Tournament Preparation and How to find the Zone
The day of the Vault Tour is here. I am sitting down at the table looking at my opponent who seems just as ready to play as I am. I’m focused on my lines, and the opportunity to advance closer toward the winners circle. All my focus on becoming the next Vault Tour Champion. The game is ready to begin… Flashback!
To get to this point there is a lot of preparation that goes into the game. I shall take you through how I would go about preparing for this very moment step by step. It all starts with the choice. The choice of committing to a goal which will require a lot of time and effort. With Keyforge, it’s about learning the card stock, identifying each and every card, understanding what they do, and how they interact within the rules of the game. Once you grasp the understanding of the cards then it’s a matter of figuring out what lines and play styles you prefer. Finding a deck to pilot that fits these preferences can take some effort but more than likely you can get close.
In my observations and studies with CotA, I have concluded that the best route is based on fluid transitions between houses, great amounts of aember control, and raw aember. In addition, maintaining a good presence on the board that affects my opponent’s turn is also impactful. To me this is most effectively done with a Shadows, Dis, Untamed team up. I’m not saying that these are the best houses or that you have to play them as all decks have their own identity; however, these are the houses I like and I feel I can execute with a high degree of efficiency in the way I play. This is the first step on your way to “finding the zone” and being ready to face your competition with terrifying efficiency and a calm presence. The more you know, the more deliberate and calculated you can be. This confidence often projects onto your opponent and can be offsetting.
When you’ve made that decision and are mentally comfortable with this journey, the next step in your path is the mechanical preparation. This is where establishing a routine to form a productive habit is an important mental requirement. For me, everything becomes an obsessive behavior, from the way I lay out my playmat, to where I stage my tokens, to where I place all of my zones, and how I shuffle my deck. It all has to be done in a way that is comfortable to me and functional to the process of the game. It’s all part of my routine. Although it’s basic, I do it the same way every time. Over time it becomes a mindless habit that almost auto pilots itself. This is part of getting into “the zone”. It is a practiced action that makes me robotic in the execution of it and relieves the stress and effort to think about it in the moment. It allows my mind to focus on the task at hand… piloting my deck.
Once I am ready to go I shuffle up and randomize who goes first. I offer my opponent the chance to shuffle and cut my deck, as I accept theirs. I usually spark chit-chat in an effort to pull information on their deck and how they pilot it. As we finish shuffling decks I offer it back, cutting it one last time. At this point I generally quit the chit chat and information fishing stops. Now it is time to focus on the task at hand. I practice this over and over at my local game shop until the routine has formed into a habit. I repeat this process everytime I play in my quest to find the right lines, preparing myself to play the physical game of Keyforge. The reason for perfecting this habit is that the less stress created on simple things I can control, the better my endurance over the course of a 6 to 12 round tournament or event. The fatigue which occurs in the later rounds will limit your mindset. Much like working out, you have to prepare your mind and body for the physical element of the long game when going to Vault Tour level events. It is much more exhausting than your local game store meta so buff up.
So once everything is set up to execute like a cold and calculated machine, the next part of your preparation is executing the decks lines effectively and correctly. Is there only one way to play a deck? The answer is no, but which is the most effective? Keyforge is a fluid game that rewards repetition with a particular deck. The more interaction you have with a deck, the more you will learn the ins and outs of it and the more situations you will learn to deal with. Eventually you’ll start to increase your efficiency piloting the deck. This set of skills is only created with a lot of self analysis. The ability to understand all the forks in the road from each decision helps to identify the points which will ultimately change the end result from a negative outcome towards a favorable one. These decisions are often made in the heat of the moment.
One deciding factor can be the decision to hold onto a card or to discard it. Often times we bond ourselves to a card, holding onto it for far too long hoping to get maximum value out of it. This is the most common and egregious error that I see in games I commentate on. I have witnessed countless hands in which a player will hold cards like Key Charge, Bait and Switch, and Arise! etc… the list goes on and on. The problem those players fail to see is that they are holding cards in hand in effect chaining their deck from drawing into its strengths and answers. This is a critical error that can definitely cause a game to snow ball out of control. The better players all have made these mistakes but they progressed by learning. They moved forward and do not relive those past transgressions.
No deck in this game is unbeatable, or pilots itself. The human element and random draw sequence influence the game significantly. The ability to know what is coming will make you better equipped to react and strengthen your position. This all happens through preparation. Once you have reached this point the keys are repetition and reflection. Be honest with your lines, and open to advice and feedback. A lot of players can feel they are being attacked when someone offers an idea. That is not necessarily the case, just evaluate it and extract the value from it and move on when you’ve fully understood. This practice will get you on the right track towards a comfort level with your deck that only comes with time.
If you’ve fished out all these elements at your LGS and gotten comfortable with the way the game is going to play out, it is time that you break out of the pond and test out the ocean. One of the common heart breakers at higher level events is when the best player at a shop gets stomped because their perspective was only from their local meta. Metas can be twisted when you don’t look at the spectrum of the competition you are facing. Visit stores that are a little bit farther away. The crucible online is a wonderful tool to reach out past your comfort zone and play against some really good players from all over the world. Mindsets differ, lines are played in different ways, the cards of value may be different in different areas. All this information is right there online waiting to be had. Capitalize on online interactions and games. Play in tournaments ran online via the crucible. Most are free, have prize support and are generally fun experiences. Get in as much practice as you can building on the fundamentals that we have already discussed up to this point. It will take you a long way, and now you are ready for that last step…
The event is on the calendar, the trip is booked with enough time to settle in the night before (because traveling the same day you are playing can where you down mentally) and meet up with your friends. The discussions begin, the anticipation starts to boil, the questions of, “are you ready?” start to set in. This all happens your first time, the more you do it the easier it gets. There are a lot of ways to prepare for the next day but I will share with you my course of action. The night before I am going to get some liquor with my dinner. Its going to be a good one too. I prefer steak and some kind of vodka pineapple style drink. At most I have 2 so I’m not playing with a hangover the next day. After dinner finishes up, I go back to my room and I go through my notes and lines for a little bit but I make sure to take a nice hot shower and get to bed early. When I get up in the morning I will find breakfast at the hotel but not eating too much. I like to stay light. I then retreat to do my morning shower and grooming to get that last bit of tension melted. I gather my things and I head to the venue. On the way out somewhere I get a 16 ounce bottle of water. It is important as I am a firm believer in staying hydrated. I try to drink at least 8 ounces every hour of a tournament. In the long run, it helps with the fatigue after the long day even if it means more trips to the bathroom. At this point I am not talking about anything that is in my scope of play today, but I do like to prod for any information I can about the meta. I’m not doing a top secret covert stealing deck lists mission. I ask simple overt and open questions for the competition to tell me what they want about their deck or ideas about the meta. Information is critical even when you get to the event. Once the pairings go up, I expedite to my seat to start my habits, and from there it’s well… POOF! Back to the start of the article.