Welcome to a special, Modern edition of The Deck to Beat! Most often, I’ll be focusing on Standard, but this weekend’s WMCQ in Santa Clara, California is Modern. Moreover, we’ve had a deluge of Modern results from the highest level of competition via last week’s World Championship. It seems important to give the format some attention.
Today I’ll be tackling Living End. It’s a deck older than Modern itself, but one whose popularity has waxed and waned a lot over the years. Last week, it made an emphatic comeback at Worlds, being piloted by 4 of the 24 competitors, and taking Martin Muller to a 4-0 finish.
Living End is a combo deck that features Living End as its only spell with a converted mana cost of less than 3, alongside the cascade spells Violent Outburst and Demonic Dread to let you cast it. The rest of the deck, more or less, is cycling creatures!
For a combo deck, Living End has a frightening level of consistency. It’s a one-card combo, with eight copies of its combo piece. Moreover, since so much of the deck cycles, you can find what you need quickly, and it’s rare that you miss land drops.
The actual spell Living End is a bit of an odd one, and how it works isn’t completely intuitive. Before you enter your next Modern tournament, make sure all of your card interact with Living End exactly how you think they do.
Some Odd Interactions
• Grafdigger’s Cage does not stop Living End. Technically, the creatures are exiled, and then enter the battlefield from exile. This is not the sideboard card you’re looking for!
• Dispel cannot counter Living End. It’s still a sorcery even if it’s cast at instant speed via Violent Outburst.
• Your opponent cannot cast Living End by any means if you have Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir.
• You will not lose your creatures on the battlefield if you have Sigarda, Host of Herons.
• If you control an Arcbound Ravager while Living End resolves, you will be able to modular onto one of the creatures that you return via Living End. Often, a great play is to sacrifice all of your creatures other than the Ravager. For a showcase of all of the tricks Affinity can use against Living End, see this match between Owen Turtenwald and Joel Larsson.
• Finally, note that many Living End decks only play with 3 copies of their namesake card. In some games, they can run out (especially if they’re unlucky enough to draw one).
What to Do
• Play a different combo deck. Living End is a combo deck, but it doesn’t win the game immediately upon combo’ing off. In that sense, it’s a little bit slow. Also, the restriction of not being able to play with cards of converted mana cost less than 3 means that Living End can’t sideboard a whole lot against certain types of opposing combo decks.
• Play with Scavenging Ooze. Since it’s a creature, a Living End will kill it, and therefore Scavenging Ooze will never really lock a Living End player out of the game. However, it’s the best tool that green decks can realistically put in their main deck. In the context of a good draw, Scavenging Ooze can give you a chance of beating Living End, even in game 1.
• Sideboard graveyard hate (other than Grafdigger’s Cage). Leyline of the Void and Nihil Spellbomb are my favorites, because they’re one-sided, which means that if your opponent is able to fight through them (let’s say with a Beast Within), then at least you won’t have exiled any of your own creatures. That said, Rest in Peace and Relic of Progenitus will also be excellent. Living End can beat hate cards, but it will slow them down a lot, and generally make their life as difficult as possible.
What Not to Do
• Don’t play a noninteractive creature deck. I remember working on a Soul Sisters deck that I absolutely loved. Unfortunately, the deck was forced into retirement after a set of games where I went something like 1-19 against Living End. The level of power and consistency of the Living End deck can make for some of the most lopsided matchups you’ll ever see in Magic. Soul Sisters, other variants of White Weenie, and Hexproof Bogles have virtually no chance. Even if you fill your sideboard to bursting with Rest in Peaces, your opponent’s deck is still going to be made entirely out of 3-mana, unconditional Wrath of Gods. They’ll just beat you the old fashioned way.
• Don’t allow yourself to be ground into dust by Fulminator Mage. Living End plays 4 maindeck Fulminator Mages, and can recur them from the graveyard. If you’re playing a control deck or something like Urzatron, and you want to sweep the board after a Living End, you can do so, but be prepared to be Fulminatored early and often.
• Don’t lose to graveyard hate. This one isn’t so much about losing to Living End (although they often play either Faerie Macabre, Leyline of the Void, or both), but about planning for the graveyard hate people are likely to bring next week. You don’t want to get “accidentally hated out” by people trying to beat Living End. This might not be the right weekend for Dredgevine or Goryo’s Vengeance (although maybe that deck is powerful enough to be a fine choice anyway).
When it comes to beating oddball decks like Living End, the first step is always to know what you’re up against. So even if you don’t wind up switching decks or adjusting your sideboard, if you’ve read this article, then you’re on the right track. Know what Living End is capable of, and learn to spot the deck’s most common play patterns. A couple of the right tools alongside tight gameplay will be all you need.