Two weeks ago, I left Pittsburgh at 3 in the morning on Thursday, flew to Seattle, and then promptly flew back on Friday morning to Pittsburgh. It was not the ideal itinerary before playing a large tournament (Grand Prix Pittsburgh), but it was definitely worth the trip. I didn’t even know why I was going until I got there, though once I did, all was soon revealed.
The reason, of course, was the massive overhaul to the ratings system. For those of you who haven’t heard (despite the commotion on Facebook, Twitter, and the announcement on Wizards’ homepage), here is the announcement.
In order to provide non-Wizards viewpoints on the changes, and the time to process them, I wasn’t the only person they brought in. BDM, Raphael Levy, Evan Erwin, and Trick Jarret were also in attendance (though I suppose BDM is kind of a Wizards/not-Wizards flip card, depending on how you look at it). I showed up a little late, thanks to some uncooperative weather, but Mike Turian was able to catch me up to speed without much trouble.
With the new system, called Planeswalker Points, you can never lose rating. You gain rating based on the size and type of each event, as well as your record in said event. The basic formula is the following:
Points Earned = (Participation Points + Match Points) x Event Multiplier
As before, Match Points are 3 for a win, 1 for a draw, 0 for a loss, and Participation Points and Event Multipliers vary depending on the tournament type. The full list (and more details) can be found here.
Lifetime, Competitive, and Professional
Planeswalker Points are also divided up into categories, all of which mean different things.
Your lifetime points are exactly what they sound like; every point you’ve ever earned, in any sort of event. These points are sweet, and give you a level based on the total (I’m a Level 46 Archmage!), but they don’t actually qualify you for events or affect your byes at Grands Prix.
Competitive Points are what now qualify you for the Pro Tour. All points you earn in sanctioned events (that aren’t casual, a new category added that only counts for lifetime points), count toward your competitive total, and how you do in each four-month season determines if you qualify for the Pro Tour, and your byes.
At the end of each season, the following players will be invited to the Pro Tour:
Every winner of a Pro Tour Qualifier
Top 10 from North America
Top 10 from Europe
Top 5 from Japan
Top 5 from Asia Pacific
Top 5 from Latin America
Plus the Top 65 who aren’t already qualified based on the above criteria. There are a bunch of interesting things to examine here.
The first, and best, is that all players on that list get plane tickets. Ratings-based invites providing plane tickets is awesome, and is something I wish I had back when I was making it to Pro Tours based on rating. I skipped PT Prague in 2006 mainly because I was Qed on rating but didn’t want to buy a ticket to Europe, which wouldn’t be an issue now.
The second thing to process is that we are back to the pass-down system. This is not something I’m a huge fan of, but we were told that they will be implementing icons that would sit next to each players name on the Leaderboard, showing whether they had won a PTQ or not. Once that works, my main objection is gone, since trying to figure out pass-downs is always a huge headache. It is important to note (and I italicized the phrase for that reason) that it doesn’t look like invites given to Level 6+ players will pass down. That will make it a little harder, since I fully expect those players in particular to have among the highest ratings, seeing as they play in all the high-value events, though there aren’t a huge mass of them.
Lastly, beside the first PT of 2012, Grands Prix will no longer provide invites to the top finishers. This was a necessary step that came hand in hand with the increased number of GP’s, since having 40 GP’s and inviting an extra 150+ players to each Pro Tour just wasn’t feasible. If you do well at a Grand Prix, you have a good start to Q’ing on rating, so it isn’t all bad.
I’m not unhappy with the new invite policy, though it does have some drawbacks. The biggest that I can see is that it really rewards endless grinding. Because FNM’s now have a 3x multiplier, they actually add up really quickly, making it much more of a slog to qualify on rating now. Until we actually see what the point totals needed are, it is hard to tell, but I don’t like the idea that the only people that can qualify on rating are those who play endless amounts of Magic. Don’t get me wrong; I like endless amounts of Magic, but I don’t like the increasing pressure it puts on those people who want to play Magic and do other things as well. When I first started to qualify for the Pro Tour, I was in college, and had the time to spare to hit a tournament every weekend if I wanted to. Not everyone is in the same spot, and making it much more difficult for adults with responsibilities (not that I claim to be one) to qualify is an unfortunate downside. As the average age gets older, it is sad that those who want to play competitively and balance their life have an uphill battle.
Still, the positives are pretty huge. Not having to sit on rating is really big. Over the past couple years, I’ve had the “ratings suck” discussion many times, and the main problem was that the ELO system encourages players not to play. Once again drawing upon my own experiences, there was about a six-month period where I just didn’t play events. I was Q’ed on rating for a Limited Pro Tour of my choice, but in order to retain that, I skipped playing many of the local events that I otherwise would have played in. That isn’t a problem anymore, and that combined with the plane ticket would have made me much happier were I in the same position again.
Grand Prix Byes are also changed, with the Top 15,000 getting one bye, the Top 2,000 getting two Byes, and the Top 300 getting three Byes. This is a less interesting change than the Pro Tour Invites, but it still will affect many people.
All the changes do hurt players who had a high rating and were taking time off Magic, which I find unfortunate. To use an example, you have someone like Paul Cheon. He works full-time and can’t attend many events, but still is interested in doing so. Because of his Top 8 at GP Denver, his rating would have been high enough to qualify him for any Pro Tour, but now he’s just out of luck. He doesn’t even have byes at a Grand Prix anymore, so if he wants to come back and play, he’s in square one. This sucks, and not just because Paul is one of my closest friends. Once again, competitive play is becoming harder for those who can’t devote time to it, though I realize the segment of the player population affected by this isn’t huge.
To take a look at the invite policy in detail, go here.
Lastly, you have Professional points, which basically only qualify you for Worlds, though we are going to get full details on that soon.
Why Change the System?
It appeared that the main driving force behind the ratings change is the following idea:
“You should be rewarded for playing, and rewarded more for winning”
Note that getting punished for losing is conspicuously absent, since that was one of the biggest problems with the old ELO ratings system. No more sitting on rating, no more fear of losing points, and no more getting bushwhacked for the full 32 points when you can’t peel a third land for the life of you. As I explained above, this system removes any incentive not to play, and gives you extra rewards if you win.
From really every point of view, getting rewarded for playing instead of getting punished for it is a positive. It helps WotC increase tournament attendance, which sells their product, it helps stores by both selling more and running more/bigger tournaments, and it allows players to play (and even lose) without feeling like they are losing anything. Even players whose ratings didn’t provide tangible benefits didn’t like losing rating, and this neatly removes that.
As I said before, my main complaint with the system is that it is hostile to the players who both wish to not devote their full lives to Magic and also wish to compete in Pro Tours and Grands Prix. Again, I realize that isn’t a huge amount of players, but that doesn’t make it feel any better to those players. As an ardent fan of the Pro Tour (obviously), I would love it if it was something people could compete in without requiring full dedication. I don’t anticipate being able to spend as much time as I do now on Magic forever, and have sympathy for those who are already in that spot (like Paul). Even very skilled magicians won’t necessarily be able to qualify for the Pro Tour if they don’t have a lot of time, which is very unfortunate.
Don’t get me wrong, though. The benefits massively outweigh the drawbacks, and this is a vast improvement to the old system. It seems pretty sweet, and I’m excited to see how things go. If things don’t work as smoothly as intended, Wizards will make necessary changes, and it looks like there aren’t any major problems.
And hey, this is an article, so might as well post a sample hand:
A postboard game with our Zoo deck from the Pro Tour: