The Positive and Negative Impacts Alchemy Will Have On Historic

Luminarch Aspirant Art by Mads Ahm
Luminarch Aspirant Art by Mads Ahm

The latest State of the Game has left many players (myself included) quite perplexed: the introduction of a new, digital-only format subject to card rebalancing is a serious gamble that WOTC seems to be banking on. For those of you who haven’t had a chance to read the full announcement or watch the stream, you can check out Paul’s article to catch up.

Magic players are known for often being averse to change and progress, and Alchemy certainly represents both. There’s plenty of points both in favor and against it, but one thing is for sure: Alchemy should be its own thing, and decisions surrounding it shouldn’t affect other formats.

While the reception of Alchemy itself has been for the most part positive, its effect on Historic has sparked a real outrage in the community: Standard legal cards that get rebalanced for Alchemy will only be available in their new reworked state for Historic.

Today we’ll look at 5 reasons why Historic is in danger and what can be done to salvage the situation.


1 – REBALANCING CARDS

Plenty of cards that ravaged Standard formats across the decades did not manage to stand the test of time, and became unplayable the moment they rotated out. The power disparity between eternal formats and Standard gets bigger and bigger by the day: most cards that are currently ruling the metagame in WOTC’s premiere format don’t even make the cut in Historic!

It is absurd to think that the balancing of one of these formats should have repercussions on the other, yet here we are…

In the announcement, we were presented with several cards as they are currently printed, and their rebalanced version for Alchemy. All of this would be perfectly fine, if it wasn’t for the fact that those same reworked cards will now be playable in Historic only as their Alchemy version! For example, here is how Luminarch Aspirant will be changed:

In short, a card that is perfectly fine in Historic gets nerfed because WOTC deems it oppressive in Standard. The result is that Aspirant might not be good enough for Historic anymore, and Humans will lose one of its valuable 2-drops for no fault of its own.

Just like many cards are being nerfed, several are being buffed, and while nothing game-breaking has been revealed, nothing stops it from happening in the future, since all of these changes are being made with Standard in mind.

If properly implemented and done with Historic in mind, we could have small tweaks to cards that are problematic or frustrating to play against, and to cards that have interesting designs but are not seeing play due to several factors.

To further expand on this idea, I would be curious to see a reworked version of several cards on the banlist, hopefully finding that sweet spot where they are playable but no longer format-warping.

The full list of (currently) rebalanced cards can be found here.


2 – HISTORIC BECOMING A “ROTATING” FORMAT?

Historic has always been advertised as an eternal, non-rotating format, but these constant changes could drastically change its nature.

  • How often is WOTC going to completely shake up the Historic meta because of problematic cards in Standard?
  • How often is this going to happen because of cards that get over-buffed?
  • How often are entire decks going to get destroyed because of these reworks?

Players like certainty, and they want to feel like their time, money, and wildcard investments into a deck were worth it.

If this is how it’s going to be from now on, it needs to be regulated, otherwise most people will simply stop putting any of their hard-earned resources into Historic. Many of the players who decide to get into an eternal format do so hoping that, once they have gathered enough cards for a few tiered decks, they won’t have to repeat the process (at least for a while.) The risk we’re running here is that constant big shakeups in the meta will force people to spend time and money into new decks frequently.

On the other side of the coin though, periodic changes would never let the meta become stale, and would hopefully bring a breath of fresh air by strengthening weaker decks while also weakening the strongest ones. Once again, I believe the underlying ideas promoted by WOTC are very interesting and revolutionary, but changes regarding Historic should be done with the format in mind.


3 – NO COMPENSATION

All of these changes become even more frustrating when you realize that the wildcards you spent on the cards that will be made unplayable in Historic (possibly rendering your whole deck obsolete) won’t even be refunded to your account. According to WOTC’s policy in fact, only cards that get banned will be refunded to the players.

This calls for one of two things: either WOTC changes its rules for compensation, also granting wildcards for those cards that get rebalanced, or we will be in dire need of an game economy overhaul.

Sustaining multiple decks in multiple formats, in a day and age where bans are quite frequent, is already a difficult task for many people. Getting into Historic in particular has a very steep entry cost with shocklands, pathways, fastlands, and staples in general being essentially mandatory. It already feels bad when a deck or archetype gets gutted because of a ban, and I guarantee it will feel even worse when this will happen because of a rework.

Adding yet another format, and a whole new level of compensation avoidance, has made players rightfully upset.

Other popular TCGs like Hearthstone and Legends of Runeterra, have never resorted to bans or suspensions, but have rather reworked some of their problematic cards, also without ever offering compensation. The reason why the players from these games don’t have much of a problem with that, is because the economy of both games is much more generous than that of MTG Arena. A “dusting” system, heaps of rewards, and real duplicate protection, make acquiring cards (and entire decks) quite trivial in comparison with Arena.

If a system of that kind were to be adopted, players would be much more welcoming towards changes and revolutions in the meta.


4 – PLAYER CONFUSION

Remembering cards by heart is something that comes naturally with playing them often. I’ve been playing Magic for almost 20 years now, and I no longer need to read Thoughtseize or Wrath of God as I’ve cast and encountered both cards thousands of times. If tomorrow they were to slightly change the wording or the cost on either of these cards (and plenty others), I’m sure I would make mistakes over and over again before adapting.

Putting myself into the shoes of a new player, this whole situation seems nightmarish. It is not uncommon to misremember a card, mistaking it for another one with a similar name or a similar effect. In this case though, we’re breaking a new barrier: the same card will have different text based on the format it’s being played in!

It’s not difficult to understand that this situation will only cause more confusion, and not just for new players. Magic is already a very complicated game as it is, and I bet this decision will cause more than one frustrating moment for every one of us.


5 – FURTHER SPLITTING OF DIGITAL FROM PAPER

While WOTC had often marketed Historic as a digital-only format, it only became true with the addition of a handful of cards during the release of J21. Many players opposed these cards, mostly because some of them brought in new mechanics that were not tenable in paper (seek, conjure and more). Most of this anger was alleviated by the fact that almost every single one of these cards turned out to be unplayable, but the underlying sentiments and fear towards this practice remained.

With the release of digital-only cards aimed at Alchemy, the game that we play on Arena is splitting considerably from the game we play in paper: we will have two entire formats that are only playable online, with cards that are only attainable online, where WOTC seems interested in trying a new approach of buff-and-nerf rather than suspend-and-ban.

While not necessarily a bad thing, people are seeing their beloved game going for drastic changes. Some of us have been playing since the 90’s or early 2000’s, and heading into unknown territory, while leaving behind almost 30 years of certainties and familiarity, is quite scary.

That said, taking advantage of the digital era and its perks was only a matter of time. If properly done, this could lead to much healthier and well-maintained formats (not just Historic), and I’m sure everyone would enjoy their games much more if the Uros and the Okos got addressed in a timely manner and became subject to small tweaks, rather than simply receiving the axe.


FINAL THOUGHTS

When faced with plenty of negative feedback, WOTC has generally been quick to act.

I’m sure many remember that time when they proposed to double the wildcard cost of all Historic-only cards (2 wildcards for 1 card). The sheer amount of backlash they received was more than enough to persuade them to revise their plan.

This situation seems somewhat similar, as the reactions from the community have been strong and negative for the most part, and while the interests of us players, and the interests of Hasbro may not always align, I strongly believe that this time they will rethink their initial proposal and rid Historic of rebalanced cards.

What are your thoughts on the matter? Is Historic better off with or without reworked cards? Let me know!

Reto

Red mage since the early 2000's, Reto loves aggro and midrange, with the occasional sprinkle of combo here and there. After taking a long break from competitive, Arena has reignited his spark as he tries to find the next big thing in Historic. For suggestions or just a quick chat, feel free to reach him on Twitter.

8 Responses

  1. souk0038 says:

    Im happy with this decision.As an intermediate player who loves to play jank decks alchemy is great. There are many decks now in standard that are unplayable. giants/landfall/shapeshifters/elves/gods/equipments. Pretty much noone plays any adventures of forgotten realms mechanics. I don’t play against strixhaven ever. Anyways my point is there are many cool mechanics in standard now and many cool cards that just cost too much. ALL I play against is mono black and Izzet. As of right now this shit is getting stale. thank you alchemy. If they can start bumping up the other unplayable standard cards and decks to a 45-49 win rate that would be AMAZING!!

    • Reto says:

      I also believe that Alchemy could be a great form of relief for those (like me and you) that are not enjoying standard much.
      My only issue with it is its effects on Historic. I wouldn’t be happy if a ban in Modern also affected my Legacy deck, for example.

  2. ghostofchicken says:

    Spot on. It’s absolutely mind boggling that the alchemy versions will be the only versions in historic. I’m just relieved that, given the pretty universal outrage we’ve seen about this, they’re bound to change course on this particular point.

  3. Thalassemia says:

    imo the only downside of this for historic is the nerfing of standard cards making them too weak for historic (like luminarch aspirant was your example). i think it’s going to be great overall. a net positive large enough to warrant the “loss” of a few cards from the historic pool.

    that said, i’d prefer if they actually did a case by case for each card of which ones go into historic in buffed/nerfed state vs entering as their normal printed versions. for example – if omnath is going to be unbanned in historic, it needs to be as the nerfed version. on the other hand, luminarch aspirant and alrund’s epiphany are probably fine in their printed form for historic. i don’t know if they’d actually be willing to put that effort in to make each of those distinctions, but i do think it would be the best way to balance cards for standard and historic, since they’re such dramatically different formats. i don’t think it would actually be That much effort for them…. but they still might not be willing to do it.

  4. Chrysologus says:

    Your complaints are well argued but I also think that the first one is the only one that matters. I agree with you that Historic cards should be rebalanced only if it makes sense for Historic. I could see Wotc changing this since it seems to be an afterthought in their original announcement.

    • Reto says:

      I tired to highlight the major complaints from the community. Different people give different value to different things 🙂 For me for example, points 1 and 3 are massive issues, while the other ones not so much.