Duel Decks- Garruk vs Liliana: Liliana’s Deck Review (Part 1 of 2)
Having introduced ourselves to Garruk and his surprisingly creature-light deck, we now turn to his opposite in this storied conflict, Liliana. On a strict creature-card basis Liliana actually has a very slight edge (19 versus 18), but unlike the more straightforward Green deck, she has comparatively few beaters, instead looking to gain some ground on the back of utility creatures. As we’ll see, though, that’s hardly the extent of her reach, and she might almost be as dangerous as a Red mage in the endgame- consider yourself warned!
We’ll begin today’s analysis with the creatures of darkness.
The Dead Make Good Soldiers
When it comes to deploying their critters, on a cost-curve basis both decks in the set fit together about as finely as a key and lock. Let’s take a look at both for comparison:
On the face of it, it seems quite complimentary. Liliana has the one-drops, Garruk the two-drops, back to Lili for the three, and so on. But as the cliche goes, appearances can be deceiving, and seldom moreso than when dealing with Black.
Liliana actually fields one pure one-drop, a singleton Deathgreeter. The other four take either time or resources to optimise, which means that they aren’t precisely the kind of rush you might expect from Black weenie. Given the absence of ramp, the earliest you’ll be bringing the Ghost-Lit Stalkers on-line is turn 5, but they can be quite devastating given time and space. While not quite the lightning rod that a Scute Mob or Dragonmaster Outcast often are, one-drop weenies that come equipped with a giant target on their foreheard can be quite fun to play. If your opponent manages to blow removal on them, oh well! All you’ve lost is a one-drop weenie.
There is a very minor discard subtheme rippling through Liliana’s deck, but it’s there for the sheer joy and card advantage of it. Unlike Liliana’s Duels of the Planeswalkers deck (Eyes of Shadow), there is no discard support a la Megrim here. Rather, it’s just a splash between the Stalkers, Liliana Vess herself, and a single Ravenous Rats.
Beyond the Stalkers, we also have a pair of Vampire Bats, far more mana-hungry beasties than their casting cost reveals. They must be utilised with caution- the temptation in the early game is to maximise their output by pumping them constantly, but care must be taken not to allow this to set you too far back on developing the rest of your board. Still, flyers are going to be one of the deck’s primary win conditions, as Garruk has somewhat limited options in dealing with them (Serrated Arrows, a Lignify, and most dangerously a singleton Windstorm). Garruk’s best defense against your aerial forces is typically going to be the very traditional one of overwhelming offense.
To temper this, you have a pair of regenerating damage-shields in the form of a Drudge Skeletons and Wall of Bone. This will often give you some time to get your flyers in the air, be it a Faerie Macabre, Banshee (Keening or Howling, take your pick), or one of your deck’s closers, the Skeletal Vampire.
All this doesn’t leave much room for your conventional ground forces. The pair of Twisted Abominations can help close out games for you, but everything else is appreciably smaller. Phyrexian Ragers are essentially placeholders, as Garruk will quickly look to outclass a 2/2. The Urborg Syphon-Mage gives you some reach for those last couple points of damage (or to keep you alive in dire straits), and finally the pair of Fleshbag Marauders should be seen through both beater and removal lenses. Don’t hesitate to cast it alone if your opponent only has one vital critter left on the battlefield, and indeed it will be one of the few ways you’re going to be able to deal with a Plated Slagwurm if it hits.
While generally Liliana’s are the weaker creatures (as you’d expect in this colour matchup), the deck truly shines in the noncreature support.
When Roaring Becomes Squealing
The first thing that jumps out about Liliana’s deck is that it is absolutely stuffed with removal. This marks a welcome change from many preconstructed decks where even the Black ones have a middling removal suite. Not only that, but your removal runs the gamut. There are the simple, quick spot-removers (Vicious Hunger, Hideous End, Ichor Slick, and Snuff Out). You have a potential blowout in the form of a board sweeper (Mutilate). There’s a quad of lifedrainers (two each of Corrupt and Tendrils of Corruption). And finally, a Control Magic variant in the shape of an Enslave.
Beyond that, we have the usual Black shenanigans with life-for-cards (twin Sign in Bloods) and reanimation (Rise from the Grave), plus a Bad Moon and Genju of the Fens for some extra creature damage. Finally, we have the lady herself, Liliana Vess, who like Garruk has abilities which play right into your deck itself. As a singleton you’ll not find her most games, but she can be incredibly swingy when you do.
Here’s the deck’s overall curve, which grafts the somewhat more expensive noncreature cards over the more front-loaded critters:
Unlike Garruk, there’s little excitement in the lands department here: a single Polluted Mire, and a bunch of Swamps. 25 land might be a touch high, but you’ll be happy for them at least when Corrupt or Mutilate hits.
Overall, Liliana’s deck is a bit weak in the trousers, but the solid removal suite makes up for this somewhat. Most successful games will begin with some weenie damage, transition into an aerial game as the red zone thickens up on the ground, race to get in damage using removal to pick off Garruk’s best threats and finish the job with a Corrupt to the face. There are more than enough expensive cards in the deck, however, to give you plenty of chances to draw into an unplayable situation, without any Dark Rituals to break through the jam.
Next time, we’ll begin our playtesting of the two decks, to see how they rate against one another, and deliver our final grade on each. Turn in then, when we finish out Garruk’s deck!