Alchemy, the format that will not revamp Magic: The Gathering Arena

If you are an avid fan of Magic: The Gathering Arena, you definitely would have already heard and read about the new digital-only format that is set to shake up Arena (or not).

Alchemy is a brand new digital-only format scheduled for release in Arena on 9 December. Players who intend to play in the Alchemy format will be able to build decks using Standard legal cards, new-to-digital cards, as well as rebalanced versions of current Standard cards.

Alchemy will launch with 63 new-to-digital cards with new mechanics, while several powerful Standard cards which are currently in the meta, such as Alrund’s Epiphany, Esika’s Chariot, Goldspan Dragon and Luminarch Aspirant are receiving some nerfs to become part of the new rebalanced Magic cards.

Nerfed like Hearthstone. (Image: Wizards of the Coast)
Nerfed like Hearthstone. (Image: Wizards of the Coast)

Players can play Alchemy in both ranked and unranked in either a Best of 1 or Best of 3, just like the other digital-only format Historic. Alchemy boosters will also be available for purchase, and players can open the new-to-digital cards, rebalanced Standard cards, as well as cards from the adjacent Standard set (as of release, Innistrad: Crimson Vow).

We get to have Lightning Bolt in a Standard-ish format now? o.O (Image: Wizards of the Coast)
We get to have Lightning Bolt in a Standard-ish format now? o.O (Image: Wizards of the Coast)

Players who already own the cards due for rebalancing will get the rebalanced versions, while they will receive both versions of the rebalanced card if they open it in either an Alchemy or Standard booster.

New Alchemy cards and rebalanced cards will become available a few weeks following the adjacent Standard release.

But wait a minute, did any of us Arena players ask for any of this?

Undoubtedly, Arena has been a fun game for me since I started playing it during the Closed Beta (yes I know, I live in Southeast Asia, cough).

Being able to play Magic: The Gathering online any time I feel like it and in an app which does not use an outdated interface that looks like it belonged to the early 2000s (looking at you, MTGO), has been a win in my eyes.

But as much as I love the game, Arena also has some features that make it an extremely painful game to play compared to other digital card games such as Hearthstone. If you happen to play Arena too, I think we all know what our collective biggest complaints are.

The economy for goodness’ sake, Wizards of the Coast.

If you want to play Arena and wish to spend little to no money, I have bad news for you.

This game will be terrible for you. The grind to get new cards or even collect multiple copies of cards to build decks will be so tedious that, I swear, it is a complete turn-off for any prospective player.

The only way to get cards in Arena is either through opening packs (just like in the actual physical tabletop game), or getting random cards off events and quests.

There is a wildcard system which allows you to convert a wildcard (which comes in 4 rarities, just like in the game) to any card of equivalent rarity.

You primarily get wildcards through opening packs. You cannot convert wildcards that are, say, Uncommon to Rare, and you cannot recycle cards that you own but have no intention to use into wildcards.

Cool, except that it really is not. You can buy packs with either gold (1,000 gold per pack) or gems. Gems require real money from your credit card, and while you can earn gold through rewards in the game, that it is a slow process.

I vow to not spend any more money on digital cards, unless Wizards are gonna do NFTs? (Image: Wizards of the Coast)
I vow to not spend any more money on digital cards, unless Wizards are gonna do NFTs? (Image: Wizards of the Coast)

In other words, to reach a certain threshold of collecting multiple playsets to build just one deck, you will need to open many, many, many digital packs. If you’re only using gold in Arena to get your cards, it is going to be a long process to get to 45,000 gold to open 45 packs.

In short, the economy system in Arena is just a load of bull, unless you are willing to spend some money. And even if you spend money (like I did), you are likely to have hundreds of Uncommon wildcards but not a lot of Rare or Mythic Rare wildcards to work with.

I just have to craft two playsets of Hunt lands, and I’ll be sorely low on rare wildcards. (Image: Wizards of the Coast)
I just have to craft two playsets of Hunt lands, and I’ll be sorely low on rare wildcards. (Image: Wizards of the Coast)

That is not even considering the fact that there is no trading system in Arena.

If you actually play the physical game, you can sell cards that you actually have in your collection to someone else in order to fund other purchases of other cards (or just to get money).

To play Standard on Friday Night Magic in local game stores, you can just set aside a sum of money (depending on your budget), get playsets of the cards you need, and you are good to go.

You don’t need to pray to RNGesus to get the cards that you want.

This whole element of trading among players is just not a thing at all in Arena. Yes, I get that the digital version has to be different from the physical tabletop game, but if I cannot build the decks I want, why will I even be remotely interested in a new format? (This also applies to my reluctance to play Historic on Arena even though I really want to)

If anything, there needs to be a revamp of the economy system in Arena. New players need to find it easier to collect cards and build decks in Arena, while older players (especially those who play Standard) also need an easier way to get cards to keep up with Standard rotations and changes in the meta.

In my opinion (however little of consequence this actually is), playing Alchemy is not going to fundamentally change the experience of the online game Arena.

Yes, I get that maybe it is about time the Standard experience in both digital and physical tabletop start to veer differently so that they will not cannibalise one another.

But we will still be playing in the same economy in Arena, and the same difficulties we have collecting cards to build decks for other Arena formats will similarly apply to Alchemy. The normal Best of 3 Standard will still be a playable format in Arena, so… what exactly gives?

This is also not to say that Alchemy as a format does not have its own set of problems, but the merits of Alchemy warrant (and should be) a totally different discussion.

I am ultimately a little disappointed with the latest announcements, because Arena players have been complaining about the economy for the longest time now.

The only reason why I think people will even play Arena now is because they truly love Magic: The Gathering as a game, but even I think that is slowly becoming a stretch.

Unless Wizards of the Coast already has some updates regarding the game’s economy up its sleeves, I don't even think announcing a multiplayer Commander format in Arena can save it from its woes.

Jay Chan plays a lot of Dota 2 and MTG. He's terrible in Dota 2 and a scrub in MTG, and maybe spends too much money on both games.

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