Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Planeswalker points

The following contains a discussion relating to the the world of M:TG, the card game. For the vast majority of readers it will consequently be of no interest, so if you are among them, please don't waste your time.


Wizards of the Coast had made no secret of the company's desire to change the worldwide DCI rating system that will be getting scrapped in the coming weeks. The new "Planeswalker points" system that will replace it is already running live, with retroactive calculations for all previous playing history having been made.

To put it bluntly, I'm extremely disappointed by the new system. The original DCI rating system simply copied the Elo rating system used in a host of other one-on-one competitions, most prominently in chess. The higher your rating relative to your opponent, the more less you standed to gain and the more you stand to lose in matching up against him.

The problem, as WoTC (officially) saw it, was that this kept professional players away from all but the biggest events--with a rating of 2000+, a loss to 95% of active players meant a rating dive equivalent to the full k-value of the event in question, while a win meant only a single point increase in rating. An FNM event in which a top player went X-0-1 led to a drop in that player's rating. Since suffciently high ratings are the key to tournament invitations and coveted Grand Prix byes, top players didn't mingle competitively with the masses.

There is a solution to this problem within the framework of the old rating system--merely allow players to create multiple DCI accounts. If the fear of proliferation getting out of hand (ie people ditching their new accounts after a couple of poor event showings) is an issue, limit it to two per person--one for competitive play, the other for experimentation, themes, or the like. This would allow pros to play more casually as frequently as they wanted to without having to be concerned about inadvertently knocking themselves out of pro tour contention.

More realistically, WoTC made the change because the old rating system essentially rewarded people for garnering a high winning percentage, while the new system rewards them for everything--not just winning, but also simply for playing. And the old system, of course, punished people for losing. The new system doesn't. At all. Points are simply gained, never lost.

What does this mean? The more a person plays, the 'better' a player he becomes. A person who goes to four tournaments in a week, ending at 2-3 and failing to make the top 8 cut in each of them has a higher rating than the guy who goes to one tournament the same week and cruises to a 7-0 finish, no splits. If a rating system is supposed to be a proxy for a player's abilities--as it was under the old system--this new system is patently absurd.

The monetary benefit for WoTC and participating event hosts is obvious. Players are going to have to grind* away to qualify for professional events, but these events will be filling up with people who play often, not necessarily people who play well (and believe me, while there is some overlap between the two, they are definitely not synonymous).

My take is especially caustic because I'm exactly the kind of M:TG player who loses the most from this rating remodel. The frequency of my play is pretty low, averaging an event or two every couple weeks. But I'm a competitve rogue player, having steadily maintained an 1800+ rating for the two years I've been back in the game, always keeping me in the top 5% of players. So I've always been on the cusp of professional play (though I've yet to actually pursue it because of time commitments and my stubborn refusal to ever sleeve up a top-tier build). That will no longer be the case. Unless I devote what I deem an inordinate amount of time to sanctioned events, my high win percentage won't get me there.

* "Grind" is a fitting verb here, as the new points system parrots MMOs, with levels and associated ranks ranging from "prodigy" at the low end to "archmage" at the high end. It doesn't matter how good your play is, if your character isn't--er, if you aren't--sufficiently leveled, there is nothing you can do to "win". The stigma of M:TG being more-or-less the same as Dungeons and Dragons, though obviously incorrect--M:TG being much more closely related to poker than to D&D--is not getting any easier to answer for.


Will said...

I've been reading your blog for a while and had no idea you're also an MTG player. I'm also annoyed at the new system. It seems like something in the middle could have been achieved by giving out more points for each tournament placement. (First place gets an extra 10pts, Second place 8pts etc.) Combined with the multiplier these would be meaningful.

It would still reward grinders, but it would reward grinders who do very well even more.

Audacious Epigone said...


Though the fundamental problem would still exist, your suggestion would at least blunt it.

Another complaint I have is that the level of opponent one plays is irrelevant. This opens the door to a lot of shenanigans, in addition to taking the adrenaline rush away from playing someone with a 2000+ rating (though it takes the edge off of that 2000+ player, so that he can actually enjoy the game a little more). I've heard some rumblings about limiting fnm round counts, which will probably be necessary, since a store is currently able to run a 20 player fnm that goes for 10 rounds, meaning lots of people--many of them mediocre--are getting lots of points.

Are you playing standard? If so, what do you have in mind post rotation?

Anonymous said...

I never got into the card game but I do enjoy the PC game version.

Jokah Macpherson said...

I have never played MTG but concerning the idea of "grinding", I find it strange that this continues to be so popular in RPG's. Why do people put up with it?

Audacious Epigone said...


In RPGs from the early and mid nineties it was more of a requirement than it is in games now, but it definitely still exists. As for why, I guess it allows for a substitution of quantity (time spent playing) over quality (ability playing) for people who aren't that talented at the game they're playing, maybe?

Anonymous said...

In MMOs and typically of Japanese games, grinding is more a replacement of quality content from the developers rather than player ability. A cheap way to extend the life of a game.

Drinne said...

It seems that casual play points are running on their own track (FNM & competitive) pro points and qualifiers are only going to see influx with the top 2% of casual players and grinders won't matter unless you still win most of your matches.

However it will be nice to have more upper level players playing for fun and giving us a chance to interact with them and I am more likely to take a chance on attempting a qualifier if I know I'm not negatively affecting a better players standing if I win on while I'm on a learning curve. The metagame is very, very different for the various competitions and I don't think grinding is going to be the problem you anticipate, especially since lifetime points are permanent but competitive points reset each season. You still need to win. I'm in no danger of unseating anyone even ifni show up to every event in my vicinity that isn't on the pro tour.

Audacious Epigone said...


To play the whiny cynic, I'll point out that FNM metas are less experimental than they used to be, at least at the two shops I frequent from time to time. The FNM multiplier is absurdly high, I think 3x that of weekly sanctioned tournaments with entry fees, so it's really play not just to get some points, but play to win to get lots of points.