Living the Dream (not the End) in GP Antwerp: 13th
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Last weekend I played GP Antwerp where I finished in 13th place, and I had in mind writing a report about the tournament. I will say I was pretty happy with my deck choice, and I was very confident that I could get a good result… Turns out I was right this time!
But why bother you with a boring round by round report? I thought I’d better show you all my thoughts on what I think has turned to be the best deck in the format: Living End. I think that will be much more insightful for you all this time!
I would also like to share with you all my card choices in case you want to try out the deck from now on. Trust me, the deck is still incredibly powerful, despite being left as a sleeper for months and you shouldn’t dismiss it even if it didn’t really win the event. It still did pretty good overall.
Don’t forget that there were two copies that made a perfect result with their 9-0 on Day 1, and rocketed all the way to the Top 8. Want more numbers? There were also only 6 Living End on Day 2, and all of them except for one ended up in the money. Those stats aren’t bad at all, are they?
Why was Living End such a good choice for Grand Prix Antwerp?
Let me say it clearly: the real reason why Living End was such a good choice is because NO ONE was prepared for it. I felt this was the case when looking through a lot of sideboards that were being played before the Grand Prix.
Jund Charms, Rakdos Charms, Rest in Peace, Relic of Progenitus, Ethersworn Canonist were almost nowhere to be seen, and it looked like Living End was in nobody’s mind, really.
With no real sideboard against it, there wasn’t a single bad matchup other than Splinter Twin. Moreover, there were a lot of extremely easy matchups out there…
Naya or RG
But, for all those skeptics out there, I would like to show you why Living End might have been the deck to play in Grand Prix Antwerp:
May I start answering question by question?
Isn’t Deathrite Shaman or Scavenging Ooze a real problem for the deck?
In fact, I think the existence of those two creatures is what has helped the most, it helped the deck to stay under the radar… But are they really that much of a problem?
If you think of it, Deathrite Shaman can’t even stop you from going off when you are on the play. When cycling once per turn + Street Wraith shenanigans, there”s no way they can race you while spending one mana every turn on doing literally nothing. Moreover, you don’t need to have a lot of creatures to turn a lethal Living End: Sometimes getting one Street Wraith and one Monstrous Carabid into play on turn 3 while killing Deathrite Shaman and Tarmogoyf on the way can be enough to end the game.
And that’s not even considering plan B: You are on the draw and they have managed to put multiple Deathrite Shamans/Scavenging Oozes into play? Just Cascade into your first Living End to clean up the board and hold your cycle cards for a while. After that, start cycling again and go for your second Living End: Sure, they might have some 1/2s and 2/2s on board after that, but your side of the table will be MUCH bigger regardless. But there’s more: You have Dismember and Beast Within to deal with any of those if required as well.
I must say multiple Thoughtseizes were far more scary than any Deathrite Shaman start.
There were decks playing maindeck Relic of Progenitus… How come there was no hate?
Only Tron and Merfolk decks were playing 3-4 Relic of Progenitus maindeck.
Merfolk was also kind of a sleeper deck, and I didn’t expect many.
As for Tron, you need to consider that this matchup enters a complete different angle when playing 11-12 maindeck land destruction spells and 4 Ingot Chewer in the sideboard. Sometimes you didn’t even need to play any Cascade spell to win the game: Multiple Fulminator Mages and Avalanche Riders, as well as some hard-cast monsters were enough to keep them out of the game even with a Relic of Progenitus on board.
Don’t you lose to a single counterspell like Mana Leak, Cryptic Command… or Remand
Overall, it’s not that hard: Between Fulminator Mage, Avalanche Riders and Beast Within it gets easy to leave all those control decks soft on mana. Also, Violent Outburst cast at end of turn into Demonic Dread on your turn is such a strong play they can’t always afford to fight.
Was Cryptic Command a problem? Not really; it always required too many blue sources to be cast, and your land destruction spells would always handle that.
What about Mana Leak? Was easy to play around when hitting 6 lands.
Remand is the real problem here but…Know what? Very few people was playing Remand in the current Modern format because it’s just so bad against Jund and Birthing Pod
Can you ever beat Splinter Twin
Hardly, I admit. But that’s only considering standard lists and with no real sideboard or a real plan against it. What was different in the list I played? I had Dismembers, Ricochet Traps and Sudden Deaths in my 75, and I felt like those were all I needed to turn this matchup in my favor.
So, yes, you can beat Splinter Twin if you are prepared for it.
But… Doesn’t the deck just die to itself? It doesn’t look very consistent.
I’m sorry to say that is completely false. On the contrary! Between all the cyclers and the fact that it plays 8 Cascade spells, the deck works pretty smoothly if you think of it, and a lot of hands end up playing in the same exact way. That’s pretty good for a combo deck, because it means consistency!
Of course, sometimes you might draw too many Living Ends, but you should solve that with aggressive mulliganing. HINT: When considering a keep, your hand MUST be pretty insane if you are keeping a hand which contains a Living End (Which, by definition, would be even worse than a mulligan all on itself).
No more questions?
Let’s move forward!
What is the list that I played?
Living End, played by Joel Calafell – Grand Prix Antwerp – 13th
4 Blackcleave Cliffs
1 Godless Shrine
1 Blood Crypt
3 Copperline Gorge
1 Dryad Arbor
4 Verdant Catacombs
1 Kessig Wolf Run
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Stomping Ground
4 Street Wraith
4 Deadshot Minotaur
4 Fulminator Mage
2 Jungle Weaver
4 Monstrous Carabid
3 Pale Recluse
3 Avalanche Riders
4 Beast Within
4 Violent Outburst
3 Living End
4 Demonic Dread
4 Ingot Chewer
2 Faerie Macabre
3 Ricochet Trap
3 Sudden Death
1 Anger of the Gods
Now I’m going to explain some of my choices that could seem debatable for all of you who might be interested:
4 Beast Within – Most lists include only 2 or 3 copies of this instant with the argument that it’s “bad in multiples”. While that might be true sometimes, I would surely tag this card as the most important one in the deck, as it works as an answer to almost everything in the format.
Wouldn’t every combo deck pray for a Vindicate maindeck that could solve any kind of hate card? Your life is so much better when you know that Relic of Progenitus, Rest in Peace or even Birthing Pod is going to bite the dust before you go off. Also, the card is mandatory against the Tron matchup, and is insanely hard for control decks to recover from a Fulminator MageBeast WithinAvalanche Riders sequence no matter how many counters they have in hand.
2 Dismember – There are a lot of reasons to include it in the maindeck. First of all, the deck never does anything on turn 1 or 2 other than cycling, so it is always good to have some “curve” after all. Deathrite Shaman, Scavenging Ooze or even Birds of ParadiseNoble Hierarch into Birthing Pod could be a real problem while on the draw, so this solves all those situations as well. But that’s not all: UWR will also have a hard time killing you without that Vendilion Clique or Restoration Angel they managed to sneak up before you had Violent Outburst… If you kill their first threat, they will be probably too afraid to tap out again…
And not to say it’s an easy way to win a game one against Splinter Twin out from nowhere if they don’t expect it!
0 Simian Spirit Guide – I never liked this card in the first place, but in this deck I don’t think it makes any sense at all. This deck wants to “break the symmetry” with a big effect that kills some creatures on the other side of the board while building a decent graveyard on our side at the same time. A turn 2 Living End will accomplish none of the aforementioned, because it will be just too early for that. Some other reasons like “it allows you to cast Violent Outburst by surprise”, or “it lets you pay for that Mana Leak by surprise”, or even just “It helps you to cycle faster”, seem just quite clunky to me.
I wanted the deck to be as much solid as possible, and that’s why I would recommend you to not play them: They are, by no means, necessary at all.
Dryad Arbor – While I recognize this card might look greedy to play, I think it goes more on the lines of “absolutely necessary” and a risk you will need to pay if you want to make the most of your Demonic Dreads. I can’t tell how many games I would have lost without being able to Forest cycle or Fetch for this little green guy when ready to go off with a Demonic Dread in hand: Against matchups like UWR, Tron or even Splinter Twin, it becomes absolutely vital.
Also, it enables for tricky blocks when necessary… That can surely make you win a lot of games you might lose otherwise! It happened to me twice that I foiled an alpha strike thanks to a Verdant Catacombs on board.
Pale Recluse over Twisted Abomination – This one is up for some discussion, but in my opinion it’s not even close… Not only is Pale Recluse a much better creature against the likes of UWR or Affinity, but it also has a very important mission: Finding Dryad Arbor. Twisted Abomination, on the other end, makes its ability a bit redundant against everything that is not Jund (And you should win with a big Living End anyway even if your creatures can’t regenerate, right?)… And while that is quite marginal, blocking Cranial Plating equipped flying guys or Restoration Angels accompanied by Celestial Colonnades for lethal damage surely is not.
What about the sideboard?
There are as well some choices lurking out there that could need some explanation:
3 Ricochet Trap – This card is insane, and I wouldn’t cut a single copy of it. Very few decks can afford to fight your instant speed Violent Outburst with Ricochet Trap backup at the end of their turn, no matter how many counterspells they are playing.
The card works wonders against to combat countermagic against UWR and Splinter Twin overall, but it has a lot of hidden uses in those matchups as well. The less obvious one is that it virtually annuls any Snapcaster Mage into Lightning Bolt, which is the easiest way you have to lose if they ever enter the race mode against you.
As a side note: In the GP I managed to Ricochet Trap an Inquisition of Kozilek and even a [card]Spreading Seas[c/ard] against a UWRB Control that almost killed his entire mana. The card is really THAT good!
3 Sudden Death – This card is pretty much self-explanatory. What is the best possible card against Splinter Twin you can think of? Yes, I guess that has to be Torpor Orb, but now think of something you don’t really want to cascade into and lose to a single Ancient Grudge in game three.
In my testing, Sudden Death was just game breaking. Not only was it savage when they just fell into it with multiple counters in hand, but even when playing around it, you would eventually have a big edge in the long game, as it permits you to get plenty of turns. After all, Twin is not a deck precisely known for its consistency in the long game (it has a lot of clunky draws; repeated combo pieces, etc.). Meanwhile, the Living End deck can cycle through many cards and find multiple Cascade spells and Ricochet Traps, which will end up being game defining given enough time.
More good news? The card is also a decent sideboard card against Scavenging Ooze and Deathrite Shaman when facing unprepared opponents… And that should be a good reason enough to always swap your Beast Withins for Sudden Deaths in the Jund matchup, right?
Faerie Macabre over Leyline of the Void
It’s quite obvious that the enchantment effect is much more powerful if you manage to slam it on turn 1. However, I don’t see the need to use such a big turnover in this format. Other than the mirror, there are very few cards you will need to remove from the game, really.
I recognize the ability is game crushing against Melira Pod or even Kiki Pod sometimes, but the cost to spend 4 slots on it probably makes it not worth it at all in my opinion. Also, in the Melira Pod matchup, the card gets easy to deal with if there’s an active Pod already, while Faerie Macabre is absolutely game crushing and there’s virtually no way to play around it. Not to say Leyline effects are a bit clunky in a deck that cycles through half of its deck: You will be far more happy when you find any of those Faerie Macabre in the mid-game than any uncastable Leyline of the Void that will only do their job when on your opening hand. Don’t you agree?
To sum up: Where is Living End in the format right now?
At the Grand Prix, I faced pretty much every deck you can think of:
Jund (x2), Merfolk, Tron, Melira Pod (x2), GW Haterator, Auras, Kiki-Pod, Splinter Twin, UBR Delver, Dredgevine, UWR…
And it felt like I could beat everything…
Has Living End really turned out to be the best deck in the format?
So far, I would say it at least was in Antwerp, but looking at such good results, I’m not that sure it will be able to stand the comeback of better hate against it. The deck is very linear and can fight some permanents, sure, but can do nothing at all against cards like Jund Charm or Rakdos Charm, to say something. If those happened to see play from now on, the deck wouldn’t be as good as it is right now, although still pretty decent I would say.
Still, I would recommend you to playtest the deck if you are planning on playing any more Modern, and to feel by yourself how good the deck is in this format. Will the format adapt or not I can’t tell you for sure…
… But this was a good example of how Sideboards define the Modern format more than the maindecks. Wasn’t that what I just said in my last article
Until next time,
Make sure you have a graveyard filled with monsters!