Today I want to talk about some of the more underrated aspects of the game: the external factors.
A lot of what I will write about today is not limited to just the Pokemon Trading Card Game but can also be applied to other similar competitions too. Don’t want to read? Watch the video counterpart:
Confidence & Nerves
One of the reasons that you will find the same players doing well consistently in tournaments has to do with the mindset they have going into a match. The experienced player will play their game with confidence, knowing they are more likely than not to come out on top. More so than the confidence, is the lack of nerves. Being nervous and questioning yourself and your plays is a huge handicap that most players are unknowingly and unwillingly putting on themselves. If you are not comfortable in a tournament setting, you can quickly fall into one of multiple traps associated with this:
Tunnel vision: Being unable to evaluate the full situation and options, and rather go for the first decent play that you stumble across.
Forcing a tie: Taking too long to find plays each turn can add up and force the series to end in a tie after two games, giving you only 1 match point for the round instead of the potential 3. In the long run you should always give yourself the chance of the maximum amount of points, and pace of play is important to make sure that happens.
Unnecessary risks: Frequently going for the low chance of an optimal turn instead of settling for something less.
Tilting: Letting an unfortunate event during one game affect the rest of your tournament. This is a common problem that even a lot of the professional players struggle with.
Power balance: When you then pitch two players with widely different tournament accomplishments against each other, there is already a handicap put onto the less accomplished player before the match has even begun. The times I have heard my opponents or friends telling me “I am going up against Tord/X, so I don’t really have a chance anyway” is way too high.
This creates an artificial breach of balance of power between the two players. The player that is feeling unfavored are less likely to play fully to their outs. They are also more likely to give up games too quickly if the board state becomes unfavored. It is very common for the player that feels unfavored to consistently go for high-risk plays through the game to gain back the advantage they feel they are lacking as a player. This is where I believe most games are lost by the player feeling unfavored, as high-risk plays do not pay off in the long run.
Even experienced players can fall back to a much lower level than what they were playing against other players where they are feeling more even in skill level.
This is a real thing that happens frequently at every tournament, but it is not being talked about much.
What Can You Do?
It is important to remember that you are playing a card game. It is a game of chance, and each decision you make will impact your total chance of winning. The percentage the matchup alone makes up is likely to be higher than the in-game micro decisions any opponent can throw at you to skew the percentages in their favor.
Next time you find yourself in a situation where you are going up against a tougher opponent, I want you to remember that what they have already accomplished does not matter in the slightest. All that matters is the game that is being played right then. In that very moment, you can in theory play even better than the player you are looking up to. The match is starting with blank pages, no mistakes have been done. Should a mistake happen, do not go on tilt, ignore it, and continue the match with whatever handicap you gave yourself. Do not put your opponent on a pedestal, it will only make it harder for you to win. Your opponent does not automatically get better if you are facing them in a later round or top cut. You should treat every opponent the same, their name, accolades or positioning in the tournament does not matter. It is a mental hurdle that can be difficult to overcome, but it is at least important to recognize this so you can start working on it.
There is no such thing as an unbeatable player. I am convinced that when players are going on artificial high win streaks, it is also heavily influenced by the mental power difference between the players. As an example when I was playing my three consecutive Top 8s at Internationals, my Top 8, Top 4 and finals opponents were all making critical mistakes that allowed me to win games I would not have won under other circumstances. The “unbeatable” players are created by their opponents.
Don’t Worry, Be Happy! 😊
When you are playing in an event, you should always try to have a positive mindset, no matter what happens. We are all humans, and emotions linked to wins and losses are only natural, but you should try to suppress them, at least while playing the game. When some people are starting out with a very high score in tournaments, they can be more likely to lose multiple rounds in a row should they lose their first match. The fall from being undefeated to suddenly losing a match can be rough for a lot of players and can impact them much more than they think it will. Do your best to not go on a tilt and start the next game with a clean slate once again.
Having a positive attitude towards the game, and having realistic expectations is important for a good experience. You can always do your best to swing the win percentage in your favor, but you can never guarantee it. Also, if you are happy and positive you will have a better experience with the people around you as well, which again will help you to stay focused through the day.
When you are playing in a tournament, try not to think about your current record too much. Whether it is high or low, it will most likely only serve to add pressure on yourself, trying to reach whatever goal you had in mind. I would also not recommend overly complaining about a situation to someone you know, as it will most likely serve no purpose, and only bring you both down. Instead, try to talk about your game and think about if there was anything you could have done differently, usually in terms of plays or decklist.
I also want to talk about other factors that can heavily impact your state of mind, and the preparations you can take before the tournament even starts. Doing these can significantly reduce the amount of stress you have around a tournament and could make for an overall better experience. These will apply less to the current online tournaments, but it could be a great help when real life events start up again in the future.
Pick a deck early: Test and decide on your deck before leaving for the event location. If you do not lock in your deck early, it could lead to last minute decision with your list that is very rarely going to work out. Do yourself the favor and at least pick the archetype some days in advance.
Acquire all your cards early: Make sure that you physically have access to all the cards you want to use in your deck. The amount of stress that can be put on you having to run between friends and shops before the first round starts to scramble together your deck is a very unnecessary handicap.
Triple check your decklist: If you can fill/print/write your decklist during daytime when you are wide awake, you are less likely to make a critical mistake than if you are writing it at midnight the night before.
Know your matchups: Frantically playing with your friends the night before an event to figure out matchups is already going to be too late, sorry to break the news. This is time that would be much better invested in some extra hours of sleep.
Sleep: Often neglected but get a full night’s sleep in before the event starts. If your sleep schedule normally is different from when you would have to wake up for the event, you should start adjusting it some days before to make sure you can get a proper sleep in that day. Personally, when I have the time, I will travel to Internationals some days in advance with the main purpose being adjusting my sleep schedule and get rid of the jetlag. It should be no secret that your brain works better and that your stress level is lower after a full night’s sleep.
Food: Eat breakfast. You should also bring food to the event, or make sure that there are ways to buy food nearby. The same goes for water, being properly hydrated can make a massive difference on your performance level, so do not neglect the water bottle.
Stay healthy: Big real-life events are attended by hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of people, and the day will be long and difficult. I have noticed that physically fit people can get a solid advantage just on that alone. Playing nine rounds of best-of-3 in a single day is a marathon, where the people with good stamina will be able to play at their best for the whole day. This way they can make up for not being the best technical players, since they can average their best play the whole day where other players usually start making mistakes in the later rounds. I am a bad example here, I have been banking on my technical gameplay, but I have focused much more on my health lately as I believe it to be important. I have lost multiple high-stake matches where I was too exhausted to continue to play at my best.
In short, to be a Pokemon master, it does not hurt to go for a run and eat some vegetables.
For my final words, I hope this article can serve some help to prevent players from sabotaging themselves with an unrealistic view of reality. In a game of chance, you should always focus on logic and numbers over feelings. No one is unbeatable, and you should try to take care of yourself and do the important things good time in advance if you want to perform at your best.
Thanks for reading, until next time!