Surviving Grand Prix Day 2s

by Taufik Indrakesuma on 06 November 2017, Monday

Taufik Indrakesuma

Surviving Grand Prix Day 2s


Today, I wanted to write about something that all aspiring competitive players will face at some point in their careers: Day 2 of a Grand Prix event.

The reason I'm writing about this is mainly selfish: while nerding out over some Excel spreadsheets that track my GP records and win rates, I noticed that my Day 2 win rate is much, much lower than my Day 1 win rate. For reference, since "coming back to the game" in 2015, out of 13 Grands Prix and nine Day 2 appearances, my Day 1 win rate (only counting matches played) has been 67.8% and my Day 2 win rate has been 43.6%. That's a 23% drop in win rates! In that same time, I've had two 9-0 Day 1 finishes and have missed Top 8 both times. So, there are certainly indications of a problem.

I'm fairly certain that some, if not most, of you can see similar trends in your win rates (though hopefully not as extreme as mine). So, today we'll be exploring a few things: How in the world does that plummeting win rate happen? And how do we fix it and play to the best of our potential in both days of competition?


What happens #1: Your opponents get better.

This is probably the first answer that came to your minds when reading the start of my article. Day 2 is supposedly when you have a higher likelihood of playing against Hall of Famers, Platinum Pros, players who "broke the format" for the weekend, or just people on a "hot streak". Of course your win rate drops; you're playing against much better opponents!

First of all, that assumption doesn't actually hold up. Let's take my 13-event sample again, which equates to 148 rounds (and opponents) played. Using my 2nd favorite Magic-related website (after this one, of course!), I computed the average Elo rating of my opponents. My Day 1 opponents had an average rating of 1628, while my Day 2 opponents stood at an average of 1724. On the surface, that looks like a huge gap. But the website explains that a difference of 100 ELO points only corresponds to a 5 percentage point difference in win percentage. That's definitely a much lower gap than my 23% drop in actual results!

Also, if you look at the overall rating distribution in the system, 1628 corresponds to the 95th percentile (the top 5% of all competitive Magic players), while 1724 corresponds to the 98th percentile. Even my Day 1 opponents are still quite tough!

I have a few recommendations for addressing this "problem". For the most part, just don't worry about it, as your pairings are beyond your control. One useful tip that I've read is to "make your opponents nameless", focusing on the cards and the plays instead of the Hall of Famer across from you.

If you do that, then who knows? You might be able to pull off a win!

My only claim to fame.

Or, to take it in another direction, think about playing against better players as an opportunity to prove yourself! If you mentally frame it as a personal challenge to win against better opponents, that could also kick-start your brain to work overtime to win those extra matches.




What happens #2: You crumble under the added pressure.

Here's probably where some of my problems lie. Day 1 feels nice and relaxed because you're just playing normal Magic. You remain composed while navigating complex combat steps or combo turns, and you can win against any caliber of opposition. But then, you make Day 2, and everything changes. Before you even sit down for the first round of Day 2, you start thinking about the record you need to make Top 8, or secure a money finish, or win your first ever Pro Point. You start feeling the nerves unsettle the pit of your stomach.

Then, you reach the dreaded 9-win mark, where every match from that point on has a Pro Point at stake. You just can't help but think about it. If I mess up this attack, that costs me a Pro Point. If I can sell this bluff to my opponent, I win a Pro Point. But how are you supposed to figure out the right attack if your thoughts are dominated by the Pro Point? How are you supposed to convince your opponent that you have a combat trick in your hand, when your hands start shaking as you move to tap your creature to attack?


This is what crumbling under Pro Point pressure looks like.


God forbid you find yourself in the even worse 11-win mark: Win. And. In.

Everything you felt at the start of the day, after your 9th and 10th wins, just gets amplified even more! You might find yourself a nervous wreck, forgetting to make your land drops, failing to keep track of life totals, and completely incapable of deducing the right plays to make in any given situation.

Or maybe that's just me.

My advice here: forget about the stakes. Ignore what round it is, what record you're on, and what the result would mean for you. Imagine that this is just another Friday Night Magic event, where all you're battling for is a few booster packs and bragging rights over your friends.

I know, I know; easier said than done.

I still fall victim to this one, especially over the past year when I was trying very hard to become captain of the Indonesia WMC team. The weight of the pressure definitely took its toll, but I'm trying to have a more relaxed approach to tournaments now, and I hope it will pay dividends in the long run.



What happens #3: you are still exhausted from Day 1.

I'm sure you've read your fair share of tournament preparation articles: get enough sleep, eat properly, exercise regularly. But, have you ever considered how to adjust your sleeping and eating patterns for events that span multiple days?

Here's how I used to approach Day 1s: I'd start the day with a quick breakfast of "whatever fast food was already open" before starting to play. I'd go through Day 1 with the bare minimum of food and water, running mostly on adrenaline and my body's energy reserves. After finishing the day, I'd feel too tired for a proper meal and would probably just grab some fast food before heading straight back to the hotel.

Once at the hotel, I'd try to sleep, but I would find myself wide awake from residual adrenaline or caffeine, and would stay up way too late responding to congratulatory social media messages for making it to Day 2. I'd get somewhere between 5 and 7 hours of sleep and would wake up feeling fine, not noticing anything amiss, and would head off to play in Day 2.

At that point, the damage has already been done. You're under-slept, undernourished, dehydrated, hung over from the previous day's caffeine, and your Day 2 is doomed to failure.

The "easier said than done" section for this:

  • Plan your meals better, so you don't end up eating McDonald's chicken nuggets the entire time;
  • Have a designated food-runner in your group (probably the guy playing mono-red aggro or whoever has dropped early after a poor start);
  • Drink water after every round to prevent dehydration and overheating of your system;
  • Stick to water, because coffee and energy drinks will cause you to crash eventually, whether in Day 1 or Day 2;
  • After a 12-hour tournament day, you need at least 8 hours of sleep, though 9 is probably ideal;
  • Stay off social media!

This one is probably as tough to fix as the previous mental issues because it requires a lot of effort to build better habits. Staying away from caffeine is particularly tough for some people. For others, it can be tough to remember to pack enough healthy snacks and at least a liter of water in your bag. It is also extremely tempting to revel in the social media kudos, at the cost of valuable sleeping time. Just remember that all of these small decisions can make the difference between a mediocre 10-5 finish and a glorious trophy shot!

Until next time, may your Day 2s be as triumphant as your Day 1s.



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