Lifelink isn’t often the sort of ability that defines a card on its own. It’s much more of a support ability, often working in tandem with other abilities on a card in order to gain extra value or support broader synergies across a deck. Nevertheless, even if it isn’t the most powerful keyword, it’s still popular and very common, and there is no shortage of creatures that benefit from it. Let’s get across some of the best from throughout Magic’s history!
I don’t know that this card enjoys its immense popularity in Modern due to the fact that it has lifelink, but nonetheless it is an extremely common card in some of the top decks in the format, from various Omnath decks to white/blue-based control. A “free” Swords to Plowshares that can also help to stabilize both the board and your life total in the end game is pretty ridiculous, and Solitude is the latest in a long line of control cards that hide a win condition in amongst the utility.
First there was Vampire Nighthawk, the 2/3 with flying, lifelink and deathtouch. Then came Nighthawk Scavenger, with a set of stats and abilities that put the old 2/3 to shame. The moment your opponent has two different card types in the bin this is a strict upgrade, and it can grow to truly colossal proportions very quickly. A three-mana 5/3 or 6/3 with flying and lifelink is extremely difficult to race, and even if you don’t have total control over its size thanks to it relying on your opponents’ graveyards, it’s still a hell of a beater.
Wurmcoil Engine is an enormous brick wall of a card, shoring up the board even in the face of opposing removal thanks to its death trigger. Never mind that a 6/6 will stabilize most battlefields by itself, when you give that 6/6 lifelink it also puts a stop to your opponents attempting to race. Leaving behind a 3/3 lifelinker as well means that the worst-case scenario for getting this guy involved in combat is nine extra life points plus whatever trades you were able to make with deathtouch – if you need a board stabilized, Wurmcoil Engine is here to do it. Just hope they don’t have Swords to Plowshares or Path to Exile!
Like Solitude, Lurrus’s immense popularity in various Constructed formats probably isn’t based on the fact it has lifelink. Sure, sometimes it’s relevant and being able to gain a cheeky three life here and there is very useful indeed, but that’s not the reason this card is banned in Legacy – and, at one point, was banned in Vintage. Rather than the lifelink, it’s probably Lurrus’s ability to recur cheap cards over and over and over again – especially in older formats like Modern, where so many powerful cards are so cheap.
Drogskol Reaver is a tidy little package all on its own. A near-bulk mythic when first released, the Reaver has found its niche in EDH life gain decks, where it’s a terrific payoff for anyone able to repeatedly and reliably gain life. Getting in for six and two extra cards per turn by itself isn’t too bad, but it’s really in conjunction with cards like Soul Warden, Fountain of Renewal and of course Oloro, Ageless Ascetic that this 3/5 does its best work.
Sure, it’s not technically a creature, but thanks to its living weapon ability, it might as well be. Usually used in conjunction with Stoneforge Mystic (although old Stoneforge can often be found kicking it with Kaldra Compleat these days), a turn-three Batterskull was the hallmark of Stoneblade decks for a long time. Having an instant-speed uncounterable 4/4 vigilant lifelinker that could dodge removal made racing impossible for any opponent, and even when hardcast it’s not too bad a deal, really.
This card has had a long and very interesting career. Starting off in Standard, it was a key sideboard strategy in conjunction with Nyx-Fleece Ram in white-blue control decks, such as the one with which Ivan Floch was victorious at PT Magic 2015. Then it saw a reasonable amount of play in Modern in conjunction with Spike Feeder, as the two cards enable an infinite combo. Nowadays, however, it’s a popular EDH role-player in life gain decks, often led by another Angel, Liesa. Archangel of Thune has done it all, from competitive to casual.
As you start with 40 life in Commander, with the right deck it’s not too difficult to maintain that life total until you can play Felidar Sovereign and win the game almost immediately. Some EDH players find this card a little “cheap”, given that you start the game with its conditions already met – and even if the card didn’t have lifelink, any dedicated life gain deck in EDH won’t struggle to stay above 40. Then again, opponents usually have an entire turn cycle to kill it, so maybe they should stop complaining and start Doom Blading.
In the same vein as Felidar Sovereign, Serra Ascendant’s buff condition is already met the moment a game of EDH begins, and for that reason it’s a popular choice in life gain lists due to the fact that it is, effectively, a one-mana 6/6 flying lifelinker. That’s not a bad way to start a game, but it will make you some enemies at the table from a very early stage – particularly whomever you choose to attack on turn two!
Now here’s a lifelinking card that puts all those extra life points it generates to some good use! Griseldaddy is a reanimator favorite for a reason – usually, if you can afford it, the first thing you do with him is draw seven, knowing he’ll repay the investment several times over if left unanswered. Then again, due to how much people love activating his ability combined with how lifelink helps to fuel it, much of the time he’s played as though his text box says “whenever Griselbrand deals combat damage, draw that many cards”!