[Editor’s note: Say hello to Erik Tiernan, the final new addition we’re going to introduce for now. Instead of spending words on his own intro, he’s diving right in with his look at an EDH league and point system.]

My LGS is going through a transition with Commander, as we realized there was a problem with the prize payout for the games.  

Originally, there were just a few people coming to play—pure casual, baby! But as more people came and we developed regulars, we were taking over the store – which was starting to impact the sales of video games and consoles (it’s a used game store that specialized in older consoles like N64 and SNES).

The store had a pretty good solution: $5 entry for two games. Everyone gets a pack for buying in, pod winners get a pack. After the two games finish up for everyone, people can pay an additional $2 for two additional games which award a pack to the winner of each additional pod.

Problems

The big issue was that the only way to win packs was to win the pod. For a while, this was fine. But we were growing, and different views of EDH were beginning to clash.

Oloro

Our first problem was Oloro, Ageless Ascetic. Look at his lazy ass! Look at it! The issue was three fold: top right corner, bottom right corner, and his last ability. Six mana is perfectly fine in Commander, especially for the general, but for a 4/5 it’s pretty underwhelming when the Esper colors are capable of dropping stuff like Consecrated Sphinx, Sun Titan, or Harvester of Souls. The players running Oloro were using him purely for the colors and his last ability; when you pack about 10 Wrath of God effects, it has the time to generate a lot of life. The players running him honestly never cast him. Not once – over several months, he never was cast a single time.

I’m pretty sure the game we’re playing is called Commander – this just doesn’t sit right with me. However, the Oloro decks were capable of hiding behind life totals and wiping the board until they could take control of the game and win with a finisher card.

Those Sorta-Competitive Types Among Us

The next problem came from people who were trying primarily to win packs and compete. A few of us are just competitive, basically playing to try to get a free pack or two. We play hard – one player runs Krenko, Mob Boss, and I’ve got Oros, the Avenger or Damia, Sage of Stone to throw some punches. Nothing overpowered, but stronger than what a lot of people were really able to handle over multiple games. Getting banged up in a single game isn’t so bad, but being banged up every week can certainly turn players away. The more competitive decks were generally faster than what other people were playing, or had enough recursion to be much more difficult to stop. This let them run away with games, and the more casual players just weren’t prepared for a gun fight.

Staxxing the Church of the Wary

The final problem came from the only one of our players who continues to play EDH exclusively “for real” anymore. His version of fun was a Norin the Wary chaos-filled ‘stax’ deck. It stopped anyone who came to play with strategy, and it was really effective at creating a prison board state through mass land-destruction like Wildfire andJokulhaups among other annoying prison stuff you can usually expect in MUD and Stax decks in Legacy. 

Super fun, right?

There it was – our local store was essentially running into problems with different styles of play clashing. People who want to play EDH for fun, a few who hide behind life gain pillow forts and Wraths, a couple playing EDH at a casual level compared to tournaments (but above most kitchen tables), and the guy who won’t let others have fun at the expense of his own fun. We were stumped on how to fix the problem.

In Search of a Solution

I do research a lot.  My B.S. is from a research-based program, and I crush research papers in grad school. Hell, I’ll go read journal articles for fun if I can’t make it to a bookstore after making it through my existing pile of books.  I jumped at the change to dig in and find out what other people thought up that had worked in this kind of situation. What I found was the main solution people used is a point system to help direct the way people play.

Looking deeper, here is what I found about them:

NO ONE AGREES!!

I mean it. No one agrees about pretty much anything involving point systems. I looked at Armada Games, the store where the ‘Godfather of EDH’ Sheldon Menery plays. I reviewed their system—multiple iterations of their system to be precise. Armada has a long list. It has a wide range of points and deductions of -4 to +4. Unfortunately, there were many aspects of their system I didn’t like.

I checked forums – a lot of different forums. Big names like MTGSalvation and MTGCommander had some really good options. I liked their shorter lists and found a couple different ways to track the points. This was especially useful to a neophyte like me. The best two solutions were a simple chart, or a system of cards.

The chart is easier; check off the points as awarded.  The card system was a little more complicated. Every table has a core group of awards, and then the rest are divided among the tables. Each card has an achievement condition. As a player achieves that card’s condition, they announce it, and whoever has the card hands it over. After a pod finishes, the players submit their earned cards to the people running the league to earn points. Pretty cool, but it made me a bit apprehensive about cheating.

I’m a bigger fan of transparency, and this is our first league, so I went with the chart.

My Point System Priorities

After deciding how to present the information I still needed to decide what was going to be rewarded and penalized.

By the way, this is really hard.

Want to know why? There are no primers, tips, tricks, or even shreds of advice written on a napkin to go dumpster-diving after. Nothing! Everyone has their own idea of what a point system should be, but no one has advice on how to actually create that point system. Every system I saw had different rewards, penalties and amounts of points for everything. Some were stable week to week and other rotated stuff to avoid farming. It is a logistical nightmare every time.

Since there was very little to help design a system, I thought creating goals would help in the design process and decision making. My three goals are that the system:

  1. Needs to fit on a single page;
  2. Needs to be simple to track;
  3. Needs to let everyone earn points without needing to “point farm” during games.

Fitting everything on a single page was necessary because we are introducing a new system to the store; a single page would let players easily see and digest the different awards. Armada Games has a great point system, but it would be too complicated for my LGS to start up from scratch at that level. Keeping to a single page makes tracking information easier – no page turning and nothing getting lost. Also, everyone can see all the information at one time, keeping the point system from getting too complicated.

Speaking of being complicated, I wanted to avoid making the point-tracking system more complicated than necessary. None of us had used this type of system before, so I didn’t want to make it require a lot of tracking.

Keeping the system from getting complicated pertains primarily to the individual awards or achievements.  The “end of game” awards should be simple, 1if any are included.  Things that required checking and remembering a lot of information were the types of awards I wanted to avoid. Another important point for keeping this simple is the way the numbers changed. I wanted most of the points to be worth only a single point, with only a few being worth two points. Clean and easy! Do something good- get a point! Two points for awesome stuff like taking down a player.

The ultimate goal was to create a system that doesn’t encourage point farming, but still allows everyone to earn ample points. If point farming (playing games purely to gather points, rather than for the fun of EDH) was the whole point, we wouldn’t be playing Commander. Instead we would be playing some twisted version of Farmville or some such nonsense. Making sure that everyone can earn points most of the time will hopefully prevent frequent blowouts and make the point system enjoyable for everyone without needing to dramatically change their strategies. I want to encourage fun games without demanding that people change their decks.

Where the Points System Goes

With the research I’ve done, I can only conclude one truth: Commander players don’t agree. Without a consensus on how to create a point system, the initial lists are the ones I liked best and modified it to meet the three goals I outlined. The biggest concern is dialing in the point system to best suit the store and my group in both application and structure from there.

In the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at the types of points I’ve included and omitted, and why I’ve made those decisions. As changes occur and problems emerge, I’ll share them and discuss the solutions we’re attempting. We’ll also look at how this impacts the games, making sure that the system is promoting fun without changing the fundamental game we play.

 

Chime in!  What are your thoughts on my priorities and the system I’ve chosen?  How does (and doesn’t) it meet those priorities? Are there any good ideas I missed?

Thanks!

-Erik
@ Erik_Tiernan

1. We tested one point system and it required excessive bookkeeping that we didn’t enjoy. Players earned points for being eliminated with the lowest number of artifacts, creatures, or lands. It was not as successful as we hoped.