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Sacrifice in MTG – Rules, Best Cards + Decks!

Sacrifice is an evergreen keyword action in Magic: The Gathering. When a permanent is sacrificed it is moved into its owner’s graveyard. This article delves into how sacrifice works in MTG, lists the best sacrifice cards, strategies to play against sacrifice heavy decks, common sacrifice questions and incredible sacrifice decks guaranteed to give your opponents a challenge!

Magic: The Gathering’s Sacrifice ability explained. Learn how sacrifice works in MTG with examples + the best cards, decks and rules!
Bloodthrone Vampire MTG sacrifice card illustration. Image: Wizards of the Coast. Artist: Steve Argyle.

MTG Sacrifice rules

What is the MTG sacrifice rule?

To move a permanent you control to its owner’s graveyard.

Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules, 701.17. “Sacrifice”.

To sacrifice something means to put it into the graveyard. A sacrificed permanent isn’t destroyed, but a sacrificed creature does die regardless. You can only ever sacrifice permanents that you control.

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Although the sacrifice mechanic was introduced in Alpha, sacrifice was only made a keyword action in Revised, the first core set. The few older cards that used this action have received errata to have sacrifice.

Sacrifice has always been an evergreen keyword action. Since the game’s inception, sacrifice decks have regularly been competitive all-stars, and some sacrifice cards have even gotten banned. They’re that powerful.

All colours and even lands use the sacrifice keyword action. However, black specializes in sacrificing creatures, while red specializes in sacrificing artifacts and generic permanents. Both colours can also force an opponent to sacrifice their cards too.

However, keep in mind that a card with “sacrifice” in the name does not require the mechanic. For example, Gideon’s Sacrifice does not force you to sacrifice your Gideon planeswalker. However, it will probably kill whatever you target with it regardless.

Nevertheless, cards that can repeatedly sacrifice creatures are commonly referred to as “sac outlets”, and they usually do this for little to no other costs.

MTG Sacrifice Examples

MTG card Ayara, First of Locthwain. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
MTG card Ayara, First of Locthwain. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

For example, let’s say I control Ayara, First of Locthwain. I can tap it and sacrifice another black creature to draw a card. Conveniently, this also synergizes with Ayara’s first ability, which rewards me for playing black creatures by draining my opponents.

MTG cards Phantasmal Image, Sneak Attack and Eldritch Evolution. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
MTG cards Phantasmal Image, Sneak Attack and Eldritch Evolution. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

On the other hand, certain cards also have sacrifice as a drawback. For instance, Phantasmal Twin sacrifices itself when it’s targeted. A second example is Sneak Attack. Any creature brought into play with it gets sacrificed at the end of turn.

However, some cards will instead have sacrifice in their casting cost. Sacrifice as an activation cost is a way to increase a spell’s cost without having it cost additional mana. So, to cast Eldritch Evolution, I’ll need to sacrifice a creation in addition to paying the spell’s mana cost. 

These effects are often quite powerful. For instance, Eldritch Evolution lets me cheat a creature directly out from my deck. Its mana value depends on the mana value of the creature I sacrificed earlier to cast it.

MTG cards Ashnod's Altar, Phyrexian Alter and Blasting Station. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
MTG cards Ashnod’s Altar, Phyrexian Alter and Blasting Station. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

Artifacts shine as sac outlets, since they don’t have color restrictions. Ashnod’s Altar, Phyrexian Altar, and Blasting Station are all powerful artifacts that let you sacrifice a potentially unlimited number of creatures per turn for game-breaking effects.

MTG cards Windswept Heath, Taiga, Godless Shrine and Wasteland. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
MTG cards Windswept Heath, Taiga, Godless Shrine and Wasteland. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

You can also sacrifice lands, although typically to fetch other lands. For instance, I can tap Windswept Heath, pay one life, and then sacrifice it to search up any plains or forest card and put it onto the battlefield. This ability let’s me fix my mana perfectly, getting anything from a Taiga to a Godless Shrine into play.

Other lands can be sacrificed for more aggressive effects, though. You can tap and sacrifice Wasteland to destroy another target nonbasic land.

MTG cards Sylvan Safekeeper and Phyrexian Tower. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
MTG cards Sylvan Safekeeper and Phyrexian Tower. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

Some cards also have to sacrifice a land as part of their ability’s activation cost, such as Sylvan Safekeeper to give a creature shroud for the turn. Conversely, other lands can sacrifice creatures for added effect, such as Phyrexian Tower, which adds two black mana.

Sacrifice and Dying

Does sacrifice count as dying?

MTG cards Inga Rune-Eyes and Falkenrath Aristocrat. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
MTG cards Inga Rune-Eyes and Falkenrath Aristocrat. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

Any creature that gets sacrificed counts as having died, so sacrificing a creature will activate any “when this dies” triggers it might have.

 

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So, if I sacrifice my Inga Rune-Eyes to Falkenrath Aristocrat, then two things will happen. Firstly, Falkenrath Aristocrat gets a +1/+1 counter and gains indestructible until the end of turn. Then, because it died, Inga Rune-Eyes’s ability triggers, drawing me three cards.

Sacrifice and Regenerate

MTG cards Diabolic Edict and Thrun, the Last Troll. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
MTG cards Diabolic Edict and Thrun, the Last Troll. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

You can’t regenerate a creature to save it from being sacrificed because regenerate can only prevent a creature from being destroyed, not from being put into the graveyard via another way,

Suppose my opponent casts Diabolic Edict, which forces me to sacrifice a creature. I choose Thrun, the Last Troll. However, because sacrifice doesn’t destroy, I can’t regenerate Thrun to get out of losing a creature. Instead, Thrun goes directly to the graveyard.

Sacrifice and Indestructible

MTG cards Blightsteel Colossus and Mercy Killing. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
MTG cards Blightsteel Colossus and Mercy Killing. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

Sacrifice doesn’t care about indestructible as it doesn’t destroy, so you can sacrifice indestructible creatures. In fact, forcing your opponent to sacrifice them is the best way to deal with an indestructible threat.

So, when my opponent attacks with a Blightsteel Colossus, I can kill it with Mercy Killing. Even though the creature is indestructible, that doesn’t matter. Its sacrificed anyway and put into its owner’s graveyard without it being destroyed.

Persist and Sacrifice

MTG card Glen Elendra Archmage. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
MTG card Glen Elendra Archmage. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

Persist and sacrifice have amazing synergies with each-other, since you can sacrifice a creature with persist twice. After it dies, it’ll come back with a -1/-1 counter on it. Then you can feed it to the sac outlet again or use it for something else entirely.

Glen Elendra Archmage is an example of persist creature that can sacrifice itself. I can do so, pay one blue mana to counter a noncreature spell. The first time I do this, Glen Elendra Archmage then comes back. Thus, I can counter two spells with this one creature.

Protection and Sacrifice

MTG card Voldaren Pariah. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
MTG card Voldaren Pariah. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

While protection saves a creature from damage, enchanting, being blocked, or being targeted, protection can’t save a creature from being sacrificed. An opponent chooses a creature to sacrifice, so this isn’t actually a targeted ability.

For instance, when Voldaren Pariah transforms into Abolisher of Bloodlines, my opponent sacrifices three creatures. Let’s also say that opponent controls Tesya, Envoy of Ghosts, which has protection from creatures. 

Nevertheless, this doesn’t save Teysa. Because Abolisher of Bloodlines’ ability doesn’t target Teysa, its protection ability means nothing. Protection doesn’t stop me from sacrificing a creature even if that creature has protection from the spell or ability making me do so.

Best MTG Sacrifice Cards 

Fling (Sacrifice Red Instant)

MTG card Fling. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
MTG card Fling. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

A card as infamous as it is beloved, Fling allows you to throw a creature at your opponent. No, not literally. Instead, Fling lets you sacrifice a creature to deal its power as damage to any target.

While it’s always a versatile play, Fling can quickly close out a game when combined with a high-power creature. Any creature from Emrakul to Marit Lage can be a candidate for Fling, and hitting your opponent for 15 or 20 is almost always lethal.

Liliana of the Veil (Sacrifice Black Planeswalker)

MTG card Liliana of the Veil. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
MTG card Liliana of the Veil. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

One of the best planeswalkers ever printed, Liliana of the Veil is a fantastic answer to nearly anything. Her -2 forces a player to sacrifice a creature, taking down certain strategies in a single activation. Meanwhile, Liliana’s +1 has each player discard, prevent your opponent from interacting or gaining card advantage.

Liliana of the Veil has a fantastic ultimate if you can’t win the game with her first two abilities only. For -6, you can have your opponent sacrifice half of all the permanents they control.

Birthing Pod (Sacrifice Green Artifact)

MTG card Birthing Pod. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
MTG card Birthing Pod. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

You can pay one generic and one green, then tap Birthing Pod to sacrifice a creature. Then search your deck for a creature with mana value equal to 1 plus the sacrificed creature’s mana value and put that card onto the battlefield.

Best of all, Birthing Pod costs phyrexian mana to cast and activate, allowing any deck to use it. Instead of suffering a color restriction, you can just pay 2 life. Therefore, you can just slot Birthing Pod into nearly any creature-based strategy and always get some value out of it.

Michiko Konda, Truth Seeker (Sacrifice White Creature)

MTG card Machiko Konda, Truth Seeker. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
MTG card Machiko Konda, Truth Seeker. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

A truly oppressive creature, Michiko Konda, Truth Seeker, has your opponent sacrifice a permanent whenever anything they control deals damage to you. Against aggressive decks, this is a near-instant victory.

Even if you don’t use Michiko Konda as your commander, it is still an excellent choice in the 99 or other white control strategies. By punishing any form of damage so heavily, Michiko Konda demands an immediate answer. Your opponent can’t afford to attack otherwise.

Attrition (Sacrifice Black Enchantment)

MTG card Attrition. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
MTG card Attrition. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

A flexible and fearsome sac outlet, Attrition allows you to turn your creatures into Doom Blades. You can pay a black mana and sacrifice a creature, then destroy any target nonblack creature.

Attrition’s strength lies in how efficient it is. For only one mana, you have access to an instant-speed killspell. Not only that, but its function as a sac outlet is an excellent boon to Aristocrats decks. The creature cost isn’t even that steep either, as you’re allowed to sacrifice tokens and other fodder.

Empty the Laboratory (Sacrifice Blue Sorcery)

MTG card Empty the Laboratory. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
MTG card Empty the Laboratory. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

With Empty the Laboratory, you can sacrifice all those mediocre tokens that clutter a zombie tribal deck and turn them into an army of new threats! Pay X mana, sacrifice X zombies, and then reveal cards from the top of your library until you reveal X zombies. Put them directly into play.

This sorcery can immediately close out a game. Even paying only 2 or 3 mana for its variable cost is a great deal since zombie tribal decks will always have something to sacrifice. Using Empty the Laboratory, you can quickly cheat out humungous creatures like Ebondeath, Dracolich or Grimgrin, Corpse-Born 

MTG Sacrifice Decks 

Rakdos Sacrifice – Arena Historic 2022 Sacrifice Deck

Rakdos Sacrifice exploits the engine of Witch’s Oven and Cauldron Familiar to spectacular effect. You sacrifice the cat to the artifact and get a food token. On death, the cat’s ability triggers, draining your opponents. Then, sacrifice the food to bring the cat back and do it again next turn.

What sets Rakdos Sacrifice apart from other decks using this engine though is the inclusion of Mayhem Devil. With this creature, every time you sacrifice a permanent, you can ping any target. Combined with Cauldron Familiar, this can quickly chew through an opponent’s life total.

Rakdos Sacrifice also runs copies of Woe Strider and Priest of Forgotten Gods to take advantage of these synergies further. Both are sac outlets that can provide additional value in the form of scrying and removal and mana, respectively.

Furthermore, Rakdos Sacrifice plays Judith, the Scourge Diva for an extra card to ping opponents when your creatures die. And as for additional creatures to sacrifice, you can expect to see copies of Dreadhorde Butcher and Gutterbones as well.

If you like the ramp and creature value that green offers, you can also build this deck into Jund Sacrifice. This variant runs Wicked Wolf and Trail of Crumbs for the food synergies, plus some much-needed removal and filtering. Korvold, Fae-Cursed King serves as another sac outlet and a win condition too.

Unfortunately, due to the banning of Cauldron Familiar, Rakdos Sacrifice isn’t viable in Standard anymore. However, it is undoubtedly possible to port the decklist over to Historic and play it there instead.

How to play against Sacrifice 

Sacrifice decks are heavily reliant on their sac outlets being in play. Without them, the deck is essentially dead in the water. As such, counter, destroy, or otherwise remove all sac outlets when you see them.

Other sacrifice cards require adaptability, though. Because sacrifice is a standard keyword action, there is no perfect strategy to handle all sacrifice cards. Instead, react based on your opponent’s overall strategy.

Nevertheless, it’s always a good idea to gauge what the opponent is doing with the sacrifice cards. Some might not be an immediate threat, while others aren’t intended to win the game outright but rather provide value.

However, if your opponent is forcing you to sacrifice permanents, that’s a different issue. Even if they must do it too, you’ll still be at a disadvantage because you didn’t build your deck for that strategy. As such, make sure to remove any cards that can force you to sacrifice before they get out of hand.

Sacrifice FAQs 

Is Totem Armor Sacrifice?

The totem armor keyword does not count as sacrifice. Even though the aura is “sacrificed” to keep the enchanted creature alive, this doesn’t match the official rules for sacrifice. Instead, totem armor specifies that the aura is destroyed.

Similarly, you can’t take advantage of this triggered ability to save you enchanted creature from being sacrificed. Totem armor only activates if the enchanted creature would be destroyed, but sacrifice doesn’t destroy.

When Can You Sacrifice?

You can only sacrifice when prompted to by a card’s ability. Whether or not you can do this at instant speed depends on the card in question. Some, like Viscera Seer, can be activated at any time. Others, like Sadistic Hypnotist, can only be activated whenever you could cast a sorcery.

Regardless, you cannot sacrifice a permanent just because you want to. Sacrifice is a keyword ability that features on certain cards. It isn’t an option you always have available.

Can I Sacrifice My Opponent’s Creatures?

You cannot choose to sacrifice your opponent’s creatures. You can only sacrifice the permanents that you control. You could sacrifice a creature an opponent owns if you gain control over it, but this is also a relatively rare occurrence. 

Certain cards can force your opponents to sacrifice their creatures, though. Edicts are a great example of this, but you can find this ability on permanents as well. Forcing your opponent to sacrifice can be powerful as it gets around hexproof, indestructible, and protection.

A note: Sacrifice MTG 

In summary, sacrifice is a keyword action that puts a permanent you control into its owner’s graveyard. Despite the similarities, sacrifice is not destroy and, so it gets around a lot of mechanics because of that.

Because it’s such a diverse keyword, there is no singular sacrifice card style or strategy. Instead, sacrificing permanents can be anything from an activation cost to a method of removal.

However, if you like putting stuff into graveyards, whatever the reason, add some sacrifice to your deck today! Your opponent’s indestructible creatures won’t know what hit them!

More Magic: The Gathering Keywords Explained

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Emily
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