So I have a 5 color deck and I was wondering how Necropotence and Phyrexian Unlife interact in certain circumstances. I understand that once my life becomes 0 or less I cannot pay life to draw cards, but if I were to have 1 life left, would I only be able to pay one life or would I be able to pay more than that and draw more cards dropping my life total into the negatives, like an attack when you have 1 life left for 5 damage would leave you with -4 life and 0 poison counters. The way I currently see it is I would only be able to pay 1 life exile a card then my life total is 0 and I can no longer exile anymore cards. Normally in this deck I'd be using Necropotence with Venser's Journal and Elixir of Immortality,but I was wondering if Necropotence might benefit from Phyrexian Unlife as well.

Also somewhat of an aside to this question but I also use Death's Shadow in this deck, am I correct in assuming that if my life total is -4 death's shadow would get +4/+4 making it a 17/17.

1 Answer 1


I you are at 1 life you can only activate Necropotence once, this is because paying the life is a cost and that happens when you activate the ability, before anyone gets priority again [601.2]. So by the time you have the ability to activate it a second time you are already at 0 life, and thus unable to pay more.

As for Death's Shadow it does indeed get +X/+X when you are at negative life totals. From the Gatherer rulings:

If your life total is less than 0 and an effect (such as the one from an opponent's Abyssal Persecutor) is keeping you from losing the game, Death's Shadow's ability will actually increase its power and toughness. For example, if your life total is -2, Death's Shadow gets +2/+2.

  • 3
    And even if the ability were "Pay X life: ...", thus sidestepping the "activate it once at a time" issue, you still wouldn't be able to pay more life than you have. (118.4. If a cost or effect allows a player to pay an amount of life greater than 0, the player may do so only if his or her life total is greater than or equal to the amount of the payment.)
    – Cascabel
    Mar 20, 2015 at 21:21
  • 1
    This answer fell out of date with the release of Hour of Devastation. Death's Shadow no longer gets +X/+X when your life total is negative. Instead, X will just be zero. See rule 107.1b here.
    – Rainbolt
    Jul 21, 2017 at 17:52

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