There’s a relatively new kid on the old school Magic block. Well, I guess I shouldn’t say “kid” since it’s actually 25 years old, but I think it’s fair to say that there are more games of Magic happening nowadays with only Limited Edition Alpha cards than there have been since 1993.
I’m not sure how it all got started, but I have a hunch that it started as a funny thing to do, and then the internet got a hold of it and ran with it, as it is wont to do. If you know the actual history, I’d love to hear it. I know that there is the Wizard’s Tournament, first hosted in 2018 in Gothenburg, so I assume there must have been people playing it casually before that. But that was the first I heard about, so that’s my starting point.
At first, I thought it was ludicrous for most of the reasons pointed out by Magnus in the above post. However, it planted a seed. When I got back into Magic, just before Theros, I placed an order for some cards and thought “Jason, you’ve never owned an Alpha card, let’s buy one” so I picked up a Throne of Bone for three Canadian Dollars. Not a playable card, but it was cheap and Alpha. It lived in my binder as a fun thing to look at. Fast forward to 2018, when that tiny Alpha seed was planted and I realized that I’m 1/39th of the way towards an Alpha deck, and so it began.
Anyone who is into Old School, or really any niche collectors even outside of CCGs, will tell you that the hunt is a huge part of the fun. It’s why collectors often sell the things they hunted; once they have it, it’s less interesting, so they’re soon after the next thing. Now, I have no intentions on selling my Alpha cards anytime soon, but damn if the hunt isn’t exhilarating! Granted, it’s easy nowadays to go to any online retailer, add some cards to your cart, enter your credit card details and buy all the things, but that’s not totally fun. Since I didn’t want to break the bank on an Alpha deck, I used a lot of store credit and also hunted for good deals on beat up cards.
Initially, I planned to go mono-black so as to maximize my returns on the Throne, but as I started looking at sweet cards, and thinking back to my early days with Unlimited and Revised, I realized that what I really wanted was a deck that wasn’t quite “cracked a starter deck, cut it down to 40, let’s rock” level, but also no “I bought 18 dual lands, let’s rock” level either. Some happy medium that’s akin to having bought a deck and maybe a few packs, or traded some cards to get a little more consistency out of the deck. Surprisingly, I eschewed my favorite color, White, while unsurprisingly ignored Blue (Islands are expensive!), which left me with RBG. These are three colors that I’m pretty comfortable with and have loads of options. But before that conscious decision was made, I was at a somewhat local card shop and found a beat up Alpha Giant Spider for $2 Canadian and had to have it. That’s how I ended up with Green in my mono-Black deck. As for Red, similarly, I saw someone selling some Disintegrates for cheap, so I scooped those and my RBG deck was born!
It took me close to 8 months to get to a complete forty card deck, and it’s been absolutely worth it. Due to a strange ebay/shipping/tracking mistake, and my impatience (in my defense I waited more than 60 days before giving up on the card arriving) I ended up with two Alpha Timber Wolves, that bring me smiles and joy every single time I draw them. But enough about the individual cards.
How is playing Alpha 40, you might ask? Plain and simple, it’s a blast. My first games came over winter holiday while in Ohio. I’d made a joke in Discord to someone about “if you can make it to Dayton, Ohio, we can play!” because I didn’t have a laptop with me. Someone else chimed in that they were in fact in that city and would like to play. One night after the kids were in bed, I went out to a LGS and met up with Tylur and his buddy to play some games. I somehow managed to leave the country without my actual old school deck, but had my Alpha 40 with me, so that’s mostly what we played. Let me tell you, facing down Craw Wurms or hordes of Ironclaw Orcs is intimidating in a format where there aren’t really archetypes and answers aren’t necessarily easy to come by. That night, I learned that Fear is a real card, when my T1 Scryb Sprites, which I enchanted on T3, went the entire distance doing 20 damage to my opponent, who was on a mono-green build, with a wall of useless Giant Spiders.
The next time I played was at the first Monday Meetup of the year. I got smoked. My opponent has a gorgeous, and lethal deck that is basically a Pink Sligh variant that has 8 Savannah Lions, some similar number of Ironclaw Orcs, Crusades, Swords to Plowshares, Bolt, Fireball, and Disenchants. It’s a thing to behold, and immensely powerful. I think we played 5 games and I didn’t land a single point of damage, and I loved every single game. My opponent was even awesome enough to offer to trade decks for a game so I could pilot it. That’s the real spirit of Magic.
To wrap this all up, Alpha 40 is very expensive, so it deviates quite far from my personal views of “play what you’ve got and have fun”, but there is something special about it. I foresee more economical variants becoming much more commonplace in the coming months, and welcome them with open arms.