Divide by Zero
6, Oct, 22

MTG’s Most Hated Format Is Getting Some Huge Changes

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After being launched in December of 2021, it’s no secret that Alchemy is perhaps the most hated format in MTG. This is despite Wizards repeated attempts to try and make the format a compelling reason to play on MTG Arena. Despite consistently being criticized for its damning flaws, Wizards isn’t giving up on Alchemy just yet. Instead, Wizards of the Coast has recently announced the latest batch of major changes coming to the much-maligned format. For once, even if you really hate Alchemy in MTG, some of the latest changes might actually be worth getting excited about. 

Rebalancing Rebalancings

To go alongside the imminent release of Alchemy: Dominaria United, which is inexplicably called Alchemy: Dominaria, Wizards announced the latest wave of rebalancings in MTG Arena. While these usually aren’t too exciting for non-Alchemy and Historic players, these latest changes are actually worth paying attention to. For the first time, Wizards of the Coast is reverting a handful of cards to their original tabletop version. This includes once troublesome cards such as Faceless Haven, Goldspan Dragon, and Luminarch Aspirant. While this move has plenty of players excited, it ultimately exposes a crippling flaw of the fledgling digital-only format.

Following Standard rotation last month, these once-problematic cards aren’t nearly as bad as they used to be. Previously, they ran riot in Standard, so much so that Faceless Haven was even banned. However, obviously, they’re no longer playable in that format. Subsequently, the rebalancings that once kept these cards in check are no longer needed. After all, Historic features a far greater card pool with “more ways to interact or respond to powerful cards.” Even Wizards sensibly acknowledges that “some of these rebalances were no longer necessary to maintain a healthy meta.” The question remains, however, why were these rebalances needed in the first place? 

Ultimately, these rebalances weren’t needed. Not for the Historic format, at least. Instead, the rebalancing of these cards was purely based on their performance in Standard. As Wizards explained in a blog post, “when we look to rebalance cards, our standard is … err, Standard.” Since Standard is MTG Arena’s most popular format, it makes sense that Wizards “rebalance with the current Standard and, through extension, Alchemy meta in mind.” As MTG Arena players know, however, the changes made for Alchemy don’t just affect Alchemy. 

The Historic Problem

Since the introduction of Alchemy in late 2021, this has been a known and much-complained-about issue amidst the MTG community. By balancing around Standard first and foremost, Historic cards are an untinted casualty that players have to suffer with. As Wizards has just showcased, when rebalancing for just Historic, things would be very different. While this is a problematic consequence of Alchemy’s rebalancing, it’s important to note that rebalancing itself isn’t all terrible. 

Providing an alternative to banning or restricting a card, rebalancing allows players to keep playing with the cards they enjoy. By allowing Wizards to fine-tune a format to foster a healthy, competitive, and exciting metagame, rebalancing should be a beloved occurrence. Thanks to the lack of Wildcard refunds for rebalancings, however, MTG Arena players have come to hate this digital-only feature. Should this glaring issue be rectified, however, I’d suggest that Wizards go so far as to add a unique Alchemy variant for each format available on MTG Arena.

This would allow every not-true-to-paper format to be its best self. Unfortunately, however, this approach is entirely untenable thanks to the current implantation of rebalanced cards. At the moment, as we’ve seen, rebalanced cards are all linked together with a card that’s rebalanced for Alchemy, also being rebalanced for Historic. This prevents Wizards from appropriately rebalancing cards that are used in multiple formats. An obvious solution to this problem is to introduce format specific. However, this comes with its problems. Firstly, as Reddit users are keen to note, this would require a lot of additional resources, something Wizards may not be willing to commit to Arena. Additionally, having multiple slightly different versions of cards might get very confusing for players. As u/gilum notes, “people are already complaining there are two versions of a card. Imagine if there were 3.”

Better Late Than Never 

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For better or worse, Wizards appears to be committed to this post-rotation rebalancing strategy for now. While it may not be changing, Wizards is at least committed to making this process more practical in the future. In the recent State of the Game post, Wizards stated, “reversion of balance adjustments due to format legality would happen at the same time as the format legality of these cards changes.” This should mean that players can expect cards to be “unbalanced” upon Standard rotation. That is, so long as there aren’t any “time constraints combined with necessary technical work” that delay this process. 

For those outraged with the mere concept of Alchemy making changes to cards, thankfully, MTG Arena isn’t going all in on the format. Recently, Wizards of the Coast announced both Explorer Anthology 2 and Shadows over Innistrad Remastered, for instance. These products, releasing in late 2022 and mid-2023, are due to greatly expand Explorer’s lineup of cards and competitive decks. This will help bring the digital format in line with its beloved paper counterpart, Pioneer. These products may still be a while away from release, but they’re undoubtedly worth looking forward to. 

Read More: MTG Arena Hosts Major Event for 4-Year-Old Format!

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