An Opinion on Planeswalker Points

Introduction

For those of you who aren’t aware of it yet, Wizards has decided to replace the DCI’s use of the Elo rating system, which is used for ranking and rating all manner of competitive games ranging from chess and Scrabble to most competitive computer games. The new system is called Planeswalker Points, a system that was created as a collaboration between R&D and the Organized Play team at Wizards. What this change means for players in general and Legacy players in specific will be the subject for today.

Planeswalker Points Are Not a Rating System

I repeated it to myself: “Planeswalker Points are not a rating system. Planeswalker Points are not a rating system.” That’s what I had to keep telling myself to get over the shock of this . . . 

 . . . changing to this:

What you’re looking at are the rankings for Michigan in Total, where I was one of the highest-rated players in the state, to Michigan’s Lifetime Planeswalker Points, where I’m ranked . . . somewhat lower. How could I go from being rated so highly to this? This was the first time I had to remind myself that this isn’t a rating system, but I had come to that conclusion only a few minutes prior.

Now, I’ve gone on record several times saying that rating doesn’t mean anything, and here’s a fine example:

And if that’s true, why would I be upset over the elimination of Elo ratings for another system? An objective observer might point out that I’m probably upset over the perception of losing credibility, and surely that may be true, but there are other legitimate concerns to air before we settle on that conclusion. On a personal note, it was deflating to realize that I had set some goals that I wanted to accomplish with my rating, and sadly that wasn’t going to be an option after the end of the Pro Tour season. My primary concerns with the new Planeswalker Points system are multifaceted, however. I’d first like talk about some of the things I really enjoy about the new system.

The Good

Like most people, I really do appreciate that strides were taken to address players’ concerns about the system used to rate Magic events. Planeswalker Points not only takes away all of the incentives for not playing, such as to maintain a high rating, but offers far more incentive to play and do well than there ever was before. The old system rewarded people in many of the same ways, but this new system doesn’t allow people to sit on a high rating until a certain posting date to receive byes. I like the idea of removing this weak point in the Elo system, since the system that the DCI was working with did not have a mechanism that reset competitive points at the end of a season like the Planeswalker Points system does.

There also is a lot to be said about taking away the fear of losing points that are perceived to represent how good a player you are. In this way, the game can actually become more laid-back at the lower levels of play, since there is very little to lose, as far as Planeswalker Points go. In some respects, it may even help players to get better at the game rather than going 0–2–drop, although I think the classic 0–2–drop has more to do with disgust and discouragement than a desire to protect rating.

Planeswalker Points is also a great push for brick-and-mortar stores, something that in the past years has seemed to be an enemy of WotC. Not only does it remove a bit of the “feel bad” from playing the game, it also aggressively pushes FNM, which is a key for these stores to remain profitable. Even the Planeswalker Points main page has a link on the right side to help players find venues running events near them, a feature of the site that had been a bit more difficult to find than it should have been. All in all, Planeswalker Points is an excellent incentive program for players and stores.

However many improvements there may be over the previous system, I have a couple of concerns regarding what we’re going to be working with. I won’t be discussing any of the loopholes, and I won’t spend too much time discussing how few people are going to be benefiting from the new system. A number of pros have expressed concerns with the implications of the new system’s demands on them. There are complaints that the system is inherently flawed and elaborate plans to show how to exploit it.

Magic Will No Longer Be a Rated Game

The strength of the Elo system is that it allowed players to easily recognize how well you had being doing in the field relative to other players. If you were only beating players with low ratings, your Elo gains would be slow and losses would be heavy, whereas if you were beating higher-ranked players, the gains would come much more quickly. Higher-stakes events meant larger gains and losses, and casual events like FNM incurred very little in the way of a gain or loss. High ratings gave you and others a fair idea of the overall success you had enjoyed. Points were always based off how skill-intensive the tournament was determined to be, and how well your opponent had done in the past.

In contrast, Planeswalker Points are based solely on a win, draw, or loss. Who this win or draw or loss came against has no bearing on how many points you get; only the type of event it occurred at is relevant. FNMs, which have previously been considered casual events, are now worth more points than half a PTQ and one-quarter of a Pro Tour itself. The points and levels give you very little idea of where you are in your game, especially relative to other skilled players, because their points are going to be affected by participation points and multipliers.

Despite looking a lot like a rating system, Planeswalker Points is not a rating system of anything other than how many Planeswalker Points people have. It has little to do with skill, but rather reflects number of events played and the number of participants in those events—the more participants, the more participation points, and more rounds to try to score wins against whomever.

One of these is tracking rating based on an algorithm of relative skill, and the other is tracking incentive points.

I feel that the people who really lose out from this are going to be aspiring competitive players. Soon, there will no longer be a good metric to see who is a skilled player. It will be easy to tell who the best in the area are; they will have been to and done well in the events with the highest multipliers. But what about the people on the local scene who don’t go to large events because of real-life obligations? How do you compare yourself to them?

Local Legacy Matters No More

For me, one of the greatest aspects of the Elo rating system is that an Eternal rating would be able to get you byes at a Legacy Grand Prix, which I’m most interested in attending. Even when the change was made that only counted Total toward byes at Legacy Grand Prixes, at least Eternal could factor into Total. However, under this new system, the push of incentives for FNM has left formats not eligible for FNM with what seems like a rough deal as far as Planeswalker Points are concerned. I have some aids to help illustrate:

Weekly Legacy at GYGO:

20 Competitive points accumulated over six flawless rounds. That’s pretty good, but nothing compared to:

An astounding 42 points over four wins in five rounds. I’d need to 6–0 two weekly Legacy events just to come close to going 4–X at a similarly sized FNM event. The ×3 Multiplier for FNM means that if anyone wants to be a highly rated player in Competitive points, he or she is nearly mandated to play Standard or Limited in FNM.

This means that players who normally played another format, or on a day that isn’t Friday, are going to have a much more difficult time getting the points to get any byes to any Grand Prix, and forget about the incentives at the top end of the scale; it may literally be impossible for a mainly Legacy or Vintage player to escalate in Planeswalker Points rating due to low multipliers, lower participation, and fewer events, regardless of how well you do.

Essentially, the Legacy Grand Prix—one of the few things that Legacy Players held dear—are now for Standard players, considering that Legacy players will be nearly ineligible for byes. Furthermore, it will be nearly impossible for a Legacy player to qualify for a high-level event off Planeswalker Points, something that is very interesting to me because I recently learned that I may be able to qualify for Worlds.

It’s a bit upsetting to see that the only Legacy events that will matter for any sort of points-accumulation are going to be the Grand Prixes on this side of the ocean and Star City Games events. Perhaps it isn’t so bad, though, because I don’t know many people who play Legacy for the spotlight or glory. Many of us played Legacy before you could sanction it for weekly events, and we’ll keep playing it after interest passes in the format, assuming that happens.

Closing Thoughts

While I was writing and researching this, I learned that getting an invite to Worlds was going to be attainable for me if I scored about 50 Total points, but then I realized that I was comparing myself to the world and not the United States. At the time of writing, I’m ranked 74th in the United States and 175th in the world, so I’d only need about 30 Total points to penetrate the top fifty in the United States. The catch is that I need to do it, and all the events need to be posted, in a week—by September 21. I imagine that means I need to win about fifteen matches without dropping one, assuming that my rating, and that of about everyone else in the country, stays where it is.

Wish me luck, if you believe in that sort of thing. I’ll be back next week with the tale of how my events went.