Liliana, Heretical Healer: Learn to Let Go (EDH / Commander)

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    "When you find yourself teetering on the edge of oblivion, mine will be the hands taking pleasure in giving you the final push."
    Liliana Vess

    === C A U T I O N ! ===

    A word of warning: If your playgroup is very casual, don't bring this deck to the table - it won't make you any friends. It wasn't designed to be fun, except for the dark soul that pilots it. As a discard theme deck, it is "one of the scary three (land destruction, permission and discard) that tend to keep people from playing the game and thus tend to annoy players at a much higher level than other decks", as Mark Rosewater wrote in Making Magic on April 11, 2005.
    If you are looking for a fun, casual control-ish EDH deck, please leave now and take a look at my Zedruu the Greathearted list.

    === I N T R O D U C T I O N ===

    Finding a commander for the mono-black EDH deck I intended to build proved to be a difficult task for me, because at first glance I found none of the exclusively black legendary creatures truly appealing. Then my eyes fell upon Liliana, Heretical Healer, and she embodied all I was looking for.

    First and foremost, a legendary creature that turns into a planeswalker when certain conditions are met is an interesting concept for this format. So far, only the planeswalkers from the Commander 2014 precon decks could be used as commanders, but then Magic: Origins offered another option with its double-faced walkers.

    Second, Liliana, Heretical Healer is the embodyment of everything that's appealing to black mages.
    She transforms into a planeswalker whenever a nontoken creature I control dies; a requirement easily met in the color whose power is based to a great degree on sacrifice effects. As soon as she enters the battlefield as Liliana, Defiant Necromancer, I get a free zombie creature token, which is great because a) it's a zombie and b) it's a chump blocker giving her some protection. And she offers three genuinely black mechanics: Discard, creature recursion from my own graveyard and creature theft from anyone's graveyard.

    Long story short, to me she is a great mono-black commander who offers an exquisite toolbox to exploit and have fun with.

    === S T R A T E G Y ===

    As always, before putting cards together for my own design, I did some online research to get an impression of other people's approach to Liliana's role as a commander. What startled me was that most builds I found had a zombie tribal theme and focused on sacrifice mechanics. While the latter is plausible because of Liliana's transformation requirement, I felt that she could be more than merely the general of a zombie army - as flavorful and vorthosy that might be. So I decided that my own approach would be a stax/control build using discard and sacrifice effects to put pressure onto all opponents from the early game on and maintaining it until victory.

    This impolitical goal (we're in mono-black!) is achieved by utilizing Liliana's group discard ability and comparable effects of cards like Gibbering Descent and Scythe Specter. While this is pure card advantage in multiplayer (especially with Geth's Grimoire or Waste Not on the field), reducing my opponent's options to play spells is not enough to win the game.

    Since I also need to deal with enemy threats that inevitably will hit the board, creatures like Fleshbag Marauder and Magus of the Abyss (he LOVES his Lightning Greaves!) are essential to keep my foes from gaining a threatening board position, as well as enabling Liliana's transformation while she is still a creature. Grave Pact and Harvester of Souls add even more card advantage to this tactic. Vengeful Pharaoh and Dread are effective "rattlesnakes" that make any opponent think twice before attacking me with his beatstick, while Silent Arbiter and Archfiend of Depravity protect me from token swarms. In addition, for as long as Liliana is a planeswalker, I can ruthlessly wrath the board as it seems fitting, e.g. with Nevinyrral's Disk or Death Cloud, without risking to kill her.

    Control decks have to provide a constant flow of suitable answers to stay in the game, and this can only be achieved by a sufficient number of tutors as well as additional card draw.

    This deck runs four of black's best tutors, among them (of course) Demonic Tutor and Vampiric Tutor, as well as Expedition Map, which isn't only capable of providing big mana by finding Cabal Coffers, but may also fetch Maze of Ith if a big furry monster hit the wrong side of the board.

    We're in mono-black, so drawing additional cards is not an issue, but comes with a price - in blood. Necropotence is amongst the top card draw spells in the game, which is the reason it is banned in legacy and restricted in vintage. This is the card I always tutor for, if I haven't drawn it yet, because it wins the game. Another great source for card advantage is the Monarch mechanic. Not only do Marchesa's Decree and Custodi Lich add another layer to my already strong defense, but also some very entertaining interaction to the table. Plus, since the Monarch draws his extra card at the end of his turn, while an opponent is the Monarch, I can make him discard that extra card during my turn to trigger all my neat shenanigans.

    Other cards in this deck that provide a benefit at the cost of life are Erebos, God of the Dead (who also denies my opponents life gain, neat to keep up the pressure!), Phyrexian Reclamation, Toxic Deluge and Garza's Assassin. This amount of life loss is a problem when facing fast aggro decks or the combined wrath of the entire table (they see me rollin', they hatin'), so I need to deal with this issue. From under the Floorboards and Sangromancer are relatively "civilized" ways to gain life, but since parasitism is one of black's features, why not let my enemies bleed for me? Bloodchief Ascension and Crypt Ghast drain small chunks of life from my opponents to add to my own, while Exsanguinate can provide ridiculous amounts of life in one shot (Cabal Coffers or Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, anyone...?) and can be a win condition all by itself.

    Speaking of win conditions, this deck has some more, of course. While running some nasty beaters itself, it also contains Beacon of Unrest, Rise of the Dark Realms and Sepulchral Primordial to capitalize on all the discarding and creatures dying which is going on, to which Liliana's ultimate ability also plays along nicely. And if I manage to bring out Painful Quandary in conjunction with either Liliana's Caress or Bloodchief Ascension, my opponents are definitely stuck between a rock and a hard place.

    The deck is completed by some utility cards like Library of Leng, Magus of the Will and Solemn Simulacrum.

    === C O N C L U S I O N ===

    While playtesting the initial design, I noticed that the deck needed more answers, since it regularly drew a lot of hate (which is no surprise; most people like to play with their cards). My recent modifications should fix this. The deck is fun to play nonetheless, because of its unique commander and a strategy which is rarely used in this format.

    Long text, but that's it. Thanks for reading, and if you like, please leave a comment!

    === C O M M E N T E D _ D E C K L I S T ===

    1 Liliana, Heretical Healer #!Commander

    26 [#93] Swamp
    1 Bojuka Bog
    1 Cabal Coffers
    1 [#57] Everglades
    1 Geier Reach Sanitarium #Nothing to discard? Lemme fix that for you!
    1 Ghost Quarter
    1 Maze of Ith
    1 Myriad Landscape
    1 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
    1 Phyrexian Tower
    1 Throne of the High City
    1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth #Great for Cabal Coffers & Crypt Ghast.
    1 Volrath's Stronghold

    1 Expedition Map
    1 [#3] Library of Leng
    1 Sol Ring
    1 [C14] Jet Medallion
    1 Unstable Obelisk #A little something to deal with enchantments.
    1 Geth's Grimoire
    1 Hedron Archive
    1 Nevinyrral's Disk

    1 [#48] Skullclamp
    1 Lightning Greaves

    1 Bloodchief Ascension
    1 [#142] Phyrexian Reclamation
    1 Shrieking Affliction
    1 Liliana's Caress
    1 Waste Not #So much value!
    1 Words of Waste
    1 [USG] Oppression #is oppressive.
    1 Necropotence
    1 Erebos, God of the Dead
    1 Marchesa's Decree
    1 Grave Pact
    1 Painful Quandary #is even more oppressive than Oppression.
    1 Gibbering Descent #has synergy with Magus of the Abyss while I'm hellbent.

    1 Vampiric Tutor
    1 Hero's Downfall

    1 Demonic Tutor
    1 Black Sun's Zenith
    1 Exsanguinate
    1 Toxic Deluge
    1 Death Cloud #I've seen people scoop because of this spell.
    1 [PLC] Damnation #Thraximundar didn't need this anymore, so I put it in here.
    1 [#157] Beacon of Unrest
    1 From Under the Floorboards
    1 Diabolic Revelation
    1 Rise of the Dark Realms

    1 Mindlash Sliver
    1 Viscera Seer
    1 Soldevi Adnate #Why isn't this a staple for mono black decks?
    1 Vampire Hexmage #eats planeswalkers for breakfast.
    1 Burnished Hart
    1 Moriok Replica
    1 [#87] Fleshbag Marauder
    1 Magus of the Will
    1 Merciless Executioner
    1 Big Game Hunter
    1 Garza's Assassin
    1 Silent Arbiter
    1 Solemn Simulacrum
    1 Crypt Ghast
    1 Magus of the Abyss
    1 [#25] Mindslicer #HUGE rattlesnake; nobody wants to attack into it early game.
    1 Sangromancer
    1 Shriekmaw
    1 Archfiend of Depravity
    1 Custodi Lich
    1 Vengeful Pharaoh
    1 Harvester of Souls
    1 Scythe Specter
    1 Dread
    1 Rune-Scarred Demon
    1 Sepulchral Primordial



    This deck appears to be legal in EDH / Commander!

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