As I sit on my flight to Grand Prix Vegas, the familiar twinge of nerves seizes at my stomach and the tingling rush of excitement threatens to overwhelm me (either that, or the altitude differences are making me lightheaded). I can’t help but to go over my decklists a few times in my head. My mind wanders to matchups and sideboarding plans, possible last minute tweaks, and combatting the urge to switch decks altogether. Did I make the right metagame call? Would some other deck be better positioned?

Many players have different tricks or habits to help combat these nerves and get in the groove before a tournament or match. Personally, I find comfort in sideboard guides, as they alleviate some of the mental stress on tournament day, and help me thoroughly think through matches beforehand.

Another suggestion that was once recommended to me is to find a song for the tournament, and use the playing of it in your head to ground yourself, pulling you back from stressful situations or centering yourself when you’re worried about going on tilt or beginning to play loosely.

After the first match or two of a tournament, I can begin to settle into the familiarity of going through the motions of rolling out my playmat and pulling my deck from my deckbox, setting up my lifepad and introducing myself to my opponent. Personally, I enjoy making small talk with my opponent as it puts both them and myself at ease. I have friends who prefer to keep small talk to a minimum, and get into their old familiar headspace by putting on their game face and getting down to business. If my opponent doesn’t want to chat, I of course will do my best to respect that, but I’ve found keeping the door open for conversation can make even the most serious of opponents relax.

Self-care during Grand Prix is incredibly important but often neglected as rounds run to time and the only food on the premises is sometimes an unfortunate hotdog stand. I try to make a point of stocking up on snacks before the event, and having a refillable water bottle on hand. Making a trip to the bathroom between nearly every round is a sign you’re staying hydrated—and as a woman, it’s one of the few places where you can find a little peace and quiet. Between matches I try to reflect on what went well and what went poorly when I can, attempting to learn from mistakes—anything from sequencing to sideboarding. I’ve also recognized the importance of not letting my confidence waiver, and especially not tilting, when I feel I’ve played poorly. Once a match is done, I try to put it behind me, keeping in the moment and grounding myself in music, friends, and the familiarity of the steps to take as I set up for my next match.

Studies have shown that when taking tests, something as simple as chewing the same gum you were chewing when you studied will have positive impact on your memory. I once had a professor who encouraged students to study in the classroom after-hours as that was the room that we would be taking the final exam in. While we’re unable to playtest many matches in the Grand Prix hall before this weekend, I try to make a habit of testing on the same playmat I’ll be using for the weekend preferably with the same sleeves and other paraphernalia (dice, deckboxes, etc.).

Do you have habits or steps you take before large tournaments? I would love to hear how you take the pressure off between matches, or if there are any secret words of wisdom that you utilize as you prepare for your next Grand Prix.

Chantelle Campbell hails from Edmonton, Alberta. She writes about the competitive Magic life.

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