Alchemy Is Almost Here. Lets Get Started!

WotC has brought a new format to Magic Arena and Bryan Gottlieb is excited! Join him as he begins to peel the layers back on Alchemy!

Delver of Secrets, illustrated by Matt Stewart

I’m grateful I get to write this article.

This statement is always true for me from a macro point of view. I never lose sight of how lucky I am to get to talk about my favorite game, to an audience of thousands, and then also get paid for it. Especially given the unique path I took to get to this point; I’m convinced this role is something that the universe went out of its way to gift me.

Despite this fact, the micro side of my appreciation for my job has been a little stickier lately.

I mostly focus on tournament metagames for my column, and simultaneous lack of tournaments and metagame churn was conspiring to suck any joy out of my task. The thought of sitting down to tell you, yet another time, that Izzet Epiphany closes off midrange options and you should play it, or a mono-colored aggro deck was soul crushing. I would have made a good faith effort to explore this week’s decklists, but I would have known it in my heart to be ultimately futile.

Thankfully, I don’t have to write that article anymore. Wizards of the Coast may be infamous for a lot of “taketh away,” but they can certainly step up to the plate on the “giveth” side of things too. Thursday was a big “giveth” for me.

I have some concerns about what the addition of the Alchemy format means for the long-term health of Magic. From a game experience design standpoint, complexity creep for Magic’s play offerings is seemingly spiraling out of control, and with the worst lens you could choose to view Alchemy as a way to milk more wildcards out of an already financially squeezed player base.

Today though, I don’t care about any of that. I have a reason to explore Standard/Alchemy again. I have a reason to care about a large portion of the Standard/Alchemy-legal card pool again. Most importantly, I have a reason to highlight the awesome decks that players played at this week’s Red Bull Untapped International Stop V and the Innistrad Championship.

This week, we focus on the decks that break from the mono-colored aggro and Izzet Epiphany paradigm, because with nerfs to Goldspan Dragon, Esika’s Chariot, Luminarch Aspirant, Alrund’s Epiphany, and Faceless Haven, there’s no question that Alchemy is going to offer a whole new experience. Next week? Next week we brew. It’s good to be back.

We start with the lone rouge competitor to make the Top 8 of the Innistrad Championship, Simon Gortzen, who showed up (and exceled) with a unique looking twist on the mono-colored aggro paradigm, Mono-Black Zombies❄. A recurring theme in this week’s column is the color black, with all but one of our archetypes dipping their toes into that space. It makes sense, given that the strengths of the color have been sidestepped to some extent by Alrund’s Epiphany and its protection from Duress via foretell.

With no direct nerfs to black cards in Alchemy, and a general predilection from the community for the color in both midrange and aggressive forms, its easy to see something like Simon’s deck starting off the new format strong. I’m happy to see Simon weighing the benefits of Faceless Haven versus his own color’s creature-land, and I expect this question to be even more hotly debated once Faceless Haven drops a point of power.

In black, Blood on the Snow should see Faceless Haven still getting a healthy percentage of play, but a deck like Mono-White Aggro❄ which doesn’t directly benefit from its snow mana might just make a wholesale shift towards Cave of the Frost Dragon. It’s a really fascinating question for deck construction that up until now has mostly been rendered moot via Faceless Haven’s extreme power level.

The question of Faceless Haven versus Hive of the Eye Tyrant is just one of many options to consider in Alchemy for Mono-Black. With a reduced focus on outracing Izzet Epiphany, Simon’s deck is going to have a lot of freedom to shift up and down the aggro to control spectrum, and a Champion of the Perished deck one week might be a maindeck Blood on the Snow deck the next. Sounds like some healthy Magic to me.

No group of players is more excited about the reshuffling of Standard into the Alchemy format than the blue control mages. As illustrated by the decks above, control showed up this past weekend in a diverse array of forms. However, metagame share remains low and the deck really doesn’t have a marquee finish to point to. So much of this can be blamed on the sheer impossibility of reactively answering Izzet’s endgame. This is why so many of these have turned to more midrange threats like Sedgemoor Witch, Goldspan Dragon, and Edgar, Charmed Groom.

Sedgemoor Witch Goldspan Dragon Edgar, Charmed Groom

Conceptually, I hate cards like this in my control builds. Games need to end before Alrund’s Epiphany can be copied though, and in that world, midrange threats make sense. Once we move to Alchemy though, I’m interested in Hullbreaker Horror endgames. Riley Hicks is already most of the way there with only a single Edgar, Charmed Groom accompanying two Hullbreaker Horrors. After Hicks spent last Standard entirely ahead of the curve with Jeskai Mutate, I’ve learned to take their deckbuilding and selection seriously. A lot of this deck list mirrors my own approach to Esper Control from a few weeks ago, but it all looks a little cleaner. I particularly love four maindeck Wash Away into this past weekend’s metagame.

The need for an effect like Wash Away may dry up once we head to Alchemy though. In fact, we may not need blue cards for our control decks at all.

It hasn’t been realistic to exclude blue from control lists in ages, probably going back to the pre-Nexus of Fate days of Standard. Whether it was extra turns or Emergent Ultimatums, something has always demanded interaction on the stack. This card pool feels a little different though. The biggest endgame in Alchemy based on existing cards is probably Hullbreaker Horror, and both these decks are good at challenging that card. Storm the Festival is somewhat vulnerable to sweepers and Go Blank. Maybe Epiphany end games still exist, but they’re going to have to leverage some other permanents to make that work.

In short, I’m still skeptical but believe more than I have at any time over the last two years, especially if control decks start looking more like Riley Hicks’s Esper list. Chaoyuan’s deck, in particular, looks to leverage some unique options like Silverquill Silencer and Henrika Domnathi that seem well suited for beating up on Hullbreaker Horror endgames.

Two players in the Innistrad Championship have clearly not given up on Delver of Secrets yet, and Camillo Lukesch and Shintaro Ishimura were well-rewarded for their belief in a card that most of the Magic world has given up on. I’ve spent a ton of time trying to get Delver of Secrets to work in Standard, and the core problem is always distribution of threats. Basically, I never find a configuration that transforms my Delver of Secrets reliably enough to be able to pressure Izzet Epiphany opponents before they eventually out scale me and still has a high enough threat density to find pressure through removal. Camillo used a setup like the ones I’ve tried with a large number of modal double-faced lands, but I’m actually more intrigued by Shintaro’s setup for a post-Alchemy world.

That’s weird to say, because I think Shintaro’s deck is extremely bad at transforming its Delvers. Like, unacceptably bad. But that’s only true in the context of present Standard. In Alchemy, can Delver of Secrets be a good enough card without being particularly good at becoming a 3/2? If reduced inevitability in the format makes this a reality, it opens a lot of deckbuilding angles, particularly for tempo/disruptive aggro (again an archetype that’s been mostly absent from games of Standard).

For my money, no potential archetype return has me more excited than the one displayed in these final two decks. A deck that attacks but doesn’t commit to the idea with the fanatical devotion of the mono-colored aggro decks has felt like an absolute pipe dream in the face of Izzet’s dominance. Now though, the average game should not have the same hard cap, and that means aggro leaning midrange has a puncher’s chance.

Marco Wish’s Golgari Deck is the rockiest looking rock deck to cross my radar in some time. Good removal. Powerful threats. A pinch of disruption. What more do you really need in life? Marco does include four copies of the soon to be nerfed Esika’s Chariot, but I believe that card isn’t completely dead and buried when Alchemy kicks off. Sure, it’s not the stand-alone game winner it was previously, but it’s still a sticky threat, and it’s not hard to come up with circumstances where you will be extremely pleased with its reduced crew cost here. I’m particularly interested in teaming up Sorin the Mirthless with the new, more crew-able version.

Finally, you knew I wasn’t going to pass on an opportunity to bring up my long-suffering friend, Orcus, Prince of Undeath. Yes, I still honestly believe this card is capable of shining in Alchemy, but ウコン 福野田 didn’t even want to wait until December 9. This list does so many of the things I enjoyed about my early attempts to make Rakdos Treasures work, but it also picks up an important new element with the full playset of Stensia Uprising. If you’ve played against this card in Limited, you know it can be an absolute house and for an archetype like Rakdos that often finds itself struggling to punch through the last few points of damage, it’s kind of the perfect addition.

Strong combos with Skullport Merchant, Deadly Dispute, and Stensia Uprising are appreciated, but the real beauty of this deck is how well every individual card shifts between control and aggro roles. Stensia Uprising can play defense just as well as offense. Orcus is either a threat or sweeper. Same with Burn Down the House. Bloodtithe Harvester is both removal spell and slightly undercosted beater. Even The Meathook Massacre plays both sides here. This deck is not only intrinsically exciting, but also a beautiful summation of exactly what has been missing from the Standard format since rotation. If it weren’t for Alchemy, I’d have to put a strong caveat at the end of my adoration for this archetype with regards to its Izzet Epiphany matchup. Now though, I can just say I cannot wait to play with this deck.

Of course, reviving strategically flawed concepts is only a portion of the excitement to be found within Alchemy. We’re also looking at 63 new cards, all designed to have some impact on the format. It’s a lot to take in, and this go around I’m trying to just appreciate the opportunity as a Magic player and content creator. I’m not convinced that further fracturing of the paper and digital experience is the correct path forward for the game. However, I am convinced that I’m stoked as hell to play some Alchemy.