‘Magic: The Gathering Arena’ Introduces New Digital-Only “Alchemy” Mode

Earlier this month, Wizards of the Coast announced a brand new game mode coming to Magic: The Gathering Arena, which they’ve dubbed “Alchemy”. The basic idea is, like popular competitors Hearthstone and Legends of Runeterra, Alchemy will be a digital-only format — adjacent to the basic Standard mode — where individual cards can be buffed or nerfed as needed, rather than the overpowered ones simply being banned outright.

That’s right, after nearly three decades of MTG’s existence, they’ve finally introduced a way of playing the game that doesn’t 100% match the paper card experience. As you might imagine, this is causing quite an uproar in the Magic community, with most people on Reddit, Twitter, and elsewhere falling on the angry “get off my lawn” side of things.

If this were simply an optional standalone mode, most players probably wouldn’t mind it at all. However, Wizards has introduced some controversial things to this new system that go beyond mere rebalancing of cards:

  • For one thing, they’re also releasing a bunch of Alchemy-only cards with digital-friendly mechanics that would never see the light of day in paper, such as cards in your hand or on the battlefield gaining ‘perpetual’ effects from other things you cast, or drafting spells from cards’ respective “spellbooks” that don’t exist within your deck.
  • For another, the changes that happen to cards in Alchemy also transfer to the Historic format, the fans of which are very much not happy about it. And because there’s no card “dusting” system that lets you ditch unwanted cards in exchange for wildcards, nor are they refunding wildcards for cards in your collection that get rebalanced, this has only added insult to injury as far as Historic players are concerned.
  • Also, most of those Alchemy-only cards have Rare or Mythic Rare status, and earning wildcards to spend on those rarities has never exactly been easy in this game, so players will likely have a harder time completing their collection or building decks with the new cards without more time/money investment.
  • Moreover, some of the Uncommons in the set could pass as Rare or Mythic Rare, they’re that powerful. The power level of the set as a whole is a bit ridiculous, if I’m being honest.

So here’s the thing: If you’ve been playing Arena much in recent months, you know that the competitive landscape is really only exciting for the first few days after a set release, after which it quickly grows stale once the meta is ‘solved’ — i.e. the best handful of decks and strategies have been discovered and tweaked to perfection by legions of players around the world, so those things become almost all you see on the ranked ladder.

Alchemy is an attempt to shake up the meta every month and keep things fresh so players don’t grow so bored of playing, which threatened the game’s long-term entertainment value. I think it’s generally good that they want to try new things, and I appreciate the risk they’ve taken by diverging from the long-standing paper game. It seems an inevitable decision if they were going to remain competitive in the digital game space.

That said, I’m not sure that they’ve implemented all the new changes as well as they could’ve. The game’s new UI is a bit of a mess, and those things I bulleted earlier are drawing so much ire from the game’s community that I feel like Wizards is going to have to address them soon, or else they risk players moving on to other games.

Thankfully, these issues are all totally fixable — and that’s the point of Alchemy. Time will tell what the format does to the MTG Arena experience (for better or worse), but at least the flexibility of the format will allow for regular improvements and fixing of oversights, should the company take those opportunities. I sure hope they do.