Once upon a time, dinosaurs still roamed the land, and the mechanic called Lifelink didn’t exist. It was a primitive place, lacking in both keywords and epoch-ending asteroids. It may sound like a strange, foreign place to some of you, but for many of us, this was our home. Life was simple; life gain a little less so.
But change came like it always does. . .
The Change we refer to here was the introduction of Lifelink in Future Sight. Or, should we say, the First Change. Prior to then (the ancient time of 2007), a series of cards had the triggered ability that said whenever the creature would deal damage, you (being the controller of that permanent or spell) would gain that much life. It was a firmly established card idea, considering that Spirit Link existed in the Legends set and El-Hajjaj was in Arabian Nights. In Future Sight, among the many, many things that they introduced, the “Spirit Link” ability was officially keyworded as Lifelink. It was a little odd, keywording something that, until that point, only existed on 21 cards, but it was Future Sight – anything went in that set.
However, that wasn’t going to be confusing enough. As it was pointed out at the time, Auras like Spirit Link or Armadillo Cloak can be played on an opponent’s creature so that the owner of the Aura – not the creature – would gain the life. If the enchanted creature attacked a third player, or if they were the ones attached, they’d be the ones benefiting (so long as they lived through the onslaught).
So, of those 21 cards, 17 received errata to say they had Lifelink instead, which was now functionally different than Spirit Link. Putting this on creatures did make for a cleaner, less cluttered change that didn’t change the function of the cards at all. They even took advantage of this template change in reprinting Loxodon Warhammer in 10th Edition.
For two years (or one “Standard Cycle” as some Magic players understand the passage of time), this was the status quo. Then came Magic 2010 and the Second Change. It was then that the world ended (again). Rome fell, damage on the stack was gone, and mana burn ceased to be. Lifelink and Deathtouch also became static abilities instead of triggered now, and as such their effects were immediate.
But this also meant that Lifelink could no longer stack. Acknowledging that those 17 cards previously changed would be forcibly changed into something that wasn’t what they were originally created as, they received errata again back to their original triggered form.
Well, 16 of them did. Poor Loxodon Warhammer was locked into the new Lifelink paradigm, and was lost. The Spirit Link family was otherwise whole again, and Genju of the Fields was once more able to just be silly.
What started off as one idea became two, and then they were further retrofitted. Such is the way of change. It is why we now have Mourning Thrull and Daggerdrome Imp, Armadillo Cloak and Unflinching Courage.
And since the Spirit Link contingent does stack with Lifelink, we have a whole new series of uses for them. Let’s look at one such card.
Today we have: Spiritualize
Focus: Life Gain
Highlights: Of the Spirit Link cadre of cards, most of them are (or become) creatures. Another four are Auras you enchant opponent’s creatures with. In theory, those are the ideal choice because they serve as both a deterrent to attack you and can trigger more than once if the creature is involved in a lot of combat. Rightfully so: there’s nothing wrong with using these Auras for that purpose.
They are not always ideal though. Some meta groups do more than your average assortment of spot removal and/or board wiping, for instance. In those cases you may enchant their giant creature only to never see any result from it. Also, just because throwing Spirit Link on Creature X may prevent someone from attacking you with that creature, it doesn’t mean you are safe from that player’s provocation. They likely have many more creatures in their arsenal, or they’ll just bide their time for retribution.
Only two spells temporarily grant the Not-Lifelink ability, and only Spiritualize (unlike, say, Moment of Heroism) is useful when played on another player’s creature. It can serve as a great utility card when timed right. If Player B is attacking Player C with their gigantic Thromok the Insatiable, for example, why not capitalize on it? If someone does come your way, it’s a nice surprise effect to help gain that life back afterwards.
Lastly, Spiritualize is also a cantrip. Sure, you do have to wait for them to actually deal damage, unlike something like Soul’s Grace, but drawing a replacement card makes it much more justifiable in a Commander slot for a lifegain spell than it would be otherwise. This is especially true in colors like White that have trouble drawing cards in general.
Keep an eye out for us to be regularly featuring other more accessible-but-worth-it Commander cards going forward. In the meantime, we’ll keep the light on for you.
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