Planeswalker Points and You


So, you may or may not have heard that Wizards has just announced that there will be a new system in lieu of the old DCI ratings system: Planeswalker Points.

The Planeswalker Points System Announcement.

Basically, the new system awards points to players for participating in tournaments and winning matches (and to a lesser extent drawing matches), but no longer penalizes players for losing matches.  Yup, 3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw, and no points gained or lost for a loss.  Depending on the size of event you enter, you’re also awarded a certain number of points for participating.  Each event is weighted to reflect its importance, so a strong finish at a larger PTQ or GP, for example, rewards a player much more than a strong finish at a FNM via an event multiplier. There will be bonus points given out as well. If we had to wager a guess, it would be for participation in special events and for Top 8/Top 16 finishes at GPs and PTs.

There’s a lot to take in, and the new system has implications on many aspects of the game, so if you want to dig in to the nitty gritty details of the new system, we recommend you read the following:

The Detailed Breakdown of the Planeswalker Points System;
The Updated Premier Event Invitation Policy;
The Problems With the Old Ratings System.

If you can’t be bothered to read through those, here’s a quick Mana Deprived overview of some of the most hot-topic implications:

Planeswalker Points: A Rating System That Rewards Players for Winning and for Playing Magic

Basically, instead of the old ELO ratings system from chess, Planeswalker Points reward you for playing more. With the old system, you were rewarded for each win based on the difference in your rating and your opponent’s rating, and punished for each loss the same way. So if you beat someone better than you, you gained a lot of points, and if you lost to someone worse, then you lost a lot of points. The problem with this was that, unlike chess, Magic has a fairly substantial element of luck involved, and so often the better player would lose games, not because of any error on their part, but because of something like mana screw, and therefore lose a huge number of points as a result. Ratings became more of an indication of your most recent tournament result, rather than your total play success, and consistent players who would play constantly would often be screwed over when it came time to receive invites based on rating in favour of those who had done well recently, perhaps simply by getting lucky one time.

This resulted in players “sitting” on their rating once they’d hit an appropriate level, so as to not risk losing out on important ratings-earned event invitations or byes. The result? Some of the best players weren’t playing in Magic tournaments. This had considerable implications, from not encouraging the best players to hone their game in a tournament setting to not allowing new players to improve by playing against the most skilled players in their area week-in and week-out.

The new system encourages new and veteran Magic players alike to play more Magic – there is no penalty for losses and rewards for participating and winning.

But if it Rewards Playing, Do Awful Grinders Have an Advantage Over Better Players Who Play Less Often?

Because Planeswalker Points is different in that it rewards players for winning, but does not penalize them for losing, there is concern that the system largely rewards quantity, not quality of play. Although this is a a complicated concern/question that can only be answered in time, it is important to say that Wizards appears to have taken this concern into account in their system.

– First, the system still rewards winning matches of Magic above participating in them;
– Second, events with larger participation offer larger participation points, and these events with more players translates to more rounds per tournament, over which more ‘skilled’ players should be able to accumulate more points than less ‘skilled’ players;
– Lastly, tournament multipliers have been introduced, so that Pro-Tours, Grand-Prix, PTQs and GPTs are weighted more heavily than your regular FNM or sanctioned Magic tournament.

Lets take a look at an example of some respectable finishes:

A record of 6-3-2 at a 900-ish person Grand-Prix will earn a player:
6 wins x 3 points/win = 18 points;
2 draws x 1 point/draw = 2 points;
7 participation points = 7 points;
= 27 points
x 8 (GP event multiplier)
= 216 points

A record of 5-2 at a 100 person local PTQ will earn a player:
5 wins x 3 points/win = 15 points;
4 participation points = 4 points;
= 19 points
x 5 (PTQ event multiplier)
= 96 points

A record of 2-1 at a 15 person FNM will earn a player:
2 wins x 3 points/win = 6 points;
1 participation point = 1 point;
= 7 points
x 3 (FNM event multiplier)
= 21 points

As you can see, players who do well at large, important events get a much larger benefit per event than players simply grinding away, with numerous FNM successes needed to equal a single solid GP finish. The FNM multiplier (3x) does seem quite large at more than half of that of a PTQ (5x), but from a business model view, it makes sense to encourage players to play at Wizards’ flagship weekly events. Anywho, there’s a lot of math involved, and it’s too early to determine what balance the new system will take…favouring grinders, consistent play or the occasional outstanding finish at a large event.

What Does My Total Lifetime Rating or Level Mean?

Simply, it looks as though your lifetime rating and current Planeswalker Points Level is nothing more than a way to track your lifetime progress as a Magic player in terms of how much you play and how much you win. Your lifetime points don’t seem to work towards any tangible benefits at this time. We suppose there is a possibility that whatever program Wizards eventually introduces to replace Player Rewards, if they ever do, may be tied to your Lifetime Points or Planeswalker Points Level, however. Or maybe they cut those programs to be able to afford the airfare?

So Why Have Planeswalker Points At All?  They Still Count Towards Invites, Byes and…Airfare!

Airfare? What is more important (to most competitive Magic players) than lifetime Planeswalker Points and Level is the number of points you acquire each season. Pro Tour Qualifications and AIR-FARE (!!!) are given to the top 100 players each season.

However, there is again a downside. The Grand Prix circuit no longer gives out qualifications to the top 16 finishers. Instead, the large number of points earned from doing well and competing at such a high level and large event should allow players to qualify without many other tournament successes. In theory, PTQ players who consistently top 8 but can’t seem to close the deal will be rewarded with points, and probably will manage to qualify that way with a free plane ticket, so that they can also afford to play. Byes for Grand-Prix are also given out based on Planeswalker Points standings at the beginning of the season, and last for the entire season. So even if you have one bad tournament, you will still have your byes for the next GP.

So…What Did We Miss?

Well, probably a lot. The implications of a ratings system change are numerous, and there are no doubt questions that haven’t been answered here or in the links provided at the top of this article. Someone who starts out poorly in a GP or PTQ is now encouraged to stay in the tournament. Will this introduce new problems with concessions or simply encourage continued play? Will Pro Tour players who play in just a few events each year, due to other commitments, suddenly become a thing of the past? Will FNM’s casual appeal start to whither away with an inevitable flood of competitive players? Will the bye system, which as far as we can tell is no longer broken down by region, hurt international representation at high-level Magic tournaments?

Either way, it’s a huge change for Magic and one that looks to be addressing most of the glaring issues people had with the old system. Time will tell if folks yelling “the sky is falling” or those thanking the powers that be for the change are correct.

What Do the Writers Have to Say About the Change?

Alexander Hayne says: All in all, while the new system certainly has its flaws, I personally think it is a much better system. It encourages people to play Magic rather than sit on high ratings and encourages consistency over explosiveness. Even in chess, the ELO ratings system underestimates the chances that a weaker player will beat a stronger one, and in Magic the chances are much higher, so the system certainly seemed flawed. I trust Wizards’ judgement, since usually whenever they make a change Magic players cry out in outrage, but usually their decisions work out well in the end for the health of the game. Encouraging players to play more competitive events is good for the game.

Sean Gifford says: I think it will attract better players to the events I play most often, which is sanctioned Magic with a 16K rating against mostly low-rated opposition. A scenario that normally frightens away many individuals trying to maintain a high DCI rating. I will worry less about losing, and I will be in a less business-like mood when playing against opponents just learning the game. I am slightly annoyed that two premier events I just attended (Canadian Nationals and GP Pittsburgh) fall just before the current Competitive Season start date and as such will not contribute to my current Competitive Total for Byes at GPs in the first third of 2012.

Paul MacKinnon says: Overall I think this change is a good thing, as the previous rating system was severely flawed and not healthy for the game. This new system isn’t perfect however, namely for two reasons.

First, I don’t like how it puts so much emphasis on playing a lot of events, as opposed to winning a high percentage of matches. This makes qualifying more a reward for “grinding wins” as opposed to being a good player with a high win percentage. While someone playing a lot of events should be rewarded, I don’t think qualifying for high level competitions should be a reward for solely doing that. This especially hurts good players who don’t want to regularly grind events, especially FNMs. I’m curious what this will do to the overall level of play at certain events, like Nationals.

Another detail that I don’t like is the fact that the system doesn’t differentiate between playing against a good player vs a bad player. It is more beneficial to go to a tournament with a bunch of easy opponents and earn easy points as opposed to going to one with skilled players where it’ll be harder to earn points.

There is actually a solution, at least partially, to both these problems: they should have included some sort of multiplier for winning against a highly ranked player. This would obviously reward doing well against good players instead of seeking out easy opponents. It would also reward having a high win percentage in a tournament, as players who do well in an individual tournament would more likely end up getting paired against good players in the later rounds, and get the chance to earn more points.

The new system isn’t perfect, but it’s a great step in the right direction, and it seems to me that the benefits probably outweigh the cons. Despite the fact that it’ll probably hurt me more than benefit me (as I don’t grind regular tournaments), I think this is probably a good thing for the game.

Shawn Petsche says: It looks to be an improvement on almost every level to me. It corrects many of the most glaring wrongs of the previous DCI system and seems to at least address most of the knee-jerk reactions people would have to a system that doesn’t penalize losses (through event multipliers and season resets). My only real concern at this point lies in the details of the point scaling…is a 3 x event multiplier too high for FNM (Wizards, I both ‘get’ and ‘resent’ Friday nights being the nights you chose to host your flagship weekly event)? Will grinding in every GP, of which there are now many, work out to be too much for some higher quality Magic players to match? Basically, will the math work out so that the world’s best players and most consistently winning grinders continue to be rewarded over just those who grind more? Will the math of this coupled with tournaments with no downside to entering them tempt more T.O.s to set up fraudulent tournaments, thus risking the very integrity Wizards is hoping to maintain? Granted, this is looking at the worst possible outcome in light of a very positive change. The larger point is that it looks like some serious work went into devising the detailed point system, and it looks like a great start, but we’ll see what we’re saying about it 12 months from now.

Ian Baker says: This is somewhat of a pet topic of mine, as I wrote an open letter to them some time ago asking them to rehaul their system. At the time, my main complains were that it didn’t make sense for high ranked players to play events like FNMs, and also that concessions were quite rampant. The new Planeswalker points system mostly fixes these two issues.

The first issue is in fact completely fixed, as now there is no downside to playing in any given event, only upside. I like that a lot, as it basically just encourages people to play more magic. Concessions will still be a part of magic with this new system, although I think they will be much less frequent, and only used as a kind of “push” to get players over certain barriers.

While the new system encourages less concessions at existing events, it does increase the chances of T.O.s running completely fraudulent tournaments, as if they do not get caught there is virtually no downside…I don’t know how wizards will curb this.

I also quite like that points are reset each season, to give everyone a fresh start. I think all that remains is to play for a while under the new system, and then I can find new things to complain about.

Davies Clark says: It does exactly what it needs to do. After this announcement I started to plan out my life in 2012 to include 3-5 tournaments a week. It will allow for players who can rarely even make it to a GPT, or even win 1, have a shot at a few byes. It does a bit more than encourage players to get to tournaments, it forces them to. What are this season’s level 8s going to do about this? We all know players with a top 8 resumé too long to list are capable of doing well, but does WotC really expect LSV to grind FNMs just so he can stay Q’ed. Paul Rietzl asked on twitter if he could fall off the train if he keeps his standard schedule of playing all the PTs and a few select grand prix appearances. Paul also said that a great way to farm points if you scrub out of a GP is to stay in and offer a draw to every op and just scoop if they dont want to. You still get points and don’t drop in rankings. Silly things like this show that we are now forced to play rather than rewarded to play.

I really hope we are all over-thinking this as Wizards has invested a lot of work into this and has tried to produce something for all players to benefit from. We can now see that the death of MPR was not only for 1 person nats qualifiers but also for planetickets to the top rated players per season. Still not sure how I feel about this. How are players that go to school/work/live in areas without alot of tournament support going to get there?

Dan Mayo says: As a player who likes to try out ‘suboptimal’ decks from time to time, this announcement will encourage me to play more FNMs without worrying about my rating. On the other hand, there is no question that your Planeswalker rating doesn’t necessarily reflect your skill level as much as it did with the previous system.

Chris Landsdell: This is the third time Magic has died in the past two weeks. Pretty good going, no? You can check out the next instalment of The Great Debate to get the detailed views of Gavin Verhey, Sam Stoddard and myself on the biggest and most controversial issue to hit competitive Magic since dual-faced cards. Oh. Right.

What do you think about the ratings system change?
Is it a good thing for the game?
Are you affected in a way that this system doesn’t seem to account for?
Let us know in the comments!