Goldspan Dragon
3, Dec, 21

It's Time to Accept That MTG is Entering a New Digital Era

Article at a Glance

Yesterday, Wizards of the Coast announced a brand new format that’s coming to MTG Arena, Alchemy. This announcement was met with some very mixed and polarized feedback. From Twitter to Reddit, people either love or hate this new format. Regardless of how you feel, it’s time to accept that Magic: the Gathering is entering a new digital era.

What is Alchemy?

Wizards of the Coast

Alchemy is a format that the team is calling a “Live Format”. This new format is basically an offshoot of Standard, but will incorporate new “Digital Only” cards, like the ones that we’ve seen from Jumpstart: Historic Horizons. This format will also see a rebalancing of cards that are in Standard, bringing some overperforming cards down in power, and underperforming cards up in power.

This will allow the developers to have a contained environment where they can react quickly to problematic cards without banning things in mainline “paper” standard. Alchemy is not replacing any MTG Arena formats, it will be a new additional format that players can choose to play in.

Alchemy Announcement Complaints

There’s a number of complaints about the announcement that people have. Here’s a few that we’ve seen:

  • Alchemy is another way to get players to spend money and wild cards on Arena.
  • Pioneer on MTG Arena died for Alchemy
  • Alchemy is proof that Wizards doesn’t test their cards
  • The rebalancing changes shouldn’t affect Historic.
  • Alchemy isn’t “Magic” for reason XYZ.

I’m going to address each of these with things that Wizards said in their announcement stream, as well as my own opinions. I don’t work for Wizards, I’m not paid by them for anything, I’m just a simple content creator and lover of the game.

Alchemy is WotC’s Greed Manifested

Wizards of the Coast

This first one is the one that I can almost agree with, but at the same time cannot. For the rebalanced standard cards, you don’t have to reacquire the rebalanced versions, you’ll automatically have them if you own the “paper” version of the card.

For new cards, there’s only about 30 cards released with each set, which isn’t a lot. Packs are obtainable through gold, and once you get every rare / mythic from the release, you’ll get rares and mythics from the set that they’re tied into to help complete your collection. More than likely you won’t have to craft 4 copies of all 30 cards, because you probably won’t play with all of them, even if you play Historic.

Would it be better if Wizards released the cards in a set like they do for Historic Anthology where you pay a set price for all the cards? Maybe, but at the end of the day, it’s another set of Magic cards, just like any other set. I will say that the economy as a whole needs to be overhauled, but that’s independent of Alchemy.

Pioneer Died for Alchemy

Pioneer Masters Paused

This is something that the community needs to get a grip on. We do not know the internal workings of the development team at Wizards. We don’t know what their work flow and deadlines and such are. Development takes time, honestly far more time than you’d expect.

One thing that Ian Adams said on stream yesterday was that even if the team that worked on Alchemy didn’t do Alchemy and did Pioneer instead, we wouldn’t see Pioneer on MTG Arena for at least 2 years. What may seem like a small undertaking of “program in the cards 4head” is really much larger in scale than that. Programing the cards into the game as an object, art, animations, rules interactions within the program and other cards, there’s so much that goes into their development, and I’m sure I didn’t even mention half of it.

At the end of the day, Pioneer is not coming to Arena any time soon. You have Magic Online, use that instead and stop pestering the devs about “Pioneer when”.

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Alchemy is Proof that WotC Doesn’t Test

This is an absurd argument. Yes there’s been some overreaching card design in the past few years, and bans have had to come in to correct the issues. But the number of people who are in R&D, and play design are vastly outnumbered by the amount of people playing the game at a high level. They do test their cards, and we know that they do because we know that various Pro players were brought in to help with design and testing for sets like Modern Horizons 2.

Wizards said on stream that if a banning is required for paper, they’re going to make that decision for paper. But Alchemy is a great way for the team to test out whether or not “banning” a card by nerfing makes the format healthier, while also offering a different play experience to players who are unhappy with the current state of Standard at that time. I know for me, I don’t like Standard one bit right now, so Alchemy would be a great opportunity for me to play with the same card pool but hopefully have a different experience.

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The Rebalancing of Cards Should NOT Affect Historic

This complaint is one that I was at odds with for a little while. As a player, I wouldn’t be happy that the cards that I had come to enjoy playing with in Historic are being altered. At the same time, Historic is, like Alchemy, a digital only format. It was stated as such, and made evident as such when Jumpstart: Historic Horizons released. We know that Wizards will consider reverting the rebalanced cards back to their “paper” forms once the card leaves Standard, so there is that.

If Historic were a paper format, I’d be more offended with all of this, but it’s not. I think that people need to get out of their heads that “every way we play Magic is subject to the same rules in digital as paper”. Because Historic, and thus, Alchemy, are effectively unprecedented formats, people are not expecting change to happen in new and innovative ways, ways that take advantage of the technology that’s afforded to the format.

One gripe I do have, and one that many also share that’s tangential to this, is the wild card reimbursement policy. This I think has more to do with the fact that wild cards exist and there’s no good way to reimburse players whose cards are changed with without having an unnecessary differentiation in Wild Cards. Games like Hearthstone will allow players to dust cards for full craft value if the card is altered in some way, but we don’t have that luxury here. If this system changes, then this may be less of an issue.

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Alchemy isn’t the Magic I Grew Up Playing

You’re right, it isn’t. This is a NEW way to play the game. It’s a new format, just like Historic, Pioneer, and Modern were back when they first were made. This format isn’t replacing anything, it’s giving players more choices on how they enjoy Magic. Ultimately, it boils down to 2 things. If you’re a Standard player, and don’t like Alchemy, that’s fine, don’t play it. Standard is the same format it was before, you can continue to play it. If you’re a Historic player, it’s time to embrace that Historic is and always was a Digital Only format. It may have taken a couple years to manifest itself in more apparent ways, but it’s here and you’ll have to embrace it, or not play it. Simple as that.

READ MORE: Alchemy Preview Gallery

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