I finally feel like I'm starting to reach these kids.
I don't know if I deserve partial credit for jamming my new catch phrase down every Arena Decklists listener's throat, but reactions to the latest free spell have, for once, been entirely appropriate. Everyone is justifiably terrified.
Let's take a little stroll down Modern's banned list, shall we?
Notice any similarities here? These are all cards that have a tremendous impact on the game absent any expenditure of mana. We could go broader and look at cards that leave you plus mana such as Rite of Flame, Seething Song, Krark-Clan Ironworks, Summer Bloom, and so many more, but I think you get the picture. Cheating on mana messes with the game of Magic, often in extremely problematic ways. Once Upon a Time is cut from the same cloth, and directly slots into the scariest decks in the Modern format.
Don't read this as me doing something silly like calling for pre-emptive bans. Anyone making such claims doesn't understand how heavily context factors into card playability, and even if the raw rate of Once Upon of Time pushes into unacceptable realms, it does come saddled with limitations. The first is a sharp drop off in effectiveness for multiple copies. Obviously, only one copy of Once Upon a Time will get the free spell buff, and an opener with multiple copies will pay a cost in mana efficiency later in the game.
The second clear weakness is a pronounced power trough in the mid-game, especially in Modern. While the card selection of Once Upon a Time will pay tremendous dividends in a mana-rich late game, tacking two extra mana onto a threat on Turns 2 or 3 is going to be enough to render that threat virtually useless. Some reliability in mana access offsets this downside, but there isn't much wiggle room on those turns in a format as fast as Modern.
Finally, we must consider that deckbuilding limitations implied by a card like Once Upon a Time. Five cards deep means that Once Upon a Time will be forgiving, but it still isn't destined to slot everywhere. Minimum requirements for creatures and lands are real, and I would argue that due to the aforementioned mid-game mana inefficiency, decks with relatively flat power levels or decks that rely on go-wide aggression may pass on Once Upon a Time.
This means that there are some specific archetypes that are going to want to leverage Once Upon a Time. For the most part, the hive mind quickly and correctly identified what Modern decks have a buff coming their way. However, thus far the hype level inversely matches the true scale of the upgrade.
- 4 Allosaurus Rider
- 2 Autochthon Wurm
- 4 Chancellor of the Tangle
- 1 Laboratory Maniac
- 4 Simian Spirit Guide
- 1 Wild Cantor
- 2 Griselbrand
- Upgrade Hype: 10 out of 10
- Upgrade Reality: 2 out of 10