I Live, I Die, I Live Again

Posted in Reconstructed on July 28, 2015

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

Life. And Death. And more life.

Such is the path of a necromancer.

Liliana, Defiant Necromancer | Art by Karla Ortiz

Welcome to Liliana Week! Today, we're going to take a look at a new deck featuring the Origins version of Liliana, all while—in the spirit of Liliana—sacrificing plenty of creatures and bringing them back to life. Nothing is ever too dead with Liliana around, after all!

So, what's the deck we're going to be working with today? Well, let's take a look:

Yuri Makiduka's Mono-Black Devotion

Download Arena Decklist

The Battle Plan

Sacrificing your creatures and devotion? What's going on here!?

This deck definitely has some push and pull to it: normally, with devotion decks, you want to focus on building up your board and sacrificing creatures is at odds with that. You don't want to lose all of your creatures and then cast Gray Merchant of Asphodel!

Yet there's a bit of strange cohesion there. Many of this deck's creatures come back from the grave naturally, and Liliana can revive creatures too. The sacrifices you make aren't quite as much a dent in your plans if they're only temporary!

This deck plays an aggressive-to-midrange game, getting in some damage early and then trying to rule the roost of midgame with cards like Gray Merchant and Erebos's Titan. It's resilient to removal thanks to its creatures, yet good at keeping enemy creatures off the board thanks to its sacrifice effects.

The tweaks that I want to look at for this deck are ones that ensure it can maintain a strong board presence. If everything goes well with this deck you'll be fine, but it's important to prepare for all eventualities; it could use just a few more permanents to help ensure it keeps its devotion rolling.

Let's hop into working on the deck and check out what some of these modifications are!

Deck Breakdown

What fits right into this strategy and what should be sacrificed away? Let's go through this deck card by card and find out!

One of the key elements of this deck is its ability to reuse creatures. And when it comes to that, Bloodsoaked Champion is definitely a well-built tool for this strategy.

Get in early damage? Check!

Provide a cheap creature you can toss away to a Fleshbag Maruader? Yep!

Easily come back from the graveyard after you inevitably sacrifice it away? Absolutely!

For a single mana, this card is a role player and works well on multiple axes. Whether you want to keep your devotion up or sacrifice creatures away, this fits the bill. I'll keep all four.

The Despoiler is hot off the Magic Origins presses and has a number of things going for it.

As a two-mana 3/1, it boasts an aggressive body. Additionally, it fills two other vital roles.

First and foremost, it serves up two extra devotion. A crucial element to any devotion deck are inexpensive creatures that build up devotion well, and having a double-black two-drop is a nice addition.

Secondly, like the aforementioned Champion, it comes back from the dead. Perhaps not quite as easily—you have to be careful when using its ability that you don't accidentally hurt your future Lilianas—but it's still plenty effective.

While you may only use the revival ability once or twice during the game, that's already plenty enough to justify itself. It can get in some points of damage, trade off somewhere, and then come back in time to make your devotion count high enough to finish your opponent off. I'll take the full four.

Ah, here she is: the Necromancer herself.

And what a card she is.

On her front side, she's a respectable 2/3 lifelink with two black mana symbols. But transforming her is a cinch in this deck: you can attack and trade off a creature, or just use a Fleshbag Marauder and flip her over. (More on that in a moment.) Once transformed, she is a must-answer threat, either tearing your opponent's hand apart or building up your own position. She even comes with a Zombie upon transforming so you don't lose any points of power!

Liliana serves numerous roles in this deck, and for three mana you can't ask for more. I definitely want to up the count to four copies.

While they look unassuming, these functionally-similar, three-mana creatures are cards I'd expect to see a lot more of around Standard than you might expect.

Thanks to Liliana, one of these can easily turn into your opponent sacrificing two creatures. Cast one, transform Liliana (picking up a Zombie token in the process!) and then -3 Liliana to bring it back and repeat the sacrifice again. Or if that was their only creature, you can just tick the Liliana up and save the -3 for a more scary day.

And in this deck in particular, you have creatures you can toss away and then bring back. That makes the sacrifice even more powerful, really enabling the strength of cards like Bloodsoaked Champion.

Five of these is actually exactly the number I want: it helps your draw multiples with consistency without playing so many you start getting overloaded on them.

However, there is one thing I would tweak among this family of blood: four Fleshbags and one Executioner instead of vice versa, cleariy. It's a Zombie. And while that has no actual relevance within the deck (though you could easily fit in a Risen Executioner or something), c'mon, think of the flavor points!

Okay, so Liliana meeting up with Erebos isn't exactly canon. But hey, building a Magic deck is like writing a little of your own fanfiction, and so in my world Liliana and Erebos are buds. And rightly so considering this lovely card!

A four-mana 5/5 is already enough to raise some eyebrows in curiosity. Add on two positive abilities—especially considering one of your goals is to make your opponent sacrifice all their creatures—and three black mana symbols in the mana cost, and you have yourself a very attractive card. Three mana symbols on a four-drop is huge, as curving this into Gray Merchant is a whopping 10-point life swing . . . and that's assuming there's nothing else on the battlefield! I definitely want all four of these.

Speaking of Erebos, here's the God himself!

A crucial part of any devotion deck is having ample rewards for actually achieving devotion. Gray Merchant is an excellent one, as is Nykthos. (Which was mysteriously absent from the submitted version of this decklist, but a card I plan to add in.) However, we ought not to forget the Gods of Theros—and Erebos is certainly a fine choice.

Sitting as another four-mana, 5-power creature when active, Erebos also helps ensure you don't run out of gas. While I'm pretty uninterested in drawing two copies, I'm happy to draw one. I'd like to add a second copy to move up to two so that I'll draw it sometimes, but will seldom have an extra rotting away in my hand.

Ever since Theros released the Gray Merchant has been showing up as a staple in black devotion decks, and this is no exception. He is a relentless stealer of life points, curving perfectly off Erebos's Titan—and even without the Titan as his herald, this deck has enough black mana symbols to make the drain for 5+ fairly easily.

To make this card even stronger in this strategy, you can return it if your Liliana ticks up high enough. It's a good way for her to threaten the finishing blow on a stalled board state.

I definitely want to keep all four of these, without question.

However, this deck can support a couple more five-drops as curve-toppers and I want to add something else that sits on the table to add devotion and compliments the deck well: Palace Siege.

Either mode of this card is effective. Draining your opponent for 2 each turn can put the game away handily. When you choose the other option, not only does this work great with cards like Merchant, returning dead ones to your hand to finish them off, but it also lets you land Fleshbag Marauders turn after turn, creating an endless stream of sacrifice effects for your opponent to deal with.

I'll take two of the Sieges.

Love it or hate it, Thoughtseize is a black staple of Standard right now. Tearing your opponent's hand apart to help set up the game plan you want is great for this strategy in particular, ensuring your "sacrifice a creature" effects hit when they're most effective and that your devotion goes undealt with. I'll play all four.

I love removal spells. Certainly, these are cards that a black deck wants access too. However, in this kind of strategy you need to be careful that you have enough permanents to fill up the board, both for sacrificing and for devotion. Plus, keep in mind that your Fleshbag Marauders and Merciless Executioners eat into your space for removal spells.

I'm going to cut three total copies between these two cards, and make the split two Bile Blight and one Downfall. Downfall is more flexible, but Bile Blight fits much better on the curve since you can cast it on turn two, where you only have a handful of potential plays, but leaves turn three open for your Fleshbag or Liliana.

Sign is another card I'm fine playing, but in a deck focused on casting permanents it's hard to find the time to cast it over some other options. And if I'm going to play noncreature spells, I'd rather have them be the aforementioned Thoughtseize and removal. There are only so many noncreature slots for a deck like this one. If you draw an Erebos, that helps ensure you have action going into the late game. And while I'm sad cutting this on-theme Liliana card, it's going to go.

With all of those changes in mind, that brings the decklist to:

Gavin Verhey's Devoted Sacrifice

Download Arena Decklist

Ta-da! A bit of devotion and sacrifice, rolled into one.

Where to go from here? Well, there are a few directions. If you wanted to go more aggressive, you could load up on black one-drops and Mogis's Marauders and swing for the fences!

Alternatively, you could take this kind of strategy and push it in an even more controlling direction. Languish is a card from Magic Origins that is looking to make black control a major competitor. A card which hasn't seen much play yet, but could potentially be very strong, is Gilt-Leaf Winnower: so many cards have un-square power and toughness (Courser of Kruphix, Siege Rhino, Den Protector, Jace, Liliana, Whisperwood Elemental, Dragonlord Silumgar . . . the list goes on) that it's pretty easily a 4/3 menace Nekrataal.

Start with this, see what you like, and tweak from there. And most of all: have fun!

McArtor's Mentions

Each week on McArtor's mentions, we take a look at some of the other coolest decks sent in this week. Check all of these Liliana-inspired options out!

ToshikiFukui's Mardu Blade

Download Arena Decklist

Garrett McBee's Demonic Exploitation

Download Arena Decklist

Jun Morooka's reviving warrior company

Download Arena Decklist

Eduardo's Jund Reanimator

Download Arena Decklist

Hari Mohandas's Mono-Black Lilliana

Download Arena Decklist

Kento Hatao's Black Red Big beat

Download Arena Decklist

Kou Tanaka's Necromance

Download Arena Decklist

JACOB MILICIC's Zombie Jamboree

Download Arena Decklist

Exploring Nissa

I hope you enjoyed this take on Liliana! In two weeks, I'll be making the final stop on this Disneyland train-esque tour around the Origins Planeswalkers pie with a look at Nissa! If you want to participate, here's what you should be looking to build up this time around:

Format: Standard

Restrictions: Your deck must contain Nissa, Vastwood Seer

Deadline: Monday, August 3rd, at 6 p.m. Pacific Time.

Submit all decklists by emailing me at reconstructeddecks@gmail.com.

Decklists should be submitted with YOURNAME's DECKNAME at the top. Underneath should be one card per line, with just a leading number. For example:

12 Mountain

4 Satyr Firedancer

3 Ash Zealot

4 Lightning Bolt

. . . and so on. Please don't use anything but a space to separate the card numbers and names—don't write "4x Lightning Bolt," for example. Well-formatted decklists have a much better chance of being read and making it into the column. Poorly formatted decklists are more likely to be ignored. (If I can't read your decklist, I certainly can't talk about it!)

If you've sent in a Nissa decklist before in the past few weeks, I still have it and will keep it in mind for this week, and I'm excited to see what new decklists you all come up with as well!

In the meantime, if you have any thoughts or comments on this article at all, you can always contact me by sending me a tweet or asking me a question on my Tumblr. Send any feedback that way and I'll be sure to take a look!

It's primed to be an exciting week this week as Pro Tour Magic Origins kicks off in just a couple days. What new Magic Origins cards will make it big? Be sure to tune in to find out!

Or, if you're on a different side of North America and visiting Gen Con in Indianapolis, be sure to come say hi! I'll be spellslinging all weekend with a variety of decks from Standard, Modern, Commander, and more, so stop by and play some games! It's always good to talk with my readers.

I'll be back next week as I get fired up and take a look at Chandra for Chandra Week. Talk with you then!




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