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With the exception of basic lands, are all Alpha, Beta, and Arabian Nights cards banned in sanctioned tournaments? Does that also include Deserts?

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

There is a special limitation on Alpha cards to account for their differently-cut edges. From the official Magic The Gathering Floor Rules:

102. Authorized Cards

Alpha cards (cards from the first print run of the basic set) may be used in decks containing non-Alpha cards only if all cards are placed in completely opaque sleeves and only if the sleeves could not be considered marked. If sleeves are not used, Alpha cards may be used only in decks that consist exclusively of Alpha cards.

There are no such restrictions on Beta or Arabian Nights cards however, which are (hopefully) less easily distinguishable by their shape from modern cards.

As rahzark's answer rightly suggests, individual cards may be restricted or banned in different tournament formats, but there's no prohibition against cards from older sets as a whole.

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While it's not explicitly in the floor rules, it should also be pointed out that playing old cards either without sleeves or with transparent sleeves can cause you to be playing marked cards because of the difference in tones between old and new sets (from changes in print process). I see this a lot, unfortunately, drafting at smaller shops where the 'land box' still has Ice Age or Mirage basics in it that are visibly different from the cards being drafted. – Steven Stadnicki May 31 '12 at 17:58
Often, you'll find that people will actively seek out the older cards to play with, even in standard tournaments. Beta lands are especially popular around here. – Hyppy Jun 13 '12 at 23:09

First of all, sanctioned tournaments have different formats, which allow for different cards. You can read more about all sanctioned formats here.

Generally, if you want to play older cards you should get into Legacy or Vintage. You can play cards of any white or black bordered set except for cards that are banned in each respective format.

Most cards from those expansions (like Desert) aren't banned so you can play with them in Legacy or Vintage!

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Desert was reprinted in Time Shifted, From the Vaults, and was made into a promo, so therefor you could turn to the newer printings of the card if you are having complications with a judge on the matter.

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While relevant for one card, this does not answer the question regarding Alpha, Beta and Arabian Nights cards in general. – doppelgreener Apr 13 '15 at 0:39

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