MTG Alchemy: Balancing Changes Will Have to Wait for Now
Next Sunday, January 9, will mark one month since Wizards of the Coast introduced MTG’s newest format on Arena: Alchemy. The Arena-exclusive format, which contains rebalanced cards from Standard and mechanics that only function in a digital context, has been somewhat controversial since it was first announced for reasons ranging from gameplay gripes to the client’s economy. Even so, there has been no shortage of interaction with Alchemy from content creators and the community at large.
In the weeks that have passed since release, news around the Alchemy format and the MTG Arena client more generally slowed down quite a bit due to the holiday season. Even the MTG Arena Announcements bulletins that are published weekly by Wizards have been on hold since December 22.
Back at the time, I speculated in our coverage that the return of the Announcements – which has been used to make changes to Arena formats such as Historic and Brawl in the past – might possibly bring the first wave of balance changes to Alchemy since day zero.
This evening, however, we finally received our first bit of information regarding the new format since before the holidays from the official MTG Arena Twitter account, and it’s not good news for players who were hoping to see the format shaken up in the first half of January:
As Alchemy has progressed through its first month of life, the format has begun to take shape around a handful of archetypes that have been proven against the meta as players developed and refined them. In particular, Dragons decks in the form of Boros, Rakdos, and Mono Red, Gruul Werewolves, and Esper Clerics seem to all be ahead of what the other decks in Alchemy are currently doing thanks in no small part to powerful new cards from Innistrad: Alchemy.
Alchemy was introduced as a format that would be regularly updated and balanced to keep it exciting and fresh in contrast to Standard, which is typically solved in a matter of weeks following the release of each new set thanks to the sheer volume of games played on Arena and an active community eager to share information online.
It’s therefore surprising for some to hear that the first changes to the format will not be made until after the Arena Open and the Qualifier Weekend, which will be taking place on January 15-17 and 22-23 respectively. We don’t know much about this month’s Arena Open yet, but we do know for sure that the Qualifier Weekend will be featuring the Alchemy format in question.
Influential MTG content creator April King (@CubeApril on Twitter) responded somewhat critically to the Twitter announcement, receiving significantly more likes on each of her two comments than Wizards’ original post:
Plus you’re basically announcing that the upcoming tournament is going to be for a lame duck format.— April King (@CubeApril) January 7, 2022
This sort of thing has consistently hurt people’s excitement for tournaments.
Many members of the r/MagicArena community on Reddit responded in a similarly critical way:
It’s understandable that proponents of the MTG competitive scene would be advocating for the changes to come in advance of the tournaments – a newly shaken up format is more likely to generate buzz and interest from players than one that has already been largely solved. This decision from Wizards does, however, fall in line with their usual reluctance to adjust a format in the weeks before a competitive event, but whether that strategy still makes sense for a live format such as Alchemy is open for debate.
We’re going to have to wait until next Wednesday, January 12, for the return of the MTG Arena Announcements to learn any more information regarding the changes that will be coming to Alchemy. It’s possible that Wizards could be planning to implement some kind of regular schedule for updating the format, although the Arena team has been hesitant to give any kind of specifics thus far (in the original announcement, Wizards only said the the format would be balanced on a “more frequent basis”). It’s entirely possible that they may want to keep the terms vague to allow for flexibility going forward.
Whatever the case, we’ll be paying careful attention for any more details regarding the future of Alchemy over the coming weeks. If nothing else, we’ll be back with our coverage of the Arena Announcements when they start back up on Wednesday – we hope to see you then.