Hello folks! I hope you are having a great day today!
Ever since Legends debuted some dorks that would give poison counters, the game has had an increasing number of alternate win conditions.
When the game debuted, in addition to winning by killing your foe with damage, you could win by forcing them to exhaust their deck, and win by decking them. There were many decks from the earliest days that did precisely that. I ran into a deck with four Timetwisters as well as the exiling removal of Swords to Plowshares that did precisely that, with a couple of Braingeysers to shorten the day if needed.
This is a key part of the infrastructure of the game - more ways of winning than merely life loss.
Now, I do think that alternate win conditions have improved with time, as some used to be hard to build and really weird.
Epic Struggle and Mortal Combat are great examples of that. If I control 20 dorks, then I should have already won the game by attacking! Similarly, by the time Mortal Combat kicks into gear, I could have won the game elsewhere.
Even poison counters improved! We used to have little tykes like this one that only dealt one counter of damage when they hit. A 3 mana 1/1, with little ability to do anything. However, with the invention of infect in Scars of Mirrodin block, poison counters grew in reliability as something like Skithiryx would kill in three hits, and was a much bigger threat as a result.
Looking back over the past as various alternate win-cons were printed, which ones do I think are the best? Which ones are the strongest in today's landscape? Great question!
10. Test of Endurance
Warning, dear alternate win-con fan! This is really more of a Commander alternate win-con since you begin only ten life from winning. However, the life gain this deck leans on also keeps it alive after it drops this, and even a simple Congregate can be enough to get you over your needed life, especially if twinned with other life gain cards like Rhox Faithmender.
While a certain Felidar Sovereign can win with 40 life, as a creature, it's much more vulnerable as every deck can answer creatures, so they can answer it, and thus I find the Test of Endurance to be more reliable for the turn or so before you win with it.
9. Helix Pinnacle and Darksteel Reactor
These both are here as they are both hard to interact with. The first can't be targeted for destruction, and the latter can't be destroyed. There are a number of ways to speed them up with cards like Coretapper or Doubling Season that'll help nicely in speeding up their win-cons. Each of them have made appearances in decks that have won in various formats and kitchen tables too. Welcome!
8. Revel in Riches
Let's revel in the glory of this card. What makes it good? Two things. The first is that it has a built-in set of triggers for opposing stuff that bites it. Note that the card doesn't force the creatures you kill to be nontoken, so...
...you could give your foes tokens with things like Forbidden Orchard or Alliance of Arms. The Alliance can set you up to win in one turn. How many foes do you have? If you have just three, then four mana makes four 1/1s for everyone, and then one removal spell that kills them all will net 12 treasures for yourself, and you are ready to go. The Revel in Riches is better than many other alternate win cons for other reasons too.
There are also ways to make a ton of Treasure tokens too that you can add to the deck. Smothering Tithe is probably the most obvious, but there are tons of other options too. Treasure tokens for the win-kens!
7. Maze's End
What makes Maze's End a fun card is that it will grab you tons of Gates which you can use for mana, while also acting as a potential win-con while serving as your Thawing Glacier. Because it's not legendary, you can have multiples out at a time grabbing your Gates. Lands are very hard to interact with, and you have mana fixing and land fetching here as part of the card and its mechanics. You can sit back and assemble a land-based win-con that will kill folks no matter how useful and powerful their board position. You saw many a Maze's Endin Standard decks back when it as legal. Maze's End for the Maze's Win!
6. Simic Ascendancy
I consider this to be a strong modern-day version of Helix Pinnacle or Darksteel Reactor, as it's fun, and you only need 20 growth counters, plus it puts counters on dorks which will growth itself. It's in the color of Simic counter loving, but in putting some stuff on as well as adding counters to your Ascendancy. Because you get an equal number of growth counters to your +1/+1 counters, then something that arrives with counters, like Triskelion or Spike Weaver, will give you many growth counters at a time. You have a number of utility effects that'll toss counters on stuff as a part of their effect...
You also have a surprise effects like Awakening of Vitu-Ghazi that'll almost get you half-way there without you really even needing to try! Simic Ascendency is just so good! That's why it almost cracked my top five.
5. Laboratory Maniac
With a shout out to Jace, Wielder of Mysteries. Laboratory Maniac turns the original alternate way of dying into a way of winning! That's a pretty cool way of pushing another way to win. Win for the cause. And many cards, like Leveler, or Doomsday are out there to accelerate your winning.
With Paradigm Shift you are unlikely to have any graveyard that early in the game, and if you do, I suspect that you'll draw through them incredibly quickly, right?
My favorite is Demonic Consultation as it's a one-mana instant. Name a card that's not in your deck. Exile it. Win.
It reminds me of Lich:
Lich was in the first set, and you no longer died for dropping below zero life, although in Lich's case, you would die if Lich was destroyed or if you cannot sacrifice your stuff. However, note that Lich won't kill you if it is bounced or something - the current Oracle is, "When Lich is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, you lose the game." But you'd still be a zero life, so you'd lose for that reason, unless you could find a way to gain some life at the same time. Like Narrow Escape!
There's always something janky to dig into. Enjoy it.
4. Approach of the Second Sun
Approach of the Second Sun was probably one of the most commonly played of the alternate win conditions during its Standard run in decks that actually won tournaments. Approach is a strong card, because the first time you cast it, you gain seven life. And then you have seven turns to delay the game and then you'll win. Life gain plays into a fun win condition as you can easily drop this into a controlling shell that wants to gain life to stick around anyways.
Note that if it was forked, you cannot win with it, as that won't count as "casting," but something that casts it for free from a non-hand source will count the first time, so something like Golos, Tireless Pilgrim can count as the first time you cast it, and net you seven life and stack it seven down. But another Golos trigger won't count as casting it from your hand, so you won't win the game. But you'll gain more life, and that's not bad!
3. Coalition Victory
Say hello to the only alternate win condition that's banned in Commander! Unless you count Biorhythm, which really should be legal given the set-up required to kill someone. But this isn't Top Ten Cards on the Commander Ban List That Could Be Pulled Off. Nope! Coalition Victory remains one of the first alternate win conditions ever printed, long before most of the others, and there is a classy nature to it that still sings. Assemble the right lands and colors of dorks, and then win when you cast it. Unlike most of these effects, you don't have a full round to answer it like you could with, say, Epic Struggle or Revel in Riches which will give most foes enough time to put together an answer to your win-condition, or kill you. You just win there!
2. Poison Counters
If I didn't have poison counters on here somewhere, I think you would take this list seriously, and you'd be right to dismiss it! Poison counters are fun and powerful, and the penultimate spot on my list is a suitable landing pad for just an iconic alternate win condition. Poison counters have gone from forgotten to forget-me-nots as they are powerful in formats like Standard and Modern. Leading with cheap, pumpable dorks that kill quickly, folks like Glistener Elf and Blighted Agent are strong powerhouses that decks are built on! Welcome to the A Team my formerly JV companions.
1. Battle of Wits
Duh. Nothing else could be here! Did you know that the 9th Edition version of this card art used to be the lead-in art for my columns here at this very site? Yup! That's how big and powerful this effect is! People totally changed their deck design so they could win with Battle of Wits. It rewarded Timmies and Tammies of all stripes who wanted to play with all of their cards!
Battle of Wits has done the incredible. People have won Standard tournaments with 200+ decks!
Nothing can top it in the alternate win con category! It works so well!
Can we please get Battle of Wits back into Standard? I'd love to see what we could do with it now!!!!!!!
It's probably not coming back because shuffling effects were so common and that'd take a long, long time. However, as an increasing number of "look at top of library and..." effects are being printed in Standard, it seems more reprintable, right?
Well I hope you enjoyed my look at the best alternate win conditions ever. What did you think? Agree or disagree with my list? Just let me know!