With Alchemy Horizons: Baldur’s Gate spoilers coming in thick and fast, we’ve already tasted three new mechanics. Available exclusively on MTG Arena, for now, these mechanics all make use of MTG Arena’s digital format. As a result, some of these brand-new mechanics have a few eccentricities that make them a little confusing.
Without any further ado, here’s everything you need to know about Specialize in MTG Arena!
What is Specialize in Magic: the Gathering?
Specialize is a new activated ability in Alchemy Horizons: Baldur’s Gate. Activated by paying mana and discarding a card, Specialize allows players to change their card into one of five variants. The variant the Specialize card gets changed into is defined by the discarded land or color.
Typically, the five variants of a Specialized creature share similar mechanics, albeit with a color-based twist. As a result, knowledge of Magic: the Gathering’s color pie helps simplify understanding of Specialized creatures’ abilities.
Unlike traditional transform effects, which aptly use the keyword “Transform,” Specialize uniquely uses the word “change.” This new wording indicates that a Specialized creature is a new card that exists across zone changes. This is similar to the designed-for-digital mechanic Perpetually, which causes effects and counters to persist across zone changes.
What are the rules of Specialize in MTG?
As an as-yet-unreleased mechanic, the exact corner case rulings of Specialize are not currently known. Thankfully, we have some general information to clarify this new mechanic’s confusion.
Firstly, Specialize is an ability that can only be cast at sorcery speed. The ability also does not cause the Specialized card to blink or flicker from the battlefield. Instead, they are perpetually transformed, or changed, into the new card. If a Specialized creature, such as Lae’zel, Illithid Thrall, is returned to your hand, it will remain as that creature.
For Historic Brawl, MTG Arena’s version of Commander, Specialize has some unique and exciting interactions. When building your deck, if you pick a specialized creature such as Wyll, Pact-Bound Duelist, you’re allowed to choose a secondary color that can be used when building your deck. This will enable you to activate the Specialize ability by discarding a card of either color.
Will Specialize Be in paper MTG?
Currently, Specialize is unavailable in any paper Magic: the Gathering set. Designed as a digital-only mechanic for MTG Arena, it is unlikely that Specialize will ever see play on paper. Despite this, Specialize could theoretically be played on paper if Wizards of the Coast decided it was worth the hassle and confusion.
Similar to Contraptions from Unstable Specialize would likely require a second deck or pool of tokens to be available. This would allow players the collection of substitute cards they would need to facilitate Specializing their creature. In a five-color deck with 20 Specialize creatures, a player would require 100 substitute cards in their alternate deck to cover all Specialization permutations.
Unfortunately, this approach is less viable in Limited formats. In a limited event, the players or host must provide a mountain of tokens or substitute cards to accommodate all players who draft and play specialized cards. This would make drafting a set that includes the Specialize mechanic unfeasible for many players and stores.
As a result of these difficulties in translating the mechanic to paper, we don’t expect it ever to be included in a Standard-legal or paper set.