Hey there, duelists! I'm back this week with some painless life hacks that will make your time in Yu-Gi-Oh more pleasant and more successful when tournaments return.

Over the course of my career as a traveling player, I've found a host of small things you can start doing any time, that can deliver that little boost to your win rate to take you to the next level. On-table strategy's always important, but there are lots of things you can do outside of actual dueling and deck building that can help you be more successful. Whether you want to make the Top Cut, or you're just looking to have more fun and a smoother experience, these tips can help you maximize your tournament opportunities.

Tournaments are making a comeback in a lot of places; if you're an experienced player you'll want to make the most of your first tournaments back, and if you're just getting into the tournament scene you'll want to make sure you have a good time. Let's dig in to my top Yu-Gi-Oh life hacks for tournament play.

#1 Pack All The Tools You Need

Let's start with the easiest: pack your deck and bag appropriately. Nobody likes "that guy" who always seems to be asking around for paper, a pen, and dice every round. Note pads are something Konami gives out quite frequently at bigger events, often in exchange for side event tickets, as well as a pen to pair with it. If you don't have an official scorepad just use a piece of paper and a pen; it does the same thing. Dice are given out as a pre-registration incentive and they're starting to come as value-adds in official products as well (shoutouts to Legendary Duelists: Season 1 dropping this week). Even if you can't get your hands on cool, collectible Yu-Gi-Oh dice, regular six-siders will do just fine.

It might not seem like a big deal, but the time it takes to ask around for these tools is invaluable. The clock is merciless in tournament play and it doesn't take a break from ticking down because you forgot your dice at home and need to ask your neighbors to loan you theirs. Even if it's just ten to twenty extra seconds, it could end up being the difference between winning normally or losing in time, so prepare well in advance to give yourself every possible advantage.

Also, please pack a Field Center, even if your mat has the Master Rule 4/5 zone configuration, if your opponent doesn't have zones on their mat, it's a small tool that can help clarify where cards are placed. It's incredibly valuable, and when you're facing down a flurry of Link Summons, having that extra bit of clarity can be huge in maintaining a correct game state.

#2 Pack Extra Sleeves

Picture this: you're enjoying your WCQ Regional Qualifier, Round 7 of 9. You get a deck check and you're told your sleeves are noticeably damaged and need to be changed. You're given five minutes to change them and get ready for the match, so you stroll over to the vendor booth to buy sleeves and then suddenly realize with horror, they're entirely sold out.

Now what do you do? That exact situation actually happened to yours truly. Luckily I was seated across from an incredibly kind opponent who handed me a new pack of sleeves, before swiftly beating me 2-0 and sending me on my way. Anyway, the point is you could avoid that sort of panic by just being prepared to change sleeves.

Ever since that day, I always have at least one extra pack of sleeves in my bag at any event. If you're like me, you go to several YCS tournaments a year, and with each one you need new sleeves. Plus, imagine having to run across the entire convention hall to get a new pack of sleeves, then run back, un-sleeve and re-sleeve, and only then do you get to start your match. That kind of scamper can be jarring to your psyche, and you might take yourself right out of the zone to kick some duelist butt, all because you didn't pack a secondary set of sleeves just in case.

"But Zach! I'm really careful with my sleeves! They never break!"

Even if you're the most careful person alive, natural wear and tear will take a toll on your sleeves. In addition, YOU may be immaculate with your card handling, but how about your opponents? That's less of a concern if you're playing under pandemic rules right now, sure, but the world's going to go back to normal some time, and your opponents will all shuffle and handle your cards. There's no escaping eventual damage to your sleeves.

A good rule of thumb is that after Day 1 of an event I always change sleeves, just to avoid any sort of damage carrying over into Day 2. It might be a bit more expensive, but it's worth every penny to give yourself the security of knowing you can make a switch at a moment's notice if needed, and you're prepared for anything.

Plus, shuffling a deck in brand new sleeves is genuinely sublime.

#3 Bring Water And Use The Restroom (...The One No One Knows About)

There's almost no feeling worse than when you're mid-match, and suddenly you're thirsty. Your friends might say stuff like, "I play better when I'm thirsty!" But the fact is you don't. Every single extra variable like hunger, thirst, or needing to use the bathroom are distractions, and they all lead to mistakes and rushed play, which is kind of the opposite of what you're aiming for. Now, you aren't supposed to eat or drink at tournament tables, and I wouldn't recommend doing so. But most of the time judges and your opponents are okay with you grabbing a quick sip of water in between games. Just make sure to bring a resealable bottle and keep it in your bag. I always have a bottle of water with me at events and avoiding even mild dehydration and thirst is invaluable.

As for using the bathroom, I'm sure you all know the struggle of having your bladder feel like a dam about to burst in the first five minutes of a match, especially since it's usually in the middle of an intense game that requires some flawless technical play. It's horrible, but it's totally avoidable by prioritizing your time in between matches. For me, my first priority is to use the bathroom in between rounds, preferably within the last five minutes of the round if I can. That way, I can avoid potentially needing to use the restroom in the round for longer if needed.

I also suggest taking the time during pre-registration to scope out the venue and find the one bathroom that most of the public won't know about. It might be a bit of a walk: it may be a ways away from the tournament hall, or even on a different floor of the convention center. But knowing that there's no line and it's clean is great. Since you can get in and out quickly, you'll often save time by heading a little off the beaten path.

Also, those less traveled restrooms are less likely to run out of soap and paper towels.

#4 Eat Before The Tournament

Please, eat breakfast. An actual breakfast, not a bowl of cereal or whatever. You need the calories, protein and fat in your system during the day. I also recommend supplementing this with granola bars or something similar over the course of the day. Running out of fuel in the middle of an event is horrendous. You wouldn't forget to top off your car's fuel before a road trip, so why do that with your body? You need to make sure you take care of yourself so that you don't hit that mid-day slump where your body just doesn't have any fuel in the tank to keep going. I personally pack a light snack like granola bars in my bag so I can stay topped off, and not be bogged down with greasy convention food.

While pizza, chicken wings, or nachos might sound delicious during the day, they're not sufficient for keeping your body clean and your mind alert. They're heavy, which is dangerous for your ability to stay alert. Heavy foods can, and often do make you sleepy. It's natural, your body wants to go into the digestive cycle and rest so you can produce more fuel. You want to stay alert during events, so that isn't what you 're going for. That's why I pack some kind of light food in my bag, so I can give myself a little boost without weighing down my body with heavy convention center food. If you hit a point where you feel you must eat more than that, try to eat a salad or something that won't weigh you down. Keep your mind frosty so you can smash the dreams of those unfortunate enough to sit across from you.

Also, venue food is expensive. I'm not looking to spend $15+ on a couple of chicken strips.

#5 Always Communicate Clearly

At least once in your life, you've either heard or experienced the horror of unclear communication in tournament play. It can happen to anyone if you aren't careful. It's important to clearly and verbally communicate that you're performing an action. Pushing a card forward doesn't clearly indicate that you're attacking, and it's always helpful to make sure it's said out loud so that both you and your opponent are clear on the game state. You can also find ways to use this tip to gain some Jedi-mind-trick-level of advantages, without your opponent being aware of it if it's done correctly.

A personal favorite example of this is from back in 2015 when Denko Sekka was released. Players weren't used to communicating phases very well, so many of the more seasoned players would simply draw their card and then say, "Draw Phase, Standby, Main Phase?" The problem for your opponent is that they have no idea if you truly have Denko Sekka, or if you're cleverly baiting them into using their cards earlier than needed.

Regardless of your Jedi mind tricks, it's important to clearly communicate so that you're both able to play in a fair way. Life Points, phases, and cards in hand are all pieces of game information that need to be clearly declared and understood so that the game can go smoothly. While it might seem tedious to declare, "end of Main Phase, response?" you'd be amazed at how often your opponent's appreciative of your clarity. Judges will appreciate it too; should a judge call arise, you can explain that you've been clearly communicating changes to the game all throughout the match, so they can better rule the situation.

Don't be that guy whose opponent doesn't know what's going on because they didn't communicate. You know what I mean. Don't do that.

#6 Always Face The Clock

This is one of those things that doesn't get enough credit when it comes to tournament performance. It might only win you one game out of your entire tournament but hey, that extra 'W' could push your win rate high enough to make Top Cut when you otherwise wouldn't.

Time is a resource many players don't really consider when making their plays, and it's to their detriment. If you're seated for you match and you're facing the clock, you can see just how long the round has left, meaning you can shift gears accordingly without having to constantly check your watch, your phone, whatever. If you know you've only got two minutes left, you suddenly need to take the role of the beatdown to do as much damage as possible. If you know you're playing Sky Striker and Game 1's looking grim, but there's twenty five minutes left, maybe scooping it up to get to Games 2 and 3 is correct.

It's also helpful when you're Side Decking: players are allowed three minutes to exchange cards between their Side and Main Decks, shuffle, and present their deck for play. Unfortunately some players may unintentionally take too long; being able to see the clock can help ensure you both have a fair amount of time to Side Deck and then play out the subsequent games for a healthy match.

It's also helpful to see just how long your opponent is taking to play their cards. You shouldn't assume it's done maliciously, but always try and nudge the opponent to play a bit faster if they're taking too long. Slow play is subjective, but if you're facing the clock and you feel your opponent isn't playing fast enough, you can politely request they increase their pace. If it's a repeated problem, you can then call a judge and explain how long plays were taking to ensure you're being fair.

Make sure you're acting evenhandedly throughout the match when that happens though; too often players won't really worry about the pace of play until the clock strikes ten minutes, and they're behind in Life Points in Game 3. If instead, you'd been assertive about the issue previously, your opponent would be more aware of the problem and could correct it from the start.

I hope these tournament life hacks help you as much as they've helped me. From the local level all the way to the NAWCQ I apply these tips every time I sign up for any event, so let me know what you think on Twitter! Stay safe duelists.

-Zachariah J. Butler