Before I start today’s article, a word about my column going forward. War Games has been a huge success, and the response to my first major foray into Magic fiction has been wonderful to see. At the same time, writing that story has essentially been a second full-time job for the past eight months. To put it bluntly I don’t have the time to make fiction the sole focus of my articles here. I will undoubtedly write and share more stories as time goes on, but most of those will likely be individual pieces rather than a six-month ongoing narrative. Until then, I’ll be writing about all sorts of Vorthos topics, with the occasional foray back into Commander territory.

To be completely honest, this week I had planned to talk about the guild stories that we’ve been getting for the past several months. But then we got the first teasers for War of the Spark. At this point it’s obvious that the upcoming set is going to be Wizards of the Coast’s biggest push for the story ever. Every card we’ve seen so far is dripping with flavor and story implications. The cinematic trailer revealed on Sunday is both the best trailer Wizards has ever released and a compelling story in its own right.

From the interplanar beacon to Bolas’s invasion there is just so, so much to talk about right now. I quite literally can’t cover it all. So instead I want to focus on the aspect that stuck the deepest chord with me: Liliana’s sacrifice.

I’ve written about Liliana before, her history with the four demons and her overarching story. Something I wasn’t able to talk about then was a moment in The Fourth Pact where she pauses on the brink of selling her soul and wonders what makes her any different from the wickedest villains in the multiverse. The only answer she can come up with is both depressing and surprisingly poignant. “Just this moment, this one instant of hesitation.”

At the time her answer struck me as significant, though I didn’t know why. It was a very odd line to draw, considering that after her moment of hesitation she lunges headlong into her contracts. It served only to highlight how broken she was at the time, but it felt like more than that.

Now, we know why. Because that one moment seeded a very important fact. Liliana is not, and never was, an unthinking evil. Unrepentantly and uncaringly evil, but not unthinkingly so. She knew that she was crossing a line when she signed her deal; and again when she pulled Jace into an abusive cycle; and when she cursed Garruk with The Chain Veil; and again when she turned on her demonic masters; and finally when she tricked, manipulated, and begged the Gatewatch to aid her quest. She always knew that what she was doing was dangerous, immoral, and evil. And she did it anyway. Liliana’s entire journey has been defined by a series of moral choices, and while she chose the darker path at every turn there was always a seed of doubt within her about those choices. Just a single moment of hesitation.

We’re about to see that seed finally take root. In the middle of an apocalypse that she helped forge, Liliana realizes that she has a choice to make. Between slavery and freedom, power and death, what is easy and what is right. For the first time in a long time, Liliana makes a choice not because of fear or spite or what she stands to gain, but to fix some of her own wrongs.

It costs her. Dearly. I’m not ruling out Liliana’s survival just yet, but the trailer makes it pretty darn clear that Bolas can end her with a thought. If I had to wager, that doesn’t matter to her. Liliana has always been the type who would spit in the eyes of gods and demons alike. Once she decides that being under Bolas’s claw isn’t worth it, she won’t back down. This would be an amazingly fitting end to her arc—I more or less predicted it when I was writing War Games—but personally I’m hoping that she makes it out alive.

One interesting question that I’ve been thinking about is something I haven’t seen anyone bring up. If Liliana does survive her bath in dragonfire, what colors will she be in the future? The easy answer is Orzhov, due to Gideon’s influence and friendship during Dominaria, as well as the prominent role he plays in the trailer and her own self-sacrifice.  But personally, I think she’ll remain mono-black. That might sound strange, but I don’t think Liliana’s change of heart is actually about putting others above herself. I think she finally came to the realization that her centuries-long path has no end other than slavery and death. If she ever wants to be her own person, she has to free herself of the dragon. No matter the cost. Even if it kills her.

That sounds more cynical than I meant it. I guess the best explanation for my feeling here is that this is a healthy use of selfishness. After all, white is the color that makes the best servants. And black is the color willing to pay any cost.

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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