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By: one million words, Pete Jahn
Sep 16 2016 12:00pm
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900 Articles BK (before Kaladesh)

I am swamped with work, so I am taking a break from classical State of the Program format until October. Instead, I am rerunning some articles that defined Magic history – or at least my history. This is my very first article for The Dojo – the very first Magic website. My notes say this was first published in April, 1999. This was either my first article as a regular columnist, or my try out.   It shows that 17 years and 900 articles ago, both the author and Magic were different – but not that different. 

So here’s today’s history lesson. Or archeology lesson – your choice of metaphor.
Casual Play: Teaching your Critters Stupid Lifeline Tricks
The Dojo began with the classic Schools of Magic – serious discussions of how to play serious decks. And how to win. In-depth information on mana curves, power to casting cost ratios, deck thinning, momentum and control.
This article was published after Sligh decks introduced the mana curve, but many of the classics of magical theory – The Danger of Cool Things, Who’s the Beatdown, Finding the Tinker Deck, Full English Breakfast, etc. – were all years in the future. 
But this article is for the casual section. Fun decks. Stupid card tricks. Less emphasis on winning fast, and more on astonishing (and humiliating) your opponent. Best of all, you can build around favorite cards without too much concern about format and tournament play. You can even discuss multiplayer Magic.
Saga is soon rotating out of standard, but it is alive and well in fun play. And one of the most fun Saga rares is Lifeline. Lifeline brings creatures which died that turn back into play at the end of the turn, provided at least one other creature was in play when the creature died. Playing this card is really playing with fire – your opponents can abuse it, too. (But for real abuse, see Stupid Lifeline Tricks, below.)
Lifeline
Obviously, Lifeline is a nice way to get creatures back when they die to blockers. But it works no matter how they die (well, not if they are removed from the game, but nothing’s perfect.) This means that creatures that die to unpaid echo, lack of fading counters, get sacrificed, burned – whatever – all come back. That is almost always good. (Having an Uktabi Orangutan coming back when you are the only one with artifacts is not good, but, again, nothing’s perfect.)
Another nice thing about Lifeline – if you attack, then kill your creature, those creatures come back into play untapped. And can block your opponent’s attack. (Well, not if it’s something that usually arrives tapped, but... that’s another story.)
So, to really enjoy Lifeline, you need not only a way of getting creatures into play, but a way of killing them off.  Altar of Dementia is just about perfect: no mana cost to sacrifice a creature and you mill some cards off their library. Goblin Bombardment will do a point to your opponent. (Ashnod’s Altar) gives you some free mana. Life Chisel is an old Legends rare that gives you life. Claws of Gix gives you life, but you have to pay to use it. Infernal Tribute lets you draw cards, but the BBB casting cost and the cost to use makes it slightly less useful. But they all work – choose one.
I can certainly think of better sac outlets now, but remember when this article was written.  And Altar of Dementia and Goblin Bombardment are still useful, even today.
So, now that you can kill your creatures every turn and have them come back, let’s look at abusing that effect. Obviously, creatures with comes into play and leaves play effects are important. Here are some of the best:
Avalanche Riders: kill a land. More specifically, kill their land. Attacking for 2 is a bonus. Ravenous Baboons works too, provided they only have non-basic lands. The Rishadan Footpads & Brigands can also work here. They tap out, you sacrifice these dudes and they have to sacrifice a permanent when the Rishadans return. Avalanche riders
Mogg Fanatic Mogg Fanatic, Shock Troops, Ghitu Slinger, Keldon Champion: these all do damage. Fanatics and Shock Troops are best if you have no other way of sacrificing the creatures. Ghitu’s and Champions do more damage for less cost, but echo only kills them during your upkeep. Ticking Gnomes can do the same thing.

Radiant's Dragoons: gain 5 life every time it appears. It’s been said before, but it’s still true: Life is good. Other good option for gaining life are Spike Feeder, Staunch Defenders, Bottle Gnomes and Venerable Monk.

Okay, life gain was never great, but I am talking about multiplayer, and the ability to gain ridiculous amounts of life.  Life gain that gets you a half dozen points is rarely worthwhile, but life gain in Lifeline decks often puts your life total into triple digits.  That is viable.

Spike Feeder
Wall of Roots Wall of Roots: pull a counter, get mana. Pull the last counter, it gets a new set of counters next turn.
Monk Realist: They had some enchantments. Cloudchaser Eagle does the same thing, but the extra casting cost probably means it isn’t worth it. Also Elvish Lyrist, although you have to wait until it has recovered from summoning sickness. Uktabi Orangutan will have the same effect on artifacts, including your Lifeline if you aren’t careful. Monk Realist
Yavimaya Granger Yavimaya Granger: it puts another land into play from your library. Mana is good, and it can get you the other colors needed to cast all this stuff. Yavimaya Elder is also cool, but having a handful of land is not as useful as having it in play. With something to sac it to, Granger can get a land in play on your turn, and on (each of) your opponent’s turn(s). Wood Elves and Silverglade Elementals also work, but only on forests and duals containing forests.
Ravenous Rats: your opponent discards a card. If you have multiple opponents, use Cackling Fiend. For extra discard, Abyssal Horror. If you want to choose the card they discard, Thrull Surgeon. Ravenous Rats
Raven familiar Raven Familiar: for pure card drawing power with a Lifeline, the bird is it. Echo means it can even kill itself. Spire Owl isn’t in the same league, and (Multani’s Accolyte) costs GG.
 
This is one area where creatures have improved over time.  Raven Familiar was about the only cantrip creature back then.  Now, however, we have Mulldrifter.  TWO cards, and Mulldrifter even kills itself the first time around. 
Gravedigger / Scrivener / Anarchist: get cards back from your graveyard. Admittedly, there are better options for getting creatures back than Gravedigger, but it works. As for uses for the other two, see Stupid Lifeline Tricks, below. Scrivener
Fallen Angel Fallen Angel: if you really want to attack, this is probably the card to use. It flies, and it doubles as a way to sacrifice your creatures. Phyrexian Plaguelord is another option – since you could sacrifice everything else to clear its way.
Bone Shredder / Nekrataal: good removal creatures, but remember, everything you kill with these things comes back at the end of your turn. Bone Shredder
Highway Robber Highway Robber: drain life for 2, every turn. Could be good. It can even get past a Worship.
Man-o'-War: they put out a great new creature? Sacrifice Man-o'-War and it bounces their creature back to their hand. Man-o'-war
Cinder elemental Cinder Elemental / Lord of the Pit: finishers. With Cinder Elemental, if you don’t have enough mana to kill immediately, you can fire it off once at the end of the opponent’s turn, put upkeep on the stack and fire again on your turn. So what if you sacrifice creatures to Lord, anyway, you still win. Actually, big finishers like this aren’t that useful. If you get Lifeline and some creatures, you can generally win merely by controlling the board. But they are fun.
Deranged Hermit: this creates enough Squirrels to drive everyone nuts. But remember, tokens do not return from the graveyard. Deranged Hermit
Blastoderm Blastoderm. Fading counters all gone? No worries – it gets a new set at end of turn.
Noble Benefactor: When he leaves play, you can search your library for a card and put that card in hand. VERY RISKY, however, since everyone else gets to do it too. Odds are very good you will get something nice, but someone will get something to destroy your Lifeline. Noble Benefactor
Spike Weaver Last but not least – Spike Weaver. Fog every turn, forever, if you keep the mana untapped. Only way you will take combat damage is if someone taps you out and you cannot fog. If someone tries to bolt it, terror it or send it farming, just fog off all the counters in response and it’s coming back next turn.
Rereading this list of creatures makes me smile. Ingrid and I played two-on-two multiplayers games with another couple for years, and I played Lifeline decks fairly often. Lifeline was introduced in a set with Echo, followed by a set with Fading, and both of those mechanics were great with Lifeline. Lifeline decks might have been tournament worthy in other formats, but Saga packed so many broken atrocities Lifeline decks were just not good enough. Lifeline plus creatures with comes-into-play effects means slow, grindy card advantage. With Saga, Standard decks had turn one kills and infinite combos, so slow and grindy was not the answer.       
Okay, on to some basic stuff about playing a Lifeline deck.
First, getting Lifeline into play. This is important, obviously, but you don’t really need to have this happen immediately. In fact, having a Lifeline in play turn 1 or 2 (via Mana Vault, Tinker, or whatever) doesn’t really help if there aren’t 2 creatures in play. Assuming you run a reasonably-sized deck, 3-4 Lifelines plus a smattering of Enlightened, Demonic and Vampiric Tutors is enough.
Protecting Lifeline is more important. Best defense is probably Karn, Silver Golem. If the opponent targets the Lifeline, spend one mana to make Lifeline a creature and it comes back at end of turn. Someone destroys all artifacts? Use Karn in response, both Karn and the Lifeline comes back. Other options: Fountain Watch, the creature that makes all your artifacts and enchantments untargetable. Vision Charm, to phase out the Lifeline in response to a Disenchant-like spell targeting Lifeline – thereby countering the spell. (Vision charm is also useful if your opponent tries to kill off his/her creatures: phase out Lifeline in response.) And Counterspells, of course. As a last result, when they throw something like Splinter at Lifeline, feed Lifeline to Claws of Gix. Better yet, use Karn to make it a creature, then sacrifice it to whatever you use to kill creatures.
As a last resort, you may have to pull Lifeline back from your graveyard. Drafna’s Restoration is perfect. Regrowth or Elven Cache will work. Even (Feldon’s Cane), Thran Foundry or Gaea's Blessing in a pinch.
A quick reminder. Lifeline only pulls back creatures if at least one other creature is in play. Don’t sacrifice your last creature if you have no other creatures in play, or that creature is going to stay in the graveyard. If all creatures die simultaneously, however (think Wrath of God), they all come back.
Another major problem: your creatures with special effects come back every turn. Theirs do, too. This can be bad. Killing those creatures does not help – they still come back. You need to play cards that get the opponent’s creatures out of the game. Swords to Plowshares is ideal – so what if they get life? Exile is good, but only if those creatures can be forced or enticed into attacking. Last Breath and Eradicate work, but just once.  The two Rebels, Lawbringer and Lightbringer, are good if the creatures are the right color. (And they are, if seen through a Distorting Lens.)
The other option is to remove their cards from the graveyard before they come back into play. Plenty of good options here, since you can cast much of this stuff during their main phase before the stuff comes out of the graveyard. Phyrexian Furnace is good. Ebony Charm. Rapid Decay. Tormods's Crypt. (Nightsoil) gives you Saprolings, but the casting cost is GG. Gaea’s Blessing can put the creatures away for a while. Honor the Fallen works, but takes out your creatures, too. Coffin Queen is another possibility: take their creatures, and when you let them go they are removed from the game.
The next question is how to get creatures into play. You could just wait to draw them, then play them, but what fun is that? One great way to get creatures into play is Survival of the Fittest and Recurring Nightmare. Survival puts one creature card into your graveyard, and lets you search your library for another. Recurring Nightmare lets you sacrifice a creature to put a creature from your graveyard into play. With Lifeline, the sacrificed creature comes back. Or use Natural Order: sacrifice a green creature, search your library for another green creature and put it into play. The sacrificed creature comes back. Mask of the Mimic can also work, but only to get another copy of the sacrificed creature. Still good – especially with creatures like Radiant’s Dragoons and Avalanche Riders.
Other options for getting creatures back from your graveyard include Corpse Dance, Haunted Crossroads and Disturbed Burial. Corpse Dance is best. It puts the top creature in your graveyard into play, but removes it from the game at end of turn. However, if the creature is already back in the graveyard, the remove from the game effect is countered. Just remember to put the Lifeline return effect on the end of turn stack FIRST, remove from game on top. Then remove happens first, doesn’t find the creature, and gets countered. Then the creature returns to play and everyone’s happy. (Well, you’re happy, and your opponents don’t count.)
Technical note – this was written a long time ago. We did have the stack – although only just. Wizards was still refining the 6th edition rule changes, which had come into being less than a year before this article. 

Okay, on to the Stupid Lifeline Tricks:

Infinite Turns: Time Spiral (or Time Walk for the old and/or rich) + Anarchist. Cast Time Spiral to get an extra turn. Sacrifice the Anarchist. It comes back into play and you get Time Spiral back. Repeat until you win. Note: winning by repeatedly saccing a Mogg Fanatic each turn is really evil. Winning by sacrificing the Anarchist to Altar of Dementia to mill them slowly is even worse.  And by worse, I mean I did win a multiplayer game this way, and I was smiling as I did it… time Walk
arcane laboratory daring apprentice Game Lock: Arcane Laboratory, Daring Apprentice. Players can cast just one spell per turn. Apprentice can counter one spell per turn. To get around the summoning sickness problem, use Fervor.
Permanent Destruction: Opposition, (Rishadan Brigands), Footpads and Cutthroats. Tap their mana, sac the Rishadans, they sacrifice permanents when the Rishadans come back into play. Unfortunately, sacrificed creatures also come back, but under 6th edition rules that happens at the end of the next turn. (pic=Rishadan Brigands)
Distorting lens Removing opponent’s creatures from the game: Lawbringer / Lightbringer, Distorting Lens. Scrape the moss off and you’ll see that Verdant Force is really red, so Lawbringer can remove it from the game.
Removing all opposing creatures: False Prophet, Altar of Dementia. Sacrifice all of your creatures EXCEPT False Prophet. Then sacrifice False Prophet. All of their creatures leave the game in disgust. False Prophet
nature's revolt Tapping everyone out: Nature’s Revolt, Shrieking Mogg. All lands are creatures, Mogg taps everything when it comes into play. Just kill it at the end of the turn just before yours -- you’ll untap before anyone else will.
Abusing depletion lands: Nature’s Revolt, depletion lands. Take the second counter off Hickory Woodlot, it gets a new set of counters next turn. sandstone needle
Mind Slash Making your opponent discard: Mind Slash (Nemesis enchantment: sacrifice a creature, look at opponent’s hand and make them discard a card.) Combine this with Ravenous Rats and it’s brutal.
Just kill them: Death Pit Offering, Pandemonium. Death Pit Offering makes you sacrifice all your creatures, and all your creatures get +2/+2 when they come back into play. Add Pandemonium (when creatures enter play, they may deal damage equal to their power to target creature or player) and they all come back with a bang. death pit offering
15 years later, I still remember how much fun the False Prophet trick is in multiplayer. Note that you can also get the False Prophet back into play by sacrificing it with one creature in play, then sacrificing that creature. However, when you exile all other creatures on the board, leaving your False Prophet around is dangerous. If your opponents can kill it, unless you can sacrifice all your other creatures in response to its trigger, all your other creatures are going to get exiled. And if you exile all other creatures in the game, your False Prophet will be a target.
Favorite Lifeline memory: this happened a few years after this article, but I was still playing with Lifeline. I was in my favorite position in a big multiplayer game: I had a bunch of lands (including Gaea’s Cradle), a couple small Walls (e.g. Wall of Blossoms), a Skyshroud Elf and Vedalken Orrery. The Orrery let me play stuff at instant speed, so I waited until the end of a big battle that left petty much everyone tapped out. Then, I flashed in Nature’s Revolt, to turn all lands into creatures. I then tapped the Cradle for a ton of mana, turned it appropriate colors with the Elf and flashed in Lifeline, Altar of Dementia and False Prophet.   I then proceeded to sacrifice all my creatures and lands to the Altar, sacking the Prophet last. All my opponents’ lands and creatures would have been exiled, but my opponents conceded, instead. I thought it was great. My opponents insisted that I play another deck for the next game.     

Decklists:

Actually, decklists for Lifeline are easy to compile. The trick is really cutting them down to a reasonable size. 150 cards decks mean you have enough tricks, but probably won’t find Lifeline often enough to use them. Cut to 60 or so. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Okay, these decklists were designed back when Nemesis was a brand new set. Many better cards now exist, but the concepts are still solid. And lifeline decks are still a blast – too bad multiplayer is so bad online.
Type II, one on one:
3 Lifeline, 3 Enlightened Tutor, Distorting Lens, 2 each Lawbringer / Lightbringer, Wall of Glare, Avalanche Riders, Cinder Elemental, Exile, Shock Troops, Disenchant or Seal of Cleansing, Reckless Abandon, Karn, Silver Golem, Thran Dynamo, Plains, Mountains, High Market.
Multiplayer, serious:
Lifeline, Arcane Labs, Propaganda, Daring Apprentice, Counterspells, Force of Will, Karn, Altar of Dementia, Lifeline, Vision Charm, Arcane Denial, Forbid, Mana Crypt/Mana Vault/Grim Monolith, Prosperity, Viceling/Black Vice/Iron Maiden, Tinker, Back to Basics, Howling Mines, Sunder, Trade Routes.
Back to Basics, (Black Vice) and Sunder? What was I thinking? This sort of thing violates the cardinal rule of multiplayer, which is “Don’t piss people off until they are helpless or dead.” 
Multiplayer, fun games:
4 Lifeline, assorted Tutors, 1 each of all the Stupid Tricks pieces (except Pandemonium), Radiant’s Dragoons, Disenchant, Treasure Hunters, 2 Spike Weavers, 4 Mogg Fanatics, Birds of Paradise, 4 Yavimaya Grangers, Swords to Plowshares, etc.
Here's the one I played most recently. I was deliberately trying to be abusive without crushing my opponents. So, mono white life gain. Lifeline, Radiant's Dragoons, Staunch Defenders, Swords to Plowshares, Altar of Dementia, Congregate (just 2), Disenchants, Fountain Watch, Monk Realist, Monk Idealist, 1 Worship, Exile, 2 Last Breath. I wound up at 164 life -- and I lost. One opponent was playing an artifacts deck: Predator, Flagship, Chimeric Staff, tons of mana. And Crumbling Sanctuary. She kept hitting with a 20/20 flying staff, and I could not keep a blocker up or find a Disenchant, so I got decked.
But I bounced back next game. Lifeline decks are like that.
Peter Jahn
So there you have it – my first major published article. I know it is “so last millennium,” but I wanted to revisit that world. Next week I promise something with a bit more relevance to the vast majority of this site’s readership.