Last updated on July 31, 2023
Heliod, Sun-Crowned | Illustration by Lius Lasahido
Lifegain is one of the ultimate themes in Commander, and Magic in general. Gaining life on its own doesn’t do much other than give you more time to stabilize, win, or maybe even survive. In an eternal format like Commander, players have access to so many cards that you can take an otherwise basic mechanic (like gaining life) and turn it into so much more.
There’s a commander for just about every kind of lifegain deck. Some generate card advantage for control-oriented decks, some generate more power for your creatures, and others outright exile permanents that may be causing you trouble. Today I’m going over my top 20 lifegain commanders.
Let’s jump in!
What Makes a Good Lifegain Commander?
Lathiel, the Bounteous Dawn | Illustration by Lucas Graciano
There are a few fundamental abilities to look for when selecting a commander for a lifegain-themed deck. First and foremost is a commander that can consistently give you life and trigger your many effects whenever you gain life, like Sanguine Bond, Cleric Class, and more.
On top of that, commanders that give you some kind of consistent and tangible resource whenever you gain life are best. Whether that’s in the form of +1/+1 counters, card advantage in any way, or targeted removal, you want to take it.
The more value you can extract out of every instance of gaining life, the more powerful and commanding your deck is.
#20. Astarion, the Decadent
This 6-mana 4/4 with deathtouch and lifelink lets you choose Friends or Feed at your end step, which either doubles the life lost by a specified unlucky opponent or doubles your total lifegain that turn.
Astarion, the Decadent is the ultimate top-end lifegain card, and there’s a big difference between gaining 10 life versus 20 or more in a single turn. It makes cards like Aetherflux Reservoir incredibly easy to activate multiple times, and quite literally doubles the value of any lifegain source you have!
#19. Trelasarra, Moon Dancer
Next up is Trelasarra, Moon Dancer from Adventures into the Forgotten Realms. This is one of the cheaper, lower-to-the-ground commanders I’m going to look at today, and this one gets a +1/+1 counter and lets you scry one whenever you gain life.
It’s a great cheap commander for lower-power lifegain decks that want to enjoy an aggressive creature-based strategy without sacrificing on card advantage or aggressive potential. Trelasarra comes in on turn 2 every time and immediately gets to work. While it isn’t anything close to Oloro, Ageless Ascetic, you’d be wrong to underestimate it.
#18. Kambal, Consul of Allocation
Kambal, Consul of Allocation is a 2/3 for three that drains an opponent for two life whenever they cast a noncreature spell. If you’ve ever played a game of Commander in your life that wasn’t against only Gruul () aggro decks, you’ll quickly realize just how much life this gains you over the course of the game.
#17. Karlov of the Ghost Council
This is a new switch up from what we’ve seen so far. Given how often you’ll be gaining life in Orzhov (), this could offer sweet consistent removal for just two mana.
#16. Edgar Markov (Vampires)
Edgar Markov, while not an explicitly lifegain-oriented commander, is always leading vampire tribal decks, which are almost always full of lifegain effects. Vampires are all about siphoning blood from their enemies, and that’s exactly what this deck does. It uses the full power of Orzhov (and even a little bit of red) to drain your opponents for as much life as possible throughout the game while maintaining a strong and wide board presence.
Vampires do lifegain better than any other tribe except maybe angels, and you’ve got so many great inclusions to choose from. Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose, Elenda, the Dusk Rose, Sanctum Seeker, and plenty more.
#15. Dina, Soul Steeper
Dina, Soul Steeper is one of the most popular lifegain-oriented commanders out there, mainly because it has a pseudo-Sanguine Bond built in. It also acts as a sacrifice outlet in the command zone, which makes for some sweet infinite combos if you’re looking to jump into high-power or even cEDH territory.
#14. Licia, Sanguine Tribune
Licia, Sanguine Tribune is up next, and this is an absolute tank of a commander. Coming in at a whopping eight mana, Licia gets mana cheaper for each life you’ve gained in a single turn, which means you could see this consistently come down as early as turn 4 or 5. Aside from being a 4/4 lifelink’ing first striker, Licia allows you to pay five life to put three +1/+1 counters on it.
While Licia is certainly a lifegain commander first and foremost, I think it’d be wrong not to try and capitalize off its incredible +1/+1 counter ability. Cards like Cleric Class, Vizkopa Guildmage, and Whispersilk Cloak are all great additions that really make use of its activated ability.
#13. Tymna, the Weaver + Ikra Shidiqi, the Usurper
Next up is the partner pairing of Tymna the Weaver and Ikra Shidiqi, the Usurper. Tymna is already one of the best partner commanders in the game as it helps you gain plenty of life to offset the major card advantage it supplies that comes at the price of life. Ikra, on the other hand, sees drastically less play.
The two come together to greatly increase the amount of lifegain you get from creatures regardless of whether or not they have lifelink, and they make for an excellent Abzan () lifegain creature deck. Playing Tymna gives you access to one of the best 3-drops in the game. Ikra brings green’s powerful creatures and interaction.
#12. Orah, Skyclave Hierophant
Next up is Orah, Skyclave Hierophant, a 3/3 for four that’s the best cleric tribal commander for lifegain decks by far. Clerics are almost exclusively Orzhov and almost always either deal with lifegain, life drain, or +1/+1 counters.
#11. Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim
Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim is a 2/3 cleric with deathtouch for two that allows you to sacrifice creatures to gain life equal to their toughness or exile a nonland permanent! That’s a lot of value on a single card, and it conveniently fits perfectly into how Orzhov lifegain decks function best.
So many clerics and Orzhov creatures in general are lifegain-oriented and based around sacrificing another creature for some kind of benefit. You’ve also got access to plenty of cards like Shadowheart, Dark Justiciar, Fleshtaker, Cruel Celebrant, and more. Then there’s the value to extract from your various sacrifices in the form of Sanguine Bond, Ascend from Avernus, and Liesa, Forgotten Archangel.
#10. Willowdusk, Essence Seer
Next up is Willowdusk, Essence Seer, a 3/3 for three that can put a number of +1/+1 counters on a single creature equal to the life you gained or lost this turn. I like Willowdusk because you always get value out of this, and it really hammers in a Golgari () creature-based strategy that goes for beats and isn’t afraid to lose a creature.
As far as card recommendations go, I’d suggest running the likes of Essence Pulse, Blossoming Bogbeast, and Mortality Spear. These are the kinds of cards that always get extra value, just like your commander.
#9. Beledros Witherbloom
Into the single digits now, and we’re looking at Beledros Witherbloom. The Golgari elder dragon, Beledros creates consistent 1/1 Pests that gain you one life when they die, which offers a regular source of lifegain you don’t normally see in Golgari.
But the real payoff is that you can pay 10 life once each turn to untap all lands you control. This offers incredible mana advantage sort of like K'rrik, Son of Yawgmoth, but with the full might of massive green creatures behind you.
#8. Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose
Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose, despite not being Orzhov, is all about draining your opponents for life. Whenever you gain life, one of your opponents loses that much. It’s that simple.
While you do lose access to a lot of the strong mono-white and Orzhov lifegain cards, black supplies enough draining cards to support the theme relatively well. Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Blood Artist, and Ayara, First of Locthwain all come to mind as powerful inclusions, and there are many more to discover.
#7. Liesa, Shroud of Dusk
Liesa, Shroud of Dusk is a 5/5 flying angel with lifelink for five that taxes each player two life whenever they cast a spell, while also slightly dodging the commander tax. Unlike most lifegain commanders that give you extra benefits for gaining life or act as a consistent source of lifegain, Liesa works as a way to drain your opponents while mitigating your own life loss in a lifegain-based deck.
The idea here is you’ll go heavy in the classic Orzhov strategy of life drain. Cards like Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, Kambal, Consul of Allocation, and Sanguine Bond all fit in here quite well and make for a fun strategy that sees your opponents’ life go down just about as fast as yours skyrockets.
#6. K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth
Next up is K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth, which turns all your black mana sources into Phyrexian mana, allowing you to convert all of your sweet, sweet lifegain into extra power and mana each turn. You can also put a +1/+1 counter on K’rrik whenever you cast a black spell.
While not explicitly lifegain, I think this commander offers a fresh take on the lifegain theme and directly converts your lifegain into a tangible resource, mana, as opposed to more +1/+1 counters or bonus life. Lifegain is a traditionally white mechanic, but seeing it in mono-black with such a unique perspective is as interesting as it is exciting to play.
#5. Shanna, Purifying Blade
One of the more recently printed commanders is starting off the top five today, and it’s Shanna, Purifying Blade from Dominaria United. Shanna is similar to the infamous Oloro, Ageless Ascetic but in Bant () colors, which makes for a more aggressive and creature-based playstyle instead of the conventional Esper () control variant.
Shanna lets you draw cards equal to the amount of life you gained on your turn as long as you pay for each of those cards. It’s a great way to completely refill your hand in a single turn, which helps aggressive builds continuously apply pressure through the game and prevents you from stalling out or going hellbent at basically any point.
#4. Lathiel, the Bounteous Dawn
Next up is Lathiel, the Bounteous Dawn, a 2/2 lifelink’ing unicorn for four that distributes a number of +1/+1 counters at each end step equal to the amount of life you gained that turn. It’s the ultimate life-to-power converter, and it makes for an aggressive playstyle that complements Selesnya () quite well.
There are plenty of lifegain creatures that continuously grow turn after turn when paired with some other consistent lifegain source like Soul Warden, creating a creature base of attackers that goes both wide and tall.
#3. Heliod, Sun-Crowned
It’s a no-brainer to include Heliod, Sun-Crowned in third place. Heliod distributes +1/+1 counters on creatures or enchantments you control whenever you gain life and can give a creature lifelink for to help you consistently find those lifegain triggers. Being a god creature, Heliod isn’t always a creature, which makes for a difficult-to-remove commander that’s also an indestructible enchantment.
This is just your good old fashioned lifegain commander. Nothing too crazy, just some powerful lifegain triggers and extra consistency to your lifegain in the first place. It makes for a smoother game overall and works incredibly well under various stax effects, which notably makes for a great sub-theme.
#2. Giada, Font of Hope
The runner-up today is, of course, Giada, Font of Hope. This angel commander from Streets of New Capenna doesn’t offer much in terms of lifegain itself, but it does act as one of the best commanders for one of the most powerful lifegain tribes in Magic: angels.
This card is a sweet 2-drop on rate, accelerates your creature-based game plan, and further amplifies the power level of your lifelink creatures through a large number of +1/+1 counters.
#1. Oloro, Ageless Ascetic
In first place, as you may have guessed, is Oloro, Ageless Ascetic. Oloro is about as old school as they come for lifegain commanders, offering some of the most consistent and powerful life gain and card draw potential in Magic. Gaining you two life every single turn regardless of the zone it’s in offers incredible consistency for your lifegain triggers, turning your otherwise mid-tier value creatures into powerhouses.
Oloro is a commander suited well for control decks as a more slow-rolling commander in Esper colors. Blue and black offer sweet interaction in the forms of efficient counterspells and removal and white brings great protection, more lifegain sources, and lifegain triggers to help you pull ahead.
Ikra Shidiqi, the Usurper | Illustration by Josu Hernaiz
That wraps up today’s rankings! Lifegain is an incredibly fun and rewarding strategy in Commander, and I can’t recommend it enough.
What do you think of the rankings? Have you had the opportunity to play with or against any of these commanders? What did you think of them? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below or over in the official Draftsim Discord.
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