PSA Set Registry
The 1993 Magic: The Gathering Arabian Nights Card Set
Collecting the First Magic Expansion Series
by Kevin Glew
It seems fitting that the expansion symbol for the 1993 Magic: The Gathering (MTG) Arabian Nights set is a sword with a curved blade called a scimitar.
After all, competition for high-grade singles and booster boxes from this series has become increasingly cutthroat.
"The [Arabian Nights] cards are highly collectible. There has always been a strong demand for them due to their rarity and interesting artwork and theme," noted Udo Kieslich, who owns the No. 4 Current Finest, 1993 MTG Arabian Nights set on the PSA Set Registry. "This expansion [set] had a relatively small print run with demand far outstripping supply, helping make it the most valuable expansion set."
It was also MTG's first expansion set. Expansion sets, which have since become a staple of MTG's product line, offer new cards that expand on the base issues. Each has their own theme and setting and can be played on their own or with the base cards.
Released by Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) in December of 1993, this offering is comprised of 78 cards that were sold in eight-card booster packs. Reports indicate that five million of these cards were produced.
The set consists of 51 uncommon cards and 27 common cards. The common and uncommon cards were produced on separate 121-card sheets. Of the 51 uncommon cards, one card appears on the sheet four times, 17 cards are featured three times, and 33 cards are on it twice. These 33 cards are considered the rare singles in this issue.
The Magic: The Gathering (MTG) trading card game was the brainchild of Richard Garfield, who began creating it when he was a mathematics student at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1980s. Garfield was reportedly trying to sell a game called RoboRally in 1993 when he met Peter Adkison of WOTC. Shortly thereafter, Garfield pitched Magic: The Gathering to him. Neither Garfield nor Adkison could have dreamed of how popular MTG would become. It was the first trading card game of its kind and it has spawned countless imitators.
The theme for the Arabian Nights set was inspired by a collection of Middle Eastern and South Asian tales called One Thousand and One Nights. Adkison ordered this expansion set in the summer of 1993, a short time before the base Magic set was released. Garfield had to work quickly with a team of developers to construct this set which features artwork from a wide variety of artists.
The 1993 MTG Arabian Nights cards were not numbered and the color-bordered fronts offer the card title and game information at the top followed by the artwork. These cards are distinguished by the aforementioned scimitar symbol, which can be found to the bottom-right of the artwork.
"The artwork is unique on these cards primarily because it's tied to the One Thousand and One Arabian Nights mythology/folklore," explained veteran MTG collector Jeremy Jones. For those who have read these stories or have grown up watching Disney's Aladdin, he adds, the set's theme will truly resonate with them.
The artwork on the Arabian Nights cards captivated Kieslich.
"I absolutely love the artwork on the cards as it's based on real-world mythology, and I find it pretty adventurous," he said.
It should be noted that there are variations of 14 common cards in this series. One version of these cards showcases mana symbols (on the top right) that are smaller and darker than they are on the other (see examples on last page). Daniel Chang, president and CEO of VintageMagic.com, says he hasn't noticed a premium for either version.
The card type and more game-related text can be found under the artwork on the card front, and some cards present short quotes from One Thousand and One Nights. The artists' names are indicated at the bottom. The backs flaunt MTG branding and employ the same design as the original MTG series.
Garfield initially planned for Arabian Nights to be a standalone series, with the cards boasting their own distinct backs. But feedback from players indicated that they objected to this and that they wanted the freedom to play these cards with the other series, so the backs were changed to be identical to those in the original series.
These cards were sold exclusively in booster packs which included eight cards - six common cards and two uncommon cards. The original price was reportedly $1.50 a pack.
"I would say that if you were to find an ungraded pack in good condition today, it would probably go for $600 to $700," said Chang. "If it's a PSA [GEM-MT] 10 pack, then the price would probably double."
Booster boxes house 60 packs and are very rare today. In a late March 2017 interview, Chang said that he sold his last unopened Arabian Nights booster box for "about $45,000."
Collectors who are fortunate enough to track down and purchase one of those boxes are hoping to pull the series' big three cards: Bazaar of Baghdad, Juzam Djinn, and Library of Alexandria.
Jones says the Bazaar of Baghdad card was not highly sought after until the MTG Ravnica: City of Guilds expansion series was unveiled in 2005. New mechanics were introduced in the game at that time that inspired collectors to revisit this card and employ it more frequently in game play.
Â "A PSA 10 could sell in the $1,000 to $1,500 range," said Chang.
The Juzam Djinn card has long been coveted by collectors. It's an uncommon card that was only on the print sheet twice and was also one of the most powerful cards in the game.
"My favorite [Arabian Nights] card is without a doubt Juzam Djinn, which I used extensively in my earlier decks as it was the most powerful creature at the time," said Kieslich. "The artwork by Mark Tedin and quote by Ouallada on this card are truly special."
Chang offers a similar assessment.
"It's probably one of the most iconic cards in Magic period," he said. "The artwork provides an image of this little Aladdin guy being picked up by this enormous Djinn."
Jones also points out that this card was highlighted on the cover of the first volume of WOTC's Magic encyclopedia (alongside the Black Lotus card).
"It's kind of a ghostly image, but it's colorful with the red and green," said Jones. "They put it on the cover of the encyclopedia with the Black Lotus and those images became iconic."
The Library of Alexandria single is also very powerful and desirable. In fact, it's so powerful that some believe that the list of the Magic's Power Nine cards* should be expanded to include this single.
"It's one of my favorite cards," said Jones. "The artwork is really nice. The illustrator is Mark Poole and he worked on several of the original cards in the Alpha set ... Some people argue that it's as powerful, if not more powerful, than the Black Lotus card."
"This is arguably the most iconic Arabian Nights card in the entire set," said Chang. "That particular card is a $1,000 card ungraded in mint condition, and a PSA 10 would go for almost double that amount."
This set also includes an error card. When it was decided that this series was going to be made playable with the base set, the creators removed the basic lands cards. One Mountain card, however, mistakenly remained on the sheet.
The Arabian Nights cards can be difficult to uncover in pristine condition.
"As with all of the earlier editions of MTG, most of the popular cards suffered from wear and tear by having been shuffled and played in decks without the use of protective sleeves," shared Kieslich. "Being a collectible card game, there were collectors out there who strived to build complete sets that were stored and not played, but a large number of cards have been damaged over the years. In addition to this, many cards from the earlier editions of MTG suffered from centering issues, depending on where the card was placed on the print sheet."
Chang says he has also noticed print lines on some of the cards.
These condition issues are another reason why competition for high-grade examples of the key cards has become cutthroat. The prices for unopened booster packs and boxes have also skyrocketed. Jones and Chang attribute some of this increase to the growing interest in a relatively new playing format known as Old School Magic, in which players only use 1993 and 1994 MTG cards.
"People are playing with these Arabian Nights cards [again]," said Chang. "The Old School Magic has brought about a resurgence of interest in these cards."
The fact that the supply of unopened Arabian Nights material is drying up has also contributed to the price spike, and Chang and Jones say that this set's relatively small size is attractive to beginning Magic collectors.
"To this day, a lot of the set collectors I run into looking for an introduction to Magic make this set their first purchase," said Chang.
Jones has had a similar experience.
"It's a great starter set for people looking to get into collecting Magic: The Gathering because there are only a handful of cards that are worth a couple of hundred dollars or more," he said.
But Jones, Chang, and Kieslich believe the value of high-grade Arabian Nights cards and booster packs and boxes will increase in the future.
"My outlook on the Arabian Nights set is very bullish," said Chang. "You're talking about a set that's very low in supply, had a limited print run, and people played with the cards ... and I'm telling you, it's not easy to get a PSA 10 because of the centering issues. So the investment value on the graded cards is tremendous."
Kieslich offers a similar assessment.
"If the past is any indication of the future, then yes, the value will keep on rising - they have done so exponentially over the past 20 years," he said. "MTG is the biggest collectible card game in the world, new editions and expansion sets are still being released each year, and they can be found in over 70 different countries in a variety of languages. So the potential base of new collectors is massive and global. The earlier editions are highly sought after due to their extreme rarity, collectability, and nostalgic value."
* The Power Nine cards from the base MTG series are regarded to be the Black Lotus, Ancestral Recall, Mox Emerald, Mox Jet, Mox Pearl, Mox Ruby, Mox Sapphire, Time Walk, and Timetwister.
For more information on the 1993 Magic: The Gathering Arabian Nights card set, please visit https://www.psacard.com/cardfacts/non-sports-cards/1993-magic-gathering-arabian-nights/32532.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Thank you to Udo Kieslich and Jeremy Jones for providing images for this article. Please note that any Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of May 2017.
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