Most players feel intimidated when they consider attending their first tournament. Other players have been to some events, but feel ready to elevate their play to the next level. Even players that have dominated events in the past have areas where their gameplay can have improvement. By spending time consciously preparing to attend an event, you can increase your confidence and improve your performance. I have recently been spending a lot of time practicing for the Lock and Load masters event. In this article I will share some of the preparation strategies I use while I am getting ready for a tournament.
The first step in preparation is making sure that you understand the format of the event. Tournament organizers use a wide range of formats to keep players interested in events. If you prepare a Steamroller list to attend a Mangled Metal event, you will have a bad time. Likewise, if you are unaware that Steamroller 2012 has been updated to include character restrictions and reinforcements, you are likely to construct illegal lists. Thoroughly comprehending the format of the event is an important step towards creating an optimized list. I cannot stress this enough, read and know the rules of the format (i.e. the Steamroller document).
The next step in preparation is deciding on your lists. Most events use a two list format, so this article will concentrate on that style of event. In a two list format you will usually have a primary list and a secondary list. The primary list can be a favorite caster, one that you feel you play well, or one that you believe many people will have a hard time dealing with. However, it is almost impossible to create a list that does not have at least some bad match ups. You should try to identify those bad match ups and then craft your secondary list to deal with those bad match ups.
When constructing your primary list, it is helpful to have part of your list centered on forcing an issue for your opponent. If your opponent is unable to deal with that issue, then the game is slanted heavily in your favor. Here are some examples: high defense (Kayazy with Iron Flesh), high armor (Wolds with Baldur 2), strong scenario play (Haley 2 or Deneghra 2), jamming (Constance Blaize), or strong assassination (Lylyth 2). It is also good to create strong synergistic combos within your list. For example, Gorman and Anastasia di Bray combined with Haley 2 can make your opponent feel like he is missing multiple rounds instead of just one from the feat.
Once your primary list is finalized, it is time to analyze the weaknesses of the list. There are four areas that you need to review on your list: ability to answer issues presented by your opponent, ability to contest scenarios, performance in your meta, and bad match ups.
While you are trying to force an issue with your opponent, he will be trying to do the same with you. Go through each of the common issues that your list is likely to face and analyze how well it can deal with these issues. Your list will not be able to deal with all of the issues, but if it cannot deal with many of the problems, it may be a good idea to pick a different primary list or you may need to rework the list composition.
It can be easy to overlook how your list will perform in Steamroller scenarios. It is best if your army can be a threat to win by scenario. This adds another layer of pressure that you are applying to your opponent. At a minimum, you need to be sure that your list will be able to solidly contest scenarios. For instance, if you are playing a Cygnar list that focuses on ranged attacks, you should consider the inclusion of a Centurion or Boomhowler and Co. to contest key areas of the board.
Before attending a tournament, it is useful to spend some time trying to evaluate what the composition, or meta, of the playing field will look like. This is easier at events that are at a local level, since you will be more familiar with your local meta. It is important to have lists that play well versus opponents that you expect to be commonly facing. Take an answer to mass infantry if you anticipate facing swarms of Cryx troops, for example. It can also be helpful to bring lists that are difficult for most lists in your meta to deal with. Additionally knowing the type of terrain commonly used at a venue will help you in list construction. If the tournament organizer likes to place a massive forest dead center on one of his tables, you need to have an answer for that.
Another step in testing the strengths and weaknesses of a list is judging how you expect the list to perform versus top tier casters. It is time to enter the dojo! This can be fun to do with a friend or practice buddy with both of you predicting how the list will perform in a proposed match up. I have good memories of Trevor and I spending time before a tournament placing a list in the dojo versus every other caster in the game and theory machining what would go well or go wrong in that game. Many times, the decision on what to take as our secondary casters came as a result of these discussions.
Once you have composed your lists, it is time to practice! Practice will help you become more proficient at playing the lists and will help you become more familiar with your models. You can also learn a variety of tactics that work well with the lists. As you practice you will be able to fine tune your lists. The biggest changes to the list composition will take place when you start your practice, until gradually the list will perfectly fit your play style. There is no replacement for table time with your tournament casters!
It is common for players to feel intimidated by timed turns or a death clock at a tournament. This can be mitigated with practice. Find out what timing method will be used at the tournament and during your practice games use that method. If the tournament will use the death clock variant, it is a good idea to practice with a chess clock and still set a time limit on your turns. By using this hybrid method, you can make sure that your time isn’t eaten up by one big turn.
While you are doing your practice games, play Steamroller scenarios. Being more knowledgeable about the scenario and general Steamroller rules can be a large competitive advantage versus an opponent that is not as well informed. Sometimes this knowledge will make it so that it is difficult for your opponent to win by scenario. Other times this knowledge will allow you to win by scenario or apply pressure on your opponent and force him into bad tactical situations.
Probably the most important benefit that you will gain from practice is learning the abilities of other models. Being a skilled Warmachine player requires accurate threat assessment, prioritization of targets, and negating combos that your opponent would like to perform. It is very difficult to perform these functions without having already played against the models you are facing. For example, the first time someone plays against the Molik Karn missile is almost always an eye opener. It is to your advantage to play a wide variety of opponents and factions. Knowing your opponent’s key models and being able to surgically remove them can help swing a match in your favor.
Once you have completed your preparation, it is finally time to play in the event. Set at least three goals for the tournament. First, have fun! Second, be a good sport. Finally, try to learn from your games and improve your play. If you achieve these goals, you will have had a successful event, regardless of where you place in the final standings.
Next week on Chain Attack: Baby Seal Boots Camp I will focus on the strengths and weaknesses of each faction.