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Michael Mikaelian, Managing Editor, Star Wars Insider Magazine

Before the Die is Cast

Preparing for Victory

Star Wars TCG Championships 2003

We're right in the middle of qualifying season for this year's Star Wars Trading Card Game World Championships, scheduled to take place at GenCon this summer. It's the perfect time to analyze not just what cards you play and how you play them, but how you prepare to be a competitor. You might not realize it, but the things you do before you roll the first die of a game could affect whether you win or lose.

Keep it Sixty, Simple

Sixty is the minimum number of cards you can have in your deck. Statistically speaking, the closer you keep your deck to sixty cards, the more likely you are to draw any one particular card. I always—as a hard-and-fast rule, no exceptions—play a 60-card deck. Even adding one or two cards "just in case" throws off my chances of drawing the right card when I might need it most.

You can also improve your odds of drawing a particular card by playing four copies, the maximum number allowed. In a 60-card deck, your odds of drawing a single card of which there are four copies are 1 in 15. Although these seem like slim odds, you have to take into account the fact that you draw seven cards at the start of the game, and can "mulligan" any Battle or Mission cards. Furthermore, you'll typically deploy four to seven units during setup, and draw a card after you play each one. And, of course, you draw (at least) one card at the beginning of each turn. If you haven't already drawn 15 cards before the first build roll, you will before the game progresses more than a few turns.

Be Prepared

A pair of decks isn't the only thing you need to play in a tournament. It also helps to have a few other basic supplies. You should always bring your own dice. Even though you're sure your opponents will most likely have their own dice, you can't count on it. Besides, are you willing to put your faith in someone else's dice?

It helps to have at least two different sizes or colors of dice: one for rolling and one for counters. Personally, I use white dice for attacking, black dice for counters, a larger die for rolling the build when I'm the Light Side, and two roll-down d20s for keeping track of both players' Force totals.

DCI-sanctioned tournaments also require that all entrants submit a complete deck list. You don't need to use any special form; you can fill it out by hand on a piece of scrap paper, or you can type it up on your computer and print it out. As long as it has your name, DCI number, and accurate card titles, it should be okay. One restriction you do have to keep in mind: Both your Light Side and Dark Side deck must be complete; you can't swap cards between the two. Just be sure that if you prepare your deck lists ahead of time, that they include any last-minute changes you make.

Got It Covered?

Card-protecting sleeves are popular accessories. They do a great job of keeping valuable cards from being worn out from repeated play. Opaque sleeves also have the added benefit of making a damaged card indiscernible from the rest of your deck. Even if you'd like to know when a well-worn card is on top of your deck, playing with marked cards is not allowed in DCI-sanctioned tournaments.

It's also important to make sure you place all of your cards in the sleeves the same way. This insures that any logos printed on the sleeves themselves are always in the same place. Otherwise, they might be on the back of some cards and the front of others, and that's considered a marked deck. Lastly, it's a good idea to carry extra sleeves around with your decks. If a sleeve bursts open in the middle of a tournament, you want be able to replace it immediately.

Your Body, Jedi Temple

You've got your decks, you've practiced with your buddies for weeks, you're psyched to get to the tournament and start playing. Only problem is, the tournament's not until tomorrow morning. Should you continue to test your decks as much as possible, sleep for a few hours, roll out of bed, and hope you're not late for the tournament? Or, should you relax, get some sleep, get up early and have some breakfast, and head to the tournament at a leisurely pace? We'd all prefer taking it easy, but it's not always possible.

If you can't completely pamper yourself before a tournament, at least go for the basics. Get a normal amount of sleep; playing while you're tired can make you slow and forgetful. Don't forget to eat; the last thing you want is to be thinking with your stomach in the middle of a game. It's also not a bad idea to keep a drink handy, water being the best choice. Don't eat or drink too much before a match either; you don't want to rush through your games just to get to the bathroom!

Going Once, Going Twice

Besides deck strategies, bidding for starting build points is the most crucial challenge you face before the game starts. When you have the opportunity to choose the side and starting bid, you must consider a few factors.

If you're unfamiliar with your opponent's decks, you want to start the bidding at 30 build points and choose the weaker of your two decks. This way, if your opponent decides to challenge your bid, you can concede that side to her and play your stronger deck. If she doesn't challenge your bid, you get the advantage of playing that deck with maximum starting build points.

If you are familiar with at least one of your opponent's decks, consider which match-up you'd prefer: your Light Side versus her Dark Side, or vice-versa. If you're starting the bidding for the second game of a match, that means you lost the first game. If you think a rematch is in order, then start the bidding at 30 build points and choose the side your opponent just used to beat you. This way, they'll either need to switch decks or attempt to beat you a second time with presumably fewer starting build points.

Many players despise starting with fewer than 30 build points. Use this to your advantage; choose the side they seem to favor, and bid 30 or 29 build points. If they want it, they'll have to pay for it. Consider the build points you sacrifice to determine the course of the game a cost. How much are you willing to pay to choose which side you'll play? You'd be surprised to find how many opponents will sacrifice a few build points just to ensure they play their more powerful deck.

Loss in the Shuffle

It's important to shuffle your deck well right before you play a match, especially if it was sorted before you sat down to play. Otherwise, you could end up with two or more copies of the same card, only Character cards, or some other catastrophic pre-game game-ending scenario. The best way to shuffle your deck after sorting your cards is a method sometimes called a "board shuffle." Deal out the deck into three or more piles, then stack them together in a random order. You can do this several times if you want to be certain your deck is well mixed, and then finish off with a few standard riffle shuffles.

What a Revoltin' Development

No one wants to waste his few precious Battle or Mission cards by drawing them in his opening hand. What should you do when this happens? As a rule of thumb, you should discard them.

"What!? Discard such great cards?" That's right. Unless your deck has fewer than 10 total Battle and Mission cards, odds are you're going to draw more of them during setup. If you hang onto too many cards that aren't unit cards, you might find yourself unable to put the right units into play. You might even stall out during setup and be unable to spend all of your starting build points. Half the time that happens, you might as well scoop up your cards a start the next game.

There are, of course, exceptions to that rule. If you have most of the units you need to setup, then you can save one or two good Battle or Mission cards. Or, if your strategy relies heavily on a certain card or cards, it might be a good idea to hang onto any if you start with them.

Over Before It Begins

Countless games have been won during setup. Not literally, both players manage to deploy units in two or three arenas during setup. Effectively, however, players only have 30 or fewer build points to spend, or an average of 10 build points for each arena. Setup rarely ends with each player having about 10 build points worth of units in each arena. It's rarely that neat and organized.

You have plenty to think about for now. In the next installment, I'll break down the setup phase in detail.