vraan, executioner thane
17, Feb, 23

MTG Players Push Back Against Once Per Turn Effects!

Article at a Glance

Once per turn is a line of text that commonly pops up on cards even outside of the MTG game space. This restriction may seem like a fun killer. Still, it generally represents one small barrier between a card having an interesting ability that allows the player to explore some unique gameplay space and a card that warps a format so unforgivingly that the game space being explored is ruined. MTG players, in particular, have been kicking up a fuss about this simple line of text being easily missed. It seems to cause a surprising amount of inaccurate assessments – leading players to believe a card is much better than it really is. These feels bad moments are beginning to create a larger context of players discussing the mechanic. The biggest problem? Whether the fun-killing line of text appears at the beginning or the end of an MTG card.

Once Per Turn Drama

Much of the drama surrounding the use of the ‘once per turn’ keyword in MTG cards seems… strange. Many MTG players’ biggest issue with the line of text is where it’s placed on the card. ‘Once per turn’ generally appears at the end of a card, which is easy it is to miss – leading to players misinterpreting abilities that ends up functioning in a completely different way. This issue started to make its rounds on MTG designer Mark Rosewater’s Blogatog. The most obvious response to this is simply to tell these players to read the entire card, and that’s exactly the feedback that many MTG players had:

“Do you always make your final judgement after only getting half the information about something? Do you eat a new dish halfway through cooking it? Do you get up and leave a theater after act 2? Do you propose to a partner right after finding out their favorite color? If you’re making value judgements on something with less than full information, the letdown **is your own fault**” – cannotwyn

There are others, like wynnecluster, who think the placement of the ‘once per turn’ effect “doesn’t matter that much,” but there are still a number of players who are bothered by the placement of the once per turn clause.

vraan, executioner thane

An excellent example of this clause in action comes from a card that was printed in Phyrexia: All Will Be One. Vraan, Executioner Thane would be much more exciting without this clause. Aristocrat effects like Blood Artist have been quite the force in constructed Magic when the atmosphere is right. The Meathook Massacre, for example, is a terrifying board wipe with an Aristocrat payoff that was banned out of the Standard format. Players’ don’t agree that this ban was warranted, but that is a different conversation.

Vrann’s ability seems absolutely incredible. On the surface, this is twice as potent as Blood Artist and has a much more significant body. When you get to the end of the ability and read the last line of text, however, the card’s ability takes a 180 turn from being something incredible to something that’s just… ok. That is the issue many players have with the once per turn placement.

Once Per Turn at the Beginning of the Card

Once More With Feeling by Terese Nielson

Responding to this grievance, Tumblr user pantswithoutlegholes suggested that the ‘once per turn’ clause be moved to the beginning of an MTG card to prevent the disappointment associated with misinterpreting a card’s abilities. MTG designer Mark Rosewater had this to say in response:

“”The problem is [moving “once per turn” to beginning of ability] makes the first time reading it slightly better and then makes it harder to use for every future use because what the ability is is more important to know up front.” – Mark Rosewater

Basically, Rosewater claims that the essential part of a card is what it actually does, not the restriction applied to a card’s ability. This is important after the card is used the first time, but it makes for a rougher reading experience every other instance the card is activated. In comparison, putting the ‘once per turn’ clause at the end of the card presents what the card does first – the most critical information mid-game – and tacks on the restriction at the end of the ability.

Read More: One of the Most Iconic MTG Mechanics Is Getting Worse!

What’s the Problem?

The Eon Fog by Jaime Jones

Following a bunch of other suggestions from MTG players, like using a universal symbol to represent the ‘once per turn’ clause that is difficult to miss (which inherently had other issues), Mark Rosewater posed this question to the playerbase:

“Here’s my question. Why is it so important that players know immediately that an effect can only be used once? Part of Magic is learning that some things are better than they seem at first glance. It’s okay if every card doesn’t have the absolute best first impression.”

The disconnect between the question asked, and many of the MTG playerbase’s response to this question is that this question takes the stance that a ‘once per turn’ being known the first time around would allow for a player to discover that these abilities present better than they read. Most player’s problem stems from the exact opposite direction:

“I interact with Magic mainly through EDH and pre releases. Either way, assume I don’t remember what the card says. so I’m constantly scanning for triggers I’m going to miss and activations that can help me. If I see “When [trigger] you may [cost] do cool thing, but first let me sing you the song of my people…! Anyway, activate up to once per turn”, then I am not going to get past “cool thing”. Put all the “does this matter” info up front. Put “what does it do” after.” – arandomstringofcharacters

“As someone from a game where putting “Once per turn” at the start is common, I don’t remember what effects have what limits without looking and being able to glance at a card and instantly know whether or not it’s spent saves a lot of reading time.” – totallynotnameddan

Long story short, player’s biggest issues with the ‘once per turn’ placement is the disappointment that follow with assessing a card’s effect incorrectly. There are also a lot of other IPs in the TCG space that communicate the ‘once per turn’ restriction at the beginning of their cards. Yu-Gi-Oh! is, probably, the most popular example of this.

Reading the Card Explains the Card

At the end of the day, this may just be a convoluted reminder to read the entire card’s text before deciding whether it’s good or not. I’ve made many mistakes and spent many rare wildcards on MTG Arena on cards that I assessed to be way better than they were because I failed to read an ability properly. While these lessons have taught me to slow down and break a card down when first assessing it, the rate of disappointment suggests that a change may be needed. Is this really a massive problem amongst different groups of MTG players? In my opinion, we just need to read our cards properly.

Read More: Hasbro Answers MTG Players’ Prayers After Billion-Dollar Success

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