Having only existed for around four and a half years, MTG Arena has a lot of catching up to do. After all, in case you’ve somehow missed all the celebrations, MTG is turning 30 years old this year! Thanks to this massive age gap, MTG Arena contains only around a quarter of all MTG cards ever released. Subsequently, it’s safe to say that MTG Arena is significantly different from paper MTG, especially in its Eternal formats. While Standard is one-to-one with paper, and Explorer is progressing along the path to Pioneer, Eternal formats are worlds apart. Due to the introduction of Alchemy in December 2021, this divide has grown even more significant. Thankfully, despite the complaints surrounding Alchemy, the introduction of this format hasn’t been universally terrible. It might not be perfect, but the ability to buff and nerf cards has proved incredibly useful across several formats.
A Surprise, to Be Sure, but a Welcome One
Since Alchemy’s buffs and nerfs can provide a much-needed shakeup to formats, they’re often a highly anticipated occurrence. Much like bans are in Standard, following the entire format turning into a bland midrange soup. Somewhat bizarrely, however, Wizards of the Coast can be surprisingly coy regarding Alchemy adjustments. Instead of announcing incoming changes in a blog post, as we see with bans, MTG Arena players were instead simply left to boot the game and figure out why they’d been given new cards from there. Mercifully, thanks to the recently introduced Player Inbox feature, MTG Arena players weren’t entirely left in the dark. Instead, a new post in the Inbox told players that “Alchemy rebalances are here” while also providing a link to Arena’s latest patch notes.
Following that link, MTG players could finally learn what exactly had happened in the latest round of changes. Implemented to “make games more balanced in Alchemy and Historic formats,” the recent adjustments primarily improve Sprits and Samurai decks. While there are too many changes to go into detail, the board strokes focus around improving these decks’ reliability. For Spirits, this means reducing Distrub costs, while for Samurai, Wizards have reduced mana costs to increase aggression.
Decks built around Brine Comber, Shipwreck Sifters, Patrician Geist, and other Midnight Hunt and Crimson Vow Spirit cards often don’t have enough mana to support casting cards for their Disturb costs. These changes aim to reduce the diminishing returns of playing multiple Disturb cards and make decks built around cards like Brine Comber more competitive.
Decks built around Neon Dynasty’s Samurai cards have a hard time keeping pace with other aggressive decks in the format since the Samurai themselves have higher mana values. We are lowering the mana values of Samurai creature spells across the board to make Samurai-themed decks more competitive against other aggressive decks in Alchemy”
Wizards of the Coast
Alongside these broader changes, Wizards also singled out Goblin Trapfinder for rebalancing. Changing part of the card’s effect from “this spell costs 2 less to cast” to “this spell costs 1 less to cast,” Wizards hoped to mitigate Goblin Trapfinder’s potent combo potential. Looking at a breakdown of Alchemy and Historic’s current metagame, Goblin Trapfinder’s combo antics were hardly ruining the formats. Despite this, however, consistent combo decks can be incredibly frustrating to play against, necessitating changes to be made.
“Like Grinning Ignus and Racketeer Boss, Goblin Trapfinder was enabling combo decks using Ominious Traveler in Alchemy and Historic. Since perpetual mana cost reduction is more likely to enable problematic combos in the future, we are making the combo harder to assemble by rebalancing Goblin Trapfinder.”
Wizards of the Coast
Nerfs, Nowhere to Be Found
Once MTG personality Fireshoes pointed out the recent round of changes, MTG players on Reddit quickly voiced their support. Reddit user u/fulvano commended Wizards for finally dealing with Goblin Trapfinder. “So Symmetry Sage is still fine in Historic. Cool stuff. Genuinely glad they nerfed Trapfinder, though, even if I somehow rarely ran into that combo.” Additionally, other users, such as u/GalacticBois, praised the buffs to help improves Alchemy’s underpowered archetypes. “I like the buffs to the Samurai! I’ve been using the Storm of Blades deck but have noticed it’s a bit difficult to get off the ground. These changes should make it a bit faster, which is fun!”
While Alchemy’s latest changes were a welcome sight for some, other players complained that Wizards didn’t go far enough. Specifically, players pointed toward Rusko, Clockmaker, who surprisingly managed to escape the latest round of changes unscathed. In case you’ve not been playing Historic Brawl, Rusko, Clockmaker has been an absolute menace in the format. Providing control decks with both ramp and card draw, Rusko, Clockmaker makes for the perfect Commander. While powerful Commanders like this are allowed, matchmaking quirks ensured that Rusko was absolutely everywhere, no matter what tier of deck you were playing.
Thankfully, while Rusko, Clockmaker might not have been nerfed as players hoped, Wizards is at least aware of the issue. After being asked for their thoughts on a potential Rusko rebalance, WotC staff member u/WotC_Jay revealed a possible solution.
“For Commander balance issues in Historic Brawl, we will almost always work to solve those with matchmaking tweaks before rebalances. We would use rebalances if we saw problems in other queues or if the matchmaking adjustments weren’t working.”
Thankfully, despite u/WotC_Jay not confirming any action had been taken, MTG players on Reddit attest to Rusko’s demise. Rather than being free to wreak havoc on the format, Rusko is supposedly in the “hell queue” where they belong.
The Fatal Flaw
Unfortunately, even while Alchemy’s buffs and nerfs help to improve the format, their implantation is far from perfect. Despite being a consistent complaint since the format’s launch in 2021, Alchemy’s rebalances don’t compensate players with Wildcards. Technically, Alchemy cards are still useable, however, rebalances can often completely kill a deck’s competitiveness, effectively making the cards worthless. On Reddit, u/dremerr complained about exactly this. “Just made the Goblin Trapfinder combo deck a few days ago. No refund on wildcards, even though they killed the deck. Nice.”
Ultimately, while players like to blame Alchemy for this issue, refunding Wildcards isn’t a flawless process, even with bans. Thanks to nerfs and bans typically having a knock-on effect, a single change can make an entire deck useless. In these cases, only being refunded four Wildcards is little compensation compared to the 30 Wildcards spent crafting the deck. Unfortunately for players, while this is evidently an issue, there’s no easy fix to this problem. This ultimately means that bans, nerfs, and even buffs will always be a looming threat to players’ Wildcard collections.