Last updated on March 6, 2023
Forbidden Alchemy | Illustration by David Rapoza
Alchemy, a somewhat recent digital-only format, has members of the Magic community voicing their concerns and asking questions about everything from rules and bannings to how its introduction affects other digital-only formats.
There are a lot of messy implications when it comes to a second digital-only format, especially one that’s poised to impact Historic. There’s quite a bit of confusion and controversy. But the best way to have an informed opinion is to be, well, informed!
So today I’m going to cover everything you need to know about Magic’s newest format. Let’s get started!
What is the Alchemy Format?
Frenzied Geistblaster | Illustration by David Auden Nash
The Alchemy format is a new MTG Arena play mode, like Standard, that includes new digital-only cards. It’s also subject to periodic rebalancing of cards instead of a ban list. This will not affect the regular Standard format, so don’t worry about that.
Alchemy also brings a new type of booster called an “Alchemy booster.” These packs contain both “new-to-digital” cards, rebalanced cards from various sets, and cards from the Standard set it was released alongside. In case of the first set, it’s Innistrad: Crimson Vow.
Why Was Alchemy Created?
Alchemy was made to create a fresher Standard format that benefits from the ability to make direct changes to digital-only cards.
In their article on designing for the format, Wizards said that they want to have a “fresh perspective to older challenges,” referencing how digital design might allow Alchemy to become a format that “always feels new and dynamic.”
This gives players a sort of second Standard to play where all the cards they already own are legal, but with some tweaks to powerful build-arounds. It essentially extends the format’s lifetime because you can play in a format where the most powerful decks likely aren’t as popular thanks to changes to their key pieces.
It also finally allows Wizards to make changes to Standard that aren’t possible in paper, like rebalancing cards instead of outright banning them. There is some cause for concern with this since it could create confusion among players and cause digital players to have to buy into the format to get new cards.
Disallow | Illustration by Min Yum
Any set that’s currently legal in Standard is also legal in Alchemy. To add to this, a new supplemental set, Alchemy: Innistrad, is legal in the format. The set features 63 new cards and some unique mechanics designed specifically for digital play.
Wizards is also releasing rebalanced Standard cards like Goldspan Dragon for the format. All of the old Arena-exclusive cards are also playable, including cards like Hallowed Priest and Siege Dragon.
Here’s a current list of all the sets that are legal in Alchemy:
- All Standard-legal sets
- Alchemy: Innistrad
- Alchemy: Kamigawa Neon Dynasty
- Alchemy: Streets of New Capenna
- Alchemy Horizons: Baldur’s Gate
- The Arena base set
Alchemy Format Rules
There are a few rules that are specific to Alchemy, and they mostly pertain to set legality and ban lists. Alchemy has a wider range of available cards than Standard thanks to the inclusion of the base set and supplemental Alchemy set cards, and it doesn’t adhere to the Standard ban list. After all, the entire purpose of rebalancing cards like the presently-banned Omnath, Locus of Creation is to allow players to play them in a Standard-like format.
Alchemy also allows for new mechanics that aren’t available in Standard, including the brand-new spellbook mechanic. This mechanic allows players to draft a card from a “spellbook” when a condition is met, like a creature dying with Cursebound Witch or an Island entering the battlefield with Tireless Angler.
Alchemy has its own playlist on MTG Arena that offers both BO1 and BO3 modes. This is just like to how Standard and Historic operate in terms of working off of your single constructed ranking.
Rebalancing in Alchemy
Balance | Illustration by Kev Walker
Rebalancing cards is the main driver of Alchemy’s creation. It’s what makes the format unique and allows for it to (hopefully) fulfill its goal and be a consistently fresh and unique format for players to enjoy. Rebalancing cards works in an intuitive way. The most important thing to know is that rebalanced cards are only rebalanced in Alchemy and Historic, not Standard.
The biggest issue causing controversy in the community when it comes to Alchemy and its ambitious rebalancing is the fact that these changes also impact Historic. Cards that were dominating in Standard, and thus nerfed, are also nerfed in Historic. Since they’re playable in multiple formats, Wizards hasn’t opted to refund any wildcards for these cards.
This has caused many content creators in the Magic community to speak out and express concern that their cards have been nerfed without compensation. Pleasant Kenobi spared no expense in his description of Alchemy’s rebalancing, sarcastically calling it “super fucking cool and good:”
This is definitely a cause for concern for the average MTG Arena player who doesn’t have the ability to spend hundreds of dollars on the game to keep an up-to-date deck in multiple formats. If anything, a separate rebalancing style similar to that of Alchemy’s would make much more sense for Historic instead of just carrying over rebalances for Standard into a separate evergreen format.
Banisher Priest | Illustration by Willian Murai
While at first the premise of Alchemy was to be a format where no bannings were needed since cards could easily be “rebalanced,” WotC has decided to ban one card from the format:
I think the only reason why this card is banned instead of just rebalancing it is that every Alchemy change affects Historic, and while the card is too powerful for Alchemy it’s fine to keep it around in Historic.
This may seem okay, but it leaves the door open for more cards to be banned instead of just rebalanced, breaking the promise Alchemy once claimed.
When Will Alchemy Next Rotate?
The cards in Alchemy rotate alongside Standard. The format is an alternative Standard format after all. If a card rotates out of Standard, it also rotates out of Alchemy.
The new Alchemy: Innistrad cards also rotate alongside the cards they were released with, in this case Innistrad: Crimson Vow. Future Alchemy sets will similarly rotate out along with their Standard counterparts.
The evergreen MTG Arena base set never rotates out since it’s the eternal core set for the digital platform.
Alchemy vs. Standard
Cursebound Witch | Illustration by Randy Vargas
Since Standard needs to be consistent across paper, MTGO, and Arena, there are some key differences between it and Alchemy. First and most importantly is that Standard doesn’t get card “rebalances” since you can’t retroactively change what a card does in paper like you can in a digital-only format. Wizards has done this with mechanics like interrupts and other errata text, but never to the scale or frequency in which they’ll do it with Alchemy.
Standard also doesn’t have access to the Arena base set or the new supplement Alchemy sets, which means a narrower range of top tier decks regardless of rebalances.
There’s also a certain level of risk and cost for non-whale Arena players with Alchemy that Standard doesn’t have. There are new cards to get and a much higher chance that the deck they create will be heavily nerfed, and without wildcard refunds.
This is the worst part about the format. The fact that players aren’t getting wildcard refunds for rebalances is absurd and unheard of in terms of other digital card games.
Finally, if you already own a copy of a card in Standard, you also own it in Alchemy, even if it’s rebalanced. This is the case for all cards between Standard and Alchemy. If you own a copy in one format, you own a copy in the other. This is how it should be considering they’re effectively the same card until rebalanced.
Alchemy Unique Mechanics
Since Alchemy is a digital-only format, there’s an opportunity to continue and expand upon certain kinds of digital-only mechanics, which just isn’t possible in a paper format. There are a few you need to know before you dive into deckbuilding, so I’ll go over them all here.
A “spellbook” is a set of 15 cards tied to cards that have the spellbook mechanic. The mechanic allows players to pick a single card from 3 randomly determined choices out of the 15 when a certain condition is met. Each spellbook card has a unique set of 15 cards to choose from. This mechanic is meant to be like learn without need for sideboard and with a much wider range of options per card.
For example, Faithful Disciple gives you 15 cards with an enchantment theme to choose from when it dies. Your spellbook options include things like Banishing Light, Teleportation Circle, and even Cathars’ Crusade.
Seek is a mechanic that randomly tutors out a specific card from your library when its condition is fulfilled. The fun thing is that it does not require the library to be shuffled since you’re not looking through your library to find the tutored card yourself. The game automatically resolves the actions for you.
Seek is meant to be a mechanic that’s consistent but not repetitive. Wizards wants you to be able to reasonably build around seek without having a guaranteed choice every single time.
Bounty of the Deep is an example of a card with seek. This card seeks either a nonland and a land card or two totally random nonland cards depending on your current hand.
Conjure is another “designed-for-digital” mechanic that was first introduced in Jumpstart: Historic Horizons. It works as a way to generate entirely new cards into your hand.
Let’s take Sarkhan, Wanderer to Shiv as an example. This planeswalker’s 0 ability conjures a Shivan Dragon card into your hand out of thin air. It doesn’t grab it from your sideboard or your library, just puts it into your hand. This means it can be bounced, go to the graveyard, etc.
This obviously can’t be done in paper Magic, which is why it’s exclusive to digital.
Last up is the keyword “perpetually,” which does exactly what you assume it does; it permanently alters a specific card for the duration of the game, regardless of zone changes. The mechanic itself isn’t impossible to employ in paper play, but it is vastly easier to do (and track) on a digital platform.
Lumbering Lightshield is a good example of the keyword in use. This creature randomly makes a nonland card in your opponent’s hand cost an extra colorless mana for the rest of the game. This doesn’t hit every single copy of the card, just the specific one that you target with the spell.
How Does Duplicate Protection Work in Alchemy?
Duplication protection works a little differently for boosters of Alchemy supplemental sets than regular packs. Each set will be tied with an existing Standard set. For example, Alchemy: Innistrad is tied with Crimson Vow.
When you open a pack of Alchemy: Innistrad and you’ve collected a full playset of all rares in the supplemental set, you won’t get the 20 gems that duplicate protection promises. Instead you’ll get a Crimson Vow rare. This continues until you’ve collected full playsets of both sets. Then you get your gems. The same goes for mythic rares, except you’ll get 40 gems once you’ve finally collected full playsets of both A22 and VOW mythics.
What About Crafting?
Forgotten Creation | Illustration by Izzy
Crafting any version of a Standard card also gives you all the existing versions. It doesn’t matter which version you craft first; there’s no need to collect them separately.
This is great because it lets players use the lowest number of wildcards possible, saving you money in the long run. Unfortunately, this blessing isn’t translating to wildcard refunds when cards you already own are nerfed.
Also, Alchemy-exclusive cards need to be crafted separately (at the normal wildcard rate), so this could potentially end up burning more of your wildcards.
Ranked Play in Alchemy
Alchemy can be played in both BO1 and BO3 modes just like Standard and Historic, and it also works off your constructed ranking.
There are also Alchemy events that are similar to MTGO’s leagues. In the BO1 league, you play until you have seven wins or three losses. In the BO3 league, you get to play until you get five wins or two losses.
Where to Play Alchemy
Devils’ Playground | Illustration by Wayne England
Alchemy is exclusive to MTG Arena and won’t be on MTG Online. This can be attributed to a few things. The first is that WotC is pushing Arena to all audiences, and part of that is creating more MTGA-exclusive content. The second is that Alchemy includes cards from the Arena base set, which isn’t available on MTGO. There’s also no way to rebalance cards on MTGO, which completely defeats Alchemy’s purpose.
Top Alchemy Decks and Cards
It’s hard to pinpoint a deck that dominates since Alchemy is an everchanging format. The same could be said about the cards as they’re constantly “buffed” or “nerfed.”
That said, there are still some cards that are good without being broken. Here are some examples of balanced cards that see play in multiple decks.
Undercity Plunder has proven to be an excellent card in most midrange black decks. It gives you card advantage one way or another. It’s tough to be down on two cards for two mana, but it’s also bad giving them one of yours, even if it’s a copy.
Fable of the Mirror-Breaker is one of the most potent sagas I’ve seen. You can’t answer it cleanly most of the time if it resolves, and letting it stick around inevitability puts you behind. I suspect this card hasn’t been nerfed because the power level of the current Standard prevents it from being broken, and it’s certainly not there in Alchemy either.
Another card that hasn’t seen a nerf but sees a lot of play on Alchemy is The Wandering Emperor. Having flash makes it a fantastic defensive and offensive planeswalker as you can switch from one to the other, and it excels in control decks.
Last but not least, Sanguine Brushstroke is one of the few Alchemy-only cards that had to be rebalanced. It was too oppressive when it was first released but despite that it still shows up as one of the top cards for sacrifice-themed decks.
Esper () control has been one of the most prevalent strategies among recent formats, and Alchemy is no exception. This version, created by Scott Inada, is potent. Its ability to control the board and generate card advantage is amazing in a format dominated by value cards.
Diviner of Fates x4
Calim, Djinn Emperor x4
Citystalker Connoisseur x3
Raffine, Scheming Seer x3
Lae’zel, Githyanki Warrior x2
Herald of Vengeance
Infernal Grasp x2
Ray of Enfeeblement x2
Vanishing Verse x2
Fragment Reality x2
Bind to Secrecy
Raffine’s Tower x4
Forsaken Crossroads x4
Deserted Beach x3
Brightclimb Pathway x3
Clearwater Pathway x3
Shipwreck Marsh x2
Shattered Sanctum x2
Hengegate Pathway x2
Takenuma, Abandoned Mire
Hall of Storm Giants
Eiganjo, Seat of the Empire
Divine Purge x2
Bind to Secrecy x2
Vanishing Verse x2
Go Blank x2
Herald of Vengeance
Ray of Enfeeblement
Tasha, Unholy Archmage
Mono-colored strategies are always present in every format. Green has a powerful combination of creatures and spells to make it a powerful contender in Alchemy’s case.
This looks like a very simple “smash them to the death” kind of deck at first glance, and yeah, most of the time it does just that. But it also has an excellent grindy potential, especially post-sideboard.
Ascendant Packleader x4
Tenacious Pup x4
Werewolf Pack Leader x4
Kazandu Mammoth x4
Jukai Liberator x4
Old-Growth Troll x4
Ulvenwald Oddity x4
Forceful Cultivator x4
Blizzard Brawl x4
Turntimber Symbiosis x4
Ranger Class x4
Snow-Covered Forest x12
Lair of the Hydra x2
Kappa Tech-Wrecker x4
Snakeskin Veil x4
Inscription of Abundance x4
Master’s Rebuke x2
Sacrifice strategies have seen popularity in other formats like Explorer and Pioneer. It’s always been present in Alchemy, but it got some minor buffs with recent releases and balance changes.
The strategy is simple: play creatures, sacrifice them to get more value while incidentally dealing damage to your opponents, rinse and repeat. I’m a huge fan of this kind of strategy, and if you also like it, this is the deck for you.
Cursebound Witch x4
Voldaren Epicure x4
Bloodtithe Harvester x4
Deadly Dispute x4
Voltage Surge x2
Infernal Grasp x2
Sanguine Brushstroke x4
Fable of the Mirror-Breaker x4
A-The Meathook Massacre x2
Xander’s Wake x2
Haunted Ridge x4
Blightstep Pathway x4
Den of the Bugbear x2
Hive of the Eye Tyrant
Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance
Takenuma, Abandoned Mire
Ray of Enfeeblement x4
Roiling Vortex x3
Feed the Swarm x2
Lolth, Spider Queen
Ob Nixilis, the Adversary
Alchemy Products and Boosters
Cultural Exchange | Illustration by Daren Bader
Cards that are legal in Standard are also legal in Alchemy, but there are still some Alchemy-specific cards that you may need to get your hands on.
Innistrad, Baldur’s Gate, Kamigawa, and New Capenna have this in common: unlike the rest of the Standard-legal sets, they have an Alchemy version on Arena. Boosters can be bought directly from the Store, including the recently introduced “Mythic Packs.”
Many of the same Magic communities where you can talk about Standard or Historic are also open to Alchemy. Here are a few options if you’re not sure where to start:
- Our very own Draftsim Discord has a dedicated Alchemy text channel where players have been discussing the format and what they’re finding the most fun!
- r/MagicArena is a great place to discuss Alchemy since it’s an Arena-only format.
- The official MTG Arena Discord is another great place to find like-minded deckbuilders and theory crafters. You can find text channels for casual and competitive Alchemy over there.
Leave in the Dust | Illustration by Vincent Proce
This is everything there is to know about Alchemy so far.
What do you think of the format? Do you think having more digital-exclusive cards and formats healthy for the game? Will it bring the end times for Magic, will it thrust us into a prosperous future, or is it mostly irrelevant? Let me know what you think down in the comments, and don’t forget to grab Arena Tutor before you head to MTGA to test out the new format. All of the new cards are locked and loaded, ready to track your matches and help you improve your games.
Until next time, stay safe, and stay healthy!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates:
This is great information. But I do have a question. I have 3 decks that I cant play in the alchemy format because each deck has one card that I cannot remove one card from so I was wondering how to remove those specific cards so that I can play them in the alchemy format??
I would just export the deck, edit the list, re-copy it, then import it into a new deck with a different format.