History & Lore: Liliana of the Veil (Part 3)

History & Lore: Liliana of the Veil (Part 1)

History & Lore: Liliana of the Veil (Part 2)

 

Three months had come and gone since Emrakul’s defeat on Innistrad. The Gatewatch had since made Ravnica their home of operations. Gideon trained with Nissa and Chandra, Jace had Guildpact responsibilities, and Liliana….well, she simply did as she pleased.

Jace had put the word out to the multiverse, if there was trouble, they would come, and they would fight. It wouldn’t be long before the Gatewatch would pique the interest of those on other planes. One of those interested parties was Dovin Baan of Kaladesh. He was looking for help to stop the renegades who were disrupting his plane’s government.

The job didn’t really excite the Gatewatch until they had heard that Tezzeret was operating on the plane. Liliana and Jace were the last to see him before his memory was ruined and body left for dead. To hear that he was alive and well was unsettling.

The Gatewatch went to Kaladesh to try to uncover Tezzeret’s intentions and the events that transpired ultimately led to a confrontation between Liliana and Tezzeret. She uncovered his efforts to confiscate the Planar Bridge, an experimental portal that reminded Liliana of the old artifacts that were built early on in Dominaria’s history. The technology could bridge two planes together, a terrifying tool for invasions and interplanar travels. The two fought back and forth and soon Tezzeret revealed that he was working for Bolas. It seemed that Bolas was responsible for restoring Tezzeret’s mind and body as well as putting him to work on Kaladesh.

Liliana defeated Tezzeret and pried for information on the whereabouts of Bolas. With her heel on his throat, he struggled to mutter,

“R— Ra—”

“Razaketh,” he gasped.

Fear jolted through her at the name of her demon master.

“Amonkhet,” she said aloud. “He’s on Amonkhet.”

Before she could deliver the killing blow, an explosion interrupts her execution and Tezzeret takes the opportunity to escape.

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Art by Daarken

The Gatewatch regrouped with their new member, the powerful leonin planeswalker Ajani. They debated whether they should go straight to Amonkhet to try to take Bolas by surprise, or if they should try and gather more allies and information before their assault. Most favored going to Amonkhet immediately before Tezzeret could alert Bolas.

Ajani left to try to recruit more allies while the rest left for Amonkhet. What they found was a desert plane with a secluded paradise within a protective barrier. Past the barrier was a lush, vibrant, organized civilization. The Gatewatch immediately took notice of a huge monument built in the likeness of Bolas’s horns that could be seen from anywhere. In the beautiful city they found the undead working on new buildings, gods like those on Theros, but no sign of Bolas or Razaketh. It was hard to believe that such a beautiful place was the product of such a devious enemy. Liliana had only been here once before, when she was signing her contracts with her demon masters, but it wasn’t anything like she remembered.

Bounty of the Luxa

The undead servants were strange here, Liliana couldn’t control them and there seemed to be some kind of ambient necromancy keeping them in order. Perhaps this was the product of Razaketh? She sent two shades to try to find his whereabouts and while they were successful in finding evidence of his presence, her prodding also alerted him to her.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Gatewatch was trying to uncover the reason for Bolas’s interest in the plane. What they could find was that Amonkhet had a history and culture older than Bolas, but they had been corrupted by him. The gods couldn’t seem to remember what had happened before his intervention and the population seemed to look forward to his “glorious” return. The prophecy was stated that when the second sun would rest between the horned monument, the God-Pharaoh Bolas would return and the Gate to the Afterlife would open, revealing a paradise to those who earned it. It seemed that he had supplanted himself in their culture and mythology as a God to be worshiped.

The Gatewatch’s timing was impeccable as the second sun was forecasted to set within the horns shortly after their arrival. As it did, the Gate opened not to a paradise, but a harsh desert to the disappointment of those promised a heaven beyond its border. Not only was there no paradise, but Bolas also remained absent and a demon emerged in his stead. A heavy dark mist trailed its wings as it flew from the Gate and turned the lush river to blood. His curses would set in motion a series of plagues that would end with Bolas’s return to the plane. The prophecies had got it all wrong.

“Liliana,” it rumbled.

“I know you are here, Liliana Vess. You cannot hide from me.”

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Art by Jaime Jones

Razaketh forced Liliana to make her way to the Gate where he stood. He had complete control of her. She tried to convince herself that her involuntary movements were just a scare tactic, but fear became an inevitable emotion as she was forced to make herself known in the crowd.

“There you are.”

“Come to me.”

How was she supposed to defeat Razaketh when she couldn’t even control her own hands, couldn’t even reach for the Chain Veil. It was always her intention to use the Gatewatch to help defeat her demons, but she had hoped she would have had more time to earn their trust. She had no choice though, Razaketh could easily defeat her if he wanted. She spoke out to Jace in her mind, informing him of her location and to bring the Gatewatch.

Liliana continued in her involuntary trance towards the demon, through the river of blood, to the Gate. She nearly drowned walking across the bottom of the river to the other side and now the demon had her in his claws. Liliana continued to talk to Jace in her mind, trying to get him to hold off the Gatewatch until the right time when they could ambush the demon. The demon took great pleasure in toying with his disobedient servant.

Razaketh, the Foulblooded

“I apologize for the forcefulness, Liliana, but I love a dog who comes when she is called. And you’re a good dog, aren’t you?”

He held out a lazy finger and tapped it.

Liliana felt her head nod. Her muscles strained and cramped as she tried to resist the urge, but her head tipped forward . . . then back . . . forward . . . then back.

Razaketh smiled, putting his hand down. “Good.”

He went quiet and considered her for a moment. A smug look pulled at the scales of his face as he thought over his next command.

“Bark.”

“Woof,” Liliana replied in a tone that could ice over the sun.

After he was satisfied with her torment, he finally gave her an opportunity to speak, and she didn’t waste it,

“You have five more minutes to live,” Liliana said, voice dripping with resolution. “You will watch me as I kill you.”

The demon laughed her threat off and ridiculed Kothophed and Griselbrand for being stupid enough to fall at her hands. Liliana had stalled long enough and the Gatewatch was in the perfect position to attack. Chandra blasted the demon with fire and he released Liliana. Immediate relief came over her as she regained control of her body. She attempted to siphon mana for a spell before Razaketh could take notice and stop her.

“I don’t think so,” the demon roared, and Liliana felt her shoulder dislocate itself.

The rest of the Gatewatch joined in as Nissa summoned an elemental, Chandra continued to blast him with flames, Jace was trying to break his control on Liliana, and Gideon was extending his invulnerability magic to her while she shoved her shoulder back into place. Razaketh struggled to control Liliana while simultaneously fighting the other planeswalkers and soon found himself half charred and pinned to the banks of the river by the elemental. His control over Liliana was broken and she took her chance.

“Razaketh,” Liliana called.

“Watch me as I kill you.”

She awakened the massive amounts of death that lay at the bottom of the river; people, crocodiles, hippopotamus, snakes. She controlled all of them and commanded them to eat Razaketh alive. Nothing pissed Liliana off more than someone trying to control her and Razaketh would soon learn that lesson. The zombies shredded the demon apart while he screamed in pain. The carnage was brutal as the rest of the Gatewatch watched in awe and disgust. When the zombies were full she left what scraps remained drift down the banks of the river.

She had done it! And without having to use the Veil! Razaketh was dead and now there was only one more! One more demon and she could reclaim herself!

The Gatewatch had proven itself quite useful and she was giddy at the thought of using them again to kill Belzenlok. That would have to wait though, Bolas was coming, and while that fight may prove easier with Razaketh gone, it would still be a tough battle. To make matters worse, Liliana was completely exhausted and barely able to stand let alone fight such a formidable foe.

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“Hour of Devastation” by Simon Dominic

Bolas was huge, towering over the small band of planeswalkers. The fight wasn’t even close. One by one he dealt with each member of the Gatewatch with ease.

He penetrated Jace’s mind and began to take every ounce of his mind and consciousness; he had to planewalk away, or die. Jace’s screams rang in Liliana’s ears and it became apparent to her that the battle was lost before it had started. Chandra’s fire did nothing to the elder dragon, Nissa had no control over the ground that was loyal to Bolas, and Gideon didn’t have the strength to even make a dent in him. He mocked their pathetic attempts.

“That was your mind expert, I believe? Do you have a spare? I can wait, or I promise not to listen if you shout at each other.” 

The Veil called out to her begging her to use it against him, but she knew she shouldn’t. It had gotten to the point where every use meant possibly dying to its powerful surges. As if Bolas could hear the voices in her head, he combated them with his own promises.

“Do you know, Liliana, how to use the Chain Veil so that it doesn’t rupture your skin or drain you of life? Do you know how to make the spirits of the Onakke serve you as their master instead of seeking the destruction of your soul and body? I do, Liliana. I do. […] Yes, it’s a nasty weapon in the hands of the untutored. A testament to your power and skill that it hasn’t killed you already. But I can help you unlock its power, Liliana. Its true power. […] I promise you this: whether you use the Chain Veil or not, if you fight me today, you will die. I am a better telepath than your mind mage, more destructive than your fire mage, more powerful than your elementalist, a better general than your so-called tactician. That each of you has lived so long is merely a function of how useful you can be to me. […] Liliana. Go. Leave if you want to live. The safest place in the Multiverse is the place where I have use of you.”

She was disappointed in herself for letting his words unravel her malice towards him, but he was right. They weren’t going to win, and there was nothing to be gained by staying. She turned to the others, pleaded with them to leave, regroup, live to fight another day. They stared back angrily with disappointment, the battle had just began and she was giving up.

She turned back to Bolas, “Where  . . . where do you want me to go?”

“Away,” Bolas said. “Away. I will find you, and then we will talk. There are so many useful matters to discuss. Go now, Liliana Vess.”

Here she was again, betraying the few people she cared about for self gain, self preservation. She supposed in was inevitable, it’s the way it’s always gone. Their hurt was tangible and the wave of different emotions was not something she typically allowed herself to feel.

She surrounded herself in a glowing nimbus of dark energy and vanished into the void, her tears finally free to fall in the empty spaces between worlds.

Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh

Three remained. Bolas pulverized Chandra’s ribs and crushed her to the point where she was coughing up blood and on the verge of unconsciousness. She had no choice but to planeswalk away.

Two to go. He forced dark energy through the leylines Nissa wished to harness and they began to suffocate her. Without access to the leylines of the plane, she had no power. If it were not for a timely interjection from Gideon, giving her an opportunity to planeswalk away, she would have died.

One left. Bolas had perhaps the least respect for Gideon than anyone else in the group. He was a reckless leader and a horrible strategist, continuing to fight even after the battle was lost. Gideon carried himself so confidently that his arrogance was palpable.

One of Bolas’s talons began to glow as it pressed into the invulnerable shield protecting Gideon. The talon pushed, and pushed, and the shield parted like melted butter, the talon’s sharp point puncturing shield and armor and flesh alike.

Though he may have been content in dying in that moment, Bolas’s mockery gave him reason to live on, to prove him wrong, so he planeswalked away instead.

Now, none remained and Bolas was left to revel in his victory and destruction of the once beautiful paradise on Amonkhet.

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“Damnation” by Zack Stella

Gideon arrived in front of the others at the rendezvous point, Dominaria. Ajani had picked it but Liliana was quite happy with the choice. It lined up perfectly so that they could defeat Razaketh and then go straight to the plane where Belzenlok resided. First the Gatewatch would have to lick their wounds and regroup. Also, where was Jace?

They worried where he had gone, was he dead? Did he abandon them? Their frustration from defeat and Jaces absence turned to anger. Liliana tried to calm Nissa down, she needed the group to stay together and remain cohesive.

“It wasn’t a disaster; we killed Razaketh. The rest . . . We couldn’t have anticipated—”

Nissa snapped back at her; perhaps now was not the best time to mention her victory over her demon master.

Nissa’s anger snowballed into accusations,

“You got what you wanted and ran. You don’t care about defeating Bolas, you’re just using us to free yourself from your pact.”

Nissa persisted, “And why here?” She flung an arm out, gesturing to the dead marsh. “How do you want us to risk our lives for you here?”

Chandra and Nissa were putting the pieces together, “Your last demon is here, isn’t it, Liliana?”

She couldn’t defend herself, it was going to come up eventually if she wanted their help.

“Belzenlok is here.”

She tried to convince them that defeating the demon would unlock her ability to defeat Bolas, that it was a necessary step, but her words only hurt them further. Outraged, Nissa ended her watch, revoked her oath, and abandoned them. Chandra, hurt by Nissa’s actions, also left shortly thereafter.

Only Gideon remained, who believed that Liliana could help defeat Bolas without her demon’s shackles. He was injured though, and he needed rest.

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“Broken Bond” by Ryan Yee

They found a small inn at a nearly deserted town that looked to be in ruins. She found out that the Cabal, followers of Belzenlok, had taken this territory and with it all of the beauty she had remembered about the Caligo Forest and Benalia. She went out to find some herbs that could help Gideon heal and couldn’t help but visit the grounds of Vess Manor where she had grown up. To her surprise is was still in tact, run down, but still standing. It shouldn’t be though, it had been too long since being deserted to still stand. She wondered who was watching over it enough to keep it from crumbling, the Raven Man?

Returning to the inn she had a run in with some of the undead Cabal knights patrolling the area. The undead were easy to dispatch as she simply took control of them from their Cabal cleric. As she was about to destroy the last one, a voice whispered in her mind, different from that of the Raven Man and Onakke.

The Void awaits.

Josu?

An image of a lich passed before her mind and the lich’s face was that of Josu’s.

The Cabal cleric was mortally injured but Liliana interrogated nonetheless.

“Where is Josu? What has Belzenlok done to him?”

“He knew, our Demonlord, the Scion of Darkness, he knew you were coming! He has made your precious brother into his servant, the commander of his unholy forces!”

Belzenlok is using my own brother against me, Liliana thought.

“He serves our lord, he . . .” The cleric gurgled as blood filled his throat. He gasped, “The Void awaits,” and slumped lifeless on the pavement.

She still feared it, the Void, the damnation that Josu had cursed her to. The guilt and fear from that day, the day her spark ignited, still followed her. She had to unmake Josu and lay him to rest. That would undo his curse and would weaken Belzenlok’s army without a general. She would have to lure Josu to the manor, where the curse was born.

Gideon and Liliana convinced the general of Benalia’s forces to come together and meet at the manor to lure the Cabal. Liliana spoke to Josu in her mind to catch his attention and bring him to the front of the ranks. He was unrecognizable as a lich, but he recognized her instantly.

Josu Vess, Lich Knight

This was her chance, she had to act now while he was vulnerable. She called upon the Veil and sent a blast towards Josu. His lich-like appearance retreated and he suddenly became the brother she had remembered with pale skin and dark hair. His peace was short lived though as he began to crumble to dust. The curse was broken and the ruins of the manor began to crumble as well. She could barely stand, weak from the Veil’s use.

“Josu, it’s all right. It’s over. The curse of the House of Vess is ended.”

“It cannot end, Liliana. Not while you still live.”

“What do you mean?”

What was left of his lips formed a sneer. “You destroyed the House of Vess, Liliana”

 “Josu, I wasn’t here—”

“Of course you weren’t.” Josu’s voice strengthened, even as his body failed. “What do you think happened after you left? They died. All of them. Father tried to lay me to rest. I killed him myself. Mother took our sisters away, searching for a cure for me. And searching for you. She thought you lived, thought you’d been stolen away. She followed a rumor of magic that could save me and the journey killed her. Others took up the burden, our sisters, our cousins, trying to stop me, to destroy me. All of them died.” He was fading now, fragments of his body disappearing into windblown dust. “You killed me. You killed them. It is you, Liliana. It will always be you. You are the curse of the House of Vess.”

And he was gone.

The words shook her, they were hard to digest, hard to swallow. What made it worse was that Gideon was there to hear it all as well, to see her in such a vulnerable state. Sadness and disbelief turned to anger and rage. Belzenlok would pay for using her brother the way he had, “If I must be a curse, then let me be Belzenlok’s!”

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“Final Parting” by Eric Deschamps

The rest of the battle was easily handled as the Cabal forces quickly scattered without their general. Afterward, Gideon and Liliana made their way to the city, where the Gatewatch was set to meet with Ajani after their fight with Bolas. It wouldn’t be long before a massive sky ship descended from the heavens upon them, the Weatherlight.

Ajani was disappointed, but not surprised to hear about their defeat on Amonkhet. Ajani was one of the firm opposers to the plan, and blamed Liliana and her distracting demons. Regardless of how things unfolded, they were down three planeswalkers and so he left in an effort to find more. Gideon and Liliana were left in the hands of the Weatherlight crew and its mission to overthrow the Cabal and save Dominaria from Belzenlok.

The Weatherlight had picked up some worthy inclusions to their crew as they made preparations: the time mage Teferi, Urza’s creation Karn, the legendary pyromancer Jaya Ballard, and even Chandra, who had returned to Dominaria looking for Jaya. The plan was to use Teferi’s time magic to help Gideon and Chandra infiltrate the Cabal Stronghold and find the Blackblade in their treasury. The blade was a soul siphoner that consumed the souls of those it slayed. The more it siphoned, the more powerful it was to wield, and it had already absorbed the soul of an elder dragon. Once the Blackblade was found, the rest of the Weatherlight would attack from the outside while Gideon and Chandra wreaked havoc from within. After the Cabal forces were distracted and weakened, Gideon would confront Belzenlok with the Blackblade and destroy him with it.

Blackblade Reforged

Before they could reach the Cabal, Jace planeswalked aboard the Weatherlight. He seemed hurried but even more importantly, he was alive. He explained that Bolas was preparing a trap for planeswalkers and tried to recruit as many as he could. They decided to stay and help Liliana instead, proclaiming that it would be more beneficial if she could help at her full power. Jace, disappointed and untrusting of Liliana, leaves to find and help Ajani.

Cabal Stronghold

The plan was executed well as Gideon and Chandra had found the weapon thanks to Teferi’s time magic. The Weatherlight crew, along with Liliana, overpowered the Cabal with thousands of undead that had laid just beneath the surface of the battle worn soil.

Gideon drew the Blackblade and met Belzenlok in the courtyard and caught his attention.

“I smell Planeswalker. Who are you?”

Gideon didn’t hesitate. “I’m Gideon Jura. I came here with Liliana Vess to kill you.”

Belzenlok bared his fangs again in a grin. “You. The Gatewatch. I know what’s planned for you. It almost seems a shame to kill you now. Almost.” Belzenlok lunged forward.

The two fought but Gideon was unable to pierce the demon with the powerful weapon. Liliana would soon catch up to them and their duel, but she was far too weak to engage while she still held control over the undead army that was fighting the Cabal. The best she could do was distract him. She ridiculed, belittled, and tempted him to try to break his focus. Gideon lunged at every opportunity he could find but Belzenlok was fast and strong.

Demonlord Belzenlok

He swatted Gideon like a fly and Gideon released the Blackblade from his grip. The weapon caught in Belzenlok’s hide but it wouldn’t siphon his soul without a wielder. As Belzenlok went to finish Gideon off, Liliana went for the hilt, grabbed it, and the dark energy soared through her. The incredible power of the weapon rendered Belzenlok paralyzed as Liliana drained him of his life and trapped it within the blade. Belzenlok’s body withered and collapsed onto itself until the blade released what was left of him; a pile of flesh, ash, and horns.

“You should have left Josu alone.”

She was exhausted but she felt incredible at the same time. She was victorious and she was finally free. Excitement quickly led to confusion at the sight of her still remaining scars, but perhaps they would always be a reminder of what had been done, regardless of whether the demons that had inscribed them were dead.

Belzenlok was defeated, the Cabal had been overthrown, Dominaria was safe, and Liliana was free. The Weatherlight crew celebrated their victory but there was still much work that needed to be done. The crew became the guardians of Dominaria and not just its saviors, while the Gatewatch left to help Jace. Teferi took his oath and joined the Gatewatch against Bolas. Karn decided to help against Bolas, but would not take the oath, as he had other priorities that he would need to attend to afterward.

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Art by Tyler Jacobson

It was time to part ways, to go help Jace, Ajani, and the others.

Carrying the Blackblade, Gideon glanced around at them all and said, “Are we ready?”

Everyone nodded and began to planeswalk away, following Gideon’s lead.

Liliana watched the others leave but remained behind. Confusion and panic followed. She had meant to follow him. Why couldn’t she? Had she lost her spark? Perhaps the power of the Blackblade or the Chain Veil had damaged her ability to planeswalk.

Then she saw the dust in the court rise and swirl into a whirlwind. A dark form grew at the center of the maelstrom. “No,” she breathed, as sick realization settled on her like iron chains. “Oh, no.”

Nicol Bolas materialized out of the darkness, his huge scaled dragon form looming over her, the sheer weight of his presence drawing all the light and air out of her world.

“You really should have read the details of your pact more closely, Liliana. You seem unaware that with your demons dead, your contract defaults to its broker. Me.”

Everything.

All of her victories over her demons, her betrayals, manipulations, triumphs and trials were all leading her here, to be Bolas’s slave. She was furious, disappointed in herself, and filled with sorrow. Perhaps she would simply disobey, abstain. He replied to her thoughts as if she had said them out loud.

“No. If you disobey my orders in any way, the pact will kill you. You will age hundreds of years in a moment, a desiccated husk to be blown away on the wind.”

Maybe that was okay. Maybe that was better than facing the Gatewatch on Bolas’s side. Maybe that was better than being under Bolas’s thumb. Perhaps death would free her from her prison once and for all.

No.

She couldn’t. Not while she had the will to fight. There had to be a way out. There had to be a way to be free. One day, she would be free, but that day was not today.

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“In Bolas’s Clutches” by Zack Stella

If you’re interested in reading any of Liliana’s stories mentioned in this article feel free to visit her home page here.

Play Patterns: Building A Consistent Manabase

By Guest Author FlyingDelver

 

The printing of Assassin’s Trophy has given a breath of fresh air to GBx decks, and their popularity is growing. In GBx decks, there is a lot of wiggle room when it comes down to which spells you want to run, and how many copies to run. However, when people are discussing decklists, I often hear these sorts of arguments:

Risk Factor is not a card you want in Jund.”

“You certainly want to have Tasigur over Bob in Rock.”

Anafenza is too narrow to run in Abzan.”

Ultimately, when talking about decklists, it is way less useful and constructive to talk about exact numbers of spells since all of those things might be tied to a certain metagame and personal preference. GBx is an archetype which wins on thin margins, and a big aspect of this is making educated hedges for your metagame. So is it really useful to convince somebody that two Kolaghan’s Command are better than one without any metagame awareness? What we can break down to a science is the way a manabase should be built to satisfy the color requirements of the cards you want to play. This should be the first and foremost focus upon reflecting on existing decklists.

Every GBx player has been in a position where they’ve died with a ton of spells in hand. In that moment, it didn’t matter if you had two Kolaghan’s Command in your deck or one, because the deck didn’t function. It may have been because it didn’t curve out well, or stumbled, and inconsistent manabases can be at fault for this. The way to ensure this does not happen is to have a consistent deck, and a consistent deck is fundamentally defined by the manabase.

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“Liliana, the Last Hope” by Anna Steinbauer

I follow the rules which Frank Karsten has given us concerning mana sources, mana count, and mana curve. Magic is a game of strategy and statistics, and the latter is particularly important when deck building.  Frank Karsten does a great job of breaking that down in his articles here and here.

When it comes to examining statistics in deck building, the differences can be extremely small, to the point where they’re almost indiscernible, but GBx decks operate on those extremely thin margins. The point is to gain every single competitive edge, no matter how insignificant it may seem. The punishment for stumbling is much harsher in today’s modern, and that is why it is so important to focus on the little details. You should play with this mantra in mind: If you stumble, you lose.

Jund

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“Thoughtseize” by Aleksi Briclot

There are always certain requirements for a Jund manabase which will never change from a mathematical point of view (the bold numbers represent the highest requirement for each respective color):

These are normally the limiting factors for the color requirements of a Jund manabase, so this should be the basis from which we build our decks. We should fulfill these requirements in order to maintain as much consistency as possible.

There are other factors  to consider as well. The exact number of lands to run in a Jund deck is a big debate going on in the community with some feeling 24 lands is correct and others 25. I think the answer is rather simple:it depends on the curve of your deck.

If you run only a few one-mana spells, but many two and three-mana spells, as well as a several four-drops, you want to play 25 lands. This way, you’ll have a higher chance of hitting land-drops four and five on a consistent basis. This should allow you to curve out so that spells don’t jam up in your hand and ensure that you get the most value out of your mana and spells. If you have a clunky mana-curve, you need to make sure you run an appropriate land count.


The rule is simply this:

If you run 10-11 one-mana spells, seven three-mana spells and a playset of four-mana spells, then you want to run 25 lands.
If you run 12-13 one-mana spells, six to seven three-drops and three to four four-drops, you can be fine with 24 lands.

DO NOT cross this line with 24 lands. I once saw a list running four Bloodbraid Elf and seven to eight three-drops in a 24 land manabase. This is greedy as hell.

The land count is also intertwined with the amount of creature lands and other potential tapped lands. The rule is simply:

When you run 24 lands, play three creature lands. When you play 25 lands, play four creature lands.

Creature lands in particular can be awkward or even devastating in an aggro matchup. You don’t want them to hinder your curve early on. The only exception to playing four creature lands in a 24 land manabase is IF and only IF you expect a heavy midrange or control meta. Since games go longer in these matchups the extra creature lands don’t hurt you as badly.

Here is the manabase shell that you can play around with:

The number ranges can be explained by this:

The Twilight Mire substitutes the ninth fetchland (Bloodstained Mire), so you have to decide between those two. When you run two Swamps and two Forests, run a fetchland distribution of four Verdant Catacombs, two to three Bloodstained Mire and two Wooded Foothills. When you play two Swamps, one Forest and one Mountain, choose four Verdant Catacombs, three to four Bloodstained Mires and one Wooded Foothills as your fetchlands.

Now with this recipe in mind, let’s look at a couple of different examples.

Example1

This version contains 18 black sources, 18 red sources and 18 green sources (17 green if you don’t run the 25th land in the form of Treetop Village). So this manabase is perfect if you want to play Anger of the Gods in the sideboard and also pretty good when you want to play Finks as well (for the 25 lands build).

You run no basic Mountain, which means you are a bit weak to Field of Ruin (FoR), but a basic Mountain is pretty awkward to have in the opening hand, so your opening hands are better without it.

You run the ninth fetchland which means you’ll have the required consistency for the red sources, but more fetchlands means more pain from your manabase. Overall, this manabase is really consistent but is weak to aggro and FoR.

Example2

This version contains 18 black sources, 18 red sources and 17 green sources (16 if you run 24 lands and 17 if you run 25 lands, again the cut is the Treetop Village). This manabase is also perfect if you run Anger in the board, but can’t quite support Finks.

You run a basic Mountain, which means you have better game against FoR decks and also have a good pain-free red source to fetch against aggro. Basic mountain can reduce the quality of opening hands though.

You only run eight fetchlands with a Twilight Mire in place of the ninth fetch. This really helps illustrate what a more pain-free manabase can look like. Against aggro decks this matters but similar to the Mountain, Twilight Mire can be awkward in opening hands. This manabase does lack a bit of fulfillment for Finks, but overall it’s probably the most pain-free way to build it in an aggro-driven meta.

You can weigh these two example manabases against each other and even experiment with numerous variations in between like these:

 

Land combination
Effect
Mana sources
2 Forests + 9th fetchland
high consistency, weak to FoR, painful
18 black, 18 red, 17-18 green
1 Forest, 1 Mountain + 1 Twilight Mire
lower consistency, strong against FoR, pain-free, nonbo with Damping Sphere
18 black, 18 red, 16-17 green
2 Forest + Twilight Mire
average consistency, weak to FoR, rather pain-free, nonbo with Damping Sphere present
18 black, 17 red, 17-18 green
1 Forest, 1 Mountain + 9th fetchland*
average consistency, strong to FoR, rather pain-free
18 black, 19 red, 16-17 green

*This version is a very special one, as you can potentially run a Treetop Village in a 24 land manabase here. Since you have 19 red sources naturally, you can just exchange one Ravine (going down to two copies) and bring in a Treetop Village. You go down to 18 red sources that way, which is still enough to cast Anger out of the board. This is another route to take if you want Anger, but still want 24 lands and Treetop all together.

Rock

600x350xassassins-trophy-banner.jpg.pagespeed.ic.SG-TeO34Zo
“Assassin’s Trophy” by Seb McKinnon

The basic theory applied to Jund also applies to Rock as well. Here are the typical mana requirements for a Rock manabase (the bold number represents the highest requirement for a given color):

  • 18 black sources for Liliana on turn 3.
  • 18 green sources for Finks in the Sideboard.
  • 14 black sources for Discard/Fatal Push on turn 1.
  • 14 black and 14 green sources (in addition to having at least 21 lands that either produce green or black) for a turn 2 Decay/Trophy.
  • 13 black and 13 green sources (in addition to having at least 20 lands that either produce green or black) for Maelstrom Pulse.
  • 13 green sources for a turn 2 Goyf.
  • 16 black sources for a turn 4 Damnation.
  • 16 green sources for a turn 4 Thrun/Baloth etc.

The limit of this manabase is the 18 black sources and then depending on which green cards you run, between 14 and 18 green sources. Most Rock decks want to run Field of Ruin, which is obviously great, but you need to be aware that FoR does not count as a mana source for any card with CMC one through three. This means FoR does not help with casting Liliana on turn three, making the manabase really tight.

The creator of Rock, Sol Malka, does not advocate for running FoR at all, but rather Ghost Quarter. His reasoning is that he builds his deck with the understanding that it’s not a Tireless Tracker deck. He doesn’t care about getting up to five or six lands. It also lets him interact with opposing lands for one mana instead of three, and that can be very relevant against Tron. Also, since UW Control plays both FoR and Paths, you will be out of basics quickly making your own FoRs worse. His point is that when you are not trying to go as large (four Trackers), you should play Ghost Quarter, but this is still up for debate.

One difference between the Jund rules and Rock rules for manabases is that Rock decks have always been able to run four creature lands, regardless of whether they have 24 or 25 lands. The reason for this is that the manabase is overall not really painful. You can afford to fetch for basics more often and rely less on your creature lands for mana fixing. Of course, they are still important considerations since they can hinder your ability to cast spells on curve by entering the battlefield tapped. The overall shell for a Rock manabase should be the following:

  • 4 Verdant Catacombs
  • 0-2 Black Fetchlands
  • 4 Blooming Marsh
  • 3-4 Field of Ruin / Ghost Quarter
  • 3-4 Swamp
  • 2 Forest
  • 2-3 Hissing Quagmire
  • 2 Overgrown Tomb
  • 1-2 Treetop Village
  • 1 Twilight Mire

If you play 24 lands, then only run three FoR/GQ. You can’t get to 18 black sources otherwise. If you play 25 lands, then you can run four FoR/GQ or a fifth black fetchland. When you run the fourth FoR/GQ, then you have to run three Hissing Quagmires in order to maintain 18 black sources. If you run the fifth fetchland you can run a 2/2 split of creature lands while also achieving 18 green sources. If you run Ghost Quarter in general, you can play a fetchland instead of the fourth Swamp, which generates another green source.

So basically, the best manabase for a 24 land build is as follows:

Example1Rock

This manabase runs 18 black sources and 17 green sources. You basically don’t have much wiggle room here. This manabase only loses a smidge of consistency when it comes to casting Finks. You can get away with that by playing a bunch of Dark Confidants, which can help dig for lands, in conjunction with Twilight Mire which can produce double green from a swamp. In that sense it kinda feels like 17.5 green sourcesand since Kitchen Finks is usually in the sideboard, it’s admissible.

When it comes to 25 land manabases, you have two options:

The first is to have four FoR instead of three. You’ll have the same amount of black and green sources while maximizing your FoRs; it’s also the most pain-free version.

The other thing you can do is add a fifth fetchland instead. This is a way to achieve 19 black sources and 18 green sources so that everything gets cast easily. However, the extra fetchland makes your manabase slightly more painful.  You also now have the freedom to change one Quagmire into a second Treetop. This would net you 18 black and 18 green, which is perfect.

Here are some other variations that you can experiment with that consist of 25 lands:

Land combination
Effect
Mana sources
4 FoR/GQ + 4 fetchlands + 3 Quagmire
average consistency, pain-free
18 black and 17 green
3 FoR/GQ + 5 fetchlands + 3 Quagmire
very high consistency, painful
19 black, 18 green
3 FoR/GQ + 5 fetchlands + 2 Quagmire + 2 Treetop
high consistency, painful, stronger creature land power
18 black, 18 green

Abzan

lingering-souls
“Lingering Souls” by John Stanko.

The last GBx deck I want to talk about is Abzan. The principles of building a good manabase with Abzan are the same as Jund and Rock. Here are the typical required manasources for Abzan (the bold number represents the highest requirement for the colour):

  • 18 black sources for Lilianas.
  • 14 black sources for turn 1 Discard/Push.
  • 14 green and 14 black sources (in addition to having at least 21 lands that either produce green or black mana) for a turn 2 Decay/Trophy.
  • 13 green sources for a turn 2 Goyf.
  • 12 white sources for a turn 3 Lingering Souls.
  • 14 white sources for a turn 1 Path to Exile.
  • 16 white sources for a turn 4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.

So depending on what exact cards you play, your white source requirement can actually be really different. You are fine with 18 black sources and 14 green sources pretty much all of the time, but white is not clearly definable. It depends on how heavy your white splash will be. There is the option to only splash for Lingering Souls and sideboard cards,and then there are versions like Abzan Traverse that splash more heavily for cards like Path to Exile.

The required amount of white sources needed when building an Abzan deck that is only splashing white for Souls and sideboard cards would be 12. However, some people are also running a couple of Paths in their lists. For them, I would crank the requirements up to 14 sources. Since the best versions include Tireless Tracker as a top end threat, you should be playing 24 lands. Builds with 25 lands are pretty uncommon to run in Abzan, as there are not many four drops that are popular enough to support in the maindeck. Cards like Siege Rhino see play, but it’s usually only a one-of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar played in sideboards. Here is the basic recipe for an Abzan manabase:

Most of the time three creature lands in a 24 land manabase will be best. As for the basics, there is not much wiggle room. If you don’t run Path, you can theoretically run a 2/2 split of Swamps and Forests, but beyond that, the extra Plains is needed as a white source for Path. So this would mean a 2/1/1 split of Swamp/Forest/Plains.

 

As for the fetchlands, the distribution should be the same as Jund. If you run two Swamps and two Forests, then run four Catacombs, three Marsh Flats and two to three Windswept Heath. If you run two Swamps, one Forest and one Plains, then run four Catacombs, four Marsh Flats and one to two Windswept Heath. Also note that we do not run less than nine fetchlands. This is due to Tracker being way more impactful with more fetchlands. If you opt for more Blooming Marshes, then you need to run nine fetchlands. Otherwise, you can run upwards of 10.

Example1Abzan

This build has 20 black sources, 18 green sources and 14 white sources. This list is capable of casting anything except for maybe Gideon out of the sideboard. This version is fine if you don’t want Gideon or other white cards, as it’s rather pain-free when you run three fastlands. There are two adjustments you can make if you want:

You can run a 2/2 split of basics. That way you can play 10 fetchlands to obtain white consistently when you don’t need white for Path.
Or, you can keep the Plains and go back down to one Forest instead. This would increase the white count to 15, which will enable you to cast white cards like Gideon.

Here are some possible variations to play around with.

Land combination
Effect
Mana sources
9 fetchlands + 2/1/1 split of basics + 3 Blooming Marsh
high consistency, pain-free
20 black, 18 green and 14 white
10 fetchlands + 2/1/1 split of basics + 2 Blooming Marsh
very high consistency, rather painful
20 black, 18 green and 15 white
9 fetchlands + 2/2 split of basics + 3 Blooming Marsh
high consistency, rather pain-free
20 black, 19 green and 13 white
10 fetchlands + 2/2 split of basics + 2 Blooming Marsh
very high consistency, painful
20 black, 19 green and 14 white
TraverseArt
“Traverse the Ulvenwald” by Vincent Proce.

Of course, there are some key differences to building an Abzan Traverse manabase. When it comes down to these kind of builds, the important thing to mention is that they typically run three Traverse the Ulvenwald and four Mishra’s Bauble. For that reason, 19-20 lands is usually sufficient. Traverse itself is counted as an actual land in this build, which increases the land count to 22-23; four cantrips adds another, making a total of 23-24 lands (cantrip rule of thumb: about four cantrips being played in a deck means you can run one less land). Here are the typical mana requirements for cards that are run in Traverse builds (the bold numbers represent the highest requirements for each respective color):

  • 18 black sources for Lilianas.
  • 14 black sources for turn 1 Discard/Push.
  • 14 green sources for turn 1 Traverse.
  • 14 green and 14 black sources (in addition to having at least 21 sources that produce green or black) for turn 2 Decay/Trophy/Grim Flayer.
  • 13 green sources for turn 2 Goyf.
  • 14 white sources for turn 1 Path.
  • 12 white sources for turn 3 Souls.

With this in mind, the recipe for this build looks like the following:

  • 8 Fetchlands
  • 2 Overgrown Tomb
  • 1 Godless Shrine
  • 1 Temple Garden
  • 2 Blooming Marsh
  • 4 Shocks
  • 1-2 Creature lands

Here, the manabase is very tight and again there is not much wiggle room. You have to run the basic split of two Swamps, one Forest and one Plains because you want to grab every color basic with Traverse the Ulvenwald. Otherwise, you can’t count it as a white mana source. The only real wiggle room is the choice of playing 19 or 20 lands, and typically, a second creature land counts as the difference.

Here is a possible manabase you can build in Abzan Traverse:

Example1Traverse.png
The 20th land to play is the Shambling Vent. Overall, this adds up to 19-20 black sources, 19 green sources and 15-16 white sources. Note that these numbers are very high, but they aren’t 100% consistent like actual lands. The three Traverses are counted as all three color sources, but won’t add anything to turn one plays and the same goes for Bauble. The requirements for the turn one plays (now excluding the traverses and baubles) are 15 black sources, 14 green sources and 11 white sources. So we can see, the manabase is quite dependent on the Bauble and Traverse package to function. Without it, you can only cast Path consistently on turn three (which you may want anyway). With this in mind, the addition of the 20th land does not quite help with the turn one plays, but does help to curve out better when no Traverse is involved. It helps to reach a higher consistency and makes the manabase less dependent on Traverse for mana fixing.

 

Marsh small
“Blooming Marsh” by Adam Paquette.

Next time you evaluate a deck, instead of looking at how many Dark Confidants they’re playing or whether they have Leyline of the Void in the sideboard, look at the manabase, and whether they’re playing the appropriate amount of colored sources for their spells. Remember that the spells are always tied to expected metagame whereas the manabase is not. The manabase is tied to the spells being played. Help other GBx aficionados increase their consistency and deck performance by following the guidelines. Thin margins are important and as I said earlier, you don’t want to stumble because when you stumble, you lose.

Cheers,

-FlyingDelver

 

 
FlyingDelver is deeply involved in the G/Bx Modern community as the author of MtGSalvation primers for Jund, Abzan, G/B Rock, as well as the administrator for the G/Bx Midrange Discord, and part of the administrative team for the G/B Rock Facebook page. Please find relevant links in the external resources section. You can support FlyingDelver through his Patreon page.