Once Upon a Time

4 versions

A Fairy Tale Begins

Only the test of time and countless Magic: The Gathering games will tell if the story that begins with Once Upon a Time will truly have a happy ending. Or the card may end up living a less happily ever after in trade binders of Magic players along with hosts of other promising new cards that never proved themselves worthy of any of the major non-rotating formats.

Once Upon a Time Free Spells Were Too Strong

Once Upon a Time is a green instant, which for 1G lets you look at the top five cards of your library and reveal a creature or land from among those cards to put into your hand. (The remaining cards are afterwards put on the bottom of your library in random order.) The card also comes with the clause that you may cast it without paying its mana cost if it’s the first spell you cast this game. This is, of course, the factor that makes any seasoned Magic player give it, at the very least, a second glance.

Before the release of Throne of Eldraine (October 2019), the Magic community was divided into strong arguments in favor and against the relevance and playability of the card. Some saw it as an obviously broken card, headed for an early ban in Modern and Legacy. Due to the chance of playing it for free, they predicted that the card will be played by, at least, one player in nearly every game of Magic in the future.

Others saw it as an over-cost and over-hyped poorer cousin of Ancient Stirrings and a card of little relevance. At best, it would become a niche card that would only see play in a few lower tier decks. However, there are important differences between Once Upon a Time and Ancient Stirrings:

  • Converted mana cost 0 or 2 versus CMC 1
  • Cast at instant speed versus sorcery speed
  • Finds any creature or land versus any colorless card
  • Remaining cards are placed randomized versus in any order on the bottom of your library

The last difference may not yet have relevance to any competitively played deck, but each of the others may be deciding factors for players looking to include Once Upon a Time, Ancient Stirrings, or both in their deck.

Once Upon a Time in Modern and Legacy

Besides Once Upon a Time definitely being playable in Standard for its mana fixing ability and to help sculpt your opening hand, it will be interesting to follow how the card will fare in Modern and Legacy as its story unfolds.

Will it really be banned, or will it just be a forgotten tale? The card is predicted to see play in different Legacy decks revolving around Dark Depths, such as Turbo Depths, and in Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis decks. In Modern, it could help put the necessary pieces together in Neoform decks.

Two versions of the card are being printed for Throne of Eldraine: an ordinary version and a borderless version. The price trend for Once Upon a Time being a rare may end up on the high end, especially if it becomes a staple in Standard, Modern, and Legacy. The borderless version could particularly become highly sought-after with a price to match its even higher rarity.

Comments (3)

jotun85(2019-09-30 15:29)

Well, the difference between 3 and 4 copies for the probability to be able to cast OUaT for free as your first spell is actually not so big. Frank Karsten wrote about it and it's only 9% (44,5% vs. 35,4%). At the same time the risk to get 2 copies in your first 12 cards drops significantly by 11% from 35,5% to 24,6% for 3 copies. So there is a strong argument for only 3 copies depending on deck or format.

Creature-heavy Simic Flash will want 4 copies to get Ambusher or Mystic out on curve. I am experimenting with Lotus Storm in Modern at the moment, where you want OUaT only to find Lotus Field or third land. One wouldn't really want to draw a second copy during combo. But it's not so bad, because you thin your deck by 2 cards (OUaT + Land) and often you would not have found a land to play in turn 4 otherwise, so OUaT effectively costs you only one mana, which is quiet a good deal to thin your deck. Furthermore, there is the chance to hit a cycling land, in cases where your Lotus field already provides a lot of mana and you don't need a fourth land at all.

You see, there is a lot of math involved in the story. One more reason I love the game design of this card.

maxsilver(2019-09-16 17:39)

If you want to play this card for 0 not just sometimes, but almost every match once, you will need to play 4 of them and here is the problem:
After having one casted for zero you will have 3 remaining in your deck that you can only cast for [1G]. Especially, then this card is probably not something you want to draw on any turn ≥ 3.

OregonKamm23(2019-09-09 22:11)

This card is insane... Feasible in any aggro deck there is. Will be played in Neobrand as well as Tron and can be played in Jund, The Rock, and any variation of zoo decks. Might become the "Force of Negation" in terms of Price fluctuation of the current set.

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