I recently received an email from a European collector who wanted more information about something he’d read in A Collector’s History of Magic the Gathering by William Rooks. Mr. Rooks quotes me addressing the question of people finding Alpha rares in their Beta boosters and decks.
Because people have been erroneously calling the last part of our first printing a 2nd something, a lot of people have gotten confused. Some people even think they can tell cards in that printing apart, which is not always the case. Many rare cards printed in the 2nd part of the first printing have the large radius corners, leading people to think they have before-the-change rare cards. They don’t, it’s just that the cutter for the rare sheet isn’t the same as the cutter for the others. 1st printing is 1st printing, we do not, can not, and will not support or privide a way to tell these apart.
Now, I have absolutely no memory of saying that. However, I have no reason to think it’s not true. Or at least mostly true. At the time I wrote that, I had not actually been to Belgium to see the manufacturing line. What most likely happened is that Carta Mundi printed and cut enough commons and uncommons to fill the first order (2.6 million cards, aka “Alpha”) and more than enough of the rare sheets, because that would have been about 1,000 sheets, and their presses would print a thousand sheets in less than 10 minutes. So they probably did, oh, 1,200 sheets, or 1,500 sheets, and just stowed the extra cut rare cards in a box off to one side.
When we ordered the rest of the print run, they printed and cut uncommons and commons, but they’d put a different cutting die in place in the meantime, causing the different radius. The machine that makes boosters, for example, had three hoppers that would hold a stack of cards, oh, maybe two feet high? A conveyor belt with bins would pass underneath, and one hopper would go “thup thup thup thup thup thup thup thup thup thup” and shoot ten commons into the bin. The conveyor belt would advance, and it would do it again. Next to it, the uncommon hopper went “thup thup thup thup”, and the rare hopper would go “thup.” Once the bin had passed beneath all three card-shooters, the cards were tipped into a chute and slid into the machine rolling the flat booster pack material into a tube. The machine would pinch the tube with heated grippers to seal it, and chop the new booster off the end.
In fact, they most likely had leftover alpha commons and uncommons as well, but they would have used those up a lot faster, and nobody would have thought it remotely strange to open a post-GenCon booster pack full of, well, perfectly ordinary Magic cards. They would eventually have used up all the left-overs from the first pass, and printed more rares, which would have then gone through the smaller-radius cutting die.
So my best guess would be that, technically, some of the packs that mostly had “beta” run cards had some leftover “alpha” rares in them. As to how common this was? I haven’t the foggiest. I don’t think Carta Mundi ever even mentioned this. At the time, nobody had a clue that it would ever be relevant. By the time we discovered that the card radii were different, they’d already printed, packaged, and shipped the whole order.