Tibalt, Wicked Tormentor
3, Feb, 23

MTG Arena Alchemy Cards Are Making Paper Magic Worse

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Article at a Glance

Following the launch of Alchemy in December 2021, MTG players haven’t been too best pleased with the burgeoning format. Exacerbating issues with MTG Arena’s economy and frustrating paper purists, the format is seemingly the bane of many players’ existence. Subsequently, following controversial release after controversial release, Alchemy has been consistently criticized as one of MTG’s worst formats. Even Alchemy’s greatest strength, rebalancing, has been a consistent issue, as Wizards doesn’t do enough to appease disgruntled players. In theory, Alchemy is at least a problem that’s contained to MTG Arena, since it’s exclusive to the platform. In reality, however, the prevalence of hybrid players is causing rampant and problematic confusion.

Art Avalanche

Avalanche Caller
Avalanche Caller | Kaldheim

Since the earliest days of MTG, following Revised Edition’s launch in 1994, Magic has always had an identity problem. Admittedly, the first-ever reprint with new art, Plateau, was an extraordinarily early symptom of this problem. Nevertheless, this card was a sign of what was to come, as reprints with new art have become big business. The Secret Lair sub-brand, for instance, is all about selling prized reprints with striking, sometimes almost illegible, art. Alongside this, unique art printings have been instrumental in promoting sets and events to ensure their success. The upcoming Phyrexia: All Will Be One, for instance, features a litany of art variants and foiling techniques.

As you can imagine, we’ve come a long way from the first reprint of Plateau, and it’s causing serious problems. With Ichor cards, Borderless Manga Planeswalkers, and Oil Slick Raised Foils within Phyrexia: All Will Be One alone, it can be incredibly difficult to know what your opponent has actually played. Especially since Phyrexia: All Will Be One Draft Boosters contain practically illegible Phyrexian Language cards. Within the full scope of MTG, this problem is even greater, as there are 25,571 pieces of unique artwork. Thankfully, only a fraction of these cards are good enough to play, but there’s still the potential for immense confusion. 

Unfortunately for players who’re already overwhelmed, this problem likely won’t be getting easier anytime soon. In the pursuit of generating additional revenue, WotC has been experimenting a lot recently, and Phyrexia: All Will Be One’s tactics are working. With pre-orders for Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines’ most desirable artwork selling for upwards of $273.97, this style of promotion is bound to be repeated in the future. 

Balancing Bedlam

Bedlam Reveler
Bedlam Reveler | Eldrich Moon

Thankfully, while Wizards are producing new artwork at an alarming rate, MTG players don’t have to know every single MTG card. Within Standard, for instance, there are only 1,881 cards to remember, and many of these are useless Draft chaff. Similarly, while Commander has access to almost all of MTG’s cards, an incredibly small number actually see play. Unfortunately, however, even the playable cards in these formats aren’t immune from unnecessary confusion thanks to Alchemy. 

Through rebalancing cards, Alchemy introduces an element of uncertainty to even the most well-known MTG cards. The Meathook Massacre for instance, was absolutely everywhere prior to its Standard ban. Despite this almost problematic prevalence, however, the card didn’t always do what players wanted. Thanks to the arguably needed nerfs, in Historic and Alchemy, the card was slightly different. This confusion has reportedly caused many unexpected game losses, and it’s only getting worse over time. So much so, in fact, that it’s becoming the plight of the hybrid MTG player.

Raising this issue on Reddit, u/Multievolution recently stated “as someone who plays both paper and Arena, having cards in Alchemy with changes to their paper form bothers me.” Following this, numerous MTG players shared their own experiences, revealing Multievolution was far from alone in their disgruntled confusion.

“I intentionally avoided the weird Baldur’s Gate Alchemy set explicitly for this reason, they went really ham with using the same arts as existing cards but completely rewriting the text and it’s way too hard to track. Shout out to anyone who can navigate Historic, that card pool is a nightmare to sift through on a mobile phone.”

u/MorningMoonlight

“That’s my biggest complaint too. Omnath drove me nuts because they changed it, then changed it again. When Prosper was spoiled for Baldur’s Gate, I can’t count the number of minutes I spent trying to figure out what they changed on that card before realizing it was the same.

Magic has enough “read the card” moments, I don’t want to have to constantly read the card because it might have changed since I learned what it does.”

u/G_Admiral

“Was just thinking this. So pissed when I found out today that Fearsome Whelp doesn’t exist.

I think They should have never made Alchemy- or at least don’t let people use the cards in any format other than Alchemy. That was (as long as I don’t play it) I wouldn’t ever have to see digital cards and possibly think they are real.”

u/ProbablyNotPikachu

Unfortunately for MTG players who are frustrated and confused by Alchemy’s antics, there isn’t really a solution to this issue. Rebalanced Alchemy cards exist now, and there’s no putting them back in the box. As u/LaboratoryManiac states, the best players can hope to do is limit their exposure. “Your best bet is to stick to formats on Arena that have a paper equivalent and avoid Alchemy and Historic.” 

Hybrid Hellscape 

Roalesk, Apex Hybrid
Roalesk, Apex Hybrid | War of the Spark

At the moment, telling Alchemy-hating hybrid players to simply avoid the format seems like an obvious and easy solution. Moving into the future, however, this might not be so simple. Speaking in a Fireside chat with UBS, Wizards of the Coast president Cynthia Williams revealed that hybrid digital and paper players are supposedly the future of Magic. Reportedly spending “40% more than the average revenue of Magic players,” while also having “the highest satisfaction rates,” it’s no wonder Hasbro will prioritize these players. 

To do just that, MTG Arena is getting a refactored new player experience in 2023. Alongside launching on Steam and Consoles, this new player experience should bring countless new players to Magic. Currently, there’s no telling what this refactored new player experience will actually entail, but it might just push players toward Alchemy. Should this be the case, new players could experience immense confusion once switching to paper. Beyond frustrating opponents, this may turn players away from Magic altogether, since their favorite cards no longer work as expected. 

Unfortunately, as we stated before, there isn’t really an easy fix to this issue that Wizards could implement. Driving players away from Alchemy would mitigate confusion. However, it’d also condemn the format to death which isn’t financially smart. One potential solution could be to give rebalanced MTG cards new art; however, that may cause more harm than good. Alternatively, a more striking card frame could easily identify Alchemy cards, however, MTG is moving away from Silver Borders, rather than embracing them. With no solution in sight, ultimately, MTG Arena’s confusing rebalancing may only get worse. After all, if MTG Arena players get their way, Wizards will be rebalancing cards more, rather than less, in the future. 

Read More: New MTG Arena Events Are Surprisingly Generous

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