This article marks a personal milestone – assuming the Ferrett accepts it, it will be my 100th published Magic article. (So many articles, so little tech.)
I started writing for the Magic Dojo – the original Magic website. When the Dojo went belly up, the Ferrett offered me a home at StarCityGames. That offer was, and is, very much appreciated. I have written more than eighty articles for StarCityGames, and – other than a few typos and one article in particular – I don’t regret a thing.
My first paid article for the Dojo began this way:
The Dojo began with the classic Schools of Magic – serious discussions of how to play serious decks. And how to win. Deadly serious discussions of mana curves, power to casting cost ratios, deck thinning, momentum and control.
But this is the casual section. Fun decks. Stupid card tricks. Less emphasis on winning fast, and more on astonishing (and humiliating) your opponent while you do it. Best of all, you can build around favorite cards without too much concern about format and tournament play. You can even discuss multiplayer Magic here.
You can discuss casual play and multiplayer here at StarCityGames, as well. Yawgmoth’s Whimsy continues that tradition – and in that tradition, I am going to revisit one of my favorite multiplayer cards: Lifeline.
Anthony Alongi considers Lifeline to be a pretty stupid multiplayer card; he’s right in many ways. Lifeline is pretty close to a mistake. It is way too easy to abuse. (Yes, it was printed in Saga block – home to more broken cards than most people can count.)
With Lifeline, if any creature dies, and there is at least one other creature in play, the creature comes back at end of turn. Lifeline plays havoc with combat and game structure – one reason Anthony hates it. Most removal spells, from Lightning Bolt to Nekrataal, simply remove the creature for a turn. Wrath of God clears the board – until the end of turn. The end result is a crowded board, with everyone blocking with everything, since even chump blockers come back, unblocked, at end of turn. Lifeline, when added to beatdown decks, does make for a strange and pretty pointless game.
The trick to playing Lifeline is to make sure that you get more benefit out of having your creatures come back that your opponents do. The secret to that is to play creatures that have effects when they come into play, or when they leave play. To maximize that advantage in multiplayer, you need a way to kill off your creatures each turn – and that means each player’s turn, not just on your own turn.
You have several options, but the best is Altar of Dementia. The Altar allows you to Millstone cards and sacrifice creatures without mana cost and without tapping. Goblin Bombardment is almost as good – it will do a point to your opponent per creature sacrificed, but it costs a red mana to cast. Ashnod’s Altar gives you free mana – and occasionally mana burn. Mogg Cannon – or the much-inferior Fodder Cannon – deals damage, but they both tap, meaning that you cannot use them more than once per turn. Claws of Gix gives you life, but you have to pay to use it. Infernal Tribute lets you draw cards, but the BBB casting cost and the cost to use makes it slightly less useful. Phyrexian Vault also draws a card, but it taps. Greater Good doesn’t tap – but you can deck yourself.
They all work – choose one. My choice is almost always Altar of Dementia.
So now that you can kill your creatures every turn and have them come back, let’s look at abusing that effect. Obviously, creatures with”comes into play” and”leaves play” effects are important. Here are some of the best:
Gain five life every time it appears. It’s been said before, but it’s still true: Life is good. Other good options for gaining life are Spike Feeder, Staunch Defenders, Bottle Gnomes, Teroh’s Faithful, and Venerable Monk.
It’s land kill and it has haste. It kills Maze of Ith, which is always a good thing; attacking for two is a bonus. Ravenous Baboons works too, but they only kill non-basic lands. The Rishadan Footpads and Rishadan Brigands can also work as land kill. When an opponent taps out, you sacrifice a Rishadan and the opponent has to sacrifice a permanent when it returns.
Mogg Fanatic, Shock Troops, Ghitu Slinger, Keldon Champion
these all do damage. Fanatics and Shock Troops are best if you have no other way of sacrificing the creatures, since they can kill themselves. Slingers and Champions do more damage for less cost. Ticking Gnomes can do the same thing without requiring red mana.
Wall of Roots
Pull a counter, get mana. Pull the last counter, it gets a new set of counters at end of turn.
Realists kill enchantments, cheaply. Cloudchaser Eagle and Aven Cloudchaser does the same thing, but the extra casting cost probably means it isn’t worth it. Elvish Lyrist is another option, although you have to wait until it has recovered from summoning sickness. Uktabi Orangutan will have the same effect on artifacts – including the Lifeline, if you aren’t careful. Woodripper is often a far better choice, since the”destroy an artifact” effect is optional.
Yavimaya Elder and Yavimaya Granger
Build your mana base. Mana is good, and it can get you the other colors needed to cast all this stuff. With something to sac it to, Granger can get a land into play on your turn, and on (each of) your opponent’s turns. Wood Elves and Silverglade Elementals do the same, but only on forests and duals containing forests. Yavimaya Elder doesn’t put the card into play, but drawing an extra card every turn (mana permitting) is always good. Remember that if your hand is full, you can fail to find a land one a given turn.
Your opponent discards a card. If you have multiple opponents, use Cackling Fiend. If you need to have them discard more than one card, use Abyssal Horror. If you don’t want them to discard a random card, Thrull Surgeon becomes a reusable Coercion. (How cool is it that people will know what Coercion is once again?)
For pure card drawing power with a Lifeline, this bird is a bit better than my prized Yavimaya Elder – but not much. Sage Owl, Spire Owl, and Sage Aven aren’t in the same league, Multani’s Acolyte costs GG, and Merchant of Secrets is just a 1/1. The Raven digs.
Gravedigger, Scrivener, and Anarchist
Get cards back from your graveyard. Admittedly, there are better options for getting creatures back than Gravedigger. As for uses for the other two, see Stupid Lifeline Tricks, below.
If you really want to attack, this is probably the card to use. It flies, and it doubles as a way to sacrifice your creatures. Phyrexian Plaguelord is another option since you could sacrifice everything else to clear its way, but the evasion is a better ability.
Bone Shredder and Nekrataal
Good removal creatures, but remember that everything you kill with these things comes back at the end of your turn. For permanent removal, provided you have a way to kill your own creatures, play the nightmares. Those are listed – deservedly – under Stupid Lifeline Tricks.
They put out a great new creature? Sacrifice Man-o-War and it bounces back to their hand.
Goblin Dynamo, Cinder Elemental, and Lord of the Pit
Finishers. With Cinder Elemental, if you don’t have enough mana to kill immediately, you can fire it off once at the end of the opponent’s turn, put upkeep on the stack, and fire again on your turn. So what if you sacrifice creatures to Lord? You still win.
Actually, big finishers like this aren’t that useful. If you get Lifeline and some creatures, you can generally win merely by controlling the board. But they are fun.
Deranged Hermit and Symbiotic Wurm
The Hermit creates enough Squirrels to drive everyone nuts. However, the Wurm beats the Hermit if you have a method of sacrifice every turn. Seven tokens at the end of every player’s turn is pretty good.
Fading counters all gone? No worries – it gets a new set at end of turn.
When he leaves play, you can search your library for a card and put that card in hand. This is very risky, however, since everyone else gets to do it too. Odds are very good you will get something nice, but they will get something to destroy your Lifeline.
Last But Not Least, Spike Weaver
Fog every turn, forever, if you keep the mana untapped. The only way you will take combat damage is if someone taps you out and you cannot Fog. If someone tries to Lightning Bolt it, Terror it or send it farming, just Fog off all the counters in response and it’s coming back next turn.
Okay – on to some basic stuff about playing a Lifeline deck.
First, you need to get Lifeline into play. This is important, obviously, but you don’t really need to have this happen immediately. In fact, having a Lifeline in play turn 1 or 2 (via Mana Vault, Tinker, or whatever) doesn’t really help if you don’t have a creature in play. Ideally, you want to get some creatures into play, plus some lands and your means of killing creatures, before Lifeline hits the table. Assuming you run a reasonable-sized deck, three or four Lifelines plus a smattering of Enlightened, Demonic and Vampiric Tutors is enough.
Protecting Lifeline is more important. Your best defense is probably Karn, Silver Golem; if an opponent targets the Lifeline, spend one mana to make it a creature and it comes back at end of turn. Someone destroys all artifacts? Use Karn in response – both Karn and the Lifeline come back. Other options include Guardian Beast (if you can afford one) or Fountain Watch. Vision Charm can phase out the Lifeline in response to a Disenchant-like spell targeting Lifeline, thereby countering the spell. (Vision Charm is also useful if your opponent tries to kill off their own creatures: Phase out Lifeline in response.) Counterspells can also protect the Lifeline, of course, but that requires you to have both the counter and mana available. Daring Apprentice or Voidmage Apprentice, though, become reusable counterspells once Lifeline is out.
As a last resort, you may have to pull Lifeline back from your graveyard. Drafna’s Restoration, Regrowth, or Elven Cache will work. Argivian Restoration or Argivian Archeologist will do the job. Even Feldon’s Cane or Thran Foundry will do in a pinch.
A quick reminder. Lifeline only pulls back creatures if at least one other creature is in play. Don’t sacrifice your last creature if there are no other creatures in play, or it’s going to stay in the graveyard. If all creatures die simultaneously, however (think Wrath of God), they all come back.
Another major problem: Your creatures with special effects come back every turn – but theirs do, too. This can be bad. Killing those creatures does not help – they still come back. You need to play cards that get the opponent’s creatures out of the game. Swords to Plowshares is a good example – so what if they get life? Exile is good, but only if they can be forced or enticed into attacking. Last Breath, Arrest, and Pacifism are good. The two Rebels, Lawbringer and Lightbringer, are good if the creatures are the right color. (And they are, if seen through a Distorting Lens.) Nightmares? Well, see Stupid Lifeline Tricks, below.
The other option is to remove their cards from the graveyard before they come back into play. Plenty of good options here, since you can cast much of this stuff during their main phase, before the stuff comes out of the graveyard. Phyrexian Furnace is good. Ebony Charm, Rapid Decay, and Coffin Purge all work – but for a limited time. Night Soil gives you Saprolings, but the casting cost is GG and there have to be two creatures in the graveyard for it to work. Gaea’s Blessing and Krosan Reclamation can put the creatures back into their deck for a while. Honor the Fallen and Morningtide work, but take out your creatures, too. Coffin Queen is another possibility: you take their creatures, and when you let them go they are removed from the game. (Intruder Alarm/Coffin Queen is a strange little combo, but that’s a different article.)
The next question is how to get creatures into play. You could just wait to draw them, then play them, but what fun is that? One great way to get creatures into play is Survival of the Fittest and Recurring Nightmare. Survival puts one creature card into your graveyard, and lets you search your library for another; Recurring Nightmare lets you sacrifice a creature to put a creature from your graveyard into play. With Lifeline, the sacrificed creature comes back. (To build suspense, that is a two-card combo that lets you search your library for any creature and get it into play for 2GB – and it wasn’t quite good enough for the Stupid Lifeline Tricks section.)
Natural Order is a one-card, one-shot equivalent: Sacrifice a green creature, search your library for another green creature and put it into play. The sacrificed creature comes back. Mask of the Mimic can also work, but only to get another copy of the sacrificed creature. Still good – especially with creatures like Radiant’s Dragoons and Avalanche Riders.
Other options for getting creatures back from your graveyard include Genesis, Corpse Dance, Haunted Crossroads, and Disturbed Burial. These are all reusable, but Corpse Dance is best. It puts the top creature in your graveyard into play, but removes it from the game at end of turn. However, if the creature goes to the graveyard before end of turn, Corpse Dance loses track of it, and the”remove from the game” effect does nothing. Even though Lifeline brings the creature back into play, it is considered a new creature, so it is not removed from the game and everyone’s happy. (Well, you are happy; your opponents don’t count.)
Time Warp (or Time Walk for the old and/or rich players), Anarchist. Cast Time Warp to get an extra turn. Sacrifice the Anarchist. It comes back into play and you get Time Warp back in hand. Repeat until you win.
Opposition, Rishadan Brigands, Footpads, and Cutthroats. Tap their mana, sac the Rishadans, they sacrifice permanents when the Rishadans come back into play. Unfortunately, sacrificed creatures also come back – but under 6th edition that happens at the end of the next turn.
Removing Opponent’s Creatures From The Game:
Lawbringer or Lightbringer, Distorting Lens. Scrape the moss off and you’ll see that Verdant Force is really red, so Lawbringer can remove it from the game. These are commons, so they are pretty cheap. But for real, reusable removal, use the Nightmares.
The nightmares (Faceless Butcher, Mesmeric Fiend, and Gravegouger) all remove something on entering play and return it when they leave play. However, these abilities use the stack – so if you can kill the creature at instant speed while the first ability (remove a thing) is on the stack, the second ability (return that thing) goes on the stack on top of it. The”return that thing” ability then happens first – but does nothing, since nothing has yet been removed. Then the remove ability happens, removing the object from the game for good.
As an example: Cast Gravegouger, put the”remove cards from graveyard” ability on the stack. In response, sacrifice Gravegouger to Altar of Dementia. The return ability goes on the stack. Let that resolve – it returns all removed cards (none, so far), then the remove card from the graveyard ability resolves, and the cards are removed.) Faceless Butcher removes creatures permanently. Mesmeric Fiend removes cards from hands. Hypnox removes whole hands – but only when you play it from your hand, not when it Lifeline’s ability brings it back into play. Gravegouger removes graveyards.
Note that Laquatus Champion does not eat six life permanently, since it does not remove and return anything; an opponent loses life when it comes into play, and gains life when it leaves.
A quick rules note: Lifeline returns creatures at end of turn. In order to make the nightmare effect permanent, you have to sacrifice the creature as it comes into play. Since Lifeline returns creatures”at end of turn,” it’s ability only triggers once a turn. That means that if you sacrifice a returning Nightmare at end of turn, it will not reappear until the end of the next player’s turn. On the plus side, since Lifeline creates a separate end of turn trigger for each returning creature, and since these triggers stack in active player, non-active player order, your creatures will come into play on an opponent’s turn before your opponents – meaning that you can use Gravegouger to remove them before Lifeline puts them into play.
Removing All Opposing Creatures:
False Prophet, Altar of Dementia. Sacrifice all of your creatures except False Prophet. Then sacrifice False Prophet. All of their creatures leave the game in disgust. (As do all the players – The Ferrett)
Aether Flash And Morphs:
Aether Flash kills morphs, but Lifeline brings them back at end of turn – and they come back face up. So, Wall of Roots turn 2, Aether Flash turn 3, Lifeline turn 4, and two Krosan Cloudscrapers turn 5.
Just Kill Them:
If you want to live dangerously, play Peacekeeper and Bedlam. With Peacekeeper in play, nothing can attack. With Bedlam, nothing can block. So on your turn, sacrifice Peacekeeper, then attack with everything. At end of turn, your Peacekeeper comes back, so no one else can attack. Just make sure no one Bolts your Peacekeeper on their turn. (Note: This is stupid broken in Emperor.)
Actually, decklists for Lifeline are easy to compile. The trick is really cutting them down to a reasonable size: Eighty cards means that you have enough tricks, but probably won’t find Lifeline often enough to use it. Build a sixty-card deck, and you can annoy your opponents no end.
Here’s the one I’m playing at the moment:
R Demonic Tutor (the black-bordered German one Pete sold to me at Gencon)
R Vampiric Tutor
R Enlightened Tutor
R Balance (also German black-bordered)
1 Diabolic Intent
1 Corpse Dance
4 Altar of Dementia
1 Fallen Angel
1 Krovikan Horror
3 Wall of Souls
1 Monk Realist
1 Karn, Silver Golem
3 Bottle Gnomes
3 Faceless Butcher
1 Highway Robber
1 Mesmeric Fiend
2 False Prophet
The deck has done pretty well. The most common method of winning has been concession, but I did win one game milling an opponent: I had Lifeline, Altar of Dementia, Hypnox, Fallen Angel and Bottle Gnomes. Games end quickly when you can mill someone for fifteen cards at the end of every player’s second main phase.
I would like to add some more search or tutoring, but the deck has performed pretty well so far. It has won every game when I have played a Lifeline.
If you play it, have fun. Your opponents won’t.