Hi everyone! For today, I’m going to talk about one of the most controversial draft archtypes, Lifeforce! I know that the popular consensus seems to be the following:
However, I strongly disagree. I think lifeforce is a viable draft archtype (albeit on the weaker side), and most people do poorly with lifeforce because they tend to force it after a p1p1 katra. That being said, I do think lifeforce is hard to draft and often cut because other drafters like to force it. As such, I would recommend avoiding it unless you get a clear signal that it is open (e.g. p1p10 Bloodcall Invoker).
Types of Lifeforce Deck
There are two distinct ways of building lifeforce deck, either as a normal Xenan deck with a splash of Lifeforce, or a deck heavy on the Lifeforce theme.
A touch of Lifeforce
In this type of deck, you want a strong Xenan core, with the solid units from Time and good interaction from Shadow. Lifeforce is more of a supplementary theme, giving your deck a potentially unbeatable nut draw while still being able to function without drawing your combo. This is also the usual type of deck that you would want to build in Xenan, rather than the all-in variant.
The following is an example (a recent deck that went 7-1):
There are a few key points to note. While this deck had a Katra, the Devoted, I did not go nuts and pick up every life gain I was passed. Instead, I focused on solid units and interaction, only picking up Sanctuary Priest when the rest of the pack was empty. In this way, the deck is not reliant on drawing Katra. I did win a few games off the back of Katra, but most games were won off the solid removal package combined with the powerful units. Remember, the golden rule of drafting: Don’t pick a weaker synergy card over a stronger vanilla card (e.g. Xenan Cupbearer vs Striped Araktodon).
All-aboard the Lifeforce Train
For these decks, you want to draft a critical mass of lifeforce payoff cards and life gain such that you are almost always able to pull off your combo. Drafting these decks is often a big gamble as the draft can easily fall flat if you fail to pick up enough synergy elements. In such cases, it might make sense to pass up slightly better cards to maximize your synergy.
The following is an example (a recent deck that went 7-2):
This is one of the rare decks that I am happy to play Water of Life in. With 4 payoff cards, 3 of which turns my Water of Life into 2 power 6/6s, I think the payoff was worth the risk of a potentially dead draw. While Bloodcall Invoker benefits most from bulk life gain, repeatable life gain effects such as Sanctuary Priest and Skeeter are still fine as it provides a near endless stream of 1/1s for chump blocking or other purposes. While Disciplined Amanera is a pretty bad lifeforce card, I was fine playing it in this deck as I was slightly light on 2s and 3s and I had enough life gain cards to consistently trigger it.
Evaluating Lifeforce Cards
The key to drafting good lifeforce decks, be it all-in lifeforce or otherwise, is only picking the good lifeforce cards. Firstly, you should ignore the lifeforce text and decide whether the card is acceptable on pure stats alone. Next, you should look at the text and decide how impactful the text would be if activated. I’ve classified all the lifeforce cards into the following 5 categories:
Best Lifeforce Cards
(Katra, Bloodcall Invoker, Beckoning Lumen)
Both Bloodcall Invoker and Beckoning Lumen nearly pass the vanilla test, having bodies just below the curve for their stats. Katra is slightly weaker than the other two, but compensates for it by having an extremely powerful lifeforce text. All 3 cards have great text as well, easily pushing them to bomb status if you are able to trigger them multiple times. Also, remember that you can drop Beckoning Lumen or Bloodcall Invoker end of turn to tigger their lifeforce without giving your opponent a response window.
Decent Lifeforce Cards
(Voyaging Lumen, Umbren Thirster)
Voyaging Lumen has a decent body which can do for a topend if you deck lacks it. The text merely acts a cherry on top of the cake. Umbren Thirster is the exact opposite. The body is very medicore for a 5 drop, but a single lifeforce trigger turns it into a 3/4 flier, able to contest the skies against all the common fliers.
Potentially Playable Lifeforce Cards
(Cult Aspirant, Disciplined Amanera, Bloodcall Invocation)
In most decks, these cards would range from poor to utter garbage. However, if you are able to draft an all-in lifeforce decks, these cards actually become decent. Multiple lifeforce activation, through cards like Sanctuary Priest, can easily snowball Cult Aspirant and Disciplined Amanera to must-answer threats. Bloodcall Invocation provides an alternative payoff if you were able to draft multiple bulk life gain cards. In general though, I would want at least 6 life gain sources before I’m happy to play any of these cards.
Bad Lifeforce Cards
(Cabal Slasher, Hatecleaver)
Cabal Slasher is bad because regardless of the number and amount of life gain, it is always going to be a 3 health unit with no evasion. As such, it rarely trades for anything better than 2 Strangers or a random 3/3. Only in decks with a decent amount of life gain AND a decent amount of cards that grant evasion/pseudo-evasion (e.g. Cobalt Acolyte, Blackguard Sidearm) would I be happy to run Cabal Slasher. It’s hard to get multiple lifeforce triggers for Hatecleaver, so the card often ends up simply being a more expensive, warcry-less Sword of Icaria.
Unplayable Lifeforce Cards
(Sentinel’s Might, Means to an End, Xenan Fanatic, Mask of Torment)
Unless you are Mann_Und_Mouse and have a whole chat team drafting for you, I would strongly avoid picking and playing any of these cards.
Evaluating Life Gain Cards
Similar to lifeforce cards, you rarely want to pick subpar life gain cards just to force synergy. Ideally, you want life gain cards that are able to stand on their own. Unfortunately, the list of life gain cards is way too long so I’ll just highlight the best and the worst.
The Best (Repeatable, Reliable Life Gain)
One half of the best life gain cards are so called because they are able to consistently and reliably generate life gain triggers, allowing you to get multiple activations off your life force cards. Cards in this category either does not require an attack to gain life (Sanctuary Priest, Amaran Camel) or are evasive lifesteal units (Skeeter, Karmic Guardian).
The Best (Cards that are good independent of lifeforce synergies)
There is some overlap between the two categories, but the key identity of cards in this category are cards that often make the cut, regardless of whether the deck has any lifeforce triggers. Examples include Healer’s Cloak, Lumen Defender, Extract, Lethrai Falchion and Combrei Healer.
Lifesteal and Life gain cards that are extremely understated (Xenan Cupbearer, Camp Physician, Sorrow’s Shroud) or have a bad keyword tagged on (Xenan Destroyer) makes for bad activators because you often have trouble swinging with them or simply lose the board if you don’t draw your combo. Extremely situational cards (Water of Life, Decay) are also often bad unless you are all in on the Xenan lifeforce plan.
I hope this article has given you some insight into the art of drafting lifeforce and manage to convince you that lifeforce is a viable archtype. I do agree that lifeforce is tricky to draft properly, as you often need to weigh the synergy benefits against raw card strength, so don’t worry if you find yourself struggling! As always, feel free to hit me up on the Eternal discord or in the reddit thread for further discussion!
May the lifeforce be with you,