Let’s talk about Living End. This is a deck that got no love last season. No pros adopted it, and none wrote articles on it. The deck might as well have not existed. The deck was lucky to get the occasional name drop, but only as an example of a deck that you shouldn’t play. So why should we talk about it? You know what? Let’s not. The name carries baggage. It carries negative context. Instead, let’s talk objectively about the deck I took to the first Pro Tour Qualifier of the last Extended season. We’ll call the deck Beetles Comeback Tour for the time being.
Living End is Great
I finished 9th in that first PTQ, flew down to Grand Prix Oakland with it, placed 4th, then flew to Houston and placed 21st. These are not exactly typical results. I handed my list and sideboard plans to my friend Dwayne the morning of Houston and he finished in the top 64, despite 0 byes and 3 unintentional draws on the second day. Corbett Gray picked up Beetles Comeback Tour cold and lost in the Top 8 of the PTQ that very night, losing only to himself (sorry bud). Meanwhile, across the country, the deck is showing up in Top 8s, piloted by unfamiliar names. There was a stretch with Living End in the Top 8 of 7 consecutive PTQS. Do you think Living End was 1/8th of the field? 1/16th even? Do you see what I’m saying here?
I want you to be results-oriented here: Beetles Comeback Tour is Top 8ing PTQs across the United States, out representing the percentage playing it, BY (mostly) BAD PLAYERS. If you are one of these so-called “bad players,” don’t get offended. You are probably pretty good. But you aren’t a professional and you probably aren’t accustomed to winning PTQs, let alone Top 8ing them. You’re probably playing the deck because it’s budget. You might have cut the Maelstrom Pulses because you can’t afford them, and you’re playing a suboptimal list (in my opinion) and you’re still cracking one of your first PTQ top eights. Nothing to be ashamed of.
So, now that I’ve shown you that the deck is very good and you’re (hopefully) on the results-oriented bandwagon, I will explain to you why it is so good. Before I look at where the deck will go in new Extended, let’s talk about its power in the context of something definite: last season’s Extended.
By the end of the season, my deck looked like this:
What makes Living End good?
First: CONSISTENCY. I can’t stress this enough. Living End rarely mulligans. Almost every hand is a keeper. The deck does the same thing every game. It cycles 2-4 guys in the first two turns of the game and on the third turn (if it wants to) it gets a six for one that nets 10+ mana and threatens to end the game in the next couple turns. It does this every game. Meanwhile, your opponent is stumbling over mana, trying to power up his Kird Apes and Tarmogoyfs, hoping you’ll play something that they can Path to Exile. It feels like playing Uno while your opponent is playing Magic. Sometimes you don’t draw one of your 8 Living Ends and sometimes you stumble on mana. This happens. But a deck like Hypergenesis is “consistent” enough to Top 8 multiple premier events. How many cyclers does Hypergenesis play again?
So, is Living End an aggro deck, a combo deck, or a control deck? The sad answer for your opponent is that it’s all of these. It’s not like a midrange deck where you’re trying to adopt the opposite strategy of your opponent. No, you are beating down the aggro decks and controlling the control decks.
When playing an aggro deck, you hope to end the game as quickly as possible. Your topdecks are worse than your opponents’ but you have a temporal advantage with a closing window. When playing a control deck, you want to drag the game out. Your topdecks and late-game resources are better than your opponents’ so the longer the game goes, the better chance you have. Living End has the option of ending the game quickly, and if it doesn’t it WILL win the long game. It doesn’t care about ending the game soon or extending the game longer to win an attrition battle. It can and will do both.
You might have heard or thought, “Living End’s back up plan is terrible. You’re paying 5 mana for a 3/4. That’s not even playable in Limited.” Fine. I will tap my 5 lands and play a 3/4 and pass the turn and my opponent will tap 1 of his 5 lands and play a 3/3 and pass the turn back to me. I don’t care how much mine costs, it is bigger. Hey Zoo, how many creatures do you have that are even bigger than my throwaway Deadshot Minotaur? You have 8 only. Good luck.
At the beginning of the game, your deck is essentially 48 cards with 26 lands. This is when you’re in combo mode. When you want to win a long game, you stop cycling and you’re suddenly playing only 19 lands in your 60 card deck. All of your spells also happen to be huge animals so you can expect to draw better than aggro decks and combo decks alike. Nice Teferi! Shriekmaw. Nice Vendilion Clique! Deadshot Minotaur. Every deck will run out against you eventually.
Pros, I don’t understand why you aren’t playing this deck. I know you guys love to have as many options as possible, and this deck has thirty split cards. Thirty. It is skill-rewarding.
But wait, isn’t Living End a glass cannon? How can it beat cards like Tormod’s Crypt, Meddling Mage/Ethersworn Canonist, and Leyline of the Void? Boys, this cannon is made of steel. I’ll address those cards individually, but first let’s talk about the general post sideboard strategy; you are not a combo deck (unless convenient). You are a control deck. Your opponent is probably down 1-3 cards from having drawn a hate card, having mulliganed for that hate card, and potentially from being on the play. They won’t have much gas to handle your dorks.
Tormod’s Crypt – You have a lot of options against the Crypt. You can wait until you have four mana to Ingot Chewer and Violent Outburst in response. You can wait until you can cycle at least one guy after the crypt pop resolves, which you can do on turn 3 or 4. Or, BEST CASE SCENARIO for them, they used a card and you played a 3 mana Wrath. Sure, play your Tormod’s Crypt.
Meddling Mage and Ethersworn Canonist are interesting. Your opponent won’t be happy to see you untap and play Kitchen Finks on your third turn. You also have eight removal spells for each of those. But do you kill your opponent’s bears or his real threats and win by playing big men? It’s like reading a choose-your-own-adventure where all the trails lead to victory.
Leyline of the Void is scary if it starts on the battlefield. It means you’re almost certainly going to have to win the old-fashioned way. However, your opponent will be tempted to mulligan for it and keep bad hands with it, so it’s never scary to see. And if your opponent boarded Leyline of the Void in and didn’t open with it, they’re in trouble. They now have 4 blanks in their deck, which they are bound to draw some copies of eventually.
Living End is great against any decks that are slow or operate through the red zone. Last season this was maybe 90% of the metagame. The Achilles’ heel is the fast, non-creature decks. Last year, there were two of these: Scapeshift and Burn. Scapeshift is, in my opinion, what held Living End back from being tier 1 last season. But now that deck is gone.
A funny thing happened. Wizards cut Extended in half and banned the two remaining best decks from last season. So now the format is going to be like a “best hits of Standard” tournament. And Living End is completely legal! Potentially the best deck from last season (in my humble opinion, but I hope I’ve swayed you) is virtually unchanged. I get to bring my broken Extended deck to a Standard tournament for 40 Gs? Somebody sign me up IMMEDIATELY. Seriously, people are talking about playing garbage like Sprouting Thrinax and Sea-Gate Oracle. Are you messing with me?
But Faeries will be everywhere. This is a problem. That is not a good matchup because Living End struggles against countermagic. WRONG!
Imagine that you are playing Faeries and your opponent is playing Living End. You lost the die roll (hl, mbn, etc.,). When are you going to play that juicy Bitterblossom you want to stick? If you play it on the second turn your opponent might Living End while you’re tapped out and you’ll be too far behind to catch up. No, better wait on that Bitterblossom and keep mana up for your Spellstutter Sprite. So now your opponent plays a Fulminator Mage and you (obviously) don’t have the Mana Leak. GEEZ. Let’s not even imagine that. It’s too gross. Let’s also hope your opponent can’t Violent Outburst at the end of your third turn and Demonic Dread your Sprite on his fourth turn. You don’t have the mana for two counters yet. Hm, but when can you play this Mistbind Clique? If you play it when your opponent has mana up you’ll lose to a Violent Outburst in almost every case. I guess you have to sit on it forever. But there’s hope. Maybe your opponent will draw a bunch of blanks, like the Living Ends! Hope your opponent doesn’t think to actually suspend that card, because Mana Leak is not gonna help when that thing goes off, So, maybe you stopped your opponent from resolving a Living End. What do you have that is big enough to race Monstrous Carabid, Street Wraith (unblockable) Shriekmaw, Deadshot Minotaur (nice Vendilion Clique), and so on? You better hope you win that die roll. And you better hope you have a turn two Bitterblossom. Maybe then, MAYBE, you’ll get to play a game.
So, Living End is the real deal. All that’s left is finding the right configuration. I’d start with a mana base of:
Savage Lands might be worth playing but comes into play sucks and should always be avoided if possible. With worse mana, Twisted Abomination might have to turn into a more consistent mana cycler like Valley Rannet. Ingot Chewer is no longer necessary main and can turn into Maelstrom Pulse, more cyclers, or some exciting metagame card like Magus of the Moon. The sideboard should maintain your post-board strategy of attrition, should have cards for the mirror, and should have a plan for burn.
Thought Hemorrhage, Faerie Macabre, Haunting Echoes, and Leyline of the Void are mirror options. Leyline of Sanctity + big chief luckums or swapping Living End for Kor Firewalker and hoping to drag the game out are my two ideas at this point.
Here’s a so-far untested first stab:
That’s all I have to say on the deck. Look for me in Amsterdam, legally resurrecting beetles in the streets. Be a man and play Living End.