When Life-Gain Becomes a Weapon

I have made much reference to my favored playstyle of life-gain in Magic: the Gathering (see my articles on life-gain as defense and life-gain as many things, including win condition). But usually, decks that are completely devoted to life-gain strategies are generally regarded as lacking in competitive strength.

This could be said most especially of my Artifact Life-Gain deck, affectionately nicknamed “Timex” because of its ability to “take a lickin’ and keep on tickin'”, as the old Timex slogan went. The decklist appears below:

My Timex decklist on EssentialMagic.com

Now, up till a few weeks ago, this deck was mainly life-gain artifacts, artifacts that made other artifacts cost less, things that retrieved artifacts from the graveyard, and a couple of high-defense creatures. These all made this deck a very efficient and fun life-gain engine, but little else. Most times, opponents either had to concede because I was gaining life too fast for them to smash me down, or I simply ran them out of cards (thanks to Elixir of Immortality’s ability to put my graveyard back into my deck). Then, I found a card that gave Timex some teeth.

Card image courtesy of Gatherer

This is a Transforming card, one of Magic’s newest mechanics. At the beginning of any game, this card is simply “Chalice of Life,” a 3-cost artifact that gains one life when you tap it. Simple, basic Artifact Life-Gain, just like the rest of my deck–seems fairly straightforward, right?

But it’s the transforming text that changes the game entirely if I tap it when I am at 30 life or more–it gains me one last life, then flips over, revealing “Chalice of Death,” which makes a target player lose 5 life every time it is tapped. From then on, the opponent has 4 turns to smash me down before I drain their starting life total completely, 5 points at a time.

How This Plays

Since I’m usually way more than 10 life up from my starting life total, because this deck has the capability to gain 10 or more life per turn, Chalice of Life is almost assured to transform at some point. When it does, the life-gain engine becomes a little meaner; the addition of the loss-of-life game mechanic takes this formerly timid deck and gives it threat and power.

From my play-testing, I’ve found that Timex is still just as resilient and flexible as ever, but with a weapon like this on the table, it can go on the offense as well. Suddenly, I’m no longer just hiding behind my high life total, but using its high number to power Chalice of Death. And with all the cards that retrieve artifacts from my graveyard (Sanctum Gargoyle, Hanna, Ship’s Navigator, and Rootwater Diver), just getting rid of the Chalice won’t save my opponent for very long.

The opponent’s challenge, then, is to find a way to take down my higher life total before Chalice of Death takes theirs down. Sure, a very aggressive deck might be able to do it…but will it be quick enough to offset a 5-point life loss every turn?

Your Opinion?

What do you think about this twist on life-gain? What types of strategies might get around this deck’s main combos, and which ones might fall most easily? Tell me in the comments!

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