Liliana’s Triumph Is The Edict We Deserve

Had enough of hexproof creatures ruining your day? Ben Friedman is right there with you, and he’s here to tell you why you should stop worrying and run Liliana’s Triumph, the next Diabolic Edict!

Slippery Bogle, you’ve bested me for the last time.

I was cautiously optimistic when word began filtering out that Wizards of the Coast was planning on printing more flexible, maindeckable answers for narrow classes of permanents in order to make best-of-one Magic more dynamic and interactive. Cards like Abrade, Izzet Charm, and Collective Brutality get me going and it seems like we’re only going to see more of those as WotC continues to hedge towards creating modal interaction at a competitive mana cost.

It’s easy to act dismissive towards best-of-one as “not real Magic,” but if it means that in balancing this new format, WotC inadvertently creates balancing forces to smooth out the most polarizing existing Constructed format (cough…Modern…cough), then I can’t help but think of the introduction of best-of-one as a net positive for the game.

This is the start of a golden age for cheap, flexible answers, and Modern is about to get a bit more surmountable as a result. Especially for my relentless Grixis Death’s Shadow aficionados!

Let me tell you about some cards that cause me to roll my eyes whenever they hit the battlefield. No, not Urza’s Tower, though we all roll our eyes at that one. It’s that disdain that gives Tron players life. Don’t give them the satisfaction!

I’m talking about Slippery Bogle. I’m talking about Auriok Champion. Thought it’s not quite as prevalent these days, I’m still talking about Etched Champion. Really, any creature that I can’t point and click to get rid of with a good clean targeted removal spell.

  • I’ve played Spellskite to try to wiggle around Selesnya Hexproof, to block various Champions, and to hopefully play above replacement level in other matchups.
  • I’ve played Engineered Explosives to ponderously blow up a bunch of Bogles or various two-mana Humans. I’ll begrudgingly spend five mana to knock off an Etched Champion if I have to, though it pains me to do so.
  • I’ve played Kozilek’s Return to hit Auriok Champion and Etched Champion while being a decent instant-speed trick against various Affinity, Elves, Merfolk or Hardened Scales battlefields.
  • I’ve played Flaying Tendrils to give me a hint of Dredge coverage in exchange for the instant-speed effect of Kozilek’s Return.
  • I’ve even played a Piracy Charm in my Grixis Death’s Shadow sideboard because I was so tired of being beaten by Auriok Champion and demanded another clean answer. And yes, a small but nonzero part of the reason we have Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy is to keep Auriok Champion from nickel-and-diming us until we find a way to remove it.
  • Then I saw Liliana’s Triumph.

    It’s a Diabolic Edict, but it gets around Leyline of Sanctity. That’s neat. I hate losing to Leyline of Sanctity out of Selesnya Hexproof, and this card completely embarrasses that plan.

    It’s a Diabolic Edict that gets around Leyline of Sanctity, but if you have a Liliana, the Last Hope on the battlefield against Humans, it also takes the Dismember rotting in their hand because you (intelligently) sideboarded out some or all your Gurmag Anglers. That’s sweet. Nothing like a little extra value!

    It’s a Diabolic Edict against Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant, Raging Ravine, or Scavenging Ooze, but it incidentally eats their Fatal Push stuck in hand if you have a Liliana on the battlefield. The same is true in the mirror match; Liliana’s Triumph answers a Gurmag Angler or Death’s Shadow and swipes a card for the extra point.

    In Legacy, it’s still offering us extreme value and a flexible answer, but with Mother of Runes instead of Auriok Champion, and the prize is a juicy Batterskull stuck in their hand because you killed their Stoneforge Mystic. If you’re lucky, you might snag a sandbagged fetchland while taking care of a Gurmag Angler or True-Name Nemesis, weakening subsequent Brainstorms while solidifying your battlefield position. And yes, you still clean up Marit Lage with the same diligence as Diabolic Edict.

    “New look, same great Edict!”

    Anything to make my girl Liliana, the Last Hope better is fine by me. I was already thrilled and ready to shave on my Kolaghan’s Command / Abrade / Collective Brutality sideboard slots and put in a copy or two of this bold new Edict. I love the flexibility, instant-speed, and the potential for a clean two-for-one, on top of a much-needed effect that I’m already excited to play to answer perennial thorns in my side in Modern and Legacy.

    I won’t go far enough to claim that this card invalidates Selesnya Hexproof as an archetype, but I’m not sure what strange metagame would have to develop for me to be willing to consider the strategy at this point. Though the deck is significantly less vilified than Tron at this point in Modern’s existence, the normalization of a linear predator is always a welcome development. That comes with small tweaks to add a mode of specific interaction on top of already desirable effects or buffing a specific type of interaction to the point where no one would be ashamed to include it even without the narrow silver-bullet effect. Liliana’s Triumph succeeds on this front, and interactive decks like Grixis Death’s Shadow gain immensely from its release.

    To be clear, more than various Death’s Shadow decks gain with Liliana’s Triumph. Golgari Midrange can curve a Tarmogoyf into a Liliana of the Veil and then follow up with Liliana’s Triumph to drop the hammer, clear the battlefield, and rip out the last few cards in the opponent’s hand. Card advantage combined with built-in Slippery Bogle and Etched Champion protection is hard to come by, but it’s going to be a boon for the archetype. Getting to use a Liliana’s Triumph instead of an Assassin’s Trophy to answer a Gurmag Angler is a big deal, and not one that Golgari players are properly embracing.

    And the last neat trick Liliana is playing on our opponents is quite a special one, indeed.

    This card is a Funeral Charm if you have a Liliana on the battlefield. That means you can cast it during an opponent’s draw step to make them discard a card (if you have your Liliana, of course) and cut them off of various outs that they might draw. Think planeswalkers like Jace, the Mind Sculptor or answers like Detention Sphere. Think savage topdecks like Scapeshift or Primeval Titan. (Yes, I would potentially consider sideboarding this card in against TitanShift to answer Tireless Tracker or Chameleon Colossus, especially if you choose to play a Liliana of the Veil or two in your sideboard.)

    If you have the good fortune to Mishra’s Bauble your opponent and see what they’re about to draw, you can potentially use this secret mode of Liliana’s Triumph to save your precious planeswalker from a topdecked removal spell and hold control of the game for a short while longer. It’s not going to be common, but it will very occasionally be correct.

    Looking closer, this Funeral Charm mode means there will be a new close decision to add to the massive repository of Death’s Shadow knowledge that we will have to contemplate before bringing Liliana’s Triumph to the table.

    Let us examine the following situation. We have a Liliana, the Last Hope on the battlefield. Our opponent topdecks and casts a massive Death’s Shadow. We have a Liliana’s Triumph in our hand. Under what circumstances should we wait to cast the Triumph until their next draw step, and under what circumstances should we be cautious, decline the free value, and get rid of that threat right away?

    • Topdecked removal spells, additional threats, discard spells, and lands are all free “gimme” cards.
    • Topdecked Snapcaster Mages and Stubborn Denials are bad-news bears.

    It certainly depends on life totals, whether we have blockers on the battlefield, and whether we believe that we can still beat the various “additional threat” topdecks, whatever they may be. But it behooves us to contemplate these scenarios and think about what we can and can’t beat before just slamming whatever answer down without a second glance.

    It also means that Snapcaster Mage, with its expendable 2/1 body, is even more important to include in Death’s Shadow mirrors, and that may push me to bump back up to a full four copies of the card. Not that I needed much convincing, to be frank!

    Of course, it isn’t all sunshine and roses. Edict effects aren’t quite as good in Standard as they are in Modern and Legacy, due to the more resource-rich games and cluttered battlefields that Standard generates. There are going to be more random Llanowar Elves, 2/2 Knight tokens, random Zombie Army or Thopter or Vampire tokens, or throwaway explore creatures to soak up the effect.

    Against Azorius Aggro, the card is fairly weak. Even Mono-Blue Aggro doesn’t lose particularly hard to the card, though there are certainly some draws that get busted up pretty badly by non-targeted removal. A “one-drop, Curious Obsession, Dive Down” draw gets embarrassed by Liliana’s Triumph, but Spell Pierce still answers it, and if the blue player waits until they have a spare body to sacrifice to the card, it essentially does nothing whatsoever. It doesn’t pay to play a card that works very well against a fraction of opposing draws and very poorly against another portion. You want your sideboard cards to be universally playable. Fungal Infection, Cast Down, and the like are better bets for now.

    I’m not sanguine on Liliana’s Triumph in Standard, because the context is just not particularly friendly for this type of effect. It’s a big-battlefield format, whereas Modern and Legacy are small-battlefield formats. There are exceptions to this rule with Hardened Scales, Bant Spirits, Merfolk, Elves, and Humans, but for the most part Modern decks aren’t interested in casting creature spell after creature spell to fill up the battlefield.

    For this very reason, I’m awfully excited for it in Modern. The format has been waiting for a Diabolic Edict, to the point where I’ve mentioned it on my shortlist for slam-dunk inclusions in Modern Horizons in a few months. WotC decided to one-up me with a preemptive printing in a Standard-legal set. This is heartening news.

    Liliana’s Triumph is just the tip of the iceberg. We’ve got an embarrassment of riches for answering a multitude of different linear strategies at this point, and it’s only going to get better. There’s an upper limit on the number of different linear strategies a format can allow, and Modern has been knocking on that ceiling for quite some time. Without a complete universal answer like Force of Will or Daze, the constant complaint about Modern having too many disparate threats and not enough coverage that we can fit in a measly fifteen-card sideboard had a lot of merit. But this new best-of-one-driven era means that The Shadow Box will grow to match the wide range of Modern villains. And we don’t even need a Mental Misstep unban to make it happen!

    To this end, it seems like WotC isn’t wasting any time before getting this new breed of answers into the format. Not content with Liliana’s Triumph, we can see WotC wanted to push this effect with Angrath’s Rampage.

    Another Edict in the same set?! Seriously? When it rains, it pours.

    Now we’re talking. I’m just a bit peeved I don’t have access to these types of cards for Mythic Championship London. If this is the new standard for powerful answers to a wide variety of permanent types, count me in. But more on that later in the week.