6 Coolest (and Toughest) Alternate Win Conditions in MTG
Some players take absolute glee in depleting the opponent’s Library as an alternate win condition in Magic: the Gathering. Known internally as the mechanic Mill, that strategy uses cards such as Ruin Crab, Maddening Cacophony, and Tasha’s Hideous Laughter to literally take away cards from the opponent so that he/she cannot use them.
Mill is a viable strategy and can see plenty of success with some support cards like counter spells or board wipes, but it’s far from being the toughest alternate win condition out there. Not many players (especially on the receiving end) see it as a ‘cool’ way to win too.
Newer players may not be aware, but there are actually many alternate ways to win in Magic apart from the traditional way of getting your opponents down to 0 life. Over the years, some have seen plenty of play – think Revel in Riches – because of its easy requirements.
Then there are those that are notorious for being incredibly difficult in pulling off. These are the toughest, most brutal alternate win conditions you’ll see (or perhaps never see) play in Magic:
Barren Glory: The Toughest Alternate Win Condition
Ranking in our top hardest alternate win condition to pull off is Barren Glory. Firstly it costs 6 Mana, and the conditions are brutal. You’d need to control no other Permanents on the board during your Upkeep, so that means no Lands, Mana rock Artifacts…nothing!
So how could you possibly pull this off? The difficulty here is destroying your own Lands, in addition to Creatures and all Permanents. Cards like Planar Cleansing and Ondu Inversion only affect non-Lands, so it wouldn’t make much sense casting them.
The best way would probably be to run no other Enchantments in your deck, and then cast a mix of Armageddon, Catastrophe, and other Creature board wipes such as Wrath of God or Doomskar.
We’ve thought about making use of Teferi’s Protection but that wouldn’t really work because all Permanents would get phased out, including Barren Glory. And even if you cast it at the end of your opponent’s turn, all your stuff phases back in on your Untap step, which is before the Upkeep.
One of our readers, Eric, achieved the ultimate glory by combining it with Obliterate. It costs a hefty 8 Mana but conveniently excludes Enchantments in its mass destruction. “It was the only global enchantment in the deck and was only there as a last ditch win when playing with friends. We had a great laugh after it was pulled off.”
If you have more suggestions on how to achieve ultimate “glory,” do let us know!
Happily Ever After: Multi-step Alternate Win Condition
Following up is another white card with a pretty steep alternate win condition, but is probably easier to pull off than Barren Glory. Happily Ever After has 3 separate conditions, but helps you along by costing only 3 Mana, and you gain 5 life and also draw a card. Sounds like a happy ending? Not so fast, the road is filled with plenty of obstacles.
The first condition is a given – you have to be playing 5 colours. Note that this isn’t colour identity, and all five colours have to appear in the Mana Value of cards on the battlefield. There’s definitely going to be some luck involved, but having a 5-colour Mana base isn’t too strange in the world of Commander (more so in other formats).
The second condition is also a little tough. To have six card types combined from the Battlefield and Graveyard means you’ll need to be playing a good mix of Artifacts, Creatures, Planeswalkers, Sorceries and Instants. Luckily, Happily Ever After counts itself as an Enchantment so that’s one down. Plus you’re sure to have Lands, so that’s two. More turns will be needed to cast these other cards on the board, or the best strategy would be to keep Happily Ever After in hand and only cast it out when you have all the conditions met.
The last condition is perhaps the easiest. Keep your life total high with plenty of pillow-fort cards like Ghostly Prison and Valkmira, Protector’s Shield and focus on protecting your Enchantments or Creatures that might get targeted.
Chance Encounter: Bring Your Lucky Hat
This is the flipping-coin version of Revel in Riches (which didn’t make the cut here) and it generally tougher to pull off because you need to playing a deck solely focusing on coin flipping. Thankfully Modern Horizons 2 introduced the perfectly-suited Yusri, Fortune’s Flame just to handle this requirement.
With Yusri, you’re going to have plenty of chances to flip coins each attack, since you can flip up to 5 times. You’ll lose life for each coin flipping loss, but for every win you get to put a counter on Chance Encounter. Some clutch cards like Frenetic Efreet can also trigger virtually unlimited coin flips to guarantee that you’ll have those 10 counters during your Upkeep.
Despite all that, it’s still pretty tough to pull off because most coin-flipping cards are a one-off, or at most once a turn. Compare that to Revel in Riches or Simic Ascendency where there are many ways to create Treasures or place +1/+1 counters.
Maze’s End: 10 Lands to Win It All
There are a couple of good things going for Maze’s End, one of which being it has a way to search your Library for Gate cards to put onto the Battlefield. This is really important because regular ramp cards such as Cultivate and Rampant Growth only search out basic Lands or Land types, neither of which falls under Gates.
The other helping hand isn’t as useful but it does increase your chances of pulling it off. Right after activating Maze’s End‘s ability, the card checks if you control 10 Gates, and if you do, you immediately win the game. So no waiting till your next Upkeep like many of these other alternative win conditions.
There are some other ramp cards that can also help pull this off, so it’s not incredibly difficult if your base colour is green. Crop Rotation, Circuitous Route, District Guide and Open the Gates can all search for Gates, though it’s unfortunate that Golos, Tireless Pilgrim has also been banned otherwise he’d make a good Commander to drive this win condition.
Many players also don’t play Land destruction (unless they’re your mean friends), so it’s unlikely Maze’s End or your Gates will be in any trouble. The problem with the other win conditions mentioned above is that most are Enchantments and those can be easily targeted before you fulfil the requirements.
Triskaidekaphile: Pronouncing This is Hard Enough
Everyone says blue has no problem drawing cards. While that may be true, keeping your hand to a certain size, holding back counter spells when you want to deny pleasure to the opponent are not easy things to do.
At the very least, you could cast Triskaidekaphile as 1/3 Creature for 2 Mana that lets you have unlimited hand size, accompanied by a late-game Mana sink that lets you draw cards – that’s pretty decent as it is. In Commander, you’d need to have lots of Mana open, or a way to generate unlimited blue Mana, to draw that specific number of card to reach 13 in hand.
Helix Pinnacle: Challenging Green to Produce Mana
Like Test of Endurance that has a win condition of gaining life perfectly suited for its inherent colour (white), Helix Pinnacle would be the green version that is somewhat trickier to do but at the same time looks like a winnable challenge.
In the case of Test of Endurance, players in Commander already start at 40 life, so earning that 10 more life points really isn’t that difficult. That’s why the Test isn’t on this list.
Helix Pinnacle, on the other hand, requires you to invest X Mana to place X counters. Only when you have 100 on your Upkeep do you get to win. It’s plus points is that it costs only 1 Mana and has Shroud to protect from target removal spells.
If you look at green’s weaknesses, generating large amount of Mana certainly isn’t one of them. First we already have the famous Gaea’s Cradle and its more affordable cousin Growing Rites of Itlimoc (transforms into Itlimic, Cradle of the Sun) that both are able to tap for lots of green Mana, as along as you have the army to back them up.
So there are definitely loops to jump through, namely: having a good number of Creatures on your board that can also serve as blockers to preserve your life total. Other Creature based Mana creators like Marwyn, the Nurturer and Selvala, Heart of the Wild all do that part to push too. Combine those with Seedborn Muse and you might even reach that magical 100 counters in one turn cycle and before your Upkeep.
Have you won games with any of these alternate win conditions? They do fall under the jank/meme category and in my experience would struggle against finely tuned decks. Perhaps the best recommendation is to have these cards as a backup plan and fun way to break out some laughs in your playgroup. If there are other cards that you feel deserves a mention here, please feel free to let us know too at firstname.lastname@example.org!