Last week marked a unique milestone for Magic’s story. Not only was it the conclusion of Dominaria’s return to the spotlight, but it also marked the final chapter (sort of) in Magic’s longest-running story. Liliana finally got her last demon.

Back in 2007, when planeswalkers were first introduced in Lorwyn, they didn’t have any relevance or connection to the story. Jace, Chandra, and the rest didn’t show up in the art or flavor text of any other cards. They were, apparently, just visitors disconnected from the rest of the narrative that was going on. For that matter, it wasn’t clear if they were on Lorwyn at all.

When it came to these five, they each got a short blurb—outlining personalities, magical talents, and the like—but barely a hint of story. Jace’s vague “choosing between light and dark” setup never went anywhere. Chandra was given no more to work with than “wants to be free of those who want to control her.” Ajani didn’t get embroiled with Bolas’s scheme until Alara the next year. Garruk similarly waited until the duel decks to develop his rivalry with Liliana.

But Liliana was different. Her blurb had direction. From the moment we met her, we knew she had already sold her soul four times over, and that she’d do anything to kill the demons to whom she was beholden. Now she has finally accomplished her goal, a decade later. And while Bolas showed up as a surprise final debt collector to extend Liliana’s story, I wanted to take the opportunity to look back at her demon quest, which is essentially the first complete long-form story of Magic’s post-Mending age.


The first stage of Liliana’s story was told through online comics. If you’re interested check out The Raven’s Eye, The Hunter and the Veil and The Veil’s Curse.

By necessity of the webcomic format they’re more snippets of lore that a truly cohesive story, but we can see the seeds of every one of Liliana’s arcs being sown here. The Raven Man appears twice, we get our first look at Josu’s transformation into an undead monstrosity, and the rivalry with Garruk begins. Heck, we even get a shot of Sarkhan spying on Liliana as she tries out The Chain Veil. I often give Wizards a hard time about their long-term storytelling, but they set up the main twist of Dominaria’s storyline back in 2009.

In part three, Liliana takes the newly-acquired Chain Veil and kills Kothophed. The fight doesn’t last long—it’s barely more than a page, but it works. The whole point of this comic is to set up two facts: The Chain Veil is powerful enough to easily kill a demon, and using it takes a heavy toll on the wielder. That is a great setup. The final page of Liliana’s last comic sells the pain (both physical and emotional) that she is going through: her last words are a simple “one down” before she slumps over and watches blood drip from her demonic tattoos.

In that moment, Liliana understands that her only path to freedom demands repeated agony. This sets up a journey where we see exactly how far she will push herself to escape from literal slavery. There are countless directions the story could go: from Liliana falling to depths of depravity to outdo her demons at their own game, to finding a way to rise above her past mistakes.


Unfortunately that’s where her journey hits a roadblock. The Quest for Karn released in 2011, a few months before Liliana’s story was slated to return to the forefront of Magic with the release of Innistrad. It was so bad it threw the Magic story into disarray. Liliana’s story suffers as a result. The other than the cards of the Innistrad block themselves, the main source of Vorthos knowledge at this point are two stories from the mothership. Liliana’s Mission doesn’t say much. Months later, The Guardian, The Witch, and The Angel was released. Once again working with little more than a bullet-point format, this article outlines Thalia’s rise to power, gives some broad brushstrokes of Liliana’s journey around Innistrad as he searches for Griselbrand, and then sets them on a collision course. Neither story offers any resolution. There’s a big hole in WotC’s digital archives for a few months after, which falls directly over the release of Avacyn Restored and the culmination of the block’s story.

My own memory of trying to follow the story is a bit hazy, but from what I recall the facts of what happened during Avacyn Restored came out in bits and pieces at a time. Liliana’s confrontation with Thalia and the resulting destruction of the Helvault was positioned front and center, but the rest of the pieces didn’t fall into postion until much later. Liliana confronts Garruk and kills Griselbrand, but Liliana’s time on Innistrad was not presented as a story. Instead we get a list of facts stripped of emotional weight or character growth. All we know is what Liliana did, not how it affected her.


Liliana reared her head in the summer of 2014 with the short story Veil of Deceit. The story is set some time after Liliana killed Griselbrand on Innistrad, and it circles around her attempt to return The Chain Veil to the tomb where she originally found it.

After paying the price for killing two demons with the Veil, even Magic’s mistress of darkness decided that the price of using it was too high. Of course, we don’t know what the price was, other than anguish. This storytelling failure cheapens Liliana’s choice to abandon her weapon and dampens the horror when she realizes that she literally cannot let the Veil go.

What this story does wholeheartedly succeed at is introducing the spirits inside the Veil as one more entity claiming ownership over Liliana’s mind, if not her soul. At its core Liliana’s journey is about someone desperately trying to claw her way up out of slavery, but everywhere she turns she’s confronted with worse masters trying to enslave her. In classic mono-black fashion, Liliana is trying to thread her way between four different dark forces without succumbing to any of them. The Veil of Deceit illustrates this while showing that, even if she has an advantage against her demonic masters, she’s gained it by surrendering a crucial advantage to the Onakke spirits.

She returns with Magic Origins. The story is organized again, thankfully. The Fourth Pact rehashes Liliana’s childhood on Dominaria and the events that led to her spark igniting, before flashing forward to the aftermath of the mending as she forges her pact with Kothophed. We learn that Bolas brokered her demonic contracts, and (retcon alert) she now creates the potion to lichify Josu herself, rather than simply receiving it from the Raven Man.

Catching Up and Unkindness of Ravens finally bring Liliana to the present day, as she pays a visit to Jace on Ravnica. Crucially this is the first time that Liliana starts interacting with other planeswalkers outside of the now–defunct novels. Jace’s complicated relationship with Liliana is confirmed, it’s revealed that she wanted Jace to look over her demonic contracts—assistance that she crucially doesn’t receive, thanks to Gideon—and the Raven Man makes pushes her to seek help before making a fool of her when she tries to fight him.

The most important work that these stories are doing is highlighting the difference between the Liliana that everyone else sees and what it’s like inside her head. To those around her she’s an undecipherable onion of lies and manipulation—even Jace gives up trying to understand her—but on the inside she’s rapidly spiraling out of control and spends as much time lying to herself as she does lying to others.

Despite being large presence in the set and even picking up another standard-warping planeswalker card, Liliana only shows up in five stories during the return to Innistrad. Unwelcome and Liliana’s Indignation focus on a pair of confrontations with Jace. Innistrad’s Last Hope follows Liliana during Emrakul’s emergence onto the plane and her decision to stay and fight—a decision that she explicitly frames as a way to place Jace and his allies in her debt so she can manipulate them later. Battle of Thraben and The Promised End which detail the climatic final battle against Emrakul. The best highlight these two stories do give to her is when she takes the Oath to enter the Gatewatch.

The words of her oath are characteristically sharp and self-serving, but the amount of thought she puts into them is telling. She specifically put the sarcasm into her words so that Gideon and (more importantly) Jace won’t suspect her true motivation for joining. That is cold, but for Liliana it marks an important step. She’s acquired her first set of allies that aren’t explicitly trying to stake ownership on her soul and body. Or as she puts it, “better zombies.”


Finally Liliana gets back on track for her demon-slaying quest. Feast, one of the first stories to take place during Hour of Devastation, is dedicated to the fight against Razaketh, and it’s freaking awesome. This is the first time that we actually see one of her demons really use their incredible power for anything, and it does not disappoint. Before a single spell is thrown Razaketh demonstrates a terrifying ability. Due to a bylaw he hid in his contract with Liliana, he can force the necromancer to be his puppet, moving exactly and only as he commands. The initial display of this ability, forcing her to walk through a river of blood to reach him and overriding even her instincts to breathe while she almost suffocates underwater, makes you realize immediately that Razaketh is nothing like the two demons Liliana has dispatched thus far.

This is also the first time that we see Liliana truly scared. She is effectively powerless against Razaketh, and she knows it as soon as she starts walking into the river against her will. This disparity in power also explains why Liliana doesn’t simply get obliterated in the opening moments of their confrontation. Until he realizes she has allies Razaketh has nothing to fear from Liliana, so even when she threatens to kill him there’s no reason for him to do anything other than scold her.

Then the Gatewatch arrive, and everything goes to heck. The fight essentially boils down to the rest of the team trying to distract the demon while he uses the openings in their teamwork to repeatedly cripple Liliana via their pact. Her shoulder forcibly dislocates itself, her legs give out underneather her, and finally Razaketh shuts down her ability to breathe.

This is a brutal and terrible fight, right down to its conclusion. With Jace impairing the demon’s mind and Chandra engulfing him in an inferno, Liliana finally has Razaketh at her mercy. She reaches for the Veil, but realizes that she doesn’t need it with Razaketh this badly hurt. Instead she reaches out to the newly dead wildlife in the river, casts a mass zombify spell on them, and they feast. It’s an intentionally uncomfortable moment, made all the more so by the Gatewatch’s horrified reactions.

By the end of Feast, you can’t escape the feeling that, even though Liliana only has one demon left, she lost something vitally important here. Her allies openly distrust her, either because she didn’t tell them one of her demons was here or because Jace was inside her mind when she devoured the demon and knows exactly how badly she lost it. All of that gets worse in Hour of Devestation, when Bolas essentially orders her to leave the fight and she flees without launching a single attack. Broken and having just watched Jace be mentally tortured by the dragon, she abandons her allies to their fates.


And that is where Dominaria picks up. A broken Gatewatch, Gideon injured, Chandra Injured, Nissa furious beyond words, and Jace mysteriously missing. Liliana tries every trick she can to convince the others to go after Belzenlok, and she fails. The only ally she’s left with is Gideon, a man that she’s had nothing but spite and frustration for in even her most private thoughts, and he’s badly injured on top of everything else. Then her brother reappears, under the command of Belzenlock for no reason other than that the demonlord felt like toying with her. Working with Gideon, Liliana manages to lay her brother to rest. But in doing so two important things happen. First, she has to use the Veil, which means she won’t be able to kill Belzenlok with it. And second, with his last words Josu blames Liliana for the deaths of their entire family, cursing her for the death and destruction she left in her wake.

The first point is problematic. It’s a problem because, to the best of my knowledge, this is the only time that The Chain Veil has been used by Liliana in a major story and the focus didn’t immediately cut away from her before we can actually see what it’s doing to her. This should have been the place to finally explain how the Veil is harming her, and we get nothing.

Why does using the Veil against Josu mean she can’t use it against Belzenlok? I don’t know. It could be a time limit. It could be sheering away at her life force and she simply doesn’t have enough left in her to survive another use. It could be any limitation imaginable. And while the life force explanation seems probable, this use of the Veil barely seemed to hurt her at all and she apparently has zero symptoms to deal with, beyond minor bleeding from her tattoos that’s only mentioned once in passing.

On the other hand that second point is great writing. It brings Liliana to rock bottom, finally makes her accept responsibility for the crime that started her downward slide two centuries ago and acts as a turning point for her character. If Liliana as we’ve known her has always wound up in bad situations it’s because she’s willing to do anything to accomplish her goals, be that killing her demons or simply not dying. She will pay any price, take any shortcut. And to her credit it’s kept her alive, far past the point where most people would’ve given up and died a dozen times over. But Dominaria is essentially the story of Liliana realizing that acting the way she has up to this point is only going to dig her deeper and deeper into the hole that she’s trying to escape.

It happens slowly, and mostly in the background while other stories are going on, but when she starts badgering Arvad to figure out why he doesn’t eat people in Episode 10, there’s a reason for it. She’s reached the point where maintaining the course she’s been on her entire life will only bring her pain and hardship, and she knows it. So she has to change. Haltingly, grudgingly, to be sure. We see Liliana take the first steps down a very long and difficult road in the moments before they invade the Stronghold. But even then, she puts the decision off until after she takes one last shortcut and uses a soul-destroying sword to kill her final demon.

Episodes 11 and 12 of the Return to Dominaria focus entirely on the combined effort to take down the Demonlord of the Cabal. When the story ends I can’t help but say he feels like a letdown. Belzenlok’s schtick for revisionist history is a compelling concept that meshes with the block very well, but it isn’t utilized here at all. He spouts a few lines about how he forged the Blackblade and how arrogant Gideon is to use it against him, but it just comes off as meaningless bluster.

Belzenlok doesn’t really mesh with the themes of Liliana’s story. The fight with Razaketh set up the fact that her demonic masters each have an unknown degree of control over her actions, but we don’t get that here. It is a missed opportunity and an unsatisfying finale to a story eleven years in the making.

There is Always a Greater Power

Fortunately, the disappointing Belzenlok battle isn’t her final hurdle. Once the Gatewatch leaves Dominaria, Bolas reveals himself as the new owner of Liliana’s contract and thus, of her. And this is it, the fate worse than death. She remained ignorant that Bolas was waiting for all this to happen, because she couldn’t unbend her pride enough to ask Jace to look at her contract for her. At the end of it all she is left with a single, terrible choice. Serve, or die.

Here we get to see what I consider one of black’s few admirable qualities on display. Even with the worst odds in the multiverse against her and being logically certain that suicide would be the least painful choice, Liliana refuses to give up hope. She will serve, and probably betray her friends all over again before the end of the upcoming Ravnica Saga, but she will do so in the hope of one day being a free woman once more.

For the first time since she was a teenager picking her way through the Caligo Forest.

Levi Byrne has been with the game since Worldwake and has a rabid love for fantasy writing that goes back decades. Despite some forays into Legacy he plays Commander almost exclusively, and has a love for the crazy plays and huge games that make Magic what it is. He was the go-to advisor of his playgroup on deck construction for more than five years before joining Dear Azami.

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