Thanks to its 30 years of heritage, there are countless different ways to play MTG. Some formats, such as Vintage, have been around since the game’s very inception, while others are more recent innovations. Alchemy, for instance, is the latest MTG format to be created by Wizards of the Coast. Released in December of 2021, this innovative MTG format is barely a year old. However, it has already faced severe criticism. Introducing cards that harness designed-for-digital mechanics, Alchemy pushed MTG to a new frontier that many players weren’t happy with. Couple this with the somewhat mismanaged handling of buffs, nerfs, and rebalances that could now be applied to cards, and Alchemy quickly became MTG’s most hated format. Despite this, however, MTG Arena players frequently call upon Wizards to do more with the much-maligned format.
When it was first launched, Alchemy wasn’t viewed as an entirely terrible addition to MTG’s myriad formats. Instead, the ability to buff, nerf, and rebalance cards to create an interesting and varied format had huge potential. After all, this strategy has been used in the wider gaming industry for years to great effect. While it did seem unorthodox for a traditional paper trading card game, many players were nevertheless excited. Having a format with a deeply varied and compelling metagame is hardly a bad thing, after all. Unfortunately, however, following its initial launch, the actual implementation of Alchemy left much to be desired by MTG Arena players.
First and foremost, unlike bans on MTG Arena, which would compensate players with Wildcards equal to the rarity of the banned card, buffs, nerfs, or reworks, gave players nothing at all. As you might imagine, this decision did not go down well in the MTG community, with Wizards facing substantial backlash. That being said, compensation for bans on MTG Arena isn’t much better, as only the banned cards are replaced. This does little to appease players who just spent upwards of 30 Wildcards building a new deck from scratch. Nevertheless, despite this small detail, Alchemy was criticized by the community, who pushed back against Wizards’ rebalancing plans.
Thanks to the initial pushback against the format’s implantation, Wizards of the Coast steadily started slowing down their rebalancing efforts. Following monthly rebalancings in January and February, players were left waiting until April, August, and then October for changes. While new premier and Alchemy sets were released in the interim, Alchemy’s metagame was hardly as refined as promised. Following the latest rebalancings in January 2023, many MTG players have simply had enough with Wizards’ treatment of the format.
Missing the Mark
In the latest round of Alchemy rebalancings, Wizards of the Coast made some rather underwhelming changes to the format. Primarily focused on stamping out the prolific goblin combo engine of Goblin Trapfinder, the rebalancings otherwise only buffing somewhat niche tribal archetypes. While this is a nice thing to do for players interested in these tribes, it’ll hardly give Alchemy a complete meta makeover. Subsequently, several players have been pushing back against Wizards’ seemingly reluctant rebalancings on the MTG Arena subreddit.
Leading this charge on social media was Reddit user u/roguebagel, who proclaimed “the new Alchemy patch is so underwhelming.” Following this declaration, u/roguebagel went on to explain that Wizards really isn’t doing enough to keep Alchemy interesting.
“After 3 months of nothing, WOTC applies light “buffs” to a handful of unplayable cards. They’re still … unplayable. What happened to the promise of every 2-4 weeks? Why not buff cards across archetypes so the player base has more to experiment with?
The differentiating factor of Alchemy is that it’s a digital format. We should see a much bigger playable card pool than Standard because they can fix underpowered cards that were costed for Draft. Ironically instead they just print a handful of busted rares/mythics and do absolutely nothing to elevate the remaining card pool, so now we’re left with yet another stale format with almost no room for creative deckbuilding.”u/roguebagel
Considering the format’s popularity, or lack thereof, u/roguebagel’s roundabout request for more Alchemy rebalancing is certainly an interesting one. Despite how unpopular this opinion might have seemed, however, other Reddit users were surprisingly keen to agree with this statement. For instance, in the post’s comments, u/SoneEv highlighted how Alchemy is “a format of great aspirations and goals, but just horrible implementation and follow through.” Expanding upon this point, u/ReadingNamesIsCringe added, “I first imagined it as a magical fairy wonderland where every evil bad rare is nerfed to mediocrity and every interesting but underwhelming bulk rare is buffed to competitiveness. The reality is much closer to doing literally nothing.”
Ultimately, from the get-go, Wizards of the Coast shot themselves in the foot with Alchemy. When first introducing the format, Wizards wanted to assure players that they weren’t going to totally reinvent or ruin the game. Subsequently, Wizards declared they “will not be rebalancing iconic cards that have a significant history behind them.”
“Cards like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Lotus Cobra, Thoughtseize, and Negate are powerful but often used as references and examples to evaluate new cards and abilities. Rebalancing them would be too disruptive to those conversations. If these cards cause issues, we will look to address them indirectly through live balancing or ban them if necessary.”Wizards of the Coast
Thanks to this stance, which prevents Wizards from nerfing Anthology set cards, options to rebalance problematic cards are severely limited. Instead of being able to rebalance overpowered cards like Sheoldred, the Apocalypse Wizards instead must bizarrely buff other cards, hoping the format evens itself out. In theory, applied diligently and often enough, this rebalancing strategy could work to level the format’s power level. In reality, however, Alchemy isn’t balanced nearly often enough, letting overpowered cards run rampant for months before anything happens. Stressing this issue, u/AlasBabylon_ explained, “there’s a lot I’m not a fan of.”
“They seem so stingy about nerfing cards – pretty much just Meathook Massacre at this point – because they’re tired of people complaining about their cards becoming obsolete without actually considering compensation as if they were banned. So cards like Sheoldred and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker don’t get touched, despite them being utter powerhouses in Standard, in a format meant to rebalance and tweak Standard.”u/AlasBabylon_
Following Wizards’ seeming apathy towards rebalancing being scrutinized, several MTG players raised doubts about Wizards’ reasoning for releasing Alchemy altogether. Reddit user u/TopdeckYourLoosecon, for instance, highlighted how Alchemy’s density of rares could be for all the wrong reasons. “As you said, they print rare/mythics by the ton, and that’s precisely their end goal, make players use their wildcards. Ever wondered why every Alchemy set has 66% of rares/mythics? Every other set ever released is about 33% rares/mythics on average.”
Ultimately, due to its popularity, Wizards of the Coast is in a tough situation with Alchemy. While Wizards recently revealed that the format is played more than Explorer, it’s hardly the most popular on MTG Arena. Without major changes being implanted to the format, it’s likely to stay that way. Thanks to the format’s low player count, investing heavily within Alchemy is hardly a good business decision. Subsequently, hiring a team of analysts and developers to scrutinize and rebalance the metagame into perfection is just bad business.
While key investment might not arrive until player numbers increase, thankfully, all hope is not lost for Alchemy. Sometime during 2023, MTG Arena is expected to launch on both Steam and Consoles. This will potentially introduce the game to a brand-new audience who’s more eager to receive Alchemy’s designed-for-digital mechanics and rebalancings. Alongside this, Alchemy is also getting another major set during 2023: The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-Earth. Regardless of if you love or hate the brand, Universes Beyond products have the potential to be seriously successful. This could potentially catapult the popularity of Alchemy, so long as the set’s release is handled correctly. Should this happen, the format might finally be given the budget to become what it was once envisioned. Whether or not that will happen, however, we’ll unfortunately just have to wait and see.