This week’s column was delayed by two days because I’ve been working to finish a research grant proposal – in this case, to be submitted to the National Institutes of Health. The NIH does a pretty good job of letting everyone who’s competing for grant funding know what their chances of actually getting the money look like. For example, if you go to their Success Rates page, you can learn that in 2008, first time applicants succeeded in acquiring research funding only 8.8% of the time.

I mention 2008 because that’s the year I got my first funding, which is the biomedical research equivalent of winning a PTQ – you get to play in the big leagues, and your chances of subsequent funding (that is, “staying on the gravy train”) rise tremendously. I suspect that my success in “Qing” for this next level of research funding has a lot to do with my lack of PTQ wins – it’s hard to grind the PTQ circuit when you’re grinding the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

With the Planeswalker Points (PWP) system being so very new, we haven’t had a lot of similar resources to work with in terms of estimating our potential success, whether our interest is qualifying for the Pro Tour or earning some GP byes. A few columns ago, I took a look at these questions. However, one of the big issues with any analysis that was done right after the announcement of the PWP system is that players weren’t playing with it in mind.

Indeed, one of the big complaints was that many players weren’t playing, feeling constrained by the old ELO system to abstain from play to retain their ratings.

Now, however, we’re a good two months or so into the world of Planeswalker Points. What does that mean for you and your goals?

Today I’ll evaluate where the benchmarks stands, and give you some information to look at for the FNM Championships, PT qualification, and GP byes.

But first…

As a quick reminder, let’s check back in on what PWPs are good for, at least for now.

For the full discussion, you’ll want to review my first column on the topic, but the basic gist is that PWPs do the following:

You can let me know in the comments how that first point is working for you – is it fun to build up your PWP total? For the rest of the discussion, let’s look at what I’ve culled from the available data.

The FNM Championship

Last time around, I called the FNM Championship “the WoW of Magic,” because it certainly seems as if it should reward incessant grinding of FNMs over pretty much everything else. If your goal is to qualify for the FNM Championship, you need to have access to a store that runs a well-populated, many-round FNM. You need to do well at it. And you need to go almost every week.

As a refresher, the FNM Championship qualifications are handed by region, based on PWPs earned at FNMs during the season. The current FNM Championship season runs from September 5, 2011 through July 1, 2012 (ten months). The number of qualifying slots per region are like so:

How many points do I need to qualify?

The FNM Championship was the only category in which I did not make a specific recommendation about likely PWP cutoffs for qualification, mainly because I felt like I didn’t have enough data. How many stores hold giant FNMs? How many stores hold six, seven, or eight-round FNMs? How many players have access to multiple, staggered FNMs in the same day?

Instead, I decided to punt and just draw the obvious conclusion – it rewards FNM supergrinders.

So, now that we’re two months into the ten-month FNM Championship season, how are things looking?

To answer this question, I went to the FNM section of the PWP leaderboards (which you have access to via your DCI account, by the way) and reviewed the players who would qualify for the Championship if you stopped the season right this second.

Since Wizards does not offer a canned region-based search this does mean that, yes, I aggregated data from a giant pile of individual country searches to generate today’s information. You’re welcome.

North America

48 players will qualify from the North America region, which comprises the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico. Here are the numbers for the top 48 North American players:

Range: 597-363

This is the range of FNM-qualifying PWP totals held by the top 48 players, from John Gapinski at the top eight 597 points down to Jimmy Cholewa in 48th place with 363 points (tied with Taylor Shock, actually).

Average: 415

This is the average FNM-qualifying PWP total across the top 48 North American players.

So what does this mean for you?

First of all, the clear pace line is 363 points. If you’re not keeping up with that level of FNM-based PWP output, you have no hope of qualifying.

Second, this means that the average player in contention for the FNM Championship is accumulating 59.3 PWPs per Friday so far in the season. So that’s your rate to meet or beat – at least for now. I’m still curious about whether we’ll have “FNM fatigue” as the season goes along and players will drop from contention by simple attrition.

Europe

With 31 invites to give, Europe is the second-biggest hotbed of FNM activity. It’s also the only place that I’ve ever actually seen an ongoing FNM outside the U.S. – I happened into an FNM in a game shop in Florence a few years back, after my day at a research conference concluded.

Range: 636-318

Average: 434

It’s natural for the averge here to be higher, since Europe has fewer slots to give out. I was interested in seeing how high that range spiked. Also interesting was where the top FNM performers are. Italy, Greece, and Poland combine to take down over half the available FNM slots – at least for now.

Asia

As I mentioned last time, the Asia-Pacific (APAC) area and Japan are now two separate regions for qualification purposes. APAC players should generally be pleased by this, as it means they never, ever have to compete with Shuheii for any kind of qualification.

Japan has 6 FNM qualifications to give. Let’s take a look at the top qualifiers’ stats:

Range: 342-225

Average: 265

That is…much lower than the range and averages we’ve seen so far. I’d like to hear back from people who know on this topic – is FNM not a thing in Japan, or is this the imprint of a player base that largely can’t cut out of work early on a Friday to grind a superlong FNM?

The APAC region gives out 8 qualifications. Here are your APAC top eight’s stats:

Range: 564-363

Average: 434

Hm. In this area, at least, APAC players might have benefited from being grouped with Japan. As we’ll see below, however, that’s not necessarily true when it comes to regional qualification.

Latin America

Finally, we have Latin America with its 7 FNM Championship slots to give away. Here are the Latin American stats:

Range: 597-336

Average: 399

The ten-month target

So if we assume there won’t be either attrition due to FNM fatigue or an uptick in the rate of points accrual as people learn how to best game the system, then your target “earn rate” and your final ten-month FNM PWP target look like this, on a region-by-region basis:

Qualifying for the Pro Tour

So, setting aside the FNM grind…what if we still want to qualify for the Pro Tour bases on PWPs?

As a reminder, qualification for the Pro Tour works like this:

Qualifications go in that order and regional qualifications do not pass down. The upshot of this is that even if the top players in your region have qualified via PTQ or Hall of Fame membership, that does not open up a regional slot for the next player down to take. In contrast, the worldwide qualification does work this way, meaning that players who qualify based on regional or PTQ qualification will pass on their worldwide qualification slot.

How many PWPs do I need to qualify?

Good question.

Good, multi-part question, as it turns out. First, we want to see what the current leaderboard looks like in your region. After that, we want to take a look at the worldwide standings, removing those players who will be qualified regionally.

In this case, I thought it was actually pretty interesting to see who’s on each leaderboard, so I’ll be including those as we walk through the regions and then tackle the world.

North America

North America has 10 regional slots to give out for PT qualification. As you’d expect, there are a lot of familiar faces currently gunning for those qualifications.

But first, here are the stats:

Range: 1,664-1,227

Average: 1,402

So, how are you doing, North American players? Your mid-season checkpoint here is a chunky 1,200 points or so. Who’s pulling down these big points?

Here’s the leaderboard, expanded to show 15 slots so you can get a feel for the point totals that are nipping at the heels of the leaders.

As I’d predicted last time, we see a lot of SCG Open Series grinders on that list. As a special bonus, and unlike the FNM list, I actually recognize most of the names, too.

Europe

Europe is the other 10-slot region, and also has its fair share of “name” players to contend with.

Range: 1,624-1,331

Average: 1,448

The range and average for Europe mirror those in North America, meaning that European players face the same targets as all of you North Americans if they want to pull down that regional qualification.

Here’s the European leaderboard:

I added the countries to this one (and, indeed, to all the remaining mixed regions) because I was curious what kind of footprint we’d see from each Magic community on the list of frontrunners.

Japan

Despite its lackluster FNM showing, Japan has, as you’d expect, a fairly intimidating set of top players and associated PWP totals. Like all the remaining regions, it also has only 5 qualifying slots to give away.

Range: 1,749-988

Average: 1,258

Notably, Japan has the broadest range across its qualifying positions, with almost 800 points separating the fifth-place player from the current leader. In fairness, check out who the current leader is.

APAC

Although the Malaysians are the lords of FNM in the APAC region, they have not been as successful in terms of regional qualification. Neither have the Koreans, who don’t even come close to placing on the list. Come on guys – they’re printing cards in your language again. You can do it – I believe in you.

Range: 1,398-1,043

Average: 1,152

The APAC average highlights the weirdness of Japan’s wide range – look how close together the two region’s averages are.

Here’s the APAC leaderboard:

Latin America

What is perhaps most notable about the Latin American leaderboard is how few names you’ll recognize on it relative to what you might think of as “the Latin American players.” Notably, Paulo and Carlos Romao both make the top twenty or so, even if they don’t show up in the top ten.

Range: 1,123-895

Average: 966

Here’s the Latin America leaderboard:

You’ll recognize Kaliski from his recent performance at GP Chile, where he admirably defended his home territory.

Okay, so those are your benchmarks for the regions…now what about qualifying on the world scale?

Worldwide qualification

As I discussed above, slots in the worldwide qualification do pass down. This means that any player who is qualified via regional ranking, for example, won’t burn a worlwide qualification slot. With that in mind, I took a look at the top hundred or so players in the world and then removed anyone who has already earned a regionally-based position. Removing the 35 regional qualifiers leaves exactly 65 remaining players, and gives us a decent idea what kind of point totals we’re looking at for worldwide qualification.

Before I give you the numbers, I’ll return to the estimate I initially gave, which was that you would need to break the 1,500-point mark to have a chance of qualifying for PT Honolulu via worldwide total.

Here’s how the numbers really look, once we remove all the players who have already earned regional qualifications:

Range: 1,295-964

Average: 1,076

Ah, there’s that point inflation we were looking for.

My 1,500+ point estimate was based on players’ performances during the last PWP Competitive Total season. During that time, however, the ELO ranking system actively disincentivized a player from sticking with a tournament if they might rack up more losses, and there was no real positive incentive to stay in a tournament where you were already out of, say, money contention. Given the incentive to actively stay in and game, many of us thought we might see a nice bump up in those point minimums.

We’re about halfway through the current Competitive Total season. A very rough estimate says that players will have doubled their PWPs by the end of the season, which would give you the a minimum target of about 1,900 points, with a “safer” target of 2,200.

So that’s about a +30% “inflation” over my estimate based on old data…which does sound pleasingly like what might happen if every player who dropped at X-2 just stayed in the tournament instead.

Here’s the full top hundred players in the world. I’ve noted those players who have earned regional qualifications (and who are therefor not taking up worldwide slots).

How many points do I need for some GP byes?

The last area we want to touch on is probably relevant to more of us than any other. Your Competitive Total PWP score for the current qualifier season sets your number of byes for all GPs you attend in the following season.

On reflection, I do really like this aspect of the PWP season, since it takes away the annoying game I’ve seen so many players engage in of “can I play in this FNM, or will that lose me a bye from the GP in two weeks?” Instead, you just lock in your default level of byes for the coming season and then don’t think about it anymore. It’s nice.

As a reminder, here’s how PWPs get you byes:

That’s pretty straightforward. Based on last season’s data, I previously made the following estimated cutoffs for each level of bye:

So where the cutoffs these days in terms of PWPs?

The 300th place player for the current season has 732 points.

The 2,000th place player has 412 points.

The 15,000th place player has 184 points.

If we follow the simple metric of assuming everyone’s going to double up their points in the latter half of the season, we get the following targets to earn byes:

…and that is much closer to my estimate from last time. That’s interesting, and suggests that while there may be a bit of a supergrind-fight going on in the top positions, the everyday players, even the ones earning fairly chunky PWP totals, aren’t pushing nearly as hard to earn more points.

Or, alternately, they were already just playing to the end of each tournament anyway, killing their ELO ratings in the process, and the relative flatness of PWP scoes over time reflects this.

Wrapping it all together

So there you go – that’s your midseason update. What do you think? Are you trying to earn your way into the FNM Championship, the PT, or some GP byes via PWPs? Has this little check-in changed your mind about that at all?

Although we’ve had a lot of discussion about PWPs from the pro player perspective, I’m definitely interested in hearing a discussion from everyone else about how two months of PWPs have changed how you play…or not.

Incidentally, I’ll close by pointing out that this has been your hundredth In Development. I’ll look forward to checking in with all of you at number two hundred.

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