The competitive and professional aspect of the game of Magic is going through a transition period.

Yes, the game has, for a very long time, had a Pro Tour, a Grand Prix circuit, a World Championships, etc. But for much of that time, it was primitive and raw. As the years have gone by, those high-level events have become more and more refined, and not only that, the stakes available at those events have become high and higher. As a competitive and professional game, Magic is pushing in the direction of becoming a legitimate “e-sport,” and as that grows, so too will the standards that players need to demand from themselves.

For example, do you have a mental preparation routine that you utilize before every tournament? It’s something I’m willing to bet most players don’t do or even think to consider. Let me give you an example of the stark difference between high-level Magic and high-level golf by giving you the mental preparation routine of one of my professional golfing clients:

The day before Day 1 of the tournament:

  • Morning visualization exercise of your upcoming performance on each of the 18 holes of the course. Visualize every shot and every reaction on every hole in perfect detail.
  • 30 minutes to 1 hour of intense meditation and mind-clearing exercises.
  • 30 minutes to 1 hour of mental training exercises to hone in focus and concentration.
  • 10 minutes of reciting confidence-building affirmations to reinforce confidence.
  • Evening visualization exercise of your upcoming performance on each of the 18 holes of the course. Visualize every shot and every reaction on every hole in perfect detail.

After completion of Day 1 of the tournament:

  • Written self-evaluation of the day’s round.
  • 15-20 minutes of meditation and mind-clearing exercises.
  • 10 minutes of reciting confidence-building affirmations to reinforce confidence.
  • Evening visualization exercise of your upcoming performance on each of the 18 holes of the course. Visualize every shot and every reaction on every hole in perfect detail.

After completion of Day 2 of the tournament:

  • Written self-evaluation of the day’s round.
  • 15-20 minutes of meditation and mind-clearing exercises.
  • 10 minutes of reciting confidence-building affirmations to reinforce confidence.
  • Evening visualization exercise of your upcoming performance on each of the 18 holes of the course. Visualize every shot and every reaction on every hole in perfect detail.

After completion of Day 3 of the tournament:

  • Written self-evaluation of the day’s round.
  • 15-20 minutes of meditation and mind-clearing exercises.
  • 10 minutes of reciting confidence-building affirmations to reinforce confidence.
  • Evening visualization exercise of your upcoming performance on each of the 18 holes of the course. Visualize every shot and every reaction on every hole in perfect detail.

After completion of Day 4 of the tournament:

  • Written self-evaluation of the weekend’s tournament.
  • Self-compassion exercises if results were poor/not what were desired.

They will repeat this routine for every single tournament. And, none of this includes the mental preparation routine they use before every shot on the course. This is purely for pre- and post-round.

How many Magic players incorporate a routine even close to something like this before and during a tournament? Do you? If not, you’re leaving out a very important component that absolutely can make a difference in your performance levels.

Today, I’d like to give you a good, thorough mental preparation routine that, as a Magic player at any level, you can use to help yourself mentally prepare to compete in any given tournament.

Visualization Exercises

The day before a tournament, spend time visualizing yourself playing a full game of against each of the different decks that you expect to face at the tournament. If you’re playing Standard, visualize yourself playing a full against Temur Energy, Ramunap Red, God-Pharaoh’s Gift, etc. Visualize the entire game from the very beginning when you draw your opening hand all the way to the end when your opponent scoops up their cards. The key is to be very immersive. Visualize every land drop, every spell cast, every creature that attacks and blocks—everything. You want to visualize the game as if you were there actually playing it. And most importantly, visualize yourself playing perfectly, making perfect decisions, and taking perfect actions. You have to see yourself playing the way you want to play. Visualization has been shown to improve performance by as much as 20%.

Visualizing actions activates the same areas of the brain responsible for physically executing those actions. If you were to visualize yourself raising your right arm, you would activate the same areas of your brain that would activate if you were to physically raise your right arm. The reason is because the brain doesn’t distinct between reality and fantasy. To the brain, everything is images, whether they’re images processed through your eyes or images processed in your mind. This means that by visualizing yourself playing games of Magic, it has the same effect as actually playing them, meaning that you can get double the amount of practice and game time in with half the effort.

Visualization is an absolute must for any kind of mental preparation and if you’re not utilizing it, you’re leaving out something that can give you a massive edge.

Meditation Exercises

For a mental sport like Magic, the mind is everything, and the more calm, relaxed, and stable your mind is, the better it’s going to perform for you. I talked in a recent article, Mental Edges #2 – Control Your Breathing, about the numerous and well-established benefits of controlled breathing/meditation exercises, such as reduced nervousness, stress, and anxiety, as well as an increase in the ability to focus, retain information, memorize things, and make decisions. Clearing and “detoxing” the mind through meditation before competition is, like visualization, a massive component that can give you a major boost by helping you to enter into a tournament with a clear and fresh mental state.

Focus Building Exercises

Not only is it important that your mind is calm and relaxed when performing, but it also needs to be focused. A great way to help hone your focus before a tournament is to do exercises specifically designed to help narrow your focus and ability to concentrate. There are a number of great exercises you can do to help with this.

  • Lay down on the floor. You can use a mat or towel if you’d like. Let yourself settle into your body and mind and reach a point of relaxation. Let go of any thoughts or images, and picture nothing but blackness in your mind. First, focus on your feet. Without moving them, try to feel each toe on each foot. Notice how your feet feel in that moment. Second, focus on your knees. Focus on each knee one at a time and notice how they feel in that moment. Third, focus on your core (abs). Tighten your core, notice how it feels, then relax your core and notice how it feels. Do this three times. Fourth, focus on your hands. Tighten your hands for 10 seconds, and then relax them. Notice how your hands feel after releasing the tension. Feel each finger on both hands. Repeat this three times. Lastly, focus on your entire body. Notice how your body feels and try to pick up on any sensations that you notice.
  • Grab a stack of coins. Any coins will do. To start, point your index finger straight up and hold it in that position. Grab a coin, place that coin flat on the tip of your finger, and keep the coin balanced on your finger for a count of thirty seconds. During the thirty seconds, keep your eyes locked on the coin. In your mind, describe what the coin looks like. Describe how the coin feels and the weight of the coin. Notice how your finger feels as you balance the coin. After thirty seconds, place a second coin flat on top of the first one and balance both coins on your finger for thirty seconds. Again, describe the coins, how they look, how they feel, and notice how your finger feels as you balance the coins. Repeat this process over and over until you can no longer balance enough coins.
  • Grab a couple of Magic decks you have put together. Using cards from the two decks, lay out a complex board state onto a table. Utilize your focus by looking intently at each card on the battlefield, including the lands. Analyze the board state as deeply as you can. In your mind, talk about everything that you notice—how many lands are in play on both sides, how many creatures are in play on both sides, how many noncreature cards are in play on both sides, etc. Then, put a random hand of 7 cards on both sides of the table face down. Pick up the hand on your side, see what you have, and play out a turn just like you would in a real game, playing around the potential cards in your opponent’s hand. Once you finish the turn, look at your opponent’s hand and see how well you played the turn.

Exercises like these do a great job of helping you to narrow your focus and hone your ability to concentrate on things.

Confidence-Building Affirmations

Confidence is a crucial aspect of performance. You simply cannot perform to your maximum unless you feel confident in yourself. To help solidify your confidence for a performance, a great exercise you can do is confidence-building affirmations. Think of them as phrases that you “chant” or read to yourself for a defined period of time. Something like this: “I believe in myself and what I can do. I know that when I put my mind to it, I’m capable of playing great Magic. I’m not scared or fearful of playing in any tournament or against any opponent. I’m not afraid to make a mistake. I’m not afraid to lose. When challenges come my way, I will embrace them, enjoy them, and overcome them. If I lose, I will always learn from it, use it as motivation, and bounce back from it. I trust in myself always. I never doubt my own capabilities. I believe in myself and what I can do.”

You can think of this as “training” your brain to think and feel confidently. Just recite this phrase to yourself, with feeling, over and over again for about 10 minutes straight. You can even recite this to yourself at different periods during the tournament to keep your mind thinking and feeling confident during the tournament.

If you do these exercises the day before a tournament, you’re going to be as mentally prepared as you can be and you’re going to really give yourself a great chance to maximize your performance level.

Thanks for reading, and all the best. I’ll see you next week!