[card]Living End[/card] holds incredible significance for me. The period during which I first developed and played it was important in my own transitions in life. Looking at the card now, Living End is symbolic of this: suspension, impending reality inversion. Times were going to change sooner or later.
Flashback to the December 2009. I was a sophomore in college, and this Travis was much less certain, much less proven.
I remember texting my long-distance girlfriend on a Saturday night, who had just landed from Boston, that I was in the finals of a Pro Tour Qualifier (Zendikar Sealed) and I would meet her after. I anticipated glorious victory, but was forced to accept bitter defeat. I left angry and hungry to prove myself. A fire ignited.
That night, [card]Living End[/card] was suspended in my head.
I spent the next couple of months working on the deck by myself, in secret, offline with two windows of Magic Workstation. I was convinced of the idea, and incredibly paranoid about it leaking. I spent those hours perfecting my strategies against all the major archetypes I would face that season. I would force myself to double mulligan while putting crucial sideboard cards in the enemy’s hand, to figure out how I could win from there.
The first tournament I played with it was in January 2011, a Pro Tour Qualifier in which I missed the cut on tiebreaker percentage. This was not a bad beat story. I finished 9th because I picked up an early intentional draw on an unexpected MIRROR MATCH. But Travis, how did you play an unexpected mirror match if you created the deck? The reality is that people often come up with ideas simultaneously, and this time was no exception.
I was infuriated. For a couple reasons. I took the draw because my opponent had 4 maindeck [card]Avalanche Riders[/card] that were pivotal—a card I had cut over the course of my testing. The list I drew against was rough, loose, with 0 testing. And here I was, with so much experience, conceding a draw against it, and missing my chance to win as a result.
I was even angrier after the untested Living End list placed in a side event Grand Prix Trial after scrubbing from the PTQ, and the list was published. All my work! And all anyone would see is this inferior list with someone else’s name on it.
The list spread. A couple weeks later and it made it all the way to the finals of an online PTQ, where it lost to Gerry Thompson, who had unveiled the Thopter Depths deck that would shake up the format.
I couldn’t take it. I thought of all the “inventors” out there getting credit.
I booked a flight to Grand Prix Oakland, and kicked my preparation into high gear. It was more than dedication—it was obsession. But I had to prove myself. I spent many hours testing alone on the computer. I continued to handicap myself and give the other deck the tools it needed to win, while looking for opportunities to invert everything.
I felt my opportunity to lay claim to Living End slipping—maybe it had already slipped. And if it did, what was the point of all the hours I had invested? How could I prove myself then?
Oakland came. I did great, I guess. The only thing I really remember is how sour I felt losing in the semi-finals to Adam Yurchick.
I remember texting my girlfriend (by now ex-girlfriend), about how I did. She congratulated me but I got the sense that she didn’t really care.
I expected my name to be attached to the deck and for the deck to explode. I got the first part right. The deck did not explode. I remember it being called a “joke deck.” A “ham sandwich.” I remember people saying that I was SUCH a good player because I could win with such a terrible deck. This burned me, because I have never tied self-esteem to my play, only to my deckbuilding. “Travis Woo plays bad decks.” Not at all the result I expected.
So I booked another flight. To Houston. The next month. No one else was playing the deck. I couldn’t believe it. I missed Top 8 by one match this time and I was so mad when nothing changed. Was anyone paying attention to me? The only thing I could hear was, “Travis Woo plays bad decks.”
Time passed. Living End’s sister [card]Hypergenesis[/card] was banned, the centerpiece to a deck I felt was inferior to Living End in so many ways. It burned me. It reminded me of everything everyone said. Opportunities evaporated. And, in time, the deck faded.
Here we are again. Grand Prix Portland is this weekend, and Living End is poised to reemerge. And I remember everything. The anger. The insecurity. The fear. The brief moments of gratification amidst weeks of obsessive drudgery.
This time, I don’t feel any of those things. I feel comfortable, I feel confident, I feel proud. “Travis Woo builds bad decks.” If some people out there believe that, that is fine by me.
I spent all this time trying to prove myself to everyone, and no one cared. But why did I even care? What was I trying to prove? Who was I trying to prove myself to?
Myself. And at some point, I did it. I taught myself the deep pleasure of delayed gratification. I taught myself that if you work hard enough, for long enough, great things will come. A lesson that I invest in every day of my life.
The fire is still here though. It burns brighter than ever. To show you what I see. That the only person you need to prove yourself to is yourself. And once you do that, to show others. That is my fire.
I guess at some point since I suspended Living End in 2009, it came off and I didn’t even notice until now. And everything has been inverted.
These are the cards.
The actual physical cards from the original deck.
And I’m giving them away. If you want me to hand you the deck to PLAY WITH AND KEEP Satuday morning in Portland, let me know. I’ll give out one copy. Out of my own pocket.
I hope these cards will change your life the way they have changed mine.
Living End 2013
I am incredibly pleased. Grand Prix Portland is this weekend, bringing the Modern format back to the forefront of competitive play. With the recent bannings, the meta-game has finally returned to all creature decks—which is great for Living End!
I think Living End is poised well for coming tournaments around the world. If you have already written the deck off, I am not going to try to convince you. But if you are at least open to the idea, today I am going to explain the hows and whys of my list.
I called this article “Living End Returns,” but I know it really hasn’t gone everywhere. For all of you out there championing the deck, I see you. I saw the PTQ win, I saw the Top 8s, and I saw the DE 4-0s. I only thought the deck was okay during this last season—but now I believe it is back where it was when it was first unveiled.
Here is my list:
[deck]3 Blackcleave Cliffs
4 Copperline Gorge
4 Verdant Catacombs
1 Blood Crypt
1 Stomping Ground
2 Overgrown Tomb
1 Godless Shrine
1 Dryad Arbor
4 Demonic Dread
4 Violent Outburst
4 Beast Within
4 Fulminator Mage
4 Deadshot Minotaur
4 Monstrous Carabid
4 Street Wraith
4 Pale Recluse
2 Twisted Abomination
3 Jungle Weaver
3 Living End[/deck]
Living End for Noobs
If you have never seen this deck in action before, it’s pretty simple. Between [card]Violent Outburst[/card] and [card]Demonic Dread[/card], there are eight cards that can cascade into ONLY [card]Living End[/card]. Living End inverts the board—it kills all creatures in play and brings all dead creatures back to life.
The rest of our deck is dedicated to filling our graveyard. We have many cycling creatures in [card]Deadshot Minotaur[/card], [card]Monstrous Carabid[/card], [card]Street Wraith[/card], [card]Pale Recluse[/card], [card]Twisted Abomination[/card], and [card]Jungle Weaver[/card]. These cards allow us to hit land drops and find cascaders, all while setting up a brutal board inversion.
We also have the mana to cast all of our big fatties. Sure, a seven-mana 5/7 is not a good rate for the Modern format, but as the game goes longer a 5/7 reach has tremendous impact on the game. It doesn’t matter if it costs 7 mana if the opponent is struggling to use their mana on the other side.
We also have a mana denial element in [card]Fulminator Mage[/card] and [card]Beast Within[/card]. This allows us to stunt our opponent’s development and deny them crucial resources so that we can set up backbreaking mid- and late games.
Living End Card Discussion
I love these guys. I don’t want to play a single card in this deck that dies to a [card]Lightning Bolt[/card]. [card]Pale Recluse[/card] in particular is awesome because a 4/5 reach is a HUGE game. It is great at blocking [card]Celestial Colonnade[/card], [card]Vendilion Clique[/card], Spirit tokens, [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]s and more.
Accompanying these guys is a [card]Godless Shrine[/card]. It can be found with either cycler OR a [card]Verdant Catacombs[/card], making Pale Recluse a consistent and strong turn 6 play.
[card]Beast Within[/card] is amazing. It blows up lands, but can attack any problem permanent. It is also a great sideboard card because it can kill artifacts and enchantments while never being dead. Great card! Love it!
I’ve never liked this card. Four mana is a lot and playing it requires trimming cyclers. The more cyclers we have, the more of an actual deck we have—and the more chances we have to cycle into [card]Fulminator Mage[/card]. I have tried this card, but I doubt I would ever play it in a tournament.
I want to focus on the plan of cycling and casting Living End, and this card is a little bit outside of that.
[draft]Architects of Will[/draft]
This card has a lot of problems. It dies to [card]Lightning Bolt[/card]. It is small. It requires blue. It dies to our own [card]Ingot Chewer[/card]. It isn’t a 4/5 reach—I just don’t like it.
[draft]Kessig Wolf Run
I love the idea of both, but refuse to play lands that make us mulligan more and stumble more often. It feels horrible to lose because of a greedy land.
Sure, there will be a few long games won by having an extra punch from the land, but I believe I will find a way to win those games anyway, while I can’t find a way to win games in which I can’t cast my spells.
This guy is small and inconsequential. I would rather just cycle to draw a card and have a huge creature than remove their guy from their graveyard and have a 2/2 flier. I don’t think it’s much of a debate either.
I play 20 lands. I used to play 19, but that was before I played [card]Dryad Arbor[/card]. I really want to cast my spells, so I want all the lands I can afford to play. I have so much confidence in the deck that I am willing to sacrifice a tiny bit of power for greater consistency.
“You can’t beat a counterspell.”
You will hear this, but don’t believe it. For all of us that have played with the deck, that statement is just absurd.
First, most counterspell decks play, what, 4 counterspells? We play 8 ways to find Living End. Sure, we only have 3 Living End, but are they going to counter all 3 of them? With their average 4 counterspells?
So, what is their plan? Keep up 2 mana for [card]Mana Leak[/card] all game? Two mana all game while we attack their lands with [card]Fulminator Mage[/card] and [card]Beast Within[/card]? How are they supposed to develop their board?
If they can’t develop their board, they’ll see the writing on the wall when we suspend Living End on turn 4. Yes, Living End is great to draw and great to suspend. On turn 7, Living End will come off suspend with 6 mana up. There is a good chance a Living End will resolve this turn.
And if they can’t develop their board, what are they going to do when we play a [card]Deadshot Minotaur[/card] to kill their [card]Vendilion Clique[/card]? What about when we play [card]Pale Recluse[/card]? At some point, they’ll have to [card]Mana Leak[/card] these guys, and there’s a good chance they will die to them anyway.
There are also games in which we’re on the play and play a turn 3 [card]Violent Outburst[/card] into a [card]Demonic Dread[/card]. #Game. There are also the games where they don’t have it, don’t bluff it, and tap out.
For those of you clutching your [card]Ricochet Traps[/card], you just don’t need them. You actually DON’T WANT them. Yeah, they are worse than everything you already have. The big guys are essential for cycling and hard casting, the cascaders are essential for finding Living End, and the land destruction is essential for fighting their mana. If you play Ricochet Trap you make it more likely to lose on another front while trying to beat something you could beat anyway. Don’t play Ricochet Trap.
“You can’t beat a counterspell.”
“You can’t beat graveyard hate.”
You will hear this. Don’t believe it! Again, for those of us who have played the deck, the idea of crumbling to 1 [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] is laughable.
The graveyard hate we face is diverse. [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card], [card]Relic of Progenitus[/card], [card]Rest in Peace[/card], [card]Leyline of the Void[/card], [card]Surgical Extraction[/card], and more. There will be times where we lose to graveyard hate, but there are lots of ways to maneuver.
For starters, we have 4 [card]Beast Within[/card] in our main deck, which can kill anything. This gives confidence.
We also have the sandbag method. This is pretty simple. So you have a Relic? Sure. Cycle. Cycle. Living End. Relic resolves. Cycle, Cycle, Cycle. Living End resolves. Whoops!
Finally, we have the beatdown method. This works better than you’d think, unless you are an experienced pilot, in which case you realize it happens all the time. While the opponent is mulliganing for and investing precious resources in shutting down our graveyard, we still have a ton of sweepers and massive, massive monsters that aren’t normally impressive, except that the opponent has spent their early game fighting over our graveyard.
“You can’t beat graveyard hate.”
Tap 6 mana, Pale Recluse. Your turn!
Sideboarding with Living End
My current sideboard is extremely concentrated. I am playing cards that will come in OFTEN, even if those cards aren’t always backbreaking. It’s all about consistency.
4 [card]Leyline of the Void[/card]
There are random graveyard decks out there and this is the card that absolutely shuts them down. It is often not bad as a 4-mana play either.
The card is also good against decks which we expect to have to cast Living End against multiple times. It prevents them from getting guys back, such as [card]Arcbound Ravager[/card].
4 [card]Ingot Chewer[/card]
There are artifacts we want to kill. [card]Relic of Progenitus[/card] is a big one. But those relying on any kind of artifact mana are also easy prey, as this card will nicely compliment our mana denial suite.
Shriekmaw is great in longer games, and games where our primary plan has to become hardcasting. He fells [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]s and beats down. He is a strong man, and a nice upgrade from [card]Fulminator Mage[/card] in matches where we are going to get blitzed.
3 [card]Kitchen Finks[/card]
If any card in the sideboard is on the outside, it is Kitchen Finks, but right now he is here for a reason.
He is a nice beater against midrange counter decks and a nice speed bump against hyper aggressive decks. I see people play cards like [card]Brindle Boar[/card] and [card]Gnaw to the Bone[/card] here, but this card is for much more than Mono-Red. I am not willing to play a card against just Mono-Red when there are so many matchups out there.
I don’t recommend cutting too many cards. Oversideboarding can be deadly. It is important to always keep the concentration of cycling creatures and Living End casters high.
There will be times to cut [card]Beast Within[/card] and [card]Fulminator Mage[/card]. I don’t recommend ever cutting more than 4 creatures with cycling. Sometimes you can cut as many as 3 Demonic Dreads. You can also cut the 20th land. Sometimes I will cut Living End against decks I feel I will never need to cast a cascader more than once.
Preparing for the Tournament
I know I didn’t get really deep into matches today, but there are so many that it’s hard cover. If you want to learn the ins and outs of the deck, I invite you to join me on stream this week. I will be playing Living End all week, usually starting around 11 p.m. Pacific time.
If you have questions, asking me live is the best way to do it. Otherwise, write to me below and I will try to get back to you!
<3 Travis facebook.com/travisdwoo twitter.com/travisdwoo twitchtv.com/traviswoo Questions! Comments! Think there’s something I forgot?!