How to Identify White Bordered Magic the Gathering Sets
Many Magic the Gathering players will stumble across cards from older sets, whether buying someone’s old collection or rediscovering cards from their own childhood. If the collection came from before 2007, then there is a good chance you will see cards that do not have a black border, but instead have a white border. This was a way Wizards of the Coast used to symbolize reprints and core sets, until tenth edition when black borders became standard on all cards. While WOTC have put a set symbol on almost all black bordered cards for identification, there are several white bordered sets that are more challenging to identify.
With a Set Symbol
The easiest cards to identify are always the ones with a Set Symbol, which is just a small picture found on the right side underneath the card’s picture, as circled in the example of Griselbrand. Set Symbols appear on both black and white bordered cards, on every set after fifth edition. If there is a symbol there, matching it with the corresponding symbol at http://magic.wizards.com/en/products/card-set-archive will give you all you need to know about the set. However, if there is no symbol then identification gets more challenging.
Without a set symbol
If you have a Magic card without a set symbol then it was printed in a set from 1997 or earlier. If this card is also a white bordered card, then it came from either Unlimited, Revised, 4th, or 5th edition, and especially without lots of experience these sets they all look very similar. 4th and 5th edition are simple to tell apart from the rest, because of the copyright date at the bottom of the card. 4th edition has a 1995 date and 5th has a 1997 date. Unlimited and Revised however are both sets without copyright dates, no set symbols, and white borders, making them very difficult to tell which is which. A side by side comparison of the two reveals that the ink is often lighter in Revised than Unlimited, as well as the title for Revised is slightly further from the border. The most telling difference between the two however is the inside border for Unlimited cards are double beveled while the inside border for Revised cards are only single beveled. Without having a known card for comparison, the inner border is the easiest way to tell if a white bordered card is Unlimited or Revised. Unlimited occasionally also have updated wording in comparison to Revised, where Unlimited have a tap symbol and Revised have the word tap, or other updates in wording that are similar.
Identifying what set a Magic card is from is a skill that will save you time and keep you from getting ripped off while trading or selling cards, as well as nice for just satisfying your own curiosity. Hopefully this guide provided you enough information to feel confident about identifying your card, but never feel too embarrassed to ask someone who has more experience with cards, especially if you are unsure about more valuable cards.
Bonus: If you have a card that is black bordered but has no set symbol, then you are likely dealing with an Alpha or Beta card, and these are even easier to identify than you might think. Alpha cards have much more rounded corners than any other card, where Beta have very normal corners. Putting the mystery card in comparison to any other card will show either matching or much more round corners, round corners being Alpha and Beta having nearly matching corners.
By Gage Dewsbury
All card images can be found on gatherer.wizards.com.