Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.
What Are Alternate Win Conditions in Magic: The Gathering?
In Magic duels, players typically win by either reducing their opponent's life to zero or milling their deck, forcing a loss when they can't draw any more cards. However, several powerful spells wield unique abilities that grant instant victory—if you've fulfilled their win conditions.
Alternative wins come in all shapes and sizes, offering many different paths to victory, and the best offer additional benefits beyond their instant win, letting them assist even before you satisfy their demand. But with dozens of powerful instant wins available, which triumphant spells reign supreme? These are the best alternative win cards in Magic: The Gathering!
10. Mortal Combat
CMC (Converted Mana Cost): 4
Not only is Mortal Combat a fun nod to the popular fighting video games, but it's also a potent black enchantment that requires a moderate four mana. Combat simply seizes the win if you have 20 or more creatures in your graveyard during your upkeep.
While Combat doesn't provide any other traits to help meet this condition, the black faction's several card-milling and creature-destroying spells can rapidly swarm your cemetery with zombies, vampire, and other creatures. If you're lucky enough to face a mill deck, your opponent will do the work for you as they destroy your deck, unknowingly playing right into your grubby little hands. For a related green enchantment, check out "Epic Struggle," which grants victory when you control 20 or more troops at your upkeep.
9. Darksteel Reactor
Darksteel Reactor also requires four mana, and since it's colorless, you can fit it into any decklist. At the start of your upkeep, this artifact acquires a charge counter, and when Reactor has 20 or more counters (during any phase), you win the game.
Additionally, Reactor wields the characteristic indestructible trait of the Darksteel camp, shielding against the most common type of removal; if your opponent wants to eliminate Reactor, they'll need a rare exile or bounce spell to circumvent its barrier. Useful as both your main strategy or as a backup, use stall and lifegain cards to buy the time Reactor needs to steal the win.
8. Coalition Victory
Coalition Victory is an expensive sorcery that demands one of every mana color (and three of any hue), but unlike most win conditions, you won't have to wait for your victory after casting it. Well, if you meet its requirements—you win the game if you control a creature of every color and a land of every basic land type (not counting colorless wastes lands).
Thankfully, cards with several types can satisfy multiple conditions, meaning you can fulfill your creature requirement with a single rainbow unit like "Scion of the Ur-Dragon." Lands are a bit trickier, but the twin-type lands each fulfill two categories, or you can use "Dryad of the Ilysian Grove" to give your lands all basic land types!
7. Mayael's Aria
Mayael's Aria needs red, white, and green mana, but it's a relatively cheap enchantment that boosts your army even before landing your win. Aria relies on having powerful creatures; thankfully, the monster-heavy green and white factions offer several titans to choose from.
At the beginning of your upkeep, you place a +1/+1 counter on each creature you control if one has five or more power. Then, you gain ten life if one has ten or more power. And then, you instantly win if your unit has 20 or higher power! Thanks to Aria's first counter-placing effect, your creatures will gradually strengthen, not only granting you the edge in combat but building towards your endgame condition. In the meantime, do your best to defend Aria with other spells since it lacks defenses like shroud, hexproof, and indestructible.
6. Liliana's Contract
Liliana's Contract initially acts more like a sorcery than the enchantment it is, providing a one-off effect, but then remains fielded in case you attain its instant win. Upon entering the arena, Contract has you lose four life but draw four cards, trading a bit of health for a heap of extra spells to choose from.
From there, Contract wins you the game if you control four or more demon-type creatures with different names during your upkeep. Four demons really isn't a huge number to meet, especially in commander matches where you're forced to use different cards anyway; thankfully, the black faction houses several awesome demons to select from.
5. Revel in Riches
While it costs a fair chunk of mana, Revel in Riches offers a useful ongoing ability that can potentially win the game: whenever an opposing creature dies, you create a colorless treasure artifact token that you can tap and sacrifice to add a mana of any color to your pool.
These tokens are handy for ramping, but if you can hold off on spending them, you'll instantly win if you control ten or more during your upkeep! Thankfully, several other Ixalan expansion cards accumulate treasure tokens, letting you amass them with cards beyond Revel.
4. Mechanized Production
Mechanized Production costs a reasonable four mana, and this aura enchantment attaches to an artifact you control. At the beginning of your upkeep, you create a token copy of that artifact, then, if you control eight or more artifacts with the same name, you win the game!
Thus, Production provides extra relics to exploit (use it for ramping by duplicating Signets or Sol Ring), and its win condition helpfully activates if you control eight identical artifacts, even if none have Production attached to them. A great benefit, but keep the legend rule in mind; don't try mirroring legendary artifacts, or you'll end up having to sacrifice the copies.
3. Felidar Sovereign
White's Felidar Sovereign demands a sizable chunk of mana, but he's formidable even before his instant win. Sovereign wields a respectable 4/6 stats, vigilance (which lets you swing without tapping), and lifelink (which gains life equal to damage dealt).
Plus, at the beginning of your upkeep, you win the game if you have 40 or more health. Use Sovereign's lifelink to help build for this criteria, or simply play modes like EDH that begin with higher life totals. A slightly cheaper enchantment, "Test of Endurance," offers a similar effect, but you'll need 50 life to attain it.
Essential for any life or cat-based commander deck, Sovereign is also surprisingly cheap, costing well under three dollars!
2. Hellkite Tyrant
Like Sovereign, Hellkite Tyrant is another six-cost creature who impresses with just his base stats; this 6/5 red dragon bears flying (soaring over ground blockers) and trample (dealing excess damage through blockers). Both traits work great since they make it tricky to completely defend Tyrant's attacks, and when he deals combat damage to a player, you steal all artifacts they control!
ot only have they lost relics, but you've gained them, and if you control twenty or more artifacts at the start of your upkeep, you win the game. Use Tyrant's own thievery alongside artifact generators like Production and Revel to win through sheer artifact abundance.
1. Laboratory Maniac/Jace, Wielder of Mysteries
Both Maniac and Jace have you win the game if you would draw from an empty library, turning an insta-loss into an insta-win! Not only does this completely thwart enemy mill decks, it blends great with infinite draw abilities. And unlike many of today;'s effects, you don't have to wait for your upkeep, you get to win right then and there with the right setup.
Both cards also have other advantages. Maniac as a weak 2/2, but is flexible in color requirement and has useful wizard synergy. Jace requires several blue mana, but has two loyalty abilities that can help empty your deck; +1 draws a card while milling two cards from a player's deck, while -8 draws seven!
How to Support Instant Wins in Magic
Since many instant win cards revolve around attaining multiple tokens or counters, green's "Doubling Season" enchantment and anything with the proliferate trait help amass their fuel.
Depending on which route you're pursuing, artifact tokens, ramping, or lifegain can also meet your quota; thankfully, these are already worthy strategies worth pursuing on their hand. We'll undoubtedly return to tackle the heap of additional instant wins available, but for now, as we eagerly await Wizards of the Coast's next expansion of game-winning spells, vote for your favorite card, and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!
© 2018 Jeremy Gill