Liliana Vess was one of the five original planeswalkers first printed in Lorwyn. Each planeswalker embodied their piece of the color pie and gave us our first look at what planeswalkers, other than ourselves, were really capable of in the multiverse. Liliana did exactly what we’ve come to know and love about black: discard, tutoring, and reanimation. While not as powerful or played as Garruk Wildspeaker and Jace Beleren, many people fell in love the dark necromancer nonetheless. She’s sexy, confident, powerful, and dangerous; get in her way and she’ll spare no time in laying you to waste. It’s no wonder Liliana Vess anagrams to ‘a villainess’ as that’s exactly who she is, an anti-hero who finds herself on both sides of the battlefield. If being driven and focused on her own goals means she’s labeled as a bad guy, she doesn’t want to be good.
Before Liliana was Liliana of the Veil, as we know her best today, she was a healer on her home plane of Dominaria. Her father was a ruler and general in the lands of Benalia. He provided a comfortable life for Liliana, with a large estate, wealth, and prestige. She had anything she could ever want or need, and yet she cared very little about any of it. The reputation of her family or their responsibilities didn’t concern her. While those responsibilities consumed her family’s time, she was able to do whatever she pleased in her own. Her rebelling attitude and promiscuous doings frustrated her father and kept those who looked after her constantly irritated, disappointed, and ashamed.
Lady Ana, a mentor and caretaker of Liliana, would do her best in giving Liliana some purpose and focus in her life. She sought to teach her everything there was to know about herbs, remedies, and healing. With Liliana’s father and brother dealing with wars and business, Liliana was left with little oversight and a new understanding of power. In her spare time she dabbled in dark magic and necromancy, innocently, as a means to further her abilities as a healer. The line between life and death was a gray area to her and no one was too far from saving.
Even while surrounded by war and the enemies of her father’s house, she never really felt the effects of the bloodshed taking place outside the estate, never understood the consequences of war. Until one particular evening, her father’s enemies brought her face to face with the carnage that was taking place in Benalia. Josu, Liliana’s brother, had been poisoned by their adversaries and was dying.
Lady Ana sent Liliana into the woods to collect the ingredients needed for a remedy, a root from the Esis Tree. In the woods, she was met by a man whom she referred to as the “Raven Man” who told her that the tree root she needed had been burned by her father’s enemies. Aware of Liliana’s abilities in dark magic, he persuaded her to use her limited knowledge of necromancy to find another cure. She had never considered using that kind of magic outside of her free time, but Josu was in trouble and running out of time. With the confidence instilled by the Raven Man, Liliana took the burned, dead, root of the Esis Tree and forms her own cure. A cure for life brewed from death, woven with dark magic, with a subtle golden glow. The medicine was powerful, perhaps even more powerful than the cure Lady Ana had originally intended to make.
Upon her return to the mansion, she finds Josu in great pain. Against her mentor’s better judgement, she gave the cure to Josu and his illness subsides for a brief, calm, relieving moment. At first she thought she had cured her brother… but as the calm moment passed, sudden pain and torment came over Josu before he took his last breath. She felt foolish for taking matters into her own hands, being naive, and not listening to Lady Ana. The Raven Man had made her feel confident she knew what she was doing, but it was clear she didn’t.
As she mourned beside his bed, her brother suddenly came to life and seized her with his cold hands and empty gaze. It seemed that not only had she killed him but she had cursed him to eternal torment. Josu, angry at what Liliana had done to him, grappled and fought her, cursing that she would also live in eternal torment with him for what she had done.
“Join me, Lili,” he said. “All the torment of the Void will be ours to share forever.”
The shock, shame, and emotional trauma of the moment ignited Liliana’s spark and, “…in her moment of utter desolation, something inside Liliana caught fire, a spark of infinite darkness, at once colder than the grip of death and hotter than the sun, dark and endless as the Void but eternally alive, an infinity of possibility, the power of creation itself…and annihilation.”
Her spark sent her through the multiverse as she planeswalks away from Dominaria, away from home, to the plane of Innistrad.
Liliana put the events of her brother behind her and continued to hone her skills in necromancy and black magic. She learned from the most powerful mages, vampires, and liches from across the multiverse, mastering death and wielding it with brute force. Even while surrounding herself with death, she was never willing to embrace it the way her lich mentors had. Her fear of spending eternity in torment with Josu still follows her.
Her powers are nearly omnipotent within her immortality; being a planeswalker has some nice perks. Her travels brought her into the presence of many powerful entities within the multiverse, including Sorin Markov while on Innistrad. On one particular journey, an envoy of angels sensed her dark magic and confronted her. She overpowered the angels with hordes of zombies and took the angel’s headdress for herself; a souvenir, a trophy, a testament to her abilities.
Her incredible power would not last forever though, as The Mending of Dominaria would weaken planeswalkers across the multiverse. The Great Mending, as it would come to be known, took place as the final rifts in time are healed. The rifts were originally caused by catastrophes, created mostly by the meddling of planeswalkers like Urza. These catastrophes created timeline anomalies and harmful side effects to those who encountered them. We can see the effects of these time rifts on cards that feature mechanics such as Split Second, Vanishing, and Suspend. When the last rift was healed, planeswalkers lost their God-like immortality and power. A mending for the plane, but a disaster for the planeswalkers.
Liliana began to age as her powers weakened. After a century of wielding death as a weapon, it seemed she would soon find herself in its grasp, with Josu. Her fear of Josu’s curse and the end of her life drove her to desperation. She wasn’t one to ask for help, but what else could she do? She went to the one being she thought could help, Nicol Bolas. Her fear of death and longing for immortality outweighed her independence and distaste for reliance.
Bolas decides to help Liliana recoup a fraction of the power she once had before the Mending.
Her soul, paid upon death.
While going into debt to anyone, especially Bolas, was not ideal, her need for youth and power was worth any cost, even her soul. Bolas brokered the deal with four powerful demons: Griselbrand, Razaketh, Belzenlok, and Kothophed. After going into contract with the first three demons, she felt herself become more powerful, as she was before, but she was still without youth.
Kothophed was the last demon she needed to meet with before the pact was complete. The demon toyed with Liliana, testing her, dangling her freedom in front of her face, and putting her in her place. He reminded her that he is more powerful than she will ever be, after-all, she is just a human. He threatened that any disobedience from her would result in her death.
Liliana put up a decent fight through Kothophed’s tests but the demon overwhelmed her in the end. After her defeat, he proceeded to rip her flesh from her body with “[…]one claw from the crown of her head to the toes of one foot, slicing deep, scraping against bone. She screamed. The incision made, the demon peeled back her age-worn skin, pulling it off her like a rabbit’s hide.” What was revealed to Liliana under her skin was not muscle or bone, but a smooth more youthful body lying beneath.
“If you ever get the idea of testing your strength against me,” the demon said, “I will slit you open again. But this time, there will not be a young and beautiful Liliana underneath.”
With his razor-sharp claw, Kothophed engraved the contract into Liliana’s new youthful skin, scarring her. A reminder of her debts to her new masters.
Liliana heeded the demon’s words but left feeling more powerful and energized than she had been in a long time. The pact was complete and she could continue her long life with youth, beauty, and the remnants of power she once held before The Great Mending.
In the years that followed, Liliana often found herself in the company of those who worked with Bolas, doing freelance work for Tezzeret’s Infinite Consortium. The group was a collection of mercenaries and planeswalkers who would travel the multiverse in search of powerful relics that could be hoarded, used, or re-sold. The Infinite Consortium had once belonged to Bolas until Tezzeret’s mutiny took hold of the mercenary group and supplanted himself at the helm. During her time doing work for the group, Liliana met Jace Beleren, a defector of the mercenary group.
The two had a troublesome affair that wasn’t exactly what we’d call a healthy relationship, though there was certainly a strong attraction. Jace doesn’t quite understand the subtlety of social interaction, being a mind mage that can see past white lies and fake smiles. Liliana on the other hand is 100% deception and never willing to lay all her cards on the table. Combined, the two make quite the duo of powerful misfits that love each other, even through their stark differences.
In the end though, Jace was ultimately betrayed by Liliana, as she put into motion a series of events orchestrated by Bolas that would lead to Jace confronting Tezzeret. Bolas’ promise for Liliana’s betrayal would free her from her Demonic Pact if Bolas could regain control of the Infinite Consortium. She loved Jace, but she hated servitude even more.
In defiance, Jace erased all memories of the group from Tezzeret’s mind and the Infinite Consortium dissolves without his leadership. Liliana and Bolas gain nothing, and Jace returned to Ravnica alone. Multiple times Liliana thought about running away with Jace to Ravnica, but her fear of his judgement for her betrayal and the punishment of the demon master’s she serves kept her at arm’s length.
After her time with Jace, Kothophed sent her on an errand to retrieve an artifact from the ruins of the ancient Onakke civilization on the plane of Shandalar. On her way to the sanctuary where the artifact resides, Liliana encountered some hostile beasts that kill her horse. In self-defense, she killed the beasts and continued into the ruins, unaware that her actions upset the local hunter Garruk.
Garruk found the evidence of her slaughter. Assuming the killer of the beast had no reason to do so, Garruk tracks down the killer of the animal he claims to be his own within his territory. He finally catches up to her and confronts her while she was deciphering the sanctuary, just as she was about to enter the main hall.
The two powerful planeswalkers entered the main hall and Garruk engaged Liliana. He summoned his beasts and attacked her with all his rage and bloodthirst. The Chain Veil lying before Liliana tempted her to use it against the brute. It whispered promises of power beyond her imagination.
“This Veil will mask your soul from those who would take it from you.”
“Conceal yourself beneath the Veil and make him come to you.”
“With the veil, you are no longer one in a million.”
“You are a million in one.”
She gave in to its pulsing aura and used it to unequivocally defeat Garruk. The surge of power ignited her scars with a neon purple as the current flowed through her.
The artifact left a feeling of rejuvenation. The power was incredible. She couldn’t resist but take it for a spin. Without mercy, without hesitation, sympathy, forgiveness, pity, or care, she decimated an entire fortress of men and left their bodies in piles.
Because she could.
She had only barely been bested by Kothophed during his tests and now with the Chain Veil by her side, she felt confident that she could overthrow the demon. She had gotten what she needed from Kothophed: youth, beauty, and power. She didn’t care to be enslaved to anyone any longer and now she had the tools to rid the demon’s shackles.
As an act of defiance she returned to Kothophed’s lair dawning the Chain Veil, more confident than she’d been in a long while. Before Kothophed could punish the rebellious planeswalker, Liliana unleashed the power of the Veil upon the demon and crushed him with ease. He tried to warn her of the consequences of using the Veil but she quickly shook off the words. What could be worse that being his slave?
Though the author of her scars had been defeated, they still remained. Even more, now they ached and bled. It seemed that the powerful surge from the Veil that illuminated her scars came at some cost after all. It was still nothing compared to the servitude she would have to endure under the thumb of her masters. The contract had not fully been undone while three of the four demons still lived on. With the Veil at her side, her quest to rid herself of her masters came into focus. Griselbrand was on Innistrad, and that’s where she went next.
It is at this point we are introduced to the powerful Liliana of the Veil. The original Liliana Vess had been printed 4 years prior and she was long over due for a new card. We see Liliana’s personality shine through a little bit more here than on her first card. Of course then, we didn’t really know who Liliana was and the card simply picked out some abilities synonymous with black. Now that we know Liliana a little bit better, we can better understand the flavor of her new card.
She’s no doubt a powerful ally to summon into battle, but don’t let that confuse you with friendship. Liliana has no friends and you are no different. She’ll strip resources from your opponent, but she’ll make sure you do the same without prejudice. There’s a cost for her allegiance in battle, Liliana doesn’t do anything for free. You can have her Cruel Edict your opponent, but this kind of demand will no doubt run her patience thin to the point of abandoning you in battle. She’s not really one to be taking orders and being bossed around. If you’re willing to let her consume resources from both you and your opponent for multiple turns, she’s willing to completely decimate your opponent’s board with her ultimate.
Liliana of the Veil is the most powerful Liliana planeswalker printed to date, which makes sense even from a storytelling perspective. Liliana is at her height of power with the Veil as it whispers promises of even more power with more use. She showed no signs of stopping, and with three demons left to slay, why would she?
Back on Innistrad, Liliana scoured the plane looking for clues as to Griselbrand’s whereabouts. After much investigating, she was led to the grave of Mikaeus the Lunarch. After recurring Mikaeus the Unhallowed, he informed her that Griselbrand is locked within the Helvault along with many other evil entities.
The Helvault was home to many things other than Griselbrand. It was a prison for all of Innistrad’s mischievous creatures and beings. They were imprisoned there by Sorin’s Avacyn, who was a holy creature that kept the balance of good and evil on Innastrad. Sorin wanted to ensure humans could survive on Innistrad, a plane filled with vampires, werewolves, and the undead. Their savior was Avacyn, who banished evil and locked them within the Helvault to protect the human population. Recently, she had gone missing. Unbeknownst to the population, she was injured, trapped within the Helvault with all those she had sent there.
As Liliana approached the Helvault, she crossed the path of a young women named Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. She was sworn to protect the Helvault at all cost. She didn’t fully understand what evil was ensnared there and didn’t know Avacyn had been trapped, but she did know that she took an oath to protect it.
Liliana’s undead army attacked Thalia’s regiments and through the power of the Chain Veil extinguished all hope of victory. Liliana gave Thalia an ultimatum:
“Either this shiny rock will be annihilated,” she says, “or your compatriots. The choice is yours.”
Thalia gave in to save the remnants of her army. She felt there was no point in protecting it anyway, they were already dealing with the horrors of Innistrad without Avacyn, what could be worse?
As the Helvault was destroyed, an explosion of holy light blows Thalia and Liliana back. Shadows and evil slithered out of the vault and disappeared into the darkness while Avacyn, Angel of Hope, rose into the sky. Rallying angels, reigniting the blessings of churches, chaplains, and holy relics, Thalia’s regiments had a renewed hope against the evil of the plane.
Liliana cared little about Avacyn and what her release meant to the people and was more focused on the now escaped Griselbrand. He had retreated from the fiasco to Ashmouth, where he hoped to bide his time and slowly regain his power by collecting the souls of foolish mortals. Little did he know that Liliana had stalked him to Ashmouth to confront him.
She was weak from her fight with Thalia’s army and the demolishing of the Helvault, but Griselbrand was also weak, Garruk was still on her trail, and time was of the essence. She surprised Griselbrand and took him off-guard. He knew she meant business and also knew he was in no position to fight her. He tried to promise her even more power but Liliana saw through his lies and the power of the Veil surged through her once more. The power was even more overwhelming than previous times and though she destroyed the powerful demon handily, it left her feeling more unsettled than relieved. The voices were growing louder and her scars turned a crimson red, filling with blood once again.
She began to wonder if she could control this power if she continued to use it and let it grow.
“….a million in one.”
While the Veil was no doubt the source of incredible power, enough to overthrow two demons, it was difficult to control and was taking its toll on her body and mind. Perhaps it was time to return it, along with all the voices and pain that came with it.
If you’re interested in reading any of Liliana’s stories mentioned in this article feel free to visit her home page here.
Continue Liliana’s story as she tries to rid herself of the powerful Veil in her Part 2 Segment.