Forgotten Zeroes: Alpha Betas


In this new series, Sancho examines the many useless Magic cards printed through the games' history. And what better place to begin than with Alpha, the set that saw the ultimate power cards being printed literally side by side with some of the most godawful pieces of cardboard you have never heard of.

No matter how much the word "mythic" is thrown around within the world of Magic: The Gathering – now that it's stapled to special booster boxes, championships and rarity, nothing is more mythic in the history of the game than Alpha Limited Edition. This is, after all, the set that gave us Black Lotus and the rest of the Power Nine along with powerful cards such as the original dual lands, Wheel of Fortune, Time Vault, and Obsianus Golem.

The 332.200 Dollar CMC Golem

Huh, what golem? Well, if you never heard of the 6 mana 4/6 vanilla artifact creature, you are well excused. It is one of the most boring examples of the cards I will put the spotlight on in this new series, Forgotten Zeroes. Actually, Obsianus Golem is even too boring to earn more mention than the fact that I played the Revised Edition printing in several decks until I had enough creature cards to never have touch it again. But it does bring a smile to my face to imagine how the very early days of Magic probably saw this card played by sacrificing two Black Lotuses or that it was something players would draw when casting Ancestral Recall.

Obsianus Golem
In most of today's formats a card that costs six mana to cast better win you the game, or at least affect the board heavily. This big butt (i.e. toughness bigger than power) golem did neither. Still it was a creature that could go in any deck because it was colorless, and most times if you succeeded in casting it opponent would hesitate to waste a Shatter or Disenchant to remove it.

I guess most people here followed or at least heard of the recent eBay auction that saw an Alpha Black Lotus sell for 166.100,00 $ plus shipping, and before moving on, let's not forget that even the least playable and worst condition Alpha cards come at a price. At the moment of writing, the cheapest card from the set for sale on Cardmarket is a Power Leak in poor condition that can be yours for 8 €, and being an uncommon, the Alpha Limited Edition prints of Obsianus Golem begin at 36,99 €.

As I obviously have a thing for lost cause cards, other zeroes of Alpha have already been touched upon in my previous articles with Animate Wall featured in A Tribute to the Great Walls of Magic, the cycle of interrupt laces mentioned in Forgotten Heroes: Power Sink, Pearled Unicorn in Power Creep – A Casual Peep and indeed Power Leak in Art Appreciation: Drew Tucker. But don't worry that still leaves us with lots of unremarkable and useless cards to talk about from the strongest magic set with the most expensive cards ever.

This Tunnel Is Reserved for Collectors

Even if we leave out over-costed vanilla creatures like Grey Ogre, Scathe Zombies, Hurloon Minotaur, and Hill Giant and over-costed creatures with downsides – looking at you, Sea Serpent, my old nemesis – we still have plenty to sink our teeth into.

In my old casual playgroup, only a few of us experimented with sideboards and it was for a very short while, mostly because we found hosers quite boring, as they shut down entire colors and strategies plus most of our games tended to be BO1 (best of one). And even if we had made sideboarding a thing, I don't believe that Dwarven Demolition Team would have made it into many sideboards. But at least it was useful for chump blocking! Dwarven Demolition Team is still leagues above getting their tap effect as a one-off instant casting one of the set's worst cards – Tunnel.

Dwarven Demolition Team Tunnel
Dwarven Demolition Team almost looks like a playable card … at least when compared to Tunnel, which may be why the card was reprinted in 8th Edition, while Tunnel has not seen print since 4th Edition.

The only true use for an Alpha Edition Tunnel is as evidence against any argument that ditching the reprint restrictions of the Reserved List would make older cards lose all their value. Of course, reprints would do something to reduce the part of a card's price which is due to players needing it for eternal format decks and cubes, but it would hardly affect the part of the price due the card being a sought-after collectible. Tunnel is not on the Reserved List and yet this useless piece of cardboard (even Jump and Death Ward shine when compared to Tunnel) commands a price of nearly 25 € for an Alpha version, while the latest printing from 4th Edition will cost you a mere 2 cents… well, that's just my two cents on that matter.

The Unattractive Charm

Besides the useless cycle of laces that could change the color of a spell at interrupt speed – and which you risk opening as your rare in a booster pack – if you should have money to burn on Alpha boosters – Alpha contained another cycle of forgettable cards known as charms. These uncommon poly artifacts (Alpha lingo for artifacts with an activated ability that does not include tapping) would gain you one life each time a spell of the associated color was cast at the price of one mana.

I remember a Revised Iron Star being my first card of the cycle and I recall playing both that and my later acquired Wooden Sphere, Ivory Cup, Throne of Bone and Crystal Rod in the early days, until I learned the lesson all new players have had to learn, that life isn't really that expensive a resource in the game. I suppose that today with new players being introduced to the game through Arena (and being told explicitly when beginning a game that life is a resource to be spent) things are different. As a result, you can be sure that none of the charms nor Healing Salve, Farmstead, ot Living Artifact would end up seeing play in any constructed decks.

Iron Star Farmstead Living Artifact
Yes, there was a time when new players actually played these cards. As I recall it, Living Artifact was the last of the above to be cut from my relevant decks, since it at least did not have an activation cost.

Two cards in my favorite color that I kept trying to make work way after their low worth was apparent were Sleight of Mind and Magical Hack, both of which I happily traded far better cards. I don't even remember what the plans were in the decks containing them, but it may have involved circles of protection for Sleight of Mind and perhaps Conversion and Karma for Magical Hack or even defending against Tsunamis. Sleight of Mind was the worst of the two, but I kind of liked Mark Poole's colorful illustration.

A Most Negligible Boon

For some reason white got some of the worst cards in Alpha. In the so-called boon cycle giving players three of something for one mana, Healing Salve was the white representative with the other four colors getting Giant Growth, Dark Ritual, Lightning Bolt and Ancestral Recall. Further white cards that were just not up to standard include Lance, Holy Armor and Guardian Angel along with the five wards White Ward, Blue Ward, Black Ward, Red Ward and Green Ward.

In short, Alpha was the best of days, but perhaps it was also the worst of days – except, well… let's not even begin to talk about how all the weakest of the cards mentioned in this article were still being printed when I began playing Magic during Revised Edition, while most of the really powerful cards never saw print again after the preceding Unlimited Edition.

Sancho Cards 1
In the white-border days of Revised we mostly just had the bad cards from Alpha left. Here I finally protected my Grey Ogre against all colored damage and removal with one of each ward, and then the opponent plays a colorless Obsianus Golem. Oh well, at least I can keep blocking that 4/6 and saving the 2/2 Ogre with Death Ward, Healing Salve and Guardian Angel… and hope to draw a Holy Armor soon.

As always, I look forward to reading any comments and stories you may have on the subject. So, share your tales of winning games with Holy Armor or strategy tips for brewing with Sleight of Mind or jump to the defense of the poor and much bashed upon Grey Ogre.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.


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sanchonil(24.04.2019 12:11)

@DefaultUser: Hahaha. What an oversight. Thanks for catching it. Well, I guess the laces would have come in handy here changing the colors of each of the other wards and of Death Ward etc.

DefaultUser(23.04.2019 20:11)

Adding the White Ward might have been a costly mistake for your Voltron Ogre... :)

Until 4th edition White Ward used to make the creature an illegal target for white enchantments, including the White Ward itself. The 4th edition version finally changed the rules text to what it currently is. It will still cause the game rules to notice that there are four other white enchantments enchanting a creature with protection from white...

Anyway, thanks for a fun trip down the memory lane.