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In Magic: The Gathering, Life total is a sort of score. Each player starts the game with 20 life points. Any increase in a player’s life total is considered to be gaining life. Any decrease in a player’s life total is considered to be losing life. A player whose life total drops to 0 or less loses. He or she is "dead".[1] Life is a resource which typically needs to be tracked on a piece of paper or a life counter.

Life loss[edit | edit source]

Loss of life can occur from damage by unblocked creatures and direct damage from spells. Black will sometimes just make players lose life straight up without a drain effect.[2] Examples of these include Blood Tribute, Burden of Greed, and Shadow Slice. Other black cards force one or more players to lose half their life total, or for a spell's caster to pay life as part of the cost of a spell or ability. Black also has numerous cards, such as Disciple of the Vault, that trigger life loss if a given action happens. However, R&D is shifting away from life loss, in favor of direct damage, to trim out unnecessary complexity.[3][4][5]

There are spells which can prevent damage, but so far only Platinum Emperion can prevent the loss of life (although it also prevents paying life). To pay life is the same as losing life, and damage causes loss of life.

Life as a resource[edit | edit source]

Intentional life loss occurs when life is used as a resource.[6] Famous examples of this include the Necropotence deck and Phyrexian mana.

Life gain[edit | edit source]

Life gain directly opposes the game’s primary win condition.[7][8] The earliest "life gain" spells include Healing Salve, Lifetap, and Stream of Life. Stream of Life is notable for being the first gain X life spell. There were also 5 artifacts printed (dubbed the "Lucky charms") which would give you 1 life each time a spell of the appropriate color was cast if you paid 1 (e.g., Ivory Cup).

Life gain occurs most prominently, and in all card types, in white.[2] Green is number two in life gain. Green’s life gain is mostly either through sorceries (with the occasional instant) and creatures. Life gain in black is restricted to Drain Life-types of spells.[9][2] Blue gets life temporarily (Illusions of Grandeur) and red can have life gain if there's a random element involved (Game of Chaos).

The biggest single-colored life gain spell (not {X}) is the card Heroes Remembered (gain 20 life) from Planar Chaos. The biggest multicolored life gain spell (not {X}) is the card Heroes' Reunion (gain 7 life) from Invasion.

Rules[edit | edit source]

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From the glossary of the Comprehensive Rules (Core Set 2019 (July 13, 2018))

Life, Life Total
Each player has an amount of “life,” represented by that player’s “life total.” Life may be gained or lost. See rule 118, “Life.”

From the glossary of the Comprehensive Rules (Core Set 2019 (July 13, 2018))

Starting Life Total
The amount of life a player has as a game begins. In most games, each player’s starting life total is 20. See rule 103.3.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Doug Beyer. (August 26, 2009.) “Your Mailbox is Over Vorthosity”,, Wizards of the Coast.
  2. a b c Mark Rosewater. (June 5, 2017.) “Mechanical Color Pie 2017”,, Wizards of the Coast.
  3. Mark Rosewater. (March 11, 2018.) "Is the change from "you lose 2 life" to "[cardname deals 2 damage to you" going to be a permanent change?]", Blogatog, Tumblr.
  4. Mark Rosewater. (March 12, 2018.) "Why are you shifting away from life loss as an effect?", Blogatog, Tumblr.
  5. Mark Rosewater. (March 13, 2018.) "I'm very unhappy about black moving away from loss of life.", Blogatog, Tumblr.
  6. Mike Flores. (May 19, 2014.) “Life as a Resource (Generally)”,, Wizards of the Coast.
  7. Mark Rosewater. (June 24, 2002.) “The Game of Life”,, Wizards of the Coast.
  8. Randy Buehler. (June 28, 2002.) “Life Is Not For Everyone”,, Wizards of the Coast.
  9. Mark Rosewater. (August 06, 2017.) "What's lifegain, conditional or otherwise, primary/secondary/tertiary in?", Blogatog, Tumblr.

External link[edit | edit source]

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