|Limited Edition Alpha|
|The letter “A”|
|Richard Garfield and the Limited Edition design and development team|
|Richard Garfield and the Limited Edition design and development team|
|August 5, 1993|
Themes and mechanics
|Magic: The Gathering,|
“Manual dexterity” cards
Keywords and/or ability words
(10 basic lands, 74 commons, 95 uncommons, 116 rares)
|Limited Edition Alpha||Limited Edition Beta||Unlimited Edition|
|Magic: The Gathering chronology|
|N/A||Limited Edition Alpha||Limited Edition Beta|
Limited Edition Alpha, commonly known as Alpha, is the first print run of Limited Edition, the first base set of Magic: The Gathering. Alpha contained 295 cards and was released on August 5, 1993. 
Alpha is actually a nickname, but widely accepted as the name for this set.
Set details[edit | edit source]
Alpha was designed by Richard Garfield and the Limited Edition design and development team (Charlie Cateeno, Skaff Elias, Don Felice, Tom Fontaine, Jim Lin, Joel Mick, Chris Page, Dave Pettey, Barry Reich, Bill Rose, and Elliott Segal. 
Alpha cards can easily be distinguished from Beta and all other cards by their more rounded corners. Early tournament rules required that all cards must appear unmarked without the use of protective sleeves, and the unique corners of Alpha cards originally made them marked cards in a deck not entirely comprised of Alpha cards. This initially made them less desirable and thus less valuable than Beta and even Unlimited cards.
Due to the printing process, it is possible to get land cards in a rare, uncommon, or common card slot. The chance is approximately 3.31% for rares, 21.5% for uncommons and 38.02% for commons. This is because they put lands on all three printed sheets. However, as part of the idea to keep players from guessing rarities, the only lands on the rare sheet were four copies of Island. 
Alpha contained a number of errors that were fixed in the second, or Beta release: Circle of Protection: Black and Volcanic Island were accidentally left out of the set entirely.  Additionally, only two versions of each basic land with unique artwork were included.
Marketing[edit | edit source]
Alpha was released at Origins in July / August 1993 with a small run of 2.6 million cards. Cards were sold in 60-card starter decks and 15-card boosters. The set did not receive much exposure beyond the West Coast of the United States.
Design & development[edit | edit source]
Magic: The Gathering received its "The Gathering" subtitle for two reasons. First, "Magic" was thought to be too generic a name to trademark. Second, it left open the possibility for future expansions to have other subtitles, such as "Magic: Arabian Nights."
The names of many cards were initially very generic, such as "Angel" instead of Serra Angel and "Skeletons" instead of Drudge Skeletons. Adding these descriptors created more flavor on the cards and allowed other types of angels, skeletons, and everything else to appear in future expansions.
The rarity of many cards was based on the idea that players would have a limited set of cards in a particular area, such that there would only be a few copies of Mox Sapphire or Black Lotus in a particular area, thus naturally restricting the power of these cards. The rapid popularity of the game created a much larger community of players than initially considered, allowing players to amass large collections of these powerful cards.
The rule limiting only four copies of all cards except basic lands in decks did not exist in the earliest rules but was rapidly adopted from tournament play.
Under the original rules, players with life less than 1 were not considered to have lost until the end of the current phase, giving that player a chance to find a solution.
There were originally three types of artifacts: mono artifacts, poly artifacts, and continuous artifacts. Mono artifacts have activated abilities that can only be used once and tap the artifact with its use. These now have errata adding "T" to the activation cost. Poly artifacts have activated abilities that do not have "T" as part of the activation cost and can be used multiple times. Continuous artifacts have a continuous effect that does not require activation. Continuous artifacts were also understood to be "turned off" when tapped, and newer versions of some of these original artifacts now have this restriction printed on them. These three types were removed following the Antiquities expansion and before the Revised Edition.
Interrupts were similar to instants, only "faster." This meant that when an interrupt was played, only other interrupts could be played in response. The timing rules of interrupts caused some other cards (such as Red Elemental Blast) to be interrupts for them to work properly under these rules.
From a modern developer's viewpoint, some of the cards in Alpha were grossly miscosted and others were complicated implementations of ideas that could be made into cards more simply. 
Mechanics and themes[edit | edit source]
As the first edition of Magic, Alpha introduced many mechanics and themes. Keyworded abilities introduced in this set include Banding, First Strike, Flying, Landwalk, Protection, Regeneration and Trample. The Defender, Fear, Haste and Vigilance mechanics were also introduced, but were not keyworded until later. Cards with these mechanics have since received retroactive errata. Many other game mechanics were also introduced in this set but are too numerous to be listed here.
Creature types[edit | edit source]
Creature types were originally intended only to express flavor on creature cards, like flavor text. Thus, the intentional use of creature types to classify different races was not considered until around the design of the Fallen Empires expansion, despite cards like Lord of Atlantis that cared about a creature's race in this set.
The creature types introduced in this set are: Angel, Assassin (later changed to Human Assassin), Avatar, Basilisk, Bear, Bodyguard (later changed to Human), Cleric, Clone (later changed to Shapeshifter), Cockatrice, Demon, Djinn, Doppelganger (later changed to Shapeshifter), Dragon, Dwarf, Elemental, Elf, Enchantress (later changed to Human Druid), Faerie, Force (later changed to Elemental), Fungusaur (later changed to Fungus Dinosaur), Gaea's Liege (later changed to Avatar), Gargoyle, Ghoul (later changed to Zombie), Giant, Goblin, Goblin King (later changed to Goblin Lord), Hero (later changed to Human Soldier), Hydra, Imp, Knight, Lion (later changed to Cat), Lord, Lord of Atlantis (later changed to Merfolk Lord), Mammoth (later changed to Elephant), Mana Bird (later changed to Bird), Merfolk, Minotaur, Nightmare, Nymph (later changed to Dryad), Ogre, Orc, Paladin (later changed to Knight), Pegasus, Phantasm (later changed to Illusion), Rat, Roc, Serpent, Shade, Shadow (later changed to Spirit), Ship (later changed to Human Pirate), Skeleton, Specter, Spider, Treefolk, Troll, Unicorn, Vampire, Wall, Will-O'-the-Wisp (later changed to Spirit), Wizard (later changed to Human Wizard), Wolf, Wraith, Wurm and Zombie.
Storyline[edit | edit source]
Alpha did not have a specific storyline, although the cards had a lot of flavor built into them based on the premise that players took on the role of a planeswalker who summoned creatures and cast spells in a duel against another planeswalker.
Cycles[edit | edit source]
- Basic lands: The five basic lands were introduced in Limited Edition — Plains, Island, Swamp, Mountain, and Forest.
- Boons: Each of these instants has a mana cost of M and an effect involving the number 3 — Healing Salve, Ancestral Recall, Dark Ritual, Lightning Bolt, and Giant Growth. This cycle is asymmetric in that Ancestral Recall is rare, while the other members are common.
- Laces: Each of these rare instants permanently changes the color of a permanent — Purelace, Thoughtlace, Deathlace, Chaoslace, and Lifelace.
- Lucky charms: Each of these uncommon artifacts has a triggered ability that allows the controller pay to gain 1 life when a spell of a given color is cast — Ivory Cup, Crystal Rod, Throne of Bone, Iron Star, and Wooden Sphere.
- Moxen: Each of these rare artifacts has a mana cost of and ": Add M to your mana pool" — Mox Pearl, Mox Sapphire, Mox Jet, Mox Ruby, and Mox Emerald.
- Top-down cycle: Each of these rare cards was designed at the last minute before the release of Alpha. They were never playtested and were designed to fit pieces of unused artwork — Island Sanctuary, Stasis, Word of Command, Sedge Troll, and Birds of Paradise 
- Wards: Each of these uncommon white Auras with enchant creature grants protection from a given color — White Ward, Blue Ward, Black Ward, Red Ward, and Green Ward.
Vertical cycles[edit | edit source]
- Goblins: Each of these red Goblin creatures exists at a different level of rarity — Mons's Goblin Raiders, Goblin Balloon Brigade, Goblin King.
- Red three-drop humanoids: Each of these 2/2 red creatures has a mana cost of and increasingly powerful abilities — Gray Ogre, Uthden Troll, and Sedge Troll. Granite Gargoyle might also be considered part of this group, though it doesn't fit the theme of monstrous human-like creatures.
- Pingers — Each of these permanents has ": [This] deals 1 damage to target creature or player" — Prodigal Sorcerer, Rod of Ruin, and Pirate Ship.
Mirrored pairs[edit | edit source]
Alpha has 26 mirrored pairs.
- Ankh of Mishra and Dingus Egg are both rare artifacts that deal damage when a land enters or leaves play.
- Air Elemental and Earth Elemental are both uncommon Elementals with a mana cost of MM and a power of 4.
- Castle and Orcish Oriflamme are both uncommon enchantments that conditionally affect a creature's power or toughness.
- Crusade and Bad Moon are both rare enchantments with a converted mana cost of 2 and an effect to give all creatures of its color +1/+1.
- White Knight and Black Knight are both uncommon Knights with a mana cost of MM, power/toughness of 2/2, first strike and protection from the other's color.
- Blue Elemental Blast and Red Elemental Blast are both common instants (formerly interrupts) with a mana cost of M and with a modal ability to either destroy a permanent of the other's color or counter a spell of the other's color.
- Braingeyser and Mind Twist are both rare sorceries that cause target player to draw or discard cards.
- Gaea's Liege and Cyclopean Tomb are both rare cards with an activated ability that can permanently change a land's type.
- Deathgrip and Lifeforce are each uncommon enchantments with an activated ability to counter a spell of the other's color for MM.
- Earthquake and Hurricane are both sorceries that have a mana cost of M and deal X damage to all non-flying or flying creatures and each player.
- Fear and Invisibility are both common Auras that make the enchanted creature more difficult to block.
- Feedback and Wanderlust are both uncommon Auras that deal 1 damage to the controller of the enchanted permanent during each of their upkeeps.
- Water Elemental and Fire Elemental are both uncommon Elementals with a mana cost of MM and a power/toughness of 5/4.
- Holy Strength and Unholy Strength are both common Auras with enchant creature that give a mirrored bonus to the enchanted creature's power/toughness.
- Living Lands and Kormus Bell are both rare cards that turned lands of a particular type into 1/1 creatures.
- Lord of Atlantis and Goblin King are both rare Lords that give +1/+1 and landwalk of its color to its creature type.
- Manabarbs and Power Surge are both rare red enchantments that deal damage to a player based on the number of lands he or she does or does not tap.
- Mons's Goblin Raiders and Merfolk of the Pearl Trident are both 1/1 common creatures with creature types that are affected by Lord of Atlantis and Goblin King.
- Serra Angel and Sengir Vampire are both uncommon 4/4 flying creatures with a mana cost of MM and a combat-related ability.
- Timetwister and Wheel of Fortune are both rare sorceries that cause all players to draw a new hand of 7 cards.
- Tsunami and Flashfires are both uncommon sorceries that have a mana cost of 3M and destroy lands of a particular enemy type.
- Wall of Water and Wall of Fire are both 0/5 Walls illustrated by Richard Thomas with a silouetted figure behind a wall and the activated ability "M: [this] gets +1/+0 until end of turn."
Hosers[edit | edit source]
Hosers were introduced, which are cards that negatively affect one (or sometimes two) specific color(s) or basic land type associated with that color: Karma, Blue Elemental Blast, Deathgrip, Flashfires, Tsunami, Conversion, Lifetap, Gloom, Red Elemental Blast, and Lifeforce.
Notable cards[edit | edit source]
- The original ten Dual lands are some of the most powerful and valuable lands ever printed.
- Balance was initially underestimated, as were many symmetrical effects, but quickly proved to be a very powerful card and is now on the Restricted List.
- Berserk was once considered powerful enough to be added to the Restricted List. It was unrestricted in April 2003 because the power of creatures, with which it works, has been low in the format for many years.
- Black Vise was far too powerful, especially when played on the first turn, and is also found on the Restricted List.
- Braingeyser was also once considered powerful enough to be added to the Restricted List.
- Channel was a key component of the fabled Channel-Fireball first-turn win in combination with Black Lotus and a source of red mana.
- Chaos Orb is the first of a class of "Dexterity cards" that required some physical skill to achieve maximum effect, and like all dexterity cards and ante cards, are now on the Banned list.
- Contract from Below is an insanely powerful card that allows its caster to draw 7 cards at the price of adding to the ante, but the effect is powerful enough to make the added risk very acceptable. Some even consider this the most powerful card ever printed.
- Dark Ritual enabled many black decks to accelerate powerful cards into play quickly, especially Hypnotic Specter.
- Demonic Tutor is another powerful effect with a small mana cost that has found its way onto the Restricted List.
- Fastbond, like many other cards on the Restricted List, allows a player to quickly access more mana.
- Hypnotic Specter was originally thought to be too powerful, and indeed it is powerful, but the real problem was eventually revealed to be its combination with Dark Ritual.
- Icy Manipulator was used in many control decks to slow the opponent down.
- Illusionary Mask later gained fame for its ability to get Phyrexian Dreadnought into play quickly and cheaply.
- Lightning Bolt is a very powerful (and common) direct damage spell that still sees play.
- Mind Twist proved to be very powerful, especially with all the mana acceleration available in Alpha. Like Black Vise, it quickly put an opponent at a great disadvantage and was added to the Restricted List.
- Nevinyrral's Disk was especially useful in monocolored black decks with no access to artifact and enchantment destruction.
- Red Elemental Blast is a common anti-blue card that still sees play today.
- Regrowth, like Demonic Tutor, is a powerful effect with a small mana cost, especially when combined with any number of other powerful cards and is now found on the Restricted List.
- Serra Angel was used to finish many games in control decks and is one of the iconic creatures of the game. It was once considered too powerful and left the Core Set for a time.
- Sinkhole, with a converted mana cost of 2, is considered to be far too cheap for the damaging effect of land destruction, especially as a common card.
- Sol Ring is yet another card great at accelerating mana and is also found on the Restricted List.
- Swords to Plowshares is the iconic white creature removal card.
- Time Vault has had numerous changes to its function in order to make it work as intended. In 2006 the function at the time led to an infinite damage combo with Flame Fusillade.
- Wheel of Fortune is on the Restricted List for the power of drawing 7 cards.
- Wrath of God has been a tournament staple since players learned that powerful symmetrical effects can be good. 
Points of interest[edit | edit source]
- Ancestral Recall, one of the Power Nine, is considered by R&D to be the most powerful blue card ever created. It was originally called "Ancestral Memories."
- Ankh of Mishra uses the real-world Ankh symbol in its artwork.
- Armageddon was included in the beginner-oriented sets Portal and Portal Second Age and functionally reprinted as Ravages of War in the Portal Three Kingdoms set, yet it was removed from the Core Set after Sixth Edition for being too powerful.
- Basalt Monolith had errata for a while to prevent the mana it generated from being usable with itself because of an infinite mana combo with Power Artifact and an infinite damage-to-player combo with the original wording of Relic Bind, which also received errata to prevent this combo.
- Berserk was removed from the Core Set for being a "spoiler," or too good, after its addition to the first Restricted List in January 1994. Richard Garfield explained its absence from the Revised set in The Duelist Supplement thus: "Anything that multiplies is potentially abusive. Failure to have a Fog should not warrant 80 damage." Berserk was removed from the Restricted List in April 2003 because it has decreased in power as a result of the variety of cards now available in Vintage.
- Birds of Paradise was created because the bird in the artwork commissioned for Tropical Island was too prominent. It was legal in Standard permanently from its original printing until Tenth Edition rotated out, except for a brief time after Eighth Edition rotated out and before the Ravnica expansion rotated in. It returned to Standard when it was re-printed in Magic 2010, but once again left the format when Magic 2012 rotated out; it has not been re-printed since.
- Braingeyser was on the first Restricted List in January 1994 and was removed from it in September 2004 for being expensive, slow, and worse than other cards in Vintage.
- Camouflage turned attacking creatures face-down, but when the Morph mechanic defined the characteristics of a face-down card the wording of Camouflage was changed to create a random assignment of blockers, which effectively emulated the original intent of the card.
- Castle is one of a few early cards that were later functionally changed, making it both better and easier to understand. The removed text prevented attacking creatures from gaining the bonus because of Vigilance.
- Celestial Prism is rather underpowered and is strictly worse than Mana Prism, Mana Cylix, Darksteel Ingot and Prismatic Lens.
- Channel is one of many cards that is overpowered because of its ability to trade one resource for another at a low cost, in this case life for mana.
- Chaos Orb was removed from the Core Set with the intention of it or a card like it returning one day. Richard Garfield said of its absence from Revised: "No, we didn't can the concept. There will always be weirdo cards like this floating around, but the same old one gets passé." The card was later added to the Banned list for being a dexterity card, removing it from tournament play and from future sets. This was also helped by the fact that its use made it optimal to place cards in ridiculous and confusing places, mixed with opponent's permanents. Chaos Orb was also the focus of an urban legend that said an early tournament was won by a player who tore his card into small pieces and scattered them over his opponent's cards. This legend inspired the Unglued card Chaos Confetti.
- Circle of Protection: Black was left out of the Alpha set in part due to confusion surrounding its artwork. The contracted artist bailed at the last moment so the original Art Director, Jesper Myrfors, created its original artwork quickly on the computer.
- Circle of Protection: Red is the only Circle of Protection to appear in every Core Set (and even a few large expansions) until 10th Edition.
- Clockwork Beast was originally worded to remove a +1/+0 counter when declared as an attacker or blocker, although this was unclear. It was functionally changed in Fourth Edition to reflect how most players played the card. It also has the greatest combined power and toughness among artifact creatures in Alpha and was played early on for having power greater than its converted mana cost and for the advantages of it being an artifact creature.
- Cockatrice was ironically generally worse than its uncommon comrade, Thicket Basilisk because having flying somewhat negated the Venom ability.
- Consecrate Land is the first card to use indestructibility, although that keyword would not be created until 2003.
- Contract from Below, Darkpact and Demonic Attorney, like all other ante cards, have been on the Banned List from its inception.
- Craw Wurm excites many players initially because it is usually the first creature of its size that new players come across. This makes it a good Timmy card.
- Dingus Egg was actually on the original Restricted List for its combo with Armageddon, Balance and other powerful land destruction spells.
- Disintegrate was one of two common red X-damage spells in Alpha.
- Disrupting Scepter was considered a good card initially, as discard was a powerful strategy then.
- Firebreathing and Jade Statue are the only non-creature cards in Alpha with flavor text.
- Stream of Life: if every card in Alpha were templated using today's standards, this is the only card with Time Walk which would have the exact same wording now as it did then.
Misprints[edit | edit source]
There were numerous errors in Alpha, including the accidental omission of the cards Circle of Protection: Black and Volcanic Island. Many of these errors were corrected in Beta, although most of the misspellings of Douglas Shuler's name persisted through Beta and Unlimited before finally being corrected in Revised.
- Every instance of the artist Douglas Shuler's name was misspelled as "Schuler". (These include: Animate Artifact, Benalish Hero, Circle of Protection: White, Contract from Below, Demonic Tutor, Drain Life, Drain Power, Dwarven Warriors, Force of Nature, Frozen Shade, Glasses of Urza, Hypnotic Specter, Icy Manipulator, Mountain (both versions), Northern Paladin, Power Surge, Prodigal Sorcerer, Psionic Blast, Righteousness, Serra Angel, Tranquility, Unholy Strength, Unsummon, Uthden Troll, Veteran Bodyguard, Volcanic Explosion, and Weakness.)
- Birds of Paradise — there are two slashes and a space after the word "Flying" instead of a hard return.
- Circle of Protection: Red — miscredited to Anson Maddocks; it should be Mark Tedin.
- Cyclopean Tomb — printed without a mana cost; it should be four colorless.
- Death Ward — miscredited to Dan Frazier; it should be Mark Poole.
- Demonic Hordes — printed with an upkeep cost of literally "BBB" instead of three black mana symbols.
- Elvish Archers — printed with power/toughness 1/2 instead of 2/1.
- Force of Nature — printed with an upkeep cost of literally "GGGG" instead of four green mana symbols. Douglas Shuler's name was also misspelled (see above).
- Goblin Balloon Brigade — the wording for the activated ability could be interpreted to give all Goblins Flying instead of only itself, which was the original intent. The wording was changed to reflect the original intent beginning with Revised Edition.
- Goblin King — the wording gave all Goblins +1/+1 and mountainwalk, but the original intent was that this would not apply to the Goblin King itself. Beginning with Revised Edition this problem was solved by listing the Goblin King's type as "Lord"; beginning with Ninth Edition the word "Goblin" returned to the type and the wording for the ability was changed to "Other Goblins get +1/+1 and have mountainwalk." 
- Orcish Artillery — printed with a mana cost of instead of . 
- Orcish Oriflamme — printed with the mana cost instead of .
- Phantasmal Forces — printed with an upkeep cost of literally "U" instead of a blue mana symbol.
- Red Elemental Blast — printed as an instant instead of an interrupt. 
- Rock Hydra — printed with an upkeep cost of literally "RRR" instead of three red mana symbols; also the cost to preserve a head when the Rock Hydra suffers damage is depicted as "R" instead of one red mana symbol.
- Sedge Troll — miscredited to Jeff A. Menges; it should be Dan Frazier.
- Tropical Island — miscredited to Mark Poole; it should be Jesper Myrfors.
- Unsummon — the clause reading "enchantments on creature are CARD ed" should instead read "enchantments on creature are discarded". Douglas Shuler's name was also misspelled (see above).
References[edit | edit source]
- Wizards of the Coast. (August 02, 2004.) “Ask Wizards - August, 2004”, magicthegathering.com, Wizards of the Coast.
- Magic: Limited Edition — Crystal Keep
- Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited Editions — Wizards of the Coast
- John Carter. (December 25, 2004.) “The Original Magic Rulebook”, magicthegathering.com, Wizards of the Coast.
- Magic Arcana. (October 31, 2002.) “"Revising" the base set”, magicthegathering.com, Wizards of the Coast.
- Mark Rosewater. (February 16, 2009.) “25 Random Things About Magic”, magicthegathering.com, Wizards of the Coast.
- Magic Arcana. (April 10, 2002.) “Alpha "Oops…" III”, magicthegathering.com, Wizards of the Coast.
- Magic Arcana. (July 12, 2002.) “Alpha "Oops…" V”, magicthegathering.com, Wizards of the Coast.
- Tom LaPille. (June 19, 2009.) “Developing Alpha”, magicthegathering.com, Wizards of the Coast.
- Magic Arcana. (June 13, 2003.) “Alpha Top-Down cards”, magicthegathering.com, Wizards of the Coast.
- Magic Arcana. (October 15, 2003.) “The Power Nine”, magicthegathering.com, Wizards of the Coast.
- Mark Rosewater. (February 21, 2005.) “Design of the Times”, magicthegathering.com, Wizards of the Coast.
- Magic Arcana. (February 12, 2004.) “The first "creature artifact"”, magicthegathering.com, Wizards of the Coast.
- Magic Arcana. (June 26, 2002.) “Current wordings”, magicthegathering.com, Wizards of the Coast.
- Magic Arcana. (May 15, 2002.) “Alpha "Oops…" IV”, magicthegathering.com, Wizards of the Coast.
- Magic Arcana. (October 4, 2002.) “Alpha "Oops…" VII”, magicthegathering.com, Wizards of the Coast.
- Magic Arcana. (February 1, 2002.) “Alpha "Oops..."”, magicthegathering.com, Wizards of the Coast.
- Magic Arcana. (September 22, 2009.) “Alpha Typos”, magicthegathering.com, Wizards of the Coast.
- Magic Arcana. (February 25, 2002.) “Alpha "Oops..." II”, magicthegathering.com, Wizards of the Coast.
- Mark Rosewater. (February 16, 2009.) “25 Random Things About Magic”, magicthegathering.com, Wizards of the Coast.
- Magic Arcana. (September 12, 2002.) “Alpha "Oops…" VI”, magicthegathering.com, Wizards of the Coast.
- Magic Arcana. (Tuesday, March 30, 2004.) “Alpha Red Elemental Blast”, magicthegathering.com, Wizards of the Coast.
[edit | edit source]
- Alpha Product Page (old)
- Alpha Product Page (new)
- Monty Ashley. (September 21, 2010.) “Alpha: Setting the Record Straight”, magicthegathering.com, Wizards of the Coast.