I only have one word for you today, and that word is sheesh. I know Mark Rosewater teased that they were going to reprint a popular planeswalker, but out of all the options I could think of between Karn, Jaya, Teferi, and Liliana, I was not expecting them to go for Liliana of the Veil.
I started playing back when Liliana of the Veil was printed (in OG Innistrad which was a GOAT set), and for those who don’t know, this card is pushed. What makes it so powerful is that it is obscenely punishing in every sense of the word. While the +1 is symmetrical, dictating when it happens makes it difficult for your opponent to sit back on their resources as you can always threaten to strip them away. If you need to protect Liliana, the -2 makes that simply. To make matters even worse (or better), Liliana can quickly get to her ultimate which is absolutely back breaking as it tends to absolutely decimate board states. This card is really, really good, but the question is how is this going to impact each of the Arena formats. Let’s break it down.
To me, I think Standard is the biggest concern whenever we see an extremely powerful card. Innistrad Standard was a very high powered format with brutal Delver decks, Jund featuring Liliana, Bant Auras with Geist of Saint Traft, and other similarly powerful decks. To put it simply, I don’t think Standard is as powerful now as it was then, so is Liliana going to absolutely dominate Standard? Well, I think yes and no.
The obvious consequence of Liliana existing is that you’re going to see an inordinate amount of Black decks. With a card this strong, everyone is going to be looking to play it, and who can blame them? Liliana is definitely a busted card and is easily going to be one of, if not the best card in Standard. However, I don’t think our current card pool is going down without a fight.
Standard isn’t exactly a stranger to extremely powerful three drop threats right now. Not only are these two cards going to be extremely popular, they actually work really well against Liliana as they both produce multiple bodies to threaten Liliana and make her -2 substantially worse. That isn’t to say that these cards shut her out, but it’s not going to be free just playing her.
Another issue of having her in Standard is that she disproportionally impacts Control decks as they have no real way of beating her if not countered. While that could be frustrating, for what it’s worth, Control hasn’t been a particularly good archetype in Standard in awhile beyond being bolstered by brutal combos like Hinata, Dawn-Crowned or Alrund's Epiphany. Overall, I think Liliana is going to end up being the best card in Standard, but I don’t think she’s going to make Standard pure Liliana mirrors either. I have faith that there are going to be a lot of really strong cards in Dominaria as the odds of them making a weak set and then just putting in one of the strongest planeswalkers of all time seems extremely low. However, if you want on the Liliana train, here’s where I think I would start.
While there’s going to be many Liliana decks, I like Anvil as it plays well with and against Liliana. You can empty your hand relatively quickly, have a lot of little idiots to defend Liliana, and work towards the ultimate. I expect this to be one of the most popular day one decks, even without seeing most of the set.
You know, I was thinking Rakdos was feeling a little bit weak in Explorer. Jokes aside, this is probably the toughest format to evaluate Liliana in as she hasn’t been in Pioneer either. Obviously it’s going to be good, but it’s hard to tell how good.
Similar to Standard, I think it’s going to become one of the format’s stronger cards, but not be overbearing. While Liliana is powerful, she gets worse the stronger the card pool gets as evident of Modern where she sees functionally zero play. She is definitely still strong, but having to contend with cheap creatures from Mono Blue Spirits or fighting through Cauldron Familiar is going to help keep her in check. Never the less, I expect this to be a huge power boost to Rakdos Midrange as now they have yet another powerful threat and grindy tool.
While Rakdos wasn’t hurting for three drops, having Liliana of the Veil is definitely a pretty exciting pick up. Rakdos is already good at grinding away at the opponent’s resources, and with Liilana, it’s only going to be that much easier.
Finally we reach Historic. As I said before, Liliana gets worse as the card pool improves, so will she see play at all? I’m going to once again say yes and no.
To make it clear, Liliana is for sure going to see play in Historic and it’s going to be a reasonably powerful card as it is Liliana of the Veil. However, I don’t think it’s going to be super impactful. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of Black midrange decks looking to play her for old times sake, but Historic is really powerful right now and I don’t think Liliana is strong enough on rate to just compete. I think you need to make sure you can leverage the discard ability more to make Liliana worthwhile. To that end, I know a deck that enjoys discarding cards!
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not super well versed in Greasefang decks so this may not be the optimal build, but it is likely the best slot for it. While I used this as the Historic example, I’m sure Liliana is going to have a bigger impact in Pioneer Greasefang, and similarly, I can see it being strong in Historic Rakdos Arcanist as well.
While I do think Liliana is obscenely powerful and deserves the 5/5 star rating, I think it’s not going to be nearly as scary as most assume. If anything, I wouldn’t be too surprised if Liliana ended up playing out worse than I’m expecting rather than better as it has been a very long time since she’s been in Standard and cards have gotten more powerful in general.
That said and as I mentioned before, she was one of the best cards in her time and those Standard decks were extremely powerful as well so just assuming she’s not going to be great because it’s an older card seems shortsighted.
It’s a tough call to make, especially without knowing what else we’re going to see, but what I do know is that she’s going to have a huge impact on Arena with only a relatively small chance of breaking it.
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