MTG Lifelink – Cards, Decks & Tips

Hello and welcome back to the series focused on Magic: The Gathering; today I’m going to analyze the MTG Lifelink keyword.

In this article I’ll go over the official rules, I’ll share what I consider the best cards with the Lifelink ability, the most useful cards that could help you raise your chances of victory, how to play against Lifelink in MTG and some general tips that you’ll find spread here and there throughout the article.

What follows are thoughts based on my personal experience of playing the game since the late ’90s, I hope you’ll find something useful!


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What does Lifelink mean in MTG?

Lifelink is a static ability defined by keyword and has the following effect:
whenever a creature deals damage, you gain as many life points as that creature dealt.

It was initially introduced in the Arabian Nights, the very first expansion of Magic back in 1993, with the creature El-Hajjâj; the text on the card was the following: gain 1 life for every 1 damage El-Hajjâj deals.

This ability was keyworded later on in May 2007, with the release of the Future Sight expansion.

In April 2020, with the release of the expansion Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, Wizards of the Coast introduced lifelink counters which bestow this ability on the permanents on which they are placed.

MTG Lifelink Rules

I have briefly described what Lifelink means but let’s have a look at what the official rules state:

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 120.3.
702.15c If an object changes zones 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 If multiple sources with lifelink deal damage at the same time, they cause separate life gain
events (see rules 119.9–10).
Example: A player controls Ajani’s Pridemate, which reads “Whenever you gain life,
put a +1/+1 counter on Ajani’s Pridemate,” and two creatures with lifelink. The
creatures with lifelink deal combat damage simultaneously. Ajani’s Pridemate’s ability
triggers twice.
702.15f Multiple instances of lifelink on the same object are redundant.

MTG Lifelink Best Cards (Top 5)

Let’s quickly go over some of the best creatures that have the Lifelink ability.

Archangel of Thune

MTG Archangel of Thune – image: Wizards of the Coast

An angel potentially to be included in any deck. Whenever we gain life we enhance with a +1/+1 counter each of our creatures on the battlefield.

Speaker of the Heavens

MTG Speaker of the Heavens – image: Wizards of the Coast

A creature with very low mana cost, 1 plain.
It can potentially enter the field immediately and if well protected, thanks to the ability to gain life since the first attacks, it can put 4/4 angels on the battlefield.

Drogskol Reaver

MTG Drogskol Reaver – image: Wizards of the Coast

A very solid creature.
Not the cheapest one from a mana point of point, but useful in the late game for dealing huge amount of damage, gaining a lot of life thanks to double strike and granting us cards advantage by drawing whenever we gain life.

Felidar Sovereign

MTG Felidar Sovereign – image: Wizards of the Coast

A “combo” creature. Combined with other creatures with lifelink and played at the right time, it allows us to win the game because of the life-gain ability.

Griselbrand

Griselbrand - MTG Lifelink
MTG Griselbrand – image: Wizards of the Coast

As you have understood, I am a lover of black cards. I can’t help it, since 1998.
Griselbrand is the demon. It costs 7 mana, but we have a 7/7 with flying and lifelink. We do damage, we gain 7 life points that we can immediately spend to draw 7 cards.

MTG Lifelink deck examples

Here below you can find my recommendation for a great deck that is also playable on Magic Arena, Historic format:

#1 | Orzhov lifelink deck (Historic format)

#2 | White Weenie deck

Another very popular deck available in various formats, from modern to the online platform, is White Weenie, on Magic Arena mostly played in the Selesnya Company version:

Useful cards with Lifelink in MTG

Within the Magic universe, there are a lot of cards that take advantage of the lifelink ability.
It is an ability that allows us to gain life points, so it particularly increases our defence; however, we can also use it to our advantage to deal damage to the opponent.

Sanguine Bond & Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose

MTG Sanguine Blood – image: Wizards of the Coast
MTG Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose – image: Wizards of the Coast

A great classic in black-white, or even mono-black, lifelink-based decks.
Our deck will have to have a conspicuous number of creatures with lifelink, preferably all of them; in case we want to exploit some creatures that doesn’t have this ability we can give them this ability until the end of the turn thanks to Vito Thorn of the Dusk Rose.
The goal is to attack with our creatures, with lifelink, gain life with each attack and consequently bleed our opponent dry, causing him to lose as much life as possible.

Exquisite Blood

Exquisite Blood - MTG Lifelink
MTG Exquisite Blood – image: Wizards of the Coast

In addition to what’s written above, we can create an infinite loop and make our strategy more solid and effective by adding Exquisite Blood.
We are going to create the infinite combo where we gain lives, the opponent consequently loses lives, and so on to infinity.

There are other interactions between creatures and equipment or aura spells that allow us to take advantage of the lifelink ability, making our deck powerful and versatile.

Heliod, Sun Crowned & Soul Warden

MTG Heliod, Sun Crowned – image: Wizards of the Coast
MTG Soul Warden – image: Wizards of the Coast

These are two creatures that fit well in any self-respecting lifelink based deck.
With Heliod we enhance our creatures as much as possible, while with the Soul Warden we continue to gain life as soon as another creature enters the battlefield.

Basilisk Collar & Walking Ballista

Basilisk Collar - MTG Lifelink
MTG Basilisk Collar – image: Wizards of the Coast
Walking Ballista - MTG Lifelink
MTG Walking Ballista – image: Wizards of the Coast

Basilisk Collar is an equipment, used a lot in combo with Walking Ballista, that allows us to gain lives and at the same time kill our opponent’s creatures.

Shadowspear

Shadowspear - MTG Lifelink
MTG Shadowspear – image: Wizards of the Coast

One of the best 1 mana cost equipment magic can offer. +1/+1, trample and lifelink given to the equipped creature. Abused.

Whip of Erebos

MTG Whip of Erebos – image: Wizards of the Coast

A black artifact that boosts all our creatures with lifelink.
By exploiting our graveyard we put a creature previously killed by our opponent back on the field for a single additional attack.

Staggering Insight

Staggering Insight - MTG Lifelink
MTG Staggering Insight – image: Wizards of the Coast

A black artifact that boosts all our creatures with lifelink.
By exploiting our graveyard we put a creature previously killed by our opponent back on the field for a single additional attack.

There are two cards that deserve mention that make lifelink their strength; they are among the most well-known and used, especially by novice magic players, on the online magic arena platform:

Ajani’s Pridemate & Bloodthirsty Aerialist

MTG Ajani’s Pridemate – image: Wizards of the Coast
MTG Bloodthirsty Aerialist – image: Wizards of the Coast

They enter the field quickly, have a low mana cost, and are often underestimated.
But thanks to the constant life gain of the decks they are included in, they become threats right away, difficult to contain if underestimated.

How to deal with MTG Lifelink

How do you defend against a deck that is thirsty for life?
We can use these three cards:

  • Quakebringer
  • Everlasting Torment
  • Erebos, God of the Dead
Quakebringer - MTG Lifelink
MTG Quakebringer – image: Wizards of the Coast
MTG Everlasting Torment
– image: Wizards of the Coast
MTG Erebos, God of the Dead – image: Wizards of the Coast

Mainly black and red colours, these two creatures and the enchantment can get in our opponent’s way.
His creatures will no longer make him gain life, making his possible combos ineffective.

Like any creature-based deck, the best defence beyond the specific cards mentioned above is adding removals to your deck.
There are global removals, to clean up the battlefield entirely, or targeted removals, which allow us to remove specific opponent’s threats.