Fighting the Good Fight: Liliana of the Veil
- Hans Davidson
Modern is filled to the brim with powerful cards, so it's natural that we want to figure out how to stop our opponents from utilizing them as a part of their arsenal. In this article, I'm going to go over what makes [Liliana of the Veil] so powerful, and then I'll present the macro and micro decisions you can make to combat her. Without further ado, let's dive right in!
The Power of Liliana
Modern is a format full of decks carrying out "unfair" strategies, which is to say that decks are breaking the fundamental design rules about what cards are supposed to be able to do. We see this in the case of Tron decks that play lands that produce two or more mana, or Mox Opal and Simian Spirit Guide decks that produce fast mana. Some decks ignore paying for some of their cards altogether, as is the case with Hollow One decks and Dredge. In this environment, cards that actually cost mana and adhere to a fairer strategy have to either be hyper-efficient in value or they have to be synergistically powerful enough to win the game. Liliana of the Veil falls in the former camp as Modern's best planeswalker.
Assessing Liliana means taking into account what her abilities do. Her plus ability, which forces each player to discard a card, ensures that both players will be top-decking while your Liliana remains on the battlefield accumulating loyalty. Combo decks or decks that rely on synergy will see their game plans tank due to having to discard every turn or cast cards that they would rather not want to cast at that time. Especially in the case of synergy decks that rely on specific creatures, Liliana punishes stranded creatures on the opponent's battlefield with her minus ability, which forces target player to sacrifice a creature.
In other words, Liliana is a headache to face down when you're playing decks that want to hold cards in your hand or rely on a protect-the-queen strategy. Blue-based control decks struggle mightily against her, as well as all-in strategies such as Blue-Red Kiln Fiend, Bogles, Infect, and Delver. Liliana shredding the opponent's hand means that your counterspells and removal will rot in your hand until they're discarded, and you won't be able to hold onto anything. Decks that rely on a single threat taking care of the game find themselves in dubious positions if an opponent plays Liliana of the Veil because most protection spells – whether they're counters or pump spells – do nothing against Liliana's plus ability. Even worse, holding the creatures back in your hand could make the situation even more disastrous, as a resolved Liliana without a creature to pressure it means she can go unchecked.
In short, anyone playing a game of Modern needs to be aware of the power of Liliana of the Veil and should have an idea of how to play around her if possible.
The Big Picture: Macro Approach
Liliana of the Veil is a hyper-efficient and powerful card, but at its core, it's a fair card. Like any fair card, certain unfair strategies are going to overwhelm its efficiency because these strategies don't play on the same axis as Liliana once they've begun.
An example of what I mean is green-based Tron. These Tron decks are overwhelming favorites against Liliana because they play cards ahead of the curve. At three mana, Liliana might be a great play on turn three, but it's not as good as Karn Liberated, a seven-mana card, or Wurmcoil Engine, a six-mana card, on turn three. These cards individually match up against Liliana well, but the fact that a deck is playing haymakers much earlier than they would normally be allowed to means that your Tron decks are overpowering Liliana on mana efficiency. Taking this observation further, we can see that big-mana decks as general strategies make great foils for Liliana of the Veil. Titanshift decks that are casting Primeval Titans to search up Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle or Eldrazi Tron decks that are playing turn-two Thought-Knot Seer backed up by turn-three Reality Smasher are getting better rates for their cards because they have access to more mana.
Another way to fight Liliana is by going wide and negating the one-for-one efficiency that she provides. Decks such as Humans and Dredge can bypass mana bottlenecks in the form of Noble Hierarch and Aether Viel (for Humans) and the effects of cards such as Prized Amalgam and Bloodghast (for Dredge). While Liliana on her own can handle a single creature on the battlefield, a swarming group of creatures makes it impossible for her to survive. Other decks that can swarm the battlefield include Hollow One and Elves, and while decks that play Liliana will have answers after sideboarding, playing these strategies ensures that you have a strong game-one matchup against opposing Lilianas.
The Devil in the Details: Micro Approach
If you're playing the aforementioned strategies, you're going to have a good chance of beating Liliana. In many cases, though, we're not going to simply change decks based on one card, and we'll be either heading into a game, match, or tournament with the task of figuring out how to beat an opponent's Liliana of the Veil. What are the individual cards that give us a fighting chance against the powerful planeswalker? I'm going to talk about the micro decisions you can make to try to increase your chances of beating her.
1. Prioritizing value over efficiency.
We've established that Liliana of the Veil is one of the format's most efficient cards. Fighting her on that axis is a fool's errand, so we should instead be focusing our attention on accruing more value than she can handle. Ways in which we can accomplish this is by playing cards that can't be answered by a single Liliana. We can play cards such as Pia and Kiran Nalaar, Bitterblossom, Huntmaster of the Fells, and Kitchen Finks in our sideboards as potential counters.
2. Boarding out counterspells.
While I wouldn't advise a deck to take out all of its counterspells against a Liliana deck, these cards are going to have a very small window of opportunity and an even smaller set of scenarios that need to happen for them to be able to nab a Liliana on the stack. This includes having the right counterspell on turns two (on the draw) or turn three (on the play) in order to be able to counter the Liliana, as well as not having the counterspell be discarded by a Thoughtseize or Inquisition of Kozilek in prior turns.
3. Playing haste creatures.
Creatures with haste such as Bloodbraid Elf and Reality Smasher can cleanly answer a resolved Liliana via combat, which makes them ideal cards to sandbag in your hand if you're worried that your opponent has a Liliana in his or her hand. What this also means, however, is that cards that have pseudo haste also have added value in their ability to pressure Liliana. These include cards with flash such as Snapcaster Mage or Vendilion Clique – cards that can be played on your opponent's end step and then be primed to attack on your turn.
4. Not walking into Liliana's minus ability.
Finally, be aware of the possibility of Liliana of the Veil being cast and immediately ticking down. This sounds basic, but even cards such as Tireless Tracker that technically are great against Liliana decks can be neutralized if we play it blindly on turn three without generating a clue.
That's all for this week – did you find this article useful? Do you find Liliana of the Veil to be a card that you have to make a game plan around? Are there any other cards that you have in mind before going in to every tournament? Leave your comments below for the next card you want to see discussed in Fighting the Good Fight!
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