Seven Things I Like And Dislike About Alchemy’s Arrival To MTG Arena

The debut of Alchemy, is upon us and Brad Nelson breaks down seven things he likes and dislikes about MTG Arena’s newest format.

Luminarch Aspirant, illustrated by Mads Ahm

Last week, WotC unveiled a brand new Magic Arena format called Alchemy. If you’re not familiar with this announcement, I encourage you to check out the Alchemy overview and FAQ, the State of the Game announcement of Alchemy, and finally the Alchemy Rebalancing Philosophy article. That way you’re completely caught up for today’s discussion! 

And since Magic players never listen to instructions, here’s a shakedown of what’s changing on Magic Arena today later today. 

What Is Alchemy?

Alchemy is a brand new Arena-only format that will have full competitive support. Alchemy will join Standard and Historic by having its own ranked and unranked Best-of-One and Best-of-Three queues. It will also be used in upcoming Arena Opens and Set Championship Qualifier Weekends. Long story short, if you’re a competitive player on Arena, you’ll need to keep up with Alchemy. 

So what is it? Well, it’s Standard but completely digitized on Arena. That means it doesn’t need to mirror a tabletop format like Standard does. That gives WotC the ability to “rebalance” problematic cards instead of banning them. They also can rebalance fan-favorite cards that aren’t that good to be more powerful! The rebalancing of a card isn’t as “final” as banning one is, so we should see WotC be much more aggressive in their intervention of Alchemy than they typically are in Standard. 

Here’s a look at all of the current Standard-legal cards (and Omnath) that will be rebalanced for Alchemy.

That’s not all, Alchemy will have its own “set release” about a month after every new set rotates in. So, for example, Innistrad: Crimson Vow released with Standard legal cards that are also legal in Alchemy. With today’s Arena release of Alchemy, 63 straight-to-Alchemy cards will be released. These cards are very similar in design space to the ones we saw from the most recent Jumpstart set. 

The Complete Alchemy: Innistrad Card Image Gallery can be found here

Lastly, all of this affects Historic! That’s right, any Alchemy supplementary product and rebalanced Standard card will also exist in Historic. Effectively speaking, if a card in Standard gets changed for Alchemy, the new version will be the legal version in Historic. That is until the set rotates out of Standard. Then I think the card will go back to its originally “printed” version.

Look I don’t know, I’m trying my best here. 

Things I Like About Alchemy

1. I can play “Standard” without Alrund’s Epiphany

I hate that Alrund’s Epiphany wasn’t banned in Standard months ago. This won’t come as a surprise to any of my regular readers, nor should it shock anyone who’s played the format in the past two months. Standard’s had an issue for three years now involving over-powered strategies that create unhealthy environments. This could be where I go into a rant about how much I hate F.I.R.E design philosophy, but I’ll save that for another day (or never). Instead, I’ll just leave it at…

I’m happy to take one turn at a time again.

2. Arena-Only cards **WILL** change the game

Magic’s depth is the reason I picked it up in the first place, and why I continue to play it today. Seriously, the strategy behind the game is so complex that there are times that I feel like I’m creating art as opposed to just finding optimal strategies. One of the only advantages digital-only games had over Magic was their ability to create cards that couldn’t exist physically and now that’s not even the case anymore. Going in this direction could honestly be the best decision WotC has ever made.

I’ll be honest, I’m a bit overwhelmed right now by these initial Alchemy: Innistrad cards. That won’t be the case next week after I get a chance to play with them, but until then, words like perpetually, spellbook, and seek are just that — words. I have no real-world experience yet with these keywords so it’s very difficult for me to examine things right now. 

I don’t even think my initial opinion of these Arena-only keywords is relevant though. I look at Alchemy: Innistrad like I would Alpha or Arabian Nights. It’s a brand new design space for the WotC team to explore. Odds are they won’t hit it out of the park in their first couple go-arounds. They may push some cards too hard or maybe all of them are too underpowered for Alchemy. Who knows, and honestly? Who cares! They’re in a digital world now and can constantly be making changes to these cards as they see fit.

Now that’s awesome to think about! 

3. Standard still exists!

This one does come with a caveat that WotC continues to support this format by trying to keep it healthy. For example, I’m going to be very upset if we get to mid-January and Alrund’s Epiphany is still legal in the format. Why this is important, though, is I enjoy playing in tournaments like the SCG Invitational which may still want to use Standard as a competitive format. 

I could see a world where tabletop tournaments move to just using Pioneer, Modern, Legacy, and Limited as their formats of choice. Truth be told, we’re already sort of in that reality and it might not be the worst reality to live in. Standard’s never been a beloved format by the masses — mostly just a format that WotC used to prop up card sales (or so they thought). 2020 was an eye-opening year for us all when Magic still had record number sales with no tabletop competitive play happening. You know what… that’s probably the main reason why we’re talking about Alchemy today in the first place! 

Back to the main point here, I still do enjoy Standard. I’d love it if it’s still a supported format, but I wouldn’t be upset if it sort of fades into the distance either. What will upset me, though, is if I still have to play the format in a competitive environment when cards like Alrund’s Epiphany keep it from being healthy or enjoyable. So to that, I still think cards need to get banned in Standard when appropriate, and WotC forks over the wildcards when that happens. 

Things I Dislike About Alchemy

1. The execution of the current rebalancing philosophy

I have no clue why they nerfed so many Standard cards. It honestly blows my damn mind that they could look at the current Standard metagame and decide to just blow it all up. So here’s where I’m at…

Alrund’s Epiphany and Galvanic Iteration were the egregious offenders. This sparked the creation of Izzet Epiphany, which went on to completely warp the Standard format. What in the hell does any of that have to do with Luminarch Aspirant?

The reality is Mono-White Aggro❄ was a part of this metagame only because it could hang with Izzet Epiphany and that’s no longer even true if you look at last weekend’s archetype data on the Innistrad Championship. There’s just no reason Lumiarch Aspirant needed to be changed.

Not only that, but this design change is so random to me. Having the +1/+1 counter go on at the beginning of combat creates clear game decisions for players. They see where the counter could be effective, they cast the Luminarch Aspirant, they put the +1/+1 counter on a creature, and they attack. Simple!

Putting a counter on a creature during the end step feels like such a feel-bad opportunity, as it’s not very easy to know where the game’s going to be next turn. So not only will players have to think for longer periods of time as they try to nebulously make a difficult decision, but they’ll more often feel bad when it was the wrong one. 

Now I can get behind the changes to Goldspan Dragon and Esika’s Chariot. I may not agree with them, but I at least understand them. In no way, shape, or form though are you going to get me to understand this Luminarch Aspirant decision. This alone makes me question who’s making these decisions, how they’re deciding them, and why they even thought they needed to make this many changes to begin with. It just all feels so loosey goosey after seeing Luminarch Aspirant (a white card keep in mind) nerfed. 

On the other side of the coin, we have the cards rebalanced to be better than they previously were. In theory, I love it. I would have loved it if The Magic Mirror was rebalanced to be more playable in last rotation’s Standard. I really wanted the opportunity to play with that card, but could never justify it. It would have been sweet if they could have lowered the casting cost of the card to make it playable, or maybe even *checks notes* add Scry 1 to it… ?

I don’t know what “it” is, but I know this ain’t it. Cosmos Elixir is probably a very popular card amongst casual Arena players which is why they chose to rebalance it. That makes sense, because there has to be commonly crafted cards by more casual players that aren’t very competitive like Cosmos Elixir. The issue is, if that’s the case, why make the only change one of the games most spike-laden abilities? Adding Scry 1 to a casual players card would be like adding a randomization element to Brainstorm. It just doesn’t make sense to me! 

Pulling from my own advice though, this all doesn’t matter. Alchemy allows WotC to pull back any decision they make about the format so we may see Cosmos Elixir have the mana value 3 in a couple weeks. We don’t really know right now, and just have to wrap our heads around the fact that things aren’t indefinite anymore. So while I dislike a lot of these initial rebalances, I know that they may change if enough of us complain about them on social media. 

Or you can sign my petition here.

2. Overcomplexity

Just because something can exist doesn’t mean it should. I get that there’s a ton of cool design space to explore with Alchemy, but complexity for complexities sake ain’t it. I’m just exhausted that it seems like every new card has four abilities and ten lines of text. Reading new cards now feels like homework which is the perfect analogy when you consider the fact that twelve of these cards have (spell)books I have to read as well.

Ultimately though, I’m too tired to fight this fight. I’ll gripe about it here for a paragraph or two since we’re on the topic, but I know it’s not worth it. This new direction is the one WotC is aggressively taking so there has to be something they know that I don’t. That leaves me choosing if I’m going to opt in or not, and after years of perpetual complaining, I’m still always there on opening day playing with the new cards.

3. Two cards with the same name

I’ll keep this one short because I know it doesn’t affect any of you, but rebalanced cards feel like they’re going to be a nightmare for MTG Melee and other companies like Scryfall. Like really WotC? Now we have to figure out a way to display multiple versions of cards that share the same name? REALLY?!? Ugh, luckily I’m just the tester in situations like this and not the one actually doing any of the coding. 

4. This is just an excuse to not give us wildcards! 

I can’t believe they would allocate tons of their internal resources to the development and design of a brand new format just to find a way around giving us wildcards when they screw up. This is corporate greed at the highest level, and I for one think it’s despicable… 

Ultimately, I believe Alchemy is going to be a great thing for Magic as a whole. The format will have some growing pains, but sooner rather than later WotC will hit their stride with this design space. That’s when we’re going to see some really awesome things and enjoy Magic in a way we never have before.

And who knows! We might already be there! We just have to get into the Alchemy queues and find out ourselves!