This is a continuation of my new series Felling the Giants. Refer to last week's article here:
This week, as you may have guessed, we're going to discuss Living End. This is a unique combo deck that's linear for the most part and uses the graveyard. After a few turns of throwing things away, the Living End pilot reanimates everything, wipes your board, and alpha strikes for the win.
This is the most recent Living End deck from the GPT Taipei by a Mr. Juan Fernando Aquino:
Basically, this deck wants to cycle creatures as much as possible. This keeps their hand full, and their graveyard full. Along the way, it uses Fulminator Mages to disrupt you and Beast Within to stop whatever annoying permanent you throw at them.
After a few turns, the pilot casts Violent Outburst or Demonic Dread. Living End is the only card in the deck that costs less than 3 mana, so the cascade spell is guaranteed to hit the deck's namesake card. You sacrifice your board and the Living End pilot gets all their creatures back from the graveyard. If they've used any Fulminator Mages, prepare for them to blow up more lands. After that, they alpha strike with an army of large creatures.
Slaying the Giant
Last week, as you may recall, I talked about different spells that hurt the deck in question, divided by color. This week, I'm not going to do that. Instead, I am going to tell you how the deck fights through 95% of the hate cards that players bring against them:
(If you can't tell, Beast Within has personally contributed to a few losses from LE)
When I first ran across this deck, this card came to mind in response to almost every single good hate card I could come up with.
I would say that the Living End deck can attribute most of it's success to Beast Within. It makes the deck resilient. You might think a 3/3 is pretty cool, but they'll wipe the board before you have a chance to kill them with it.
The Living End deck is obviously weak to graveyard hate, and the best graveyard hate cards die to Beast Within, because they're all permanents. Just to solidify my point, here is a list of popular graveyard hate cards that won't stop the Living End deck for long:
Grafdigger's Cage Doesn't Work!
This card deserves it's own section, because it won't stop them at all!
It seems like the cage would stop Living End, but if you read the card, the creatures are exiled before they return to the battlefield. If Living End is in your meta, this is not the card you want.
Some Cards that Do Work
The observant among you will notice that these are permanents. But, since they are so cheap to cast and activate, it is realistic that you could activate them in response to a Beast Within Targeting them. Activating them in response to a Living End is also great, but a good pilot will never try and combo off if you have these cards on the field.
Other cards that can be effective include instant speed graveyard hate cards such as:
Both of these hate cards are not permanent based and have enough utility to warrant a sideboard slot.
These hate cards are fairly narrow and not recommended unless there is a dominance of combo decks in your meta:
How else can they fight through it?
If you get rid of their graveyard, the Living End pilot has tools to slow you down with the aforementioned Fulminator Mage and Beast Within to get to a point where they can hard cast their large creatures. If you spent resources fighting their combo and they end up executing this plan instead, you may have trouble fighting back.
This deck really preys on non-blue decks, but it can combo off just fine in the presence of counters thanks to it's sideboard. A counterspell targeting the cascaded Living End can be backbreaking and require them to find another cascade spell before they can go off, but Ricochet Traps from the sideboard shore up that weakness.
At this point, it likely looks like Living End is impossible to stop. And that's almost true.
The Best Ways to Fell the Giant
Basically, this is one of the best ways. Living End does best in a meta without blue. If you play a blue control deck, you have a good chance to beat Living End. Just have a second counterspell ready for the eventual Ricochet Trap in games 2 and 3.
Play a fast, noninteractive aggro deck. If Living End is wrecking your meta, playing a deck like affinity or zoo will likely force them to bring another deck next week.
With only 3-4 spells in the deck that can kill an opposing creature, Living End struggles with a meta full of aggro strategies.
Be the Better Combo Deck
That's right, there are plenty of combos that can be faster than Living End.
We all know Splinter Twin could beat them (May it Rest in Peace), and that's why this deck really started to flourish after the Splinter Twin ban. But there are others that can still beat them consistently.
Glass Cannon Vengeance and Abzan Company both do well against Living End. Both go off at a moment's notice and are resilient to Living End. Living End can't afford to sideboard discard spells to fight opposing combo without disrupting their cascade engine, so this is a natural weakness.
Play Their Reanimator Game
If you take a moment to look at the Living End deck, the majority of the creatures in the maindeck and sideboard have ETB effects. It's made this way so when they reanimate their creatures (Sometimes multiple times per game), they get beneficial or disruptive effects off of them.
If none of the above strategies appeal to you, play their game.
First of all, it should be known that you can kill your creatures at instant speed in response to Living End to get those creatures back when Living End resolves. If you have discard spells like Inquisition, you can reveal your hand and discard a creature card, the same goes for Kolaghan's Command, use it targeting yourself.
Liliana of the Veil is seen as being bad in this matchup, because she helps them throw things in the graveyard, but I know a Jund pilot who throws his Tarmogoyfs in the grave the entire game, because they're just better than the Living End deck's creatures and he has a solid record against the deck. If you play a deck that uses Liliana, this could be a good strategy.
Other creature cards that could come out of the sideboard versus Living End decks include:
Obstinate Baloth - Recurable life gain can be very helpful to survive against the deck.
Kitchen Finks - Recurable life gain bundled with a resilient creature is great versus a deck like this.
Fulminator Mage - Play their recurable land destruction game. They have less lands than you and very few fetches.
Shriekmaw - Kills a creature when it enters the field.
Big Game Hunter - Same as above.
Other Notable Interactions
- This has already been mentioned but it's so important that players don't overlook it, I will say it again: Grafdigger's Cage does not stop Living End. This is a very common misconception.
- Dispel can't target Living End. Even if they cascade at instant speed via Violent Outburst, it's still a sorcery. However, Dispel is still a good option to bring in when you expect Ricochet Trap.
- If you counter the cascade spell, the cascade still happens. You must counter the Living End.
- Having an Arcbound Ravager on the board when they cast Living End can put you in a winning position. Sacrifice all your creatures to Ravager and then when Living End resolves, stack the modular trigger after Living End so one of your reanimated creatures can be modularized.
- Sigarda, Host of Herons will protect you from Living End's board wipe effect.
- Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir stops the Living End pilot from ever hard casting Living End. Since the time counters from suspend come off at the beginning of upkeep, this is not a normal time when the pilot could cast a sorcery, so no hard casted Living End. That being said, Beast Within still shuts this down, and Living end is usually cascaded into.
Until Next Time!
That's all I have for now. Living End is one of the hardest combos to disrupt in my opinion and I hope I've given you enough knowledge so that you can successfully do so.
Thanks for reading and I hope to see you again soon!