Liliana needs more Instants

As I discussed in a prior post, I’m playing in at least some of the games for the local 2008 City Champs series. I decided to take Liliana with me to the event.
Liliana.jpg
So how did we do? See the extended for more.


After some at-home testing, I decided that the initial build of my Vess deck was a little short on disruption, and would roll too easily to control or anything with persistent card advantage. The options here included maindecking my own card draw — likely in the form of Graveborn Muse — or adding in some more spot disruption. Given the the Vess build evolved from a W/B/G Rock deck I was messing with before, I decided that I could take a cue from some recent Rock builds, as seen last month at PT Valencia. Here’s Tine Rus’s build from Valencia:

16 Creatures:
Birds of Paradise
Eternal Witness
Genesis
Loxodon Hierarch
Ravenous Baloth
Sakura-Tribe Elder
22 Spells:
Cabal Therapy
Collective Restraint
Damnation
Duress
Extirpate
Gifts Ungiven
Living Wish
Pernicious Deed
Putrefy
Smother
Vindicate
22 Land:
Breeding Pool
Forest
Godless Shrine
Hallowed Fountain
Island
Overgrown Tomb
Plains
Polluted Delta
Stomping Ground
Swamp
Temple Garden
Watery Grave
Windswept Heath
15 Sideboard:
Duress
Eternal Witness
Golgari Rot Farm
Harmonic Sliver
Haunting Echoes
Indrik Stomphowler
Kataki, War’s Wage
Loxodon Hierarch
Meddling Mage
Smother
Teneb, the Harvester
Withered Wretch
Yixlid Jailer

I realized, in considering Rock builds, that Liliana basically plays the role of Gifts Ungiven in a Gifts-Rock build (like Rus’s). So what do Rock and Gifts-Rock builds have? A little more disruption than I was initially packing. With that in mind, I reworked the original build into this:

8 Creatures:
Shriekmaw
Purity
Adarkar Valkyrie
26 Spells:
Beacon of Immortality
Beacon of Unrest
Tendrils of Corruption
Profane Command
Thoughtseize
Distress
Coldsteel Heart
Oblivion Ring
Damnation
Wrath of God
Liliana Vess
24 Land:
Caves of Koilos
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Flagstones of Trokair
Mouth of Ronom
Urza’s Factory
Snow-Covered Swamp
Snow-Covered Plains
New Benalia
15 Sideboard:
Aven Riftwatcher
Shimian Specter
Graveborn Muse
Haunting Hymn
Wispmare
Imperial Mask
Terror

Notice that I replaced the slow (and not otherwise useful) Phyrexian Totems with Coldsteel Hearts. I was very happy with this choice during the tournament. I was concerned going in that my lack of Instant-speed removal would be an issue, and as it happened, it was, for more reasons than I suspected (that is, not just animatable lands). Here’s how the day went:
Round 1: Multicolor Wild Pair Blink
Game one went basically “Thoughtseize, Tendrils, Liliana, kill stuff, Profane Command you” Game two saw him with a bunch of Gemstone Mines to start off, and me with double Thoughtseize and yet another resolved Liliana. 2-0 for me, and my first match win.
Round 2: Faeries…
This was the kind of match that concerned me — a more tempo, counter-control style game. Game one saw me gnawed to death by Faeries while being unable to do much about it. Much like pure draw-go decks, Faerie decks live on the end of your turn, and I was already noticing that it didn’t help me much to have non-Instant-speed removal in hand in this game. Game two started and ended with me mulliganing away a hand that had only Mouth of Ronom, then one with no land, then keeping a one-land, five-card hand. I never drew another land, and that was that.
Round 3: Faeries, again
Ah, tempo. In game one, various Faerie beats took me to 15, then I Beaconed to 30 life…and then got myself carved down to zero largely by a pair of Faerie Conclaves. In the second game, I was once again carved up by a Conclave and some other Faeries. Especially here, the inability to hit things with Instants was a real problem, because all the Faeries come in at EOT, and the Conclaves aren’t creatures when I can kill them. An open Mouth of Ronom did keep Wydwen off the board for a number of turns, but that meant I had to leave off from killing the other Faerie or the Conclave.
Round 4: Kithkin
This was a Kithkin deck splashing Green for Gaddock Teeg. In game one, I managed to Beacon twice, and then took a charming 15 damage in one turn from three Goldmeadow Stalwarts backed by a Militia’s Pride and a Glorious Anthem. I played Damnation the turn after and then Profane Commanded him out the turn after that. In game two, I ended up Ringing three Teegs out of the game. My sided-in Riftwatchers performed brilliantly, and even without hitting the Beacon, I ended that game at 26 life.
Round 5: Blue-white control
I just couldn’t get ahead in either game here. I think I made poor Thoughtseize choices in both games — that’s something I need to practice. I also needed more cheap disruption — perhaps a fourth Distress to side in would have been good. In the second game, on 7 life with Teferi and a 4/4 Epochrasite across from me, I led with a Distress (theoretically hoping to bait a counter so I could Wrath) and saw a hand with three counterspells and a Venser. I conceded there, prompting the guy sitting next to me to say, “I’ve never seen someone scoop to their own Distress before.”
Overall, I had a fun time and met a lot of cool locals I haven’t run into before. The games also supported my suspicion that I just don’t have the right tempo in the current Liliana build. Although Shriekmaw theoretically is a great value, being either a Sorcery-speed Terror or a creature + Terror (and thus abusable with Profane Command and Beacon of Unrest), in practice, I really would rather have had Terrors. This informs my probable revamp of Liliana control, leaving me with this as my likely reworking:

4 Creatures:
Tombstalker
Adarkar Valkyrie
30 Spells:
Beacon of Immortality
Beacon of Unrest
Tendrils of Corruption
Profane Command
Thoughtseize
Distress
Coldsteel Heart
Oblivion Ring
Terror
Damnation
Wrath of God
Liliana Vess
24 Land:
Caves of Koilos
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Flagstones of Trokair
Mouth of Ronom
Urza’s Factory
Snow-Covered Swamp
Snow-Covered Plains
New Benalia
15 Sideboard:
Aven Riftwatcher
Hypnotic Specter
Shimian Specter
Distress
Imperial Mask
Profane Command

This Liliana build swaps out all the Shriekmaws for Terrors. Although I did get in some Shriekmaw-based beats, the Terrors will be a lot more useful by dint of being Instants. I’m still not completely sure what I want to do with the sideboard, but for the moment, I’m going to go with a double quartet of Specters along with a fourth Distress, so I can ramp disruption up across the entire mana curve, hopefully keeping blue card-advantage-based decks off their advantage (and burning counters) long enough to stick a Liliana and then keep them off of cards permanently.
I’m undecided on the last slot in the sideboard, but I just edited to opt for Profane Command, in case I need a little more “direct damage” reach.
Edit: I may go with Austere Command there, since it can mass-sweep Enchantments and Artifacts. That would make it a fair, tutorable one-of for use against certain, specific matchups.