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How To Be Successful In Tournaments - Part One: You

[Editor's Note: This is a guest article by the one and only Bartosz "Gorah," a competitive underworlds player from Poland. Gorah recently placed 3rd out of 114 players at the October Warhammer World Grand Clash and was kind enough to share some of his thoughts with us. You can also watch two of Gorah's games at the event on the Warhammer TV Twitch channel here and here, and check out his guide for the deck he played at the event here. - WiggleFish]


How To Be Successful In Tournaments


So, you’ve decided to take the step and enter organised play, but you’re not sure how to start? Or you’re frequenting them already, but not seeing a lot of success? If so, read on—I’ll try to guide you to winning the glass.


Let's make one thing clear straight away: Tournaments are won by a combination of a number of things: your warband, your deck, your ability to choose and execute your game plan, and by a bit of luck. But most importantly: they are won by You, and that is what we will be covering in the first part of this article.


Part One: You

"The way the mind will lean under stress is strongly influenced by training." - Frank Herbert, Dune

You might choose a great warband, get a really solid deck, even have really hot dice on the day, but still you might find you are not achieving your goals. Playing in a tournament means you’re competing. This competition triggers a lot of psychological effects in you. If you come to the tournament with a goal you will feel a degree of pressure, you’ll feel the stress, and you might even feel a sting of anxiety. Combinations of those elements are well known in the world of competition and sportsmanship. This is where “choking” comes from. This is why many excellent athletes often end their careers without the highest trophies.


But worry not! Unless yours is an extremely rare case of negative psychological effects—you can learn to overcome these hindrances and be successful.

The first step to success is a thing that will happen before you’ll go to the event. It will probably happen even before you choose a warband and start practice sessions with it. That thing is setting yourself a goal. It is an extremely important part to get right. Having a goal can drive us, can motivate us… or it can bury us under heaps of stress. In order to avoid those negative effects it is best to set your goals in a smart way.


It is fine to set yourself a goal of winning a Grand Clash even before you’ve attended your first store tournament. Just be smart and make it your ultimate goal, not the next thing on your to-do list. Your short-term goals should be realistic. They should be a milestone, an objective to achieve on your way to the ultimate goal. If you’re only starting your adventure with tournaments then probably it would be best to try to make it to simply win more games than you lose at a local tournament. This might not sound like a lot, but you’re new to the competition. You have to learn how tournament life looks like. So even if you fail to get there you’ve just gained a lot of valuable experience. You’ve experienced how a tournament is played. What are pairings and how they work. What are tie-breakers. Now you know how it feels to play in an environment where every game matters.


Then go to another tournament and try again. See how your experience from the previous one has influenced you. You will probably feel more confident, more familiar with what is going on. You’ll be able to focus more on the game itself. Just like in RPG games you’ll level up and things will get easier. Once you’ll achieve your goal you can look at another. Maybe you can aim for Top 4 this time? It’s also important to work on repeating the performance. Maybe you’ve made it further than you anticipated? Next time instead of pushing your goals even further simply try to place as well in the next event. It is still a challenge and if you are able to do as well, that’s a success and an important milestone to winning it all.


Don’t overshoot with your goals. If you go to your first tournament with your mind set on winning it then you’ll put a lot of pressure on yourself. You’ll induce a lot of stress because deep down you’ll be aware how challenging a task you’ve set in front of yourself. It is easier to manage your stress when you know that the task ahead of you is within your reach. That if you keep it calm and play well you can reliably achieve it. So start off a bit more humble and build up from there. If you’ve managed a solid number of repeat performances and placed in the top 4 often, then you should be able to attack the idea of winning it all from a very comfortable position. Because you will know that you should be able to make it into the top 4 and with a bit of an extra push you can get even higher.


Once you feel confident in your tournament play (even if you’re not taking every glass) you can go for a higher challenge: Grand Clash. Grand Clash is a different kind of animal. It usually is a very large event and cuts are far more restrictive. You’re probably going to play in a place that is unfamiliar to you and with people you’ve never seen before. So even if you’re an accomplished tournament player it’s best to start off with some lower expectations. There are enough of stress factors around for you without adding too high expectations to the mix.


Before my first Grand Clash I had an idea that I would love to place in the top 4 of the event. I really wanted to win the promotional dice. During my first game I was really stressed. I was almost shaking because I was already thinking about my top 4 chances ruined should I lose the match. It was hard to think clearly. I lost the match. My opponent was having really awesome luck on their dice and had crits on nearly every roll. After the match I was devastated. It was hard to motivate myself and even though I did win the next matches I did drop games here and there because it was hard for me to focus. As it turned out, if I had dropped 2 fewer games in my won matches I would’ve made it into Top 16. That realization hit me hard and opened my eyes. On my second Grand Clash I just wanted to make the cut to the second day. It was a much more comfortable experience to play in that second Grand Clash, and I ended up making it to the semi-finals. My goals were helping me, not hindering me.

Coming back to the stress: the level of it will vary between the stages of the tournament, but it is an inherent part of the competition.


The way I see this fluctuation of stress is:

  • First round: You are going in blind. It’s a virgin round of the tournament and it can very well set up the entire thing for you. You have no idea what skill level your opponent has as matchmaking hasn’t kicked in yet. You have not warmed up yet and performance anxiety can be high right now.

  • Following rounds: It’s better now. You’re past your first game. Now you are in a standard tournament drill. Depending on your record you now know if you have any room for error or what stakes you are playing for. Even if you’ve been eliminated from competing for the glass there are still other tiers of rewards to grab, so it’s worth focusing on them. It’s not that uncommon to feel rising pressure during a successful run. You are starting to believe you can make it and you might start to think too much about it. This adds to the pressure and is self-inflicted.

  • Final round: Oh boy, you’ve almost made it! Just one step from winning it all. There’s just one more person to beat. That glass on the table is in your sight. And often there are people watching. The stakes are real and so is the stress.

So how do you cope with it? The first thing to realize when you’re stressed is that the person you’re playing against is stressed out as well. You might not see it, but they are. You don’t know how well they are coping. They might be a grizzled veteran with a solid deck and feel quite confident, or might be a person new to competition. You won’t always know. You might scan their swag to check if they have some tournament prizes in use and try to assess how experienced they are. It’s a bit of a trap—don’t do that. Sure, they might be running with Grand Clash dice and glory tokens, but are having a really bad day, or playing a list they don’t feel. Or just bought the stuff on eBay.


The way to handle first round anxiety is to simply focus on your game. And make sure you’re viewing your opponent as a genuinely nice person who’s here to have fun just like you. Most often that’s exactly what they are. Do some small-talk, even about token placement. Doesn’t really matter about what exactly. It usually lets everyone relax. It’s better to play relaxed. Don’t think about the grander scheme of things: final scores, placements, how this match will affect your chances. Those things will be analyzed after the round. Right now you’ve got a game to win.Think tactically. Look at what you’re playing against, plan how you can play your game against them. You’ve got a lot of decisions to make that will matter now. Focus on them. Things like if you want board priority, how to set up your objectives and fighters, who you want to go first, and so on. Focusing on these in-game factors not only keeps your mind busy and helps push the stress away, but is also critical to your victory in the game itself.


Once you’re through the first round it’s easier. The most important thing now is to not overthink about your chances of winning the event, current placements, or how well you are doing so far. This will put pressure on you, and does nothing to help you do well in the next game. If you do look at the placings, do a quick, cold overview of your situation and calculate how you are doing so far, if you can afford to drop a game or two and still make the cut, and so on. Having the knowledge that you could drop a game or even a match and still make the cut on tie-breakers can be really helpful and give you some room to play.


Finals stress. The best way to deal with stress when you’re almost there is… to not think about it at all! And to remember that not only you are stressed. Your opponent is too. And they are most likely just as tired as you are. This is important to realize because of two things: for one, you know that the playing field is even. You’re not facing an emotionless cyborg (usually at least!). It is not an uncommon sight to see hands tremble. Even if those are the hands of people who had won a Grand Clash or two before.


Secondly—this is more a tactical bit of advice—you are in error territory. You both will make them now. Sometimes it is good to give your opponent an opportunity to make an error. They very well can make one that will give you an advantage. How? Give them an opportunity to make a decision. A perfect example would be to play Toxic Gases on a fighter you would really like to have closer to yourself. It might appear that it is an obvious choice to take a wound and keep that fighter safe. But you’ve just given an opportunity to make an error to your opponent. They might take it. You can try to arrange a bait. They might fall for it. Or it may just pressure them harder. When dealing with kill pressure a player has to balance out how to secure one’s own key fighters without bleeding too much glory and achieving their own objectives. When you’re tired it is easier to pick a wrong target, make a wrong move, play a ploy too early. So it is a good idea to put your opponent in this situation. The more decisions they have to make, the more endangered their game plan is, the more likely it is that they will make an error you can capitalize on. If you let them play their game undisturbed it’s likely they will have time and room to avoid those mistakes.


Finally, get a good night of sleep before the tournament. It’s super important. Grab some food that’s not too heavy on your stomach, revisit your goals for the tournament to make sure they’re reasonable, and then just go in and score score glory.


That's it for part one, check back next time for Part Two: What You Are Playing


- Gorah


[Editor's Note: Thanks, Gorah! If you enjoyed this article, let him know in the comments below. I know I am already looking forward to part two.


In the meantime, if anyone else would like to submit an article to Well of Power, please reach out to us at WellofPowerUnderworlds@gmail.com. We are always looking for more great underworlds content to share! - WiggleFish]


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