Last updated on May 11, 2022
Thassa’s Oracle | Illustration by Jesper Ejsing
Magic can be a difficult game. Sometimes you look at your opponent’s defenses and see that there’s no way in. If only you had a card that said, “you win the game.”
What if I told you that those cards actually exist?
As many of you may know, you don’t actually have to reduce your opponent to zero life to win. From milling your opponent’s deck to running a crazy Hive Mind combo, there’s always a way to come out on top.
If you’re looking to add a new dimension to your otherwise straightforward deck, read on. Today is all about the unconventional ways to win a game of Magic!
What Counts as an Alternate Win Condition?
Simic Ascendancy | Illustration by Izzy
I’ll try to be as objective as possible when choosing what counts as an alternate win condition in Magic. An alternate win condition is a way to win the game without reducing your opponent’s life to zero.
So, if the rules of the game declare you the winner while at least one of your opponents has one or more life, then you’ve just won thanks to an alternate win con!
Tasha’s Hideous Laughter | Illustration by Ilse Gort
Mill is probably the first alternate win condition that comes to everyone’s mind, so I’ll start with that. For those of you who aren’t entirely familiar, “mill” strategy involves removing your opponent’s entire deck, usually by putting cards directly from their deck into their graveyard.
If a player has to draw a card while they have no cards in their library, they lose the game. It’s a pretty evil way to win if I say so myself, but hey, as my old buddy Dark Confidant would say, “greatness, at any cost.”
The other is to let your opponent mill themselves the good old-fashioned way: by letting them draw a card every turn. If you can stop every one of your opponent’s threats while preserving the size of your own library with Elixir of Immortality or a Mystic Sanctuary loop, you’re golden. But your opponent will usually concede before you go through the motions of decking them out one card at a time.
Corrupted Conscience | Illustration by Jason Chan
First introduced in Legends, poison counters are counters that are placed on players. If a player has at least 10 poison counters, that player loses the game.
These creatures deal damage to players in the form of poison counters. If all of your creatures have infect, you only need to deal ten damage to win the game! This is a particularly strong strategy in Commander where the starting 40 life total won’t slow you down.
Rafiq of the Many | Illustration by Michael Komarck
Players often forget about this one, even during an actual game of Commander. But dealing 21 damage with your commander can sometimes be easier than dealing a whopping 40 damage over the course of the game.
Building a deck focused on commander damage is a perfectly reasonable strategy. Consider using Rafiq of the Many or Uril, the Miststalker as your commander and then build a deck full of equipment and auras to maximize their damage.
“Wait, I thought you said you lost the game when you milled your entire library?” Yes, I know this isn’t called “Alternate Loss Conditions.” Just hear me out.
Some cards will cause you to win the game instead if they’re on the battlefield when you should lose the game by drawing cards while having none left in your library.
These are those cards:
If you pay close attention, you’ll notice that Thassa’s Oracle works a bit differently than the other two. I decided to put it here anyway since they’re so similar.
Life Total Manipulation
The following cards win you the game if you have a certain life total. I like to run these cards in Commander since getting higher life totals is easier when you start at 40. Check them out:
There’s also Celestial Convergence which requires you to have the highest life total among all players at the table after a certain number of turns.
Last but not least are the enchantments that require a specific life total for you to win the game. Or for your opponent to lose the game, if there’s a difference. Here they are:
Coalition Victory (and Similar Cards)
Since Coalition Victory was released in 2001’s Invasion, lots of similar cards have been printed that require certain unique board states to win the game. Some are easier to achieve than others, but they all require some level of precise deckbuilding to work.
Biovisionary works best if you have a lot of Clone effects in your deck. Maze’s End obviously won’t work unless you run a copy of each gate. Revel in Riches requires a lot of Treasures, Liliana’s Contract needs demons… you get the idea.
Here’s the list:
- Barren Glory
- Epic Struggle
- Happily Ever After
- Hedron Alignment
- Hellkite Tyrant
- Liliana’s Contract
- Mayael’s Aria
- Maze’s End
- Mechanized Production
- Mirrodin Besieged
- Mortal Combat
- Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God
- Revel in Riches
Chance Encounter (and Similar Cards)
This is all about permanents that require a certain number of counters on them to win the game. This can range from winning coin flips with Chance Encounter to paying a lot of mana for Helix Pinnacle. Either way, more counters = win. Maybe a good reason to run a lot of proliferate cards? Hmm…
Hive Mind & Summoner’s Pact Combo
Let’s say you cast Summoner’s Pact, and then each of your opponents also casts Summoner’s Pact thanks to Hive Mind’s triggered ability. Each opponent is then forced to pay at the beginning of their upkeep. If they can’t, they lose the game.
You obviously want to execute this combo when you know that your opponent can’t pay the cost so make sure to choose a pact outside of your opponent’s colors.
Battle of Wits
Unfortunately you won’t be able to surprise your opponent with this one, especially if you’re playing paper Magic. Everyone within a 10-mile radius will know that you’re running a Battle of Wits deck when you show up with your 250-card behemoth. Not to mention that sleeving your deck will take forever.
Phage the Untouchable (and Similar Cards)
Phage the Untouchable has what I like to call “mega-infect.” All the cards listed below will basically kill your opponent if they deal damage to them just once, plus a few other conditions in some cases:
And these cards grant or summon creatures with “mega infect” (or “mega deathtouch,” if you prefer):
Door to Nothingness
Honestly, there isn’t much to say about this card. Just read what Door to Nothingness says and… that’s it. Looks like lazy card design, but who am I to judge?
Approach of the Second Sun
Another relatively straightforward card, although this one is a bit more flavorful. Yep, winning a game of Magic can be as easy as casting Approach of the Second Sun twice in one game.
The Deck of Many Things
Winning a game with The Deck of Many Things requires quite a bit of luck and some setup. It’s weird, wacky, and it might even be good once every hundred games or so! Although I’ve never played with it, The Deck looks like the kind of card that’s a lot more fun to play in theory than it is in practice.
As Luck Would Have It
With the release of Forgotten Realms, As Luck Would Have It could even work as a black-bordered card. Forget your regular 6-sided dice and bring all your D20 cards from AFR if you really want to maximize your chances of winning with As Luck Would Have It.
Amulet of Quoz
Some cards allowed players to “play for ante” in the earliest years of Magic, essentially adding an element of gambling to the game. Players could each put a random card from their library into the ante zone at the beginning of the game and whoever won received permanent ownership of said card.
This rule has thankfully since been removed. Amulet of Quoz doesn’t even affect the board at all anymore. It forces the opponent to either ante the card of their library or let the outcome of the game be decided by a coinflip. Probably one of the worst cards ever printed in Magic.
Baron Von Count
Sometimes, making a player lose the game isn’t enough. Enter Baron Von Count, a silver-bordered Magic villain who actually destroys a player at the table. I don’t exactly know the difference between a player losing the game and being destroyed but one definitely sounds cooler than the other.
The Cheese Stands Alone
Okay, let’s move on.
Now I Know My ABC’s
This may be my favorite card so far. Building a deck around Now I Know My ABC’s sounds like an insurmountable task, but you can actually combo Now I Know My ABC’s with Jacques le Vert and Kruphix, God of Horizons to win. Feel free to verify this claim yourself.
Plus there are all sorts of other possibilities if your playgroup doesn’t restrict you to only playing cards with English text. Some German cards have exceptionally long names.
A new alternative win condition was included with Streets of New Capenna, this time an artifact for named Halo Fountain. This card generates 1/1 citizens as well as optionally draws you cards. If you manage to get up to fifteen total creatures and can pay , you win the game! This is fairly difficult to pull off, so this card is mostly used as a token generator with late-game card draw, but it’s a cool ability nonetheless.
Which Alternate Win Conditions are the Best?
5. Helix Pinnacle
Paying 100 mana over the course of the game is no easy feat. This card gets busted when you have an infinite mana combo and need a way to spend all that mana. But there are some more versatile ways to empty out your mana pool. Especially in Commander where your commander itself can be your payoff card. Think Kenrith, the Returned King.
4. Battle of Wits
You need to be really good at shuffling Magic cards to play Battle of Wits. Running over 200 cards in a single deck poses its own risk, especially since finding one of your four copies of Battle of Wits is much more difficult.
But with enough tutor effects in your deck you’ll still be able to find Battle of Wits more often than not. Some decks even run Bring to Light which effectively allows you to cast Battle of Wits from your deck for .
3. Simic Ascendancy
Unlike Helix Pinnacle, Simic Ascendancy doesn’t need an insane amount of mana to pull off and you can even build a solid EDH deck around it. I actually own an Ezuri, Claw of Progress deck and, I must say, winning with Simic Ascendancy is a piece of cake.
2. Felidar Sovereign
I should note that Felidar Sovereign is only really viable in Commander where your starting life total is 40. If you really want to ensure that the Guardian wins you the game, make sure to run a few lifegain effects to stay at (or above) your starting life total.
1. Thassa’s Oracle
If you’re looking for raw power, Thassa’s Oracle is the way to go. This little merfolk may not be the best creature when you have a full library, but the Oracle is the best card to capitalize on running Hermit Druid or some other way to mill your entire library.
Of course, I couldn’t talk about this card without mentioning its predecessor, Laboratory Maniac. But with a better ability and a lower mana cost, Thassa’s Oracle makes the Maniac a thing of the past.
Battle of Wits | Illustration by Jason Chan
Well, I think that’s all of them! There are quite a few ways to win a game of Magic as it turns out. If I’ve missed any other alternate win conditions make sure to let me know and I’ll get them up here ASAP.
That’s all for me. See you next time!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: