Like many of you, I'm champing at the bit to see more and more of Magic Origins, the very last Core Set. The first sweet sample we got was the legendary Liliana, Heretical Healer, who can transform into a Planeswalker and become Liliana, Defiant Necromancer. She is one of five seemingly ordinary legendary creatures who turn into the Planeswalkers we all know and love. Yes, this is another way you could have a Planeswalker as your Commander outside of the specific rule-setting Planeswalkers from Commander 2014. I'm really looking forward to Liliana and the other Planeswalkers for Standard, particularly in conjunction with Collected Company since it looks like they'll all cost three or less, like Liliana. But I'm especially looking forward to giving them a whirl in Commander, and since Liliana is probably my favorite Planeswalker I figured why wait to build a deck for her? A true fan would have a nice home ready and waiting for her when she finally comes for your soul.
In Her Tribe
When you think of tribal cards in black you naturally think of Zombies, which has certainly been one of the most strongly-pushed tribe historically. Liliana, Heretical Healer could certainly be a good fit for a black tribal Zombie deck in Commander given that Zombies make good sacrificial fodder to help ignite Liliana's spark, which also results in another Zombie entering the battlefield. I feel that there have certainly been plenty of great Commander articles written about Zombie tribal decks already, including one or two of my own, so I didn't want to go that route here. What's interesting though is that Liliana's actual creature type – Human and Cleric – have had some minor tribal support over the years too.
First we had some evil Cleric tribal shenanigans back during Onslaught block. I actually played a deck back then (we called Standard “Type 2” in those days) that did a pretty good job of using Dark Supplicant's ability to fetch out Scion of Darkness, and when Rotlung Reanimator was on the battlefield when you were sacrificing Clerics it felt pretty good to welcome the evil avatar with an army of Zombies. I think I even had a couple Gangrenous Goliaths in the deck too.
More recently the Human tribe got some support in black, with Xathrid Necromancer being a direct callback to Rotlung Reanimator. I had a Standard deck featuring Xathrid Necromancer and Gift of Immortality that did some work in my roommate's hands at a few Friday Night Magic tournaments before Xathrid Necromancer rotated out.
What really bridges the gap is this little beauty — Shadowborn Apostle! I've built a couple Commander decks around this rule-breaker and while they are definitely low on the power scale it tends to be pretty fun when things come together. Shadowborn Apostle is a direct callback to Dark Supplicant, and while it's more restrictive on deck building – you need a bunch of Shadowborn Apostles in play to fire them off – the payoff is more flexible since you can go fetch up any Demon rather than one particular creature of darkness.
But check out the creature type – Human Cleric, just like Liliana! They play with Demons, just like Liliana does in her storyline. Well, the Shadowborn Apostles are slaves to Demons, while Liliana is more about using them to gain power... but that's why she's special from the other huddled masses.
Choosing to run Shadowborn Apostles presents a deckbuilding challenge — in order to get enough of them in play to activate their ability, you need to dedicate a significant portion of your deck to copies of Shadowborn Apostles. In my Karador, Ghost Chieftain deck featuring Shadowborn Apostles I ran 39 copies! But when 40% of your deck is mana, and nearly 40% of your deck is Shadowborn Apostles, that doesn't leave much room for other stuff. This deck isn't about Shadowborn Apostles, it's about Liliana Vess! The Apostles can do good work as sacrificial fodder that also happen to benefit from Human and Cleric tribal synergies without ever using their ability. Even so, we do want to keep open a realistic chance for getting six copies of Shadowborn Apostle in play so we can summon up a Demon. To that end I've included fourteen copies of the card, along with a Soul Foundry that can cheaply churn out extra copies.
So... let's build a black deck with Human and Cleric tribal synergies that mess around with Zombies and Demons. Sounds like the perfect home for Liliana, huh?
To maximize the tribal synergies when they do come up, I looked for more creatures that are both Human and Clerics and picked this motley crew of vile zealots: Qarsi High Priest, Skirsdag High Priest, Disciple of Griselbrand, Soldevi Adnate. I picked these particular creatures because they provided ways to sacrifice creatures so we can ignite Liliana, Heretical Healer's spark with her transformational trigger... except for Skirsdag High Priest, who doesn't sacrifice but instead benefits from all the sacrificing going on by summoning up demons with his morbid ability. Seems like a good fit!
Grim Haruspex isn't a Cleric but it is a Human that gives us some serious benefit from all the creatures we're counting on dying, and since we're sacrificing creatures it makes some sense that a Vampire might be drawn to the bloodletting: hello, Blood Artist!
For flavor reasons it's unfortunate we can't run Griselbrand but let's face it — that card is just busted in Commander. We can however make use of one other Demon from Liliana's past: the recently-spoiled Kothophed, Soul Hoarder! We're not sure of the identity of the other two Demons Liliana made deals with, but I've picked a good infernal posse of possible candidates. While looking through the card database for Demons it's interesting to see how they've evolved in Magic. It used to be that Demons were very dangerous to mess with mechanically — you had to provide them something in order to use them or else they'd hurt you. In the new age of Magic most Demons are all upside, and while that diminishes them in terms of flavor it certainly makes them much more attractive for your deck!
Liliana is a necromancer and I certainly wanted to reflect that a bit in her deck. Her own Planeswalker abilities provide some of that, but there isn't a whole lot of room after I've filled the deck out on the other themes. These two cards are quite powerful though and I made room for them. Grimoire of the Dead seems like a great addition, not only for flavor reasons but it synchs up with Liliana, Defiant Necromancer +2 ability, assuming some number of creatures will eventually be discarded. And Rise of the Dark Realms pretty much represents the peak of Liliana's necromancy.
With Liliana, Heretical Healer our Commander we've got to assume a fair amount of the time we'll have her Planeswalker alter-ego in play so of course we want to play The Chain Veil! Perfect fit on the flavor front, but it's also nice at cranking up Liliana's loyalty, and if we can ever fire off her ultimate we'll really be cooking with gas. The Chain Veil gets even better when there's multiple Planeswalkers on the battlefield, so I sprinkled in a few more. I initially avoided any other versions of Liliana but I decided that the original Liliana Vess was too perfect not to include and if ever there's a Planeswalker paradox I can just put Liliana, Heretical Healer back in the Command Zone. Ob Nixilis's demonic heritage makes him a perfect fit, and I figure vampiric Sorin Markov wouldn't mind all the bloodletting...
So here's the home I've build for my dear Ms. Liliana:
- 1 Blood Artist
- 1 Cabal Archon
- 1 Dark Supplicant
- 1 Demon of Wailing Agonies
- 1 Disciple of Griselbrand
- 1 Doomed Necromancer
- 1 Gangrenous Goliath
- 1 Grim Haruspex
- 1 Overseer of the Damned
- 1 Qarsi High Priest
- 1 Qarsi Sadist
- 1 Reaper from the Abyss
- 1 Rotlung Reanimator
- 1 Rune-Scarred Demon
- 1 Scion of Darkness
- 14 Shadowborn Apostle
- 1 Shadowborn Demon
- 1 Skirsdag Flayer
- 1 Skirsdag High Priest
- 1 Soldevi Adnate
- 1 Village Cannibals
- 1 Xathrid Necromancer
- 1 Kagemaro, First to Suffer
- 1 Kothophed, Soul Hoarder
- 1 Ob Nixilis, Unshackled
- 1 Erebos, God of the Dead
- 1 Basilisk Collar
- 1 Journeyer's Kite
- 1 Nevinyrral's Disk
- 1 Skullclamp
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Soul Foundry
- 1 Strionic Resonator
- 1 Phyrexian Reclamation
- 1 Go for the Throat
- 1 Hero's Downfall
- 1 Malicious Affliction
- 1 Tragic Slip
- 1 Grimoire of the Dead
- 1 The Chain Veil
- 1 Damnation
- 1 In Garruk's Wake
- 1 Necromantic Selection
- 1 Rise of the Dark Realms
So what do you think? What sort of house will you build for your own Commander Liliana, Heretical Healer?
Yeah, I really can't wait to start brewing new decks for Standard with Magic Origins, and Liliana, Heretical Healer in particular. The obvious thing is some sort of Superfriends Collected Company deck and you can bet a lot of folks are already brewing with that in mind. I can't imagine we won't get a couple more playable Zombies and maybe – finally – get the critical mass needed to get Necromancer's Stockpile online for the few more months we'll have Magic 2015 in Standard. Here's a rough sketch I'm working with until we find out more:
- 4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
- 4 Risen Executioner
- 4 Shambling Goblin
- 4 Sultai Emissary
- 4 Liliana, Heretical Healer
- 1 Sidisi, Undead Vizier
- 4 Tymaret, the Murder King
I really like the idea of using Whip of Erebos to bring Liliana, Defiant Necromancer out of the graveyard and having one of my other creatures die so that her transformation trigger fires off. While the Whip is usually only able to temporarily resurrect things, exiling the card when it's gotten that one last attack in, because Liliana exiles herself on the road to coming back back as a Planeswalker the Whip basically means that she can never be permanently dealt with. I wish I had more ways to sacrifice my own creatures but I suppose Tymaret will have to do for now. What sort of Standard deck are you cooking up with Liliana, Heretical Healer?
MTGO Haymaker Society
A few weeks ago I mentioned trying to gather up a list of people who might be interested in playing some friendly games of haymaker Magic on Magic Online. To help facilitate this, I've created a Facebook page to try and coordinate times and be a repository for links to helpful information. If you're interested check it out here: MTGO Haymaker Society. It's still under construction but I hope to get it up and running soon!
New to Commander?
If you're just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:
- Commander Primer Part 1 (Why play Commander? Rules Overview, Picking your Commander)
- Commander Primer Part 2 (Mana Requirements, Randomness, Card Advantage)
- Commander Primer Part 3 (Power vs. Synergy, Griefing, Staples, Building a Doran Deck)
- Commander Starter Kits 1 (kick start your allied two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 2 (kick start your enemy two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 3 (kick start your shard three-color decks for $25)
Commander write-ups I've done (and links to decklists):
- Trostani, Selesnya's Voice ( new player-friendly)
Uril, the Miststalker (my "more competitive" deck)