This is an initiative in collaboration with Wizards of the Coast.
In all these months playing Magic I have come across the strangest cards, from the mythical Black Lotus to the jokes of Un-Set, from the curious ones like Stasis to the wonderfully modified Secret Lair ones. But none of them has a history as rare as the lands that I will talk about today.
Some letters so strange that, inside the envelope, they are one of the greatest collector’s items from Magic: The Gathering, but outside of them they become a letter more incapable of generating the slightest attention. A land that the first players hated and that the new ones seek with fervor.
If all those lines have not managed to capture your attention, surely the following image will. Here you have the Island collectors sigh for.
A simple Island (but rare)
Yes, it is a Basic Land, and no, I have not made a mistake when uploading the image, nor am I staying with you. What you have in front of you is an Island whose only rarity at first glance is that of being a card of the 1993 Beta edition. Ancient and precious, yes, but as old and precious as any other Island of that time.
And they were not few. If the data doesn’t fail me, for the Beta edition 15 different Basic Earth cards were created and almost 140,000 of each of them were printed. I already do the calculations for you, more than 2 million Basic Lands among which, for some curious reason, this is more special than the others. Why?
Rare earths have always existed and, in fact, some of the most valuable for the world of collecting are extracted from that early period. Both the Volcanic island, which is island and mountain at the same time, like the Underground Sea, which is an island and a swamp, are among the most valued and revered by Magic fans.
However this is a simple land whose only rarity is to be in the right place and time to have generated a halo of mysticism around him. What time and place? Well, the one that did not play thanks to a rookie mistake almost 30 years ago.
The biggest bajona in the history of the bajonas
Those of you who have had more than one envelope of Magic in your hands you will know that, in general, in the standard packs the cards are placed in order of rarity. The idea of increasing the emotion until reaching the final climax is macanuda, so when you have few cards left to see and the rare, legendary or foil arrives it is a real joy.
However, this was not always the case and, in fact, during those first envelopes 28 years ago you could find yourself with the biggest downer in the history of the downers. As the expectation grew to see what you would achieve, suddenly, when it came to the turn of the crown jewel …
One land. A simple basic Island occupying the gap that should be reserved for some of the best cards in the game. The kind that are worth their weight in gold and make you win tournaments. You can imagine the frustration when facing that moment while the friends who are next to you open their respective envelopes with a little more luck.
What for many years was believed to be a marketing movement aimed at give even more importance to rare cards that appeared on the envelopes, eventually uncovered as something much simpler. The mystery of the rare islands responded to a mere mistake.
The mythical sheets of Magic
For those who do not know the manufacturing process of the letters of MagicWhat are printed are large sheets with several cards from each set that are then cut and distributed by machines in the envelopes in order.
At the time of Beta, one of the earliest editions of Magic, the manufacture involved three sheets of 11 by 11 cards dedicated to each of the rarities of the cards: common, uncommon and rare. 121 cards per sheet in which each card in the set appeared only once, and basic land cards were used to fill the remaining gaps.
With a sheet of 75 common cards, another with 95 uncommon cards, and a third with 117 rare cards, filling in those 121 cards on each sheet should give us a solution to the problem. Those islands that are left over slipped into the rare ones and, therefore, ended up in the place a rare card should occupy inside the envelope.
To the next question “Why only islands and not other lands?”, The answer for years has been that they served to balance a deficit of islands in the rest of the sheets, but since uncut sheets of that time were accessible, it has been discovered that this was not entirely true.
What the hell happened then?
An unfortunate miscalculation
There have been many theories and with the passage of time new ones have been born. The art of certain cards was lacking and it was decided to cover that gap with the first thing they caught, they forgot to include the Volcanic island that should appear in the rare cards of Alpha and the wrong islands are the result, the marketing theory that we commented a few lines above …
But as often happens in these cases, going to the original source is the best option to unravel a mystery and, how could it be otherwise, no one better to answer that question than the creator of the game himself, Richard Garfield:
“I should mention that people were not supposed to know that he had rare islands. Our intention was for the rare cards to appear randomly in each pack and also in random numbers. Had he known, those letters would have been something else. With Revised (the edition that followed Alpha and Beta) it was the fastest we could correct that error ”.
And so, with a simple miscalculation and some basic lands that were where they weren’t supposed to be, he created one of the most interesting curiosities of Magic: the mystery of the rare islands that only have that category until they come out of the envelope.
Images | Twitter, Lethe