Friday, April 22, 2011

Better Playtesting: Tournament Prep

Playing in an 8 round tournament is not the same as playing 8 games of 40k over two days.  Is that a huge understatement, or what?  Today we are going to talk about how you can use your playtesting sessions to avoid making mistake on the big stage.

There is a difference between strong technical play and deliberate play.  Technical play is, as I have said, usually a matter of making sure you remember all the 'little things' and being a good book-keeper for your match.  Deliberate play, however, is more a style of play.  The top Magic pros all play very deliberately.  Watch two of the all time greats.  Both players have perfect technical play, and perfect deliberate play.

Even if you aren't familiar with the game, you can see their their every action is deliberate and measured.  This is the proper pace to play any tournament strategy game.  A deliberate playstyle has the following benefits...

  • Confidence.  You will appear confident and assured.  This can throw someone who is less confident off their game.  It can be a huge advantage to come into the game when your opponent already believes he is going to lose.
  • Proactivity.  If your actions are deliberate, it puts you in a proactive stance.  It puts your opponent in a reactive stance.  He is reacting to your game plan, and ignoring his own.
  • Pace.  The value of maintaining a stable pace of play cannot be underestimated in a timed round environment.  In every tournament I've ever been to, I've had opponents pressure me to play faster at the end of a round.  I won't do it.  They can't accuse me of slow play, either, because I maintain the same pace the whole game.  Note, I'm not suggesting slow playing from the start.  Play with a deliberate, measured, medium pace the whole match.  Fast playing at the end to get one more round in is insanity.  The choices you make at the end of the game are just as important (or moreso) than the ones you make at the beginning.  Putting any less thought into them is ridiculous.
  • Touching on an above point in regards to an opponent pressuring you.  A deliberate playstyle will help you resist your opponent's pressuring.  You cannot allow an opponent to pressure you into playing faster or slower to suit them.  If they want to play speed rounds, let them play it on their turn.  Opponent will try to pressure you on more than pace though.  They can and will pressure you on rules interpretations and scoring.  Without arguing over any disagreements, call for a judge.  There is no sense in being pressured into losing or drawing a match because a guy is trying to intimidate you over the rules.  Maintaining your calm, deliberate style will allow you to stay level headed and be above that kind of intimidation.
 Lastly, I want to close by saying that playing 4 rounds of 40k in one day at a tournament level is grueling.  In the weeks leading up to a tournament you should try simulating 4 rounds in one day.  Get your playtest partner to play 4 timed games in one day in order to simulate the event.  I would highly suggest playing with no take backs of mistakes, which I normally say are good to allow in playtesting.  You want to really see the effects of the tournament on your mental stamina.  Keep track of how many mistakes you make game 1 versus game 4.  It should be pretty telling.

I would also advise you when you do this test to eat the food you would eat at the event.  I talked before about what you should eat at tournaments.  Try to make a food plan prior to the tournament, and use that food plan on the day of your simulated tournament.  It will show any weakness in your plan ahead of time, hopefully.  If you get headaches, eat more good carbs.  If you get hunger pangs, eat more high quality proteins.  Basically, adjust as needed to ensure success.  Better to have the headaches while playtesting than at the event.


  1. Good article. Not controversial, which is probably why no comments, but I liked it. Watched that magic game from start to finish also. Raises an interesting question: what would it take to get our hobby to that level of professionalism? My immediate response is a lowering of the barriers to entry. A follow-up question would be, would most 40k players WANT there to exist that level of professionalism? Why/why not?

    Good stuff, keep it up.

  2. Actually, MtG's barrier to entry is about the same as 40k money-wise, probably higher. A 2k 40k army costs around $600 which is what a top standard deck in magic costs.

    But to be good in magic you have to play online, which necessitates having two separate collections. And you have to take part in booster drafts and sealed decks which cost serious coin.

    The only thing 40k requires of more is time. It's time consuming to model and paint an army. The plus side, though, is a 40k army is competitive for years rather than... the three weeks a top magic deck stays dominant.

    So what really separates it?

    1. WotC throws a ton of money at the competitive scene. They know competition drives sales. GW doesn't seem to think so.

    2. WotC has established tournament floor rules. To be considered a sanctioned tournament, the thing has to be run the same way with the same rules no matter where you go no matter who is running it. GW doesn't tell TOs how to run tournaments, what rules to use, and they don't have an ELO system for player ratings.

    3. In addition to tournaments being run the same to be sanctioned, judges have to be sanctioned to prove they know the game and to show that if I (a floridian) get in a rules dispute with a californian, at a tournament in New York, we know that we will get the correct ruling every time.

    So in my opinion step one could (and should) be the last thing they implement. Cash prizes with shit rules and officiating = no thanks. Cash prizes with great rules and great officiating? sign me the fuck up for the 40k Pro Tour.

  3. I've really enjoyed these past couple articles - thanks for posting! Learned a lot about the mindset and attitude to bring to a tournament.

  4. @ Nikephoros- Hey, this may not be the best place to post this but I saw that you are signed up for the NOVA Open but not, as far as I know, for the team tournament. Would you want to play in the team tournament as well, just for kicks as much as anything? I live in MD very local to the venue and I would consider myself a better than average player but not yet GT placing. I play with a bunch of local guys, some of them very good tournament players, and I could rope one of them in or join you and a buddy. I hope this doesn't sound like a come on but let me know if you would be interested :)

    And I don't even have an account on Warseer

  5. Hey I appreciate the invite, and normally I'd take you up on it, but I have promised my DC friends I'm taking Friday off to hang out and do touristy things. Definitely hit me up for a pick up game Thursday night though.

  6. Yo. Nice blog.

    I still think that the amount of cash riding on a M:TG tournament is a little too high for my tastes. It drives up the crazy too much. But then, maybe is influenced because I think that M:TG is a money-drain scam.

    One thing that I would add is food. Junk food burns waay too fast, so you have to keep it stable. Granola Bars and Gatorade work for me, together with a good lunch.

    GW is completely unprepared for that kind of tournament. It would requiere them to put a feet on the ground and deal with the competitive players again, including telling a bunch of people (INAT suckers and the like) to get stuffed. And it would mean to completely stop hiding behind the "Warhammer isn't supposed to be competitive" meme against their crappier rulings.

    Really hard to see that happening, though "Warhammer 40k: On ESPN" has a nice ring to it.

  7. That would be real cool, here is my email, drop me a line in early august!
    sethdlow @ gmail . com

  8. Nike: I have to disagree. I understand that in order to operate at a pro level the dollar value of the armies is roughly equivalent. That being said, as you mentioned the dozens and dozens of hours it takes to prepare a 40k army can be quite daunting. Also, the way a lot of Magic players get hooked is through draft tournaments which are very cheap and require no investment before-hand. We don't have anything similar in 40k. Basically, our low level entry is more difficult than theirs. That translates to an overall smaller population playing the game and ultimately a smaller field to draw serious players from.