Alpha (Magic: The Gathering)
The name Alpha refers to the first print run of the original Magic: The Gathering Limited Edition, the first Magic: The Gathering
Magic: The Gathering
Magic: The Gathering , also known as Magic, is the first collectible trading card game created by mathematics professor Richard Garfield and introduced in 1993 by Wizards of the Coast. Magic continues to thrive, with approximately twelve million players as of 2011...

card set. It premiered in a limited release at Origins Game Fair in 1993, with a general release that August. Its print run of 2.6 million cards sold out very quickly and was replaced by Limited Edition's Beta
Beta (Magic: The Gathering)
Limited Edition Beta or just Beta for short was the second part, after revisions, of the first print run of the first Magic: The Gathering set. It was released only a few months after Limited Edition Alpha's publication to correct some minor problems in the rules and to make up for the fact that...

print run. Limited Edition cards have no expansion symbol, no copyright date, no trademark symbols, although they do list the art credits at the bottom of the card.

Set history

Originally the game should have had the name "Magic", but the name was too generic to be copyrighted and was thus changed to "Magic: The Gathering". The additional benefit was that each Magic expansion would have a different subtitle, such as "Magic: Arabian Nights" or "Magic: Ice Age". When it was decided that the backs of Magic should be identical regardless of the expansion, the name "Magic: The Gathering" would appear prominently on the back of every Magic card. "Magic: The Gathering" thus became the name of the entire game instead of "The Gathering" only being the subtitle referring to the first release.

As the names Alpha and Beta distinguish different print runs of the same set, Alpha and Beta contain the same cards. In the Alpha print run the cards and were omitted by accident, though. Also a new illustration for each of the basic lands was included in the Beta print run. Finally a couple of mistakes on Alpha cards were corrected in Beta. Alpha cards are easily distinguishable from Beta cards as unlike all succeeding sets, cards from Alpha have steeply rounded corners. This was reportedly caused by the dullness of the dies being used to cut the cards. The dies were supposedly sharpened after the Alpha cards were produced and this resulted in the less rounded corners found on the Beta cards and all subsequent sets. This is, however, inaccurate. If it were true, variation in corners would be seen between sets, which is not the case. Official tournaments require Alpha cards to have opaque sleeves
Card sleeve
Plastic card sleeves are devices used to protect trading cards from damage, especially collectible card game cards from wear and tear. Thanks to the trading card industry, a wide variety of protective devices were developed, including the bulky "top-loader", a rigid plastic case with one open end ...

 to prevent unfair gameplay, unless the deck contains nothing but Alpha cards.

Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited are known for having extremely powerful cards. The popularity of the game was not anticipated during development, so the powerful cards were left in the set. The original thinking was that "players... wouldn't be able to acquire many of the power rares, because supply would keep them actually rare."

The Alpha rulebook contains a fantasy tale called "Worzel's Story" by Richard Garfield
Richard Garfield
Richard Channing Garfield is a mathematics professor and game designer who created the card games Magic: The Gathering, Netrunner, BattleTech CCG, Vampire: The Eternal Struggle , The Great Dalmuti, Star Wars Trading Card Game, and the board game RoboRally...

 which was removed for the Beta release. Alpha deck boxes also lack a UPC
Universal Product Code
The Universal Product Code is a barcode symbology , that is widely used in North America, and in countries including the UK, Australia, and New Zealand for tracking trade items in stores. Its most common form, the UPC-A, consists of 12 numerical digits, which are uniquely assigned to each trade item...

 on the bottom.


Alpha contained numerous misprints and lacked a standardized wording for card text, which would not appear until 4th Edition
4th Edition (Magic: The Gathering)
The Fourth Edition of Magic: The Gathering was the tenth set released for the game, and the fourth base set . The set was released in April 1995 and contained 378 cards. It was the first set to reprint cards from the expansions Legends and The Dark. Fourth Edition cards have white borders...

. As a result, Alpha card texts have been known to be confusing to new players. The following cards had printing errors, most of which were fixed in the Beta release.
  • was accidentally omitted from the set.
  • had no casting cost, instead of a casting cost of 4.
  • incorrectly credited Dan Frazier as the artist. The right artist is Mark Poole
    Mark Poole
    Mark Poole is an illustrator for Magic: The Gathering. He graduated from the University of South Carolina with a Bachelor of Arts...

  • had its power/toughness listed as 1/2 rather than 2/1.
  • was printed with the letter G in its text box rather than the green mana symbol, and the artist's name was spelled incorrectly.
  • had a casting cost of 1R rather than 1RR.
  • had a casting cost of 1R rather than 3R.
  • was printed with the letter U in its text box rather than the blue mana symbol.
  • was printed as an instant rather than an interrupt (see ), making half of its ability unplayable under the rules of the time.
  • incorrectly credited Jeff A. Menges as the artist. The right artist is Dan Frazier.
  • was accidentally omitted from the set.
  • Artist Douglas Shuler is generally misspelled as "Douglas Schuler". The mistake was not fixed until Revised Edition.

Several Alpha cards have other minor mistakes, most of them relating to the font.


Being the first print run, Alpha has all of the original mechanics intrinsic to Magic, such as "tapping" cards to use their abilities. It also has a number of mechanics rarely seen in official sets since. The most notable is the 's "drop" mechanic, in which the card is dropped on the play area to determine which cards are destroyed.

Of the many mechanics introduced in Alpha, most still appear in new sets. An exception is banding, which was eliminated in Tempest
Tempest (Magic: The Gathering)
Tempest was the 20th Magic: The Gathering set and twelfth expert level set, and the first set in the Rath Block, released in October 1997. The release of Tempest represented a large jump in the power level of the card set, compared to the previous Mirage block. Many cards from Tempest instantly...

, because the mechanic confused new players and required too much text to explain. When old mechanics were revisited in the Time Spiral
Time Spiral
Time Spiral is a Magic: The Gathering expansion set, released October 6, 2006. The set is laden with references to previous Magic: the Gathering sets and is the first to take place in Dominaria since the May 2003 set Scourge...

block, banding was left out for this same reason.

Many Alpha cards had abilities that have since become keyword abilities. The ability "may only be blocked by black or artifact creatures" was keyworded to Fear in 8th Edition
8th Edition (Magic: The Gathering)
Eighth Edition or Core Set was the standard base set for the collectible trading card game, Magic: The Gathering from its release in 2003 until 9th Edition's release in 2005...

which was replaced by Intimidate with the release of Zendikar
Zendikar is a Magic: The Gathering expansion set, that was released on October 2, 2009. It consists of 249 cards.-Set details:Zendikar is the first set in the Zendikar block...

. The rule preventing Walls from attacking was removed in 9th Edition
9th Edition (Magic: The Gathering)
Ninth Edition or Core Set is the fourth latest base set for the collectible trading card game, Magic: The Gathering.-Set attributes:Ninth Edition features many cards from older base sets and expansions...

and all walls were given the keyword "Defender," which prevents them from attacking. 's ability "doesn't tap to attack" was keyworded to Vigilance in Champions of Kamigawa
Champions of Kamigawa
Champions of Kamigawa is the name of the Magic: The Gathering expansion set released October 1, 2004. The first set of the Kamigawa block, it set the stage for the block's story, which was inspired by Japanese myths and revolves around the battle between spirits and living beings.The set's...

. "May attack the turn it comes into play" has changed twice; it was first changed to "unaffected by summoning sickness" in Mirage
Mirage (Magic: The Gathering)
Mirage was the fifteenth Magic: The Gathering set and ninth expert level set, released in October 1996. This expansion began the first official block set with one large expansion being followed by two smaller expansions all tied together through card mechanics and setting. This expansion also...

and then was keyworded to Haste in Urza's Destiny
Urza's Destiny
Urza's Destiny is a Magic: The Gathering set, third in the Urza Block. Urza's Destiny was released on June 23, 1999. It was released in digital form on Magic Online on April 13, 2011.- Storyline :...


The rules of Alpha included a provision for ante. Games would be started by each player removing a card at random from his or her deck. The winner of the game took both cards. There were also cards that interacted with the ante, such as . This aspect of the game continued until the Homelands set in 1995, but was dropped as the cards became collectible and valuable and the company did not want to be associated with gambling.

Notable cards

  • The "Power Nine
    Power Nine
    The term Power Nine refers to a set of nine specific cards in the game of Magic: The Gathering. These cards were only printed early in the game's history and consist of Black Lotus, Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, Mox Sapphire, Mox Jet, Mox Ruby, Mox Emerald, Mox Pearl, and Timetwister.The Power Nine...

    , , , , , , , , and . These are widely considered the most powerful cards in Alpha, and are among the most powerful in all of Magic. All of these cards are now restricted in tournament play; players may only include one copy of each in a deck. The color distribution of the Power Nine is heavily skewed; six of the cards are Artifacts, while the other three are Blue cards. See also Power Nine
    Power Nine
    The term Power Nine refers to a set of nine specific cards in the game of Magic: The Gathering. These cards were only printed early in the game's history and consist of Black Lotus, Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, Mox Sapphire, Mox Jet, Mox Ruby, Mox Emerald, Mox Pearl, and Timetwister.The Power Nine...

  • The Dual Lands: , , , , , , , and , being absent. These lands provide two colors of mana with the benefit of possessing two basic land types, an uncommon trait on non-basic lands. All future dual lands would be printed with restrictions. They are now a defining part of the Legacy and Vintage formats, due in particular to their ability to be searched for by the various Fetchlands released many years later.
  • The "Boons": , , , , and . This was the first and most famous cycle in Magic. All of them provided an effect in the number three. The cards defined the core ability of each color, but they proved to be extremely disparate in power. Of the five, the blue, black and red boons were considered to be too powerful, while the white boon too weak. The green boon, Giant Growth, was considered most balanced and has appeared in every core set until the printing of Magic 2012. Many modern variations on the other cards have been printed, including , , , and . It is also worth noting that Healing Salve has been reprinted several times, and that Lightning Bolt was reprinted in Magic 2010 and Magic 2011.
  • : The first Magic card that required manual dexterity to play effectively. The only other such card not in Unglued
    For the Stone Temple Pilots song, please see Unglued .Unglued is the name of a Magic: The Gathering expansion set, the first silver-bordered, non-tournament-legal Magic: The Gathering expansion set released. It came out in August 1998. Its symbol is a cracked egg...

    or Unhinged was , from Legends
    Legends (Magic: The Gathering)
    Legends was the seventh Magic: The Gathering set and the third expansion set, released in June 1994. It was the first expansion set to be sold in packs of 15 . The set was designed by Wizards of the Coast co-founder Steve Conard and friend Robin Herbert in Canada before the game was initially...

    . These two cards are currently banned in all sanctioned tournament formats.

External links

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