The Origins of Living End Living End is a Modern deck that actually predates the format, developing during the period in which Extended was a format. Originally designed by Travis Woo in 2010, who piloted to a Top 4 finish at GP Oakland.
After Woo's initial success, the deck was not often talked about. With the introduction of the Modern format, many of Extended's premier decks were rendered unusable (mainly due to the banlist), leaving Living End as one of the few decks that was able to survive a direct port into the new format.
Interestingly, Woo's original deck shares a huge amount of overlap with current Living End builds, despite 8 years of new Magic cards influencing the Modern format, with the same core strategy of cycling big dumb monsters and cascading into Living End.
Living End 2010-2017
Though the deck has been a viable strategy since the dawn of the Modern format, much of the deck's success was tied to the larger Modern metagame. Of particular note was during the Eldrazi Winter following Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch. Living End enjoyed a renaissance of sorts, as long-time pilots were rewarded with a metagame built around Eye of Ugin and various mid-range Eldrazi decks. In fact, Danish pro Martin Mueller brought Living End to the 2015 World Championships, finishing the tournament in the Top 8, and as the only player to 4-0 the Modern portion of the event.
After the banning of Eye of Ugin, the deck fell back into relative obscurity, and also hurt by the rise in Dredge-based decks using the then unbanned Golgari Grave-Troll (banned again in January of 2017).
Living End and Amonkhet
The deck got a significant power boost (literally) with the release of Amonkhet in April of 2017. Desert Cerodon and Horror of the Broken Lands are common, single mana cycling monsters that were able to immediately replace the underwhelming bodies of Deadshot Minotaur and Architects of Will and the cycling costs of Pale Recluse and Jungle Weaver. Plus, Archfiend of Ifnir not only gave the deck a huge, evasive beater, but also a viable way to annihilate boards of small creatures. Despite the improvements to the deck, Living End has remained a fringe strategy in Modern. Only one player brought Living End to Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, though Italian Valerio Luminati, a Pro Tour necomer, was able to finish the Modern slate with a 7-3 record.
The deck runs, with few exceptions, 2 types of cards: 1.) creatures that cheaply go to the graveyard and 2.) cards that cascade into the deck's namesake: Living End.
The combo is quite simple. You want to dump an arbitrary number of creatures from your hand to the graveyard (though some may make a quick battlefield appearance), and then cast one of you Cascade spells. Then you flip the top of your deck until you find Living End, which has a lot of text, but basically says 'switch the battlefield and the graveyard.' This will work out in your favor the vast majority of the time, returning a pile of creatures to your side of the table, while wiping away everything your opponent has on the battlefield.
The early game isn't too exciting - you'll want to spend your first couple turns cycling creatures, maybe casting a Fulminator Mage to try and trip up your opponent. Then, when you have a sizable force in your graveyard, you cast the cascade spell of your choice (typically Violent Outburst or Demonic Dread) and deposit a lethal attacking force onto the battlefield.
Of course, there are certainly times when things don't go according to plan, and despite our ability to essentially win on turn 3-4, we also often find ourselves grinding it out in the late game. Plan B, as it is called by long time players, involves us playing a game of Limited, where we used overcosted creatures to dominate the board. You'd be surprised at how scary a flavor text-clad 6/4 beatstick can be when your opponent is playing Memnite.
IMPORTANT DECKBUILDING NOTE
Any nonland cards with converted mana cost 2 or less are unplayable in this deck. Since your cascade spells each cost 3 CMC, the only card in your deck that can cost 2 CMC or less is Living End (which costs 0 mana). The only exceptions to this rule are fringe sideboard strategies, like cascading into Kor Firewalker against Burn or Rest in Peace against Dredge. Unless you know the metagame will be highly saturated with decks that fold to a 2 CMC card or less, it is best to simply never even consider any cards that cost less than 3 CMC.
III. Card choices
The Core Combo Pieces
Living End Rating:
While the card has more text on it than the constitutions of several countries, it might as well read 'You win the game' against many opponents. The deck's namesake essentially flips the battlefield and the graveyard, making your investment in dead creatures much more profitable than your opponent who summoned them the old fashioned way.
Normally, drawing this card is bad, BUT do remember that it's OK to suspend the card. This comes up against decks playing Remand or similar counterspells, as we can overload their ability to counter by timing a cascade spell right after one comes off suspend. Also, note that when you cascade, you can choose not to cast Living End. However, when it is coming off suspend, you must cast it.
The general consensus is that 3 copies is correct, though some users have reported success with lists running only 2. This is a bit loose, and definitely not advised for heavy U metas.
Violent Outburst Rating:
Of our 2 cascade cards, this one is a cut above. You can (and, in most cases,should!) fire this off at instant speed. Waiting until after your opponent's post-combat main phase ensures you get any creature played, though you will likely play this in combat a lot of the time. It's even better when they animate a creature-land. Muahahahaha!
Also, don't forget that this can be a surprise 3-5 damage if cast after blocks during your combat phases. As noted above, you do have to resolve your Cascade trigger, but you can choose not to cast the card it finds, instead leaving it in exile. You may be able to end the game a turn sooner, or trade for an important creature by using the overcosted anthem ability.
Always play 4.
Demonic Dread Rating:
So, this isn't as good as Violent Outburst. But it still is often a 3-mana one-sided Wrath of God/one-sided Eureka, so that makes it a staple. However, it is strictly worse at sorcery speed, and it does require a target. It also can be used to remove a blocker and guarantee a lethal attack, so don't forget that mode as well.
Most lists play 3, but in any meta where you will NEED to cascade on turn 2 or 3, bring all 4 copies.
Prime Time Cyclers
While other cyclers have occupied deck slots over time, these five cards represent the core cyclers, occupying 16-20 main deck slots.
Monstrous Carabid Rating:
He may have a drawback (rarely comes up), but this insect cycles for one hybrid mana. And that alone makes his 4/4 body one you should never leave in the binder or move to the sideboard. Play 4 always.
Street Wraith Rating:
Though the wraith has the weakest power of any prime time cycler, "free" cycling is a huge benefit when racing Burn or Affinity. While we used to side him out against these decks, our ability to race has improved and in the long run, the 2 life this costs to cycle should result in 3-6 damage. Plus, the evasion is relevant more often that you might think. Bring all 4 copies.
Horror of the Broken Lands Rating:
Horror is the better of the two common cyclers we got from Amonkhet, and it may not appear so on the front end. However, as an Living End player worth their salt knows, you often have cyclers in your hand post-cascade. Having an onboard, uncounterable pump ability can allow the Horror to sneak in 2-4 extra damage, or force you opponent to respect it and make blocking more difficult. Additionally, his 4B casting cost makes him an easy to cast beater when we're on Plan B. Again, bring all 4 copies, though if you are playing against a Blood Moon deck, you can shave 1-2 Horrors.
Desert Cerodon Rating:
The Cerodon kind of exemplifies the Living End deck. He's draft trash that didn't even always make the cut in Amonkhet Limited, but he's a reliable, face-smashing monster for R in this deck. Always play 4, though when given the choice, it's better to cycle Horror of the Broken Lands first.
Archfiend of Ifnir Rating:
In a format where 2 mana cycling is often too slow, the demon lord makes up for his 2 cost by being a total bomb. Few decks run many answers to a 5/4 flier outside of Path to Exile, and his ability is an absolute house against small creature aggro decks. There isn't a consensus to how many to play, though most successful builds have recently had 2-3.
Others Receiving Votes
In a post-Amonkhet world, these simply cards don't measure up, either due to creature size or cycling cost. However, there are potential corner cases to consider, and maybe 1-2 of these could sneak into your 75 under the right circumstances.
Deadshot Minotaur Rating:
Formerly a 4-of, but there are just better options these days, despite his hybrid mana. Plus, he is a nombo with Faerie Macabre, as his ETB ability is not a may. That said, if you plan on playing all single mana cyclers, this is your best bet to replace Archfiend of Ifnir. Play 0-2.
Jungle Weaver Rating:
Ol' Butt Spider used to have the distinction of being the "worst creature" that LE decks played. With the coming of cycling in Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation, there's a lot of competition for 2-mana cyclers, and the spider has been relegated to the sidelines.
Hollow One Rating:
The payoff just isn't here with Hollow One, as dropping one on T1 is not very likely. Plus, there's already a great deck for this card. Simply playing Archfiend of Ifnir is a better use of mana. Play 0, or play 4 in your Hollow One deck.
Landcycling used to be very common in Living End decks prior to Amonkhet. However, with the increased format speed of Modern, spending 2 mana to cycle has become a liability. However, the presence of Blood Moon as a sideboard, and even main deck, card lends some credence to at least the consideration of including landcyclers in your 75, especially if you plan on running the land hoser.
Pale Recluse Rating:
Probably the best of the landcyclers. It can grab most of our relevant duals, and has a good sized body. That said, only play a copy or two if you run Blood Moon or expect to see a lot of it in a particular tournament to go grab a basic Forest.
Twisted Abomination Rating:
Arguably the second best landcycler, and though a 5/3 isn't a great body, many players overlook the fact that he can regerate for a single B. As basic Swamp can be the most important land to fetch under a Blood Moon effect, he warrants consideration.
Valley Rannet Rating:
Probably the best landcycler in terms of what it can get (all 3 shocks and the basic Forest), but it's stats are pretty poor. Don't play this guy.
Igneous Pouncer Rating:
Total poop. Don't ever think about this card again.
Fulminator Mage Rating:
Modern is a format that is rampant with nonbasic lands, including entire decks based on them such as TitanShift. The mage can steal games by Stone Raining your opponent back into the Stone Age, while you craft your graveyard and set up your cascade spell. Also, Fulminator can be a clutch target for Demonic Dread against creature-lite opponents (or pesky Slippery Bogles). Just don't forget to sacrifice him in response to your cascade trigger so he comes back for more fun! At least 3 main deck copies with the 4th in the board.
I could list dozens more applications, but suffice to say... it's amazing. You have uncounterable graveyard interaction at instant speed. It's great. Play 4 in your 75, with 2-4 in the main deck.
Sometimes you need to remove a troublesome creature before you're ready to cascade. From personal experience, the number one offender is Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, although there are certainly others, including Meddling Mage and all the Eldrazi sisterhood. The card is certainly main deckable, though you should keep the majority in the sideboard.
Avalanche Riders Rating:
Another supplement to the LD plan, this one is a turn slower, but can also hit basic lands. Echo is another mechanic that plays well with Living End - you won't feel bad about not paying. The haste is rarely relevant, but this is one of the few creatures that can swing if you cast End off Demonic Dread, for what that's worth. All-in-all, it's probably a hair too slow, but if you expect to see a lot of control decks, you could do worse than including a couple of these cowboys.
Kolaghan's Command Rating:
This card is great in 3 of 4 modes, and the discard ability isn't irrelevant, though a saavy opponent will ditch a big creature that could come back should Living End resolve. More relevant is the Shock/Shatter combination that can set Affinity back to square one, or the ability to return a Fulminator Mage to choke an opponent's mana situation. Main deck 1 and you likely won't take it out.
Simian Spirit Guide Rating:
It's generally accepted that 3-4 apes are a must have in the face of fast combo and aggro decks. Your most broken draws usually involve cycling on turn 1, then cascading on T2, usually bringing back 2-3 creatures if you were lucky enough to draw Street Wraith or multiple guides. These are generally worse against control decks, but they also allow hidden R casting of Ricochet Trap, so most players leave them in. It can also ramp us into turn 2 Fulminator Mage/Blood Moon, so don't forget that as a way to get ahead/stay ahead.
Also, don't forget the Gray Ogre mode on this card. Just because you can cash it in for mana doesn't mean you have to, though casting a Simian Spirit Guide is officially Plan C.
Ricochet Trap Rating:
The idea is to cascade into Living End, then when your opponent plays a counterspell targeting it, cast this card and change the target to Ricochet Trap (yes, you can do this.) This card is therefore only playable against decks with counter magic (which is a lot), but if you find yourself in a meta full of aggro decks, leave this one at home.
Note this pairs really nicely with Simian Spirit Guide, as it can appear that you are tapped out before the blowout.
If you need extra Island hate, these two cards usually get the job done. Boil being an instant is quite nice, while Choke is more vulnerable to being removed, but is a long-term answer.
Anger of the Gods Rating:
Non-LE sweepers are always a bit of a risk because you sometimes place yourself in a position where a Living End is unprofitable for you later in the game. Anger solves this by exiling anything it kills! The 3 damage is a death sentence vs. all manner of aggro decks (particularly Affinity), and all of your own guys survive it. You probably want 1-3 copies in your sideboard.
Dead // Gone Rating:
Thanks to a rules update regarding the CMC of split cards, Dead // Gone is able to be played without interfering with our cascading. However, it is inferior to Shriekmaw in the vast majority of cases, though being castable Turn 1 on the draw could matter against certain decks like Infect, though that deck in particular has been very little played recently. Your mileage may vary.
Leyline of the Void Rating:
If you need graveyard hate, this is an option, though many players prefer to preserve these sideboard slots for other answers and run the max number of Faerie Macabre. The downside of running Leylines is that you need to run the playset to maxmize your chance of drawing them and they are awful topdecks.
Leyline of Sanctity Rating:
Some players have decided to try to beat Burn or Scapeshift by playing the hexproof game. It can be a hoser, but the number of sideboard slots required and the fact that any one you draw is a brick make this a riskier proposition.
Brindle Boar Rating:
This guy is olid against red decks. A Gray Ogre that can sac itself anytime for 4 life, then come back off Living End for 4 more. It may seem silly, but try it - you won't be disappointed.
Spike Feeder Rating:
85% of the time this will just be a harder-to-cast Brindle Boar, a creature that is only brought in for specific matchups. Feeder is a little more flexible in that you can spread its counters out onto evasive creatures, but that situation doesn't turn up very often. As a sideboard card, this one is marginally better than Boar as something you can bring in to replace dead cards (Fulminator Mage vs. a mono-color deck, for example), so there's that.
Gnaw to the Bone Rating:
This card competes with Brindle Boar as the sideboard card of choice against burn and Red Deck Wins. Gnaw has the advantage of being able to potentially gain you more life than the Boar. It's also an instant, which means you can surprise your opponent with it if they are not expecting it. The downside is that it is dependent on the number of creatures in your graveyard. Ordinarily, this wouldn't be an issue, but there are plenty of instances where you would rather have Brindle Boar. The choice is up to you - both cards do their job pretty well.
Krosan Grip Rating:
This card some extra sideboard hate vs. artifacts and enchantments. The split second is nice, allowing you to kill a Relic of Progenitus and leave your graveyard intact, as well as any Arcbound Ravager shenanigans when picking off affinity's nastiest artifact. This card is comparatively narrow, since we're already running Beast Within, but is a serviceable choice if you're looking to round off your sideboard.
Maelstrom Pulse Rating:
Another catch-all card, a la Beast Within, if you're into that sort of thing. Sorcery speed really hurts, though, and unless you expect to see a lot of Thopter or Goblin tokens, it's probably not worth it.
Blood Moon Rating:
Once thought by some to be a Living End hoser, Blood Moon is too good of a Modern card to not consider, especially against Valakut, Tron, Eldrazi decks that need x mana, and any three color deck based on nonbasics. Note that the lands simply become Mountains, but they are still nonbasic, so you can target them with Fulminator Mage.
Crumble to Dust Rating:
Sometimes Tron can fight through all of our land destruction. Sometimes Scapeshift decks sandbag their Valakuts. Sometimes a spell that can put a gaping hole in both of those strategies is in order.
Slaughter Games Rating:
If you want to be absolutely, positively certain that you'll hit a combo deck where it hurts, then this card would appear to be the one you want. Uncounterable is good, right? Well, yes... but costing four mana isn't. In builds without Simian Spirit Guide, this card may not even be fast enough on the draw. Wizards has been pretty good about limiting any combo decks in the metagame to a turn-4 kill (I said PRETTY good - exceptions are abound), so while this will put them out of commission in game 2, it might not even matter game 3. Use at your own risk.
Lost Legacy Rating:
Like Slaughter Games, this card says NO to combo. It's not easy to cast with BB, but it's only 3 CMC. However, the drawback is real when you realize this does nothing against Krark-Clan Ironworks. Some players prefer it though as a cheaper option.
Fetchlands - Verdant Catacombs, Wooded Foothills, Bloodstained Mire
Modern has great mana, and Living End especially so. These lands help ensure that you'll always be able to find the colors you need. Catacombs is far and away the best of the bunch, as it can grab every color, as well as fetch a basic Forest or Swamp for playing with and around things like Blood Moon. Bloodstained Mire is the second best of the bunch, though there isn't much difference between it and Wooded Foothills. You should run all 4 Verdant Catacombs, unless budget is a concern, and supplement with 1-3 of the others.
Basic Lands - Swamp and Forest
There is not really a reason to run a basic Mountain, as you will have multiple Simian Spirit Guides and all but 1-2 of your duals will produce R. 2 Swamps is considered stock to give a chance to suspend Living End from under a Blood Moon.
Other DualsGrove of the Burnwillows,Sulfurous Springs, Karplusan Forest
Grove is the most attractive option here as a R/G dual that enters untapped and doesn't damage you. The lifegain is mostly inconsequential, but be wary of over-using it, as it could result in lengthening your clock. It has the corner case of helping manage the life total of Death's Shadow opponents, so don't miss the opportunity to mess with their math.
The painlands should only be played in extreme budget versions.
Dread Targets - Dryad Arbor, Forbidden Orchard
Sometimes our opponents are big meanie-heads and don't give us a target for our Demonic Dreads. That's where these come in. Dryad Arbor is the preferable choice because it can be fetched by Verdant Catacombs, but the Orchard is an acceptable replacement that can also fix your mana in the early going. To be honest, these have fallen out of favor, as few decks give us no targets, and we can always target our own 3 CMC creatures or a Beast token.
Utility Lands - Kessig Wolf Run,Raging Ravine
Of these two, Kessig Wolf Run is the best - trample means your biggest guy won't have to stare stupidly at a 1/1 every combat. Though colorless mana only can make an opening hand quite awkward. Ravine is okay , and can be your only hope if you run out of Living Ends, but ETB tapped reeeeeeally hurts sometimes. Pick your favorite, but only run 1.
Humans can be very tricky because it is basically two decks in one. It's a straightforward beatdown deck and it's an annoying little disruptive deck. The two combine very well, and Humans has quickly become the top deck in the format. The three cards you care about are Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Meddling Mage, and Kitesail Freebooter. Everything else they play is scary, but we don't care so much about creatures that don't disrupt our combo. Thalia makes cascading into Living End cost 5 mana, so getting her off the board is critical. Meddling Mage makes Living End uncastable regardless of how much mana we have, so it's even more critical to kill her. Ideally, they draw the wrong half of their deck in Game 1 and you can win without disruption. In Game 2, max on Shriekmaw, Anger of the Gods, and you can even consider bringing in Ingot Chewer for their Aether Vial.
Once considered a horrible matchup, the Burn matchup has gotten better thanks to our higher power 1-mana cyclers. It's still not favorable, but we can reliably go off on turn 3 and win on turn 4-5, which is just about when they can finish us off as well. The die roll is hugely important in the matchup. We are sigificantly helped by a copy or two of Simian Spirit Guide in our opening hand, and it will often be correct to cascade on turn 2 for a Street Wraith + another cycler. Eidolon of the Great Revel hits us for 4 when we cascade, so it's often best to respond to him on the stack if possible. He will end up as a chump blocker or a disadvantage for our opponents.
Sideboarding generally involves taking out some number of Fulminator Mage, Faerie Macabre and Beast Within. The only 3 CMC thing we want to do is cascade. Side in any lifegain and Shriekmaw to hit their Eidolon. We used to board out Street Wraith, but our most broken draws include a couple of them to go with a T2 cascade.
Arcbound Ravager and Cranial Plating are the biggest threats to us. Stopping Ravager requires timely use of graveyard hate (Faerie Macabre really shines here), and Plating is a priority target for anything you have that can target it. If you can weather the initial onslaught, you should be in good shape. A main deck Kolaghan's Command can be what swings the matchup. Archfiend of Ifnir is also at its absolute best here. Cycling once is devastating for your opponent. Cycling twice is assuredly the game.
Creature decks will cry at the sight of early-turn cyclers. Don’t fall too far behind in the life race before cascading, or they’ll use the reach of their burn spells to finish you off. If Living End resolves and you’re above 8 life, you’ll be fine.
Here's a deck that uses cycling and the graveyard, just like us. It may seem like an OK thing, binning our creatures for the cost of their mana on occasion, but they have a lot of recursive threats in Bloodghast and Flamewake Phoenix to go with creatures that are as big or bigger than what we put on the board. You should be slightly favored, but they can do a lot of damage out of nowhere, and a savvy opponent will fill their yard with fatties while they are ahead on board. Shriekmaw is woefully inadequate here.
This deck is a new kid on the block and can get out a scary amount of hastey flying damage or board bouncing 7/8 Horrors. They both use the graveyard, which can be problematic, plus they can lower our life total with burn to the face as well. One important note is that Thing in the Ice will not bounce Horror of the Broken Lands. Remember, it could save your life!
Best sideboard cards:
The usually grave hate is useful here, but it won’t lock the opponent out of the game. Faerie Macabre is an overperformer in the matchup, both as interaction and as a serviceable blocker. Shriekmaw interacts favorably as well.
Of the two major versions of Death's Shadow, Grixis is the more difficult. We can often kill them in one swing, but they are just as likely to return the favor. Patience is key in this matchup, as a well-timed Violent Outburst is our very best chance at winning. Grove of the Burnwillows is an all-star in this matchup, and don't be afraid to liberally give your opponent life. The more resources they spend reducing their life total, the better. They also play very few nonfetchlands, so use Fulminator Mage to punish their risky keeps.
Cycle aggressively in the early turns – you want to keep multiple cascade spells, because you are likely lose at least one to discard. Fulminator Mage is powerful here – if you can manage back-to-back LD spells on them, you may very well cripple them completely. The fact is, our deck blanks a lot of their cards, and this matchup is pretty miserable for them. Many times they will mulligan aggresively to hate or discard, and you will be able to grind out the grind masters. Keep Faerie Macabre around to exile a Living End targeted by Surgical Extraction in post-board games. Expect some number of Scavenging Ooze in the main deck and sideboard, which is a reason to max on Shriekmaw in post-board games.
While we may want to grumble about the fact that a deck can make infinite mana on turn 3, Living End can also be a 12-for-1, so perhaps it's best we just attack this deck by being the better combo. If we win the die roll and can go off on turn 3, it's very difficult for CoCo to win early. However, unlike many other creature decks, CoCo can rebuild quickly, so while going off early is usually correct, they can use Path to Exile to brunt the assault. Faerie Macabre is good here as you may need to use multiple Living Ends, so be sure to just leave them with mana dorks and not combo pieces.
Eldrazi Tron is an interesting deck, because on paper it should be a good matchup: mid-range creature deck with minor interaction, vulnerable to Fulminator Mage. However, the deck can be resilient, and plays problem cards like All Is Dust, Wurmcoil Engine, and Chalice of the Void. Overall, we should be favored, but make sure you close out the game, because they can go over the top in the late game.
This version of Tron is probably the toughest for us as they consistently have Tron on turn 3. It's also very good at making its land drops even under the duress of dedicated land destruction, so you don't have forever to close out the game. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is a total beating. One tip for using your Fulminator Mage correctly is to pay attention to what they search for. If they have all 3 pieces of Tron in hand/on the battlefield, they will often go get an Urza's Tower. If they have a Tower in play and search for something else, they likely are getting the "missing piece." When in doubt though, always hit whatever you've already seen.
Best sideboard cards: Ingot Chewer, Blood Moon, Avalanche Riders, Crumble to Dust
This can be a very bad matchup. Winning the die roll helps, but once they have a Goblin Electromancer or Baral, Chief of Compiance in play, you are potentially dead. Faerie Macabre is your best chance, other than purely racing them or getting lucky with mana denial. They do need at least 3 lands to go off, even with a cost reducer. And if you can keep the board clear of a creature, you have a chance, making Anger of the Gods and Shriekmaw reasonable sideboard options.
Another matchup where you are going to want to wrath the field Turn 3 no matter what. Demonic Dread is not going to have a target on their side of the field, so play out a 3 CMC creature or pray they fetch a Dryad Arbor. The first LE should be good enough to win the game, but keep on cycling after the first one, just in case it isn’t. You WILL see Rest in Peace out of their sideboard in games 2-3, so don’t board out your Beast Withins! Note that this is matchup where playing your own Dryad Arbor is very helpful.
Best sideboard cards: Extra enchantment destruction if you've got it, otherwise just run it back; you are heavily favored.
This matchup is very difficult. This deck plays like draw-go with an “I win” button ready to fire at a moment’s notice. Be aware of how many Sakura-Tribe Elders they have in the bin when you go to cast Living End – each one counts as another 3 (or more) damage in the event of a follow-up Scapeshift. Demonic Dread is a bit more suspect here than in most matchups – sorcery speed means you may still just be dead to the combo when your opponent untaps, and your opponent may just deprive you of targets by saccing their Elders during their own turn or on your upkeep. Fulminator Mage, Beast Within, and Avalanche Riders are your greatest weapons here. Remember how Valakut, the Molten Pinnalce math and triggers work. If they Scapeshift for 6 Mountains and a Valakut, you can destroy one of the Mountains in response to the triggers. Upon resolution of each trigger, it will fizzle all but one trigger, as Valakut will only see 4 other Mountains, save for the trigger of the one you destroyed. However, destroying Valakut will do nothing. Some decks play Relic of Progennitus main, most have it in the board, so don't forget about Ingot Chewer.
Also, if you face a TitanShift deck playing Prismatic Omen, you'll be very happy to side in Boil if you have it.
Fortunately for us, the banning of Gitaxian Probe has plummeted the Infect deck away from widespread play, as it is a fast combo deck that really only needs a turn to win. Being as fast as possible helps here, and, as always with Infect, it's best to cast your interactive spells on your own turn or after their combat phase.
Best sideboard cards: Dismember, Shriekmaw, Dead//Gone
This is a very favorable matchup for us, but the tokens deck can rebuild much faster than a traditional creature deck. You should be able to grind your opponent out , especially if you have out a Kessig Wolf Run
Their goal is to just continually 1-for-1 you until they can pull ahead with a planeswalker or just beat you dead with a Celestial Colonnade. Your creatures all dodge Bolt and Helix, so expect those to be aimed at your face. Game 1, it’s all about overloading their mana on their end step so you can force a Living End to resolve. Suspending LE is not out of the question here, either, as they lack a quick clock. Beast Within is helpful for getting rid of Celestial Colonnade, but be careful – they may just protect the token with countermagic and kill you with it.
If you can get into the long game with them, we’re actually a lot better off than most decks thanks to our ability to continually hardcast draft trash.
Best sideboard cards: Ricochet Trap, Blood Moon, Faerie Macabre
This one is pretty painful if they are running Cursecatcher, and they have plenty of annoying dudes that can swarm together and kill you if you brick on cascade spells. Be wary of their Aether Vial and expect Spell Pierce in the main deck with more countermagic in Games 2 and 3. If they just happen to draw a bunch of lords, then you should be fine.
Best sideboard cards: Anger of the Gods, Ricochet Trap, Shriekmaw
Do you have Faerie Macabre in your opening hand? That will likely determine how this match goes. If you aren't paying attention to their discard pile, you could accidentally bring Griselbrand back for them. Do your best to keep scary things out of their graveyard and deny them mana until you can lethal them.
Best sideboard cards: Faerie Macabre, Leyline of the Void
This deck is really annoying to play against. Shriekmaw is slow and Ingot Chewer can't do much better than killing a Mox Opal. Ideally, you don't face this deck.
The printing of As Foretold allows a new way to cheat the casting of Living End, while the printing of powerful cycling options such as Curator of Mysteries and Striped Riverwinder gave rise to a monoU version of the deck. This has also spawned variations such as RUG. However, these versions of Living End do not have the track record of tournament results, and are not the subject for prolonged dicussion in this thread. If you wish to inquire about the U or RUG versions of the deck, there is another primer which can be found here. If you wish to discuss the mono R version of this, you can find that discussion here VII. FAQ
I added this section to address frequently asked questions about Living End. This should save you all some time having to scroll through pages of discussion to find the answers you're looking for.
How does Ricochet Trap work? I see it in a bunch of sideboards and I’m confused as to how it protects Living End.
Let’s say you have a Ricochet Trap and a Violent Outburst in your hand. Your opponent passes the turn, and you play Outburst at his EOT. You flip cards and find a Living End. Your opponent taps some mana and casts Remand targeting your Living End.
Now that your opponent has cast a blue spell, you tap for R and cast your Ricochet Trap, changing Remand’s target to Ricochet Trap. You see, a spell can’t ever target itself, but it CAN target a spell that is above it on the stack. Here’s what will happen next:
-Your Ricochet Trap will resolve, changing Remand’s target and leaving the stack.
-Your opponent’s Remand will be countered for having an illegal target. Your opponent will not draw a card from Remand’s effect.
-Your Living End resolves.
-Your Violent Outburst resolves.
Bear in mind that this trick only works if your opponent’s spell has a single target. Example: If your opponent in the above example tries to counter your spell with Cryptic Command, choosing “counter and draw,” you can Ricochet it. (This will also stop your opponent from drawing a card.) However, if your opponent chooses “counter and bounce”, then Cryptic Command will have two targets (your spell and whichever permanent they chose to bounce), and you can NOT Ricochet it.
Does this deck just lose to graveyard hate?
Hardly! Living End is a surprisingly resilient combo deck, and has a multitude of ways to battle the litany of grave-hate cards commonly used in the Modern format.
-Fighting Scavenging Ooze: This creature is troublesome, as it doesn’t need to sit for a turn before going after your ‘yard, and can eat multiple guys a turn while applying pressure. ScOoze can be combated with Shriekmaw, Dismember, LD on green sources, and sweeping with Living End.
-Fighting Leyline of the Void: This one is annoying because it comes out on turn zero and deals with everything at little opportunity cost to the user. If you have a bunch of cyclers, save your Street Wraiths – they are the easiest to cycle once you’ve dealt with the Leyline. If you need to throw away some one-mana cyclers to dig for an answer, that’s okay! We run plenty. It’s also important to remember that Living End is still a wrath effect with this in play. Beast Within is the best answer we have to this card. Sideboard options include Maelstrom Pulse and Krosan Grip.
-Fighting Relic of Progenitus, Nihil Spellbomb, and Grafdigger’s Cage: The one-mana artifacts can be played around by sandbagging cyclers (Street Wraith again!) and forcing your opponent to blow it at an inopportune time. You can catch Relic with Ingot Chewer if you can get them to tap out somehow. Remember to stack your triggers on Ingot Chewer such that its ETB ability resolves before it’s sac’d to Evoke. That way, even if your opponent pops their Relic/Spellbomb, you’ll still have a 3/3 in the bin.
Oh, and as for Grafdigger’s Cage? Just ignore it. The Oracle text when facing Living End decks actually reads '1: Discard this card onto the battlefield. It remains blank for the remainer of the game.' It doesn’t stop Living End in any way; the creatures are entering the battlefield from exile, not from the graveyard. Don’t tell the other threads!
-Fighting Rest in Peace: This is the worst of the bunch. Again, Beast Within is your best out. But even if you destroy it, RiP has done its damage by wiping your graveyard clean the second it comes down. If you think your opponent is running it (if they’re in white, they probably are), be ready – try not to overextend. If they draw into it late game, you can respond to it by cascading via Violent Outburst and getting your army onto the table before it lands.
What are your thoughts on running Bloodbraid Elf as another cascade card?
The point of the deck is to cascade into Living End. 100% of the time. No exceptions. BBE is a great card, but not for this deck.
VIII. Update Chronology
1/9/2013 - Posted new primer
1/10/2013 - Edited matchup for Jund
1/11/2013 - Added cards to primer, posted new winning decklists
1/13/2013 - Added Slaughter Games to primer
1/20/2013 - Expanded matchups section
1/31/2013 - Expanded RG Tron matchup, added Aven Mindcensor to primer
2/22/2013 - Added Joe Hemmann's Top 8 decklist
1/9/2014 - Added "Common Questions" section
1/14/2014 - Added Crypt Incursion and Whip of Erebos to the primer.
8/19/2014 - Major overhaul to Matchups section
7/26/2015 - Added Kolaghan's Command to the primer and tidied up a bit.
12/29/2015 - Added Amulet Bloom and Abzan CoCo to the matchups section.
1/27/2016 - Matchup section and Sideboard Cards tweaked to reflect recent bannings.
10/26/2016 - Housekeeping and potpurri; added Goblin Dark-Dwellers. Added a "no-landcyclers" list to example decklists.
11/28/2016 - More housekeeping; minor elaborations in sections 1, 3, and 5
07/07/2017 - Added Amonkhet cyclers and Hollow One to section 3.
05/17/2018 - Primer fully updated, including card selection and matchups.
Man i was making a template to make this primer a new facelist, based on the other primers. But i'm nowhere nearly done and i don't think i'l finish it anytime soon (Finishing my thesis and university mayor).
RW Blaze Commando Soldier Swarm BW Edgewalker Clerics i.e. All the prevention R Ogre Menial (Fallen Feromancer) Tunnelin' Infectors GB Shaman of the Pack Elves URReclusive Artificer Artifact Control GBCatacomb Sifter Sac-Attack
Tiny Leader Decks
WU Geist of Saint Traft WKembha's Cats WRG Marath Slide Control
Man i was making a template to make this primer a new facelist, based on the other primers. But i'm nowhere nearly done and i don't think i'l finish it anytime soon (Finishing my thesis and university mayor).
If you have cool graphics, etc, feel free to share with me and I will update the Primer. I did a major overhaul of the Card Choices and Matchups specifically, as most of the current top tier decks were not included.
Throwing away land destruction disruption with Fulminator Mage for a faster and more consistent combo, right? (8 Cascade spells, 4 Spirit guides...)
I'm not sure how viable Lurching Rotbeast is. It gets removed easily, but on the other hand it gives the deck the opportunity to cast creatures for 4 mana, against graveyard hate or Control.
This version is definitely more focused on the fast combo, and it may be a good thing against all these combo decks that win on turns 3-4.
I'm not sure about this. Fulminator is quite weak against low-mana decks (Humans and other aggro decks with Aether Vial, Burn, affinity, Hollow one, Mardu Pyro, Bogles). Fulminator really shines against Primeval Titan decks, and is useful against combo decks to delay them.
Beast Within can already remove a land when required. In this version I would probably play more, at least 3 maindeck (4 is most likely to clunky), over a Faerie Macabre. Plus, it justifies a bit more the 4th Demonic Dread.
For the control matchup, Fulminator is decent, but I've found it is often too slow. it puts a small threat into play or can denial mana, but nothing Control decks can't handle. With Living End you really, really want to close the game asap, so I like the 4 Spirit Guide + 3 Ricochet Trap + 3 Gemstone Cavern. It seems that Gemstone embraces the deck quite well. I'd put one maindeck (in exchange for 1 cycler, probably) to free a SB slot, and to play 18 to 21 lands after SB depending on the game. Has it already been played in previous LE versions?
Some additional tips against Humans - this is probably one of the worst aggro decks, but I believe the matchup is still favorable. Remember, if you play a single cascade spell while staying out of reach of a Mantis Rider (preferably 4+ or 7+ life), you probably win. Post-SB removals really help, and I think that Shriekmaw is still good despite the sorcery speed. I play with the idea of 1 Maelstrom Pulse and/or 1 Jund Charm in SB as well, but remember, unlike most other decks I think you do not need to diversify your removals to play around Meddling Mage. The Mage should name Living End anyway. I think boarding 2 Ingot Chewer for Aether Vial is fine if you play Shriekmaws, and you do not need any Ingot Chewer if you play Dead/Gone, as when you play a cascade spell and they tap Vial for Mage, you can still kill the Mage for 1 mana.
I think you are wrong about the fulminators being bad against control. I think they are amazing, specially if the control deck is a 3 colored deck. The most popular control deck right now is Jeskai and fulminator there is absolutely a champ. I think the more trickier control matchup for us is UW control, since you they can just play basics and essentially counter our Living Ends and pathing our threats or our board. The UW matchup is super tricky but still beatable if you manage a turn 2/3 Cascade without them countering or being tapped out.
Against the humans matchup: You absolutely need to diversify your removal. I've had badbeats where the opponent casts a medling mage then 2 phantasmal image naming Living end, then Shriekmaw then beast within so that they lock you out of the interaction. I think a copy of Anger of the gods has to be considered in the SB, as well as Pulse or jund charm.
I will second that Fulminator is the tits against Control, and I will maintain that stance all day, every day. Even against UW he’s still great. Keeping them off Cryptic and Verdict can be crucial. I mean, getting into all the situations where the Mage shines against Control is beyond he intended scope of this particular post, but he has always shined for me alongside Beast Within. Those two cards together are powerhouses. And against UWR they’re even better, like Huviam said.
Thanks, Ken Carson, for the new primer. I really appreciate the updates.
Private Mod Note
Rollback Post to RevisionRollBack
MODERN: BRGJUNDGRB---BRHOLLOW ONERB---BGELVESGB---BRGLIVING ENDGRB---GWBOGLESWG EDH: BRGKARRTHUS, TYRANT OF JUNDGRB
Yep indeed, thanks in particular for the 'Card Choices' part and the 'Matchups' part that are quite relevant currently
For the Humans matchup, there is a big difference between the LE deck and the other decks. Since playing a Living End will kill every human, the 1st Meddling Mage will name it. We can't change that, so the goal is to remove the Mage. A second Mage will come up rarely. Diversifying removals for Meddling Mage's purpose is a substantial deck-building choice, and it should not matter too much if the deck represents hardly more than 5% of the meta. Sure, Phantasmal Image may copy a 1st Mage, but this also means that your 3-4 Demonic Dreads (targeting Phantasmal Image) become removals as well.
I still think that 1 Maelstrom Pulse is nice post-SB on top of the maindeck Beast Within copies and the SB options (Shriekmaw and/or Dead//Gone), and I've found 1 Anger of the Gods to be cool indeed (Affinity, Zoo, Humans & friends...). I've seen decks with more copies, but it's not that easy to cast and we already have an awesome board wipe, so I like to focus on it
Edit: oh, I've just realized something cool: Meddling Mage can only name 1 half of a split card. Say they name Dead, you can still cast Gone at EOT on the Mage that named Living end and wipe the board on your turn. So you can very well play 3 Dead//Gone SB, this card is already diversifying your removals!
You guys certainly haven't been beated by 3+ meddling mages. They effectively have 8 meddling mages on the deck, if you count Phantasmal image. Also the worst one is Thalia, setting us 2 turns back (If you hit all your landdrops) is brutal.
that's why you need anger of the gods in the sideboard if your meta is infested with humans.
between anger of the gods and shriekmaw i would say the deck are well equipped to handle humans.
also there is always the good ole jund charm if you want a good versatile sideboard card.
the problem with humans is we need too much sideboard space to properly address them, that leave little to no space at all for other decks.
So I just wanted to strongly suggest 1 or 2 copies or Krosan Grip. I had tough time dealing with Relic of Progenitus last FNM and Krosan Grip is just the card to stop relic. Not to mention, it also turns off and destroys Nihil Spellbomb and gets rid of a Rest in Peace... even if it's already done its damage! Krosan Grip seems like the best anti-GY hate, right?
I suppose I keep 1 fulminator mage in my SB because i don't see a lot of control in my local meta. but even still, splitting the macabres and fulminators 3 and 3 in the main seems right. this gives me a bit more versatility.
so perhaps just the 1 krosan grip is enough to diversify my SB a bit. I still have the 3x beast within in the main to deal with rest in peace and any other threat, but the 1 krosan grip in the SB still gives me that extra edge vs relic/spellbomb. it also messes up the arcbound ravager plan! and oblivion stone. am I forgetting anything?