MTG Arena’s New Standard Alchemy Format – What Is It, What Can We Expect?

by in Magic: The Gathering Arena | Dec, 3rd 2021

Yesterday, a major announcement hit MTG Arena – the addition of the new Standard Alchemy format. It’s been met with some pretty mixed responses, but it is a major change to how we perceive MTG Arena going forward. This is the first time we’ve had a digital-only Standard format in the history of Magic: the Gathering. This will not in any way change normal Standard – Digital or Tabletop. But on December 9th, MTG Arena’s Alchemy format will go live. What is it though? What makes Alchemy special, what will players get used to in it, and what has the response been? We can tell you that there will be more digital-only cards – 60 to be exact, with more to come later perhaps. Let’s talk about Alchemy in MTG Arena!

Lack of Change Creates Stagnation

Magic: the Gathering cannot change. It’s the one thing that other card games like Hearthstone have on MTG Arena. It’s incredibly hard to change physical cards. It would force players to buy new singles of cards they already own, just to keep up. However, this is a truly huge change, for better or worse, for MTG Arena. In the recent State of the Game article, Jay Parker revealed who they targeted MTG Arena’s Standard Alchemy format towards:

“Alchemy is built for our digital-first players, who consume content more quickly but also want a metagame that stays fresh and evolves. As a digital-only format, Alchemy lets us add new cards after a set release, offer new mechanics that can only work in a digital game, and rebalance cards to keep the environment interesting and engaging every time players sit down to play.”

Admittedly, the Standard meta does get pretty stale when one deck dominates the whole game. So, that’s not really a statement I can argue. The idea here is that the people who still want to play regular Standard, you can. That’s not going anywhere. This is supposed to be a new form of Standard, for those digital players who want things to keep growing and remain fresh. It’s another way to play Magic: the Gathering. It’s just a different queue if you’re into that. The cards in Alchemy will be legal in Historic, Historic Brawl, and other digital-only formats. But what is Alchemy?

Balance, Rebalance

The idea in Alchemy is that we can have digital-only cards and Standard cards that get nerfed or buffed as needed through the life of Standard. All of the cards in Standard’s card pool are here and rotate on that same pattern. But then we add rebalanced cards in that set, some nerfed, some buffed. It will also feature the digital-only mechanics we’ve seen in Jumpstart: Historic Horizons and the upcoming Alchemy: Innistrad.

These cards will be legal in Alchemy, Historic, Historic Brawl, and other digital-only formats. Here’s where my problem comes in. I don’t like the idea of this potentially affecting Historic’s paper cards. It’s going to make Historic even more complicated. The digital changes will not be allowed or legal in any non-digital tabletop setting though. We saw a hint of this back in October when the Jumpstart: Historic Horizons cards received some nerfs and buffs. Perhaps that helped bring this idea to life.

Some cards that were banned seem to be back as well. An example is Omnath, Locus of Creation. This nerfed version is legal in Alchemy, Historic, and other digital formats. That’s the problem. I think that if these Alchemy-adjusted cards stayed only in Alchemy, and not in Historic/etc, people would be far less hostile. Having to be aware of card nerfs in an already deep, confusing meta is going to frustrate players more than anything.

Wizards of the Coast gave us some examples of cards that were adjusted that we will be seeing in MTG Arena’s Alchemy Standard format. So let’s talk about a few of those, which you can also see in the State of the Game article.

Balanced Cards

Alrund’s Epiphany – 7-Cost Blue Sorcery: The original Alrund’s Epiphany created the two 1/1 blue Bird tokens with flying, gave you an extra turn, and was then exiled, for 8 mana. Or you could Foretell it for 6 mana. The new version has an 8 Foretell cost as well, and you only receive the two blue bird tokens if you Foretold it. I do not like this change. Sure, it slows the card down, but it’s such a strange change. It should just simply be banned, or never put out to start.

Esika’s Chariot – 4-Cost Legendary Green Artifact Vehicle: This card gets adjusted up and down. Instead of two 2/2 cat tokens, it only creates 1. On top of that, it has its Crew Cost lowered – down to 2 instead of 4. Makes sense, since you only receive one Cat. It still makes a copy of a token you control, so that’s a positive. It’s still a very good card, but not as wildly powerful.

Omnath, Locus of Creation
The new Omnath is like the old one here, but costs one more

Wizard Class – 1-Cost Blue Enchantment – Class: This card still does the exact same things as before, but Level 3 now costs 3 mana (1 blue) instead of 5 mana.

Omnath, Locus of Creation – 5-Cost Red/Green/White/Blue Legendary Creature: Okay, why did this change happen? It’s still the exact same card in every way, shape, and form. It adds 1 colorless mana to the cost. So it’s still a ludicrously powerful, game-breaking card. But it costs 1 more! It’s still worth using, and I simply do not understand the logic behind doing this.

You’ll know if a card was balanced because it has a Mythic Colored MTG Arena symbol next to its name in the top left. It’s clear to see it. If you’ve already collected these cards and they were balanced, you don’t have to repurchase them, either. However, what if this card nerf completely makes your deck unplayable? Do you get refunded Wild Cards, like in bans? Unfortunately no. This has led to a lot of backlash on the mode, which we’ll discuss below.

In addition, anytime you unlock a card that has been changed, you’ll receive the normal card, and the rebalanced version as well, and it will be clear in the packs. Wizards of the Coast plan on evaluating the Alchemy meta frequently and release balance adjustments to keep it “diverse, fair, and fun.” We also saw a supplemental, digital-only set, Alchemy: Innistrad.

What Is Alchemy: Innistrad?

So, in addition to rebalanced cards, there’s a supplemental set of about 60 cards, Alchemy: Innistrad. It will feature new cards and new mechanics. The majority of these cards are set in the Innistrad block, so the card aesthetic and lore should feel very familiar. Some of these cards will be set in earlier parts of our Standard rotation. I want to go over a few of these cards and will cover the whole of the Alchemy reveals soon.

New Cards

Angel of Unity – 2-Cost Uncommon Angel Cleric – The first uncommon I’ve seen for the Alchemy set, it is a ⅓ with Flying and Lifelink. It’s built for the Party System, as well. Whenever Angel of Unity enters play, or you cast a party spell, choose a party creature in your hand. That creature perpetually gains +1/+1. That means even if it dies and comes back, or even gets exiled, that +1/+1 sticks around. A Party Spell is a card that is a Cleric, Rogue, Warrior, or Wizard. So any creature with that creature type can get the buff. I’m a pretty big fan of this, especially as a 2-drop Angel. 

Gitrog, Horror of Zhava – 4-Cost Rare Black and Green Legendary Frog Horror: A 6/6 for 4? That’s money. It also has Menace on top of that. At the beginning of each combat, if Gitrog, Horror of Zhava is untapped, any opponent can sacrifice a creature. If they do, tap Gitrog, and then seek a land card and put it into play tapped. So our opponents can stop us from attacking with it, but we gain lands! Whenever a land enters play for us, it perpetually gains “1Black 1 Green, Tap/Sacrifice this land: Draw a card.” We already have ways to retrieve lands from the graveyard, too. Love to see it.

Forsaken Crossroads: Rare Land: This comes into play tapped, and you choose a color when it comes into play. When this enters play, you also Scry 1. If you weren’t the starting player, you can choose to untap Forsaken Crossroads instead.  You tap this land for 1 of the chosen color.

Patient Zero – 2-Cost Rare Black Creature – Zombie: A 2/2 Lifelink, it makes your opponent’s creatures damage not regenerate at the cleanup steps. So if they have a ⅔, and it takes one, it’s stuck at 2/2 as long as this is in play. Love that.

Gitrog, Horror of Zhava

Toralf’s Disciple – 3-Cost Rare Red Human Warrior: A 3/3 with Haste for 3 in Red is already amazing. But when it attacks, conjure four cards named Lightning Bolt into your library, and then shuffle. Good. God. Lightning Bolt is an instant that deals 3 damage to a target creature or player, for 1 red mana. Why is this so potentially devastating?

Ishkanah, Broodmother – 4 Mythic Rare Legendary Green Spider: A ⅗ in Reach is right at home in Green, that’s for sure. But it also gives other Spiders you control +1/+2, so it’s also a Lord. If you tap 2 (1 green or black), and exile two cards from your graveyard, you draft a card from Ishkanah, Broodmother’s spellbook.

So what’s Drafting from a Spellbook? This is a new mechanic. It’s similar to Davriel, Soul Broker’s abilities. You’ll see three cards chosen from a curated list, and you select one to go into your hand. Ishkanah’s Spellbook is going to be chock-full of spiders. You can see the spellbooks in-game by right-clicking on the cards (or long-pressing on mobile).

More of these cards will be revealed soon, but you can see that they are doing some interesting things with these cards, at least. These cards are going to be in the Alchemy: Innistrad packs and they work like normal store packs. This set has no commons, so those slots will be filled by Innistrad: Crimson Vow commons. Duplicate protection has been extended though. If you’ve collected a playset of all rares in Alchemy: Innistrad, the rare will give an uncollected Innistrad: Crimson Vow rares as well.

We’re going to see these Alchemy Supplemental sets for other expansions going forward as well, with about 30 cards, a month after release – more or less. I don’t dislike the idea of these digital-only cards, but I firmly believe it should not touch Historic. Let them disappear after Standard rotates. Let the original versions of the cards be in Historic, instead. Digital-only cards, I don’t mind seeing in Historic though. How much do these boosters cost? 1,000 Gold or 15 packs for 3,000 Gems. Same price as Standard packs. However, a one-time-only deal will drop, for 20 Alchemy boosters, for 3,000 gems or 15,000 Gold.

The Response: A Mixed Bag

Originally, I was a big fan of the Wild Card system. The idea that you can trade one in for any card you want, I think that’s better than a Dust system. However, it feels incredibly hard to get Wild Cards right now. If you could simply buy them, or trade your lesser ones for higher ones, that would help. I’m very disappointed that it feels like another way to deny players Wild Cards.

That’s the thing that seems to upset most of the people I’ve seen in comments. The general consensus seems to be that the game is in dire need of an economic adjustment. Lots of long-time players are disenchanted with the MTG Arena economy, and it’s in need of fixing. Perhaps they could take cues from Legends of Runeterra. The ability to just buy the wild cards, and build the deck I want is such a godsend. Perhaps that would make people buy booster packs less, but there’s no telling.

Not everyone hates it though! Many players also feel like this is going to be a good thing for Standard. That way, Standard will change and grow more than once every 3 or 4 months. I can see the logic there, and I’m not against it. I want it to be clear that I don’t hate Alchemy, not at all. I’m all for new ideas, but MTG Arena players really just wanted Pioneer, instead of Historic, and instead of the Standard Alchemy format.

It’s a fine format. I’m curious about it, and I want to see how many players it gets compared to the other formats. It’s not anything anyone asked for, but I’ve always been curious what would happen if MTG received buffs and nerfs. So while there are some naysayers about this format, I’m very curious, and I’m going to withhold judgment until I see it in action for myself. This could also be a huge change for streamers. Standard is kind of stale and gets stale quickly. It’s always the same decks. If a constantly adjusting meta will help Twitch streamers, it would be a net positive in that way.

But that doesn’t address the concerns about the economy, but that’s something we hope Wizards of the Coast will discuss at a later date. Overall, I’m willing to give this a chance and hope it becomes a popular mode. Change is always going to upset people. It’s always going to have doomsayers. I don’t think this will be that bad. I don’t agree with all of the buffed/nerfed cards, and some of the new cards feel incredibly strong, but this is still a new system.


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