day-to-day feeling of satisfaction and enjoyment would drastically decline. I am not saying this simply because I am a professional player, as I think that among my readers there are many that for whom this would be the case.  Even if you are aware of your loss, after you give up the chance to play in tournaments your day-to-day satisfaction will not return.

Approximately nine years ago, I was disqualified twice from tournament play and suspended for a year and a half.  It was not because I cheated but rather because I did not understand the rules as well as was necessary and at the Asian Championship I was disqualified as I was on the way to victory.  I misunderstood the rules regarding bribery (involving money or other prizes in deciding who wins a match), something that was not unusual at the time, and broke the rules.  I proposed this and then agreed to it, and as a result I lost my chance to play in the Top 8 and compete for the prize.  I remember feeling full of regret and very upset.  The second disqualification happened at Grand Prix Kobe.  I did not believe my actions would cause a problem, but I took advantage of my opponent’s mistake in an unsporting fashion and was disqualified from the event.  I wondered why I had expected nothing to go wrong and was very upset.  Following this, it was ruled that I should be suspended for a year and a half.  Thinking this was the end of my career, I sold all of my cards.  However, after half a year I realized I could walk to a card shop and play in drafts every day despite the fact that I could not play in sanctioned events.   There I became aware that I truly loved the game, and my resolve led to my success today.

However, during this whole time I could not play in tournaments and had to be temporarily inactive.  As a result, I think that my entrance onto the international stage came considerably later than it otherwise would have.  Upon my return, because of the bad impression some people had of me, my personal connections had decreased and during matches judges would often watch me closely and make it difficult to concentrate.

I don’t like to think about these past events, and I’d like it if you left them in the past as well.  Because of this I now take a strong stance in following the rules, and I recommend this to all of you.  Naturally there is the expectation that a “professional player” should set an example and help to protect Magic’s rules, but for me the root of this idea has come from my past experiences.  Know the rules and following them.  I think this is very important for tournament success.

It is not enough just to refraining from cheating, it is also essential not to let others cheat.  I’ve heard of many kinds of cheating: drawing twice, stacking your deck, picking up cards from your graveyard, concealing cards and then exchanging them with cards in your hand.  However, these are mostly things you can prevent by watching your opponent’s behavior, board and graveyard closely and confirming that the number of cards they are using is not strange.  Of course, playing fair is the norm, and although it might seem useless at first glance, I recommend paying attention so that you can detect someone forgetting to draw, forgetting effects of abilities, or making an error in paying for a spell, as it will also help encourage a healthy game.

Incidentally, despite what I have said above I think that the number of cheaters has considerably decreased over time.  This is because judges, players and Wizards of the Coast have made a great effort to prevent this over the years. However, I feel that when players are not vigilant there will most likely be cheaters who try to take advantage of them.

Play and enforce an honest game.  Please continue to enjoy Magic and succeed at tournaments.

Today I spoke about three issues: physical condition, time and cheating.  But, if you look only at the small issues, there are still many important things for tournament success that have not yet been discussed.  Certainly there are things I also do not understand.  I think that next time I would like to write more on this subject.  Until then, please look for methods that have been effective for you in your own tournament success.  I wish for you to be able to enjoy the game, which will lead to success in its own right.

From Tomoharu Saito, to Magic players throughout the world

52 thoughts on “Important Things for Tournament Success – Part 7: Other Lessons Learned”

  1. I’m not familiar enough with the circumstances of your bannings to make an informed judgment on that particular issue, and since I don’t care enough to google it, I have no choce but to assume you’re telling the truth. If that’s the case, I think you should be commended for your section on playing an honest game. It’s both an example we can all learn from by reading it, and probably a huge leap forward for yourself as a player to get it out there and explain how these past mistakes have not stopped your development. Very interesting read indeed.

    P.S. I definitely would not recommend using alcohol to help you sleep. As a depressant, it actually has the effect of making any sleep you do get less restful, leading you to wake up still feeling tired. I’ve never played in a large tournament with a hangover, but I would imagine that would have a negative impact on your EV in participation.

  2. Now All you need is to prove your shuffling is legit. honestly enjoyed the article and I was routing for you with the hall of fame. I think you are and amazingly talented player and I believe you do allot for the game. But Work on the Shuffling you don’t want to keep the reputation of being a doge player to lead to a paranoia based DQ.

  3. “Regularly exercising to get into good shape is also a good idea, but because of the time it takes I feel it is not cost-effective, as far as tournament success is concerned, and generally do not exercise right before an event.”

    So your telling me the 30-45 minutes it’s going to take you to get yourself a nice workout is just not cost effective enough for you? Perhaps you should take a look at the benefits of doing a workout directly before you hit the tourney floor, as opposed to seeing how many Red Bulls you can down.

    Perhaps you could even add in a quick note about Hygiene, more to the point, brushing your teeth and taking a shower. God knows how awful these places smell by the time your done, and really, who wants to be sitting accross from someone who can’t bother with a shower, tooth paste, and some old spice.

    I suppose the picture i’m building here isn’t so pleasent, overweight stinky people playing a card game, but it is what it is until WE fix it.

  4. I have found the following to be a good combination of ways of getting around jet-lag.

    1) Adjust your clock early – this can be something as simple as having a watch set to your destination time on your wrist for a day or two before you travel. Telling your body that it is a particular time has a surprisingly strong effect on your ability to adjust to that time.

    2) Staying up is better than going to sleep. This kind of meshes in with Saito’s point about staying up to then sleep on the plane. For a quick turnaround on getting over jetlag, staying up all night the night before, until the point where you go to bed at the right time for your destination country, can feel a bit hardcore, but it is way better than having the gradual fatigue of jetlag.

    3) Eat at the right times for your destination. Your body clock is set up at least as much by when you eat as by when you sleep. Assuming that you have a fairly regular eating routine anyway, then switching the timings of your meals will switch your body clock fast. Sometimes this means telling the staff on planes to bring your meals at different times to everyone else. In my experience, most quality airlines will do this.

    I’ve used this combination to cover a GP in Japan where I flew in from England the day before, flew back the morning after, and took no other time off work. It works.

  5. Very informative as usual, Mr. Saito. I wanted to tackle in a very specific case the weather issue: Chiba, Japan, for worlds 2010.

    My research shows that weather sits around 10 degrees (centigrade) but I’ve found nothing about ambient moisture, what suggestions would you make for clothing in the Chiba area for those days? Does it rain or get foggy or even worse, snows regularly those days?

    and @Tim, I was thinking I should tackle a similar strategy, case in point: I have a transit stop in Amsterdam that lasts for something like 11 hours before getting to Narita. I was thinking about staying awake through the whole thing. The food schedule, however, was a new strategy I hadn’t thought of.

  6. Just so we’re clear… this is what Saito says:
    ” I did not believe my actions would cause a problem, but I took advantage of my opponent’s mistake in an unsporting fashion and was disqualified from the event.”
    And this is the head judge’s official statement:
    “In the third round of the Grand Prix, Saitou was playing the third game of his match. As the game neared its finish, Saitou was in a situation where it was guaranteed that he would lose on his opponent’s next turn. At the end of his opponent’s turn, Saitou began counting his deck, changing the order of the cards in his library while doing so. He then placed his deck in front of his opponent, as if offering it to his opponent to cut. Saitou’s opponent, while somewhat confused at Saitou’s actions, then cut the deck. Saitou immediately raised his hand and called a judge, claiming that his opponent was manipulating his deck. During the following investigation, Saitou admitted in an interview that when he called for a judge, he was hoping that by doing so he would be able to turn things to his favor and win the match.”

    So the oppenent’s “mistake” was really Saito trying to fish for a mistake by doing confusing and possibly not allowed (changing the order of your deck, really?) actions when he was going to lose.

    I don’t consider it a big deal as it was 9 years ago and there wasn’t a great chance for getting an advantage, but if you are going to bring it up you might as well tell the real story.

  7. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

    The above speaks very loudly.

    I congratulate you on your successes, Saito san… now if only you can stop rereading Jace the Mind Sculptor and let matches end at their intended pace…

  8. @Dub: Having personally met Saito, I will tell you that he isn’t overweight at all. Like most Japanese people I’ve met, he’s actually underweight, if anything.

    Also, I don’t know where you play, but where I play almost nobody is overweight and everybody showers. The stereotype is overweight antisocial nerds who don’t have good personal hygiene, but the reality is that most people (myself and Saito included) are average Joes in terms of these things.

    I don’t know about you, though…

  9. Incoming TL;DR

    I think that doing what you can to keep a positive social atmosphere during matches goes a long way too. I used to be stone cold during matches at large events, but at some point, my philosophy toward competitive play changed. I still play to win and keep reads etc in mind, but I try to keep a sort of levity in a match if only from my side of the table.

    It makes me feel better about my wins and it is infectious. I see “business” as ending after the match and you never know what the guy sitting across from you is like. If your opponent doesn’t have bad feelings towards you, your base of knowledge can expand by discussing local metas, matchups, good local restaurants/lodging or whatever.

    Since I have changed my demeanor during matchups, I have made friends and acquaintances in many areas that I play and as a result, playtest groups and guys to get info from before final deck registration. It is always nice to have a crew of fellow players to go for beers and/or food after a long day of flopping cards too.

    Keeping things lighter on your side of the table doesn’t mean kissing your opponent’s ass on the side of the table either; it is as easy as fighting the urge to exhibit negative body language, cracking a joke occasionally or remarks that can be interpreted as petty/unsportsmanlike.

    It is as easy as just taking a step back and realizing that despite the allure of an envelope or a free flight, competitors play magic for the same mixture of reasons, which are all centered around enjoyment.

    Finally, making sure that you have a good time by just being a mensch and minimizing chances of interpersonal tension, following a match, is extremely helpful in combating mental fatigue, which can often be a culprit for sloppy decisions…especially if someone is a glutton for punishment, like me, and tends to gravitate towards very control-oriented blue-based decks. I remember how exhausted my brain got, despite fresh air, good nutrition and adequate hydration because I let an opponent that I jedi-mind tricked* at a tournament while playing a permission-heavy Ug polymorph deck.

    *He was playing UBw Open the Vaults and I named mistvein bordepost with a pithing while in a bad situation because I saw no reason not to try it, since pithing needle would have otherwise been useless and I would lose the next turn anyway. He fell for it and it occurred to him after the match(2-0 for me). He kept finding me and complaining about it, even though it was fundamentally his fault for not fully understanding a commonly-played answer.There is a very good chance that it might not have gotten to me so much if I had handled my interacting with him during and after the match differently in the form of more empathy and desire to change the topic of conversation because he was a good guy and I did understand why he was upset…getting JMT’d out of the running for top eight must feel lousy.

  10. Or the Judge was lying, or Saito IS lying right in this article. To all of us, and after all these years.

    And since he cheated in the past, plays slowly on purpose, and do shady shuffles, i think i´m going to believe in the judge.

  11. Lying and telling a watered down hint at what happened are 2 different things. Why does it even matter what he did 9 years ago if he admits it was unsportsmanlike and is an entirely different player now?

  12. Both of his reasons about not cheating are about himself. Getting DQ’ed and/or losing the satisfaction of winning fairly. He hasn’t convinced me he’s a different player.

  13. @abon: I believe you cheated there. If you say “I play Pithing Needle naming Mistvein Borderpost” and your opponent doesn’t respond, you are forced to name Mistvein Borderpost when the spell resolves. The shortcut used in tournaments is that if you name on announcement, your naming is binding when the spell resolves unless your opponent intervenes while the spell is on the stack. What you call a “Jedi Mind Trick”, I call “Game loss for unsportsmanlike conduct”.

    Unless, of course, I’m misunderstanding the situation.

  14. He named borderpost despite borderpost’s ability not being affected by pithing needle (doesn’t preclude mana abilities). Nothing he did was illegal.

  15. @martin

    There is no way he changed the order of the cards, so the judge is wrong there. It ruins the ploy. But if his opponent claims that he did no one is going to believe Saito since he obviously was fishing for a win anyway, which is cheating, even if he didn’t know(as he claims). It’s his responsibility to know that is cheating, and also someone using a strategy like this isn’t going to accidentally re-order his library, that ruins the ploy.

  16. good to see more and more of the pro community and channelfireball crew acknowledging the importance of exercise and matinence of a healthy lifestyle, though I am disappointed that you ultimately deemed pretournament exercise unfair.

  17. @the people who’re concerned over Saito’s cheatings: the translation of this article is loose. In the Japanese version, he clearly admits that he was frustrated and tried to win in an unfair way.
    I know translating is very difficult, but the translator has to do a more precise here, especially concerning such sensitive topics. In general, there are a lot of important nuances and little things said that are not covered in the translations. I’m probably lucky to be able to read the original text..

  18. funny you say a fair game because you won the gp by stalling out.You read jace multiple times to force time and you win by time…funny….

  19. eddie, if a judge gave him a warning for slow play, then fine, but since his opponent didn’t even call a judge, I would say he can do what he likes while he thinks, whether it be read Jace or the ceiling. It’s perfectly within his rights as a player to push the DCI floor rules as far as they will go, and that means he has ZERO incentive to end a game when a draw will earn him the match. If you are psychic and can tell the difference between a fatigued player confirming he is making the best play by looking 3-4 turns ahead and/or bluffing action, and a player who is stalling, you can still STFU becuase you weren’t there personally.

  20. @Spike614: Cheating isn’t allowed just because there’s no judge looking. There’s a difference between “Slow play” (warning+extra turns, if repeated game loss) and “Stalling” (Disqualification without prize)

  21. ah sweet jeebus, a pro honestly accepts that he screwed up and the rest of self-righteous wannabees want to smear him for all eternity. He clearly states he screwed up, he clearly states he regretted it and these posts are obvious evidence that everyone that thinks himself a “good player” will criticize him forever

    What’s your plan guys, seriously? That the guy should quit and tell to the world he is a cheater in a public stoning ceremony?

    Get to play at the level of this guy, win as much as he has, influence the game like him and then see if you can criticize him.

    And seriously think before engaging in the “I’m not a pro because I don’t cheat and buy jaces” bullcrap, because it usually sounds like “I’m a bitter scrub with no skills”.

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  23. Emtee: That is not the point. When you see a player like Saito playing quickly, it takes effort and energy to do so. If he is in a more difficult position, playing slower happens naturally as he calculates his outs. If he is up 1-0 in the match, he is not going to hurry himself in play or thinking, he is going to take the full time to weigh all of his options because it is in his best interest to do so. The risk he is taking is a warning for slow play, which is a negligible in a 1-0 situation. It is his opponent’s responsibility to ask for the warning, and the Judges to give it, IF the judge believes he is playing too slowly. You can accuse him of stalling all you want, but just because he is capable of playing much faster then average does not make him required to do so at ANY time.

  24. I think it takes a lot of balls to give us a class on honesty, when saito is probably the most notable cheater in magic history. Also, he doesnt own up to it at all saying he didnt understand that bribery was against the rules. Give me a break!

    The other incident is just as ridiculous , and shows what kind of person he was at the time (maybe he has changed?). And its just not a smart play. Obviously shuffling your deck when the game doesnt allow it is against the rules, so how could you possibly think that judge would fault your oppponent for cutting?

  25. Blazed:
    Bribery was EXTREMELY common back at the time when Saito got in trouble for it and is still rampant in other organized card games. We’re lucky that it’s gotten as uncommon as it has in Magic. (Not really lucky, as it’s part of a large organized effort, but still.) If I weren’t a Magic judge, then from all I’ve seen, I’d probably think bribery was A-OK in Yu-Gi-Oh.

    The policy documents were also pretty much English-only at that time, as far as I know (correct me if I’m wrong, though,) so it would have been more difficult for Saito to actually *know* that bribery was not allowed by the rules of Magic tournaments at that time than it is for non-English speakers today.

  26. Just because its common doesn’t make it morally sound.

    Either way, I would’ve respected this article more if he phrased it in such a way as “here is my mistake, I screwed up. Dont make the same mistakes I’ve made.” Instead he justifies it and tells US not to cheat.We already knew not to cheat. Even the cheaters know they’re not supposed to cheat.

    What we dont know that he may know is, when to counter something, when to kill a creature, what land to play, etc. I say stick to strategy articles Saito. I respect your skills, but I dont respect some of the decisions you’ve made or this article.

  27. @Blazed_247

    Learn to read

    Mr. Miyagi says: November 16, 2010 @ 12:03 am

    @the people who’re concerned over Saito’s cheatings: [b]the translation of this article is loose[\b]. In the Japanese version, he clearly admits that he was frustrated and tried to win in an unfair way.
    I know translating is very difficult, but the translator has to do a more precise here, especially concerning such sensitive topics. In general, there are a lot of important nuances and little things said that are not covered in the translations. I’m probably lucky to be able to read the original text..

  28. Translation is an art, not a science, and Mr. Miyagi provides no actual insight (for the second time in comments on Saito’s articles), only accusations with no backing. The frustration is easily understood by anyone who doesn’t decide not to read it in the English.

    “I remember feeling full of regret and very upset.” and “I wondered why I had expected nothing to go wrong and was very upset.” These come after the explanations of each specific incident.

    Seems pretty clear to me!

  29. We are never pleased to have to pass on bad news, so we are sad that we have to announce that Japan’s Tomaharo Saitou has been disqualified with prize from Grand Prix Florence following his sixth round match.

    Head Judge, Level-4 Nick Sephton, explained why the disqualification occurred:

    “We disqualified this player for Stalling, after it was observed that his play speed seemed to change based on his observation of the clock. It was observed by a high-level judge that twice in the round he appeared to change his play speed based on considerations that were outside the game. Consulting among the senior judges we decided that, on the basis of what we had observed, we had no choice but to disqualify the player.”

  30. You need to take a hard look in the mirror. And admit:
    Yes, you are cheating. And yes, this makes you a cheater.

    Until you fess up (not to us, but to yourself) and face the hard reality that you are a cheater, and you are damaging yourself, other players, and the integrity of the game with your behavior. Nothing will change.

  31. Nice job cheating you hypocritical scumbag. Get this lowlife off the site, for every time he gets caught cheating he’s gotten away with it 10x.

  32. Oh lord this is the most delicious irony I’ve ever seen. This guy is a joke, and in no way should be a part of the Hall of Fame. He should be suspended because he has done this far to long

  33. Hahahaha!

    An article about not cheating in a tournament, that’s written by a cheater!

    Oh, the irony is killing me.

    Bye bye, Saito.

  34. rofl at the guy who thinks taking a drink before bed makes you have a hangover. it improves sleep tenfold.

  35. Pingback: Tomoharu Saito Suspended 18 Months by DCI | Eternal Central

  36. Are you guys serious? you are all assholes. He’s already suspended and kicked from the team. you don’t have to keep on dogging him. I personally don’t think he cheated, MAYBE he played slower because he’s oh i don’t know.. concentrating? i get nervous and slow down when i play cause i have to think more careful and not misplay. Besides, whats the point of bashing him anyways? Jeez i hope ALL of you get DQ’d sometime and see what its like to be laughed at.

  37. @Austin, he purposely stalled, He looked at the clock, realized there was less then 5 minutes left in the match and then he decided to look through both players graveyards taking his sweet time, then he took over a minute to read all the abilities of the JTMS he had on the board when he knew damn well what all of his abilities do as does any other professional player who plays with the card themselves.

  38. @Austin, There is no doubt in ANYONE’s mind that this was an intentional stall. He read JTMS every time it was used, and only once he noticed that time was in his favor… There is no way that a HOF inductee doesn’t know what JTMS does nor need to read a card several times.

    As for the continual bashing… Just like in a court of law…. he introduced the subject and its relevelance, and now he has to hear the other side of the coin. To write an article about not cheating and then continue to cheat deserves all the ridicule he is recieving and then some.

  39. i could almost give him the benefit of the doubt at his first disqualification, the second one starts to look suspicious, however when someone is disqualified 3 times and has numerous warnings and complaints, then its pretty clear that Saito cheats on a regular basis… and i, for one, think that he should get every single piece of shit that people want to throw at him, to think about all the tournaments that he has won because he cheated, the other people who have lost to him… its disgusting.

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