Ever since it launched for Magic: The Gathering Arena late last year, Alchemy has had a rough ride full of controvery. To add insult to injury, it also appears to be its least-played format by quite a considerable margin.
Alchemy is Arena’s rotating, digital-exclusive format, where cards and mechanics made solely for digital play can be used. As well as gaining access to every card in the more traditional Standard format, it freely rebalances (or erratas) cards that become too problematic, and is shored up by smaller, made-for-Alchemy releases between sets.
Unfortunately, the latest stats out of untapped.gg (via reddit) paint a grim picture for Alchemy. It is currently the least-played format in the game with an abysmal 42,000 players, trailing behind Historic (another digital-centric format), which sites at 250,000. The only made-for-digital format that even remotely comes close to the tabletop-based formats like Standard and Explorer is Historic Brawl, at 360,000 players.
While Explorer is exclusively played in Arena, with its tabletop equivalent being Pioneer, it makes no use of digital rebalancing or mechanics like seek or conjure. Instead, it is a “true-to-tabletop” format that aims to reproduce Pioneer as closely as it can. Ever since its launch in April, it has proven to be a huge success, picking up almost 500,000 players.
Despite all that, the leader for MTG Arena is still the format it was designed for: Standard. Between the best-of-three and best-of-one ladders, there have been almost three million players. Standard is Magic’s overall premiere format, and is the format major tentpole releases for the year are designed around, such as Streets of New Capenna and Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty.
There are numerous problems Alchemy faces. First is the higher cost to entry than other formats: not only do you need to keep on top of Standard, you also need to invest in the made-for-Alchemy releases to remain competitive. You also don’t receive wildcard refunds when a card gets rebalanced as you would if it got banned, which means decks you’ve spent ages crafting can suddenly become redundant with no recompense.
The other problem is it just isn’t Magic. People play Explorer and Standard because they closely emulate tabletop play – they’re for when you want to play Magic between heading to your local store. Alchemy and Historic were meant to serve digital-first players who want lots of games in a quickly-evolving metagame, but clearly that isn’t happening, otherwise the numbers would be higher.
While it’s still too early to describe Alchemy as an abject failure, considering it has only been available for a few months and formats do wax and wane in popularity, it certainly isn’t looking good. It’s even more concerning when the format made to quell criticisms made against it, Explorer, is doing so well in comparison.
With Alchemy Horizons: Battle For Baldur’s Gate coming soon and hoping to inject cards from the recent Commander Legends set into the format, maybe we’ll see things turn around for it in the future.
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