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Sorcery TCG - Alpha vs. Beta Set Differences!



An article by Sorcercy Enthusiast, Community Member, and Sorcery: Contested Realm Community Group and Collector Arthouse Discord Admin/Moderator, Sean Scully.

Thank you, Sean, for your contribution and amazing comprehensive coverage of this topic!


Introduction

Sorcery Contested realm is an old school collectible card game which has definitely attracted a growing number of frothing-at-the-mouth players, collectors, and player/collector chimeras as the game gains greater awareness among cardboard enthusiasts. One of the most frequently asked questions that I´ve seen on Discord and other Sorcery-related forums pertains to the differences between the Alpha and Beta printings of Sorcery. Given the massive price differences in Alpha and Beta on the secondary market (with Alpha once again nearing $1000 per box on TCGPlayer and eBay at the time of writing), these questions are to be expected. And boy howdy, there are definitely differences! Are they worth spending an insane amount of money for Alpha? Spoiler alert: probably not. Well, unless you are interested in collecting Alpha cards in which case the choice is yours.


This article aims to summarize many of the subtle differences that have been discovered to date and hopefully add a few new observations. I´ve opened quite a few boxes of both Alpha and Beta (note to my significant other: no, I did not spend $1000 per Alpha box. I promise). Some of the differences between Alpha and Beta definitely lend themselves to the collectible aspect of the game while others are more technical in nature. Skip to Table 3 at the end of the article for a TL;DR summary of the differentiating characteristics between Alpha and Beta.


The Alpha and Beta releases of Sorcery are largely the same with Beta set almost being a 1:1 reprinting of the Alpha set. There are no major differences in the card list or physical nature of the cards themselves, such as those between the Alpha and Beta releases of Magic the Gathering which notoriously had differently rounded corners (with the latter featuring less rounded corners) and the former featuring a number of mistakes (such as artist misattributions, accidently omitted cards such as Volcanic Island and Circle of Protection: Black, various other oopsies). While the Alpha release of SCR did have a number of errors which have been fixed (such as artist misattribution, the © symbol appearing on a few preconstructed deck cards, and the incorrect text on a few foils), these errors are few in number.


 

Symbols

Astute observers have probably noticed the most obvious difference (and the primary way of quickly differentiating between Alpha and Beta) are the alpha (α) and beta (β) symbols located at the bottom center of the card as highlighted in Figure 1 below. These serve as the set symbol as is done with many already existing card games. It should be noted that sample cards use the © symbol instead and there are a few cards in the Alpha precon decks in particular that accidently used the © symbol instead of (α).



Figure 1 – The Greek alphabet is used to denote Alpha (α) and Beta (β) and is easily visible at the bottom of the card (highlighted in the red box for some of the older community members out there)


 

Print Run

As the Kickstarter backed Alpha release was print to demand, we know that something on the order of 29,000 booster boxes and 7000 number of precons were printed. More detailed analysis of the print run can be found here. The exact number of Beta booster boxes and preconstructed decks that have been printed is a topic of much speculation and at the time of writing, an additional printing of Beta is not off the table (as Simon discussed in Cardboard Guide´s interview, link here). We know that at least the same number of booster boxes were printed to meet the needs of a broader commercial market release (in addition to the guaranteed pre-orders from Team Covenant), but Erik´s Curiosa has declined to state how large the print run is (or will be?). It should be noted that Alpha Booster Boxes contained an impressive 39 booster packs while Beta booster’s sport a fairly standard 36 boosters per box like many other CCGs and TCGs.


 

The Card List

Alpha consisted of 403 non-promotional cards while Beta consists of 402. As many of us expected, the card that was not included in the core Beta set list that was included in Alpha is Erik´s Curiosa (Figure 2), the card that is begging to be torn to shreds in favor of a very powerful “go grab any card you please” effect. That said, Erik’s Curiosa has been included as a curio and even confusingly features the “α” symbol instead of the “β” symbol. That said, the curio version can be differentiated by carefully examining the card as described in further detail below when we discuss print resolution.



Figure 2 – The titular Erik’s Curiosa is a card that is unique to the Alpha release of Sorcery Contested Realm save for its inclusion as a curio in Beta with an “α” symbol at the bottom and a slightly wider angle which incorporates more of the original painting (good luck trying to pull one!)


Aside from being another truly masterful piece of art by Francesca Baerald, the Alpha-limited nature definitely makes Erik´s Cuiosa a collectable item given the card bearing the name of the company and a number of little easter eggs hidden within the image itself (as is covered in an article here). This is definitely reflected in the current price of the card with it being around the $300 mark for the non-foil version and nearly $7000 for the foil version! Compared to the price of many other Alpha unique cards save for the Frazetta pieces and the Philosopher’s Stone!


 

Elemental Avatars

Another major difference with the Beta set is that the element-associated avatars which are featured in the preconstructed decks are not the same (Figure 3). Gone are the Alpha release’s iconic Elemental Avatars by the great Séverine Pineaux, being replaced by Francesca Baerald´s equally iconic archetypal hooded avatars. I for one, will miss the Avatar of Fire and her primordial kin but I’ve got to admit I’ve quickly taken to Francesca’s contemporary additions.

Figure 3 –Alpha versus Beta Elemental Avatars

The mechanics of each avatar are unique but one major difference will be the limited availability of the Alpha elemental avatars. In Alpha, the “ordinary” elemental avatars were only included in the preconstructed decks, with the exception of their foil variants which had the equivalent of “elite” rarity and were included in the core Alpha set and booster packs. In Beta, the elemental hooded avatars are common rarity and can be found in both the preconstructed decks and in the token/site slot in booster packs. This has the consequence of making the ordinary Beta elemental avatars a lot less rare than their Alpha counterparts with the only method for obtaining an Avatar of Earth/Air/Fire/Water being to pull it out of a preconstructed deck or getting really lucking and pulling a foil variant out of a booster pack. The scarcity of the Alpha elemental avatars is definitely reflected in their prices with the non-foil variants going for north of $100 and data on the non-foil versions fetching well over $1000 (although the data is spotty).


 

Preconstructed Deck Differences

Another difference worth noting is that the cards included in the Alpha preconstructed decks feature a horizontal line on either side of the “Art (α) {artist name}” line at the bottom for spellbook cards as shown for Spear of Destiny (Figure 4) and Stone-gaze Gorgons (Figure 5), and beneath the game mechanic box for atlas cards. In the case of the Beta preconstructed decks, there do not appear to be any differentiating features between the cards pulled from Beta booster packs and those pulled from the preconstructed decks. There are some other differences between the Alpha preconstructed deck cards and their Alpha counterparts, but that has been explored elsewhere. Another noteworthy difference is that cards included in the Beta preconstructed decks are different and contain far fewer elites and uniques (but still representing an amazing value for the MSRP sticker price!).


Figure 4 – The cards on the Alpha preconstructed decks have lines on either side of the attribution line (left) while the Spear of Destiny pulsed from Alpha (center) and Beta (right) do not. Note that the preconstructed Spear of Destiny shown above is a misprint with the incorrect casting cost.


Figure 5 – The cards on the Alpha preconstructed decks have lines on either side of the attribution line (left) while the Stone-gaze Gorgons pulsed from Alpha (center) and Beta (right) do not. Note that the preconstructed Stone-gaze Gorgons shown above has slightly different mechanics text.

While very minor, there are also some differences in the short instruction manual packed with each of the preconstructed deck sets.


 

Frazetta Art 

Another major difference between the Alpha and Beta release is the replacement of four iconic Frank Frazetta pieces (Figure 6), namely Courtesan Thais, Death Dealer, Ruler of Thul, and Vile Imp, with the artwork of other prodigious artists. This change definitely further contributes to the collectability of Alpha. It should be noted that two Beta promotional cards to date feature the artwork of the late Frank Frazetta, namely the Headless Haunt promo (featured in the “Buy-a-box” promo) and Witherwing Hero (of which only 1000 PCG-graded units were offered as an exclusive to Rudy/Alpha Investments patrons).

Figure 6 – The Frazetta art featured in Alpha has been replaced by some equally iconic art from other artists in Beta


I for one, really like the new pieces painted by Drew Tucker, Brian Smith, Vincent Pompetti, and Jeff Menges. Each of them feels very “at home” with the other art in the set. The acceptance of Jeff Menges´s Vile Imp is readily apparent within the community with the card art serving as the basis of many memes and a price point of over $0.50 which is impressive for a widely available ordinary rarity card.


 

Revised Mechanics

Beta versions such that the mechanics are more easily understood. There may be other changes out there that have escaped the survey of my collection and the card files on Curiosa.io so do not take these points as being final. To my knowledge, there have been no changes to the flavor text (at least not that I’ve found). By my count, nine (9) spellbook cards have received some revision to the card mechanic’s text. A great example includes Frontier Settlers (Figure 7) although all text changes for Spells are included in Table 1. Not included are differences between the Alpha preconstructed decks and the “normal” Alpha cards that come out of booster packs although there are several notable differences.


Figure 7 – The Alpha (left) and Beta versions of Frontier Settlers feature slightly different text



Table 1 – Text box changes of spellbook cards between the Alpha and Beta releases of Sorcery


In terms of the most substantial changes, Tringh Constrictor’s text received a heavy rework and clearly standards out. Similarly, three (3) sites, namely Great Wall, Island Leviathan, and Quagmire, have had a few changes made to their text which make the mechanics easier to understand (Table 2). The text changes to atlas cards are fairly minor edits.


Table 2 - Text box changes of atlas cards between the Alpha and Beta releases of Sorcery


 

Minor Changes

There is a slight change to the text on Unland Eel (Figure 10) with the “may” now appearing on the second line in the Beta version of the card. Perhaps the text size has also changed slightly to accommodate the inclusion of an additional word?


Figure 10 – The text of Unland Eel is slightly different in terms of positioning between Alpha and Beta with the latter shifting “may” down one line, possibly due to a change in font size with the Alpha text appearing to be larger and cramming a “here” specifier into the Beta text


 

Print Resolution

From a technical perspective, there is one major difference between Alpha and Beta and that is the printing of the cards themselves. Many have observed that many Beta cards “look darker” than their Alpha counterparts. There are numerous examples of this but here are a few carefully curated examples from my own collection of Alpha and Beta below, namely the Sorcerer and the Philosopher’s Stone (Figure 11).

Figure 11 – Non-foil Sorcerer (Alpha, right) versus Sorcerer (Beta, center right) and the Philosopher’s stone (Alpha, center left) versus Sorcerer (Beta, right)


While these might not be the most striking examples, I think it is pretty clear that the cards from the Beta printing do indeed appear darker. As Haine (from Wizard´s Den) noted in a recent video (link), the Beta printing has a higher print resolution which can result in images that appear slightly darker. If we take a look at the Philosopher’s Stone from the Alpha and Beta set, we can clearly see the difference in apparent contrast and resolution of the images.

 

Taking a peak at more specific aspects of each card using a macro lens, you can see the slightly “darker” nature of the beta printing shown in Figure 12 below.


Figure 12 – Non-foil Sorcerer (Alpha, top) versus Sorcerer (Beta, bottom) photographed using a Canon 100 mm f/2.8 macro lens to produce a 1:1 image


If we examine the images above carefully, the larger print dots of the Alpha printing become even more apparent with the print dots for Alpha being visibly larger than the Beta version (Figure 13).


Figure 13 – Non-foil Sorcerer (Alpha, left) versus Sorcerer (Beta, right) macro image from above closer up


Similarly, if we look at the Philosopher´s Stone even closer, the higher print resolution of Beta is apparent. Below in Figure 14 are images of the iconic Philosopher’s Stone (non-foil) taken under a stereoscope with a 2X magnification. I apologize for the poor alignment and slight differences in exposure between some individual images.


Figure 14 – Micrograph of Alpha (top) and Beta Philosopher’s Stone (bottom) at 2X magnification using a stereoscope


As is even more apparent, the print resolution of the Alpha Philosopher’s Stone is lower, with the print dots being easily visible in each close up. The Beta Philosopher’s Stone has much smaller print dots due to the higher resolution printing employed for the Beta print run. Similarly, if we examine the Sorcerer (Figure 15), we can similarly see that the print dots of the Alpha version are much larger and more apparent than their Beta counterpart.


Figure 15 – Micrograph of Alpha (top) and Beta Sorcerer (bottom) at 2X magnification using a stereoscope


 

The Foils

The foils and their full art backs were printed at a higher resolution than their non-foil counterparts for Alpha. But the big question is: is there a difference in the foiling? Louie from KitchenTableTCG noted in a recent video that the “foils feel less foily” (link) and I’m inclined to agree. So let’s get into it the difference between the foils between Alpha and Beta!


If you compare and examine the images above with the foil Sorcerer in Figure 16 (and the full art back side in Figure 17) below, you´ll notice that the print dots are much less visible in the foil versions. As with the non-foil cards, many of the Beta foils appear slightly darker as well, in no doubt due to the increased print resolution of the Beta print run. I do not have a lot of foils for both Alpha and Beta so my ability to make apples-to-apples comparisons is limited (and sadly I have yet to pull a Beta foil Philosopher’s Stone).


Figure 16 –The foil Alpha and Beta Sorcerers side by side



Figure 17 –The full art backside of the foil  Alpha and Beta Sorcerers side by side


It is safe to say that the Beta foil Sorcery is definitely “darker” than its Alpha counterpart. But what about the nature of the foiling itself? As many have experienced, the foiling effects do not show up very well so in I order to try to examine the differences in foiling, I tried to take photos of each of the foil Sorcerers at angles from 0° to 90° in 15° increments. Ultimately, I found that this method of trying to uncover the differences in foiling to be rather uninformative and chose not to include it here. To better illustrate these differences, the links below linke to a short video demonstrating the differences in the foiling.



Is the foiling different? I’m not convinced by these comparisons but I’m also not convinced that the differences that myself and others have perceived should be written off either. We’ve at least established that the Beta versions are darker. Again, if we examine the print resolution of the Alpha and Beta Sorcery foil cards (with the full art back), we can see that the print resolution of the Alpha foils is higher than their non-foil counterparts while the differences between the printing of the foils between Alpha and Beta seems to be very similar. Figure 18 below shows some 2X magnification micrographs of the foil versions of the Alpha and Beta Sorcerer. Note that differences in color and darkness here may be the result of changes in exposure rather than actual differences between the cards.


Figure 18 – Micrograph of Alpha and Beta Foil Sorcerer’s front and backsides at 2X magnification using a stereoscope


The differences between the Alpha and Beta printing of the foil and full art Sorcerer are a bit harder to differentiate and indeed look very similar although the Beta appears to be a bit darker.


 

Box Topper

While maybe not particularly consequential, there are also differences in the box toppers with the Alpha box toppers including not only a foil (non-full art) Sorcery and a rubble token, but also a few other alternative artworks and a foil Winter River (the only means of obtaining this card!). The Beta box topper is fairly tame, including a foil Sorcery and rubble token as well as a handful of tokens (foot soldiers, frogs, etc). I am sure that a few folks on the Collector Arthouse Discord will be overjoyed with the prospect of owning a truly overwhelming number of Frog Tokens (I can think of at least two people that are probably excited about more frog tokens).

 

Since we’ve been using the Sorcerer as a model to examine the difference of Alpha and Beta, I’d be remiss if we didn’t take a moment to examine the differences between the Alpha and Beta versions here as a well (Figure 19).


Figure 19 - The foil Alpha and Beta Sorcerers from the box toppers side by side


Unsurprisingly, it seems that the beta version is slightly darker. Similarly, if we look at the foil Alpha and Beta Sorcerer box topper under a stereoscope (Figure 20), we can see some minor differences. It seems that the print resolution for the beta version might be slightly higher than the alpha version as the print dots seem to be a bit smaller. This is probably most evident in the set of images furthest to the right featuring the text.


Figure 20 – Micrograph of Alpha (top) and Beta Sorcerer (bottom) foil box topper at 2X magnification using a stereoscope


 

Packaging

The booster packs themselves not only “feel” easier to open, but they also now feature a UPC code on the back and the Beta symbol (instead of Alpha) on the front-facing side of the box. When it comes to the physical booster boxes themselves, not much has changed here but there are some subtle differences in the art featured on the box. Fear not: as before, Beta comes with those lovely dividers to prevent packs from floating around freely, void stickers on the top and bottom, scratch off Dust codes, plastic wrapping, and the same all-around sturdy feel. Unsurprisingly, the Alpha and Beta booster boxes each detail how many booster packs come in each (39 and 36, respectively). The Beta booster now sports a lovely UPC barcode on the bottom (this is a broad release after all). Of particular note, the art featured on the outside of the boxes has changed. Gone is Francesca Baerald’s art for Erik’s Curiosa, in is Elwira Pawlikowska’s lovely Windmill.


Figure 21 - Alpha versus beta booster boxes and preconstructed deck kits; left to right: front side, back side, left side, right side


Oh, and one final note. If you made it this far you will not be shocked to learn that cases of boosters now feature a “β” instead of “α”, but now we´re really grasping at minute and truly insignificant details (no image for this one, you’ll just have to take my word for it!). I have tried to summarize some of the important Alpha and Beta set details in Table 3 below. I am sure that a few more differences will be discovered over the coming months. It will certainly be interesting to see what changes future rereleases of the core set will bring, especially as new mechanics are added to the game in coming expansions. I will attempt to add any interesting observations on the differences between Alpha and Beta as time goes on.


Don’t sweat the small stuff and good luck contesting the Realm!


Table 3 – Summary of key Sorcery Contested Realm Alpha and Beta sets


 

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