Lifelink is an ability keyword in Magic: The Gathering. With lifelink, any damage your creature does gives you life! In this article, I look at what lifelink does in MTG with rules and examples, the best lifelink cards, lifelink decks, and how to play against lifelink. I go over the frequently asked questions for lifelink in MTG too.
MTG Lifelink rules
What do the MTG Lifelink rules say?
Damage dealt by this creature also causes you to gain that much life.Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules 702.15. “Lifelink”.
Lifelink means that whenever a creature with the lifelink keyword ability deals damage, you gain life equal to the amount of damage you dealt.
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Mechanics in the style of lifelink have been in the game since El-Hajjâj in the second-ever MTG expansion, Arabian Nights. However, it is still possible to find cards that cause life gain when they deal damage but don’t actually have lifelink.
The lifelink keyword itself was previewed in Future Sight and was only fully introduced in the following set, Tenth Edition. Since then, many older cards with this ability have retroactively been given lifelink.
Since its introduction, lifelink has always been considered an evergreen keyword. You can expect it to appear in every set on at least a few creatures. Although it is most common in white, many black cards also have lifelink as well.
Initially, life gained from the lifelink keyword went on the stack, which meant you could lose the game due to having 0 life before you gained the needed life from lifelink. In Magic 2010, this was changed to a static ability. Now, damage is dealt and life is gained simultaneously.
MTG Lifelink Examples
For example, let’s say I control the lifelink creature Felidar Sovereign. This is nice because it’s 4/6, has vigilance, and wins me the game if I have 40 or more life at the start of my turn.
I attack with Felidar Sovereign and my opponent blocks it with Jaya Ballard, Task Mage, which is 2/2. Now Felidar Sovereign deals 4 damage to Jaya, which destroys it. Not only that, I now gain 4 life, as my creature has lifelink.
The same applies to players. If I attack again with Felidar Sovereign and my opponent doesn’t block it, they take direct damage. As such, they lose 4 life. Simultaneously, I gain 4 life from Felidar Sovereign’s lifelink ability. Hurrah!
Lifelink and Blocking
I also gain life if I use my lifelink creature to block.
This time, let’s imagine my opponent has played Hazezon Tamar. They then attack with Hazezon and I block it with my Felidar Sovereign.
Damage proceeds typically here and lifelink applies just as it would if my lifelink creature had attacked instead of blocked. Felidar Sovereign deals 4 damage to Hazezon Tamar, so I gain 4 life. Hazezon also dies, conveniently.
Lifelink vs Protection
The same isn’t true for protection, however. For example, suppose a creature, player, or planeswalker has protection from my lifelink creature. In that case, my creature cannot deal any damage to it. As such, I can’t gain any life.
Let’s look at this in practice. First, I attack again with Felidar Sovereign, a white creature. But now my opponent blocks it with Black Knight, a card with protection from white. Because protection from white prevents a creature being dealt damage from a white source, Felidar Sovereign deals 0 damage. As such, even though it has lifelink, I don’t gain any life.
Lifelink + Trample
How does lifelink work if the creature also has trample? It actually works exactly the same as usual, because the lifelink ability doesn’t care how the damage is dealt. Excess combat damage dealt to a player via trample will also cause you to gain life.
For instance, imagine I attack with Spark Trooper, a 6/1 with both lifelink and trample. My opponent blocks with Rograkh, Son of Rohgahh, a 0/1 creature. As such, I assign 1 point of damage to Rograkh, destroy it, and gain 1 life. The remaining 5 damage I assign to the defending player and I gain 5 life. By attacking with Spark Trooper, I gain 6 life in total.
Best Lifelink Cards
Vault of the Archangel – (White/Black Lifelink Land)
Most of the time, Vault of the Archangel is just a normal land. Your opponent might even forget that its there. Then, suddenly, all your creatures have deathtouch and lifelink! Out of nowhere, this unassuming land just swung the game in your favour.
This is the strength of Vault of the Archangel. Whenever you need it, for only 4 mana, you can instantly buff all of your creatures!
Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord – (White/Black Lifelink Planeswalker)
A planeswalker doesn’t always have a static ability. Even then, it’s rare that it’s as powerful as Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord’s. But, as long as it’s your turn, this incarnation of Sorin gives your whole team lifelink – creatures and planeswalkers included.
Additionally, Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord has some powerful loyalty abilities. Not only can he ping a target and gain you life, but he’s also a reanimator himself. Play Sorin on turn four, attack with life-gain and then immediately get out an additional creature.
Eradicator Valkyrie – (Black Lifelink Creature)
Easily one of the best creatures in Forgotten Realms Standard, Eradicator Valkyrie is an amazing card. For 4 mana, it’s a 4/3 with flying and hexproof from planeswalkers. This lifelink creature can also force your opponents to sacrifice their own creatures and planeswalkers.
Furthermore, Eradicator Valkyrie’s flying ability allows it to focus down planeswalkers twice over. Here the lifelink is the icing on the cake, especially if you can use its boast ability more than once a turn.
Titanic Ultimatum – (Red/Green/White Lifelink Sorcery)
This is how you end a game. How can you not win when your entire board gets +5/+5 and first strike, trample, and lifelink?
Titanic Ultimatum might have a steep casting cost, but the effects are too good to ignore. This card is incredibly impactful in Commander, where easy mana fixing and long games mean you’ll have a genuinely spectacular number of creatures to buff with it!
Whip of Erebos – (Black Lifelink Artifact)
This nifty artifact gives all your creatures lifelink. Awesome! But that’s not all. Once per turn, you can unearth a creature with Whip of Erebos, returning it to the battlefield for once last turn.
Although Whip of Erebos is a strong play on its own, it really shines in reanimator strategies. This is especially true when your reanimated creature only needs one turn to get off its combo.
Steel of the Godhead – (White/Blue Lifelink Enchantment)
A simple aura, Steel of the Godhead does what it needs to remarkably well. For only 3 mana, enjoy giving your creature +2/+2, lifelink, and unblockable. Obviously, this is a shoe-in if you’re playing Bogles in modern, especially if you can get out white creatures as well.
As well as that, Steel of the Godhead has been printed at common, too. This means that it’s legal in Pauper where only common cards are allowed. It’s particularly powerful there and an easy way to give your threats evasion and, possibly, life-gain abilities.
MTG Lifelink Decks
Lifelink is most common in white and black. As such, if you want lifelink cards, the appropriate theme boosters will help. For Strixhaven, the Silverquill theme booster is an excellent choice as the faction itself is white/black with several lifelink creatures.
White Weenie – Arena Standard
One of the most notable contemporary lifelink decks is White Weenie. This mono-white aggro deck focuses on getting out low mana value and high-impact white creatures to overwhelm the opponent. This strategy is effective against midrange and control decks that can’t keep up the pace. Still, it struggles against other aggro or tempo decks.
Making the rounds on Arena are many similar White Weenie decks that run a combination lifelink cards such as Shadowspear, Lurrus of the Dream Den, Alseid of Life’s Bounty, and Heliod, the Sun Crowned.
Edgar Markov Vampire Tribal – Commander
In Commander, arguably the most meta lifelink deck is Edgar Markov Vampire Tribal. Although Edgar Markov itself doesn’t have lifelink, it is nevertheless a powerful Vampire lord. And many vampires do have lifelink, ideal for an aggressive game.
Although this deck doesn’t focus on lifelink so much as it profits for it, you could easily adapt it to a greater lifegain focus. Include cards such as Aetherflux Reservoir, Exquisite Blood, Sanguine Bond, and Angel of Destiny. Add Defiant Bloodlord too. It’s also a vampire, and, so, it fits right in.
How to play against Lifelink
Destroy the Lifelink Creatures in Combat
Neither white nor black has many creatures with abilities that deal targeted damage. As such, your opponent typically needs to attack or block with the lifelink creatures whenever they want to gain life.
Whenever your opponent attacks with a lifelink creature, make sure to block it with what will be lethal damage. Although your opponent will still gain life, their creature will also die.
With lifelink creatures as blockers, this is harder. Your opponent is probably not going to waste valuable lifelink creatures on bad blocks. Destroying them in combat is still possible, though. Attack normally, but then use combat tricks to buff your creatures up to destroy blockers with lifelink.
Use Removal on the Lifelink Creatures
As annoying as they are to play against, most lifelink creatures don’t have hexproof or protection. As such, they’re vulnerable to removal. So instead of using your burn to directly attack their opponent, remove their lifelink creatures with it instead.
Similarly, prepare your counterspells, killspells, and hand attacks. If your opponent is playing lifelink creatures, they’re playing white and/or black. Both of these colours struggle against control cards.
Stop the Opponent Gaining Life Entirely
There are black and red cards that prevent players from gaining life, which prevents the lifelink keyword from functioning. Quakebringer, Everlasting Torment, and Erebos, God of the Dead are examples of these cards. Keep in mind that damage will still be dealt normally though, even if a player doesn’t gain life now.
Destroy the Card Giving the Creature Lifelink
Often a creature doesn’t have lifelink inherently but is instead being given lifelink by another card. Usually, this is an Aura or Enchantment, but certain cards of types can give lifelink. If you have the chance, destroy whatever is providing the creature lifelink if you can’t destroy it directly.
Does Lifelink Overkill?
Overkill is when your creature deals more than enough damage to destroy the other creatures in combat, leaving excess damage leftover. This often occurs when a high-power creature is chump blocked.
If your lifelink creature overkills, this isn’t a problem. You still gain life equal to its power. Creatures do not pull their punches if the blocking creature has a toughness lower than its power. Your creature will deal full damage, regardless of the blocker’s toughness.
You can simply assign the excess damage normally if your creature overkills.
How does Lifelink Work Against Hexproof, Ward, or Shroud?
Lifelink works as normal even if the lifelink creature deals damage to a creature with hexproof, ward, or shroud. This is because the lifelink ability doesn’t target the creature itself at any point but rather directly gains you life.
Does Lifelink Stack?
Multiple instances of lifelink do not stack. If you give a creature lifelink twice and it deals damage, you will only gain life once equal to the damage dealt. Lifelink does stack with other life-gain abilities though.
What if Both Creatures Have Lifelink?
If both the attacking and blocking creatures have lifelink, then both of their controllers will gain life. Thus, each player will gain life equal to the damage dealt by their own creature during that combat.
Is there Lifelink Equipment?
Similarly, Shadowspear and Poet’s Quill are also lifelink Equipment. In addition to being good cards, they are currently Standard-legal. Similarly, Aspect of Lamprey and Staggering Insight are Standard-legal lifelink Auras.
Does Lifelink Work if the Creature Dies?
As long as your lifelink creature deals damage, you will gain that much life. If your creature then dies, this makes no difference. This is often the case in combat, wherein your lifelink creature is destroyed only after it has dealt damage attacking or blocking.
What if my Lifelink Creature Deals Damage to Me?
If your own creature with lifelink deals damage to you, you will still take the damage. However, you will also gain an equal amount of life. As such, your life total won’t actually change.
This is very helpful if you play creatures that damage each player without targeting, or damage a player when they do a specific thing. Giving Eidolon of the Great Revel lifelink, for instance, would be pretty powerful.
Can I Give Instants and Sorceries Lifelink?
An instant or sorcery with lifelink will deal its damage normally, and then you gain life equal to the damage it dealt. Certain instants and sorceries such as Corrupt already have an effect like this. However, you can actually gain life twice here because their ability isn’t called lifelink, instead it says “you gain life equal to the damage dealt this way”.
Can I Choose to Disable Lifelink?
Lifelink is a static keyword ability which means you cannot disable it. Whenever a lifelink creature deals damage, you automatically gain that much life. You don’t have a choice about it.
A note: Lifelink MTG
Lifelink is a great ability. Whenever a creature with lifelink deals damage, you automatically gain that much life. Furthermore, lifelink is also an evergreen keyword, so you can find lifelink cards in every set.
Although you can only consistently find lifelink cards in white or black, occasionally mulitcoloured cards can either have lifelink themselves or give your creatures the ability. There are also a lot of strong Equipment cards that give your creatures lifelink.
As such, it’s no wonder many current decks use lifelink cards! They’re robust and reliable, and keep your health topped up! I hope this article has helped you out. Why not add some lifelink to your deck today?
More Magic: The Gathering Keyword articles
- MTG Evergreen Keywords List
- MTG Counter
- MTG Counters (markers)
- MTG Deathtouch
- MTG Defender
- MTG Double Strike
- MTG Enchant
- MTG Equip
- MTG Fear
- MTG First Strike
- MTG Flash
- MTG Flying
- MTG Haste
- MTG Hexproof
- MTG Indestructible
- MTG Intimidate
- MTG Menace
- MTG Protection
- MTG Prowess
- MTG Reach
- MTG Regenerate
- MTG Sacrifice
- MTG Shroud
- MTG Tap and Untap
- MTG Trample
- MTG Vigilance