Challenge the Stats – Liesa, Shroud of Dusk
(Liesa, Shroud of Dusk | Art by Slawomir Maniak)
Lie-sa, Lee-sa, Lay-sa, or Lee-ay-sa?
Welcome to Challenge the Stats! This series is based on the awesome EDHRECast segment where we pick out ten cards for a commander that we think are overplayed, underplayed, or sleepers to challenge EDHREC’s data. Always remember, dear reader, that card choices made by you, the deckbrewer, for any reason such as flavor, budget, art, or fun are always most important and are what keep our format unique and awesome.
Last article, readers voted on Liesa, Shroud of Dusk.
Liesa has been one of my personal favorite decks to play lately, and I know she's popular with other folks, too. I have seen her on numerous twitch streams and, as a recent commander, she already has an impressive 750 decks to her name.
I want to gush about her, but I have a feeling I'm preaching to the choir. She amazingly trades commander tax for life, makes games go fast by taxing each spell by two life, and she's a lifelinking beater with a badass backstory.
One of the most interesting things about her is the tough decision point she creates when players get below ten life. We can watch our opponents start to sweat as they do the math on how many spells they can cast before offing themselves (my cousin cracked an Elixir of Immortality at 1 life to cast an Overwhelming Stampede to kill me. Epic!).
But that's enough preamble, I'll sneak in plenty of gushing within this listicle. We're going to challenge the data from all 750 Liesa, Shroud of Dusk decks on EDHREC at the time of writing, and you can see how often those cards are played in parentheses (%). Here we go.
1. Ghostly Prison (40%)
If our plan is working, our opponents won't be short on mana--they'll be short on life. This is a great opportunity for us to highlight some wonderful cards that don't see as much play as the staples yet that might outperform them in our deck. I love all of the cards that hurt our opponents when creatures attack us, like Hissing Miasma, Marchesa's Decree, and Norn's Annex. However, a standout is Revenge of Ravens since we also gain a life, which could turn into more pain for our opponents with one of our Sanguine Bond effects on the battlefield.
2. Marauding Blight Priest (36%)
One of the fantastic things about Liesa is she can be built in so many ways. So, this challenge might seem like a bit of a hot take, but take it as a suggestion for a direction veering off the heavily played path.
The Blight Priest is a challenge that represents an entire class of cards. The typical Lifegain theme is built around small incremental effects, like Soul Warden and Soul's Attendant, which then trigger payoffs all the way around the table at each end step. The "Soul Sisters" have great synergy with Blight Priest, since every creature triggers a life gained for us, a life lost from our opponents, which can also be combined with Crested Sunmare effects to make a creature token and keep the train going.
This is a fantastic way to go with Liesa (like this build from Jumbo Commander), but I'm going to selfishly push my agenda on you.
I want to lean a bit more into what our Liesa wants to do, and that's gain a huge chunk of life at once in the combat step. All of a sudden, those payoffs for lots of little life gain triggers become less enticing, and our world opens up to a whole host of cards that see less play. Cards like Cradle of Vitality, Light of Promise, and Indulging Patrician can become more impactful and synergistic with our commander. Importantly, all of our Sanguine Bond, Vito, and Vizkopa Guildmage effects punch just as hard here as in the more traditional Lifegain shells.
3. Serra Ascendant (36%)
Ugh, I know, another hot take, but bear with me. Serra Ascendant is a fantastic card, but I want to bring up an issue that I've run into when playing Liesa, and maybe save you 20 bucks if you don't already own this card.
I've often found with Liesa that I'm both the archenemy and losing life from my own spells, so while I might be ahead on life compared to the other players, I'm not always at the staggering heights Lifegain decks are used to. All of those cards that require a certain amount of life aren't meeting that requirement enough to make the cut for me. This includes things like Righteous Valkyrie, Felidar Sovereign, Speaker of the Heavens, Cosmos Elixir, and *gasp* Aetherflux Reservoir.
4. Tainted Sigil (14%)
Tainted Sigil might just be the scariest thing on the battlefield and the best card in our deck, and I'm floored that it's only in 14% of Liesa decks. It has so many uses. In the very worst-case scenario, this will gain you back the life Liesa has taxed you from casting spells. It can also be a Fog, or you could crack it after a counterspell war or after a player is starting to "pop off" to gain a ton of life.
But the tastiest, juiciest, magicalchristmasland Commander moment is using this to amplify our Vito, Sanguine Bond, or Vizkopa Guildmage effects. Imagine we have Tainted Sigil and Vito on the battlefield, and Liesa connects with an opponent. That opponent takes 5 damage and we gain 5 life. Then, Vito triggers, and that opponent loses another 5 life. Then, we crack the Tainted Sigil and gain 10 life, triggering Vito again and causing that opponent to lose another 10 life for a total of 20 life lost! And that's just from Liesa! It's easy to see how the Sigil can get out of hand quickly.
Some might be getting their comment fingers ready to tell me that this is like a bad Exquisite Blood combo, and they are absolutely right. This is my janky jam, and I make a point to let the table know that I'm not running Exquisite Blood so my Sanguine Bond hopefully sticks around.
5. Opal Palace (12%)
In most decks, I'm pretty low on Opal Palace, but this is one wonderful exception. Liesa will get removed pretty often. It's not unusual for me to cast her three or more times a game. For one extra mana, Opal Palace pumps up Liesa and has her smashing harder each time she comes back and gaining us more life, offsetting her own special commander tax.
Our lands can do a lot of work for us in this deck. Another one I have my eye on is the new Tyrite Sanctum (1 deck). Each turn we can pay three mana for a +1/+1 counter, and once we've done it once, we have the option to hold open five mana to give Liesa indestructible.
War Room has a lot of hype, but it's still savagely underplayed in Liesa decks at only 16%. Bonders' Enclave (2%) should also get as much love as War Room in decks where your commander has four or more power, since it pretty much says, "If you control your commander, pay four mana to draw a card." We always want our commander on the battlefield, and the wonderful thing about Liesa is we can count on always having the mana to cast her.
6. Duelist's Heritage (5%)
Let's just put this one into a category of My Favorite Cards of All Time. It will easily have Liesa punching for 10 damage, and we can use politics to encourage attacks away from us by offering to give our opponents' creatures double strike. It works when we're behind, it works when we're ahead, and this card gets a double-striking double thumbs up.
7. The Nighthawks (7-10%)
Vampire Nighthawk (10%) and Nighthawk Scavenger (7%) are phenomenal role-players with Liesa. They work offensively to gain us a chunk of life or defensively to dissuade attacks while Liesa rumbles in for damage.
8. Unspeakable Symbol (2%)
This is an on-board instant-speed combat trick. We can use the symbol pretty effectively to win combat or finish off a player if we have enough life, and with lifelink creatures we'll buy back one life for each one we pay into it. It creates a game of chicken if we think our opponents might have a removal spell. How much life are we willing to pay if they might remove it? But, if this card scares our opponents enough to hold up removal every turn and potentially waste mana, we're already winning.
9. Simulacrum (1%)
Thanks to Dana Roach for digging this one out of the archives and challenging it on the EDHRECast. Simulacrum is sort of like a fog. All the damage that was done to us is redirected to a creature we control, and thanks to the errata, we gain that much life. Since this happens after the fact, it doesn't work if our opponent swings for lethal, but it has the potential to gain us a bunch of life in a wonderful "gotcha" moment.
I want to take a second and give some love to some amazing other fogs for our Liesa deck. Batwing Brume (1%) will completely save us from an attack and really punish that opponent swinging with 1,200 Scute Swarms.
Riot Control (1%) is another great fog that prevents all damage, even outside of the combat step, so it has the nice option to save us against that Toralf, God of Fury player. We'll also gain life for every creature our opponents have on the battlefield! We can even use it outside of combat to gain a ton of life, and maybe just win out of nowhere with Vizkopa Guildmage.
10. Spoils of Evil (0 decks)
Here's a hot reserved list card that could make a splash for us. It's a colorless ritual effect that might net us a ton of mana and life at the same time. It might not be as reliable as Mana Geyser, but oh, boy, the ceiling on this is high! Ask yourself, how often in your meta do you have a graveyard deck, a creature deck, an artifact deck, or a self-mill deck with half their library in the 'yard? With their Lab Man win on the stack, we might just laser beam them with Spoils of Evil and one of our Sanguine Bond effects.
Let me use this tech to highlight an important consideration in our deck: mana sinks. When our commander punishes everyone for casting spells, we can conveniently use mana sinks to get a steady stream of value at no cost of life. Let's take a look at a few that we are probably already thinking about running: Greed, Arguel's Blood Fast, Erebos, God of the Dead, Dawn of Hope, and Font of Agonies.
This is my personal decklist and it has been a ton of fun. The goal is to use Liesa as a Voltron powerhouse against one player, while simultaneously hitting multiple players with her "two-life tickle" and Sanguine Bond effects! I also have a deckbuilding restriction for myself in this list to only use creatures that have lifelink (with the one exception of Defiant Bloodlord).
I also couldn't resist building another version, so here is my experimental Enchantment Voltron Liesa. I hope you'll find some spicy underplayed picks in these lists, as there were lots of cards I wanted to talk about but couldn't because my word counts are already a pain in the Ash for our editors (sorry guys)!
Ava-see-in Ya Later
Are there any other cards you would challenge? Do you disagree with my challenges? How would you build Liesa? Let me know in the comments below! As always, you can find me on twitter @jevin_mtg.
Next article we are joined by special guests Ced and Hadou-Ken from One More Mana, and they'll help me challenge the stats on one of their personal favorites: Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign.