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Liliana Settles the Score

Dominaria preview season continues in full force this week, and I’m pleased to bring you all a second preview card! It is again one you’re probably seen before if you saw the leak, but a card without art or flavor text isn’t anywhere near complete to a Vorthos. Today I’m going to walk you through the history of Dominaria’s central character: Liliana Vess. Please note, I previously spoke about her history (and Garruk’s) in Liliana, Garruk, and the Veil, but that was two-and-a-half years ago, and a lot has happened! I’m updating that piece, but focusing on Liliana and her demons this time around. We’ve now seen Liliana’s final two demons since then . . .  and my preview card today gives us the fate of the last.

The Chain Veil plot is the longest running loose end left in Magic.

Liliana, Heretical Healer by Karla Ortiz

The Raven’s Eye

Liliana’s Origin: The Fourth Pact is the revised version of Liliana’s origin from The Raven’s Eye, Part 1. The story begins around two hundred years ago on Dominaria (this is important, as it takes place between Karona’s War and the Mending). Liliana, scion of the Vess estate in Benalia, was training to be healer. Her father was a leader among the Forward Order, but when her brother Josu was injured by an enemy mage blade, Liliana is sent after the only cure that will stave off his growing corruption: esis root. In the nearby Caligo Forest, Liliana hears sounds of a battle raging between the Forward Order and enemy skin witches. She’s approached by a mysterious man who appears seemingly out of nowhere (she will later come to refer to him as the Raven Man). Liliana is startled at first by this stranger with glowing golden eyes, but he claims to be a faithful servant of her father, and warns her that the esis grove has already been burned by the enemy. He reveals knowledge of Liliana that no one should know, including her affinity for the darker arts. He encourages her to embrace that dark power, which far outstripped her abilities as a healer, then disappears into a flock of ravens.

Liliana travels to the grove and finds it as the Raven Man said it would be. She uses her dark powers to defeat the witches there and reinvigorate a piece of esis root. Returning home, she attempts to use the revived root to brew a healing potion for Josu, but when she administers the potion, it kills Josu. The healers are horrified at what Liliana has done, and even more horrified when Josu returns as an undead Lich, slaughtering everyone in the room and attempting to drain Liliana’s lifeforce. Liliana’s latent planeswalker spark ignites and she disappears into the multiverse.

The Raven Man’s identity is the longest running mystery in Magic.

Art by Chris Rahn

According to Magic Duels: Origins, Liliana’s spark carries her to an unfamiliar but inviting plane: Innistrad. On Innistrad she finds a world perfect for her to hone her necromantic powers and spends time practicing on both the living and the dead. Eventually, she is ready to return to Dominaria and confront the Raven Man. Once home, however, she earns the attention of an archangel. Having grown more than powerful enough to take it on, her undead minions kill the angel, but not before Liliana takes its tiara for her own, becoming her signature bit of style.

The Demon Pacts

It’s not clear what Liliana was up to in the decades she wielded god-like power, but when the Mending hit sixty years ago and she lost her virtual immortality, she immediately sought means of regaining it. She spent decades searching for a solution until old age forced her into a desperate situation, relying on the elder dragon Nicol Bolas to broker four Demonic Pacts on her behalf. The terms of these deals are never shared but are unlikely to be pleasant, given how desperately Liliana wants out of them. How do you divide a soul four ways?

Liliana got a little old, here.

Dark Petition by Igor Kieryluk

Thus, Liliana becomes indebted to four demons: Demonlord Belzenlok, Razaketh, the Foulblooded, Griselbrand, and Kothophed, Soul Hoarder. Each deal regains her a little bit of herself, although the specifics of each are unknown. Her final deal with the demon Kothophed would restore her youth and grant her agelessness, but first she must to do battle with the demon. As a lesson on what would happen if she tried to escape her deal, the demon handily defeats her and cuts her open, revealing her younger self underneath. He then scratches the terms of their pact onto her flesh.

Kothophed is the only one of Liliana’s demons whose home plane is a mystery.

Demonic Tutor by Scott Chou

Liliana is left stronger than she has been in decades, but finds herself at the mercy of the demons who will come to collect her soul. And the clock is ticking. And what did Nicol Bolas want in exchange for brokering those deals? That detail was added in Magic Origins, as they were setting on the path for the Gatewatch’s story, so it must be important.

Agents of Artifice

About four years before Dominaria, Liliana approaches Nicol Bolas with a bargain of her own. She proposes a plan to regain something Bolas wants. A splinter of Bolas' interplanar network, called the Infinite Consortium, has rebelled against him. Liliana devises a plan to overthrow the usurper, Tezzeret the Seeker, and restore control of the Consortium to Bolas. Bolas agrees to intercede with Liliana’s demons if she successfully returns control of the Consortium.

She infiltrates Tezzeret’s Consortium as a freelancer, looking for a weakness. When Jace Beleren quits the Consortium and goes on the run from Tezzeret with his friend Kallist, Liliana seizes upon the opportunity. She ‘stumbles’ across the two of them and claims she too is on the outs with Tezzeret. Jace is unable to detect her deception, and soon falls for her attempts at seduction. Liliana uses his trust to make him believe Tezzeret is still after him by hiring mercenaries and assassins to kill his friends.

To be fair to Liliana, she does fall for Jace, but her demonic debts are a stronger motivator. In any case, as they assault Tezzeret’s hideout, Jace realizes the truth of Liliana’s betrayal. He defeats Tezzeret, leaving the artificer for dead on Kamigawa. Rather than turning the Consortium over to Bolas like they’d discussed, he takes the remnants for himself and leaves Liliana in the cold. With nothing left to bargain with, Liliana’s debt comes due.

Kothophed and The Chain Veil

Garruk’s story runs parallel to Liliana’s but focus has long since shifted from him.

Art by Izzy

The Raven’s Eye Part 2 makes it clear that something or someone is manipulating events for Liliana to encounter The Chain Veil, as a small group of cultists return a necklace referred to as ‘the key’ to the Onakke Catacombs. Liliana encounters the cultists, believing them simple bandits, but in the end they complete their mission.

In The Hunter and the Veil, Liliana is sent by Kothophed to retrieve the Chain Veil. Along the way she encounters a beast belonging to Garruk Wildspeaker, and it scares her horse so much it throws her. She kills the beast in frustration and moves on to the Catacombs. Inside, she finds the same necklace that the audience saw the cultists deliver to the Catacombs. More beasts flood into the chamber behind her, and as she recovers the necklace she animates an Onakke skeleton to fight for her. As Liliana revels in the power of the Catacombs and the key, the necklace is destroyed, opening up a portal to the true artifact: The Chain Veil. Garruk has tracked her to the Catacombs, and when she ignores his questions he smashes his way through a wall to find her. She claims the Veil, and begins to hear the voices of the Onakke. They call her Vessel, a recurring theme over the years, in addition to being the root of destruction. With the power of the Veil, she’s easily able to dispatch Garruk’s summoned creatures and curses him, leaving him writhing on the ground as she planeswalks away. The voices talk about how Garruk will never be the same, and how he will never stop hunting her. They’re mostly right.

In The Veil’s Curse, Liliana finds she enjoys the Veil’s power, laying siege to a castle and lounging on the throne once all the castle’s defenders are dead. She realizes that with the power of the Veil, she could kill Kothophed rather than return it to him. She confronts the demon in his lair, and when he realizes what she’s intending he warns her she has no idea what she’s doing. She slaughters him anyway, counting her first demon down. To Liliana's dismay, killing Kothophed did not remove his etchings from her skin. They begin to bleed as she sits to think about her path forward, realizing that perhaps the power she’s been gifted isn’t worth the cost.

Liliana’s next step in The Raven’s Eye Part 3 is to resurrect a cleric she has heard knows more about the Onakke than anyone, in an attempt to rid herself of the Veil. She’s weak from overuse of the Veil and exhuming that cleric’s body leads to angry villagers chasing her down. The animated corpse helps her to the roof and beings speaking to her of the Onakke.

The Onakke were brilliant creatures, slaughtered into nothingness. You should've seen the sky on the night it happened. The stars were so angry, they burned scars in the firmament.

—Quote from The Raven’s Eye Part 3

Liliana quickly realizes this isn’t the cleric she was seeking at all, but the Raven Man possessing his corpse. The Raven Man heals her wounds and she lashes out at him, destroying the corpse. Elsewhere, unknown to Liliana, Garruk is tracking her through the multiverse, interrogating Jace and learning the names of her demons.

Griselbrand and the Helvault

The Guardian, the Witch and the Angel reveals that Liliana’s next demon is on her adopted plane of Innistrad. There, powerful demons can’t be killed permanently. When destroyed, they eventually re-form. Instead, Avacyn imprisons the strongest demons in the Helvault, a holy relic of the Church of Avacyn. Liliana has a problem, however, as Griselbrand’s duel with Avacyn, Angel of Hope has left them both imprisoned in the Helvault. When Liliana arrives to confront him, he’s nowhere to be found. She eventually tracks down the Skirsdag, the cultists who worship the strongest of demons. She follows a trail from the Skirsdag that leads her to Thraben, the capital city of the Church of Avacyn (and known Innistrad). Garruk, the Veil-Cursed has finally found her, consumed by his curse and bloodlust, and the two spar. Liliana overwhelms the cursed hunter once more, leaving him for dead in swamp.

How did Liliana of the Veil destroy the Helvault? Her ultimate, of course!

Art by Todd Lockwood

As she approaches Thraben, she finds the city under siege by the necromancers Gisa and Geralf. They’ve killed Mikaeus, the Lunarch, and so Liliana manipulates Geralf into allowing her access to the body, which she reanimates for answers. From the undead pontiff she learns of Griselbrand’s fate, and heads to the Helvault. In Angel’s Rise and Demon’s Release, the twins’ siege is thwarted and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben moves to stop Liliana, but Liliana paralyzes her holy soldiers, known as Cathars, and gives her an ultimatum between opening the Helvault and the death of her people. Thalia makes her decision, the Helvault is destroyed, releasing Avacyn and every demon she had contained therein, including Griselbrand. Griselbrand attempts to escape, but Liliana follows him across Innistrad. The two face off, the Chain Veil giving Liliana too much of an edge, and Griselbrand is obliterated entirely. Having killed two of her demons with the Veil, Liliana’s questions the cost she’s paying further.

Liliana returns to Shandalar and the Onakke Catacombs in Veil of Deceit. The Onakke voices grow louder upon her return, and as she journeys into the Catacombs an angel tries to stop her (at their own peril). After dispatching the seraph, Liliana is haunted by the angel’s final words, which the Onakke voices echo about being a vessel. As she returns to the Catacombs, she’s treated to a vision of the once thriving Onakke civilization being wiped out suddenly.

The sun had made way for a field of gleaming stars, but even they seemed restless amid the chaos of the market. A cascade of meteors streaked across the sky as the Onakke were utterly obliterated before her eyes.

A bird croaked nearby, a raven, perched on a ledge of a nearby building overlooking the killing field. It cocked its head toward her, the first creature here to notice or acknowledge her presence.

—Quote from Veil of Deceit

In this vision she spots a raven she believes to be the Raven Man, although he says nothing and it’s not clear if he’s part of the vision or watching it with her. He did say he was there the night the Onakke died. Afterwards, Liliana tries to return to the Veil to the altar where she found it, but she finds she can’t let go of it, something is possessing her to keep it. An Onakke spirit, Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient, manifests to tell Liliana that they’re still waiting on the seed that was planted when she killed her brother to bloom and bring about destruction. Frustrated, she taps into the Veil’s full power and snuffs out the spirit before leaving Shandalar once more to seek help.

Innistrad and the Gatewatch

Liliana has no one left to turn to for help, so in Catching Up she returns to Jace. Now the Living Guildpact, he proves not hard to find . . .  despite his sanctum being a closely guarded secret. Jace is reluctant to trust her thanks to her betrayal in Agents of Artifice, but she convinces him to hear her out over dinner. Their dinner is interrupted by Gideon Jura before Liliana can swallow her pride and ask for help, and Jace is recruited to go fight in Battle for Zendikar.

Unkindess of Ravens is such a great pun for this story.

Art by Victor Adame Minguez

In Unkindness of Ravens, we learn Liliana had refused to help Jace and Gideon because it would mean using the Chain Veil’s power again, and losing more of herself in the process. As she broods, the Raven Man manifests to her once more. He argues with her and mocks her, but Liliana refuses to believe that there is nothing to do but accept her fate. He disappears as Liliana lashes out at him. After their brief confrontation, she decides she can solve her own problems, and departs for Innistrad.

On Innistrad, Liliana works with a prominent geistmage in an attempt to purge the Veil of the Onakke influence, but their work is quickly interrupted by an Unwelcome face — Jace, fresh from Zendikar. After their last encounter, Jace is worried she will refuse to help — and he’s right. She recognizes right away he’s come for something, and when Jace mentions that he’s looking for Sorin she refuses. She had a run in with Sorin — once — when she first arrived on Innistrad, and she does not want a second. Jace gives Liliana a short version of the Battle for Zendikar story, but she’s uninterested in his quest. She gives him the location of Markov Manor, believing him suicidal, and offers her ‘guest room’ in the dungeon. Jace takes the hint and leaves.

Liliana’s Indignation follows a short time later, when Liliana hears a voice accusing her of misdeeds in her head. At first, she believes it to be the Raven Man, but then she realizes he’s worried, too. Jace has returned, driven mad by Emrakul’s influence, and unleashes a psychic assault on her. Jace breaks through Liliana’s mental defenses, but he catches a glimpse of the Raven Man. Jace’s momentary lapse allows Liliana to disable him. The Raven Man encourages her to kill him, but instead she offers to help Jace get well. The mind mage refuses and disappears into the night.

There are a lot of great pieces of art out there few people see.

Art by Aleksi Briclot

Liliana and the geistmage’s attempts to free the Veil from the Onakke’s influence fail, and even worse, her mansion is invaded by corrupted Werewolves. Realizing the true threat of Emrakul, she realizes her power may be Innistrad’s Last Hope. She sets out for Thraben, raising Innistrad’s undead as she goes. She arrives just in time to join the Battle of Thraben as the Gatewatch is overwhelmed. Her zombie army surrounds and protects the Gatewatch, and it’s Chandra who intercedes on her behalf when the others seem unwilling to accept her aid. An uneasy alliance is formed between them.

In The Promised End, as Emrakul herself arrives over the city, Liliana blasts the Eldrazi Titan with the Chain Veil, but she’s unable to sustain the power. The Raven Man and Onakke both urge her to flee, with the former stating she’s doomed them both. She’s knocked unconscious by the assault, and when she awakes she finds Emrakul has been contained in the moon. She realizes how useful friends — or more accurately 4 powerful and easily manipulated young mages — could be. She pledges an oath to join them, secretly planning on using them to help free herself of her remaining demons.

Liliana’s oath was less than sincere, but she wasn’t the first to formally break it.

Oath of Liliana by Wesley Burt

Tezzeret and the Planar Bridge

Months later, in Homesick, the Gatewatch’s issues as a group come into sharp focus. When Dovin Baan arrives with a job from Kaladesh, Liliana follows Chandra as the pyromancer storms off. Learning that Kaladesh is Chandra’s home and that Dovin works for Chandra’s hated enemy, the Consulate, she encourages the young pyromancer to return home.

They arrive on Kaladesh in Torch of Defiance. Liliana encourages Chandra to make some havoc, and pushes Chandra to be a bit more murderous in her methods, Chandra refuses. As they travel the city, Liliana and Chandra both stumble upon people they thought long dead: Tezzeret the Schemer and Pia Nalaar! The situation escalates quickly in Renegade Prime, as they’re forced to flee from Tezzeret’s forces rather than rescue Chandra’s mother. Liliana returns to Ravnica to recruit Jace for this fight.

During In This Very Arena, the Gatewatch is lured to Pia’s public execution, only to find their battle with Tezzeret is a cover for him to usurp power and steal everything useful at the Inventors' Fair. Quiet Moments follows the group as they spend weeks tracking down Tezzeret. Liliana’s brutal tactics clash with Gideon’s ethical concerns about their fight. When they finally find Tezzeret and learn about his development of the Planar Bridge, they begin a full-on assault with Pia’s Renegades in Breaking Points. Liliana volunteers to distract Tezzeret while the others work to destroy the Bridge. In Puppets, Liliana contemplates how much she needs a group like the Gatewatch, and is reluctant to admit she may actually like them. She challenges Tezzeret atop the Aether Spire, but he doesn’t seem terribly interested in her, countering her initial volley while tinkering with something.

Tezzeret’s return made Kaladesh’s fight personal for Jace and Liliana.

Art by Daarken

Only then did Tezzeret turn around, his flesh-and-bone hand finishing up some kind of adjustment to his etherium arm. He seemed unfazed by her arrival and even her attack.

"Vess," he said. His voice echoed in the enormous room. "Did he send you? What, to check up on me?"

—Quote from Puppets

“He”, she learns, is Nicol Bolas, who claimed Tezzeret’s body following the events of Agents of Artifice and rebuilt the artificer. He taunts her for believing she can escape the elder dragon’s plans. As Liliana gains the upper hand, Tezzeret reveals Bolas is heading to Amonkhet, the same plane as Liliana’s third demon, Razaketh. Before Liliana can finish off Tezzeret, however, Gideon and Chandra streak through a broken window riding a thopter and explode, destroying the Bridge. Tezzeret escapes in the confusion as Gideon and Chandra recover from the ordeal. In the aftermath, the Gatewatch convene with new ally Ajani Unyielding, who warns them against proceeding against Bolas with more help. The leonin had fought Bolas once before and only survived through pure luck. Gideon counters that they should strike before Bolas could plan for them. When Ajani leaves to find more allies after agreeing to rendezvous on Dominaria, the rest decide to attempt to confront Bolas themselves.

Razaketh and the Hour of Devastation

The Gatewatch departs in the morning for Amonkhet in Impact. They arrive in the desert, far away from the city, and in the path of hordes of undead and giant sandwurms. Liliana is nearly killed, but when she blacks out the Raven Man takes control of the Chain Veil and blasts her free. They make it to relative safety, and while everyone else is off investigating the supposed paradise of Naktamun, Liliana is living it up in Servants. She finds the plane to be a dream for her, with the zombie Anointed being incredibly easy to control. Jace arrives and together they discover hieroglyphs depicting Razaketh setting off the end of days.

In Brazen and Judgment, the others discover political prisoners to be sacrificed in a trial of the gods. They rescue them, but the arrival of the gods themselves overwhelm them. They awake in an arena, where the Worthy, aspirants for a glorious place in the afterlife, are pitted in mortal combat against them. The Gatewatch survives thanks to the timely dawning of Amonkhet’s second sun, heralding Nicol Bolas’s arrival and the end of days.

Wait . . .  one of her deals was with a demon explicitly working for Bolas?

Doomsday by Jaime Jones

Razaketh heralds Bolas’s arrival by opening the Gate to the Afterlife in Feast. Once his task is done, he sets about hunting down Liliana. He uses his power over her to manipulate her like a marionette. The Gatewatch attempt to rescue her while the Raven Man appears to her, reminding her that only by killing all of her demons can she be free. With her new allies help distracting the demon, she summons all of her power and commands all the dead things in the river to rise, summoning undead crocodiles to finish off Razaketh. Liliana thrills in the visceral feeling of devouring Razaketh through her minions, but the rest of the Gatewatch are disgusted by it.

A pitched battle for the city begins as Bolas’s army of zombies, created through the deadly trials and recording each sacrifice’s skill in magical Lazotep cartouches, overwhelm the city’s defenses in short order. Then, the Hour of Devastation is at hand. Bolas personally greets the Gatewatch, who rush in without a plan. He begins picking them apart with ease, and one by one they fall. Jace planeswalks away as Bolas destroys his mind. With the tide obviously not in their favor, Liliana takes the Raven Man’s advice and submits. Bolas tells her to leave, and that he will find her when he needs her.

Belzenlok and the Cabal

The Gatewatch make their rendezvous on Dominaria, broken, in Return to Dominaria Episode 1. Jace is nowhere to be found (his vacation to Ixalan lasted for months after this point), and Nissa almost immediately quits the Gatewatch, forsaking her oath. Chandra becomes obsessed with getting stronger and leaves as well, vowing to return. With their departure, only Gideon and Liliana are left. Gideon takes a pragmatic approach, believing that their goal to defeat Bolas hasn’t changed. They head to the nearby village, and we learn that the rendezvous was in Liliana’s old family lands. We also learn that Liliana’s final demon, Belzenlok, has been alerted to her presence and that Josu is still ‘alive’ and works for Belzenlok’s Cabal, now.

In Return to Dominaria Episode 2, together with Gideon and a once-routed army of Benalians, Josu’s forces are distracted long enough for Liliana to lay her brother to rest once and for all. Liliana is forced to use the Chain Veil again to do it, weakening her and preventing her from using it on Belzenlok. She and Gideon begin developing a grudging respect for one another.

And by the end of Dominaria’s story, Liliana will have defeated her fourth demon.

Belzenlok may fall . . .  but is Liliana truly free?

Settle the Score by Yongjae Choi

Now, we don’t know exactly what Settle the Score means yet, other than that Belzenlok definitely dies. The flavor text on it is pretty great, Liliana getting back at demons who thought she was an idiot. Is Liliana finally free, or has the Raven Man been leading Liliana along this whole time? Regardless, Belzenlok’s death marks the end of an era. Liliana’s demons have been one of the longest standing plot threads in Magic history, with Kothophed kicking the bucket in a webcomic from 2009. Josu, likewise, is gone. Liliana’s past is being wrapped up, but what does this mean for her future?

Settle the Score is just another card in the tradition of 4-mana removal spells on story spotlights, after Ixalan’s Vraska's Contempt and Hour of Devastation’s Hour of Glory. Its second ability is intriguing, however, adding two loyalty to a planeswalker you control. With Brawl coming on the scene and allowing planeswalker Commanders, and a new set of planeswalker Commanders coming this fall, I can’t help but feel this card may be more useful that we think at first glance. It allows Liliana, Death's Majesty to ultimate the turn it enters the battlefield, and Vraska, Relic Seeker to do so the following turn.


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