The Quick Guide to Facing Unusual Modern Decks: Living End

This week, I chose two decks that are unusual in how they play out, more than that they are unusual to face. In fact, they are the two decks you are most likely to have been paired against since they are legit, good decks that have been around for a while: Ad Nauseam and Living End.  Yet, they are not intuitive at all. I’ve already covered Ad Nauseam, and today I’ll take on Living End. If you missed Bogles and Amulet, check that guide out as well.

Living End is one of my favorite Modern deck because of how slick it is. It doesn’t mess around—it does one thing, and does it flawlessly.

Living End

Asger Thorsboe Lundblad, 19th place at Grand Prix Birmingham

All these cyclers provide consistency, and make it very unlikely that they will fail to find the cascade spells that cast the deck’s namesake card.

Since Amonkhet came out, the deck gained some new tools. Desert Cerodon and Horror of the Broken Lands, are straight upgrades to the old 2-mana cyclers it had to play. One version has As Foretold to cast Living Ends that they draw. Kari Zev’s Expertise does that as well.

Altogether, it’s still the same deck, and these new additions won’t really change how you play against it. All you need to know is that their interactive spells are Beast Within and Fulminator Mage.


On the first turn you could easily mistake their deck for either a Death’s Shadow deck because of Street Wraith, or a midrange Jund strategy, since they often pass the turn with Fatal Push or Lightning Bolt up.

Either way, it’s not like that would change your play much. Even if it wasn’t Living End, you’d run your 1-mana play. But, if you have to cast Serum Visions, a counterspell could be very good against Living End, but not as much against a black-green midrange deck. Leaving the counterspell second from the top with a fetchland in hand in case you need to shuffle it away can give you a small advantage in this spot.


On the surface, Living End has single, simple plan and it is to kill all your creatures on turn 3 or 4, then return approximately 15 worth of power in play from the creatures they cycled.

Sometimes they didn’t draw enough cyclers or have to fire off a Living End to survive, and then they actually need to do some combat math because it’s not an obvious alpha strike. Enter Demonic Dread and Violent Outburst. Remember that these cards actually do something outside of casting Living End (which they are not obligated to do, by the way). Know that they can stop you from blocking, or pump their board.

Be aware that if they don’t have a target for Demonic Dread, they simply cannot cast it—something to keep in mind if you don’t have to play a creature.

Two mistakes beginners will often make against Living End include:

  • Countering Demonic Dread or Violent Outburst. That’s not how it works—cascade is a triggered ability that goes on the stack as the owner casts the spell, which means you should let it resolve, they’ll find Living End, and then you counter the Living End. Then the Demonic Dread or Violent Outburst resolves.
  • Sideboarding Grafdigger’s Cage. No! Read the cards carefully. The Cage prevents cards from entering the battlefield from the graveyard. The way Living End is worded, they come from exile, which means Grafdigger’s Cage does nothing against them.

What to Do

Discard spells are not bad, yet, they are unreliable. They can see so many cards through all their cyclers that they will find another cascade spell.

Counterspells and graveyard hate are your best cards.

Sacrifice outlets are also very nice as you can respond to the Living End by sacrificing your board and then getting it back.

Sigarda, Host of Herons and Tajuru Preserver used to see sideboard play specifically for this matchup. Now that it’s a little under the radar, Sigarda is a much more reasonable card to have as it’s good in grindy matchups as well.


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