Liliana Vess, Noted Magic: The Gathering Girlboss, Now Teaches Kids At Strixhaven

Sometimes a #girlboss just needs a day of self-care attended by her horde of zombie slaves.
Sometimes a #girlboss just needs a day of self-care attended by her horde of zombie slaves.
Illustration: Wizards of the Coast / Chris Rallis

As the Kaldheim cycle comes to a close, Wizards of the Coast has started to tease cards from Strixhaven, Magic: The Gathering’s forthcoming magical academy-themed set. I don’t pay too much attention to card teases, preferring—somewhat unwisely—to go into a new set completely unaware of what might turn up and picking cards in the moment. But one of the Strixhaven cards teased made me perk up.

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For starters, it came across my Twitter timeline from the desk of noted Animal Crossing aficionado and edged weapon enthusiast Danny Trejo of all people:

Plus, what the hell is Liliana Vess doing here?

Liliana is one of those big-time Magic characters. When she does anything, people take notice. In the War of the Spark set, it seemed she finally cast down her bad girl persona for good in favor of stabbing someone in the back who actually deserved it. To make a very long story short, Liliana played a critical role in defeating Nicol Bolas, the big, bad elder-dragon douchebag who wanted to rule over the multiverse with the help of some immensely powerful zombified gods. Our heroes won the day against Bolas largely due to his betrayal by Liliana, who was one of his generals.

Magic: The Gathering (YouTube)

After the war, Liliana disappeared before turning up again in Strixhaven under a new name: Professor Onyx. (This is a rough overview of what happened. I’m strategically choosing to leave out parts involving an assassination attempt, dopplegangers, and what I like to call a demonically cursed hair bonnet. Magic lore is notoriously confusing. Yet despite all that, I absolutely love it.) Anyway, Liliana’s back, and apparently she’s teaching the children of Strixhaven.

My first thought upon seeing this card was “there’s a scam afoot.” Liliana is a complex character. She’s done good, but mostly whatever she does is to serve her own purpose, and often when she does, people get hurt. To me, Liliana showing up at an academy of young wizards under an assumed name means there’s something at Strixhaven she wants, and she’s willing to involve a bunch of teenagers to get it.

On the other hand, Liliana may just be trying something other than her favorite pastime of double crossing people. To some people, her sudden and inevitable betrayal of her boss came too late, and they’d rather see her dead than risk her showing up in the future with a freshly risen horde of zombies at her command. Choosing a new identity as a school teacher just be the fresh start she needs. Either way, get your bag, sis.

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I’m curious to see if other established characters will show up as professors at Strixhaven. There haven’t been many cards teased yet, so we’ll see as more are released.

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Plus, what the hell is Liliana Vess doing here?

I read in a MTG-dedicated forum that currently in the lore (covered by the last published physical novel), Liliana Vess has a bounty on her head by Niv-Mizzet, who is now the Guildpact on Ravnica. Although Liliana had a change of heart — Gideon was a Phantom Thief, yo — at a critical juncture in the War of the Spark, she caused many deaths and casualties on Ravnica with her initial cooperation with Bolas, and her misdeeds were unforgivable. Kaya was given the assignment to go find Liliana and slay her. Kaya did actually catch up to Liliana, but Liliana was a mental wreck at that point and seemed remorseful. As a result, Kaya let her go and lied about Liliana’s demise (or reported Liliana as not found — I can’t remember).

So, this card reveals where Liliana ended up.

Somebody in the forums was wondering why none of her loyalty abilities dealt with zombies or the graveyard, but since she is incognito, she would not be using those powers and reveal her real identity. Nobody is sure what Liliana is doing as Professor Onyx, but another forum commenter had joked that she will be a teacher in the defense of dark arts.