The Game Within the Game: Making the Most of Your Time Between Rounds

You can’t believe it – Nationals is just a couple weeks away and you’re scrambling for just a few more Championship Points to alleviate the pressure of placing ridiculously high for your Worlds invite.

The problem? You’re having a hard time doing it.

Your dusty local game shop is hosting a League Challenge and there’s actually a good number of people here for four rounds of Swiss. Unfortunately, that one filter on your Snapchat selfie says it’s ninety-one ungodly degrees and the only source of cool air is this pathetic whirring box fan that hardly works that the card shop promises they’ll replace but only just takes the money from that fund to restock the Mountain Dew. It doesn’t help that you lost in your first round to a Vespiquen / Vileplume deck that called the coin flip right and got the Item lock on the first turn. You couldn’t do anything and watched your opponent play solitaire for a solid five minutes only to scoop after you realized…you really had no outs. Your opponent reached his hand across the table to shake yours and smiled to say, “Good game.” You had already left your seat and moved to cope with the fact you were definitely not getting first place.

And your opponent plays Item lock

With this fresh loss setting the tone for your day, you cower in the corner with that sucky box fan, knowing there’s at least twenty minutes left in the round and you’ve got nothing to do. You’ve run out of hearts on Pokémon Shuffle, you forgot your trades, and your DS’s battery is dead. It doesn’t help that you’re the first one out from the round, so you’ve got no one to talk to either. Except for your opponent. But he was a d-bag with a d-bag deck. Definitely not talking to that guy.

You look around the room aimlessly, when…whoa, another player just got bodied. A slightly heavier fellow with a purple t-shirt sporting…what? My Little Pony? struggles to squeeze past the row of other players to leave his table. And from the look on his face, it seems like his match resulted pretty similarly to yours. He trudges over to your spot, (probably for the fan), and takes a seat at the round table closeby. He begins airing out his extremely sweaty shirt to the dismay of the parents at said table as cringes spread faster than the swine flu virus in 2009. They leave the table.

But now it’s awkward. Other than the nervous flipping of cards in the remaining matches, this sweaty dude’s deep breathing, and this awful fan…it’s quiet. Do you turn to this stranger and ask how his match was? Look down and pretend to be enraptured in a text conversation? What do you do to kill all of this time?

I’m like, “Hey, what’s up? Hello!” John Mostowy back with anotha blog fo sho! I’m really excited to drop this article for you all because I’m mixin’ up my content just a bit. If you can’t already tell, this one’s gonna be a little different. In my four previous articles, we discussed particular cards and honed in on strategy, deckbuilding, matchups, all that good stuff. I’m gonna gear this month’s article in a different direction seeing as the second-most important tournament of the season is just around the corner: Nationals. Plenty of authors on plenty of sites are gonna pump out lists and tips on what are good plays and why. They’ll tell you to build this and that deck and to playtest a ton (which you should do) and make sure to clock in eight hours the night before. Shower, generously apply deodorant, (which you should definitely do), and make it to the tournament early. You’re gonna see a lot of this in the next upcoming weeks, because, well, it’s that time of the year.

Me and Oshawott
Met Oshawott between rounds during Nats 2013! Ignore cargo shorts pls

What they’re gonna miss is the in-between component of your day.

There is no doubt in my mind that preparation is hugely significant for a tournament as big as this one. Heck, there’s ten thousand bucks on the line, and it has been a hot minute since we’ve seen prizes like this in Pokémon TCG history! But while you may have the perfect deck (send me list pls) and are ready on this front, the break between rounds is often overlooked. This ten-, twenty-, maybe even thirty-minute period is all you have to get yourself mentally motivated and bring your best to the next round, and after so many rounds of Swiss…it gets exhausting. Fast.

What do you do during this time? What is the best way of spending these precious minutes and what should you avoid? Heads up, some of these may work for you and some of these may not. Everyone is different in how they like to get hype about competitive cardboard, but these are a few options I’ve collected for the good of the team. Let’s get crackin’.

What’s the Big Deal on Breaks?

Wait…what? I need to address this? Well, I guess it’s understandable if you haven’t been to a high-pressure, high-turnout tournament before. Yeah, it actually is a good idea to touch on this real quick before we get into the nitty-gritty.

Let’s talk about the big tournaments – Regionals. Nationals. Worlds. Rounds are played best-two-of-three games within fifty minutes (and at other tournaments too but that’s beside the point, moving forward). If your match isn’t completed within that time period, you play out the turn that’s being interrupted by time and then three additional turns. For those that get trapped by the time limit, it’s not fun. There’s a lot of pressure in attempting to sneak out the win in these few turns or Lysandre-ing intelligently to stall for a tie. Regardless, after this is all said and done…you have to get up and get ready for the next round, giving your sweaty hands very little time to dry and your pounding heart very little time to relax. And…wait. You still haven’t had lunch yet. And…wow. Pairings are up. Better rush over and find your seat.

As a collegiate tennis player, I have learned (quickly) that one needs time to simply slow down and get mentally prepared for the next bout of competition. While tennis and a trading card game are different in a lot of aspects, the mental component is similar in many regards. From my experience on the court, I can’t imagine being forced to compete in a match without changeovers, thememe times in which both players switch sides and can sit and rehydrate before resuming play. I can’t imagine being forced to begin a consecutive point without going back to my towel, wiping away sweat, and refocusing my gameplan. These brief pauses provide moments of analysis and adjustment, so that I can bring my best to the next point with a new strategy if it’s what the situation calls for.

The same is with Pokémon, or any other card game to be honest. The time between rounds is critical to get nerves out, scan other tables for the meta, or whatever you need to do step back and compose yourself. Without these breaks, you might fin
d yourself more prone to misplays because you’re too busy thinking about the last game. You might find yourself making the same mistakes you made during the second round because you didn’t get a chance to ask your friend what the play was against a poor matchup. You might find yourself rushing your games simply because you didn’t have enough time to take that dump you’ve been stockpiling since the first round.

I think you’re catching my drift. If you have been to tournaments like the ones aforementioned and have felt the wrath of the “no lunch break,” you know it can be devastating and kill some pretty strong PokéVibes. If the PokéGods smile kindly upon the tournament and bless you with a break, (or you finish a round earlier than anticipated), you will have the luxury to choose between many different options for this timeslot. How you manage this time can potentially set you up for success or failure in the next round, so take notes. I’ll start with a brief “don’t” list and just lightly touch on that, and go into greater detail on the “do” because some of these are the opposites.

Find Failure by Doing the Following

Ok, so the title’s a little overboard lol – just because you choose to spend your time doing the below will not mean you’re going to lose the next round. I just find that these aren’t the best options for bouncing back after a close round or maintaining the momentum from donking your opponent twice. It’s easy to kill off the PokéFlow by doing these:

Sitting. Like, literally sitting.

Why on Earth is this your go-to? Look at the narrator from the intro – is he getting more hype or trying to pick himself back up after that brutal beatdown by chillin’ in front of a pathetic whirring box fan that hardly works that the card shop promises they’ll replace but only just takes the money from that fund to restock the Mountain Dew? No! You’ve been sitting during all of your games and there’s no way you’re gonna get yourself ready by assuming the same position for the rest of the day. Move. Don’t be a potato.


“Yeah he just opened with a busted hand and Battle Compressor‘d three times and I couldn’t do anything cuz it’s Night March and this game is so stupid we need to BAN COMPRESSOR!!!111!!” is definitely not gonna make that loss feel any better. Also, Night March is kind of top-tier, so…welcome to the meta. You complaining about what the game is right now is no better than complaining about Donald Trump being the presumptive Republican nominee for the presidency. While both concerns are reasonable, too bad. It’s imminent. It’s happening and we have to deal with the hand we’re dealt and work around the problem.

Try out a retro deck and take a break!

Playing more Pokémon.

This is your opportunity to get away from the game and take a breather. I think this one is a little more up in the air but personally, I need to stay away from a game I’ll be playing for the next five hours. If you’ve heard of the term “tilting,” you may after playing several games in a row. Being “on tilt” is when you lose game after game even after you insist on playing until you get something right. This go-go-go mentality needs to be done before you make it to the tournament. Continuing to tilt after a rough loss isn’t going to motivate you and will actually end up discouraging you more than anything else. If you do decide to play another game or two, I often opt to play decks from older formats (also known as “retro formats”) or a deck that you’re not playing during the day. This eases your mind a little and actually permits you to have fun in a non-stressful situation. Unless you and your opponent decide that the loser of said match be banished to the Shadow Realm, you should be able to enjoy yourself.

Doing homework/Studying.

You told yourself that you can be productive and crank out a lot of work away from work. You told yourself you’d catch up on that summer class that’s been kinda irritating and finish that paper to submit to this phantom professor you’ve only communicated with in some forum you’re forced to be active in. Let’s be real – it’s not gonna happen. The point of this time between mentally-exhausting rounds is to rest and recover, not mentally exhaust your brain in another realm. Set all mind-straining activities aside and focus on rejuvenation. Heck, just enjoy the weekend man. Leave work at work or save it for the hotel room later on. You’re here to have fun.

Setting your deck on fire.

Why in the…what? Why would you do this?! You literally spent months gathering the funds for a playset of full art Shaymin-EX and you burn them? If you’re gonna behave like this, do it in another community. Generate some heat (ok not literally ya boi doesn’t promote arson) over at Magic: The Gathering tournaments or trek to Siberia and warm a brotha up. They’re freezing. We’re just trying to promote healthy competition here. And good luck posting a picture of the ashes and baiting for likes. Not gonna work.

Ride Through the Journey of More Success by

We just covered what we shouldn’t do between rounds and some of those are easily no-brainers. Avoid those and try giving the tips below a try in order to make the most of your break.

DJ Khaled
They don’t want you to make top cut, so we’re gonna make top cut

Talking it out.

You got your team, you got your buddy, you got your grandmother knitting scarves while watching The O’Reilly Factor back at home. You have somebody to talk to about what just happened in that last round, good or bad, near or far. It’s a good idea to kinda “replay” your match with whomever so that while you’re talking it out…ayyy you messed up here and there and you won’t do it again. Be careful though – sometimes this might get kind of annoying with a lot of players because once you start talking about your game, you won’t stop. You’ll try talking to your bro like, “Yeah so in Game 1 I totally VS Seeker‘d for Professor Sycamore instead of Lysandre and I literally had game in front of me, and in Game 2 I forgot I was playing against Toad and didn’t VS Seeker for a Supporter on T1 and couldn’t draw Supporters for the rest of the game and then I realized I was keeping track of Life Points and then I lost my 20-sided die and realized I was playing the wrong card game.” The rambling isn’t as helpful as pinpointing the spots in which you know you made a crucial misplay or had a tough decision to make. Make mental notes as you’re speaking and/or listening so that you can learn from the last match and take them along with you during the next one.

Eating something.

Believe it or not, thinking consumes energy. And at a high-level tournament for high-level prizes? A lot of it. If you didn’t wake up in time for breakfast, you’re already starving your body of essential vitamins and nutrients required for your body to perform at an optimum level. Your brain needs sugar (also known as glucose) to work the best it can. I’m sure you’ve heard in health class or whatever in high school about nutrition that you’ve got simple and complex carbohydrates, two different forms glucose can take, simply put. Based on the names alone, simple and complex carbs vary by how quickly the body breaks the sugar down and uses it for whatever purpose. In our case, it’s whether you should attach that Double Colorless Energy now or hold onto it just in case your opponent has a Xerosic. Avoid simple sugars that come in the form of sodas and candy bars because those’ll only give you a short burst of energy, as opposed to Clif Bars and granola that generally have valuable grains and protein for sustainable energy. Look to packing a healthy sandwich with leafy greens such as kale or spinach, because these carry complex carbs and are chock-full of important vitamins (heck, you should be doing this now for the sake of nutrition). Healthier options for lazy people include ordering a grilled chicken sandwich at McDonald’s or refusing to go to Taco Bell. I dunno what the salads are like at Wendy’s but that sounds half-decent. Eating foods like these make you feel fuller for a longer period of time and will keep you focused on the game rather than your empty stomach. I’m not much of a caffeine guy, but if you know your body and know that coffee’ll get you through the day, you can do that too. I wouldn’t suggest pounding three Red Bulls every hour, because you’re gonna crash and then tomorrow’s gonna be bad. What I’m getting at is that during this downtime you really oughta be…

Drinking water: cat approved.


If you’re uncomfortable with chuggin’ water during a game out of the fear of spilling, now’s the time. Studies show that your brain doesn’t work as well when you’re dehydrated, and it makes sense. Your brain cells work double-time compared to most of your other bodily cells and water is a big source of oxygen (other than from basic respiratory function). And, if your body composition is around 60% water, you’re missing out on a key component of bodily function. So when your brain is constantly crunched to make the right move during a high-stress tournament, water ensures it’s getting more than enough oxygen. Drinking water has more than just cognitive benefits, however. You’ll feel more alert, you’ll stay cool, (I could get into chemistry here about specific heat capacity and stuff but let’s just save that for another time), and you’ll prevent bad breath (and many people will thank you). If you don’t carry a water bottle with you, spend a good five seconds at the water fountain – your body will be very appreciative. Heads up – time your drinks carefully so you don’t have to run for a bathroom break mid-game. Speaking of which…

Unloading the carriage.

Seriously – there is no worse feeling than being in the middle of a game and debating the strength of the sphincter down under. Whether it’s number one or number two, get your business done between rounds. By the time your bladder is about to explode, you’re rushing your plays, making critical mistakes, just so you can tend to a bodily need. You don’t wanna have to get up in the middle of your match even if the judge lets you and/or your opponent says it’s ok (which is highly unlikely). Save yourself the stress and set aside designated pooping periods throughout the tournament so you don’t have to sit mid-match looking like you’re about to birth a grapefruit from the backdoor.

I main spacies for singles and Sheik for doubles. What about you?

Playing Super Smash Bros. Melee.

Whether you’re coming off of a tough loss or a big win, you may want to keep your mind sharp or enjoy doing something else. What I love about the Pokémon community is that there are subgroups within it, and the SSBM community is one of them. Time and time again, you’ll see a random Melee setup somewhere at a tournament and it’ll be hype. For one, I brought my 20XX setup to St. Louis Winter Regionals and busted out my Falco for a few matches before the tournament. You know how baseball players will practice their swing with a cork on their bat before stepping up to the plate? I think of playing Smash the same way. Melee is more fast-paced and requires more movement per second than essentially any card game and forces you to think on your feet and react to the opponent’s playstyle. By the time I’m ready to sit down and play Pokémon, it feels less stressful and maybe even relaxing after playing a few sets of Smash. In addition, you’ll make some cool friends playing the game and it’s nice to take a step away from the main event and see what else happens within the community non-Pokémon related. Now is a really good time to dust off that Nintendo Gamecube you haven’t touched since 2006 and find your copy of Melee, because there should be a few setups come National time and you don’t wanna miss out on the competition!

Taking a walk outside.

I’m a big fan of this one. Step outside and take a breath of fresh air and go for a walk. I’ve always enjoyed even taking a peek at what’s up the street or around the block, because chances are I’m in the city for the first time and/or need to smell something other than dank armpit. Rather than remaining sedentary, getting even a little bit of exercise can go a long way. You should walk at a pace that increases your heart rate for the most benefit, so get movin’. Forcing your heart to pump just a little faster means the body is circulating blood and oxygen to its muscles and organs at an increased rate. The necessity for oxygen from light muscular energy expenditure will require you to breathe more as well. This means more blood and oxygen reaches our brain, replenishing those nutrients spent during those mentally-exhausting rounds. And while you’re outside, you’re getting fresh oxygen – all the better for you and your body.

Taking a walk inside.

While not as nice as taking a walk outside, there are gonna be opportunities to meet more of the community indoors. Make a friend or meet up with a brotha you haven’t seen in a while. At bigger events, you bet there’ll be vendors selling Pokémon memorabilia that you won’t find anywhere else (other than the internet. The internet has everything). Take a lap around the tables and see what other people are playing. If you’re 0-5, check the bottom tables for the Night March shenanigans you’ll be going up against next round. You heard M Ampharos-EX / Volcarona‘s is killin’ it at the top tables and you have no idea how it works – hang out up there for the scoop. You’ve got time to study up the meta without surprises, so take advantage of the time.

The coin
The one, the only.

Understanding that the meta is highly reliant on something you cannot control – the coinflip – and realizing that losing a match from the zeroth turn isn’t going to be the end of the world.

The luck factor is real, yo. The moment you sit down to play, there is without a doubt a significant advantage to going first. Don’t get uptight and keep your head up. Stay positive and take each match with a grain of salt. Don’t beat yourself up over a loss to Item lock or Trevenant that gets the Wally on the first turn – just win the next coinflip. Right?

Putting it into play

As you frantically decide what you’re going to do with this free time, you think you might as well see what purple Little Pony boy was going up against. You turn to the heap of sweat and begin to form a sentence when from the corner of your eye you sense more movement from the tables.

A girl with tortoise Ray-Ban Havanas and a PokéBall beanie (that was self-sewn, mind you) gets up from her seat and makes her way over to you…presumably for the only source of cool air. The sweaty guy in the purple My Little Pony t-shirt gets flustered all of a sudden, moving from his spot to the adjoining room but not without leaving sweatmarks from the folds in his jorts. That’s just nasty. He’s gotta have a thyroid problem. You realize what’s about to happen as she begins to sit in the sweaty chair and…

“Wait!” you shout, stopping her from delving into the puddle of body byproduct and causing everyone else that’s playing to look for the source of the sound. “That dude just left…uh…he left his trace.”

The girl then realizes her error and smiles. “Thanks!” She reaches out her hand that has different meticulously-painted PokéBalls on each fingernail and introduces herself. “I’m Nicole!”

You respond appropriately and she sits next to you on the floor and chat about the day so far. You tell her about your loss and she makes a note of it. She’s playing Night March to your dismay but she somehow pulled out a win against Greninja BREAK. “I heard that Greninja’s the deck to beat but I don’t have any new cards, so…I just included a bunch of Hex Maniac in my list. So far so good, right?” she says. You weren’t aware that Greninja would be so popular after it shot up to like fifteen bucks a pop, but now you know what to expect during most of your games.

Just like that, time’s called and you feel a lot better about yourself with a new friend and a new perspective on the LC meta. As pairings go up and you and Nicole start shifting towards the sheet, a grimy forearm forcibly slides up against your non-grimy forearm. Disgusted, you pull away to find you are now face-to-face with My Little Pony boy.

Where you differentiate those that do and do not shower

He pushes up glasses that are too small for him and mutters “Watch yourself.”

He begins shoving through the crowd (successfully so, due to his size) and you look at Nicole for a reaction. She grimaces a little, having witnessed the altercation, but continue to make your way through the pack.

As you move closer and closer to the sheet, you tiptoe to find your name and spot it – table 12. “Good luck!” you tell Nicole as you scan the area for your table. “Ten…eleven…twelve!” You squeeze between the row and make it to your seat as your opponent in a nice blue oxford with white polka dots takes his opposite of you. Seems like a nice guy, but gotta stay focused!

“Hey man! I’m Tyler. You’re Jack, right?” Tyler enthusiastically says, beginning to unpack his things.

“Uhh…” you start. “I think you’re at the wrong table,” as you continue shuffling your deck. “I’m playing some guy named…”

“Carl McSweatypits,” a different, deeper voice resonates from across the table.

Grimace reincarnated stares you down as he slowly takes his seat.

Wow, guys. Thanks for making it through article number five. Whether you’re giving this a click out of boredom or are genuinely interested, I really appreciate you taking the time to at least give my content a gander. I’m hoping all of you take something new away from this read and maybe even apply some of these tactics during Nationals. Do you have a favorite between-round ritual I didn’t list? Were my suggestions completely useless? Let me know in the comments if you’ve got a trick up your sleeve you wanna share with the team.

Take it easy, and see you at Nats!

John / Serperior