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

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

Shandalar.

Liliana had been here twice before. The first was when she encountered The Chain Veil and the dangerous hunter Garruk. The second was when she returned shortly thereafter to try to uncover more information about the Veil. The endeavor ultimately ended in failure as she learned very little about the Onakke, was chased by a riot, and an encounter with the Raven Man only made the matters more confusing.

That information was unnecessary now. The Veil had no doubt proved itself powerful by granting Liliana the means to kill both Kothophed and Griselbrand, but had also been a heavy burden to bear. The power that surged through her body and illuminated her scars left her feeling weak and the voices in her head were becoming louder and more frequent. It was time to return it.

“You’ll take me there, won’t you?” she said. The whispers rose just to the edge of her hearing before she quashed them again.

“…where the seed took root…”

She walked, and soon enough—as she had expected—a sort of pressure behind one eye steered her to the right.

The voices guided her and she began to recognize places she had been before. Hoof prints where she had killed the beast that Garruk sought to avenge. The crumbling ruins of the temple that had housed the Veil and the setting for Garruk’s curse.

As she approached the temple an angel intervened, warning her to stay back. The angel seemed to recognize the Veil resting on Liliana’s side.

Liliana wasn’t one to head warnings, especially from angels. She’d killed many angels before, and this one would be no different. With ease she blasted it with dark magic and with her dying words the angel muttered,

“The Onakke…..vessel.”

Liliana was taken aback by the words and the voices grew to a loud roar that sent her to her knees. When she arose, she saw that her surroundings had changed. The land was younger, there were buildings, and there were Onakke ogres walking around a town. The business of the day’s errands supplanted the voices in her head. Suddenly an ogre ran out of the forest and into the town square, clamoring what seemed like warnings to the others citizens. The ogre fell to the ground and melted into a black smear of bones and soot. Chaos ensued as the citizens ran in a panic. A dark purple fog filled the town and meteors fell out of the sky. Any person that came into contact with the smoke met the same fate as the first. Before her eyes, she witnessed the massacre of an entire civilizations in just a few brief moments. A raven landed on a building near her, stared at her, and was the first thing to take notice of her. The Raven Man. She shot a blast of dark magic at it and she was suddenly pulled out of her vision.

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“Damnation” by Kev Walker

She saw the ancients forest again, the dead angel, and the crumbling temple before her. She was in awe of the destruction she had witness, almost admiring it, but also wanted more than anything to return the Veil. It was bad enough to hear their voices let alone be thrown into visions of them.

She entered the temple and approached the alter, the voices were growing louder.

“Trust me, I’ve tasted its power. It’s really something. Great work… But I seem to have killed two masters and taken on a million more,” she said. “I’m not your damned vessel.”

She let the Veil slide to the edge of her hand and turned away to leave. To her disbelief she looked down and saw the Veil still in hand, thinking she had set it on the altar. She held it out in front of her to drop it but her hand refused to loosen its grip. She tossed it hand to hand but could not let go.

“Stupid hands! Don’t you know who’s in charge here?”

She walked over to an Onakke skeleton and animated it. She demanded it take the Veil from her and it obeyed despite her body’s objection. She then ordered it to take the Veil to the altar but it refused to move. She decided that if it wouldn’t leave her, she would leave it, and quickly took the life that was animating it. As it crumbled to the floor it lunged at her and draped the Veil on her outstretched arm. She fell to her knees defeated.

Another Onakke skeleton approached her without the need for her reanimation magic. Muscles, organs, and skin began to envelope the skeleton until she saw an Onakke ogre as if it were alive and well. She tried to dispatch it but it seemed to ignore her attacks and feel no pain. It spoke to her,

“The root has not yet come to full flower in you, vessel.”

“What root?”

“The root that was planted in you so many years ago, when you killed your brother.”

The mention of her brother angered her and she attacked it once again begging it to take the Veil from her. The ogre refused, further explaining that when the time was right, she would bring forth the destruction she carried within. He scolded her for damming others to the void while cheating death herself. At the mention of her brother again she called upon the Chain Veil to finally quell the spirit. She had to get out of here, anywhere other than Shandalar.

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“Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient” by Slawomir Maniak

It had been a long time since Liliana had seen Jace, but there weren’t that many people she could go to for help, and she knew she needed it. She tracked down Jace to Ravnica where he had become an important figure among the guilds. Her presence caught him off guard. The last time they had seen each other, Liliana had betrayed Jace at the behest of Bolas. Though he was suspicious, he still let her into his house. She tries to convince him that her visit is to simply repair the relationship they had before; that their was no ulterior selfish motive. After some probing into the whereabouts of Garruk and the effects of the Veil, the two begin to heal old wounds.

Just as they began to enjoy each other’s company their dinner date was interrupted by Gideon. His interruption annoyed the party but quickly caught Jace’s curiosity when he mentioned Zendikar. His news that Zendikar’s defenses were falling to the Eldrazi alerted Jace to the severity of the situation. Gideon urged Jace to come with him and help him defend Zendikar against the titans. Liliana, having been ignored this whole time, pushed them aside and went her way.

Sensing she was hurt, Jace pursued her and tried to inform her of the situation, that he may be partially responsible for the release of the Eldrazi and that it was his responsibility to fix it. He tried to convince her to come and help or at least wait for his return on Ravnica. She couldn’t. She had a mission, a mission she would put before Jace and especially before Gideon, whom she likened to stupid angels. She still had two demons to kill and she wasn’t going to accomplish that by running off to Zendikar. She pressed on and let Jace go with Gideon; she was alone again.

Gideon, Champion of Justice

She roamed the streets of Ravnica, regretting her decision to hold back from asking for help. Perhaps if she had, Jace would not have left and instead would have chosen to stay with her. Did he know what the Veil was doing to her? Her bind to it? Could he hear the voices in her head?

As her walk continued, the amount of ravens amidst the building tops became apparent.

The Raven Man.

“All right, Raven Man,” Liliana said. “Enough of your games.”

At once the Raven Man appeared out of a flurry of feathers and smoke. He mocked her poor condition with a disingenuous offer to help but she ignored him. She poked and prodded, hoping to unveil some new information about who he was and what his mission entailed. Obviously she had been a part of it since her time on Dominaria, before her spark, but to what end? She didn’t enjoy feeling like a pawn in a game she didn’t understand.

He gave her no answers, and only continued to provoke her by pointing out her unfortunate situation: She needed the Veil to finish off the other two demons, but the Veil was killing her with every use. She was trapped.

“You’re accustomed to corpses that are bound to your will. You’re accustomed to using death as a weapon. But death is coming for you, Lili. Death you can’t control. It is growing inside you, and there is nothing you can do.” 

Her annoyance led her to finally attacking the Raven Man with the Veil, sending the ravens back into the abyss. The Raven Man had disappeared, her arms were bleeding, and once again she was alone. Frustrated with Jace and her lack of progress on Ravnica, she planeswalked away.

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Art by Adame Minguez

While the events on Zendikar were taking place, Liliana returned to Innistrad to see if any of its most accomplished giestmages, specialist in the magic of spirits, could rid the Chain Veil of the Onakke. After the Eldrazi’s defeat on Zendikar, Jace would once again find himself in the presence of Liliana, except this time the roles were reversed. This time Jace was on Innistrad, approaching Liliana for help. He was looking for Sorin, Lord of Innistrad, who had abandoned his responsibilities of guarding the once imprisoned Eldrazi titans. She tried to keep him from finding Sorin and going to Markov Manor, but Jace was annoyingly insistent, and would go whether she helped or not.

Jace, Unraveler of Secrets

After much investigating on the plane, Jace returns with an uneasy demeanor. He attempts to use his mind magic on Liliana to test the knowledge he’s accumulated in the investigation against hers. The Raven Man makes himself known to Liliana and shields her mind from Jace’s prying magic. With the Raven Man protecting her mind, Liliana defeats Jace.

Jace seemed to be coming undone and on the edge of insanity, claiming he must find Avacyn and go to Thraben. Again Liliana refuses to help but tries to persuade him not to go, that it would be the end of him. Against her better judgement, he leaves for Thraben anyway.

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“Liliana’s Indignation” by Daarken

Liliana couldn’t follow Jace, she had an important appointment with the Geistmage Dierk who was willing to help with the Veil. She arrived in the laboratory where Dierk had been readying the Witchbane Orb. The goal was to harness the power of the storm outside and blast the Veil with spectral energy while Liliana wore the artifact on her face. The experiment would be incredibly painful but could rid the artifact of the Onakke that were ensnared within it.

Witchbane Orb

The experiment was a failure. Liliana took on as much pain as she could handle before giving in to the powerful spectral blast. The orb was ruined, the lab was a mess, and the Veil remained unchanged.

It was time to return the orb to its owner and she made her way to Olivia‘s manor. There, she learned from the powerful vampire that Avacyn had been destroyed, by Sorin’s hands no less. A fleeting feeling of worry for Jace came and went at the mention of Avacyn.

Olivia admitted she knew that Liliana had opened the Helvault. She told her that while she had freed Avacyn, Griselbrand, and other evil beings, she had also released The Lithomancer, Nahiri. She was one of The Three that also included Sorin and Ugin. Together they helped bring the Eldrazi into physical form so that they could be trapped. Sorin lured them to Zendikar, Ugin used his colorless magic to bind them, and Nahiri forged the hedrons that constructed their prison. When the prison became unstable, Nahiri called for Sorin but her messages were not received. She went to confront him and saw his negligence as an act of betrayal, he saw her contempt as disrespect. As punishment, he trapped her in the Helvault.

More surprises awaited Liliana as Olivia led her down the hall of the manor, to Sorin himself. He was livid with Liliana for releasing Nahiri, who had taken it upon herself to warp the plane that he loved to attract Eldrazi as revenge for her imprisonment.

Sorin’s fangs flared. “I told you when you came here as a pup. Innistrad is mine. You meddle in my affairs, you die.”

“Innistrad may be your domain, Sorin,” she whispered. She patted him on the arm. “But death is mine.”

Their feud was interrupted by Olivia who made Sorin aware of the fact that Nahiri was close and that it was time to go. Olivia had gathered a vampiric army on Sorin’s orders to face the Lithomancer, and it was time to march into that battle. Olivia offered a position within her ranks for Liliana, but she felt a pull in another direction.

Avacyn was gone and now Sorin was pulling his resources to face Nahiri instead of the monstrosities she wrought. A dark shadow of tendrils slithered beneath the clouds towards Thraben, away from Nahiri, towards Jace. Nobody would be there to help Jace or Thraben from the Eldrazi. Nahiri was Sorin’s battle, this was hers.

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Art by Joseph Meehan

Liliana arrived as the Gatewatch and Tamiyo were in the midst of being overrun. The Gatewatch was a band of planeswalkers that consist of Gideon, Jace, Nissa, and Chandra. They had all taken an oath to team together against enemies that were too large or dangerous for any one planeswalker. While distrustful and suspicious of her motive and dark magic, the group had no choice but to lean on Liliana’s ability to keep the swarms of Eldrazi at bay with her zombies.

Before a plan could be formulated, Emrakul approached the Gatewatch. Her presence was unsettling and made Liliana feel uneasy. A feeling worse than the memories of Josu, Bolas’s gaze, and the Veil’s power.

Emrakul, the Promised End

Emrakul let out a burst of magic towards the Gatewatch that made them feel sick with vertigo and nausea. Her power was incredible and staying to fight seemed like insanity. Even the Veil didn’t want any part of Emrakul.

“Vessel of destruction. Root of evil. Flee.”

Emrakul let out another mental attack that knocked most of the group unconscious. Her assault on their minds was an attempt to enslave them, take them as her own. Just the thought of someone trying to take control of Liliana infuriated her. She’d come so far and achieved so much. She wasn’t going to let someone else take that from her. Her anger and rage drew more power from the Veil than she had ever siphoned before. Her outrage even blinded her from the pain that the Veil had caused previously. Perhaps this is how she’s to overcome the side effects of the Veil, by sheer force of will.

Once her fury and rage subdued the pain of the Veil, she was able to continue to draw more and more from it, to the point where she felt omnipotent as she was before the Great Mending. The Veil and the Raven Man protested in her mind.

“We must leave here. This is madness. I thought you wanted to conquer death. The entity you face here is older than time, and more powerful than you, even if you wielded a hundred Chain Veils! We must leave!”

“Vessel. Vessel of destruction. We must flee the World-Ender. The World-Creator. Vessel!” The Raven Man’s voice choked with panic. “Listen to the Veil, you idiot! Flee!”

“I. AM. NOT. A. VESSEL!”

All that matters is my will. My desire. Nothing can stand before me.

I don’t belong to you. You belong to me.

She blasted the titan with necrotic damage and then again and again and again with relentless fury and determination. The two pushed back and forth on each other while the Raven Man continued his campaign to convince Liliana to leave.

Eventually, Liliana began to tire as the battle had drug on for some time; Emrakul did not. The power that she had been using to fight Emrakul and keep her veins from spilling blood was now being used to shield herself from the titan. Her scars began to bleed and she was backed into a corner against the titan’s tentacles. Liliana’s fate was now in the hands of Jace who was the only other conscious planeswalker. He had been dispelling Emrakul’s magic and protecting the others, but he would need to do much more now.

Jace finally pushed past the mind control magic, and the rest of the group regained consciousness. Emkrakul could not be destroyed, as evidence of Liliana’s defeat and unconscious bleeding body on the ground.  They had to do something else. Their plan was to try to trap it, the way it had been on Zendikar. Just as Avacyn and Griselbrand were ensnared within the Helvault, Tamiyo and the Gatewatch were successful in trapping Emrakul within a silver moon.

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“Imprisoned in the Moon” by Ryan Alexander Lee

Liliana recovered, as did the rest of the group, and the plane itself.

She had lived, but she hadn’t won. In fact, she hadn’t had a gleam of hope or reason for celebration in a long while now. After killing Griselbrand, failure was all she had known. Failure in returning the Veil, failure in getting help from Jace or the geistmages of Innistrad, and failure in battle; The Veil was unreliable and her zombies were not enough to achieve victory.

She realized she needed more than the Veil or zombies to accomplish what she wanted, she needed planeswalkers. When her powers weren’t enough, they’d be there to step in, fight, and also help her heal afterwards. Their blind loyalty to each other was ridiculous, but perhaps she could exploit it for herself. The next two demons would be even tougher adversaries than the ones previous. Having back-up didn’t seem like such a bad idea.

My very own Gatewatch

“I see that together we’re more powerful than we are alone. If that means I can do what needs to be done without relying on the Chain Veil, then I’ll keep watch. Happy now?”

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“Oath of Liliana” by Wesley Burt

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 fights her two remaining demons with the Gatewatch by her side here.

Play Patterns: Assassin’s Trophy

It’s not every day that a newly spoiled card ignites a genuine excitement within the Modern community, but Assassin’s Trophy has accomplished just that.

It’s been a long time since the G/B community was this thrilled about a set release. Maybe since Fatal Push was printed in Aether Revolt? Or perhaps Shadows Over Innistrad with Grim Flayer? Or maybe we have to go all the way back to Return to Ravnica (six years ago) and the release of Deathrite Shaman and Abrupt Decay to compare the excitement we’re seeing for Assassin’s Trophy. It will undoubtedly make a splash in Modern and it’s clear people are pretty eager to try it. Let’s look at what we can expect from this new chase-rare and how it affects our deck construction.

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“Deathrite Shaman” by Steve Argyle

What’s so different about Assassin’s Trophy compared to other removal spells we’ve gotten in the past?

The most important things about Trophy are its range and rate. The ability to hit everything, including Planeswalkers and lands, for two mana at instant speed puts this card above anything else we’ve used for this effect in the past. Maelstrom Pulse, at the top of our curve and at sorcery-speed, was a necessity because it was our only answer to tricky permanents like Planeswalkers and enchantments. Abrupt Decay was cheaper and an instant but could only hit cheap spells. In a world full of Gurmag Anglers, Teferis, and Hollow Ones, it has felt lackluster as of late.

Enter Assassin’s Trophy.

The card does what both Decay and Pulse want to do but better, because it can ALSO hit lands, a historically difficult permanent for G/B decks to interact with.

The scenarios where this card is relevant and above par are innumerable: destroying Teferi on turn five before untapping two lands, destroying a Tron land before turn three, destroying a Raging Ravine or Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin, and so on. It’s pretty easy to replace cards like Terminate, multiple Maelstrom Pulse, and Abrupt Decay for this card. While this may reduce the diversity in our removal against cards like Meddling Mage, I think the upside is too high to ignore.

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“Golgari Guildgate” by Eytan Zana

Great, so you’re saying Assassin’s Trophy is good? We kinda already guessed that.

Right, of course we know that, but let’s not get too excited and caught up in the hype here. This card will not make G/B an unbeatable deck or even a dominant one. The meta is still wide open and our bad match-ups will still be bad. Don’t go up against Tron thinking it’s in the bag just because you have four copies of Trophy in your deck.

G/B decks are good when they can have as many main-deckable answers to the most-played cards in the format. Picking up game one is highly advantageous for us since our deck becomes even better in sideboarded games when we can tweak our deck for the match. Even in an open meta, G/B decks will be able to gain some percentage points by replacing cards with narrower application, like Terminate and Decay, with Trophy. The big BUT to this is that it will not make our deck some kind of unbeatable menace in the format. To dispel unrealistic expectation, I think it’s best to approach this card simply as another removal spell and leave it at that.

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“Golgari Signet” by Raoul Vitale

What does Trophy mean for deck construction?

Obviously we’re looking to replace more narrow cards with this catch all, but beyond that there might be some other considerations. For one, if you’re in a three color combination and you’re expecting to face Trophy, it may be beneficial to hedge against it and add another basic to your deck. Similarly to when Field of Ruin entered the format, people were caught off guard and quickly realized they were susceptible to Ghost Quarter effects. You can expect G/B rock to play Field of Ruin right along side Trophy and Abzan may do the same with Path. To be safe, I would consider adding an extra basic while the hype is high.

For Jund players, if Bloodbraid Elf hasn’t impressed you, it may be time to revisit the infamous berserker.  The worst part about BBE is that the value can be underwhelming. We’ve learned that we can’t jam a bunch of three drops for value, because then decks are able to aggressively attack under us, so playing efficient cards can sometimes mean bad cascade hits. We’ve adapted and understood that it comes with the territory and either accepted it, or simply stopped playing her. Now there is a card that is efficient and will ALWAYS have a target, even if it’s just a land. Trophy may help eliminate some of the doubt people were feeling about BBE’s place in Jund, including myself. I’ve been a pretty big proponent of cards like Huntmaster of the Fells over BBE, but I may spin the wheel once more now that Trophy helps those cascade odds.

Abzan already had great creature removal with the combination and efficiency of Path and Push. Recently players have been trying to cut Path because of the Rampant Growth it gives the opponent. Players felt that the mana advantage it granted made the card an improper fit for the strategy. Now, Abzan players are talking about running opponents out of basics with Path and Trophy in the same deck. It’s hard to ignore Trophy as an incredible asset, so if you’re already playing a card that accelerates your opponent’s mana, you might as well play the most efficient one mana removal spell in Modern as well.

For G/B Rock, the need for playing cards like Dismember and Cast Down should be pretty small now. With excellent removal and excellent consistent mana, I can see why many people are interested in cutting a third color with the addition of Trophy.

Trophy also may give birth to a G/B deck I’ve yet to mention on this site: Sultai. The deck has a lot of composition problems because blue’s card advantage and permission spells don’t pair well with the typical Rock style strategy. If a Sultai deck exists, it will probably ignore cards like Mana Leak and Serum Visions, which are cards that compete with the natural curve of discard into threat. More than likely it will minimally splash for Creeping Tar Pit and Snapcaster but not much more. Can you imagine playing Snapcaster and giving Trophy flashback? It sounds amazing and I’m excited to try it!

Not only will Trophy affect our mainboards but our sideboards as well. People will no longer need to play 4 Fulminator Mages with multiple Alpine Moons and Damping Spheres to have a chance at beating big mana decks. Having a versatile Stone Rain effect in our mainboard will allow us to drop some of these dedicated slots and pivot our 75 towards the meta as a whole and not just our bad match-ups.

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“Thoughtseize” by Lucas Graciano

How many Trophies should I run?

To start, I would just go ahead and jam four copies. It’s hard to know where the floor and ceiling is for the card if you’re only playing one or two. Play the full four and then if it ends up under-performing, you can trim copies. Take note of what you use it on and what card you would have had available instead of Trophy to help evaluate its impact.

Here’s a 5-0 Jund list from user xXlogosXx that we can look at to see where Assassin’s Trophy might fit.

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With the release of Trophy, I’m interested in trimming the singleton Decay, Dreadbore, and Terminate along with one Liliana of the Veil. Remember this is just to test the mettle of Trophy while trying to understand how powerful it is. It’s possible over time that people will settle on a different number than four copies, and the fourth Liliana could be re-added. But, I believe new cards like this are best evaluated when they are played as a playset.

Next, lets look at a 5-0 list from user Fallleaf and do the same thing for Abzan.

abzan trophy

In this list, I like cutting the Decays once again along with one Path to Exile and one Liliana of the Veil. Decay will most likely be sidelined in every version of these decks moving forward. Unlike Legacy, where blue permission is very powerful, Modern just doesn’t have many blue decks that can afford to load up on reactive cards like Mana Leak. Even when they do, they tend to go a bit bigger than three mana for their finishers. Take Jeskai for example; It’s great when you can snag a Search for Azcanta without having to worry about permission, but Trophy not only hits Search for Azcanta, but also the flipped version and all of Jeskai’s powerful Planeswalkers. Pulse will most likely remain since it can hit larger threats than Decay and can also sweep multiples.

Lastly we’ll look at a G/B Rock list that went 6-1 in a Modern Challenge piloted by _kg.

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As mentioned before, the need for cards like Dismember, Cast Down, or any other weak Doom Blade effect should be mostly unnecessary now. For this reason, I would cut the Dismember, both Decays, and one Maelstrom Pulse.

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“Overgrown Tomb” by Rob Alexander

Many people are going to be sleeving up Assassin’s Trophy this weekend with high hopes. Some are new to the archetype and others will have a renewed sense of excitement for the deck they love.

Remember, you’re not going to suddenly win all your bad match-ups just because you’re playing four copies of Trophy. I think the excitement for this card is warranted, but don’t let that enable unrealistic expectations. Playing G/B means you’re never playing on easy mode.