Hello, everyone-
We’ve got a few things in the works here, but Monday’s article sparked some decent conversation about the topic of points-based leagues.  In particular, it seems like there are quite a few of you out there that are either currently using or would like to develop a points system for your local metagames, and *all* of you have strong opinions on the subject.  I certainly had quite a bit I wanted to say, so as a result, I decided to give the topic some extra breathing room and discuss it a bit further for today’s tonight’s update.  (Yeah…I know.  We’re becoming the Late Show of the EDH world here…)
From Iam Superman825-

“…My friend and I run a league of our own and it has been pretty successful so far as we head into its fourth season next month.

After several seasons we have tried lots of different things. To cut down on people building decks to abuse the point system, we tried “random points” but that turned out not to be as fun because every time a really hard to get point was obtained, it wasn’t on the list that week. We have tried various daily and season prizes and incentives in addition to discounts.”

Patrick and I have never gone down the road of randomizing points at Worlds Apart.  The main benefit I see behind going in this direction is that it can serve to prevent people from “gaming the system” by creating the optimized metagame deck based on what they know will be achievable points.
There are two big downsides here in my opinion. The first and biggest is the one mentioned above.  If someone actually manages to pull off blocking a Kaldra token with a Marit Lage token, I don’t want to be the joy kill that has to explain that was active last week and not this week.  If we’re going to reward something epic happening, I want it to be on the table at all times in case it happens.
This can carry over to basic points too.  If you keep a ‘core’ of normalized points (eliminate another player, first combat damage, completing a casting-cost straight, etc…), you end up needing to keep it simple with a smaller set of random points; this runs the risk of making games at the core level feel very similar from week to week.  If you go all in and randomize everything, you run the risk of opening the door for degenerate things to happen.  (Eventually, someone is going to realize that the table they’re at doesn’t have the “no infinite combos” rule in play in a given week, swap out for the Hermit Druid combo deck they built for GenCon, and clean the table up on turn three.)  
Secondly, we’ve tried to aim for a simple, easy-to-manage setup, and I think that’s key to the longevity of the system.  Confusing the clientele is a good way to drive them off eventually. Adding a revolving randomized point selection to the mix is something that might be beneficial in some areas (such as making it easier to keep track of some of the stranger ones), but it immediately serves to complicate things, and that’s not something we want to have happen.      
From Erik Tiernan:

I’ve never found a point system that does exactly what I want in a game. This one encourages good game play, but you found that the points really didn’t matter, it was more attrition on attendance.

One of the problems with any points list that is longer than the one Dave listed is that it starts to force certain game play to be better than other styles. If ramp is punished some how, you are stating that ramp is not cool and saying a play style that earns points is better. I was never able to get a point system made at college because others didn’t like the idea of dictating what is acceptable play.”

I wanted to drop a quick note on the ‘attrition and attendance’ thing.  We’ve sidestepped this by not running a calendar-style league (i.e. one that starts on one day and ends on another, with the points tallied over the duration.)  I know this is what Armada does as well, but we’ve felt that going to a system like this really discourages walk-up players.  Granted, Armada has a large and well-established player base, so this might be less of a problem in a situation like that, but it looks like it might be a main reason Dave didn’t succeed as well as he liked in Singapore.
The fact of the matter is that a new player is going to be less-inclined to grab a loaner deck and give the format a try for a week if there’s no realistic expectation of prizes.  Even if you give out a little something each week, you’ll still turn some players who will process “league” as “commitment”.  For regulars, it’s great…and if that’s the point, then by all means it’s a fantastic system.  But for growth purposes, we do a week-to-week system with reasonable and fairly flat prize support, and I think it ends up being the best of both worlds. 
Erik’s second point is the 800-pound gorilla in the room.  I’ll be honest – when Patrick and I started working on moving to a points system, dictating acceptable play was exactly what we were going for.  No mass-land destruction, no mass discard, no general damage, no infinite combos…these were all things we detested in our home games, and playing in the store and facing them was always a rude awakening. 
Is this a good thing?  Yes and no.
We have an installed player base that loves the system as we have it.  We’ve also had various players drop in for the first time, discover that we’ve banned a strategy they have a strong affection for, and never return. 
And there’s the ramp thing.  (Or whatever the current prevailing strategy is.)  If you remove something from a metagame, it creates a vacuum, and something will move in to fill it.  For us right now, ramp is certainly a big offender. 
The moral here?  You’re kinda damned if you do, damned if you don’t.  The goal is to try to maximize enjoyment for your group while minimizing collateral damage.  The answer is going to vary from group to group, and the point is to feel it out, go with what seems right, and do not be afraid to change things up if things get stale.  (More on that later…)
From Doug Johnson:

Great article, Dave! I like the idea of the “Favorite Player” points. How did that work, exactly? What was the criteria you encouraged players to consider for their vote? How did you do it mechanically, with a secret written vote or an up front “I liked your play best, I give you the point” type thing?”

And Dave in reply:

“we had a score sheet for each match and at the end each person would just write their favorite player and tell everyone why. we left it open but at my tables I always pushed for either something weird and effective you’d never seen done or that person assembling their rube goldberg machine of choice.”

This is something that I have always wanted to do, but again, we have not gotten to due to the added complexity.  It was, however, at the core of our brainstorming last year for what would have been the First Annual GeneralDamageControl GenCon EDH Open.

I think there’s a ton of merit in empowering the players, whether it comes in the form of electing a rules committee to manage the rules, or having everyone vote on the plays of the week.  This is the heart of a social environment, and I think its design space that needs to be developed. 

Oh…and for the record, the real First Annual GeneralDamageControl GenCon EDH Open is absolutely going down at GenCon ’13.  Stay tuned for further details, and start thinking about travel arrangements.

From Kaka:

The armada games or the point systems that most people like to use can be gamed. Then for a spike it simply comes down to the most efficient way to roll a table to farm points. If it is most effective to kill a table with a T1 combo netting them+2 points and nothing for anyone else. It’s an option if that puts them 2 points clear of everyone.”

 

I get this…I really do.  In fact, most of our regular players have discussed this idea from time to time; if not planning to actually do it, then at least weighing the pros and cons. 

The truth is that you can tune this out to a great extent.  For example, if someone were to go for a turn-one combo at Worlds Apart, they’d end up accruing negative points as follows:

-2 points: Eliminate a player through the use of an infinite combo.

+1 point: Eliminate a player.

+1 point: Last man standing.

If this were a four-person table, Combo Guy just netted himself a total of -2 points, and gave one of the other players +1 point for being the first person eliminated. 

You can absolutely get rid of certain behaviors through use of a well-planned points system.  End of story.

Kaka again:

”Then you have to accept that you are the arrogant punk deciding what is “fun” for everyone. While I dislike being rolled by annihilator triggers. If doing it by points, I would have to slam that as a negative modifier. But I would then be forcing my preferences on the table. Hell I would simply set a negative point for any creature kill. That is MY preference and it is arrogant to do so. I know many people in my group like creature kills, including the aggro goblins player.”

 

Okay…kind of the end of story.  What you can’t do is tune your metagame for every conceivable negative issue, or nothing will be left.  The way to counterbalance is to work on your weighting, and as I said before, do it with community in mind. 

A great example here is the ‘annihilator’ mechanic.  If it were up to Patrick, resolving an annihilator trigger would be worth -1 points per sacrificed permanent.  However, the rest of the group as a whole doesn’t see annihilator as a big issue, so we’ve left it largely intact. 

As for the weighting, it’s important to encourage crazy things to happen by being trigger-happy on positive points for cool things.  For example, we currently offer +1 point for playing any card form the Homelands Expansion that doesn’t include the words “Merchant” or ‘Scroll” in the name.  (Humor, folks!)  If someone were to block a creature that has banding with a creature that has horsemanship, that might be worth +2 points. 

Hopefully, you get the point.  Points can be strong behavioral modifiers, and it’s up to you to put them to good use.  Maybe it’s extra points for eliminating a player with combat damage equal to ten-times his pre-combat life total.  Maybe it’s negative points for playing The Mimeoplasm as your general.  Whatever it is, make it work correctly, and people will be too busy having fun to ‘point-farm.’

Kaka:

”Frankly, I am of the opinion that the only way to control a group is trusting the player to play with respect and sense….”

I wish I could agree here.  The problem is that Magic is a competitive game at its core, and every player has a different set of moral values.  Leaving the door wide open and hoping that everyone plays nice is at best wishful thinking.  Someone eventually is going to push over the line and run out a combo, or Armageddon the field with Ulamog in play.

At worst (when you leave the door open, hope people play nice, and introduce prizes), it’s called “GenCon Commander Constructed Championship Qualifier.”

Just saying.

Kaka: 
“And Use a points system where people can vote on the elements that cannot be gamed.

eg a three vote secret ballot on some of the following examples.
1) Best play of the night
2) best threat assessment
3) Most fun deck to play
4) most unique/interesting deck
5) best trash talk

While this may result in seeing some mass LD or infi combos. I think it would encourage creativity and interesting approaches to kills.”
Again, I really like this avenue, and it bears experimenting.  The only real danger you’ll face is collusion, which can hopefully be tuned out with a low and flat prize support structure.  (But again…if you open a door, eventually someone will walk through it.)

One last point from Kaka:

”sure you can keep some things in there like penalty for kills before turn X. But I don’t think that would be necessary. The player bashing down with Skythrix on turn 2/3 and poisoning people would be unlikely to be getting many votes.”

I hope not.  Poison is at the top of my dislike list. 

Closing with Erik:

… Prizes are the problem. If the points are just a way to ensure that everyone behaves- it works great. But when prizes are put on the line it gets cutthroat. People want to win or at least not loose money.”

Sadly, that may be the bottom line.  Here’s the question for the weekend:

How do you think prizes and the spirit of EDH can work together?

And what else have we missed here?  Are there any other factors to keep in mind? 

What kinds of point bonuses and deductions have you seen that you’ve really liked (or really disliked, for that matter?)

Let’s hear it.  Hit up the ‘comments’ below.

And have a great weekend, everyone.

àCass