CGC Cards Now Grading Magic: The Gathering Rule Books

Posted on 3/22/2024

Early Magic: The Gathering starter decks came packaged with a card-size booklet explaining the rules of the game.

CGC Cards™ is excited to announce that it is now grading Magic: The Gathering booklets! These collectibles are being increasingly recognized as important artifacts that offer a window into the formative years of the franchise.

Back in the early days of Magic: The Gathering, Wizards of the Coast included small rule books in starter decks to give players a reference for how to play the game. These rule books were the same size as a typical MTG card — although thicker depending on the number of pages — and fit into the deck box.

Starting with Urza’s Saga (1997), rule books were discontinued and replaced with Player’s Guides (also called strategy guides) — booklets that focused primarily on the set’s lore and card lists rather than the game’s rules. Meanwhile, starter decks were rebranded into “tournament packs.” These tournament packs were discontinued after the release of Shards of Alara (2008), though Wizards of the Coast continued to include Player’s Guides in later sets.

Since their discontinuation, rule books and strategy guides — especially from early Magic: The Gathering sets — have become popular collectors’ items. Check out some examples of the Magic: The Gathering booklets that CGC Cards has graded so far.

Limited Edition Alpha and Worzel’s Story

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The first Magic: The Gathering rule book was included in Limited Edition Alpha starter decks, which were released in 1993. The 38-page booklet set the precedent for what future MTG rule books would look like — the book included a short description of how to play the game, a list of rules, an explanation of card types, gameplay examples and more.

Limited Edition Alpha’s rule book is notable for being the only booklet to include Worzel’s Story, a short story written by Richard Garfield, the creator of Magic: The Gathering. Worzel’s Story introduces a battle between Worzel, a green magic user, and Thomil, a white magic user. The story was only two pages long (taking up pages 3 and 4 of the rule book) but gave insight into the lore behind Magic: The Gathering, such as connecting the concept of colored magic to mana cards.

Limited Edition Beta and Unlimited

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Limited Edition Beta was released in 1993, right after Limited Edition Alpha. Wizards of the Coast revised several rules and gameplay mechanics between the release of Limited Edition Alpha and Beta, which necessitated clarification and rule specifications in the new rule books. Unfortunately, that meant that some content needed to be removed from the original Alpha rule book to make room for the new information, so Worzel’s Story was cut from the Beta and Unlimited rule books.

Other than the new rules and specifications — and the absence of Worzel’s Story — Limited Edition Alpha’s rule book and Beta/Unlimited’s rule book are nearly the same. Both rule books feature Bog Wraith on the cover in black and white and mostly feature the same text, except for slight revisions (and the obvious rule changes).

Fourth Edition

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Wizards of the Coast released Fourth Edition in April 1995. As a reprint set, Fourth Edition combined cards from Revised Edition, Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends and The Dark into one set. Fourth Edition made small changes to the mana symbols and was the first set to have the same number of commons, uncommons and rares — a practice that continued until the release of Mirrodin in 2003.

Though Wizards of the Coast had already introduced some rule changes in earlier sets, Fourth Edition was the first set to finalize most of the still incomplete rulings from earlier iterations of the game. Because of this, Fourth Edition’s rule book was the first to contain the most critical rulings in their finalized state, including information such as rules about phases, cards that are considered “out of play” and more.

Ice Age

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Ice Age is the sixth Magic: The Gathering expansion set, released in June 1995. It was the first official expansion of MTG, which meant that it could be played independently from the past releases of Magic: The Gathering, or with them. Ice Age introduced a new storyline, new lands, new creature types and more.

Fifth Edition

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Fifth Edition is, by far, the largest Magic: The Gathering core set, containing over 449 cards. In addition, Fifth Edition was the first set since the beginning of the Ice Age expansion to make significant rule changes. MTG’s developers recognized that some of the existing rules were more complicated than they needed to be, so they removed several elements that were deemed confusing or a waste of time. Wizards of the Coast also added a few rules to eliminate existing loopholes.


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Tempest was released in October 1997 and became the first set to be released in not only boosters and starter decks, but also pre-constructed theme decks. Because Wizards of the Coast anticipated that many players who picked up Tempest already knew how to play the game — partially due to Tempest’s “expert” rating on Wizards’ short-lived MTG rating system — the booklet included with Tempest cards didn’t focus heavily on the rules. Instead, it described the set’s characters and story.

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