Magic is a game of edges. As a competitive player, it’s always a constant struggle to get every edge you can and to try to beat out variance. These edges include having the best decklist in the room, strong drafting skills, strong technical play, getting reads off of opponents, proper shuffling, and much, much, more. One such edge completely affects one’s game, yet not nearly enough players give it the respect it deserves. That edge is being mentally and physically prepared prior to, and during, a tournament, so your brain works to it’s full potential.
In this article I’m going to go over a few different short term, and long term, ways in which you can make sure your body and mind are prepared to preform their best during a tournament. The information I’m about to give you is mainly what I’ve gathered from my girlfriend, Jessy Seida. Jessy is a very knowledgeable undergraduate majoring in Kinesiology at the University of Calgary, as well as a Varsity Wrestler for the University of Calgary. Jessy’s wrestling ‘resume’ includes being a two time national champion, as well as placing 2nd in the Junior Pan-American Championships, which is a competition for the top wrestlers from North and South America. So Jessy knows a thing or two about competing at high levels, as well as the inner workings of the body.
In this section I’m going to go over the short term ways in which you can improve your body and mind the day of a tournament. These are things that everyone can, and should, easily do the day prior to, and during, a tournament.
Eating food during a tournament is important for making sure you have the proper blood glucose levels. Proper blood glucose levels are important because your brain does not function to its full potential if it does not the have enough sugars. However, if you have too much sugar it will cause insulin to be released that will cause the sugars from the blood stream to flood in to the fat cells, which will in turn drastically lower your blood glucose levels, giving you the same result as if you didn’t eat at all. Instead, the ideal way to keep your blood glucose level at constant, moderate level is to constantly be eating low glycemic index foods like oatmeal, whole grain bread, fruits and vegetables, eggs, and other non-processed foods because they contain slow burning complex carbs and proteins to give you energy throughout the day.
Remember, it’s more important to have quality over quantity when it comes to eating during a tournament. If you feed your body a bunch of junk food, your body and mind will pay the price. Another thing to remember is that it’s better to eat smaller portions of food over a long period of time, than to eat a large amount of food all at once. Eating a large amount of food all at once can cause you to become drowsy from digesting a lot of food at once.
The most important thing is to be prepared. Personally, the day of a big tournament I will try my hardest to get in a quality breakfast if at all possible. Also, prior to a tournament I will try and stock up on snacks for throughout the day of a tournament. Some of these snacks include granola bars, muffins, fruits, yogurt, or whatever else I can find to keep my energy up. For all the Canadians out there, Tim Horton’s is your best friend. If I can get to a Tim’s in the morning I will usually get a Bagel, two muffins, yogurt, and whatever else, which will usually last me the majority of the day.
Get Enough Sleep
Any serious tournament player should know that to perform at one’s best it’s imperative to get sufficient sleep. Yet for some reason, a ton of player will still stay up late the night before a tournament. I’ve been guilty of this from time to time as well, either because I’ve felt I need to do some last minute tuning of my deck, or from being so nervous for the tournament the next day that I had trouble sleeping. However, it’s important to make time for sleep. That means that if you think you’re going to have trouble sleeping, then you should be setting aside extra time for sleep. Or, if your friends all decide that they want to do a late night money draft, you may have to tell them your going to be sitting it out. Some symptoms of lack of sleep include being easily agitated, or frustrated (AKA easily tilted), reduced ability to make decisions and concentrate, and the brain is overall slower, and less effective.
It’s important to have sufficient water because it will increase your blood plasma volume, which will create sufficient concentrations for your liver to filter out toxins, and allow the liver to carry out its other functions such as hormone regulation, metabolism regulation, and protein synthesis. Having a high metabolic rate will increase your energy levels, and there for will affect your reaction time, and brain function. Having a low metabolic rate causes the body and mind to become lethargic, and not function to full potential.
If it’s possible, have a water bottle that you’re able to carry around with you, and fill it up throughout the day of a tournament. If you feel thirsty, that means you’re already dehydrated.
Getting in the Zone
Pretty much anyone who has enjoyed tournament success can probably relate to the feeling of being in the zone. Having your mind in a place where you feel like you’re playing the best magic you can play, and not making mistakes. The most important thing to remember is to get in the zone, and stay there, and don’t go on tilt. In my experience, some important things to do to get in the zone include blocking out everything that’s happening in the games beside you, so you are solely concentrated on your game. Sometimes it’s necessary to block, or ignore, your opponent, if need be. If something really frustrates you and puts you on tilt, snap out out of it! Getting on tilt, and staying there, is the easiest way to throw away a tournament. If you’re on tilt, take deep breath, forget about what’s tilting you, and move on.
Preparation is key for getting in the zone too. Try to eliminate anything that may break your concentration during a round. This includes turning your phone to silent if you think it may disturb you. Try to go to the bathroom before the next round goes up. Put your bag at your feet in front of you, so you don’t have to worry about it being stolen.
Another technique that is important for getting in the zone is to clear your mind before every round. If you’ve ever seen me with my face in my hands, sitting across from my opponent before a round, I’m trying to clear my mind. What I do is put my face in my hands, breath deeply, and count up and down from ten. This helps to calm my nerves, and help me not worry about how important my upcoming match may be. Tournaments are won one round at a time, and one should treat a tournament in the same manner, take it one round at a time.
Stick to Your Daily Routine
It’s important not to break the daily routine the day of a large competition, because you don’t want to be throwing your body off by doing something, or eating something, you aren’t used to. This means that if every morning you are used to eating oatmeal, then go get yourself a bowl of oatmeal. Or, if you very rarely have coffee, than the day of a large competition you probably don’t want to be having coffee. If you’re used to having eight hours of sleep, the night of a tournament probably isn’t the best night to be having six hours of sleep. Keeping your routine the same as normal will make sure that your body is also feeling normal.
These are the things that you can do to make your body and mind work better in the long term. Although these aren’t things you can change in a day, they will improve your game, as well as your life.
Get in Shape
Being in shape can actually improve one’s ability to play cards. Being in shape is important because it affects you metabolic rate, or metabolism. The more in shape you are, the better your metabolism is, and having a higher metabolism will cause you to be mentally sharper, have higher energy levels, and will have essentially the same effects as having a well-regulated blood glucose level.
Ideally, one should be exercising for at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. This amount of exercise is the minimum amount for optimum heart and body health according to the Canada Heart and Stroke Foundation. Personally, I’ve had trouble in the past getting the motivation to exercise regularly, but what really helped me is what my friend and roommate, Ian Robertson, said to me. He said that one should treat exercising like a job. People rely on you to make it to work, and if you don’t get to work the job may not get done, and you’ll be letting your co-workers down. And most importantly, everyone knows that if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. The most important thing to remember for anyone wanting to exercise on a regular basis, is that routine is key. Once you make a habit out of exercising it will be easy to exercise if it’s just part of your daily routine.
Obviously, their is a lot of information out there on how to eat healthy, and their is no way I could cover it all. So I’m just going to go over a few key points that relate to improving your game.
The more packaged and processed your food is, the more chemicals and preservatives it will have. That means all the foods and drinks that last years without going bad. After eating these foods, the chemicals and toxins must be processed by the liver. The liver is then overloaded with work, and is unable to do its other important jobs including protein synthesis, hormone balancing, and metabolism regulation.
The way to have a healthy brain is to have regulated blood sugar, and this is done by eating foods that do not spike your blood sugars too high. These are those healthy foods that do eventually go bad like fruits, vegetables, eggs, and whole grain breads. These types of foods are often full of fibres, complex carbohydrates and proteins that digest a lot slower so your blood sugar does not spike and this will also make you stay full longer.
These foods also have much more potassium than processed food. There is a direct correlation to how processed food is, and how much the potassium has been leached out of it. Potassium is an ion that brain neurons use in order to have an impulse. If you do not have high enough concentrations of potassium, then the brain’s neurons will not have impulses as quickly, or may not even be able to meet action potential and have the impulse at all. Which means your brain isn’t working at full capacity.
In conclusion, preparation is the key to making sure that your body and mind are in top shape to preform for any competition. Think ahead, make a mental checklist, or a physical one if you need it, of things that you need to do, and how to do them, in order to be completely ready to play your best at a tournament. Remember to get enough sleep, eat right, drink water, and get in the zone. You are responsible for making sure you play the best Magic you can. Take advantage of every edge you can. Thanks for reading, and a huge thanks to Jessy for all her time and effort in helping me write this article!