A Multikick in the Seat of the Pants

Posted in Feature on January 25, 2010

By Mark Rosewater

Working in R&D since '95, Mark became Magic head designer in '03. His hobbies: spending time with family, writing about Magic in all mediums, and creating short bios.

Welcome to Worldwake Previews, Week II. Last week I talked about how we tweaked the land theme. This week I'm going to talk about how we tweaked everything else. But before we get to all of that, how about starting off with the preview card. Let's start this article with a bang.

I guess I should begin by making sure you understand what multikicker does. Here it is in a nutshell. You know how kicker works? It's like that, except there's no limit on how many times you can kick it. (The famous " [CENSORED] without [CENSORED] " turns out to be "kicker without limits.") Also remember that multikicker enhances the spell it's on, meaning that all the improvements are still on the one spell. (Probably the biggest difference, by the way, between multikicker and replicate, but more on this in a bit.) This will matter for things like counterspells.

In case you're still confused, here's how Wolfbriar Elemental works:

Pay – Get a 4/4 Elemental
Pay – Get a 4/4 Elemental and a 2/2 Wolf
Pay – Get a 4/4 Elemental and two 2/2 Wolves
Pay – Get a 4/4 Elemental and three 2/2 Wolves
Pay – Get a 4/4 Elemental and four 2/2 Wolves

And so on and so on ....

Our internal phrase was "Multikicker takes kicker to 11." (If you don't get that reference, go rent This Is Spinal Tap. No, really.) Any given kicker cost always has one of two states: kicked and not kicked. A multikicker cost has an infinite number of possibilities.

How did multikicker come about, and why does it premiere in Worldwake? I'm glad you asked.

I Know What You Augment

Multikicker got its start with the following card:

Augment Bear
Creature – Bear
Augment – 2
When you play CARDNAME for each additional 2 you pay, CARDNAME comes into play with a +1/+1 counter.

I created it during Zendikar design because I realized that creating an environment where people could play more land meant that we also had to give them something to spend it on. The idea behind this card (and four others, as I made this as a common cycle—I list this one first as it was the card I first used to show off the mechanic) was that it was a creature that could be as big as you wanted it to be. No matter how much additional mana you had, this mechanic would let you use it.

In my mind, augment was a creature ability, although I realized it could have other applications. It was clear from the first playtest that Augment Bear and its ilk played wonderfully. In fact, there was a point in the middle of design where my design strategy was to draft as many of these creatures as I could. (It was a pretty good strategy, too.) There was only one problem with the mechanic. You see, R&D VP Bill Rose had asked the designers to be more conscious about bringing mechanics back. When the "we need things that let you spend your mana" issue first came up, I looked back at all the old mechanics to see which ones best fit our needs. Kicker was at the top of the list, so I threw it into the playtest.

This all led to the following discussion between me and my team:

Me: I think this augment mechanic is paying really well.
Them: It is, but it can't be augment.
Me: Why not?
Them: It's just kicker.
Me: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Every mechanic is kicker or split cards. So what?
Them: No, it's kicker. In a set with kicker.
Me: But it's not exactly kicker.
Them: No, it is.
Me: But this does things kicker cannot do.
Them: Like what?
Me: This mechanic lets you use it as many times as you want. It's not kicker. It's more of a multikicker.
Them: Then we should make it a kicker variant.
Me: But what would we call it?

I have no problem doing kicker-like mechanics, because as I've explained, many mechanics are essentially kicker. But even I have to draw the line when kicker is in the set. Besides, augment was much more exciting as multikicker.

Quick aside: As a word guy, I take names of mechanics very seriously. The second the mechanic was changed to be a kicker variant I used the name multikicker. I was so sure it was the right name that I pushed very hard to keep it. Luckily the powers that be (some know him as Doug Beyer) liked the name and kept it.

So multikicker was invented during Zendikar design. How did it end up being introduced in Worldwake? The mechanic was handed off from design to development in the Zendikar file. As development played with the set, they realized that it had a little more going on than it needed. The development team came to the conclusion that bringing back kicker was exciting in and of itself. What if multikicker was held off until Worldwake? This would give Worldwake something new, while helping give Zendikar a little room to grow. It also allowed Zendikar to focus on kicker's return rather than its evolution.

For Multikicks

The very first playtest had a card in it with this mechanic that went to print in an almost identical form. (Fine, Bears became Beasts.) How hard of a time could the mechanic have had? The answer is harder than you might imagine. The mechanic had two big issues that kept coming up.

Issue #1 – It's Just Spells

Mark Gottlieb and I have very opposite roles. My job is to figure out how to do things we've done but in a slightly different way so they feel fresh and new. Mark's job, as the Rules Manager, is to make everything that can work the same way work the same way. The results of this often are that I pitch some offbeat idea and Mark replies that we can take the idea and execute it using some mechanic we already have.

When I first talked to him about augment, he was unimpressed. He explained that I had basically come up with a clunkier, more complex way of making spells. For example, here is the card Blaze:


Now here's the card with almost identical functionality using multikicker:

Multikick Blaze
Multikicker 1 (You may pay an additional 1 any number of times as you cast this spell.)
CARDNAME deals 1 damage to target creature or player. For each time Multikick Blaze was kicked, Multikick Blaze deals an additional 1 damage to the targeted creature or player.

My answer was that he was correct, but only for a tiny sliver of cards. The direct spell equivalent only applies when the kicker increments are in batches of one and the multikicker cost is a single colorless mana. If the batches have other increments or the multikicker costs involve colored mana, it becomes a lot harder to express the cards using an . This is why there is very little "multikicker " in the set, and when you do see it, the effect isn't simply notching up the effect by 1.

Issue #2 – It's Just Replicate

For those of you that might not have played four years ago, in Guildpact there was a mechanic called replicate (it was the keyword mechanic of the blue-red Izzet guild). Here are a few examples:

The idea behind Replicate was that you could pay the replicate cost as any times as you wanted to make copies of the spell. In Guildpact (the only set to ever have replicate), the replicate costs always matched the mana cost of the spell.

At first glance, replicate and multikicker do seem similar. Here's why: barring the difference I talked about above (one spell versus many spells), multikicker is to replicate what normal kicker is to buyback. That is, replicate is a subset of multikicker. It is one way to use it, just as buyback is a subset of kicker. This means that multikicker has the ability to do a lot of things replicate can't, because the mechanic is a magnitude larger.

So I don't get Gottlieb writing me an email, let me quickly stress again that there is a significant rules reason why multikicker and replicate are different. Replicate makes copies of the spell in question, while multikicker affects the original spell, almost always making it more powerful. This matters for things like counterspells. A single counterspell can only stop one part of a replicated spell, where it can stop all of a multikicked spell.

In the end, the design team decided that to help provide a separation, we'd keep to a minimum spells that filled the space of replicate—that is, spells where each multikick essentially just copies the original spell.

Just You Innovate

As I explained last week, the second set in a block has many responsibilities. One of these is making sure that the set continues what the first set has done and another is making sure the set has some new things in it. How can we do both? One way is to find interesting spaces to explore in areas already touched upon by in the first set. Using cards from the Visual Spoiler, I'm going to talk about a few of those innovations. I'm going to make you click to see each card as I don't want people accidentally being exposed to preview cards if they don't want to see them. (Although this is a dangerous place to be reading right now.)

Zendikar played around with landfall that created spell-like effects. The twist in Zendikar is that we have cards where landfall does not generate the effect, but rather allow it to exist in multiples. We played around with these cards in Zendikar design and decided that they had enough subtle play interactions that we'd hold off on them for the first expansion. You'll notice on all these cards that we chose effects where having multiples is very relevant.

Another variant we played around with is putting landfall on nonpermaments. We did this for several reasons. First, landfall on instants opened up new design space. (All the landfall spells are instants because it created an interesting tension about when to play them.) Second, they encouraged a different order for playing lands. In Zendikar, you always wanted to make sure the landfall cards was played before the land. Landfall spells turn that around.

In Zendikar, all the spell-like effects on Allies were "enter the battlefield" effects. Worldwake introduces the idea of abilities on Allies. This was something we tried during Zendikar development (the Allies were redone during development). The play was a little more complex, so we chose to hold it off until the second set.

Allies at instant speed. A card that allows two Allies to enter the battlefield at once. Worldwake definitely wanted to hit as many innovations for Allies as it could. For fans of Ally decks, I promise you that Worldwake is going to give Ally decks a major boost in the arm.

The Vampires had a "feeding" theme in Zendikar. Worldwake does more to explore other mechanical ways to get across the sense of hunger.

The Trap costs in Zendikar were locked. When you got a cheaper cost, you were just told what it was. Worldwake plays around with the idea of Traps that have more of a variable to their alternative cost.

Sometimes the innovation isn't solely on things that started in Zendikar. R&D has made a real commitment to planeswalkers and part of that is looking for ways to expand upon them mechanically. Making a planeswalker with four abilities was one of the lowest hanging fruits.

As I'm at the mercy of the Visual Spoiler on the Worldwake product page, there are a few other innovations that we did that I can't show you quite yet.

In with the New

So we've spent a lot of time and energy exploring design space of things Zendikar already did. Where's the stuff that has nothing to do with Zendikar? Where's the crazy new mechanic that just comes in out of the blue? There isn't any. Why? Because we've come to the realization that the role of the second set isn't to reinvent the wheel. It's there to provide support for the wheel that was created the set before.

One of the ongoing concerns with an ever-evolving game is that it's the job of design to give a set enough of what it needs, but not to exceed it. Design is a valuable resource, and R&D has learned to treat it as such. Zendikar introduced all sorts of new ideas none of which were fully explored. Worldwake, like any small expansion, has a limited amount of space, and there are tough decisions to be made about what goes in and what comes out.

The recent revelation for us is that what players really want for the second set is further explorations of the things introduced in the first set. When we introduce a brand-new, unrelated thing we are doing so at the cost of further block development. Remember that the new thing can always be used next year, but further advancements have to wait many years until we re-explore the mechanic.

This isn't to say that we don't want to shake things up. For most of the things we held back for Worldwake, we did so because we felt that they added a different layer to the game play. Multikicker is not kicker. Creature-lands are not "spell" lands. Landfall spells are not landfall permanents. The layering of new tweaks makes for a new game experiences. And that is really what the second set is all about.

Seeing the Worldwake

That's about as much as I can say until you all get a chance to try out the set for yourselves. (Prerelease tournaments are this weekend. Hint, hint.) I'm very curious what you all think of Worldwake from the previews and then what you think once you've played it. Drop me an email, post in the forums, find me on Twitter (@maro254). Inquiring minds want to know.

Join me next week when I share a bunch of the card-by-card stories.

Until then, may the exploration begin.

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