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MTG Arena's digital-only Alchemy format brews up balances and frustration

The addition of a third major Arena format might introduce more issues than it addresses.

Players of Magic: The Gathering’s online client, Arena, will soon have access to a third play mode designed for rebalancing cards without changing their paper versions. But it seems that a vocal contingent of players are frustrated by the collateral damage Alchemy will wreak on the popular Historic format.

Publisher Wizards of the Coast announced the Alchemy format on December 2nd in a series of blog posts on the official site. When it launches on December 9th, Alchemy will introduce the Alchemy: Innistrad set, which contains 63 new cards with Arena-only mechanics that won’t be printed elsewhere. Additionally, 11 existing cards will have their text altered in the first rebalancing pass under this new model.

Arena’s director, Jay Parker, explained that the format’s addition attempts to address the lightning quick rate at which the digital trading card game’s competitive environment shifts and evolves. The Arena team will use Alchemy to add cards between major paper set releases, implement digital-only mechanics and tackle metagame-warping imbalances while leaving tabletop MTG untouched.

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“Alchemy is simply an additional way to play, offering another option for players who want a new metagame and new strategies to conquer, who want a faster rate of evolution and change in that metagame, and who want a format that can work like a digital game,” Parker said in a post.

Players who collect either the rebalanced version of a card - denoted by a stylized “A” in the name box - or its original will also receive its equivalent. The team wants the existing Standard to remain untouched for fans who want to simply play paper MTG online. But as many fans have expressed in subreddits and on social media, the same can’t be said for Historic.

This popular Magic Arena format, which does not rotate and allows all available cards, will use the rebalanced Alchemy versions of existing cards instead of the originals. Players are viewing this as a transgression of Historic’s status as an eternal format, such as Commander, Vintage or Legacy in paper MTG.

Historic players are drawn to the wide range of strategies and deckbuilding possibilities, and while dominant strategies have led to bans in the past the format has remained largely untouched by the ever-shifting mentality of Standard and now the new Alchemy format. Additionally, these players are frustrated by yet another drain on the expensive and hard-to-obtain wildcards that Arena uses in lieu of “dusting” systems seen in similar digital titles such as Hearthstone.

The cards queued for rebalancing all come from sets in the current standard rotation - Zendikar Rising, Strixhaven, Kaldheim and Adventures in the Forgotten Realm. The notably dominant Alrund’s Epiphany’s meme-ified birds and extra turns have become more costly to pull off, while two of the class enchantments from AFR had their third ability reduced to spread the overall value to those later tiers.

Alchemy and its Innistrad card set will launch on December 9th, alongside the long-awaited update to the client’s Play Blade. Future Alchemy sets will reportedly drop a couple of weeks after the core collection, meaning Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty’s equivalent should arrive sometime in March 2022.

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