What is Lifelink? Lifelink is a keyword ability in Magic: The Gathering that essentially allows you to siphon life from your opponents. Mechanically, if a creature you control with Lifelink deals damage, you gain life equal to the amount of damage. It’s an ability that can swing the momentum in your favor by both reducing your opponent’s life and increasing your own. Lifelink triggers during the combat damage step, or whenever a creature with Lifelink deals damage, allowing you to gain life immediately.
Magic: The Gathering is filled with intricate mechanics, detailed strategies, and awe-inspiring fantasy. Among the array of abilities that creatures and spells can have, Lifelink stands out as both fascinating and powerful. Let’s take an in-depth look at Lifelink—explaining its mechanics, discussing its history, and diving into its strategic applications.
What is Lifelink in Magic: the Gathering? Definition:
Per the Magic: the Gathering Basic Rulebook:
“Lifelink: A keyword ability seen on permanents. Damage dealt by a permanent with lifelink causes that permanent’s controller to gain that much life, in addition to behaving like normal damage”
The fact that lifelink and damage trigger at the same time has big implications for interactions and combat, which we’ll discuss in later scenarios! But how does lifelink work?
The Comprehensive Rulebook goes a bit more in depth:
- 702.15. Lifelink
- 702.15a Lifelink is a static ability.
- 702.15b Damage dealt by a source with lifelink causes that source’s controller, or its owner if it has no controller, to gain that much life (in addition to any other results that damage causes). See rule 119.3.
- 702.15c If a permanent leaves the battlefield before an effect causes it to deal damage, its last known information is used to determine whether it had lifelink.
- 702.15d The lifelink rules function no matter what zone an object with lifelink deals damage from.
- 702.15e Multiple instances of lifelink on the same object are redundant.
History of Lifelink in MTG Magic: the Gathering
Lifelink has been around for quite some time, becoming a keyword ability with the Future Sight set during the Time Spiral block in 2007. The ability is thematically tied to the colors White and Black, often featured in Angel, Cleric, and Vampire cards. Over time, the ability has gained prominence, showing up in a variety of card types and rarities. However lifelink as it works was featured on several cards before it became a keyword ability.
Lifelink was initially seen on the Arabian Nights card El-Hajjaj.
Three other historically prominent cards to feature lifelink before it was a keyword ability are Loxodon Warhammer, Armadillo Cloak, and Exalted Angel. While none specifically used the static keyword, they all carried the wording “Whenever … deals damage, you gain that much life.” In many cases when these cards are reprinted they now use the lifelink ability keyword.
Since those early days when lifelink became an evergreen keyword static ability, it has been included on at least one card in every core set, expansion, and sub-set. Every set seems to have some cards built for life gain strategies. Most recently the Lord of the Rings crossover set featured lifelink on prominent cards like Aragorn, King of Gondor, Arwen, Mortal Queen, and Saradoc, Master of Buckland.
MTG Lifelink Interactions
Understanding the mechanics of Lifelink can give you a significant edge. Let’s say you’re attacking with a 3/3 creature with Lifelink and your opponent blocks with a 2/2. Both creatures will deal damage to each other, but you’ll gain 3 life when your creature deals its damage.
Furthermore, Lifelink stacks well with other abilities like Trample and First Strike, potentially offering complex but rewarding interactions.
Scenario: Lifelink with Trample
Imagine you have 5 life and use a 2/2 creature, Ajani’s Sunstriker, with Lifelink to block an opponent’s attacking 8/8 creature, Avatar of Might, with Trample. You would gain 2 life from the damage your blocking creature deals, raising your life to 7. Meanwhile, you would take 6 damage from the trampling Avatar, leaving you with just 1 life—still in the game, but barely.
Here’s how that interaction would break down after your opponent declares their attack.
- Declare Blockers: You declare your 2/2 creature with lifelink as a blocker for the attacking 8/8 creature with trample.
- Combat Damage Assignment: Because the 8/8 Avatar has trample, it only needs to assign enough damage to “kill” your 2/2 Sunstriker, which is 2 damage. The remaining 6 damage will trample over and be assigned to you, the defending player.
- Damage Resolution:
- Your 2/2 creature with lifelink deals 2 damage to the 8/8, and you gain 2 life as a result, bringing you up to 7 life.
- At the same time, the 8/8 deals 2 damage to your 2/2 creature and 6 damage to you. Your life total becomes 1 (7 life – 6 damage).
- State-Based Actions: After damage is dealt, state-based actions are checked. Your 2/2 creature will be destroyed due to having damage marked on it equal to its toughness. The 8/8 creature survives because it has more toughness than the 2 damage marked on it.
- You Survived Combat: You would end this sequence with 1 life thanks to your Ajani’s Sunstriker gaining you 2 life from Lifelink!
MTG Lifelink Synergies with Other Abilities
Lifelink pairs incredibly well with a range of other abilities. For example, a creature with both Double Strike and Lifelink will cause you to gain twice the amount of life because it deals damage during both the first-strike and normal combat damage steps.
Indestructible creatures with Lifelink can serve as ever-present blockers that boost your life.
Deathtouch combined with Lifelink makes for excellent defensive and offensive plays, as even a single point of damage from a Deathtouch creature will destroy another creature, and Lifelink will still trigger.
Does Lifelink Stack with Spirit Link, Soul Link, Vampiric Link in MTG?
Spirit Link grants an effect similar to Lifelink, but it’s technically not the same. Spirit Link’s life-gaining effect is a triggered ability, which means it uses the stack and can be responded to, unlike Lifelink, which is a static ability that happens simultaneously with damage.
Vampiric Link works the same as Spirit Link. Soul Link also provides a similar benefit, but adds in extra life gain any time the creature takes damage as well!
Because these enchantments provide a triggered ability to the creature, they DO stack with lifelink!
Also, these enchantments can be placed on your opponent’s creatures, essentially nullifying any damage when your opponent attacks.
How to Give a Creature Lifelink in MTG Magic: the Gathering
In Magic: The Gathering, several cards can give a creature Lifelink, either temporarily or permanently. These can range from Auras and Equipment to instant and sorcery spells, as well as creatures and planeswalkers with abilities that grant Lifelink. Here are some cards to consider if you’re looking at ways to provide a creature with lifelink:
- Lifelink: Quite literally the name of the game, this Aura gives a creature Lifelink for just one white mana.
- Daybreak Coronet: Not only grants Lifelink but also First Strike and Vigilance, though it has a condition that it can only be attached to a creature that’s already enchanted.
- Gift of Orzhova: Grants +1+1, Lifelink, and Flying.
- Unflinching Courage: Provides a creature with +2+2, and both Trample and Lifelink.
- Basilisk Collar: Provides both Lifelink and Deathtouch, a potent combination.
- Loxodon Warhammer: Gives a creature +3/+0, Trample, and Lifelink.
- Shadowspear: Grants +1/+1, Trample, and Lifelink, and can remove hexproof and indestructible from opponents’ permanents.
- Heartflame Duelist: Gives all of your instant and sorcery spells lifelink.
- Heron’s Grace Champion: Has flash and lifelink itself, but most importantly pumps your other humans as an enter the battlefield effect, which includes giving them all lifelink.
- Heliod, Sun-Crowned: repeatable ability to give target creature lifelink until end of turn, in addition to all of his other greatness.
- Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord: Gives your creatures and planeswalkers lifelink during your turn.
- Elspeth Resplendent: Elspeth’s +1 ability grants a +1+1 counter and an ability counter each turn, with one of the possible abilities being lifelink.
- Dihada, Binder of Wills: While being one of the few Planeswalkers that can also be your commander, Dihada has a +2 ability that provides a legendary creature with vigilance, lifelink, and indestructible until your next turn.
Vault of the Archangel: Provides creatures you control with deathtouch and lifelink until end of turn.
What are Some of the Best Cards with Lifelink in MTG Magic: the Gathering?
It shouldn’t be any surprise that some of the best creatures with Lifelink are Angels and Vampires. Due to this white decks, black decks, and the Orzhov guild are typically where these cards live. Here’s a list of some of the best lifelink cards of each type!
- Baneslayer Angel: Offers flying, first strike, and Lifelink in a powerful 5/5 package.
- Lyra Dawnbringer: Buffs other Angels and provides a 5/5 flying, first-strike body.
- Archangel of Thune: A synergistic option that makes your entire board stronger when you gain life.
- Serra Ascendant: A one-mana creature card that quickly turns into a 6/6 Lifelinker.
- Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice: Flying, vigilance, deathtouch, lifelink, and proliferate.
- Resplendent Angel: Generates more flying Angel tokens when you gain life.
- Vampire Nighthawk: A quintessential 2/3 flyer with deathtouch and lifelink.
- Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet: Excellent in controlling the board while gaining life.
- Gifted Aetherborn: A two-mana powerhouse with deathtouch and lifelink.
- Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose: Can provide all of your creatures with lifelink until end of turn.
- Blood Baron of Vizkopa: Lifelink vampire with bonus ability that excels in life-gain decks.
- Elenda, the Dusk Rose: Vampire with lifelink that grows in power when creatures die, and creates vampire tokens with lifelink when she dies.
What are Win Conditions for an MTG Deck Built Around Lifelink or Life gain?
Lifelink and life gain decks set out to win the race by getting so far ahead in life that their opponents can’t do enough damage to kill them, and they have ample time to implement their win strategy. This could be as simple as getting through with Angels or Vampires. It could also build toward some extremely potent alternate win conditions, allowing you to win the game in different ways!
Some of the best win and alternate win conditions for lifelink/life gain decks include:
Creatures that Grow
- Ajani’s Pridemate: Grows every time you gain life, becoming a massive creature that can dominate the board.
- Serra Ascendant: Starts as a 1/1 but becomes a 6/6 flying, lifelink creature if you have 30 or more life. Extremely effective in Commander, as it only costs 1 white mana!
- Ageless Entity: In a deck that gains a lot of life this creature can end up being very powerful, gaining a +1+1 counter for each life gained.
- Resplendent Angel: Produces 4/4 Angel tokens with flying and vigilance if you gain 5 or more life in a turn. (Angelic Accord is another option here.)
- Ajani Goldmane: Ultimate ability produces a token equal to your life total. (Go Big)
- Ajani, Caller of the Pride: Creates X 2/2 tokens where X is your life total. (Go Wide)
- Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose: Drains life from the opponent whenever you gain life.
- Sanguine Bond: Makes an opponent lose life whenever you gain life.
- Cliffhaven Vampire: Another card that drains opponents when you gain life, particularly effective in multiplayer games.
- Felidar Sovereign: Provides an alternate win condition if you have 40 or more life at your upkeep.
- Test of Endurance: Similar to Felidar Sovereign, but an enchantment that allows you to win at your upkeep step when you reach 50 life or more.
- Approach of the Second Sun: In a life gain deck, you’re more likely to survive long enough to cast this card twice, securing a win.
- Aetherflux Reservoir: Allows you to “pay” 50 life to deal 50 damage to any target. With high life gain, this can be a one-shot kill.
- Bond of Agony: Use your additional life to hurt/kill all opponents at once.
- Heliod, Sun-Crowned: With enough life gain triggers and a way to give creatures lifelink, Heliod can put a substantial number of +1/+1 counters on creatures, allowing for a massive swing for lethal damage.
- Exquisite Blood + Sanguine Bond: Forms a combo that drains an opponent’s life total whenever you gain life or they lose life, leading to an infinite loop.
- Spike Feeder + Archangel of Thune: Creates an infinite life gain combo and infinitely large creatures.
- Walking Ballista + Heliod, Sun-Crowned: Use Heliod’s Activated ability to give the Ballista lifelink. Then allows you to remove counters from Walking Ballista to deal 1 damage and gain 1 life, which puts another counter back on Walking Ballista, creating an infinite life gain and damage loop.
Tips and Tricks
- Be Cautious in Multiplayer: Gaining life rapidly can make you the archenemy at the table.
- Stacking Lifelink: If a creature gains Lifelink multiple times, it doesn’t stack; you’ll still gain life equal to the damage dealt. But you can stack similar abilities as mentioned above!
- Non-Combat Damage: Remember that Lifelink works with any form of damage, not just combat damage.
Be sure to drop your favorite Lifelink cards or combos in the comments! Or, if you have a specific question about how lifelink interacts in a situation, I’m happy to answer those questions in the comments as well.
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