MTG lifelink: Rules, decks, and best lifelink cards

How does lifelink work in Magic: The Gathering? Here's all you need to know about the ability, as well as the best lifelink creatures and cards

magic the gathering lifelink: Artwork of a man wielding a spear depicted in a constellation.

Lifelink is a keyword ability in Magic: The Gathering that lets you gain life equal to the damage your creatures deal. So, if you hit your opponent with a lifelink creature with three power, you’ll gain three life. Lifelink is an ability that’s crucial to life gain strategies, but it’s incredibly useful whatever your MTG deck is looking to do. After all, if you keep increasing your life total, your opponent can’t kill you. Makes sense.

Lifelink first appeared as a keyword in the Magic: The Gathering set Future Sight, in 2007. While the term wasn’t used before this, creatures that have had basically the same effect as the keyword have been in Magic: The Gathering from almost the very beginning. Take a look at Warrior Angel, from the Stronghold set. For each one damage it deals you gain one life. Hey, that’s lifelink!

Lifelink is usually found on black or white creatures, but green gets plenty of lifelink on its creatures as well. Lifelink is considered an evergreen mechanic, which means it appears in virtually every single MTG set. That means it’s important to know precisely how it works, and which are the best lifelink creatures in MTG. If you’ve got any questions about lifelink, read on to find the answers:

magic the gathering lifelink: artwork of a shining golden angel.

How does Lifelink work in MTG?

Does lifelink still apply if your creature is blocked?

Lifelink triggers whenever a creature that has it deals damage – whether that damage is done to players, creatures, or planeswalkers doesn’t matter. Excess damage still applies, so even if the blocker in the way of your lifelink creature has lower toughness than your creature’s power, you’ll still gain the full amount from lifelink.

Does non-combat damage count for lifelink?

Yep, all damage counts for lifelink, whether you’ve smacked your opponent in the face (metaphorically speaking), zapped them with a pinger like Fireslinger (though of course you’d have to give it lifelink first) or caused two creatures to butt heads with a fight spell.

 Does lifelink use the Stack?

Prior to a rules change in 2010, lifelink used the Stack. Now it doesn’t. What this means, essentially, is that life is gained from lifelink the moment damage takes place. This usually isn’t important, but there are a few weird situations where it could be crucial.

The most likely one is a player taking lethal damage during combat, but simultaneously gaining life from a blocker with lifelink that puts them above the dreaded zero. In this situation, they live to fight another day (turn).

Can instants and sorceries gain lifelink?

They certainly can! There are a few newer creatures in Magic: The Gathering, including Firesong and Sunspeaker and Radiant Scrollwielder, which give instant and sorcery spells lifelink. What this means is pretty self-explanatory. You gain life equal to any damage dealt by your instants and sorceries.

magic the gathering lifelink: artwork of a woman standing outside a manor house, surrounded by ravens

Best MTG lifelink cards

Vito, Thorn of the Dusk:

One of the most interesting lifelink creatures printed in recent years, Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose can give your entire board lifelink, and comes with a kind of ‘reverse lifelink’ effect, dealing damage for every point of life you gain. This vampire can drain your opponent dry.

Heliod Sun-Crowned:

Much like Vito, Heliod, Sun-Crowned doesn’t actually have lifelink himself, he gives other creatures the keyword. He also rewards you for gaining life by buffing your creatures, handing +1/+1 counters out like candy.

Serra Ascendant:

Serra Ascendant starts out as a little 1/1 lifelink baby, but take your eye off it (let your opponent reach 30 life) and suddenly it’s a 6/6 that also flies. In Commander games, where life totals start at 40, this comes down fully buffed up on turn one.

Griselbrand:

Griselbrand, everybody’s favourite archdemon, can attack for seven damage in the skies. Since it has lifelink, that’s a 14 point swing in one attack. That’s not what makes the card such a powerhouse though. Old Grisly can also make good use of that extra life, turning it into a whole hand of new cards.

Felidar Sovereign

Life gain decks often have a problem. Sure they can stem the bleeding and stave off the end indefinitely, but how do they actually win the game? Felidar Sovereign answers that question – gaining life becomes the win condition! In EDH, this card is frankly unfair, and you’ll attract glares from all around the table if you pop it in your Commander deck. You’re not gonna let that stop you though, right?

magic the gathering lifelink: art work of the white lion man planeswalker ajani.

Best MTG lifelink decks

Tribal Angels

Angels are a really fun tribe to try, and an especially good one for new players. Angel cards feature a ton of lifelink, and often get stronger once you reach a certain life total, or gain a certain amount of life in one turn. This deck relies on life gain to stay alive while you build up a board, with the end goal of smiting your opponent with an angelic horde.

Mono White

Mono white decks are all about getting aggressive with lots of little creatures. Lifelink can often be a key part of the strategy, protecting your own life total while you whittle down the other players’.  For this strategy, you’ll want to fill your deck with creatures that are buffed up using life gain. Cards like Heliod, Sun-crowned and Ajani’s Pridemate spring to mind.

Orzhov (White/Black)

There are a wide range of lifelink  strategies to try in these colours, often using the best lifelink creatures white has to offer, combined with a range of black cards that can make use of that life, draining your opponent or drawing you new cards. Since you’re using black, you may as well pack in some of the best removal cards in the game, too.