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Last updated on July 25, 2022

Liliana Vess - Illustration by Aleksi Briclot

Liliana Vess | Illustration by Aleksi Briclot

Liliana Vess has been in MTG for a while now. As one of the five original Lorwyn planeswalkers and a perfect representation of a black planeswalker, she features in numerous sets and Constructed decklists. She’s been given a prominent role in Magic lore and as a member of the Gatewatch (think MTG’s Avengers or Justice League). She’s made some pacts and saved some planes.

But who is Liliana Vess? Let’s dive into the story of this rich character!

Who is Liliana Vess?

Liliana, Death's Majesty - Illustration by Chris Rallis

Liliana, Death’s Majesty | Illustration by Chris Rallis

Liliana Vess is a powerful black mage from the plane of Dominaria. She’s both a healer and a necromancer that later becomes a planeswalker after her spark ignites in a tragic event.

This necromancer usually wears black and violet clothes paired with a golden headpiece she took from a dead archangel. Liliana is very selfish and isn’t afraid of going to extremes to obtain ultimate power, including selling her soul to not only one but four powerful demons, as we’ll see in her story.

Using a magic artifact called The Chain Veil, Liliana could later empower these demons. But one of the most powerful and evil beings of the Multiverse, Nicol Bolas, had a hidden hand in this contract and took advantage of this situation, becoming Liliana’s final master.

Bolas was finally defeated after the events of War of the Spark and Liliana was freed, having only his past deeds to haunt her.

List of Liliana Cards

Liliana has had many representations on Magic cards. As one of the original planeswalkers from the Lorwyn block alongside Jace Beleren, Ajani Goldmane, Chandra Nalaar, and Garruk Wildspeaker and one of the main characters from MTG lore and stories, there’s been a new Liliana card almost every year. The fact that planeswalker was a new card type back then meant that some of the original planeswalkers had their abilities determined by trial-and-error methods or what made more sense in that set, until WotC finally acknowledged that each planeswalker should have a coherent subset of mechanics and abilities.

This list features all of Liliana’s cards in chronological order to show how she evolved over time.

Liliana Vess

Liliana Vess

The first Liliana card combines two black mechanics in a card advantage package: discarding your opponent’s cards and tutoring your own. Liliana Vess‘ ultimate is tied to necromancy because the character is a necromancer in the lore, and black is associated with Reanimate spells.

To show off that planeswalker ultimate abilities were no joke, Liliana brings all your creatures back from the dead instead of just one. It was a nice coherent design for the time.

Liliana of the Veil

Liliana of the Veil

The most played Liliana card ever, Liliana of the Veil sees play in almost every format where it’s legal. This Liliana is a deceptively powerful card. Its individual abilities don’t seem like much, but its low mana cost combined with its perfect synergy in grindy midrange decks really make it shine.

Liliana of the Dark Realms

Liliana of the Dark Realms

After giving other black planeswalkers the opportunity to shine (Sorin Markov), Liliana returns in this mess of a card. In addition to lacking raw power, Liliana of the Dark Realms‘ abilities are out of theme with her character. A Swamps-matter card just doesn’t seem to fit, and even her ultimate doesn’t feel game-winning.

Liliana, Heretical Healer / Liliana, Defiant Necromancer

Magic Origins was a set used to explain the origins of the famous Gatewatch planeswalkers and all five were given double-faced cards. One side depicts their “pre-planeswalker phase” which can then flip into the planeswalker side.

Liliana, Heretical Healer is a 2/3 lifelinker that flips when one of your nontoken creatures dies. That’s a reference to what happened with her brother and turned her into a planeswalker. Liliana, Defiant Necromancer takes a riff on previous Lilianas, making every player discard a card and then reanimating one of your creatures.

At this point Liliana was already a well-established character with her abilities revolving around discard, reanimation, and removal.

Liliana, the Last Hope

Liliana, the Last Hope

Back in Eldritch Moon, Emrakul, the Promised End was destroying everything and turning creatures into Eldrazi. Here comes the last hope.

Liliana, the Last Hope amasses a huge army of Zombies to help defeat the threat. This iteration of Liliana is powerful and saw plenty of play in various formats. Its plus abilities remove small creatures and protects it from larger threats, and it has card advantage in it second ability if needed.

The Last Hope threatens to ultimate fast in a midrange deck and its ultimate creates a lot of Zombies, which are tough to beat.

Liliana, Death Wielder

Liliana, Death Wielder

In an attempt to put planeswalkers in intro decks for newer players, some planeswalker cards like Liliana, Death Wielder were printed. Amonkhet had a -1/-1 counter theme in black, and this Liliana fits that theme. These versions are weaker, so a lower power level is to be expected. 

Liliana, Death’s Majesty

Liliana, Death's Majesty

Liliana goes to Amonkhet, trailing some demons and Nicol Bolas. Her next iteration is somewhat powerful but didn’t see much play. Liliana, Death’s Majesty‘s plus ability makes a 2/2 Zombie and mills, its minus ability reanimates, and its ultimate is a Plague Wind in a deck full of zombies.

Liliana, Untouched by Death

Liliana, Untouched by Death

This iteration of Liliana was printed in Core Set 2019. Aiming to support zombie tribal synergies, all of Liliana, Untouched by Death‘s abilities are Liliana-like but zombie themed. She also doesn’t have a true ultimate, just two different minus abilities.

Liliana, the Necromancer

Liliana, the Necromancer

Following the tendency to put weaker planeswalker cards in intro decks, Liliana, the Necromancer is a weaker version of previous Lilianas, draining for two and not reanimating with the minus ability, something that other powerful Liliana cards did.

Liliana, Dreadhorde General

Liliana, Dreadhorde General

Liliana, Dreadhorde General was the first Liliana card in the MTG Arena era, and one I played in almost every deck.

As the leader of Nicol Bolas’s undead army, Liliana was given a powerful card. War of the Spark was the first set to have passive abilities on planeswalkers, and Liliana’s ability really delivers. Either you create a lot of 2/2s that draw you cards, or you make your opponent sacrifice two creatures. If you make them sacrifice, you also draw cards. The ultimate is just, well, you usually win. And Dreadhorde General’s +1 lets it resist enemy fire with 7 loyalty and a creature to protect.

Liliana, Waker of the Dead

Liliana, Waker of the Dead

His last rendition in Core Set 2021 is a nice card but nothing to write home about. Paired with cards like Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger and Stitcher’s Supplier, she fits a self-mill forced discard deck providing more discard, loss of life, and removal/card advantage. 

Liliana, Death Mage

Liliana, Death Mage

The last of the weaker intro deck cards, Liliana, Death Mage is a little better and could see Standard play some years ago, if it cost five mana. It has card advantage on the plus and targeted removal on the minus, which makes a good impersonation of Ob Nixilis Reignited.

Bonus: Professor Onyx

Professor Onyx

Now a professor in the Strixhaven school, Liliana arrived disguised as Professor Onyx. The Standard-legal Liliana is a good one and sees play in midrange/control decks.

Its plus ability gives card advantage and selection, its minus ability has a tendency nowadays to force your opponent to sacrifice their creature with higher power or mana value. And its passive shines in a deck like Dimir () or Grixis () with a lot of cheap spells and removal, helping you stabilize.

Liliana’s Backstory

Liliana's Influence - Illustration by Winona Nelson

Liliana’s Influence | Illustration by Winona Nelson

Origins on Dominaria

Liliana Vess is a pre-mending planeswalker. Those were really powerful, and their power was drastically reduced after The Mending of Dominaria. Some of the other pre-mending planeswalker characters: Sorin, Nahiri, Nicol Bolas, Urza, Karn, and Freyalise, among others.

Liliana’s planeswalker spark ignited after an event involving her brother, Josu Vess. He was very ill and a mysterious man named “the raven man” gave her medicine to help him. But after she gave her brother the medicine, he turned into a monster. Liliana ignited her planeswalker spark after realizing what she’d done, and left Dominaria.

Demon Pacts 

Having diminished her powers after The Mending of Dominaria and not relishing the idea of mortality, Liliana made several deals with demons to regain her immortality. She now has several long-running debts with said demons and is tracking them down trying to kill them one by one.

Liliana signed a contract with four powerful demons for power and eternal youth in exchange for her soul. Theses demons are Kothophed, Soul Hoarder, Griselbrand, Razaketh, the Foulblooded, and Demonlord Belzenlok. Nicol Bolas was also involved, but this little detail is revealed later.

Against Kothophed on Dominaria: The Chain Veil

As one of her masters, Kothoped sent Liliana on a quest to retrieve The Chain Veil. It’s established that The Chain Veil is an ancient artifact that grants power in exchange for health.

After retrieving the Veil she confronted Garruk Wildspeaker and cursed him with its power. Kothophed wasn’t even sure Liliana would survive this but she did, and used The Chain Veil to easily kill Kothophed.

Against Griselbrand on Innistrad

Griselbrand was a powerful demon locked inside the Helvault with Archangel Avacyn. No matter how much the denizens of Innistrad wanted Avacyn back from the Helvault, the fact the Griselbrand was also locked away was a relief.

Liliana needed to defeat Griselbrand and opened the Helvault, freeing both Griselbrand and Avacyn. She then used the power of The Chain Veil to defeat the demon, freeing her from this part of her demonic deals.

Joining the Gatewatch on Innistrad

Oath of Liliana - Illustration by Wesley Burt

Oath of Liliana | Illustration by Wesley Burt

Following the events of Battle for Zendikar and Oath of the Gatewatch and the original formation of the Gatewatch (Gideon Jura, Jace Beleren, Chandra Nalaar, and Nissa Revane), the Eldrazi titan Emrakul, the Aeons Torn was released from the plane of Zendikar and went to Innistrad. Liliana joins the Gatewatch during the story of Shadows over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon as depicted on Oath of Liliana. Her participation was pivotal in trapping Emrakul on Innistrad’s moon.

The thing is, Liliana joined the Gatewatch not for benevolence but because she wanted help from the Gatewatch members in chasing and defeating her remaining contract demons. After this event Liliana developed a strange affection for Gideon.

Going after Razaketh on Amonkhet

After the events on Kaladesh, the Gatewatch followed Nicol Bolas’s trail in the plane of Amonkhet. Liliana suggested going to Amonkhet because she knew that Razaketh, the Foulblooded was there.

After a fierce and almost lost battle, Liliana used her full power to defeat the demon, obliterating it with cruelty and pleasure. This generated a lot of mistrust between the Gatewatch members, especially Jace and Gideon, who had firmly believed that Liliana had left her evil ways behind for good.

Hour of Devastation: Confrontation with Nicol Bolas 

The Gatewatch, brimming with confidence, thought that they could defeat Nicol Bolas himself on the plane of Amonkhet, and they fought. To their dismay, Bolas easily defeated them.

Liliana was tempted by Bolas in two ways: to abandon her friends and planeswalk away to safety, and to ally herself with Bolas to better understand and use the power of The Chain Veil without killing herself.

Liliana's Defeat

The cycle of Defeats shows the defeated individual members of the Gatewatch, while Liliana’s Defeat has the flavor text:

All the power you have gathered for yourself, Liliana, I can take away.

Nicol Bolas

This was revealing of something later to come. In the end, Bolas let the Gatewatch live to fight another day, including Liliana (the first to flee).

Back on Dominaria: Confrontation with Belzenlok

The Gatewatch was caught on Dominaria in the battle between the Dominarians and the Cabal, led by Demonlord Belzenlok. Liliana wanted to kill it without using the Chain Veil because she couldn’t risk it. It’s also important to note that Josu Vess, Liliana’s brother, was turned into one of Belzenlok’s generals as depicted on Josu Vess, Lich Knight.

Ultimately Gideon and then Liliana used Blackblade Reforged to kill Belzenlok. She also used the power of The Chain Veil to unlock her brother from the magic keeping him undead.

The Fall to Bolas

After Liliana killed the last demon from her contract on Dominaria, Nicol Bolas appeared before her saying that there was a secret clause. If all the demons were killed, Bolas, as broker of the contract, would become Liliana’s true master. She had no choice but to follow Bolas because she knew she wasn’t nearly powerful enough to take him on.

War of the Spark

Bolas attracted almost every known planeswalker to the plane of Ravnica for a final showdown in War of the Spark. Bolas wanted to return to godhood, and for that he needed to steal the spark of the planeswalkers in Ravnica. Liliana appeared as Liliana, Dreadhorde General, leading thousands of zombies from Amonkhet.

Liliana was able to challenge Bolas for a final fight. She ultimately defeated Bolas, powered by Gideon’s Sacrifice to protect her and turning some of Bolas’s legions against him, with the help of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Niv-Mizzet Reborn, as depicted in Finale of Eternity. Liliana’s Triumph serves as a counterpart to Liliana’s Defeat from Amonkhet.

Refuge in Strixhaven

After the events of War of the Spark and with Gideon dead, Liliana sought a powerful spell that could resurrect him. She traveled to the plane of Arcavios where the Strixhaven: School of Mages can be found. Adopting the name Professor Onyx to avoid being recognized, she helped defend the school during the battle against the Oriqs and Extus, Oriq Overlord.

Where is Liliana From?

Liliana, Heretical Healer - Illustration by Karla Ortiz

Liliana, Heretical Healer | Illustration by Karla Ortiz

Liliana comes from the plane of Dominaria where she lived with her brother Josu until her planeswalker spark ignited. After that she went to many planes, including fan-favorite Innistrad to deal with the demons who hold her pact.

Is Liliana Dead?

No, Liliana is very much alive! She has power over zombies and the dead, but she herself is a human being. Liliana is currently laying low in Strixhaven, but many people and planeswalkers believe her to be dead, especially after the events of War of the Spark.

Is Liliana Immortal?

Through her demon pacts Liliana has obtained eternal youth and an unnaturally long life. Liliana probably won’t die of age, but she can certainly be destroyed or killed.

Is Liliana Evil?

There’s always this argument about whether Liliana (and other black-aligned characters) are evil or not. The color black stands for the individual before the group in Magic’s lore. Power at any cost, selfishness, and desire for power.

As one of the embodiments of a black-aligned character in MTG Liliana is selfish and, above all else, desires power. She’s capable of committing evil deeds and immoral acts to get what she wants. But she’s also capable of doing things to help those she cares about, as she did with the Gatewatch. 

How Old is Liliana?

Although Liliana’s age was never revealed and she looks to be in her 20s or 30s, players speculate her to be about 200 years old.

Does Liliana Still Have the Chain Veil?

The Chain Veil was taken to Ravnica after the events of War of the Spark. It’s there being guarded by Niv-Mizzet and is considered proof that Liliana Vess is dead.

Bonus: Liliana Deck

Demonic Pact - Illustration by Manuel Castañón

Demonic Pact | Illustration by Manuel Castañón

This deck was put together with Liliana-themed cards and is basically reminiscent of the mono-black control decks of old. It forces your opponents to discard cards and then uses win conditions in the form of planeswalkers and heavy hitters like Grave Titan.

I’ve also included Demonic Pact because the card is so on-theme. The problem with including more is that this deck can’t remove the pacts from play. Despite being powerful, I haven’t included Liliana of the Veil because she doesn’t fit the strategy well enough.

Wrap Up

Liliana, Death Mage - Illustration by Kieran Yanner

Liliana, Death Mage | Illustration by Kieran Yanner

Liliana’s story is one that spans across several years of MTG lore divided among many sets. I hope to have done this fantastic character justice here today, and I can’t wait to see what the writers have in store for her next.

What did you think about Liliana’s tell-all? What’s your favorite part of her story, and where do you see her going next? Let me know in the comments down below or in our official Discord server.

Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you in the next one!

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