Alpha Rare Authentication

When collecting vintage magic cards, there are few cards more expensive and difficult to find as an Alpha Rare.  With an original print run in 1993 of approximately 1,008 for each card, they are incredibly rare and desirable.

Not all collectors have the motivation or disposable income to try and acquire an Alpha Rare, but those that do find early on that there are some unique challenges presented when buying ungraded Alpha Rares, most notably the issue of "clipped" Beta cards.  Clipped Beta cards are cards which have had their corners altered to give them a wider diameter, mimicking the corners of Alpha cards (the key identifier of Alpha).  Clipping was done in the 90's before opaque sleeve backs in order to create uniform card backs, and more recently it has been done by counterfeiters who attempt to take advantage of the price different between Alpha and Beta.  If done well it can be almost indistinguishable from the real thing.

Luckily there are resources available to help distinguish authentic Alpha Rares, from clipped Beta Rares including:
- Alpha misprints
- Alpha ink pattern alignment
- Alpha print defects

 

This guide will go through these ways of determining authentic Alpha Rares, and will have specific information for the most expensive and unique Alpha Rares.

PLEASE NOTE:
- This guide does not include every Alpha Rare, only a select few of high interest.
- This guide assumes you are familiar with the key identifiers of Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, CE and ICE cards.  Namely the color of their borders, and the shape of their corners.  As a quick primer Unlimited cards have a white border, CE and ICE cards have black borders with pointed corners, beta cards have black borders with 1 mm (standard) corners, and Alpha cards are black bordered with 2 mm (non-standard) corners.

 - This guide also assumes you have already authenticated your card and at the very least checked the "green dot", the black ink, done the "light test", and looked at the rosettes of the card.  For a comprehensive guide of how to do this, please click the button below:

Alpha Misprints

The easiest Alpha Rares to identify are the cards which had errors corrected or text changes when printed in Beta.  With these cards there is no chance of buying a clipped Beta card, as long as you are familiar with what makes them unique.  There are a total of 10 rares which can be authenticated this way:
- Tropical Island
- Birds of Paradise
- Cyclopean Tomb
- Force of Nature
- Rock Hydra
- Demonic Hordes
- Elvish Archer
- Island Sanctuary
- Mana Short
- Sedge Troll

For a full list of misprinted Alpha cards, and for a visual guide to these misprints please click the button below:

Alpha Ink Pattern Alignment

All Alpha Rares were printed in a single run, which has created a uniform alignment in the ink patterns of the cards.  Even more helpful is the fact that these ink patterns, while sometimes subtle, are usually completely unique from beta ink patterns. 

David Third, an Alpha enthusiast created a guide for ink pattern alignment differences which is widely used in the Alpha MTG community for identifying clipped Beta.  Photos from his guide are used below.

For all cards below the Alpha version is on the left, and the Beta on the right.


PLEASE NOTE:
 - These alignments are accurate for identifying Alpha Rares, however Beta Rares were printed in more than one run (2 possibly 3).  So while it is effective for identifying an Alpha Rare, it is not definitive in identifying a Beta rare from re-backed ICE or CE.
 

Alpha Power 9
Black Lotus

- Alpha: Casting cost aligned down
- Beta: Casting cost aligned up and slight right

 

Ancestral Recall

- Alpha: Black ink centered, blue dots in "crescent"
- Beta: Black ink aligned up and to the right, no blue dots in "crescent"

 

Time Walk

- Alpha: Black ink aligned left, no blue dots in "crescent"
- Beta: Black ink centered, blue dot in "crescent"

 

Timetwister

- Alpha: Black ink more centered
- Beta: Black ink aligned down and to the left

 

Mox Ruby

- Alpha: Black ink aligned down and slight right
- Beta: Black ink aligned up and slight right

 

Mox Jet

- Alpha: Black ink aligned down and slight right
- Beta: Black ink aligned down and slight left
- Extra Note: Two lines of dots in lower left corner in Alpha, One line in Beta

 

Mox Pearl

- Alpha: Black ink aligned down
- Beta: Black ink aligned up

 

Mox Emerald

- Alpha: Black ink aligned down
- Beta: Black ink aligned up

 

Mox Saphire

- Alpha: Black ink aligned slight right
- Beta: Black ink aligned slight right (less than alpha)
- Extra Note: Alpha Sapphire's have a unique print error (see next section).

Alpha Dual Lands

Note:
- Volcanic Island was not printed in Alpha
- Tropical Island has a unique misprint (artist name error, see previous section)
- Taiga has a unique print error (see next section)

 

Underground Sea

- Alpha: Black ink aligned left, no blue dots in crescent
- Beta: Black ink aligned slight left, blue dot in top of crescent

 

Taiga

- Alpha: Black ink aligned right
- Beta: Black ink aligned slight left
- Extra Note: Alpha Taiga's have a unique print error (see next section).

 

Tundra

- Alpha: Black ink aligned slight right, blue dots in crescent
- Beta: Black ink aligned further right, no dots in crescent


 

Savannah

- Alpha: Black ink aligned slight down
- Beta: Black ink aligned up

 

Bayou

- Alpha: Black ink aligned down
- Beta: Black ink centered

 

Scrubland

- Alpha: Black ink aligned right
- Beta: Black ink centered

 

Plateau

- Alpha: Black ink aligned down
- Beta: Black ink aligned slight right
- Note: Beta Plateau's have a unique print error (see next section)

 

Badlands

- Alpha: Black ink aligned slight right
- Beta: Black ink aligned right

 

Other Alpha Rares
Copy Artifact

- Alpha: Black ink aligned down and left
- Beta: Black ink centered

 

Mind Twist

- Alpha: Black ink aligned down
- Beta: Black ink centered

 

Balance

- Alpha: Black ink aligned down and right
- Beta: Black ink centered

 

Wrath of God

- Alpha: Yellow ink along border edge
- Beta: Centered

 

Shivan Dragon

- Alpha: Black ink aligned down and right
- Beta: Black ink centered

 

Fork

- Alpha: Black ink aligned down
- Beta: Black ink aligned slight right

 

Chaos Orb

- Alpha: Black ink aligned down and right
- Beta: Black ink more centered

 

Time Vault

- Alpha: Yellow ink along border edge
- Beta: Centered

 

Alpha Print Defects

Some Alpha Rares have print defects which can be used to help identify them from clipped Beta.  Below is a compilation of some notable cards which have easily identifiable print defects.

PLEASE NOTE:
 - The methods above are proved to be 100% accurate for identifying Alpha Rares from clipped Beta (until evidence can be provided otherwise).  The next section may not be 100% accurate, but is a good primary identifier (if your rare does not have this mark then you need to scrutinize it extra closely, and have good provenance for it).

Visual guide is more optimized on Desktop than Mobile.

Wheel of Fortune

- Small white dot on top black border in Alpha (see circle below)
 

Braingeyser

- Small red dot in text box in Alpha (see circle below)
 

Taiga

- Red dot with green halo on border next to "Land" in Alpha (see circle below)
 

Plateau

- White circle at the top of the art in Beta (see circle below)
 

Mox Sapphire

- White printer mark on right side border in Alpha (see circle below)
 

Howling Mine

- White dot in the last "t" in "Artifact" in Beta (see circle below)
 

Published
February - 2022