Alpha 40

Alpha puppies!

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.

my first alpha pickups

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!

initial incarnation

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.

Very first hand

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.

Did not go well for me

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.

swapped decks

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.

Magic as Garfield Intended

2 thoughts on “Alpha 40

  1. Great post!

    “Iā€™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, Iā€™d love to hear it. ”

    So long story short, about a year and a half ago there was once again a huge debate raging on what was considered “real old school” between different groups on social media. A lot of people argued that the Swedish rules should incorporate Mana Burn, and at the very least revised should be legal, or the idea of “real old school” would not be present. I rarely join debates online, but the number of messages I got from unkowns and conversations about it reached some sort of peak, with the main argument being that the format we played was a replica at best (and not a copy) of what it was back in the day. We never tried to be anything more than a replica of course, but that is another discussion.

    Anyway, rather than jumping into these discussion and start arguing, I decided to take a deep dive into what “real old school” would in fact be like. All the oldest documents on tournaments I could dig up on BBS’s, floor rule interpretations, errata ideas from 1993, etc. The day before the n00bcon championship each year, it is common that a few international players arrive a little early, so I decided to create a tournament that would be the purest form possible of oldschool and see if anyone would like to join. I posted this with a link to a txt-file i wrote (“the wizards’ tournament document”) after my research online on the 93/94 facebook group. I expected around 12-15 players.

    It could be notable that this “format” was mostly made as a joke to avoid making an argument in an online discussion, and an excuse to meet international players in a pub the day before n00bcon šŸ˜‰

    Anyways, people got excited and in the weeks following the announcement many of the common/uncommon Alpha cards saw an almost ten-fold increase in price. In the end we were almost 60 players at the first Wizards’ Tournament, the first gathering of it’s kind since September 1993. The idea took off from there, and for this years Wizards’ Tournament 100 players are signed up. Not too bad for a joke šŸ˜‰

    One thing that has become a later addition is to call the format Alpha-40; we never referred to the cards as Alpha in the announcements or tournament descriptions as that would imply that there was more than one set in existence šŸ˜‰ The August-93 format mostly doesn’t acknowledge later sets at all. And most decks I’ve played play more than 40 cards, so there’s always that (my current build has 87 cards). But I guess it is a pretty good name to describe it as it blatantly says what it is and can be a little more inclusive than simply calling it “Magic” šŸ˜‰

    The original text file has been slightly update for the new gathering, but can be found here:

    1. Thanks for chiming in and clarifying the origins here. Using a joke to address a discussion/argument is a great method, and I very much appreciate the dedication to it. The txt file treating the cards as the only cards that have ever existed, and thus it’s Magic, is innocent and seems naive given the modern knowledge we have. And that knowledge is precisely why we can only have replicas and not actual recreations of the 93/94 era. I guess someone could gather some young kids and toss some old packs/starters and rulebooks to them and say “figure it out” and watch them to get a feel for how it was, but that’s not practical at all šŸ™‚

      It all starting as a joke is something that still carries through in most of the matches I’ve played and most of the decks I’ve seen as well. There are occasional “buy the best cards” decks, but the cost is so prohibitive that it’s fairly rare to see that sort of thing.

      Another aspect that I appreciate, possibly more than any other, is getting to see “terrible” cards being played out of necessity. Cards like Guardian Angel and Healing Salve generally languish in binders and bulk boxes, but in the all Alpha world where everyone is mostly playing with what they’ve got, these sorts of cards see play, and that’s exciting to me. The idea of cards never getting to be played saddens me (which is one reason why I love playing Pack Wars when opening boosters).

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