My name is James Dykes, and today I learned that I am a Level 41 Battlemage.

You don't know what that means? Read on to find out.

Over the past several years there have been major concerns with the limitations of the ELO system for rating Magic players. The nature of ELO ratings discourages players with a high rating who are looking to qualify for events and byes from playing in events, especially events populated with lower-rated players. It's a problem Wizards Organized Play acknowledged and combated on Magic Online with the MOCS qualifier. And now?

Planeswalker Points are here, like them or not.

On Tuesday, Wizards of the Coast announced that the DCI Ratings System is dead as of Worlds, replaced with a rankings system called Planeswalker Points. Mike Turian's article and the accompanying FAQ sheet do a decent job of explaining the system. Everything sanctioned adds points to the system, and nothing takes points away. Here's a quick breakdown of the points that are important to competitive players:

  • You get a set number of points for event participation based on the number of players in the event. The more players in the event, the higher the participation points become.
  • Your match points from the tournament get added to the participation points. For example, if you go 5-2-1 at an even, you earn 16 match points (5 wins at 3 points a piece and 1 point for the draw) and those points are added to the participation points.
  • Your total points for the event are multiplied by a factor based on the type of event to determine the points you earn for the event. The bigger/more prestigious the event in WotC's eyes, the bigger the multiplier.
  • The players with the top 100 point totals (give or take, there is some region bias with a third of the slots) during a given PT season qualify for the Pro Tour.
  • Outside of the Planeswalker Points system, PTQs, and Pro Level (and for the first Pro Tour of 2012 in Honolulu, Grand Prix top 16 performances), there will be no other way to qualify for Pro Tours.

Like any rankings system, there are flaws. Much of the uproar over Twitter and on the interwebs since the announcement has been based on the fact that qualification is no longer based on an approximation of skill through ELO but by having more ranking points than someone and that people that 'don't deserve it' can just grind their way to a Pro Tour by spending a lot of money and a lot of time and winning, say, 50% of the time. If you look at the numbers, however, the panic is pretty unfounded. For the first PT season of 2011 (the season that didn't contain Nationals), 100th place was Tom Raney with 1297 points. That's around 80 points a week, and that's with none of the players near the rating cutoff for Premier events that weren't qualified any other way for the Pro Tour playing in regular events each week. How much is playing FNM each week worth? Quite a lot, actually.

Let's say your local FNM has 20 players and 5 rounds. You're one of the best players at your LGS and you win 65% of your matches, so 3 or 4 matches at your average event. Taking a look at the Planeswalker Points Information page, 20 players gets you 2 participation points per event. Over 17 weeks, that's 34 points. If you win 65% of your matches, that's 55 of the 85 matches you'd play over those 17 weeks. That's 165 match points to add to the 34 participation points for a total of 199 points. Multiply that by the FNM multiplier, 3x, and you get 597 points for a season of FNM.

Are all the top players going to rush to play in FNMs now that it won't affect their ELO rating by losing to players much lower rated than them? Not necessarily. But some of them will, and with the incentives pushing people to play more events instead of less, I would expect the threshold to qualify for the Pro Tour based on ranking to go up, not down, and the amount it will go up will be a significant amount. I wouldn't be surprised if players on 1300 points miss out on the rankings invites.

So who wins with the new rankings system and who loses out? The winners are the players that can perform consistently at a higher level and put forth some effort towards making it to Grand Prixs or SCG Open weekends (while the SCG Opens only have the same multiplier as Friday Night Magic, the fact that you can play in 2 or even 3 large events over the span of a weekend is valuable in the new system) as what once was a set of steak knives by finishing in the single elimination rounds of multiple PTQs in a season can still get you rewarded; something that was just unrealistic in the ELO system. The winners are players that are highly talented at the game and haven't been able to play in sanctioned events in the past because of the ELO system. The losers are players that don't have a strong LGS system in their area and don't have access to a large number of PTQ and higher level events. Getting a high ELO through strong GP performances just isn't meaningful anymore, and players in out of the way areas are going to either have to invest a lot more time and money in travelling to big events or end their grind. Players who got their taste of the Pro Tour through top 16 performances at GPs also suffer if they can't maintain that play level for an entire season. For the season we looked at with Tom Raney in 100th place, I was 103rd thanks to my performances in GP Paris and Denver, but had a rating to sit on or try to grow just enough to get to Nagoya. Under this system, I'm pretty sure I would have been qualified for Nagoya and I would have gotten airfare to boot. A player in my situation with a less strong LGS system than the Seattle area might not have been as lucky, though.

Overall, I like the changes to the invite system. There are flaws to the system, but in the end, I don't think this will be the death of organized play or the rush of unskilled players with gigantic wallets to the Pro Tour. What it will do is reward skilled players who are dedicated to the game and consistently strong performers that don't manage to get the bits of luck they need to get the blue envelope.