“If you fail to prepare, then prepare to fail.”

While preparing for tournaments is an obviously important task that needs to be done before competing, and can almost certainly be the difference between doing well and doing poorly, it’s worth asking an interesting question that doesn’t often get asked enough: Is there a danger in preparing too much for a tournament? Is there such as thing as over-preparing? Today I want to explore this question a bit further and see what we come up with.

This past weekend, the Magic Online Championship took place at Wizards’ fortress in Renton, Washington. The eventual winner of the event was Mattia Oneto of Italy, defeating the renowned Kenji Egashira (NumottheNummy) in the finals. But one thing that I thought was interesting about the two competitors was their level of preparation. Kenji had played around 40,000 matches on Magic Online leading up to the tournament. Mattia had only played around 8,000 matches. Mattia played significantly matches than Kenji, yet still managed to play well and win.

Now, I’m not trying to claim that Kenji lost because he played 40,000 matches or that Mattia won because he only played 8,000. Winning or losing a tournament is determined by a million and one different factors, many of which are beyond a player’s direct control. But the events do open the door to asking the question and wondering about just how much preparation is actually needed in order to do well at any given tournament.

Over-Preparation Can Be Dangerous

This is my opinion, and there’s every possibility that it could be wrong. But given the years I’ve been involved with the game as a player and the discussions I’ve had with many players working with them individually as a sports psychologist, I feel reasonably comfortable stating the following—many players “over-prepare” for tournaments. They spend way too many consecutive hours or days playing matches and not enough time allowing their bodies and minds to relax/optimize. We’ve all heard the many numerous stories of players staying up late on a Friday night, still jamming matches and completely undecided on what deck to play and then showing up to the tournament with a hurried deck choice, confused, tired, drained, and devoid of enthusiasm or the necessary energy levels to perform well.

This tendency to “over-prepare” has its roots, ultimately, in fear. It could be a fear of missing some last-minute shift in the metagame or new deck that pops up out of nowhere. It could be a fear of missing some card or interaction that you should add to your deck. It could be a fear of missing some card or interaction that you should take out of your deck. Or, it could be some combination of any of these. Regardless, the desire to succeed and justify the resources pumped into playing in a tournament fosters these kinds of fears that ultimately cause players to overdo things and risk sabotaging themselves.

The Law Of Diminishing Returns

The Law of Diminishing Returns is an economic theory that describes how, at a certain point, increasing labor does not yield an equally increasing amount of productivity. In other words, when the amount of input increases over time, at some point, the rate of output decreases for each unit of input. Not only that, and this is the most important point, the quality of production suffers as well. And we all know this. Working tirelessly for 24 hours straight is nowhere near as good or effective as working for 8 hours straight enthusiastically. In the end, it’s not the quantity of work that you’re putting in that matters, but the quality of work. We can apply this to preparing for Magic tournaments as well.

Let’s say you have a big tournament coming up, and you want to do really well. As a consequence, your desire to do well causes you to fall into the trap of over-preparing for it. You play for 12 hours a day, every day, for weeks on end. This many matches each day, every day, as well as the swings in highs and lows you experience along the way, causes you to develop a substantial amount of anxiousness and stress. As the tournament draws closer, you feel more and more drained and exhausted, both physically and mentally. You’re not sleeping well, and your eating habits have become poor as well.

Because of the state you’re in, your concentration and focus begins to suffer. You don’t retain information as well, nor as much. Your play becomes sloppy and careless. The Friday evening before the tournament, you’re up late still testing and preparing. You get little-to-zero good sleep that night. You wake up the next day and go to play. In all likelihood, what are the chances you’ll perform well? I’d say they’re pretty low. What good is spending 12 hours each day, every day, preparing for a tournament if, by the time the tournament rolls around, you’re exhausted, drained, anxious, and stressed out? At some point when preparing, you inevitably reach a point of diminishing returns, where the quantity of work you’re putting in will be of such a low quality that the returns you’re getting back are greatly diminished as a consequence and practically worthless. In essence, when preparing for tournaments, it’s not working hard that matters. It’s working smart that matters.

Proper Preparation For Tournaments

To adequately prepare for any given tournament, here are some good general guidelines you can follow.

  • Decades of scientific research has shown that 4-6 hours is the ideal amount of work to put in per day. After that, the likelihood of diminishing returns increases. Create a preparation schedule that limits the amount of time you play in a single day to 4-6 hours.
  • Implement and maintain some form of daily physical exercise routine. Decades of scientific research has also shown that daily physical exercise is not only good for the body, it’s good for the mind. And it doesn’t have to be anything extreme. Even something as simple as walking for 30 minutes a day can do wonders. Physical exercise will help give you the physical and mental stamina to perform in long tournaments with many rounds in a day.
  • Implement and maintain some form of healthy eating routine. What you’re putting into your body each day will absolutely inevitably have an impact, either positively or negatively, on how you feel sitting and playing at a tournament.
  • Implement and maintain some form of sleep schedule. Depending on your age, you’ll need to achieve a certain amount of sleep each night to achieve optimal functionality the following day. Do a bit of research and found out how many hours of sleep is ideal each night for someone your age and begin making that your routine as best as you can.
  • Once you’ve adequately prepared, lock your deck choice in a day or two before the tournament, at a minimum. That way, you can spend the last day or two before the tournament relaxing and not stressing needlessly over Magic. Go do other things, spend time with friends/loved ones, and just relax in general. This last part is crucial, as it allows you to refresh and reset your mind going into the tournament.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in the next article!