My habit of listening to music before each round of a tournament dates back to Pro Tour Chicago in 2000. That was long before iPods or even really portable MP3 players, so I was carrying around a bulky discman with my burned CD and huge headphones. For some reason I don’t really remember why – I decided to listen to Prodigy’s “Minefields” before every round of the event. Maybe it was because I was playing a deck full of giant creatures, and “This is dangerous” seemed like an appropriate chorus. Whatever my motivation, that song (and my giant creatures) carried me to my first pro tour Top 8, and the practice of choosing a song for every tournament I play became a habit I’d carry forward for years.
The music helps me focus. It’s easy to get distracted between rounds of a tournament. From listening to bad beat stories and scouting the field to signing cards and searching for food, there are a lot of things that can take my attention away from the event at hand. Putting my headphones on and blocking everything out but my chosen song helps me get back in the right mindset to play.
The songs also serve to give me a connection to events of the past. Because I never use a song for more than one tournament, each of them becomes associated with a particular moment in my magical history. Whenever I hear a song from a tournament I won, it makes the experience that much sweeter, though it also means songs from events that went badly can become somewhat tainted.
These days, my musical ritual has become a major part of my tournament experience. I have transformed my once-haphazard song selection into something of an art. There’s a very particular formula for my best tournament songs, and for big events like pro tours and the World Championships, I put serious effort into finding the perfect song.
The elements of the perfect tournament song are:
Build: It’s important that the song has a build up of energy. My music helps me get focused and pumped up for a match, and the song needs to work toward that. The build/break structure of trance is a big reason so many of my chosen songs are in that genre.
Timing: I put my headphones on and start listening when pairings go up to give myself time to clear my head before the match starts. Generally, I want a song that builds to a break a few minutes in. I want to be reaching the break at around the time the match actually starts – I like to be able to take off my headphones and shake my opponent’s hand good luck just after a high energy part of the song. Songs that are too short can end before the match starts, which is bad, and songs that take too long to build up don’t get to the high energy parts before I have to turn the off.
Vocals: I’m a sucker for good vocals, especially vocals that have some significance for the particular event in which I’m playing. I’m not a particularly superstitious person, but I am someone who recognizes the human tendency for telling stories and building narratives. I frequently pick my songs based on an association with the deck I’m playing or the tournament itself. More on that later.
Some notable tournament songs throughout the years. I wish I remembered all of them, and where I used them, but these are the ones that stand out in my memory.
PT Chicago 2000: Minefields, by Prodigy – explained above.
GP Boston 2003: Turtle Tracks, by DJ Sikora – this was a weird one, because I actually listened to a mix CD by a local Atlanta DJ rather than an individual song. It apparently worked out anyway, though, since I won the tournament. You can actually find the mix on iTunes nowadays, since Sikora has a podcast, and some of the episodes are his old mixes.
PT Honolulu 2009: Smashing the Opponent, by Infected Mushroom – I was in search of a song prior to the tournament, and a friend of mine linked me to this one online. I mostly fell in love with it because of the name, which seemed all too appropriate. I followed the song’s instructions and went undefeated on day one of the PT, my first in over 4 years, ultimately finishing in the Top 8.
US Nationals 2009: For an Angel, by Paul van Dyk – An absolute classic song by my one-time favorite DJ. I debated between this track and Out of the Sky by Lange for the debut tournament for Baneslayer Angel. Paul’s magnum opus carried Baneslayer and I to an undefeated record in the first Standard portion of the tournament, but shakiness in draft put me on tilt, which ultimately knocked me out of the tournament.
PT Austin 2009: Out of the Sky, by Lange – It didn’t take me long to find another good opportunity to use this song, which was already one of my favorites. I particularly liked the song as a reference to how unexpected our Baneslayer Angels were in that tournament. Many of my testing partners questioned my fondness for Baneslayer in a format that had so many powerful combo decks, but Ben Rubin recognized its potential in a format so full of Zoo decks, and it – along with Knight of the Reliquary, courtesy of Elspeth – came right out of the sky to carry me to my first PT victory.
Worlds in Rome 2009: Home, Paul van Dyk – The choice of this song was homage to the fact that I was back on the pro tour for good thanks to my results in the previous events. I was home where I belonged.
PT San Diego 2010: Tracking Treasure Down, Gabriel and Dresden – A song I absolutely love, plus I played a deck featuring the Halimar Depths/Treasure Hunt combo. I didn’t track down much in the way of prize winnings or PT points, though.
PT Amsterdam 2010: Take a Moment, Armin van Buuren ft Winter Kills – This song was a meta reference to its own role in my PT experience – a chance to take a moment and reflect and refocus.
Worlds, Chiba 2010: Call Out, Kaskade. This song was a reference to Squadron Hawks fetching one another. The event was the debut of “Caw-Go”, the U/W Control predecessor to Caw-Blade.
PT Nagoya 2011: Sanctuary, Gareth Emery. This was the first song I’d ever heard by Gareth Emery and I fell in love right away. There’s a part of that thinks I should have listened closer to the lyrics and just played Tempered Steel in the pro tour. “When there’s nowhere else to run…run with me…”
Worlds 2011: In the Air, Morgan Page, BT, Sultan and Shepard, I knew when I first heard this song that it was a perfect tournament track. It even has the lyrics “Throw out your troubles…Find your song”!
GP Orlando 2012: Day Break, Ben Gold. I actually played my Daybreak Ranger G/R deck. It turned out not to be all that good, but at least I had a sweet song to go with it.
PT Honolulu 2012: Concrete Angel, Gareth Emery. An even sweeter song by Gaz. I got up early the morning of the Top 8 and took a long walk from the hotel where we were staying to the site and then some. I was listening to this song on repeat the entire time, something like two or three hours. That same voice in my head that looks for stories and connections loves to point out that Avacyn being stuck in the Helvault could just be the “Concrete Angel”.
PT Barcelona 2012: World to Turn, Ashley Wallbridge. I absolutely loved this song when I heard it on the Gareth Emery podcast. The theme of a world transforming seemed appropriate for the pro tour featuring Avacyn Restored.
GP Anaheim 2012: Go it Alone, Dash Berlin. The start of my Dash kick, since I’d just gotten the #musicislife album, which is absolutely insanely good.
GP Vancouver 2012: Silence in your Heart, Dash Berlin. I hadn’t picked my song until I got my sealed deck for the tournament, which had a Wolfir Silverheart. “You’ll never again wake up…with silence in your heart…” – because there’s silver there instead, giving you +4/+4.
GP Atlanta 2012: Warrior, EDX – I played G/W creatures in a combo-laden field, because all I want to do is attack!
WMC 2012: Can’t Keep it In, Tritonal ft Jeza – “This is the moment…where it begins…” Apparently “it” was a Bonfire .gif, not any kind of reign of American World Magic Cup supremacy.
Player’s Championship 2012: Everafter (Tritonal Club Mix), Tritonal ft Christina Soto – My favorite Tritonal track, which I saved for the biggest event of the year, though it sadly did not deliver.
PT Seattle 2012: We Are Lucky People, Lange – Because the title is true, and the song is awesome. I actually have several bracelets and a t-shirt with the title of this song, because I think it’s important to keep perspective. I got pretty unlucky in this particular tournament, but that doesn’t make it any less true in the grand scheme of things.
PT Montreal 2013: Lift-Off, W&W – Just a great track with great energy.
GP San Diego 2013: Together We Are, Arty – Not only is this an amazing song, but it has the lyrics “Together we are…stronger…”, which seemed like the perfect combination for a tournament in which I played Noble Hierarch, Knight of the Reliquary, Elspeth, and Domri.
PT San Diego 2013: Bang the Drum, Ashley Wallbridge – I knew I wanted to use this song because of the lyrics…”See how they run…when I bang the drum”, and I went through multiple remixes before finding the version with the right energy for a tournament song.
GP Miami 2013: Thunder, W&W – Another great high energy track from W&W, and one that pairs quite well with the Thundermaw Hellkites I played in the tournament.
With many more to come, I’m sure.
In addition to my tournament songs, I get a lot of people asking about the music I listen to while I’m streaming. Below are some of the podcasts I listen to regularly.
I’m always on the lookout for good songs, so if you happen to come across any that fit the bill, I’m certainly open to recommendations.
What’s your favorite songs to get you pumped for an event?