CGC Trading Cards Considers the Conundrum of the Dastardly "Rare" Island

Posted on 12/30/2020

After witnessing the opening of a Magic: The Gathering Beta starter deck, CGC Trading Cards gave one such “Rare” Island an appropriate attribution, thus elevating it beyond “basic.”

CGC Trading Cards is keen to identify and distinguish cards with unique characteristics and interesting stories. The dastardly “Rare” Island is one such card from the Magic: The Gathering Alpha and Beta sets. Pulling this card from a deck may not be desirable, but appropriately attributing its provenance deepens the narrative of the game — and gives greater context to the cards.

Magic: The Gathering Blue Sky Island with "Rare Sheet" attribution, graded CGC Mint 9.
Click images to enlarge.

Since the inception of trading card games, booster packs and starter decks have been the primary vehicles to expand one's collection. These packs and decks nearly always guarantee cards of certain rarity levels with Common cards making up most of the contents, followed by Uncommons and, finally, Rares.

In the beginning, the Magic Limited Edition (Alpha and Beta) sets introduced the three levels, with Common, Uncommon and Rare cards each being confined to a specific 11x11 card sheet during the production process. Booster packs included 11 Common cards, three Uncommon cards and one Rare, for a total of 15 cards, while starter decks included 45 Common cards, 13 Uncommon cards and two Rares, for a total of 60 cards.

When opening one of these packs, players and collectors always have one thing on their minds: "What is the Rare card or cards?" Unfortunately, for the Limited Edition sets, there were some Basic Lands found on the Rare sheet.

Basic Lands are the resource used for playing Magic, which means a significantly greater quantity of these cards is required to play a game than other cards. Of the three Limited Edition Beta sheet configurations used for production, each contained these Basic Lands: The Common sheet had 46, the Uncommon sheet had 26 and the Rare sheet had just four. The remaining cards were all unique in design with 75 Commons, 95 Uncommons and 117 Rares.

Considering their placement on each sheet, inclusion of these Basic Lands was intended in the booster packs and starter decks. However, getting a Basic Land or Island as a "Rare" card was certainly a letdown compared to obtaining a Black Lotus, for example.

Sealed booster packs and starter decks from the Limited Edition sets still exist and are highly popular with advanced collectors. These packs and decks are extremely valuable when still in their original packaging, so opening them is quite risky because, depending on the cards within, they may be more valuable unopened than opened.

Despite the risk, packs and decks are still opened regularly simply because the sheer excitement of doing so trumps the potential financial downside. Because some packs like a well-pedigreed Alpha starter deck can be worth upwards of $50,000, most openings are recorded.

Earlier in 2020, a well-known and respected dealer, Kyle Montgomery of, streamed the opening of a Limited Edition Beta starter deck that contained an incredibly important card in one of the two Rare slots — a Volcanic Island, which is among the best possible pulls in the set outside of the fabled Power Nine.

The other card from the Rare sheet included in this deck was much less thrilling — a simple Blue Sky Basic Island. The "Rare" Island pull in a Limited Edition booster or deck is painful to mention among Magic enthusiasts as any other Rare card from the set, no matter the popularity, is worth significantly more.

Fortunately, this "Rare" Island was streamed on video when it was liberated from the packaging that it was placed in nearly 27 years ago., a CGC Trading Cards Authorized Dealer, retained the chain of custody of this peculiarity at the recommendation of CGC Trading Cards during the live opening.

CGC Trading Cards confidently gave this card an extra designation, "Rare Sheet," and noted the date of the opening on the certification label. We would be pleased to offer a similar service to our other Authorized Dealers, which would afford us an opportunity to carefully document some of these dastardly "Rare" Islands and possibly find traits that could make identification of Islands already in the wild possible.

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