When some Magic the Gathering players first saw Liliana, Dreadhorde General, they saw a 6-mana planeswalker that may not have much of an impact in Standard. However, this Liliana planeswalker card should not be overlooked. Not only does she have three loyalty abilities, but a static ability, as well.
Six-mana planeswalkers have made an impact in Standard – and even Modern – before such as Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and Vraska, Relic Seeker. So, let’s see how this Liliana planeswalker from War of the Spark is stronger than she appears on the surface.
She Draws Cards
The first ability on Liliana, Dreadhorde General is a static ability which draws you a card whenever a creature dies. This ability is extremely important because unlike many “when it dies” effects, it doesn’t specify nontoken creatures. So, the incremental advantage of this Liliana planeswalker is fairly obvious right away and can find a home in a.
She Makes Zombie Tokens
Liliana’s first loyalty ability is a plus-one to create a 2/2 Zombie creature token. That means she immediately can bring a creature into play to protect herself. As Liliana, Dreadhorde General gives you 6 loyalty counters to start, ticking right up to 7 is pretty good. Plus, the tokens created by this ability make her second loyalty ability even better.
She Forces Two Sacrifices
Liliana’s second loyalty ability is minus-4 loyalty to force each player to sacrifice two creatures. This is the same as the ability of Barter in Blood card ability, a four-mana sorcery that saw play back when it was in Standard. While this effect would ordinarily be symmetrical, because Liliana draws you a card for each of your creatures that dies, you will get to draw two cards (unless you only have one or no creatures to sacrifice). Drawing two cards is always good for you. Forcing your opponent to lose their own creatures is even better.
She Makes a One-Sided Cataclysm
Many years ago in the Exodus set, Magic printed a board-wipe spell called Cataclysm. This card was very powerful in control decks. All players would choose an artifact, an enchantment, a creature, and a land he or she controlled and sacrifice all the rest. Because this card was printed before the planeswalker card type was created, players would also have to sacrifice any planeswalkers.
But, Liliana, Dreadhorde General’s “ultimate” minus-9 loyalty ability does not affect you at all. It forces all opponents to choose one of each permanent they control (including planeswalkers) and sacrifice all the rest. This is an extremely crippling ability, especially considering that you do not have to lose anything – except potentially Liliana herself being sacrificed after spending 9 loyalty counters.
Because Liliana, Dreadhorde General begins with 6 loyalty counters, this ultimate ability is not impossible to pull off in a typical game. While she doesn’t win the game all by herself, this Liliana planeswalker can essentially give you such an absurd amount of card advantage with her ultimate loyalty ability that it would be extremely hard not to win.
Liliana, Dreadhorde General in Standard
Control decks quickly found a home for at least one copy Liliana, Dreadhorde General, ranging from Esper Midrange, to Grixis Control, and to even Sultai Aggro. While she’s not quite that great against decks that go wide with their creatures, she’s very good against decks that don’t play many creatures.
The Dreadhorde General coming down late is fine if you are forcing your opponent to sacrifice their best creatures. Her ultimate loyalty ability is so strong that it makes sense for her to be a six-mana planeswalker. Bringing your opponent down to a single land pretty much spells the end for a game. Standard decks played Liliana, Dreadhorde General from her April 2019 release right until September of 2020, eventually even breaking into Rakdos Control and Jund decks.
Liliana, Dreadhorde General in EDH / Commander
Being a six-mana planeswalker in EDH does not matter when it comes to play-ability. In fact, many Commander decks will take advantage of Liliana, Dreadhorde General simply for her ability to draw cards. Sacrifice themes are huge in EDH, especially in mono-black, black/green, and white/black decks, and all these decks were happy to make a home for Liliana, Dreadhorde General.
It turned out that she’d prove massively popular in the EDH format. In early 2022, Liliana, Dreadhorde General saw play in 6% of all decks scraped by EDHREC that could play her in their colors. As expected, many of those decks have a sacrifice theme, but not all of them. Some token decks have included the Dreadhorde General, thanks to being able to happily trade token creatures for cards.
The most popular decks playing Liliana, Dreadhorde General in EDH are Carth the Lion and Liliana, Heretical Healer. The reason for the latter should be blatantly obvious, as Liliana Planeswalker tribal is understandably a potent strategy. Carth the Lion is also somewhat obvious, thanks for being the most planeswalker friendly card ever printed. Dreadhorde General is particularly thankful for Carth’s +1 loyalty cost bump; she can create a token for +2 loyalty rather than just one, then use her ultimate loyalty ability for -8 the very next turn. In general, though, the General is just a “good stuff” card that you play if you own a copy and can find the room to fit her in at the six-drop slot.
Liliana, Dreadhorde General in Pioneer
While Dreadhorde General didn’t break into Modern in any meaningful way outside of a rogue Mono-Black Control, an Orzhov Midrange deck, or an occasional inclusion in a Carth the Lion planeswalker tribal deck, she did appear in a handful of top finishes in Pioneer. The format tends to be highly experimental and Liliana, Dreadhorde General showed up in a bevy of strategies. These decks included Dimir Control, Esper Control, Esper Yorion, Jund, Orzhov Doom Foretold, Rakdos Planeswalkers, and Sultai Ultimatum. She’s fallen a bit out of favor since the summer of 2021, but she saw enough top 4 finishes in the format to prove a point that she’s well worth her significant mana investment in yet another non-rotating format.
Liliana, Dreadhorde General is a bit too slow of a planeswalker for regular inclusion in Modern, but she was well-utilized in Standard, and since has seen plenty of love in Pioneer and Commander. She’s proved herself a very strong mid-to-late game planeswalker that continues the tradition of playable Liliana planeswalkers that, as expected, has become an absolute force in EDH.
How would you play Liliana, Dreadhorde General?