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Limited Edition
Set Information
Set symbol
Symbol description The letter “A”
Design Richard Garfield and the Limited Edition design and development team
Development Richard Garfield and the Limited Edition design and development team
Art direction Jesper Myrfors
Release date August 5, 1993
Plane Multiversal
Themes and mechanics Magic: The Gathering,
Ante, Dexterity cards
Keywords/​ability words Banding, First strike, Flying, Landwalk, Protection, Regeneration, Trample
Set size 295 cards
(74 commons, 95 uncommons, 116 rares, 10 basic lands)
Expansion code LEA[1]
Core sets
Limited Edition Alpha Limited Edition Beta Unlimited Edition
Magic: The Gathering Chronology
N/A Limited Edition
Limited Edition Beta

Limited Edition Alpha, commonly known as Alpha, is the first print run of Limited Edition, the first core set of Magic: The Gathering. Alpha contains 295 black-bordered cards and was released on August 5, 1993.[2][3]

Alpha is actually a nickname, but is widely accepted as the name for this print run of Limited Edition.[4]

Set details[ | ]

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).[5]

Alpha cards can easily be distinguished from Beta cards by their more rounded corners. The Alpha corner radius is about 2 mm instead of the subsequent 1 mm standard for all other tournament-legal cards.[6] Early tournament rules required that cards must appear unmarked without the use of protective sleeves. Due to the different corners, Alpha cards were considered marked unless the deck comprised only Alpha cards. This initially made them less desirable and thus less valuable than Beta and even Unlimited cards.

Alpha cards were printed using three different print sheets - one for rares, one for uncommons, and one for commons. As part of Richard Garfield's plan to keep players from guessing rarities, basic lands were included on all three sheets. The chance of getting a basic land instead of another card is approximately 4.13% for rares, 21.5% for uncommons and 38.84% for commons. The only lands on the rare sheets were five copies of Island.[7][8]

Numerous Alpha cards have errors that were fixed in the second, or Beta release. Two cards, Circle of Protection: Black and Volcanic Island were accidentally left out of the set entirely.[9][10] Additionally, only two versions of each basic land with unique artwork were included.

Design and development[ | ]

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 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 anticipated, making it possible for players to amass large collections of these powerful cards.

The rule limiting decks to a maximum of four copies of any card except basic lands did not exist in the earliest rules but was rapidly adopted from tournament play.

Under the original rules, players with less than 1 life were not considered to have lost until the end of the current phase, giving that player a chance to find a solution.

Ante was an optional part of the original game of Magic that remained a part of the game until after the Homelands expansion.

There were originally three types of artifacts: mono artifacts, poly artifacts, and continuous artifacts. Mono artifacts had activated abilities that could only be used once and required tapping the artifact when used. These now have errata adding the Tap symbol, {T}, to the activation cost. Poly artifacts had activated abilities that did not require tapping as part of the activation cost and could be used multiple times. Continuous artifacts had a continuous effect that did not require activation. Under the original rules, continuous artifacts were "turned off" when tapped. Under modern rules, this only occurs if stated in the card's rules text. These three types were removed following the Antiquities expansion and before Revised Edition.

Interrupts were similar to modern instants, only "faster." This meant that when an interrupt was played, only other interrupts could be played in response. The timing rules of interrupts required errata for some cards (such as Red Elemental Blast) for them to work properly under these rules.

Wall was the only creature type with a rule associated with it: Walls can't attack. This rule remained a part of the game until the Champions of Kamigawa expansion, when all Walls were given errata to have the Defender ability.

From a modern developer's viewpoint, the mana costs of some of the cards in Alpha are grossly incorrect. The rules text of many cards were complicated implementations of ideas that could be expressed more simply.[11] Conversely, many other cards and abilities are phrased in a looser way, sometimes describing abilities in flavorful rather than mechanical terms, which resulted in convoluted rules text when their oracle text was converted using more modern and precise rules templating.

Marketing[ | ]

Alpha booster.

Alpha was released at Origins in July/August 1993 with a small run of 2.61 million cards.[12] 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. Cards were available from late August 1993 through late September 1993.[6]

The 32-page rulebook (included only with starter decks) has Bog Wraith on the cover and contains "Worzel's Story" by Richard Garfield.[5]

Storyline[ | ]

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. Additionally, flavor text on the cards described the character of many people and places of Dominaria and elsewhere, and names established in Alpha were expanded upon in future stories and expansions, most notably Urza and Mishra.

Themes and mechanics[ | ]

As the first edition of Magic, Alpha introduced many mechanics and themes. Keyword abilities introduced in this set include banding, first strike, flying, landwalk, protection, regeneration, and trample. The defender, fear, indestructible, reach, 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.

The set contains multiple hosers, which are cards that negatively affect one specific color or basic land type: Karma, Blue Elemental Blast, Deathgrip, Flashfires, Tsunami, Conversion, Lifetap, Gloom, Red Elemental Blast, Lifeforce, Volcanic Eruption (Alpha), and Northern Paladin (Alpha)

Creature types[ | ]

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, 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), Hero (later changed to Human Soldier), Hydra, Imp, Knight, Lion (later changed to Cat), Lord (now obsolete), Lord of Atlantis (later changed to Merfolk), 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 (later changed to Bird), 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, Wolf, Wraith, Wurm, and Zombie.

Counter types[ | ]

Alpha edition included seven cards that use counters: three use +1/+1 counters, Clockwork Beast uses +1/+0 counters, and three used generic counters which were not given any name in the card text. The latter three cards were later given errata that provided names for Corpse counters (Scavenging Ghoul), Mire counters (Cyclopean Tomb), and Vitality counters (Living Artifact).

Cycles[ | ]

Alpha has eight horizontal cycles and a double cycle, as well as one vertical cycle. Two cycles are each missing a card, which was corrected in Beta.

Cycle name {W} {U} {B} {R} {G}
Basic lands Plains Island Swamp Mountain Forest
The five basic lands were introduced in Limited Edition.
Moxes Mox Pearl Mox Sapphire Mox Jet Mox Ruby Mox Emerald
Each of these rare artifacts has a mana cost of {0} and "{T}: Add M".
Laces Purelace Thoughtlace Deathlace Chaoslace Lifelace
Each of these rare instants permanently changes the color of a permanent.
Boons Healing Salve Ancestral Recall Dark Ritual Lightning Bolt Giant Growth
Each of these instants has a mana cost of M and an effect involving the number 3. This cycle is asymmetric in that Ancestral Recall is rare, while the other members are common.
Lucky charms Ivory Cup Crystal Rod Throne of Bone Iron Star Wooden Sphere
Each of these uncommon artifacts has a triggered ability that allows the controller pay {1} to gain 1 life when a spell of a given color is cast.
Top-down cycle Island Sanctuary Stasis Word of Command Sedge Troll Birds of Paradise
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.[13]
Wards White Ward Blue Ward Black Ward Red Ward Green Ward
Each of these uncommon white Auras with enchant creature grants protection from a given color.
Circles of Protection Circle of Protection: White (Alpha) Circle of Protection: Blue (Alpha) Circle of Protection: Green (Alpha) Circle of Protection: Red (Alpha)
Each of these common white enchantments with mana cost {1}{W} allows its controller to pay {1} to prevent damage from a source of the named color. Circle of Protection: Black (Beta) was omitted from the Alpha common sheet.

Double cycle[ | ]

Cycle name {W}{U} {U}{B} {B}{R} {R}{G} {G}{W} {W}{B} {U}{R} {B}{G} {R}{W} {G}{U}
Dual lands Tundra Underground Sea Badlands Taiga Savannah Scrubland Bayou Plateau Tropical Island
Rare nonbasic lands that each produce two colors of mana. The original ten dual lands are some of the most powerful and valuable lands ever printed, since they count as both of their basic land types with no drawbacks, unlike subsequent dual lands. Volcanic Island ({U}{R}) was missing from the Alpha print run, but this was corrected in Beta.

Vertical cycles[ | ]

Cycle name Common Uncommon Rare
Red three-drop humanoids Gray Ogre Uthden Troll Sedge Troll
Each of these 2/2 red creatures has a mana cost of {2}{R} and increasingly powerful abilities. Granite Gargoyle might also be considered part of this group, though it doesn't fit the theme of monstrous human-like creatures.

Pairs[ | ]

Alpha has 24 pairs.

Pairs Description
White Knight
Black Knight
Uncommon knights with a mana cost of MM, power/toughness of 2/2, first strike and protection from the other's color.
Holy Strength
Unholy Strength
Common Auras with enchant creature that give a mirrored bonus to the enchanted creature's power/toughness.
Bad Moon
Rare enchantments with a converted mana cost of 2 and an effect to give all creatures of its color +1/+1.
Serra Angel
Sengir Vampire
Uncommon 4/4 flying creatures with a mana cost of {3}MM and a combat-related ability.
Blue Elemental Blast
Red Elemental Blast
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.
Air Elemental
Earth Elemental
Uncommon Elementals with a mana cost of {3}MM, a power of 4, and element names which traditionally oppose each other. This pair and the even more closely mirrored Water/Fire Elemental pair form a group of creatures representing each of the four classical elements.
Water Elemental
Fire Elemental
Uncommon Elementals with a mana cost of {3}MM, a power/toughness of 5/4, and element names which traditionally oppose each other. This pair and the Air/Earth Elemental pair form a group of creatures representing each of the four classical elements.
Lord of Atlantis
Goblin King
Rare lords that give +1/+1 and landwalk of its corresponding basic land type to its creature type.
Merfolk of the Pearl Trident
Mons's Goblin Raiders
1/1 common vanilla creatures with creature types that are affected by their respective lords (Goblin King and Lord of Atlantis).
Phantom Monster
Roc of Kher Ridges
3/3 creatures with flying and a mana cost of {3}M.
Wheel of Fortune
Rare sorceries costing {2}M that cause all players to draw a new hand of 7 cards.
Wall of Water
Wall of Fire
Uncommon 0/5 walls illustrated by Richard Thomas with a silhouetted figure behind a wall, mana cost {1}MM, and the activated ability "M: [this] gets +1/+0 until end of turn."
Wall of Bone
Wall of Brambles
Uncommon walls with regeneration and a mana cost of {2}M and a combined power/toughness of 5.
Uncommon enchantments with an activated ability to counter a spell of the other's color for MM.
Orcish Oriflamme
Uncommon enchantments that conditionally affect its owner's creatures' power or toughness. Both cost {3}M, although Orcish Oriflamme was misprinted as {1}M.
Uncommon Auras that deal 1 damage to the controller of the enchanted permanent during each of their upkeeps.
Mind Twist
Rare sorceries that cause target player to draw or discard cards.
Sorceries which have a mana cost of {X}M and deal {X} damage to all non-flying or flying creatures and each player.
Uncommon sorceries that have a mana cost of {3}M and destroy lands of a particular enemy type.
Timber Wolves
Benalish Hero
1/1 creatures with banding and a mana cost of M.
Power Surge
Rare red enchantments that deal damage to a player based on the number of lands they do or don't tap.
Ankh of Mishra
Dingus Egg
Rare artifacts that deal damage when a land enters or leaves the battlefield.
Kormus Bell
Living Lands
Rare permanents which cost 4 mana and turn lands of a specific subtype into 1/1 creatures.
Winter Orb
Rare permanents which cost 2 mana and only allow players to untap one of a specific type of permanent each turn.

Notable cards[ | ]

  • The Power Nine are some of the most valuable and powerful cards ever printed.[14]
  • The original ten dual lands are some of the most powerful and valuable lands ever printed.
  • Armageddon forms the basis of the Erhnamgeddon control deck. It would later be 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.
  • Balance was initially underestimated, as were many symmetrical effects, but quickly proved to be a very powerful card.
  • Berserk was once considered powerful enough to be added to the first Restricted List in January 1994. It was removed from the Restricted List in April 2003 because its relative power decreased as newer cards were printed. After the restriction, the card was removed from the core set for being a "spoiler," or too good. 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."
  • Birds of Paradise is one of the best mana fixers ever printed.
  • Black Vise was far too powerful, especially when played on the first turn.
  • Braingeyser was also once considered powerful enough to be added to the Restricted List. It was removed in September 2004 due too for being expensive, slow, and worse than other cards in Vintage.
  • 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. It 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 the "dexterity cards", which require some physical skill to achieve maximum effect. All dexterity cards have been placed 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 allows a player to quickly access more mana.
  • Hypnotic Specter was originally thought to be too powerful, but the real problem was eventually identified as 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 without triggering its drawback.
  • 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 mono-colored 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, has a powerful effect with a small mana cost, especially when combined with any number of other powerful cards.
  • Savannah Lions is considered one of the best White Weenie cards.
  • 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 on the Restricted List.
  • Swords to Plowshares is the iconic white creature removal card.
  • Time Vault has had numerous changes to its oracle text in order to make it work as intended.
  • Wheel of Fortune is on the Restricted List due to the power of drawing 7 cards.
  • Wrath of God has been a tournament staple since players learned that powerful symmetrical effects can be good.[15]

Misprints[ | ]

There are numerous errors on Alpha cards, 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.

Trivia[ | ]

Main article: Alpha/Trivia

References[ | ]

  1. Wizards of the Coast (August 02, 2004). "Ask Wizards - August, 2004". Wizards of the Coast.
  2. Magic: Limited Edition — Crystal Keep
  3. Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited Editions — Wizards of the Coast
  4. Wizards of the Coast (June 2, 2008). "Ask Wizards, June 2008". Wizards of the Coast.
  5. a b John Carter (December 25, 2004). "The Original Magic Rulebook". Wizards of the Coast.
  6. a b Stephen D'Angelo (February 2, 1999) "Card Rulings Summary". Usenet.
  7. Magic Arcana (October 31, 2002). ""Revising" the base set". Wizards of the Coast.
  8. a b Mark Rosewater (February 16, 2009). "25 Random Things About Magic". Wizards of the Coast.
  9. Magic Arcana (April 10, 2002). "Alpha "Oops…" III". Wizards of the Coast.
  10. Magic Arcana (July 12, 2002). "Alpha "Oops…" V". Wizards of the Coast.
  11. Tom LaPille (June 19, 2009). "Developing Alpha". Wizards of the Coast.
  12. Peter Adkison (March 5, 2021). "Magic: The Gathering print runs from 1993". Facebook.
  13. Magic Arcana (June 13, 2003). "Alpha Top-Down cards". Wizards of the Coast.
  14. Magic Arcana (October 15, 2003). "The Power Nine". Wizards of the Coast.
  15. Mark Rosewater (February 21, 2005). "Design of the Times". Wizards of the Coast.
  16. Magic Arcana (May 15, 2002). "Alpha "Oops…" IV". Wizards of the Coast.
  17. Magic Arcana (October 4, 2002). "Alpha "Oops…" VII". Wizards of the Coast.
  18. a b Magic Arcana (February 1, 2002). "Alpha "Oops..."". Wizards of the Coast.
  19. a b Magic Arcana (September 22, 2009). "Alpha Typos". Wizards of the Coast.
  20. a b Magic Arcana (February 25, 2002). "Alpha "Oops..." II". Wizards of the Coast.
  21. Magic Arcana (September 12, 2002). "Alpha "Oops…" VI". Wizards of the Coast.
  22. Magic Arcana (March 30, 2004). "Alpha Red Elemental Blast". Wizards of the Coast.

External links[ | ]