Tendrils of Agony (Mystical Archive) - Illustration by Rovina Cai

Tendrils of Agony (Mystical Archive) | Illustration by Rovina Cai

Black’s philosophy is that power should be obtained by any means, at any cost. This often translates to life payments. Since life is a resource, you should trade your own life in exchange for more power (more cards, more mana, etc.)

Today I’m taking a look at the best life loss effects in Magic. We’re going to see lots of black and gold cards with Swamp symbols on them since this effect is almost exclusive to black’s slice of the color pie. Here we go!

What Are Life Loss Cards in MTG?

Debt to the Deathless - Illustration by Seb McKinnon

Debt to the Deathless | Illustration by Seb McKinnon

Life loss cards in Magic are cards that have “lose life” or something similar in their text.

Lightning Bolt, for example, does not count as a life loss card because it deals damage rather than causing a player to lose life. Alms of the Vein, on the other hand, is a life loss card. Life loss is different from damage in the rules, although the effects are mostly the same.

Best Black Life Loss Cards

#25. Sanguine Bond

Sanguine Bond

Sanguine Bond is a great enchantment to turn your lifegain effects into life loss for your opponents. It also makes certain infinite combos viable in EDH.

#24. Blood Tribute

Blood Tribute

Half your opponent’s life is fine as a punishment, especially in EDH where the life totals are huge. The kicker for Blood Tribute is very doable in vampire decks, or if your commander is a vampire.

#23. Vendetta


Vendetta is a very efficient removal spell, but there are typically better alternatives available.

#22. Feed the Swarm

Feed the Swarm

Feed the Swarm is like a more expensive but more flexible Vendetta. You can still do better though.

#21. Painful Truths

Painful Truths

Painful Truths saw some Legacy play, drawing three cards and losing three life. It was fine in midrange/Jund () decks for a while.

Note that you can draw more cards paying four different colors of mana if there’s some kind of taxing effect online, like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben.

#20. Trespasser’s Curse

Trespasser's Curse

Trespasser’s Curse doesn’t look like much, but you get to drain those pesky token players. It also kind of stops those infinite blink combos.

#19. Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose

Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose

Want one more Sanguine Bond in your EDH deck? Here’s Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose, one that can block, attack, and costs only three mana all while having two relevant creature types.

#18. Torment of Hailfire

Torment of Hailfire

Torment of Hailfire is one of the funnier and more impactful cards and win conditions in black EDH decks. The fact that it hits all players is very convenient in EDH, and your opponents will lose all their permanents, their cards, and their life with enough mana.

#17. Champion of Dusk

Champion of Dusk

Champion of Dusk can net you good card advantage in a vampire deck. It’s especially interesting with cards like Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord that can cheat it into play.

#16. Peer Into the Abyss

Peer Into the Abyss

Peer Into the Abyss costs seven mana, but you can deal significant damage with cards that punish your opponents for drawing cards like Underworld Dreams and Nekusar, the Mindrazer.

#15. Lolth, Spider Queen

Lolth, Spider Queen

Lolth, Spider Queen has a good stabilizing effect, generating two tokens with reach and menace. It’s also a source of card advantage and is an awesome planeswalker to play in spider or sacrifice decks.

#14. Warlock Class

Warlock Class

Warlock Class sees play in Explorer as a way to add to your devotion, and as a mana sink. The second upgrade to the class deals enough damage to be worth it, especially alongside Gray Merchant of Asphodel.

#13. Sorin, the Mirthless

Sorin the Mirthless

On top of having the Dark Confidant effect, Sorin the Mirthless can generate vampires with lifelink and can take over a game with card advantage while also of being good against aggro.

#12. Archon of Cruelty

Archon of Cruelty

Archon of Cruelty has been one of the premier reanimation targets in formats like Modern and Cube. You get card advantage, drain life, and your opponent loses something when the card enters the battlefield.

#11. Okiba Reckoner Raid

Okiba Reckoner Raid

Okiba Reckoner Raid is a nice 1-drop that’s also an enchantment. It’s usually a lifedrain effect followed by a threat that synergizes with enchantments, lifegain effects, and more.

#10. Blood Artist

Blood Artist

With Blood Artist active each creature that dies (not just yours) results in lifegain for you, and lifeloss for your opponent. An important piece in aristocrats decks.

#9. Graveyard Trespasser / Graveyard Glutton

Graveyard Trespasser is a well-rounded threat that combines lifedrain and graveyard hate. You can exile up to two cards and drain your opponent for two life if it transforms. There’s also the ward effect that gives you card advantage if your opponent targets it.

#8. Ad Nauseam

Ad Nauseam

Ad Nauseam is a card that allows players to do unfair things. You’ll draw lots of cards by paying life, and you’ll draw lots of rituals and cantrips which can result in a storm win in combo decks with cheap cards (0-1 mana value).

It’s a staple in Legacy ANT (Ad Nauseam Tendrils) and EDH combo decks.

#7. Bitterblossom


Bitterblossom is a Constructed staple, and a nightmare for decks trying to answer your threats one-for-one. You’ll have chump blockers, evasive creatures at your disposal, and it’s good with equipment.

All at the low price of losing one life a turn.

#6. Gray Merchant of Asphodel

Gray Merchant of Asphodel

Gray Merchant of Asphodel at the very least makes your opponent lose two life when it ETBs, but often lands in the six to eight range. It’s used as a win condition in mono-black decks.

#5. Cauldron Familiar

Cauldron Familiar

Probably one of the most hated cards thanks to its interaction with Witch’s Oven, Cauldron Familiar drains your opponent for one life each time, and it partners with Mayhem Devil for extra damage in Explorer/Pioneer decks.

#4. Dark Confidant

Dark Confidant

Dark Confidant used to be a Legacy/Modern staple, but the time’s caught up to it. The prevalence of cheap removal spells like Lightning Bolt and Fatal Push are very good against him.

But you’ll get an extra card and lose some life every turn if your Confidant lives, which is excellent against control and midrange strategies.

#3. The Meathook Massacre

The Meathook Massacre

The Meathook Massacre combines a sweeper and a lifedrain effect in one tool. You’ll live and gain some life if you’re being attacked by white weenie, and it’s a lifedrain amplifier in a sacrifice deck.

#2. Reanimate


Another staple in Cube and eternal formats, Reanimate is the cheapest way to put a creature from your graveyard onto the battlefield.

You’ll lose some life, sure, but it shouldn’t matter if you reanimated something good. You even get three life back if it’s an Archon of Cruelty.

#1. Tendrils of Agony

Tendrils of Agony

Few cards have ended more MTG games than a lethal Tendrils of Agony, which is technically a storm payoff but causes loss of life nonetheless. It can be very interesting in some EDH decks as well with cheap cards since you’ll drain the table for a bunch.

Best Multicolored Life Loss Cards

#13. Debt to the Deathless

Debt to the Deathless

This card is such a lifedrainer in EDH. Just paying six mana to Debt to the Deathless means that you drain two from each opponent and gain six life.

It quickly scales to six life lost for each player and 18 life gained for you with 10 mana. Not bad.

#12. Angrath, the Flame-Chained

Angrath, the Flame-Chained

Here’s a simple but effective planeswalker. Angrath, the Flame-Chained makes each opponent discard a card and lose two life, so that’s at least scalable in EDH.

You can Act of Treason a threat and the ultimate is very interesting in EDH, particularly with or against mill opponents. That’s a lot of life to be lost.

#11. Sorin, Grim Nemesis

Sorin, Grim Nemesis

Sorin, Grim Nemesis is a nice finisher in Orzhov () decks. It does what midrange decks like most: combining removal that drains life in the -X ability and card advantage plus damage in the +1 ability.

#10. Cruel Ultimatum

Cruel Ultimatum

Cruel Ultimatum, once a reason to play control and Grixis (), is still played in casual MTG. It’s not that good for EDH since you target only one opponent, but the effect is still good.

#9. Kambal, Consul of Allocation

Kambal, Consul of Allocation

Kambal, Consul of Allocation has its place preventing combos in various formats. It stops storm combos because the opponent dies trying to combo just being there.

#8. Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas

Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas

Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas is a staple in Modern Dimir () artifact decks. There are a bunch of these similar decks in EDH that can benefit from it since it helps find new artifacts with the +1 ability and attacks using the -1.

#7. Be’lakor, the Dark Master

Be'lakor, the Dark Master

A 6/5 flying demon is good. One that gives you a card whenever it ETBs is better.

But Be’lakor, the Dark Master can give you a lot more cards, and it’s always nice when you recast it and fill up your hand as a commander. The challenge is to have enough demons on the battlefield for it to be better.

#6. The Scarab God

The Scarab God

The Scarab God makes your opponents lose X life, where X is the number of zombies you control. It’s also a good threat and a reanimator.

#5. Shaman of the Pack

Shaman of the Pack

Shaman of the Pack has been making waves in Explorer as a good finisher in elfball decks since it was introduced to MTG Arena. Aside from its 3/2 body, it’s common to deal 7+ damage just from its ETB trigger.

#4. Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger

Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger

Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger is a good threat and win condition for Rakdos () decks in Explorer/Pioneer, and sometimes Modern. Your opponent discard a card and lose life when you cast it.

It’s hard to beat Kroxa when you keep casting it for its escape cost in drawn-out games.

#3. Siege Rhino

Siege Rhino

Once the terror of a Standard format, Siege Rhino defined Standard for all its existence. The 4-drop is very efficient, 4/5 trample dodges lots of removal spells, and you get three damage guaranteed, almost immediately stabilizing the board.

Not to mention that there’s always the second and third Rhino coming.

#2. Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow

Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow

Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow is a very popular Dimir commander. Commander ninjutsu effectively dodges commander tax, and you can replay Yuriko for whenever you attack with an evasive creature.

You want ninjas, evasive creatures, and cards that cost a lot and can be cast for alternative costs in this kind of deck so that your Yuriko triggers make your opponents lose a bunch of life.

#1. Deathrite Shaman

Deathrite Shaman

Deathrite Shaman unites ramp, graveyard hate, and a win condition all in the same 1-drop. It’s so good, in fact, that you can’t play it in Modern or Legacy anymore because it’s been banned in both formats.

Best Colorless Life Loss Cards

#2. God-Pharaoh’s Statue

God-Pharaoh's Statue

God-Pharaoh’s Statue is a common tutor target for Karn, the Great Creator. You tax your opponent’s spells for the rest of the game on top of being a slow wincon.

#1. Castle Locthwain

Castle Locthwain

Technically this is a colorless card. Castle Locthwain allows you to draw cards and lose life by paying black mana, and it’s a staple for black decks across many formats.

Best Life Loss Payoffs

There’s not a lot of life loss payoffs, but I’ll list a few.

Commanders like Astarion, the Decadent and Rakdos, Lord of Riots are commanders that benefit you for making your opponents lose life, even via combat damage.

Children of KorlisGriselbrand

Children of Korlis gives you life equivalent to the lifeloss you had when you sacrifice it. It used to be a Legacy combo with Griselbrand so you could pay lots of life, draw cards, and recover your life, which continues to fuel the combo.

Warlock ClassWound Reflection

Enchantments like Warlock Class are both enablers and payoffs for this strategy, having the effect of another enchantment like Wound Reflection.

Exquisite BloodSanguine Bond

Exquisite Blood and Sanguine Bond are enchantments that go well together. They create an infinite combo to kill players.

Is Paying Life Loss of Life?

Yes, for the most part. For the effects of cards like Astarion, the Decadent and Archfiend of Despair, all loss of life is measured by the variation of the life in that turn (also known as “life swing”). So if the player had 25 life at the beginning of the turn and ended the turn with 15 life, they effectively lost 10 life. This means that if a player paid three life to do something, they lost three life.

Does Losing Life Count as Damage?

No, life loss doesn’t count as damage. Dealing damage and losing life are separate effects, with different rulings for each case. Damage can be prevented, for example, but loss of life can’t.

Is Loss of Life Considered Noncombat Damage?

Because life loss doesn’t count as damage, it doesn’t count as noncombat damage either. Life loss is its own sort of thing.

Does Exchanging Life Totals Cause Loss of Life?

Yes. According to the MTG comprehensive rules:

When life totals are exchanged, each player gains or loses the amount of life necessary to equal the other player’s previous life total.

MTG Comprehensive Rules

So if two players exchange life when one is at 10 and the other is at 30, the player who had 30 life will have 10 at the end of the process, thus having lost 20 life.

Wrap Up

Reanimate (Commander Collection: Black) - Illustration by Nils Hamm

Reanimate (Commander Collection: Black) | Illustration by Nils Hamm

Well, that’s all from me on life loss. There were lots of cards to choose from and narrowing down to a list wasn’t easy, but I tried to get the most powerful, popular, and competitive ones out there.

Bleeder decks are my favorites. Did one of your favorite cards not make it on this list? Let me know in the comments below, or take the discussion to the Draftsim’s Discord.

Thanks for reading, and stay safe!

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