I am sure you would love to talk about Formidable and other tricks from Dragons of Tarkir, but since there are no official rulings for any really interesting cards yet, let us take a look at some abilities that have been there for a long time. I’ve been eager to scrutinize Lifelink for some time now. We will use Batterskull as example, which will add a few more curious things to our review, most notably Living weapon.
Batterskull, just like each and every other equipment, has the activated ability Equip with a limitation on activating it: only in your main phase when the stack is empty. You may activate it to attach Batterskull to a creature you control. If Batterskull was attached to a creature already, it becomes unattached from it. If it was equipping a Germ token, unless there are other related effects, upon the nearest SBA check the Germ will hit the graveyard where it will cease to exist.
Another activated ability of Batterskull may be activated any time you have priority as long as the artifact is on the battlefield. This ability doesn’t function when Batterskull is in other zones, and if Batterskull leaves the battlefield before it resolves, it will do nothing.
Living Weapon is a keyword for a triggered ability which we recognize immediately by pointing out the word “when”. Its triggering event is the fact of the equipment with this ability entering the battlefield. For instance, when Batterskull hits the field through the effect of Show and Tell or the ability of Stoneforge Mystic, its ability will trigger.
As any non-mana triggered abiliy, Living weapon does not produce its effect immediately after triggering. At first, the trigger waits to be put onto the stack, which will occur after SBA have been checked and performed, and before a player would gain priority. If multiple triggers were patiently awaiting to be allowed onto the stack, they are all placed there in the order of Active player — Non-active player. Each player places his or her triggers on the stack in the order he or she chooses. When that happens, Living weapon becomes an object on the stack and may be targeted by related spells and effects. For instance, it may be countered with Stifle, Trickbind or Voidslime
As soon as the Living weapon trigger becomes the topmost element of the stack and each player passes in turn order, it resolves. Namely when it resolves we get its effect: put a 0/0 black Germ creature token on the battlefield and attach the equipment to it. Since all this happens in process of resolving the trigger, neither player has priority and cannot do anything to the germ or to the artifact. Besides, since SBA won’t be checked until the trigger has finished resolving, the game engine doesn’t care about the Germ’s toughness. The next time SBA are checked, the Germ is already big enough to remain on the battlefield.
The trigger of Living Weapon is not targeted (There is no “target” word), and the equipment doesn’t target anything by itself, so Batterskull may be attached even if the Germ has Shroud:
If you control Spiritual Asylum, all your creatures have Shroud. When the token enters the battlefield, the Germ token falls under its effect immediately. You will attach your Batterskull to a creature with Shroud.
There might be a situation when the effect produces multiple tokens:
When the trigger of Living Weapon resolves, you will put two 0/0 black Germ creature tokens on the battlefield. You may attach Batterskull to either. After the trigger finishes resolving, when SBA are performed, the other Germ will die unless there is an effect that increases its toughness, such as Bad Moon’s.
If the 0/0 Germ token’s status changes to phased out, so does Batterskull if it is an equipment attached to it. The next time SBA are performed, the token ceases to exist and can no longer change its status to phased in, therefore Batterskull remains phased out until the end of the game.
Finally, Batterskull’s static ability changes the power and toughness of the equipped creature, and grants two static abilities to it: Vigilance and Lifelink (this is indicated by the word “has”).
A creature with Vigilance doesn’t tap when it is declared attacker. However, a tapped creatue, with or without vigilance, may normally not be declared attacking. Some effects instruct to put a creature onto the battlefield tapped and attacking. In this case, creatures with vigilance will hit the field tapped.
Aurelia, the Warleader has Vigilance, so she doesn’t tap when attacking.
If the cunning opponent taps it with an Icy Manipulator before you declare attackers, you will not be able to attack with it.
Despite being Vigilant, Aurelia, the Warleader will attack tapped through Kaalia of the Vast’s trigger, since Kaalia’s effect requires it.
Tapping or untapping a creature that has already been declared attacking doesn’t change anything about its combat status: it remains in combat and is still attacking unless it falls under any effects making it leave combat.
You may announce Razia, Boros Archangel attacking, then activate her ability. Razia will remain attacking in her tapped state.
Since Magic 2010 set, Lifelink is a static ability which is still a bit confusing for oldschool players. If you encounter a card with a trigger that looks just like Lifelink, make sure you check up with the Oracle. Many old cards have received a revamp on this ability, but some have not, and it is important to distinguish those with triggered abilities from those with static Lifelink.
Here are Loxodon Warhammers from different editions. The one on the right has the contemporary Oracle text.
What is the difference between a static ability and a trigger? Static abilities do not use the stack, their effect is applied immediately and constantly. The trigger’s effect begins affecting the game after the ability resolves, which may happen after a while, sometimes too late, or may not happen at all.
Suppose the Germ is enchanted with Armadillo Cloak, or equipped with Batterskull.
In the first case there is a triggered ability of the aura, in the second case the Germ has a static ability.
When the Germ with Armadillo Cloak deals damage, the trigger goes off.
The player will gain life only after the trigger resolves, which might take some time.
When the Germ equipped with Batterskull deals damage, the controling player gains that much life simultaneously.
Here is an example to see when the above matters:
You have 2 life and a bear with Lifelink. The cunning opponent attacks you with two bears. You block one of the bears and let another one through. All creatures deal damage simultaneously, and you gain 2 life at the exact same time. The result is: the two bears combating each other have died, you have 2 life and a chance to win.
If your bear didn’t have Lifelink, but instead the triggered ability “When this creature deals damage, you gain that much life”, the trigger would go off, but after SBA would be checked you would be at 0 life and the game would end before the trigger would even go onto the stack.
And another example to show an interesting point of difference:
Lifelink grants enchanted creature Lifelink (amazing, huh?). That means that when enchanted creature deals damage, the controller of that creature will gain life, regardless of who controls the aura.
Spirit Link* does not grant any abilities to the creature, it has a trigger itself, which will go off when the creature deals damage. The trigger is controlled by the controller of the aura, so that player will gain life regardless of who controls the creature.
702.15b. Damage dealt by a source with lifelink causes that source's controller, or its owner if it has no controller, to gain that much life (in addition to any other results that damage causes). See rule 119.3.
It doesn’t matter what kind of damage the source with Lifelink is dealing and what the outcome of that damage will be. The only thing that matters is that the damage is being dealt.
A 0/0 Germ equipped with Batterskull attacks. It is blocked by Sakura-Tribe Elder. In the combat damage step the Germ deals damage to the Elder equal to its power. The active player gains 4 life.
If the defending player activates the Elder’s ability after declaring it a blocker, the Germ will deal no damage, so the active player won’t gain life.
If a creature with Lifelink fights, it deals damage equal to its power, therefore it will earn its controller that much life.
Now let’s take a look at specific results of dealt damage:
Flensermite has two abilities: Infect and Lifelink. It deals damage to creatures in the form of -1/-1 counters, and to players in the form of poison counters. Thanks to Lifelink, its controller also gains an equal amount of life.
If Flensermite deals one damage to an animated Gideon Jura (for example, through the effect of Flaring Pain), Gideon gets one -1/-1 counter and loses one loyalty counter. The controller of Flensermite gains 1 life.
If a player controls Melira, and an opponent’s Flensermite with Infect** deals damage (for instance, gained through Tainted Strike), the player won’t lose life nor get a poison counter, but Flensermite’s controller will gain life equal to the amount of damage dealt.
If you deal with effects influencing damage dealt, you need to pay attention to what the actual source of damage would be.
Harm’s wayredirects damage, whereas the source remains the same, and if it has Lifelink, its controller will gain life.
Divine Deflection prevents damage. It is the source of the new damage, so the controller of the original source with Lifelink doesn’t gain life.
Loss of life is not damage:
If you reveal Chancellor of the Dross at the start of a game with two opponents, then at the beginning of the first upkeep of the game, the delayed trigger will go off, and upon resolution each of your opponents loses 3 life, and you will gain 6 life. This effect is not Lilfelink.
702.15c. If a permanent leaves the battlefield before an effect causes it to deal damage, its last known information is used to determine whether it had lifelink.
If you activate the ability of an Arms Dealer equipped with a Batterskull and sacrifice the dealer for it, then as the ability resolves, target creature will take 4 damage and you will gain 4 life.
702.15d. The lifelink rules function no matter what zone an object with lifelink deals damage from.
If through Selfless Exorcist’s effect, a creature card with Lifelink is exiled from the graveyard, and its power is more than zero, the owner (normally, only permanents and objects on the stack have controllers) of the exiled card gains life equal to the amount of damage dealt to Exorcist.
Soulfire Grand Master gives all your Instants and Sorceries on the stack Lifelink. If such a spell deals damage, for which it is the source, you will gain that much life.
702.15e. Multiple instances of lifelink on the same object are redundant.
Griselbrand, equipped with a Batterskull (OMG!!!) has two instances of Lifelink. However, upon attack it will deal 11 damage and its controller (such a greedy bastard!) will gain 11 life, not 22 (which is still pretty good).
To compare: by activating Genju of the Fields’ ability three times we get a Plains with three triggers. If it deals damage, all three triggers go off and its controller will gain life upon resolution of each of the three triggers.