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Alliances booster pack each containing 12 cards per pack. Distribution is 1 rare, 3 uncommon, and 8 common. Released on June 10, 1996, Alliances is the second set in the Ice Age block (with the inclusion of Coldsnap). The set contains 144 black-bordered cards (46 rare, 43 uncommon, and 55 common). The commons each have two pieces of art making the total set size 199 cards.
Alliances is the fourteenth Magic: the Gathering set and eighth expansion set, It was released 8 months after Homelands, which is the longest gap between expansion sets in the history of the game. Prior to the Coldsnap release it was the third and final set in the Ice Age block with Homelands being the second set then.
The story follows the events of Ice Age, after the so-called goddess (actually a planeswalker) Freyalise had used her magic to end the Ice Age. As the lands grew warmer, conflicts began to erupt. The Balduvian Barbarians were under constant attacks from a vigilante group headed by a former Kjeldoran knight, General Varchild, and needed to turn to their former foes for help. The Soldevi alliance was breaking down amid fears that their unearthing of artifacts of the Brothers' War (as described in Antiquities) could restart that destructive conflict. And all the while, the wicked necromancer known as Lim-Dûl gathered forces to conquer the entire world.
Although Alliances did not feature new keywords, it did introduce a cycle of cards with an alternate casting cost, known as "pitch spells" (Scars of the Veteran, Force of Will, Contagion, Pyrokinesis, and Bounty of the Hunt ). Cards with this mechanic allowed the player exile another card in their hand instead of paying its mana cost. The most influential card of this type is the counter spell Force of Will. It is one of the most played cards in the eternal formats, Legacy and Vintage, commonly referred to as "the glue that holds (the format) together". This is largely because Force of Will is one of the very few cards that can prevent a first turn win.
Alliances experimented with different levels of rarities of cards. There are 49 rares in the set, three of these being artifacts that are actually three times as common as the other rares, thus making them just as common as most uncommons. Of the 45 different uncommons there are five which come in two alternatively illustrated versions. With both versions combined these are three times as common the other uncommons in Alliances and thus just as common as most commons. The remaining 100 cards are 50 commons that each come in two versions, and in ten cases one of the two versions is twice as common as the other. Including alternate art, there are 31 cards of each color, 10 multicolor cards, 26 Artifacts, and 8 Lands. Alliances was the only set besides Chronicles to be sold in 12 card packs. Each pack included one rare card, three uncommon, and eight common cards. Chronicles in comparison had no genuine rare cards, but included an additional common in each pack.
Alliances was the last set to have multiple cards (other than basic lands) with more than one artistic conception, a feature begun in Antiquities, but most prominently used in Fallen Empires, Homelands, and Alliances. This was done to add variety to the multiple copies of common cards that a typical player would collect, but many players complained that they were unable to identify certain cards by a single distinctive artwork. Wizards of the Coast rethought their policy and have since limited cards (other than basic lands) within a set to a single artist's representation.