I have never dreamed of winning the Pro Tour but I do dream of building the deck that wins the Pro Tour. I have never dreamed about being President of the United States but I do dream about making the biggest possible positive social change. If I work the hardest on my ideas, people will apply them, and positive change will (gradually) happen.
Next week the Pro Tour comes to my backyard in Seattle, Washington. I am not invited to play this time around but I am working as if I were. Most of you won’t be playing in this tournament. Some of you will be. And a few of you will be playing this deck.
Crushing Dreams with Living End at Pro Tour Seattle
For those of you who dream of winning the Pro Tour with Living End, or for those of you who just want to battle with the deck at your local tournament, I want you to be equipped to handle the best technology. Today I am going to explain why Living End is a great choice for Pro Tour Seattle and how to win the hard games against the hard cards.
On Wednesday I will also have a Living End video of me navigating through common matchups and hate cards.
I have been playing Living End since the end of 2009. It started as a home brew but became much more after I Top 4′d Grand Prix Oakland in the Dark Depths Extended season. The metagame has evolved since then, but we have come back around full circle to a point where Living End is primed for a comeback.
(My breakout performance with the help of Monstrous Carabid)
Living End is a highly misunderstood deck. It is extremely powerful and resilient. It is very rewarding or punishing for simultaneously planning for the short term and the long term. Some games you need to plan for your seventh turn starting on the first turn in order to win.
For those of you who are new to the deck, here is a brief explanation of what the deck is trying to do: We start by cycling creatures like Monstrous Carabid. Starting on the third turn, we can cast Violent Outburst or Demonic Dread, which will find Living End and only Living End, which we cast on the spot. It is not uncommon for Living End to produce a ten card for one card board reversal.
Living End for Pro Tour Seattle 2012
Reasons to Play Living End
We play only 19 lands but often cast a 6 drop on the 6th turn. We only play 8 cascaders but we have essentially a 45-card deck considering our 15 cyclers. We can stop cycling at any time to prevent flooding in the long game. The deck mulligans infrequently and mulligans well.
#2: Freebie Victories Against Creature Decks
Modern is full of creature decks that play creatures during the first three turns of the game. If we have a quick Living End, the game is often over on the spot, forcing many turn 3-4 concessions. These creature decks often have 1 piece of disruption – a Thoughtseize or a Mana Leak, for example. If they draw one they might have a chance, but if they don’t – game over.
#3: Freebie Victories With Land Destruction
You know those games where you get stuck on lands and can’t cast your spells as you want and end up losing? Well, our opponents suffer through a lot of those games from Fulminator Mage, Beast Within, and Avalanche Riders.
These ten land destruction spells are also great at attacking cards that are effective against Living End. People will defend with cards like Mana Leak, Jund Charm, and Relic of Progenitus. All of these cards require our opponent to hold up mana indefinitely. If we attack their lands it prevents them from holding up mana and simultaneously advancing their board. Sometimes they have few too lands to even defend at all.
#4: Hardcasting Jungle Weaver
We actually do this. OFTEN. Most of our opponents will hold up mana to defend from Living End which limits the pressure they can put on the board. This gives us enough time to actually start casting our Pale Recluses.
How is a deck like RUG Delver or Jund prepared to attack through a growing army of Pale Recluses? With Knight of the Reliquary falling off the radar, none of the creature decks have a guy big enough to compete in the late game. Jungle Weaver is actually the biggest man on the planet.
#5: Our Opponent Has Not Practiced Against Us
Most of our opponents will have an idea of what to do, but many of them will have actually never played against Living End before. This can cause them to make mistakes, and even better, lose confidence.
Living End is fantastic and particularly well positioned right now. Obviously there are cards in the metagame that are especially good against us and I’m going to address those next.
Beating Mana Leak
#1: They Tap Out
Shame on them! This most commonly happens with a drawstep of our 3rd turn Vendilion Clique or an end of turn Vendilion Clique. The drawstep Clique leaves them dead to multiple copies of a cascade spell. The end of turn Vendilion Clique leaves them dead to a Violent Outburst.
Our opponent actually has to make these plays in order to put pressure on us, but it leaves them potentially dead on the spot.
#2: They Don’t Have It
Seriously, they don’t have it. A lot of these decks play only 4 relevant counterspells (Spell Snare haha!) to our 8 cascade spells.
#3: Overload Their Mana
A common sequence on the play is an end of turn 3 Violent Outburst, untap Demonic Dread. This leaves them with only enough mana to play 1 counterspell. Beast Within, Fulminator Mage, and Avalanche riders also help tie up their mana in a similar way.
#4: Pay for Mana Leak
With 15 cyclers and 5 land cyclers it’s not that hard for us to hit land drops until we can pay for Mana Leak. When we reach 6 mana it becomes very hard for them to counter our Living Ends. Most blue decks don’t apply enough pressure to kill us by the 6th turn while holding up counter mana.
#5: Suspend Living End
This one is my favorite. Drawing Living End is sweet against blue decks because we can suspend it. We can usually live to the 7th turn if they hold up counter mana and we usually have access to 6 mana on the 7th turn. This combination can let us fight through Cryptic + Mana Leak and more.
Opponents react in strange ways to a suspended Living End. Sometimes they will tap out the next turn which will allow us to resolve Living End. This gives us one big attack before our Living End resolves (we have to cast it when it comes off suspend). When Living End finally comes off suspend we can use cyclers we have drawn/sandbagged which puts them in a situation where they are behind whether they let Living End resolve or not.
#6: Cast Deadshot Minotaur
So our opponent is holding up Mana Leak for Living End while beating us down with a Tarmogoyf and a Vendilion Clique. What do they do when we cast Deadshot Minotaur for complete stabilization? Can they really afford to let it resolve?
The reality is, blue decks waste too much of their mana against us. The games go long and they are not well equipped to deal with hardcast Jungle Weavers.
Beating Relic of Progenitus
#1: Living End is still a 3-Mana Wrath
#2: Sandbag Cyclers
Eventually we will have to cast Living End even though our opponent has Relic of Progenitus in play. The easiest way to get maximum value is to sandbag cyclers. We can let our opponent’s Relic ability resolve and still cycle a few guys before our Living End resolves. The best way to do this is to hold Street Wraith as long as possible and wait to Living End until we have 4-5 lands.
#3: Ingot Chewer/Beast Within
Ingot Chewer is a great 1-mana answer to Relic of Progenitus that doubles as a proactive threat. When you evoke it, make sure to stack it so that the artifact destruction effect resolves first, so that even when our opponent nukes Relic of Progenitus Ingot Chewer safely goes to our bin.
With Ingot Chewer we can wait until we have 4 mana and a Violent Ouburst sometimes. This will let us evoke Ingot Chewer with Violent Outburst mana up, and our opponent is screwed.
#4: Hardcast Monstrous Carabid, Turn it Sideways
The beatdown plan is always an option, especially against graveyard hate. If casting giant men doesn’t win outright it can stall the game long enough to let us craft a way to fight through Relic of Progenitus.
Beating Jund Charm
Jund Charm has all the weaknesses of both Mana Leak and Relic of Progenitus. How can our opponent advance his own board while keeping up 3 mana the entire game? We can attack his lands, and we can sandbag cyclers. At the least, we are still wrathing our opponent for three mana. Beating Jund Charm is really easy.
Beating Leyline of the Void
Nobody really plays Leylines right now so you don’t need to worry about that. At the least we have Beast Within and we can still wrath and beat down. I have beaten Leyline before, although it rarely comes up.
Beating Surgical Extraction
Surgical Extraction comes up occasionally and sometimes hard to see coming. Fortunately it is hard to use because they need to get a Living End in our graveyard in order to get us. This means either countering a Living End or making us discard a drawn Living End in order for their card to even do anything.
Beating Grafdigger’s Cage
This one seriously does nothing against us but I find people playing it against me all the time. Read Grafdigger’s Cage. Read Living End. Read Grafdigger’s Cage. Read Living End.
Living End Maindeck Build
I have been playing Pale Recluse over Valley Rannet. Reach has become an extremely relevant ability in Modern magic. Five tougness is also enough to hold off a Celestial Colonnade and (usually) a Tarmogoyf. Also, Valley Rannet is our only fatty that dies to Lightning Bolt.
I have been playing the 1 Dryad Arbor even though most decks usually have creatures for Demonic Dread. I’ve found that most games you can count on searching for a Dryad Arbor and playing it just for an extra small guy to attack or defend with. Getting it during combat with Verdant Catacombs can lead to some blowouts. It sucks to draw naturally but I think it’s worth it.
Cards I’m not Playing
Simian Spirit Guide
We are a late game control deck. We plan on playing long games where we hit our land drops and cast relevant spells. Simian Spirit Guide doesn’t help here. Turn 2 Fulminator Mage is reasonable, but it’s not worth expending the extra resources. Also, why would we want to cast a turn 2 Violent Outburst?
Vexing Devil (or anything else that costs less than 3)
I have been getting way too much mail about this card in Standard. The card is actually horrible against a competent opponent. It is always something, but never what you want. 4 damage is a bad turn one play and a 4/3 is a bad turn six play out of a burn deck.
I also want to highlight this card because it costs less than 3. We can’t play cards that cost less than 3 because we need to know our cascaders will hit Living End. The corner case here is potential sideboard 2-mana sideboard cards that will allow us to transform.
Living End Sideboard Build
Leyline of the Void
Leyline of the Void completely hoses unprepared opponents. Decks like Pyromancer’s Ascension storm, Melira combo, Jund Seismic Assault, and Modern Rites can’t function at all with a Leyline in play. These decks usually have something in the board that can interact with Leyline, but these cards are usually horrible against us otherwise. If they don’t prepare for us boarding it in the game might be over before the first turn.
If we won the first game, the match is over and they have no chance for a rematch with an answer in their 60.
Brindle Boar, Gnaw to the Bone
Mono-Red and Boros aggro decks don’t necessarily pack graveyard hate but they don’t have to. They are really fast and can often kill us two or more turns before we can kill them. A single Brindle Boar or Gnaw to the Bone can buy just enough time to win.
The first Brindle Boar is also a reasonable draw against [card valakut, the molten pinnacle]Valakut[/card]. Valakut players don’t want me to tell you this, but if we are able to keep our life total above 18, it will take them 8 lands instead of 7 to kill us. Since we pay life for our lands and Street Wraith, it is hard for us to stay above 18. The first Brindle Boar will put them to an 8 land kill, which means it is functioning as an extra land destruction spell.
Prime targets for Ingot Chewer are Relic of Progenitus, Birthing Pod, Cranial Plating, and Expedition Map. Certain draws from certain decks crumble to a well-timed land destruction spell. The card also doubles as a second land destruction spell when it comes back from Living End.
Shriekmaw is fantastic. Killing a turn 2 ‘Goyf can erase all pressure an opponent has, forcing them to tap out into Living End mana in order to advance their board. After a Living End, Shriekmaw will come back and can kill the original creature again for maximum value.
Shriekmaw is also a great 5-drop in games where we go into man mode. 3/2 fear is formidable on top of killing their best threat.
Cards to Cut When Sideboarding
I never cut land cyclers because hitting land drops is crucial to every plan in the deck.
The first cycler I cut is usually Jungle Weaver because it costs 2. It depends on how relevant reach is.
I will sometimes trim a Living End against combo decks where I will never need more than 1 Living End to resolve and a suspended Living end will always be too slow.
Sometimes I cut Demonic Dread if my opponent is packing a ton of hate and the wrath ability of Living End isn’t particularly relevant.
Living End at Pro Tour Seattle
This guide should give you almost everything you need to operate this deck at the highest level. Keep your eyes out for a Living End video going up on the deck this week. I have also been streaming with Living End most nights for the past week so you can check those out at twitchtv.com/traviswoo
Get plenty of practice in! If you have any questions, you know where to reach me!
Woo Brews Live!
Wednesday 2pm Pacific Time at twitchtv.com/traviswoo. Come kick it in the chat and voice your questions in real time!
Questions! Comments! Think there’s something I forgot?