I’ve written a lot of articles on how and why to play Living End, but never an article on how to BEAT Living End.
But why Trav, why? Have you gone traitor to the beetles??
Well, if you’re wondering if I have an ulterior motive here, I do. I figure one of the best ways to beat the enemy is to think like the enemy. And the best way to think like the enemy is to BECOME the enemy.
So today we’re becoming the enemy—we’re going to look at the strategies and cards used to fight Living End and evaluate their effectiveness, so we can get back to the best Living End list.
Beat Living End by Removing Their Graveyard
Since Living End returns all cycled creatures to the battlefield, attacking the Living Ender’s graveyard could be an effective strategy. The main thing to keep in mind about graveyard hate is that Living End will still make us sacrifice all of our creatures, meaning we might remove the opponent’s graveyard and still get hit with a 4-for-1.
Let’s take a look at our graveyard hate options and evaluate their effectiveness.[draft]Deathrite Shaman
Scavenging Ooze[/draft] [ccProd]Deathrite Shaman[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Scavenging Ooze[/ccProd] are great Magic cards that attack the graveyard and can be maindecked. A lot of green mages will rock these cards in the main of their Jund/Junk/Naya decks and call it a day in the sideboard. Why more graveyard hate when we already have 7 in the main?
Well, the issue is that [ccProd]Deathrite Shaman[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Scavenging Ooze[/ccProd] are creatures. The very best case scenario is all of our creatures die to their one card. Deathrite Shaman can only remove 1 card a turn, and both are mana hungry, requiring us to slow down our pressure.
More often than not this will happen:
I rocked Living End at GP Portland earlier this year. I played against [ccProd]Deathrite Shaman[/ccProd] 6 times—4 Jund and 2 Melira Pod. I was 6-0 in those matches. [ccProd]Deathrite Shaman[/ccProd] is just not very effective and the belief that it is effective is how Living End sat on top of the standings in Antwerp.
If we want to beat Living End we need to do more than play creatures that die to [ccProd]Living End[/ccProd] and hope they don’t have Living End so we have time to remove their graveyard.[draft]Tormod’s Crypt
Relic of Progenitus[/draft] [ccProd]Tormod’s Crypt[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Relic of Progenitus[/ccProd] are common sideboard cards for non-green or noncreature decks to attack the graveyard of Living End.
The first thing to be aware of is [ccProd]Ingot Chewer[/ccProd]. They won’t always have even sideboarded it in, but if we can, we should consider holding on to the artifact until the turn we use it.[draft]ingot chewer[/draft]
Another thing to be aware of is sandbagging. The Living Ender might allow our graveyard wipe to resolve and cycle a couple more creatures, meaning creatures still coming back to the battlefield.
The last thing to be aware of is the fact that we’re allowing [ccProd]Living End[/ccProd] to resolve. If our goal here is to make them get fewer creatures to slow down their clock, these cards will help, but if we need to keep our own creatures to win, these cards might not be very effective.[draft]Extirpate
Surgical Extraction[/draft] [ccProd]Extirpate[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Surgical Extraction[/ccProd] might be able to exile all the [ccProd]Living End[/ccProd]s forever.
In order to do this we’ll either have to make them discard one, counter one, or let one resolve. Thus, we probably only want to play a card like this in a deck with counterspells, and it might not work.
If it does work, no [ccProd]Living End[/ccProd] should make things much easier, but we still need to be able to beat [ccProd]Deadshot Minotaur[/ccProd]s from that position.[draft]Rest in Peace[/draft] [ccProd]Rest in Peace[/ccProd] is a strong option against Living End because it has the dual effect of exiling everything before and after. This means that no matter when we resolve it, the Living Ender will never be able to get any creatures back from [ccProd]Living End[/ccProd]. [ccProd]Living End[/ccProd] has another effect to it though, and [ccProd]Rest in Peace[/ccProd] makes that effect stronger—every Living End from now until the end of the game will exile all of creatures forever and return nothing. This could be an issue if our plan is creature-heavy, because the Living Ender will have plenty of time to sweep, ramp, and cast [ccProd]Twisted Abomination[/ccProd]s and [ccProd]Jungle Weaver[/ccProd]s.
Thus, [ccProd]Rest in Peace[/ccProd] is really at its best out of a deck that is not reliant on creatures, like UWR, and might be a poor sideboard card against Living End from a deck like Affinity.[draft]Grafdigger’s cage[/draft] [ccProd]Grafdigger’s Cage[/ccProd] does nothing against Living End. Every Living Ender knows this. Don’t board it in. [draft]Leyline of the Void[/draft] [ccProd]Leyline of the Void[/ccProd] is a strong card against Living End as it can exile their graveyard for the rest of the game while leaving our graveyard intact. Thus, if we are reliant on filling our own graveyard this card is a good call if our deck can support it. [ccProd]Leyline of the Void[/ccProd] can be removed by [ccProd]Beast Within[/ccProd], but hopefully by then most of the cyclers they had access to were burned to hit land drops.
Beat Living End by Filling the Graveyard
Since Living End returns all of our dead creatures to the battlefield, filling our graveyard can give us a good natural defense against Living End. This might mean playing something like a Dredge or Gifts deck, but it probably just means playing Affinity or Melira Pod.[draft]Arcbound Ravager
If we sacrifice all of our creatures in response to Living End, we get all of them back. Now our army is facing down a horde of Spiders and Beetles. If we are playing Affinity maybe we can win with [ccProd]Steel Overseer[/ccProd], if we are playing Melira Pod maybe we can win with [ccProd]Birthing Pod[/ccProd].
Living Enders know this and will try to counter this somehow. Some play [ccProd]Jund Charm[/ccProd], but [ccProd]Jund Charm[/ccProd] requires them to have 6 mana, so that is not a worry.
Some of them play [ccProd]Faerie Macabre[/ccProd], which can remove a couple creatures once and provide a small body. However, if we are down our two best creatures that’s not game over at all. It’s still probably a stand off, which we are equipped to win in a longer game.
Here is where I make my case for Living Enders to play [ccProd]Leyline of the Void[/ccProd].[draft]Leyline of the Void[/draft]
As a Melira Pod or Affinity player I am scared of seeing a turn 1 [ccProd]Leyline of the Void[/ccProd]—every [ccProd]Living End[/ccProd] is now a clean sweep from here on out. [ccProd]Arcbound Ravager[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Viscera Seer[/ccProd] offer no protection.
Obviously, dodging the turn 1 Leyline is nice as now maybe they draw the clunky Leylines later. But if a turn 3 [ccProd]Living End[/ccProd] results in a short standoff, and [ccProd]Leyline of the Void[/ccProd] follows on turn 4, this is an issue. The board can still be inverted several more times this game, and it becomes very hard to win a long game.
As an Affinity or Melira player, I am scared of a [ccProd]Leyline of the Void[/ccProd] from a Living Ender turn 0 or turn 4. As a Living End, Pyromancer Ascension, Unburial Rites, or Soul Sister player I am scared of a turn 0 Leyline of the Void.[ccProd]Leyline of the Void[/ccProd] is an extremely powerful card from Living End in a variety of matchups and I think it’s a huge mistake to play a much less powerful “but on theme” card like [ccProd]Faerie Macabre[/ccProd].
Beat Living End by Countering Living End
Countering spells is a popular strategy. Counter Living End, win. Amiright?
Well after having just lost to Living End with Ninja Bear Delver, I’ll say it’s really not that simple.
There are some issues. The first is mana overload. If the Living Ender is on the play, and we are on the draw, the opponent might be able to [ccProd]Violent Outburst[/ccProd] at the end of our turn 3. We can tap 2 mana to deal with that, but now they can untap and either play another one or play a [ccProd]Dryad Arbor[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Demonic Dread[/ccProd].[draft]Dryad Arbor[/draft]
Now, this won’t happen all the time, but the point is that there will be certain situations where Living End will for sure resolve ([ccProd]Ricochet Trap[/ccProd] yuck) unless we’re playing 1- or 0-mana counterspells.
With this in mind, we always want to keep up mana for at least two counterspells if possible—one might not be enough. The Living Ender will know this and might attack our mana with [ccProd]Fulminator Mage[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Beast Within[/ccProd].
This will all take some time, so ideally we’ve been clocking the Living Ender with a small creature. Otherwise, we’re doing nothing and giving the Living Ender more time—time that is spent to suspend [ccProd]Living End[/ccProd].[draft]Living End[/draft]
A suspended Living End will come off on turn 7 and is just about a guarantee to overload our counter magic. We either need to kill them before then, remove their graveyard, or sweep after their last Living End. But counterspells by themselves won’t necessarily do it.
We also don’t know what their last [ccProd]Living End[/ccProd] is. A lot of Living Enders will board in a 4th [ccProd]Living End[/ccProd] to have more of a fight against counterspells. This means that three [ccProd]Living End[/ccProd]s in the graveyard is not a clear coast to tap out, because there might be one more coming.
Another issue is hardcasting. In order to keep up 1-2 counterspells in mana we really can’t do too much to advance the board, which means we might only have 1 creature pecking away while the Living Ender cycles and plays lands.
If we are thinking we’re going to beat them [ccProd]Vendilion Clique[/ccProd], what happens when they play [ccProd]Deadshot Minotaur[/ccProd]? What about [ccProd]Pale Recluse[/ccProd]? [ccProd]Jungle Weaver[/ccProd]? Obviously, we can counter these cards, but our counterspells might wear thin.
So what’s this all mean? Well, it means counterspells are good at potentially slowing the game down, and that’s about it. If our deck is set up to win with a slowed down game, great.
Beat Living End by Being Fast Without Creatures
Living End is not a fast deck. It will kill us maybe turn 5 or turn 6. If sweeping our creatures does not affect our clock, Living End will be too slow.
If we want to pick a fast deck that doesn’t rely on combat, we can maybe look at Burn, Scapeshift, Splinter Twin (kind of has creatures), Pyromancer Storm, or some other janky combo deck.
Each of these decks doesn’t really care too much about the sacrifice part of Living End and can kill pretty quickly. These decks beat Living End naturally.
So what’s a Living Ender to do?
The first is to play [ccProd]Dryad Arbor[/ccProd].[draft]Dryad Arbor[/draft]
Dryad Arbor makes the Living End deck more consistent by being a creature that is accessible by the 4 [ccProd]Pale Recluse[/ccProd] and the 4 [ccProd]Verdant Catacomb[/ccProd]s. It allows the Living Ender to cast [ccProd]Demonic Dread[/ccProd] without relying on an unused [ccProd]Fulminator Mage[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Beast Within[/ccProd].
Beyond that, Living End needs to pack specific sideboard cards or drastically alter their deck.[draft]Igneous Pouncer[/draft]
The Living End deck can become faster via [ccProd]Igneous Pouncer[/ccProd]. However, Pouncer is weak, fragile, and inferior to [ccProd]Pale Recluse[/ccProd] against more interactive decks.
In general, if you want to cleanly beat Living End, play a fast deck that doesn’t rely on creatures.
Beat Living End by Having Them Miss Land Drops
The easiest way to beat Living End is by having them miss land drops. If the Living Ender gets stuck on 1-2 lands they can’t cast a relevant spell and will lose.
This means a cheese ball approach to victory might be appropriate—[ccProd]Fulminator Mage[/ccProd] might be good, and [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd] on the land cycler might be good too.
This is also a heads up to Living Enders to make sure they can hit their land drops, because that’s the easiest way for them to lose. I see a lot of them cut down on lands, cut down on cyclers, and cut down on land cyclers for 3- and 4-drops. This decreases the odds of your deck functioning.
Me, personally, I fight against ill wishes by playing 20 lands, 15 cyclers, 6 land cyclers, 8 cascaders. I want the maximum chance of my deck working, and all it takes to work is 3 lands, some cyclers, and some Living Ends. Everything else is just fluff.
Beat Living End by Playing an ACTUAL Hate Card
Actual Hate Cards are cards that counter or prevent Living End. Graveyard hate does not counter Living End. Counterspells sometimes counter Living End. But there are certain cards out there that actually make Living End uncastable.[draft]Chalice of the Void
These cards actually have to be removed for [ccProd]Living End[/ccProd] to be cast. Now, the Living Ender might have [ccProd]Ingot Chewer[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Beast Within[/ccProd]. They might not, and if not, we pretty much win. These are actual Living End hate cards.
The Living Ender
All right, back to being a Living Ender.
Now we know that opponents are going to try to beat us by removing our graveyard. They are going to try to beat us by filling their graveyard. They are going to try to beat us by countering Living End. They are going to try to beat us by being fast without creatures. They are going to try to beat us by having us miss land drops. They are going to try to beat us by playing actual hate cards.
As a Living Ender, this guides my deckbuilding.
Opponents are going to try to remove my graveyard, and I am going to counter by just casting my [ccProd]Living End[/ccProd]s. I am going to sandbag when necessary, board [ccProd]Ingot Chewer[/ccProd] when necessary, and sweep and ramp when necessary.
Opponents are going to try to beat me by filling their graveyard. I am going to counter this by boarding in 4 [ccProd]Leyline of the Void[/ccProd]s against these players. [ccProd]Leyline of the Void[/ccProd] is the most powerful card at locking them from their graveyard, even if it doesn’t have “synergy” with our deck like [ccProd]Faerie Macabre[/ccProd].
Opponents are going to try to beat me by countering [ccProd]Living End[/ccProd]. I am going to look for opportunities to overload their mana, hit land drops, look to suspend Living End, hardcast fatties, and board up to 4 [ccProd]Living End[/ccProd]s to make sure I have maximum ammunition.
Opponents are going to try to beat me by being fast without creatures. I am going to be more consistent by playing [ccProd]Dryad Arbor[/ccProd], and board specific cards if I choose. If these opponents are prevalent however, I might drastically alter my deck by playing cards like [ccProd]Igneous Pouncer[/ccProd].
Opponents are going to try to beat me by having me miss land drops. I am going to avoid this by playing extra lands and extra cyclers. I am going to try to never sideboard out lands or land cyclers. If I can hit my land drops, my strategy of casting [ccProd]Living End[/ccProd] will win a lot of games.
Opponents are going to try to beat me by playing actual hate cards. I am going to be prepared for this by trying to never board out too many [ccProd]Beast Within[/ccProd]s. I’m confident that [ccProd]Beast Within[/ccProd] can get me out of many jams, and casting [ccProd]Living End[/ccProd] will take care of the rest.
That brings me to here:
Living End Main[deck]Main Deck
3 Blackcleave Cliffs
1 Blood Crypt
4 Grove of the Burnwillows
1 Stomping Ground
1 Godless Shrine
2 Overgrown Tomb
4 Verdant Catacombs
1 Dryad Arbor
4 Demonic Dread
4 Beast within
4 Violent Outburst
4 Fulminator Mage
4 Deadshot Minotaur
4 Monstrous Carabid
4 Street Wraith
4 Pale Recluse
2 Twisted Abomination
3 Jungle Weaver
3 Living End
1 Living End
4 Ingot Chewer
2 Ricochet Trap
4 Leyline of the Void[/deck]
I have a couple more points before we open this up to discussion. The first is [ccProd]Grove of the Burnwillows[/ccProd]:[draft]Grove of the Burnwillows[/draft]
As you can see, this card is brand new as of the writing of this article and I feel like a huge idiot for playing [ccProd]Copperline Gorge[/ccProd] over it until now. Living End is a deck that really wants to hit land drops—it wants the ability to suspend [ccProd]Living End[/ccProd] on turn 4, cast [ccProd]Deadshot Minotaur[/ccProd] on turn 5, cast [ccProd]Pale Recluse[/ccProd] on turn 6, and cast [ccProd]Jungle Weaver[/ccProd] on turn 7.
Playing any comes-into-play-tapped lands is unacceptable if we have access to lands that come into play untapped without damaging us. Sure, [ccProd]Grove of the Burnwillows[/ccProd] gives them life, but this deck rarely wins on margin of opponent’s life total.
I am playing with [ccProd]Grove of Burnwillows[/ccProd] now and I doubt I will ever go back.
Next, I want to address [ccProd]Dryad Arbor[/ccProd] a little more.[draft]Dryad Arbor[/draft]
This card seems to be contentious mostly only to Michael Hetrick, but since Michael and I might both play Living End at Pro Tour Valencia, I want to make my case for it.
Sure, drawing it when we want it to be an actual land sucks. For me, I consider it a spell. I played 19 lands in this deck for the longest time before finally cutting a spell for the 20th, [ccProd]Dryad Arbor[/ccProd]. So, for me, when [ccProd]Dryad Arbor[/ccProd] can tap for mana, in another world I would have missed that land drop.
Now, we have the [ccProd]Demonic Dread[/ccProd] clause. This doesn’t come up all the time, but it does come up. We have Fulminator and Beast Withins, sure, but I if we play [ccProd]Verdant Catacomb[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Pale Recluse[/ccProd] (which we are playing already) we now have access to it just about every time we need it. The [ccProd]Demonic Dread[/ccProd] clause doesn’t come up all the time, but when it does come up, I want to be covered.
Finally, we have perhaps the real reason [ccProd]Dryad Arbor[/ccProd] is in the deck—it is a small manland to help alleviate flood. I know—a 1/1 body isn’t much. But tell that to Willy Edel, who at GP Portland had me dead on board with an empty hand, alpha striked into my [ccProd]Verdant Catacombs[/ccProd] and lost out of nowhere. This happens, and I want to have access to it every single game. Obviously, a 1/1 isn’t as strong of an effect as a Ravine or [ccProd]Kessig Wolf Run[/ccProd], but we don’t have 8 ways to turn our useless land into a Ravine or Wolf Run already.
I am going to play [ccProd]Dryad Arbor[/ccProd] and I am going to leave it in the deck against most creature decks and I think it would be a mistake to do otherwise.
Finally, I want to talk about [ccProd]Shriekmaw[/ccProd].[draft]Shriekmaw[/draft] [ccProd]Shriekmaw[/ccProd] is a powerful card in this deck that was once in my main deck, but now I am considering even removing them from my sideboard. I might board it against Jund, I wouldn’t board it against Affinity, I wouldn’t board it against Melira Pod, I wouldn’t board it against UWR, I wouldn’t board it against Twin, I wouldn’t board it in the mirror, I wouldn’t board it against Tron, I wouldn’t board it against Scapeshift.
I mean, I would board it against any deck that relies on sufficient non-black/non-artifact early game creatures, but right now that doesn’t describe many decks.
The card is on watch, and if I decide on something else, I’ll let you know.
How to Beat Living End
I think the deck is a great spot in the metagame, and I am personally confident in my ability to haumph green creature decks and blue counterspell decks.
It seems likely that I play a configuration of this deck at Pro Tour Valencia, and I highly recommend it to you for any event.
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