The True Costs of Multikicker

Posted in Limited Information on February 23, 2010

By Steve Sadin

When do you cast a card with multikicker now, and when do you wait to power it up further?

If you can wait at no cost, then your choice is clear. You cast your Horizon Drake on turn three, your Hedron Rover on turn four, and then finally on turn five you play your 3/3 Apex Hawks. But what happens if you do have to pay a substantial cost to kick up your spell? And what happens when you only have to pay a marginal cost to get that extra +1/+1 counter?

However, there is a direct tension that often arises between landfall and multikicker. Sure, it's great if you're powering up your landfall creatures while you wait to cast a multikicker card, but if you get your multikicker cards first you can get some fairly undesirable interactions.

If you have a multikicker card or cards in your hand or your deck, then you will want to play out all of your lands so you can get full value out of your Gnarlid Pack or Lightkeeper of Emeria. But if your deck is also full of landfall cards, then you will find yourself feeling pretty silly when you can't power up your Plated Geopede and your Zektar Shrine Expedition because you played out all of your lands to get an extra +1+1 counter or two.

Fortunately, this tension is fairly straightforward. So as long as you keep this interaction in mind, you should be able to make informed play decisions about whether or not to play your lands.

Now that we've got that out of the way, let's take a look at the non-rare multikicker cards in Worldwake to see what interesting draft- and play-related questions they bring up.

Kicking Higher

Lightkeeper of Emeria is a very good card. It's also pretty straightforward to play. Each turn that it's on the board, is probably worth about 2 points of life (whether it's attacking or blocking). Each turn you hold it and wait for another land is worth 2 points of life (assuming you have more lands). If you have a different, comparable play to make, then you should go with the other play and get those couple of extra life points when you do get around to casting your Lightkeeper of Emeria. But if you don't have any other reasonable spells, you are probably going to want to cast your 2/4 flier kicked up as high as you can at the first opportunity (the only notable exception being if you have a completely clogged board and you think that the extra life will come in handy later).

Bloodhusk Ritualist is a card that I undervalued by a lot at the Worldwake Prerelease. Zendikar Limited was an extremely fast format, so I figured that Worldwake would be just as fast. So while there might be some good opportunities to knock out some cards with Bloodhusk Ritualist, I figured it would ultimately be underwhelming.

I was wrong.

Bloodhusk Ritualist is a very solid card, and while I wouldn't want to first-pick it, I would have no problem grabbing it 3rd through 5th. Even late in the game, being able to knock some lands out of your opponent's hand so that he or she isn't able to use them for landfall is incredibly relevant.

I've mentioned this before, but Skitter of Lizards is one of the most deceptively color-intensive cards ever printed. If you try to run it in a deck with 8 or even 9 Mountains, you are going to be consistently disappointed with the card. Even if you have 10 Mountains in your deck, you are frequently going to find yourself frustrated by the kickable Lizards. The thing is, even when Skitter of Lizards is at its best, it still isn't very good. It would, ideally, offer you a reasonable, though underwhelming, play on one, three, five or seven mana. Sure, it won't be as good as any other single card that you could play at those mana costs, but the increased flexibility would often be worth paying a bit for. However, if you can't reliably get on three on five or on seven, then you will find yourself choking on a card that could only aspire to mediocrity in the first place.

Quag Vampires, like Skitter of Lizards, is a very color intensive card. But unlike its hasty cousin, Quag Vampires can reasonably aspire for things beyond mediocrity. In Sealed Deck, Quag Vampires will be unblockable the majority of the time because black is such a popular color in Zendikar / Worldwake Sealed. I wouldn't want to take Quag Vampires before about pick six or seven, but I would consider it an auto-include in any Sealed Deck.

While at first glance Enclave Elite might appear to be inferior to Quag Vampires or Skitter of Lizards because it cannot be cast as a 1/1 on turn one, it's actually a noticeable advantage that it cannot be cast for one mana. The times where it is correct to play a one-mana 1/1 are pretty rare and usually involve having an awesome piece of Equipment or a 1-toughness creature on your opponent's side of the table that you want to block. Enclave Elite simply is not a color-intensive card, and as a result it can easily make its way into any deck with seven or more Islands. By contrast, Quag Vampires needs about eight or nine plus and Skitter of Lizards needs at least ten.

I love Gnarlid Pack. It gives you something good to do at pretty much every relevant point in your curve. While Gnarlid Pack isn't quite a first-pick quality card, it's definitely worth grabbing early. Gnarlid Pack is a very solid play on turn two, three, four and beyond. Its ability to smooth out your draws while still being an incredibly relevant draw late in the game makes it something worth fighting for in a draft. Feel comfortable taking Gnarlid Pack from about third pick on, or over anything that isn't explicitly top-notch (like a bomb, a good piece of removal, or your sixth Ally).

Apex Hawk, like Gnarlid Pack, offers you a solid option at several very important points on your curve. Apex Hawk is better late-game card than Gnarlid Pack, and tends to be just slightly weaker on average early. So you should draft Apex Hawk in pretty much exactly the same way you draft Gnarlid Pack, right?

Actually, no.

While it's functionally very similar in average quality to Gnarlid Pack, there are some very different things to consider when looking at it in a pack. While Gnarlid Pack is great at filling out your curve on turns two, three, four and on, it represents pretty much the same value for every deck. Not the case for Apex Hawk. You will be able to judge Apex Hawk's worth based on the number of cards at three and five mana already in your deck. If you're loaded up with three-drops and you've already got a couple of cards on five, then Apex Hawk isn't going to be all that special for you. But if your deck is short on three-drops, then Apex Hawk can be an absolute steal for you.

After Gnarlid Pack, Voyager Drake is probably my favorite multikicker card. If it were just a 3/3 flier for four, it would still be a top-notch card. But tack on the ability to singlehandedly win you the game by giving your team flying, and you've got a recipe for success. Feel free to take Voyager Drake as early as 1st or 2nd—it rarely dissapoints.

Spell Contortion is a difficult card for me to evaluate. It's really hard to leave mana up for it unless you are already looking to leave mana up for other things. So in a deck that already has, say, Arrow Volley Trap, Spell Contortion gets noticeably better as it becomes difficult for your opponents to tell what you are telegraphing. I would say that Spell Contortion is a reasonable 21st or 22nd card, but I wouldn't go through any hoops to pick one up and I would have no qualms about cutting it from my deck.

I worry that I've been overvaluing Deathforge Shaman. As a five-mana 4/3, Deathforge Shaman is a pretty solid body. But as the game goes long, Deathforge Shaman becomes a win condition all by its lonesome. I think that Deathforge Shaman is generally worth grabbing about 3rd through 6th pick, but I am very open to the idea that it might not be as strong as I think it is. What do you think?

Everflowing Chalice is a card with surprisingly few practical applications in Zendikar / Worldwake Limited. There have definitely been formats past where just the ability to accelerate to four mana on turn three would have been enough to warrant the inclusion of a card, and having the opportunity to get two—or even more—mana out of the card if you drew it late would just be gravy. But in Zendikar / Worldwake Limited, you'd pretty much always just prefer another land. Even if it's land number 19.

The times when you would want to run an Everflowing Chalice are usually disaster scenarios—situations when your deck is severely lacking in two- and/or three-drops. While you might be able to notice that things have gone terribly wrong and pick up an Everflowing Chalice (or two) to help salvage your deck that is heavy in four plus drops, if things are progressing normally your probably want to stay away from this mana producing artifact.

Re: Tom Lapille's Limited Equivalencies
Last week, Tom Lapille wrote an article on Limited pointing which included a section on Limited equivalencies, wherein he asked how many copies of card X you would need for it to be just as good as a single copy of the superior card Y.

In order to "avoid considerations of if I am playing this color" when evaluating a card for its value in Sealed, the Limited pointing mechanism which Erik Lauer designed asks, "Which of these two cards would you rather add to your Sealed Deck before you open the rest of your cards?"

While I agreed with many of Tom's assertions and valuations, there was one that struck me as odd. In response to the question "How many Wind Zendikons would be just as good as one Searing Blaze?" Tom answered three. I don't agree with this valuation.

The thing is, Wind Zendikon just isn't a special card. As a result, the marginal quality advantage that Wind Zendikon offers over the next card that you would otherwise play generally tends to be fairly negligible. However, the quality difference between a Searing Blaze and what would otherwise be your 22nd card is fairly huge.

Given the choice between three slight increases in quality (which is really a best-case scenario—more often that not you will be able to build a two-color deck with 22 playables, of which 20 or 21 will rival Wind Zendikon in quality) or one large increase in card quality, it is usually correct to go for the single large increase in quality. So even if I somehow did have the option of giving up a Searing Blaze to get three Wind Zendikons, I would keep the Searing Blaze. What would you do?

Bonus Exercise

You're playing in the draft rounds at Pro Tour–San Diego. You open up your first pack in a Zendikar / Zendikar / Worldwake draft and it contains:

Bladetusk Boar, Caravan Hurda, Guul Draz Vampire, Harrow, Ior Ruin Expedition, Nissa's Chosen, Paralyzing Grasp, Spire Barrage, Spreading Seas, Timbermaw Larva, Hedron Crab, Pitfall Trap, Baloth Woodcrasher, Oran-Rief, the Vastwood and a Mountain.

What do you take and why?

Be sure to post your answer and check out the other responses in the forums!

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