Preparing For Your First Tournament

Preparing For Your First Tournament

Today we have another guest article from Alex Jacobs. This time he focuses on getting ready for a tournament, lessons relevant whether it is your first or your hundredth event!

Hello, New Friends! With COVID-19 keeping everyone pent up at home, this is a great time to do some prep work.

While it’s unfortunate that all official L5R organized play is suspended due to public health and safety concerns, there is a light at the end of the tunnel: once everything clears up, there are a lot of fun events ready to kick off. These include the classic Kotei series but also the new Store Championships and Prime Championships: fun local events to bring out the community. If you like L5R but haven’t had the chance to go to a tournament yet, this article will teach you how to get ready. Since we’re all social-distancing now, this is a great time to prepare for the coming season.

Two Months Before: Learn the Game

This may seem like an awfully long lead time to start preparing, but for a game as complex as L5R, it’s not a bad start. Now if you’re beginning with less time than this, that’s okay, but this should be a goal. So what’s so important that we need over eight weeks to prepare? Well, that’s simple: make sure you know how to play.

There are a lot of rules in L5R to keep track of, and as the card pool expands, they interact with more and more niche parts of the game. For example, Way of the Crab is a card from the core set and taught many people the importance of understanding that there was an action window in the Fate Phase after characters are removed from play. In core that was one of the few cards that cared about that window. These days, more cards care about that window, such as Venerable Fortunist and Daidoji Uji.

It’s worth taking a moment to review the standards for tournaments. The Fundamental Event Document designates two tiers of events: casual and competitive. Casual events include open play nights and, are described as “a fun and friendly environment where new players can learn and enjoy the game alongside long-time veterans.”

By comparison, competitive events, “expect players to possess at least moderate knowledge and experience of the game in question. Players should be familiar with the game rules and the event regulations to a degree, and they should be prepared to exercise that knowledge to play at a reasonable pace.” As such, if attending a Prime Championship (or a Kotei, Grand Kotei, or Grand, Continental, or World Championship) players have an obligation to the other attendees to know the rules of the game, and especially those about their own cards.

One Month Before: Choose Your Deck

If there’s one piece of advice that top players repeat over and over again, it is “Practice, practice, practice!” The more reps one gets, the better one will play, and getting those reps in means that one shouldn’t be making lots of changes. As such, the sooner one settles on a deck, the sooner one can start practicing with it.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t make changes to the deck – I swapped out my deck’s Restricted List card at the World Championship thirty minutes before the tournament started – but try to commit to something as early as possible. In particular, try to commit to:

  • Your clan (i.e. Phoenix).
  • Your archetype (glorious Bushi)

At this point, one can start building a deck (or looking around for one online). There’s a lot of advice on building decks online, so we’re not going to get into it here, but at least make a solid commitment to your deck type so you can start testing.

Two Weeks Before: Get in Reps

At this point, you’ve been testing different versions of your deck for two weeks. You should know what works best for you with the deck, what your strong matchups are, and what your challenging matchups are. You should also identify any new meta-changing cards that will be legal for the tournament, and you should test them with proxies, or at the very least theory-craft them. With this knowledge, you should commit to your final deck.

Now that your deck is finalized, it’s time to get even more serious about testing. Try to run at least one game each day, and more if you can, against as many deck types as possible.

Finally, try and set one day aside to do a practice tournament. L5R can be an exhausting game which takes stamina, both mental and physical. A typical local tournament will run five 75-minute rounds with a one hour lunch break. So do that for yourself! Take a day on the weekend and run five games, spaced out the way they would be in a tournament. When one game finishes, run out the clock and start the next. Give yourself a lunch break at some point (pre-set this time) and run the rest of the games. Learn to deal with fatigue before the actual tournament.

Two Weeks Before: Make Travel Arrangements

I usually try to do this months before the event, but if you haven’t planned your travel by now, do so. At this point, you’re committed to attending.
If you’re attending a tournament at a local game store, this might be as simple as checking travel times to make sure you arrive on time (recommended: plan to be on-site no less than thirty minutes before start time). If it’s out of town, however, you may need to find lodging and arrange local transportation. Accommodation might mean booking a hotel room, reserving space on Airbnb, or finding people to crash with. For out-of-town regional tournaments, I like to book a cheap motel room for myself, as I enjoy having a quiet, private place after the bustle of a tournament. That said, it can be fun staying with other L5R players and is a great way to save money.

Likewise, plan your transportation. If you’re driving to the tournament, make sure you know where you can park your car. If you’re flying or taking the bus or train, check on taxis, Uber, car rental, or if any local players can give you a lift. Don’t be the person who holds up the tournament (or misses the first round) because they didn’t plan out this crucial step.

One Week Before: Pick Up Supplies

Obviously, you need your deck and game components, but do you have everything else you need? I like to keep a water bottle and a few granola bars on hand in case I start flagging. I also make sure I have extra card sleeves in case I need to replace a sleeve or (worst case scenario) re-sleeve my whole deck (ask me about Worlds). Personally, I also like to bring gifts for my fellow players.

It’s also good at this point to make sure you have documentation. All competitive tournaments require players to submit a decklist beforehand; blank forms are available on the FFG website, but you can also print out copies from fiveringsdb and Bushi Builder. Please do this in advance; don’t be the person who holds up the tournament writing out a decklist. Then double-check that your actual deck matches the list you’re bringing. When the judges complete a deck check, if your deck and your decklist are different, you’ll have your current or next game marked as a loss for you, and if that happens in the single-elimination bracket, then you’re out of the event.

Likewise, if you have travel arrangements such as plane tickets or hotel reservations, print out a copy. While it’s almost always possible to use your phone to confirm, having a physical copy always makes travel much easier. If you’re traveling overnight for the tournament, this is a good time to make a packing list so that you’re not scrambling around at the last minute.

The Night Before: Relax

There are great war stories about players who stayed up til 3:00 AM the night before a tournament, drinking heavily, staggered in hungover to the tournament the day of, and won the whole thing. It does happen, but these stories are notable for how exceptional they are. The best way to enjoy a tournament is to take care of yourself beforehand.

If I’m traveling out of town for a tournament, I always try to allocate an entire day to travel. It makes everything much more calm and comfortable not having to rush and knowing I’ll get a good night’s sleep. I like to get to my lodgings early, take myself out for a pleasant dinner either on my own (if I expect to feel socially crowded the next day) or with local friends (if there are going to be people there I haven’t seen in a while). Then I’ll usually, head back to my place and take a long soaking bath then watch something light and fun on Netflix.

Regardless of if you’re traveling or not, try and go to bed early so you can show up the next morning well-rested and ready to play your best.

The Morning Before: Fuel Yourself

The upshot of going to bed early is it’s easier to get up early. That gives you time to get a good breakfast. A good mix of carbohydrates and protein, much like a long-distance runner, is best, while trying to avoid excess sugars. I try to go with eggs and toast. If you’re a coffee drinker, don’t overdo the caffeine; jittery players tend to rush and rushing means mistakes.

After breakfast, get to the tournament at least half an hour before the scheduled start time. This makes it easy to check-in, give your decklist, and handle any issues that may come up (it happens!). It also provides a chance to meet the TO and the other players. One of the most celebrated aspects of L5R is the community, and these tournaments are a great time to meet other players face to face.

Explore the venue a bit. Find out where the bathrooms are, learn what supplies and refreshments they have available, and get a sense what the lunch options are. The more you do now, the less you have to stress about during the tournament itself.

Before you know it, it’ll be time to play!

During the Tournament: Enjoy yourself

Once the tournament starts, you’ll be assigned matches. The TO may post a list, announce pairings out loud, or have people look up their matches online (typically via Lotus Pavilion). This will tell you who you’re playing and, typically, what table you’re at next.

Be respectful to your opponent. L5R has a reputation for good sportsmanship that we’re all very proud of. This means treating your opponent the way you would like to be treated: don’t rush your opponent, give them the opportunity to review cards, and avoid profanity. It should go without saying, but do not cheat.

This doesn’t mean that you have to be a push-over; if your opponent is slow-playing don’t be afraid to ask them to make a decision, and if they continue to stall call a judge over. If there’s a rule you’re uncertain of, ask a judge; they’re always happy to help and checking now can avoid a problem or misunderstanding later.

At the end of the game, win or lose, thank your opponent for the match. Be humble in your victories and gracious in your defeats. Remember: we play this game to have fun.

Between rounds, get up and move around. Sitting down for these hour-long (or more!) games can cause fatigue, and physical movement is one of the best counters. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Use the bathroom between rounds even if you don’t think you need to go; the last thing you want is to lose time on a match due to a personal necessity.

When the lunch break is called, get something to eat. Make an effort to be reasonably healthy; this doesn’t have to mean a salad (though good on you if you do!) but do avoid heavy, fatty, fried foods that will weigh you down and take a lot of energy to digest. If you need quiet time alone, there’s nothing wrong with grabbing lunch on your own, but many players appreciate an invitation for them to join you for lunch and this is a great way to make friends with other players.

After a certain number of Swiss rounds (usually 4 to 7. We should do another article explaining tournament structure at some point) players will be ranked into a “cut.” At this point, if prizes haven’t been awarded yet, there is a distribution. This may include participation prizes, top of clan prizes, and prizes based on ranking (top 16, top 8, etc.). The top-ranked players (the “cut”) will then be organized into elimination brackets.

If you did well and made the cut, that’s fantastic! Depending on the size of the event, the elimination rounds may take place immediately, or players may be asked to return the next day. These provide an opportunity to win even more prizes, play more games, and become the tournament winner.
If you didn’t make the cut, don’t be hard on yourself, especially if it’s your first tournament. Take note of the games you played and be proud of yourself for having made it to the tournament and going as far as you did. You’ll use this knowledge and work to do better next time.

If you didn’t make the cut, you could stay to watch the top matches, or you can head out. I typically try and stay to cheer on the top players who are often run-down after what can be a long, grueling, mentally-taxing day, and having people to share in their victory can be very therapeutic. At the same time, if you need to head out due to a long drive, being very tired, wanting to grab dinner, or simply not wanting to stay any longer that’s fine too.
Do try to thank the tournament organizer for running the event.

After the Event: Plan for Next Time

In the hours, days, and even weeks after the event, think back over your experience. What did you like? What didn’t you care for? What would you do differently? This might be as simple as correcting some play mistakes or as large as playing a different clan.

It’s also an excellent time to evaluate your goals in the game. I go to some tournaments for prizes, others because I want to push myself to win, and others because I know my friends will be there and I just want to hang out with them. Think about what you want to get out of your next tournament.

If you have any comments or feedback please post them in the comments section below. Check us out on the Imperial Advisor websitepodcast, and YouTube channel for more discussion about the L5R LCG.

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