In the world of 3 mana planeswalkers, no one packs a punch quite like Liliana Vess. For years, her cards have dominated various decks that run black. Today we're going to be looking at an older and a newer card, and see how they stack up to one another. One is a tried and true classic, while the other has been slowly but surely making waves in various formats. I'm of course talking about , and .
To say that is good is an understatement. Since her first printing in the original Innistrad set, she's been in her fair share of decklists. Her arrival really heralded in the realization that a 3 mana planeswalker can be insane. And her price over time has shown that power level. At her peak, she broke $100 by a decent margin, and has consistently been in the $80 to $100 range the past few years. Her playset status in decks like Jund has cemented her playability in Modern. She shows up in decks in Legacy, such as Dead Guy Ale, and various Pox variants. Being able to choose between recurring discard and is pretty insane at 3 mana. In some grindy matchups, her ultimate can be a real backbreaker, especially after 4 turns of discard. You can force your 3 colored opponents out of a color in their on-table manabase. Or you can make your opponent choose between all their threats and their ability to play any cards for the rest of the game.
Her art, while controversial, is certainly iconic at this point, and is likely Steve Argyle's most famous piece. She pairs well with another one of Argyle's cards, . There is very little in Magic that feels better than hitting a off of a . BBE into LotV. That kind of pressure is not easy to combat. In decks like 8-Rack and Pox, she is a prolonged death sentence, like a terminal illness that you know will inevitably be the death of you. But she has lost a bit of her luster over the past few years.
While her mainstay status as a 4-of in Jund has been at the top of her resume for the past several years, some cracks have formed in that perfect record. Many lists of various GBx strategies have demoted her to a 3 or even 2 of in their mainboards, as threats in Modern have become more diverse and less fair. While decks like Humans and Bridgevine in Modern have risen in popularity, has downshifted due to untargeted discard being slow and unnecessary, and edict effects doing little to a wide fat board. In Legacy, the matches are just not fair enough for her to really shine, except in the decks like Pox. And Pox happens to both be a non-tier 1 deck, as well as costing a small fortune. Her price has certainly not gone down by too much, but I believe this to be a market memory, people that remember her from days of past, rather than her true strength now.
The truth is that she is an incredible card that does better in a fair landscape, which both Legacy and Modern do not seem to be in at the moment. She does have the benefit of being somewhat stackable, due to her dispensable nature. You're usually pretty ok if you get an edict out of her, and then she gets hit and dies, leaving the second copy in your hand ready to drop. This is something not true of every planeswalker. Overall though, she's been on the decline for the past few years. Great, but been better.
The Rising Star
In a later Innistrad block, we received . This card is really interesting, as it doesn't seem inherently incredible. But it's slowly seeing more and more play. There's a few reasons for this. Firstly, she's a 3 mana planeswalker. For many decks, 3 and 4 mana is a huge difference, especially in Modern and Legacy. She also is fairly unique in that her +1 ability acts as removal. Having a neverending string of removal can be devastating for decks that revolve around tiny creatures. But it's not useless against larger creatures either. It can often slow down creatures the same way that would, or some other -esque effect.
She doesn't just have removal though, she also acts as a clock against some decks. Her ultimate -7 ability is a real threat against control decks, and even Midrange decks during a topdeck war. Once her emblem hits the table, it means your opponent has one, maybe two turns to stabilize, and then its lights out. It's not really feasible to fight a tide of Zombies.
In Modern, she's seen play mainly as 1 or 2 of's in sideboards of various fair decks. Recently she's come out as a mainboard option in decks like Jund. Only as a one of usually, but enough to take away a seat from her older sister (twin? clone?).
In Legacy, she's started to make waves in a post world. Decks like Grixis Control, and Dimir Shadow have put her in sideboards all over the place. If you go down the list of threats in Legacy, you realize how many get eaten by . , , and (pre-flip) are the 3 most played creatures in a format that is not really creature dominated. And they all get eaten. In Legacy, it's also much harder to deal with a planeswalker once its hit the board, especially a non-blue or red one. This means that if you're holding in your hand, you can slam her on turn 3 with the protective backup, and know that once she's hit you're giving your opponent a real clock on their game plan.
Her middle ability is something that is just gravy utility a lot of the time, as being able to recur a threat when you're in a topdeck war or counterspell struggle is certainly a welcome sight. She's certainly a grindier planeswalker than LotV, and in formats where that's warranted, she really can shine.
Despite the fact that these two planeswalkers have the same mana cost, and depict the same character, the truth is that they fill totally different roles. is a general disruptor. Being able to remove threats and cards in hand will usually be good in Game 1. Her ultimate is good, and is often not far out of reach. But it doesn't win the game on its own. You need to have good cards along side her in order to close out the game.
on the other hand is much grindier. She will win the game on her own, but can get overwhelmed. You likely wouldn't want to run her as a four of since she's not very useful if you have two sitting in your hand. She acts as recurring removal which in some matchups and some formats will be a real hoser for your opponent. Her second ability gives her great utility, and her clock against control decks is really fun to countdown with.
I'd say that at the moment, the two are pretty neck and neck between their two roles, and it's hard to argue that having both out at the same time isn't a hell of a time.