The Tournament-goer’s Uplifting Primer

So with the tournament season heating up in our area (with the last few big events like OOTB leading up to the inaugural Alberta Wargaming GT finale in August, to which I have in invite thanks to winning Best Overall at Onslaught in the fall), a lot of us are turning our attentions to tournament prep. There’s a lot to learn if it’s your first time, and even veterans learn new things all the time at these events. Like I always say, there’s no faster way to learn how your army and your opponents’ armies work than in a tournament. The lessons will probably be painful but they will certainly sink in! I know the appropriate Klingon proverb, but I’m too proud to say it…

Anyway, I’m blessed with having friends who are better at this game than I am. Friends like Jordan Murphy, who are capable of winning every trophy, and not just riding painting scores to the top of the leaderboards. Today Jordan has taken time out of his busy schedule (which is normally filled with raping Steve’s Eldar) to provide us with a guide to tournament prep. There’s some grade-A wisdom nuggets for newbies and veterans alike, so let’s dig in! (Note: my additional comments are in bold/italics throughout.)


There’s a tournament on the horizon and you want to go in as prepared as possible — look no further, I will give you the education you need to give you the best shot at that best overall trophy. There are four major components to tournament preparation: List Design, Practice, Mentality and Time Management.

List Design

I could likely provide a full thesis on list building, but for time’s sake I’ll make it as specific as possible to basic tournament factors. The first thing you want to look at when deciding on an army to play is the time allotted to play each round. Each tournament’s player’s pack will have a schedule or explicitly state the time for each round. Some tournaments, notably the two-day events, might allow for longer games, but on most one-day events you’re looking at 2-2.5 hour rounds, MAX.

This all means don’t take an army you physically cannot complete 5 full turns with within that time frame. Horde Orks, infantry heavy Guard, Skavenslaves, I’m looking at you. Also note that this time constraint includes deployment. Deploying an army of 100+ models will take you upwards of 10-15 minutes. (As someone who is a bit slow at deployment, I agree that this often chews up more time than you’d expect.)

When deciding on what you want to take in each army list, you want to look at the scoring structure of the tournament as well as its scenarios. Look at how heavily weighted the battle points are in comparison to the soft scores. The more heavily weighted the battle points, the more ruthless you want your list to be.

Scenarios aren’t always posted by the TOs prior to the event, but when they are, they provide valuable information for you to be as successful as possible. If there is an overwhelming bias towards objectives, then include as many Troops choices as you can. If there is a heavy bias towards killpoints then use fewer larger squads. (Note that some armies like Grey Knights and Pedro Kantor marines can have non-Troops units that score!) Keep this stuff in mind in addition to the points limit of the tournament.

I like to take at least one troop choice per 500pts, and anything above 1500pts should have 4 Troop choices minimum. If you’re running Multiple Small Units (MSU) then I would recommend 6 Troops.

The last thing you should take into account if you can is the local meta. Unless you’re travelling out of town and are unfamiliar with the local meta, you should have an idea about what’s popular. Lots of combat, lots of fliers, lots of tanks, etc. Don’t be unprepared for something you know you’re likely to see. Being prepared is not tailoring, get over yourself!



We’re talking about those games leading up to the big event where you fine tune your tactics and tweak your list slightly. I’m not gonna talk about specific tactics but instead talk about things that are often overlooked in these games.

Deployment is often overlooked and I’ve been across the table from a player that already lost the game in the deployment phase. Use these practice games to make sure you know where each unit needs to go. (Placement of support characters like psykers or the Battle Standard Bearer in Fantasy are crucial to supporting your units correctly. Know which units in your army can be independent, and which ones require a tag team partner to be effective!)

Also remember your time limits. Planning to win a practice game with a turn 7 objective grab is worthless if you run out of time on turn 5. Time your games and keep track of how far you get. It’ll save you from that awkward “Well you don’t get your last turn so you lose” conversation.

Practice your target priority; it is different for every army now that transports are not as prevalent. I may do up a separate article on this, but for the time being I trust/assume everyone knows their army’s target priority.

The last thing you should remember is the scenario’s objective. Armies are becoming very offensive in their nature and it can be very easy to get caught up beating the snot out of someone and forget about the objectives. The last 2 turns of the game should be spent getting your models onto the objectives while any part of your army that’s not scoring should be off to go contest/remove enemy Troop models/go for line breaker.


To follow along the concept of timing, I believe your tournament mentality is something that you need to be conscious of. Tournament mentality should be different from your casual games mentality. You cannot afford time-wise to get into arguments about trivial rules interpretations, ranges and cover saves. When in doubt, use the judgment that is least favorable to yourself. Give them the half-inch! You can pre measure to mitigate a lot of this so if you left it up to a half-inch then it’s your fault anyways. (Being flexible on the rules side will often earn you some more Sportsmanship points as well.)

If you two cannot come to a consensus on a rule just roll a d6 and deal with it afterwards. Your practice games will have exposed you to the rules that will crop up about your army; if you’re not 100% sure about the rule and know exactly where to reference so you can answer it irrefutably then you needed to play more games.

Time Management

A lot about this skill will come with practice, but there are a few in-game things that you can do to be super successful. (These will also help you avoid the dreaded Speedhammer. I regularly end up playing a turn or two of Speedhammer, where you try to run through an entire game turn in 15 minutes or less. If your opponent is trying to slow down to deny you the bottom of a turn, you can sometimes grant them irrelevant freebies like “I’ll just pretend you killed my Dreadnought if we skip the rolling!” to save time for actions that will actually influence the outcome of a game, like getting an extra move/run with scoring models.)

The first thing you should do after introductions have been made is to read the scenario and your opponent’s army list THOROUGHLY. Surprises will destroy you! Once you have read the army list and scenario, jot down a quick threat list into a notebook. If your opponent bitches and complains that this is taking up to much time, simply explain that the time this takes will be offset by the speed that you make decisions during the game.

This brings me to my next point. Write everything down! I’ve spent the better part of a decade in the restaurant industry serving tables and I came to learn very quickly that despite how good you think your brain is, you will forget, and it will lead to arguments and you will ultimately look stupid. At the end of it, you should have enough information that you could write a half-decent battle report without pictures. (Learning from your games, win or lose, makes you better and more decisive in your future games.)

If you’re playing an army that requires a lot of pre-game rolling (psychic powers, warlord traits, daemonic gifts), leave room for these on your army list or do up a quick reference sheet that you can laminate. Saves lots of time and is generally pretty easy to read.

Other things that can help out: Bring tokens, markers, or anything that is not a die to represent the ever increasing list of abilities that have lasting effects. Inevitably that d6 next to your model’s base gets used and another time-consuming argument breaks out. (Warmachine and X-wing players know this already; tokens and other book-keeping aids can be a godsend. A number of websites can offer custom markers and templates for a decent price, or you can make your own.)



Just another couple things I want to quickly touch on are health orientated. Tournaments are intense and will be tough on your brain. It’s like prepping for a final exam. Get 7-8 hours of sleep the night before, don’t eat anything heavy, have a full breakfast, drink lots of water, don’t have a huge lunch, snack on berries and nuts throughout the day. (I say just the opposite; you’re not getting the full tournament experience if you aren’t painting models until 3am in your hotel room and pounding back coffee to fight off a hangover!)

Other than that, the rest is on you! Good luck!

The Never-Be-Without-Checklist for Tournaments:

    • Army (duh)
    • Codex
    • Rulebook
    • FAQs
    • Quick reference sheets
    • Dice
    • Tape measure
    • Tokens
    • Note pad
    • Many pencils (most will get borrowed and stolen)
    • Calculator
    • Army display board
    • Movement trays (Fantasy)
    • Emergency repair kit (glue, accelerant, clippers, knife)

Nice guest article, Mr. Murphy. We both have some ideas for additional posts in the future, so keep your eyes open for those. In the meantime, you can look forward to getting your armies massacred by Jordan’s CSM/Daemon hybrid lists if you plan on playing on the local events’ top tables this summer. Sarcasm aside, feel free to ask questions or suggest future articles in the comments section below or on the Facebook group!


4 comments on “The Tournament-goer’s Uplifting Primer

  1. “I say just the opposite; you’re not getting the full tournament experience if you aren’t painting models until 3am in your hotel room and pounding back coffee to fight off a hangover!”

    I second this. A tournament isn’t a proper tournament unless you are running on 4 hours off sleep and blazingly hungover or possibly even still drunk.

  2. I always play my best games insanely hung over… It provides you with a greater sense of clarity!

  3. I had a feeling I could count on a few of you guys to agree with my sage advice… lol.

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