Wizards of the Coast has surprised players this week with the announcement of a new Arena-exclusive format, Alchemy. After trialing digital-only cards with Jumpstart: Historic Horizons, WotC is setting up Alchemy to be “digital Standard” – using the same rotating card pool, but with digital-exclusive cards and regular balance patches. And we’ll be able to try it very soon, with Alchemy set to go live on Arena on December 9th.
After years of debate over whether Magic should have distinct paper and digital formats, Alchemy seems like a decisive step by WotC. But it will not actually replace Standard, not even on Arena; an unvarnished Standard experience will still be available for those not interested in what Alchemy has to offer. WotC’s approach seems to be that Alchemy will have enough appeal to attract a player base on its own merits.
WHAT IS ALCHEMY?
While breaking parity with the decades-old tradition of paper Magic is a risk, WotC’s announcement laid out numerous advantages Alchemy will enjoy as a result. Perhaps chief among them is the ability to buff, nerf and rework the actual text of cards week-to-week through balance patches, with the promise that this will avoid complaints of a stale metagame.
WotC did not lay out a schedule for these patches in their announcement, but did indicate they would be active between set releases, and that they “intend to rebalance cards on a more frequent basis to keep the format fun, fast and dynamic.” Re-balanced versions of Standard cards will be differentiated with the MTG Arena stamp next to their name; WotC discussed specific card changes in a separate article. Thankfully, players will not be required to collect these new versions separately; collecting the Standard version of a card will automatically grant you the Alchemy version, and vice versa.
We say “vice versa,” because there will be new Alchemy-specific booster packs for each set on MTG Arena. But their purpose will be to distribute waves of new Alchemy-exclusive cards, as a digital supplement to each Standard set. WotC has already previewed several cards from the Alchemy: Innistrad release, which will be live to kick off the format on December 9th. They also indicated there will be a total of 63 unique cards to collect from these boosters.
Available from the Arena store for the same price as Standard boosters, Alchemy boosters will combine these unique printings with cards from the related Standard set. However, WotC has mentioned that these packs will “prioritize the new-to-digital Magic cards,” awarding rares from the Standard set only once all Alchemy-specific rares have been collected.
A BRAVE NEW WORLD
WotC is clearly moving to establish Alchemy as another mainstay of Arena’s format offerings, alongside Standard, Historic, and Limited. Their announcement of the December 9th update and release of Alchemy: Innistrad already includes a rough timeline for the release of Alchemy: Neon Dynasty in March next year.
Alchemy will be available to play both in Best-of-One and Best-of-Three matches, and in either ranked or unranked queues. WotC also mentioned they plan to show off the format as part of upcoming Festival and Midweek Magic events on Arena so more players will have a chance to experience Alchemy for themselves. If all goes well, it doesn’t seem out of the question that we will see Alchemy used for high-level competitive play sometime next year.
For now, though, this announcement is not taking away any part of the Magic experience we’re all used to, and the steps taken to ease the blow to Arena’s economy show a lot of improvement from how Historic was originally launched. WotC is taking submissions for an Alchemy Q&A through Twitter, and will be publishing answers next week. We will continue to update you on this new format as information emerges.
UPDATE: In a Weekly MTG stream on Alchemy, WotC staff confirmed that all Alchemy changes would affect the Historic format as well. For example, Omnath, Locus of Creation will be unbanned and those who own it will be able to play the new, rebalanced Alchemy version. All future cards rebalanced or released for Alchemy can be presumed to exist in Historic.
Tom’s fate was sealed in 7th grade when his friend lent him a pile of commons to play Magic. He quickly picked up Boros and Orzhov decks in Ravnica block and has remained a staunch white magician ever since. A fan of all Constructed formats, he enjoys studying the history of the tournament meta. He specializes in midrange decks, especially Death & Taxes and Martyr Proc. One day, he swears he will win an MCQ with Evershrike. Ask him how at @AWanderingBard, or watch him stream Magic at twitch.tv/TheWanderingBard.