Last updated on August 14, 2023
Black Lotus | Illustration by Christopher Rush
There’s something really ‘90s/early ‘00s about the word “unlimited.” Maybe that’s just because of how many episodes of Justice League Unlimited I’ve seen over and over on Saturday mornings.
Magic’s Unlimited Edition is certainly a blast from the past. It’s a set that’s so old it’s got our writers split between those who remember its release and those who don’t by virtue of not being born (guilty).
Sometimes what’s old is new, but you’ll see that’s not quite the case with Unlimited Edition. No matter; it’s stacked full of classics you’ve surely run across in one printing or another.
So, in the words of 2 Unlimited: Get Ready for This!
Counterspell | Illustration by Mark Poole
|Number of Cards||302 cards|
|Rarities||75 commons, 95 uncommons, 117 rares, 15 basic lands|
|Mechanics||Ante, dexterity (ex: coin flip), banding, first strike, flying, landwalk, protection, regeneration, trample|
|Paper Release Date||December 1, 1993|
Psionic Blast | Illustration by Douglas Shuler
Functionally, Unlimited Edition is a reprint of the Limited Edition: Beta print run, although with white rather than black-bordered cards. At the time, there wasn’t much in terms of a MTG storyline. The concept that players were opposing planeswalkers who cast spells to summon creatures was already established, and the flavor text on these cards mentions people and places on Dominaria and elsewhere. There’s also mention of Urza and Mishra, characters who would be further developed later on and ultimately clash during The Brothers’ War.
Unlimited Edition was released after Beta sold out as quickly as Alpha had, and it was announced as a 40,000,000 card print run. Sales for Limited Edition had mostly come from Wizards of the Coast’s West Coast home, but Unlimited managed to reach a wider distribution market.
As an early product, the set was naturally full of misprints. Of the many cards featuring Douglas Shuler art, only Icy Manipulator and the third Mountain actually spell his name correctly. Goblin Balloon Brigade and Goblin King each had text that suggested they granted abilities to all goblins. This was fixed over time; Goblin Balloon Brigade’s activated ability now only gives itself flying, while Goblin King is now a lord that gives all other goblins +1/+1 and mountainwalk.
Sengir Vampire | Illustration by Anson Maddocks
As a core set, Unlimited Edition sticks to most of the original keyword abilities, like flying and trample. You won’t find any multicolor cards here, either. The set favors simple mechanics and gameplay, which makes sense given the reasons it was printed and how it was distributed.
Landwalk and Protection
Let’s also take a chance to revisit some of the dead mechanics we aren’t likely to see every again, like ante and banding. Ante is an optional way to play the game that seems inspired by playing for marbles or playing gambling card games like poker, where you put a random card from your library into the “ante zone” before the start of the game. The winner gets permanent possession of those cards, essentially winning the “pot.” You can only play ante in non-DCI sanctioned games in jurisdictions where gambling of this nature is legal.
Banding is a highly confusing damage distribution ability that has a cousin in bands with other. They have odd nuances in how players assign and distribute damage, but the concept is supposed to reflect a bunch of creatures “banding” together for an offensive or defensive maneuver. Banding and bands with other are a 10 and 11 respectively on the Storm Scale, so it’s safe to say that they aren’t coming back.
These cards are sorted by the color in their mana value rather than Commander color identity.
Looking at some of the names of these cards, I can’t tell you how much I want to go card by card and joke my way through it. Cards like Deathgrip give me so much to start with, but we should stay focused instead.
The Power 9 barely needs an introduction since they’re some of the most broken and ubiquitously banned Magic cards ever printed. Timetwister is the only one that’s legal in Commander, but they all have restrictions because they either give you free mana, quick cards, or cheap extra turns. The moxen and Black Lotus are also early examples of mana rocks, although pretty broken ones.
The original Circle of Protection cycle is complete as of Limited Edition: Beta, so they’re all reprinted in Unlimited Edition.
White continues its theme of color protection with this cycle of color-specific wards.
This cycle of -lace spells changes the color of your targets which… Oof, yeah, that’s nearly power crept into oblivion these days.
This set may not have any multicolor cards, but it does have a cycle of mana-fixing dual lands for the multicolor players of its time. They’re fetchable by spells that search for basic land types, and they don’t come in tapped. Sometimes, it’s tough to beat the original.
Dark Ritual is a classic black ramp spell. Mana Vault can be busted when paired with other cards that untap artifacts or sacrifice it and cast it back from your graveyard. Swords to Plowshares is a staple white removal spell. Lightning Bolt is the archetype of a cheap burn spell. Basalt Monolith is a mana rock that’s been reprinted as recently as LTC products, and it makes infinite colorless loops with multiple cards.
Some cards even lend their names to either the strategy or archetype that they enable. Demonic Tutor does as the name implies and is a champion tutor. Lure gave its name to effects that force creatures to block. Counterspell is the grandaddy of all countermagic. Fog lends its name to universal damage prevention spells, and Lord of Atlantis is an early example of a creature lord. Firebreathing has also leant its name to any ability that lets you play red mana to boost your creature’s power.
Nevinyrral's Disk has an activated ability that sweeps lots of permanent types, but it’s possible to combine it with Darksteel Forge, Mycosynth Lattice, and Unwinding Clock to destroy your opponents’ artifacts, enchantments, and creatures every turn.
These early sets also gave us iconic mana dorks like Llanowar Elves and Birds of Paradise and some typical vanilla creatures like Grizzly Bears and Savannah Lions. There are elves, goblins, merfolk, and spirits. Dwarves sadly only get to be non-goblin goblins, while wraiths and orcs would have to wait until Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth to get some worthwhile support. Meanwhile, Sengir Vampire, Serra Angel, and Shivan Dragon have been staple core set reprints over the years. Vampires, angels, and dragons have all grown as iconic creature types since these, but they’re still really good.
Other interesting Magic actions rooted in these early Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited sets include looking at your opponent’s hand (Glasses of Urza), having an infinite hand size (Library of Leng), and casting modal spells (Healing Salve). Rock Hydra is an early example of a hydra and an X spell, although in the wrong color by today’s standards. It’s also an alternate universe B-52’s song. Keldon Warlord is a creature with power and toughness that depend on your creatures, while Nightmare’s power and toughness count your lands. There’s even some early targeted land destruction like Ice Storm and mass land destruction like Armageddon.
And I swear, Sol Ring will outlive us all.
While not technically one of the Power Nine, Time Vault is another heavily restricted card printed in Unlimited Edition.
A number of these cards have also been part of “worst artwork ever” conversations, but I guess you can’t get any worse than artwork that’s banned. Yeah, sometimes you just have to swallow that mea culpa pill.
You’d be hard-pressed to find sealed product nowadays. I’m not even going to quote the price I saw for what the seller claimed was a sealed booster pack on eBay.
You should be able to find some Unlimited Edition cards on the singles market, if you’re specifically looking for these prints. Many of these cards are going to be harder to find, but you should be able to lay a hand on some of the cards from this set.
You may even find a subreddit, forum, or other online community where you can find players and collectors who are looking to reduce or completely liquidate their collections.
Taiga | Illustration by Rob Alexander
And that’s the tale of Unlimited Edition! I’m personally fascinated from the perspective of watching a game grow and develop, but at the end of the day, this is just reskinned Beta.
Were you there for Unlimited Edition’s release? Do you prefer these printings or other prints of these cards? Tell me below or over on the Draftsim Discord!
Stay safe and stay hydrated!
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