Last updated on September 22, 2023

Skullclamp - Illustration by Luca Zontini

Skullclamp | Illustration by Luca Zontini

In the early days of Magic, Sandals of Abdallah was a representative card with a death trigger. It was a space that took many years to start to explore in design. But once that train started rolling, it never stopped, never stopping.

Today we’re going to rank the best death trigger cards. But there are quite a few ties on this list, so don’t be fooled by that #43. There’s a lot going on here! The idea is that by putting all the Grim Haruspex effects together, you should discover plenty of cards you weren’t aware of for your decks.

Given the different templating of these cards over the years, I’ll bet folks are missing some of these pieces!

Table of Contents show

What Are Death Triggers in MTG?

Piru, the Volatile - Illustration by Greg Staples

Piru, the Volatile | Illustration by Greg Staples

Death in MTG involves a card in play being destroyed and put into its owner’s graveyard. A death trigger is something that triggers off that. They have been templated in various ways over the years including language about “when a creature dies” or “is put into a graveyard from play” with no clear consistency. Some cards trigger off only the car in question’s death, like Wurmcoil Engine. Others trigger off everything, like Blood Artist. Obviously, the more possibilities for triggers, the more powerful. In general, at least.

When all the versions are tallied, there are almost 1,000 cards that do this. Condensing that into a list is tough, but I think this is a good resource for deck builders in EDH, especially because a lot of these cards have been overlooked.

Of note, there are two kinds of cards that don’t qualify for this list. First are the cards that have more expansive graveyard triggers, like Aetherworks Marvel or Last Laugh. Those are bigger effects that encompass this one and deserve their own list. Second, there are sacrifice outlets that trigger off the sacrifice. If I cook something in Witch's Oven and make a Food, that’s a two-part ability. The death trigger is contingent on the sacrifice, which is another different kind of card that wants its own list.

#43. Abyssal Gatekeeper

Abyssal Gatekeeper

There’s always a way to abuse Abyssal Gatekeeper! You won’t talk me down on this card. Just move along.

#42. Dross Scorpion

Dross Scorpion

And old school combo piece for Krark-Clan Ironworks builds, Dross Scorpion does nasty things with Jan Jansen, Chaos Crafter and Liquimetal Coating.

#41. Nevinyrral, Urborg Tyrant + Piru, the Volatile

These are expensive and awkward partial/conditional board wipes that are hard to cast. Someone out there is in hard in love with each of these cards and won’t listen to their friends trying to talk them out of them. You do you! And if that means Nevinyrral, Urborg Tyrant and/or Piru, the Volatile, live it up!

#40. Lifeline


Be sure you understand the oracle text on Lifeline. This is symmetrical. It’s abusable if you have better death triggers and ETBs and if you’re doubling them with Teysa Karlov stuff. It shuts off aspects of the graveyard for some players while also kinda stopping spot removal. If you have Malakir Rebirth effects, it even shuts off board wipes. Seems like this card has a place, but it’s old, expensive, and forgotten, and it requires some imagination to break its symmetry.

#39. Gerrard, Weatherlight Hero

Gerrard, Weatherlight Hero

Gerrard, Weatherlight Hero folds hard to spot removal, but people are playing less of that these days in EDH (card disadvantage and all that). The downside is cards that exile like Farewell. If you do a lot of attacking, like in a Winota, Joiner of Forces deck, Gerrard seems perfect.

#38. Hangarback Walker

Hangarback Walker

Need a combo piece, a mana sink, and a lot of tokens? All reasons to run Hangarback Walker.

#37. Whisperwood Elemental

Whisperwood Elemental

This card has won me plenty of games in mono-green. But folks don’t seem to like Whisperwood Elemental that much. The floor is to make a 2/2 every turn and make a stack of 2/2s after a board wipe if you aren’t in tokens. That’s good! You have to pay to flip your manifested tokens.


But you’d have to do that if you drew a bunch of cards with a simpler card like Midnight Reaper. And they are 2/2s until you do so. People are strange.

#36. Faces of the Past

Faces of the Past

An underutilized combo piece that combos off with all sorts of stuff, including Splinter Twin. This is your PSA that Faces of the Past exists.

#35. Deathgreeter


Deathgreeter is no Blood Artist, but in decks that use Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose effects, if you squint hard enough, it looks pretty similar.

#34. Salvaging Station

Salvaging Station

So, yeah this is a 6-drop. But Salvaging Station is a classic combo piece with things like Krark-Clan Ironworks. I’ve been finding it useful as a finisher in my Meria, Scholar of Antiquity eggs deck.

#33. Kothophed, Soul Hoarder

Kothophed, Soul Hoarder

This isn’t a great card. But Kothophed, Soul Hoarder has a cracked death trigger in a multiplayer game filled with Treasures. If you have a board state that allows you to survive the life loss, that’s a lot of cards. Ad Nauseam style decks can handle that and turn the life loss into a bonus with cards like Magus of the Mirror. This is still pretty niche, but it’s crackable.

#32. Life Insurance

Life Insurance

Even more niche, even more crackable, Life Insurance gives you Treasures instead, which is nice in a fair deck, better in aristocrats, and it goes infinite with a variety of combos, like say, Ashnod's Altar with something like Reassembling Skeleton and Falkenrath Noble.

#31. Saw in Half

Saw in Half

This is hardly ever a removal spell, although in a pinch it resets a Voltron commander. Mostly Saw in Half duplicates creatures with ETBs, If you choose a legend, you get double death triggers, so this seems especially great for Teysa Karlov.

#30. Black Market

Black Market

Black Market is peak boomer Commander. It gets me huge mana once I pay 5 to get it out and let it sit around for a wrath. And then, bwa ha ha ha, now that I have 28 mana, I will win! Cool story, bro, right? But can I really take a turn off for this in a world of Boseiju, Who Endures?

#29. Toshiro Umezawa

Toshiro Umezawa

A fun commander to play.

Once, maybe.

Aside from infinite combos with things like Chain of Smog, Toshiro Umezawa is probably of best use in the 99 as a Snapcaster Mage on steroids for key black cards.

#28. Glissa, the Traitor

Glissa, the Traitor

A classic commander, Glissa, the Traitor heads up a lot of combos or a generally effective Golgari grindfest. New toys like Biotransference make this card fun to build around again.

#27. Yedora, Grave Gardener

Yedora, Grave Gardener

So many combos with Yedora, Grave Gardener, Ashnod's Altar, and assorted guest stars. I imagine you could want to play this in a fair deck, but really you are looking to do broken things with Quirion Ranger, Living Lands, and Ainok Survivalist.

#26. Feign Death + Undying Malice + Supernatural Stamina + Kaya’s Ghostform + Malakir Rebirth // Malakir Mire

The 1-mana cards behind Rakdos “scam” decks that recur evoke elementals are also fine cards in certain Commander decks. Best is Malakir Rebirth // Malakir Mire because it takes up a land spot. But Feign Death, Undying Malice, and Supernatural Stamina are all decent if you have decent ETBs, costing just 1 themselves. Kaya's Ghostform, from the Orzhov auras decks, is also quite decent. There are a lot of these rescue cards printed at higher mana value, and they are never really worth it, with the possible exception of Journey to Eternity, which has a great upside on the back for Golgari decks.

#25. Demon of Dark Schemes

Demon of Dark Schemes

Demon of Dark Schemes is a pure death trigger, unlike the more expansive Aetherworks Marvel. If you’re trying to make energy work in EDH, you are gonna need to pack both.

#24. Roalesk, Apex Hybrid

Roalesk, Apex Hybrid

Including cards like Cankerbloom that proliferate when you sac them and things like Blightbelly Rat that have to find another path to the graves, Roalesk, Apex Hybrid is kind of the best card that does this if you need that. There are about a dozen more if that’s your jam.

#23. Shadows of the Past

Shadows of the Past

Scrying this much can often just be good enough given how inexpensive Shadows of the Past is to cast.

#22. Eloise, Nephalia Sleuth

Eloise, Nephalia Sleuth

Making all these Clues is very powerful, but Clues are tough to use effectively. Eloise, Nephalia Sleuth wants a green pip to be able to run Ulvenwald Mysteries and other green enablers, but there’s still a lot of value here.

#21. Phyrexian Triniform + Polukranos Reborn // Polukranos, Engine of Ruin + Reef Worm + Triplicate Titan + Worldspine Wurm + Wurmcoil Engine

Most of the triggers on individual cards can’t compete with the global triggers, but these cards, huge threats that make more big threats when they die, always have a home. Polukranos Reborn // Polukranos, Engine of Ruin is solid and cheap, as is Reef Worm. I have seen people ramp out Worldspine Wurm in green, but it’s nicer to cheat out. Wurmcoil Engine is a better equation of power and mana value than Phyrexian Triniform or Triplicate Titan, but they have their uses, especially in something like Daretti, Scrap Savant where you can get them back.

#20. Death’s Presence

Death's Presence

Expensive, but powerful, especially in its Animation Module combo life, Death's Presence is decent in various counters decks, especially Reyhan, Last of the Abzan.

#19. Abzan Ascendancy + Anax, Hardened in the Forge + Felisa, Fang of Silverquill + Haunted Library + Open the Graves + Siege Veteran + Teysa, Orzhov Scion

Standard players will remember the dominance of Anax, Hardened in the Forge in Throne of Eldraine Standard’s mono-red deck. Cards that make tokens on deaths are very useful, especially in the colors of Felisa, Fang of Silverquill, Open the Graves, Siege Veteran, and Teysa, Orzhov Scion. Haunted Library is a bit more niche with that mana cost for activation, but it’s still decent in some decks. Abzan Ascendancy is a lot worse, but it still makes sense sometimes.

#18. Elenda, the Dusk Rose

Elenda, the Dusk Rose

A very unique effect, Elenda, the Dusk Rose remains a popular commander. It does infinite things with some of the cards we just discussed and Ashnod's Altar

#17. Slimefoot, the Stowaway

Slimefoot, the Stowaway

Slimefoot, the Stowaway is my favorite uncommon commander, and it stands in for all the typal death trigger cards. Two creature types have strong enough synergies to show up later in the list, but there aren’t quite enough in angels, clerics, elves, legends, and vampires to create critical mass in a typal deck, but here’s some of the good ones:

#16. Rekindling Phoenix

Rekindling Phoenix

Rekindling Phoenix is an icon, in this case standing in for a flock of cards with various kinds of immortality while giving you some powerful effects. Some of these cards, especially from Amonkhet block, are even useful against exile effects like Farewell.

#15. Goblin Sharpshooter + Pashalik Mons + Rundvelt Hordemaster

Goblins, given their cannon-fodder lore, have the second-best typal death trigger cards. Goblin Sharpshooter works great in all sorts of decks, not just goblins. But Pashalik Mons deals damage as Rundvelt Hordemaster helps you churn through your deck. These synergize with all the other goblin cards with their own sets of engines.

#14. Archghoul of Thraben + Diregraf Captain + Headless Rider + Plague Belcher + Relentless Dead + Undead Augur + Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver

The zombie typal deck enablers, including the most popular zombie commander, Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver are key in any functional zombie deck, drawing cards with Archghoul of Thraben and Undead Augur, making tokens with Headless Rider, recursion with Relentless Dead, and draining life with wincons Diregraf Captain and Plague Belcher. Zombie decks are best at taking advantage of creature deaths, and cards like these underlie the popularity of zombie decks overall.

#13. Sefris of the Hidden Ways

Sefris of the Hidden Ways

Although the dungeon mechanic from Dungeons and Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms was a bit of a bust, Sefris of the Hidden Ways does the work. The most popular reanimator commander in EDH (!), Sefris generates a lot of value from this parasitic mechanic.

#12. Rienne, Angel of Rebirth

Rienne, Angel of Rebirth

There are too many of these reanimator cards to list altogether, so Rienne, Angel of Rebirth has the on-point name to stand in for all of them, including bangers like:

A lot of these are 4- and 5-drops, and all have different versions of the ways they interact with dead creatures, but many of them are commanders, and all are powerful enough to consider if you are looking to double dip on some powerful ETBs.

#11. Butcher of Malakir + Dictate of Erebos + Grave Pact

These are basically board wipes in a sac deck. And we’ve all run our token armies up against the wall of the vampire player with a Butcher of Malakir out or the aristocrats decks with Dictate of Erebos and Grave Pact. These are dead draws against creature light decks, though, so make it count.

#10. Assault Intercessor

Assault Intercessor

This new and much improved Rage Thrower is actually playable and can end someone’s story pretty quickly, especially when paired with…

#9. Massacre Wurm

Massacre Wurm

I love me some Massacre Girl, but Massacre Wurm just kills a player with twenty Zombie tokens. That’s pretty great, especially in a color with Reanimate.

#8. Pitiless Plunderer

Pitiless Plunderer

Maybe Pitiless Plunderer is better than the card draw and life loss cards to come in this list. Treasures are big game. But so is card draw and Blood Artist. Everything up here is good, okay?

#7. Erebos, Bleak-Hearted + Dark Prophecy + Grim Haruspex + Moldervine Reclamation + Midnight Reaper

These cards only trigger off your own creatures, which requires a build-around. But you’re in black, so okay. Dark Prophecy is hard to cast, but if you’re running Baba Lysaga, Night Witch, don’t you want Grim Haruspex? The life loss on Midnight Reaper can be an issue, but black has popular drain and gain cards to offset. Moldervine Reclamation is probably too expensive, but it does really good work in Golgari decks.

Erebos, Bleak-Hearted is a whole other thing. Paying the life is often a pain, but it’s a huge indestructible god that’s a free sac outlet with a bit of removal. You want every part of this card to be just a bit better, but on the whole it still works.

#6. Harvester of Souls + Liliana, Dreadhorde General + Morbid Opportunist + Species Specialist

Card draw is a great death trigger, and these can trigger off all creatures, not just your own, which is extra bonus at a multiplayer table. Liliana, Dreadhorde General is like a whole EDH deck in one card and is one of the most useful planeswalkers in Commander. Harvester of Souls is expensive but is a great piece of a reanimation deck. And I run Species Specialist in almost creatureless decks. Someone is playing a typal deck, most likely, and there you go.

If you haven’t played with Morbid Opportunist, don’t let the once-a-turn restriction put you off. It’ll still draw a decent number of cards.

#5. Cruel Celebrant + Elas il-Kor, Sadistic Pilgrim + Judith, the Scourge Diva + Poison-Tip Archer

The multicolor life drain aristocrats payoffs are key cards in their color pairs, Orzhov for Cruel Celebrant and Elas il-Kor, Sadistic Pilgrim, Rakdos for Judith, the Scourge Diva, and Golgari for Poison-Tip Archer.

#4. Bastion of Remembrance + Blood Artist + Dreadhound + Falkenrath Noble + Sanguinary Priest + Syr Konrad, the Grim + Vindictive Vampire + Zulaport Cutthroat

These black death trigger staples are key parts of sacrifice and aristocrats decks, but they’re easily portable into lifegain decks in various color combinations. Obviously, the cheaper ones like Blood Artist and Zulaport Cutthroat are the best. Bastion of Remembrance survives your sweepers. Syr Konrad, the Grim has a whole other milling wincon. Falkenrath Noble hits every opponent and Dreadhound is a 6-drop, but they have their places if you need multiples of this effect. You know you are deep in the sauce if you have to run Vindictive Vampire or Sanguinary Priest, but needs must.

#3. The Meathook Massacre

The Meathook Massacre

Banned in Standard, The Meathook Massacre has good enough triggers to be cast for 0 just to have access to them. It’s also a great sweeper, taking out indestructible menaces like Toski, Bearer of Secrets as easily as Soldier tokens.

#2. Revel in Riches

Revel in Riches

Revel in Riches smells like victory. No one wants to see you play it, so be careful.

#1. Skullclamp


A last minute, ill-advised design change gave us this broken card, still banned in Modern and Legacy. There are other cards that draw cards when a creature dies, but none are as efficient or as easy to trigger as the token-munching Skullclamp. If you’re looking to pick one up, the gnarly art on the Warhammer 40,000 version is pretty rad.

Note that Transmogrant's Crown is a “fixed” version, and the nerf is big enough to push it out of 60-card format play. But in EDH, where this is likely running in a black deck of some sort, another Skullclamp is often worth it.

Best Death Trigger Payoffs

There are two classic deck types that need death triggers.

Sefris of the Hidden Ways

Aristocrats is first. Sefris of the Hidden Ways and other commanders looking to recur creatures tend to find value in the death triggers, often because of the sacrifice synergies involved. If that sounds a lot like a sacrifice deck, you’d be right. The difference is these decks are usually going for speed, including lots of card draw and value with less drain and gain effects.

The classic sacrifice commander is Teysa Karlov who doubles your triggers. Sacrificing for card draw and value while draining the table with The Meathook Massacre kinds of cards is an appealing option in a multiplayer game. And both of these styles of decks have a lot of things to do if you get fiddly in long games of Magic.

When a Creature Dies, Does it Go to the Graveyard?

Yes. Sometimes permanently, sometimes temporarily. A token, for example, hits the graveyard when it dies then disappears, since a token can’t exist in any zone besides the battlefield. If you use a Feign Death on a creature, it hits the graveyard, the Feign Death trigger then goes onto the stack, and then it returns to the battlefield.

Does a Death Trigger Still Happen if a Creature Would Be Exiled Instead?

No. I can only get a death trigger when you Swords to Plowshares my creature is I find a way to kill it first, like by sacrificing it.

What if an Equipped Creature Dies?

It goes to the graveyard but the equipment “falls off” and remains on the battlefield, unattached. Koll, the Forgemaster or other effects can change that, but that’s the basic idea.

What’s the Difference Between Destroyed and Dies?

Destroying in Magic is a cause. Dying is the effect.

Also, “destroy” can refer to other kinds of permanents besides creatures. Lands or artifacts, for example, don’t “die” when they’re destroyed if they aren’t also creatures when that happens.

Wrap Up

The Meathook Massacre - Illustration by Chris Seaman

The Meathook Massacre | Illustration by Chris Seaman

The downside of playing creatures is that opponents kill them. But death triggers enter Magic as a kind of bargain. What if I told you that you not only won’t mind if your creatures die, but you might also enjoy it. What if you actually wanted to kill them yourself?

Opening up this space in Magic design created a lot of interesting deck and gameplay decisions. Even if you are not going all in on this sort of thing, there’s a lot of great stuff here to round out your strategy and make you less vulnerable to the inevitable creature hate you’ll encounter at the table.

Which are your most used death triggers? Which commanders do you use to head up that strategy? Let me know in the comments below or over on Draftsim’s Discord!

Have fun out there and use the power of death wisely!

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