Updated date:

Top 10 Life-Draining Cards in Magic: The Gathering

Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.

Sapping Health in Magic

Most Magic games end by someone running out of life, where their hand and field state no longer matter. So of course, you want to keep your own life points up while depleting your opponents'.

Fortunately, many black and white spells accomplish both objectives, simultaneously healing you as they injure foes—which reign supreme? These are the 10 best life-draining spells in Magic: The Gathering!

10 Best Cards for Draining Life

  • Obzedat, Ghost Council
  • Malakir Bloodwitch
  • Kaya, Ghost Assassin
  • Bloodchief Ascension
  • Souls of the Faultless
  • Siege Rhino
  • Cruel Ultimatum
  • Ayara, First of Locthwain
  • Ebony Charm
  • Twilight Prophet
Obzedat, Ghost Council mtg

Obzedat, Ghost Council mtg

10. Obzedat, Ghost Council

CMC (Converted Mana Cost): 5

Casting Obzedat requires many Orzhov colors, but he rewards you with a powerful 5/5 with spirit synergy. Additionally, when he enters the field, you gain and an opponent loses two life.

You can also exile Obzedat at your end step, returning him to your field with haste at your next upkeep. Doing so will prevent you from using him as a blocker, but reactivates his lifedrain effect (and dodges opposing field wipes in the meantime).

Malakir Bloodwitch mtg

Malakir Bloodwitch mtg

9. Malakir Bloodwitch

CMC: 5

Bloodwitch's 4/4 stats alongside flying and protection from white already warrant usage, but she goes the extra mile with her life-sapping effect, on arrival draining each opponent for life equal to the number of vampires you control (including herself).

This works well in multiplayer games since it affects all foes, and at worst, you're getting one life while making them lose one. But in tribal vampire decks, you can potentially score much more, possibly outright killing your opponents!

Kaya, Ghost Assassin mtg

Kaya, Ghost Assassin mtg

8. Kaya, Ghost Assassin

CMC: 4

Kaya's a unique planeswalker who doesn't have any loyalty-adding abilities, but enters with five and can replenish loyalty through her +0, which exiles herself or a creature you control, returning it your field at your next upkeep. This costs two life, but helps Kaya refill loyalty and prevents opponents from attacking her.

Or, use -1 to simply drain two life from each opponent (and gain that amount), or her -2 to have opponents discard while you draw. Versatile and powerful, Kaya rotates between lifedrain, card advantage, and healing herself as needed.

Souls of the Faultless mtg

Souls of the Faultless mtg

7. Souls of the Faultless

CMC: 3

Souls acts more like a wall than a spirit, carrying weak 0/4 stats and having defender, preventing it from attacking. However, whenever Souls takes combat damage, you gain that amount of life and the attacking player loses it!

This really makes opponents think twice before swinging, at least with creatures Souls can block (watch out for blocker-hindering traits like flying).

Bloodchief Ascension mtg

Bloodchief Ascension mtg

6. Bloodchief Ascension

CMC: 1

Ascension will take some time to get going, but you can set it up early thanks to its low cost. At the end of any turn (even their own) where an opponent lost two or more life, Ascension gains a quest counter. Once it has at least three, it saps opponents of two life whenever a card enters their graveyard (from anywhere).

Use proliferate and instant-speed damagers to quickly amass the counters, then mill and destroy opposing cards as needed to rapidly deplete their health while recovering your own.

Siege Rhino mtg

Siege Rhino mtg

5. Siege Rhino

CMC: 4

An often-underrated card, Rhino requires three colors but bears formidable 4/5 stats plus trample, piercing excess damage through blockers. He's also got a nice entrance trigger, seizing three life from opponents while giving you three.

Unlike some spells, this won't stack with multiple foes (you'll still only receive three health), but it provides immediate reward on top of a fierce beatstick.

Cruel Ultimatum mtg

Cruel Ultimatum mtg

4. Cruel Ultimatum

CMC: 7

Though it costs several mana and requires very specific colors, Ultimatum builds up your resources while ravaging an opponent's. Your victim loses five life, discards three cards, and sacrifices a creature. Meanwhile, you draw three cards, gain five life, and return a creature from your graveyard to hand!

Use whatever color-fixing or cost-reducing spells you need to access this card; a successful casting probably means you win in 1v1.

Ayara, First of Locthwain mtg

Ayara, First of Locthwain mtg

3. Ayara, First of Locthwain

CMC: 3

Both Ayara's cost and effect rely on using black cards, so she's ill-fitting outside mono-color black, but she excels in her element. Whenever she or another black creature enters your field, Ayara gives you and makes opponents lose one life, and she carries respectable 2/3 stats plus the elf subtype.

She can also tap and sacrifice another black creature to draw you a card, an excellent response to removals and outlet for weak token creatures.

Ebony Charm mtg

Ebony Charm mtg

2. Ebony Charm

CMC: 1

Like other charm spells, Ebony doesn't require much mana and triggers at instant speed, letting you pick one of three effects:

  • Target opponent loses one life and you gain one life
  • Exile up to three cards from an opponent's graveyard
  • Target creature gains fear (only blockable by black/artifact creatures) until end of turn

All are strong abilities for such a fast and inexpensive card. Banish threats lurking the graveyard, use the lifedrain to empower your life-based effects or spectacle cards, or have your strongest creature land a direct hit—the choice is yours. A staple in my own commander decks, Charm is also surprisingly cheap, costing well under a single dollar!

Twilight Prophet mtg

Twilight Prophet mtg

1. Twilight Prophet

CMC: 4

Prophet wields average 2/4 stats, but carries vampire synergy plus cleric for good measure. She also has ascend, giving you the city's blessing once you control 10 or more permanents (including herself and lands).

Once ascended, Prophet reveals the top card of your deck at your upkeep, adding it to hand and sapping each opponent of X life, where X is the card's cost! Admittedly, lands won't drain health since they cost zero, but you're getting continuous card advantage plus lifedrain on all opponents—use scrying or sheer luck to reveal high-cost cards like "Avatar of Woe" for massive harvests.

Extort Cards in Magic

In addition to today's spells, consider using the Orzhov extort ability to sap life. Whenever you cast another spell, if you control a card with extort, you can pay either a black or white mana to have each opponent lose one life, giving you that total amount.

Alongside their other effects, the best extorters (like "Blind Obedience" and "Crypt Ghast") provide excellent uses for leftover mana, keeping your health stocked throughout the match. But for now, vote for your favorite life-draining spell and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!

© 2020 Jeremy Gill