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Against the Odds: Liliana Tribal (Modern)


Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 104 of Against the Odds. We didn't have an Against the Odds poll last week, which means that we have a special episode this week! Along with the release of Ixalan came a pretty significant rules change: rather than being under the planeswalker uniqueness rule, all planeswalkers were given errata so that they are now legendary. While that might not sound like a big deal, it does have one major impact on game play: you can now have more than one version of the same planeswalker on the battlefield! 

As such, we are heading to Modern this week to play Liliana Tribal, a deck that's overflowing with five different versions of Liliana along with some interesting support cards. Is it really possible that a deck built exclusively around Liliana can work in a format as powerful as Modern? Let's get to the videos and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Against the Odds: Liliana Tribal (Deck Tech)

Against the Odds: Liliana Tribal (Games)

The Deck

The basic idea of Liliana Tribal is simple: we play a ton of Liliana planeswalkers and use them to win the game. The tricky thing about Liliana tribal is that it doesn't have one obvious synergy that ties the tribe together (like the Gideon of the Trials emblem does for Gideon Tribal); instead, we rely on a bunch of smaller, looser synergies to make the deck work. Instead of trying to talk about all of the cards in order, it's probably easiest to talk about the different synergy packages. 

Lilianas

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Altogether, we have five versions of Liliana in our deck, which all fit nicely on a curve from three to five mana. This being said, all of our Lilianas serve very different purposes and work together in different ways. Liliana of the Veil is the best Liliana but also the Liliana with the least amount of synergy. It's just a good card that destroys creature decks with her 2 and control / combo with her +1. Plus, if we were get to it, her ultimate usually wins the game. One of the competitive advantages of Liliana Tribal is many of the Lilianas are good against a wide range of decks, and Liliana of the Veil is the poster child for this versatility.

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Liliana of the Dark Realms might be the worst of the Lilianas, but she's actually pretty strong in our deck. First, she can come down the turn after Liliana of the Veil does and kill yet another creature to help keep our opponent's board clean and protect our planeswalkers (although it is annoying that if we immediately 3 Liliana of the Dark Realms dies). Second, her +1 ability works sneakily well with Liliana of the Veil. One of the downsides of Liliana of the Veil is that the discard is symmetrical, which means there are occasionally times when we have just one card in hand and don't want to discard it but really need to +1 Liliana of the Veil. In these situations, we can use Liliana of the Dark Realms to tutor up a bugger Swamp to discard instead of discarding our good card. Finally, Liliana of the Dark Realms gives us a way to close out a game by using the 3 on one of our own creatures to make it huge. Thanks to Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, all of the lands in our decks are Swamps, which means the 3 often is giving a creatures at least +5/+5 until end of turn, and often much more in the late game.

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Liliana, the Last Hope and Liliana, Death's Majesty form a very grindy alliance for finishing the game by allowing us to reanimate our creatures over and over again. Sometimes, this means destroying all of our opponent's lands with Fulminator Mage by repeatedly reanimating it or returning it to our hand to recast. Sometimes, this means draining our opponent out of the game by looping Gray Merchant of Asphodels (which we can kill with Liliana of the Veil, if need be). Speaking of Gray Merchant of Asphodel, it's a surprisingly strong finisher in our deck, since our goal is to have a bunch of Lilianas sitting on the battlefield and all of our Lilianas have two black mana symbols, which means it's not uncommon for the first Gray Merchant of Asphodel to drain for eight and the second to drain for 10. 

Apart from winning the game, Liliana, the Last Hope and Liliana, Death's Majesty are also pretty good at keeping us alive. Liliana, the Last Hope kills smaller creatures, which makes Liliana of the Veil's edict ability better, since it will hit bigger targets. Plus, her ultimate is a great way to close out the game, and with a deck stuffed full of ways to control creatures, it's actually pretty easy to reach the ultimate. Meanwhile, Liliana, Death's Majesty gums up the board with Zombie tokens while also filling our graveyard to help us find our Fulminator Mage or Gray Merchant of Asphodels. 

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Last but not least, we have OG Liliana Vess, the first of the Lilianas. Her main purpose is to tutor up our more powerful Lilianas with her 2, although she can also find some silver-bullet one-ofs like Relic of Progenitus or Fulminator Mage (along with sideboard cards). This being said, her discard ability also combines well with Liliana of the Veil, making our opponent discard twice each turn, which should get them empty-handed pretty quickly. While the ultimate on Liliana Vess is pretty matchup dependent, it does give us a way to get back all of our Gray Merchant of Asphodels at once, which should be enough to close out the game.

Other Stuff

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The support cards in the deck are mostly just discard and removal, both of which synergize pretty well with our various Lilianas. Since our Liliana curve doesn't start until Turn 3, we have the first couple of turns to tear apart our opponent's hand with Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek, or keep the board clear with Fatal Push. Meanwhile, Damnation gives us a way to reset the board, which is extremely important. Once we Damnation, it's usually pretty easy to clean up the rest of our opponent's creatures using our Lilianas to kill and edict away anything else our opponent finds.

The Matchups

The great thing about Liliana Tribal that is it's at least pretty good in a lot of matchups. Against creature-based decks, we have a ton of good removal to keep the board in check. Against control and combo, the ability to repeatedly make our opponent discard with Liliana of the Veil and Liliana Vess is often game-winning. Aggro can be a bit of a concern, but having Gifted Aetherborn helps make sure we don't just immediately die to Goblin Guide or Wild Nacatl, and if we can stabilize, the huge chunks of life we gain from Gray Merchant of Asphodel put the game out of reach. 

On the other hand, our  worst matchups are decks looking to win with non-creature permanents. For example, we ran into 8 Rack during our matches, and it felt like that matchup was pretty much impossible to win, since as a mono-black deck, we just don't have many ways of interacting with artifacts like The Rack or enchantments like Shrieking Affliction. The same is probably true of Lantern Control as well, and planeswalkers across the battlefield can also be a problem, since we don't have a great way of pressuring our opponent (we lost to Liliana, the Last Hope's emblem one game as well). This being said, the non-creature permanent problem isn't so much about Lilianas but rather a side effect of being a mono-black deck. If this ends up being a major concern, we could always splash a second color to have access to artifact and enchantment destruction. 

The Odds

All in all, we played five matches and won four, good for an 80% match win percentage, while getting in 13 games and winning eight, giving us a 62% game win percentage. After finishing the videos, I played a few more matches with the deck and beat Merfolk and Storm before losing to a Tezzeret Thopter Sword deck. This means that Liliana Tribal is actually way above the curve for an Against the Odds deck and actually felt oddly competitive. While I think the deck probably should splash a color (maybe white or red) to deal with non-creature permanents (decks featuring them made up 100% of our losses with Liliana Tribal so far), it seems like the combination of heavy discard and removal means that Liliana Tribal could actually have what it takes to compete in Modern!

Vote for Next Week's Deck

I hate doing two special episodes in a row, but the last couple weeks have been sort of a unique situation with the rules change and set release. It's tradition that, when a new set releases, we do a special episode featuring a card from that set. Well, next week is week one of Ixalan, so we'll feature a sweet brew built around one of my favorite Against the Odds cards from the set. Don't worry, the poll will be back next week, featuring a bunch of new Ixalan options!

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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