Last updated on October 25, 2023
Everflowing Chalice | Illustration by Steve Argyle
Cards in MTG have an essential problem tied to the mana system. If I fill my deck with cheap cards, I won’t have power in the late game. If my deck is all expensive cards, I risk not getting to the late game alive. Kicker aims to solve this problem.
It's become one of Magic’s most popular mechanics, having been reprinted multiple times with variations and inspired similar mechanics. Some even say that almost every mechanic is a take on kicker.
Today I'm taking a look at the famous kicker mechanic, its rules, when it was first printed, and the best kicker cards. Let's get into it!
Blink of an Eye | Illustration by Igor Kieryluk
Kicker allows the card’s owner to pay an additional cost while casting the spell to obtain a greater benefit. It’s a simple and elegant mechanic. You can cast the spell for its mana cost or by paying the kicker cost on top. The card then tells you what happens if the kicker cost is paid.
Creatures usually enter the battlefield with a number of +1/+1 counters as you can see on Academy Drake and Baloth Gorger. The kicker cost can be anything, from paying extra mana to discarding a card, tapping a creature, or sacrificing lands.
The first MTG set to feature kicker was Invasion back in 2000. As one of the main mechanics of the set, it appeared on 35 cards, all of which had mana as the kicker cost.
Some cards asked for generic mana, like Vodalian Serpent. Others allowed you to pay colored mana (Skizzik, Thicket Elemental), and even colored mana different from the spell’s cost (Vigorous Charge, Verduran Emissary). It made sense to have kicker with different mana costs since Invasion was a multicolor set with lots of gold cards.
Planeshift, the next set in the Invasion block, had 16 cards with kicker that introduced variations to the kicker cost, allowing you to pay life, sacrifice lands, and spells where you could pay the kicker twice like on Nightscape Battlemage. Apocalypse rounded up the block with 13 more kicker designs, focusing on enemy-colored kicker costs.
Other sets that featured kicker were the Time Spiral block, Zendikar and Worldwake, Dominaria, Zendikar Rising, and now Dominaria United. Kicker is also used on supplemental sets like Conspiracy sets, Commander sets, and Modern Horizons sets when needed.
No, it's not a triggered ability. You cast the kicker spell by paying the extra cost, and it resolves with the kicker effects. Kicker is an additional cost.
Kicker isn’t an activated ability either, it's an additional cost.
Bingo! Kicker is an optional additional cost to cast a spell. It can be cast for its normal cost, or with the additional cost. That's in contrast with cards where the additional cost to play is mandatory, like Stitched Drake and Skaab Goliath.
Yes, you can reduce kicker costs. Whenever you have an effect that reduces a spell’s cost you add the kicker cost first and then apply the cost reduction. But there isn’t an effect in MTG stating that kicker costs specifically are cheaper.
Yes. Whenever the game allows you to cast a spell for free you can pay any additional costs, like the kicker effect. Keep in mind that the kicker cost isn’t free in this case.
A “kicked” spell is a spell where the kicker cost was paid. All cards with kicker state that “if the card was kicked, then do this.” There are a few cards like Roost of Drakes and Verazol, the Split Current that reference kicked cards. In these cases you get an extra benefit from casting kicked spells.
No, the mana value of a kicked spell is equal to the mana value of the printed card. Although you’ll spend more mana to cast the spell, kicker doesn't change the card's mana value.
Yes, it does. Vadrik, Astral Archmage’s text reads, “Instant and sorcery spells you cast cost X less to cast, where X is Vadrik’s power.” This means that you pay all the cost of the spell (mana value + kicker) and then reduce the total cost by Vadrik’s power if you cast an instant or sorcery with kicker.
Yes, Kaza works the same way as Vadrik. The text on Kaza, Roil Chaser reads, “The next instant or sorcery spell you cast this turn costs X less to cast, where X is the number of Wizards you control as this ability resolves.” In the same vein as Vadrik, you get the total cost of the spell plus kicker, and then reduce the total cost.
Yes. If you were to copy a kicked spell, that copy would be kicked too.
Multikicker is a variation of kicker introduced in Worldwake that allows the player to pay the kicker cost as many times as they want. So you can cast a spell with multikicker without paying the kicker cost, or you can pay the kicker cost one or more times. Each time you pay the kicker cost you get more benefits.
So Apex Hawks can enter the battlefield with multiple +1/+1 counters as long as you pay the kicker cost lots of times.
Inscription of Abundance is played in green decks in Standard and Explorer as a way to protect creatures from damage-based removal with +1/+1 counters. Two mana for a fight spell at instant speed is also very nice, frequently acting as a removal spell.
Having these effects at instant speed is just gravy, and paying the kicker cost allows you to cast all three modes at once.
A mini Flametongue Kavu for modern days. Very good against creature-heavy decks, Flametongue Yearling can be a 2/1 for two that deals two damage to creatures, a 3/2 for four that deals three damage, and so on.
#8. Thieving Skydiver
A 2/1 that steals something useful is good in my books.
#7. Nullpriest of Oblivion
Nullpriest of Oblivion has seen play in Standard since paying six mana to Reanimate a creature and have a menace/lifelink threat is good. It’s also a vampire and cleric, which are both tribal themes supported in the current Standard format.
#6. Goblin Bushwhacker
Goblin Bushwhacker is a finisher in red aggro and goblin decks that go wide. Adding a creature that's effectively a 2/1 haste for two mana and a goblin is okay, and giving +1/+0 to other creatures you control can lead to a very powerful attack.
#5. Tourach, Dread Cantor
You can have a 4/3 for four mana which has taken two cards at random from the opponent. It’s also a human and cleric for the decks that want those types of creatures, and protection from white helps in a lot of matchups.
#4. Bloodchief’s Thirst
Bloodchief's Thirst is a flexible removal spell that sees play in Standard and Pioneer/Explorer. Getting rid of a small creature for one mana is very good even at sorcery speed, and for four mana you can get rid of some troublesome creatures, even planeswalkers.
#3. Rite of Replication
Rite of Replication is a Commander staple in my mind. It costs a bunch of mana, and gives you 5 copies of a creature! It doesn't get much more explosive that than. Just picture getting something like 5 Craterhoof Behemoths onto the board! You'll be doing a bit of math, but that's the fun part.
Vines of Vastwood is a good combat trick to have since giving hexproof for one mana is good, and for two mana your creature will also get +4/+4 until end of turn. An infect staple in formats that have strong infect decks such as Modern and played in Pauper since it’s a common card.
Oh, and since it’s not technically hexproof that you’re giving, you can target your opponent’s creatures to prevent them from targeting their own creatures with spells or abilities.
A staple in EDH decks, the more mana you pay, the merrier. You won't cast Everflowing Chalice for zero mana since it’s almost useless, but for two mana you get a 1-mana mana rock. For four mana you get a 2-mana mana rock like Hedron Archive, and so on.
There used to be some decks in Modern that transferred charge counters from one artifact to another in order to turn Everflowing Chalice into a mana-generating beast, but most of the time you’re happy paying four mana here.
Roost of Drakes | Illustration by Bayard Wu
This deck shows a current mix of kicker payoff cards and kicker cards, and you can see it in action here. Simic () is the color combination that has the most kicker cards and payoffs. The main payoff cards are Roost of Drakes and Verazol, the Split Current.
Roost of Drakes makes a 2/2 token each time a spell is kicked and even works with itself since you can play a cheap Roost for one mana and kick the second one for four. Verazol allows you to copy a kicked spell, generating card advantage while being a win condition. Another payoff is Coralhelm Commander since it cares about kicked spells, and you loot each time a kicked spell is cast.
You have some kicker removal in the form of Into the Roil and Bubble Snare. Vine Gecko is the glue that holds this deck together since it makes your kicked cards cheaper, and it grows with each kicked spell. Murasa Sproutling is card advantage and recursion like an Eternal Witness in this deck.
This is a fun budget deck, and you should be able to put a deck like this together easily if you have lots of cards from your Simic Zendikar Rising Draft decks. It’s also easy to build on MTG Arena since it relies mainly on common and uncommon cards.
Tourach, Dread Cantor | Illustration by Greg Staples
Kicker is bound to return from time to time since it’s a clean, elegant, and beloved mechanic that solves one of the game’s fundamental problems. And that's beside being a fun build-around mechanic with lots of design space. It’s a matter of when, not if, kicker will return.
Dominaria United keeps the kicker fun around and even brings a multicolor kicker to go with the multicolor theme from Streets of New Capenna. Kicker is still a fun, flexible, and awesome Limited mechanic, and I can’t wait to see what the new set is bringing along.
Have I missed your favorite kicker card? Let me know in the comments below or over on Twitter.
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