Get out your machetes, because we’re in uncharted territory now! After the Wise Wizards of the Waterfront dipped our toes into the harsh, unforgiving waters of Streets of New Capenna + Alchemy (it sucked), we are ready to get our Drivers Permit and experience our first “full” Alchemy set, which hopefully provides a good limited experience with the new mechanics.
I, for one, am very excited to see how it plays out. Having new mechanics that are unique to MTG Arena fully immersed in a limited format is truly breaking some new ground, I simply hope it doesn’t break some hearts along the way.
Essentially, Alchemy Horizons: Baldur’s Gate (or HBG), is its own beast, despite it having a paper counterpart – it’s completely different. This Arena-only set is comprised of about 50% existing AFR cards, and 50% new digital cards. In regards to AFR limited, I’ll just say, it was definitely not the most balanced format, nor was it very enjoyable.
At first glance, it looks like many of the problematic cards from AFR have been entirely removed, while some of the archetypes remain largely the same. I’m going to start by briefly covering the new mechanics and existing archetypes, then look into some potential tips for Sealed release day.
To me, this is the most exciting mechanic being introduced. Specialize is an activated ability that appears on creatures. It has an activation cost of some amount of mana, in addition to discarding a card. Depending on the color identity of the card you discard (including lands), the card “changes” to one of 5 upgraded versions of itself.
It’s important to note that the creature “changes”, as it will remain a completely new card regardless of the zone. The changed creatures often have abilities that line up with the color pie and often synergize with the base version of the creature!
I feel like Double Team might be the strongest mechanic being introduced within the sealed deck format. Double Team is a mechanic you will see on (mostly) red and white creatures. The ability will trigger when you attack with the creature for the first time, conjuring a copy of the creature to your hand and they both lose the Double Team keyword.
In general, the creatures are a little understatted for their mana value, but they do inherently provide card advantage. You will want to combine double team creatures with tricks to push your creatures through or trade up.
Boon is essentially a new keyword designed for keeping track of delayed triggers. The Boon keyword can appear on creatures and spells alike. In Baldur’s Gate, all Boon triggers start with “when you cast your next creature spell”, then alters said creature some form of perpetual buff.
Though I foresee boon being an evergreen keyword for Alchemy moving forward, HBG is only booning creatures. In general all of the boon spells seem pretty solid, they may be a little overcosted or underwhelming, but perpetual buffs on creatures looks like it can snowball a limited game very quickly.
A returning mechanic introduced in Throne of Eldraine. Cards with the adventure mechanic can act somewhat as a split card. If you cast the second half (which is always a permanent), that’s the end of the story. However if you play the adventure half of the card first, it goes into the “Adventure zone” (similar to the danger zone, but different). The Adventure zone is it’s own unique zone, not to be confused with exile or the shadow realm. After a card has entered the adventure zone, the second half of the card can be cast at your leisure.
Another returning mechanic introduced in Adventures in the Forgotten Realms. Basically the cards have you roll a 20 sided die, with the results of the effect tied to the outcome of the roll. 20 is high grandma, keep up.
Existing Alchemy Mechanics
Now, those of us who have dared venture into the dark side of Alchemy (yuck), have seen these existing mechanics with the introduction of the Alchemy format. I don’t need to go into detail on these, as they are currently existing mechanics – the following mechanics will all appear in HBG: Conjure, Seek, Perpetual, Spellbook, and Intensity.
In AFR, Azorius was the lucky recipient of the “Venture” mechanic, widely regarded as one of the weakest archetypes in that limited format. Aside from the same old UW evasion/flyers song and dance, there’s a good amount of cards that will allow you to “flicker” your cards (RIP Teleportation Circle), and there are some great Enter the Battlefield triggers.
In addition to the classic Priest of Ancient Lore, there are some great new options to flicker that provide boons or perpetual effects. The UW uncommon Oji, the Exquisite Blade, probably needs to be killed on site before you start to get buried in advantage.
We also still have access to Krydle of Baldur's Gate (one of my personal favorites), as well as some other evasive creatures. Spot removal and tempo spells such as bounce are aplenty in these colors, so grab a pair of daggers and stab your keyboard! But also do so in a sneaky manner.
Ah yes, anyone who played AFR remembers how notorious Rakdos was. Rakdos again returns with the treasure mechanic, headlined by the infamous Kalain, Reclusive Painter. There are some differences in treasure cards, missing Plundering Barbarian and Hoarding Ogre, but they have been replaced with some substitutes like Young Red Dragon and
One benefit of being Rakdos, is you can essentially splash any bombs you have from the treasures, fixing all of your mana problems and allowing you to play your most powerful cards, that seems good. Surprisingly, there is another compelling reason to play Rakdos, Incessant Provocation. Sure, they did nerf the Threaten effect to cost 4, but we still see all of the same, great sacrifice outlets we all know and love from AFR! Welcome back Skullport Merchant, Sepulcher Ghoul, and Deadly Dispute, you weren’t missed at all.
Gruul continues it’s tried and true trope of having the biggest boys on the battlefield. There’s a ton of ramp, dragons who fly, dragons who walk on two legs, and dragons matter cards in this color combination. It definitely seems like it can have some insane starts and that it will be hard to stop the dragon snowball (fireball), once it starts rolling. I personally look forward to combining Thrakkus the Butcher and Choose Your Weapon to kill someone out of nowhere.
Here we get the same life gain synergies we have seen in the past. Trelasarra, Moon Dancer can be an absolute powerhouse if not addressed early in the game. It looks like in HBG, Selesnya will be putting out medium creatures, gaining some life, and playing some decent tricks and removal. It’s worth noting that white does have a good amount of flicker options, making Owlbear a bit more insane in this archetype.
Black/white has a new mascot that looks absurd if not dealt with, Minthara of the Absolute. There are a couple other cards that care about when permanents “leave the battlefield”, which just so happens to trigger off of all of the white ‘Flicker’ mechanic cards.
Orzhov looks like a value oriented archetype, where you will be stretching your cards to gain plenty of advantage while flickering Vampire Spawn 10 times to win.
Golgari finally gets a more defined archetype opposed to it’s earlier AFR iteration, with a theme of self-mill and recursion. Though there doesn’t appear to be many payoffs in green for all of the self-mill aside from Druidic Ritual (which does seem good in sealed).
There most certainly is some payoffs in black in the form of things like Summon Undead, and Bonecaller Cleric. What is a bit odd, is that black doesn’t have any good black common creatures to reanimate. In the case of Golgari, Hill Giant Herdgorger (Larry),
Simic shares a sort-of dragon theme like Gruul, through it seems to be less supported. There are some good dragon synergies, but once again UG seems to be more about controlling the game with big butts, drawing cards, and winning with haymakers (big dragons). At least we’ve got a new dragon bard mascot with Korlessa, Scale Singer. You will be missed Wandering Troubadour.
My favorite guild (in general), is a little hard to decipher with this set. It doesn’t seem to quite have the tools to be a solid Izzet tempo deck, nor is it a classic Izzet spells matters deck. It’s somewhere in between the two, add some dragons, and bam you’ve got HBG Izzet. I’m going to assume the best versions of this deck will have plenty of burn/draw and play more of a controlling game utilizing the dragons as finishers.
Boros gets the new mechanic love, Double Team. Liara of the Flaming Fist seems like an absolute powerhouse, and rewards not only the Double Team mechanic, but those fortunate to get multiple copies of cards. Boros more or less enacts the “go wide strategy”, wanting to attack every turn. As always, you’re going to want some combat tricks to make sure you can turn your creatures sideways more reliably.
I think this is the one color combination that can actually have solid aggro builds in sealed deck. Side note: I think that Kobold Warcaller may be a sleeper in this archetype as it allows you to immediately get Double Team triggers into your hand.
I touched on this in the Rakdos section, but Treasure tokens are a very good fixing utility. Unfortunately, (most) all of the cards that produce treasures still remain in Black or Red. If you are fortunate to have access to a good amount of treasures, make sure you make the most out of them by splashing stronger cards.
The Wise Wizards of the Waterfront have chosen to put a lot of mana fixing into artifacts in this set. Bronze Walrus, Lantern of Revealing, Navigation Orb, Pilgrim's Eye, and Prophetic Prism are our options for this set. These are all pretty reasonable options, and Bronze Walrus actually looks pretty sweet. If you get a plethora of these in your sealed pool it definitely enables some fun splashing options!
Just the Tips
This is the section where I make wild claims based on nothing but intuition and whiskey. As I said before, this set is extremely similar to AFR, seeing as about half of the cards are reprints from there, with some twists including a lot more powerful late game creatures.
- It doesn’t look like many decks will be too capable of being fast in sealed, so I assume it’s going to be a battle of Dragons and value in the mid-late game.
- If you are lacking in late game power, either try to be very fast, or compensate in some other way to gain some form of late game gameplan, like big card draw spells or accruing value from flicker effects.
- If you are lucky enough to get a good Rakdos pool, you can likely splash other bombs off of the treasures.
- Unless you have a plethora of fixing artifacts, it’s likely wise to keep your deck as close to two colors as possible.
- The uncommon gates seem very strong, and you should always play them, especially in a slower format like sealed.
- You Line Up the Shot, seem like a great auto include to take down dragons as well has having a failsafe option in cycling.
- Play conservatively: Don’t make any drastic plays until you’re familiar with the tricks!
- Almost all of the artifact fixing cards (aside from Prophetic Prism) seem like they are just auto includes in sealed deck, unless you are a very aggressive deck.
- As always, prioritize getting as many bombs into your deck as possible (responsibly of course).
I’m very excited to see the new set in action, and I hope it doesn’t disappoint! Be sure to let me know on Twitter what cool combos/interactions you find, I plan to do another limited combos article for HBG. Enjoy the new set, because we will be stuck with it for quite a while!