The Kitchen Table #313: Garruk versus Liliana

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Wednesday, November 25th – Hello folks, and welcome back to the column that explores the frontier of the casual. Whether you have a full estate or just a vacation home here, I hope there will be something in here for you. Today I want to focus on the recent Garruk versus Liliana set. Now that I have had a chance to play with them for a few weeks, I wanted to give you some thoughts and, as always, perhaps a few modifications.

Hello folks, and welcome back to the column that explores the frontier of the casual. Whether you have a full estate or just a vacation home here, I hope there will be something in here for you. Today I want to focus on the recent Garruk versus Liliana set. Now that I have had a chance to play with them for a few weeks, I wanted to give you some thoughts and, as always, perhaps a few modifications.

I find it interesting that they decided to go with Garruk over Ajani Goldmane or Elspeth, because we all know that Black versus White is a lot more iconic than Black versus Green. Perhaps they decided to steer clear because they just did Black versus White in Demonic versus Divine. They also had BvW and RvU and needed a G one, so either Blue or Black was getting duplicated anyway.


1 Garruk Wildspeaker
2 Basking Rootwalla
2 Albino Troll
2 Vine Trellis
2 Wild Mongrel
2 Wirewood Savage
2 Blastoderm
1 Ravenous Baloth
1 Stampeding Wildebeests
2 Indrik Stomphowler
1 Krosan Tusker
1 Plated Slagwurm
1 Genju of the Cedars
1 Giant Growth
2 Rancor
1 Lignify
2 Nature’s Lore
1 Elephant Guide
1 Invigorate
2 Serrated Arrows
2 Harmonize
1 Rude Awakening
1 Beast Attack
1 Overrun
1 Windstorm
2 Slippery Karst
1 Treetop Village
21 Forest

One of the things about this deck you quickly notice is the lack of… um… creatures. There are just 18 creatures in the deck, and two of those are walls. Now, you do have a single copy of some non-creature creatures like Beast Attack, Garruk Wildspeaker, Genju of the Cedars, Elephant Guide, and Treetop Village, but that’s still a small amount of creatures for a deck that appears to want to emphasize creatures.

Garruk’s ultimate ability and Overrun make it look like you want many creatures. Yet, you have some temporary creatures (Blastoderm) and some walls (Vine Trellis). What exactly are you beating down with?

Some of the cards in here work well together. Wirewood Savage is smart with Garruk’s second ability, and you have a smattering of other beasts as well as Beast Attack. You also have a single Stampeding Wildebeests, which not only triggers the Savages but also can bounce a Beast for replay and more Savages. However, this is not as good as it initially appears. Look again. There are few creatures you would actually want to bounce. Bouncing Albino Troll resets its echo. Bouncing Vine Trellis can keep your Wildebeests in play, but it is hardly synergetic. The Slagwurm and Tucker are too expensive. The tokens, Genju, and Village make no sense. Bouncing the Mongrels or Rootwalla can keep it out, but lack the synergy of other cards. That leaves… um… Indrik Stomphowler, Blastoderm and the Baloth as the only bounceable cards that help, and replaying them can be pricey. The Stomphowler gives you the ability to replay its ability, so that has merit; you can reset the fading on the Blastoderm, and that has merit too. However, note that the Wildebeests don’t have the synergy you want.

Rude Awakening can end games with Garruk’s ultimate, so that’s nice. However, it is quite hard to set up. You don’t want to use it with things like Overrun, because you are tapping mana for it. You can win post-Massacre with it, but that’s about it.

You have some nice early beaters like Wild Mongrel, Albino Troll, and Basking Rootwalla. Since you are running two of each, you have a solid chance at getting an early beater than can apply pressure on the Liliana Deck. (Or other foes like Jace and Chandra’s decks). You also have a pair of Rancors to continue to apply pressure.

You do not have the best cards in the format (the Liliana versus Garruk format), but you do have more pressure to apply, plus you have better removal outside of one card. Your Arrows are nasty. Unless Liliana has out Bad Moon, you can take out a lot of their creatures with a single counter — a full nine of their 18 creatures die to one counter, and five more die to two counters (six more if you count the Genju, which I don’t), plus it kills the Skeletal Vampire’s bat tokens. That means when I play Liliana, I regularly go and get Bad Moon as her tutor ability, just to stop the Serrated Arrows.

You also have Windstorm, which can kill six of the eighteen creatures, plus the bats from the Skeletal Vampire. That means your removal can hammer the Liliana deck, and they cannot fight back (except with one card). Liliana’s removal is stuff like Fleshbag Marauder, Snuff Out, Hideous End, and Ichor Slick — one-on-one removal, or Edicts. You can out-creature Liliana with Garruk, but please note that Liliana does have eight one-on-one removal spells, plus Enslave, and the two Fleshbag Marauders, and Mutilate. There are times when your deck has no creatures out after some Liliana death. Your Mongrel can protect itself from some of the removal, but not all of it. Plated Slagwurm also protects itself, obviously. You will use Giant Growth and Invigorate to protect creatures from Tendrils, Vicious Hunger, and Ichor Slick more often than in combat. Be ready to lose Rancor permanently against removal. When you play Rancor, while it is on the stack, if the creature dies, the Rancor is countered and goes straight to the graveyard and does not return to your hand. A clever Black player will keep mana open, or a Snuff Out ready for just such an occasion.

Other than Mutilate, your deck has card advantage. Your Harmonizes outdraw Liliana’s Sign in Blood, and you have ways of making extra creatures with things like Beast Attack and Garruk. Your Windstorm and Serrated Arrows are strong opportunities for card advantage, along with Indrik Stomphowler. Krosan Tusker, and Wirewood Savage. You can outdraw Liliana’s removal at times, but she can also force you to discard everything, so there are going to be times when your deck hits topdeck mode before you can play your best stuff.

Keep a Rootwalla in your hand for Liliana’s ability if she comes down. However, don’t worry about keeping them in hand in the early game, if you have the ability to keep up the pressure. Liliana’s deck gains power as the game goes on and expensive removal like Enslave and Corrupt comes online. Hit early and often.

Please note that your deck is at a disadvantage to the Liliana deck for two reasons. Due to a very focused slate of removal spells, the Liliana deck can really force you to keep playing creatures. Then, when you extend too much, the Liliana deck can tutor for – or just draw naturally – the Mutilate and punish you. It is very difficult to know when you have played too many creatures versus not enough.

Remember that these decks are claimed to be showcase decks, so do just that and show them off.

In order to focus your deck more, I’d make the following changes:

-1 Rude Awakening
+1 Anurid Scavenger

You need more creatures. The one good thing about the Rude Awakening is that you can use it to win if you have a ton of lands to entwine it, and your opponent has killed all or most of your creatures and almost won. It’s a Blaze that snatches victory from the jaws of defeat. However, it is only useful late, and in that circumstance. Anurid Scavenger is just as good versus Liliana if not better. It can nip in and deal out three damage, it is immune to the targeted removal of Liliana, and it can restock some goodies back into your deck so Liliana’s can’t pull them out with her ultimate ability. It still dies to Mutilate, but it gives you a strong chance. Oh, and it’s a beast, for your Wirewood Savage, Ravenous Baloth needs.

-1 Elephant Guide
+1 Regrowth

It’s a hard card to find, and yet really strong. Elephant Guide is too slow for beatings and its best use is to let you have a creature out post-Mutilate, but it’s not that good. Regrowth can give you some staying power, allow you to recycle your best cards, and also gives some tension between it and the Anurid Scavenger.

-1 Genju of the Cedars
+1 One Dozen Eyes

Your Overrun and Garruk ultimate want many creatures. The One Dozen Eyes can make a Beast. It can also use the many mana makers you have like Garruk’s first ability, Vine Trellis, and Nature’s Lore. I do like the synergy of a Genju for each color, but I think is a better fit for the deck.

-1 Indrik Stomphowler
+1 Beastmaster Ascension

Tell me it’s not on theme. I was initially looking for another beast for the Savages and Baloth, but this is much better. Note that the Liliana deck just has three enchantments, so there is not a lot of opportunity to abuse the Stomphowler through Wildebeest bouncing. The original deck had more artifacts and enchantments than the Liliana deck with Arrows, Rancor, Elephant Guide and Genju. I was also looking at Hunting Pack.


1 Liliana Vess
1 Deathgreeter
2 Ghost-Lit Stalker
2 Vampire Bats
1 Drudge Skeletons
1 Ravenous Rats
2 Fleshbag Marauder
2 Phyrexian Rager
1 Urborg Syphon-Mage
1 Wall of Bone
1 Faerie Macabre
1 Howling Banshee
1 Keening Banshee
2 Twisted Abomination
1 Skeletal Vampire
1 Genju of the Fens
1 Bad Moon
2 Sign in Blood
1 Vicious Hunger
1 Ichor Slick
1 Hideous End
1 Snuff Out
2 Tendrils of Corruption
1 Mutilate
1 Rise from the Grave
2 Corrupt
1 Enslave
2 Polluted Mire
23 Swamp

Here is the Liliana Vess deck. One of the problems that you will note with the Liliana deck is that the cards included here are not as good with her as the Garruk deck. Take a look at the Garruk deck. The first ability to make mana is used in some of the expensive cards. The second ability to make beasts can be seen in Wirewood Savage and Ravenous Baloth. The third ability is seen with Rude Awakening and the token makers. What works with Liliana’s abilities? You force discards with her first ability but do you use them once they are in the graveyard by any ability other than her own ultimate? For example, instead of Rise from the Grave, they could have included Beacon of Unrest or even Animate Dead, in order to let you take a creature that you either killed or forced the discard.

There are some cards here I just don’t get. What is Faerie Macabre doing in here? It has an ability that is useless against the Garruk deck, so why include it? Its presence just looks jarring. Drudge Skeletons is another. At first, it looks good, because it can block ground creatures, but then you see Rancor and Serrated Arrows, and it doesn’t play well with them. What is the Urborg Syphon-Mage doing? Its ability in this deck by its lonesome is odd at best.

You have some card drawing in Sign in Blood and Phyrexian Rager. You can get some card advantage with Keening Banshee, Ghost-Lit Stalker, Ravenous Rats and Skeletal Vampire, plus Enslave, Ichor Slick and Massacre. That’s gives you some ways of netting extra cards, but you are going to be outclassed by the Garruk’s card drawing.

Massacre is the best card in the decks, and you have it. You also have a tutor in Liliana Vess. Use these to win the game, because a Wrathed board with Liliana out is game. Save your Corrupts for the final stage of the game, where you can use them as a Blaze against your enemy.

Twisted Abomination is a lot better than you might think. Your deck has some serious needs for the higher casting costs, and more swamps fuels your Massacre, Genju of the Fens, Corrupt and Tendrils. Swampcycle with them often.

Your creatures are small. Your biggest creature is a 3/3 flyer is Skeletal Vampire and Howling Banshee. You cannot go toe to toe with Garruk’s beef, so don’t try. You have two types of kill, stuff for smaller creatures, and stuff for anything. Save your anything kill when you can for the bigger things Garruk will throw your way, and use your smaller kill on things like the Rootwallas, Mongrels, and such. Save Snuff Out for a rainy day, because you may need to tap out occasionally, and have emergency kill you can use just in case can make you feel a lot safer. I use it when Garruk tries to Rancor, in order to get a two for one.

You have just as many creatures as Garruk does, plus a ton of removal, so never be afraid to use your creatures as removal. Block that Indrik Stomphowler with both a Wall of Bone and your Fleshbag Marauder. Attack into Wirewood Savages. Don’t be afraid to force some discard from a Wild Mongrel — trading a Phyrexian Rager for a card in your opponent’s hand is alright, since the Rager already got you a card. Force your opponent to have to work to keep their creatures, because you can easily dominate with your removal. Note that your opponent has no flyers, and only one card that hoses flyers, so get some hits in there. Make sure to have some bats to regenerate your Skeletal Vampire when Garruk’s Windstorm comes your way.

The problem comes when Garruk begins to out token you. Is it worth an Ichor Slick to kill a Beast token? Your Massacre can reset the board, but then Garruk may turn around and drop Beast Attack on you, with another coming next turn from the flashback, with two more beasts being made by Garruk.

Because of Garruk’s ability to outflank you with a few of his cards, be prepared to understand that Garruk has the better deck, even though you have the better cards. Serrated Arrows will kill your creatures, and you have no way of stopping them. You can hold your creatures in your hand and wait until you find removal, so play into them, and attack into them, and force those Arrows to get used.

If your opponent plays Arrows, taps it, and kills your Vampire Bats, drop a Phyrexian Rager and force him to use both arrows to kill one 2/2 creatures, instead of dropping more 1/1s.

Your foe can win from a stalemate with Overrun or Garruk’s ultimate ability. You can win from a stalemate with Corrupt or Liliana’s ultimate. I have never seen Liliana ever get close to going off though. Card advantage is so important against Garruk that forcing discard is not a bad idea at all. Since you have a few powerful cards like Bad Moon and Massacre, you almost always want to tutor with Liliana. As such, the ultimate is not commonly used. Note that although your deck does not have anything that really work’s with Liliana’s first ability, your opponent’s deck does have hosers in madness cards and flashback.

Alright, time for a few changes:

-1 Faerie Macabre
+1 Puppeteer Clique

The Faerie Macabre does nothing against the Garruk deck as we’ve mentioned already. The Puppeteer Clique is a way of actually using Liliana’s powers, which is something missing previously from the deck. It still gives you an extra flyer, but it provides a little extra kick and the persist allows it to survive, and become a 2/1, post Windstorm, unless you already put a counter on it with the Arrows…

-1 Genju of the Fens
+1 Nantuko Shade

Hey, the Genju is cute, but having at least one creature that can get above 3 power is nice, and this deck would prefer not having to start at two mana, just to activate it. A Shade that requires two mana to attack or block is not a good card. A 2/1 Shade for two mana is a good card. This is a showcase deck, so let’s use the good Shade.

-1 Urborg Syphon-Mage
+1 Roiling Horror

I actually like the life gain, but there is nothing you ever want to discard because you need the lands too much. I know that it’s basically an expensive and slow Consume Spirit but it is uncounterable and gives you a creature at the end.

-1 Rise from the Grave
+1 Beacon of Unrest

I know it was just used in the Zombie Empire deck from Planechase, but it fits here, as another way to use your opponent’s graveyard off Liliana’s discard and your removal. Now the deck is a bit more synergetic.

I hope you enjoyed today’s article. This has been fun to write, but a bit hard because every time I tried to work on it, something came up that delayed my writing. Anyway, it’s always nice for casual players to have a few extra decks for when that person shows up who invariably forgot their cards. Whether you build them yourself or buy them with things like this, it gives you more options. Enjoy, and I’ll catch you next week!

Until later…

Abe Sargent