Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.
How to Prevent Lifegain in Magic
In Magic, the most common win condition is to reduce the life of opposing players to zero, usually achieved by assaulting them with creatures. However, several spells can grant their users more life, boosting their health reservoirs and allowing them to absorb extra punishment.
10 Best Cards for Stopping Lifegain
Whether through the lifelink trait of creatures or one-off sorceries, whenever your opponents gain life, they're prolonging their demise and potentially activating bonus effects. So, how can you thwart your their recovery? Here are ten excellent cards to prevent lifegain in Magic: The Gathering!
- Everlasting Torment
- Rampaging Ferocidon
- Archfiend of Despair
- Atarka's Command
- Leyline of Punishment
- Forsaken Wastes/Sulfuric Vortex
- Erebos, God of the Dead
- Tainted Remedy
- Rain of Gore
10. Everlasting Torment
Everlasting Torment accepts either black or red mana for its last symbol, making it easy to play even if your land draws have been stale. This enchantment both blocks players from gaining life and from preventing damage, an excellent counter to units with protection from red or black.
Additionally, Torment causes damage to hit creatures as though it had wither, meaning they suffer a -1/-1 counter for each point. In decks that emphasize instants and sorceries over troops, you'll mostly avoid this penalty while debuffing enemy soldiers with -1/-1 counters (which, unlike regular damage, aren't removed at the end of a turn).
9. Rampaging Ferocidon
Red dinosaur Rampaging Ferocidon carries a respectable 3/3 stats as well as menace, meaning he can only be blocked by two or more creatures. Additionally, he prevents players from gaining life, and whenever a different creature enters the field, Ferocidon deals their controller one damage.
This can harm you as well as your opponents, but it chips away at your foe's health, ensuring the end is near. Use Ferocidon to counter token-swarming decks (like cats or zombies) or in creature-scarce builds.
8. Archfiend of Despair
Archfiend bears a ridiculous casting cost of eight, but remember that cards like "Kaalia of the Vast" can gimmick demons into play for free. Once fielded, he carries a fair 6/6 stats as well as flying, letting him soar over ground blockers. Additionally, he's one of few cards to prevent your opponents (but not you) from gaining life, ensuring your lifelink-carrying black cards still function normally.
Best of all, at the end of every turn, each opponent loses life equal to the health they lost during that turn, essentially meaning they suffer double damage from all sources!
Skullcrack is essentially a cheaper "Blood Hand", costing one less mana and resolving at instant speed. For a single turn, it stops players from gaining life and preventing damage, and it deals three damage to a target player. Priced at just two resources, that's a trio of sweet effects that offers an early-game lifegain check.
6. Atarka's Command
One of the best Command cards, this instant specifically needs red and green mana, but it offers four abilities and lets you pick two, making it more versatile than Skullcrack:
- Your opponents can't gain life this turn
- Deal three damage to each opponent
- You may place a land from your hand onto the field
- Creatures you control gain +1/+1 and reach until the end of the turn
Unlike many lifegain-preventing cards, Command still works well against decks that don't incorporate recovery, as you can simply choose its other traits. The ability to place a land offers some nice ramping, granting creatures reach helps defend against aerial assaults, and note that it can deal three damage to each opponent, a prime force in multiplayer.
5. Leyline of Punishment
Like other Leylines, Punishment offers a fierce opening hand ability, beginning the game in play if drawn in your initial hand. If luck's not on your side, you can later cast Punishment for four mana; either way, it simply disallows damage from being prevented and life from being gained, helping the red faction quickly pummel enemies into defeat.
An easy choice for my own red decks that need to hinder lifegain, Punishment thankfully bears an affordable price tag, costing less than three dollars!
4. Forsaken Wastes/Sulfuric Vortex
Both these enchantments cost three mana and prevent players from gaining life. And at their upkeep, Wastes causes players to lose a life while Vortex deals two damage to them.
Thus, Vortex will chip away enemy health (and yours) faster, but Wastes has a built-in defense, sapping five life from any player who targets it with a spell. Thus, I tend to prefer Wastes, but both are excellent cards that offer similar abilities to the red and black factions.
3. Erebos, God of the Dead
One of the best god cards in the game, Erebos carries a daunting 5/7 stats, but he doesn't count as a creature until your devotion to black is at least five, meaning you have five or more black symbols in the mana costs of cards you control.
Thankfully, this counts Erebos's own symbol, meaning you only need four more. Fortunately, whether acting as a creature yet or not, Erebos is indestructible and prevents your opponents (but not you) from gaining life. He also lets you spend two mana and two life to draw a card, an excellent outlet for leftover resources.
2. Tainted Remedy
Similar to a continuous version of the instant "False Cure", Tainted Remedy has a flexible cost, fitting well into multi-color themes, and its effect only hinders opponents, making any life they gain instead drain them of the same value!
Brutal against non-optional effects (like lifelink), this spell works wonders against the right themes, especially when you run spells that give opponents life. Definitely an amazing card, but if you're running the black/red Rakdos colors, instead consider...
1. Rain of Gore
Rain of Gore effectively does what Remedy does for one less mana, except it affects all players and requires two colors. So if you're running life-gaining tactics yourself, Remedy's a better fit; otherwise, use its cheaper alternative.
Affordable and effective, Gore remains the best counter to lifegain yet—be sure to combo it with cards whose "downsides" give your opponent health, like "Swords to Plowshares" and "Nature's Claim."
Finishing Your Life-Prevention Deck in Magic
With today's cards in hand, you're well-equipped to thwart any lifegain themes you face. Remember, you can dedicate to lifegain prevention with ongoing enchantments or simply include a few temporary checks with instants. Either way, many also guarantee damage, which is helpful when expecting opponents with protection.
Pick a flavor of prevention and build from there—cards like Erebos let you still gain health, while Gore stacks with anything that offers your opponent life. But for now, as we eagerly await Wizards of the Coast's next expansion of life-preventing spells, vote for your favorite card and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!
© 2018 Jeremy Gill