Pro Trader: Will Liliana Break Pioneer?

The announcement that Liliana of the Veil will soon be legal in Pioneer made Magic boomers everywhere rejoice! Liliana has long epitomized the good old days of magic, in which accruing value and 1-for-1’ing your opponent was a winning strategy.  

For those who haven’t played with this iconic necromancer, Liliana is a strong card because if you build your deck properly you can break its symmetry through discarding recursive threats, cards with flashback, or things that will later be reanimated. Its -2 forces your opponent to sacrifice a creature is important too – as is the ultimate if you can get to it – and when combined Liliana is a very well-rounded card indeed.

Power creep is real and whether Liliana is good enough in 2022 Magic is an open question. Most on social media assume Liliana will become a centerpiece of various strategies going forward – I tend to agree since Rakdos is already one of the best decks – but its success will depend on its tools, so let’s check out the cards that may benefit from Liliana’s inclusion in Pioneer.

Discard Spells

It’s rare to see Liliana played without targeted discard spells like Thoughtseize. This approach makes a lot of sense – the target hand destruction clears the way – permitting Liliana to land on turn three causing havoc to your opponent’s plans. While Thoughtseize may not be an actionable speculation target since we’re so far away from its most recent printing, those who are holding old border TSR reprints may be rewarded based on the additional demand for the best discard spell in the game.

Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger

Kroxa is a very strong card in its own right, but it gets even more powerful when you can pitch it into the graveyard for free while costing your opponent a card. Even better, Liliana fills up your graveyard, giving you the ammunition to escape Kroxa reliably. Current Rakdos Midrange builds in pioneer currently run one copy of Kroxa – I could see this expanding to two copies going forward in Liliana builds.      

Tenacious Underdog

The effectiveness of Tenacious Underdog will depend on the match-up. If your opponent is a combo deck, Tenacious Underdog likely doesn’t make the cut. But on the other hand, if you’re playing against a control deck, Tenacious Underdog can provide you with a threat that is resistant to removal and draws you an extra card every turn in the late game for four mana. When you pitch this to Liliana – you remove the mopey 3/2 creature and only heavily rely on the value of a free graveyard threat. This approach is much more effective and permits pilots to run 2-3 copies without too much risk, as opposed to the single copy that is typically run in current Rakdos builds.

Ob Nixilis, the Adversary

Ob Nixilis is getting a new fresh round of hype as people consider combining Liliana’s discard requirement with Ob Nixilis’s +1 ability. While Ob Nixilis is seeing a small amount of play in Pioneer currently in both main and sideboards, I’m a bit skeptical that two planeswalkers with the same mana value will gel together in the same deck. While both Liliana and Ob Nixilis are good in their own right, I’m just not sure they will be good together. I can see the potential synergies, but we’ll see.

Deathrite Shaman

Could Liliana make the powerful “1 mana planeswalker” playable in pioneer, i.e. Deathrite Shaman? I’m skeptical but would love to see it. One of the challenges with Deathrite is that fetch lands are banned in Pioneer. This leaves cards that barely see play like Fabled Passage as the only “fetch” option. But some Abzan Greasefang builds have been running four copies of Deathrite already – granted these versions of the deck are very fringe at this point. Perhaps when combined with Liliana, you could make Deathrite work for real as a mix of ramp, graveyard hate, and life gain. Doubt it, but could be fun.

A much less played variant of Abzan Greasefang.

 Greasefang, Okiba Boss

Speaking of Greasefang, its namesake stands to benefit tremendously from Liliana being legal in Pioneer. Providing a consistent discard outlet that is also a solid card overall would provide a lot to this deck that runs questionable cards like Raffine’s Informant. Liliana would permit pitching both vehicles (Parhelion II and Esika’s Chariot) plus Can’t Stay Away, which provides value with its flashback option.  

Unlicensed Hearse

Unlicensed Hearse is good under normal circumstances, providing main board hate to Pioneer decks like Greasefang, Phoenix, among others. But being able to come down on turn two followed by Liliana on turn three providing graveyard fodder forever compliments each other very well.  

Boost to Mono-Black Value?

It seems like forever ago now, but for a long time, Mono Black value was one of the top decks around, with these value cards being a core part of the deck. Liliana does a great job taking advantage of these cards’ ability to be cast from the graveyard. I’m not sure if that’s enough to combat the other big things happening in Pioneer at the moment, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.

Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet

The four-drop spot stop in black decks is someone lacking currently. There are some powerful planeswalkers that play a supporting role, but very few cards provide as much value as Kalitas, which only gets better under Liliana. Currently when you play Kalitas you have to untap to gain incremental value. With Liliana on the board, you can play Kalitas and immediately -2 Liliana, gaining you a 2/2 zombie while exiling your opponent’s threat.     

Will Grixis Ever Become Viable?

I’m always shocked at how little play Treasure Cruise sees in Pioneer. I’m hoping against all odds that Liliana’s inclusion in Pioneer makes some new archetypes competitive, like Grixis featuring value cards like Treasure Cruise (due to filling up your graveyard), alongside cards like Nicol Bolas. I doubt it, but here’s to hoping!

Oko (@OkoAssassin) has been writing for MTGPrice since 2020 with a focus on competitive play and Magic Online. In his personal life Oko is a lawyer, father, ice-hockey player, runner, and PC gamer.