From Liliana With Love

Continuing on his deckbuilding romp through the Magic Origins flip-Planeswalkers, today Abe Sargent shows his love for Liliana, Heretical Healer by bringing her a shambling horde of Zombies eager for brains.

Ah, Liliana….

I have a love affair with her abilities ever since Liliana Vess was clearly the best of the first slate of planeswalkers for casual play. Her entries tend to be really strong, and Liliana of the Veil is the second best ‘walker of all time for tournaments while Liliana Vess is the second or third best for multiplayer still to this day. And now we have another powerful entry.

I think Liliana, Heretical Healer is one of the top three cards in Magic Origins for casual and Commander play. She is one of the easiest to flip, she can force discards, she brings dead stuff back, she makes a token creature when she transforms, and she has a nice route to her ultimate with that Zombie defense and +2 discarding ability.

So with Liliana, Heretical Healer arriving in booster packs near us really soon, I felt I should build a deck around her. After all, last week I built one around Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh, so let’s Liliana things up this week!

From Liliana with Love

This deck may look a little scattered at first Is it about discard? Is it rocking sacrifice effects? Is it a Zombie deck? A reanimation deck?

It’s all of those things!

In order to flip Liliana, we need to have one of your non-token creatures die. That suggests to me a few methods. First of all, you could just attack with a small dork – when they get chumped, you get to transform Liliana. Another option is to have the ability to sacrifice one of your creatures. That way, all you have to do is play Liliana, sacrifice a creature, transform her, make a Zombie, and then use an ability to discard/recur – a very effective return on playing your Commander.

Sacrifice Your Body

So I wanted to begin this deck with a small but useable number of sacrifice effects that can ensure that we can swap over our Liliana. Black has always loved to drop its own stuff, so this won’t require a lot of pushing. I thought about Carnage Altar first since it draws cards. I was also considering something like Infernal Tribute, and while you can sacrifice non-creatures to it, you can’t sacrifice token creatures to it so I couldn’t turn Liliana’s Zombie token into a card with it. But getting some card drawing from my card sacrificing seems like a solid enough deal.

After that, I like Flesh Carver from the most recent Commander set because you get a permanent benefit from sacrificing a creature – it gets bigger, and then if it dies you get a bigger replacement for it too, so the sacrifice pays twice. What else? What about Krovikan Horror? Sacrifice a creature to deal a damage to something is nice, and then you can bring your Horror back later on if it’s needed. Seems like a useful adjunct.

I really enjoy sacrifice engines that have the potential to grab me some card advantage. That’s where a simple card like Stronghold Assassin can fit in. Tap, sacrifice something, kill something. You can sacrifice itself to its own ability if you need to. Get a little extra from your stuff! You can also see how a card like Disciple of Bolas fits perfectly. Why not toss in Sidisi, Undead Tyrant as well? We can flesh it out with some lands like Phyrexian Tower and Miren, the Moaning Well.

There a ton of other spaces to mine if you want to dig more deeply into sacrificial effects. But I didn’t want this deck to be solely about that theme, so you don’t notice cards like Grace Pact or anything running around.

Destroy Your Mind

After flipping over, Liliana can be used to force everyone to discard (including you). That gives you a permanent discard outlet attached to your Commander. And like others, discarding is certainly something we can find assistance with in black. So I began by tossing in a few other discard effects, like Liliana’s Specter.

Since we have some sacrifice engines already in the deck, it seems like a shame that Sadistic Hypnotist can’t be a part of the deck, right? It just fits in so perfectly. So why not slide it in alongside of everything else? A creature like Black Cat can be great sacrifice fodder and mugs up the ground, keeping folks from attacking for fear of losing a great card from their hand – I’ve found that Black Cat has been a much better deterrent against attacks than Typhoid Rats. Plus, you can sacrifice it to force a discard while getting another effect.

Even when you aren’t forcing someone to discard yourself, there are enough reasons for opponents to discard away, such as cycling. This deck becomes a solid home for an effect like Waste Not or Geth’s Grimoire. When Geth’s Grimoire is out, Liliana, Defiant Necromancer is one of the most powerful card advantage engines of all time! Just imagine it in a four-way game. You discard a card and your three foes do as well, and then you draw three. Net result – You gained two cards, and your foes lost three. +5 card advantage! That’s just devastating. (And it spirals in power from there). Meanwhile Waste Not could explode your mana, make some Zombie tokens, or draw you cards as well. You could also run something like Megrim or Liliana’s Caress if you like this angle of attack.

Reanimate Your Flesh

One of the great mechanics that Liliana has always been attached to is reanimating dead things. Why waste a good resource just because others think it’s immoral to do so? The Defiant Necromancer version of our good Healer can bring a creature back from the graveyard, so I wanted to delve into that as well.

Beyond flavor, this makes mechanic sense as well. As established above, we have a lot of sacrifice effects and creatures running around – so we’ll likely have a graveyard brimming with some goodies in it. Given that fact, and given the fact that we are running black anyway, it just seems a shame to waste this rich, thick graveyard.

Besides, can’t you totally see Liliana’s servants sacrificing someone to give her power or somesuch from that moment, and then her immediately reanimating it to be a non-questioning, totally loyal servant? She gets the power and a servant at the same time.

How can we bring back dead things? Let’s push our theme. Doomed Necromancer is perfect here – we have a Necromancer, who sacrifices for an effect, has a cheap cost so it can be brought back with Liliana’s second ability, and it brings a dead creature right back to the battlefield. It’s a perfect fit.

Coffin Queen. Doesn’t Liliana feel like a Coffin Queen? Tap some mana and the Queen, and reanimate any dead creature you prefer from anybody’s graveyard. And if she untaps that creature gets exiled, so you can use her as a way to fight reanimation or graveyard tricks from opponents.

In leaps Phyrexian Delver because who cares about the life lost in Commander? We have Dread Return and Profane Command ready to be used as well, and I like Corpse Dance in here too. It’s a bit wonky, but you can buy it back, sacrifice the creature after it comes back for one turn, and keep running that trick over and over again. There was an old deck that ran Corpse Dance and Bottle Gnomes along with ways to reduce the cost of Corpse Dance (Memory Crystal, Jet Medallion) to generate a ton of life. We don’t run the Gnomes, but this deck is a great place for the Corpse Dance. Dance for Liliana!

Eating Your Brains

Ah, Zombies. Note that Liliana makes a Zombie token. Yes, this can help to protect Liliana or to be tossed into a sacrifice engine for various effects. But there’s no reason not to push the Zombie theme, right? Right!

There are a ton of Zombies that slide into this deck perfectly. We’ve already included Zombies like Coffin Queen or Stronghold Assassin. There are a lot more that are on point.

Consider Liliana And The Case Of The Corpse Harvester. You can tap it and some mana to sacrifice a creature. Then you search up both a Zombie and a Swamp. That’s two cards for one sacrifice – a strong card advantage opportunity welded to the sacrifices we already want. That just seems like too good of a deal to pass up, right?

A card like Lord of the Undead slips into the reanimation theme here by bringing back a dead Zombie while pumping your undead horde. And Cemetery Reaper exiles annoying stuff from other ‘yards and makes you a token of the Zombie persuasion – so you have multiple ways to amp up those Zombies.

I really like Risen Executioner here as well – not only does it pump the Zombie team, it can also self-recur from your graveyard. That plays into this deck’s sacrifice engines quite nicely I feel.

Next up – cards that make Zombie tokens. Army of the Damned is the obvious place to start, and we already run some options like Waste Not. What else? Grave Titan? That’s always been a solid choice for Commander decks, no one would bat an eye at it. Syphon Flesh can act as removal and make a few tokens as well. But Ghoulcaller Gisa is extremely strong for the deck, that’s another obvious Zombie-making method.

Now that I know I have some pro-Zombie cards, I want to look up some other Zombies that work with the deck. Geth, Lord of the Vault is exactly what I’m looking for – Geth is a Zombie, so he can be fetched up with Corpse Harvester or built into a bigger threat with our Lords, but he also can put a creature (or artifact) from any opposing graveyard right onto the battlefield under your control. It plays nicely with what we are already doing.

Are there any other Geth-like Zombies I can unearth? Gravecaller is strong as a sacrificial lamb. Sacrifice it to an engine and then replay it for just one mana since we are very likely to have a Zombie out. Mikaeus the Unhallowed is also a powerful tool here, as both a Zombie and a way to recur stuff that heads to the bin.

Want some card drawing? How about Graveborn Muse? That’ll blow out your hand quite quickly.

That’s good, I feel that we can call it on the Zombie section now.

Since this is a creature-based deck, I also wanted to find us some useful support critters. I want to uncover lower casting cost support bodies that won’t pull as many counters off Liliana, Defiant Until Death. So we can run Bone Shredder or the duo of Merciless Executioner and Fleshbag Marauder. Those are really good, since you will hardly mind the sacrifice, but forcing your foes to Innocent Blood is really keen at times.

I added in some other creature-based removal, like Shriekmaw and the new Gilt-Leaf Winnower. I actually think the Winnower is the single most flavorful card in the entire set, and I only wish that we had seen this mechanic in Lorwyn Block. They slay any creature which is not beautiful. How can you tell if it’s beautiful? Is it an Elf? Then it’s beautiful. Otherwise, it has to have perfectly beautiful symmetry (and that means equal power and toughness). The card is just an ideal marrying of mechanics and flavor to me.

But I digress. Overseer of the Damned is a great supplement to the deck – it makes tokens, and it can kill something on arrival – and it continues to churn out bodies as opposing creatures die. I don’t have to tell you how often creatures die in Magic, do I? Especially at any multiplayer table.

In leap cards that support the theme. I wanted some more sacrificial bodies, and I felt Bloodghast was a good fit. I also tossed in a few cards that could save a key player – Undying Evil and Dark Dabbling. I also included the typical Boots/Greaves equipment to protect someone like Geth or Dark Mike (Mikaeus, the Unhallowed). I even had space for Sword of Light and Shadow and Sword of Feast and Famine, which fit the recursion and discard subthemes.

And that’s the deck, ladies and gentlemen! If you are interested in exploring Liliana further, there are a ton of places to explore. Because this deck sits at the intersection of four avenues that are heavily supported in black, you can easily flesh these out to fit your budget, your collection, your tastes and your metagame. Maybe you need some artifact removal at your table, so Gate to Phyrexia calls your name. Maybe you need a lot of graveyard removal, so you want to find space for more hosers, like Nihil Spellbomb or Crypt Incursion.

From Ashen Ghoul to Hypnotic Specter, from Butcher of Malakir to Phyrexian Plaguelord and from Gravespawn Sovereign to Beacon of Unrest, there are a lot of places that you can explore to find some interesting additions to this deck.

What did you think of our Liliana deck? Was there anything in there that pushed you? Any ideas for your own Liliana deck?