Liliana Vess. Magic icon, one of the First Five Planeswalkers, and a true legend in lore. Living History! 

When I think about the first Liliana, I immediately land on two distinct strategies: incremental value and the benefits of tutoring. When Liliana's around, she doesn't block especially well, so it's important to have some slower, defensive creatures. We also want a few potent spells to tutor for, and this gives us a little flexibility with our Rares as well. 

Liliana's Ultimate effect is pretty rad, and I have to imagine that we'll win any game where we actually make it happen. Because of that, I don't think there's much of an incentive to build for it in any way. 

Here's what I've got for this dark diva:

Magic: The Gathering TCG Deck - Liliana Vess by Andy Hurst

'Liliana Vess' - constructed deck list and prices for the Magic: The Gathering Trading Card Game from TCGplayer Infinite!

Created By: Andy Hurst

Event:

Rank:

Freeform (Casual)

Market Price: $38.15

Cards

Golden Demise

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $0.08

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/155686_200w.jpg

Ascend (If you control ten or more permanents, you get the city's blessing for the rest of the game.)
All creatures get -2/-2 until end of turn. If you have the city's blessing, instead only creatures your opponents control get -2/-2 until end of turn.

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Razaketh's Rite

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $0.48

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/136489_200w.jpg

Search your library for a card, put that card into your hand, then shuffle.
Cycling {B} ({B}, Discard this card: Draw a card.)

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Read the Bones

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $1.62

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/140021_200w.jpg

Scry 2, then draw two cards. You lose 2 life.

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Dark Ritual

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $0.60

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/161421_200w.jpg

Add {B}{B}{B}.

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Dark Banishing

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $0.12

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/12617_200w.jpg

Destroy target nonblack creature. It can't be regenerated.

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Sunset Pyramid

Market Price: $0.01

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/227145_200w.jpg

Sunset Pyramid enters the battlefield with three brick counters on it.
{2}, {T}, Remove a brick counter from Sunset Pyramid: Draw a card.
{2}, {T}: Scry 1.

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Graf Rats

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $0.07

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/119679_200w.jpg

At the beginning of combat on your turn, if you both own and control Graf Rats and a creature named Midnight Scavengers, exile them, then meld them into Chittering Host.

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Vampire Nighthawk

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $0.20

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/254233_200w.jpg

Flying, deathtouch, lifelink

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Bone Picker

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $0.14

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/219507_200w.jpg

This spell costs {3} less to cast if a creature died this turn.
Flying, deathtouch

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Profane Command

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $0.20

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/212494_200w.jpg

Choose two —
• Target player loses X life.
• Return target creature card with mana value X or less from your graveyard to the battlefield.
• Target creature gets -X/-X until end of turn.
• Up to X target creatures gain fear until end of turn. (They can't be blocked except by artifact creatures and/or black creatures.)

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Swamp

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $0.06

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/196608_200w.jpg

({T}: Add {B}.)

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Highway Robber

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $0.05

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/79943_200w.jpg

When Highway Robber enters the battlefield, target opponent loses 2 life and you gain 2 life.

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Liliana Vess

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $18.18

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/93722_200w.jpg

+1: Target player discards a card.
−2: Search your library for a card, then shuffle and put that card on top.
−8: Put all creature cards from all graveyards onto the battlefield under your control.

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Disciple of Phenax

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $0.03

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/71338_200w.jpg

When Disciple of Phenax enters the battlefield, target player reveals a number of cards from their hand equal to your devotion to black. You choose one of them. That player discards that card. (Each {B} in the mana costs of permanents you control counts toward your devotion to black.)

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Ihsan's Shade

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $0.16

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/161530_200w.jpg

Protection from white

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Everglades

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $0.62

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/94457_200w.jpg

Everglades enters the battlefield tapped.
When Everglades enters the battlefield, sacrifice it unless you return an untapped Swamp you control to its owner's hand.
{T}: Add {C}{B}.

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Unmake the Graves

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $0.06

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/91305_200w.jpg

Convoke (Your creatures can help cast this spell. Each creature you tap while casting this spell pays for {1} or one mana of that creature's color.)
Return up to two target creature cards from your graveyard to your hand.

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Duress

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $0.02

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/248314_200w.jpg

Target opponent reveals their hand. You choose a noncreature, nonland card from it. That player discards that card.

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Visara the Dreadful

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $1.03

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/118743_200w.jpg

Flying
{T}: Destroy target creature. It can't be regenerated.

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Reassembling Skeleton

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $0.19

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/243962_200w.jpg

{1}{B}: Return Reassembling Skeleton from your graveyard to the battlefield tapped.

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Fetid Imp

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $0.02

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/215868_200w.jpg

Flying
{B}: Fetid Imp gains deathtouch until end of turn. (Any amount of damage it deals to a creature is enough to destroy it.)

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Consume Spirit

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $0.25

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/93569_200w.jpg

Spend only black mana on X.
Consume Spirit deals X damage to any target and you gain X life.

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Diabolic Edict

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $0.06

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/190751_200w.jpg

Target player sacrifices a creature.

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Mage-Ring Network

Market Price: $0.13

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/236229_200w.jpg

{T}: Add {C}.
{1}, {T}: Put a storage counter on Mage-Ring Network.
{T}, Remove any number of storage counters from Mage-Ring Network: Add {C} for each storage counter removed this way.

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Essence Extraction

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $0.05

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/122652_200w.jpg

Essence Extraction deals 3 damage to target creature and you gain 3 life.

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Chittering Rats

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $0.47

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/11670_200w.jpg

When Chittering Rats enters the battlefield, target opponent puts a card from their hand on top of their library.

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Crypt Ghast

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $9.57

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/94301_200w.jpg

Extort (Whenever you cast a spell, you may pay {W/B}. If you do, each opponent loses 1 life and you gain that much life.)
Whenever you tap a Swamp for mana, add an additional {B}.

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Charcoal Diamond

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $0.17

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/254387_200w.jpg

Charcoal Diamond enters the battlefield tapped.
{T}: Add {B}.

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Bog Wraith

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $0.04

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/32558_200w.jpg

Swampwalk (This creature can't be blocked as long as defending player controls a Swamp.)

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Rancid Earth

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $0.27

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/9684_200w.jpg

Destroy target land.
Threshold — If seven or more cards are in your graveyard, instead destroy that land and Rancid Earth deals 1 damage to each creature and each player.

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Gray Merchant of Asphodel

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $0.46

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/206460_200w.jpg

When Gray Merchant of Asphodel enters the battlefield, each opponent loses X life, where X is your devotion to black. You gain life equal to the life lost this way. (Each {B} in the mana costs of permanents you control counts toward your devotion to black.)

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Nevinyrral's Disk

Market Price: $0.20

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/240046_200w.jpg

Nevinyrral's Disk enters the battlefield tapped.
{1}, {T}: Destroy all artifacts, creatures, and enchantments.

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Phyrexian Rager

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $0.04

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/226628_200w.jpg

When Phyrexian Rager enters the battlefield, you draw a card and you lose 1 life.

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Spawning Pool

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $0.39

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/15327_200w.jpg

Spawning Pool enters the battlefield tapped.
{T}: Add {B}.
{1}{B}: Spawning Pool becomes a 1/1 black Skeleton creature with "{B}: Regenerate this creature" until end of turn. It's still a land. (If it regenerates, the next time it would be destroyed this turn, it isn't. Instead tap it, remove all damage from it, and remove it from combat.)

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Mire's Malice

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $0.03

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/105638_200w.jpg

Target opponent discards two cards.
Awaken 3—{5}{B} (If you cast this spell for {5}{B}, also put three +1/+1 counters on target land you control and it becomes a 0/0 Elemental creature with haste. It's still a land.)

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Hand of Cruelty

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $0.22

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/12448_200w.jpg

Protection from white
Bushido 1 (Whenever this creature blocks or becomes blocked, it gets +1/+1 until end of turn.)

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Tymaret, Chosen from Death

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $0.08

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/206803_200w.jpg

Tymaret's toughness is equal to your devotion to black. (Each {B} in the mana costs of permanents you control counts toward your devotion to black.)
{1}{B}: Exile up to two target cards from graveyards. You gain 1 life for each creature card exiled this way.

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Midnight Scavengers

Color Identity:B

Market Price: $0.09

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/119680_200w.jpg

When Midnight Scavengers enters the battlefield, you may return target creature card with mana value 3 or less from your graveyard to your hand.
(Melds with Graf Rats.)

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The Game Plan

We're not winning games quickly, and we've got several phenomenal late game spells. So, the plan is to play defensively in the early game and try to wear out the opponent, then let the powerful late game spells take over and decisively end the game after our resources are well developed. 

One of the "combos" I'm most excited about is the Graf Rats/Midnight Scavengers fusion. I didn't get to play that Limited format, but I thought the Meld mechanic was pretty neat and this seemed like the perfect home to try out the Common incarnation. The Graf Rats can present early bodies to hold the fort and trade for pretty much anything, only to be re-bought later with the Scavengers to meld into something fearsome! 

Beyond a combo like that, we've got some really solid "silver bullets": Golden Demise against an aggressive horde, Rancid Earth against a strong nonbasic land, Tymaret if we need some graveyard hate, Gray Merchant of Asphodel to close a game out or buy that crucial extra life to allow the late game power to come online, or any of the Rares. 

If we can't search something out because Liliana hasn't made an appearance yet, Razaketh's Rite provides an alternative. We can cycle it away if it's not necessary, and it's a nice flavor connection, since Razaketh is of course one of the demons to which Liliana sold her soul! 

The Rares

Full disclosure, I had absolutely no idea that this was a somewhat expensive Rare now! I guess that's what happens when you just shut most of your rares in a bin 3000 miles away and only check in on them at holiday times with the family. Sometimes you lose track. In any event, the Ghast here does exactly what we need: ramps us up to late game bombs and provides some nickel and dime harassment for our opponents from the Extort triggers. 

When I started playing competitively, Avatar of Woe was quite the big ticket item for casual players, and I wasn't able to easily acquire one. (It didn't help back then that my folks were extremely reluctant to give credit card info online so their preteen son could get Magic cards in the mail, which meant that if people at the local shop didn't have one for trade I was SOL.) But when Onslaught came out, oooooooooh baby we were back on track with this Pit Fighter Legend! And things were exciting. Nowadays, I would actually like to put an Avatar of Woe in here, but I believe it was upshifted into a Mythic when it was last printed so I felt like that made it ineligible. And when we're counting pips for Gray Merchant, I'd rather have Visara on my team anyway. Who needs discounts? We have Crypt Ghast

Nostalgia Alert! When I was on the come-up, Nevinyrral's Disk/Pernicious Deed/Oblivion Stone were the top-tier reset buttons one could get for a casual deck. And it kinda stunk, because I was stuck with the white-bordered Disks due to price constraints. These days, reprints have made the Disk available (and dirt cheap) and it still provides an extremely powerful effect. Keep in mind that because Disk came out wayyyyyyy before Planeswalkers, it does not include them in permanent types that it blows up, so feel free to use the Disk as a means of protecting Liliana. 

This card is very powerful. No, it's not as good as its Cryptic brethren, but this Command still has 4 excellent modes to choose from, and the flexibility of the X-spell allows this to have quite a bit of play. My favorite modes are the game-winning "X to your face and my X guys get Fear" and the defensive "-X/-X to your threatening creature while recurring my guy to stabilize." Your mileage may vary, but no matter how you slice it, Profane Command will be a very helpful tool for winning games. 

Unsung Hero

Phyrexian Rager

I have loved Phyrexian Rager ever since I first played it way back in 2001. Its stats are kinda blah, but the body keeps the cards flowing. It's at its best trading to buy time so that you can get a 2-for-1 out of it. In this deck, the synergies with Midnight Scavenger, Unmake the Graves, and Profane Command ensure that you can really milk its value. Looking back, one of my favorite things to learn as a player was the power of extra cards—even if it came at the cost of some life. The Rager here is a great consistent reminder of that lesson. I don't think I have ever once been disappointed to draw a Phyrexian Rager, and I hope you'll feel the same!