Play Living End in Modern MTG Without Ending Your Wallet!

One of the things I struggle with as a Magic player is sticking with and committing to one deck. Some players find a strategy that just clicks with their mentality, while others pick up decks built around particular themes or mechanics that they enjoy like drawing cards or cheating on mana costs. For me, it’s been a perpetual struggle finding a deck that I enjoy, because the things that I like to do while playing the game aren’t always conducive to winning games regularly. I like to draw cards, I like to move game objects into and out of my graveyard, and I like explaining rules interactions to opponents, but finding a deck that covers all three of these bases was a challenge.

Enter today’s archetype. This is a strategy that I’ve been enjoying on and off for nearly 10 years now, having stuck with it as it waxed and waned in popularity in the meta game. When I first started with it, it was a Tier 3 nonsense deck that could take a neglectful meta by storm, and today it’s become a Tier 1 staple archetype that just pushes every button that I like to push, and was one of my first budget entry points into Modern. Let’s dive into Living End.


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Budget Modern Living End by Darren Magnotti


The Deck

Living End (LE) is a combo/tempo deck that primarily looks to use its namesake to create an insurmountable wave of card and board state advantage. It takes advantage of creatures with cycling to both dig through the deck and to fill up the graveyard, then return those creatures to play with LE. The deck looks to cast LE using the cascade spells, the most powerful of which are currently Shardless Agent and Violent Outburst, which allow for an effective eight copies of the card as they’ll dig through the deck straight to it thanks to the rest of the deck’s construction. Living End is one of those decks that’s built around the cascade cards in that every card in the deck has a mana value of three or greater, so that LE is the only viable hit off of them. When the card resolves, it wipes the board of all creatures while putting an average of 10 to 15 power in play, which can quickly finish the game as the opponent scrambles to either rebuild or answer those creature threats.

Cycling to the End

The general game plan of Living End is relatively straightforward: use some disruptive elements to make sure you don’t die while you cycle, cycle, and cycle through the deck until you can “do the thing.” As such, a majority of the deck’s construction is locked up into creatures with cycling.

Back in the day, we were sort of stuck playing creatures like Jungle Weaver that cycle for two mana, but thanks to both Amonkhet and Ikoria, the deck is now flush with one mana cyclers. Striped Riverwinder, Windcaller Aven, Architects of will and Curator of Mysteries are some of the best creatures with cycling available, maximizing the ratio of mana spent to power put into the graveyard. Street Wraith, similarly, is a free cycler which can be extremely powerful in and of itself. All of these cards help to dig through the deck at lightning pace to find either the lands you need to cast your cascade spell or the cascader itself, but otherwise don’t provide much additional value.

The other half of this package are the creatures who put themselves into the graveyard due to some additional effect, whether that be a card like Grief with its evoke trigger or via cherry-flavored cycling or a channel ability. One of the biggest weaknesses to the strategy in general is its dependence on sticking to the plan, which means that up until recently, the deck wasn’t able to fight through hate spells or disruption.

Colossal Skyturtle is an interesting piece that can either slow down an opponent’s clock in a racing situation, eliminate a creature-based hate piece like Drannith Magistrate or in the worst case, net some additional value by returning one of the other utility cyclers to hand. Grief was potentially the biggest boon to the deck, being able to pick out key disruptive pieces from the opponent’s hand in the first two turns of the game for no real cost. Non-budget versions also take advantage of the rest of the pitch Elementals as well for this utility, as they’re even more free in this deck than many others. However, for our purposes, we’re sticking to the likes of Mirrorshell Crab as a creature/counterspell. Having access to stack interaction in this archetype is an absolute game-changer, which is why the full versions take advantage of Force of Negation as well. Lastly, there’s Waker of Waves, which is really just a means to dump 10 power into the graveyard with one card while offering some light filtering, and the land-cyclers which I like to refer to as “cherry-flavored cycling.” These cards allow you to fix your mana by tutoring up whichever color you’re missing at the moment, which really mitigates the power vacuum left by the lack of access to fetches. 

The big thing to note about any of these cards is that they function as only part of a whole and shouldn’t be judged on an individual basis. When playing a game with this deck, you’re likely to see 20 or more cards in the first handful of turns, which means that you have both radically increased consistency and can rely more heavily on these niche effects to pull their weight. You also get to play largely at instant speed, so the opponent is generally left guessing what’s going to happen on any given turn. This can be used to leverage additional value by faking that you have a Violent Outburst in hand when you don’t, or doing a pump-fake by tapping and untapping lands in response to something from the opponent. A good portion of playing this deck is posturing and keeping the opponent on their toes while you make plays that do effectively nothing to the board. You want them to overcommit into your board wipe if they’re a creature deck, so playing like you don’t have anything is generally beneficial (frantically slamming down cyclers and sighing at each draw even if its the card you want). Of all the decks I’ve played over the last 10 years, Living End is the one that most rewards this sort of metagaming (the D&D definition), and honestly it adds a lot of fun and excitement to piloting what is otherwise a simple and straightforward deck.

How Does It Play?

Living End is a fun deck that offers a play experience that’s relatively outside the bounds of what is considered “normal Magic.” At the moment, it wavers between a crucial piece of the overall metagame and a Tier 2 option that people may or may not be prepared for. With its straightforward, difficult to disrupt game plan and the ability to absolutely rinse creature-based strategies, the deck can be extremely well positioned at any given time. Its major weakness though is the fact that most decks pack some form of graveyard hate very reliably, and while the deck is better at fighting through it than something like Dredge, it’s still a tremendous pain that can completely snuff the deck out. 

In terms of the budget list specifically, I’ve found that this archetype is extremely forgiving to the concessions that we make as a budget player. Constant cycling allows for increased consistency both in the mana base and in searching for the combo cards, while LE itself is extremely forgiving in that you can let the opponent resolve any number of creatures in the first three to four turns. The majority of the full deck is present, and the only true weakness between this and the full deck is the severely powered down method of interacting with the stack. It turns out, that when you make a deck completely out of bulk rares, porting it over to a budget version isn’t actually that difficult. 


Modern Living End by Zoe Riederman


This is once again the classic tale of “buy fetch lands and pitch elementals”. Between those and the Forces, there are essentially zero additional changes to this deck. Some players have found success with the inclusion of Brazen Borrower, while others mix up their sideboards wildly, even going into Fulminator Mage, Leylines of Sanctity or the Void, and i’ve even seen Blood Moon before. The deck has a small handful of flex slots, and as mentioned above it can leverage them to much higher efficacy than other archetypes are able to so it can run some more wild or outlandish inclusions. 

That’s all for this one, nice and short this week since I know that the last couple of weeks have been a lot for this series. Living End has been a very good deck to me over the years, and one that I can see myself playing for as long as I play Modern. It was also my first real competitive deck that was assembled on a $100 budget, and I still have those same copies of the Living End today. From Jund to Izzet As Foretold to these latest Temur Cascade versions, this is honestly the deck that i’ve been through it all with. Hopefully you and every player are able to find a deck that they can hold on to through the years, as the memories that you can build by being dedicated to something like that make the whole thing worth it. Until next time, stay safe, play smart, and thanks for reading.

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