Friday, September 23, 2011

Championships points: Good or bad?

Hi everyone and welcome back to The Deck Out!
Today, I won’t be analyzing decks or cards - I have something special for you . The Autumn Battle Roads have just begun and just a week ago PCI released the list of changes for the 2011-2012 season. In this entry, I will concentrate on the biggest change which concerns every competitive Pokémon TCG player: change of the ranking system.

ELO – my story

Before this season, we used to have the ELO-ranking system. ELO was designed for chess – a game in which your performance isn't affected by luck.

It's year 2006 and TCG players all around the World are excited. The World Championships are going to be held in Hawaii next year! The same year PCI started to use ELO to reward for high prizes – people could win travel awards to Hawaii

The season 2006-2007 remains in my memory as the saddest year of Pokémon TCG. I ended up going 48-2 the whole season and still didn’t manage to get the travel award to Worlds - I was 5th and only the top4 received the travel awards. It wouldn’t have mattered but the reason I didn’t get the invite was because the system wasn’t ready. Battle Roads had the same K-value (I’ll get back to them later) as City Championships and they were held after Nationals. This automatically meant that in Europe the National Champions could give their points to their fellow players and let them automatically get huge amounts of points merely in Battle Roads. People took advantage of that, and a player who was never even in the top10 in the EuroAfrica rankings got huge amounts of points from Battle Roads and proceeded to get 2-3 points more than me. The worst part for me was that I knew that justice didn't take place and this player probably wasn’t the best player to represent Europe in Worlds.  In the end,  this player ended up going 1-6 in the 2007 Worlds, only winning against a bye…

I felt betrayed and completely lost faith in the system for a while. Thankfully, PCI changed the K-values immediately and didn’t approve of  Battle Roads to be held after Nationals for the next season. Well, it was good for the players and the game but I still felt like I’d been let down. I worked hard for the whole season and were afraid of every opening hand I was to get – losing was not an option that year because Finnish Masters’ player base was so small. 

I’m pretty sure I played my best games of Pokemon TCG ever that year and didn’t get rewarded for it because the system was incomplete. Ironically enough, in the same year, Tom Roos (a fellow Finnish player, from my league) won World Championships in Masters division in Hawaii. Well, I went something like 14-2 that season against Tom, so I couldn’t help thinking what would my placement have been in those Worlds…

But enough of my story already. In the years to come PCI developed the ELO system so it could fit Pokémon TCG better. In the end, the K values were as follows:

Battle Roads: K-value 4

City Championships: K-value 16

State/Province/Territory/Regional Championships: K-value 32

National Championships: K-value 32

World Championships: K-value 0

For those who don’t know how the ELO-system works – it’s simple. When you win a game you gain points, when you lose a game, you lose points. The bigger the K-value of the tournament, the more you gain/lose points. 
The reason why the ELO system wasn’t the best system for Pokémon was the way the points’ share was determined. If 2 players have an equal amount of points before the match (let’s say in the City Championships) and the other one wins, the winner gains 8 points and the loser loses 8 points. In the ELO system, when you win against a player that has more points than you, you will get more than 50% of the K-value’s points (so if the K value of the tournament is 16, the amount of points awarded would be over 8). So if the same scenario takes place among players with 1500 points and 1760 points, and the 1500 point player ends up winning by let’s say T1 Take Out – he gains 13 points and the loser loses 13 points.

The universally acknowledged problem with the ELO was the luck which plays a role in Pokémon TCG. ELO system is designed for chess so it automatically presumes that a better ranked player will win against a lower ranked player. But as we all know, there are some games in which you are unable to do anything. You might get a horrible opening hand, you may get donked T1 etc. If you have played chess, you surely know that there is no game where you can’t move your pawns in your first turn. The ELO system wasn’t designed for a game where, sometimes, it doesn’t matter who is the better player, but who got lucky. 

PCI did their best tuning the ELO and K-values to the right direction because in the first year, if I remember correctly, Battle Roads were worth 32 and Nationals 48. As we can easily count from that, it’s more valuable to go 7-0 2 times in the Battle Roads than to win Nats with X-0 – there is something greatly wrong about that. However, Battle Roads’ K-value was only 4 last year which is basically nothing.
Now PCI has introduced the new system to the scene. The points one gains are now called Championship points and the system differs greatly from the former system. Let’s see what the differences are, and are the changes good, bad or both.

Introducing the Championship Points

First, how do the Championship Points work? I won’t get to the small details but the main idea is that if you top cut in the tournament, you gain points. In the bigger tournaments like Regionals and Nats, you gain points for a good placement (you don’t even have to top cut). The better your placement, the more you gain points. And the bigger the tournament, the more players gain points from the tournament. For example in Battle Roads, where there are only 15 players in an age group, the first-place player gains 2 points and the 2nd gains 1. But if the tournament has 32 players, the players who end up in the 3rd and 4th places gain 1 point as well. In the end of the season if some players have the same amount of points, the ELO ranking system decides who is higher in the final rankings – which means that the ELO won’t disappear completely.

In general, I think the new system is better than the ELO and it fits Pokémon better. But you are here for a deeper analysis of the system, so I’ll get into the pros and cons of the system.  

Pros and Cons of Championship Points

Positive things first!

PCI (Pokémon Company International) IS listening
The ELO had good amounts of critique and PCI changed the system. This means that PCI is really listening to what players think about the game and they want to make this game better. This season, the new system will surely have flaws but this is for sure a step forward. The new system immediately received critique about many things, but I think people should only consider this a positive change – no one can say this is a worse system compared to the former one. Not at least after they have read this whole entry and thought the whole system through.

PCI is a unique company because it listens to players and that’s something most TCG companies don’t do. PCI only tries to make this game better and the changes may seem slow to you but in fact their changes are pretty quick considering that it’s a company just like any other – Nokia, Apple or Microsoft. 


First, this system encourages playing in the tournaments. In the ELO, when you reached a certain amount of points, there was no point in continuing playing in the tournaments. You already had enough points and if you went to a tournament it could have possibly ruined your rating. What’s the point in playing if you only have something to lose? This was the main critique the ELO system received and it’s something that the Championship Points have changed significantly.

With the ELO you sometimes saw good players dropping from tournaments after a X-0 Swiss. There must be something wrong with the ranking system if a player who has won all his/her matches has an incentive to drop from the tournament before top cuts. And this happened quite often. I’ve seen this in Finland and also in US players' tournament reports. The tournament, in which almost no top-ranking player ever plays to the very end, is U.S. Nationals. What I've read from the tournament reports, people usually drop when they lose their first game just to guarantee their ranking invite. What kind of National Championships are they if the very best players of the nation don’t even have the will to try to win the tournament? With Championship Points, there is no need to drop: you won’t be punished for losing to a T1 donk. 

Some players have even entered the tournaments from 0-2 or 0-1 and play 2-3 games and drop from the tournament just because they can get easy wins and guaranteed points that way. It’s a sign of a very unhealthy ranking system. From now on, there most probably won't be so many players who will enter the tournament only after the first few rounds. 
What I consider the best change is the rewarding part. People are no more punished for failure and they will always be rewarded for success. It fits the Spirit of the Game of Pokémon TCG. This game should be all about having fun, not being afraid of losing – Pokémon TCG should’ve always been about the carrots, there is no need for the stick. 

The system also encourages all players to play – not only the players who go X-0.  I’ve always thought that the worst part in the top cut was going, let’s say 4-2 and then losing your top match. You might have lost points in the tournament because of this, even though you managed to get to the top cut. It would’ve been better if you didn’t get to the top cut because you wouldn’t have lost your points in the last match. What’s the point in that? I think there is no point – it was just one of the many flaws of the ELO.

The last thing about the encouragement is a bit controversial because it has its pros and cons. The new system encourages playing in as many tournaments as possible. It’s a good thing because it will probably make the tournaments bigger. But it’s not a good thing for players like me who have a huge distance between me and the nearest tournament. Encouragement for playing is always a good thing but it’s unfair for players who want to attend to many tournaments but can’t because of the distance. This is one of the problems that was also there with the ELO but it’s probably bigger in this system because the ELO didn’t encourage you to get as many points as possible - it just set the goal line (how many points you need) and once people managed to get to the goal, they just stopped playing. In ELO, it was enough that you played 3-4 tournaments a year and “robbed” the points from other players. If you had 1600 points before Regionals and managed to go 11-0 in Regionals, you suddenly gained easily over 170 points.  As I said, encouragement for playing in many tournaments is always a good thing but it also hurts the far-away players.


At first, it might sound strange that the ranking system affects the decks people play but I think it will. If a player wants to gain as many points as possible,  he/she wants to win the tournament. With the ELO it was enough that you X-0'd the Swiss and then dropped. And what decks win in the Swiss rounds but not necessarily as much in the top rounds? You guessed it – donk decks. I don’t know if this was an intended move from PCI but I think it will decrease the amount of donk decks dramatically. It automatically takes the game to a better direction; players must build decks that have a chance of winning the tournament, not only individual matches. 
I also hope that this change encourages players to play more rogue decks. The incentive to play rogue decks is bigger because there is no punishment for losing. You can do fairly badly with your Rogue deck without losing any points. Playing rogue is usually considered gambling, Secret Decks can work or they can fail. With the new system, you will be more likely to gamble than before. I hope this will bring some more versatility to our meta once people realize this.


In my opinion, conceding has always been the necessary downside to the Pokémon TCG. It has affected many players and it has aroused a lot of discussion among players. It has also led to a few bans, which is always unfortunate. The new system won’t stop this behavior but I think it will decrease it dramatically. There is no point in conceding to a “better” player because they won’t lose any points because of you AND they won’t gain points if they win you in a 1-2 position. This is one of the greatest changes the new system will bring along.

You get Championship Points from attending to Worlds, which I find simply amazing! We still don't know exactly what PCI is going to do about the points given at Worlds, but I love this change regardless. 
The other good thing about the next Worlds is that they will be held in Hawaii. If this system were to fail for some reason, the price that the non-U.S. players have to pay isn’t as big as mine was in 2007. Most people in Europe can’t afford the trip to Hawaii simply because it’s so expensive (I belong to that category) and that’s why it’s a good destination for Worlds next year. The competition won’t be as harsh as last year, and that's a great thing in case the new system doesn’t work. It’s unfortunate that the same thing cannot be said for the U.S. - but hey, you guys have a possibility to go to Worlds, which most European players don’t have.


Point Payout of the Championship Points
If we want to criticize the Point Payout of the Championship Points system we must compare it to the ELO system's K-values. Let’s see. 

Battle Roads: 

K-value 4

Championship Points: (Best finish limit 8 = 16 points)
Winner: 2 points

City Championships:

 K-value 16 = 4 Battle Roads

Championship Points: (Best Finish limit 5 = 30 points)
Winner: 6 points = 3 Battle Road wins

State/Province/Territory/Regional Championships:

K-value 32 = 8 Battle Roads/ 2 City Championships

Championship Points: (Best Finish limit 4 = 40 points)
Winner: 10 points
= 5 Battle Road wins
= 1 and 2/3 City Championship wins

National Championships:

K-value 32 = 8 Battle Roads/ 2 City Championships

Championship Points: (Best finish limit 1 = 14 points)
Winner: 14 points
= 7 Battle Road wins
= 2 and 1/3 City Championship wins
= 1 and 2/5 State/Regional wins

World Championships: K-value 0

K-value 0

Championship Points: (Best finish limit 1 = 25 points)
Winner: 25 points

Best Finish Limit (Straight from Poké

Each event series also has a Best Finish Limit, where a player's Best X Finishes are counted into that limit. For example, the Best Finish Limit for Battle Roads is 8. If a player participates in 6 Battle Road Autumn events and 5 Battle Road Spring events, only that player's best 8 finishes from the 11 Battle Roads they attended will count towards their final Championship Points total.

Now that you are familiar with the system and the Point Layout, let’s look at the key numbers of the Championship Points system. 

Here are the key numbers of the season.

Max Points possible after season (before Worlds): 

The importance of winning 8 Battle Roads: 
16% percent of the possible maximum amount

The importance of winning 1 City Championships: 6% percent of the possible maximum amount

The importance of winning 1 State/Regional Championships: 10% percent of the possible maximum amount

The importance of getting to the places 4-8 in the National Championships: 8% percent of the possible maximum amount

Main critique for the Points Layout
The biggest problem is that the best finish limit is as large as it is in the two smallest tournaments of the year – Battle Roads and City Championships. In my opinion this problem is most evident in the U.S., because in smaller countries like Finland, pretty much the same players visit every BR (about 70% of the players) and the competition is as fierce as in any tournament, whereas in the U.S. some BR's may be easy to win merely because of the small attendance and many players don't have the chance to visit various different BR's. Finland's P!P isn’t very big but it’s very active. This system fits perfectly in an active Pokémon TCG community where no one gets to go to more tournaments than the others. This is probably the case in many other European countries, Asia Pacific area etc. In U.S. the system will get some hate but I’m sure that things aren’t as bad there as it might first seem like. Some U.S. cities have things like the Georgia marathon, which makes it possible to attend many Cities in a weekend but I still think that if you’re able to top cut in even half of those, you deserve all the points you can gain from those. On the other hand, the ranking system will always be unfair towards inactive players. 

There is also the counter argument: Is it really that much more valuable to win 1 tournament than to play consistently for 10 smaller tournaments? In my opinion, the answer isn’t clear – I appreciate both – people doing well in big tournaments and people playing consistently all the time. It is also a good thing that Battle Roads are no longer unnecessary, unimportant and uninteresting tournaments.


I have always loved to analyze and calculate things. That’s why I’ll make my own guesses for the future season regarding 2 things: The point amount of 1st placing player in each age group and the point amount necessary to get the invite to Worlds (assuming that the invite amounts are the same as last year). It will be difficult but I’ll try my best. I can’t analyze South America or Asia Pacific because I don’t have enough information about those areas – sorry guys. Here are my guesses – in the end of the season, let's see how well I managed to analyze the system and the players!

North America:

Masters’ first placing player: 70
Masters’ 40th placing player: 60

Seniors’ first placing player: 72
Seniors’ 40th placing player: 58

Juniors’ first placing player: 80
Juniors’ 40th placing player: 59


Masters’ first placing player: 67
Masters’ 50th placing player: 50

Seniors’ first placing player: 70
Seniors’ 50th placing player: 50

Juniors’ first placing player: 83
Juniors’ 50th placing player: 45

As you can see, I predict that the difference between the top players and the 40th /50th placing players won’t be big in the most competitive age groups and that’s because the best players will probably gain almost the same amount of points from the Battle Roads and City Championships. In the end, it will be the Regionals’, States’ and Nationals’ placements, which decide your ultimate placement. This also means that the ELO won’t be disappearing anywhere; ties are going to be broken A LOT and the ELO will be used in tie-breaking! 
I hope my predictions won’t be too off so these can help you out. But we’ll see. Now there are Battle Roads for everyone to prepare for!


All in all, I would say the new system is good for the game. Players were fed up with the ELO, PCI listened to them and changed the system. As stated previously, the new system isn’t perfect but it’s a big step forward. PCI will test it this year and I’m pretty sure it will satisfy most of the players this season.

I think that the biggest problem with this system is the players who can’t go to tournaments because of the distance barrier. This could be fixed if PCI started organizing official tournaments online so everyone could play from their home computer. It won’t probably happen in the near future but it’s something that would heavily equalize the players – no matter where they live.


I hope you enjoyed the read and it either helped you understand the new system or gave you some new thoughts about the new system. This was my first time writing an article about Pokémon TCG in general so please leave comments and let me know what you thought about it so I know if these are worth writing or if you are more interested in decklists etc. Thanks for reading!

// Be back to The Deck Out next Tuesday, when I’ll analyze not only the highly anticipated MewBox deck but the whole Mew Prime and what it’s capable of!


  1. I'm really excited about this new system, I think it's a huge improvement over Elo for Pokémon. Even though here in France there are few people who drop during tournaments, I have seen this phenomenon in European tournaments and I think it's bad for the game.

    You make some good points about rogue decks and the fact that people may be more tempted to play them. (At least I know that having nothing to lose encourages me to try different decks during Battle Roads, which is nice)
    You're also probably right about the new system discouraging people from playing rogue decks (at least I hope so!) but I don't think you can really play a donk deck in the current format anyway.

    As a whole I think this article was a good read and you shouldn't hesitate to write other articles on the game in general in the future (even though I admit I'm more interested in your deck analysises ^^).

    PS : Nitpicking, but it's Elo and not ELO. It's not an acronym but the name of the inventor (Arpad Elo).

  2. I can fill yOu in for APAC

    Masters’ first placing player: 50
    Masters’ 10th placing player:  25

    Seniors’ first placing player: 50
    Seniors’ 10th placing player: 20

    Juniors’ first placing player: 50
    Juniors’ 10th placing player: 20

    I know of only 5 people who would break 50 mark - myself, the younger siblings of Snr WC and my fellow leaguer Aaron S. 

  3. I think you overshot the mark with those estimates. Personally, I think it's going to be pretty hard for the above average player to amass a significant number of points. The top 10 elite players may outshine everyone else, but I think the remaining 30 is going to be Lord of the Flies....

    Let me put it this way: last year my Junior son won 3 Battle Roads, 4 Cities, a State, a Regional, and the National Championship! Without factoring in other placement, that is 6 + 16 + 10 + 10 + 14 = 64 points only! If I add in his other placements, perhaps he could be that Junior with 80 points. But I just don't see how 40 different players are supposed to have at least 59 points each.

  4. Luby: Yeah, I hope I'm right xD For some reason I'm used to write ELO, don't know why. And I'm too lazy to fix them in the blog entry but I'll remember it in the future. Thanks for the input!

    Jade: Thanks, I'll look into those numbers!

    Carlos Pero: Those are only predictions as I stated, so it's difficult to trust in them. Juniors are probably the most difficult age group to predict because they are the smallest and I've looked only Juniors' Elo points and counted the Championship Points that way. In the end of the season we'll see how accurate my predictions were.

    Thanks for comments and I'm eager to get more comments about this entry!

  5. Don't worry, writing ELO instead of Elo is a common mistake. ;)


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